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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tragedy in Boston

The events of this week from Boston have struck a chord in my heart. It is eery to see these images from a place I have been- to watch runners fall to the ground at the finish line- to watch medical personnel aiding the injured- hearing the screaming crowd- all of these things happened in 2004 when I ran the marathon. But it makes me sick to see all these same events connected to a bombing. I feel a kind of sickness that doesn't hit the stomach, but a little higher in the heart.

Maybe that's why today I keep thinking of the saying from Proverbs that "A hope deferred makes the heart sick." (Proverbs 13:12) There were so many painful hopes deferred yesterday. A local gal from our area turned the final corner onto Boylston Street- a scene I remember well- only to be forced to stop. For any marathoner, this turn towards the glory of the finish line is etched forever in your memory, especially at Boston. For her, the life-long dream would end there with the banners and ticking clock within site. Hope deferred. For others, they had gone to cheer on a friends or family member as they put on their final kick at the end of the race, only to end up running for their lives away from that place, never to see the loved one finish. Hope deferred. For still others, a loved one or friend who had come to cheer them on in the race of their life will never come home again. Hope deferred. Heart sick.

This complete Proverb says, "A hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." Many of us are watching these events unfold and are left with a deep longing in our chests. We long for a world where these events do not happen. We long for safety, peace and security. We long for a human experience marked by kindness and compassion, not anger and hate. But how will this longing be fulfilled?

In my understanding, I only know of one place where we find a tree of life- God's eternal heaven. And something about events like yesterday makes us long for that place. A place where hope is not deferred, but is fully experienced in the presence of God. Events like yesterday always remind me that we live in a hope-deferred kind of time, but that Jesus came to produce a longing-fulfilled kind of world. In Christ, we find the fulfillment of our longings as we experience the "right now among you" kingdom that Jesus inaugurated through is death and resurrection. Yet we still experience hope-deferred moments day after day.

So if, like me, you find yourself a bit heart sick these days, may it remind you we live in a broken world. A world that is not our home. But a new kingdom is breaking in, a kingdom of peace where longings are fulfilled. We live in place that is not yet all that God intended, and so He sent His Son. He sent Jesus to be our longing fulfilled and to lead us into life. May we cling tightly to him in the days to come.

Peace as you run this journey-

Nick

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Is It Jesus Vs. Soccer?

I don't normally re-post other people's material on my blog, but every once in awhile I find it worthwhile. This author says in a very upfront manner some of the things I have felt about parents trying to raise their kids in faith amidst a sports culture. I am challenged and encouraged by these words as I look at what choices we will make with our four young kids. I hope you find them meaningful as well-

Parents, Sports and Church

Thursday, April 11, 2013
I am about to enter into the most volatile subject imaginable.  No, not abortion or same-sex marriage, not even immigration reform or gun control.
Those are tame.
I want to talk about parents, sports and the church.
How many of you already felt your defenses go up, blood pressure rise, and claws and fangs extend?
I’m kind of dumb, so I’m going to keep writing.
But I am smart enough to say a few things before I go any further:
*I believe that on the eighth day, God created ESPN.
*I played organized sports from grade school all the way through to college.
*All four of my children were involved in sports during their formative years, from basketball to football, swim team to gymnastics.  I even coached many years of basketball when my boys were on teams with the YMCA and AAU.
*I believe sports are a good and healthy investment for parents to make, even when it involves sacrifice to have your children involved.
*Finally, I don’t reduce following Christ to attending church.
Whew!  There now – have I covered all my bases?
So here’s the inevitable “but” you sense is coming…
According to a new study published in the Review of Religious Research, an examination of declining attendance at 16 congregations revealed that many pastors place the most blame on children’s sports activities, since both practices and competitions are increasingly “scheduled on Sunday mornings at the very time when many churches traditionally have provided religious education.”
I’ve seen the same thing.
I see parents letting almost every other extracurricular activity in their child’s life take precedent over investments designed to make a spiritual impression.  Meaning soccer, or baseball, or swim team gets first dibs on the calendar.
For example, our church has a periodic event called “Family Night.”  It’s designed for the entire family to attend together, and highlights a specific character trait through a program involving music, dance, skits, video and more.  Parents are then equipped to go further with that trait with their children in the home, as well as through our MecKidz program during the weekend services.
It’s one of the more popular events in the life of our church, and combined with our weekend MecKidz program for children birth-fifth grade, it reaches thousands of parents and their children and strategically serves parent’s efforts to build Christ-like character – not to mention a relationship with Christ Himself – into their child’s life.
Yet I’ve actually overheard parents say things like, “Yes, we’re going to do Family Night – we wouldn’t miss it for the world - but only until soccer starts.”  Or, “We’re doing MecKidz on weekends, but not once swim team starts.”
That’s a concern.  And it isn’t about our church, much less it’s attendance.  I’m talking parent to parent, dad to dad, pastor to people.
Think about what you’re saying.  In fact, say it out loud, in front of a mirror.  Listen to it.
“I will do spiritual things for my child’s sake until sports conflict, then sports win.” 
Do you mean it?  Really?  Is that how you want to prioritize things?
When our kids were younger, my wife Susan and I saw this one coming.  We wanted our kids in those events every bit as much as anyone else.  But with some of the sports, there kept being conflict after conflict.
So we decided to take a stand.
For every team, every league, we’d put the same thing down when we registered.  We would ensure that there was at least one weekend service our children could attend.  Back then, it was Sunday mornings (we’ve since added more days and service times).  Further, we let the coaches know, in advance, those select Friday evenings when “Family Night” would be offered and we wouldn’t be able to participate.
There was even a season in our church’s life when our boundaries included not only every Sunday morning, but every Wednesday night.  For us that was important, too.
But in all those years of parenting, involving four children, we never once had a kid penalized.  We never once had anyone kick us off a team.  We never once felt that we deprived our kids of anything substantive.
And even if we had, who cares.
That’s not important.
Their hearts were.
Their character was.
What they were gaining spiritually was paramount .
That’swhat mattered.
And they turned out fine – valedictorians and athletes, prestige college acceptances and good marriages – all the things that parents are so insecure about.  But more important, all four know Christ intimately (and are even in vocational Christian ministry).
I’ve seen too many parents make sports their priority as if that’s what it means to raise their children in a healthy and holistic way, only to see that child travel far from God during their high school or college years, or leave the faith altogether as a young adult.
They had field hockey, basketball, or swim team, but they didn’t seem to end up with much of Jesus.
Hear my heart:  it’s not about choosing between Jesus and sports.  At least, it doesn’t have to be.  But if it comes down to that choice, how exactly does soccer rank over your child’s eternity?  How is it we’ll spend half a day travelling to a volleyball tournament, but fail to protect an hour a week where they will learn about God?
Let’s just say I watch my sports scores carefully.
But I don’t see that one adding up to a win.
James Emery White

