Parenting: “We Get What We Are”

Last week I finished reading Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.  In the book, Christian Smith (a sociologist from Notre Dame) reports the results of the National Study on Youth and Religion (NSYR) which he conducted along with Lisa Pearce from UNC Chapel Hill.

There are two main takeaways I see of vital importance to parents, teachers, and youth workers:

First: The NSYR found that most teenagers’ religious beliefs could be described as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism which I’ve already written about in a post here.

Second: The NSYR serves as another reinforcement that parents are absolutely the greatest influence on their children.  Some studies have reported that this is not the case, but I’ve never been convinced by those reports.  Scripture teaches that parents (not the church, though the family of God is a great assistant teacher!) are charged to be the primary teachers and disciple-makers of their kids.  When writing about the influence parents have on their kids, Smith writes, “We get what we are.”

If you are laissez faire and casual about your faith in Jesus Christ, then don’t expect your children to grow up to be more mature in their faith than you have modeled for them.  If, however, you make prayer and reading your Bible a priority because you love Jesus Christ and want to know Him and serve Him, then that will also rub off on your kids.  We must not neglect the spiritual component involved in salvation and make this into a non-mystical and godless lifestyle, but in general the study has found that apples truly do not fall far from the tree.

What type of example are you setting for your kids?  Do you teach them to respect their authority while you complain about your boss or about your aging parents?  Do you teach them that education is important even though you haven’t studied to learn anything new in years?  Do you expect them to be Christians simply because you take them to church or youth group?

It’s my hope that over the course of this year our youth ministry will grow in its emphasis in equipping you parents to better disciple your sons and daughters to grow in their faith in Jesus Christ.  Discipleship is not simply about “behavior modification” and getting your kids to be “good kids.”  It’s about teaching them about the absolute importance of knowing God and what Jesus Christ has done for them on the cross… and teaching them what that means for their everyday lives.

May the Lord continue to bless you parents who are already doing this with your kids.  May He also inspire others of you to begin this work… it’s never too late!

Homelessness in America

Here’s a CNN article about the problem of Homeless Teens in America.  I was pointed to this article through CSM, the organization we served with this past summer in Toronto.

The Face of America’s Homeless Youth

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  (Micah 6:8)

Understanding the Lord’s Prayer

Many people can recite the Lord’s Prayer without being able to explain what it means or answer basic questions about it.  I’d like to break it down very simply to help us all better understand what Jesus was teaching about prayer.

It’s a Pattern, Not a Chant. Jesus said, “This, then is HOW (not what) you should pray…”  Jesus gave it as a pattern for his followers to copy.  He did not intend for them to recite it as if they were chanting a magical incantation that would force God to do what they want him to do.  The different parts of the Lord’s Prayer are meant to teach us something about God, prayer, and about our need.

“Our Father in Heaven.” First, we should start our prayers by recognizing that we are praying to God Almighty who is in Heaven.  But at the same time, we approach him as a child approaches his loving father.  God is “in Heaven,” but He is our loving Heavenly Father.  Just as a respectful child approaches his father with humility and love, we also should approach praying to our Heavenly Father with humility and love rather than praying as if God is a “Cosmic Vending-Machine” who is there to give us whatever we ask for.  We should start our prayers by humbly recognizing who we are and who God is.

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Why It’s Important For Parents to Love God With Their Mind

I was listening to a lecture by Dinesh D’Souza this morning and in it he was talking about the blessing of Christian Apologetics.  He said that after speaking at a church a father came up to him and said, “I don’t know why you’re doing all this.  I have faith because I have faith, who needs all of this?”  Dinesh replied, “Good for you, if you have faith.  But what if your son or daughter comes up to you and says, ‘You know what Dad, how do you know that Jesus even existed?  I’ve been taking a lot of religion classes in college and a lot of religions are based on myth (like Greek religions).  Are we really basing everything on the testimony of four guys who didn’t have last names who might have seen each other’s work?  How do we know they didn’t make up the whole thing?'”

