Something to talk about

Teen ministry is hard. Not that every other form of ministry is easy just that with all the issues this generation is dealing with, temptations they are bombarded with and lies that are so deeply ingrained in our culture, it is really hard to get through to them…or to get them to feel like we even know what we are talking about.

I was once told that what ever it is that breaks your heart and takes you to throne of God in passionate intercession, this is where He has called you. Daily I throw myself at the feet of God on behalf of this generation. Daily I shed tears for their burdens, and daily I shake my fist at the devil and tell him his time is coming and for every child that he deceives that is another child that Jesus will take for His Kingdom! Nothing infuriates me more than seeing them coated in lies and believing them as truth.

Lately, I had the pleasure of reviewing “Answers Book for Teens: Your Questions God’s Answers” by Bodie Hodge, Tommy Mitchell, and Ken Ham. I say pleasure because for the first time I came across a book that speaks to the issues that teens face in a way that makes sense and speaks at a level of explanation that they can understand. I have read through many resources, and decoding the language took more time than the lessons I needed to teach! Finally, there is a resource available for teachers and parents in a format that I think even teens would find informative and engaging.

It is really hard to answer questions about the age of the world and the way that science is pitted against the Bible (when in actuality the one supports the other), without boring a room of teenagers that are more interested in the next text message! It is also difficult to address homosexuality and bisexuality in an age of anything goes and if you don’t let others do what they want then you “hate” them. The book explains why we have to have a standard of right and wrong, and how God is that authority. It takes a look at the “function” of sex and it’s purpose and why (as hard as it is to stand firm in the face of so much negative reaction) marriage was created by God for a man and a woman.

But, what I really like about this book is that it addresses these issues with grace and patience. It takes into affect that the teens might be dealing with these issues and treads decisively but lightly on issues that every adult finds VERY difficult to talk about. The beauty of the book is that it offers hope even in its declarations of sin and failure. It offers the rescue and redemption that is found in Jesus Christ, how God pointed to His plan all along and that despite what it might look like He truly is long-suffering (patient beyond comprehension) and all-loving (without condition or expectation).

I encourage any youth leader, parent, or teen to read this book. If you have questions, there are answers…rooted in God’s Word and backed up by science and history. It isn’t easy to minister to this generation, but it is possible, and they are worth it. They have within them an incredible desire to be loved and the amazing potential to catch onto that and change the face of organized religion and thus evangelize the world!

More Guilt than pleasure…

A couple weeks ago I posted, “Glee is my guilty pleasure” on my facebook page. For all the world to see, for all my friends to read, in a way I stamped it with my approval. Therein lies my guilt…but not the greatest of it.

My daughter was sick that week and I was giving round the clock treatments, my husband was gone a lot, and whereas my watching television is usually RARE in our house, it had become almost habitual…a much needed break.

I love music! I was in choir and ensemble and did musicals in High School (The King and I was by far my favorite!), and in college I took voice lessons and helped in the theatre department, so a show with as much pizazz and music as Glee was just a matter of turning it on to get sucked in.

If you’ve never seen Glee you might not understand this post, but if you have, maybe you’ve struggled with some of the same themes. I don’t have an issue with the young boy that struggles as a homosexual. I naturally root for the underdog, and his is a sad story, a sad life, and I know a few that have had to walk in his shoes. “Poor Kurt,” I agreed.

My older daughter asked to watch it with me, I hesitated, but tired as I was when she used the argument, “All my friends watch it!” I gave in. Well, if ALL her friends watch it…?  So, we sat through a pretty tame episode. It was obvious that Kurt was gay, it didn’t take a genius to see through the “I adore fashion and shopping” comments, so I let her keep watching. Then, there was a show about a bigger girl and how this football player had a thing for her…but it wasn’t her time and her attention he wanted, it was her tongue and her touch. It was obvious, and I was hesitant. I suppose at this point, when sex became the focal point, I should have turned the show off…but no. I needed to learn my lesson.

