Monday, May 26, 2008

The Amish Way of Life

Over the Memorial Day Weekend I had the opportunity to get together with family up in Amish country in central Ohio. It is always interesting when you spend most of your life in the 'burbs and then take some time off and go off into the country! And not just the country, but Amish country!

A couple observations over the course of this weekend:

1. We have gotten so good at packing our lives so full of things that keep us busy and distracted. When you get a chance to observe a people that try to live by the rule of simplicity it is humbling. It helped me to appreciate where I am at in my life and to stop looking to the next stage of "wanting more in order to be satisfied".

2. Being surrounded by God's creation, listening to the wind coming through the leaves of the trees, animals making noise here and there, and just observing for miles the countryside is just awe inspiring. The artistry of God is just incredible when you stop and soak it in.

3. The animal kingdom is yet another thing that expresses the creativity and beauty of God. It is just an amazing thing to stand and watch horses, sheep, cattle, chicks, pigs, butterflies, and goats as they interact and respond to you (esp. if you have food!).

4. Conversation was at the top of the order when you escape to a place like this. Conversation with your family as well as conversation with the people in the community. I had some brief conversations with people in the community but it definitely left me wishing for more. There was so much about the Amish culture I did not understand and I would have loved to have a few beers with some of the Yoder's and really hear them out about their lives, faith, work, and worldviews. In my observations of them I had both admiration and utter confusion on how they chose to live their way of life. I would have loved to understand them more through conversation and friendship.

5. Diversity of our great state of Ohio is amazing. To be able to visit the rural as well as the urban centers of our state helps to appreciate a wide range of lifestyles and environments. The city and the country need each other.

6. I love discovering humor through observing cultures that are so different that what I am used to. My wife sent me out to find some syrup for breakfast for the following morning. Unfortunately, in a rural town most everything shuts down by sunset. After driving through some small towns I finally came up to a little more modern town that had a convenient store that was open. As my daughter and I were in the store the two songs that melodiously played over the loudspeakers in the store was the theme song to "Dukes of Hazzard" and "Sweet Home Alabama". As I came to the counter to pay for my syrup, the clerk was jiving away to "Sweet Home" and looked at me and said, "This is great drivin' music." I got a big grin on my face because as much as I wanted to NOT like country music, I had to completely agree with clerk guy! When I jumped back in my van I quickly found the radio station playing the southern fried rock song so I could finish out Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama"!

Boomers Beware!

Throughout my college experience and 20's I developed an intense dislike toward the Boomer generation. The way I saw it then was that they were responsible for aborting a third of my generation for their own selfish purposes. Of course now I understand that this is a massive oversimplification of a generation of people as well as the topic of abortion! As I have worked in churches for almost 2 decades now, I have to continually remind myself that we are a multi-generational body that needs to resist the cultural urge to separate the generations and develop hostilities between them. But this book, in a very comical way, brought back all of my Gen-X angst and bitterness. The boomers have now all retired and are killing the Social Security system as all of the debt for their comfort gets passed down to the younger generations. It is up to Casandra Devine to find a solution by creating Voluntary Transitioning a.k.a. euthanasia. This is a brilliant novel that in my opinion very well could be possibly prophetic. It may take about a decade or so to find out, but let's hope that through this comic portrayal of a possible future, we will heed its warning! Christopher Buckley's book ought to inspire us to rise up and fix our government or find alternative ways in which we do not buy into their system and therefore become victimized by its own ineptness. Something is going to have to give before the debt that our government has incurred, through Social Security and the wars that we are in, finally builds up and falls on a generation of people who most likely had nothing to do with creating this mess but are expected to somehow pay for it all! If this lands on my children's or grandchildren's lap I will personally join them when they go off to storm the gated communities and golf courses full of retirees!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

unChristian: Sheltered

The Issue: Sheltered

The Perception: Christians are boring, unintelligent, old-fashioned, and out of touch with reality.

Questions and Quotes for Discussion:

Has anyone ever treated you or someone you knew as stupid for believing in God? They state that your faith is just a crutch because you can’t deal with reality? My experience with Mitch as I pursued theatre in college. Mitch would frequently rage against Christianity and all religions as pathetic ways people cope with life because they can’t handle reality.

Listen to Fermi Project Podcast: Episode 11 of unChristian featuring Margaret Fienburg author of “The Organic God”

Did anything that Margaret have to say jump out at you? She mentioned the generational differences in that older generations tend to have a fortress mentality of pulling out of culture seeing it as evil. They escape into the Christian bubble. The younger generations see culture differently by wanting to engage people and be an agent of change within the culture. Local Example: Invisible Children. Would you agree or disagree with this observation? Should our faith have anything to do with our culture?

1. Christianity and its relationship to the WORLD

A. The Impact of Christianity on American Idol

- The typical “Christian bubble” response to the popularity of American Idol would have been to create a Christian version of it. Much of Christian consumerism caters to this: creating a second-rate “Christianized” product of something that is similar to a successful product in the world. Example: Christian coffeehouses, most Christian music, most Christian radio, Christian boat cruises, Christian theme parks, most Christian book stores, some Christian colleges, etc.

- How has Christianity come through the show this season? Group sang “Shout to the Lord”. Dolly Parton sang a song about Jesus, Neil Diamond sang a song about God’s amazing grace, the contestants sang songs by Switchfoot, and several other songs that had spiritual themes. This is a HUGE example of Christianity breaking through into mainstream culture and making a profound impact on one of the most popular shows of our time. Don’t miss this!

B. Read John 17:14-18

- Is Jesus intention for us to separate ourselves from the world like the Amish?
- Why would Jesus pray for our protection? What do we need protection from?

2. Christianity and its relationship to our INTELLECT

A. Read Romans 12:2

- Describe the difference here between Paul’s use of contrast between the words “conform” and “transform”.
- What happens with a transformed mind?

B. Read 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

- How is Paul encouraging us to use our minds?
- Would he be okay with Christians living out a sheltered, non-thinking faith?
- If we actually use our brains for God’s glory what kind of life does Paul show us we could have?

Just recently we have seen a bunch of books come out speaking against Christianity and promoting the cause of atheistic, humanistic philosophy. Many of the modern-day Christian thinkers of our day have appropriately responded by writing books in response to the arguments leveled at our faith. Check out these books:

The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters By:
Charles Colson, Harold Fickett

God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens By:
John F. Haught

The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists By:
Ravi Zacharias

The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine By:
Alister McGrath, Joanna Collicutt McGrath

3. Christianity and its relationship to OTHERS

A. Read Matthew 9:12-13 - Who are we supposed to be helping as a response to our faith?

B. Consider this: according to the extensive research

1. Teens have grown up “in a social setting more violent than that of their Boomer parents.” (p. 126)
2. “More than one-third of children born in the United States are born to unmarried mothers.” (p. 127)

3. “Today’s young adults are more likely to view sexually explicit magazines, movies and websites.” (p. 127)

4. “Young adults experience substance abuse more frequently than do older adults.” (p. 127)

5. “One out of seven admits to dealing with an addiction.” (p. 128)

6. “One-sixth recognize they are already in serious debt.” (p. 128)

7. “One-eighth are lonely.” (p. 128).

8. “One-quarter feel unfulfilled in life.” (p. 128)

9. “Nearly half say they are stressed out.” (p. 128)

10. Many “live with an inner desperation that often leads to personal annihilation. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among people aged fifteen to twenty-four.” (p. 128)

- According to these statistics who would you consider those who are sick, those who are sinners in need of God’s grace, love and forgiveness? IT IS THE VERY PEOPLE YOU WALK THE HALLWAYS WITH EVERYDAY YOU GO TO SCHOOL, WORK, THE MALL, WHEREVER!

- Knowing all this, is it right then for us to live safe, sheltered lives or do we engage with those we know, realizing we can be used of God to help transform their lives and ultimately the culture of those around us!?!


