Monday, February 22, 2010

Hurting Kids. . . .

I returned home from a great trip to Grand Rapids and Holland, Michigan to a wonderful article by Helen Colwell Adams in the Lancaster Sunday News. Helen interviewed Marv Penner and Rich Van Pelt about their upcoming trip to our area for the March 13 Hope and Healing for Broken Kids seminar.

Here's what Helen wrote. . . and it's great stuff about the very discouraging world of our kids. . .

When the first in-depth book on the phenomenon called "cutting" was published in 1998, one in every 250 teenage girls reported injuring themselves as a response to psychic pain.

Boys didn't have a problem with self-injury, the book, called "Cutting," concluded.

Just a couple of years ago, Marv Penner said, Princeton University surveyed its incoming freshmen and found that one in five young women and one in seven young men had cut themselves.

But the skyrocketing rate of self-injury reflects a broader cultural trend: broken and hurting kids.

Giving those teenagers both healing and hope is the reason why Penner, the head of Youth Specialties Canada, and Rich Van Pelt, national director of ministry relationships for Compassion International, are coming to Gap next month for a seminar aimed at parents, pastors, youth leaders and teachers.

"Hope and Healing for Broken Kids" is sponsored by the Elizabethtown-based Center for Parent-Youth Understanding. Seminar sessions focus on the kinds of hurt and brokenness teenagers are experiencing and on the specific concerns of cutting and suicide.

"There is some deep, deep brokenness," said Walt Mueller, CPYU's president.

"We see it in the research. Even worse, I see it in the faces of kids and parents each and every week as I travel around the country talking about youth culture."

Some national surveys seem to show that the "Millennial" generation is more than fine when it comes to measures of self-esteem.

But appearances can be deceiving. Penner and Van Pelt said pain and brokenness are becoming epidemic, not only in North America but around the world.

Kids don't open up about their hurt unless they trust the adult they're talking to, the seminar leaders noted. They don't want to risk being ignored --again.

Indeed, the most common kind of brokenness they encounter is the pain of betrayed trust.

"We desperately need kids to be OK because it affirms us as adults," Penner said.

"It not only affirms us," Van Pelt interjected, "but lets us off the hook."

"Plus," Penner added, "we don't have a clue what to do if they're not OK."

Adolescence often is a time when teenagers learn their parents aren't perfect and that families aren't always safe places to be. "We've complicated that by putting them in a historical moment where everything seems to be breaking down," Penner said.

"We as adults, for a plethora of reasons, have abandoned kids and have left them to fend for themselves," Van Pelt said. "The kind of support systems that kids historically counted on to help them through the turbulence of adolescence just aren't there any longer."

So teenagers look to their peers for support -- support that other teenagers aren't capable of providing. And kids end up even more hurt by "the bad decisions that they're making to try to fill the void that exists in their lives."

Twenty-first century teenagers are part of "a generation that's raising itself," Penner said.

"Kids are hurried to grow up in a culture where there's so much pressure on them to perform for their parents, to try to please parents in this desperate hope ... that they might get their needs met," Van Pelt said.

When teens' relationship with adults in their lives seems to depend on how well the kids perform, Penner added, the result is "shame-driven kids who believe there's something defective about them. They're not good enough."

The phenomenon of brokenness crosses socioeconomic and cultural lines.

"It just manifests differently," Van Pelt noted. "Kids in the 'burbs have their gangs. It just looks different" from urban kids' gangs.

"It's astounding to see how these phenomena that we're quite familiar with in North America are beginning to show up in cultures around the world," Penner said. He just returned from South Korea, which is reported to have the highest rate of adolescent suicide in the world. Self-injury is a rising problem in Korea, Hong Kong and other Asian countries.

One indication that brokenness is on the rise, he noted, is that cutting is no longer adequate for some kids to deal with their hurt.

The latest form of self-injury is called embedding, when "kids actually open their skin and bury destructive [items], usually shards of glass or bits of metal under their skin so they can just pound on it and cause internal damage."

"The level of self-destructive behaviors that they're choosing to cope are unprecedented," Van Pelt said.

But in the hurt, Penner and Van Pelt said, hope remains.

