Thursday, February 25, 2016

Do Christian Parents Flirt with the Idol of Sports?

Do Christian Parents Flirt with the Idol of Sports?


As I walked into the middle school auditorium for a recent school event, another mom asked how I was doing. I told her our family was grateful to be able to breathe again after finally finishing soccer season. “Our family never breathes,” she said, and proceeded to describe how travel soccer overlaps with travel lacrosse all year long. They were going to try squeezing basketball into their son’s schedule as well. She listed each responsibility in her family’s schedule like a badge of honor. I was exhausted just listening.

Playing with Idolatry 
I live in suburban America. Our town has four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. Our district is ranked quite comfortably in the state as high-achieving. We have one post office and two fire stations. We are 25 minutes from Philadelphia, and about 90 minutes from New York City. People move here to realize the American Dream. Minivans, pet stores, and picket fences abound. We’re a carbon copy of thousands of other small towns across the country. And these towns are filled with families like the Smiths, who have determined their kids’ success in sports and other extracurricular activities is the top priority. My wife and I are wading through the murky waters of youth sports with our kids as well. They play for travel soccer teams, which keeps us busy each weekend for about two-thirds of the year. We have two children, but numerous sports-overwhelmed families have more.

There’s an idolatry problem in our community related to youth sports. I see this problem every weekend as families gather at the field rather than their church. It’s a problem in my heart, too. 
I feel deep tension as we walk through this season of family life. Jesus makes it clear we cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24). And the taskmaster of sports success always demands my attention. Here are some guiding principles to help navigate the sports scene. 

1. Sports are not bad. 
Sports often provide great opportunities for ministry. The apostle Paul even uses sports to illustrate how we should live (1 Cor. 9:24–27). He affirms that physical training has value (1 Tim. 4:8).
The problem comes when sports—and in particular my kids’ success in sports—begin to take first place in my family’s economy.

2. My family does sports in our community rather than outside it.
God has called our family to the mission field of our neighborhood. And one of the best ways to build relationships is to go where the people are—local fields, gyms, and pools.
There are some excellent sports programs run by Christian ministries, but we’ve chosen to do life in our community, which includes church, school, and sports. We hope this will provide regular opportunities to be on mission by encountering the same people repeatedly.

3. We must set limits.
Sports programs in our community are always offering more. They will take as much as we will give them. Our family must somtimes say no to programs or fundraisers or tournaments. The next three principles help us choose when we need to do so.

4. God has called our family to worship with our church on a weekly basis.
One of the biggest shifts in youth sports is the consistent use of Sunday as a game day. My children play games on Sunday. Those games, however, are not our first priority. We will attend church together as a family on a weekly basis. It’s okay if this worship requires us to arrive late or even miss a game. I communicate that priority graciously to their coaches.

5. I want my children to find stronger community with fellow Christians than with their sports teams. 
This one is tricky. Intensity within a sports team binds players together. Since most of my kids’ teammates are not Christians, though, there’s no opportunity for gospel fellowship and community with their teammates. So we fight to have our kids attend church youth functions consistently and even miss games occasionally for retreats or other events. We also provide regular opportunities for interaction between our kids and godly adults.

6. When “breathing” is not optional, it’s time for a heart check.
If our schedule is so regularly insane that we can’t rest, then perhaps our heart has subtly shifted. We always have time for what is most important to us. If our calendars leave room for nothing but the kids’ activities, then maybe those activities have become what we value most. Family devotional times are challenging in the best of times, but during soccer season they often disappear.
What are we communicating to our children about priorities when we have time for all of their sports but never to read God’s Word together?

Grace for the Sports-Entranced Family

Jesus rested and escaped his hectic ministry to pray (Luke 5:16). God established a sabbath principle for our protection and joy. He summons us to be still (Ps. 46:10). And in those quiet moments our family learns what is most important: the need to inhale the life-giving truth and love of Jesus our King.  While these guidelines provide a helpful framework for us to approach sports in a healthy way, their power is limited. No matter how many rules I put in place, my heart still bends toward counterfeit gods (Jer. 17:9). Am I guilty of being a sports idolater? Yes. Does this mean I may continue modeling this pattern of behavior for my family? By no means! (Rom. 6:2). Rather, in God’s amazing way, he continually takes my idolatry and redeems it by the power of his gospel. He gives me opportunities to model for my children repentance and the outpouring of his grace (Rom. 5:20). And he continues to grow us as we live in this tension.

