Friday, November 30, 2012

Kaepernick's Tattoos And My 90% Cotton Shirts. . . .

So sportswriter David Whitley of The Sporting News has spoken on 49er's quarterback  Colin Kaepernick's tattoos. . . and Whitley is highly critical. In fact, in his article on Kaepernick he calls the QB out for being inked up, likening him to an inmate at San Quentin. An article in today's USA Today reports that Kaepernick's adoptive parents are coming to his defense, saying that their son is an upright kid who does indeed have tattoos. . . of some personally meaningful Bible verses. . . covering his arms.

Should a Christian. . . or any human being for that matter. . . get tattoos? I've been asked that question countless times over the years. Usually the asker is quick to provide an answer. . . making it seem more like they're quizzing me on my Bible knowledge or theology as opposed to seeking my opinion on the matter. Most of the askers don't realize that the go-to Bible verse is Leviticus 19:28 where it says, "You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves." Cut and dry, right? Not really. This isn't a black and white issue.

Here are some initial thoughts and responses that came to mind as I read about the Kaepernick dilemma this morning. First, I don't think the Bible forbids tattoos. The context here is a listing of Old Testament ceremonial laws, many of which had to do with keeping God's people from participating in the pagan rituals and worship of the time. In particular, the context references a defiling of one's self in some kind of ritual for the dead.

Second, I know that people get tattoos for different reasons. Colin Kaepernick has permanently marked his body with things that are significant and life-giving to him. If someone marks their body with things that they find life-giving that in fact are not life-giving at all, then there's an issue. In those cases, the issue lies deep in the person's heart, not on the surface of their skin.

Third, we need to think about who or what we hope to glorify through the marks on our bodies. Do we endeavor to glory self? To glorify the things of the world, the flesh, and the devil? Or do we seek to glorify the Lord and Maker of the universe? When I read this article on the back-story on Kaepernick's tattoos, I do think we should have serious concerns about his use - or misuse - of Scripture.

Fasten your seat belt here. . . I must confess that in recent years I have considered (never seriously, I might add) what I would tattoo on myself if I were to get a tattoo. I would want to permanently glorify the way God has moved in my life. It's too personal to be specific about it. . . but rest assured that I also realize that a guy like me could never pull it off!

In our house we've had kids who have expressed interest in tattoos. Our policy has been this. . . "Until you are an adult supporting yourself, you can think as much as you want about a tattoo, but we don't want you to get one." Our concerns are really more about finances, adolescent impulsivity, and possible future regrets. In other words, save your money and give it great thought.

In the meantime, I've got my own sin to deal with. While reading Leviticus 19 this morning I was reminded of the fact that it is wrong to "wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material" (v. 19). I do prefer 100% cotton shirts. I see that that's biblical. Still, I think I've got a few 90/10 blends in my closet. Oops.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Faith, Filth, and Two-And-A-Half Men. . . .

19-year-old Angus T. Jones plays Jake Harper in the CBS sitcom "Two And A Half Men." This week he's put the show on the map with what many are calling a "controversial rant" against the show. . . a rant that was occasioned by his Christian convictions. It's a story that's all over the news. Not surprisingly, the reactions to Jones' words run the spectrum from those who are praising him for taking a stand, to those who are accusing him of stereotypical Christian judgementalism. One commenter posted this under a YouTube video of Jones' "rant": "damn Christians hate alot of stuff."

As one who studies media culture, there's no denying the fact that media does shape culture. Consequently, media does shape people. What media shapes is values, attitudes, ideas and behaviors. It follows that values, attitudes, ideas and behaviors have consequences. By shaping us they shape our society. . .  and we morph and change in significant ways - sometimes very quickly - that most of us don't even see.

The Christian faith has consequences as well. . . and so it should. Following Jesus in the life of discipleship is a path to a counter-cultural lifestyle of living in but not of the world. It is the responsibility of the community of faith to interact with culture in ways that celebrate that which is good, true, right and honorable . . . while challenging, calling-out, and even gracefully/lovingly correcting that which is not.