Read Acts 17:16-34 together.

- What was Paul’s initial reaction to what he saw in Athens?
- What did he do then? Did he put up a big sign saying “HELL IS REAL” and walk away? Did he put a sign of the Ten Commandments in his front yard and a Jesus fish sticker on his car and hope that was enough? Did he level all the people with the charge of being sinners? Did he run and hide with only like-minded Christians thankful he was not evil like the pagans?

- Paul took these steps:
1. He engaged in CONVERSATION
2. He exposed his audience to God’s truth through observations of their CULTURE.
3. He accepted both POSITIVE and NEGATIVE responses to his message.

In a response to this chapter in the book Reggie Joiner states that:

“Eight out of ten students participate in church during their teenage years, but most of them will take a permanent detour from active faith at some point soon after they get their driver’s licenses. That’s right: only two out of ten of those celebrated teenage converts maintain Christian belief and practice between their teens and the end of their twenties. The vast majority will cross over to the other side: pronouncing Christianity boring, irrelevant, and out of touch.” (p. 142)

In his concluding remark he says that “We all know that our faith grows when our faith is challenged to DO something.” (p. 143)

What about your faith? Are you living out a safe, sheltered, boring faith that is lifeless? Or are you willing to step out and engage the culture, use the brain God gave you, and reach out to those how so desperately are searching for something to give them meaning in life?

The NEW PERCEPTION: Christians are engaged, informed, and offer sophisticated responses to the issues people face.

Mother's Day Thoughts

The Pain of Motherhood

1. The Pain of Child Birth: Luke 2:4-7

Mary went through a tremendous amount of physical pain to bring Jesus into this world. All mother's go through physical pain to bring their child into this world. ALthough we have no memory of this time, it is good to reflect on what our mom's went through to carry us through their pregnancy and birth us. For all the times we take our parents for granted, this is a thought that should sit with us during Mother's Day so that we can appreciate what she went through for our sake.

- What did your mother go through to bring you into the world?
- Where there any stories from your birth that made it unique, memorable, special or extraordinary?

2. The Pain of Separation: Matthew 12:46-50
In looking for her son for whatever reason, Jesus made her quest for him into a lesson about the fact that his real family is the family of God. Now Jesus is speaking truth here but I can't help to think of the pain that his remarks might have caused his mother. It was a bold, public statement about the sepreation of a child from his parents as a fully functional inter-dependant adult who has integrated himself into society, in this case, the spiritual body of beleivers. As we grow more independant we must remember that it is our parents who are the primary one's who helped us get to that point, and although they want the best for us, there is still pain in sepreation as we grow through each stage of live, become more and more independant and eventually move away.

- Has your mom ever expressed any sad feelings of you growing up
through stages of life?

- Are you Juniors and Seniors experiencing your parents “pulling-back” on
you to spend time with you because they know you will be moving
out soon?

3. The Pain in Suffering: John 19:26-27

As Jesus was dieing on the cross many of his followers scattered but his mother stood at his feet and absorbed his pain as only a mother can do for her child. Jesus, amazingly through all his pain and suffering, had enough strength to make sure his mother would be taken care of after his death. On Mother's Day I think it is important for us to appreciate all of the times our mother's were there when we went through an emotional or physical pain where in our agony, she was there to empathize, care and love us back to health.

- When was your mom there for you when you were hurt emotionally?
- When was your mom there for you when you were hurt physically?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Idiocracy 1

This is the first of many blogs that comments on areas of our great American culture that, just like the main point in the movie of the same name, shows that we are actually beginning to digress in the process of evolution and becoming more and more, shall I say, less cerebral!

Okay, here is my rant today about recent news. Is it really possible that Maria Carey will actually have more number one songs than the Beatles!?!?!?! The Beatles made music that celebrated the universal truths that made us all human. Their music is timeless, amazing, thoughtful, and fun from generation to generation. Maria Carey on the other hand is cotton candy narcissism at best. My question is: Who actually listens to her? Who will be listening to her music 20, 30, 40 years from now? Is this the best we have to offer in mainstream culture that her music actually makes number 1 again and again? Where is the music that makes us think, that inspires us, that strengthens the bonds of humanity? The most recent song that had a profound impact on me was "If Everyone Cared" by Nickelback. WE NEED MORE MUSIC LIKE THAT! I am ready for a new U2 CD! I am tired of self-centered, narcissistic drivel. It is time for musicians with a brain and a heart to rise up and inspire the world!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Breakfast Blitz 07

I got nailed by my Adult Leaders!

Our Ex-Con(firmands)Waking Up All The New Confirmands

Some Thoughts in Relation to Confirmation

It wasn’t too long that I sat in a non-denominational and Baptist church dreaming of a way to create a right-of-passage experience for teens in which they could more concretely take ownership of their faith instead of it happening haphazardly at some point between their Junior High through college years. Then I got involved in this United Methodist church where one of the expectations was to teach a Confirmation class. Little did I know what I was in for. Much to my surprise I discovered that many of the mainline churches were light years ahead of the evangelical churches when it came to a particular right-of-passage called Confirmation. Now as I began asking other youth pastors about Confirmation I got a grim picture of what this program has morphed into at many churches. It was described to me as a theological class that was enforced on teens for the sake of their parents and as soon as they finished the attitude was that they “graduated” from church. So the overall sense was that many of the teens involved in youth group where not directly influenced by Confirmation or vise-versa. Now I have had the privilege of confirming my third class here at Epiphany UMC. During these three years the Confirmation process has been just as much of an educational / spiritual experience for me as well as the students. The establishment of this process at this particular church has had an overwhelmingly positive effect in the lives of the teens as well as the whole congregation. There are many things to celebrate. But also, after three years of immersing myself into this process, I am beginning to see areas that we can most definitely improve on. Let’s begin with the positive aspect of the program.

Positive Elements of Confirmation

1. Mentoring: Students have an adult mentor who walks with them through the journey of Confirmation.

2. Education: Students receive a well-rounded education that covers Christian Theology, Church History and United Methodist history and doctrine.

3. Retreats: Students have several retreats that they are required to attend in which team bonding among each other, with their mentors and with the church staff, is essential.

4. The Concluding Weekend: All of the families involved and the entire church has been amazing in coming around each class and making the final weekend a special weekend that is truly a “right-of-passage” in the most amazing way possible.

With these things in mind, it is fair and right to say that this has been the most successful program for students prior to my arrival.

Changes Over the Past Three Years

Now during the time that I have been here at this church some positive changes have occurred within the Student Ministry.

1. Growth in our Junior High and Senior High: We have had a significant amount of teens become apart of our Student Ministries Church family.

2. Growth in Our Adult Volunteers: We have had many adults get involved in leading small groups and assisting with major activities such as mission trips, Ichthus, retreats and Tuned-OUT activities.

3. Growth in Our Confirmation Class: The first two years we has a class of 20 students for each year. This past year we went up by 50% with a class of 30. Next year’s class is supposed to grow again by a conservative estimate of 50% again.

4. Extension of the Confirmation Process: When I arrived, the Confirmation process lasted approximately 3 months. One of the first things that I changed was the expansion of the duration of the class to one full year.

Potential Areas for Improvement

As I receive feedback from those who were involved in the Confirmation process, those who are about to enter into it for next year, my adult leaders, the mentors, and also information from a recent conference and recent research, I believe that there are areas that we can most certainly improve on as the next class gets ready for this awesome right-of-passage.

