What does it look like to carry each other’s burdens?
Do you consider yourself spiritual but not religious?
Pictures that capture special moments communicate in a way that words cannot. This became evident as I attempted to write a blog post based on the above photo and soon realized my words were not needed nor adequate. The photo captures a moment that speaks for itself, so I will not speak for it, except to reveal that it captured a Kingdom of God moment where the good news of Jesus Christ is being shared with a student with special needs, along with other students, at the most recent Capernaum Club, held monthly, at First Presbyterian Church in Maumee, Ohio. Capernaum Club is a Young Life ministry that serves students with special needs with the goal of including them fully in the Kingdom of God, both here and to come, through fellowship, song, dance, play and hearing the good news of Christ proclaimed.
Last Sunday, Pastor Clint Tolbert at First Presbyterian Church, Maumee, Ohio, introduced a new sermon series on the book of First John titled, “Living as Children of the Light.” During the introduction, he spoke about the difficulties of being a teenager. He expressed that while being a teenager has always been difficult, teens today face greater challenges than previous generations, “as they seek to become the young men and women that God created them to be.”
One of the insights he offered as to why it is more difficult to be a teenager today, which has stuck with me throughout the week, was with the proliferation of technology and social media the “competing voices” of culture don’t shut off. They are available to be watched and heard and read through technology all the time and everywhere. They are competing voices because they are the voices that don’t share your values as a parent and are opposed to the greatest commandment, as stated by Christ, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30).
Clint’s insight on the impact of competing voices through technology was a good reminder to me to pause as a parent of two teens, and one tween, to evaluate if my voice and the voice Christ is being heard clearly by them. I would guess I am, like most parents, in a struggle to find time that is free from distraction and the busyness of life so that my children can hear my voice clearly. There is always that voice in the back of my head informing me that I could be doing this or that better as a parent. However, within that struggle, I have recently discovered two opportunities to spend time with my daughter, in particular, free from the distractions and competing voices of culture.
The first distraction free time was found by accident even though it can be a source of stress. As my daughter is now sixteen, I have been teaching her to drive. As we have been driving together, with the radio off and the iPhone put away, it has simply been the two of us going down the road, relatively straight, and talking without distractions in between figuring out Roundabouts, left hand turns and how to shut off the high beam headlights when they are turned on accidentally. While I was not expecting this time together to create distraction free space as I was handing her the keys and getting into the passenger seat a little nervously for the first time, it has been valuable for her and me as it has provided moments where I can both hear her voice and speak into her life clearly.
The second way we found distraction free time came about naturally and with less stress involved than navigating Roundabouts. We had been going to the local YMCA to exercise for a few years but normally when we got to the workout area we would separate as she would go to the aerobic equipment and I would go to the free weight area. Our only true time together was in the car ride there and back. However, in the past few weeks, we have changed things up a bit and she began to lift weights with me on occasion rather than going to the aerobic equipment. Besides the health benefits of exercising together, this has become a distraction free block of time where we can talk clearly together about life and figure out where the competing voices of culture may be speaking against the greatest commandment.
While the competing voices of social media and technology are all always around for our teens, I encourage you to try to find spaces that are distraction free where you can speak clearly into their lives. Find spaces where the two of you can figure out where the competing voices of culture are misleading. I believe these spaces often come in situations where you don’t expect them, like during driving lessons or exercising, but they do come. When they come, it is our job as parents to take those moments and speak clearly into their lives so they hear our voices and the voice of Christ rather than the competing voices of culture.
“What do you want for Christmas?”
“Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Two different answers.
We hear the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” repeatedly this time of year. When I hear the question, I immediately think of Ralphie from the movie, A Christmas Story, sitting on the department store Santa’s lap overwhelmed and frantically trying to remember to ask for his heart’s desire; a Red Ryder BB gun.
(Here is link to the clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQM_kWxrJNI)
If you were asked what you want for Christmas by Santa today, how would you answer? What would be your Red Ryder BB gun? I asked the question to a group of middle school students this week and here is some of what they said they wanted for Christmas: Timberland boots, a record player, Nike sweatpants, Adidas Superstars, Fit-Bit, iPhone, a shopping spree with gift cards, a dog and (my favorite) a profitable future career. Naturally, the answers to the question revolved around personal desires.
However, as the group transitioned from thinking about the question to the request, which was made by God, a shift in thinking occurred. The request was one that was delivered to King Solomon in a dream by God. In the dream, God requests from King Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (1 Kings 3:5). This request was made to King Solomon by God as Solomon began his rule over the nation of Israel. He was a young man, around 20 years old, who lacked experience in ruling a kingdom and acknowledged this in his response to God when he states, “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties” (1 Kings 3:7). He continues in a humble manner when addressing God as he describes himself as God’s servant and referring to the people he will be ruling to be God’s people, rather than his subjects, as he describes them as, “this great people of yours” (1 Kings 3:9). His humbleness will be key in how Solomon responds to God’s request.
In the end, how does Solomon answer God? Does he ask for things that will fulfill his personal desires such as wealth or health or power? No, Solomon doesn’t ask for any of these. Instead, he asks God for the one thing he knows he needs most to govern and lead God’s people well. He asks God to give him a discerning heart, commonly referred to as wisdom (1 Kings 3:9). Because, in his humbleness, he asks for a gift that will allow him to glorify and serve God and others well, rather than satisfy his desires, God was pleased and grants his request. “I will give you a wise and discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:12).
