Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Olympic Moment. . . .

Something a little more light-hearted today. It has to do with my feeling out-of-touch and left behind when I watch my boys do some of the things that boys do these days. You know, the stuff they do that's related to technological advances and the intersection of those advances with youth culture. Specifically, video games. I watch them play. I feel old. I try to play with them. I feel lost and then always lose. Then they remind me of how deprived my childhood must have been without the stuff that they've got.

Then while watching the olympics over the course of the last couple of weeks, I realized that there were some "advances" we had that are not only long lost, but unknown to my kids. I'm thinking specifically about the formalized physical education experience I had 30 to 40 years ago, compared to what my kids are required to do in gym class today. My kids have co-ed classes. They don't wear uniforms. And, they are not required to shower after class. This is most likely due to the fact that physical education has by and large become sweatless. We were separated boys from girls. Every once in a while that little door in the middle of the folding wall that divided the gym in two would open and we'd be able to satisfy our hormonal curiosity with a peek into the curious world of the girls' gym class.

We also wore matching uniforms. No uniform, no participation. No participation, no passing grade. I noticed they're still wearing uniforms in the olympics. My kids are only required to wear shoes with a rubber bottom. We also broke a sweat. . . sometimes from the exertion extended during physical activity, sometimes from fear of our gym teacher (remember Mr. Cutlip??), and sometimes from the sheer terror of anticipating doing the things we had to do (more on that in a minute!). This means community showers were required. . . which was perhaps the most terrifying part of junior high gym class.

And then there are the sports and how they are graded. In today's world, you just need to show up and hit a wiffle-golf-ball around the football practice field with a 9-iron for 36 minutes and you get an "A." I've heard stories of some sports that are now options for kids in gym class. . . . like darts and billiards. Are you kidding me? And it's not just kids who go to school. One youth pastor told me that he had a kid in his youth group who stayed home for school who got gym credit for regularly taking out the garbage, cutting the grass, and cleaning up the dog's mess in the backyard! I guess you could break a sweat depending on the size and consumption habits of the dog.

All that to say. . . this year's Olympics have left me gloating a bit. Regardless of the fact that nobody in my house is listening or even cares, I still feel good about the fact that many of the sports celebrated in the Olympics were required for us. My kids have no clue. Yes, we had to wrestle. For a grade. My greatest junior high gym class wrestling moment, I thought at the time, came in the middle of a match in our school's wrestling room when I put a move on a kid named Danny that snapped his thigh bone in half. Trust me, it was not intentional, the move was accidental, and nobody was more surprised than me. Somehow in all the chaos of having to call an ambulance, my teacher forgot to give me any extra credit points for conquering my opponent so decisively. I may have even been docked points for interrupting class.

We also had to particpate in just about every Olympic track and field event. Remember the hurdles? I do. And it's not a pleasant memory. The shot put and the javelin were another story. Those were the days when teachers actually taught you how to use weapons. During my high school and middle school years I spent time on the track team doing both events. Of course, I never finished first in either. If my son took a javelin to school with him today, he'd be expelled. . . . and most likely doomed to getting gym credits for cleaning up after the dog. We also were required to learn skills for grades on all the gymnastics apparatus. We had to do the high bar, vaulting horse, still rings, parallel bars, pommel horse, floor exercises, and even the trampoline. . . . which was lots of fun as long as you were just jumping around. My one glorious gymnastic moment came when I mustered up enough courage to actually try to do a dislocate on the still rings. Amazingly, it worked and it didn't hurt - even though it looked like it should. Other Olympic sports where particpation of all was required included team handball (fun), volleyball (fun), distance running (not fun), swimming (fun - except for the backstroke and the water you'd get up your nose), and diving (not fun if you were scared of heights).

So, the Olympics are ancient in more ways than one. Their history extends back to ancient Greece. . . . and to a couple of gymnasiums and athletic fields in suburban Philly schools. My kids don't know what they're missing!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Worth pondering. . . .

Lot's of new announcements coming from us here at CPYU in the next few weeks. Fasten your seat belt! One of the projects Derek Melleby has been working on is a new blog called "CPYU Bookshelf." It will debut in a few weeks as a new resource that's sure to be a hit. In the meantime, Derek has been working on some material prior to the launch, including an interview with Tim Clydesdale, author of The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School.

Derek asked Tim some great questions. Tim's answers offer some helpful insight into who teens are and how we're doing ministry. You'll have to wait to read the entire interview. But I thought I'd pass on Derek's last question to Tim, along with Tim's answer. . . . which includes some challenging and sobering observations at the end.

Derek: “College transition” is currently a hot topic in youth ministry these days. Churches are reporting that more and more students walk away from the faith during the college years. What do you think are the implications of your research for youth pastors as they prepare students in their youth groups for college?

