Three Things Every Christian Teenager Needs

Tonight I am meeting with the leaders of our Church youth group to make the final plans for our weekly program. It kicks off in a week, and I am excited to start meeting with our young people and shaping their lives for Jesus.

Through the years, I have watched one student after another walk through the youth programs under my care. In that time, I have noticed three things every teenager needs for their spiritual growth.

  1. Older to Younger teaching. Each child needs the instruction that comes with age. I try to gather around myself youth sponsors and leaders who have a love for Jesus, knowledge of the scripture, and enough life experience to help our teens.
  2. Peer to Peer Encouragement. These young adults need to see that other people believe the same things they do. They need Christian friends who can walk beside them on their journey.
  3. Influence Over Someone Else. The older teens need to help lead the younger students to grow in faith. They need to see their life as having an impact just by their presence.

In my experience, the last one of these is the hardest for our youth to understand. It pains me as students come through the program and then quit their senior year. When asked, they will tell me they are too busy. When pressed harder on the issue, I will usually get the same response, “There is nothing much in it for me.” I am then greeted by a blank stare when I ask them, “Who told you that the group was all about you?”

The journey from being a new journey high student to a graduating senior is a long one. It twists and turns and requires guidance. Sometimes our kids will need to receive it, and other times they will need to give it. All aspects are essential in developing a complete and mature follower of Jesus.

Where is Fred Harris When We Need Him?

Someone recently said that sentence to my mom. The Church she attends is struggling to move to the next level, and this person felt they lacked the leadership needed to move forward.

My dad was never the most popular guy in the room. He tended to be direct, confronting, and stubborn. He could see what needed to be done and did it. He saw who was not carrying their weight and confronted them. He called people to service of the Lord at a higher level and pushed for the Church to move forward. He did this as a trustee, then a deacon and finally as an elder for most of his last 30 years. Now he is gone.

The statement to my mom was not a longing for the past but merely a question of the future, “Who will fill his shoes?” I understand the question because I talk with my Church leaders about it regularly. We wonder who is going to rise up to lead the Church and the people of God into the future?

Honestly, we don’t need another Fred Harris. He was one of a kind. What we need are men and women who are willing to lead the Church in the name of Jesus. We need people who will call Christians to live at a higher level. We need people like you to step up and lead the way into a greater future. We need you to be the kind of leader that leaves a void when they are gone.

As a son, I am proud of the legacy my dad left. I wonder, “Will your children be proud of your legacy of faith? Will people miss you when you are gone?”

There is still time to become the kind of leader that the Church needs today.

The Thing About Predicting the Future

Is that you cannot do it, no matter how much you try.

Recently I have noticed numerous attempts to predict the future ranging from how you will look in 30 years to what the Church will be like in 25 years. Every time I see anything that tries to predict any future actions or appearances, I am sure they are wrong.

Why? Because our predictions do not account for significant unexpected events, tragedies, the behavior of other people and especially a work of God. Things can alter suddenly with one event. Lives can be transformed with one accident or unplanned moment. Organizations can change with one tragedy or act of terror. There is no way to predict when these will happen, and they are life-altering.

So what can you do? I suppose there are a couple of options. One is to throw up your hands and declare, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

Another would be to prepare for the future anyway. Two essential practices are necessary for a good life, no matter what the future holds.

First, build your life on its unchanging realities. As a believer, I anchor my actions on the word of God. It has been around for well over 2,000 years and continues to influence people today. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.

Second, develop routines that will give you the best possible future. Prepare your mind, heart, and spirit for the failure of the physical. Invest in habits that create a life not dependent on circumstances. Practice love, pray, fast, give, serve, and show hospitality every day.

I do not know what I will look like in the future, nor what the world will be like, nor how the local Church will be connected. I do know that I can be prepared no matter what twists and turns life brings me in the future. My life is not dependent on my situation, but my relationship with God and his will.

I Made a Deal with Myself

I swore that I would never do it again. I made mental promises to God and with myself. I would not act that way EVER again.

And then I did it anyway.

This time it only took a week. I broke my promise to myself just that quick.

It seems no matter how much I commit myself not to feel that way, think that way or act that way, I fail.