I already knew that I was treading some pretty rocky ground, to the point that I made my daughter promise that she wouldn’t turn that show on without me. She agreed and she is fairly compliant so I felt I was “Safe”. As I had promised her earlier that day, I finished up some work, got us all ready for bed, and grabbed the remote to watch another episode of Glee. I should mention that my “Work” was ministry…and one of my ministries that night involved talking to a teen girl about her struggle with homosexuality. I was doing my best to assure her that she wasn’t a disappointment and that I loved her, but that I desperately believed that she was setting herself up for another heartache, girl or boy, if she didn’t learn that no human love would fill the needs that a missing father, a verbally abusive mother, and a conflicted heart had left her.

My heart was still processing that conversation when the show started, as usual with a dynamic song – well sung, well performed, and yet it was heated with sexual tension, between two guys. I looked over at my daughter and she was playing with the dog so I let it go. The next scene was two girls standing at their lockers…one was a typically mean girl, I was prepared for some slang to come out of her mouth, but then she started talking about the other girl and how they had been in love and she had looked over her for another guy. My mommy juices started to churn, this wasn’t cool. Wasn’t I just talking to a REAL girl about this very painful and disturbing issue?!

I was about to turn the television off, when I hesitated for a moment, a moment too long. Before I could stop it, (well, if I you don’t consider the million and one warning signs that I had just dismissed), the screen ignited with two guys full on kissing. My daughter’s eyes got big, I dropped the remote, groping desperately in the dark I wrestled to get it held the right way and flipped everything off.

“OFF,” I yelled in some kind of “Mommy is back to her senses, what was I thinking?!” flamboyant announcement! Then I sat there. Dumbfounded. Guilt-stricken. WHAT had I done? I looked over at Maddie, still in shock, I think, staring at a black screen,  and said, “I’m so sorry, love.” She looked at me. “No more Glee.” She nodded her head. I continued, “No more Glee for you and no more Glee for me; from now on this house is Glee free!”

But that wasn’t the end, because I had to acknowledge what I had allowed into my home…I had to talk about what they had just seen and heard, and I had to share it in a way that would not seem hateful but wise. It is one thing to happen upon these issues in life – my daughters already know that people are gay… it is another thing to show them what that means, and to explain that it is unnatural but that we are called to love them and be gracious and not speak hate or condemnation.

I was wrestling through what to say in a span of about 3 seconds when the words, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I wish I had been wise enough to hear those words a couple days earlier. I wish I had served the Lord in my viewing choice, tired or not. How quickly the pleasure of a musical number and some teen angst was replaced with unbelievable guilt. I did that. I couldn’t blame Glee or the actors or anyone else in that situation. The finger pointed squarely at me. I know one picture can sit in your mind forever, that try as we might the things we long to see disappear are the visions that remain. I KNOW that. And yet, I invited that image straight into my daughter’s head.. invited it, sat down on the couch with it, and let it corrupt my daughter’s mind.

Yeah, she might forget. Yeah, it might have affected me far worse than it affected her. I pray that is the case. But, it has left with this thought, this challenge: In this battle of light and dark, where will I draw the line?  I lost one battle, but I have not even started the war… many more battles lay before me… So, Glee is no longer a pleasure but a guilt. I am sorry that I ever gave it a sloppy stamp of approval, and I realize that is just me, others might like it…I just can’t continue to blur the line of right and wrong. I can’t be ok with a show that is so blatantly different than the standards of holiness Christ has laid out for us… I remain affirmed, “BUT as for me and MY HOUSE, we will serve the LORD.”

Dave Ramsey called me “STUPID”

I will never forget that day. I found myself in a tough financial situation, and needed some advice. Who better to get financial advice from than Dave, right? I called the number, I waited for what seemed like hours (but was more like 20 minutes), and an operator asked me my problem. “I don’t have health insurance and my daughter was recently hospitalized, I need some advice.” I couldn’t believe my blessing when I heard her say, “Hold on. We will patch you thru.”

