Secret Struggles & Building an Army

Secrets. We all have them. And we’re tempted to keep them private, hidden, concealed. Secrets feed on our fears.Help Me

“If they really knew who you are, no one would love you anymore.”
“People are going to be so disappointed in you when they find out what you’ve done.”
“Can you imagine if they could read your mind!”

There are things we struggle with in secret which consume us. And we go around, wearing our happy-mask… pretending to be ok. But we’re not ok.

When people ask how we’re doing, we tell them, “I’m fine.” But inside we’re crying out for help.

Whether your secret struggles have to do with mental health, body-image, sexual identity, abuse, addictions, pornography, or any other number of things… you do NOT need to struggle alone! Continue reading

Is “Forgive and Forget” Biblical?

Over the last few weeks we’ve been talking about conflict resolution and unity in youth group. The first step towards peace is to live with the desire to Glorify God, because you never know when conflict will strike. The second step is to Get the Log Out Of Your Own Eye by prayerfully asking God to show you if you have anything you need to confess. Since the goal of peacemaking is unity, the third step is to Gently Restore. The final step is to Go Get Reconciled with your friend. Below is the final wrapup, addressing the “messier” situations that are more complicated. 

We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all been forgiven. We’ve all needed to be forgiven.

But I seriously doubt we’ve forgotten.

“Forgive and forget” sounds good advice until you’re the one hearing it. Then, when it’s personal and when the hurt is deep, it seems like you’re expected to do something impossible. And for the Christian, it begs the question: Is “forgive and forget” biblical?

cloud over mountains Continue reading

Suicide is Never the Answer

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard a few stories that have really shaken me about people who have found themselves in hopeless situations. Some of them escaped because they had friends who risked the friendship by making others aware of what was happening. Others refused help and are now gone.

I’ve had this written in my head for a long time, but it’s gone unwritten until now. It seems like suicide is something that is getting more and more attention even while it’s being more widely accepted as an escape. Remember this image going around after Robin Williams’ suicide:

At the time there were a few voices who spoke out reminding us that suicide is not freedom, but so many people seemed to embrace this thinking that it was really concerning.

Suicide isn’t the answer
I have a problem with the picture above because suicide is never the answer. Suicide doesn’t bring “freedom.” If you need hope, suicide isn’t the solution you’re looking for. If you need healing, suicide only spreads pain and hurt and loss.

It’s Complicated
I don’t know what you’re feeling. I don’t personally know what it’s like to suffer from mental illness or from severe depression, so I’m not going to offer cheap and easy solutions that reduce what you’re feeling and experiencing to an easy “to do” list which will make you “better.” You might suffer from depression for your entire life – but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience joy and happiness and hope.

You’re Worth More than Suicide
God did not make you for death. He made you for life. You are not an accident. No one is “too far gone.” God doesn’t make junk. We are all broken because of sin, and some of us have really made a mess of things, but you are worth more than suicide! Don’t lose hope… fight for it! And while you fight for hope, invite a family member or a friend (or more than one!) to help you in that fight, because it might be along and difficult journey and you might not get there alone.

Care Enough to Risk the Friendship
If you have a friend who has talked about suicide or self-harm… care for them enough to speak up on their behalf. Sometimes we need to be good enough friends to risk our friendships because we want better for our friends than they seem to want for themselves (does that make sense?). Sometimes we need to speak up for our friends and loved ones when no one else will. If you stay silent, this doesn’t mean you should blame yourself for what your friend did (or attempted to do). But what an expression of friendship and love to say, “I care about you more than I care about you being happy with me! I don’t want to lose you so I needed to take this risk by telling someone that I’m scared for you.”

Christians Get Suicidal and Depressed Too
There seems to be a popular myth in the church that Christians should be able to pray depression away. Prayer works, and God hears your prayers, so I would never say or want to give the impression that prayer is useless or a waste of time. Prayer works. But so does medicine and so does counseling. Sometimes we need to humble ourselves and ask for help from others, trusting God to answer our prayers through the help that other people can give us.

I wrote a post about Teen Depression a few years back that I still think is quite helpful.

