I came across one of the most important blog posts I’ve read in a long time.  While I’m not a regular blogger, I read lots, and Scott Linscott’s post on priorities, faith and teenagers is something I wish every parent could read.  I’m still trying to think of ways I can utilize it in ministry here in Hong Kong.

Open Letter to Parents of Teenagers by Scott Linscott

The church in America is puzzled. Young adults are leaving in droves. Magazines, books and blogs are wagging the finger of blame to point out who is responsible. Some say it is a failure of youth ministry, some point to church budgets and some nail the blame on outdated, unhip worship services. We parents are shocked that our kids just really aren’t all that into Jesus.

When I look for someone to blame I head into the restroom and look into a mirror. Yupp, there he is. I blame him. That parent looking back at me is where I have to start.

If you’re a parent, I’m might tick you off in this post. But, hear me out. I think that we, as parents are guilty of some things that make it easy for our kids to put faith low on their priority list.

Keys to Making Your Kids Apathetic About Faith

1) Put academic pursuits above faith-building activities. Encourage your child to put everything else aside for academic gain. Afterall, when they are 24 and not interested in faith and following Christ, you’ll still be thrilled that they got an A in pre-calculus, right? Instead of teaching them balance, teach them that all else comes second to academics. Quick … who graduated in the top 5 of your high school class? Unless you were one of them, I bet you have no idea. I don’t.

2) Chase the gold ball first and foremost. Afterall, your child is a star. Drive 400 miles so your child can play hockey but refuse to take them to a home group bible study because it’s 20 minutes away.

2b) Buy into the “select,” “elite,” “premier” titles for leagues that play outside of the school season and take pride in your kid wearing the label. Hey now, he’s an All-Star! No one would pay $1000 for their kid to join, “Bunch-of-kids-paying-to-play Team.” But, “Elite?!?” Boy, howdy! That’s the big time!

2c) Believe the school coach who tells you that your kid won’t play if he doesn’t play in the offseason. The truth is, if your kid really is a star, he could go to Disney for the first week of the season and come back and start for his school team. The determined coach might make him sit a whole game to teach him a lesson. But, trust me, if Julie can shoot the rock for 20 points a game, she’s in the lineup. I remember a stellar soccer athlete who played with my son in high school. Chris missed the entire preseason because of winning a national baseball championship. With no workouts, no double sessions, his first day back with the soccer team, he started and scored two goals. Several hard-working “premier” players sat on the bench and watched him do it. (Chris never played soccer outside the school season but was a perpetual district all-star selection.) The hard reality is, if your kid is not a star, an average of 3 new stars a year will play varsity as freshmen. That means there’s always 12 kids who are the top prospects. Swallow hard and encourage your kid to improve but be careful what you sacrifice to make him a star at little Podunk High here in Maine.

2d) By the way, just because your kid got a letter inviting him to attend a baseball camp in West Virginia does not mean he is being recruited. You’ll know when recruiting happens. Coaches start calling as regularly as telemarketers, they send your kid handwritten notes and they often bypass you to talk to your kid. A letter with a printed label from an athletic department is not recruitment. When a coach shows up to watch your kid play and then talks to you and your kid, that’s recruiting.

3) Teach your kid that the dollar is almighty. I see it all the time. Faith activities fly out the window when students say, “I’d like to, but I have to work.” Parents think jobs teach responsibility when, in reality, most students are merely accumulating wealth to buy the things they want. Our kids learn that faith activities should be put aside for the “responsibility” of holding a job. They will never again get to spend 100% of their paychecks on the stuff they want.

3b) Make them pay outright for faith activities like youth retreats and faith community activities while you support their sports, music, drama and endeavors with checks for camps and “select” groups and expensive equipment. This sends a loud and clear message of what you really want to see them involved in and what you value most. Complain loudly about how expensive a three-day youth event is but then don’t bat an eye when you pay four times that for a three-day sports camp.

4) Refuse to acknowledge that the primary motivating force in kids’ lives is relationship. Connections with others is what drives kids to be involved. It’s the reason that peer pressure is such a big deal in adolescence. Sending kids to bible classes and lectures is almost entirely ineffective apart from relationship and friendships that help them process what they learn. As kids share faith experiences like retreats, mission trips and student ministry fun, they build common bonds with one another that work as a glue to Christian community. In fact, a strong argument can be made that faith is designed to be lived in community with other believers. By doing all you can to keep your kids from experiencing the bonds of love in a Christian community, you help insure that they can easily walk away without feeling like they are missing anything. Kids build friendships with the kids they spend time with.

5) Model apathy in your own life. If following Jesus is only about sitting in a church service once a week and going to meetings, young adults opt out. Teenagers and young adults are looking for things that are worth their time. Authentic, genuine, relevant relationships where people are growing in relationship with Jesus is appealing. Meaningless duty and ritual holds no attraction.

There are no guarantees that your children will follow Christ even if you have a vibrant, purposeful relationship with Him. But, on the other hand, if we, as parents do not do all we can to help our children develop meaningful relationships in Jesus, we miss a major opportunity to lead them and show them the path worth walking.