1. The Concerns Which Began the Conversations

As many of you can tell just by checking out the videos on YouTube, this year was an exceptional year for Confirmation. We had a great class, many great people who were involved in the whole process, and retreats that topped all of the previous classes! But as the Confirmation class has grown and the youth group itself has been growing, there have been some concerns that have been raised as we have begun many of the conversations that have helped to explore ways in which we can refine the process together. Here is a list of some of the concerns that have been raised in light of this past year.

a. Mentors: We have come to a point that I believe we are maxing out the adult population of our congregation when it comes to deep, significant, spiritual mentoring. In trying to lead a class of 30 middle school students it becomes increasingly hard to guide a large group of mentors in being as effective as they should be. During this year we had a hard time getting all of the mentors we needed. We also had a handful of situations in which the mentor just was not able to invest the necessary time into the process which lead to a sense of disappointment and frustration with the student and his parents.

b. Parents: Very little is expected of parents as their teen goes through this process. This actually is unfortunate as you will see when we look at the theological framework and scholarship that heavily supports parental involvement as a critical component to the development of teens. I do not want to contribute to an attitude of parents “out-sourcing” their teenager’s spirituality.

c. Connection into the Youth Group and Church: Each class has a small percentage of students who, for whatever reason, drift away from church and youth group once Confirmation is over. The expectation is that during the Confirmation process they are to attend the main services and youth group. The reality is that some do, and some don’t. If the family only comes for one hour, then the student attends Confirmation and then goes home. As far as youth group is concerned, some have actively gotten involved in youth group and their small group while others have not.

d. My current adult leaders: I will be the first to say that I have an amazing team, the best adult team I have ever had the privilege of serving. They are phenomenal with our teenagers. If it takes a community to raise a teenager then I want these adults to assist, support and guide my children along as they head into the murky waters of adolescence. The issue is that almost all of my adult leaders are spread out into all three categories above. This makes for a crazy schedule, and most likely, over-exposure in some areas.

2. Theological Considerations

A large portion of the book of Proverbs is attributed to Solomon as it author. Solomon grew up under the influence of King David whom God declared in 1 Samuel 13:14 as a “man after his own heart.” Solomon grew up under the influence of watching his parents walk in the ways of the Lord. And in reflecting on this, Solomon attributes a lot of who he is under the structure of his family and their ability to instill their wisdom within him. In Proverbs 1:8-9, Solomon impresses upon his own son with these words: “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.” If Solomon’s own parents did not make a deep impact on his own life then this advice would not so easily begin the entire book of Proverbs.

Also in Ephesians 6:1 we see that Paul writes to the children in the church of Ephesus stating: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ – which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’.” This passage implies that parents are an integral part of the development of the children both spiritually as well as sociologically. They are the main authority figures in the lives of their children. It is their responsibility to train them in such a way that their teens are able to integrate into church and society so that they are able to venture off and make a deep and lasting impact wherever they may go.

But on the other hand, the Scripture has a lot to say about mentoring within the community of believers. Paul in his letter to Titus explains the need for Titus to teach and train the older generations in his church so that the older women “. . . can train the younger women” (Titus 2:4) and that he and the men in his congregation can “. . . encourage the young men to be self-controlled.” (Titus 2:6). Paul in his first letter to Timothy written around the same time also encouraged Timothy at his church to “. . . not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1-2). Paul clearly sees the importance of the community of believers coming around the younger generations and investing their lives in them in such a way that their faith flourishes.

3. Current Scholarship on Teens and Families

A lot of time has passed between ancient Israel and the 21st century. In fact there are many issues today that are having a serious impact on families. Chap Clark, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, states in his book “Disconnected” that the problem is that:

“We (as ‘adults,’ not necessarily as individuals) have hurt our kids. We, all of us, have led our children into an environment where they have never been more ill-equipped to handle the world we have handed them, we expect much and complain much, and yet we listen so little. We demand respect and courtesy, but we are unwilling to return what we demand. In every system and structure, organization and institution, we have literally left our kids adrift in a growing tempest without the power or compass to help them navigate their way around and through the storms that life will throw at them. . . . We believe what has separated us from our kids and caused adolescence to lengthen in not a reaction to any one influence but rather these and many other factors all combining together as visible symptoms of a deeper, even more insidious and destructive conspiracy of neglect by default. . . . We have disassembled our ‘metanarrative,’ our communal story. We have ripped ourselves away from family, friends, and meaningful relationships. We have given in to the idea that the only thing to live for is TGIF (‘Thank God It’s Friday’), where all we have to offer our children is an opportunity to indulge in a favorite leisure activity while we wait to retire. We have no vision, no passion, no dreams – and worse, we’ve passed on this fatalistic, dismal, and depressing legacy to our kids. We have no idea what it means to live, to laugh, to dance. And we wonder why our children don’t want to become adults more quickly!” (pp. 72-74).

This is a book that we as a church have offered to parents as a small group study. Not surprisingly, many parents don’t have the time to attend the class but those who have, really wrestled with this idea that teens today feel abandoned and alone. It is easy to think that “kids are kids” and that teens today are not much different that when we were teens. But overwhelmingly, across the board, those involved in the study of adolescents would strongly disagree, noting profound changes of seismic proportions with today’s youth in contrast to generations past.

“Aloneness” is the word that Patricia Hersch uses in her observations of today’s teenagers. In her ground-breaking book “A Tribe Apart” Patricia states that:

Youngsters have lost more than secure families and adult interaction: they grow up in a world that lacks consistency and structure. There are no magic formulas to financial security, job stability, marital harmony. Technology and the media create a world without boundaries. For adolescents there is available a dizzying array of lifestyle choices, at the same time that home and community fail to provide a balancing sense of security. The changing contexts rob development of its coherency. Like a handful of pebbles tossed in a raging stream, young people today, as well as many adults around them, seem rushed along in currents out of their control, often ending up in completely unexpected places. . . . A clear picture of adolescents, of even our own children, eludes us – not necessarily because they are rebelling, or avoiding or evading us. It is because we aren’t there. Not just parents, but any adults. American society has left its children behind as the cost of progress in the workplace. This isn’t about working parents, right or wrong, but an issue for society to set its priorities and to pay attention to its young in the same way it pays attention to its income. . . . adolescents are growing up with no adults around, a deficit of attention, and no discussion about whether it matters at all. The most stunning change for adolescents today is their aloneness.” (p. 19)

Dr. Ron Taffel agrees with this assessment in his book “The Second Family” noting that:

The real problem is quite simple: Although most parents love their children, they aren’t able to pay the right kind of attention to them. . . . No matter how hard they try, many parents don’t really hear their children. They don’t really see them. They don’t know enough about the world their children inhabit, their interests, their motives. They know even less about adolescence, because too many of their children, as young as twelve or thirteen, have already drifted away from them. (p. 7).

These are the similar words used above to describe today’s adolescents: “drifted away”, “aloneness”, “adrift”, “separated”, “neglect”. As we let these words sink in, the obvious question is what does the consensus of these authors provide as a way to improve the plight of adolescences today?

In the most comprehensive study ever done on the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers, Christian Smith states in his book “Soul Searching” that:

The best way to get most youth more involved in and serious about their faith communities is to get their parents more involved in and serious about their faith communities. For decades in many religious traditions, the prevailing model of youth ministry has relied on pulling teens away from their parents. In some cases, youth ministers have come to see parents as adversaries. There is no doubt a time and place for unique teen settings and activities; still, our findings suggest that overall youth ministry would probably best be pursued in a larger context of family ministry, that parents should be viewed as indispensable partners in the religious formation of youth. More broadly, one of the most important things that adults who are concerned about how teenagers’ religious and spiritual lives are going to turn out can do is to focus attention on strengthening their own and other adults’, especially parents’, religious and spiritual lives. For in the end, they most likely will get from teens what they as adults themselves are. (p. 267)

Parents are seen as the most vital influence in the development of the spiritual lives of teenagers. In “The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager” author Thomas Hine believes that:

. . . the most powerful positive factor that determines the well-being of young people, according to the 1997 adolescent heath study, is the presence of parents who are engaged in their children’s lives and have high expectations for them. On average, young people spend more time hanging out with people their own age. Still, just about every study that has been made of young people in their teens shows that they seek a connection with their parents and are very sensitive to their actions. (p. 25)

Teens want a relationship with their parents even if their actions might be saying something else.

