Psalm 78 is a song to help people – especially children – remember their faith story. Why is this important? Is it important today? Why not let our children figure it out when they are old enough to care? That’s a good idea. Why would we want to brainwash them? Certainly there are plenty of testimonies of people who had poor experiences from their church ranging from benign to horrible. Let’s do our kids a favor and let it slide.
I guess we should only want to foster a healthy, thoughtful faith in our children if we care about their:
ü Quality of life
ü Healthy self-esteem
ü Work ethic
ü Ability to forgive
ü Live in peace
ü Future marital health
ü Capacity to parent
ü Physical health
ü Grief management
ü Anger management
ü Healthy sexuality
ü Mney management
ü Good citizenship
ü Student skills
ü Life balance
ü Life ethics
ü World peace
ü And everything else.
This may seem bold, and you may object as you think of examples when religion caused more harm than good. I bet I can think of more of them than you can, yet I am still a fan of the idea that religion can lead to the best that life can offer. What is the difference? When I think of the worst examples of how religion perpetuated oppression and violence – slavery (especially in the U.S.), the Crusades, Hitler’s Nazism, ISIS and its predecessors, etc. – I am painfully aware that religion wasn’t living up to name. In all of these aforementioned examples, the goal was to separate, to divide, even to wipe out entire people groups based on heritage or faith. By definition, that’s actually irreligious.
Religion literally means to re-ligament, to reunite the parts into a whole. Religion is supposed to help put us back together, not pull us apart. Put us back together in connection with God. Put us back together as whole individuals who find themselves fragmented. Put us back together as a human race. Re-ligament. Whenever we see religious expressions that seek to dismember, we’re looking at fraudulent religion. This presents a tension, because the way of faith is counter-cultural and seen as foolishness to the world.
Religion at its best, however, seeks to understand the nature of God and, since we are deeply tied into that nature, religion is supposed to help us reconnect ourselves into that nature. To use language from the Jewish creation story, if we really believe that we are created in the image of God, then religion exists to help us more and more reflect that image. If we believe that God is the source of life, that God is the heartbeat of creation itself, then being increasingly reunited with God will mean we will experience more of life as our heart beats the same as God.
The problem comes when we begin thinking of religion as the end and not the means to the end. The end is to be “religamented”, reconnected to God and each other and all creation. Religion is supposed to help with that. Too often, however, we settle for religious certitude, finding great strength in the clean lines it provides, which I think define and protect our comfort zones. But God cannot be boxed. When we try too hard to define God, God outgrows us, and we experience joints stretched out of place. Dislocated. Imagine a person living for a long period of time with a dislocated shoulder. Incredible pain. Imagine entire populations living that way. Religion is supposed to put things back in place. In this metaphor, religious leaders are supposed to act as chiropractors and physicians who help put things back where they are supposed to go in order for life to be more whole.
When we foster this kind of thinking with the children under our care, we are setting them up for a life that continually seeks that connectedness. That’s a life tied into the source. That’s a life that is maturing, that is deep, that is grounded, that makes an impact, that prevails even when pain and failure come. It’s a life that I believe everyone actually wants and tries to find one way or another.
Our goal today is to explore how to allow religion to help put us back together, to religament us with ourselves, others, our world, and of course, God. We get a clue from Psalm 78:1-8 (NLT) below:
O my people, listen to my instructions.
Open your ears to what I am saying,
for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
about his power and his mighty wonders.
For he issued his laws to Jacob;
he gave his instructions to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
even the children not yet born—
and they in turn will teach their own children.
So each generation should set its hope anew on God,
not forgetting his glorious miracles
and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
refusing to give their hearts to God.
An oft-quoted proverb is related to this:
Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6 (Amplified Bible)
Jesus was raised with good religion, which paved the way for the life he lived:
Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people. – Luke 2:52 (NLT)
Thinking of all three together, we are talking about remembering the faith, training related to that remembering, resulting in growth in wisdom and stature and favor with God and all people – that’s religamented!
What I want to share with you are practical things that helped shape me, as well as one big thing I wish were more normative in our culture that I have tried to do with my kids that I think may help faith stick with the people you influence.