Here are a few other good resources to check out:

A Final Word on HOPE
If you could talk to someone who is about to commit suicide, what would you say? What hope would you offer?

The truth is life is difficult and messy. But there is joy in the Christian life. There is faith in the midst of doubt, but you may still have some lingering doubts. There is hope in the midst of depression, but you may still experience depression.There is love in the midst of sorrow, but that means you will still experience sorrow. Doubt and depression and sorrow will one day pass away, but faith, hope, and love remain.

The power for faith, hope, and love come from God. And thanks to God for that… because that means even in your darkest and weakest moment, God’s power can reach out and hold on to you.

Whatever you’re feeling or experiencing, reach out for help – help from God and help from a friend or family member. Please remember that suicide is never the answer.

Jesus as Friend

“The Many Faces of Jesus”
How do you even begin to answer this question? There are so many ways to describe Jesus. Have you seen “The Dress” this week? Is it white and gold or black and blue? We’re looking at the same thing, but we’re describing two different dresses. Sometimes I hear people talk about Jesus in a way that makes me think, “They must be talking about a different Jesus!” For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at the “Many faces of Jesus,” to encounter Jesus as Friend, Miracle Worker, Servant, and Shepherd. These four “faces” give us a good picture who Jesus is, why he came, and why we talk about him so often.

Many Faces of Jesus

When I was on the football team in high school one the leaders on the team took up a collection for some new carpets in the locker room. I gave him $5 and never heard of the carpets again. Later on I found out he used the money he collected to buy beer for the big weekend party. Trusting someone who’s not trustworthy makes you feel pretty foolish.

Who hasn’t been there before? Some of us trust people way too easily and we find ourselves being taken advantage of. But other people seem to never trust others and are so skeptical they refuse to trust people who are actually trustworthy.

“Can we trust God?”
This might sound like a weird question to ask, but it’s absolutely honest and worth asking. How do we know he’s trustworthy? How do we know if he even likes us?

John 3:17 says, “God sent his Son into the world to judge the world but to save the world through him.” Jesus is not God’s warrior sent to slaughter sinners for their rebellion. Instead, He is God-in-flesh, the Son of God who came to RESTORE our relationship with God. Our sin made us enemies of God. Through Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we are made FRIENDS of God. 

John 15:13-14 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” This is how Jesus loved us. Sometimes we talk about the Christianity in a way that makes forgiveness sound free. But it wasn’t free. It was actually really expensive… it cost Jesus his life. 

For those of us who consider ourselves Christians, Jesus tells us that we’re supposed to do what he did: honor God and love others. He’s obviously not saying that you need to die for your friends and you’re not able to forgive them of their sins, but do you love them enough to put them first? Do you love them enough to sacrifice for them? Do you love Jesus enough to love others the way he has loved you?

Look to the CrossIf you aren’t a Christian, I want to kindly tell you that you’re missing out. You’re missing out on the amazing love of God who loves you so much he became a man who suffered and died in order to rescue you from sin and death and judgment. I want to make sure you hear from Jesus the reason he came: to lay down his life for his friends.

If you aren’t a Christian, I want you to know that you can trust Jesus. If you ever doubt that, you only need to look at the cross to see how much he loves you. Jesus not only tells us, but he shows us what godly friends do – they lay their lives down for each other. Jesus is so much more than just a friend, but that’s not a bad starting point to describe who he is!

What would it look like if we all lived as friends of Jesus?
What would your family look like? What would your school look like? What would our youth group look like?

  • I think we’d spend more time with people who are outcasts and left out of groups, and less time so focused on our friend-groups that we end up leaving people on the outside.
  • I think we’d spend more time praying for people and less time talking about them.
  • I think we’d be less materialistic and far more sacrificial.
  • We’d be more willing to risk doing or saying the right thing, even if it would mean some sort of backlash might come our way.
  • And when others hurt us, we’d be quicker to forgive them, because we know that Jesus forgave us.
  • All in all, We’d be way less worried about ourselves and more active about putting others first.