Angus T. Jones and his comments offer us an opportunity to seize a teachable moment with the kids we know and love. Give the full video "testimony" from Angus T. Jones a look. You can view the full video here. Watch it with your kids. Then, talk about it. Here are 5 questions to get your discussion started:

1. Is Angus T. Jones right? Wrong? Something in between?
2. Does media shape us? How?
3. Should a Christian's faith shape how he/she engages with media? How?
4. What can we learn from this video and the response it has generated?
5. What should we do now?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, And The Diversions That Never Work. . . .

So people went crazy once again on Black Friday. Have you seen the videos of the lines wrapping around stores. . . not on Friday, but on Thanksgiving night?!? Did you see how people pushed, shoved, and rushed once retailers' doors were opened. And people went crazy yesterday on what's become known as "Cyber Monday." Reports are that consumer online purchases yesterday exceeded last year's total by 28%. Supposedly we can attribute the rise in spending to the rise in volume of hand-helds. We're now tethered to "the mall" and "retail therapy" can be indulged 24/7.

How we spend our money and time speak loudly about who we really are. And when we spend our time spending our money. . . well, that's just downright scary. When I was a sociology major during my college days I was introduced to the work of the French social critic Jacques Ellul. He's worth reading. A Christian, Ellul wrote, "The first great fact that emerges from our civilization is that today everything has become 'means.' There is no longer an 'end"; we do not know whither we are going. We have forgotten our collective ends, and we possess great means: we set huge machines in motion in order to arrive nowhere." I believe that if Ellul were alive today, his "huge machines" would include cash registers, credit card terminals, and anything on which we do online shopping.

In his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson writes about the ineffectuality of our efforts to buy happiness, satisfaction, and redemption in anything but life in Christ: "A common but futile strategy for achieving joy is trying to eliminate things that hurt: get rid of pain by numbing the nerve ends, get rid of insecurity by eliminating risks, get rid of disappointment by depersonalizing your relationships. And then try to lighten the boredom of such a life by buying joy in the form of vacations and entertainment." We might add to that last sentence, "or anything else for that matter."

We've run ourselves full speed ahead to the brink of what folks are now calling "the fiscal cliff." We spend money we don't have on things we don't need and we get nothing of lasting substance in return. Unfulfilled, we continue to run (by spending) towards our demise. The great and very sad irony is that the way we conduct ourselves during the season set aside to celebrate the coming of the Redeemer in a manner that reveals how we are looking for redemption everywhere. . . except where we should.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Some Thoughts On Integrity. . . .

I was looking at the paint on our bedroom walls the other day. I painted them four years ago. The job took much longer than I had hoped or expected (doesn’t it always?!?). Even though I’m a perfectionist when it comes to painting, my desire to just get done and get back to life led to a temptation to compromise my usual standards of neatness. My last painting project in our bedroom was our walk-in closet. Because nobody other than my family would be entering the closet and because it would be filled with all kinds of stuff once I was done, I caught myself thinking about painting faster, cutting corners, settling for only one coat, and being generally sloppy because, after all, it was only the closet and nobody would ever know. I wanted to get outside and enjoy the summer.

But my conscience got the better of me. I realized that if I had compromised my standards, each time I walked into that closet I would know that even though the rest of the job looked good, the walls hidden in that dark little space didn’t meet my standard. My painting job would have lacked integrity.

Integrity is an issue for all followers of Christ regardless of our age. The dictionary defines integrity as “firm adherence to a code of moral values” and “the quality of being complete or undivided.” For Christians in my generation, our compromise oftentimes takes the form of putting on a good show for others, while living with lower standards and cutting corners in “the closests” of our lives frequented only by our selves. . . those places that we think are never seen by others. However, as youthworkers and parents, we can be sure that our kids’ watchful eyes see more than we know or imagine.