What? Deep breath. (Okay, a few deep breaths and a quick prayer.) “Hello, you’re on the air…” It wasn’t an all together big thing to be on the radio, I cohosted a local radio show, mostly it was the knowledge that I was talking to THE Dave Ramsey. I began to share with him my problem, stating that my husband and I had been without health insurance for a little over two years, and we were suddenly stuck in a situation with medical bills that we weren’t altogether prepared for. I didn’t get much further. “What!?” He was appalled. I don’t remember the exact next few words, but he finished it with “Of course you are in a bad situation, you are stupid!” He rattled something off about finding an endorsed insurance provider right away and to never make that stupid mistake again. No time for response, the music played, the endorsements started and the show was over.

It was my turn to be dumbfounded. And then, I was angry.

Stupid is one of my least favorite words in the world. You can call me ignorant, unwise, naïve, but don’t call me stupid! I wanted to call him back, not in a fit of anger exactly, I was biting back tears of explanation. It wasn’t stupidity that led us to make that decision. It was faith!

My husband and I have never been in debt. We learned early on that you only buy if you have the money. You never borrow what you can’t pay back. Even then, we lived on a budget and were frugal; money wasn’t something we were stupid with. We weren’t living in “envelopes” but we were very aware of our expenditures. My husband was offered a new job, he had crunched numbers and looked at our present income compared to the adjusted income, it was driving him insane, almost literally. He was trying to figure out how I could stay at home with our kids, a priority for us, and him still take this job that would eliminate a 45 minute commute that he felt was wasted time that he’d rather spend at home.

One Sunday he was in that same state of mind, crunching numbers, a constant calculator running digits through his brain, but he was on stage at church singing with the praise band. It bothered him that he couldn’t even worship without numbers cropping up, so he prayed, “God, what do you want me to do!?” He says the answer was practically audible, “Don’t take the insurance. I will take care of your family, but invest in My House.” Weird, right? Absolutely. But any responsible child of God doesn’t hear that message and say, “Nah.” In His heart he replied, “Yes Lord,” and IMMEDIATELY the numbers stopped.

So we began a journey of faith. Two kids aged two and four and we opted out of health insurance. Stupid? According to Mr. Ramsey it was and by no means something we would haphazardly recommend to others, but we were absolutely convinced that God would take care of us. And He did, for exactly two years.

My husband admits that at the end of that time he felt that God was leading him to be insured again. He began looking and talking to people but procrastinated in making a decision on acquiring insurance for our family. Then, one of our daughters got really sick with double pneumonia and was hospitalized with white blood cell levels that the doctors were convinced were fatal. We were told we’d be in there for a week at least, probably 10 days. Even as we filled out admission papers, I trusted and believed that God would to take care of us. Three days later, to the doctor’s documented and utter amazement, my baby was healed and discharged. Three days and $6,000 dollars later, we had accrued debt that we weren’t prepared for, slight as it was compared to what it might have been!

It was that debt that led me to call the debt guru. It was that debt that God used to show us that it was time again to be insured. It wasn’t a fear thing. It was just very clear that our provision was shifting. And, in those two years, we had done as we promised by investing in His house.

But that isn’t the end of the story… this is the part that I want to tell Dave, “God used that debt to show us what our next steps should be financially, and in less than 6 months time, we not only had paid off every bit of that debt, but my husband’s employment changed and our income increased and that additional amount we were having to pay separately for the girls’ and my insurance didn’t seem to dent our budget!”

This isn’t a story about health and prosperity. This is a testimony of faith and faithfulness. A confession of being weird (never stupid!), and realizing afresh that God sometimes asks us to do the ridiculous, but in the end, He will give you wisdom and understanding that is like foolishness to the world. We continue to live weirdly. We happily live below our means so that we can do more for His Kingdom and His people. Not because we have to, or because we expect His blessing, but because we have seen that there is nothing in this world that can compare to serving God.