When asking the same middle school students to consider how they would answer God’s request of, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you,” in light of Solomon’s story, they answered with the following: One student asked to have the gift of a peacemaker so they could promote peace in their relationships. Two other students asked for the gift of speaking well so they could communicate effectively and confidently about God with their family and friends. In their answers is seen the shift from focusing on the question of wants, to honoring God’s request, by asking for gifts that will serve others and God rather than themselves.
During the Christmas season it is easy to get wrapped up (no pun intended), like Ralphie, in answering the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” However, the answer to that question is commonly focused on fulfilling personal desires. Take a different approach this year and consider how you would answer God’s request, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” If, like Solomon, the answer comes from humbleness and from the selfless desire to serve God and others, it will change you and your community this Christmas season and beyond for God’s glory.
It has been my experience that eighth grade students have a unique ability to connect what they hear, see and read to the world around them as they mature into teenagers. This was illustrated most recently for me at a weekly after school Wyldlife middle school meeting. At the meeting, an eighth grade student used the example of a bumper sticker to connect with and illustrate, with brilliant clarity, the foundational theological truth which we were discussing.
Towards the end of our weekly meeting time, we were sitting in a circle in the cafeteria looking at a Bible verse, Romans 10:9, which reads, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The question proposed to the students based on that verse was, “When we refer to Jesus as Lord, are we using the word ‘Lord’ as a name or a title?” If “Lord” is simply part of Jesus’ name, then it has little meaning beyond providing a means for him to be known. It’s just a name. However, if it is used as a title, in the way the Apostle Paul intended when he used the Greek word, “Kurios,” the meaning of the word takes on great importance. When Paul refers to Jesus as “Lord” or “Kurios,” he is describing Jesus as being supreme in authority; elevating his status as above and over all things.
As our group discussed what it meant for people’s lives to declare Jesus as the supreme authority in the lives, an eighth grade boy in the circle raised his hand. When he was called on he declared, “The bumper sticker that says, ‘Jesus is my co-pilot,’ is wrong. It should say, ‘Jesus is my pilot.’” Wow! If ever there was a “Mic Drop” moment, this was it. This young man had made a perfect analogy that simply summed up the idea of Jesus as, “Kurios.” The Apostle Paul would be proud.
His analogy was perfect because it clearly illustrated the idea that whomever is the authority over your life is the one who is the pilot; doing the steering. If Jesus is the supreme authority over your life, then he is the one with his hands on the wheel taking you where he wants you to go. He is not a co-pilot, as the bumper sticker says, riding in the passenger seat keeping you company waiting for the chance to steer when you are in trouble, tired or not sure where to go.
This is a profound, life changing wisdom revealed by an eighth grader through a bumper sticker. Remember it as you go through your week and reflect on places where Jesus is the pilot doing the steering, your “Kurios,” and where he is the co-pilot, sitting in the passenger seat waiting to steer under your direction. If you allow Jesus to steer your life, you will go places you never thought you would go and do things that you never thought you would do as you live with a new purpose in glorifying God with your life.
“I see you.”
If you’ve taken a child to the playground, you have heard those three words spoken by parents countless times to their children. When my daughter was little, I shared that experience as she would climb to the top of a yellow plastic slide, stand up straight in her pink, blue and green coat, and yell, “look!” She would keep yelling, “look!” until I turned to face her and said, “I see you.” Once those words were spoken, she was satisfied and would go down the slide happily.
“I see you.”
While my daughter certainly wanted me to physically see her, after considering Pastor Emily’s sermon at First Presbyterian Maumee on Genesis 16 last week, I realized that seeing my daughter at the top of the slide wasn’t simply about sight. To my young daughter, those words were an affirming sign that she needed of my recognition, caring, security and, ultimately, love for her. They were a sign of a bond between the two of us that went beyond my simply acknowledging seeing what she was doing.
“I see you.”
As children grow into teenagers, like my daughter has, they stop yelling “look!” every time they figuratively climb the next slide but they still have the need and the desire for us, as parents, to see them. Unfortunately, like Hagar in Gen. 16, many of the times they need to be seen the most are when they are struggling or disappointed or hurting. As Hagar needed to be seen by God when she ran away from being mistreated, our teenagers need to be seen by us when they face difficulties to affirm the bond of love and recognition we provide. They need us to say:
“I see you.”
When you get a bad grade on the test.
“I see you.”
When your audition goes poorly.
“I see you.”
When you make a mistake on social media.
“I see you.”
When you don’t like the way you look.
“I see you.”
When you’ve been rejected by your friends.
While it is easy to see our children when they are young and yelling “look!”, it can become harder to see them as they grow and become teenagers. Often, they are harder to see because they may hide, both figuratively and literally.
If your teenager is hiding in some way, I encourage you to think of ways you can let them know you see them each week by being accessible to them. It could be in a brief conversation in the morning before school. It could be asking them a few questions about their day on the car ride to soccer or play practice. It could be taking them out for ice cream unexpectedly and enjoying a few moments together outside of the busyness of the week. Give them an opportunity to yell, “look!” once again from the top of the slide and tell them,
“I see you.”