Monday, January 13, 2014

Sticky Faith #4

In the 4th chapter the focus was on sticky faith conversations.  A typical family does not have faith conversations.  So the issue becomes how do we make this a natural part of our conversations without it being awkward.  The first thing is to make sure our actions back up our words or we may do more damage than help.  The next thing is to make sure that when we engage in faith conversation we ask questions with the intent to dialogue rather than lecture.  If we are attentive to the Holy Spirit, there are always opportunities to engage in meaningful faith conversations.  I know that in the context of youth group, this is a vital part of our small group program.  The success of a small group will depend on initiating faith conversations.

Favorite Quotes

p. 72 - . . . students who feel the freedom and have opportunities to express their doubts tend to have more Sticky Faith.

p. 74 - Sticky Faith students often report that while their parents offered opinions, they ultimately gave the students some latitude to arrive at their own conclusions.

p. 77 - . . . you'll interact better with your son or daughter - whatever their mood or attitude - when you learn to listen and ask questions instead of lecture.

Sticky Faith #3

The 3rd chapter focuses on "Sticky Identity".  The teen years are complicated when it comes to forming their identity.  There are many stages they could go through in trying to find their identity that can be messy.  Parents can sometimes get in the way if identity formation by focusing too much on keeping their teen overly busy or basing their identity too much on performance.  The main thrust of this chapter is on the fact that as teens develop their identity we must reinforce ofter that their primary identity rests in the fact that they are a beloved child of God who loves them.  

Favorite quotes:

p. 57 . . . the single most important question affecting all of humanity, "Who am I?" is the message of Jesus and the Bible. Your child has been created, redeemed, and called to live as God's precious and beloved child.

p. 59-60 - A rich and sustainable faith recognizes that as I walk in community with God's people, I ultimately discover who I am. . . . The point is the build "social capital" into your child's life, creating a network of caring believers who will pray for, mentor, and bless your children with their presence over the course of their lives.

p. 65 - You goal is to train your kid to see life as a whole, connected adventure, versus a frantic race from one expectation and agenda to another. 

 p. 66 - When your child fails or is disappointed, model a tenderness that communicates that God understands and will in time life them up. Living as God's beloved child does not mean that pain and suffering won't come, but through gentle encouragement, they can know God has a purpose and a trajectory for them that is unique and good. 

Discussion Questions

1.  What are some ways you defined yourself growing up? How were they helpful to you as you grew older? How were they harmful?

Relational / Friendly - They helped me in any context I was in.
Cynical / depressed / sarcastic - this did not ever help me

2. Of Nouwen's three answers to the question "Who am I?" which of these are you most prone to rely on? Describe what that looks and feels like. Which of these does your child rely on? What does that look like?

Me: I am what I do.  Being a pastor is not something you just stop doing when the work day is over.  It has a way of defining you 24/7.  But I also recognize that my calling to be a parent and a husband are also 24/7 identities.

My kids can be drawn to define themselves with a combination of what they do and what others say about them.  Their peer groups and social groups can have a big impact both positively and negatively. 

3. On a scale of 1 to 7, 1 being easy, 7 not so easy, how hard is it for you to see yourself as the beloved child of God? How easy is it for your child? Describe what you mean.

Probably a 3 for me.  I am prone to see myself as letting God down.  It is too much of a "God as Judge" image of him.  I would say my kids are more like a 5 I would hope.  I think it is much easier for them to accept God's grace and love without the baggage us adults tend to carry around. 

4.  Name some ways your can emphasize who your child is (a beloved child of God) rather than what your child does. How would this emphasis change your approach to your child's extracurricular activities or academic achievements?

Never stop telling them how much you love them.  This goes for youth group teens too!  Don't be afraid to tell them.  My love for them would be based on who they are more than what they achieve or do in connection to school or sports. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Allan R. Bevere: The God of Christmas Is an Embarrassment

Found at Allan R. Bevere: The God of Christmas Is an Embarrassment:

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. The God of Christmas is an embarrassment. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has no self-r...

NT Wright spanks RC Sproul and Al Mohler

An excellent interview that sums up our understanding of Genesis 1-3 and how your interpretation will affect your eschatology and anthropology.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sticky Faith 2

This chapter is titled "The Sticky Gospel".  The thing that stuck out to me the most was the concept of a faith based on only sin management.  If your faith is built merely on a list of do's and don'ts in order to please others and fit in, I can see how that could easily fade away especially when one goes off to college.  

So the primary lesson in this chapter is to model and instill that faith is about ultimately trusting God to do what he said he would do in our lives.  A strong trust in God will help us through up's and down's.  It will also help us to be obedient to Christ.  But if our faith is based on a set of rules, then we have gotten the cart before the horse.  When we try so hard to "do" Christianity all to often we are taking away the very thing that is ultimately the job of the Holy Spirit - to change us from the inside-out.  We need to allow the Holy Spirit to do his work in our lives, and our teens' lives, by developing our trust in God's continuing work within us. 

