5 Life Questions Teenagers Need Help Answering

Parenting is an awesome responsibility; awesome in the fact that it is joyful and rewarding, and, awesome in the fact that it is an enormous undertaking. It is beautiful, breath-taking, frightening, intimidating, overwhelming, terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. What can I say, it’s awesome!

My kids are fourteen and sixteen. Finally, they are leaving the house wearing clean clothes that match. They no longer get knots in their hair. And, for the most part, they shower and wear clean underwear everyday.

Ahhh, the sweet, clean smell of success! And, like Nanny McPhee, I am tempted to walk off into the sunset satisfied with a job well done.

 . . . . but, wait! The job isn’t done yet!

It ain’t over until the fat lady sings! And she ain’t singing until my kids graduate from high school and leave home.

Much of our kids’ character and direction in life is forming during their teen years and into their twenties. As Christian parents, we mustn’t lose focus or parent on autopilot.

Our kids hit a fork in the road during adolescence. And the critical decisions they make at this juncture will determine the trajectory of their life.

1) They will ask questions of IDENTITY. Who am I?
  • Am I a beauty queen?
  • Am I an athlete?
  • Am I nerd?
  • Am I worthless?
  • Am I a child of God?

Teenagers are questioning their identity now more than ever.

Not only do they have to decide whether they will be the the criminal, the athlete, the basket case, the princess or the brain; and, what college to go to and what they want to be when they grow up. But, our kids are also faced with questions like, “What gender do I identify with?” and, “What is my sexual orientation?

The questions that young people are facing today are confusing at best and dangerous at worst.

If they don’t have guidance when answering these questions, they are likely to be overwhelmed by the lies of the world.

2) They will ask questions of PRIORITY. Who will I live for?
  • Will I live for myself?
  • Will I live for everyone around me?
  • Will I live for the person I love?
  • Will I live for God?

Kids will naturally answer the question, “who will I live for?” with a resounding “Me, of course!”

In a culture obsessed with self-esteem, we are told we should focus on ourselves. We should love ourselves. Because . . . “you’re worth it!”

Nowhere in scripture does it say to love yourself. The greatest love of all is NOT inside of you. The greatest love of all is the love of God.

How our kids answer the question of priority will determine the relational aspect of their future. Will they grow up to be in abusive, or codependent relationships? Will they be people pleasers? Will they be all about themselves?

It is up to Christian parents to model a life lived for God.

3) They will ask questions about REALITY. What is truth?
  • Is there one truth? or, . . .
  • Does everyone have their own truth?
  • Which religion is true?
  • Is God the author of truth?

Truth is what grounds us; morally and physically. Truth is what keeps us from floating around in space. The truth of gravity that is.

Establishing that truth is not relative but absolute is essential to passing on the faith to our kids. Without truth, everything else flies out the window.

“What’s true for me may not be true for you” makes no sense.

Belief can vary from one person to another. Truth cannot. Can a fact apply to one person and not apply to another? Of course not. Neither can truth.

4) They will ask questions about CONTENTMENT. Where will I find peace?
  • In relationships?
  • In substances or things?
  • In achievements or successes?
  • In God?

Coming out of the holidays, the phrase, “peace on earth,” is still fresh on our minds. We are told in scripture that when the truth of God is our foundation, peace is our reward.

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.  Psalm 29:11

However, peace can be tricky. Peace within a family or between nations is not a guarantee in this life. How can our kids be content in Christ and have peace in such a troubled world?

As our kids trek into adulthood, they will need to learn contentment. Our kids will have to answer the questions, How will I be ok with ‘what is‘? and, Where will I find peace?

5) They will ask questions about SUFFERING. How will I cope with life?untitled-design-75
  • With alcohol?
  • With medications?
  • With relationships?
  • With God?

So many kids today don’t have any coping skills. This is evidenced in the high number of school shootings we have witnessed in the past 10 years, and the growing number of teen suicides.

When trials come, and come they will, life goes on whether we want it to or not. Kids need coping skills and they need to know where to go for comfort.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.  Psalm 147:3


Teenagers need input from parents when deciding the answers to these critical questions. They need a voice of truth regularly pointing them toward God.

