Teenagers and the Gospel (Part 2)

Teenagers are Self Interested

Most Teenagers are a product of their culture and our culture is all about the consumer. Marketers have been targeting our kids for years and playing to their emotional needs. Ten’s of thousands of hours of screen time and all the related ads can’t be undone in a 30 minute pep talk. Because of this when it comes to Teenagers; they will understand most biblical truths through the lens of how it affects their lives.  Cognitively they should be able to think outside of themselves, however in our society it’s not an issue of ability, it’s an issue of conditioning. To reach teenagers you have to make a personal appeal or they will tune you out.

teenagers and the gospel

Even kids who have grown up in Christian families and have a strong background in church will have a hard time paying attention if you don’t address how the scripture relates to them personally. Quite frankly teenagers have been programed to be self-interested thinkers. You need to get to know them well enough to relate biblical truth to their personal needs. However, don’t make the mistake here of falling into moralism (good apart from the gospel). Teenagers need the gospel. Help them to see their need for the Savior.

Having a self-interested teen can be a mixed blessing. On one level you can’t compete with millions of dollars of marketing, well written scripts, and super model actors… on the other hand… those people don’t know “your” teen. While you may be less entertaining than the latest super bowl commercial, a little time well spent learning about the teens in your life can give you more credibility than axe body spray ever had.

Teenagers are Emotional

Teenagers make decisions based on feelings more than rational thought.  Physiologically they are still developing the rational part of their brain while the emotional impulse part of the brain is already developed.  They default to what they know. Something which seems cut and dry to you, is a major issue to them because they simply lack the development in their brains to process the situation the way you can as an adult.

They can still get there, it’s just not the preferred method and it requires you to connect a lot of the dots for them. Think of this as exorcising a weak muscle. The tendency to default to emotion is why students can sometimes be prone to “drama.” Teens often use the filter of feeling (“how does this make me feel”) to evaluate their circumstances and to make decisions. We need to guard our kids in this area because it leaves them open to manipulation.

The positive side of this is that teenagers are able to be empathetic. However, rarely do they ever get there without some help or guidance along the way. It is generally good when ask “How do you think it made them feel?”  When talking about how our actions effect others.

Grumpy Teen: If you are a parent dealing with a grumpy teen take in to account how many hours of sleep your child is getting each night. Most studies indicate that middle school age kids need around 9 hours of sleep or more per night and only about 15% of teens are getting enough sleep (There is a reason they would sleep till noon on Saturday if you’d let them). If 13 year-old Tommy is acting like the 3 year-old Tommy when he didn’t get his nap, it’s probably because 13-year-old Tommy is tired.

Challenge: How well do you know the teens in your life? If you don’t already, schedule regular personal time with your teen doing something you both value.  What emotions tend to rise to the top when you are carrying on a conversation? Pray for the teenagers in your life. Ask God to give you wisdom in applying the scripture to their needs. How is their sleep schedule? Sometimes a late weekend wake up is due to not enough sleep during the week.

Teenagers and the Gospel

teenagers and the gospelWelcome to this series on teenagers. The goal of this blog series is to help parents and youth workers to understand the general changes and issues that teenagers are facing. Sometimes a little knowledge can go a long way in helping to develop a proactive game plan for parenting, teaching, and shepherding students.

These are general observations gleaned from over fifteen years experience in youth ministry. Nothing in this series is ground breaking, earth shattering, or even new. Hopefully these basic observations will give you the insight, perspective, and perhaps empathy for the teens in your life. Of course the ultimate goal is to learn how to best take the gospel and apply it to the teenagers in our lives. This series is mostly to help you understand the world of being a teenager. To this end I hope the entire series proves helpful

We’ll be taking everything in bite size chunks. So buckle up and hold on to something, we are about to reenter the teenage world armed with the gospel.

Teenagers are Changing (Literally!)

Teenagers are emerging adults. This isn’t an overnight process. They are in a constant state of transition from childish dependence on others to adult like independence. One moment they may surprise you with their ability to give selflessly to others, the next moment they can throw an emotional tantrum and break down because mom asked them to take out the trash. They really do have a foot in both worlds. It is fair to expect your teen to be more responsible, but don’t assume it will happen without a few setbacks along the way. 

