It travels at a top speed of 68 miles per hour. The first drop is 162 feet (that’s over 16 stories high) at an 81 degree angle (that’s nearly straight down). This describes Outlaw Run, the newest wooden rollercoaster at Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO. Outlaw Run is the only wood coaster in the world that twists upside down three times, the world’s steepest wood coaster, and the second fastest wood coaster in the world (the fastest is El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey for those who were wondering). I recently took my family to Silver Dollar City and described the rollercoaster with great enthusiasm. I convinced all but my wife that this had to be the very first ride we went on. My wife watched as we were strapped in and experienced Outlaw Run for ourselves. My youngest was screaming for joy the entire time while my hands were waving high in the air. As soon as we got off the ride we decided we had to ride it again! I ran over and persuaded my wife that she needed to join us this time. My wife was very nervous but she had the same reaction as our son – she screamed the entire time. I found out later, as she stumbled off the ride, that her screams were not for joy.
It turns out that some things in life must be experienced to be known. My family understands the newest rollercoaster at Silver Dollar City because we experienced it first-hand. My description above may have painted a picture for you, but if you have not had the chance to ride Outlaw Run for yourself, you really don’t understand. You can even take a virtual ride by watching a YouTube video, but that is still not the same as experiencing it yourself. So, what do rollercoasters have to do with God? I believe in order to know God we must experience him personally, much like experiencing a rollercoaster. We can read about God and even feel like we know him virtually through the stories from other people, but that is not a substitute for experiencing God for ourselves.
I think the church does a pretty good job helping our children learn about God, but I am wondering how we are doing at helping our kids experience God for themselves. One of the negative trends that exist today is a high percentage of kids who grow up in the church end up leaving their faith as adults. I had the privilege of talking with one of our church’s global partners from India earlier this year and I asked him if he sees that trend in his country. He looked a bit surprised and then answered, “Once a child experiences God move powerfully in their life, they never leave him”. There seems to be a strong connection between personal encounters with God and a vibrant faith that lasts.
We see this same trend carried out in the Bible. Judges 2:7 says, “And the Israelites served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the leaders who outlived him—those who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.” As great as this generation was, they failed to help their children experience God too. In says in Judges 2:10-11, “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal.” These children grew up hearing stories about what God once did, but they did not experience God for themselves. When they grew up, they easily traded the truth for a lie. Our kids today are in danger of making the same mistake, unless we deliberately help them encounter God. What does this look like for families? That is an excellent question to talk about over dinner tonight or possibly while waiting in line to ride your favorite rollercoaster!