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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Parenting Books And A Friend Like Keith

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Ten years ago, when I found out that I was becoming a father, I was a little scared. Growing up in a single-parent family, I wasn’t around a continual example of fatherhood. My mom was great but she couldn’t be a dad.

I taught myself how to throw a baseball and shoot a basketball. That didn’t end well for me. I didn’t even bother trying to teach myself how to change brake pads or replace a water heater. To this day, pretty much all I have to offer in that category is, “Lord, please keep my brake pads and water heater working properly.” So far, so good.

Fatherhood really worried me. I knew that I was supposed to be a godly father but I wondered if I really knew what that meant. Is it just a matter of going to church? Can I get away with just telling my kids, “If you can’t be good, be careful” when I drop them off at the skating rink? Do kids still get dropped off at skating rinks?

Keith Keller is the wisest man I know. He makes me think about things I otherwise wouldn’t. There’s no telling what kind of casual Christianity wasteland I’d be in if it were not for him. A lot of people can say that about Keith Keller.

When Keith found out I was going to be a dad, he gave me a call to congratulate me. And then he gave me some wisdom. It wasn’t that kind of, “Look here, boy, this is what you need to do” wisdom that a lot of people share without being asked. Keith was humble when he told me, in so many words, “Look, people are going to be telling you all kinds of stuff and recommending all of these books to you but here are two that I think you should read.”

The first book was called On Becoming Baby Wise. In some circles, saying that you followed what was written in that book is about like being caught with a copy of Mein Kampf. And in others, if you haven’t read Baby Wise, you need to be brought before some parenting court. People either hate that book or they belong to a cult where they worship it. It helped my kids learn how to sleep and, so far, they haven’t turned into serial killers so I’m thankful for it. Just not thankful enough to join a cult.

The other book was even more beneficial. It’s called Shepherding A Child’s Heart and it was written by Tedd Tripp. Once my kids learned how to get to sleep on their own, I quit thinking about Baby Wise. I’m ten years into parenting and I still haven’t quit thinking about Shepherding A Child’s Heart.

Most parents settle for some version of behavior modification whenever their kids start acting crazy. When little John Henry gets caught pouring paint all up and down aisle seven at Wal-Mart, John Henry’s mom goes nuclear in order to get him to stop. Once he does and she’s away from the scene of the crime, the problem is solved. Or so she thinks. Really, all she’s done is applied a bandage to a cancerous mole. It might look like the problem’s gone but it’s still there. And it’s deadly.

Shepherding A Child’s Heart, while certainly not neglecting the importance of discipline, encourages us to address the real root of the problem. Our kids do not simply have behavior problems. They have heart problems. They have a sin problem.

I’ll spare you the book report. If you are a new parent or you know someone who is, Tedd Tripp’s book is a must read.

I don’t remember most of the gifts that my wife and I got while we were expecting our first child. I’m sure that there were a lot of diapers involved. For that, I am thankful. Well, I was. Not so much now. Those days are gone. But I’ll always be thankful to my friend Keith Keller who gave me a couple of solid book recommendations. And I’ll always be thankful to God for giving me a friend like Keith Keller.

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The Good News About Ouija Boards

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The cartoon voices I was hearing suddenly changed.

That’s probably a bad way for me to start things off here. Please don’t report me.

The voices I was hearing were coming from my television, not my head. My kids were taking it easy and watching one of their favorite shows. But while I was crawling under the Christmas tree to add some extra water, I noticed that the voices had changed. The characters weren’t the same. My kids were watching an entirely different show.

My first assumption was that some intern down at cartoon headquarters hit the wrong button and switched shows before he was supposed to.

It turns out that I was wrong.

My kids told me that the characters on the show they were watching started talking to spirits and playing around with ouija boards. Now remember, this was a Saturday morning cartoon.

Ouija boards.

Ouija boards!

What ever happened to the days when all we had to worry about was the Coyote dropping an anvil on himself?

Something didn’t sit right with my boys. So they changed the channel. Now to be fair, the cartoon they switched to had characters who were farting on each other but I’ll take that over ouija boards any day.

I was proud of my boys for their discernment and I told them so. The decision they had made on their own reminded me of a few important things about parenting.

