Should I Let My Teenager Date?

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, I was right in the middle of the Evangelical whiplash cultural course correction following the social revolution of the ’60s and ’70s. This produced youth ministries at the time serving up a steady diet of Hells Bells and True Love Waits.

Purity Rings and True Love Waits

It seemed, growing up in that era, that the great enemies of the Evangelical church were Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll. Drugs and Rock and Roll were solved by creating a subculture of Christian Music. Sex was addressed by creating the purity culture. The goal was good, but the application of that goal I think was very harmful. Wanting kids to live Holy lives is a good thing. Kids need to understand the importance of Sanctification in the Christian life. The way in which it was taught was not helpful to kids or the church as a whole.

I’m talking about youth meetings where a youth pastor chewed a piece of gum and then offered it to someone else to chew. Of course, they would refuse. They’d then pull out a rose and tell the boys to pass it around while they talked about keeping yourself for marriage. At the end they would ask for the rose back. It was bent and broken. The youth pastor would say, “nobody wants something that is used.” Once a youth pastor said, “If you kiss a girl who you don’t marry you are kissing another man’s wife.” The church in the ’90s in its fear of sexual revolution created a sexual revolution of its own.

The problem is not the calling out the misappropriate use of Sex and Rock and Roll from the generation before them. The problem was trying to fix hearts and broken culture with only rules. “This beat is sinful,” and, “No one wants used things,” both come from a human perspective of trying to keep kids away from something. Rather, they could have challenged them to live for something, painting a picture of a God who redeems broken things.

Should my kid…

Should my kid date? I say yes. In the high school years, kids are learning the basic tools for life, hopefully with the guidance of a loving adult. My advice, which goes against the grain of the ’90s purity culture, is for your kids to have many meaningful friendships with members of the opposite sex. The advent of technology has isolated our kids and taught them that real friendships consist of likers of their airbrushed photos. Friendship is a dying art in need of revitalization. Lewis in his book The Four Loves says:

“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”

I am convinced that our kids need to learn the art of friend-making and friend-keeping. They need to learn to have a conversation, with someone of the opposite sex, because should they get married they will need to be talking to their spouse daily. The time in high school should not be dominated by serious exclusive relationships but should be a time, where with the help of loving adults, our kids learn how to be good friends.

Kids need to learn how to have face to face conversation that isn’t awkward with the opposite sex. They need to learn what types of texting is appropriate. They need to learn how to treat people that they are attracted to and how to treat people that they aren’t attracted to. How can this happen if the boys sit on one side of the room and the girls on the other? I don’t believe the path to marriage starts though sexual attraction. I think it begins through meaningful friendships.

Friendship with others starts with understanding whose we are.

I dated several women before I married my wife, Sandra. None of those relationships detracted from my relationship with Sandra. They clarified for me who I was looking for and what I found in my wife. The problems in the single dating culture in the church aren’t solved with a lowering of standards, they’re resolved by asking the right questions and starting in the right place. We are asking, “should we date,” –  the question should be, “are my relationships God-honoring or self-gratifying?” We should not ask, “How far can I go and still be ‘pure’ as a Christian,” but rather, “To whom do I belong.”

The problem with the purity culture of the ’90s was not the concern of a hypersexualized culture. The problem was that the starting point and goal were not God. When man is the starting point and imperatives of our sermons being a used piece of gum or bent flower, you end up with crazy weird applications of truth. You got off course. When you start with God and understand that you belong to him, you are free to have meaningful friendships. Suddenly, you see others as image bearers, rather than objects which have been created by a loving God to reveal to you his mercy and grace, much of which can only be experienced in the gift of friendship.

I remember hearing years later Matt Chandler preach a message about that rose: that no one wants because it was broken and used. He ends the video with poignant finality, “Jesus wants the rose. That’s the point of the Gospel!” This is what the purity movement missed in their desire to protect kids from harm. It missed the gospel. Such a powerful message of our God who redeems. Jesus wants the rose.

Loss, Lament, and Advent Hope

Mary's Song

It will be fine they can try again. I remember saying these words in my head upon hearing that someone we knew had miscarried. By God’s grace, I never said these words aloud. I had no idea the loss and pain that a couple goes through in losing a child through miscarriage. I now know as we lost our first child through miscarriage. Memories of the elation surrounding the first sounds of a heart beating to the depths of despair accompanying the sonogram showing no movement and no growth. The trip to the hospital to remove the life that no longer was. Untelling those we loved the news we had weeks before broke to them was a painful reminder of a life we would not see in this world. The questions of how the baby was doing by well-meaning people who had no idea were a further reminder of our silent pain.

We came through that season saddened but stronger. To this day I see kids her age, and I think of what she would have been like, and it makes me long for heaven. I actually think of her when we put out our stockings and buy presents for our kids. As we gather at Christmas, we are surrounded by those we love and are reminded of those we have lost. Our Christmas fests with empty chairs that serve as reminders of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where every seat will be filled. What I found out in the years that followed is the loss that felt so crippling at the time can never be fully healed by time. It can never be replaced by another child. It can only be understood in light of the incarnation of Christ. Of a God Older than eternity, now for you and me has made himself new.

My wife and I lost our first and only child at the time without the promise or guarantee of ever having kids at all. This created in me when we did have kids being overprotective at times and telling them each morning before I left for work to “be safe” because my kids being ok was what made me ok. All of that changed when I was awakened to the gospel truth of what God had done for me in Christ. I realized that my family had become the functional god of my life. That if they were not ok, my life lost its meaning because I didn’t want to experience a loss like that again. I grew up in church and knew all the Sunday school answers to everything. I went to Bible College and learned more answers to more questions. I really did love Jesus, but it wasn’t until I was 31 years old that I found Jesus beautiful. Up until that point in my life, he was, in all honesty, more useful than beautiful.

