There’s A Big Problem Among High-Achieving Teens And Young Adults

It happened to Tyler Hilinski.

And Justin Cheng.

And Daniel Green.

And Kim Long.

And Miranda Williams.

And Lara Nosiru.

And Elsa Scaburri.

And Sam Symons.

And a host of others just this year.

These people have a lot in common. They share similar ages. They are all high achievers. And they all committed suicide.

As far as we know, none of these young adults demonstrated the typical patters that society once associated with suicide. They went to good schools to study things like neuroscience and law. Eight students at Bristol University and one from the University of West England have committed suicide in just the last 18 months. Tyler Hilinski was probably going to be the starting quarterback for Washington State this fall. He had just returned from a vacation with his family before killing himself. Whatever pain these students were experiencing was not bound by a nation’s borders.

There are no easy answers here. Christians do more harm than good when we resort to clichés about people “needing the gospel.” The same goes for those in the medical world who seem much more apt to administer drugs with questionable results than to address the actual problem.

I don’t know the parents of these young men and women. We must not assume that this is a result of some major flaw in their parenting. To do so would be reckless and self-righteous. But we can learn from these tragedies. The best thing that parents, educators, and others who have influence over teens and young adults can do is to take the time to listen. Pay attention to what they are saying. Get to know the songs and movies that resonate with them and find out why. But as important as listening is, there comes a time when we have to speak too.

We must be careful that the only words those under our care hear are not, “Do more,” “Work harder,” and “Not good enough.” Again, this is not to say that such was the case with the parents of the people listed above. Even those with the most idyllic family situations make the wrong decisions. But I have spent a lot of time on youth sports fields and I’ve come across quite a few parents who would rather give their kids the burden to perform than a word of encouragement.

The young men and women under our care need to be reminded that their true identity is not found in their athletic prowess or academic accomplishments. They are not the number at the bottom of a 20-page paper. They are not their 40 time. They are human beings created in the image of God. It is that, not their abilities, that gives them worth. And if they are Christians, they are sons and daughters of God. It is that, not their accomplishments that gives them hope.

Balance is required here. If we over-protect our students and children, we leave them ill-equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. But if we train them to be nothing more than performers putting on a show for us, we are setting the stage for crisis when the day inevitably comes that they just don’t measure up. We need to challenge them to take risks but we also need to love them when they fail. And in-between the starting line and the finish line, we need to be ready to listen to their fears and guide them through them. The young men and women under our care do not need us to be helicopters or drill sergeants but they could sure use some adults who care enough to listen and know enough to direct.

I don’t have all of the answers for this. There are not Six Easy Steps here. I’m sad for the families of these young adults. I can’t even begin to understand their pain. But perhaps we can begin to understand the pain of the teenagers and young adults in our lives. Yes, even the high achieving ones who show no signs of doing something as terrible as suicide. It starts with compassionate hearts, listening ears, and a few words of wisdom.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

 

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Thankfully Broken

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I have to preach a tough sermon this Sunday. It covers a passage from the Bible that is often overlooked. It wasn’t always that way. There was a time when preachers didn’t shy away from the topic addressed by Jesus in these verses. Sure, many of those preachers probably could have used a little more grace in their sermons on this topic but at least those sermons were preached. Today, they rarely are.

This Sunday, I’m preaching on divorce.

We preacher types love sermonizing to the choir. We speak boldly against abortion and gay marriage and we should. Once I preached a sermon against abortion and a lady came up to me afterwards to thank me for being so brave. There’s nothing brave about preaching against abortion in the Bible belt. Divorce is a different story.

More and more people in the church have been divorced. And some of those people give a lot of money to the church. It’s been said that people vote with their feet and their wallets. One good way for a pastor to get people to vote against him is to preach on divorce. It’s a sore subject for a lot of people so many pastors find it easier to skip it and carry on with preaching for the choir. People say that they like to have their toes stepped on. They really don’t.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this Sunday’s sermon. All of those thoughts have led me to one conclusion.

Thankfulness.

I’m thankful that I grew up in what society often refers to as a broken home.

I’m thankful that I had to battle with the pain and bitterness that often become permanent residents in those broken homes.

I’m thankful that I routinely saw my mother crying about bills that she wasn’t able to pay.

I’m thankful for those occasional weekend trips to visit my dad.

