“Meh”ssiah? Is Jesus cool with your comfortable indifference?

Mehssiah-Title

Many people are casual fans of Jesus.  They aren’t comfortable with words like devotion, discipleship, adoration, or worship…those words sound extreme and fanatical.  Jesus is alright.  They assume that Jesus is just fine with their indifference, because well, He’s Jesus.  People like Jesus, because Jesus is quite likable.  Behind this casual appreciation for Jesus is often a picture of Jesus that is either lazy, uninformed, or both.  Sometimes this is the result of recreating Jesus in our own image.  We value our comfort above everything, so we want to imagine that Jesus will value our comfort over everything too.  We just ignore the things about Jesus that make us uncomfortable.  If we ignore them, maybe they will just go away? We want to be happy, so we create in our imaginations a Jesus that wants us to be happy above all.  We like to feel good, so we want Jesus to be concerned with our good feelings.  The trouble is, we won’t encounter our counterfeit Jesus in the pages of scripture.  This safe and sanitized version of Jesus just isn’t there.  No government would have ever bothered to crucify such an innocuous individual. The Jesus we meet in the Gospels was controversial.  He was a dissident.  Jesus was a revolutionary that taught dangerous and extreme ideas about God, life, and culture.  The Jesus we meet in the Gospels talked about God in such a way that He was labeled a blasphemer by the religious leaders.  He fought hard against injustice and challenged the leadership and culture of His day.  Jesus had a way of comforting the afflicted and unsettling the comfortable.  Each of us is faced when we truly look at Jesus with a polarizing choice: adoration or rejection.  It is very hard to stay safely and comfortably in the middle.  Jesus is not safe, but He is good.  Jesus is not tame, but He is beautiful.  Mark’s Gospel paints this picture well in the following narrative.

Mark 11:12-21 –

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

A few things are pretty shocking about this passage. First, it seems out of character for the sugar and spice and everything nice version of Jesus to blast a poor innocent tree with holy wrath.  He is hungry, and wants some breakfast, but the tree doesn’t want to cooperate. It becomes worse when Mark’s Gospel implies that it is not the time for the tree to produce fruit. If something was wrong with the tree, it would be a little more bearable, but to curse a tree that isn’t even supposed to have fruit yet? That is just unreasonable.  I think the general idea is that the time to bear fruit is when Jesus comes looking for it, but I also think there is more to this passage.  I don’t think Jesus is really mad at the tree.  I think his anger is directed someplace else.  The way the narrative of the tree is interrupted by the events of Jesus’ visit to the temple give us a literary clue.  The fig tree forms a literary frame for the story of the temple.  What Jesus is really raging about is the fruitless and corrupt state of affairs he finds at the temple.  Jesus cannot abide the empty, self-focused, and exploitative religion he observed in the temple of Jerusalem.  This reminds me of Martin Luther’s visit to Rome.  People are looking for God, and instead of finding God they find a door closed in their faces and all kinds of hoops to jump through.  What if Jesus visited your church today? Would he hate our religious constructions? Would Jesus tear apart our temple remind us of the truth of the Kingdom of God?

Here is one thing I think Jesus would challenge: Any religion where comfort gets in the way of mission.

The issue with the fig tree is that it didn’t produce fruit when Jesus required it.  The faith of the Jews needed to be reformed.  It had become something that was focused inwardly, on the comfort and care of people that looked down on outsiders and relished in their privileged status. What is the fruit Jesus is looking for? I think there is a clue in a detail that Mark includes. Mark includes this phrase: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” This would make much more sense if we were present when Jesus said it, but because we are not we need to understand something of the geography of the temple. It consists of several different courts. The outermost court was called the gentile court, followed by the women’s court, then Israel’s court, then the priests’ court, and finally the holy place and the most holy place. This action of selling livestock and changing money is happening in the Gentile Court. They were providing a legitimate service to pilgrims from all over the world that have come to sacrifice at the Temple. This is about convenience. It would be easy to exploit the poor pilgrims, and that makes Jesus angry, but there is something else going on here. Jesus’ rebuke includes the phrase “prayer for all nations.”  This is reminiscent of the call of Abraham, where he and his descendants were invited into a unique relationship with God, where they would be blessed by God to be a blessing to all the nations of the world. What is going on here illustrates how far Israel is from the heart of God and from their covenant. This court is the ONLY place a seeking Gentile could come and experience the presence of the God of Israel. Now, slowly, their sacred place of worship has become a market for the convenience of the “elite” and the “chosen.” The only place where a Gentile can come and pray and seek the one true God is now filled with the sounds of a shopping mall! This is the only place he is allowed to set foot, everything else is “off limits” to him. What they have done in the temple is to shut out any seeking Gentiles from the presence of God. They have become so focused on themselves; their own needs and convenience that they have forgotten their commission to reach the world for the one true God. Jesus is angry because those seeking God were being shut out from his presence.

