Friday, January 29, 2010

Deconstructing Music's Biggest Night. . . .

Sunday evening is being billed as "Music's Biggest Night." It's the Grammy Awards. At 8pm Eastern Time, the annual music awards show kicks off. Culture watchers should be watching. The Grammys are one of a handful of annual pop culture events that I believe are "can't miss" opportunities for those who desire to take a walk throught the landscape of 21st century Athens (Acts 17). The room and the stage will be filled to capacity with the music movers and shakers who not only regularly throw ingredients into the cultural soup that serves to guide and shape kids in today's world, but who offer us a window into the world into which we've been called to live out and communicate the Gospel of the Kingdom.

This year, I want to encourage you to watch with a critical eye. . . an eye that thinks Biblically and Christianly about everything you see and hear. As you watch, ask questions. That's how we learn.

Here are some questions I've pulled from our How To Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart: A 3(D) Guide to Responsible Media Choices that I've written as a tool for use by youth workers and parents with their kids.

• What is the main topic and theme?
• What is the mood?
• How is the piece intended to make viewers/listeners feel? How does it make me feel? Does the piece manipulate viewer/listener emotions in any way?
• Does the piece make any overt or covert suggestions to viewers/listeners on how to think, talk, act, or live?
• What does the piece say about the way the world is? What does the piece say about the way the world ought to be?
• Is there right and wrong? What is portrayed as right and what is portrayed as wrong? How are right and wrong determined?
• Is there a hero? Is there a villain? What do they stand for?
• What values and beliefs are presented as virtuous? What values and beliefs are portrayed negatively?
• Who or what is the source of authority? What is the attitude toward authority?
• How is God portrayed? What does it say about God? Who or what is God (god)?
• Is the one true God replaced by some other deity (self, money, sex, etc.)?
• How are human beings portrayed?
• Where is human value and worth found?
• How is beauty established, portrayed and defined?
• What does it say about how to treat others? Are people “used” or portrayed as a means to an end?
• What is the source of happiness and satisfaction in life?
• Does the piece send any messages about what makes a person “successful” in life?
• What does the piece say about what’s wrong with the world? Does the piece suggest a solution(s) to life’s problems? If so, what are those solutions?
• Who or what is glorified?
• What does it say about peace and hope? Are suggestions made on where they can be found?
• Is it hopeful or hopeless?
• What character traits are portrayed as positive? Negative?

Go a step further and watch with your kids. Talk about the show as it unfolds. Then, take the opportunity to guide your kids into an understanding of how the Scriptures agree or disagree with the answer the Grammys give to these questions.

This is a great opportunity to not only learn about the way the world is, but to teach your kids about the way the world should be.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Books For Parents. . . Now My 2nd Favorite. . .

I knew more. . . alot more. . .about parenting before I ever had kids myself. Then I had kids. Then I had teenagers. Then I got to the age I'm at now. Along the way, reality came at me through experience, and then even more importantly, God's Word.

My own personal history from one who was sure of and dependent on the "foolproof" stuff I once believed. . . to sure of the ignorance of the "foolproof" stuff I once believed and currently experiencing the joy and freedom of riding along while God's at the wheel. . . has been quite a journey. Early in the journey I immersed myself in every Christian parenting book I could find. I was in search of the foolproof formula that would enable me to become the perfect parent raising perfect kids. I don't know how many books I digested before giving up. I'm glad that it didn't take too long to realize that those books leave you feeling quite beat up. I stopped reading them. Why? Because as your eyes are locked on the pages, they're also locked on your own heart. And what you see on the page doesn't mesh with the complex darkness that exists inside, which explains why the formulas don't lead to fruit.

Now, I run into parents each and every week who are looking for the "how to." It's not there. Rather, I'm convinced that our certainty, joy, and wisdom as parents is dependent on who we believe. If there's a secret, it lies in knowing, worshiping, following, and believing the One who made us for Himself. It comes in bathing ourselves in the truths of His Word. I was reminded of this yesterday when our pastor preached on the Resurrection from Matthew 22. The answer Jesus gave to the ignorant Sadducees applies to all of us and our confusion in life. . . even when it comes to our misplaced priorities and beliefs regarding parenting and our kids. Jesus said, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God" (v. 29).

If we only knew the Scriptures we would see that many of our parenting beliefs and practices are about replacing the Creator with created things. . . including our parenting skills, our twisted beliefs, the family, and even our kids. They can all become idols.

