Thursday, May 18, 2006

Helping Kids Make Wise Choices

I began youth ministry at the ripe old age of nineteen. I had just finished my freshman year of college when I went to work as a summer youth minister at my home church in South Carolina. Needless to say, student ministry brings a wide range of challenges of its own, but at nineteen years old, those challenges are very different. I will never forget standing in my driveway that summer speaking to a mother who stopped by to talk with me about her sixteen year old daughter. “Craig,” she pleaded, “just tell me what I should do with her.” I was awestruck; a mom in her mid-thirties was asking me, a nineteen year old kid, to tell her how to raise her daughter who was only 3 years younger than me. It was at this very moment, early in my ministry that I understood one thing very well; parents do not think they understand their kids.

As I look back at that moment, I think the question that mom was actually asking was, “Craig, how can I be sure that she makes the right decisions?” That situation revolved around a relationship with a boy, but relationships aren’t the only area where parents struggle to help their teens make wise choices. Obviously adolescence opens doors to all sorts of temptations and struggles with peer pressure and acceptance, so what are the things that parents can do to help their students make choices that will affect them now and in the future in a positive manner? I believe there are a few things that are necessary, some of which you might not guess, that will help you encourage your student to make wise choices.

Before I discuss the things that you can do as a parent, there is one thing that I must say. Parents too often disregard the impact they have on their children. “Craig,” I often hear parents saying, “I don’t know what to do, she just will not listen to me.” Parents, take heart, your children hear and retain more of what you say and do than you would ever believe. Your kids will never tell you how much they hear and heed what you say, but know that when you are not around they are talking about what you have said. I am always amazed at just how much kids need their parents approval deep down inside of them whether they want to admit it or not. So, parents, that means that you need to be sure that no matter how things seem to be going, you continue to parent, you continue to love, lead, guide, encourage, admonish, punish, and reward regardless of the response that you get from your students. Proverbs exhorts us to raise children up in the way that they should go so that when they are old the will not depart from it. Below is a list of some specific things you can do to help your kids make wise choices.

1. Eat Supper Together- If you want your kids to make wise choices, spend time with them daily. Time around the table opens conversation among family members where parents can know what children are doing and students can learn by hearing how mom and dad deal with conflict on a daily basis at work. According to studies cited by Miriam Weinstein in her book The Surprising Power of Family Meals (Steer Forth Press, 2005), children and teens who enjoy dinner with their families five or more nights a week were 32% likelier never to have tried cigarettes, 45% likelier to have never tried alcohol, and 24% likelier never to have smoked marijuana. "Those who eat lots of family dinners are almost twice as likely to get A's in school as their classmates who rarely eat as a family," Weinstein adds. The family meal is a pre-emptive strike against bad decisions in adolescence.

2. Ask Questions- Teens are famous for wanting their parents to leave them alone, but parents, if you want to aid your students in making wise choices, check up on them. Remember parents, you were once a teenager yourself thinking the same way your teen now thinks, so ask questions to hold your students accountable.

3. Spend Time With Them- I know that you may not be that cool, but go to their baseball games or band competitions. Teenagers want to know that they matter to their parents and you show that you care most by the time you spend with your kids.

4. Discipline- Your students need to know that you love them through discipline. Discipline is accomplished in many ways; the type is not the necessity. The act of discipline, however, is a requirement of parenthood. Discipline shows students first that you love them and second that there are boundaries in life and punishment for exceeding those boundaries.

5. Go To Church With Your Kids- I put this last, but it should probably have been first. Parents drag them kicking and screaming if you must, but get them to church and get yourself their too. The church is God’s vehicle for making himself known in this world. Regular church attendance and an active relationship with Christ is an assumption for all who seek to be advised by this article because it is a precursor to a healthy family.

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Cowboy Up!

In a recent article in The Tie (Southern Seminary’s Magazine) entitled Pop Christianity and Pop Culture on Mars Hill, Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology addresses some issues confronting the church of America today as it engages American culture. Citing two groups of “evangelicals” which he labels as “Off-Brand Evangelicals” and “’South Park’ Evangelicals” Moore points to the weaknesses in the ways that popular culture is being addressed by the church today.

The “Off-Brand Evangelicals” are those Moore classifies as the money making branch of American evangelicalism. This group, according to Moore, seeks to “listen to trends within pop culture and to reproduce them in Christian dialect for use within the evangelical subculture.” Quoting directly from GQ Magazine, Moore remarks that much of Christian music is like the “perfume dispensers they used to have in pharmacies—‘if you like Drakkar Noir, you’ll love Sexy Musk?’…Well, Christian rock works like that.” (No doubt, these guys have been listening to much of the same Christian “music” I have heard in recent years.)

In his next category, “’South Park’ Evangelicals,” Moore makes mention of the emerging church as the poster child for a Christian culture who snubs its nose at Christian pop culture to “bask in whatever Hollywood and Manhattan churn out, looking for ‘signs of redemption therein.’” Citing this group, Moore says that they seek to know pop culture, using it as a medium through which common grace can be communicated and for a point of reference in developing a common cultural dialect with unbelievers. He seems to view “’South Park’ Evangelicals” as those who seek to not merely relate to pop culture, but to embrace pop culture in an attempt to mold their Christian understanding and identity into it. If you need a specific example to give skin to this concept, I am sure that Don Miller would fall into Moore’s “South Park” category.

Moore goes on in the article to address several issues relating to engaging pop culture in light of Acts 17. I agree wholeheartedly with Moore’s exposition of the message on Mars Hill as it relates to the particular issue of engaging pop culture. Moore points correctly to the fact that Paul did not go to Mars Hill to engage the culture, rather he was invited to Mars Hill because he spoke of things that seemed strange to those within his hearing. Once in the Areopagus, Paul did work to contextualize his message to his hearers, but not in a way that made the gospel fit the culture, but rather in a way that showed his audience that the gospel stood contrary to their culture. Paul’s understanding of the Athenian culture enabled him to speak with intelligence about their customs and in doing so enabled Paul to contrast their beliefs with the truth of Christ.