In Patricia Hersch’s concluding remarks she also affirms that:

Kids need adults who bear witness to the details of their lives and count them as something. They require the watchful eyes and the community standards that provide greater stability. They need appreciation for who they are. . . The kids . . . who do best are those who have a strong interactive family and a web of relationships and activities that surround them consistently. (p. 363)

It is not right to give into the concept that generations are divided against each other but it is imperative that we bridge the generations together for the best possible environment for healthy development of our children.

In Dr. Ron Taffel’s final chapter he also affirms that:

There’s nothing wrong with expecting kids to give of themselves, but . . . the gesture is more meaningful when teens join with adults and create intergenerational connections around good deeds. Sharing charitable endeavors provides a forum that enables parents and children to break through the boundaries usually separating their worlds. Connectedness comes out of collective caring. (p. 186)

Intergenerational connections sound like mission trips, Ichthus Festival, retreats, Confirmation, and small groups! In many ways we are pursuing exactly what the doctor ordered, although I think we can improve and strengthen how we do this.

And finally, Chap Clark reminds us that it is the parent

. . . who cares enough about the big picture. A coach, teacher, or even youth pastor may be a great support to your child at various points along the way, but you are one who is there day after day, year after year, to encourage, develop, and deepen your child in the name and Spirit of Christ. So our job as parents is to continually work on knowing our kids and looking to help them as they grow, all in an effort to be there for them on their quest to discover who they are and where they fit. (p. 26)

Adult supports come in and out of the natural stages of child and teen development but the most consistent and steady presence is that of the parent. With all that in mind we are now ready to consider some areas that I believe can be significantly improved for the following year with Confirmation.

4. Suggestions for Improvement to the Confirmation Process

Primary Mentor: Parents

As seen in the quotes above it is vitally, dare I say absolutely necessary, that we empower the parents to be the primary mentors of their teens. They are the ones with the long-term investment. They are the ones who, intentional or not, have discipled their teens up to this point and will continue to be a significant spiritual influence, intentional or not, in the life of their teen for the rest of their lives. Parents need to feel empowered and given the tools and encouragement to develop the spirituality of their teens. Plus, I do not want to contribute to an attitude of parents “out-sourcing” their teen’s spiritual development. If they do not see themselves as the primary disciples of their own children then what the church has to offer is only a mere band-aid. Here are my suggestions:

a. Each family will be given the “One-Minute Bible for Students” by Fields and Kohlenberger. Instead of a student being responsible for reading through the New Testament during Confirmation, the family will be required to do devotions together with this Bible each day. It is their choice to pick the best time of day for devotions. Keep in mind the title of the Bible! It is essentially only giving God one-minute of your day as a family to learn together. But as I have personally tested out this Bible on my family, it has generated some very interesting discussions and we are praying together as a family. Sometimes it only takes a few minutes, other times we are all sitting around the family room engaged in very interesting conversation about God’s Word.

b. Parents will be given the “Talkpoints for Parents and Youth”. At several points during the Confirmation process they will be encouraged to have these conversations with their teens. Instead of having to schedule a formal time to go out, like the mentors, the parents can have these conversations as they hang out at home, travel to the next soccer game, go to a park, etc.

Secondary Mentors:

a. Team approach: 1 adult to 4 students

I will be the first to admit that my knee-jerk reaction towards the end of Confirmation was to eliminate the mentoring process and shift the entire focus over to the parents. But as I have had some more time to think, and personally realize the benefit to myself as a father of a confirmand next year, I see the advantage of someone outside of the family circle affirming and encouraging my son with the faith that we have instilled in him. I see the benefit of mentors coming along side of the parents. So instead of an either/or scenario between parents and mentors, I am proposing a both/and solution to the best possible environment for the spiritual development of our teens.

The first issue that I need to address is the fact that I believe we overextended ourselves in trying to get a mentor for each confirmand. It got to the point of being frustrating and embarrassing for our few remaining students to get paired up with a mentor. We ended up having some mentors take on two students which ended up being a positive experience. Once that was accomplished the mentoring process had a wide range of successes and breakdowns. For a variety of reasons there were some mentors who just really struggled with getting together with their confirmand. The increasing business of people’s lives along with the random surprise of personal issues that need attention left some teens essentially without a mentor. I also noticed the difficulty for most people to add another thing to their calendar to go out individually with their confirmand.

My first proposal is that we make the mentoring process a team effort. Each mentor would take on approximately 4 students. This would help with the awkwardness of students being one-on-one with an adult. This would foster better dialogue. And overall I think that this is a healthier context for spiritual growth. Jesus had 12 disciples but he also had a core group of 3 within the 12. The only case in which I see one-on-one discipleship occurring in the Scripture is when Barnabas took Paul under his wing but that was because everyone else was too afraid to accept Paul’s conversion as genuine!

b. Educational experience

Instead of mentors taking on the task of creating time to go out, I think it would be best for the mentors to be included in the educational process. This will give them weekly contact with their group of students. I will make the teaching experience interactive so that the mentor is not a passive participator but part of the teaching experience. And we could possibly develop a teaching team where I can be a part of the rotation instead of the only primary teacher.

c. Strengthening the long term connections to growth

One of the concerns listed above was the connection into the Youth Group and Church. Once again, this seems to be accomplished haphazardly with some doing it and some not doing it. Getting the teens to the church service raises a whole host of issues, but it ultimately comes down to the church having to intentionally create a culture that encourages families to see Sunday morning as a 2-hour experience instead of one hour. To enforce this on the teenagers without empowering the whole family will only lead to disappointment.

The other issue is connecting students into the youth group more intentionally. Some make it to youth group and others don’t for whatever reason. My intention is that Confirmation kick-starts a process of spiritual growth for them all throughout the teens’ years here at the church. If they drift away from the church after Confirmation then I see this as ultimately a failed process. Either we did not do the Confirmation process correctly or the student did not get it. In order to better integrate them into youth group I propose that the mentor takes advantage of our small group program at the very minimum of once a month. Every month we do an activity called Tuned-OUT. The mentor would come, with their vehicle, invite their confirmands and attend the activity in order to have fun with their confirmands! The things we have done in the past are: haunted houses, go out for ice cream, see movies, laser tag, scavenger hunts, Christmas parties, progressive dinners, etc. This way, the mentor is not required to make a completely separate time to go out. We provide the activity and the entire evening helps to also integrate them into the youth group. Now if the mentor wants to kick it up a notch, they can also commit to being a small group leader on the other Sunday evenings (Junior High Small Groups meet from 5-6:30 PM). I know that this would make for some commitment for Sundays throughout the school year, but in all seriousness the pay off would be so worth it. You would be taking advantage of programs that are already in place, you would be learning alongside of your confirmands, being integrated into the educational process, and we will make sure you have a blast with them once a month! The times are already set! You do not need to create extra time unless you think it is necessary.

At this point I want to invite dialogue into these thoughts and ideas that I have tossed out. This many or many not be the final look for Confirmation next year. There may be other ideas that we have not thought of. Some of you may be very excited or very terrified of some of the thoughts and ideas suggested here. I want to ask that you think and pray about these ideas. The ultimate outcome, if this is done correctly will be seen 10, 20 or 30 years from now. It is within this type of structure that I believe we will stop the stereotype of students drifting away from their faith as soon as they move away from home and go off to college. If their spiritual life is primarily fostered at home and supported and encouraged within the framework of the church, I believe that their faith will be strong enough to weather any storm that comes their way and will carry them into their adult years.