What would you say to your kids?  These aren’t abstract or marginal issues of our Christian faith… these are questions that cut right to the heart of the Gospel.  I’m not saying, “Parents, you need to check in to a seminary and start reading some heavy-duty apologetics books to teach to your kids.”  But I am encouraging you to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that’s within you (1 Pet. 3:15).

Very simply, I want to urge everyone to love God with all their mind (as well as with all your heart and soul).  I believe that many Christians today are pretty lazy when it comes to loving God with their mind.

Simply put, if dad and mom are Christians and take their kids to church every Sunday, but they don’t set the example in reading Scripture and really thinking about what the Bible says and asking hard questions (“How does the Trinity make sense?” “How can Jesus be fully God and fully human at the same time?” “Where is Heaven?”), when their son/daughter asks these questions to mom or dad they will be unprepared.

We agree that we want our kids to ask hard questions about Scripture and faith… so long as they ask the pastor!  As a youth pastor I love talking about these difficult questions, so I’m not complaining – but I do want to encourage parents to take the primary role in discipling their children.

I admire people who have the gift of faith (simply believe God because he “said so”), and I don’t want it to seem that I’m putting those blessed people down.  I want to encourage those who have an easy time believing God’s Word to occasionally pretend that they have a difficult time believing so that when they have opportunity to speak for Christ they have something to say other than quoting Scripture.  I also want to encourage those like myself who have the problem of “asking too many questions” to remember that we are not the ultimate judges who determine truth.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

Roadblocks to Understanding Teenagers

I’m reading Walt Mueller’s “Youth Culture 101,” and it’s just chalk-full of gems.  I got the book when it came out a few years ago, but just started reading it a few weeks ago.  So far, the best section in the book is on “Closing the Cultural-Generational Gap: Avoiding the Obstacles” (pages 60-75).  What’s written below is pulled from and summarized out of Youth Culture 101.  This book is just full of great stuff for parents, teachers, grandparents, and pastors who want to understand the world of teenagers better. 

The following are common “reasons” (aka: excuses) for not bridging the gap between adults and teenagers. 

1. “I’m Scared”
Some people are simply afraid of what they’ll find out about youth culture and are afraid of expose themselves to it.  Instead of engaging youth culture with the Word of God firmly fixed in our minds, many people choose to insulate themselves from what’s too “worldly.”  The problem, however, is that you can only protect your teenager from the big bad world for so long.  I encourage parents of teenagers to spend meaningful time training their teens to evaluate the world around them from a biblical viewpoint (and that means you parents need to be growing in your biblical maturity too!). 

2. “Not Now… I’m Too Busy”
Are you too overwhelmed by what’s going on in your own life to take the time to understand what’s going on in your teenager’s life?  If so… you have a serious priority problem.  Many jobs make this a serious challenge, and I’m sensitive to that, I really am, but do not neglect your teens because you have a busy work-schedule.  Don’t assume that they’re old enough that they don’t need you or want to spend time with you.  Making the investment to understand your teenager’s world (aka: Youth Culture) will pay huge dividends: You’ll communicate to your son/daughter that you value him/her enough to want to learn about their world; It will provide your son/daught the opportunity to teach you about his/her music, which will be great for your relationship; It will help you realize that your kid isn’t a freak of nature.

3. “I Didn’t Know!”
Ignorance is not bliss… at least it isn’t in the long-run.  Many people might rather be clueless about what their teens are watching or listening to or doing in order to shelter themselves from the pain of disappointment or confrontations, but this isn’t the way to go.  Be involved and be knowledgable.  Don’t assume that your “good kid” is making good decisions because just his grades are up and he isn’t breaking curfew or getting in trouble at school.  Most people who are ignorant didn’t decide to be that way, but they decided not to be knowledgable… If you have no idea who Lady Gaga is or if you think the Jonas Brothers are still popular with teenagers then it’s time for you to decide to tune in a little better to youth culture. 

