Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Finding Balance

Scott Linscott is a pastor at First Baptist Church in Portland, Maine.  He wrote the following blog which can be found at http://scottlinscott.wordpress.com 

I can't agree with him more about finding balance.  In so many words, I hear him say that one of the quickest ways to make your kids apathetic about faith is to NOT teach them about balance. 

Whether we're teaching our children or youth, or struggling ourselves, one of the quickest ways to an apathetic faith is a lack of balance. 

As a society I fear we've placed so much attention on the RESULTS of academics, because its those that eternally lead to MONEY (whether it be through scholarships, or to that high-paying job).  The RESULTS of academics may be what lead to MONEY, but it is the emphasis on BALANCE and EDUCATION (which I find dramatically different than the results of academic pursuit) which leads to a full and meaningful life.

Education does not always mean an academic degree, rather a pursuit of continually "bettering" yourself.  Education does not always mean that you have received an "A" on a project, but rather that you learned a lot in the process of producing this paper, presentation, project, degree, etc.  One is not educated because he/she can spout off memorized facts and figures, rather one is educated because they have learned to apply the information that has been acquired, and the ways to acquire more information.

Balance is something that has severely been lacking in the United States and many of our lives (I'm certainly not above this struggle!) for a long time.  When we started putting the almighty dollar above people and relationships, we immediately lost any hope for balance.  When we put our emphasis on the almighty dollar, and ways to acquire it at whatever cost, we're slowly chipping away at our own future, at our own opportunity for balance.  It's certainly harder to acquire balance, and to change a way of thinking away from the "almighty dollar," than it is to maintain a sense of balance with God and relationship as the most important.  My ultimate goal for the church is that we speak to a meaningful and fulfilled relationship with God; not a relationship that has cut and dry answers, but one that makes you question and seek, one that makes you wonder as you wander, until you develop a balance of faith and question, a balance of pursuit and enjoying the ride, a balance of priorities.

Your kid’s an All Star? Wow! Someday he’ll be average like the rest of us.

The church in America is puzzled. Young adults are leaving in droves. Magazines, books and blogs are wagging the finger of blame to point out who is responsible. Some say it is a failure of youth ministry, some point to church budgets and some nail the blame on outdated, unhip worship services. We parents are shocked that our kids just really aren’t all that into Jesus.

When I look for someone to blame I head into the restroom and look into a mirror. Yupp, there he is. I blame him. That parent looking back at me is where I have to start.

If you’re a parent, I’m might tick you off in this post. But, hear me out. I think that we, as parents are guilty of some things that make it easy for our kids to put faith low on their priority list.

Keys to Making Your Kids Apathetic About Faith

1) Put academic pursuits above faith-building activities. Encourage your child to put everything else aside for academic gain. Afterall, when they are 24 and not interested in faith and following Christ, you’ll still be thrilled that they got an A in pre-calculus, right? Instead of teaching them balance, teach them that all else comes second to academics. Quick … who graduated in the top 5 of your high school class? Unless you were one of them, I bet you have no idea. I don’t.

2) Chase the gold ball first and foremost. Afterall, your child is a star. Drive 400 miles so your child can play hockey but refuse to take them to a home group bible study because it’s 20 minutes away.

2b) Buy into the “select,” “elite,” “premier” titles for leagues that play outside of the school season and take pride in your kid wearing the label. Hey now, he’s an All-Star! No one would pay $1000 for their kid to join, “Bunch-of-kids-paying-to-play Team.” But, “Elite?!?” Boy, howdy! That’s the big time!

2c) Believe the school coach who tells you that your kid won’t play if he doesn’t play in the offseason. The truth is, if your kid really is a star, he could go to Disney for the first week of the season and come back and start for his school team. The determined coach might make him sit a whole game to teach him a lesson. But, trust me, if Julie can shoot the rock for 20 points a game, she’s in the lineup. I remember a stellar soccer athlete who played with my son in high school. Chris missed the entire preseason because of winning a national baseball championship. With no workouts, no double sessions, his first day back with the soccer team, he started and scored two goals. Several hard-working “premier” players sat on the bench and watched him do it. (Chris never played soccer outside the school season but was a perpetual district all-star selection.) The hard reality is, if your kid is not a star, an average of 3 new stars a year will play varsity as freshmen. That means there’s always 12 kids who are the top prospects. Swallow hard and encourage your kid to improve but be careful what you sacrifice to make him a star at little Podunk High here in Maine.