I’m thankful for a mother who, when she talked about my dad, preferred funny stories from their dating days rather than ones that would fuel bitterness and rage.

I’m thankful for a dad who, when I was an adult, drove me to the side of a middle Georgia road, looked me directly in the eye and told me that he was sorry for the way that I had to grow up.

And I’m thankful for a Heavenly Father who worked in my heart in such a way that I was able to gladly give genuine forgiveness.

I wasn’t always thankful for those things. I spent a significant portion of my life resenting they way that I grew up. But something happened. When I started preaching and counseling and talking to people who have been ravaged by divorce, I noticed something. I wasn’t just sharing information from some book some guy wrote. I wasn’t just giving the Baptist talking points. I was saying what the Bible had to say but I was doing it as someone who had been there. I was like the coach who knew what it was like to play the game.

My mother used to talk about feeling like everyone in the church was staring her down because she was one of the few people who had been divorced. I think about that whenever I preach on divorce. I probably wouldn’t if I grew up in a perfect family situation.

The experiences of my childhood taught me that not everyone who is divorced wanted the divorce. It’s likely that the single mom in your church did everything she could to keep her marriage together and probably lives more fervently for Jesus than you do. There’s a good chance that the single dad who only gets to see his kids every other weekend made tremendous sacrifices to keep his family together. In the realest of senses, his divorce nearly came over his dead body.

God is in the business of bringing beauty out of broken situations and people. Most artists use a perfect blank canvas for their masterpieces. God often uses our brokenness as the canvas for his perfect masterpiece.

Paul wrote it like this.

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout he whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. Philippians 1:12-13 (ESV)

In case you missed it, Paul wrote those words while he was under arrest for the terrible crime of preaching the gospel. I like to think of this as gospel math. Our pain plus God’s redeeming power equals the advance of the gospel.

Unless we have bitter and unforgiving hearts.

There would be no gospel advance through Paul if he had allowed bitterness toward his captors to derail his mission. And there would be no gospel advance through me if I would have allowed bitterness to keep me from forgiving my dad that day on the side of the road.

Forgiveness is supernatural.

Without the supernatural grace of God, none of us would be forgiven for our great sins against him. And without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, none of us would ever forgive those who have sinned against us.

You may not know divorce like I do. But you do know brokenness. Do not allow that brokenness to morph into bitterness. Instead, trust your heart to God so that he can do the supernatural work that only he can do of protecting your heart from hardness. And trust your future to God. Only he can do the supernatural work of turning your pain into a vehicle that advances the gospel.

As I write this, I am beginning the preparation for a really tough sermon that I have to preach this Sunday.

In reality, the preparation for this sermon began many years ago.

And I couldn’t be more thankful.

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Every Child Has Two Options

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Your kids will be known for something. Basically, they have two options. They can either be known for who they once were or who they are becoming.

If you put all of your parental efforts into making sure that you kid becomes a great student or athlete or musician, there is a chance that you’ll get what you worked for. But there will come a time when your kid will be known simply for who he used to be. The fourth grader who could hit a baseball harder than most high schoolers. The really good math student. The great piano player. While these accomplishments are certainly noteworthy, they aren’t enough.

Take Jake Lloyd for example.

You probably don’t recognize that name. A while back, Jake was arrested after leading police on a high speed chase. Earlier this week he was moved from prison to a psychiatric facility. He’s mother says that things are finally looking up.

Things weren’t always this way for Jake. In 1999 he played a young and innocent Darth Vader in the first of three new Star Wars movies. The movie made $2 billion. Some of that money went to Jake Lloyd. He had every young boys dream. A lot of money and a major role in a Star Wars movie.

But when we talk about Jake Lloyd today, we don’t say much about who he is becoming. We talk about who he used to be.

There is no accomplishment in this world that is worth the pain of simply being known for who you used to be.

In speaking to a group of suffering believers in the context of church leadership, the Apostle Peter helps to shift our attention away from the used to be and toward the becoming. The challenge he gives us in 1 Peter 5 is exactly the opposite of what many kids are told today, whether directly or indirectly, by parents, teachers and peers. If you want your kid to be known only for who she used to be, listen to the world’s advice. If you care more about the person she is becoming, follow the words of Peter.