I wish this didn’t happen in churches today, but the truth is that far too often the language and programming are built exclusively for the insider.  We make the tragic mistake of excluding outsiders for the sake of making things more comfortable and convenient for the insiders. We often program and message and operate in a fashion that is only accessible to those familiar with the church subculture.  I wonder what the Jesus of the Gospels would have to say about that.  Which of our tables would he overthrow? Would he rage against our men’s prayer breakfast, our “Christian” concerts, our merchandising, and our celebrity worship? Would Jesus find a space where skeptical, curious, and seeking outsiders could come to have questions answered and feel close to the God that they long to meet? Would Jesus find your church to be concerned with the outsiders or with the insiders? I think Jesus would unsettle the people safely hiding within the subculture we have created.  I think Jesus would rattle us a bit, reminding us about God’s concern for those far from Him.  God cares much more about you engaging your culture than about protecting your comfort. 

Torn – A Series on the story of Esther

The book of Esther is one of the most dramatic and beautifully told stories in the Bible. It tells the story of a young woman named Esther and her cousin Mordecai as they try to survive and thrive as Hebrews in the land of Persia. Mordecai and Esther find themselves in a very important position, possessing very powerful knowledge, at a very critical time. The story has quite a few unexpected twists and turns, and is loaded with drama, intrigue, irony, and comedy. It is also one of the most puzzling books in the Bible. First of all, there is no mention of God. The book nowhere acknowledges God’s activity on the stage of history. It doesn’t record anyone praying to God or asking for His favor (even though it does record a fast, which might be assumed to be prayerful). On top of that, the characters do not always behave as you would expect Biblical heroes and heroines to behave. There is a lot of moral ambiguity that can be difficult to sort out. Besides being a very entertaining read, it also has a lot to teach us about the tension we sometimes feel between God’s Kingdom and our culture. Esther and Mordecai are in a very tough spot to be a Hebrew.


Lessons from a woman caught between two worlds – This book raises all kinds of questions about how we are to deal with our culture. Many of us feel like Esther did – torn between two worlds. We love Jesus and His Kingdom, but our culture where we live is seductive and has its own allure. The power of Esther’s story is the tension she must have felt being stuck between two very different cultures. She was a Hebrew, and that gave her a sacred obligation to the will of the God of her people. At the same time, she found herself thoroughly entrenched in the Persian culture, a culture that was drawing her deeper and deeper into itself. She embodies the struggle to be in the world but not of it. This is one of the hardest things for followers of Jesus to do. What do you do when the culture you are in threatens to swallow your faith, rewrite it, or erase it? I have watched so many people struggle with how to interact with their culture as a follower of Jesus. This is the tension I want to explore in this series. Echo has people all over this continuum. Some are just holding on, barely surviving. Some have already been swallowed up by the culture. Some are doing their best to be the influence and not the influenced. People take three stances when it comes to the surrounding culture:

1. Isolation – No contact, no impact. Sometimes the church has gotten this wrong. Sometimes the church has been tricked into isolating itself from people far from God in the name of protecting the holy ones from corruption. I have met many people that really do love God, but they look at the world and our culture like it is full of potential sources of “infection.” Their strategy to survive is to create a separate culture, walled off from negative influence and protected from corruption. They end up living like bubble boy, afraid of what is out there that might corrupt them. The irony of this is that whenever we do this, we have been tricked. According to Jesus, His disciples are the ones that are contagious! The danger is not to us, but to the kingdom of darkness. We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. The light is more powerful than the darkness, and when you shut up all the carriers of light inside of little cloisters and holy communities and churches and concerts, there is no chance for anyone bound in darkness to discover the light. Jesus warned his followers against this: he said a “You are the light of the world; city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Look at John 17:13-19. Jesus prayed for his disciples, not that they would be taken from the world, but that they could be a force of influence and change in the world. Without contact, you can’t have any impact on your culture. You might get a little messy if you try this. Can you imagine a Jesus that avoided what He found impure? For this reason, Echo cannot be allowed to be a shelter from culture, a group of people separated from the world that needs them. I love that we have a pastor that models this. Our pastor, Brad Russell, created the Washington West Film Festival to interface with and engage our culture.

The story of Esther could be very different. At multiple points in the story of Israel, the Jews struggled with influence and took the path of isolation. You can imagine Esther and Mordecai being so offended by the suggestion that they be complicit in this corrupt and perverse culture! The story would be one where Esther was killed and Mordecai as well, dying to persevere her “honor” or virginity. This isn’t easy stuff by any means, but this is how the story goes. What I am saying is that it is possible to limit your influence because you limit the exposure other people have to the hope and life that is in you. Now of course, this works both ways.

2. Assimilation – You can’t stand fast without contrast. The other thing I see happen when it comes to culture is that people are just swept away by its current. The force of culture just swallows them whole and assimilates them, they become just like everyone else in culture and any distinctiveness about them is lost. If you are not strong enough to be the influence and you are always being swept away in the current of your culture and negatively influenced, you might need to limit your contact with negative influences. You cannot be a rescue swimmer until you stop drowning and learn how to swim. It is not what is the similar to everyone around you that will grant you influence, it is what is different. I am not talking about something weird, strange, or bizarre, but something distinct. If you lose your distinctiveness, you lost your ability to influence and attract others. If you are just like everyone else, just one more follower in the crowd of sheeple, why would anyone bother to follow you? The right kind of difference is contagious. Here me on this: if Esther was just another pretty face in the crowd of hundreds, this story would look so differently. Something made her different, something more than superficial made her stand out from among the others. The key to influence is to discover life on a level that few others ever find. Then you have found something that will make you stand out! The Jesus movement, the Kingdom of God – it is a counter-cultural revolution. It is not the popular thing but the right thing. It is not what everyone does, it is only what the remarkable can do. If you want to impact the world, you will have to do it living differently that everyone else. We are called to be aliens in this world, living “in it but not of it.” There is supposed to be a quality about us that is “otherworldly,” like we have been somewhere else and we are from somewhere else.

3. Transformation – Look at 2 Corinthians 5:16-20, and listen to this charge by the Apostle Paul. He describes the followers of Jesus as the ambassadors of Christ, as if God were making his appeal for reconciliation with the world through us. He is imagining a force of positive change unleashed on the world with transforming results. Esther’s initial struggle is this: how to I prevent being swallowed by the culture even as I am surrounded by it and immersed in it? That is where many of us are, barely surviving. In that case, you may need to find some sources of strength and change some habits and reroute some patterns. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that living for God’s Kingdom means staying “pure” somehow. It doesn’t mean anything that small! Esther eventually discovers this. It isn’t just about surviving. Not only does she want to survive, but she wants to influence her culture of the Kingdom of God. I know in Echo we have people that are struggling with both of these challenges. The secret lies in protecting the fire of God in your heart, so even when you are immersed in your culture without, you heart is captured by God within.

**Food for thought, seeds for discussion with your teenager:

*What do you find tempting or alluring about your culture?
*Why do you think “Isolation” isn’t an effective strategy for dealing with culture? Can you think of reasons why you should be isolated from some things in culture?
*What exactly should make a follower of Jesus distinct from others? What are some superficial ways that people sometimes look to distinguish themselves?
*What do you think Jesus meant when he prayed that his disciples would be “in the world” but not “of the world?”

