PARTY WITH A PURPOSE

PARTY WITH A PURPOSE

It was a muggy fall evening in 2000 and our youth leader Marty, and I were almost finished. We’d been at the county fair all afternoon conducting surveys to learn the spiritual needs of our community. Among the questions we polled: Do you attend a church? Why or why not? What attracts you to a church or turns you off?

The replies varied on all but the last question: What do you think the county needs most?

Ninety percent responded with, “Something for the youth.”

I was already leading a small outreach to Christian kids on Wednesdays at the middle school, but, frankly, I wasn’t very good at it. Marty was doing a great job with the kids from our church, but they were already “churched” kids and besides, he had a full-time job at the power plant. He was doing as much as he could. A local pastor’s group, of which I was a member, considered opening a youth center downtown, but funding and leadership were insurmountable hurdles, mostly leadership. We knew that anything effective would need a dedicated leader, called to minister to kids, with plenty of time on his or her hands.

Nine years went by and though I prayed about it from time to time, nothing happened. Then one day I got a cold-call, “Hi, I’m Dave Snyder and I’d like to talk to you about a ministry called Young Life.” I had known a Young Life guy in seminary and was impressed so I listened. “My kids are grown, but I feel a burden from God to get something going for the youth. I think Young Life is the way to go. Would you be willing to visit one of their camps and think about serving on a startup committee?”

I visited two camps that season and was so impressed I’ve been involved ever since. Here’s what I learned.

Young Life was founded in 1941 by Presbyterian minister Jim Rayburn. It is known for its high-quality youth camps—they study Disney World for ideas—and enormously fun club nights. They call it a party with a purpose. But it isn’t about the camps, or the clubs, or the party. It’s about the kids.

Teens have tense, pressure-filled, lives. Well over half live in broken homes. Smartphones and social media make escape from peer pressure impossible. Drugs and alcohol are everywhere. The sexual revolution is steam-rolling them into porn addictions, unwanted pregnancy, STD’s, abortion and emotional emptiness. Dave Snyder got involved after attending a law enforcement seminar on growing gang activity in our community.

Young Life starts with concerned adults who are willing to go life-on-life with teens on their turf and in their culture, building bridges of authentic friendship. That takes time, patience, trust, and authenticity. Its leaders go to their games, and hang-out with them at Bojangles to build real relationships. And not just with churched kids, Young Life specializes in developing innovative approaches to reach uncommitted, disinterested teens. It is the most sociologically intelligent outreach organization I’ve ever seen.

Young Life’s mission is simple: Introduce teens—all teens, black, white, Hispanic, everyone—to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith. They don’t wait for the kids to come to church, they go where the kids are and earn the right to share the gospel with them.

Most pastors are generalists by default. We do not have the training or the time to invest in teens effectively. Most church youth pastors also play multiple roles for their congregations and can’t spend the necessary time with unchurched kids.

Our county launched Young Life when local teacher, Sarah Reaves, after responding to Dave Snyder’s invitation to attend a camp, volunteered to lead it part-time without pay for its first year. Many kids began relationships with Christ under her leadership. Last year we took a financial risk and invited Matt Rich to lead full-time. He’s been doing great work. Last weekend, twenty-five teens from our community attended fall weekend at a Young Life camp. Eight began relationships with Jesus Christ. I’ve been in ministry over twenty-five years and never seen that kind of effectiveness. That’s why our church has Young Life in its monthly budget.

I hope you will put it in yours.

For more information, or to give online, visit http://www.younglife.org.

FINDING PEACE IN ANXIOUS AMERICA

FINDING PEACE IN ANXIOUS AMERICA

I was approaching agoraphobia—the inability to be in a crowd—and didn’t know it, but then, I didn’t know much of anything about anxiety disorders in 1980. All I knew was that I had trouble sleeping, I was constantly worried, I felt terribly alone, incessantly churning down inside. I had been a confident, risk-taking teen, but by age twenty all that was gone. I was so uncertain of myself that I stayed in my car between classes at the junior college and drove straight home after lunch to spend the rest of the day alone and miserable. The only way I could describe it was that it felt like I was free-falling, with no bottom in sight and no rope to stop me.