We hope and pray our kids will answer these questions in a way that puts their life in God’s hands.

  • Who am I? . . . . I am a child of God (Galatians 3:26)
  • Who will I live for? . . . . I will live my life for God (Romans 12:1)
  • What is truth? . . . . God is truth (John 14:6)
  • Where will I find peace? . . . . I will find peace in God (Psalm 46:10)
  • How will I cope with life? . . . . God will get me through (Isaiah 41:10)

Our role does change when our kids become teenagers. But we still have a role.

We cannot stop having input in our teenagers lives. Because the noise of the world will never cease. And, the pull of the world is strong.

So, just before your kids become teens, take a short breather and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Then, prepare yourself for the hardest stage of parenting.

If you have teenagers, then you are almost done with the race. Almost. Don’t give up so close to the finish line.

Blessed are the poor in spirit; A Christian perspective on depression

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:1-3

Matthew 5 says, blessed are those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Do we really believe that those who are poor in spirit are blessed? Or do we believe that those who are poor in spirit must be cursed?

People with depression are our modern day ‘lepers’. They are often outcast, and judged. They are also blamed; they must have done something to cause it.

Depression is the three headed monster that no one wants to acknowledge. It might as well be the plague. The words depression and anxiety make us squirm. Our society is much more comfortable with people who have cancer, diabetes or heart disease than a mental illness such as depression.

The Christian community is no different. And we may even be worse. There is as stigma with depression that says that we must be doing something wrong. This was the case even in the story of Job. His friends assumed that he must have done something to deserve such calamity.  

However, even the most devout Christians can suffer from depression. Often times, it is something that happens to us not something that happens because of us. And, we can’t always reason it away.

Brothers and sisters in Christ with depression need compassion, prayer, and love. Using cliches, or giving unsolicited advice, judgments, or opinions can be cruel. We must not be naive about depression. It can happen to the best of us.

My story

At 33, I was sick all time, 40 lbs overweight, depressed and I had no idea why. I had eaten pretty well all my life (so I thought), so why did I feel so crappy all the time? I had exercised 4 to 5 days a week since high school, so why couldn’t I lose any weight? I had 2 beautiful daughters, an amazing husband, a loving church family and great friends, so why was I so depressed?

I went to numerous doctors, none of which could help me. I tried just about all of the antidepressants at one time or another.

At one point, a doctor told me that I had bipolar (which I did not) and put me on Zyprexa. So, my brain pretty much turned to mush.  I might as well have been catatonic.

Another doctor put me on the antidepressant Effexor which is known to increase anxiety, a side effect that she neglected to tell me. This doctor increased my dose each time I told her that I wasn’t feeling any better, and I started having panic attacks.

My body and mind were a wreck and I was spiraling out of control.

A couple of years prior, I had started my own business as a wedding photographer. As much as I loved the work, it was very stressful. During wedding season, the workload was enormous, and the pressure was intense. Between the stress of the job, 2 little kids, severe clinical depression, and the everyday demands of life, I was a ticking time bomb.

My last wedding of the year was in October, so I forced myself to keep it together until then.  As my assistant, who was a good friend of mine, and I walked to the car from the reception hall that evening, I started to sob. The very next day I went to the hospital.

Lights out . . . . I was done.

I never thought that I would find myself in such a place as a mental ward at a hospital. It felt like I was in some kind of Sandra Bullock movie. The door to my room was locked, the walls were bare, and everything had been taken from me. My head was spinning. It was the worst night of my life.

That was almost 10 years ago.

I have been reflecting back on that time because several of my friends right now are dealing with depression. My heart breaks for them.

At the same time, I am almost perplexed.

Each one of these depressed friends are deeply in love with Jesus. These are people that are living out their faith. They are the real deal. They are not people who don’t know the Lord or have necessarily strayed off the path. They are not casual Christians.

It just goes to show that faithful followers of Christ will suffer. Jesus told us that we would.

We don’t belong here. The more we become like Christ, the more separate and set apart from this world we will be. And it is lonely. We know where our home is, and it isn’t here.