With all that said in this chapter, it is not the easy answer that I had hoped for.  I still find that I want the 10 easy steps to perfect Christian teens in my house and in my youth group.  

The other thing that really stood out to me was the importance of unconditional love no matter what.  Teens will make mistakes.  Teens will wander away from the faith.  But if they sense judgmental, harsh, critical attitudes, they will stay even farther away.  Instead, if they receive grace, love, acceptance and forgiveness there is a much greater chance of them embracing their faith and reconnecting with God.  Granted there are always consequences to our actions and as parents or small group leaders we need to let them feel those consequences both good and bad, but mercy and grace can always be our response.  

Favorite quotes:

At the heart of Sticky faith is a faith that trusts in God and that understands that obedience is a response to that trust, in everything. p. 34

the Sticky Gospel reminds us that our focus is to trust, and God promises to work within us at every stage of the process - by strengthening our trust, by giving us peace and patience as we wait for our lives to be transformed, and by actually changing us from the inside out. - p. 35

To help our kids discover and grab hold of a sustainable long-term, and vibrant Sticky Faith, we must stay true to the words of Jesus and heed the council of Paul: trust in the one the Father has sent, and live convinced that the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love. - p. 36

In life and in faith, growth is a process. Our job as parents throughout this process is twofold: First, we help our kids learn to trust God and create the kind of environment where they are able to explore faith and trust while practicing their freedom to respond in love.  Second, we model an unconditional, nonjudgmental, and ever-embracing love in which our kids can do nothing that jeopardizes or even lessens that love. p. 37

The greatest gift you can give your children is to let them see you struggle and wrestle with how to live a lifetime of trust in God. . . . As you trust the gospel, and the Lord who saves, your Sticky Faith will help your children discover their own Sticky Faith. - 46-47

Sticky Reflection and Discussion Questions

1.  Dallas Willard describes the "gospel of sin management" as dealing only with sin and its effects, instead of the real life we live. In what ways is your faith as experience of the gospel of sin management?

I think that to some extent this was true of my faith when I was a teenager.  Feeling judged by others pushed me farther down the rabbit hole.  Today, I think I struggle with a guilty conscience if I am not practicing certain spiritual disciplines.  It is hard sometimes for me not to see God as judgmental also.

2.  What is the biggest obstacle to helping your son or daughter understand that the primary call of the Christian is to trust Christ? Describe where this is a difficult concept for you, and where it lines up with what you already believe and practice.

I believe that this can be a hard thing to teach to teenagers.  It is so easy to just trust yourself or your gut instinct without thinking about trusting in God first.  I think that we demonstrate this not only through teaching the principle, but also, living into it.  Whenever life presents its challenges it is important that we fall back on trusting in God.  It is also important to start each day with acknowledging our dependence on Christ.  This can be done with prayer and the reading of Scripture.  That is what I try to do.  

3.  We stated that "obedience is the response to trust." Why is it better to begin with trust and then respond through obedience? Is it ever good to go the other direction: obey first and hope that trust follows? Have you ever experienced either of these in your faith journey? If so, what was it like, and what happened?

I wonder if obedience and trust is more cyclical rather than linear.  Sometimes I know that in order to form a good habit I need to force the obedience in myself and then the trust grows.  But then trusting more causes me to be better at obedience.  Sometimes I do my spiritual disciplines out of a heart of trust and other times it is out of a sense of obedience.  I believe that when children are young it is important to obey their parents and as they grow, their trust develops.  As teenagers, it is better for them to trust you first, or God, in order for there to be any type of obedience.  Without a foundation of trust they will most likely disregard why they should obey.  

4. How do you see your child's faith in light of this chapter? Where do you see them growing in what it means to trust Christ, and where do you see them living out of the do's and don'ts of Christianity?

I think we can do more for our teens in talking about trusting in Christ especially for the bigger questions that come up in their lives as they come through high school.  I think that ways that teens "do" Christianity is through mission which is good.  But we can also raise the level of trusting in Christ through our mission experiences.  It is important that we wrap our minds around the concept that the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside-out.  Religion and the law tries to change us from the outside-in.  And as we know from the Old Testament, that didn't work out so well.  

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Sticky Faith 1

As training for my youth ministry team, we are reading through the book "Sticky Faith" by Dr. Kara Powell and Dr. Chap Clark.  Chapter 1 sets the stage for what this book is trying to accomplish.  Powell describes a story of a teen who came through her youth group only to fade away towards the end of her Senior High years.  A few years later Kara finds out that the girl is now pregnant.  Kara was able to reconnect with this former student in the hospital after giving birth to her new baby.  Kara Powell explains a look between her and the teenagers' father that I completely connected with.  I often have wondered what can we do to help teens stay connected in the faith.  All too often I see specific areas where we tend to loose some kids:

1.  The transition from Confirmation into youth group
2.  The transition from Junior High to Senior High
3.  The transition from early Senior High into later Senior High (jobs, car, social life)
4.  The transition from High School to College

I have seen some 7th grade classes that were huge in number fade down to a core group of a much smaller size by the time they were Seniors.  And this doesn't even factor in the final transition which appears to be the toughest one of them all.  One one hand, with this book, I feel a sense of relief that this is not just my problem or my church's problem. Rather it is a national problem within the global church.  But after taking that sigh of relief, it still doesn't help within my local context.  I still have a righteous anger over why and how faith seems to take a back seat with some teens as they grow up.  Enough negativity.