When a set back occurs, take it in stride, gently help refocus your child’s attention on becoming responsible. Be sure to take time to praise the positive strides you see your child making. Genuine praise and encouragement for being responsible will motivate your child to become even more responsible. If we’re not careful we can fall into a pattern of discouragement by only noticing the set backs and it’s easy to deflate your child’s motivation toward responsibility.

Teenage bodies are also growing and developing into adult bodies. Your teenager will most likely hit growth spurts. Not only will they get taller, but thanks to puberty their bodies will take on a more manly or womanly shape. It is important to keep in mind that mature physical appearance doesn’t mean that your teenager is grown up mentally as well. Many teenagers are children in grown up bodies. Just because they look grown up, doesn’t mean that they are.

Your child may be taller than you, but they still take their cues from you on how to handle the various situations life throws their way. They may not be asking for advice because they feel a pressure to figure things out on their own. A wise parent will make the extra effort to be available for their child to talk. Sometimes talking works best in a shoulder-to-shoulder situation or in the midst of an activity rather than an intense face to face sit down. As a parent it might be wise to schedule a regular time with your child each week to participate in an activity you both enjoy. My dad was always great about taking my brother and I to play tennis, fishing, look for fossils or arrowheads, and a host of other activities we enjoyed. Later in life these times fueled great shoulder to shoulder conversations on the ride home that helped both my brother and I process life.

Each of these posts will end with a Challenge. This is a way to take the post beyond just information and allow the information to impact the way you interact with the teenagers in your life. Obviously the applications will be different according to your relationship with teenagers. Much of this is geared towards parents but will have some application with youth workers as well.

Challenge: Write down the name of the teens you have in your life (if you have a bunch then you might want to spread this over a few days). Take time to pray for them. Thank God that he has placed them in your life and ask Him to help you be sensitive to their needs as they mature. Ask God to give you wisdom in your relationship with them.

  • Write down all the ways that you see your teen becoming more responsible. Think of appropriate ways to encourage your teen when you see them following through on this type of behavior
  • Now Write down areas of responsibility that you they still need to work through. Current frustrations, etc. Pray over these issues and have a game plan in place to encourage the snot out of your kid when they step up to the task.
  • Think of ways to challenge your child to be more responsible.
  • Pray that God would protect your child from people who would want to take advantage of them.

If you don’t already have a regularly scheduled time to hang out with your child start working on a plan to get some shoulder to shoulder time in on an activity. Think of something that will be fun for the both of you and work at it until you find something that sticks. You’ll be surprised at how much this regular interaction will open the doors for authentic communication down the road.

In the coming days and weeks we’ll be looking at teenage grumpiness, technology, identity, forgetfulness, and more!

7 Keys to A Better Sunday Morning Family Worship Experience

So, we’ve all been there. That long and awkward drive to church where you have been fighting with the kids all morning, feeling rushed. Because of the rushed feeling tensions are high between you and your spouse. Your kid asks a simple and innocent enough question and you lash out something like, “Just Be Quiet! We are on our way to church!

Perhaps you feel like a hypocrite as soon as you say it, or maybe you just chalk it up to Satan trying to foil your Sunday morning experience. Either way you feel guilty. But as soon as you pull in the parking lot you feel compelled to put on a smile and pretend everything is all right. Now you really do feel like a hypocrite. They are singing “Enter the Gates with Thanksgiving in your Heart” but right now you feel resentment toward your spouse, toward your kids, and perhaps you even project your own insecurities on some of the cheery looking people around you as you call them a hypocrite under your breath.

But let’s rewind the scenario and see what might have caused this terrible start to a Sunday Morning Worship experience. The night before you stayed up later than usual to catch up on SNL. You hit the snooze buttons a few times to catch up on sleep and before you know it you are running late. All of the sudden realize that you washed everything but what you were hoping to wear today (or it’s still at the cleaners), so you scramble to put some other outfit together. The kids are up and asking about something to eat, you are trying to iron a shirt that you think might be a tad too small and your spouse just hopped in the shower which means you will have to wait for them before you can hop in.

But is there a better way? I propose there is. What if we prepared for Sunday on Saturday?  Here are a few tips for preparing Saturday night for a good experience on Sunday.