Also, I do realize that in light of the research above, it begs us to not only evaluate Confirmation but possibly other areas of youth ministry too. The timing is right for a healthy discussion as we enter into the Summer and we begin to dream about the new school year on the horizon.


Clark, Chap and Dee; Disconnected: Parenting Teens in a MySpace World. Baker Books 2007.

Hersch, Patricia; A Tribe Apart: A Journey Into the Heart of American Adolescence. Ballentine Books, 1998.

Hine, Thomas; The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager. Avon Books, 1999.

Smith, Christian and Denton, Melinda Lundquist Denton; Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Taffel, Dr. Ron and Blau, Melinda; The Second Family: How Adolescent Power is Challenging the American Family. St. Martin's Press, 2001.

unChristian: Get Saved!

unChristian: Get Saved!

The Issue: Get Saved!

The Perception: Christians are insincere and concerned only with converting others.

Questions and Quotes for Discussion:

Have you ever been “targeted” by someone who made you feel like they were pressuring you into something whether a belief or a sale of some sort? My experience with Mormons, living in Grand Rapids with Amway kooks, telemarketers, political ads, and Brother Jed, etc.

Listen to Fermi Project Podcast: Episode 10 of unChristian featuring Rick McKinley

Read Matthew 28:18-20
1. What does Jesus tell us to do?
2. Is making disciples seen as just connecting them to God then we are done?
3. Is a relationship necessary to be able to accomplish all that is in Jesus’ command?
4. Will the relationship assumed to be short-term or long-term?
5. How have we messed this command up so bad?

Rick stated that while some Christians go overboard to the point of being arrogant in sharing their faith, most Christians really do NOT share their faith. Why is that? Don’t know how, guilt about their own lives.

In what ways does our own culture try to “convert” us? Every commercial, advertisement, show, etc. portrays a worldview such as materialism, hedonism, consumerism, narcissism, etc. With enough exposure and ignorance we can be “converted” to these philosophies.

On pg. 87-88 Chuck Colson states in response to this chapter: “When the local church is doing what the church is called to do – preaching the gospel, administering the sacraments, and exercising discipline – inevitably the surrounding culture will be affected. In other words, if we are really living as Christians, the church expands exponentially. Consider the rise of the Christians during the Roman era. People were drawn to Christians, not because of evangelistic outreaches or crusades, or through mass media – those didn’t exist. The church grew because Christians were doing the gospel and had community – a local church – where people really loved each other. . . . Christianity is a way of seeing all of life and reality through God’s eyes. That is what Christianity is: a worldview, a system, and a way of life. I believe that when you truly see the gospel in its fullness . . . it is the most exciting, radical, revolutionary story ever told.”

What do you think about this quote? Consider what he said about the Christians during the Roman era.

Read: Acts 2:42-47 How could those outside of the faith NOT be attracted to this? How have we gotten away from this way of living out our faith?

On pages 74-75, David Kinnaman states that in his research “We consistently find that the cast majority of teenagers nationwide will spend a significant amount of their teen years participating in a Christian congregation. Most teenagers in America enter adulthood considering themselves to be Christians and saying they have made a personal commitment to Christ. But within a decade, most of these young people will have left the church and will have placed emotional connection to Christianity on the shelf. For most of them, their faith was merely skin deep. This leads to the sobering finding that the vast majority of outsiders in this country, particularly among young generations, are actually de-churched individuals. . . this raises the question of the depth of their faith. If that many Americans have made decisions to follow Jesus, our culture and our world would be revolutionized if they simply lived that faith. It is easy to embrace a costless form of Christianity in America today, and we have probably contributed to that by giving people a superficial understanding of the gospel and focusing only on their decision to convert.”

What is the main issue here? Is it that we need to change others? Or is David telling us that maybe the focus needs to be that we take a good hard look at ourselves?


What does true spiritual depth look like? Last week we talked about how Christians should be different in that we should have “spiritual fruit” such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. But growing real fruit (and vegetables) takes a long time and hard work. You need good soil and lots of sun and rain! What are some of the ways we can take advantage of to nurture and grow spiritual fruit in our lives so that we move beyond superficial faith and we see deep transformation happen in our lives?

Defining Transformation (List from page 80).

1. Worshiping God intimately and passionately
2. Engaging in spiritual friendships with other believers
3. Pursuing faith in the context of family
4. Embracing intentional forms of spiritual growth
5. Serving others
6. Investing time and resources in spiritual pursuits
7. Having faith-based conversations with outsiders

Are you pursuing ways to deepen your faith or are you complacent with a superficial faith? CHOOSE WISELY!

The NEW PERSEPTION: Christians cultivate relationships and environments where others can be deeply transformed by God.

unChristian: Hypocrisy

unChristian: Hypocrisy


The Perception: Christians say one thing but live something entirely different.

The Fact: 85% of those who were 16 to 29 years of age surveyed said that Christians are HYPOCRITICAL.

Listen to Fermi Project Podcast: Episode 9 of unChristian

Questions and Quotes for Discussion:

Define what you think someone means when they use the word hypocrite.

What would be your response to someone if they said to you, “The problem with all of you Christians is that you’re all a bunch of hypocrites.”?

“So how did Christians acquire a hypocritical image in America today? Let’s start with the most obvious reason: our lives don’t match our beliefs. In many ways, our lifestyles and perspectives are no different from those of anyone around us. . . . In virtually every study we conduct, representing thousands of interviews every year, born-again Christians fail to display much attitudinal or behavioral evidence of transformed lives. For instance, based on a study released in 2007, we found that most of the lifestyle activities of born-again Christians were statistically equivalent to those of non-born-agains. When asked to identify their activities over the last 30 days, born-again believers were just as likely to bet or gamble, to visit a pornographic website, to take something that did not belong to them, to consult a medium or psychic, to physically fight or abuse someone, to have consumed enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk, to have used an illegal, nonprescription drug, to have said something to someone that was not true, to have gotten back at someone for something he or she did, and to have said mean things behind another person’s back. No difference. One study we conducted examined Americans’ engagement in some type of sexually inappropriate behavior, including looking at online pornography, viewing sexually explicit magazines or movies, or having an intimate sexual encounter outside of marriage. . . . In statistical and practical terms, the two groups are essentially no different from each other.” p. 46-47

Is this good or bad? Why?

If a person claims to be a follower of Christ how should that make an impact on their day-to-day life?

Read Matthew 23 together. It appears that the present-day church would get the same smack-down from Jesus if he were to come down today. What does Jesus have to say about hypocrisy? What are the mistakes of the Pharisees? How do we not become like them?

“ . . . spiritual maturity is demonstrated in a life as an OUTCOME of the condition of a person’s heart and soul, . . . behavior follows belief. . . Embracing personal integrity and rejecting compromises to personal purity are crucial goals for young believers. We cannot hope to shed our hypocritical label if our lifestyles offer no proof of the “fruit” of Christlikeness. These are tough realities to think about, but we must do so if we hope to shift our reputation from unChristian to Christian.” p. 54

What is the “fruit” of Christlikeness? Describe it. Look up Galatians 5:22-23 if you need help.

“Living with integrity starts with being transparent. . . Transparency simply means admitting what the Bible says about us: we are fallen people who desperately need God in our lives – every day. . . Transparency means not merely trying to act right, but being honest about our own lives – even being open about the problems our lifestyles have created.” p. 55

Do you feel like you have people in your life that you can be transparent with? Do you have a Christian friend or adult that you can be transparent with? Do you wish you had one?


UnChristian: Hypocrisy
- Acting morally superior to others
- Living a lifestyle of compromise
- Pretending to be something you are not

Authentic Christianity:
- Being transparent about the areas you struggle with
- Allow God into all areas of your life to be the source of transformation
- Humbly recognizing that we are sinners that are saved by God’s grace alone and not from our “good deeds”. Any good that comes out of us is a sign of the Holy Spirit transforming us to be more like Christ.