Often parents are cast as "the enemy," Penner said, with the perception that parents have disconnected from their kids because of self-absorption. The reality, though, is that parents often are "terrified they don't know what to do" with their teenagers.

"Coming alongside parents is a huge part of this," he said, "not to berate them, but to support them."

Churches also need to realize how much they have to offer kids -- not in terms of teaching or information as much as in providing "a safe place to belong and consistent, authentic availability" that teenagers can't find in other institutions, Penner noted.

"We want to help parents, youth workers, educators, and pastors address these very real issues with biblically faithful and time-tested strategies," Mueller, the CPYU president, said.

In the conservative church, Van Pelt said, "there's the sense that we need to circle the wagons and isolate our kids from what's going on," for instance, by homeschooling. But it's a mistake to think that anyone can isolate kids from the culture.

"What we're finding over and over again is that kids are starved for relationships," he said.

That's what parents and churches can offer broken kids.

"Empowering parents to know how to come alongside their kids in pain is freeing for parents," Van Pelt said. "That's where the hope is."

"Hope and Healing for Broken Kids" will be held from 8:45 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, March 13, at the Family Center, 835 Houston Run Drive, Gap. Registration is $35 per person in advance or $40 at the door. Group and college student rates are available. For information and to register, visit or phone 800-807-CPYU.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Punch Me As Hard As You Can. . . .

Did you ever play that game? I'm not sure it's got an official name and the rules are usually made up as it goes along. I remember it having the same name as the invitation the receiver would issue to the giver: "Go ahead. Punch me as hard as you can." Sometimes the target was a flexed set of abs. Most times when I played the target was the outside of a bicep. The older I get, the more ridiculously stupid engaging in the game - particluarly as "me" - seems.

Ironically, the older I get the more I realize that following Jesus is like playing the game. Saying "yes" to Jesus every minute of every day is also an invitation to the enemy to "go ahead. . . punch me as hard as you can." I'm convinced. Still, our desire to live the easy life and to believe that following Jesus should somehow lead to the easy life leaves us thinking that something must be terribly wrong when the frequency of the blows picks up. Bad theology. Jesus told those who have taken up their cross that "In this world you will have trouble." That's a promise. "But," he continues, "take heart! I have overcome the world." Then, he went on to pray for us (John 16&17). My perspective has changed. When the blows pick up, something must be gloriously right! Attacks from the enemy come when the enemy is threatened. The game's not stupid, but a sign of great blessing.

This is all fresh on my mind because of life. . . life for me and the lives of many I love who have been getting pounded lately. In the entitled and comfort-seeking church of America, we tend not to think this way. That's too bad.

Yesterday, I emailed a trusted, wise, and spiritually mature friend about this kind of darkness. He wrote these words in his return email:

One thought I have in response to your mention of the “darkness,” is that I’m sure when we were younger and pondering whatever we thought a call to ministry looked like, we probably naively thought most pastors or people in any form of Christian ministry work from a platform of personal strength and spiritual wholeness.

But if anything is validated by wide reading I have done in the lives of many effective Christians in all fields, it is the suffering, opposition, temptations, depression and general darkness many have had to wrestle with – not just occasionally, but in the long term. This is true for Reformers like Calvin and Luther – they had “fightings within and fears without.” Spurgeon dealt with depression, and many lesser known figures would testify that it was only out of their almost desperate weakness that they ministered at times.

The older I get, the more I feel assured that next in importance right after maintaining courageous Biblical truth, we need both major quantities of humility and compassion to minister to broken people. God allows painful things into our lives that induce these qualities. He needs us to be on our faces before Him!

Do we know what it means to really follow Jesus? And, are we telling the truth to our kids?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Flurry or Two. . . .

I've promised to blog only if there's something to say. The only word I can muster at this point in the week is "SNOW". . . and several times over at that. Maybe this picture of the snow plow I encountered across from our office this morning says it all. . . .

I really feel sorry for this guy. He told me, however, that help is on the way.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Anxious? . . .