So for the last few years I've been committed to answering the question, "What's the best parenting book I can read?" with this simple answer: "The best parenting book I've ever read is Paul Tripp's "Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens." For one, Paul gets the Creator and created priorities right. Paul knows how sinful we and our kids really are. Paul knows how dependent we are on God. Paul knows that there are no foolproof formulas. Paul knows because he knows the Word, and he's been through it as a dad. It's a great book.

This morning I finished a book that joins "Age of Opportunity" on my list. A few weeks ago I mentioned Leslie Leyland Fields' article - "The Myth of the Perfect Parent" - in Christianity Today Magazine. The article was full of truth that is liberating to those of us who have bought the lies. It made me want to hear more from this mother of six. She sent me a copy of her book, "Parenting is Your Highest Calling. . . and 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt." Now I've got a number two on my list. Fields addresses each of the 9 myths straight from the Scriptures in a way that leaves readers wondering, "Duh, how did I ever miss that?!?" She busts through the myths by taking us into a deeper understanding of the sovereignty of God and His grace in the lives of fallen humans who cannot save themselves.

The myths (and idols!) Fields' says we believe? . . .

1. Having children makes you happy.
2. Nurturing your children is natural and instinctive.
3. Parenting is your highest calling.
4. Good parenting leads to happy children.
5. If you find parenting difficult, you must not be following the right plan.
6. You represent Jesus to your children.
7. You will always feel unconditional love for your children.
8. Successful parents produce Godly children.
9. Why God is not limited by imperfect families.

Do you scoff at any of these myths? Don't. . . until you've read the book.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Finally! The Latest On Kids and Media. . . .

It was back in late 2004 when the Kaiser Family Foundation released their groundbreaking study Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds. Since then, that research has served as the most extensive and helpful picture into how kids engage with their snowballing media world.

If you've sat in on anything I've presented since then, you've most likely seen and heard me refer to many of the study's findings. It's pure gold. Over the course of the last couple years, my referencing has included a clarifier: "This is from 2004. But it's the latest and best we've got. I can't wait for Kaiser to unleash the new stats because we know they're going to be markedly different." That "it-doesn't-take-a genius" statement proved true yesterday when the Kaiser Family Foundation released the long-awaited latest. . . that is now the best.

Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds offers an amazing window into a world that we suspected was out there, confirming many of our suspicions along with shedding light on some things that we didn't know were actually happening.

Several of you have asked me to comment on what the study reveals. I'm still working to dissect it all, but have gone through it enough to be able to pull out some highlights to pass on in this context. First, however, let me encourage you to 1) download and read the report - it's worth your time, and 2)glance at the slideshow the folks at KFF have posted online.

Some quick highlights. . .

-The average 8-18 year-old is spending more time with media. In 2004, kids were spending 6 hours and 21 minutes a day with media. Because they were multi-tasking and using multiple platforms simultaneously, their total media exposure was 8 hours and 33 minutes a day. Fast-forward to our present world. In 2009, kids were spending 7 hours and 38 minutes a day with media. Total media exposure (due to multi-tasking) was up to 10 hours and 45 minutes a day.

-Lest you think this includes time spent engaging with media in the school environment, think again. The research results reflect "recreational use."

-The amount of time using four popular types of media per day increased since 2004. Use of music/audio increased by 47 minutes. Use of TV content increased by 38 minutes. Use of computers increased by 27 minutes, and use of video games increased by 24 minutes. Movie use did not change, staying at 25 minutes a day. Engagement with print media (reading) dropped from 43 minutes a day to 38 minutes a day.

-If you spend any time with kids at all, you won't be surprised by the fact that mobile media has really changed the way kids engage with the media world. 66 percent of our kids now own a cellphone, up from 39 percent in 2004. 76 percent now own an iPod/MP3 player, up from 18 percent in 2004. And laptop ownership has increased from 12 percent to 29 percent. Media now travels with them. Unlike those of us who are older, teenage media use decreasingly tethers them six to eight feet from an electrical outlet. Consider how that has changed the way they have TV content delivered: they are accessing it on mobile devices including their cell phones, iPods, and laptops.

-Consider how they are using their cell phones. 8 to 18 year-olds spend an average of 33 minutes a day talking on their cell phones, 17 minutes a day listening to music on their cell phones, 17 minutes a day playing games on their cell phones, and 15 minutes a day watching TV on their cell phones! Oh, we forget text messaging. The report say that 7th to 12th graders spend an hour and a half a day text-messaging. And by the way - TAKE NOTE - time spent texting or talking on a cell phone is not included in the report's count of media use!