Another observation that I made was in the importance of the relationship of the parents to the teens.  The most influential people in a teen's life is their parents.  This fact alone sets a priority for us as youth leaders (who are mostly parents of teens), and other parents of teens within our church to understand the importance of parenting.  What we model at home and live out day to day will have a huge impact.  This is one of the main reasons that I feel like, at times, when a teenager fades away, it is sometimes beyond anything I can do to keep them active.  If the parents don't demonstrate an active faith and make their faith a priority in their own lives, how then do I expect a teenager to excel above and beyond the most powerful influences in their lives?  So how do we help parents to live out an active and robust faith?

Finally I want to answer the questions at the end of the chapter:

1.  When people decide to read a book, usually they are trying to solve a problem. What problems are you hoping to address by reading this book?

My hope is that we discover ways in which we can help teens live into their faith through each transition in life.  My heart's desire is that we retain more and more teens to stay active in their faith from 7th grade all the way up into their adult years. 

2.  How would you define sticky faith?

A faith that sticks through all the transitions in life, all the good times and bad, all the challenges both expected and unexpected.  

3.  How does it make you feel to think that you are the most important influence on your child's faith?

I actually feel good about that.  Sometimes it is easy for a parent to doubt their influence and wonder if they have lost control of their teens' faith.  But I also understand that it takes a village and I am deeply grateful for all the other adults in my church and in my family who have had a significant impact on my kids and have affirmed all that I and my wife have tried to teach them.

4.  As you think about how you've parented thus far, what have you done that has contributed to your kids' faith? What do you wish you had done differently?

I believe that loving and caring for my kids through good times and bad times have been instrumental.  I have also been honored to be their "youth pastor".  But I also know that they would be the first to sniff out any hypocrisy or inconsistencies if I acted differently at home than I do at church.  

I wish I would have made more time for us to enjoy dinner around the dinner table.  All too often I feel like we are all running in different directions and eating on the go.  There was a time when they were younger where we would have family prayer before everyone went to bed.  I really liked that.  

5.  What do you think of the suggestion that parents trust the Lord with their kids and beg the Lord to build Sticky Faith in them?  

This is a great step 1.  The authors demonstrate a humility in admitting that this is not a book with "all the answers in 10 easy steps".  The fact is that we need to be constantly in prayer over our kids and acknowledging the importance of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  To be used of God to help in the transformation of people is the greatest thing ever, especially with your own kids! Let's make sure we are lifting up our teens, small groups and our own kids in prayer on a regular basis.   

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Misreading Scripture

I have been reading a lot of books lately just trying to get through a large stack that I have been staring at for way to long.  But then along comes a book that was good enough for me to write a blog post covering it.  "Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes" was an excellent read. It helped to bridge the gap between Western culture in contrast to Eastern culture.  All to often we read Scripture through our cultural lenses without even realizing how we are distorting Scripture.  We have to be constantly reminded that these writings are thousands of years old and from an entirely different culture than the one we have become a costumed to.  All to often we distort the true meaning of Scripture because we read it so easily through our own cultural lens.  For many of us we don't even realize that we are doing it.  This book helps us to understand ourselves and the context we bring with us when we read Scripture.  The authors do much to encourage the reader to take into consideration the ancient eastern culture that Scripture originated from before we filter in our own experiences and cultural context.  They also do a great job in dissecting American / Western culture and some of the traps that cause us to misinterpret Scripture such as understanding the difference between individualism and collectivism; honor/shame in contrast to right/wrong; and how different cultures view such things differently like time, rules, relationships, virtue, vice and living in to God's will.    

And now for some of my favorite quotes:

If we're not careful, our individualistic assumptions about church can lead us to think of the church as something like a health club. We're members because we believe in the mission statement and want to be a part of the action. As long as the church provides the services I want, i'll stick around. But when I no longer approve of the vision, or am no longer "being fed," I'm out the door. This is not biblical Christianity. Scripture is clear that when we become Christians, we become - permanently and spiritually - a part of the church. We become part of the family of God. p. 107
  
Many evangelicals describe our standing before God in terms of forensic justification. While there is nothing wrong with the doctrine, it casts our connection to God in terms of rules, not relationship. . . . grace and faith are relationship markers and not forensic decrees. Paul used these terms to define a relationship, not to explain a contact or a court ruling. Likewise, holiness is a relational and not a forensic term. p. 172-173

Western Christians, especially North American Christians, tend to read every scriptural promise, every blessing, as if it necessarily applies to us - to each of us and all of us individually. More to the point, we are confident that us always includes me specifically. . . . This misreading of Scripture arises from combining our individualism with a more subtle, deeply hidden and deeply rooted aspect of our Western worldview: we still think the universe centers around us. p. 193