Theological Matters: Letting Kids Learn the Lessons of Losing

football_pallo_valmiina-croppedWhat can our children learn when they lose? In our sports obsessed culture, we have a “win at all costs” attitude. Our children can also pick up on this and forget to learn the lessons of losing in sports. However, there are valuable lessons to be learned. This week, Theological Matters published a post I wrote entitled, “Letting Kids Learn the Lessons of Losing.” In short, I offered 4 lessons that our children can learn when they lose at sports…if we parents will only let them. Those lessons are:

  1. Humility
  2. Perseverance
  3. Learning from your mistakes
  4. Success requires hard work

Check out the full post here.

Baseball and the State of the American Family

William Baseball*The following is an excerpt from my article published by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission at Canon & Culture.

Two seasons ago, I took my dad to a Major League Baseball game. My parents had come to town for a visit, and I had two tickets to a game. My dad and I sat in the stands watching the Texas Rangers and talked. We talked about life and baseball—especially where they intersected. It was during that conversation that I learned my grandfather had been offered a contract to play Major League Baseball but opted not to play in order to get a job and support his family. We reminisced about trips to St. Louis to see Ozzie Smith and the Cardinals play. We reflected on my own time as a kid playing baseball while my parents watched from the bleachers. The game of baseball was a bond we shared as father and son.

Today many are wondering about the future of baseball. The participation rate among children is declining. Some blame the slow pace of the game. Others say there are no recognizable superstars compared to basketball and football. But some studies highlight another problem—family structure.

The rest of my article can be found at Canon & Culture.

Good Reading: New Research on Same-Sex Households Reveals Kids Do Best With Mom and Dad

There is a very interesting article over at The Public Discourse regarding the marriage debate and parenting. The British Journal of Education, Society, and Behavioral Science has published the largest study ever performed on the emotional outcomes of children reared in same-sex couple households. Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, provides a summary of the article at The Public Discourse. Here is an excerpt:

Results reveal that, on eight out of twelve psychometric measures, the risk of clinical emotional problems, developmental problems, or use of mental health treatment services is nearly double among those with same-sex parents when contrasted with children of opposite-sex parents. The estimate of serious child emotional problems in children with same-sex parents is 17 percent, compared with 7 percent among opposite-sex parents, after adjusting for age, race, gender, and parent’s education and income. Rates of ADHD were higher as well—15.5 compared to 7.1 percent. The same is true for learning disabilities: 14.1 vs. 8 percent.

As it relates to the near-consensus of other studies noting no difference between children from same-sex households and from opposite-sex households, Regnerus notes:

The real disagreement is seldom over what the data reveal. It’s how scholars present and interpret the data that differs profoundly. You can make the children of same-sex households appear to fare fine (if not better), on average, if you control for a series of documented factors more apt to plague same-sex relationships and households: relationship instability, residential instability, health and emotional challenges, greater economic struggle (among female couples), and—perhaps most significantly—the lack of two biological connections to the child. If you control for these, you will indeed find “no differences” left over. Doing this gives the impression that “the kids are fine” at a time when it is politically expedient to do so.

Regnerus suggests that this new study will be attacked just as his was a couple of years ago, but that does not prove anything. In fact, Regnerus’ work was commended after an internal review at UT-Austin, and this work will continue the trend that Regnerus started.

I recommend reading the entirety of Regnerus’ article here.

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Mark Regnerus, “New Research on Same-Sex Households Reveals Kids Do Best With Mom and Dad,” The Public Discourse, February 10, 2015.

The Character of Sports

Bellevue Soccer TeamAs the (ridiculously) short winter in Texas appears to be giving way to spring, it is that time of year when parents start signing their kids up for sports teams. Since we live in a large metropolitan area, we have the luxury of choosing almost any sport at any time of year. Football, baseball, soccer, and basketball are virtually year-round activities here. At least once a year, my wife and I have a discussion about which activities to place our children in and for how long.

For many people, sports are an unhealthy obsession, but sports can actually be good for the development of character—if done the right way. Here are a few thoughts on the character that sports can build and some caveats for parents to go along with them.

Teamwork

While there are individual sports, we mostly think of team sports when we consider signing up our kids for a season. The beauty of such team sports is that they can counter the oppressive culture of individualism we often find in our society. Rather than spending time mindlessly staring at a screen with no consciousness of the world around them, children who play team sports get the opportunity to interact with other children in a (typically) competitive environment where they have to work together to accomplish a goal.

The level of teamwork varies with the sport, but one thing is consistent—the team is essential. No single child can compete against an entire team and be successful. For that matter, not even LeBron James could take the basketball court by himself and compete with even a decent college-level team.

Learning teamwork is important for our children because the “adult world” is full of interaction with others and collaboration to accomplish goals. From marriage to the workplace to church, we constantly interact with people for the sake of pursuing common goals.