  • Give the kids a bath the night before.
  • Go to bed early or at least on time.
  • Lay out your clothes for the next day (as well as for the kids).
  • Discuss a shower schedule with your spouse.
  • Have a brief time of prayer with your family asking God to make the next Sunday Special, Pray for your pastor, worship leader, life group leaders, etc.
  • Plan a light breakfast with protein in it.
  • Set your alarm and plan to wake up on time

Soon you will find that not everyone at church with a cheery face is faking it. A good Sunday morning experience begins with a little Saturday night preparation. What other tips can you offer to help make for a good Sunday morning experience?

10 Reasons Why I Taught My Children to Pray Lord’s Prayer

At the writing of this post my kids are 4 and 8. Both have learned the Lord’s prayer and have been quoting it each night from memory for quite some time now. The Lord’s Prayer, or as it is also called, the Model Prayer can be found in Matthew 6:9-13 where Jesus teaches his follower how  to pray. Here are 10 reasons why I found it important for my kids memorize this (each one memorized it around age 3 before they could read).

10. So when some genius says, “the sinner’s prayer isn’t in even in the scripture” they can just start quoting scripture… “Thy Kingdom come… Forgive us our sins” (Maybe I’ll teach them Psalm 51 as well).

9. I don’t think they will come up with anything cooler on their own since this is the way that Jesus taught the disciples how to pray.

8. To improve and expand upon their capacity to memorize information.

7. To help hide scripture in their heart that is obviously both immediately relevant and applicable.

6. To provide a reference point for teachable moments… “It’s like we say in the Lord’s prayer…”

5. To give them confidence in prayer.

4.So they learn forgiveness through remembering what it is like to be forgiven.

3. So the will learn to be Kingdom focused rather than self-centered in their prayers

2. The Lord’s Prayer is a map straight to the heart and character of God.

1. So That They might Know God. (both at times have prayed on their own small childlike prayers of faith for the forgiveness of their sins and to follow God based on the Lord’s prayer).

THE SERVANT KING (from the Jesus StoryBook Bible).

We love reading this Storybook Bible to the kids. Here is another animated story from The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Children are Like Arrows: A Fresh Look At Psalm 127

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127, ESV)

I guess I hear lots about this passage in regards to having a “quiver full of kids” and “kids are a blessing.” I’ve heard all kinds of explanations about how many arrows would be in a Hebrew quiver at the time that this was written.  I’ve heard glad parents tell me that their hoping to “fill their quiver” and others express over the loud noise of a toddler that “children are a blessing.”

I see value having lots of kids and most certainly agree that children are a blessing, even on their worst day (and toddlers have some pretty bad days).  However, I think there is a bit more to this passage than that.  I think there are some riches not mined here when we gloss over this Psalm so glibly.  Take a minute and dwell on this text with me.

Arrows are offensive weapons. You don’t use them to defend yourself as much as you do to make a dent in the enemy. Swords can be defensive. Shields are defensive.  Spears perhaps even defensive.  Arrows are purely for offense.  You let them go.  While kids are a reflection of their parents, they are also their own individuals.  Sometimes as parents we can try to use our children to protect our own egos, relive a second childhood, or even provide all the things we missed out on.  The fact is that just like an arrow leaves the grasp of an archer, your children were meant to leave your grasp too.

Those parents who are oppressive with their own sense of pride expressed either in the need for perfection or the need to be needed risk warping their children.  Start with the end in mind. Just like archers shape branches to make their arrows because they know what an arrow needs to fly, so parents are to be intentional in shaping their kids to live beyond their home.  The arrows in the quiver of Psalm 127 aren’t meant to be kept in the quiver.  They were intended to be a deadly show of force and accuracy against the enemy.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that your children won’t remain at home forever.  Arrows aren’t intended to fill quivers.  They have a greater purpose.  Because Archers know this.  They shape their arrows with their ultimate purpose in mind (to be aimed and released).

Question: How are you raising your children for the years they will live outside your home?

More thoughts on Psalm 127 to follow this week.

How to Raise a Daughter: 15 Small Steps for Dad’s that Make Difference in the Lives of Their Daughters

 Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.  (2)  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.  (3)  Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.  (4)  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  (5)  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. – Psalm 127

 

Children are like arrows, they have to be aimed and let go. Below are a few practices that I have set out to keep up with my daughter that take very little time, but will shape her whole life and prepare her for the future.  I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I am intentional.  I hope this list provokes your thoughts on the simple things we do as parents and how they can make a world of difference for your children.

