It seems that every time we turn around there is another famous, semi-Christian famous, wanna-be-famous person sticking a skewer in the heart of Christian Orthodoxy. A couple of weeks ago the latest person to come out for the redefinition of Christian marriage was Eugene Peterson. He is also the latest person to come out and then affirm the Biblical view of marriage. I have grown to really respect Peterson over the years and I am not here to let Peterson have it. I think there was a lack of clarity in even his retraction yet I am comforted by his understanding of scripture and his years of faithful teaching. I do think this “Peterson” moment is instructive for us in a couple of ways. 1. You will be asked what you believe no matter who you are. 2. You will be asked to clarify why you believe what you believe.
Should your kids watch 13 Reasons Why? When you are asked this question what are you going to say? Questions about watching things or consuming culture that is questionable come up over and over again in life and ministry. I remember when I was first a kids pastor Harry Potter and Pokemon were all the rage. Parents would ask if their kids should participate at that time I looked at everything in the world with two lenses that aren’t horrible just incomplete. I saw everything through a secular/Christian framework. If you lead with only this framework, you tend to create kids who feel they are good based on what they avoid rather than see the world the lens of what they should love. It also tends to create a Christian subculture that the Bible never advocates for. We are to be in the world not separate from but also not defined by the world. This creates for us a paradoxical relationship between us and the world we live in.
In making things about what we avoid we unintentionally do what the Jews did we add to the Law of God many times good prohibitions that end up being a crushing burden the law was never intended to be. The role of the law was to reveal our sin, show us our need for a savior, and then direct us to how life works best. It was never intended to create a crushing burden. As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to listen to “secular” music much of which my parents were right to prohibit. The problem is how the line was drawn. Christian music was defined primarily by the personal profession of faith by the lead singer of the band. I could never understand why this didn’t apply to clothing labels, movies or restaurants but I digress.
To distil everything into a good/bad litmus test you end up creating weird rules to determine what is ok and what should be banned. This can work, but it doesn’t give kids the tools they need to analyze culture the turn to cultural experts they trust to give them the thumbs up or thumbs down. This does little to help our kids navigate the complex world we live in. The question we should be asking is not is the good or bad? But is this true, good and beautiful.
Is this true?
The first question we have to ask is “Does this align with the truth of God’s word?” There are many things in this world that are not mentioned in the Bible such as Pokemon but does the story that the cultural good in question tells point us to the truth of God’s word or away from it. All truth is God’s truth, so even people who don’t profess to know Christ can proclaim his truth because of common grace. Does 13 Reasons Why advance God’s truth? No, it doesn’t. It diminishes the understanding that man is made in the image and likeness of God. It attaches our hope to our appetites.
Is it Good?
Is this thing good? We must teach our kids to cultivate goodness. The question for music, books, clothing is not “Did the person who created this ever make a profession of faith in Christ?” The question should be “Is this cultural item good or bad? Music is either good music or bad music. The goodness is defined not by the style but the content message and call to action. Does this song, book, clothing or art piece lead to human flourishing?
Is it Beautiful?
The God we serve is a self-revealing God. Does the cultural item in question point beyond itself and point you toward that which is truly beautiful. The pastor and poet George Herbert does this for me, but he was a Christian. Augustine does this for me. What about pagans? Plato, Aristotle, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh were atheists all of which produced art that is beautiful because it points beyond itself to the world that created by God. Does 13 Reasons Why point to beauty beyond itself. I would say no as it has inspired many kids to take their lives because of the despair they find themselves in. Rather than point kids to greater hope, it feeds their despair.
Does it Glorify God?
The Last question we ask is, does this glorify God? As those who follow Christ, we are to live for the Glory of God alone. One of the foundational principles of the Protestant Reformation was Soli Deo Gloria for the glory of God alone. We must live, work, create and consume with this question “Will God be glorified by my creation or enjoyment of this thing?” If the answer to this question is no then avoids it if it is yes enjoy it and thank God for it. As Christians, we must be careful that we are not defined primarily by what we avoid, but we must strive to be defined by who we do all things for.
If our kids grow up with a secular sacrad view of the world they live in they will be unable to meet the demands the world creates. They will be ineffective at best and Pharisees at worst. We must teach them to long for the the good, the true, and the beautiful that in their lives Christ would be glorified.
Soli Deo Gloria
What if I told you that if you did just one thing as a family it would change everything. What if I told you doing this one thing would mean, less trouble with drugs and alcohol, eat healthier, show better academic performance, and report being closer with their parents.