Echo Middle School’s Cinema Series

Echo Middle School just wrapped up its cinema series, where we explore theological themes in movies from the previous year. Jesus was the master storyteller, using parables with unexpected twists and surprise endings to help his audience imagine and feel the impact of God’s Kingdom. Jesus framed these stories with material common to the lives of his audience: struggling first century peasants from Palestine. His stories had such impact partly because he observed and listened to the world around him, truly understanding where people were coming from before he set out to take them somewhere new. When he awoke their imaginations about the possibilities and realities of God’s Kingdom, it was like pulling back the curtain of another world. He was always careful to describe this higher reality in terms and symbols that were accessible to the people of this world. Jesus told stories that were familiar parts of the fabric of everyday life: fathers and sons, farming, lost sheep, and the plight of the poor.

We value the ways of Jesus above everything at Echo, so one of the skills we try to coach our students in is the ability to look at their culture with critical and redemptive eyes. We want them to discover what their culture is saying, dreaming, and feeling – then we want them to discern how what they discover would be re-framed, redeemed, or rejected by the Kingdom of God. We often show music videos, play popular songs, and examine movie clips or other media to coach our teens how to rightly interact with the voices of their culture.

During this series, we looked at several films as cultural parables of spiritual truth. These would all be great movies to pick up and watch together as a family. Your Echo student should have some good thoughts about discerning God’s truth in these films if they came to our cinema series.

We Bought a Zoo – This movie is heartwarming and innocent, but it also addresses some deep themes about loss, family tension, and courage.

Hugo – This is one of the best movies I have seen in years. It is a story masterfully told about an orphan boy discovering his purpose, and helping others rediscover their own in the process. This one is a “must see.”

Real Steel
– This is a popcorn flick, but behind the rock-em-sock-em robots is a powerful story about endurance and getting back up when we are knocked down. We compared this story to the story of Paul’s journey to Rome in the book of Acts.

The Adjustment Bureau – This is a science fiction love story, but it is laced with philosophical questions about destiny and free will. We had a conversation about divine providence, fate, and choice with scenes from this film as the backdrop.

Above Reproach

In our current series, Echo High School has been walking through the book of Nehemiah. Last week we came to a point in the narrative that is particularly important right now. I shared with our students a painful story of how leaders we love and trusted deeply ended their ministry career in moral failure, and the devastating effect it had on so many people. It wasn’t shared to point fingers or to cast stones, but just as a warning and word of caution: moral authority takes a very long time to build and only a moment to destroy.

Nehemiah 6:1-16 – Nehmiah’s opponents tried to stop the construction of the wall by threatening violence. It didn’t work. The wall is almost completed, and so the opponents change their tactics: they try to assault the character of Nehemiah, attempting to ruin his reputation and damage his influence with the king, with the nobles, and even with God. It is an attack of false statements, slander, and blackmail. They threaten to accuse him of treason. They threaten him with assassination in hopes he will go into hiding. They hire a false prophet to intimidate him. Nehemiah survives this attack because he is a person of Integrity. You either have it or you don’t, and if you don’t, eventually everyone will know about it. Nehemiah’s integrity puts him in a place to call their bluffs and refuse to play their games. This kind of response is only possible for those with nothing to hide. His integrity makes him above reproach – think about how rare it is to find someone in our world that is “scandal proof.” How freeing it would be to live with nothing to hide – no secrets that could tarnish your reputation or ruin your credibility. This is what Integrity is all about. If there is no false accusation that can possibly stick, you don’t need to fear slander. This story is remarkable because there is no deceit, no cover up, no counterplots, and no insincerity. This is totally different than the modern political scene! He refuses to be intimidated and answers their charges with open and direct statements. I love Nehemiah’s response in verse 8: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” We talked out with our students what it means to be a person of Integrity.