First, unless you want your kid to be featured on Intervention or Celebrity Rehab one day, don’t use the television as a babysitter. Just because it’s a cartoon doesn’t meant that your kids should be watching it.

Here’s the second lesson. Remain in an open conversation with your kids. When you watch television together and you find garbage, don’t just change the channel. Explain what the problem is. And then change the channel. Do this quickly.

Finally, you can’t and shouldn’t be with your kids at all times. If you are, it will do just as much harm to them as allowing the TV to be their babysitter. At some point, they have to make their own decisions. And those decisions will be based on the way that they see you making your decisions. If you allow the media to spoon feed you whatever it is that they happen to be selling that day, your kids will be down for the same thing. But if they see you questioning the narrative and calling evil what it is, there’s a good chance that they’ll follow in your footsteps.

Our kids won’t always make the right decisions. There will be times when they keep watching what should have never been on in the first place, when they say what they should have kept to themselves and when they do something really, really stupid. Our children, it turns out, are just like us. We all do dumb things.

But when they get something right, you need to let them know.

When I praise one of my sons for doing something right, he usually says the same thing.

“Can I get paid for that?”

We’re a capitalist family.

I always say no when my son asks me that question. There are some things you just do because it’s the right thing to do.

But a parent’s job is more than simply training kids to make right decisions. It goes deeper than that. The job of a parent is to train the hearts of our children to spot foolishness when it pops up. Even if it happens to be during their favorite show.

You can be sure of this. Your kids are growing up in a world of foolishness. Without your instruction, they’ll never know the dangers that are waiting for them. They’ll believe everything every professor, pastor and politician ever tells them. As they get older, the ouija boards are less obvious but they are most certainly still there.

The bad news is that you won’t always be there.

The good news is that your influence can be.

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The Proper Response To The South Carolina Church Shooting

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When a tragedy like Wednesday evening’s church shooting happens, there are always two types of first responders. One group of first responders is made up of law enforcement and medical personnel who quickly arrive on the scene, usually at great risk, to do the job that few of us want. We need these first responders. Many times, after all of the dust has settled down, their stories are the ones that provide us with hope and inspiration.

There is another group of first responders and they provide us with something quite different. These first responders don’t usually show up at the scene. In fact, they rarely know anyone involved or any of the details of the situation. But still they respond.

They respond by using the tragedy as a trampoline of sorts to catapult their particular agenda into the spotlight. These are the types of first responders that we don’t need, especially from within the body of Christ.

Thursday morning I made the mistake of listening to people on the radio talk about the South Carolina church shooting. After a grand total of ten minutes, I heard the radio host say that the cops should look into a bomb threat that had been reported at a hotel near the church, “because that’s how it always happens in the movies,” and how the suspect’s haircut meant that he was likely a person of influence who was being protected by powerful people.

First responders at the scene with badges and medical bags are brave.

First responders on their keyboards and microphones are usually foolish.

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. Proverbs 17:27-28 (ESV)

I, like many people, am a fan of guns. But this tragedy isn’t our opportunity to go on social media and annoy everyone with posts about how this never would have happened if more people shared our passion for firearms.

Nor is this the opportunity to ramble on and on about tougher gun laws.

What we need is a third group of first responders. These first responders aren’t equipped with special training and may never be considered heroic but they are just as important as the men and women in uniform. And these first responders are devoted to something much more important than getting their opinions out to the public.

These first responders, before they do anything else, pray. They pray for justice. They pray for peace. They pray for the hurting.

And they cry with the hurting.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Romans 12:15-16 (ESV)

They do this because they don’t see what happened in South Carolina as a political event or an opportunity for social analysis. They see it for what it is. Evil. And as a result of this particular evil, nine people lost their lives.

Nine people.

Not nine Democrats or Republicans.

Not nine blacks.

Not nine church folks.

Nine people.

Nine people created in the image of God.

Look, we all have opinions and our own ideas for solutions when tragedies like this happen. That’s good. But at least for a few days we should keep them to ourselves. Or maybe we could just share them with friends over a meal.

The people impacted by this tragedy do not first need our opinions, theories or even our passions.

They need our prayers.

And our tears.

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A Rough Draft Of The Speech I Would Have Given To The Future Pastors Graduating From Some Swanky Bible School Had I Not Already Made Other Plans

Hello Graduates. Congratulations on this accomplishment.