The world tells your son to follow his heart. The Bible tells him to humble himself and follow God.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. 1 Peter 5:6 (ESV)

Teach your kid to follow his heart and he’ll grow up to be arrogant, in debt, sick, imprisoned, addicted and miserable. The heart is evil. It’s the last thing any of us should follow. If you care more about who your child is becoming, teach him to humble himself and submit to God in all things.

The world provides quick fixes for anxiety. The Bible invites us into a process of continually casting our concerns on the One who made us. 

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (ESV)

They make a pill that can help you daughter quit feeling so anxious. But that pill only addresses the feeling. It does nothing to address the source. When we cast our anxieties on Christ, we are giving him everything that we have. We are trusting that, even if our anxieties keep popping up, there is a Savior there to walk with us through them. And he doesn’t walk with us coldly or mechanically. He walks with us because he cares for us. If all you’re after is immediate success for your kids, teach them to mask their anxieties. But if it’s long term faithfulness that you’re after, teach them to make anxiety the check engine light of their soul that reminds them that they are cared for by a sovereign God who is big enough to handle what makes them worry.

The world teaches your kids to keep an open mind. The Bible tells them that there are some things worth closing their minds on. 

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9 (ESV)

G.K. Chesterton said it best. “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” If your son walked around school all day with his mouth wide open, not wanting to miss whatever flavors were around him, you would seek medical help for him. But for some reason, it’s okay for him to do the same thing with his mind.

One of the primary ways that Satan will attack your children is through their belief system. Just as he did in the Garden of Eden, he’ll come at them with his usual tactic of, “Did God really say that?” And if all you’ve given your kids is an open mind, they’ll take the bait every time. It doesn’t have to be that way. They can resist. But their resistance doesn’t come through a crucifix or holy water. It comes through a faith that is firm and a mind that is fixed. If you have any concern at all about the faith your child will have when she becomes an adult, do everything you can to train her in what the Bible says and help her to make her faith her own. If all she has to stand against the devil’s schemes is the faith of her parents and grandparents, she will be devoured. Her faith must be her faith.

Finally, the world encourages kids to avoid hardship at all costs. The Bible teaches us that we’d all be dead without hardship. 

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10 (ESV)

The road of discipleship is a difficult one. There are sacrifices to be made and friends and loved ones who will abandon you. Discipleship can be painful. Success, while often requiring hard work, doesn’t work that way. Like water, it seeks the easiest way in or out, regardless of what damage may be done.

If you take the time to teach your kids what it means to follow Jesus and they follow your guidance, they will get hurt. There will be times of suffering. There will be pain. But this is momentary. The eternal glory of Christ awaits and it is much better than the fading glory of who they once were.

There are two options for your children.

They can either be known for who they once were or who they are becoming.

Which will it be?

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Green Mamba Parenting

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I have a fear about parenting. It doesn’t have so much to do with my specific context of parenting. It has more to do with what parenting will look like in the future.

The pendulum likes to swing. Sometimes, in response to a particular error or evil, we like to carry things to the complete other end of the spectrum, thus creating an entirely new error or evil.

The error and evil that many kids have been growing up under over the best several years is what has come to be known as Helicopter Parenting. And make no mistake, this approach is erroneous at best and sometimes even evil. It has left many kids with no idea how to navigate through the complexities of adulthood once mom and dad and their money aren’t around anymore. To put it another way, it has left us with thousands upon thousands of people in their late 20s and early 30s who are still kids. But, on the bright side, those kids do have a ton of trophies for their efforts or lack thereof.

Here’s where my fear comes in. I’m afraid that in response to this terribly flawed parenting technique, many moms and dads will go to the other extreme. So rather than Helicopter Parents, we’ll see a rise in Green Mamba parents.

The Green Mamba is a deadly African snake. Now I don’t know this from personal experience and I don’t care to but I’m told that the Green Mamba has nothing to do with the tiny green killers inside her eggs once they have hatched. Nice knowing you, kids. Watch out for farmers with shovels. See you in another life. Good luck!

Our kids do not need us to hover over every aspect of their lives. But they do need us. They do not need a trophy just for participating in a sport. But they do need to be praised when they do something right. Our kids do not need us showing up with them on job interviews but they do need us preparing them for when that day comes. And such preparation requires our presence.