Sources
“The Main Reason for Declining Church Attendance: Children's Sports?,” Melissa Steffan, Christianity Today, April 8, 2013, read online.
“The Final Four, travel teams and empty pews: Research on sports and religion,” David Briggs, The Association of Religion Data Archives, April 3, 2013, read online.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Do You Smile When You Run?

Awhile back, I mentioned to someone that I was a runner. Sometimes, confessing this can feel like admitting to some kind of secret obsession or fetish, as non-runners tend to have a hard time understanding why anyone would like to run and choose to do so voluntarily. But I told this near-stranger that I loved to run. This fellow asked an interesting question back, "Do you smile when you run?" In his words, he said that every runner he had ever seen looked sad, angry, tired or a combination of all three.

A few days later, I was out on a normal run and for whatever reason, I was not feeling it that day. My legs were sluggish and my brain wanted to call it quits early. But I thought of this guy's question about smiling when I run, and I realized that, in that moment, I was living out his stereotype of the angry-tired-sad runner look.

So I made a decision. I decided that the next car that drove by I would greet as if it was my brother. My real brother lives in Wisconsin and it is highly unlikely that he would drive 2,000 miles to greet me on a run, so picturing my reaction to seeing him struck me as funny and a bit exorbitant. Due to this, the next car that drove by received a spontaneously wild wave of excitement from me that had to have left the driver wondering what on earth was wrong with that crazy runner.

I did the same thing to the next car. And the next. And the next. After 3 or 4 cars, I actually found that I was enjoying it. I was laughing at myself and laughing at the reactions and thoughts that must be going through the heads of the unsuspecting drivers. Do you know what else happened? I started to feel good about the run. What only moments before had been drudgery suddenly felt like a party on the move. All of this happened because I chose a different persepctive- I intentionally put my mind and my thoughts on something that brought life and energy.

There's a story kind of like this that occurs in the Bible. David, the man who would one day be king over all Israel, is in a bad place. His life is being threatened by King Saul. Assissins have come to his house and only narrowly missed him. Spears thrown from the hand of the king have pinned him to the wall. Plots are underway to end David's life. Because of this, he finds himself on the lam, running from the king and who knows how many others. He has no one with him, nothing for protection but an over-sized sword of Goliath, and he's forced to run into enemy territory. While there, he must pretend that he is crazy so as not to be killed but yet another hostile king.

During this whole story, David pens the words to Psalm 34;
     I will praise the Lord at all times.
       I will constantly speak his praises.
     I will boast only in the Lord;
       Let all who are helpless take heart.
     Come, let us exalt the Lord's greatness;
        Let us exalt His name together! (Vs. 1-3)
The irony of this Psalm is that none of the things David sings about have actually come to pass in his current situation. At the time of writing,, he is in a foreign land, being chased by Saul, and with no hope of a future kingdom on his mind. But these are the words he puts to a scroll. Why? Because he chose a perspective. Rather than the sad-weary-tired soldier look, he put his eyes on the Lord. He chose to focus not on his circumstances, but on the glory of God and the promise of His faithfulness.  And so I believe that these words were not empty wishes which created a false hope, but that these words were powerful reminders of greater truths about God.

So today, may I ask- where is your perspective? Are you looking at current circumstances in such a way that life and energy seem to be draining away step by step? Or are you consciously choosing to focus on the greater things of God and His purposes for you? Making that choice to look up could make all the difference in the world.

At the very least, it could make the run a little lighter. And puzzle a few drivers as well!

     Taste and see that the Lord is good.
        Oh the joys of those who take refuge in Him!  (Psalm 34:8)

May you journey in His joy-
Nick