-Kids whose parents set and enforce media rules spend less time with media than their peers. For example, kids who grow up in homes where there are no media rules have 12 hours and 43 minutes of total media exposure a day (sum total of time spent with different media), as compared to 9 hours and 51 minutes of total media exposure a day for those who live in homes where there are media rules.

-How many kids have rules? 46 percent say they have rules about what TV they can watch, 30 percent have rules about the video games they can play, 26 percent have rules about the music they can listen to, and 52 percent have rules about what they can do on the computer.

-If kids have media in their bedroom, they're going to engage with that media more than their peers. For example, total daily media exposure for kids with a TV in their bedroom is 11 hours and 56 minutes a day, as compared to 7 hours and 55 minutes for those who don't have a TV in their room.

-There are significant differences in media use related to ethnicity: 13 hours of total media exposure per day for Hispanics, 12 hours and 59 minutes for Blacks, and 8 hours and 36 minutes for Whites.

So what does this mean? Here are some thoughts. . .

First, if you're a youth worker, get this info in the hands of your parents. Remember, they are primarily responsible for the the nurture of their children. Get them the info, and offer them some suggestions, particularly in regards to setting media use rules in the home.

Second, recognize that media is not an evil thing. Rather, it's how we use it that's the problem. Using too much, using it in ways that hurt us rather than help us, and using it to access stuff that glorifies the world, the flesh, and the devil. . . well, that's where we get into problems.

Third, do something about it. The "something" we've been trumpeting for years is "media literacy." Simply stated, we are responsible to teach and equip kids to integrate their faith into ALL of life. That ALL includes the growing amount of media time that for some, is ALL of life. But how? This is where I want to encourage you to find out about the tools we've carefully developed and tested over the years to teach kids to think Christianly and critically about all the media they consume. Our How to Use Your Head to Guard: A 3(D)Guide to Making Responsible Media Choices does just that. You can access a free Leader's Guide for this tool here. For those of you working in public school or other non-sectarian settings, we've developed a version of the guide - Minding Your Media: A 3(D)Guide to Making Responsible Media Choices - that teaches kids media literacy skills based on the timeless virtues. You can access a free Teacher's Guide for that version here. All of these tools are available in our CPYU Resource Center. (We've already gotten them into the hands of 38,000 kids, and a new print run hot off the press arrived in our office today.)

And finally, do something about it. . . in your own life. Take a look in the mirror to evaluate how you're using media along with how much media you're using.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Haitian Prayer. . . .

Did you watch any television coverage of what's happening in Haiti over the weekend? I hope so. It is challenging. Yesterday, the TV coverage provided so many compelling pictures and stories that it's hard to sort them all out. Two stand out.

First, there is the horrible suffering of the survivors who are waiting for food, water, and medical attention. Last night, 60 Minutes aired a harrowing piece on a trio of American orthopedic physicians who are trying to make some kind of dent in terms of meeting needs. During the piece, viewers saw bulldozers dumping bodies into dump trucks as if they were piles of dirt. At one point, a physician explained how there are no surgical instruments. While he was talking, one of his associates could be seen in the background removing the leg of a child with a rusty hacksaw. That's just one of hundreds of thousands of stories.

Second, there were the stories on the resiliency and faith of the Haitian people. They gathered to worship, pray, and praise God in the midst of the suffering. That was a nice contrast to the ridiculous comments made by Pat Robertson.

Before going to bed last night, I picked up the copy of God is No Stranger - the Haitian prayer book sent to me by my friends at Compassion International that was first published in 1970 - and looked once again at the simply written prayers of the Haitian Christians who had been converted from Voodooism. One of those prayers jumped off the page in light of last week's earthquake.


Help us not connect ourselves to
we may have four dresses today,
but maybe there will be a time
when we won't have any.

Help us to connect ourselves
to God's Word.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti 100. . . .

Last night I woke up a few times and had this thought: "I'm sleeping in my warm, soft bed. In Haiti, there are living people trapped under rubble who are wondering if they are going to be rescued. There are living people on the streets wondering if anyone will help them."

This morning, I woke up to harrowing picture on the front page of our local newspaper. It's a photo of Cindy Terasme crying out after seeing the feet of her dead 14-year-old brother protruding from the rubble of his school in Port-Au-Prince.