You are the model. I can honestly tell you with complete confidence that my brother and sisters are good people. They are human, meaning they are not perfect. But they will not treat you with disrespect. They are not jackasses. They are compassionate, kind, graceful, centered, giving, sacrificial with their time and resources, and are deeply committed to their faith, practicing it as a lifestyle (not an accessory). I hope I am the same. I can tell you that my parents never taught a class on how not to be a jackass, or how to respect others, or graceful, compassionate, sacrificial, etc. We had no formal training. What we had was exposure to people who made this their life ethos. My parents lived the faith. We attended churches that did the best they could, but that’s not where we picked up the faith. We lived it. It was a top priority for my parents. It defined their attitudes and behavior. We caught what faith was and how it plays out simply by watching them. They are human, which means we all had unlearning to do here and there, but the fact is that we all caught faith and have lived raising our own kids to do the same. Those around you are aware of who you are and what you really value. Your character and person are the primary message, not your words.
At an early age, both of my parents chose to devote their lives to following in the footsteps of Jesus. They believed this connected them to God who provided life now and forever. That primary choice led to every other choice, and together they all fostered a God-filled life for them.
Tomorrow Morning & Next Sunday. Short and simple, church was a non-negotiable priority in our household. It was never a Saturday night or Sunday morning decision whether or not we would go. This was part of our rhythm, a given. There were very few exceptions throughout my entire growing up years. I think this is akin to the command to keep the Sabbath. I think perhaps the Ten Commandments included keeping the Sabbath because if it wasn’t stated that clearly, we wouldn’t do it. People have always tried to cheat it, and it doesn’t work out well. It’s not a legalistic thing. But when you make that choice, it pulls a lot of other things into order. Saying yes to church led to a host of passive no’s to any number of things. Related to that, and especially witnessed in my mom, was a commitment to connecting daily with time set aside for a brief reading, meditation, and prayer. These two things were modeled all while growing up. I never had to ask them if they valued these things – that was obvious. Now, just to push this a little bit… If we say with our lips that we deeply value our faith but can’t seem to make the gathered-community-Sabbath-reset-experience a priority, what are we actually communicating? Talk is cheap. This seems really obvious, but when we are intentional about reconnecting with God we find ourselves more religamented than when we try to squeeze it in on our commute.
Prom 1986. No matter what my wife tells you to convince you otherwise, I want you to know I am not perfect. In fact, my personally history would indicate that this has been the case since I drew my first breath. There were a handful of times in my life when I did some impressive work making the case for my imperfection! Once was when I got home late from the high school prom. Well, actually, I got home early – early morning when I was supposed to get home late at night. My parents held me accountable for sure. It was not a pleasant homecoming. As a parent who raised kids through high school, I can appreciate what they must have been going through. Well, at least my Mom. Was I in a car wreck, perhaps? Was I blacked out somewhere? Was I abducted by aliens? These are things parents entertain. They were rightly upset, and they calmly let me know that. Then they calmly grounded me for an appropriate amount of time (until I turn 50). They were graceful as they held me accountable, and they were graceful moving forward. They were not the types to remind me about my “sin” for the rest of my life. This taught me to be that way with others, to hold accountable but not hold a grudge, to give people a second chance, to seek redemption. I never attended a “how to be graceful” class taught by my parents – their lives were the lesson. Gracefilled living religaments us to God who is the very source of grace. When we grace, we are more immersed in the presence of God who is Grace.
Olds Delta 88. My parents were solidly middle class. We always had enough, but never a lot more than that. Yet they always supported the church financially no matter what. And always first. Their support was non-negotiable. That sacrifice meant not eating out as much, not buying the same clothing labels others could, living more modestly. I think they realized that they could enjoy a richness of life that did not require riches, which enabled them to share more than less. Because they did, a lot of mission work got done in the world and through the churches they belonged to. A lot of lives changed because they shared their precious nickels. There is an interesting truth about giving to the work of God in a budgeted way (some refer to this as tithing) rather than an occasional offering here and there. You’ve heard the phrase “put your money where your mouth is”. When we put our money toward something, we literally value it. Jesus said that where our heart is, that’s where our treasure shows up. My parents put a regular, budgeted part of their treasure toward what God was doing in the world. It was an amount they felt. It was an amount that could have upgraded their car situation or home’s square footage considerably. When you do that, you not only make a value statement, you realign your values every month. This stretches you in ways you won’t unless you have skin in the game. We have done the same thing. This valuing religaments us to the Spirit of God who continues to stretch us as well.