Over the course of the last several weeks I've been thinking lots about anxiety. I'd like to tell you that my thoughts have been prompted only by the growing parade of people I meet in my travels who confess deep worry in relation to their current experience of life's circumstances. Because of what I've been called to do with my life, most of these people confess worries related to current culture and their kids. I've run into an abundance of that lately, especially when talking to groups about youth culture. Lot's of deeply hurting people. But it's not just them. As I've gotten older, I have to confess to a personal bent towards anxiety. It's a battle.

I'm glad I don't have to go it alone. The Scriptures offer great guidance that I sometimes find to be easier said than done. . . which ironically can be an anxiety-trigger in and of itself. One of the most familiar commands comes from the pen of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6 - "Do not be anxious about anything. . ." The greek word for "anxiety" can be translated "care" in relation to the daily troubles and challenges of life. It's our inclination to think that the troubles are going to take us down a dismal road to a dark fate over which we have no power. Through anxiety, we attempt to protect ourselves from the things we face.

In reality, my anxiety reveals a lack of trust in God and his care. Oswald Chambers goes so far as to call it "unconscious blasphemy." In Philippians, Paul doesn't stop with the command to "Do not be anxious about anything." There's an incredibly freeing "but" that demands our attention and obedient response: "But in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." That's life-giving. Still, I forget this more than I remember it.

Lately, I've tried to dissect my own anxiety. It comes from living in a culture that not only throws all kinds of anxiety-producing stuff at me, but also a culture that tells me that I need to trust myself more than I need to trust God. It comes from living in an American culture where we have and expect to have everything. It comes from living in an American church culture - yes, even an Evangelical American church culture - that promotes that same message while failing to deliver the kind of rock-hard truths of Scripture that serve as a solid foundation we can trust and cling to in the midst of life's storms. It comes from denying the fact that those storms are actually a gift from God when they drive us to our knees in dependence on Him, and not on ourselves.

Last weekend, God gifted me with a couple of moments where He sent His great truths about anxiety and my response to it bursting into my life with great glory. Because these moments have been extremely helpful to me, I thought I'd pass them on. . . believing that if you would take the time to immerse yourself in them, they would be helpful to you as well.

First, there was a sermon my Pastor, Dr. Michael Rogers, preached on the last Sunday of 2009. I was out of town that day so I missed the sermon. Lisa and I listened to the CD while driving to Connecticut on Friday. Michael preached from Isaiah 40:12-31 on "Our All-Sufficient God." Hearing this explanation of these familiar words was very challenging and encouraging. I can't encourage you enough to carve out 45 minutes to sit down and listen to this sermon. You can do that here.

Second, there was a quiet moment later in the day where I picked up the Fall 09 edition of byFaith magazine. I found and read a great article by Susan Fikse - "Be Anxious For Nothing - Now?" The article included a sidebar by Dr. Paul Tripp, our friend who wrote what I consider to be the greatest Christian parenting book available today, Age of Opportunity. The sidebar is titled "Paul Tripp's Action Steps for Anxiety." So concise. So good. So true. So helpful. Here they are. . .

1. Remind yourself that God is in control.
When you convince yourself that your world is out of control, you are on the verge of paralysis. Watch your self-talk. Are you saying to yourself: “God is in control of this circumstance, He is my Father, and He is ruling this for my benefit”?

2. Accept confusion.
Believing in God’s sovereignty doesn’t make life make sense. Believing in God’s sovereignty is needed because life doesn’t make sense. Your rest is not in figuring out your circumstances—your rest is in the God behind the circumstances.

3. Don’t allow emotions to rule.As much as the emotions you experience will be right, good, and appropriate, don’t let them set the agenda. There is a temptation to do that, but allowing yourself to be pulled away by the emotions of the moment could cause you to regret your decisions later.

4. Distinguish needs from wants.
Be very careful what you put in your catalog of “need.” The minute you tell yourself something is a need, you’re saying it is essential for life. Then you are going to determine that you can’t live without it. It’s easy to attach yourself and your sense of security to the gift rather than to the Giver.

5. Know your job description.
God promises to provide. Your job is to live the way God has called you to live. Instead of giving way to discouragement, look for ways you can contribute to God’s people at the moment.