As a leader, Moses learned this lesson from his father-in-law in Exodus 18. Jethro came to visit Moses in the wilderness and to bring his wife and sons back to him. While there, Jethro observed that Moses was handling all the disputes of the people by himself and advised him against such an approach. Jethro counseled him to “select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace” (Ex 18:21–23). Even the prophet Moses needed a team to accomplish the goal of judging the people and bringing them into the Promised Land.

The Warning for Parents

Children’s sports sometimes bring out the worst in parents. Many of us consider our child to be the next Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, or Michael Jordan. However, our kids still need a team. They also need a team that respects them. When parents grandstand for their own child to be the focal point of the team, it actually does the child and the team a disservice. Camaraderie, selflessness, and unity are necessary for success on the field and in life. Even the most talented team can lose to another team that has learned to play together. Instead of promoting your own child, promote the team.

Discipline

I’ll never forget one of the coaches from my childhood. I didn’t really like him very much. He made us run long distances. If you were last, you might have to run another lap. He constantly worked on drills to teach skills. All I wanted to do was score (which I rarely did). Then he expected us to go home and work more between practices. I didn’t like what he required us to do. But he was teaching us the lesson of discipline.

Discipline is important in life, and sports have a built-in mechanism for teaching it—practice. Most kids are not blessed with the athletic ability to pick up the intricacies of a new game the first time they play. Yes, it may come easier to some than others, but even the best athletes practice (unless you’re Allen Iverson).

The discipline children learn in playing sports can translate to the rest of life. Schoolwork requires discipline. Jobs require discipline. Spiritual growth requires discipline.

Paul teaches us the lesson of spiritual discipline using illustrations from sports. He writes:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:24–27)

Thus, sports can help children learn the discipline necessary for life. Team sports in particular teach us that others are dependent upon us exercising our own discipline.

The Warning for Parents

The danger for parents when it comes to discipline in sports is the tendency to fall into one of two extremes. We can demand perfection from our children that they simply cannot deliver or we can let them off the hook of practice and discipline. By always demanding absolute perfection, we may drive our children away from a desire to participate. By giving in to the temptation not to require practice, we may send our kids a message that practice and discipline are not necessary. Both extremes are problematic. Balance in this area is necessary.

Perseverance

One of my fondest sports memories came around the age of 9 or 10. I had been playing basketball in a church league for a few years already, but my church’s team was not very good. In fact, we had not won a game in more than two full seasons. But this game was different. By some miracle, we had actually taken the lead at the end of the game and just needed to run out the last few seconds on the clock. We were inbounding the ball from under the opponent’s basket and they were surrounding us to try to steal the ball. I broke open, caught the pass, and avoided the defense until time expired. We won! The taste of victory was sweet. It was even sweeter due to the lingering taste of defeat for more than two years.

Losing is a part of sports. Very few teams go undefeated. Learning to lose is an important lesson for life. It teaches perseverance. People who fail to learn how to pick themselves up after defeat tend to struggle mightily in life. At some point, we will be passed over for a promotion, or someone will critique what we say or write, or someone will tell us that our idea is a bad one. What we do when that happens says a lot about our perseverance.

Losing every game for two seasons was not fun, but most of our team stuck together. Over time we got better because we continued to discipline ourselves and trust one another. By the time we quit playing together in high school, we found ourselves in the city tournament.

In our spiritual lives, there will be trials and difficulties, but Scripture tells us to stand firm. Romans 5:3–5 reads, “[W]e also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

The Warning for Parents

We as parents do not like to see our kids lose. As a result, some parents refuse to allow their children to play on a team that loses. At the first sign of a season turning south, they will pull their child off the team in order to find a better one—often bad-mouthing the coach on the way out. Another possibility is to blame the losses on someone else and never acknowledge our child’s role in the team’s loss. That doesn’t mean we need to be hyper-critical of our children’s faults, but we need to teach them where they can improve. I’m sure I cost my basketball team a number of games due to my abysmal free throw shooting. But that is why I spent afternoons in the driveway shooting free throws—at my dad’s suggestion. Failure is not fun, but it may be the best teacher.

This spring and summer, we will most likely have our kids in different sports and activities. I may even coach one of them. I hope they are successful, but I am more hopeful that they learn teamwork, discipline, and perseverance. Those are life skills they will take with them long after their days on the field or court are over.

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*Thanks to my friend and former teammate Achaz Foster for the “throwback” photo of one of our soccer teams back in the day. Yes, I’m the chunky kids second from the left on the back row.

Guest Post: Opening the Sieve

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

I remember the moment very well. I don’t know the time or date, but I was sitting with my two oldest girls watching a show on our favorite network about people buying and selling houses. The next episode came on and the “couple” buying the house was two men. Before I could react with a pre-emptive, “Hey, let’s go outside!” one of my daughters said, “Why would two men be buying a house together without wives?” This began one of the dreaded conversations that a parent must have with their children, explaining to them the idea of homosexuality.