If any of that sounds familiar, then you may be among the thirty-odd percent of Americans who, according to the National Institutes of Health, have an anxiety disorder. It’s even worse among college students, 62% of whom reported “overwhelming anxiety” in 2016 according to The New York Times.[1]

The search for peace is driving unprecedented sales of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications, over 15.2 billion dollars and rising in 2015.[2] The medications have helped many people. And the more we learn about the brain the better. But finding peace is about more than balanced brain chemistry. It’s about inner harmony. Bottom-line: if our souls are out of balance the medications will only mask problems, problems that, if resolved, might preclude the need for medications.

It behooves us to ask then, what exactly is peace?

Peace means wholeness. Shalom—fullness of life—is the old Hebrew word. Harmony, which comes from the Greek Ireinei (pronounced I-Ray-nye), “at one again,” is another. When I have inner peace I am at one, I am whole. My mind and heart are in harmony and every part of me is in agreement. Inner peace has little to do with external circumstances and everything to do with how my mind and heart respond to those circumstances. One thing is certain: I cannot have peace with others if I do not have peace within.

We chase peace in many ways.

Fame is one, the search for which is exacerbated by social media. Teens especially are vulnerable. When we are well-known (translation: many “friends” and “followers”) and well liked, the center of attention, we have peace. But the peace of fame is fleeting. It leaves us empty and anxious when the spotlight turns, as it inevitably will, to someone else.

Perfection is another. Pursuing perfection makes us feel an inch taller than everyone else. Ben Franklin had thirteen rules of virtue but found he could never keep them all at once. Eventually we hit the wall, the end of our ability to achieve whatever goal we set be it athletic, musical, moral or financial. When that happens, peace is replaced by frustration, another word for anxiety.

Finally, some pursue peace through conformity to a sub-culture: We’re Goths or Gays, Progressives or MAGA’s, Baptists or Brethren. Conformity is sturdy, reliable. The boundaries are clear and so are the “ins” and the “outs.” But conformity offers peace only to insiders. It erects barriers to outsiders. In the end, conformity is the peace of prison. Life stops at the gates.

The Bible explains where our anxiety comes from. We are fragmented, incomplete creatures, created whole in the image of God but broken at the fall. We are jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces, un-synchronized and incomplete without relationship with Him who made us.

The Bible also offers the path to peace: Jesus. “For he himself is our peace,” wrote Paul, “who made the two one.” Jesus is our peace because of two things: His personal wholeness, he is shalom personified, and his work of redemption. He restored our broken relationship with God.

Jesus is the only unfragmented person who ever lived. He is complete, lacking nothing. “In him the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.”[3]

Jesus restored, synchronized and harmonized, our relationship with God. “We have peace with God through” him.[4] He filled up what was lacking in us by “making us complete” in himself.[5] He unifies our minds in peace, overcoming our mental fragmentation by the control of his Spirit.[6]

In March of 1980 I gave my life to Christ, asking him to take control, and experienced the “peace that passes understanding.” The falling stopped, and my feet were finally on solid ground. I have had many ups and downs since then, but the rock beneath my feet has never moved. Aren’t you ready to do the same?

[1] https://www.eab.com/daily-briefing/2017/10/18/why-extreme-anxiety-is-at-an-all-time-high-among-american-students

[2] https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/anxiety-disorders-and-depression-treatment-market

[3] Colossians 2:9

[4] Romans 5:1

[5] Colossians 2:10

[6] Romans 8:6 & 9.

NEXT – GEN CULTURAL NAVIGATION: Stonestreet & Kunkel’s Practical Guide

NEXT – GEN CULTURAL NAVIGATION: Stonestreet & Kunkel’s Practical Guide

News broke this week that noted evangelical leader Eugene Peterson, famed for The Message paraphrase of the Bible and many other works of spiritual theology, had come out in support of same-sex marriage. Then he backtracked but, as they say, the toothpaste was out of the tube and believers all over the country were flummoxed.

Can anyone be depended on to steer a true spiritual course through our tumultuous cultural waters? And how can we equip ourselves to stand with grace and truth when so many, it seems, are falling?