Over breakfast with my friend Neil, we discussed what's happening in Haiti and the response God desires from us. I couldn't help but think of the words of Jesus. . . "to whom much has been given, much is required." And lest I play the relativity game regarding how much I've been given ("I'm not as rich as Donald Trump so I must not have much"), I was then reminded of something I read a few weeks ago in World Vision President Richard Stearns' book "The Hole in Our Gospel." Stearns writes about how we should think about our worth in relative terms. We usually tend to assuage ourselves by looking up the ladder of wealth rather than down. He writes, "If your income is $25,000 per year, you are wealthier than approximately 90 percent of the world's population! If you make $50,000 per year, you are wealthier than 99 percent of the world!" Stearns then goes on to remind readers that almost half of the earth's population lives on less than two dollars a day.

This perspective is timely and necessary. Yes, much is required.

Last night Lisa told me that she had seen a news report on the $1 million donation being made by Major League Baseball on behalf of its 30 teams. I did some quick math and discovered that's $33,333 per team. Then I got to thinking, what if my friends - all of whom fall somewhere in the upper 10 percent category mentioned by Richard Stearns - thought about reversing positions with the folks who are suffering in Haiti today? What if we were the ones mourning the loss of a brother or looking for medical help in order to survive? What would we hope the people of means sleeping in their warm, soft beds would do? I thought further. . . . what if the 1,673 people in our CPYU Facebook Group gave just $100 each to the Haitian relief efforts today? That would be $167,300! Or, as much as 5 of the major league teams are giving combined!

We all have at least $100 we can give. This is a time for God's people to obediently shine. I want to encourage you all to give today. Find a responsible charity that will use your gift immediately in a responsible and stewardly way. If you're not sure where to give, I would invite you to join us as we support the relief efforts of Compassion International. Just click on the Compassion banner at the upper left of this blog to make your donation.

This news will fade fast and we'll be prone to make the error of forgetting as our comfortable lives continue. Let's not let that happen. And let's keep the nation of Haiti and those providing relief in our prayers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Too Many Tears. . . .

Brokenness has plagued our world since our first parents indulged themselves in the garden. I have to believe the Scriptures when I'm told that there is nothing new under the sun. But over the course of the last several years, it at least seems to me that brokenness is running deeper and wider through our culture, particularly among our young. Maybe it's always been this way and it's my eyes that are being opened to a reality that's always existed. Still, that doesn't take away the hurt and pain.

This week I've been finishing up a painful little book that's offered a peek into one form of brokenness that runs far too deep and wide in today's youth culture. Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity is Kerry Cohen's first-person account of her admittedly dead-end efforts to squelch and eventually anesthetize her own broken self through a sexually promiscuous lifestyle that she thought would be redemptive. Not surprisingly, it didn't work. She admits in the book's introduction, "I slept with close to forty boys and men before I figured out doing so was not serving me well." Oh if only our kids would hear and heed Cohen's conclusion. Alot of pain and suffering might be side-stepped. But like Cohen, so many go down this road in search of proof "of being worthwhile" and finding "proof of being loved."

But it's not just the kids who hurt. One of the most disturbing aspects of my work with CPYU is the constant barrage of encounters with parents in pain. It breaks my heart. One conversation I had the week before Christmas is not unusual or infrequent. . . even thought I wish it was. I asked a friend whose the parent of a grown child the simple little question that we give about as much thought as we give a polite in-passing "hello." I asked, "How are you?" Before his mouth opened, his eyes filled with tears.

As brokenness spreads and is more frequently uncovered, what are we going to do about it? I've become committed to telling youth workers and others to 1) pray that the barriers shielding the brokenness that exists would fall and people would embrace vulnerability, 2)be ready with whatever it takes to offer hope and healing - knowledge, referrals, counseling, etc., and 3)understand and embrace a biblical theology of brokenness that recognizes how God uses suffering to bring about his salvation. Yes, suffering can be redemptive.

One of the steps we're taking here at CPYU to address this reality takes place in about two months. On Saturday March 13 we're inviting anyone who desires to effectively understand and minister to broken kids to join us for a one-day training seminar on Hope and Healing for Broken Kids (you can learn more and find out how to register by clicking here)featuring some excellent and practical teaching from Marv Penner and Rich Van Pelt. If you don't live near us here in Central Pennsylvania, you should be taking the initiative to sponsor something like this in your area.

I want to encourage you to commit to praying diligently for the broken kids (and adults) you know and love. Pray for healing and redemption to come. Ask God to glorify Himself through it all.

