Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Freedom to Play our Best

It may still be 97 degrees outside, but the fall semester is now in full swing at both church and school. That means among other things that football, soccer, volleyball, piano, ballet, etc. are all up and running once again. Last week a great blogpost was making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter concerning “What Parents Should Say as Their Kids Perform.” The author, Tim Elmore, works with student-athletes at every level of sports, and he notes that the best intentioned parents often do things that actually stymie their son or daughter’s ability to perform and enjoy performing. You can read the article for his full analysis, but I love his conclusion. The absolute best thing a parent can say to a child before, during, or after a game/recital/etc. is “I love to watch you play.” Isn’t that terrific?! I love to watch you play. What a profound way to express your unconditional love for your child. These words don’t tie your love to your kid’s performance or success, just his or her participation in an activity he or she has chosen to try.

What could be more liberating than to know that another person simply delights in our presence and participation in life? I’m a grown up and I wish I had someone who would tell me, “I love to watch you play.” Oh wait, I do. The Bible promises that “The Lord takes delight in his people” (Ps. 149:4). His love isn’t chained to my performance or my success. His love is instead tied completely to the fact that he has made us and we are his. Which means, I need not be afraid of disappointing God. I need not play it safe when it comes to trying to follow him in this world. I can play freely. As a follower of Jesus, that means I can do my very best at loving deeply, forgiving liberally, and sowing generously knowing that when I come off the field, God isn’t going to nitpick my performance, he’s going look at me his child and say, “I love to watch you play.”

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” – Zephaniah 3:17

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thoughts on the First Day of School

I know it doesn’t make me sound very cool, but I always loved the first day of school. Seeing my friends, the new school supplies, even the new classes all filled me with a great sense of joyful anticipation. As a kid, your job is to learn, and I loved learning. Part of that was the fact that I had such good teachers through the years. Not only did they know and care about the information they were teaching, they also knew and cared about me. Next to my own parents, it was my teachers that helped me realize “I matter in this world. There is someone who cares for me.”

It’s become popular in recent years for some Christians to lament the fact that God has been taken out of the public schools. At best that’s shortsighted talk. At worst it’s really bad theology. God sure doesn’t need state sponsored mentions of his name to show up in a place. I’m not even sure what God thinks about state sponsored prayers. After all, Jesus once said, when you pray, go in your closet and pray, but that’s a conversation for another post.

As far as schools today go, here’s a truth that should not be forgotten. As long as God’s people are participating in the public schools as teachers, administrators, coaches, janitors, aides, and students, God is still there. He's there in every private prayer uttered on their lips. He’s there in every student that delights in learning about his world. He’s there as teachers care for students from every social class, religion, and race. He's there as teachers teach those students to discover their God given ability to learn and grow. Friends, God is still in our public schools. In fact, he never left.

Our schools and our teachers have enough mean-spirited critics. Let’s not be one of them. Instead, let’s celebrate our schools as places of learning for all people. Let’s champion them as places where different kinds of people practice what it means to live together in peace. Let’s talk about them as partners in building better communities. Let’s pray for them as the place where a number of God’s people go each day in order to live out their faith. Let’s trust that our schools are still a place where God does some of his absolute best work.

I wonder, does God get filled with joyful anticipation on the first day of school? I still get excited on my kids' first day of school. My guess is, God does, too.

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A prayer for the first day of school:

Lord, whether they be in public or private schools, urban or rural settings,
I lift up a prayer for the teachers, administrators, aides, janitors, coaches, and students
     as they prepare for a new school year.
May they know that the tasks of teaching and learning are holy, God-honoring tasks.
May the joy of learning about science or mathematics or literature fill their hearts with an even
     deeper longing to learn about the God who has made the world about which we learn.
May our teachers not lose heart as they contend with the overwhelming social needs of students,
     the often frustrating political bureaucracy that means to help but doesn’t,
     and their own personal struggles that often must take a backseat to the students’ needs.
Give our teachers eyes to see the victories they achieve every day as students learn their material,
     yes, but even more so, their place in this world as ones who are loved.
May our brothers and sister in Christ who fill the halls of our schools everyday go forth
     as lights in the darkness, so that others might discover your love in them.
In the name Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.