I want my kids to see that their dad follows Jesus with everything. I want them to know that my greatest hope for them is that they follow Him too.

Mt. 6:33 Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (The Message)

On a personal note: I know the struggle. My wife and I have lived the struggle firsthand. My son was recruited by a few D1 NCAA schools for baseball and opted instead to attend a small D3 school. My daughter was recruited to play field hockey by a couple D2 programs and ended up playing D3 when the scholarship offer was not enough to make her top school affordable. Both played in “premier” leagues. Both got A’s in high school though we often told them not to stress out too much over it. Both are in honor societies in college and my son now has offers from UNC, Univ. of Wisconsin, Johns Hopkins and Weil Cornell for a Phd in Pharmacology. Neither ever missed a youth group retreat, conference or mission trip because of their sports or academic commitments. Both missed a game or two to attend faith-based activities. Both missed school for family vacations. Both held down part-time jobs in high school and learned to give employers advance notice for upcoming retreats. My son often changed into his baseball uniform at church to arrive in the third inning of Sunday games. Robin and I did all we could to make sure they connected in student ministry even when it meant driving straight from a tournament to a music festival at midnight so that they would not miss out. It was that important to us. My youngest, a culinary student, lost a restaurant job because he went on a mission trip. That’s fine. Thankfully, all 3 have strong faith walks today. That is due only to God’s grace. But, I do believe that our efforts and example helped them long for a community-based faith.

Use this post however you find helpful. Reprint, repost, link to it or whatever. A link back to http://scottlinscott.wordpress.com would be awesome.

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I need to keep track of what I’m what I’m reading, and to help keep some of that info in my head, I need to start spelling out the thoughts that fly by as I read each book.  So, without further ado, here are three I’m most heavily into at the moment:

Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson

Almost done with this one.  Having struggled with what it means to be a Pastor/Shepherd and faithful husband and wife all at the same time, this book will be a repeat read.  It gets long, as Peterson often does but the call to vocational holiness and steps that can help protect that have been crucially timely for me.  He speaks of staying committed to one flock in the midst of uncertainty and hardship in a fashion that’s both poignant and convicting.  I started reading it because Jonah is the subject matter and I’ve been teaching on that, but this book has been far more than a simple sermon help.

Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchividjian

I love this guy’s writing style.  Again, a book on Jonah, and again, can get a little wordy, but so far, it’s been great.  Great character sketches on Jonah and the Ninevites.  Should be a good read the whole way through. Best quote so far:  “He hides from the fact that whle our sin reaches far, God’s amazing grace reaches farther, and that God’s willingness to forgive is infinitely bigger than our willingness to sin–something Jonah has just experienced.”

Born to Run by Christopher Mcdougall

A fun read, and an inspiring read.  Mcdougall recounts the tale of chasing after a group of superhuman endurance runners; a people without pollution from the outside world.  While telling the story, he intertwines beliefs and opinions about the value of barefoot running, something I’ll be trying more of as my feet get stronger.  I’ll still wear shoes, just very minimal ones.

By definition, my vocation as a pastor/shepherd requires significant writing and preparation for teaching sessions, small group leading, curriculum development and the like.  Writing is finicky if you ask me.  There are some weeks, especially when preparing a message or talk, that things come together with great ease.  Those weeks scare me if they happen too often because it could mean that I am not seeking God’s guidance in my preparation, I’m just doing it in my own strength.

Then there are weeks where I study, devote time and thought to the text at hand (this week, Jonah 3) and the pieces don’t quite come together in a manner that I was hoping.  There are a million reasons why this might happen to a guy that has a hard time concentrating.  Today is that kind of day.  I don’t have magical solutions to how to get through the block but I have a couple of ideas that may just help.  First, I’m gonna read a bit of something not directly related to my message.  Second, at 4:30, it will be time for a run.  How far and how long, I’m not sure, but running clears my head.  Third, I’ll play with my kids, eat some dinner and try to give myself time to observe the world around me while recollecting moments of the week.  Finally, I’ll have another go.

It might work this way, it might not.  And if it doesn’t, I’ll try again tomorrow.  Or post about all my failed solutions.

Collide Magazine (deals with media and the church), just did a profile on the kind of tools various church leaders use in their day to day ministries.  Then, the Christ and Pop Culture blog posted David Dunham’s list, and I thought it was a good idea.  So, here goes:

1.  iPhone 3gs–keeps everything in one place.  Keep my schedule, email, music, contacts, etc. all there in a manner that doesn’t complicate life for me.  Plus, I can play NFS Underground and Tiger Woods Golf anytime I want!

2. Macbook Pro–I wear a lot of different hats at my church, and my MB Pro handles the diversity of assignments well for the most part.

3. Logos Bible Study Software for Mac and iPhone–still in beta for mac but keeps getting better.  And now, I can access my library on my phone.

4. iWork–under-appreciated office suite by mac. Keynote is the best presentation builder out there and pages combines the love of multiple design and word processing programs into on little package.  Not the most powerful, but they both just work!

5.  French press and small pot to warm coffee–nothing more needs to be said about that one

6.  Facebook–easiest way for me to keep in touch with almost all our youth and young adults that I serve with.  And a great way to communicate with our supporters back in America to keep them connected without always having to write personal notes.  Sounds terrible I know, but it’s tough keeping up with everyone

7. Amazon Kindle–I love it.  It has saved the day for me as a pastor living in a region where you buy a cheap book then pay twice as much to ship it.  That is no longer an issue.

8. Evernote–I’m not the most organized guy in the world.  This little app connects my notes from everywhere and keeps me together.

9.  Moleskine–been using them for 9 years, still prefer to write down my thoughts first.  I’m partial to the plain notebook.  No lines to get in the way.

10.  Faber Castell Pencils–who really cares that much about something we’ve used since grade school?  Me!  I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 5 years without finding a single pencil that had a working eraser connected to it.  Finally, I found the old standby.  Yep, they’re that good!

I reserve the right to change, add, delete as I see fit.  What’s on your list?

I am just about to leave to take some of our newer youth group members and their folks on a unique Hong Kong adventure.  We are going cliff jumping at one of the most beautiful spots you can find in Hong Kong.

Having lived here for 5 years, I feel in many ways that I have adapted well to the society and culture.  I love this place, it’s become home.  That’s good.  Even better?  I don’t think all the changes I have needed to make to be moderately comfortable and effective here have cost me my personal identity.  In fact, I believe having to adapt has polarized the need for me to be confident of who I am in Christ.

Case in point.  I’m at heart a bit, shall we say, non-traditional.  I don’t take risks just for the sake of risk.  I take risks for some goal to be achieved.  Many do that, just not many in HK.  That’s why I love that God has placed me here.  I have gained enough trust with some of our parishioners  to begin introducing them to things outside their normal comfort zones.  Sure, it  takes some longer than others, but the joy is still there.

In many ways this assignment has been a hard one.  Getting the opportunity to stretch people, especially parents, helps me to realize being non-traditional doesn’t necessarily mean I’m ineffective.  Maybe I’m doing exactly what God intended all along.

Today was a day of the unexpected.

I showed up to renew some immigration papers, only to be told they were too busy.

I anticipated a quiet morning and afternoon of study for Sunday’s message, only to have the construction become deafening.

I expected a normal prayer meeting only to encounter tales of God’s gracious and sovereign hand at work in truly amazing ways.

I hoped for a quiet entrance at home to be instead greeted by a beautiful 5 year old far more concerned about being together than my perceived lack of productivity.

My day didn’t go as planned.  It was way better.

My friend Guy Wasko is planting a church in the East Village of NYC and I have been consistently impressed with the excellence and passion he has brought to the mission before he and his family.

He is a Church Planting Fellow from Redeemer Church and was recently profiled here:  Redeemer City to City

Pray for the Waskos, support them any way you can.  It’s a great ministry!

I’m firmly into my second week of sermon prep for our August series on Jonah, that infamous prophet.  I snuck home a little early  because the construction noise at my office was a little more out of control than normal.

It’s not been easy to keep my oldest and middle kids entertained without the tv when I get home.  So tonight, out we went to try to clean up our back yard jungle.  Daddy has let it get a little more out of control than he should have.

My lack of attention to horticulture proved a highly interactive way to have some fun with the kids! We pulled weeds, we sprayed daddy (I mean watered the flowers), trimmed the palms, and made a mess.  It was good, dirty fun.

After showers, and Isaiah’s bedtime, Izzy turned her attention to ballet.  She chose to dance to Vivaldi tonight.  Absolutely beautiful!  How a five year old can already feel the music and interpret it in her own unique way blows my mind.

Now I’m sitting down, watching a movie and contemplating Jonah 1 & 2.  The story about a guy who ran for God for the comfort of a far off life.  Far from the presence of God (Jonah 1:3).  Lately, in all the chaos of life, there have been days when I’ve quietly reminisced about how much simpler things were back in the day.  In all reality, I’m saying maybe my ways are better than the ways God has laid out before me.

I seem to find it difficult to savor the time God has placed right in front of me. I’ve got these beautiful kids, a church starting to wake up and get excited about the Lord and more opportunities to serve than I can keep up with.

My own personal Tarshish has nothing on the life that’s placed before me right now.

Tony Schwartz wrote an fascinating blog post over at the Harvard Business Review.  The idea?  Savor your time.  Keep yourself healthy.  Make wise decisions about time.

He then refers to a New York Times article re: Clergy Burnout.

Both are interesting reads for anyone involved in ministry or that struggles with balance (that would be most of us I suspect).

I’m not a workaholic but I can struggle with doing the right things at the right times.

I will come back to this with more thoughts as I’ve processed how I might apply the ideas.

Marko just posted this video and it’s worth watching. First, the girl is amazingly well spoken. It’s worth listening just for that.  But even better, she’s right on with her content and voice.  She gets what’s going on in the world of kids and adults.  All from her own perspective!  I LOVE IT!