Tim: Those who “walked away” from their faith during college made the decision to do so long before their college years – they just waited for the freedom of college to enact that choice. In many cases, these teens reported having important questions regarding faith during early adolescence (12-14 years old) that were ignored by their parents or pastors rather than taken seriously and engaged thoughtfully. It is in early adolescence that faith trajectories (along with other life trajectories) are set, thus early adolescence is the point when preparation must occur. Middle and late adolescence are increasingly similar, as college represents less of a qualitative change and more of a quantitative change. In other words, there are few ideas and freedoms available to college students that are not also available to high school students – college students simply experience ideas and freedoms in greater quantity. Hence, early adolescence are the years when churches must prepare their youth, and must do so fully aware that youth now arbitrate among many claims for their allegiance. Sadly, most youth ministries are long on fun and fluff and short on listening and thoughtful engagement. The former produces a million paper boats; the latter produces a handful of seaworthy ships. Launching a million paper boats is an amazing spectacle on a clear summer day, but only a ship can weather storms and cross oceans.

Did you read those last three lines???? Read them again and ponder them. Wow. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Redemptive grace. . . . .

Redemptive Grace . . . .

Several weeks ago I blogged about the cover of OK! magazine that featured teenager Jamie Lynn Spears and her newborn baby. My concern was – and is – that we’re experiencing a fundamental shift in our culture regarding premarital childbearing and parenting. There are numerous cultural forces coming together to promote this shift. I think the cover of OK! serves as both a map and a mirror in terms of this shift. . . . making a strong statement that is not only normal, but "ok."

If you read the comments to that blog you’ll see that one person in particular took issue with my perspective. In follow-up, I want to clarify how important it is for us to maintain a balanced biblical perspective that guides not only our own thinking and response, but our ministries to our kids as well.

Here’s the deal: we know that premarital sex is not part of God’s design and plan. Neither is the breakdown of the family. Nor is premarital pregnancy, fatherlessness, or a single teenaged mom raising a child. Still, these things happen and they have to be balanced with the fundamental value of all human life. So how do we respond? This is where the balance comes in. We are to be prophetic, preventive, and redemptive. We proclaim the timeless and unchanging truths of God’s Word to these situations in a prophetic sense. We are preventive in that we raise awareness of the issues, hoping to steer kids into making good and God-honoring decisions. But we fail miserably when our response to miserable failure is to shun, condemn, or become vindictive. . . . somehow thinking that we are serving and honoring God and His ways by doing so. No, we need to strike that redemptive balance that is marked by grace, mercy, and love.

Last Friday I attended the funeral of a one-week old baby. That precious little child had been conceived out-of-wedlock by a young mother. Two weeks from full-term, complications arose and there was an emergency delivery. The physical issues ran deep and there was a clear sense almost immediately that this baby would not live. Sadly, he died a week later.

In our self-righteousness, some of us might go so far as to try to “honor” God by taking what we erroneously think as “His side,” condemning the pregnancy and falling into the trap of not supporting and loving the young mother, or even thinking that a baby born in these circumstances should die. Believe it or not, I’ve encountered that kind of thinking in a lot of places. That type of thinking and living is anything but Biblical and God-honoring. When people fail to respond to the prophetic and preventive, why do so many think that the next step should be punitive and vindictive? Yes, discipline should not be shirked. But it must always be done from a redemptive posture that mirrors God’s grace and is always aware of the fact that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”

I saw that happen in beautiful ways on Friday. The parents of the young mother are followers of Jesus. While it’s been a difficult path, they’ve followed Jesus from the get go, assuming that redemptive posture that’s carried them through an unwed pregnancy, a week of emotional and physical suffering, a difficult funeral, and which will continue to carry this family to a place of healing and growth. A friend of mine officiated at the service. His word’s ministered to us all deeply.

But what really spoke to me in ways that I will never forget, was watching the family of this young mother surround her and her baby boy with amazing Christ-like love. It climaxed on Friday with their words of testimony to the sovereignty of God and His love for all precious human life. It became more intense as I watched the grieving grandfather carry a small white casket from the back of the hearse, across the grass, and to a grave. It intensified even more as Lisa and I chatted with that grandfather after the funeral.

I was reminded again of the pervasiveness of sin in our lives. The welcoming love of the Father to those whom He has called as His own. The forgiveness that is ours in Christ. And our need to humbly be to others, what Christ has been to us.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said, we don’t need cheap grace. Nor do we need graceless condemnation. Instead, we must become the hands and feet of Jesus, never failing to be a redemptive presence where there is deep brokenness and sin.