First, the price of integrity is doing more than just enough. Sometimes people mistake an attitude of “good enough” for integrity, but they are not the same thing. Integrity goes above and beyond expectations – it takes the high road even at personal cost. It never asks: “what is enough to get by?”…it asks: “how can I exceed the standard?” Here is a hard lesson about leadership, but you need to understand it if you hope to have influence. When it comes to leadership: “others may, you may not.” Others may, you may not. I often have conversations with teens about defining what exactly is a sin. What is really being asked is “how close to the line can I get without crossing it?” This is a very common attitude but it is not the attitude of integrity. “Enough” is o.k. for many, this is what makes it average. When you find someone that gives so much more than enough, it is remarkable. The exceptional will demonstrate a level of integrity that will win them influence. Leadership hinges on this principle. You can be skilled and talented and smart, but your influence can very easily be eroded by a lack of character. It takes a long time to build trust, but only a moment to destroy it. It means there is a price to pay if you want true influence. Let me show you what I am talking about from Nehemiah’s life, just to give you a window into what kind of guy he is.

Nehemiah 5:6-13 – The situation here is one of recession. The people of Jerusalem were such a mess financially, they had to take loans from people (they called them Gentiles) outside Jerusalem from surrounding nations at very high interest. The interest was so high they could not afford to pay back the loans. (Really? What do we know about that!) This causes them to give up property and land and even their wives and children as collateral. The people of Jerusalem had become slaves again to outsiders! Nehemiah shows up casting vision to rebuild the walls, and he discovers they cannot give themselves to this work because they are so busy working to pay off their debts. The government is in shambles, and the previous governors were actually a part of this problem. They took their salary, and then they used their position to take additional money and food and land. Property values have dropped and the Nobles are taking advantage of others’ hardship and turning a quick profit on the low market prices. Nehemiah comes in and he and his people offer a bailout – a financial package that tries to end the crisis. He gives his own money to buy off these loans, and he doesn’t charge interest. Not long after, Nehemiah discovers that the Jewish Nobles have again loaned the poorer people money at high interest rates and they are in the same exact crisis again! Charging interest to another Jew is against the law of that time. The people are back in debt and the crisis is back! Nehemiah is TICKED OFF. He confronts to the nobles and condemns this practice: “What you are doing is not right!” Loan to them, but stop charging interest! The interest is exploiting these people. You are taking from them the collateral they put up on loans you know they cannot repay! Stop taking advantage of your own people! He wanted to reform this practice of injustice. He charges them to give back the lands and property and money of the people. Here is the crazy thing: they agree with him without a fight. Why does this go so easy? Why can he come in and demand something so hard of them and they agree?

It is because the payoff of integrity is “moral authority.”
Nehemiah 5:14-18 – Nehemiah’s seemingly impossible ask works because he has moral authority. They trust him. He explains in v. 14. Now, understand that it might have been enough for Nehemiah to just not be corrupt and to take his fair share and no more. “Enough” is not enough for Nehemiah, because he wants to demonstrate moral authority. “Out of reverence for God I did not act this way.” He actually surrendered his salary for 12 years to see his country out of a recession. He could have taken advantage of the low market to buy up land and increase his wealth, but he didn’t. As a result, the nobles followed him. They followed not just his words, but his example. A pastor named Andy Stanley said: “Moral authority is total alignment between your creed and your deeds.” It means you do what you say. It means you are a person of your word and are trustworthy. Nehemiah motivates the rich to care for the poor – loan to them without charging interest. They were inspired to be generous because he was generous himself. Nehemiah doesn’t lead because they call him governor; he leads because he has moral authority. He gives himself to the building of the wall and to seeing his country out of the crisis. He doesn’t sit back with a cushy and luxurious job, enjoying the perks of his position. Instead, at personal cost he leverages his wealth for others. Because the demands on the people were heavy, he didn’t take what was rightfully his. He did exactly what he was asking others to do and more. The nobles took him seriously because he had earned their respect and trust by going above and beyond. He could stand in front of the rich and powerful and lead them because for 12 years he led by example, walking his talk. He won a level of influence you cannot be given with a title.