There is a difference between neglect and training our kids to learn responsibility and how to take calculated risks on their own. I’m afraid that many parents aren’t seeing the difference. For them, neglect is rationalized as preparing their kids for the real world. This does great harm to kids. Sure, maybe they’ll learn how to fend for themselves but without parental encouragement, approval and grace at the appropriate times they’ll go looking for those things elsewhere. This never ends well.

By all means, let your kids play in the backyard while you take a nap. Let them take the 50 yard walk from your car to their school on their own. Tell them the score when they lose and let them know why not everyone gets a trophy.

But don’t be afraid to hug them. Ask God to give you wisdom so that you’ll know when it actually is a good time for you to step in for their protection. Reward them for a job well done.

The results of Helicopter Parenting are 30 year old kids who are lost when it comes to making decisions and takings risks.

The results of Green Mamba Parenting are young men and women who go through life angrily looking for the approval and affection that they never got at home.

So don’t be a Helicopter Parent.

And don’t be a Green Mamba Parent.

Just be a parent.

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Suppose That You Are The Chairman Of Your Church’s Pastor Search Committee

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Suppose that you are the chairman of your church’s pastor search committee. Most of the handwork has been done. You’ve figured out what type of candidate you’re looking for. You’ve put ads in all the right places. You’ve reviewed resumes. Finally, your search has been narrowed down to two people and you get to meet with them individually today.

Both men somehow managed to meet the standards that your committee has for its new pastor. They’re both young, married, look like a superhero, have 3.5 kids, have all the right letters after their last name and they drive a Buick. Classic pastoral traits.

Your meeting with the first candidate is over lunch and he leaves a fantastic impression. He’s well-dressed and personable. He convinces you that preaching the Bible would be a priority in his ministry. But that won’t be all. This candidate would be a busy pastor. He tells you about all of the ministries he has begun at his current location. There’s the men’s Bible study that he leads on Monday nights. Tuesdays are devoted to a cutting edge outreach program. The Wednesday night program at his church has grown exponentially during his time. On Thursday nights he meets with elders and other key leaders while he devotes his Friday nights to leading open gym. On Saturday nights, due to all of the growth at his current church, this pastor leads a worship service aimed at reaching younger adults who otherwise might not attend on a Sunday morning. And, of course, Sunday nights are devoted to small groups, one of which he hosts at his home.

The old line about a pastor only working one day a week is far from true for this candidate.

Eventually, conversation moves to his family. He tells you how much he loves his wife and 3.5 children. He speaks glowingly of his wife’s hard work of raising the children while he devotes himself to the many ministries of the church. After some small talk, the meal is over and the committee promises to call within the next week.

The second candidate meeting is over dinner. He leaves a different kind of impression. While talking about his current ministry position, his responses are short and to the point. He spends a significant portion of his time preparing sermons and Bible studies but he also frequently checks in on the sick and does quite a bit to lead his church in engaging the community.

This candidate finally starts to say a bit more when you ask him about his family. Like the previous candidate, he talks about how much he loves his wife and children. But he goes into more detail describing all of the nights they spend going to practices, ballet recitals, school meetings and just playing games at home together as a family. There aren’t really all that many evening church events on this man’s iCalendar.

Now it’s time for your committee to make the final decision. While the two candidates have a lot in common there is one thing that separates them. The first candidate is highly dedicated to the ministry of the church over any thing else in life. The second candidate, while certainly devoted to the church, values his ministry to his wife and children over any church ministry.

So which will it be?

The church man or the family man?

When Paul lists the qualifications for pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, he does so in an interesting way. Most of the qualifications he lists are character traits. And those character traits, apart for “able to teach” should be true of all Christian men, not just pastors. In this list, Paul really only gives one responsibility, one thing that the man must do as opposed to the other things that he must be. And this one responsibility has nothing to do with being an entrepreneur, a visionary or a great story teller.

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (ESV)

According to Paul, the most important responsibility that a pastor has, under his devotion to Christ, is his responsibility to love and lead his family.

Find a super-busy pastor and behind him you’re likely to find a church that praises him for doing what they like to call “the Lord’s work.” But behind them, you’ll find an abandoned wife and bitter children who resent him for failing to do what the Bible calls the Lord’s work.

Two candidates.

You only get to pick one.

Which will it be?

The one who devotes his life to the church’s work or the one who devotes his life to the Lord’s work?

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