The NEW PERSEPTION: Christians are transparent about their flaws and act first, talk second.

Unchristian Introduction

This is a series of lessons based on the book called "Unchristian" by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. This is an excellent book that is a MUST READ for all Christians. But more importantly I believe that it is imperative for us to prepare our students to engage in these conversations in order to help break some of these negative stereotypes. Here are the outlines to my class discussions.

UNchristian: Introduction

Introduction Questions on Chapter 1

The Backstory Understanding Outsiders

A. What are the words that come to your mind when I say words like: mother, father,
pastor, teacher, politician, president, Christian?

B. Using the Bible as a reference, how would you define how a Christian ought
to be perceived by others? Take a look at Gal. 5:19-26; 1 Timothy 4:12; Col.
4:5-6; 1 Pet. 3:13-16.

C. Do you know any “outsiders”? Would you consider them to be friends? What
do you think their perceptions are of Christianity?

D. Make a list of ways in which these perceptions might have been developed.

E. How does the Bible teach Christians to behave toward outsiders? If the Bible
describes your life as an “open letter” (2 Cor. 3:2-3), what does it say about
the God you serve?

Agree or Disagree

“Our research shows that many of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults, have little trust in the Christian faith, and esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading among outsiders. They admit their emotional and intellectual barriers go up when they are around Christians, and they reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.”

“The Title of this book, Unchristian, reflects outsiders’ most common reaction to the faith: they think Christians mo longer represent what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be. . . They admit they have a hard time actually seeing Jesus because of all the negative baggage that now surrounds him. . . . Christianity has become marketed and streamlined into a juggernaut of fear mongering that has lost its own heart.”

“One quarter of outsiders say that their foremost perception of Christianity is that the faith has changed for the worse. It has gotten off track and is not what Christ intended. Modern-day Christianity no longer seems Christian.”

“We heard many young believers say that in some circumstances they are reluctant to admit they are Christians. They don’t fear being unpopular, but they feel that raising the Christian flag would actually undermine their ability to connect with people and to maintain credibility with them. This is a major indictment of unchristian faith, that to bring those around them to Christ, they must distance themselves from the current “branding” of Christianity.”

So do perceptions matter? YES!
1. People respond on the basis of perceptions
2. These perceptions might make us more objective about ourselves.
3. Perceptions can change
4. Perceptions are framed most often through personal stories and experiences.

Some of the first century Christians were thought of as polygamist cannibals! It took some explaining to shift that perception.

Slide show: Preview where we are going for the next several weeks

Do any of these topics jump out at you? Which one are you looking forward to?

Living with Questions 8

Living with Questions: What’s So Great About Heaven?

I. Introduction: Review from last week’s question: Am I Good Enough?

“Am I good enough? I’m afraid not. But there’s Someone who is. Someone who will clean us up, bandage our souls, smooth out the twisting sin does to us, and put us back on our feet. This Someone doesn’t come from within the Wild, but from outside of it. He invaded history to rescue us, and now he invites us to follow him Home.” – p. 195

A. Our Response: So what are you going to do about it?????

1. FAITH is trusting God
2. We put our TRUST in the work that Jesus has done for us
3. We are FORGIVEN for our brokenness
4. We are restored to a NEW BIRTH to walk in God’s love and to be the way he created us to be

II. Living with Questions: The final question is: What’s so great about heaven?

A. The Reality of Death:

1. Statistic of people who die: 100%

2. Sudden Death: 9/11; car crash; heart attack; plane crash

3. Gradual Death:
a. A slow moving disease, aging
b. Ultimately we are all gradually moving in that direction

B. The Reality of God

1. He did not discover us then force us to worship Him

2. God made us and created us to find meaning through Him

St. Augustine in his Confessions states: You have made us for yourself. And our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

3. God knows our needs
a. He is the Living Water
b. He is the Bread of Life
c. The good life is inseparable from God Himself since He is the source of all good
d. Knowing God is the natural thing; rejecting God is the unnatural response.

C. The Reality of Hell

1. God respects the choice of those who want to separate themselves from Him

2. Being forced to go to heaven would be considered hell for some

3. It is not that God sends people to hell more than he honors our choice to live with His goodness and grace or without it.

D. The Reality of Heaven: Read John 3:16-18

1. Jesus sees heaven and hell as present realities that we live in right now.

2. Eternal life does NOT add quantity to our life so much as quality of life from the very moment we believe.
a. God gives us His peace
b. God gives us purpose
c. God gives us His love

3. Eternal life begins IN THIS LIFETIME

E. The Reality of Death Revisited:

1. Read 1 Cor. 15:55-57
a. No fear of separation, emptiness or cutting off of love
b. No fear of judgment
c. We have HOPE through Christ’s resurrection that we to will experience
resurrection and a new body.

2. Read Revelation 21:1-7
a. We have HOPE in a new home one day! Heaven is temporary. Earth will be
restored to what it was meant to be.
b. What would God have to be like that you would want to worship Him forever?

III. Conclusion

From p. 216: “He’d have to push the boundaries of my imagination! I suggest that this is what God is like. And God will evoke worship from us that will flow from the depths of our souls. We’ll find ourselves in the place where we finally feel like we BELONG – surrounded by LOVE and UNDERSTOOD. . . . We’ll worship God by enjoying his world. . . with our work . . . with our play . . . by loving one another . . . with our activities. Worship will make sense of all of life. We’ll welcome God’s presence into everything because with him, everything will mean something more. Heaven can begin NOW as we look to God instead of tinkering with our diversions.”

Living with Questions 7

Living with Questions: Am I Good Enough?

I. Introduction: Review from last weeks question: Am I Valuable Enough?
A. Determining value by going back to how it was made (guitars, violins, rings)

1. We are created in God’s image – Gen. 1:27
2. Value is determined by WHO created us and made us regardless of what we can do.
3. Value comes from the Creator, not by the creation

B. Am I valuable enough to be loved? 1 John 4:16 – And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

II. Living with Questions: The Question for today is: Am I Good Enough?

A. Valuable, but . . .

1. Bring in a local newspaper or news website and look at all of the stories that suggest or imply that there is something wrong in the world. Talk about things you’ve seen lately.

2. If I am a valuable person why don’t I feel that way?

3. If God made me in his image and loves me, why does God feel so far away sometimes?

4. Any belief system need to explain what is wrong with the world. We don’t want balance between good and evil, we want goodness without evil, health without brokenness.

5. Life is difficult, it is hard. We at times feel broken, afraid, hiding and struggling.

B. A Broken Beauty

1. The Beginning: Genesis 2:16-17
a. God creates us with will
b. God creates a world with moral choice

2. The Beginning of the End: Satan distorts the truth - Gen. 3
a. He questions God’s Word – creates doubt
b. He denies God’s Word – creates distrust
c. He substitutes his own lies – creates defiance from truth

C. The Rise of Evil: Twisted Things

1. Evil as a PARASITE: It needs something good to ruin.
a. Goodness creates life. Evil murders life.
b. Goodness creates gifts. Evil is the thievery that robs others of their gifts.
c. Goodness creates marriage. Evil twists it into divorce.
d. Goodness creates love. Evil twists it into lust and/or hate.
e. Goodness is the original life-giving thing. Evil is utterly unoriginal.

a. Failing to live up to the our title as image bearers of God
b. We are broken and battered – Romans 3:23

3. Evil MURDERS LOVE – Matthew 22:37-40
a. A broken relationship between us and God
b. A broken relationships with others

D. The Establishment of God’s LAW

1. God’s Law given to us for the purpose of:
a. Order for their society
b. To reveal what the character of God is like.
c. Helps us to be what we were made to be.

2. In light of sin, God’s Law actually:
a. Revealed our brokenness
b. Revealed how we are victims of other people
c. Revealed how we are victims of our own poor choices

E. The Search for DELIVERANCE: Who will deliver me, mend me, rescue me, help me, and love me back to being what I am supposed to be?