1. Tell her you love her every day of your life (say it multiple times and in multiple ways each day)

2. Teach her that character, not make-up brings out her true beauty.

3. Tell her everything special that you like about her mom on a regular basis (especially in regards to her character)

4. Teach her to give her best effort on every project

5. Tell her you are proud of her (and highlight the things you are proud of, especially when you know she gave her best effort).

6. Give her a hug everyday (even in the teenage years when things get a little awkward and you realize that she’s closer to being a woman than a little girl).

7. Tell her that she is beautiful (just like her mom… give her a womanly role model worthy of emulation and affirm her mother in front of her often).

8. Teach her to be thankful for everything (Thank God for simple pleasures like apples and other fruit that God gave us for our pleasure).

9. Give her responsibility and hold her accountable (nothing says love like trust, expectation, and a little help along the way).

10. Hit Pause on the Disney shows and talk about real life issues (though “family friendly,” most kids shows are centered on someone telling a lie, a weak or non-existent father character, and kids running the show… you are your daughters filter, but you won’t always be… help her discern truth for error even in her entertainment options).

11. Pray for her everyday of your life.

12. Pray with her every day. (and let her hear you pray for her)

13. Teach her to pray.

14. Read the Bible together every day. (Starting with a reliable Story Bible and working into a good translation. Start reading to her and then work into her reading to you, especially if she is younger.)

15. Memorize scripture and Spiritual questions and answers together often (at lease weekly).

 

If You Want Great Friends, Then You Need to Be a Great Friend: 3 steps you can take today to becoming an awesome friend.

Growing up we moved quiet a few times during my formative years.  It seems like I was always the new kid at school.  I guess with so many fresh starts that through the years I learned a lot about the kind of company you keep.

I used to think that as the new kid, I was the one in need of a friends.  But one day I realized that some people go their whole lives without ever discovering a true friend. I decided then and there that whatever other people might one day say about me, that the best thing they could say was that I was a true friend.

When I was sixteen I read an older edition of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (it’s still on my the shelf over my desk today).  To simplify and summarize the book, I learned that winning friends was really all about being a friend. So I set out to be a good friend to the people I already knew.  I asked questions, listened to stories, and shared positive insights into my friends’ lives.  It’s amazing what you will learn about people if you will just ask questions, listen and actually care.

Every year while I was in college, I looked around and made a list of people that needed a good friend.  I made it a point to find time to be in the Laundry mat, cafeteria, library,  etc. at the same time that they were in order to have an opportunity to ask good questions and listen.  At that point the caring part came pretty natural to me.  It’s hard not to care once you have heard someone’s story.

As the years have gone on, I’ve gotten close to several people and had several best friends.  I wish I were able to be closer to everyone.  Unfortunately geography and busy schedules have cause some friendships to wane in intensity.  (In reality you can only keep 3 or 4 good friendships going at once… with all my heart I wish it were more).

Being a good friend is a combination of things that is really just one thing… like pie, several ingredients make up the whole.  1. Ask good open ended questions and let your friend talk. 2. Listen and ask follow up questions like “how did you get involved in (whatever they are most passionate about).” 3. Care, genuinely care.  Your friends need to know that you care.

I hope all goes well on your pursuit to being a good friend.

A Must Read for Christian Parents

Rock-Solid KIDS by Larry Fowler is a must read for Christian parents, Children ministry directors, Pastors and even youth pastors.  The book outlines a Biblical premise for ministry to children starting in the home and supplemented by the church.  The book is full of biblical wisdom and key insights.

The author didn’t share anything new or unfamiliar to me as a father, but did reaffirm several things my wife and I have sought to do as parents. That being said, I do highly recommend this book for three reasons:  It is brief, It is well written, and It contains the best chapter on sharing the gospel with children that I have ever read.

The book is only 142 pages, yet it packs punch.  You won’t find any wasted words or long diatribes.  Author Larry Fowler has done an outstanding job of  keeping the message simple and straightforward. The 8th chapter on sharing the gospel with children is one of the clearest and most straightforward I have ever read.  The 8th chapter alone is worth the market price of the book.  As a parent I’m grateful to our Minister to children for putting it in my hands.