We are strangers. We are aliens. We are not of this world.
(Not of This World, song by Petra, 1983)

As I wrote in an October, 2015 blog on Anguish called Jesus Wept, many of the faithful people of the bible experienced deep sorrow and anguish. David, Hannah, Nehemiah, Elijah, Paul and even Jesus.

Then he (Jesus) said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Matthew 26:38

Depression is real and it is dark. Depression looks different for everybody. Only the light and hope that Jesus Christ brings can save us from the darkness.

 I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.   John 12:46

In addition to praying for people suffering with depression, this is what I would say to them as someone who has been there.

Don’t accept shame.

Shame is a tool of Satan. He will dish it to you, but, don’t take it. If you are a follower of Christ, shame has no place with you.

“Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”   Romans 10:11

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.”   Isaiah 54:4

Keep your eyes on truth

The sobering reality for me so many years ago was that medical professionals weren’t going to help me. I had to find my own way to survive the depression.

So, I bought some wall hangings and plaques with scripture on them. I am a visual person and had to get God’s Word in front of my eyes. I knew that I couldn’t trust my feelings and sometimes even my mind, and definitely not the health care professionals. Even in my shattered mental and emotional state I knew that I had to trust God.

I put a wall hanging in my bathroom that pictured Jesus with the lost sheep and the other 99 in the distance (Luke 15:4). It said, Lost no more. I was very much lost, so it was a powerful reminder that Christ would always find me . . . . even in the merky depths of depression.

I also had one that said Be still and know that I am God. The scriptures I chose were ones where God spoke to me and said, just sit there, and I’ll do the rest. I’ve got ya.

The only way that I survived that time was by keeping my eyes on ‘thy rod and thy staff’. It was Psalm 23. I visualized Christ leading me through the valley of the shadow of death. All I had to do was keep my eyes on Him.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of ,the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

The Word of God was no longer just some words on a page. It was life to me. It was my parachute as I plummeted to the depths. I couldn’t have made it without those powerful words, and other scriptures that I placed strategically around my home.

Ask people for help.

There may be a voice inside that will scream ‘no! you can figure this out on your own!’ However, we were never meant to live in isolation. Sometimes we just can’t do it on our own. And the longer we deny this fact, the longer we stay stuck.

When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.   Exodus 17:12

Remember also that when you ask somebody for help, it not only blesses you, but it blesses them. It affords them the opportunity to serve God by ‘loving their neighbor’. Don’t deny others the opportunity to store up treasures in heaven through you.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.   Hebrews 10:24-25

Flush the Formula

In life, A + B does not always = C. There is no equation to life. The only thing that we can count on 100% of the time is God. Following the law does not necessarily keep bad things from happening.

This life is not just. If it were, the formula to have a successful, happy and fulfilled life would work every time. However, it doesn’t. Only eternity, through God, is perfectly just. We either get our reward here, in this life, or in heaven, to enjoy for eternity.

Answers, explanations, or reasons may elude you. Sometimes, as in the story of Job, we cannot wrap our minds around what is actually happening. Depression is complex and comes in many forms. Sometimes causes are obvious and sometimes they are not. We must acknowledge that there are things that we cannot know. So, don’t beat your head against the wall trying to figure it out.

The answer is God

During my darkest times, I pictured myself hanging over the deepest, darkest canyon. God was holding on to me and keeping me from falling to my death and destruction. It was just Him and me, hand in hand. He was all I needed. He saved me . . . again.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”   Lamentations 3:22-24

Recently, my family and I were talking with my mom about her giving and what her passions were. She kept asking us what we thought she should do with her money, and how she should serve God best. We discussed it with her for a while. But finally I had to answer her this way:

“we don’t have the answer. The only way to get the true answer is to ask the One who holds all things together. Only God has the answer. God is the answer.”


 

I cannot give my friends the answer to why they are depressed. Or how to get out of it. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know where the answer lies. God is the answer to everything. God knows my next steps and yours. And He is for us, not against us.

If God is for us, who can be against us?  Romans 8:31

In the wise words of my awesome brother, Greg, “Wherever I am headed, either to better days or worse, I know that My Redeemer lives and that He is all I need.” Amen and Amen!