There are times when it’s really hard to trust God. It’s hard to trust him when you’re being picked on and bullied at school. It’s hard to trust him when you feel so overwhelmed by everyone else’s expectations, and you’re stressed out because you don’t want to let people down. It’s hard to trust him when life is really tough and your prayers don’t seem to be answered.

When we consider the many faces of Jesus, I think it’s helpful to remember that Jesus came in order to rescue us from our sin so that we could be friends of God. And whenever we question if we can trust God, let us look to the cross to remember the fullness of his love.

LWAYG: Finishing Strong – Mark Was a Late Bloomer

I love the little-known story of John Mark, who’s better known to us simply as Mark.  He ended up being the first person to ever write a biography on Jesus, more commonly known as the “Gospel of Mark.”  But he didn’t start out so strong.

Mark was a young man and probably wasn’t married yet, so he still lived in his family’s house where the early church met (Acts 12:12).  When Paul and Barnabas are sent out on the first missions trip ever, Mark goes with them.  Then we read,“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus.” (Acts 15:36–39)

We don’t know why Mark “deserted” them.  Maybe he missed his bed, or his mom’s home-cooking?  Maybe he didn’t realize this was going to be such a long mission trip?  Or maybe he simply got fearful and wasn’t ready for it, so he left his team to go on without him while he returned home.  Regardless of his reasons for leaving, it didn’t sit well with his team… especially with Paul.

So when Barnabas (whose name means “Son of Encouragement”) wants to bring Mark with them on the second mission trip, Paul won’t even consider it.  But there’s something about Mark that keeps Barnabas from giving up on him (Colossians 4:10 tells us that they’re cousins, but it seems like there’s more going on here than family sticking up for each other).  Barnabas refuses to hold Mark’s failure against him, but I have a strong gut-feeling they had a very honest conversation before leaving together for Cyprus.

Years later, while Paul was in prison and near the end of his life he wrote this: “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).  Paul realized he was wrong about Mark, and their friendship was restored.

Imagine what might have happened if Barnabas decided that Mark wasn’t worth the argument with Paul and gave in to Paul’s desire to leave Mark behind.  We probably wouldn’t have the Gospel of Mark, which biblical scholars agree was used as the template and foundation for Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.  Our Bible would look different if this little-known story had ended differently. God is good!

A few questions:

  • Who do you identify with most in this story: Paul, Barnabas, or Mark?
  • Would you have taken Mark with you if you were in constant danger of persecution and martyrdom if you weren’t sure you could trust him to “get your back?”
  • Are your friends more like Barnabas or like Paul? Do they kick you when you’re down and remind you how you’ve failed in the past, or do they help pick you up and make you stronger?
  • Who’s your Barnabas? It’s important for all of us to have someone in our lives who is more spiritually mature than we are who we can talk to and ask questions… and we’re ok with them asking us hard questions too!
  • Who’s your Mark? It’s also important for all of us to realize that there’s always someone we could be ministering to.  If you’re in Junior High then try calling an elementary school kid and saying, “Hi, I was wondering how I could pray for you today.”  If you’re in High School, try doing that to a Junior High student.

Mark “Finished Strong” because he had a very “Healthy Friendship” with his cousin Barnabas.  Your friends really do make a huge impact on your life – are your friends picking you up when you’re down, or are they the ones knocking you down to begin with?  And what about you – who are you picking up or knocking down?  Remember that your friendships really do help determine the direction and quality of your life.

I Love You Just the Way You Are

I love you just the way you are
-Walt Mueller

I experienced pains of “anticipatory agony” the night before my seventh grade gym class assembled on the cinder quarter-mile track for the annual mile run for time. I remember praying two prayers as I lay fitfully awake on that eve of aerobic despair: “God, please help me finish!” and “Please don’t let me finish last!” Both prayers were answered.

Unfortunately, I remember something else about that day. After the run, I joined my peers in that all-too-common junior high ritual that leaves many kids feeling like a heap of trash: we laughed at the overweight and out-of-breath kid who, once again, crossed the finish line last and all alone.