Well tell us already! What is the one thing?
One the things that you notice the older you get you start to realize how much you have been given and how precious the time is that you have left. The things that I think kids will remember more than just doing things or going places is the traditions you build as a family. We have started a few in our family, when our kids turn 10 we go on an adventure anywhere they want to go for 6 days, when they turn 13 we are going to do a mentor dinner. We are always looking for ways to create memories but also to help them grow and deepen their faith. Recently a couple things happened that created for us another opportunity to deepen their faith and leave a legacy that reaches past us to our grandkids and even great grandkids.
After my grandfather passed several years ago I remember looking through his Bible with his daily devotional stuffed inside still open to the devotion he completed the same day the Lord took him home. I remember looking through the passages he underlined and wondering why those particular ones stood out to him. I remember wondering what he was thinking or facing in the moments God was speaking to him through the scriptures. Then two weeks ago I finished a biography on Martin Lloyd-Jones the author was talking about how we visited his church stood in his pulpit and even looked through Lloyd-Jones’ pulpit bible. The visceral connection between the author and the owner of the Bible was so tangible in the author’s experience at that famous English church where Dr. Lloyd-Jones spent his life making the Bible come to life through his powerful exposition. I realized at that moment I want my kids to have that same experience.
In doing the 10-year-old adventure I want my kids to know that their family loves them, in the mentor dinner I want them to know they are part of a bigger family, that being their church. What I want them to know when they graduate is that for all the knowledge they can acquire the Bible is the greatest source of truth and life, and it is on the Scriptures Alone we base our life and our decisions. The best way I could think to do that is for them to see me not only read a physical Bible in an age of digital everything but also to chronicle it for them what I was thinking, feeling and hearing as they were eating Lucky Charms across the breakfast table from me morning after morning.
I reached out to the folks at Crossway and they were extremely generous in gifting me a copy of their exquisite ESV Natural Leather Journaling Bible. It is much more portable than I was expecting and the leather and typeset are fantastic more importantly it is real leather with a stitched binding so it will last as I use it and will hold together long after I am gone. I plan on using it for the next year to two years to chronicle my devotional thoughts, sermon preparation, and personal reflection. My hope should God allow is to do this for each of my kids and gift them their Bible upon graduation from High School. Realizing I can’t make my kids love the Bible but I can help them see how I treasure it above all things. We live in a world that is temporal and fleeting the best thing you can do for your kids is to let them know they are loved, to see the church as formational and the Scriptures foundational.
One of the things that we often hear in conferences and online is we need to be partnering with parents. I could not agree more. We live in a transient culture like we never seen in history. People change churches, change cities and change jobs with a frequency that is unrivaled. As you look through church history, there was a very strong emphasis on family worship the idea that our kids are spiritually educated by the church primarily is a relatively new idea. These two realities create an atmosphere that is both challenging and dangerous.
It is because of the lack of family worship and the transient nature of the family that we must be more intentional about partnering with families like never before. Most conversations I have with other kids pastor, and youth pastors about partnering with parents usually end in agreement that it should be done but at a loss for how to make that happen. We have tried things over the years that didn’t work. One of the mistakes I made over the years was to create programs or resources that didn’t meet the needs of the families I serve. They were good but not strategic. I was answering questions parents weren’t asking.
What if in partnering with parents we don’t try and create programs and resources that meet our needs but what if we answered questions our parents were asking? I think part of our problem in partnering with parents is we are giving them things that aren’t useful or are only helpful to some. Parents don’t need more info. If you have three kids in school at any given time, you will be buried under the avalanche of things to do things to be signed, and that doesn’t even include everything for every sport or activity. What if we stopped giving them information about that we think they need and start answering questions they keep asking us. What if we took that question and asked: “Does this need to be a program or a resource?”
We have a few of these in our church our Baby Dedication is a program and a resource, our baptisms are a program and a resource. This last week we put the final touches on a resource that we have worked on for a while. We call it first steps, next steps. The idea is to give three short answers to questions our parents ask us often as a “First Step.” Just enough to be helpful but not too much to overwhelm. If people want more than those three short answers provide we have “Next Steps” which is a website with a six to eight-page paper available to elaborate on the question that the three questions only begins to cover.
Here is a look at what our First Step card and Next Steps paper look like.
10 Page PDF downloadable with more information for parents wanting more.