I believe that the emerging generation of children and teens have learned well from our example. So much so, in fact, that they are now a generation where professing Christian kids are less prone to even try to hide their duplicity. They are marked by an increasing willingness to wear their lack of integrity on their sleeves with no cares about what anybody else thinks. For example, I can talk about being a follower of Christ, eagerly engage in corporate worship, sleep with my girlfriend, embrace a lifestyle of materialism that leaves me feeling entitled to everything, cheat in school, etc. . . . and do it all without even thinking there’s anything wrong or contradictory with any of it. It’s the same lack of integrity my generation has struggled with, but it’s now wearing a completely different face.

Charles Colson once wrote, “The church’s singular failure in recent decades has been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every area of existence.”[1] In other words, we lack the integrity that Jesus calls for when he tells his followers to love the Lord your God with all you are, have, do, and ever will be (Mark 12:30) . . . consistently. Integrity describes a life that is united in a complete and consistent whole. An integrated life is one where words, thoughts and actions consistently reflect the will of God in our lives.

What can we do to counter the loss of integrity in today’s youth culture and the lives of our kids?

First, we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror to see what kind of example we are offering, both outside and inside our “closets.” Prayerfully take corrective action where necessary.

Second, we must map out a lifestyle of joyful integrity through our daily lives. The way we minister, play, work, worship, relate, and live all of life should model integrity to our kids.

Third, we must map out a life of integrity through our words. Never forget that the kids you know and love are on the road to adulthood. Full of confusion and questions, they want and need your guidance. Speak up loudly and often, challenging commonly held cultural standards that steer them in the wrong direction. In addition, don’t be afraid to speak openly about the specific duplicity you see them adopting in their own lives. Spoken in the context of a loving relationship, your words have tremendous power.

May God grant us all the grace to live lives marked by an infectious integrity that fills every room and closet, both now and for generations to come!

[1] Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House, 199), p. xii.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Your Kids Have Seen Pornography. . . . So What??? . . .

It seems like a day doesn't go by without the news featuring some kind of story related to the dark side of the Internet and social media. This week, it's the unfolding saga of government officials and socialites. That's the big story. Thousands and thousands of "little" stories never make the news, but they sure make our lives miserable when they hit close to home.

One incredibly dark side of life in today's tech-saturated world is pornography. We've been examining the issue here at CPYU with some intensity for the last few months. It is incredibly dark. . . perhaps more dark than any of us care to know or imagine.

As I've examined this pervasive and magnetic cultural force I've come to the conclusion that when it comes to kids and pornography, it's a matter of when not if.  It's not at all unreasonable to assume that your middle school or high school-aged teen has seen, sought out, or developed a dangerous and destructive relationship with pornography. That's why one week ago today, we held a live webinar on "Pornography and Your Kids: What You Need to Know and What You Need to Do." That's why this weekend at the National Youthworkers Convention in Dallas I will be speaking on "Growing Up In a Porn Is The Norm World." Again, this is one of those topics I wish we never had to talk about. . . but we do.

Let's be realistic here. . . when it comes to what our kids are doing with pornography today, there will be long-lasting fall-out tomorrow. I talk about that in the webinar. Several people have asked me if I've got an opinion on what the future of pornography holds. In other words, if the world of pornography and what the world of pornography does to change the world is evident in what's happened over the last 30 or so years, what can we expect to see 30 years from now. . . or less? Here are some thoughts:

1. We will see increased frequency and widespread exposure to pornography at younger and younger ages. That's what's called age compression. We know that pornography is already finding five and six-year-olds. That trend is only going to ramp up to the point where rare is the elementary-aged kid who hasn't seen it.

2. Pornography's envelope will stretched to the extremes. There's a growing market for pornography. That  growing market is creating a need for more extreme types of pornography. We're not talking here about naked women. We're talking about even more horrifying and even criminal stuff that at it's most extreme level, depicts and includes children.

3. Like a drug habit, desensitization occurs, creating a need for more frequent and higher doses. Pornography addiction will be off the charts.

