Friday, December 28, 2012

Teen Trouble. . . TV Worth Watching? . . .

Mention the Lifetime TV network and reality TV shows to me and I'm going to snicker with some skepticism. When it comes to Lifetime, I think of the glut of "Lifetime Movies" remind me more of overly-dramatized soap operas than about anything "real life." The term "reality TV" increasingly sounds like a lie. Take for example the new "reality" series "Amish Mafia" that is filmed here where I live. There's nothing real about it. For starters, why would camera-resistant Amish folks agree to be on camera??? Reality TV is now scripted. . . in painfully obvious ways.

Still, I'm wondering if Lifetime's new reality series, "Teen Trouble" (premiering tonight at 10pm est), might be worth watching. We'll find out. The series follows someone who knows firsthand about a troubled adolescence - Josh Shipp - as he "embeds" himself in the life of a troubled teen in order to steer the troubled teen in the right direction.

As I look forward to "Teen Trouble" with the hope that it will offer something positive in what has become a pretty grim TV lineup, I want to encourage you to give it a look with an open mind and some level of positive expectation. A show like this could benefit us all. Here are some questions to consider as we evaluate just how real, positive and beneficial "Teen Trouble" might be:

-Does the show realistically depict what life is like for today's adolescents?
-Does the show overstate teen issues and problems as a ploy to draw in viewers? Or, is the show balanced?
-What standards are used when value judgments on right, wrong, good and evil are made?
-What role does Christian spirituality and biblical truth (overt, covert, direct, indirect, stated, assumed) play in the solutions offered to troubled teens and their families?
-What worldview is foundational to the show? (Christian? Humanistic? Naturalistic? etc.).
-What truths about the human condition, evil, good, and redemption are evidenced in the show?
-How can we use the show to spark discussions with the kids we know and love?
-How could we use the show in our youth ministries? Homes?

Look. . . life isn't getting any easier for our kids. That's why I'm hoping that "Teen Trouble" opens doors to address, talk about, face, and solve these problems in ways that bring honor and glory to God. Will we be pleased or disappointed? I guess we'll find out.

Monday, December 17, 2012

We Are NOT Westboro Baptist. . . .

I was thinking. . . if the Westboro Baptist Church folks are really going to show up to protest the funerals of the Sandy Hook Elementary victims in Newtown, CT. . . could my youth worker friends in New England pull together their youth group kids (thousands of them!) to stand together between the Westboro Folks and those grieving at the funerals. It would be a symbolic and helpful gesture. I don't know any evangelical Christian who truly understands the Gospel who thinks that the Westboro folks are representing Christ or the larger evangelical church. I don't want my non-believing friends to believe that I believe what the Westboro people believe.

God Bless This Marriage. . . .

Many of you have asked about Saturday's wedding. Many of you prayed for Saturday's wedding. Many of you have prayed for our family for years. Thanks to you all. What a day it was. I walked Caitlin down the aisle at 3pm. I've included a photo that Bethany caught on my phone about two minutes before the door opened and we walked. I was a mess. As we walked down that aisle I focused on two people. . . my wife Lisa, and my soon-to-be son-in-law, Rick. That was all premeditated and I would suggest it to any father who is escorting his bride.

The highlight of my day was fulfilling the request of Rick and Caitlin to offer up the Prayer of Blessing. I prayed long and hard about what to pray. I thought about what God would want for Rick and Caitlin. . . and every other couple in that sanctuary. . . including the couple I'm half of. I decided to write out my prayer, eliminating the need to think on the fly and also to help me get through the emotions that I knew would come with being charged with praying for these two on behalf of everyone there.

Since some of you have asked me about the prayer, I decided to pass it on here. This is the longer, original form of the prayer. I made a few edits just prior to the service and a couple of changes on the fly. However, this is what we brought to the Lord as we interceded for this new family. . . .

Our gracious and merciful heavenly father,

We are grateful that we are able to be here today in your presence, family and friends, all gathered to witness Rick and Caitlin enter into the amazing mystery of marriage. We thank you that in your love you created marriage as the answer to the aloneness that you yourself said was not good. We thank you that you are today eliminating that aloneness, blessing them with each other.