If you want to lead with moral authority, you have to be willing to do more than you expect or require from others. If people see a discrepancy between what they hear us saying and what they see us doing, we lose the ability to influence them. Are you willing to do more than other people think is enough? Keep this in mind – this level of authority takes a very long time to build, but just a moment to destroy. Don’t sell your integrity cheaply, because it is very costly!

For discussion:
*Talk about with your teen about some leaders you know whose influence was damaged by scandal or a lack of integrity. How can our choices today guide us away from a similar fate?
*Talk about the dangers of the digital age we live in and how this forces a level of accountability on people. What used to be private can easily become public on youtube or facebook. A bad choice can go viral and be viewed by thousands. How can we protect our reputations and live with integrity online?

Surviving Middle School

I love watching the “survival” themed shows that are always invading the Airways. Man vs. Wild, I Shouldn’t be Alive, and Survivor are probably the most popular, but my favorite is Survivorman. The Canadian Les Stroud amazes me on every episode. Not only can he survive in the most hostile environments imaginable, but he does so while filming everything himself. No camera crew to give assistance (like Bear Grylls recieves), no tricks (like Bear Grylls employs), and no “dramatization” or theatrics (did I mention Bear Grylls real name is Edward?).

Some people would classify Middle School as a survival scenario. Students leave the predictable environment of elementary schools to roam the labyrinth of middle school hallways and deal with the dangers within. They are faced with social pressure and social changes as cliques are formed and friend groups are tested and established. They are slammed with physical changes as puberty complicates the scene with unwelcome hormones. As a youth pastor, the range of exposure in middle school is hard to navigate: some girls are tucking their stuffed animal collection in at night while other girls are dealing with sexual attention from their boyfriends. This month, Echo has been talking about strategies for survival in middle school. Our goal is that all of our students do more than survive these turbulent years and they actually thrive: growing in wisdom, maturity, and influence.

Survival experts will talk about the Rule of Three, which is a way to establish the order of priorities in a survival situation. A person can live for:
three minutes without air,
three hour without shelter,
three days without water,
three weeks without food,
and three months without love.

When it comes to Surviving Middle School, the rule of 3 looks a little different. These are the three areas that every adolescent needs to address if they are going to survive:

1. The Challenge of Identity – Who am I? One of the things students soon discover in Middle School is the amount of labels that are tossed around. People want to categorize other people: are you going to be a jock, a skater, a hip hop boy, emo, preppie, goth, glamor girl, punk, geek, brain, lax bro, or whatever. So much energy in Middle School can be spent trying to maintain your reputation or enforce or define you label. The danger is when students stop being themselves in an attempt to be who others want them to be. Middle schoolers need to be reminded that they are not what the crowd says they are; not unless they choose to become that. No label or reputation really defines one’s identity. Some students will rise above this pressure and refuse to defined by anything but God. These students know that first and foremost they belong to God and what He says is most important.

2. The Challenge of Belonging – Where do I fit? One of the biggest challenges students face in Middle School is LUNCH. The questions that troubles many in the first weeks of school are: where will I sit? Who will you sit with? Do any of my friends have the same lunch that I have? Remember, they are in the uncharted wilderness of the Middle School social system; the last thing they want is to be the person that has to sit alone! The question “Where do I sit?” is really about a deeper question: “Where do I fit?” Never before has who you choose as your friends mattered so much. Here are a couple of survival tips that we offer to new middle schoolers: figure out before hand which of the friends you already know have the same lunch as you, so you know what to expect. We also give our students this challenge: be on the lookout for people who are sitting alone – it is your job as a follower of Christ to not let that happen. Never underestimate how much friends can affect your future.

3. The Challenge of Purpose – Do I matter? Do my choices matter? Every student has to deal with the challenge of establishing autonomy. This is the source of much conflict between parents and teenagers. As they search for independence, they often do so by pushing back against authority figures, especially mom and dad. They start desiring greater levels of freedom without necessarily demonstrating greater levels of responsibility. Here is the good news: everything I have seen and everything I am reading is still confirming that students values and choices are MOST influenced not by media or their peer group, but by their families. As parents, you still are the most important voices in the lives of your students. They will listen to you, and they do listen to you. This can be tough to believe during the times of one-word answers and ipod earplugs, but it is still true. The time you spend with your teenagers and the input you give them will have the greatest affect on their values formation.