Thankfully, my greatest hope lies not in our family’s ability to navigate sports without idolatry; it lies in God’s faithfulness to grant grace that leads us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

MY STORY / Patrick Roddey

My Story / Patrick Roddey

I grew up in Edgemoor, SC. I lived there with my mom, dad, and sister. My life there had good times and bad with my parents not getting along and divorcing when I was 8. At that point I began to see the power that manipulation has on people. Because of my parents’ divorce I was able to manipulate them and my teachers. As a teenager I continued to manipulate but added alcohol to the mix. I would drink and drive with no consideration for the people I was putting at risk. I lived my life to make myself happy, that was all that mattered.

During my early twenties some of my friends started a class at church and invited me to go. I went infrequently, but one week the church was having a special service and I went. The speaker talked about the sacrifice of Jesus, the son of God, how he lived a perfectly obedient life while on earth, then sacrificed himself at the cross to pay the punishment that I deserved, that we all deserve, for my (our) disobedience to God. He said that Jesus died, was buried, and then on the third day he rose from the dead. While I had grown up in church it was that night that Jesus became real to me. I spoke with the pastor and that night I surrendered my life to Jesus and He became my Lord.

I was used to manipulating people, but that night as I prayed God impressed upon me that I needed to serve others not use them. After that I quit manipulating others, but my binge drinking persisted until God used the children at the church I attended to show me that I was modeling what could be a destructive behavior in their lives. While at church I connected with a girl named Amy. We were attracted to one another, but she was my friend’s sister. We worked through that awkwardness and began a relationship. 6 months into our relationship I bought a ring and proposed a few months after that. We married after a couple years of engagement and wanted to start a family. After some time, Amy got pregnant and we went to the midwife and I can vividly remember seeing that flickering little heartbeat. A few weeks later Amy realized that something was wrong and we returned to the midwife. When she put the ultrasound wand on Amy that flickering little heartbeat was gone. Our world fell apart, I searched for anything to blame for the loss of our child and somehow that blame landed on my wife. Our relationship began falling apart, but God was not done with us. We struggled through the hard times and Amy got pregnant again then again, first a boy named Hayden, and then a girl named Laney. Now, we have two awesome children and though Amy’s redheaded and feisty, and we drive each other crazy sometimes, we love as hard as we can and strive to be the best family we can be.
What's your story?

MY STORY / Anthony Boling

My Story / Anthony Boling
I grew up in and around Rock Hill, SC. I never had my real father in my life. Many times growing up I wondered why my dad didn’t care enough to reach out to me. My mom got married to my stepdad and had two brothers. I watched alcohol and abuse destroy that marriage. I saw my stepdad beat my mom and disappear for days at a time. My mom eventually met a new man and married him. He tried to do well, but I was already hurt and never got close to him. They eventually divorced as well. I kept everything in and was shy. Never really made many friends at school and felt like I was alone often. I was also picked on often for being overweight. Alcohol and drugs were a way to relieve the self-image issues. I even used porn as an escape. This eventually led me to depression and an attempt at suicide.

It was after this that I met this lovely girl and started dating her. We dated a while and then started to go to church. It was then that I heard about how Jesus came to die for my sins. That he was hung on a cross, buried and rose on the third day. Proof that he is the truth. I got baptized after this with my now wife. The problem: I was never discipled or explained what it all meant. I continued to do what I wanted when I wanted that included drinking. It all almost came crashing down and me losing my family. We had 2 kids now and I still lived for me. My wife was at the point that she couldn’t take it anymore. That changed me forever and I started to try and do better. This is when I returned to church. Then Jesus got to me. I came to realize that I never really gave my life to Christ. In a service one day about tithing, Jesus gripped my heart and let me know that I had never surrendered to him. I realized I was still lost and doing things I wanted to do. I had to call upon Jesus to change my heart and to follow his ways, not mine.