Father, as we come together with Rick and Caitlin to witness and celebrate their union as husband and wife, we realize that more and more, what we are witnessing and celebrating in this room today is seen by many in today’s world as old-fashioned, out-dated, confining, and even irrelevant. The prevailing attitude in our culture is to scoff at the institution of marriage, to not take vows and promises seriously, and to so easily walk away if it just doesn’t feel right anymore. Defend Rick and Caitlin from these and every other enemy of marriage. In your word we learn that Satan hates you, he hates the Gospel, he hates your bride the church, and he hates marriage. Make them aware of the enemy’s assaults on your good gift of marriage. We pray that you would protect these two and all of us here today from ever believing the enemy’s lies. Marriage is your good gift to us. May Rick and Caitlin – and all of us who are married – keep the vows made publicly before you and these witnesses gathered here. . . in the midst of great pressure to do otherwise.

Lord, lead these two into your peace. We ask that Rick and Caitlin would so deeply crave a deep and growing knowledge of you, your Word, your will and your way, that your plan for marriage and their lives would always prevail, even in the times of difficulty that we know are sure to come. Fill them with a deep love and unwavering commitment to you and a deep love and unwavering commitment to each other. Lord, Caitlin and Rick are broken people, just like all the rest of us. When their brokenness rears its ugly head – and it will - may they show the same depth of amazing grace to each other that you have shown to them.

We pray that Rick and Caitlin would burn with a passion to know you more. Bless them with the desire to read and study your Word together, to pray together, and to enter into regular fellowship together with others who love, follow and serve you. Fill their lives with good and supportive friends wherever you may lead them to live over the course of their marriage.

We ask that you would help Rick and Caitlin to cherish and embrace your priorities for their life. Instill in them a desire to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness so that they become rich toward you. Teach them to value material things in relation to eternity. Don’t allow them to have so much in terms of material things that they no longer desire you. Still, we ask that you sustain them and provide for their material needs.

We ask that you would teach them to suffer well. When you invite them into the sufferings of Christ through disappointments, poverty, affliction, sickness, or brokenness, may they see that you are at work, growing them in their dependence on you. Help them to see the world’s dreams, lies, and vanities for what they are, and give them the ability to walk away from those empty things and run towards you. May they glean from their years with us, their parents, those good, true, right and honorable things that we have modeled and taught. And where we have failed as parents – and we have- may they walk away from our faulty words and example to pursue a better way. And father, if you choose to bless them with the amazing and wonderful gift of children, may they steward those children well, raising them in a Christ-centered home where the Gospel is both preached and lived.
Thank you Lord for Rick and Caitlin. They have been a great blessing to Dick and Kathy, to Lisa and me, and to all their friends and family gathered here. Today as they start a new family, and cleave to one another and you, guide them into a life of greater love and sacrifice. May they always care for each other, knowing that you will always care for them and keep them in your love. 

In the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ we pray, Amen

Friday, December 14, 2012

Wedding Tomorrow! . . . Thinking About Marriage. . . Part 3. . .

Well, tomorrow is the big day here at the Mueller house as I walk a daughter down the aisle for the first time. Excitement is building. . . as is nervousness. Lord, help me to be anything but an emotional mess! As we've been thinking lots about weddings and marriages here at our house this week, I thought it would be good to finish up our three part series on marriage in today's culture.

As a parent or youth worker, you’re called and uniquely positioned to systematically work to redeem and restore marriage in ways that rewrite the convincing cultural script your kids have come to believe. You stand between two worlds – the world of the Word of God and the world of today’s culture. Your calling is to bring the light of God’s Word on marriage to bear on the marriage messages they encounter each and every day in their world. Here are some strategies you can use to help your kids understand and embrace marriage, both now and for the rest of their lives.

