Friday, August 27, 2010

Faith and Teens

I remember there used to be public service commercials that asked, "It's 9 o'clock, do you know where your child is?"  I think in the age of technology knowing where your child is physically is less critical, and we are now faced with a new question.  Do you know where your child is spiritually?  A recent article from "Author:  More Teens Becoming 'Fake' Christians," highlights the research of Kenda Creasy Dean.  Dean says:
more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem. 
Dean, author of the book, "Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church," places the blame squarely on parents and pastors.  Teens who claim the Christian faith are indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.  When faced with the argument that teens are not very articulate anyway, she counters that they can talk about money, sex and relationships, but when they are asked about their faith they cannot articulate much more than God wants them to feel good and do good.

Parents play a bigger role than they think in forming their child's faith.  Often parents feel it is inappropriate to 'force' religion on their children, and in that I would concur, but I think most of the erring in this situation comes from parents who have not articulated their own faith very well.  Dean says,
parents are the most important influence on their children's faith, [and] places the ultimate blame for teens' religious apathy on adults.
So what are the indicators that a child's faith is deeper than surface level?   Dean says committed teens share four basic traits:
  • They have a personal story about God they can share, 
  • a deep connection to a faith community, 
  • a sense of purpose and 
  • a sense of hope about their future.
These teens are more often found in Morman and Evangelical churches, as these groups have done a better job of "instilling religious passion."  I would view it more as giving them the why.  As a United Methodist pastor, I am happy my denomination teaches people to think about faith rather than telling them what to think about faith; however, we have possibly forgotten that children and youth need the foundation in faith before we can build the walls.

Giving our children and youth a deep faith with a solid foundation is critical if we really want to do what is best for our children.  It simply isn't enough that we tell them that God loves them and we should love our neighbor.  Life is rough and there are tough choices they will face.  Where is their shallow, watered-down faith then?  Jesus is the one that meets you in the valleys and shadows and gives you hope that there is light and you don't walk through the terrifying places alone.  

As much as I would like for the church to be able to provide what parents will not or cannot, I am faced with the reality that the parents are the stronger influence.  Do you demonstrate a deep faith that can see your child through the tough times?  How can the church help you parent effectively to deepen your child's faith?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Meeting of the Dis-Orders!

The clergy of the Oklahoma Conference gathered together yesterday for a Meeting of the Orders.  We come together a couple of times a year for fellowship, worship, and learning.  Sometimes these meetings occur when I am tired or really busy and they seem like inconveniences, but I am always encouraged by the day.  Conversations with colleagues to inspire and encourage me.  Worship and sermons that help me remember that it is God who calls me and God who gives me strength to carry out my calling.  And of course, educational opportunities.

Yesterday we had Rev. “Dr” Karrie Oertli, Chaplain's Director at Integris Baptist Medical Center, speak to us on self care.  As part of her presentation, she passed out forms for us to check off the symptoms of stress.  It seems we clergy are a stressed bunch.  I personally wasn't interested in finishing the form after looking at the first section, "physical symptoms;" however after glancing at the rest of the form I am pleased to report I do not smoke or exercise too much.  At that point, I was certain it was more of a Meeting of the Dis-Orders (and at my table, the Dis-Orderly) rather than a Meeting of the Orders. 

It did get me thinking though.  Symptoms and signs of stress have become more of the norm than the unusual.  And this isn't limited to the clergy or even to high stress occupations.  In my ministry I am often counseling people who are stressed and in need of personal and time management, and I have a particular soap box about how we over schedule our kids.  I am amazed that I am always met with the attitude that it is impossible to live any other way, and they are incredulous that I would even suggest anything different. 

I do try to practice self care.  I have regular times of devotion and meditation.  I try to be protective of my sabbath time and time with family.  I know simple things like when I am tired, I need rest, not another project.  I keep reminding myself that life is a marathon and not a sprint.  I am hopeful that as I model healthy behavior and sabbath keeping, the people in my congregation will begin to look at their lives and start protecting their sabbath time and family time as well.  I hope they will teach their children. 

I am truly worried about the effects of too much busyness on the children and youth of today, and what their future will look like if we do not teach them now the value of God time and self care.  It seems the values we are teaching them is that they must perform and excel in order to be of worth and value, and sometimes it is okay for them just to be.  But that's just my opinion.

I think it is important for us to ask the questions, so I will.  How do you take care of yourself?  How do you protect your sabbath time, family time and practice self care?  I'd really be interested in hearing from you on this.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What's Your Excuse?

Sermon August 22, 2010 on the text Jeremiah 1:4-10.  We often have several excellent excuses on why we are not able to fulfill the calling God places on our lives.  You know what?  God can take care of all our excuses.  How will you fill in the blank?

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only__________________’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.  Jeremiah 1:7

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Thanks for Noticing

Thanks goes out to Katie Z. Dawson, Pastor of First UMC Marengo, IA, who wrote an article, "Blogging for Pastors," for Circuit Rider, a professional magazine for United Methodist clergy.  In the article she talks about pastors blogging, and she gives pointers or tips for those who would like to start blogging.  In the article she lists twelve United Methodist blogs for people to check out.  This blog was one of the twelve.  I am honored.  Thanks Katie, and blogging blessings go out to you as well. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tears and Crying (Lessons I am Learning in Death, Dying, Grief, and Living)

Okay, on occasion I can be a mushy, sentimental, old sap.  I was made for the Kleenex commercials that talk about all those lovely transitions of life.  I went through 2-3 tissues whenever those commercials came on.  I'm sure it was great for sales.  I like to think of myself most of the time as pragmatic and realistic about life.  I'm not really what you might call a 'crier;' however, sometimes things bring out the really mushy side of me.  For example, I will cry whenever someone else cries, even if whatever is causing their tears really doesn't affect me.  I can go to the funeral of someone I do not know, and will empathize with the family - the husband or wife who lost a spouse, the parent who lost a child, the child who lost a parent.  This is part of what I bring when I counsel those who are grieving and sit with them in their grief.  I personally cry more at sorrow than shed 'tears of joy.'  I really don't even understand that phrase much.  Let's face it, God made us to have this way to express emotion, and we are all created to have emotion.

However, sometimes this emotional release is downright annoying.  Especially when you have so many sources of your tears, that the wells overflow repeatedly and often without warning.  I still cry over my dad's passing, and will for some time to come.  Those tears mix with the tears of missing my baby girl as she goes off to college.  Those tears mix with pain of seeing Christians not acting like Christians.  Those tears mix with my tears for another mother who lost a child. There are so many sources, I feel as if the well which holds my tears overflows, and there is no place for them.

In the middle east they have what is called lacrymatories or tear jars.  These jars are to hold the tears one shed's as they grieve over a loved one.  You can find the complete story here.  When I went to Israel/Palestine last year, I purchased a few of these jars for a few special friends, of course keeping one for myself.  There is a Roman Catholic Church on the Mount of Olives called Dominus Flevit.  It is said from this location Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  There are tear jars on the corners of this church to signify the tears Jesus shed for Jerusalem. 

Tears are just as much a part of life as pain, dying, joy, and celebration.  We cannot hide from our tears, as much as we may try, they catch up to us.  I appreciate those in the media who do not make it 'weak' to cry.  After all, our Lord wept, and we will do the same.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Sermon August 15, 2010 on the text Hebrews 11:29 to 12:2.  The foundations we base the future on are foundations in faith not concrete.  Who is cheering you on?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

God of Compassion

Sermon August 1, 2010, Communion Sunday, on Hosea 11:1-11.  How great and faithful is God's love toward us, even when we are unlovable!  The book read at the beginning of the service is "Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch.