Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Low Expectations= Big Surprise!

Last weekend my youth group did the 30 Hour Famine. As expected the not eating part was difficult for some but this was made up for by an all-night event that was a lot of fun. But the point of this short post is that I learned a valuable lesson through this event - do not underestimate students!

Way back when we started talking up the 30 Hour Famine I set our group fundraising goal at $750 believing that this was an achievable goal for us. As soon as this goal was announced one of my students stated that it was too low and that we should be aiming for $1000. To be honest I wasn't so sure of her confidence. I had this voice in the back of my head saying that the fundraising goal needed to be lower and that if we set it too high that we would be setting ourselves up for failure. So I ignored her.

Three weeks before our famine event our progress didn't look good and I was sure that we had failed. After weeks of informing our students about the plight of exploited children it appeared as thought only one student was really trying to raise funds. After a few phone calls I concluded that we would be fortunate to reach $500 and that $750 was definitely out of reach.

It is now 5 days after our famine event. Physically I have almost recovered but emotionally I am still in awe. This group of students that I expected so little from came through and raised over $1400 to help exploited children! As I reflect, I realize that I had fallen victim to a mindset that many have - one that expects little from our teens. This stands as a reminder to me that our students are capable of much more that we often are willing to given them credit for and they will often surprise us at the amazing things that they do.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Pursuit of Health

Its a New Year and with the New Year often comes resolutions for change. Two weeks ago a friend and I talked about something that we were both seeking to change. We wanted to become healthier. For both of use this means a renewed commitment to exercise as well as being more careful about what we eat. And so our conversation covered topics like nutrition, exercise routines, the gym, what we weighted...all of what you might expect. But then he dropped a word of reflection on me that is staying with me. He referred to 1 Corinthians 6:19.  

If you have grown up in the church you have probably heard this verse referred to in talks about drugs, alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, tattoos, piercings and many other things. Indeed, there are many good reasons why we ought to reflect on this verse. But what my friend was suggesting was that perhaps we should be reflecting on this verse in terms of the conversation that we were having. I am embarrassed to say that I had not thought about this at all. 

As the weeks have passed I have begun to get into the routine of exercise and trying to be more aware of what I eat, I find myself reflecting on this verse again and again. While there is an immediate context that the Apostle Paul writes, I think that an overarching principle that we can glean from it is that we are to bring glory to God through the use of our bodies...and maybe living an unhealthy lifestyle of watching TV, eating cheeseburgers and potentially developing a health condition as a result, does not bring glory to God. 

I know that a lot could be said on this topic, but at this point I will offer two reflections:
  • How we treat our own bodies can be a testimony to how much we value ourselves as a part of God's creation. If we abuse them by neglect and poor nutrition, aren't we saying that we don't care for what God gave us? Isn't this an issue of stewardship? 
  • As Christians we are to be agents of kingdom-change and participants in God's agenda. As we care for the body that God gave us, we will find ourselves with greater capacities to serve than we would if we neglected our health. 
In writing what I have, I am acutely aware that for many people healthy food is unaffordable and a gym membership is a privilege reserved for the wealthy. Does this mean that the poor cannot honour God? Indeed we would be wise to be wary of how we apply these principles so not to exclude those who are limited by finances or, for that matter, existing health concerns.

I am also aware that there are people in our culture who seem to take their health very seriously to the point that their physical bodies become an idol. I do not believe that scripture gives license for this type of health-conciousness. While we are to take care of ourselves, we cannot allow the pursuit of health to direct every action of our lives and become THE goal, when I believe it is supposed to be something that can enable a greater service of God.

In conclusion, my friend and I both have reasons for why we want to be in better shape. To be honest some of them are pretty selfish. But the reality is that these selfish reasons can only motivate me for so long. While it is still too early to tell for sure, I believe that what I have written about is something that will resonate more deeply than another diet or exercise regiment. It is a theological  understanding that says that how I treat my body matters. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

It can be the small things...

My wife and I live in a small-ish apartment building and we really don’t know our at all. This has always struck me as being funny. I mean think about it, we live within inches of two families and within a few yards of many others. If we are honest, we kind of like it this way – we are introverts and like to have a quiet place to escape and recharge. But we will acknowledge that there is something strange about this and that maybe, just maybe, we should take some steps to connect on some level with our neighbours.

This Christmas we decided to do something for our neighbours. We bought each apartment on our floor a box of chocolates and Michelle wrote a card to accompany it. Really it was nothing special and cost us a total of $30. In keeping with our anti-social behaviour, I snuck around a few days before Christmas and placed these small gifts on people’s door steps so that they could be found without having to actually talk with our neighbours.

To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect. The gifts were pretty nominal and we weren’t looking for any reciprocity. In hindsight I think that the point of giving these gifts were more for us – to get us thinking about connecting with our neighbours – than it was about whether our neighbours appreciated their chocolates or not…although if they enjoyed it would be even better!

A few days after we gave out these gifts we arrived home to find two notes of thanks had been slide under our door. Both were nice but one of them has caused me to reflect more (see the photo below). It was from an older neighbour whom I had met once before. She was largely confined to her apartment and my only prior interaction with her had been in the laundry room where I found a chair for her to sit on while she waited for her laundry to finish. Michelle and I were both moved by her note. We really didn’t feel like we had done anything special but her note conveyed that our small gift had had a significant impact on her. Really our action was pretty much the least we could have done but her reaction has stimulated some reflection about what it means to have a positive impact on those around us.

The reality is that sometimes I can make things a bigger deal than they ought to be. When we started thinking about how we could connect with our neighbours I immediately thought of grand gestures and things that would take a lot of time, resources and energy to make happen. But in light of this woman’s reaction, I have been struck by how simple it should be.

I recently read someone’s twitter description of themselves and their ministry and included in it was “to be a good neighbour”. Indeed there is a simplicity to this that Jesus calls his followers to be - to love our neighbours as ourselves. We would be wise to remember that this is not a programmed strategy but rather a way of living. It is simple, day by day, looking for opportunities to let the love of Christ permeate what we do and naturally flow into how we relate to those we bump into in the ordinariness of our lives.   

May we seek to be people who are aware that our daily interactions with others matter and aware that ordinary acts of kindness often stand out in contrast to the world that we live in.