Many books are available to equip believers to think with the Biblical worldview. Among them are Chuck Colson’s master work HOW NOW SHALL WE LIVE? co-written with Nancy Pearcy; THE GOOD LIFE, also by Colson and a little more accessible; Pearcy’s solo effort, TOTAL TRUTH; Abdu H. Murray’s GRAND CENTRAL QUESTION; Russell Moore’s ONWARD: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel; the works of Ravi Zacharias and Os Guinness for those of a more intellectual bent, and of course the Breakpoint daily podcast.

All of those are helpful but none of them, save the Breakpoint daily, are as easy to digest and practical to use as A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO CULTURE: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkel. The book is targeted at parents and Christian leaders who are tasked with equipping teens to face the pressures of our cultural moment, but it is useful to wider audience.

Stonestreet is the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and well-known, with Eric Metaxas, for the daily Breakpoint podcast (www.breakpoint.org). Brett Kunkel, who has over twenty-five years working with junior high, high school, and college students, is the student impact director at Stand to Reason, and founder of a new organization called Maven (www.maventruth.com).

Their book is broken into four sections: Why Culture Matters; A Read of the Cultural Waters; Pounding Cultural Waves; Christian Worldview Essentials. All four are clear, concise, and easy to navigate. Each chapter concludes with four discussion questions. But for those who are secure in their worldview essentials yet still need practical tools for the day-to-day cultural situations being thrust upon us, section three, Pounding Cultural Waves, is worth the price of the book.

In it, Stonestreet and Kunkel take on eight hot-button issues every believer faces in all manner of environments including the hookup culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, addiction, entertainment, and racial tension. Each topic is further broken down into four sections that, in turn, reveal the false cultural narrative about the topic, restate the biblical view of it, suggest practical action steps, and forecast hope.

Christian high school and college students, professionals, educators, business leaders, government officials, and all manner of other believers stemming the tide of this cultural moment have reason to feel somewhat like Elijah of old, when the corrupt culture of Ahab and Jezebel held sway. When the knees of trusted leaders seem to buckle in the surf resources like this remind us that God has far more than seven thousand who have not bowed to the pressure.

I encourage you to read it, study it together with your kids and friends, and strengthen your knees.

 

PARENTING ISN’T FOR SISSIES

Parenting isn’t for sissies. If you don’t believe it just ask anyone who’s managed to raise even one child to productive, responsible, God-fearing, adulthood and we will show you our scars.

Children also make you fat. Yes, I know, you think it’s the donuts in your diet, but I can prove it. I’ve gained seventy pounds since I got married and had kids.

Just kidding! But seriously, parenting is one of the most demanding and rewarding things anyone can do. It is also a task for which many find themselves unprepared. Children have a way of revealing how selfish and ignorant we are. Their needs seem endless when our energy is exhausted. Their development demands wisdom when we are at wit’s end.

With that in mind I want to offer some encouragement as well as a resource for wisdom along the parenting way.

Begin with the Bible
Considering the critical nature of parenting, that whole “hand that rocks the cradle rules the world” thing, the Bible has very little to say about it. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” comes to mind, as does “raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord.” But the rest of the Bible’s specific advice on parenting can be summed up with, “Children obey your parents and fathers don’t exasperate them.”

The bigger picture the Bible paints, however, is the more important one. Children bear the image of God and as such have huge potential for good, but they also inherit the sinful nature of Adam, and while they aren’t exactly little animals, they aren’t little angels either. Every child is human, and everything the Bible says about restoring the image of God in humans and restraining the evil inherent in our nature applies.

Apply Basic Principles
Experienced parents know that there is no magic formula for raising the perfect child, but a few basic principles proved themselves to us over the years.

First, use common sense. Some parents are so afraid that one mistake will permanently damage their children that they fail to do the obvious. Children, and I include teens in this, aren’t yet adults. If a rule seems obvious to you but doesn’t to them, never fear to impose it. They will get over it, they won’t hate you forever, and they may even thank you later.

Second, let them make decisions, take risks, and fail! It makes them stronger when they realize that failure isn’t fatal and risk reaps reward. The biggest mistake parents make is smothering their children, doing everything possible to prevent failure and its associated pain. But overprotecting a child is like overprotecting a plant. It stifles development.