Church, we have to get this right

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.” ~Brennan Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel

I have some thoughts that have been nagging me for a few years. I find it so hard to know when to speak what I believe to be truth to brothers and sisters in Christ, and when to stay silent. Many have spoken out about the issue of church in this country. God has placed the state of the American church on my heart as well. My goal is not to simply add to the noise, not just to complain or criticize it, but to fight for it.

I am pained by the direction that I see American churches going. I fear that in such subtle ways, our eyes and focus may be moving away from Christ and His teachings, and toward getting the masses to come in our doors. Are we, as the church, staying true to God’s Word and furthering His Kingdom? Or, as so many megachurches emerge, is it a numbers game?

The church of today is very polished and attractive from the outside. No wonder people are flocking to it. But, we must look at what is going on inside. Is the Word of God preached unapologetically in truth and love?

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. ”  Matthew 23:27

Church is more than a building. It is not this church or that church. It is not this address or that website. It is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is beyond the physical.

“What the church –the disciples gathered –really needs is not more people, more money, better buildings or programs, more education, or more prestige. Christ’s gathered people, the church, has always been at its best when it had little or none of these.”  -Dallas Willard, The Great Omission

We must not be married to our ‘church plans’. Christ is the head of church. How can a church be Christ-led if it is bound to a plan that we created?  If God tells us to move, and it conflicts with our plan, then what? Can having a long term plan breed arrogance and independence instead of DEPENDENCE on God?

Church has been on my mind lately. Oh, my soul is troubled. I just can’t shake this feeling that something is off. I can’t shake the feeling that maybe we can do church better.

I am troubled that our mission as the body of Christ might be compromised by our culture. I see how much like our society American churches have become. I would say that if we resemble the world too much in our churches or ourselves, we are on dangerous ground.

“Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.”  Francis Chan, Crazy Love

Where is the tension with the culture that Jesus and the apostles experienced? Where is the upside down teaching of Christ that led crowds of people to cry out for His death? Where is the anguish that caused Jesus to sweat blood that night on the Mount of Olives?

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:41-44

I mostly see comfort in our churches. I don’t see people crying out to God; I don’t see people so broken by the sin of the world that they can’t speak; and I don’t see people groaning in prayer for the lost. Where is our anguish and sorrow for a world that doesn’t know Jesus?

We have to ask ourselves, ‘are we lukewarm?’

Becoming lukewarm needs be always on our minds as ‘the church’, just as pride must always be on our minds because we are human. God knows our tendencies as individuals and as the church. He laid it out in scripture. We must acknowledge our sinful tendencies so that we can fight against them.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  Revelation 3:15-16

Most sermon topics revolve around being a better Christian, a better spouse, a better parent, a better citizen, a better neighbor or a better employee. These are all topics we need to be challenged on. However, I feel as though we neglect to preach on being a better church. We need to be examining ourselves to be ready as the body of Christ, just as a bride-to-be prepares for her wedding day.

We focus and teach on these things:

  • Are we seeking His Kingdom first (Matthew 6:33)?
  • Do we take care of the poor and oppressed (Matthew 25:35-40)?
  • Do we feed His sheep (John 21:15–16)?
  • Are we fishers of men (Matthew 4:19)?
  • Are we loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:39–40)?

Many sermons on these topics have been given over the years. And they are vital if we are going to be faithful disciples. However, I believe that there are crucial areas that we neglect to address.

I feel strongly that we must be looking at what is going on within the walls of our churches. The church will never be perfect, but we need to be continually asking God how to make it better; how we can be better prepared for the wedding of the Lamb.

“Hallelujah!
   For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
   and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
   and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
   was given her to wear.”  Revelations 16:6-9

  • Do we love each other within the church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 13)?

Love is what it’s all about. If people can’t walk into our church and be blown away by the love that we have for each other, than we have work to do. People need to come into our sanctuaries and say, ‘No way! I’ve never seen a group of people love each other like that!’

  • Do we deal with relationships within these walls in a way pleasing to Him (Matthew 5:23–25)?