In regards to raising our children in a sinful world, a parent’s job is much like a sieve. When they are young, very little comes into a child’s life without the parent’s consent and approval. Whether it is through TV, books, or peers, we try to surround them with good, beautiful things. But over time, as our children become older, we must slowly open the sieve, allowing them to encounter more and more of the world. Sometimes it happens through some sort of media. Sometimes, through school. Sometimes, it is just standing in line at the grocery store. I will not tell you the exact appropriate time to begin discussing more worldly topics with your children. That is for you, your husband, and God to decide. However, if your children grow, which they have a habit of doing, conversations will arise, and it is wise to have a plan to engage with our kids about the culture around us.

1. Answer their questions until they are satisfied.

It takes supernatural wisdom to know when to speak and when to listen. However, God is faithful and will lead us and guide us as we lead and guide our children. When a question comes up, don’t shy away from the opportunity. Engage your child with as much of the truth as is needed at the moment. Try to satisfy their natural curiosity with pointing the conversation back to how wonderfully God created us or how much God loves us. For example, one of my kids asked a question regarding the lack of clothes a model wore on the front of a magazine in the checkout line at the grocery store. After answering her question in the most discreet way I knew how as I paid for my groceries, I turned the conversation to how our bodies are beautifully created by God and how we should adorn them in a way that honors the One who Created him. I didn’t avoid the question, but I turned the conversation to focus not on the sin of public nudity, but on our call to modesty.

2. Honor and encourage their common sense.

During a speech on the campus of Southwestern Seminary, Jennifer Roback Morse shared the idea that if we ever feel like we are constantly bombarded by liberal propaganda wanting to convince us of their lies, it is because we indeed are. The reason for this relentless battering ram of nonsense into our lives is because it takes a lot of brainwashing to overcome our own God-given common sense (Rom 1:18-32). God displays all over creation that men and women are different. In the same vein, simple human anatomy and physiology show us how same sex marriages are not natural. When my girls started asking questions after seeing the television show I mentioned before, one actually thought I was joking when I explained the situation. “That would never work,” she said. In a slightly different vein, a friend was teaching a small class of boys about how we can pray for China. In the flow of conversation, the fact arose that they abort baby girls because their culture values boys more. A smart boy spoke up and said, “That’s ridiculous. Who do they think all those boys are going to marry when they grow up and want to have families?” I think the leaders of China could learn something from the common sense of an 8-year-old.

3. Remember, God is sovereign and you can trust him with your children.

We are just recently getting into this stage of parenting. I excelled at the “closed sieve” stage. It was my delight to keep all the bad away and protect my kids. But, if my goal is to raise warriors for Christ (and it is), I must open the sieve of the world and allow my kids to get some field practice. The main thing that held me back, and still does if I allow it, is fear. I was afraid of what would happen if they saw too much or heard too much or were exposed to too much. However, once again, God reminds me that my children are not my own. I have them for a short amount of time, and then they will have to face the world on their own. It is my job to train them and teach them how to act in battle. Yes, your child might come home from school asking you about a word they heard. Or your child might overhear something on the news that they know is not right. Or a neighbor might practice a different lifestyle than yours and your child sees it. Whatever the situation, God is sovereign and trustworthy and as we do our job as parents, He will use all those hard conversations for His glory.

Guest Post: The Heart of an Anxious Mom in the Hand of a Sovereign God

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

I was sitting on the conveyor belt in the baggage claim area of the Jackson International airport when the tornados came through Jackson, MS. The airport staff had directed us to take shelter there until the storms passed. I had already heard of the casualties in Arkansas, children who lost parents, parents who lost babies. My own mother was on the road somewhere in the storm trying to get home. As I sat there in the darkness, the familiar emotions of fear and worry consumed me.  Immediately, though, I also felt God’s presence and reassurance that, “I am with you and will never leave you. I love you and the people you love and I have a perfect plan for each of your lives.”

There is something you must understand, though. This is not the first time the emotions of anxiety and worry have swept over me almost causing me to lose my breath. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even the thousandth time. God’s sweet voice of reassurance is a tune I have come to know and claim as truth in my life. I struggled with fear and worry some as a child, much like other kids my age. I was scared of the house catching fire or snakes being in my bed.

However, it was not until I became a mother myself that I sat down at the banquet of anxiety.

Once I saw the positive pregnancy test, I instantly felt responsible for a life other than my own. After our first daughter was born, fear would overwhelm me as I was giving her a bath or rocking her in my arms. Some days I would only nibble at the banquet, knowing that most of my fears were irrational. However, other days I allowed myself to fully take in the diet of worry. On those days, my joy was lost. My thoughts of what “could” happen tumbled out of control if I was not careful. The Lord blessed us with more children, and with each one, the feeling of fear and anxiety continued like old, worn jeans that you know you should throw out, but keep around for comfort sake.

