Teenagers (and budding teenagers) might be the most terrifying thing on the planet. I should know, I work with them. So anytime I come across a blog post (or a series of posts) written with the intent to calm everyone’s fear of teens and preteens, I read and I pass along. Mark Oestreicher is a leading voice on teens, teen culture and the church. He has written many books on the subject and blogs over at whyismarko.com.

He recently completed a series called “Thoughts for Parents of Young Teens”, and I would encourage any parent, grandparent, small group leader, teacher, etc. to read it and be blessed.

Part 1: Doubt

Part 2: Transition

Part 3: Bored with Church and God

Part 4: Boundaries and Decisions

Let’s Talk About Sex

January 30, 2014 — 2 Comments

girlwithroses

Sex.

This word has struck fear into the hearts of many students and parents. But why should something that God created to be so good cause so much fear and anxiety, guilt and shame among us?

Next week, we will begin our annual sex series with our middle school and high school students (this year we named it Naked & Afraid). Our goal is to expose the truth about sex. Using biblical wisdom, scientific research and practical applications, we hope students become empowered to trust God with their sexuality and practice purity as a path to intimacy.

If you work with middle school or high school students, you should be talking about this once a year AT MINIMUM! We only dedicate one whole series to the topic but frequently work these principles and truths into other series we do.

Why is this so important?

We live in a hyperconnected and oversexualized world. Many of the messages we receive about our sexuality and value are harmful. Our scriptures assure us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but much of what we hear about sex tells us we’re never sexy enough or experienced enough. Sex is devalued as a spiritual practice and overvalued as a standard of achievement.

The church needs to step in, unashamed, and present the truth about sex and sexuality.

We must be direct, honest, hopeful and gracious.

Here are a couple of the principles that help guide us in our discussion with students about sex:

Know where your value comes from.

Read Psalm 139. Our hope is that our students recognize that their value is not determined by their body type, their sexual availability, experience or knowledge. It’s not determined by the opinions of a magazine or that jerk at school. Their value is determined by God, and the more they foster that relationship, the more confident they become in that truth.

The goal is intimacy.

As communicators, we have to remind ourselves that chastity is not the win. Intimacy is the win, and we preach purity as the path to intimacy. The harmful and destructive sexual narratives and habits we are fed hinder our ability to be truly intimate (this is true for married couples, too). We want our students to have a picture of what is in store for them when they practice purity now.

Provide practical ways to practice purity in the real world.

It’s not enough that we simply quote scripture and spout opinions, we must connect the dots of the spiritual and practical. Our students may hear and understand us, but if they are not equipped with practical practices when they step foot back into their schools, they will have a tough time succeeding. It is imperative that we give students useful strategies for dating, single life and their private life. If we are serious about our students succeeding, then we must give them the tools to do so.

We will never use fear or guilt to accomplish our goal.

Too often, well-meaning Christians resort to tactics of fear and guilt to teach about the beautiful gift of sex. Ironic when you really think about it. The truth is, a large majority of the students brave enough to come to church to hear about God’s hopes and dreams for their sex life will be sexually active, or addicted to pornography, or struggling with their sexual identity, or have experienced some sort of sexual abuse. We want them to know the grace, love and hope that comes with a relationship with Christ. Remember, perfect love drives out fear. Chances are, many of them feel more fear and guilt than I could ever heap on them. I think Christ would want us to share that perfect love and drive out the fear and guilt that exists within them.

—–

Over the next few weeks, I’ll post up some of the specific things we will be sharing with our brave, courageous and beautiful students. I’ll also be sharing a few practical things for parents as well.

If you are in the Mansfield area, I would like to invite you (the student) and you (the parent) to attend any of our weekly gatherings. I hope that these messages will be a catalyst for families to continue these conversations at home (not a replacement).

We all want to be happy.

Let’s put it this way, nobody spends their entire life trying to be as miserable as possible. No one ever says, “One day, I will finally be miserable! I just can’t stand to be happy anymore.”