The problem of humanity, ALL of it (including religious leaders), is that we are flawed people. We are not intrinsically good; we only have good intentions. Sometimes we like to judge ourselves by our intentions rather than our actions, but those are not true. If we use a proper measuring rod, we will find we are not good people. I know I am not. I cannot even live up to my own standards.

The message of the Bible affirms this truth. Jesus did not come to call together a bunch of good people to go out and do good works. He went to a cross for sinful people. He died for ungodly people like me and like you. Faith in Jesus reminds me that I am not a good person, and I desperately need a savior. Despite my best intentions, I always break my deals with God and with myself.

Recently I made a new deal with myself. Every time I fall short of God’s desire, I remind myself of grace. I then ask God for the power I need to stop my behavior. I need his grace, and I need his strength to change me. For me to overcome my sin, I need something far more significant than myself, no matter how many promises I make.

The Man in the Mirror

The primary illustration I used to explain being transformed by Jesus is that of a mirror. It goes like this: when we look toward God, we see ourselves appropriately reflected in his words. This reflection may at first show us significant flaws. From a distance, we understand that our hair needs cut, and clothes cleaned. Once we fix those things, we move closer to the mirror and notice more problems. Generally, we fix the more major concerns first, and the lesser ones follow. At first glance, everything may look just fine, but a long look reveals more places of improvement.

The mirror serves as an illustration of Christian sanctification, or the work of transformation in the life of a believer. At first, we work on the big problems in our lives and continually work at improving everything, even the minor details. That is why when you hear a believer talking about struggling with things like pride and humility, you think, those are so minor. They might be to you, but to them, it is a glaring issue that must be addressed.

Following Jesus involves worshipping him, proclaiming his grace and living in light of his eternal promise. It also requires self-examination. We must look carefully at his word and then look deeply at ourselves. Then we address any issues that keep us from looking like Jesus.

The three temptations that we each face. First, is to never look into the mirror. If we do not look, then we will never see anything to change. Second, is to look too quickly and never see anything wrong. We never notice the little areas that need our attention. Finally, we look to see ourselves and then look away and ignore any problems. At least we are not as bad as some people.

Just as I start each day by looking in my bathroom mirror to make sure I am presentable to the world, I must also look into the word of God to make sure I am pleasing to him.

The Easy Way

You can choose to surrender to God’s will on your own, or he can create circumstances to force the issue.

Humility can be developed voluntarily, or God can knock you down and break your pride. Serving can be a joy and pleasure, or God can put you in a position where there is no other option. Things of real value can be seen through daily reflection, or God can take everything away, making you see life differently. Obedience can come through submission or punishment.

I am not saying that God will force any ideal or attitude upon you. I am confident that he can change your circumstance in an effort to open your eyes.

Reading the Old Testament, I see God bless Israel, then make life more complicated, then send prophets to warn them, then take them into captivity, then promise them a future and finally bring them back. All that action was God trying to teach his people to follow his will.

There are two ways to live in faith. One is the easier way that requires us to surrender our will daily. The other is to have God force our lives into some painful circumstances to open our eyes and possibly change our wills.

Which path will you choose?

God is Still Working

Talk with any pastor, and he will tell you about a time that he believed his sermon bombed and yet someone responded to faith. The preacher felt they had failed in their job, and God was using it to guide people.

Talk to anyone who has been a believer for very long, and they will tell you about a time when God showed up unexpectedly. They went through a difficult season, and looked back at how it grew their faith, connected their family, and helped them to see God’s love in a more significant way.

Talk to people who have experienced pain, and they are able to look back and see something good. They never expected this time of trial to produce anything positive, but sure enough, it happened.

The temptation for everyone who follows Jesus is to give up when we fail, feel empty, or hurt. And yet, the longer I am a pastor, the more I see how God uses these events in ways we never imagined.

Today I want to remind you that God is still working no matter what you are going through – relational conflict, physical or emotional pain. Whatever form your struggle and hurt come in, it is not too big for God to make something powerful happen. Hold on, remain faithful, endure, stand firm, persevere, press on toward the goal, keep the faith, and fight the good fight of faith. God is still working.

The Death of Independence

Everyone longs for a sense of independence. My children each went through a phase where we would try to help them, and they would respond with, “By self.” They wanted to do everything for themselves with no help from dear old mom and dad.