4. As pornography moves into the mainstream, it will be increasingly accepted, tolerated, and even celebrated. The use of pornography will become a right - maybe even a virtue - that is nothing more or less than a matter of personal preference and taste. Gone will be our societal ability to label it as wrong.

5. There will be a normalization of depicted behaviors and practices. What one sees is what one will do. This is called social norming. Perhaps this is the most horrifying expectation imaginable.

Now is the time to understand, examine, and address the problem of pornography. We need to be prophetic, preventive and redemptive in our approach. I want to encourage every individual, every parent, every youthworker, and every church to take steps to deal with pornography. A good place to begin is with our webinar - "Pornography and Your Kids: What You Need to Know and What You Need to Do" - which is now available on DVD. You can order it here.

We can't take a "so what???" attitude.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

More Visual Evidence of Cultural Change. . . .

This is one of those infographics that I look at and just gets me shaking my head. Yep, the world is changing and changing fast. What are the benefits? What are the unseen and unexpected liabilities? 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Petraeus, Apple, Call of Duty, and School Photos. . . .

You know the drill here at CPYU. . . John Stott's "dual listening" to both the Word and the world. . . Karl Barth's starting the day "with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other hand." Did you happen to do that this morning? If you executed the drill with this morning's USA Today there's a quartet of stories that should have captured your attention.

First, there's the CIA scandal involving General David Petraeus and his extra-marital affair with his married biographer. Petraeus has stepped down. Second, there's the headline asking, "Is the age of Apple ending?" Third, another story predicts that tomorrow will be a day marked by school absenteeism and calling-in-sick for students and employees who are lining up for tonight's midnight release of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Finally, the paper is telling us that "Lack of coolness factor chills school photo sales."

So what? What difference does it all make? These stories and others tell us much about the human condition, about ourselves, and about how we are choosing to live in God's world. Think about it. . .

In regards to the Petraeus affair. . . the high-ranking and highly-respected military leader known for his commitment to integrity and leadership had the cover blown off his affair with biographer and West Point alum Paula Broadwell. The sad, sad irony is that Broadwell has advertised herself via social media as a bigger-than-life person whose "most important title is mom and wife." Petraeus' own lessons on leadership begin with Rule No. 1 - "Lead by example from the front of the formation." As with all types of affairs, this one was a bomb that was secretly built by the pair. Now that it has blown-up, countless lives, institutions, relationships, and who-knows-what-else have been changed forever. The fallout will extend far-and-wide both geographically and chronologically. These things are not at all benign. Not only should that serve as a warning to us all, but this is also a story about the universal human condition. As I tell youth workers all the time, we are all just one bad decision away from being a headline. And there's not one of us who is above making that one bad decision. It's been almost six years to the day that our CPYU staff sat down to talk about Gordon MacDonald's powerful written reminder about the assassin that lives in all of us, a reminder he penned just days after news of Ted Haggard's indiscretions broke. It reminded each of us of our bomb-building bent and potential. . . and to watch-out. . . for ourselves.

Regarding the news on Apple. . . I'm one person who believes that too many of us have put too much emphasis and stock into what we might call "the Apple factor." Over the years people have turned some great technological innovations and the Apple brand into something synonymous with "cool." But that's not the main issues here. What's most alarming is the fact that we value and embrace "cool" in ways that border on idolatry. As USA today says, Apple has relied on charisma and sex appeal. . . and for that reason perhaps "a short run on top is long enough." OK. . . but this is more about us than it is about Apple. We elevate them when we value charisma and sex appeal.  In his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson serves up a reminder of how this kind of mindless thinking and living is not only a recipe for the temporary, but something dangerous as it creeps into our Christian spirituality: "In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold it if is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for the long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness."

Then there's tonight's release of Call of Duty: Black Ops II. I once had a friend say to me, "You tell me who or what you daydream about, and I'll tell you who or what your God is." That was a punch in the gut. We could say the same thing about how we spend our time. No, there's nothing at all wrong with video games. As Tim Keller would say, they are a good thing. But when we make them an ultimate thing. . . or the thing around which our lives revolve. . . well, then we've got a problem.