2d) By the way, just because your kid got a letter inviting him to attend a baseball camp in West Virginia does not mean he is being recruited. You’ll know when recruiting happens. Coaches start calling as regularly as telemarketers, they send your kid handwritten notes and they often bypass you to talk to your kid. A letter with a printed label from an athletic department is not recruitment. When a coach shows up to watch your kid play and then talks to you and your kid, that’s recruiting.

3) Teach your kid that the dollar is almighty. I see it all the time. Faith activities fly out the window when students say, “I’d like to, but I have to work.” Parents think jobs teach responsibility when, in reality, most students are merely accumulating wealth to buy the things they want. Our kids learn that faith activities should be put aside for the “responsibility” of holding a job. They will never again get to spend 100% of their paychecks on the stuff they want.

3b) Make them pay outright for faith activities like youth retreats and faith community activities while you support their sports, music, drama and endeavors with checks for camps and “select” groups and expensive equipment. This sends a loud and clear message of what you really want to see them involved in and what you value most. Complain loudly about how expensive a three-day youth event is but then don’t bat an eye when you pay four times that for a three-day sports camp.

4) Refuse to acknowledge that the primary motivating force in kids’ lives is relationship. Connections with others is what drives kids to be involved. It’s the reason that peer pressure is such a big deal in adolescence. Sending kids to bible classes and lectures is almost entirely ineffective apart from relationship and friendships that help them process what they learn. As kids share faith experiences like retreats, mission trips and student ministry fun, they build common bonds with one another that work as a glue to Christian community. In fact, a strong argument can be made that faith is designed to be lived in community with other believers. By doing all you can to keep your kids from experiencing the bonds of love in a Christian community, you help insure that they can easily walk away without feeling like they are missing anything. Kids build friendships with the kids they spend time with.

5) Model apathy in your own life. If following Jesus is only about sitting in a church service once a week and going to meetings, young adults opt out. Teenagers and young adults are looking for things that are worth their time. Authentic, genuine, relevant relationships where people are growing in relationship with Jesus is appealing. Meaningless duty and ritual holds no attraction.

There are no guarantees that your children will follow Christ even if you have a vibrant, purposeful relationship with Him. But, on the other hand, if we, as parents do not do all we can to help our children develop meaningful relationships in Jesus, we miss a major opportunity to lead them and show them the path worth walking.

I want my kids to see that their dad follows Jesus with everything. I want them to know that my greatest hope for them is that they follow Him too.
Mt. 6:33 Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (The Message)
On a personal note: I know the struggle. My wife and I have lived the struggle firsthand. My son was recruited by a few D1 NCAA schools for baseball and opted instead to attend a small D3 school. My daughter was recruited to play field hockey by a couple D2 programs and ended up playing D3 when the scholarship offer was not enough to make her top school affordable. Both played in “premier” leagues. Both got A’s in high school though we often told them not to stress out too much over it. Both are in honor societies in college and my son now has offers from UNC, Univ. of Wisconsin, Johns Hopkins and Weil Cornell for a Phd in Pharmacology. Neither ever missed a youth group retreat, conference or mission trip because of their sports or academic commitments. Both missed a game or two to attend faith-based activities. Both missed school for family vacations. Both held down part-time jobs in high school and learned to give employers advance notice for upcoming retreats. My son often changed into his baseball uniform at church to arrive in the third inning of Sunday games. Robin and I did all we could to make sure they connected in student ministry even when it meant driving straight from a tournament to a music festival at midnight so that they would not miss out. It was that important to us. My youngest, a culinary student, lost a restaurant job because he went on a mission trip. That’s fine. Thankfully, all 3 have strong faith walks today. That is due only to God’s grace. But, I do believe that our efforts and example helped them long for a community-based faith.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11, the Qur'an and Football

It's a little weird.  I logged onto Facebook this afternoon to see a mixture of basically two messages.  Everyone seems to be posting about one of two things.  1) A combination of 9/11 and possible Qur'an  burning comments or 2) FOOTBALL.