It wasn’t until I experienced loss myself and walked other people in our church though painfilled loss that I began to see my need for God’s help like I had never before seen. I came across this poem a couple of weeks ago, and it reminded me of the beauty of Christ and the pain of loss.

Mary’s Song
by Lucy Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.

His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by dove’s voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
all years.
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

For him to see mended, I must see him torn. For him to see mended, I must see him torn. I remember saying something similar one night reflecting on the loss of someone I loved. I remember saying “can’t you see me my heart is broken” “can’t you see this family is torn.” Looking back now the problem wasn’t my heart being torn. The problem was my inability to see that for my heart to be mended I must see Christ torn. Seeing and savoring Christ is the only remedy for a torn heart He was torn so you could be made whole. He was caught so you might go free.

He was blinded in the womb to know my darkness ended. I believe that I will see my oldest child one day. My hope as a Christian is reflected in the gospel hope Jonathan Edwards so eloquently stated: “Our bad things turn out for good. Our good things can never be lost. And the best things are yet to come.” That is the gospel hope we all need this Advent season. Jesus thank you for coming yet still come quickly.

Parents What Message are You Preaching to Your Kids.

One of the more sobering realities in the life of a parent is that your life is preaching a message to your kids. They will leave your house with the message that your life preached ringing in their ears. When I first became aware of this reality, I started listening to myself. You know what message I was preaching? I kept saying “Stay safe and be careful.” I was teaching my kids that risk is wrong. That stepping out into the unknown is not worth it. I have since been more intentional about what I preach with my words and actions.
Recently one of my favorite Pastor/authors Eugene Peterson passed away. At his funeral, Peterson’s son described the one message his father preached in his church and to his family through his life.

“Eugene Peterson’s son Leif said at the funeral that his dad only had one sermon – that he had everyone fooled for 29 years of pastoral ministry, that for all his books he only had one message. It was a secret Leif said his dad had let him in on early in life. It was a message that Leif said his dad had whispered in his heart for 50 years. He remembered these words that his dad had snuck into his room when he was a child to say over him as he was sleeping:

“God loves you.
God is on your side.
He is coming after you.
He is relentless.”*

Eugene Peterson spent his life in a small church preaching a profound message to his church and his kids. One that he often repeated with his words and by the grace of God his words matched his life. Peterson was faithful to his small church he did not need to be a superstar he wasn’t captivated by fame. Bono from U2 called him and invited him to come to visit his home on the French Rivera, Peterson politely turned Bono down because he was in the midst of translating the book of Isaiah. After Eugene got off the phone with Bono, Peterson’s wife looked shocked and said: “You aren’t going?” He said “No” she then said “But it’s Bono!” to which Peterson replied, “But it’s Isaiah!”

He lived the message of a relentlessly loving God in the context of his local church and the life of his family. His life message was that a loving God who created us is in relentless pursuit of us. That will preach. May God give me the grace to preach this very message to me first and my church and family second.

* Quote taken from Glenn Packiam twitter feed.

Happy Reformation Day – Semper Reformanda

Why we still need reformation.

One of the mottos of the Reformation was Semper Reformanda which means “the church reformed, always reforming” With the strength of the Evangelical Protestant Church this seems like an antiquated motto for the Protestant church in its infancy.

However, as we celebrate 501 years of the Protestant Reformation, we are still a church in need of reformation as much from within Protestantism as we are from without. Recently I got into a conversation with several youth pastors from around the country, and the conversation was centered around the question of baptism. The question was posed if we should baptize someone who is currently living with someone in an unmarried relationship. 60% of the people who answered the question said they would baptize someone who is living with a partner. Various responses included “Who am I to judge” “There is no prerequisite in the Bible for baptism.” “Nobody is perfect” “#JesusWould” But would He?

In conversations like these, I am reminded how much Youth Ministry in America needs Reformation. I am reminded of how culture has out catechized our youth, and personal ideology permeated our seminaries. We need a reformation that shakes the foundation of our faith one that places the trust and dependence where it always should have been on Christ alone. One of the things I find helpful in the turbulent mishmash of progressive Christianity and Post Modernity is to look back at old things.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary Events in the News

Parent Advice from Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers

I didn’t have a TV growing up but when I would go visit my Grandma and Grandpa for the summers as a kid I would always watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. He was riveting to 6-year-old TV-less me. Now that I am older and have worked with kids for over 20 years I know why. He understood childlikeness. He understood the hopes and fears of kids and he understood how we in many ways never grow past those hopes and fears we just learn how to ignore or indulge them. We have lost the art of civility in our country and have lost our ability and capacity for wonder. It is something that as a nation we need to fight for. We need to face our fears and regain the hope that cynicism has destroyed.

Our kids are growing up seeing more painful things on TV and social media than many in previous generations never experienced in a lifetime. How as parents do we shield our kids without being overprotective? How do we talk to them about the scary things they have seen or experienced? 

Mr. Rogers gives us the following advice that is so typically Rogers: that is both pithy and profound.

  1. Ask your kids how much they know about the situation they are asking about. We find that their fantasies are very different from the actual truth. (Address their fears and give them hope.)
  2. What children need to hear most is that they can talk to us about anything. (We need to listen more than give quick answers or false assurances.)
  3. We will do all that we can to keep them safe in any scary time.

Kids need our presence and our promise to do all we can to protect them more than the need perfect answers to impossible questions. Don’t avoid hard conversations or difficult questions show up and give kids your full attention and then assure them that you will protect them as much as you can in every situation and God will be with them in every situation and perfectly protect them. Kids like us need assurance far more than they need pat answers.