Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What If?

Have you ever played the "What if?" game with yourself?  You know, it's when you run different scenarios through your mind and try to figure out what the result would be if things were different.  Usually, we play this game (or put ourselves through this torture, as the case may be) when looking backward to the past.  We are particularly prone to do this when looking back on something negative such as a personal failure or tragedy.  We wonder things like, "What if I had gotten there 5 minutes later?" or "What if I had gotten that text message sooner?"  It's natural to do this, although I don't know that it is particularly healthy.

Lately, I have been playing the "What if?" game in the other direction.  I have been trying to figure out what the results would be in the future if things were different now.  Specifically, I have been pondering my Christian walk and my relationship to God and those around me.  As I have been growing in grace over the last months and years, I find myself wondering how our homes, our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world would be different if Christians thought differently and acted differently.  I am not claiming to know all of the problems and/or solutions of modern Christianity.  I am just wondering..."What if?"  Several ideas have come to mind.  Many of them are based on specific passages of scripture.  Some of them are just my own conjecture and theory.  All of them, at the very least, are interesting to think about and ponder...

So, I am going to do my best John Lennon impression and ask you to imagine.  Imagine what it would be like.  Imagine how our lives might be different.  Imagine how our impact on the world might increase.  Imagine how much more glory and honor God might receive. (It's easy if you try.)

What if...

We were truly convinced that God Himself is the highest and greatest good to which mankind can aspire?

We lived on a daily basis in full recognition of and appreciation for the finished work of Christ in our lives?

We viewed every person around us (friend or foe, believer or not) as a soul created by God in His image and infused with value and worth?

We allowed our brothers and sisters in Christ the freedom to be themselves in their walk with Christ?

We reached the conclusion that there are relatively few things in the scope of Christianity for which it is worth separating from other Christians?

We stopped trying to produce spiritual fruit (in ourselves or in others) through external, artificial means and started allowing Christ to live His life out through us?

We stopped viewing our nation as a battlefield to be conquered through political activism and radical separatism and started viewing it as a mission field to be lived in and exposed to the power of God's love in the Gospel?

We began to believe that every perfect gift is from God and that, for a Christian, there is no such thing as sacred or secular?

We stopped trying to define our spirituality in terms of all that we do or don't do?

We related to others the way God relates to us?

We all were honest with ourselves and others about how dark our hearts really are?

We truly understood that God views each Christian through the lens of Christ and that His love and acceptance for us are completely independent of our actions?

We came to accept that grace really is as good as it sounds?

What if?

Can you imagine?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why I Love Working With Teenagers

I just arrived home several hours ago from our annual Back-to-School Retreat.  At South Merrimack Christian Academy, we call this 3-day event RENEW.  Although I have enjoyed the previous two retreats that I have attended with this school, I felt (for many reasons) as if there was an especially powerful spirit amongst those students and faculty who were there this year.  After spending these days with 70 high-schoolers, I was reflecting during my drive home.  (I had plenty of time to reflect because I was driving the luggage van and, consequently, my only companions were duffel bags and guitar cases.)  I was reflecting on how much I enjoy working with teenagers.

I have worked with teenagers in some capacity ever since I was one.  I must admit I don't always enjoy working with teenagers, but, for the most part, I relish the opportunities I have been given over the last decade or so.  As I and my silent van-mates flew down I-93 this afternoon, I enumerated in my mind several reasons why I enjoy these young adults with whom I spend most of my time and for whom I expend most of my energy.  As I thought of teens, four words came to my mind:

1. Energetic - Speaking of expending energy, I am thoroughly sore and exhausted as I type this.  I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon careening down an extra-large Slip n' Slide on my stomach or skipping across the waters of Newfound Lake at 30 mph on a motor-boat propelled tube.  Literally, I could have gone to bed at 7 o'clock and been asleep within 5 minutes.  I didn't have the chance to do that, however, because I had to go sit in a bush for 15 minutes so we could play "Capture the Counselor" after the evening session.  Indeed, working with teens is a tiring exercise because of the exorbitant amounts of energy they seem to have.  This, however, is not a bad thing. It actually makes teenagers endearing.   I can't prove this scientifically, but I think exposing myself to their energy may actually reverse the effects of aging in my own life.

2. Curious - One thing that I have discovered as a Bible teacher is that teens have questions.  Usually, they have lots of questions.  Many times, they have very deep, penetrating, and thought-provoking questions.  Although they may not be as curious as your typical five year old, teenagers usually haven't grown up so much that they don't still have that innate thirst for knowledge.  I love this about them, because I haven't yet grown up so much that I don't still thirst for answers.  One of the things about their curiosity that has been so amazing to me is the fact that God has used it to further my own growth in grace.  I try to learn as much from the teens as they do from me.  I think this is a nifty little arrangement.

3. Potential - I count it a real privilege to be able to play a moderately significant role in the lives of young people as they reach their Junior and Senior years of high school.  It is truly exciting to witness the beginning of their adult lives as they prepare to graduate and move on to "what's next."  The thing that is so cool is the diversity of talents and personalities that I find in the students.  It's fun to picture how they will be able to use their gifts to impact their world.  I can only imagine that it's all the more fun to look back and actually see how they've impacted their world.  I anticipate this eagerly as I continue logging in years as a teacher.

4. Genuine - As someone who is learning the value of true genuineness, I have to say that this is one of my favorite things about teens.  Although there are exceptions, of course, I really believe that teenagers (especially the teenagers of the current generation) are some of the most genuine, un-hypocritical people you can find.  For the most part, teens haven't learned the finely-nuanced art of "putting on airs."  What you see is what you get.  I find this quality to be very compelling.  Even when "what you see" is disheveled, undisciplined, or just plain odd, it's refreshing to work with people who don't really know how to play the "Good Christian Game."  This quality is also very convicting, because I am discovering that I have to be just as genuine with them in order to have any hope of having a lasting impact on their soul.

Someone asked me yesterday when I was groaning from the Slip n' Slide-induced pain in my ribs if it was worth it.  I replied, "If it allows the kids to see me as a real person who enjoys being with them and is genuinely interested in their life, then, yeah--it's worth it."  I'm not completely sure if sliding or tubing or hiding in the bushes shows the teenagers all of those things, but I can honestly say...It's worth it and I love it! (Most of the time! :-)