The truth is: we all want to be happy. And we all dedicate our lives to gain happiness. The desire to be happy drives most of the decisions we make everyday. Big decisions like what you want to be when you grow up, or what kind of person do I want to marry, or do I want to get married at all, or am I going to college, or which college will I go to, etc. Small decisions like what am I going to wear today, or will I hit the snooze just one… more… time, or spicy chicken biscuit or chicken burrito for breakfast (spoiler alert, the answer is both), do I go see the Hobbit or Anchorman 2, etc.

Some of these are BIG, life altering decisions, and sure, some of them have other factors that weigh into that decision, but ultimately, we want that decision to make us happy. Well, I’d like to share with you a few of the things that make me happy (in no particular order)…

Chipotle.
Coffee.
iPhone.
Grilling.
Sports (although not recently).
Reading.
The Beach.

On a more serious note, my job makes me happy. I love being a pastor. Being a husband makes me happy. I love my wife. Being a dad makes me happy. I love my son. And sometimes I feel that if this is all I have in life, I’ll be a pretty happy person.

But, the happiness that comes from a cup of coffee only lasts so long. You can only eat so many burritos before they begin to make you unhappy. You can be a Cowboys fan and totally forget what it’s like to be happy.

Being a pastor makes me happy, but sometimes, it can make me sad. Pastors get to be a part of some of the most beautiful moments in people’s lives, but we are also a part of some of the most painful moments, too. Also, what happens if one day, for whatever reason, I can no longer be a pastor? Where does my happiness come from then?

What happens if, God forbid, something terrible happens and I lose my wife, or my son? Where does happiness come from then?

You see, the problem with happiness alone is what happens when the thing that makes you happy is gone? What happens when you don’t get in to the college that you have dreamt of all your life? What happens when the one you are in love with decides that they aren’t in love with you? What happens when you lose your best friend, your parents get divorced, you are forced to move away from the only life you’ve known, or you don’t get that promotion you deserved? Where does happiness come from?

Happiness is a good thing, but the problem with happiness is that it is only an emotion. We all want to be happy, but we all know that sadness still exists.

In the gospel of John, Jesus makes a declaration of intent by saying, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the fullest.”

This says that Jesus isn’t just interested in where you end up when you die, but that he is very interested in how you live! And he wants you to have the FULLEST life possible.

But what is a FULL life?

For this, let me take you back to the beginning of the Bible — in the Garden of Eden. There, we find Adam and Eve a life close to God, close to each other, and full of purpose. Both Adam and Eve have a full life. Sure they may have a tough day from time to time, but the knowledge that they have an eternal God as their companion and are living according to his will brings peace during that chaos. But when they decided to put their own desires above God’s, a void is created.

You see, God hooked them up! They had a great life living in this lavish garden, walking around naked all the time, naming animals without a care in the world, and all God said is, don’t eat from this tree. Because if you do, you will have the knowledge of things that will tear you away from me and the life I have for you. And for the longest time, they obeyed. They were content. They were happy!

But then, something slithers along and convinces them that God is holding out on them. That they don’t need God anymore. They if they eat from THAT tree, they’ll know how to go out and take happiness for themselves.

And that sounded pretty good. After all, I can’t believe God would hold out on us like that! How dare he give us all this wonderful stuff but protect us from the things that could hurt us most!? “Come on Adam, we don’t need him anymore. Let’s go get happiness ourselves.”

And then…

A void was created. A separation. A once full life was no longer filled.
There was a gap,
a hole,
a fracture,
a void,
a rift,
a crack,
an emptiness.

In that moment, Adam and Eve choose themselves over God, and in the process, lost the very thing they hoped to gain.

And ever since then, humanity has chosen power, money, reputation, sex, stuff, acclaim, awards, accomplishments, titles and pride over God. We have been putting our own wants and desires over God’s. We fill our lives with things in hopes that it will make us happy — that it will FILL the void we created so long ago. But we keep finding out again and again that nothing is quite big enough to fulfill us.

