“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called TODAY…” - Hebrews 3:12
One of my most favorite times of the year is just around the corner! It’s when the school doors are flung open wide and my nearly 600 high school students come pouring into the school building to greet friends, welcome new students and share of the summer escapades. The synergy is electrifying!
I have come to believe that for students, high school life is often correctly characterized by Charles Dicken’s opening line in “A Tale of Two Cities” when he said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” While I love being a high school principal, I have not met many adults who wish to return to their teen years, as most would agree with the simple fact that “life is hard,” let alone life back in high school! While a new school year is exciting, it doesn’t take long before the “grind” begins and the struggle, anxiety, pain, frustration and wounding that inevitably arrives at many students’ doorsteps will come to light. The brokenness of this life cannot be avoided; but I do believe there is another way. It is possible to soften the blow and make life more bearable and even enjoyable!
To begin to uncover the answer, we must go back to when the world was perfect and God gave Adam his wife, Eve, because He said, “It was not good for man to be alone.” This is the first sign we are given that we NEED others in our lives! We were never meant to try and go at life alone. When Jesus invites us into His story, this relationship is vital and life giving...but the story gets even better as we are invited to join with a community of believers. Our faith was never meant to be individualized and privatized, but it must be rooted both in vertical community (between God and His people) and in horizontal community (among groups of Christians).
This sounds good at the onset, but here is where things get messy in high school and in Christian communities in general. The moment we really lean in and become vulnerable and honest, what quickly happens is that fear, pride and brokenness are either felt or revealed. It is then that too many recoil and withdraw from this community. For years I have watched good Christian kids play the part to try and get it right, but all the while reservedly holding back, hiding and faking that all is fine when of course it is not! Who really is fine after all? I’m not! What a weight we ask our young people to carry! This is not reasonable! Life isn’t fine, it is hard and yet young people are so afraid that if the truth came out on them, that they wouldn’t be accepted, welcomed, valued or affirmed. I have known so many teens over the years that would have loved to have confessed, “I smoked” or “I drank” or “I had sex,” or to simply say, “I feel a lot of pressure to perform and I’m pretty sure I can’t keep it up!”
If you have ever been around someone like this, words really don’t have to be spoken. If you will just stop and look for a moment, you can see it in their eyes. It happens when their “emotional cup” is full and about to run over, when the pressure is just too much. This year, like my past 23 years as an educator, I will ask a student if they are doing well and they will nod, or flash a fake smile, but I can see this is not true, for their eyes betray them and tell a different story. They are really crying out, “Who will be my friend?” “Am I important to you or anyone?” “Where is my significance? Is significance wrapped up in my success or lack thereof?” “Do I have any value?” “Will someone notice me?” “Am I worthy of anyone’s time, attention or affection?” Gentle pressing will cause the tears to begin to flow and then words of hurt, pain and sadness follow.
Today it hit me that so much of my life has been to climb a ladder: academic degrees, certifications, athletic championships, positions...just like I was trained to do...and like I am training students to do...as parents expect us to do! We challenge them to climb the ladder academically in the classes they take, their grade point average, their class rank, their ACT score, to win championships, to run for class office, to engage in a myriad of extra-curricular activities so their college resume is second to none. So they climb and climb and climb and when they climb that ladder better than anyone else, we applaud them and lift them even higher. At this point, who is really going to be honest and admit weakness or struggle?
All my life I have been extremely competitive and even enjoy climbing, BUT I am beginning to think that climbing detracts from communing. It is not in all of my goodness, that Scripture refers to as “filthy rags,” but in my poverty or great need that I meet Jesus and experience the presence of God. In places of poverty or situations of great struggle and pain, we see Jesus kneeling down in the dirt with the leper, the poor, the weak, the children, the publican, the poor in spirit. This is where Jesus seemed most at home. In fact, according to what I read in Scripture, Jesus seems to be doing a lot of hanging out at the bottom rung of the ladder. I should note that “climbing” and achieving is not an inherent evil and can actually be a great thing. But it also is the very thing that has been the downfall of great men and nations as competition and achievement can turn to idolatry and the pursuit of “lesser gods.”
While not a good school marketing pitch, I do wonder what our school would look like if our school community was more defined by being at the bottom of the ladder where Jesus regularly seemed to go. I believe a community that is more focused on what I'll refer to as the “ascent downward,” where greatest means least and first means last and strength means service, will then possibly begin to realize that:
My vision and my hope and prayer is these will be marks of our christian school community this year. Should we embrace these principles, I believe that students’ lives will be transformed and God’s kingdom will be advanced for “as long as it is called TODAY!”