1. The LAST Adam – 1 Corinthians 15:45
a. The First Adam sent us into the wild
b. The Last Adam came to lead us back and make us fit for home!

2. The SUBSTITUTE – 2 Corinthians 5:21
a. We became RIGHTEOUS: Jesus took on our sin so we could take on his righteousness
b. We can LOVE the right kind of way: Jesus offers forgiveness that restores our relationship with God and others

III. Our Response: So what are you going to do about it?????

A. FAITH is trusting God

B. We put our TRUST in the work that Jesus has done for us

C. We are FORGIVEN for our brokenness

D. We are restored to a NEW BIRTH to walk in God’s love and to be the way he created us to be

“Am I good enough? I’m afraid not. But there’s Someone who is. Someone who will clean us up, bandage our souls, smooth our the twisting sin does to us, and put us back on our feet. This Someone doesn’t come from within the Wild, but from outside of it. He invaded history to rescue us, and now he invites us to follow him Home.” – p. 195


Living with Questions 6

Living with Questions: Am I Valuable Enough?

I. Introduction: Review of previous weeks

A. God has also chosen to speak to us in a variety of ways
1. Through NATURE
2. Through the WRITTEN word (The Bible)
3. Through ACTION (incarnation)

B. Show video “Celebrities with(out) Makeup”

II. Living with Questions: The Question for today is: Am I Valuable Enough?

A. Facts about teen depression, eating disorders, cutting and suicide

1. Teen Depression
Some alarming statistics on teenage and adolescent depression. Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the United States among teens and adults, and can have a serious impact on the lives of the many teens who suffer from depression. Statistics show that teen depression is a common problem: About 20 percent of teens will experience teen depression before they reach adulthood. Between 10 to 15 percent of teenagers have some symptoms of teen depression at any one time. About 5 percent of teens are suffering from major depression at any one time. As many as 8.3 percent of teens suffer from depression for at least a year at a time, compared to about 5.3 percent of the general population. Most teens with depression will suffer from more than one episode. 20 to 40 percent will have more than one episode within two years, and 70 percent will have more than one episode before adulthood. Episodes of teen depression generally last about 8 months. A teen suffering from depression is also at higher risk for other problems:

30 percent of teens with depression also develop a substance abuse problem.

Teenagers with depression are likely to have a smaller social circle and take advantage of fewer opportunities for education or careers.

Depressed teens are more likely to have trouble at school and in jobs, and to struggle with relationships.

Teens with untreated depression are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, leading to higher rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Teens with depression seem to catch physical illnesses more often than other teens.

Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide, the third leading cause of death among teenagers. 90 percent of suicide victims suffer from a mental illness, and suffering from depression can make a teenager as much as 12 times more likely to attempt suicide.

2. Eating Disorders

The most common eating disorders - anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder - are on the rise in the United States and worldwide. No one knows exactly what causes eating disorders. However, all socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural groups are at risk.
More than ninety percent of those with eating disorders are women. Further, the number of American women affected by these illnesses has doubled to at least five million in the past three decades.

Eating disorders are one of the key health issues facing young women. Studies in the last decade show that eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors are related to other health risk behaviors, including tobacco use, alcohol use, marijuana use, delinquency, unprotected sexual activity, and suicide attempts. Currently, 1-4% of all young women in the United States are affected by eating disorders.1 Anorexia nervosa, for example, ranks as the third most common chronic illness among adolescent females in the United States.

3. Cutting

It is imperative for youth workers to understand that the act of cutting is a symptom of a greater problem—abuse, mental illness, loneliness, family problems, etc. All of these issues generally generate deep pain in the individual, and cutting becomes a coping mechanism. One of the basic premises behind cutting is that it is "used to alleviate emotional distress in an effort to enhance psychological adjustment" (Journal of Clinical Psychology).

Self-mutilation has become a major public health concern as its incidence appears to have risen since the early 1990s. One source estimates that 0.75% of the general American population practices self-mutilation. The incidence of self-mutilation is highest among teenage females, patients diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and patients diagnosed with one of the dissociative disorders. Over half of self-mutilators were sexually abused as children, and many also suffer from eating disorders.

4. Suicide

Teen suicide is a major cause of death among teens, though many do not recognize suicide as a serious threat to a teenager’s well being.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and teenagers. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), about 8 out of every 100,000 teenagers committed suicide in 2000. For every teen suicide death, experts estimate there are 10 other teen suicide attempts.

In a survey of high school students, the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center found that almost 1 in 5 teens had thought about suicide, about 1 in 6 teens had made plans for suicide, and more than 1 in 12 teens had attempted suicide in the last year. As many as 8 out of 10 teens who commit suicide try to ask for help in some way before committing suicide, such as by seeing a doctor shortly before the suicide attempt.

B. Questions of insecurity

1. How did we come to this point?
2. How come I don’t feel like I am worth anything?
3. Is there something special about me?
4. Why would God love me?
5. Am I valuable if I am not attractive?

C. The Quest for Significance

1. According to our Culture

a. Beauty - which is typically photo-shopped to a point of unrecognition
b. Power - competitive sports, bullying, trash-talking
c. Almost all is based on the external appearance to the neglect of the internal
d. Love – deep down all of us want to be love merely for who we are

“Images get our attention. Then they appeal to our senses – they make us feel good. And before long, we really enjoy those images. Our tastes change. We look forward to seeing them again. We crave them, and then we compare ourselves to them. Before we even realize it, we let those images tell us what’s important, who to be, and what we need to become. Then our beliefs change, and we form new desires. We even start to make choices based on our new beliefs and desires. We become objects of each other, to look at, crave, and enjoy. Them we become objects of ourselves, looking in the mirror, searching for our identity in our appearance. If we cannot imitate the newest images in Sports Illustrated, Seventeen, Abercrombie, People, or Cosmo, we’re discouraged and troubled. We’re reminded that we are lost. Images go from being merely pictures on paper to value judgments in our souls. They tell us whom and what we need to fix in order to fit in.” p. 157-158

2. According to God’s Word

a. Determining value by going back to how it was made (guitars, violins, rings)

1. We are created in God’s image – Gen. 1:27
a. We have a mind, emotions and will
b. We have the ability to create
c. We have the ability to love and enjoy each other

2. Value is determined by WHO created us and made us regardless of what we can do. (Brian praying at Chrysalis)

3. Value comes from the Creator, not by the creation

b. Am I valuable enough to be loved?

1. 1 John 4:16 – And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

2. Close your eyes and concentrate on this while I read it:

God does not love us because we act lovable all the time. God loves us because God wants to love us. And God’s love made us valuable in our very being, regardless of our merit. Period. There is absolutely nothing bad that you can do to make God love you less. He loves you because you’re an image bearer of him. God loves you because he made you. Add up all your bad things together, multiply them by a million, and know that God still loves you the same with his infinite love. . . . There is absolutely nothing good you can do to make God love you more. God loves you because you’re an image bearer of him. He loves you because he made you. Add up all your good things together, multiply then by a million, and God still loves you the same with his white-hot infinite love. Try to look like the folks in the magazines to find love – it doesn’t matter. God doesn’t love you any more than he already does. Try cutting yourself. God doesn’t love you any less than he already does. To do anything to make God love you more would be like painting your nails in the hope that it will earn you good grades. Or inflating the tires on your car in the hope that it will give you a stylish haircut. God is love, love, love, love, love. God loves you down to the bone, down to the very center of your soul. That is what we’re looking for, after all. While the celebrities and models vie for the next cover of Cosmo, take a step back and remember who you are.
– p 170-171

III. Conclusion – A New Perspective

A. Unplug yourself every once in a while
B. Spend time thinking about who told you or who stung you into thinking you are not loved orvalued
C. Find people who are caring
D. Put on a new perspective about your purpose – we need to be content in just how God created us. He created us to be exactly who we are. He did not say “oops”!
E. Chrysalis experience


Living with Questions 5

Living with Questions: Has God Spoken?