One of the mistakes that I see parents make is assuming that the “stiff arm” of their teenage kids actually means they want “space.” They are struggling with the challenge of autonomy, and how they express their independence from you while still feeling that they want to be close to you. Push through the stiff arm and know that you are the most important voice in their world. Your affirmation and guidance will always carry more weight than anyone else’s. We have to learn to hear what they mean past what we think they are saying. It is easy for us to misunderstand the language of adolescence (largely because it is always in the dialect of sarcasm with an accent of attitude), but let me try to translate a few things I am sure teenagers are looking for:
-They long to belong. (They say: “You don’t know me.” We hear: “I don’t matter to them.”)
-They long to be taken seriously. (They say: “You never listen to me.” We hear: “They don’t want to listen to me.”)
-They long to matter. (They say: “I can do it!” We hear: “They don’t need me.”)
-They long for a safe place. (They say: “I’m fine, okay?” We hear: “They want to be left alone.”)
-They long to be uniquely themselves. (They say: “It’s my life – you can’t tell me what to do.” We hear: “They don’t care what I think.”)
-They long to be wanted. (They say: “Nobody cares about me.” We hear: “They don’t care about me.”)

How to say “Friend”

In Greece they say: philos; in Spain: amigo, in Germany: freund; in Russia: prijátel; in Italy: amico; in France: am; Japan: 私の友 (tomodachi), in Israel: חבר (chaver); in the Arabic world they would say: صديق (Sadeeq). “Friend” is a beautiful word in any language, because a friend is a priceless treasure. I don’t think we appreciate how wonderful it is to have friends. Life without friends would be an utterly miserable experience.

According to the June 2006 issue of the journal American Sociological Review, Americans are thought to be suffering a loss in the quality and quantity of close friendships since at least 1985. The study states 25% of Americans have no close confidants. 1 in 4 people have no true friends. This makes me so sad. In a world with so many ways to connect, you would think this would be different. I wonder if we have replaced real friendship with something different – a shallow substitute. I have over 1,000 “friends” on facebook, but is using the word “friend” to describe all of these people cheapening the word? Are all of them true friends? I guess “friend” can mean a few different things, and that people can be different kinds of friends. Jesus taught the best kind of friend is one that would lay down their life for you. The Bible talks about a friend that sticks closer than a brother, and gives us several examples of friendship worth celebrating and emulating.

This month, Echo High School is going to be working through some of these stories of friendship, asking questions about how we can become better friends and surround ourselves with better friends as well.

*Questions to ponder:
-A recent study reveals that 1 in 4 Americans have no true friends. Why do you think this?
-With 6.5 billion people on the planet, why do think some people still feel alone? How can we change this reality?
-What do you think makes someone a true friend?
-What are some ways friendships grow stronger? How can we grow to be better friends ourselves?

What I learned watching MTV

MTV and I were both born in 1981. I was born with little fanfare in a Detroit hospital: a baby too big for a momma too small that required an emergency c-section. MTV on the other hand, was born when they prophetically aired “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Back then, all you could see on MTV were music videos. The concept of a channel devoted to showing commercials 24/7 was brilliant. A music video is basically a commercial for the song and artist, and they interrupt these commercials with other commercials on their commercial breaks. We are suckers! Now, MTV rarely if ever shows music videos; it is in the business of creating culture.

Our high school students are engaged in a series right now that I like to repeat every few years called MTV and the Truth. The idea is to confront the worldview behind some of the shows on MTV with a critical and redemptive eye. We have engaged classic shows like Pimp my Ride, Room Raiders, Punked, The Real World, Made, My Super Sweet 16, and many more. This year, we are tackling Bully Beatdown, The Buried Life, Skins, and 16 and Pregnant. This year is by far my favorite!

I will put up some thoughts from the series in the coming week.