4. “Who Cares?”
When adults simply don’t care to understand teenagers the rift between teens and the adult world grows wider by the second.  When I was a teenager one of my church’s most effective youth workers was a mom who wasn’t cool and was pretty old-school, she barely knew anything about our music, but we all knew that she really cared about us and that made all the difference (yeah, that was over a decade ago, but the principle here still applies!).  Genuine compassion can cover a multitude of sins to a teenager. 

5. “It Can’t Be That Bad”
Sure, not everything in youth culture is evil.  Not every teenager is having sex, drinking alcohol and doing drugs.  That’s the portrait some people paint, and many adults say, “It’s not that bad!  Give me a break.”  Sure, your kid might be a good kid and isn’t doing any of those things, but do you know what he’s watching at friends’ houses or what music he’s listening to?  Don’t assume everything in youth culture is evil, but don’t just assume that the hype is overblown either.

6. “Times Have Changed – Lighten Up!”
How often do we read about parents serving their teenagers and their friends alcohol because they’d rather have the kids partying in a “safe environment” than somewhere outside of the house?  This type of thing is rampant, and it’s not good.  God’s truth does not change, and neither does his desire for purity among those who claim his name.  This is another reason it’s so important to know your kid’s friends’ parents and where they stand on various issues.  Times have changed, that’s why it’s so important to be knowledgable about what has changed without you noticing!

I realize many of these make it seem like everything about Youth Culture is terrible and evil, and that’s not the case, but I think some parents are in the dark about some of the hazards of Youth Culture, so some statements aren’t counter-balanced and one sided. 

I hope that pointing out some of these Roadblocks will help you see what lays before you as a challenge to bridge the gap between yourself and the teenagers God has blessed you with.  Teenagers are a blessing, let’s make sure that we communicate that to them in a way that they understand. (note: Adults writing mushy stuff on a teen’s Facebook page is embarrasing… send them a card in the mail instead if you want to encourage someone in particular.)

Which Should we be Known for: Burning the Koran or Proclaiming Christ?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this “International Burn a Koran Day” ridiculousness lately… I think many of us have been.  Frankly, it makes me angry.  I’m an Evangelical Baptist Pastor; I believe the Bible is infallible and authoritative, I believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus, I believe Jesus never sinned and died on the cross and physically rose from the grave and then ascended into Heaven where He waits until He returns again in glory.  I’m as Christian as you can be… and I am angry at what Rev. Terry Jones has been planning on doing.

I’ve seen friends on Facebook writing about “brotherhood” between Christians and Muslims in an attempt to show solidarity and goodwill.  I do not consider myself a “brother” to those outside my family, my close friends, and my fellow Christians.  Christians may not be brothers with Muslims, but we are neighbors and I agree that Christians ought to speak against what Rev. Jones is hoping to do.  Sure, there are reports going around now that he’s called it off, or at the very least, is reconsidering it… but even if he doesn’t go through with it others will and the damage has already been done.  I’d like to lay out a number of reasons why I am opposed to “International Burn a Koran Day.”

First: On a very basic human level we should have respect for one another. That means I should treat you with the same respect and dignity I would want you to give me.  This “golden rule” is actually from the Bible in Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Second: Christians ought to be described as men and women who are filled with love, not with hate. In Matthew 5:45-47 Jesus tells his disciples, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven…. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collecters doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).  We were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26, and other places), and we are told that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Third: All Christians are called to carry the “Good News” of salvation and redemption to all people. The word “Gospel” literally means “good news.”  Our message must be one of Good News for all people (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8).  Sure, there’s “Good News” because there’s bad news: we’re sinners by nature and are opposed to God’s will, therefore we stand under the judgment and condemnation our sins deserve.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  I like to refer to the “but” in Rom. 6:23 as the biggest “but” in the Bible!  Jesus Christ is our message.  When we focus on burned other peoples’ holy books we have turned our focus away from proclaiming Christ Jesus and towards tearing down idols.  The Apostle Paul did not rip down the altars on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17), he saw the “Altar to an Unknown God,” and he took the opportunity to respect the Athenians while proclaiming Jesus Christ.  We would be wise to show similar respect and cultural relevance while keeping Jesus at the center of our message.