I. Introduction: Review of previous weeks

Assignment from last week: Ask some people at school if they believe God exists – and then ask why or why not. So they seem willing to talk about it? Have they even thought about it much? See what kind of discussion happens.

A. Is Love Possible? Yes, God is love. Love existed within the trinity before creation

B. If God is LOVE and he is the CREATOR then it would seem that He could hardly be silent!

II. Living with Questions: The Question for today is: Has God Spoken?

A. Name some forms of communication that we use to get our message to others
1. Verbal: talk, tone of voice, silence
2. Written: books, IM’s, text messaging
3. Actions: serving, fighting, love, aggression, hate, etc.

B. God has also chosen to speak to us in a variety of ways

1. Through NATURE:

a. Have you ever seen something that just took your breath away by its’ awesomeness? Has being in nature ever affected you in a holy way?

b. Have any of you watched “Planet Earth” or any type of documentary about the planet, animals, wildlife, that just amazed you?

c. Matthew 6:24-25 – Jesus points to nature for us to learn from, that there is a God behind it all taking care of his creation.

d. Forrest Gump: Lt. Dan fought against God and made peace with God in the context of nature.

e. PEOPLE are apart of God’s creation. Has there been a time in your life where God spoke to you through the impact other people have had on you? We all struggle with sin but the image of God is still within us.

2. Through the WRITTEN word: how can we know the Bible is reliable?

a. Test #1: Preservation – proof that the New Testament we have today is what was originally written.

1. Comparison

Author: Plato
Writing: Republic
Time of Writing: 400BCE
Earliest known copy: 900CE
Time between writing and copies: 1,300 years
# of copies: 8

Author: Thucydides
Writing: The History of the Peloponnesian War
Time of Writing: 430BCE
Earliest known copy: 900CE
Time between writing and copies: 1,300 years
# of copies: 8

Author: Many authors
Writing: The New Testament
Time of Writing: 1st Century CE
Earliest know copy: 117CE
Time between writings and copies: Fragments – 50 years Books – 100 year Complete NT- 325 CE
# of copies: 5,000 +

b. Test #2: Reliability – proof that the New Testament we have today is telling
the truth. Is it trustworthy?

1. Tests of Reliability: testing the story of the resurrection

a. Multiple stories about the same thing
1. Gospel accounts
2. Paul’s testimony that hundreds saw Christ

b. My enemy said something about me that benefited me, but
not my enemy.
1. Matthew 28: 11-15 – Soldiers paid to lie
2. The fact that they do not deny: the tomb is empty!

c. Embarrassing information
1. Peter’s denial
2. The women as the first at the tomb

3. Through ACTION

1. The God who created nature BECAME nature through the incarnation

a. Jesus calls himself by the same titles that were used to refer to God in the Bible: the Shepherd, the Light.

b. Jesus forgives sins, which only God can do.

c. Jesus allows himself to be worshiped as God, which is ungodly to allow, unless you are God.

d. Jesus heals the sick, raises the dead, and even conquers death itself.

e. Jesus is God in disguise. God choose a way that is near enough to affirm our minds and hearts, but at the same time far enough not to overwhelm us.

III. Conclusion

God speaks to us through NATURE, the WRITTEN WORD and ACTION.! Have you given serious consideration to the ways in which God has chosen to reveal himself to YOU!


Living with Questions 4

Living with Questions: Is God There? Part 2

I. Introduction: Review of previous weeks

A. But How Do We KNOW? – The Study of Epistemology - TRUTH is when an idea about something links with the real world and KNOWLEDGE comes when we have REASONS for believing an idea links with the real world.

B. Five Tools for Knowledge

1. Perception – It is FREAKING cold outside! How do I know that?
2. Reason – Can you put a square peg into a round hole? How do you know that?
3. Introspection – How much do you enjoy Skyline chili? How do you know that?
4. Testimony – Why is Epiphany Sunday so important to our church? How do we know?
5. Memory – Where did you go for vacation this past Summer? How do you know that?

C. So Where Does Faith Come In? Faith is believing in the facts to the point of entering into relationship of trust with the facts

D. Last week we looked at the question: Is God There? Does God exist, NOT as a religious idea, but as fact? By using our REASON and INTROSPECTION we began by looking at the issue of where the concept of JUSTICE comes from. We determined:
1. It does not come from science. It is not something we can study under a microscope.
2. It does not come from society. MLK, Gandhi and Jesus all went against society.
3. It does not come from our instincts. Often there are two competing instincts within us!
4. It does not come from our families. THEREFORE:

The law of right and wrong is deeper and larger than science, society, instincts or my family. The best explanation is that the spiritual, smart, strong being is also the Justice-Giver. We call this being God – and God has built a moral law within us.

This is the one thing that all of the major religions of the world can agree on based on reason, introspection, testimony and memory: God is the Justice-Giver.

II. Living with Questions: The Question for today is: Is God GOOD? Does He LOVE me?

A. More Classical Arguments for the Existence of God

1. Teleological Argument
a. What is the end of a thing? The purpose of a thing?
b. Science can answers the “what” questions but not the “why”. Who made us ask this question? It is a clue that God wants us to live into an answer.
c. Asking “why” will eventually lead us to God.

2. Cosmological Argument
a. All things that have a beginning have a cause.
b. The universe had a beginning.
c. Therefore, the universe had a cause.
d. Think through the process of an 8 ball traveling to a corner pocket

B. If God exists, then how do I know which religion is right?

1. Premise #1: What Is God like? Good, smart, strong, a person who cares and created the world with intention. THEREFORE:

a. Pantheism can not be right
1. It is the belief that all things are god
2. God can not be both good and evil
b. Astrology can not be right
1. Logic shows that stars are not trustworthy guides
2. Common sense (reason) proves much of this as superstition

c. Buddhism can not be right
1. An impersonal force does not explain things
2. The Force in Star Wars (show clip of Ben Kenobi explaining force)

d. Mormonism can not be right
1. God is not god, he is just a bigger version of us.
2. God is just a finite being like us (like God, not God)

There are 3 general religions that believe God is a person: Judaism, Christianity and Islam

2. Premise #2: Is Love Possible?

a. Questions concerning LOVE
1. Can love exist by itself? No.
2. What is required for love to be shown? Another person.

b. Questions concerning NEED
1. Does God NEED anything to exist? NO
2. Then how did LOVE exist prior to the creation of humans? Love existed between the three persons of the trinity.

c. The doctrine of the TRINITY
1. God is self-sufficient
2. God is love
3. Both are true because love exists between the 3 persons of the trinity

3. Conclusion: Only one religion states that God is both LOVING and SELF-SUFFICIENT and that is Christianity. Judaism and Islam point to God but it is the doctrine of the trinity that is distinctly a Christian belief.

III. Conclusion

“Christianity says (as stated in Deuteronomy 6:4), “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This means God is self-sufficient. No other god(s) exist. Christianity also tells us in Philippians 2:6: “(Jesus), being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” The Holy Spirit is also part of the Godhead. Jesus speaks of the “Spirit of Truth” in John 14:15-18. Here we see three persons, but we know from Deuteronomy 6:4 that they are one. When Jesus was baptized, all three persons were present (Matthew 3:16). To formulate these ideas in a simpler way, Christianity teaches that God is three persons in one essence. God is both self-sufficient and loving at the same time, from all eternity.”

Assignment: Ask some people at school if they believe God exists – and then ask why or why not. So they seem willing to talk about it? Have they even thought about it much? See what kind of discussion happens.

NEXT WEEK: Has God Spoken?