It's been a busy day already and it being 4:00pm , I'm just now really thinking about either one of these things.  Granted I've been concerned about and reading about the possible Qur'an burning for weeks (as the media has made this possible) and let's be honest, I live in Southern Louisiana where you're only allowed to think about two things in life, the Saints and the Tigers.  But at the same time, a service project with the Young Adults in the morning and a women's tea at the church this afternoon, I haven't really taken into account much of what this day could mean, or does.

Do I remember?  Yes.  I remember walking back to the Kappa house on Mizzou's campus and having some random fraternity guy in the parking lot tell me something about NYC being attacked.  I remember praying with several women at the sorority house and calling my mother to make sure my dad wasn't traveling that day as he often had for work.  I remember thinking about those who died a senseless death and those who lost their loved ones because of a senseless act of hatred.  I remember people wanting to sign up to serve in the military to protect our country and its freedoms.  I remember being concerned for my friends who were Muslim, for their safety, and even for my friends who simply "looked" Arab-like.  I remember hating the words about a Holy War and being discouraged at the violence committed because of fear and ignorance.  I remember wanting people to understand the difference between a person of the Muslim faith and an extremist of any faith that gave that faith a bad name.  I remember praying for those who were serving our country, prayer for their safety and well-being in the middle of this senseless act.  I remember the flags and the moments of silence, the prayers for PEACE.  I remember the country coming together and making statements like, "United We Stand, Divided We Fall."

United We Stand.

It doesn't seem as if we're very united though, on this particular day, 9 years later.  We're fighting over economic issues, over racial issues, over political parties, taxes and health care.  We argue about money and communication, about custody issues with kids and divorce court.  We argue about what we are teaching our children in school, over where people are allowed to worship and about who is allowed to legally be married.

Divided We Fall.

We have fallen.  We had fallen.  We still fall.  But I have hope.

I have hope that this country can stand united.  We didn't necessarily stand united nine years ago.  And we haven't necessarily stood united since then.  But I have hope.

I don't hope that we stand in uniformity, believing in and espousing the same lifestyles, thoughts, religion, affiliations, ethics or the like.  I do not hope that we stand together against those who are different, persecuting those who are not like us.  Rather, I have hope that we will stand united.  

I have hope that we will unite around our differences, taking into account the strength that comes from diversity.  I have hope that we can stand united because our differences make us more complete, and more whole than we could ever be alone.  I have hope that we will stand in unity, supporting one another not because we are the same religion, color, gender, age or ethnicity, but because we are united in our humanity.

Call me naive.  Call me ignorant.  But I would argue that hope is a difficult choice; not one of a mere naivete or ignorance.  On the contrary, hope is a difficult choice, an unpopular choice, that I make because of my life experience, a choice I make because of what I have learned from my sisters and brothers in humanity.

I remember hearing something - probably about 9 years ago - about the point of terrorism.  History has shown that the purpose, the point of terrorism is to stop life; not in that you end life, but that terrorism stops life.  Terrorism is a successful tactic only when people allow themselves to be terrorised.  Terrorism only works when we allow people to create an "us" and a "them" which in turn divides us, and does not leave us "united" in any way.  Terrorism only works when we allow terrorism to stop our lives, to prevent us from living life because we are afraid.

I choose hope, because it helps me to not be afraid. 

I choose hope, because it is that which builds bridges and extends hands towards one another.

I choose hope because while it is risky, it brings the most gain.

I choose hope, because it is ALWAYS better than despair.

I choose hope, because life is nothing without it.

I choose hope because it allows me to live life in such a way that fear prevents, to live my life to the fullest.

I choose hope because I have been give life by the One who showed me what hope is. 

I choose hope because it is one thing that can unite all people against common enemies of humanity; against ignorance, poverty, hatred, and death,

I choose hope because it allows me to live my life.  It allows me to live a life that will involve me going home, reading a portion of the New Testament, a portion of the Hebrew Bible and a portion of the Qur'an. 

And then I will watch some football.