I  highly recommend Rock-Solid KIDS to anyone who has influence in the lives of kids.  I can see it being especially helpful and encouraging for parents and ministers to children. The retail price is $17.99 (hardcover), and is available around the web in places like Amazon.com for $14.03.  I gave it five stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Halloween and the Great Commission: Why My Kids Dress Up for Candy, but Don’t Pretend in Santa

Just so you know, I don’t think holidays are evil.  But some Christians do have a hard time navigating the holidays.  They are troubled by Jack-o-lanterns, Santa Claus,  and the Easter bunny.  I guess we could add a few more holidays to the list, but we will keep it down to the big 3 just for the sake of time.

Why its a big deal: No doubt somewhere somebody once told you that all the “Christian” holiday’s  like Christmas and Easter are really just “pagan holidays.”  Christmas wasn’t really on December the 25th and that the Easter bunny is all about fertility, being twitter-pated, new life and stuff.  I know, I know, its disappointing to have your whole Christian holiday stuff upset by some great big “pagan conspiracy.”  Why did they have to go pick the “Christian” holidays, why couldn’t they have hijacked some other holiday like Grandparents Day? No, the pagans had to come and take our Christmas and Easter. Or did they?…

How it might of actually started I think it’s the Pagans that should be upset that we are talking so much about Jesus around their holidays.  I guess that’s how it really started.  Some pagan got up to say, “through these winter months we look with joy to the new life of spring,”  and a Christian in the room stood up and said, “let me tell you about how God loves us and when the world was dark and cold, God came in the flesh and dwelt among us.”  And later in the spring when they were sitting around talking about how new life springs out of dead things a Christian got up and said, “They killed Jesus, but he rose from the dead three days later!” All of the sudden these pagan holidays centered around pagan ideas were hijacked by Christians telling their wonderful stories about the incarnation and the resurrection of Jesus.  Yes, my friends, it is the pagans who have had their holidays hijacked… not the Christians.  Truth be told, I don’t know why we have a Christmas tree (nor do I care), but I do know why we have a manger.

The Real Danger: The real danger with “Christian” holidays is that we only think about the incarnation (birth of Jesus) and resurrection on holidays.  SEC football is a bigger threat to my kids than Santa Claus because I’m an Auburn fan.  The real danger is that I might look more excited about football for 4 months out of the year than I am about what Christ has done in my life.  The question isn’t, “do I make Christmas about Jesus or Santa?” The real question is, “do I make all of my life about Jesus?”  The real evil would be to tell my kids Santa isn’t real, tell the truth about Jesus, but forget about Jesus the other 11 months out of the year.

A Way Forward: I say we hijack all the holidays for the sake of the gospel… starting with Halloween.  I know it’s scary; kids all dressed up like witches and demons and stuff.  But think about it, when was the last time you were invited and expected to knock on every door in your neighborhood? (and rewarded with candy I might add!) It’s how we met most of our neighbors beyond just a few doors down.

You see there aren’t any front porches in my neighborhood, or side walks, or parks, most people park the car in the garage,  all of our backyards have 6 foot privacy fences, and most of our houses have TVs and computers so we never have to see each other.  But once a year, Halloween changes that and kids come to our house and we take our kids through the neighborhood. Halloween has become an avenue for relationships which is the avenue for the gospel.

I know, I know, your scared that the secret origins of Halloween now have a dark hold over my kids… Can I just say, “It’s not so.”  We serve a risen Savior who beat death, and destroys demons.  We dabbled more in the spirit world when we obeyed God, packed our bags and moved our family to Pensacola (trust me, my daughter had more nightmares and we wrestled through more demonic stuff in our obedience than we ever have with her dressed as a Strawberry).  It’s time that we worry more about the mission than the top-secret pagan origins of a holiday.

Where to draw the line:  I think the line on holidays looks different for each family.  We draw the line at deception or dishonesty to our kids.  We teach our kids that Santa  and the Easter bunny are not real.  We also teach that Satan and his demons are real.  Most importantly we teach that Jesus Christ has conquered death and is stronger than any demon will ever be.  One of our core values is the ability to discern truth from error.   We still teach a healthy amount of pretend and play.  Because we aim for this balance of truth and pretend we are a little weird.  The things we draw the line on are probably different than you family and that’s okay (you can be weird too!)