Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dear Youthworker. . . . About YS. . . . And Thanks Doug!

There are two voices in this blog today. . . .

Walt:I’ve now had a little more than a week to process, discuss, and try to sort out what I think about the big changes announced last week at Youth Specialties, an organization (or more accurately, a group of people) I’ve grown to know and love over the course of the last thirty years.

YS was there for me when I was serving in the local church as a youth pastor. I was always excited about traveling with my team of volunteers to one-day resource seminars, conventions, and other events. The overwhelming majority of youth ministry resources that populate my shelves bear one of the many different YS logos. In recent years, it was my friends at YS who have done more to encourage me and promote CPYU than anyone else. They’ve also given me more opportunities than anyone else to train and serve youth workers – year after year – at the NYWC.

For those of us who have been around YS for a long time, Marko’s termination is one in a long line of changes that have taken place relatively recently. First, Wayne Rice moved on. Then, Yac died. Last January, my good buddy Tic and a host of YS staffers were terminated. And now, another big change. Each of us has to respond to news that no doubt makes us emotional. My initial response was to text Marko last week, tell him that I was praying for him, and to thank him again for the role he and YS have played in encouraging and supporting CPYU.

Just as I’ve been blessed to have YS (the people) as a friend, I’ve been doubly blessed by the friendships I’ve made with countless others through YS. One of my closest and most respected-friends is Doug Fields. Doug’s a part of a trusted group of close buddies who I can always rely on for wisdom and perspective. Throughout the last week, Doug has served in this function in his normal, balanced, and well-reasoned manner. Doug’s said a lot of good things that he has graciously committed to writing because. . . . well. . . . I think they are things we all need to think about and hear in order to gain perspective as we wander around in a cloud of dust that - believe or not – is settling and will settle. I asked Doug to jot down his thoughts. Doug’s words echo my own thoughts, and since he says it all better than I can, I yield several inches of blogging space to my esteemed colleague from California, Doug. . . .

Doug: I’ve had several people ask me what I think of Marko being fired from YS and if I think YS will survive.

Well, I’ve been around long enough to know there are two sides to every story and I’ve not been privy to both sides. So, if working in the church has taught me anything, I’ve learned that it’s wise to be slow to judge, criticize and jump to conclusions. The thoughts below are limited to gut-level observations and intended to be my way of answering all the emails that I’ve gotten from friends in youth ministry who want to know what I think about the “hostile-takeover”. Here you go, here’s what I’m currently thinking:

1. I love the fact that fellow youth workers are rallying behind Marko.
He is definitely worthy of thanks, praise and support for all he has done in being a leader in youth ministry while at YS. He is one of us and “one of us” seems to have been wounded and regardless of the other side’s point of view, I love the comradery and defensiveness for Marko! I’m honored to be part of a “team” that gets angered when one of us is hurt. And, let’s be honest, Marko has been a GOOD one of us--raising the bar in YM, cheering on youth workers, challenging us to think, being a champion of junior high, etc...

2. Personally, I am heartbroken that Marko was fired in a corporate-type of way.
The way Marko described the firing to me seemed brutal (you’re done, over, clean out your desk, hand over your phone, give us your computer, etc…). I know that is how the corporate world works, but I’ve worked in the church since I was 18 years old and it just seems so heartless to me. I told Marko I was sad for that to happen to him—I would have hated to have gone thru that experience.

3.I DON’T believe Zondervan is the evil empire that some within the youth ministry world is accusing them to be.
The moment YS was sold to Zondervan (4ish years ago), a new reality was born. Zondervan is a FOR PROFIT company that trades on the NYSE. They are accountable to shareholders and Zondervan (and YS) lives under the pressure of high financial performance. They MUST turn a profit. Zondervan wasn't out to kill, quench or damage YS...they bought the company from Karla Yaconelli with the belief that they could make it a better and more profitable ministry. They had no reason to want it destroyed, they invested millions in the hope that it would thrive. They had to cut their losses--their financial model was dependant on large events with paying customers. In the church-world, when tithes go down, conference budgets are cut.