The early adolescent years combine fast-paced change and the confusion of wondering, “Am I normal?” Add to these insecurities the desire to fit in and a peer group that knows little or nothing about sensitivity, and you’ve got a volatile mix. Remember what it was like to walk the junior high halls and feel like every eye was focused on you and how you didn’t seem to measure up? It’s the same today. There are insecure kids who find themselves labeled as “popular,” and the remaining insecure lot who get crushed under the weight of serving as stepping stones in the struggle to build up one’s self by putting others down.

The standards of today’s acceptance game have been raised. The new emphasis on physical beauty and body shape established by media icons have left changing girls and boys wondering, “Will I ever be good enough for somebody to love?” Thin is not only in, but sexually desirable. Consequently, many kids are spending more time in front of the mirror and more time lying awake anticipating another day of nasty junior high ridicule.

Twelve-year-old Sammy Graham had one of those nights back in August of 1996. With the first day of school scheduled the next morning, this outstanding student from a solid loving family had gone to bed after praying with his father and two young brothers. The next day, before anyone else was awake, Sammy took a flashlight, rope and step stool into the backyard. Later, his father found Sammy’s dead body hanging from a tree.

Sammy was apprehensive about the teasing he’d have to endure because his 5’4″ body carried 174 pounds. The pain of death was more bearable than the pain of a ridiculed life. The pressure was just too much.

We can learn many lessons from Sammy. First, we must constantly remind our kids of their uniqueness as God’s handiwork, knitted together and formed according to His purpose and plan. No matter how much worldly standards change, their Heavenly Father sees each one as beautiful.

Of course, transferring this truth from mere words to reality requires a second step: We must point out the appearance lies of the world and emphasize the truth of their standing in God’s eyes by giving them a show-and-tell shower of time, love, acceptance and affection.

This battle with our culture’s horribly skewed standards doesn’t look to get easier any time soon. But we do know that junior high kids who are confident in themselves and sensitive to others typically have something special happening in their relationships with dad and mom.

Several times a week I run at our local school track. Recently, I have shared the track with a number of physical education students as they run the mile for time (poor kids!). During one recent jog I watched as the teacher blew his whistle signaling the start of the run. Naturally, the most athletic members of the class took off at a fast pace. The rest of the class lagged behind but kept moving ahead (I did hear a few moans and complaints as even I was able to pass them).

Then I watched in wonder as a beautiful sight unfolded. There on the track, far behind the pack and even further behind the athletes, walked two figures side by side. One was a girl, terribly overweight. For her, running a mile was probably impossible. But walking next to her, voicing words of encouragement, was a slender and athletic-looking peer who looked as if she could have run and perhaps even finished first.

Four laps together … from start to finish. One person was saved from humiliation. The other, well, her parents should be proud. I was reminded of the simple command of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you.” I’m in the midst of watching two of my own children struggle with those junior high pressures and expectations. I’m convinced that living out these words of Jesus at home is one of the best gifts we can give our young adolescents.

The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding grants permission for this article to be copied in its entirety, provided the copies are distributed free of charge and the copies indicate the source as the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.

For more information on resources to help you understand today’s rapidly changing youth culture, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.

©2003, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

LWAYG: How Should we Resolve Conflicts Christianly?

A friend of yours sees you talking to her boyfriend and goes off on you for it.  “What were you talking to him about!  Why was he talking to you.  Why were you flirting with him, you know he’s mine!”  But actually, he was asking you what the homework for science was… he forgot to write it down.  Your friend has stormed off and you’re left feeling like you have no idea what just happened.  What do you do…

Here’s what Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

1.  Go to settle the matter PRIVATELY

Don’t talk about the problem with everyone except the person your problem is with!  Go and work it out.  Sure, take time to cool down and let him/her cool down too – but don’t talk about the conflict with others while cooling down (that will probably only heat you up even more, anyway!).

Cool down, think about the conflict, and ask yourself how much of it is your own fault.  Share in the blame.  Sometimes when we’ve cooled down, we realize that it’s really not that big a deal and that we should just overlook the problem; BUT that does NOT mean that we don’t go and talk to the person and tell them, “I’m ok, it’s not a big deal, your friendship is more important to me than this conflict, let’s move on.”  Don’t just ignore the problem and tell yourself that you’re being the “bigger person” by overlooking the offense – if you do that you’re probably just shoving the conflict in the basement and letting it grow moldy… and that’s not good!

