Shelters Shatter, Luck Runs Out, but Training Overcomes: Raising Kids in This Culture

youth-trainingCaitlyn (Bruce) Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs.

The United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states.

41% of 13-17 year olds are on Snapchat; 71% are on one of the 7 major social media platforms.

When should parents begin talking to their children about these issues? Yesterday.

As parents, we have three basic options when it comes to our children and how they will interact with culture. We can shelter them; work to preserve their innocence by cutting off harmful influences. We can hope it all balances out; trust they will assimilate enough good from the world to offset the bad. We can train them; take an active role in helping them process and interact with the world in a Christ-centered way. While all parents will sometimes shelter, sometimes hope, and sometimes train, we will all default to one of these as our main approach.

I contend that every parent’s default mode should be to train their children to approach culture in a Christ-centered way. Yes we must shelter them from harmful influences. Yet the surrounding culture is too pervasive to be ignored and shelters can collapse in a moment. Yes we must trust they will turn out alright because we can’t control everything. Yet the surrounding culture is eager to disciple our children if we sit back and let it.

Now is the time to train our children to engage the world in a Christ-like way. The world, now especially so, is actively seeking to disciple them into its ways. The Bible instructs us to train:

Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 – And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

1 Timothy 4:7-8 – Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

It’s amazing the time, effort, and money parents invest training their children for sports. I love sports and believe they do great good. What if we applied the same level of effort and intensity we do for a game to godliness? Here’s some of what that might like look like:

We make church a priority we schedule around instead of an option we schedule over.

We are as committed to learning the Bible and growing in faith as we are to learning math and growing in grades.

We watch and listen to entertainment together to discuss their meaning and morality.

We instruct regularly on God’s design for sex, marriage and gender. Josh McDowell (who has been speaking on these issues since I was a teen) recommends beginning in kindergarten.

We discuss the culture around us from same-sex marriage to Miley Cyrus to Caitlyn Jenner to Planned Parenthood so children know how to think about these issues.

We guide into the wise use of technology and install filters, set boundaries, and monitor use.

We invest family time into studying the Bible, prayer, serving, and being a witness.

We create an atmosphere of grace so children to run to us when they fail and fall and not away from us.

I won’t lie, this is hard work. But so is everything else worthwhile in life. The very word “train” should evoke thoughts of an Olympic athlete conditioning every part of their body and adjusting every part of their life to win a medal. We should do the same for a much greater prize. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

While children need some sheltering from the world, it is not enough. Shelters can shatter in one minute of internet access, five minutes with a friend, or ten minutes unsupervised. Our work crashes down and our child is unprepared. It is not enough to trust everything will work out. The culture is actively discipling them to follow it. Our passive resistance will not be enough to overcome its aggression.

Children are not tabula rasa – blank slates we can nudge into goodness. They are sinners who desire to “follow the course of this world” and “carry out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:1-3). They need a Savior and gospel-centered, grace-saturated, goal-oriented training to live successfully in this life and to prepare for the next.

-Brian

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Christianity Isn’t Cool: No Matter How Much You Want it To Be

napoleon-dynamiteWe all want to be cool whether it’s dressing up as a Jedi for the premiere a new Star Wars, debating the latest Indie film while wearing skinny jeans, or starting at point guard for the school basketball team because with coolness comes acceptance and belonging. As human beings we crave to be accepted and to belong to a group. That group may be as small as a third grade lunch table or as large as the American culture. Either way, we want to be “in” and not “out”.

The teenage years are the crucible of cool. Teens adjust their mannerisms, accentuate their appearance, acquire possessions, and arrange their lives in an attempt to be accepted. The stakes are high and winners get happiness and losers get misery.

Sometimes I wonder if we ever truly graduate from this.

A lot of Christians are concerned with making the faith “cool”. Not cool as in a church with a band that sounds like Coldplay and pastor who preaches from his iPad. Rather, the kind of cool that brings acceptance and belonging; that gets Christians a seat at the political table and earns the praises of communities, cultures, and cable network commentators. Many are warning that if we don’t shape up, we will be left behind – and it will be worse than anything Tim LaHaye wrote about. We will become irrelevant and unwanted; a dead faith surviving on the life-support of our traditions.

American Christianity is afraid of becoming like the kid who sits alone at school and receives the taunts of his classmates. We are told we must change or die the slow death of rejection. After all, there is nothing worse than holding a faith most of America considers foolish and harmful. Many Christians – some quiet well known – are filling up sermons, books, blogs, twitter feeds, and Facebook posts calling us to turn on our past, kick the dust off our shoes, and progress into a better faith that can survive the twenty-first century.

The problem with this desire to make Christianity fashionable is, well, Jesus. He said in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Jesus is warning us about a harsh reality: no matter how many people we liberate from slavery, malnourished children we feed, free block parties we throw, pairs of Toms we wear, or art galleries we support, as long as we follow the Jesus of the Bible the world will never accept us.

Why? Because Jesus claims to be Lord of all. He says in Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” All of humanity will be judged by him in Matthew 25:31-32, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” When Jesus makes these claims it immediately puts him into conflict with all the lords of the world from presidents and kings to sex and money.

How do you make Christianity cool? How can Christians who worship a counter-cultural Jesus be accepted and belong to the wider culture? Follow some of the advice out there and water him down.

Create a god who is more loving and affirming; that never judges or condemns. Tell a story where humanity is the hero, progressing to a more peaceful and enlightened future. Compile Scriptures that offend less and inspire more. Define sin as anything that doesn’t make us happy and whole. Recast the cross as the compelling end of a social revolutionary and the resurrection as the product of our collective hopes and dreams. Build marriage, gender, and sexuality on the shifting cultural consensus. Construct a faith where only actions matter, not beliefs. Craft a Jesus who is only one option among many.

This will create a Christianity that is cool and acceptable, but that is no more compelling than the United Nations or the Peace Corps. Just one more option for doing good in the world.

But if you’ve embraced the fact that being cool doesn’t mean being right, if you’ve realized that acceptance by the world is nothing compared to acceptance by the One who made the world then worship the God who is both loving and just; who has wrath and grace. Tell the story where Jesus is the hero rescuing sinners for the glory of God. Meditate on the Scriptures that both inspire and offend. Stand in awe of the cross where the Son took the punishment for our sins and the resurrection where he conquered death. Wage war on sin that is an offense against the character of God. Celebrate marriage, gender, and sexuality in the way God has given them for our good. Live out a faith strong in belief and action. Follow a Jesus who is not simply another Ghandi but the author of life and necessary for every person.

You may not be cool or accepted. They probably won’t give you your own talk show or invite you on theirs to talk about how much they love what you’re doing. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:13, “We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” You can’t make Christianity cool without tearing it down and rebuilding it in your own image. So let us not labor to make the world love us and instead let us love the world, shrugging off any hatred it throws our way. We follow a rebel King. And in his mighty company there is singing, joy, and pleasures forevermore.

-Brian

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