4. I’m sad that YS probably won’t ever be “my-YS” again
YS is a rich part of my youth ministry legacy. When I was a young youth worker, Wayne Rice, Mike Yaconelli and Tic Long were youth ministry demi-gods and they took a big risk in giving me a platform to teach at their conventions and write books. They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and kept cheering me on and inviting me to do more. I brought an “in-the-trenches” element to YS that they appreciated and my ministry platform expanded. I am very grateful to the legacy of YS!

But, for me, “my-YS” was YS infused with the spirit of Yaconelli. Mike provided the resounding DNA that surfaced louder than the other leaders. YS was Yaconelli-breathed. It was his baby! Mike didn’t want to lose money with YS, but it wasn’t about the money for him--it was about the mission, the message and the audience. When Mike tragically died, “my-YS” died. Though my long-term, dear friend Tic was still there to help Marko lead the way, it just always felt a little different to me without Mike’s presence. Not bad different, just different-different.

I write all that because I know the loss of Marko will be the loss of “my-YS” for many younger youth workers. I totally get it. It feels weird when you identify so strongly with a personality and they’re no longer leading it. I understand if your YS isn’t the same again.

5. Karla Yaconelli did what I’d want Cathy Fields to do if I died.
Karla was an incredible support and cheerleader to Mike when he was running YS. She sacrificed a ton of her husband as he traveled throughout the year speaking and building the ministry of YS. She’s a remarkable woman! This last week I’ve heard people say that she should never have sold YS to Zondervan because that was the impetus for all these events. In this case, “shouldn’t have” is simply birthed from ignorance. Karla didn’t want to run YS…she wasn’t wired for those types of responsibilities. Karla did the right thing and sold to the right company—Zondervan had a 20+ year relationship with YS and it was a natural partner! Her intention was that Mike’s legacy would continue thru Zondervan’s reach and she would be able to survive and move on with the assets from Mike’s hard work. If I died, I would never expect or want Cathy to continue to try to run Simply Youth Ministry in my absence if it wasn’t in her heart. I would want her to do what was best for the future of her and our kids…the same thing that Mike wanted for Karla.

6. Youth Ministry organizations will come and go.
Everything will have its season and run its course. Over the landscape of youth ministry, the powerhouses will fade away and new influencers will arrive. This happens with resource companies and it happens with churches… it’s the cycle of life. Twenty five years ago church leaders flocked to the Crystal Cathedral, then ten years ago they flooded Willow Creek and Saddleback…now, they race to North Point and LifeChurch.tv. Churches, ministries and organizations come and go—the YMCA was once the most powerful youth ministry presence of its time…now, many YMCA’s are ghost towns. I’m happy that Simply Youth Ministry continues to grow, but there will be day when people say, “What was the name of that guy who had that internet company and did conferences with Group?”

7. Marko is bigger than this knock-down.
I haven’t done life as intimately with Marko as I have with Yaconelli and Tic…but, I know him well enough to know that his identity is stronger in Jesus than in being the president of YS. Sure this move stings…and yes it’s not what he planned…but he will still love and serve Jesus in spite of this move. What we know to be true about his character in good times will only be enhanced during this difficult time.

8. Youth ministry will still happen.
Whether it’s Marko, or Yaconelli or Tic or anyone else who has taught, challenged, led and encouraged us…we go on. Youth ministry continues. Teenagers need caring adults to love them, believe in them, and point them to Jesus. With or without YS…youth ministry continues—that’s the way to honor a leader, a legacy…and our Lord Jesus.

Walt: While I’m grateful for Doug’s perspective, I know that it means nothing unless I act on it. I’m constantly reminding my kids of their need to fill their wells with the “This I know’s” (the richness of the perspective of God’s Word) and then acting on those things when the going gets rough and you don’t always see things clearly. I’m convinced that if we don’t live that way, we might wind up doing some things we wish we hadn’t done when we find ourselves walking through muddled stuff that is blurry, confusing, and emotional. Doug, you’ve given me some “this I know’s” to add to my own this week.