Comedian George Carlin reminds us that “happiness is a soul thing.”
“Trying to satisfy it with the accumulation of things is like trying to satisfy hunger by tapping sandwiches all over your body.”

Though his particular brand of comedy may be vulgar, his insight into this particular subject is spot on.

Nothing can reach to the core of our being, the depths of who we are like our Creator God can. Nothing is big enough to fill the void in our hearts, except God. God is Big Enough, and He’s been here all along. Calling for us to return to him. Sending his son to earth to say, “I’m here! And, I’ve come to give you life, and not just life, but the fullest life! Follow me. I know the way!”

But we continue to chase happiness elsewhere. Even those of us that have chosen to follow Christ try to find happiness on our own, apart from him.

Pastor David Alexander said it this way in a sermon a couple weeks ago:

“The dumb thing that smart Christians do all the time is waste their life searching for something they’ve had the whole time.”

So how do I be happy?

Well, to answer that, we must first understand this:

God likes for us to be happy, but longs for us to be full. And fullness comes through a pursuit of God.

What does that mean? Well it means that to pursue God is to follow Jesus and his call. To do so, you may need to reconsider some of your priorities. What is it that you are investing you life into that will not bring the long-term happiness, the fullness of life that Jesus promises? It means that you may have to sacrifice something that will bring temporary happiness in order to experience the long term happiness, the fullness that Jesus talks about. It means trying things that may not sound fun at the time, but end up surprising the crap out of you with how great they are.

If your goal is a full life, then those happy moments will be much happier! You’ll experience the joy of the Lord and rejoice with him in his faithfulness. And, when those rough times come, the full life equips you to be able to survive and thrive through them.

I can think of no better example in my life my recent experience with adoption.

A while back, my wife Holly and I felt a tug on our lives. We could hear God calling us in a very new, very exciting and very scary direction. He had called us to adopt. Let me tell you, as exciting as the idea was, there were a lot of obstacles. It was going to be very expensive. We were going to have to do some fundraising (which I hate doing) and we were going to have to radically change our family’s budget in order to pay for this without going into debt. This meant that we had to cut our TV down to the very minimum (no ESPN, ahhhhh!), we couldn’t go out to eat as much, we had to sell some our stuff, we had to decline some invitations from friends to go hang out, and more. I can tell you, that wasn’t fun. It didn’t make me happy at the time to do those things. But guess what, because we commited to following God’s call, because we believed that living in Jesus brings a fullness beyond our momentary happiness, we obeyed.

And guess what? We have a son from Uganda.

And the happiness that that boy brings to my life is infinitely more than any amount of watching ESPN, Chipotle, or nights out with friends. Though it didn’t sound like fun at the time, the reward was great!

Now, God might not be calling you to adopt a kid, but I know that God has something big in store for you.

I’m here to tell you that the happy life — the truly happy life — begins with the pursuit of God.

God is the author of life. He was there when it was created. And, he was there when the happiest of life, the fullest life was thrown away. He wants to help us get it back.

For the past couple years, we have taken our students to the Planet Wisdom Student Conference at the beginning for February. Planet Wisdom is a great conference dedicated to helping students grow deeper in their understanding of what it means to be a disciple. Students get the opportunity to experience lots of fun and laughter with the Skit Guys, wonderful music from the Chris Coleman Band, and messages from Mark Matlock and other great presenters.

As the youth worker, we simply get to attend with our students. We don’t have to worry about curriculum, speaking, or programming. We simply get to enjoy worshiping with our students and watching them grow right before our eyes.

Here’s a few reasons why students need attend:

#1 It’s fun to get away!
As a student, I always loved going to retreats. It didn’t matter where.

#2 You get to meet some new people.
Even some that have been in the same youth group all along. Being away from home and immersed in a different environment generates new friendships and deepens those that already existed.

#3 It may awaken something new in them.
Something special happens when we unplug from our normal, everyday lives and plug into God for the whole weekend. Often, hearts are a little more attentive and awakened to something new and exciting by God.