Fourth: Burning Korans (and other similarly insensitive actions) only incite hate and persecution. I read an email sent by a missionary my church supports who lives with his family in a Muslim country.  He wrote asking us to pray for safety and protection in the midst of such potential backlash.  Not only has General Petraeus warned that Terry Jones’ actions have put our military in graver danger, this minister has put millions of Christians (not only missionaries, but local Christians too!) in serious danger.  Churches will be burned and Christians will be killed.

I am convinced that the American Church needs to be reminded that, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).  I’m not one to frequently give credit to the Devil for anti-Christian events, but I have come to believe that the Devil really is behind this.

God has a way of turning tragedies into opportunities for His grace to shine even brighter, and I trust that will be the case again… but that doesn’t make the tragedy any less ugly.

What it all comes down to is the title given this blog post: “Which Should we be Known for: Burning the Koran or Proclaiming Christ?”  My answer is obvious by now.

Michael Horton of “The White Horse Inn” has written a wonderfully thought-through response, I’d encourage you to take the time and read through what he’s posted.  (FYI: I just realized the similarities between his post’s title and my own, and I’d like to assure you that I came up with this post independently from his own and did not intentionally copy or plagiarize anything from his post.  I quickly skimmed his post yesterday, wrote my own today, and just finished editing it while linking to it here.)

Spontaneous Creation?

Stephen Hawking is indisputably one of the greatest scientists of this generation.  His latest book, “The Grand Design,” aims at shooting down the Intelligent Design and theism.  The media and news outlets all love spreading quotes like this (from Hawking):

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” (taken from “God did not create the universe, Hawking says.”)

“Spontaneous Design?”  It seems Hawking’s scientific answer to creation is “it just happened on it’s own.”  This thinking reminds me of some lyrics of the song “Roll the Bones” by Rush, “Why are we here?  Because we’re here…”  There’s no answer to these big questions (“Where did we come from?” “Why are we here?” “Where are we going?”) without belief in God.  The Guardian (from the UK) has a great article entitled, “Stephen Hawking can’t use physics to answer why we’re here.” It doesn’t seem that the author is a Christian, which demonstrates that any honest thinker can read Hawking’s writings and have serious problems with his philosophical conclusions.

My goal in writing today isn’t to give some well-written treatise with the goal of convincing atheists to believe in God: I think that’s a far bigger project than this blog post aims at.  Rather, my hope is that Christians might be encouraged to really THINK.  When we’re honest, Christians really are lazy thinkers much of the time.  Most of the greatest scientists throughout history have been Christians who were doing research which was sponsored by the Church in order that we might understand more of God’s wonderful creation.  We do not honor our Creator and Savior by being lazy thinkers and being disengaged from difficult and heavy matters.

My other goal is for those who do not believe in God: I want to humbly encourage you to really ask whether or not Hawking’s theory of “Spontaneous Creation” really makes sense.  I’ve found that much of the time when I need to do mental gymnastics to rationalize something all I’m really doing is justifying whatever I want to believe (rather than admitting what’s true).  Please don’t take that as me saying “It’s easier to believe in God, so there!” because that’s clearly not what I mean (re-read the previous paragraph calling Christians to really think hard about these issues).

Finally, I’d like to apologize on behalf of Christians who are mean-hearted and hate-filled who reply online to articles like the one linked above.  It saddens me more than you’d believe to read how Christians respond on discussion boards over the internet.  Many of them are simply cowards who would never say such things to one’s face, but the anonymity provided by the internet makes them feel bold.  This is not the type of boldness God calls us to through Scripture.  We are told “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. BUT DO SO WITH GENTLENESS AND RESPECT” (1 Pet. 3:15).  We often neglect the latter half of this verse, and I sincerely apologize to those who have been our “victims.”