(Refer to We Became Men and Ch. 8 “The Pressure of Performance” for further reading on this topic. I have seen countless men and women, young and old, paralyzed by this pressure - but it doesn’t have to be this way!)
Written by: Shawn Brower. 7/31/16
“…show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God…” – I. Kings 2:2
In a world where boyhood and adulthood are ill-defined and clear rites of passage have become close to non-existent, we see new words and ideas emerge to attempt to make sense of the quandary our male population finds itself in as it struggles for identity. Now the teen years and adult years have been blurred and extended. The term “adultscence” has emerged to define or describe this new generation of “men,” now in their late 20s and early 30s, that are paralyzed by indecision and a sad lack of understanding of what it means to be a man today. Identity confusion and exploration distract, sidetrack and stall men from good movement forward. Once again, we must return to the “old paths” to uncover or rediscover what it means for modern men to truly be men. How is this defined and who defines it for us?
Too many books have been written, pictures taken, court opinions rendered, television shows broadcasted and billboard space purchased to try and define this for us! Frankly, the answer is quite simple, and it has been right before us for thousands of years! The answer to true manhood is found in God’s word. We catch a glimpse of this when King David is looking to pass his kingship on to his son. Before he dies, he calls Solomon to his side and deliberately tells him, “Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and keeping His statues, His commands, His rules, and His testimonies…that you may prosper in all that you do and where you turn.” (I Kings 2:2-3) Look at how David six times directs his son, Solomon, toward God as the answer to true manhood. We see this similar type of thinking in I Corinthians 16:13 where Paul says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”
While there are other similar passages in Scripture to support this, it is clear that to MAN UP and act like a man or to show yourself to be a man means to be one who clearly is both grounded and growing in his faith as he intentionally follows after God! Psalms 37:23 reiterates this by declaring, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, WHEN he delights in His way.”
There is no enduring culture in which lazy men are celebrated, cowardly men are esteemed, insecure men are elevated, or non-principled men are leading for very long.
However, men that are firmly grounded and consistently growing in God’s word will radically change not just marriages, family units, and local communities but could change the entire trajectory of a nation. We know this from Psalms 33:12 where the Psalmist declares, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord!” This happened in America over 200 years ago and it needs to happen once again. This is why it is necessary for men today to “man up" and step up by being immersed in God’s word and letting it be their constant guide if we ever expect to have God’s favor rest upon us once again!
Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. – Jeremiah 6:16. The latest, greatest, quickest, fastest, newest “thing” can quickly captivate our emotions, attract our attention, allure our senses, seduce our fascinations and entice our temptations. This is the age we now live in. There is no time to reflect, ponder, consider, muse, contemplate or meditate, as one might miss a moment or an opportunity to get ahead, or at least to maintain status quo with societal expectations and norms. So forward not back, progressive not reflective, new not old is the thinking of the day, because the antiquated or even primitive thinking, values and principles will hold one back from modern, innovative, dynamic, enlightened viewpoints for living.
But wait! The passage above says to stand, look and ask! In a “ready, fire, aim” world, this is disquieting to the soul for this takes patience and requires one to stop and question, examine, and deeply and thoroughly investigate the current realities. As you stand by the road watching life flash by, ask for one thing.
In a frenzied pace world where satisfaction is elusive and brief and momentary happiness is tied to cheap thrills, quick jolts and fixes of pleasure, we are told that it comes down to this ONE THING that is the “good way” that we are to pursue if we truly want to “find rest for our souls" or real life satisfaction. Isn’t it something, that the secret to life is hidden right in this passage like a buried treasure to be discovered! Interestingly enough, there is nothing that must be built, created, developed or manufactured. Instead, it is a return to the past! The Lord says this, “Ask for the ancient paths…to find rest for your souls!” How similar to the Savior’s invitation “Come unto me … and I will give you rest”(Matthew 11:28.) In Jeremiah 30:21 we see the Lord wanting to be gracious to a rebellious people that turns and returns to these ancient paths of following after him. He promises to be our Guide and Teacher as he says, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” Psalms 17:5 offers a promise to following these ancient paths, “My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” Can you say that?!
You want to live the truly good life? You want to find lasting satisfaction and fulfillment? Well, what I can promise you is that the “American Dream” will turn into a personal nightmare if you have neglected the one thing most important in life. To follow these “ancient paths” found in God’s word will lead you to being a follower of Christ. You must be warned that the path is less worn and, though clearly visible, it is more rugged and perilous. Yet it is a path previously traversed by our Savior. It leads up a blood-splattered hill called Calvary to the cross where our sin-burdens are released so we might truly find “rest for our souls” and life everlasting. Yes, our very best days are yet before us!