Besides going deeper into the Scriptures to find healing in the midst of my own brokenness, I've found a good friend in the growing amount of music that addresses these themes. One of my musical friends is Sara Groves. In the midst of an especially difficult time a couple of years ago, Derek Melleby (who was in the car with me at the time) popped in her song "It's Going to Be Alright." I heard these simple, reassuring words:

It's going to be alright
It's going to be alright

I can tell by your eyes that you're not getting any sleep
And you try to rise above it, but feel you're sinking in too deep
Oh, oh I believe, I believe that

It's going to be alright
It's going to be alright

I believe you'll outlive this pain in you heart
And you'll gain such a strength from what is tearing you apart
Oh, oh I believe I believe that

It's going to be alright
It's going to be alright

When some time has past us, and the story if retold
It will mirror the strength and the courage in your soul
Oh, oh, I believe I believe,

I believe
I believe

I did not come here to offer you cliches
I will not pretend to know of all your pain
Just when you cannot, then I will hold out faith, for you

It's going to be alright
It's going to be alright

I love that line. . . "you'll gain such a strength from what's tearing you apart." Great theology. So true. Let's pray that our kids will experience the same.

"It's Going To Be Alright" by Sara Groves from International Justice Mission on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tic Returns! . . . .

The cone of silence has been lifted and I can finally say it! . . . Big news in the world of youth ministry today. . . . the Youth Specialties extreme makeover that became and remained the talk of our youth min world beginning last January publicly opens the curtain on its next act this morning. Now, we’ve got something new to talk about. Tic Long is back at Youth Specialties! For me personally, this is exciting news because it’s good news for the world of youth ministry.

Those of us who know Tic know that he will hit the ground with those legs of his churning fast. The race they’ve run for so many years in an effort to serve Christ and His Kingdom by serving, loving, encouraging, and equipping youth workers is the same race they’ll be running today. Come November in Nashville, that will be obvious to us all who were scratching our heads month after month as we wondered what God was doing with an organization (people!) we loved, and that loved us for so, so long.

Thank God the Youth Specialties story isn’t over. There were times this fall when many of us wondered if it was. But I’m very, very grateful for a smaller yet very dedicated YS staff that kept things moving forward, serving youth workers through a fall that was far more uncertain for them than it ever was for the rest of us. Thanks Mark, Michelle, Adam, Kelly, and the rest of you. You guys kept your hands on the plow when it wasn’t easy at all.

I’m grateful to Zondervan for rising above the dictates of conventional business practice and wisdom. Zondervan remained dedicated to keeping the YS “plug” in the wall until sustainability was certain. That was far bigger than what any one of us knows. . . and we need to be grateful. If Zondervan had cut their losses they would have increased ours. But they didn’t.

I’m grateful for the folks at Youthworks who have purchased Youth Specialties. Several months ago a small group of us had the opportunity to meet them, learn about their heart for ministry and plans for YS, and have them ask us questions about the YS that we all knew and loved. Three things impressed me about the folks at Youthworks. First, they have a real heart for Christ and His Kingdom. That was clear after meeting them personally, visiting their website, and hearing from people who have ministered with them over the years. It was very evident in their deep humility and maturity. Second, they are very wise. As I watched the process of purchasing YS unfold, I realized that I needed to watch carefully. I was being afforded an opportunity to learn from some people who were doing things right. And finally, they are people of prayer, the positive implications of which are too many to even begin to mention here.

For months now it’s been YS that has dominated so many of my conversations. People either wanted to share and discuss what they knew, or they wanted to know what I thought and knew. Today, I’m sure what’s happening at YS will once again be the talk of the youth ministry world. But I want to issue a challenge to myself and everyone else. The story isn’t over, and we need to play our part in that story by getting on our knees to intercede on behalf of everyone in the YS story.

No doubt, we need to be praying for our friends at Youthworks. We need to pray for Tic and the rest of the staff that will be serving alongside him. We need to pray that God will do great things as the YS ship continues to be righted. . . . not by itself, but by Him.

But there’s one more group of people we need to be praying for. If you’re a National Youthworkers Convention attender who has saved those convention books. . . . go get them out. Somewhere near the front of each of those books are pictures and bios of the YS staff. Some of those folks are still at YS. Others are not. We need to pray for each of those people whether they’re still with YS or not. The events of the last few months and years have been difficult on them all. Pray for God’s shalom to rest on their lives, and for their openness to embrace whatever plan it is that God is revealing for their lives.

Welcome back Tic! This is going to be fun.