Which lead me to this weekend in Cincinnati. . . . the second of this year’s YS National Youthworker’s Conventions. My goal this weekend will be the same as it always is when I head off to a NYWC: I intend to embrace the privilege of the invitation I’ve been given by YS to honor and glorify God through serving and training youth workers. As always, I’m excited about being a part of this great event.

For those of you who will be in Cincy. . . or even in Atlanta in a few weeks. . . .let me go out on a limb and issue a bold challenge. Even though Marko is no longer a part of it, there’s still a YS, a YS staff, and a NYWC that is being run by a YS staff that is passionate about Jesus and passionate about youth workers. This reality is the true legacy of Wayne, Yac, Tic, and Marko. It’s my hope that we’ll come together to honor that legacy by honoring the passion of each of these guys for Jesus and youth workers through bringing honor and glory to God in our worship (24/7), our care and love for the YS staff, and our commitment to encourage and equip each other.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stewards Past, Present, and Future. . . .

The November/December Youthworker Journal showed up in our mailbox yesterday. Much to my surprise and delight, the cover featured these words right there across the bottom: "Walt Mueller Gets Rich."

Wow! Well, the "Wow!" lasted about three-quarters of a second as I realized that 1) It was news to me. . . so obviously. . . it can't be true, and 2) The reference was to my latest Culture Watch column in YWJ.

This edition of YWJ is all about youth and missions. My column focused on addressing our materialism and teaching kids about stewardship. In the article (entitled "Why I Am Rich"), I mentioned that all of us and all of our kids are living our lives in the upper 2% of the world's population in terms of our stuff. I mentioned that we are materialistic, citing Kenneth Kantzer's 20-year-old quote, "The most serious problem facing the church today is materialism - materialism not as a philosophical theory, but as a way of life." And, I mentioned that we have a great responsibility to learn principles of Biblical stewardship that yield a lifestyle committed to meeting the world's great needs. . . . myself, kids, and adults alike.

All this reminded me of a quote from Turner Clinard that I recently read in Mark Allan Powell's book Giving To God: The Bible's Good News About Living a Generous Life. Clinard writes, "All the difference in the world exists between those who recognize and willingly accept their stewardship, realizing the gracious and bountiful and loving gifts of God, and those who set out with the attitude of putting a fence around as much of the universe as possible and saying, This is mine. It isn't. And nothing we can do can make it so."

For the last 20 years, I've been personally blessed and humbled by a growing group of individuals, couples, families, and youth groups who have embraced life in that former group mentioned by Clinard. For 20 years, they have partnered with us as "senders" to help us fulfill our calling as "the sent" through our ministry with CPYU. They've done this for 20 years! . . . . . that's amazing to me.

Earlier this month we notified our constituency of our plans to continue and forge ahead for as long as the Lord allows. A group of our long-time friends came together to pool $25,000 in a challenge grant that we issued at the beginning of October. They are challenging all of you who use, value, and appreciate CPYU to come together with them in an effort to raise an additional $25,000. I'm thrilled to report that as of today, we are almost halfway to our goal! $12,392 has been raised.

All of us here at CPYU and those who benefit from our ministry are grateful for the stewards - past, present, and future - who have made this ministry possible. Of course, I realize that the ultimate source of all that we have and are comes from God and God alone. But I also realize that to make this happen he uses the combined efforts of those he has called to be sent, and those he has called to be senders. Would you prayerfully consider becoming a sender and joining our team of stewards by making a tax deductible contribution that will go towards our $25,000 challenge grant!

If you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution, please click here. As a thank you for every gift of $25 or more, we'll send you a copy of my latest book, The Space Between: A Parent's Guide to Teenage Development.

Youth culture is changing and changing fast. We remain committed to providing up-to-date information and analysis from a distinctively Christian perspective. And, we remain committed to doing so with Biblical faithfulness, integrity, excellence, humility, and the highest principles of financial stewardship. God willing, I'm looking forward to another wonderful 20 years!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Walkoff! . . . .