Finally, the story on school photos is really a story about the rapidity of cultural change. I love my old school photos and the photos of my kids. They really do tell the truth about how we changed as we grew up. . . visually at least. Sure, we didn't like all of them and "re-takes" were many times scheduled. But there's something real about those annual school pictures. USA Today tells us that there's now a bias against that kind of "lowbrow" school photography shot by the guy set up in the gym. Now, people (the article says it's mostly moms) are paying premium dollar (upwards of $700 to $1200) to hire the hip photographer who will capture their kids in ways that depict "coolness". . . and there's that word again. . . and there's another look into our hearts again.

What's important to us? What do we value? What drives us? The news in USA Today isn't really that good, is it?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Something New From CPYU! . . . .

I was clicking through our CPYU website this morning when I was reminded of how much I love what Derek Melleby is doing through his leadership over our College Transition Initiative. The CTI has been up and running for a few years. Derek's seminars, books, and other activities are garnering great reviews. A couple of weeks ago, we launched a brand new College Transition Initiative Website. It's good. . . . and I want to encourage you spend a little bit of time there. . . .

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day. . . Will You Be Happy or Sad Tonight? . . .

It's a good possibility that half of our country's residents will go to bed sad, frustrated, angry, and maybe even a bit hopeless tonight. If your guy doesn't win what will you be thinking and feeling?

I don't in any way shape or form have this all figured out. My understanding of politics, the political process, and earthly rulers has been has evolving over the years. I've participated in the process by exercising my right, responsibility and privilege to vote. I will do so today. Over the years, I've read, studied and talked about the role of Christ's followers in politics and I've watched Christians involve themselves in politics a variety of ways. Again, I don't claim to have this figured out. But I do know that whatever happens tonight and whatever anyone feels as their head hits the pillow (regardless of who they've voted for), the Someone who is in control has never and will never live in the White House.

Today is a very important day for our country. There's a lot hanging in the balance. Make no mistake. . . this is an important day for our nation. We must be active, informed and involved in the process. But ultimately, something bigger is being unfolded by a Sovereign Someone who is the Lord of the universe.

As you vote today, as you watch the results, as you celebrate or lament the fact that your guy won or didn't win. . . . ponder these perspective-giving words from Psalm 20: "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."

I was reminded of these words as I went to bed last night listening to Robin Mark's song "Some Trust In Chariots." Perhaps you'll find it helpful to listen to and ponder the song a few times during the day today. . . .

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sports Parents. . . Kill The Coach and Scare The Kids. . . .

One of my most unnerving childhood memories has to do with Little League Baseball. I remember exactly where it took place and who was involved. . . .Alverthorpe Park. . . on the Triple-A field. My dad was our team's coach. He made sure that everyone played, that everyone played fair, and that everyone had fun. That's the way it's supposed to be.

On the particular spring night that I remember, the coach of the opposing team - a man with an already well-known reputation for flaring up - decided to flare-up over something about the way my dad was coaching. His flare-up escalated to the point where he challenged my dad to a fight. My dad never instigated or responded in a way to egg the man on. Dad turned the other cheek. The man just blew up in a frightening and embarrassing display of emotion in front of a bunch of scared little kids and wide-eyed parents sitting in lawn chairs. And so, I remember it. . . well.

As I recount the episode, I sometimes wonder how my adult self would have responded if my adult self had been present during the incident. I might have passively-aggressively asked him about his childhood experiences related to potty training and breast-feeding. . . which would not have been a good idea. That approach, while not at-all-right or wise, does get at the fact that people who have grown up having too much of something (pain, heart-ache, pressure, entitlement, parental coddling, etc.) or not enough of something else (love, time, attention, limits, consequences, etc.) often-times act out in inappropriate ways. What's especially frightening in today's world is that the inappropriate nature of such responses are now becoming more and more appropriate, commonplace, expected, and even accepted. Bad sideline behavior isn't just limited to those who have histories.