I wonder, however, why Moore, and others who address the issues raised by the emerging church, does not cite Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians concerning their use of Scripture and methods of sharing the gospel. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Christ encountered culture daily, but we see clearly in the Scripture that Christ’s role in culture was one of redeemer. He may have been seen talking with a woman of loose morals, but Christ spoke with her about the sin in her life and her need of a Savior. It is true that Christ ate with tax collectors, but Christ also reprimanded them and condemned dishonest practices. Through Christ, these people were changed. Indeed Christ loved those steeped in the culture of his time, but he loved them enough to exhort them to better living.

Much of the background in the emergent church has to do with those who are disenchanted for whatever reason with the traditional church. Their dissatisfaction has led them, not to seek reformation in the church, but to embrace culture with a slightly Christian spin. I ask, does the emergent church truly speak the “open statement of the word of Truth?” Moreover, are the “Off-Brand Evangelicals” speaking the truth of God’s word without tampering practicing cunning?

I say today that culture must be addressed. As Christians we are called to live in this world, but to be reminded always that we are citizens of a heavenly realm. We are citizens of Christ’s Kingdom. As such, we do not renounce popular culture. We enjoy movies and television and good books. We place value on relationships built through every day interactions at the coffee shop or the gas station. Christians can and should enjoy music, secular and spiritual alike. But, as we live in the culture, we must be always engaging our culture with the Truth of God’s Word.

Sure, we can derive a Christian theme from almost any movie. As a matter of fact, given loose enough hermeneutics, Monday night wrestling could probably be a lesson in sin and redemption, but will it be a message true to the gospel or would it be an underhanded or disgraceful attempt at making the sinful spiritual? Paula Cole asked the question several years ago, Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? In the days before Brokeback Mountain, John Wayne was the quintessential all American cowboy, a man who spoke his mind and stood for something. Maybe a Christian cowboy wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I’ll admit, it would be nice to find an evangelical engaging culture with the honest truth of the gospel that was not afraid to stand for the Truth though it ran counter to the entire flow of popular mores. John Wayne could and would take on an entire army with a six shooter. I wonder if there are Christians today committed enough to the cause of Christ and the salvation of our society who would stand up in the midst of the army of pop culture, outnumbered many times over, and be willing to proclaim God’s truth that brings redemption from this world and reconciliation to the Father? Cowboy up!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Be Still

I sat on a wooden dock jutting out into a large cove on Lake Marion at sunset one evening. The frogs were singing, fish were jumping, and birds were feeding. It was a glorious site to behold an awe-inspiring moment for all five senses to take in. A buddy with me just looked up and said, “Surely this must mean what God was talking about when he said, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’” I quickly agreed and we took an extra moment to take it all in before leaving the small jon boat that we tied next to the dock for an early morning adventure.

Reflecting on that evening, I am reminded of the many times that I have sat quietly beholding the beauty of God’s glorious creation. Many times I have sat alone watching the sun break through the darkness of a winter morning shimmering in frosty grass and dissolving away the morning fog in awe-struck wonder. No less exciting was watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean with my two best friends. On these and many other occasions, I too have though, “Wow, be still and know that God is God.” Nature speaks of His wonder in the quiet moments of life that we can never understand until we have experienced it.

However, upon a closer reading of Psalm 46, I believe that I have interpreted that verse a little too loosely. There is absolutely value in being reminded by God’s Word to enjoy his creation and give him praise for it. But, that was not the intended purpose of the Psalmist. Psalm 46 does not speak of a tranquil lake or a beautiful sunset. Psalm 46 speaks of violence, turmoil, confusion, and panic.

“Be still and know that I am God,” was not a suggestion for someone spending a lazy day on the lake or an observance of a visitor to the ocean for the first time. “Be Still,” was the command of God to his people during times of great terror. The Psalmist speaks of natural disasters and war and even of the earth “melting away.” Without a doubt, during times like this, the last thought for a logical person is to be still. During times of great peril, work is needed and busyness is a must. But God says, “Be still and watch me work.”

I believe that the command to “Be still” is relevant for Americans today. The American culture is one that stresses ownership and material gain. We fear that the Jones’s may have a bigger house or a better car. We are concerned that we may not get the boat we have always wanted or that our kids might, heaven forbid, have to buy clothes from a sale rack. And so, we work to fix it by working longer hours for more pay. We sacrifice family time in the name of our families. We neglect time with God and in his church because “I’ve got to keep my job.”

I read recently that the average drive for many workers commuting into cities is 90 to 120 minutes each way every day. In an attempt to find “the good life” Americans have begun to sacrifice their lives on the alter of success. The command to “Be still and know that I am God” must be heeded by Christians today. Though it runs contrary to cultural conventional wisdom, God commands that we take the time to step back and watch him work.

Psalm 46 is not about God’s glory in his creation. Psalm 46 is a song about God’s sovereign control over creation and his protective hand upon his people. Verses 1 and 2 claim that, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” God is in control of all things, and God is protecting his people. It is for this reason that God commands, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Though the earth falls down around us, God reminds us who is in control. In times of struggle, God is a present help. We need not fear this world, and in the end the amount of success we enjoy here will be of little consequence. As we stand before God at judgment, I doubt he will ask how many cars we owned or how many square footage our house was. However, he may ask how much time we spent showing God to our children and loving our wives as Christ loved the church. God is in total control and his word in Psalm 46:10 commands that we stop and recognize God’s hand at work in creation protecting his people and bringing glory to his name.