It's early afternoon and I just climbed out of bed a couple of hours ago. I didn't climb into bed until 3am after a long solo drive home from witnessing not only Phillie baseball history, but baseball history. Thanks to an invitation from my long-time friend and fellow Phillie-lover Randy, I was there at midnight when Jimmie Rollins became only the third player in baseball history to hit a walkoff extra-base hit in a post-season game with his team one out away from taking a loss. As a life-long Phillie fan who has died what seems like a million deaths with his team, this was pretty sweet. Add to that fact that last year, thanks to Chris, I was able to be there to see C.C. Sabathia's meltdown in the NLDS against the Phils in another legendary game, and I'm on a streak. I'm not used to this!

In our post-game office debrief of the game (always fun to debrief things with the CPYU staff!), I told them about much more than the deafening - and I mean DEAFENING - roar that followed Rollins' hit. You see, Philly is a very unique place with very unique people who know and love their sports. My eyes and ears were wide open, enjoying the opportunity to soak in some vintage Philly culture on the way to and from the game. After driving from Lancaster to meet Randy in Fort Washington - where I more or less grew up - we drove together to the Fern Rock subway station in North Philly to grab the Phillies Express to Broad and Pattison. . . . an intersection where my life intersected with many, many great sports memories. Having shared a bunch of those memories with Randy during our teenage years made last night extra special. The train was loaded with expectant Phillies fans all decked out in red. Even the couple headed to the Springsteen concert across the street from the ballpark was wearing Phillies gear. Emerging from the subway station onto the street to see the stadium and lights, to hear the sounds, and to smell the smells was awesome. The post-game journey home was the same. Finally, alone in my car heading west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I tuned in to 610 WIP to hear Scott Frantzkee and Larry Anderson's radio call of Rollins' hit. Hearing their excitement, I knew that I had experienced something special that would become another great memory.

But there was something else going on in my head as I exited that stadium and embarked on the drive home. I can't help but think that last night was "the best" for many of the folks who were there. In other words, the game, the team, and the moment were engaged and embraced by folks in a redemptive manner. Hungry for Heaven and yearning for that always elusive something more that fulfills, I wondered how many of those rabid fans believed that if only the Phillies would win. . . then everything in the world would be right. I don't want to take away from the moment. It was absolutely awesome and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. But even before I pulled into my neighborhood at almost 3am, I was aware of the fact that life goes on and that there's nothing in this world that can fix us, heal us, or fulfill our deepest yearnings. Everyone at last night's game had to get out of bed today. And with getting out of bed comes the realization that a victory can't fulfill. The hole in the soul is still there.

And then I thought a little bit more. I am grateful to God for perspective. He is the only one who can redeem. Thanks to His inexplicable grace which He gave to me, I have not only been redeemed, but continue to learn who and what can and can't bring redemption. My buddy Randy knows the same. You see, we grew up together under the tutelage of the same youth pastors who God used to help us gain that perspective. So while we were high-fiving last night along with everyone else in Section 114, something deeper was going on for the two of us. It was great, but there's so much more.

And Doug. . . you looked awesome on the scoreboard screen after Victorino's catch!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Read These. . . .

I love a good and inspiring book. I'm guessing you do too. So. . . . I want to pass on recommendations for a couple of new books that I've read that I'm encouraging others to read as well.

You may remember me mentioning Jeffrey Marx's Season of Life in the past. This true story of transformation, redemption, and character development was a best-seller that Derek Melleby and I have been quoting for years. Now, Marx has released a new football story that will inspire sports fans and even non-fans alike. The Long Snapper is a quick can't-put-it-down book that tells the story of Brian Kinchen's unprobable invitation to come out of retirement to long-snap for the Patriots during their Super Bowl run of 2003. Marx uses his engaging signature-style to take readers on Kinchen's journey from middle-school Bible teacher to the stresses of long-snapping when ultimate football prize is on the line. With a son who was long-snapper in high school, I know just how nerve-wracking a responsibility it is and how the long-snapper remains invisible until they mess up. This is a great story that will serve as a well from which to draw lessons to pass on to the kids you know and love when you are presented with teachable moments.