#4 Planet Wisdom is a freakin’ blast!
The music is great, Mark is awesome and the Skit Guys are always hilarious. IF for no other reason, you should go because you’ll have fun!

With the start of a new year, we begin to think about beginnings, again. We examine ourselves as we are currently, then think of some things we don’t like about ourselves, then promise to change them, right? These are called New Year’s Resolutions.

Though I can’t be certain where our tradition of making new year’s resolutions comes from, vowing to be better in the coming year is nothing new to humanity:

  • The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.
  • The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
  • In the Medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.

Nowadays, the new year’s resolution is an opportunity to promise to change something about ourselves that we don’t like:

“I will lose weight.”
“I will gain weight.”
“I will exercise more.”
“I will read more.”
“I will study more — make better grades.”
“I will get a job.”
“I will be nicer to my brother/sister/parents.”
“I will get more sleep.”
“I will stop biting my finger nails.”
“I will go to church more/read my bible more/pray more.”

Any of these sound familiar?

I assume they do because they are some of the most popular resolutions made. I have uttered many of these words at the beginning of a new year, myself. And guess what happened about a week into the new year?

You too? Whew. I feel better.

  • Did you know that gym memberships skyrocket at the beginning of a new year? People resolve to workout more, to lose weight, to gain muscle, to live a healthy lifestyle and 75% of them last a whole week.
  • Did you know that 35% of people don’t even begin their resolutions!? This means that they hope to change, but can’t even take the first step!

So I began to recognize this pattern: year after year, I was making the same resolutions, and year after year, I would fail. Was it because my goals were unrealistic?
irrelevant?
unimportant?
unmotivating?
uninspiring?

Maybe. So I quit.
I resolved to not make resolutions ever again.
And what do you know, that was the first one I kept…

…until a couple years ago.

—–

Every morning when I wake up, I pour myself a cup of coffee and I sit down at my table and I read my Bible. I know, I know. I’m a pastor and that’s what pastors are supposed to do, but you should try it sometime.

Anyway, I was reading my bible and I came across this verse:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, [they] are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

…and it struck me: God is in the business of transforming. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, God is turning old things into new things. He chisels away the parts of us that don’t belong. He restores us to our original beauty. He redeems a life that is void of purpose and gives it meaning.

To be a follower of Christ is to commit to participate in the transformation of myself AND the rest of creation.

I realized that the problem with my resolutions was that I put to much focus on what I wanted to do, rather than who I wanted to be.

Am I telling you that making goals for the new year are pointless? No.
Actually, I would encourage you to make goals. I made some goals for this year.

What I am telling you is that knowing what you want to do should start with knowing who you want to be.

—–

I came across this website called OneWord365.com. It’s a website that encourages people to rethink the idea of the new year’s resolution by simply choosing one word to live by for the year.

I want to encourage you to do something similar. I want you to chose one word that describes who you want to be, and let that guide the goals you make for the year. For example…

Do you want to be #brave? Then what risks will you take this year? What difficult thing have you been putting off that you will finally do? What are you afraid of and how will you conquer that fear?

Do you want to be #generous? Then in what ways will you give your time to others? What selfless things will you do this year? What will you do with your income?

Do you want to be #focused? What is distracting you? How will you eliminate those distractions? What exactly will you focus on and is it worthwhile?

Do you want to be #honest? Do you want to be #compassionate? Do you want to be #healed?

Knowing what you want to do starts with knowing who you want to be.

Having trouble coming up with a word? You can borrow mine.

#disciple.
I want to be a #disciple.

This means that my goals are guided by my desire to draw closer to Christ and for my life to reflect his. I want Christ to be reflected in the way I love my wife. I want Christ to be reflected as I try to be a good father. I want Christ to be reflected in my role as a pastor. I want my friends to know that I am trying to live everyday as a #disciple.

And most importantly, I want ME to be constantly reminded of who God has called me to be.