6. Run to God, not away from Him.God’s promise to us is not first the relief of the suffering—His promise is to give us Himself. He will never turn a deaf ear to the natural cries of a person of faith when life doesn’t make sense. God hears and answers and works and comforts.

The writer of Proverbs says that "an anxious heart weighs a man down" (12:25). I don't want to live with that. I'm grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to cast my burdens and cares on Him.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Are You Ready For Some. . . . Commercials?

It's that time of year again. . . the time of year when companies open their checkbooks and pull out all the stops in an effort to grab our money and brand loyalty. Cost to run an ad on this year's Super Bowl broadcast? . . . $100,000 a second!

Super Bowl commercials have become such a big event in and of themselves that several companies have been previewing their commercials on the internet. I'm especially excited about seeing the full-length ads created for Doritos by viewers themselves. The contest's six finalists preview video made me laugh. I'm a sucker for slapstick.

As we do every year here at CPYU, we're encouraging you once again to use the event as an opportunity to ponder and discuss the role advertising plays in our lives. In addition, we're making it easy for you to think and talk Christianly and Biblically about marketing. This week we've already had some youth workers ask us where they can find the downloadable/printable pdf of our Super Bowl Commercial Discussion Questions. Look no more - you can find it here!

As a warm-up, check out this archive of Super Bowl commercials from years gone by.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Channels to the Heart. . . .

We need good art. . . . something better than the simple pictures on Sunday School papers, the kitschy stuff that all too often fills the walls of the local Christian book store, or the me-centered music marked by repetition that fails to take us more deeply into an awe-filled understanding of who God is. . . and who we are in light of that reality. We've set the bar far too low, and I think we pay for it in a variety of ways.

My friend Ned Bustard, in his book It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, says this: "As believers making art to the glory of God, goodness is not merely something to strive for in our morality, but is also something we should attempt to communicate through our aesthetic efforts. Portraying 'good' well, however, is excruciatingly difficult. The efforts of most artists who attempt to present a picture of 'good' tend toward dishonest, sugary sweet propaganda. They ignore the implications of the fall, and paint the world as a shiny, happy place." Sadly, a slew of forces and experiences combined in my own young life to leave me with a less than accurate understanding of what makes art "good." Gladly, I think things have turned around - at least I hope so! - and I've been learning.

My weekend was filled with artistic expressions old and new that qualify as "good." And as good art does, these expressions cut straight to my heart, challenging my faulty assumptions about life and driving home things that are good, true, right, and honorable.

First was Tim Frost and his email to me about a painting commissioned by Scotty Smith. Dan Arms' "God's Story" captures the realities of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration in thought-provoking and joy-inducing ways that I've never seen before. I will be staring at this one over and over again for a long time. With so many other stories jockeying for my attention and allegiance, this constant visual reminder will serve me well.

Then there was my long-overdue trip to see The Book of Eli. My son Nate saw the film on its first weekend. He came home raving. . . telling me that we had to go see it together. He wondered what I would think. After a couple weeks of daily badgering, I finally carved out time to see the film with Nate. I don't want to say too much, if anything at all about the film. I will say, however, that I was blown away. It's a must-see that says so much about our culture, our commitments, Creation, Fall, and Redemption. It's about truth. . .it's about the Story. Thanks, Nate.

Finally, there was yesterday's worship service and a 300-year-old piece of work that I'm sure many would write-off as "boring" and "irrelevant." Not for me. Singing Samuel Rodigast's "Whate'er My God Ordains Is Right" offered perspective and refreshment as the message of the Book of Eli and the realities of life in my story (as God works out His story) were fresh on my mind. Truth - deep, lasting, and life-giving truth - from the Book.

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Holy His will abideth
I will be still whate’er He does,
And follow where He guideth
He is my God, Though dark my road
He holds me that I shall not fall
Wherefore to Him I leave it all

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
He never will deceive me
He leads me by the proper path,
I know He will not leave me
I take, content, what He hath sent
His hand can turn my griefs away
And patiently I wait His day

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Though now this cup in drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it all unshrinking
My God is true, each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart
And pain and sorrow shall depart

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’s care is round me there
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him I leave it all

This is the kind of stuff I want my kids to know, appreciate, process, and learn from. This is the kind of good art we need.