First, teach them that marriage is part of God’s grand and glorious plan. Walk them through the Creation account (Genesis 1-3) to get them to see that God is the maker of marriage. Help them to understand that if He made it, He should be entitled to define it and rule over it. If they want to understand and experience the joy of what marriage was meant to be, they need to consult with the Maker of marriage.

Second, define, define, and keep defining marriage according to the Maker’s manual. God’s design for marriage brings one man and one woman together into a binding covenantal promise that they will commit to each other through all of life’s ups and downs without wavering or caving. . . even when their feelings tell them to do otherwise. I suggest that you read, study, and teach from two wonderful books on biblical marriage: Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage and Paul Tripp’s What Did You Expect?

Third, re-define “love” in light of God’s Word. Culture has somehow succeeded over the course of time to transform “love” from a willful decision to commit to another, into a feeling. While infatuation might feel pretty doggone exciting, wonderful, and good, it’s only a feeling. It never, ever remains. Neither can it be the foundation for a marriage. Drawing the distinction between other-serving love that gives to another and self-serving love that makes me feel good might be one of the greatest favors we could ever do for our students and their future spouses.

Fourth, debunk the cultural myths and lies about marriage. As I mentioned before, they’re all right there in large portion in the cultural soup your kids swim in every day. Ignoring them will not make them go away. Instead, you need to recognize their presence, explain their influence, and expose their fallacies under the light of God’s Word. Always remember that great patience is required as you address these cultural realities. They are pervasive and convincing. Your students have all bought in . . . incorporating aspects into their beliefs and behaviors. It will take time for God’s Spirit to work through you as you tell the truth.

Fifth, expose your students to examples of what God intended marriage to be. Start with your own marriage. Let your kids know how you and your spouse understand and manage your marriage in the midst of a culture that’s hostile to Biblical marriage. Take your kids to a Christian wedding. Afterwards, hold your own “reception” with  to process what just took place. Talk about the covenant of marriage, the vows, and the place that the Lord should hold in a couple’s marital relationship.

Finally, be forthright about the challenges, difficulties, and delights that will be encountered by all couples. After all, we are broken people marrying broken people. Together, our marriage in a sinful and fallen world will never be perfect. Anticipating the inevitability of struggles goes a long way in preparing your students to live out the marriage covenant when the feeling to do so might disappear or wane. Invite Christian married couples who are at different stages in their marriage journey (newlyweds, 10 years married, 25 years married, 50 years married, etc.) to share their stories and field questions from kids.

I sometimes wonder if the best and most truthful advice our kids have ever heard from culture on marriage come from that now-famous cleric who officiated at the wedding in The Princess Bride! Remember his words? “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam… And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva… So tweasure your wuv.” OK. . . there’s some good stuff in there. But we need to do better. What’s been done to marriage in our culture needs to be undone with the glorious reality of marriage by God’s design. Commit yourself to teaching, modeling, and promoting that message of covenant love.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thinking About Marriage. . . Part 2. . . .

Only 4 days left until I walk my oldest daughter down the aisle. Am I getting nervous? You bet. It might be the longest most emotion-filled walk of my entire life! Does anyone have any good advice for me?

As a youth worker, parent, or pastor, you’re called and uniquely positioned to systematically work to redeem and restore marriage in ways that rewrite the convincing cultural script your kids have come to believe. You stand between two worlds – the world of the Word of God and the world of today’s culture. Your calling is to bring the light of God’s Word on marriage to bear on the marriage messages they encounter each and every day in their world.

I promised to think more about marriage this week. . . particularly in relationship to the cultural forces that are shaping our values, attitudes, and behaviors on marriage. Here’s a short and incomplete list of some cultural forces and trends that serve as marriage maps for our kids, and marriage mirrors of where we’re at as a culture.

First, there’s our growing emphasis on feelings. Somewhere along the way, we’ve come to believe that the guide for all of our decisions, convictions, and priorities is our heart. “Follow your heart” we’re told, “and everything else will fall into place.” If it “feels right” or “feels good,” then “just do it.” The opposite is also true. Our feelings will tell us what commitments to avoid or break. The fallout is severe as we grow up trusting feelings as the pathway to self-fulfillment. Who doesn’t know someone who has justified a decision to divorce by saying, “I just don’t feel like I love her anymore.”