After meeting Jesus, he was able to change my life in a dramatic way. I started to be able to let go of the things that hindered my walk with Christ. Things that I couldn’t have been able to turn from without his power. Though I still fail in areas in my life, I am improved in so many other areas by the grace of Jesus. Jesus took all the addictions away, not all at once though. God has been faithful in many ways. Some ways consist of when I was working a 3rd shift and very body demanding job. I had been doing this type of work for 16 years and my body was giving in. I also wanted to spend more time at church and with my family. I took a management job making 40% less and was the only household income. Our plan was to sell our house and move into something smaller. God’s plan was better. We never were able to sell the house despite selling it for $50,000 lower than what it is worth. We were also getting registered to be foster parents. We felt the Lord led us in that direction. After we took the house off the market, we got certified and were fostering some children nearly within the same week. Had we sold the house, it would have never worked. Now we are able to share what we have with others who don’t have. This is a true blessing I never imagined. It also made our marriage stronger. God continues to provide every day. All this and helping bring us out of the debt we were in. Another way God has been faithful is he has changed my mindset and heart from worldly things. I no longer care for the things that when we pass away we can’t take. No money, no achievements, no power, none can go with you. I now look at people with a new set of lenses. God is great.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why I Don't Share The Gospel:

Why I Don't Share The Gospel:: If my only motivation for sharing the gospel is that I should, then there is something incredibly broken in me. Christianity is not a should religion.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Speak the Truth in Love

Speak the Truth in Love
By Randy Alcorn | May 11, 2009

The most quoted verse these days is not "For God so loved the world," but "Judge not." Unfortunately, we often fail to understand what this means.

In our own church, a Bible believing fellowship, years ago I spoke to a Sunday school class in which one of the couples stood up and shared that their unborn child had a serious disease and would not live long after birth. They said that the doctor had given them their options and they were meeting with him the next day and needed to make their decision about what they were going to do. The red flag was waving—almost certainly, one of the options (often the only one if it's a genetic defect, which it was) was abortion. The "options" are, give birth to a child who will almost certainly die, or take the life of the child before she is born.

After the class I watched as people briefly greeted this couple, nodded to them, likely said they'd be praying and went out the door. People seemed warm and friendly and caring. But no one talked more than a minute, which made it obvious they were not dealing with the question: what kind of options are we talking about?

I went to the couple, and we stayed afterward talking for nearly an hour. It turns out they were leaning toward abortion. In the absence of counsel to the contrary that would likely have been their direction. I explained the difference between God being allowed to take their child's life, and them choosing to take the child's life. They ended up having the child, who lived for a month in a family full of love, held by mom and dad and the other children. Proudly they showed us and their class the pictures of this precious child.

I am haunted by the fact that in our pro-life church, not one person in a Sunday School class of 100 took this couple aside. Surely someone realized the "options" probably included abortion. Likely, they didn't want to be judgmental or to make them feel guilty if they'd chosen abortion. But we owe it to people to tell them the truth, saturated with grace and kindness and empathy.

We all know that one of the ways we fail each other in the body of Christ is by our judgmental and self-righteous attitudes. What we don't seem to realize is how often we fail each other by looking the other way and not going to each other to give warning and wisdom and edification. (For example, a pastor who ends up leaving his wife and kids for his secretary, and dozens of church people, including leaders, saying, "I knew they were involved, or headed that way; I could just see it.") Well, it wasn't grace and non-judgmentalism that kept them from speaking up—it was indifference or cowardice or the lie that we are not our brother's keeper, that we don't have a responsibility to each other and to God.

Sometimes we assume people know that they are wrong. We think we're being nonjudgmental and gracious to them by not sitting down with them and kindly sharing what God says about sex and marriage. In fact, we are being neglectful or cowardly. We fall for the lie that sin can be in someone's true best interests. It can't be. It never is. Matthew 7 doesn't tell us not to help remove the splinters from our brother's eye. It tells us to remove the log from our own eye, so we can see more clearly to remove the splinter from our brother's eye.

We owe it to each other to do what Scripture commands: "Speak the truth in love." (Ephesians 4:15)