Youth Pastor Greg Dowell recently sent me a link to an article from a suburban-Chicago newspaper: "Angry parent accused of threatening to kill Lisle volleyball coach." Wow! It seems that John Kasik was a little bothered after his high-school-aged daughter was pulled from a match that her team wound up losing. Included in his outlandish behavior were voice-mail threats telling the coach he was going to rape his wife and daughter and then kill him. Not surprisingly, Lisle was charged with felony telephone harassment and misdemeanor counts of battery and disorderly conduct.

Now that my own kids aren't playing sports anymore, I don't get out to the games like I used to. But the few times I've shown up to catch a game over the past two months have been eye-opening. The behavior of parents on the sidelines has declined rapidly over the last couple of years.  .  .  so rapidly that it's noticeable. There are more yellers. And there are more and more super-intense folks who put more stock in what's happening on the field than they should. It's not just at the games where teenagers are running around on the field. It's happening on fields where the players haven't yet started elementary school!

This is cultural trend we need to watch and derail. . . . in our communities and in our mirrors.

I recently read about a three-decade-long survey by coaches who asked college athletes to think back on their early playing careers. They were asked, "What is your worst memory from youth and high school sports?" The overwhelming response was this. . . . "The ride home from games with my parents."

Wow. That's telling.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Responding to Youth Culture Trends. . . Lessons From Sandy, Part 3. . . .

The perfect storm of youth culture trends I blogged about yesterday is here. We need to deal with it. So what now? A theologian once said that every Christian should start their day with the Bible in one hand and newspaper in the other. Our calling is to speak the truths of God’s Word to the cultural realities that exist. Because the cultural stuff they swim in everyday serves them as a map (telling them what to believe and how to live), we must know where the cultural map is sending them. Then, we must respond by showing them the way of God’s map for their lives. Effective ministries to children and teens–whether in the church or home – are marked by a balanced, three-fold response to everything we see in the soup.  

First, respond to what you see in the soup prophetically. Make an intentional effort to look for and seize opportunities to speak biblical truth into their lives in response to the realities that exist. Looking in the soup will reveal the realities that exist. Spending time with Jesus in his Word will shape your prophetic response. At times, you will find yourself affirming where the map of culture is sending kids in the right direction. At other times you’ll challenge the map where it sends them down the wrong road. Maybe the best way to put forth a prophetic response is to follow the lead of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Do you remember how he did this? He would begin by saying something like, “You have heard it said that. . .” Then, he would lay out whatever the popular cultural belief was. Then, he would continue by saying, “but. . . I tell you. . .” Then, he would lay out the Kingdom way of looking at the matter. Your kids are soaking in a culture that shapes their values, attitudes, and behaviors with lots and lots of “you have heard it said that’s.” Your responsibility it to expose the “you have heard it said that’s”,and then correct them with the scripture’s “but I tell you’s”. That’s what it means to respond prophetically.

Second, respond to what you see in the soup preventively. All parents share a great concern for their kids’ physical well-being when they are young. We know enough about children to know that they might wander into the street, talk to strangers, or reach for hot stuff. As a result, we do our best to prevent them from wandering into the street, talking to strangers, and burning themselves on a hot burner or dish. Likewise, if we care about the spiritual health of our children, we should answer the map’s faulty directions preventively, by going out of our way to equip them to face all of life and its challenges in a way that brings honor and glory to God. They need us to pass on the valuable information we’ve learned about life so that they adopt values, attitudes, and behaviors that keep them from harm and provide for their spiritual well-being. One very practical suggestion is to regularly offer your kids opportunities to evaluate their music, media, and advertising from a Christian perspective. Not only does this preventive measure teach them to think Christianly about all of life, but it opens the door to address all the topics in the media “soup” from a biblical perspective.