What does a church-goer do when they disagree with something the church is doing or have conflict with someone in leadership? What is the protocol?

What I believe most often happens is that person or couple will be agitated or have an offense with someone within the church, but they say nothing. As time goes on, they get more and more agitated, and their frustration snowballs. Eventually, they are so extremely disgruntled that they leave. They disappear from the church and are seen no more. A few months later, we ask each other, what ever happened to the so and so’s?

This is how it works at every church that I have ever known. If you have a problem with the church, you leave. And, you find another church that temporarily pleases you. Until conflict arises, that is, and the cycle continues.

People leaving their church when they are frustrated poses 4 problems:

  1. That person loses the opportunity to be refined by God (Zechariah 13:9) by walking through the painful process of facing that difficult relationship or situation
  2. The church loses the opportunity to be refined by God through that difficult situation
  3. God calls us, the church, to be unified (John 17:20-23)
  4. We are all ‘the church’, and if one of us has a problem, the whole body has a problem (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Our growth and maturity as a church is stunted if we settle for this way of handling conflict. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong.

  • Are we in this church dealing with pride among the body AND the leaders (Jeremiah 49:16, 1 Corinthians 8:2)?

I often thought what a challenge pride would be for those in a place of power or popularity. The enemy will gladly use a stage to throw his arrows of temptation. I truly believe that pride is the enemy of ministry. And, I hope and pray that you, as the leaders, have a plan in place to always keep this on your radar.

  • Are we making disciples (Matthew 28:19)?

The business of the church is to make disciples, and to make disciple-makers. We must ask ourselves these questions. Are the people in our church disciples? Are we, ourselves, disciples? Are we all making disciples? Are we all repenting? Are we all baptizing?

Let’s not just teach what Jesus commanded, let’s teach people to OBEY what Jesus commanded.

“Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have never decided to follow Christ.”   -Dallas Willard, The Great Omission

  • Are we caring for the weak and lowly within our walls as well as outside them (Ezekiel 34:3-4)?
  • Who do we most highly esteem in the church, the poor widows or the rich fools (Mark 12:41-44 & Luke 21:1-4)?

Jesus Christ didn’t look like a king. He was different than any leader of His day. He took nothing for Himself, He was not loud and aggressive. Do we as the church, put leaders in front of the people and on our stages that most resemble Christ? Or, do we put the most impressive, the most learned, the most credentialed, and the most attractive above others? Does the church choose its leaders any differently than secular society?

  • Are we speaking truth to each other (Ephesians 4:15)?
  • Are we rebuking each other when we fall into sin (galatians 6:1)?
  • Are we searching for the lost (Luke 15:1-7)?
  • Are we choosing the narrow path (Matthew 7:13–14)?
  • Are we guarding against false prophets (Matthew 7:15)?
  • Are we denying ourselves (Luke 9:23–25)?
  • Are we servants of all, including servants to each other (Matthew 20:26–28)?
  • Are we focused on storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21)?
  • Are we preparing ourselves for Christ’s return (Matthew 24:42–44)?
  • Are we unified? Are we one? (John 17:20-23)

God has burdened me for the church. It is so often on my heart and mind. I fight so hard not to do or say the wrong things, that most times I do or say nothing. The tug-of-war within me is between the fear of being prideful or wrong on one side, and the fear of spending my life standing for nothing on the other.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23

Don’t get me wrong, I love the church. It is this love for the body of Christ that fuels my passion. We don’t know the hour our Master will return, therefore, we must always be ready. I desire for the church to always be holy and blameless.

He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.  Ephesians 1:9-10

The truth is that each one of us is the church. It is up to all of us to fight to keep the body of Christ alive with the fire of the Holy Spirit. I know that I will always have things to repent of and work on until that glorious day the Lord Jesus takes me home. So it is with the church. We must be vigilant about keeping it pure and beautiful as the bride of Christ.

It’s time for revival in our churches! It’s time for an awakening! As church members, are we fresh with the fire of the living God in our bellies?  Or, is it ‘business as usual?” Church is a big deal, brothers and sisters. We have to get this right!