Third, tell them no, and don’t be afraid to enforce your no with discipline. The fastest way to fill your child with insecurity and anger is to fail to discipline them when they are wrong. The insecurity comes because for a child, the lack of boundaries, the lack of restraint on their impulses, is destabilizing. The anger comes when they reap the consequences of an undisciplined life and realize that you didn’t love them enough to reign in their rebellion. Love must be tough.

Fourth, encourage relentlessly. We need to be like the momma dog with a litter of pups I read about. She gave them six licks of loving encouragement for every disciplinary swipe of the paw. Learn to catch your kids doing something right and affirm it. Let your affirmations outnumber your corrections six-to-one. This is especially important for dads.

Fifth, keep calm and carry on. Kids, especially teens, pass through developmental phases faster than they outgrow shoes. Never let a fleeting adolescent furor produce a parental meltdown. Your calm in the midst of their storm will provide the anchorage they need to ride it out.

Get Expert Help
Those five principles will carry you a long way, but if you find you need more I recommend child psychologist, and syndicated columnist John Rosemond. There are many others of course, but I read his column every week and find his parenting wisdom to be without peer. Find him at http://www.johnrosemond.com.

Q&A ON “IF I HAVE GAY CHILDREN” Part 1 Where Gayness Comes From

Last weekend a twenty-something college friend sent a link to a blog by a pastor in the Raleigh, North Carolina area titled IF I HAVE GAY CHILDREN: Four Promises From a Christian Pastor, by John Pavlovitz. My friend asked: I am really wrestling over this. I was just wondering what your thoughts were on the content of this pastor’s words? As the Pavlovitz blog seems to be going viral, (I’ve already seen it lauded on facebook), I thought it would be helpful to share part of my reply with you. Mr. Pavlovitz has made the same mistake about human nature, specifically where so-called “gayness” comes from, that most of the culture is making. The two most significant statements in the post are quoted here.

“I won’t pray for them to be made “normal”. I’ve lived long enough to know that if my children are gay, that is their normal.”

“If my kids are going to be gay, well they pretty much already are… They are today, simply a younger version of who they will be…”

Mr. Pavlovitz has adopted the widely promoted yet unprovable theory that the attractions and behaviors associated with homosexuality are hard-wired into the personality from birth. That makes God responsible for a person’s sexual orientation. Thus they can claim: “It’s not my fault. I’m just being what God made me to be.” That theory not only confuses the dignity of being made in the image of God with Darwinian predestination, but also fails to comprehend the complexity of human personality development and just how mold-able we humans really are. Our personalities, including our attractions and affections toward one or the other sex, are highly complex and can develop along a number of lines. Anyone can be homosexual, or heterosexual, given the right conditions and choices. In the Biblical world-view, there is no such thing as gay or straight. There are male and female, created for each other in the image of God. This is what Jesus taught (see Matthew 19:4-6). Men and women behave in ways that either reflect or reject the Designer’s intent. Either way, they are still men and women designed for each other in the image of God with the ability to choose who and what they will become. “Gayness,” “Straightness,” and all other such definitions of human relations are artificial, post-modern philosophical constructs, imposed upon us by the homosexual movement in the last four decades. They remove us from the pinnacle of creation as creatures with the God-like ability to choose, and reduce us to nothing more than victims of our biology, slaves of our impulses. In other words, homosexuality (“gay,” “questioning” and “transgender” issues) is a developmental disorder generated by the combination of a number of factors including but not limited to: personality type; parental role modeling and behavior within the home of origin; childhood stresses and trauma; peer pressure and peer reference groups; early sexual exposure, experimentation (either in person or vicariously through pornography) and often abuse; parental guidance and disciplinary practices along with cultural acceptance or “normalization,” (Mr. Pavlovitz is now participating in that in the lives of his children and readers) and of course the spiritual dimension. Take all of that – and all of it must be taken into account – mix it together with our sin nature (see Romans 7:7-25) and the successful media onslaught of the last four decades and the potential for gender role and sexual identity confusion is pretty high. What grieves me is that very few people, including pastors, are offering confused young people a well-reasoned and believable alternative approach to the feelings and experiences with which they are struggling. That is what I’ve attempted to do in my previous post titled, I’M NOT GAY and you probably aren’t either. Mr. Pavlovitz also commented on how he, as a Christian pastor, would react to his children if they decided they were gay. I’ll respond to that part of his comments next week.