Finally, respond to their sin, failures, and mistakes redemptively. All children face temptation, and all children will make dangerous and sinful choices. Remember, they’re young, impressionable and very vulnerable. The determining factor in whether or not a bad choice turns into a situation that gets better or worse depends largely on your response. Your goal should be to help the child and their family redeem these situations by turning a mistake into an opportunity for the child to become a more Godly and Christlike person. Don’t ever write off any child as hopeless or irredeemable. Rather, treat her as you know your heavenly Father treats you – regularly! - when you are the offending party.

I want to pass on one more little bit of advice that’s really, really important. As a student of youth culture, you are going to learn a lot. As a parent, I want to ask you to do me, and all other parents, a big favor. Pass on everything you learn about youth culture to parents. I know this sounds like it might be extra work, and you’re already super busy. But this may be the most important service you can provide to moms and dads. Most parents would readily admit that they’re terribly out of touch with the culture of their kids. They may even feel frustrated by the growing cultural-generational gap that exists in their home. But if parents are the one’s primarily responsible for the spiritual nurture of their kids, doesn’t it make sense that we would do everything in our power to help them better fulfill their calling as cross-cultural missionaries? Use every avenue and opportunity to pass on your youth culture knowledge and insights to parents.

As a culture-watcher, I’ve listened to a lot of music over the years. A few years ago I ran across a song by Tom Petty called “LostChildren.” Even though Petty’s never claimed to be a follower of Jesus, he’s concerned enough about kids and the problems they face in today’s youth culture to intercede on their behalf. In the song, Petty asks the Lord to“shine light on these lost children born to chase the hurricane. . . far away from home,” and to “lead them all home again.” Youth workers, childrens' ministers, Sunday School teachers, and parents are all uniquely positioned to fulfill that task. But first, we must say “yes” to God’s invitation to be a cross-cultural missionary to children growing up in a rapidly changing and very confusing cultural soup.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Major Youth Culture Trends You Need To Know. . . Lessons From Sandy, Part 2. . .

If youth culture is the soup our kids swim in everyday, what are some of the ingredients that serve to shape the values, attitudes, and behaviors of our kids that warrant our response? If you were to stir up today’s youth culture soup, here’s a surfacy look at eight of the “big” cultural ingredients and trends you must monitor, understand, and respond to as you cross-cultures to do ministry (missons work!) with children and teens.

1.      Family Breakdown: Every child you know and minister to was created to live in a family. That’s the place God made for a child to be nurtured into a spiritually, physically, and emotionally mature adulthood. But for a variety of reasons, the family is failing miserably. More and more of your kids are growing up in homes marked by emotional detachment, father-absence, divorce, unmarried parents, single-parents, cohabitation, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. When it comes to the state of the family, things are not the way they’re supposed to be, and our kids are paying the price. And, when the family fails to function as it should, the doors and windows of the home are thrown open, allowing other institutions to raise and shape the kids. And by the time they’re old enough to raise families of their own, a growing number of our kids will have never had a healthy model of family and family roles.

2.      Media Influence: Ever wonder who’s raising the kids in today’s world? It’s the world of today’s media. The latest research from the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the average 8 to 18-year-old is now spending 7 hours and 38 minutes a day engaged with media. . . and that doesn’t include time spent on computers in school or doing schoolwork. . . nor does it include time spent texting! In addition, over 70% of 8 to 18-year-olds have a television in their bedroom. That means they can watch anything and everything, without the benefit of wise and Godly parental filters to help them process what they see in healthy ways, or to make good viewing choices. Perhaps the most powerful media force is advertising, which comes at them 24/7 through every media outlet. With kids seeing upwards of 4000 marketing messages a day, you can rest assured that they’ll never buy every product they see in the ads. But the reality is that the greatest power of those ads is not to sell product, but to sell a way of looking at and living life. Sadly, few if any kids have parents or other adults in their lives taking the time to teach them to think Christianly about this marketing glut.