2.  Bring one or two witnesses with you

Notice that Jesus says to establish what happened (“the testimony”) by two or three “witnesses.”  He doesn’t say “Bring some people whom you’re close friends with so they can defend you against the other person.”  If you bring others into the conflict who can’t be impartial, then you’re just waging war and drawing battle lines.

Find people who witnessed the initial conflict to mediate.  They were there, they can help you both realize some details you may not realize and help bring about the peace that you desire.

3.  Bring the conflict and the other person before the Church

Keep in mind that the “church” at that time would meet in people’s homes.  So really, each “church” was like a small group.  I don’t believe this is a biblical excuse to slander other Christians during the Sunday morning worship time as a “prayer request.”  The goal here is for other Christians to step in, help resolve the conflict between two Christians who are committed to Christ and to the church and to bring about the peace and unity that Jesus desires for his children.

4.  If he/she won’t listen to the Church, treat him like a nonbeliever

Technically, Jesus says “treat him as you would a pagan or tax collector.”  So that begs the question, “How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?”

Jesus died on the cross for pagans to be forgiven.  Jesus called a tax collector to become a disciple and later an apostle (Matthew).  I hope it’s obvious that this isn’t Jesus giving us permission to be mean or cruel towards people we have unresolved conflicts with.

This fourth step is also an aknowledgement that you can follow steps 1-3 perfectly, and there will be times when the conflict will not be resolved.  But if there’s unresolved conflict, I hope it’s not because you’ve neglected to do all you could do.  Do everything in your power so that unresolved conflicts are the other person’s fault, not yours.  If you’ve done all you can do to bring about peace, then the guilt isn’t on you.

We ought to be kind, gracious, patient, and even loving towards those people we have a difficult time loving.  That’s how God through Christ has treated us; it’s how we should treat others.

Last Week at Youth Group: Healthy Friendships

If you’re having a tug of war with someone who’s standing on a chair, you’re going to win (even if they’re way stronger than you!).  Think about your friends: Do they build you up, or do they pull you down?

Newsflash: God cares about your friendships!  Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”  Similarly, 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be misled: bad company corrupts good character.”

Have you ever done something you wouldn’t otherwise do because your friends were doing it?  Have you ever lied to your friends so you didn’t look bad?  Do you have a friend with a self-destructive habit but you’ve never said anything about it?

Who’s influencing you?  And who are you influencing?

Are you pulling your friends up, or are they pulling you down (or are YOU pulling your friends DOWN!)?

Circles of Friendship

Circle of Concern: These are your friends who are people you care about and who care about you, but you don’t really spend tons of time together and you don’t know personal things about each other.  If this person lost a family member you’d be sad for them, but your daily life wouldn’t be greatly effected.  Obviously, this group of “acquaintances” is going to be your biggest group of “friends.”  (Most of your “Facebook friends” would fall into this category)

Circle of Influence: These are people who actually listen to.  You spend time together, and you know each other pretty well.  You know their family and their other friends.  This group of friends is usually pretty limited for most people.

Circle of Intimacy: These are people who know just about everything about you, and you know just about everything about them… and you still love each other!  Remember, “Intimacy is the joy of knowing someone fully and being known by that person with no fear of rejection” (Andy Stanley).  These friends care more about you than they do about the friendship, because they love you enough to tell you what you need to hear.  They don’t pull punches in telling you hard things (“Mike, you’re being really stupid, and if you keep this up it’s NOT going to be good!”).   These friends are extremely rare and take a LONG TIME (10 years, maybe?) to develop.

Where do your friends fall?  Not all friends are created equal, and that’s ok!  Do you have true Christian friends in your Circles of Influence?  If all your Circle of Influence friends are non-Christians, really think about what sort of influence they’re having on you.

  • Who do you need to cut out of your life?
  • Whose influence do you need to limit in your life?
  • Who do you want to influence you more?