My second recommendation is a new book from my friend Jonas Beiler, a former Amishman who started a local Christian counseling center that was funded by his wife Anne's homemade pretzel stand. Anyone who travels through airports or goes to the mall is familiar with Anne's "Auntie Anne's Pretzels." The new book from Jonas is Think No Evil: Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting and Beyond. Jonas gives a compelling firsthand account of not only what transpired at Nickel Mines and his personal involvement, but how the Amish were committed to forgive. Jonas asked me to endorse the book and I'll pass on what I wrote: "Many accuse our Amish neighbors of being strange and unusual. In the immediate aftermath of the Nickel Mines school shootings, the world found that to be true. The deeply hurting Amish community showed a strange and unusual commitment to show deep grace, mercy, and forgiveness. . . . of the type that should be normal and usual for us all. Jonas Beiler takes us into the story of the Nickel Mines shootings, offering readers deep insights into how the world should be. This is a compelling story that will not only make you think but just might change your life."

Now, get reading!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Watching Letterman. . . .

I'm a big fan of David Letterman's comedic style and genius. While I had seen Letterman on The Tonight Show in the late 70s, what I remember most about those early years is tuning in during the summer of 1980 to his daytime comedy show. His skits, gags, and timing were hilarious. That show died after a couple of months, and then in 1982 Late Night debuted and I could once again get my fill. Since then, I've showed my kids numerous YouTube videos of old Letterman highlights and we've laughed together. The best bit ever? Letterman and the monkey lady. . . .

Recently, I've watched Letterman less and less, something occasioned by a growing lack of TV time and the fact that I just can't stay up that late anymore!

Perhaps the most significant Letterman moment of all happened last Friday night when the humorous host took almost 10 minutes to tell his audience the story of his victimization by a blackmailer/extortionist. Not only was it a significant Letterman moment, but it was a significant cultural moment as well. Somehow, Letterman masterfully unwound the story and when he finally made his "confession," he became the hero and recipient of applause. I've watched the clip a couple of times and I'm still trying to sort it out. I think it's worth our attention as Letterman's story, the audience reaction, and the continued response offers us a great wide-open look into the mirror to see what we've become.

Sure, Letterman's sexual behavior was, as he says, "creepy." But is it more than that? Is it "normal" because that's the story about sexuality we've written in our current culture and choose to live/believe, or is it "creepy" because there's really something wrong with what he did?

Let's admit it, according to the Biblical drama of redemption and the Kingdom-story that's unfolding around us, Letterman's behavior is not really "creepy" at all. It's something much worse. It's wrong. And lest we self-righteously point our fingers at Letterman while thanking God that we haven't gone down that road, think again. I can speak for myself. My post-puberty life has been full of sinful and fallen expressions of sexuality in thought, word, and deed. It's also been a life marked by the never-ending struggle between managing (with God's help and by His grace) the sexual thoughts, words, and deeds of my life that are not what they're supposed to be, and living out my sexuality to the honor and glory of God. The struggle with sin is real. I suppose you might know what I'm talking about.

In the introduction to his wonderful book The Meaning of Sex, my friend Dennis Hollinger writes, "The issues surrounding sexuality and our sexual drives are far too significant to be driven by either cultural impluses or our hormones. And God knows we struggle with both. All of us struggle to make sense of our sexual beingness and our sexual longings. The temptations are powerful in a world where sexual images and impersonal sexual liasons are only a computer click away. The allurements send tremors through the core of our being with their potential to wreak havoc in our personal lives and covenants. They are already wreaking havoc in our society."

Watching Letterman this last week reminds me of who I am. It reminds me of the need to be honest with myself and recognize the sins I've committed, the struggles I face, and the fact that before the Biblical drama concludes in all its glory. . . the battle will continue. But after watching Letterman, I truly wonder if most people in our culture. . . our kids. . . will even realize that a battle should be raging.