That childhood longing for independence never seems to fade. Teenagers wait for the day they have a car and the freedom to do things on their own. Young adults look forward to moving out of the house and having their own schedule. Then they look forward to their own job, money, home, and family. The faint echo of “By self” carries us into life as an adult.

The problem is that these independent, head-strong people come to Church. This is the place where we are challenged to “die to ourselves.” Our world is no longer about what we want, but rather about the cause of Christ. It is no longer I that lives, but Christ who lives in me. To be a faithful Jesus follower, you must submit your will to his, and his purpose supersedes your desires. One question that stretches our faith is, “What do I need to surrender to Jesus?”

This issue discovers a new arena for us to grow when we come together as a Church community. Now I must submit my will to Jesus but also for his body. We are called to surrender our will to Jesus for the good of the group. I find that most people find it incredibly challenging to give up their desires for the Church body. They want independence in their connection with other believers.

A couple of examples, people want to park in whatever space they want to park. Don’t tell me to park away from the building so our elderly and guests can have the most accessible spots. Also, people want to sit wherever they want to sit. I encourage them to sit near the front so that late-comers and guests can have the back rows. These are just a couple of the long list of things that each believer can do to make their Church better for guests and those with special needs. And yet, much of what I tell people falls on deaf ears.

I believe that one of the steps on your journey of spiritual growth is the death of independence. It is the silencing of those juvenile cries of self. Maturity is asking yourself if this what Jesus wants me to do and the best thing for his body. Jesus told his followers to take up their cross daily. Today is another one of those days. This weekend is one of those weekends.

The Legacy of Faith

Your legacy is something you leave behind for the next generation. For you, this might be a financial gift or a pile of possessions. I want to suggest to you that there is something spiritual that you can leave behind as well. I believe your life can touch the lives of numerous people for the kingdom of God.

What I have noticed lately is that most people’s journey with Jesus looks less like a highway and more like a collection of country roads. People do not walk a straight path with God from the day they meet Jesus until heaven. There is not one person who influences, teaches, and instructs them on the ways of faith and serve as their primary mentor.

Instead, most people grow in their faith by walking one road and then taking a right turn on another and then a left turn here and on and on. Their path winds through multiple Churches throughout their life. They receive direction from numerous individuals over the journey. There was that one Sunday school teacher, that elder, a preacher, a traveling teacher and a myriad of other influences. Step by step, people mold our lives in meaningful ways, and some of them never know it.

All of us have a legacy of faith that was left to us. We are the result of people giving of themselves to others for Jesus sake. It is always interesting to walk back through our lives and see the twist and turns that brought us here. With each move, there was often someone who pointed us the right direction to go.

All of us are also leaving a legacy of faith. We are helping people move closer to God in our own small way. If you allow God to use your life, you will have an impact that leads others toward eternity. You may never see a person move from non-believer to heaven-bound saint, but you might be able to point them down the proper path for the next mile. Your legacy will be that of someone who helped others move closer to Jesus.

The Problem with Invisible Boundaries

The issue is that they are invisible. No one is sure where they are located without a marker.

My neighbors and I share an imaginary line between our homes. They mow and take care of the grass up to the location where they believe it exists. I do the same.

This arrangement works well for us because I have decent neighbors. They are not trying to take extra property for themselves, and they are not doing anything to hurt our relationship. We all get along and have no real issues.

This situation will only become a difficulty when one of them does something to harm my life and well-being. If they become destructive to my property or cause issues to my family or me, then I will have to reinforce the boundary and make sure they stay on their side.

Your heart and mind function in the same way as your property. There are numerous areas in which you have no problems, so no clearly defined boundary is needed. When something infringes on our good nature, then you must respond. This can be difficult to do as the dividing lines have been blurred for so long, we might not remember where they are located.

I guess that your biggest spiritual struggles are connected to places where the boundaries are unclear. Is one cuss word too many? Are two or three drinks too much? Is talking intimately to a member of the opposite sex okay if you are married? Is one sexual image too many to view? Is it a good idea to miss worship two or three times a month? The list goes on and on.

One way to improve your life is to develop clearly defined lines of behavior. Sometimes a surveyor and a secure fence will prevent issues from happening in the future. Invisible boundaries are fine until they are not.