3.      Narcissism: Researcher Dr. Jean Twenge has studied the epidemic of Narcissism sweeping through our culture. She’s concluded that the Millennials are the most narcissistic generation ever. That’s our children and teens. They have grown up learning that the only holy trinity worthy of their worship is “me, myself, and I.” Narcissism is excessive self-love and self-indulgence, a way of looking at and living life that is totally contrary to Christ-centered and other-centered lifestyle Jesus calls His followers to embrace. In today’s world, even the positive trend towards getting involved in missions and service projects is sometimes motivated by this dangerous focus on self. More and more kids are doing for others in order to pad a resume that will allow them to get into the “right” college, a place they see as a passport to self-centered privilege.

4.      Materialism and Entitlement: Do you know that Jesus spent more time in the Gospels talking about the dangers of money and wealth, than He did about Heaven and Hell combined? It’s true. But we have to wonder if we or our kids have ever heard what He’s saying. Marketing and Narcissism have combined with other cultural forces to create a volatile mix that feeds the belief that “things bring happiness.” The accumulation of stuff is now seen as redemptive and fulfilling, which means that the vicious cycle just moves along faster and faster leaving us emptier and emptier while looking for more and more. What parent hasn’t lamented the sense of entitlement that’s sweeping this generation of kids?

5.      Over-Sexualization: The marketing-mantra “sex sells” has been around for a long, long time. Sex sells for the simple reason that we have all been created as sexual beings. Marketers and media-makers have tapped into these inherent desires and exploited our sexual-fallenness by selling a message to our children that’s left them believing this: When it comes to your sexuality, you can do whatever, wherever, however, whenever, and with whomever. Since 1997, MTV’s “It’s Your (Sex) Life” campaign has been sending this message to our kids: “Fundamentally, it’s your body and it’s up to you what you do with it.” The result is that many kids indulge themselves while exploiting others, with kids experimenting with sex before they’ve even reached puberty. Among the results of the sexualization of everything is the casual sex revolution (friends with benefits, hooking up, etc.) same-sex attraction, and a growing fascination with pornography.

6.      Peer-Pressure: It doesn’t matter how old you are. . . you remember this phrase. . . and the mention of it still strikes fear into the heart of parents. For my generation, peer pressure usually took the form of a spoken, verbal invitation to come and do something that both you and the person inviting you to do it knew was wrong. That led you to sneak around for fear of getting caught. While peer pressure still exists, the nature of peer pressure has changed. In today’s world, peer pressure is an unspoken expectation to participate in behavior that the overwhelming majority of your peers think is normal and right. That means that peer pressure in today’s world is not only stronger, but much more difficult to resist.

7.      Amorality: During my childhood, my wrongdoing usually set a series of events in motion. If (let’s just say!) I got caught doing something I shouldn’t have been doing at my friend’s house, three things would happen. First, my friend’s mother would get angry and discipline me, usually with a restriction from playing with my friend for a couple of days. As I would head home with my head down, I knew that she was calling my mother on the phone. Which then. . . would lead to the third thing. . . the punishment I’d get when I got home. Everyone seemed to agree on matters of right and wrong. Behavior either conformed to a standard of morality (moral behavior) or it didn’t (immoral behavior).  With that shared standard disappearing in today’s world, everyone does what’s right in their own eyes. Not only that, but we give everyone else the latitude to do what they want, even if that differs from our own personal standards of right and wrong.

8.      Over-parenting, Over-protecting, Over-praising: This ingredient works to up the ante on several of the culture-soup ingredients we’ve already mentioned. In today’s world, we over-parent by doing everything and giving everything to our kids. Kids who have everything done for them don’t learn how to do things for themselves. Kids who get everything only get spoiled and want more. And when we over-protect our kids by running interference for them anytime they make a mistake, we teach them that actions don’t have consequences. . . which then leads to entitlement. Finally, when we over-praise, we teach our kids to think more highly of themselves than they ought. . .which could eclipse the understanding we want them to have of their sin and desperate need of God’s grace. Make sense?
Tomorrow, I'll blog in Part 3 of this series on "What now?"