Maybe you and the kids you know and love should sit down and watch Letterman's 10-minutes together. Then, talk about him, his humor, his behavior, and the audience reaction. Then, bring the Word to bear on the sexual realities of this rapidly changing world.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Have You Got 20 Minutes? . . .

My co-worker Derek Melleby started our CPYU Bookshelf blog because of a question we get asked over and over: "What are you reading?" It's a place where we share thoughts, reflections, and recommendations on stuff we've read that we think others might find challenging and helpful.

Every now and then, I'll read something that stirs me so deeply that I wish I could grab everyone I know, encourage them to read it, and then spend some time together sorting out the implications of what we've just read. Today I'm passing on one of those literary gems.

I thought I'd try to summarize Mark Galli's great piece - "In The Beginning Grace: Evangelicals Desparately Need Spiritual and Moral Renewal - On That Everyone Agrees. But What Do We Do About It?" - in the latest edition of Christianity Today. But I can't. I figured it's actually best for you to sit down for 20 minutes and read the article for yourself. I'm not sure what Galli says is going to sit well with everyone (he challenges some of our sacred cows), but his call to focus more on the vertical and less on the horizontal (read the article to learn more) is timely and right on. In addition, there's Craig Brian Larson's helpful sidebar on the power of Biblical preaching, "A Vertical Discipline."

This is all good stuff. I'm increasingly convinced from my travels in the church and the world of youth ministry that we need to be asking the difficult questions Galli challenges us to ask. A couple of weeks ago I listened in on a group of youth workers who were strategizing on how to meet a specific shared concern. Sadly, there was no conscious theological reflection. Instead, the group jumped headfirst into a discussion of pragmatic strategies with little on no thought put on the foundations (or lack thereof) or the possible outcomes of each. It was all about the horizontal in the here and now. I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that these good-hearted youth workers who are driven by a sincere desire to serve Christ and reach lost kids were doing the best they could based on what they had learned from years and years of ministry modeling that was trickling down from prior generations. Strategizing void of a deep consideration of theological foundations and possible outcomes has all-to-often become the norm.

I hope you'll take 20 minutes to read Galli's article. Then, let's get thinking and talking about his challenge to the church.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rick Warren And Seminary. . . .

Over the weekend I and over 42,000 other people read an interesting tweet from Rick Warren. It said, "It takes about 10 yrs of local church pastoring to lose the arrogance u pick up in seminary, otherwise u likely won't lose it." Fully aware that there are a multitude of dangers related to tweeting stand-alone sentences and thoughts like this, I didn't want to risk mis-interpreting what Warren was hoping to convey. I've been chewing on his tweet for a couple of days and am struggling deeply with what he said and the implications for the generation of young leaders who are trying to figure out whether or not to engage with a seminary education. Sadly,I'm afraid that Warren's tweet will only serve to justify and feed the anti-seminary attitude that so many already have.

To be fair, a couple of tweets later Warren did say that "seminary teaches u to THINK & learn essential tools u dont know u need yet. Just beware 'Knowledge puffs up.'" I was grateful he passed on this fact that was certainly one of the many benefits I took from my own seminary education. . . . along with the warning. But I'm still troubled by that first tweet. . . so I thought I'd jot some thoughts for those who might quickly embrace and believe Warren's words and advice.

First, from a theological perspective, I'm not sure that a seminary education is the thing that makes pastors arrogant. Like the rest of us, pastors are all pretty messed-up people before they even set foot on a seminary campus. A good seminary education that takes the Scriptures seriously will convince you of your own depravity if you are already too arrogant to see it for what it is. Seminary doesn't make people arrogant. In Matthew 15 Jesus has one of his many conversations with the arrogant and pride-filled Pharisees and teachers of the law. While the context is all about ritual cleansing, there's a theological reality Jesus passes on about all of life. It's not the seminary education that goes into a person that makes them arrogant, but the arrogance that's already in there that rises up out of their hearts. Don't blame seminary. Arrogant pastors were arrogant people long before they went to seminary.