Second, there’s our growing love affair with ourselves. Sociologist Dr. Jean Twenge has studied the rapid rise of narcissism in our culture for the last few decades. She concludes that today’s children and teens are the most narcissistic generation, evidenced in their self-centeredness. In his sermon series on marriage, Timothy Keller says that self-centeredness is the main problem and enemy of any marriage. Since marriage is about submission to another person, it’s no wonder that fewer and fewer young people are eagerly entering into or staying in a marriage. During my daily morning ritual of reading our local newspaper, I glance at the list of people who have applied for marriage licenses, as well as at the list of “divorces granted.” The former seems to get shorter and shorter with the passing of time, while the latter continues to grow with the names of far too many friends and acquaintances popping up from time to time.

Third, there’s the growing acceptance of divorce as a natural and normal life event. Now, you can even purchase greeting cards that read “Happy Divorce!” It’s not a good thing that divorce is more and more common. I think it’s even worse that it’s been normalized while being drained of any stigma that might cause a couple to think twice or make an effort to work things out. The divorce rate has almost doubled since 1960 with close to 50 percent of all marriages ending in divorce. A growing number of children of divorce make up this emerging generation. While they by and large don’t like being children of divorce, they are more prone to avoid marriage altogether or wind up divorced themselves. That’s not what they set out to do, but a lack of good marriage models and a host of other cultural forces combine to make them statistically more prone to repeating the marital breakup of their parents in their own lives.

Fourth, there’s the trend toward cohabitation. For a variety of reasons, over 60 percent of married couples lived together before walking down the aisle. The rate of cohabitation has increased 14-fold since 1970! Children today are far more likely to spend part or all of their childhood in a cohabitating household, than they are to see their parents’ divorce. Before their royal wedding in 2011, William and Kate – like many other high profile couples - lived together. And the response of the church at the time to William and Kate was also a sign of the times. An article in The Telegraph included some quotes from Dr. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. It seems that Sentamu justified the couple's living arrangements because like other modern couples, they want to "test the milk before they buy the cow." That's from a leader in the church who was talking about the Prince who will someday become King. . . and when he does, also become the head of the Church of England.

Fifth, there’s the rapid redefinition of what constitutes a marriage. The “one-man one-woman” arrangement is increasingly seen as archaic, out-dated, and just plain old-fashioned. Almost daily news reports on practices, legislation, and legal challenges to the “traditional view” of marriage have chipped away at our kids as our culture has embraced a definition of marriage that includes any “two people” who love each other. I suspect that with the passage of time, “two people” will quickly morph from “two” and “people” into all kinds of new and unusual definitions.

Sixth, pop culture continues to promote and glamorize all the aforementioned trends and ideas. Whether it’s the lifestyle of the “celebrity du jour” who graces the covers and pages of celebrity weekly magazines (the most popular genre of magazine among teenagers!), the human dating and mating rituals of shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, the dark pages of The Shades of Gray trilogy, the antics of the cast of reality-defining shows like Jersey Shore, or any number of today’s sappy block-buster chick-flicks. . . marriage is being made-over and then glamorized in convincing ways.

Finally, what’s resulted is a deep-seated cynicism towards marriage that’s gripping kids at younger and younger ages. The old cliché – “Marriage is a great institution. . . but who wants to spend their life in an institution??” – has moved from being a poor excuse for a joke, to a mantra that’s reflecting the values, attitudes, and behaviors of a generation. Because of what they’ve seen and heard their entire lives, many feel that marriage has a chance of never working for them.

In Part 3, we'll look at some of those strategies.

Monday, December 10, 2012

DJs, Phone Calls, Humor, and a Deceased Nurse. . . .