Guild Girls. My dad’s career was serving the church. For over a decade of time, my mom was on staff at a church as well in music ministry. But when she wasn’t, she was serving somewhere. Helping with women’s ministry was her passion – helping girls mature in faith through girlhood into womanhood, then serving with women. She’s 82 years old now, and still leads a Bible study in the two churches she attends (one in Michigan, the other in Kansas). Showing up and helping out was the family M.O. I learned it without questioning it. Maybe being the youngest I was used to taking orders, but I never minded it. I was just pitching in. It felt right and good. I felt like I was contributing. I really didn’t get upset when others didn’t, because the feeling I was getting was better than their “getting off the hook”. That’s the amazing thing about serving out of the right motive. When it’s done out of love, service may be exhausting, but it gives back more than it takes. It really ties you to a deeper source. Serving religaments us to God, because the Spirit of God is always serving towards someone’s or something’s restoration somewhere.
Zau Ya. Zau Ya was born and raised in what used to be called Burma. He was hoping to get an education so that he could return as a missionary. He lived in an apartment that was attached to our church in downtown Lansing, Michigan. I can’t tell you how many times we traveled the 30 minutes from our suburban home into the downtown area to help Zau Ya out in one way or another. He was alone, and my parents knew it. They did what they could to make sure he made it. We even set him up for Christmas one year. Zau Ya lives in the Bay Area, and pastors a sister church of ours. I saw him a couple of years ago. He has a great fondness for my parents because they walked alongside him when he was alone. They saw a man who was torn apart from his wife and kids, and they sought to religament him. I didn’t need a class on incarnation – I simply witnessed them.
Lynne’s family experience in this regard was nearly identical. We were so fortunate to find each other. We speak the same language. We raise our kids with the same True North, mimicking so much of what was done for us, tweaking things here and there that fit us better. We know our kids will improve on our work. We know there are some things we could have done better. But we also know that our kids’ faith was more caught than taught for them.
The Closet. There is one thing that I think we as human beings are learning to embrace that is very challenging simply because it is so counter-intuitive. That thing is vulnerability, something we touched on last week and will touch on again in a few weeks. Our own Karie Nuccio, sitting in my Bible Study last week gave a good working definition: the ability to laugh at yourself. Laughing at ourselves means we recognize that there is something funny – usually something a little off – that reminds us that we’re not perfect. Being able to laugh at ourselves requires vulnerability. It requires letting down our shields that protect us so that we can be honest about ourselves. I think with kids, we as parents want them to think the best of us, and know that they are looking up to us. So, it is easy to keep the shield up and be defensive when our goofiness is pointed out. On a much deeper, more challenging level, vulnerability also takes the risk to be honest about what we’re hiding in the closet. Our wounds, our uglier mistakes, our great failures are definitely a part of us, and definitely inform us whether we acknowledge them or not. Getting them out of the closet and looking at them frees us from the tyranny of hiding from them. And if we risk vulnerability by sharing our experience with our kids, we give them perhaps the great tool for their lives – a model for potential resurrection. The deaths we hide in the closet become the seed of resurrection and new life. How are we being open with our kids and those closest to us with what in our closets?
You have already communicated what faith you already have to those around you. The closest people around you can speak fairly knowledgably about your faith, even if you have never uttered a word about it. They can do this because faith isn’t expressed as much by our lips as by our life. Our lives communicate what we believe. This leads to an important question. Does your life proclaim a faith that remembers the Story of God, that serves to religament you toward wholeness? Or does your life proclaim something altogether different?
What faith would you like to proclaim? What areas of your life are saying something you don’t really believe? What needs to change? These are critical questions. For parents with younger kids, you are modeling what they will intuitively take to be normal and correct. Beyond kids, you are communicating a faith to everyone around you – is it what you want to communicate? Is your life what you want to say to God about God? Is your life what you want? Is the faith you are living religamenting you and others, or are you more disconnected than you need to be?
The goal here is not to guilt trip, but to examine ourselves for the sake of clarity. The witness of Jesus gives us great hope that there is more worth pursuing, and that the Spirit of God is with us toward that great hope.