Most of you are going to move on to serve as pastors. That means that you probably won’t amount to much, at least in the world’s eyes. Maybe even in the Church’s eyes. The majority of you will never serve at a large church in a large city. Most of you will go to a small, rural town somewhere in the Bible Belt to pastor a church that’s been around for a couple of hundred years, burned down once or twice and split four times.

You’ll be tempted to think that this is the minor leagues. You’ll want to put in your time here, maybe 12 to 18 months, and then move on to The Show. Don’t do it. Remember, Jesus died for people in large cities with progressive art communities and people in small towns where the sheriff’s office is a mobile home. Here are a few other things that you’ll want to remember.

1. Stay put.

You’re probably not going to go to your dream church right out of the gate. So do everything you can to make your first church your dream church. God may move you to another place after a few years and that’s okay. But when you accept the position, accept it for the long haul. Real ministry cannot be done in six months.

2. Adapt.

My friend’s son is in the Marines. He told me that the drill instructors told his son that they were going to teach him how to swim.

“But I already know how to swim,” he thought.

“No you don’t.”

Marine drill instructors are good at mind-reading.

You probably think you already know how to do ministry and maybe you do. But you most likely don’t know how to minister in the context where God will place you. Learning how to do this takes time and humility.

3. Love your people.

Don’t play games with them.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve had several churches offer me a job and for a lot more money than I get here. But, I’ve decided to stay.”

Translation: “You’ll give me a pay raise if you know what’s good for you.”

Peter would call this “shameful gain” (1 Peter 5:2). Pastors who love their people aren’t trying to get more money out of them. But if you don’t love, you won’t care and it won’t take long for your people to know it. Good luck trying to lead people who know that you don’t care about them.

4. Enjoy.

Ministry can be difficult and it will be. But it doesn’t have to be all the time. Remember, joy isn’t a sin, it’s a commandment.

5. Lead.

Don’t be a hireling. Hireling’s shy away from difficult decisions because they’re afraid of losing a paycheck. If you’re worried about this, find another career. Leaders are willing to take risks for the glory of God and the good of his people.

6. Grow thick skin.

There are mean people out there. Some of them will say mean or dumb things to you. That’s not just a part of ministry. It’s a part of life. Learn to deal with it and be quick to forgive. Forgiveness will probably come easier for you if you think about some of the mean things you’ve said or thought.

7. Pastor your family first.

This is what Paul was driving at in 1 Timothy 3. It’s impossible to care for the bride of Christ if you can’t even care for your own bride. And if you want to raise sons and daughters who will hate God and his Church, abandon them for yet another crucial meeting. But if you really care about your wife and what kind of adults your kids will grow into, tell the local association to find someone else to work all night every night planing that big outreach event involving puppets and people doing a glow stick routine to Arise My Love.

8. Theology.

When I first started out in ministry, I thought that theology didn’t matter that much. Just love students, play air hockey with them and keep them from getting one another pregnant. And then a student asked me what I thought about Spirit baptism. Before I could answer, another student spoke for me.

“He doesn’t know. He’s just the youth minister.”

Sadly, he was right.

Just because your church is full of people who’ve grown up there, doesn’t mean that they’ve been taught right. Take the time to know the word, live it and teach it to others.

9. Cut the grass.

Ministry takes time. You may never see the fruits of your labors here on earth. So you need to do something that gives you instant gratification. I can’t think of anything better than cutting the grass. But, for crying out loud, don’t wear church socks and sandals while cutting said grass. Just because you are a pastor doesn’t mean that you have to dress like one.

10. Exercise.

If you make the slightest attempt at doing these things most of your people will love you. And when people in small rural towns love you they try to kill you. Well, not on purpose. They really do mean well. But for many of them, their way of expressing love involves deep fried pig ears with a side of cheese casserole and a big glass of sweet tea. Enjoy. But go for a run or hit the weights as much as you can. It will prolong your ministry, help you to burn off stress and keep you from getting invited to be on the next season of The Biggest Loser: Pastors Edition.

[So this is pretty much what I would have said at graduation had I not been too busy training for my upcoming UFC title fight to accept the invitation.

Or I might have just read Oh the Places You’ll Go.]