The story coming out of London just gets stranger by the moment. You've most likely heard the story by now. Two Australian DJs make what we kids used to call a "phony phone call" to the London hospital where  a pregnant Kate Middleton is being treated for acute morning sickness. While impersonating the Queen Mother and Prince Charles, they coaxed some hospital nurses into reporting on Middleton's condition. When they broadcast the call, humiliation ensued. Then on Friday, one of the two nurses was found dead. . . with the cause of death still pending. The backlash against the DJs and the radio station has been fierce. The show has been cancelled and prank calls banned from the radio company.

This is a news item worth talking about with kids, especially in regards to humor and its proper time and place. Attempts to humiliate through humorous deception is nothing new in the world of morning radio and late night television. To be honest, I've often times found it all very funny. . . quite possibly because I spent a good portion of my pre-caller-ID childhood and college years perfecting and even recording "phony phone calls," some of which have been preserved on cassette tape. Perhaps it's a sign of our changing times and my own developing maturity that I oftentimes cringe with embarrassment and shame at some of the things my younger and not-so-younger self did (or perpetrated).

I sometimes wonder if my developing ability to be comfortable in my own skin hasn't yielded a more civil self-deprecating humor, even though I know full well that I still catch myself crossing the line into territory I should never visit. In recent years, I've come to realize that while both Lewis Black and Brian Regan can make me laugh, it's the target of their jokes that dictate what I should and should not laugh at. When humor is other-destructing (individually or institutionally), is it something that can and should be enjoyed?  Or, when humor is self-deprecating, is it something we can celebrate and affirm? How do we live the Gospel with our God-given sense of humor? It's worth thinking about.

And while you're thinking, give this little self-deprecating bit from Brian Regan a shot. . . .

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thinking About Marriage. . . Part 1. . . .

A chant from my childhood that was enlisted to harass others offers a reflection of some once widely accepted and recently lost foundational truths. When budding young “love” would “bite” one of our peers - disrupting our belief that the opposite sex was “cootie-infested” and thereby threaten the divide between us boys and “those girls” - we’d join our high-pitched pre-pubescent male voices in unison to mock our friend’s compromise: “Todd and Stacey sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love, then comes marriage. . . then comes baby in the baby carriage.”

I know. . . highly childish and immature in practice. But those words captured an order that we understood and accepted as the way things were supposed to be. . . an order we knew was right even if we made the choice to stray before we walked down the aisle ourselves. I wonder what we would be chanting in today’s world, where confusion regarding love, sex, and marriage reigns among young and old alike?

I’ve been thinking about marriage a lot lately. Earlier this year, Lisa and I celebrated 30 years since we tied the knot. In just 10 days, I will  – for the first time - walk a daughter down the aisle. The cultural realities of her world are markedly different from the cultural realities of  my childhood. These new emerging cultural realities have shaped her generation’s understanding of love, sex, and marriage in ways that we must understand if we hope to lead the students entrusted to our care into convictions and practices that reflect the guidance of the Word rather than the confusion that reigns in the world. Sure, there was plenty of misunderstanding and brokenness on these matters when I participated with friends in the mocking chants of our childhood. And the world was fairly confused when Lisa and I walked down the aisle in 1982. But it’s a safe bet to conclude that fewer and fewer young people are growing up with healthy models or convictions that reflect biblical priorities. What God has established, humankind has in many ways put asunder.

When you lift the lid on the “soup-pot” of today’s youth culture, you see a perfect storm of ingredients that have served to change our views on marriage. Imagine what it’s like to spend your most impressionable formative years “swimming” in this stuff that so powerfully shapes how you will view and practice marriage. . . now and for the rest of your life. If you are an older youth worker who grew up when I did, you can’t assume that your students have any notion or idea about the way things are supposed to be when it comes to marriage. They didn’t grow up in our world. And if you’re a younger youth worker, chances are that just like your students, you came of age swimming in a cultural soup full of confusion.

One way to start conversations with students is to discuss cultural icons that depict our current cultural views on marriage. Advertisements offer clear views into our culture's attitudes. I've often used some of the print ads from jewelry chain Simon G. I've included a couple of Simon G's ads in this blog to get you started.

Stay tuned. . . in part 2 we'll look at some of the current cultural forces that are shaping our kids' views on love, sex and marriage.