“What if I wasn’t paying attention and something happened to them?”

“What if I didn’t feed them the right things?”

“What if I didn’t do the right things to protect them?”

“What if we didn’t have the right toys/equipment/safety devices for them?”

At some point in time, all of these questions haunted me. However, I began to realize that all of my concerns had one common focus. Me.

The more I focused on myself and my abilities, the more I saw my shortcomings and faults. However, when I took my eyes off of myself and placed them on an almighty, powerful God, I began to see how the God who tends to the lilies can be trusted with all of my concerns.  As my children grew, the Lord began to teach me magnificent truths that took me away from the banquet of anxiety and led me to the true Bread of Life where I can feast on His goodness.

God used 2 Timothy 1:7 many times to speak truth into my heart: “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” It is not God’s plan for us to consider ourselves crazy because we have irrational thoughts of worry. He has given us a sound mind. That means I can trust him as He leads me to make the right decisions throughout the day. If I am in a close walk with Him, He will guide my path and give me a sound mind.

In my life, the antidote to fear and worry has always been a deeper understanding and appreciation of the sovereignty of God.

For example, I cannot keep my children safe 100% of the time, but I know God loves them even more than I do and whatever He chooses to allow in their lives is for the purpose of His glory. In the same manner, I trust God for clarity of mind so that I can make the best decisions for my family that I can make. I forget things. I accidentally overlook things, but by the grace of God, His sovereignty more than makes up for my faults.

I praise God that he has taught me to recognize fear, worry, and anxiety in my life, not as mental issues, but as trust issues. The more I trust in the precious sovereignty of God, the more I am at peace with whatever He brings my way.

Guest Post: If My Work All Day Goes Unnoticed, Did It Really Matter?

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

We all know the age-old question, “If a tree falls in the middle of the forest, does it make any noise?” What is really being asked is this, “If something happens and a person does not see it, did it really happen?” Many days, this is a question that is unconsciously dancing in the back of my mind. As a wife and mom, many things I do are not observed by other people.

If no one sees my work, did I really do anything all day? And does it matter if I metaphorically “fall down” if no one witnesses it? The answer is a resounding YES in God’s eyes!

Even if no one is taking notice, we still have an audience of one.

Our culture presents a great temptation to constantly perform for others. The increased use of social media in the last few years has only heightened it. Everyone wants to stand out, be noticed, speak up, and have a voice. If we fade into the crowd, get overlooked, are ignored, or are silenced, we become discouraged and begin to believe that whatever we are doing must not matter. However, in God’s economy, the exact opposite is true.

All throughout Scripture, God shows favor on the unnoticed one. He uses the meek or common to make an extraordinary impact.

One of the greatest examples is the contrast set up between King Saul and King David. When Saul is first described, it is in comparison to other men. “There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward, he was taller than any of the people”  (1 Sam 9:2). Saul was a man that others noticed. However, in regard to his heart before God, Samuel describes it as rebellious and stubborn and declares, “because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king” (1 Sam 15:23).

Saul received the praise of men, but was rejected by God.

In contrast, when God chooses David to be king, he is lowly in comparison to his brothers. The fact that God had to instruct Samuel to “not look at his appearance or at his physical stature” (1 Sam 16:7) reveals that David might not have been too impressive in those categories. On the stage among peers, David might have been overlooked.

However, God is an audience of one, and he notices the heart and takes heed of actions and attitudes that go completely unnoticed by others. 

David wrote many of the Psalms from the inside of a cave as he ran and hid from Saul. No one was there to hear his words. It was only him crying out to God. Alone. Now, let’s use the proverbial question at the beginning of this article, “If David cried out in a cave alone in the wilderness, did anyone hear him?” According to scripture, the answer is YES God heard him. God heard him and thought that David’s raw emotions and words were so powerful that He saw it fit to place them in Scripture as a testimony for all eternity of how we too can cry out to God in the deepest and darkest places.

In college, I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Les Hughes who is now the pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He wrote a book called, The Sound of God’s Applause that has been very powerful in my life and in the life of my husband.  In one of his chapters, he asks several questions that encourage the reader to reflect on the question “Am I seeking the approval of people?” As I have read through those questions many times, I am constantly convicted about how much stock I put in other’s opinions of me.

I have found that, as my desire to please others increases, my concern over pleasing God decreases. As I put more and more stock in what others know of me, I put less and less importance on how God deeply knows me.

Even if no one else sees the work or deeds that I do, God sees.

Even deeper, He sees the attitude of my heart. I want to learn to truly serve others, expecting nothing in return.  I desire to be content in doing good deeds, not for the applause of men, but for the pleasure of my Father.  It does not matter if no one else takes notice; it is God’s applause that I crave.