Second, I think time spent in seminary and 10 years on a church staff are really all about the never-ending process of learning how much you don't know, rather than getting puffed up about what you do know. If that's not happening to you during the process, then maybe it's time for a heart check. I remember walking up the steps of the library at Gordon-Conwell a few days before graduation. A friend and I were conversing about our education and what we had learned during our years on campus. We both agreed that the biggest thing we were going to take away from our seminary education was this: how much we don't know. I said, "I wish I knew as much now as I thought I knew when I first enrolled here." It was very humbling.

Finally, I want to offer some encouraging words to those who are pondering or have pondered a seminary education, but might be holding back due to any number of reasons (fear, cost, time investment, getting messed up, etc.). DO IT! If you are planning on spending a lifetime in ministry and you've been called to - as John Stott says - serve as a bridge between two worlds by bringing the light of God's Word to bear on people living in our times, you'd better equip yourself with the tools to understand and apply God's Word through teaching, preaching, and conversations.

I have found it personally helpful to be constantly reminding myself that I don't know as much as I think I know, that I'll never run out of things to know, and that I can never stop being a learner. For that reason, a good seminary education is worth infinitely more than it costs in dollars, cents, effort, and time.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Youth Knows No Pain. . . .

Last week I wrapped up preparation for a new seminar on Narcissism in youth culture. Not surprisingly, youth culture is really no different from our culture-at-large in terms of the obsession with me, myself, and I. During the long and involved process of doing research, I stumbled across some disturbing and amazing examples of self-love gone to extremes.

One of those discoveries was the fact that self-love gone mad is fueling our nation's $60 billion a year - yes, $60 BILLION A YEAR! - anti-aging industry. It's not the least bit unrealistic to assume that as this issue snowballs, that number's going to be getting larger, larger, and even larger. And it's not just adults. Appearance obsession and a run on cosmetic surgery is more and more common among teenagers and even children. Sometimes it's pushed by parents. Did you know that non-medical cosmetic surgery procedures among children and teens have increased five times during the last 10 years?!? There are even girls who now ask for new breasts for high school graduation gifts. . . . and parents who are bankrolling the procedure.

One of the most alarming pieces I ran across while doing research is Mitch McCabe's HBO film, Youth Knows No Pain. The daughter of a plastic surgeon, McCabe takes viewers on a trip through the underbelly (no pun intended) of the anti-aging industry with some compelling and sad peeks into the lives of those who are funding it through their vanity. One of those characters is a 53-year-old Texan named Sherry. You might think Sherry is extreme with her revelation of spending $35,000 on a variety of procedures in just one year. She is. But I also think Sherry will not be alone in the very, very near future. She is the face (no pun intended again) of things to come.

Youth Knows No Pain is worth your time and attention. It's not a fun ride, but it's one we need to take if we want to know how to bring the light of God's Word to bear on this new and growing obsession with self that is manifesting itself in such horrific ways. The film is currently running on HBO and can be accessed anytime by those of you who have OnDemand. Let me, however, give fair warning: at one point in the film, Sherry is so obsessed with herself and her procedures that she freely shows the cameras the results of her breast augmentation. It helps to know that what you are seeing is not real.

Sherry is not alone in Youth Knows No Pain. McCabe's camera takes us into the lives of others who are making and spending money on this narcissistic trend. They are all worth watching.

The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that all of this stuff is nothing but vanity. The Scriptures are clear that nothing but a relationship with God through Jesus Christ can fill the void. The Scriptures and history are also clear that we'll look for anything and everything to do the redemption trick. Life in our post-Genesis 3:6 world is marked by suffering, aging, and death. Nothing in this world, no cream, and no surgeon's scalpel can stop it. . . even though we can be fooled into believing that something can. Time and gravity take a toll.

Youth workers and parents. . . start talking about this stuff with your kids now. They need to know what to do with this thread that's woven in and through the fabric of their culture.