Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

I often wonder what it is my kids think about marriage. I wonder what they’ve learned by watching me and my wife live out the vows we recited to each other over 28 years ago. I wonder if the example I’ve given them is a good one. Do they have a high view of marriage? Or, like so many of their peers, do they view the institution of marriage with a skepticism that’s been fueled by faulty media depictions, the confusion of infatuation with love, declining sexual standards, a “feel-good” moral code, and the failure of marriage to work under the roof where they spent their childhood?

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our center when it comes to matrimony. When we get around to choosing marriage, our expectations are way off. When we get into marriage, those false expectations bear fruit that leaves us feeling like failures. . . and then far too many marriages disintegrate. The good news is that even though this is the cultural climate of the times, a majority of our kids long to enter into a stable, loving, and enduring marriage. Eighty-two percent of our teenage girls say that having a good marriage and family life is “extremely important,” and that’s a number that’s been trending upward in recent years. While the boys lag behind, over seven out of ten share that desire. But how can we help facilitate a transition from great expectations, to seeing those expectations become reality?

I’m fully aware that marriage and individual marriages are extremely complex. But stated simply, the two best things we can give to our kids is 1) an example of a healthy marriage, and 2) constant guidance and direction before their married so that they are prepared for the marital realities than run the spectrum from good, to bad, to even ugly.

One of the things I’ve come to love about Dr. Paul Tripp is his realization that life is messy. He would be the first to admit that his own life has been messy. He also trumpets the theological reality that we are all deeply flawed people who are living in a deeply flawed world. Not only that, but it is the grace of God as evidenced in the cross that not only saves us, but saves us from ourselves while allowing us to live in marital bliss and marital lack-of-bliss as one flawed person committed to another flawed person. His latest book, What Did You Expect??: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage (Crossway, 2010), is a vulnerable, biblically-based, realistic, and very hopeful guide that can set us on the path to healthy marriages, the setting of good examples, and healthy conversations with our kids about the nature of marriage.

Tripp recognizes that our marriages need “the regular rescue of grace” because we are sinners who are married to sinners who are trying to live the married life in a broken and messed up world. Tripp proposes that contrary to popular opinion, the secret to a successful marriage is not rooted in romance. Rather, a marriage of love, unity, and understanding is rooted in the worship of God. It is only when we are focused on the worship of God “that we find reason to continue” in our marriages.

After smashing the faulty and idolatrous notions of marriage that we so easily believe and embrace in today’s culture, Tripp shares and explains six commitments that flawed couples must keep if they are hoping to grow in their love for each other and build a marriage that endures. They are. . .

- We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.
- We will make growth and change our daily agenda.
- We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.
- We will commit to building a relationship of love.
- We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.
- We will work to protect our marriage.

What Did You Expect?? is a timely book that I highly recommend. Of course, it’s one that all parents should read, discuss, and prayerfully endeavor to live. Youth workers would do well to give it a read? Why? Your kids are watching! Couples considering marriage will find the book especially helpful. And then anyone who wants to help young people hear and live a realistic and healthy understanding of this God-given institution will find more than enough good stuff to unpack and discuss with kids.

Tripp writes, “It is only when a husband and wife are in love with the same King and live in practical pursuit of the same kingdom that they have any hope of functional unity, understanding, and love.” Yes, God is in the business of rescuing us from ourselves and making all things new. . . including our marriages!

-- Dr. Walt Mueller

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Fatherless Generation

Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story (Zondervan, 2010) by John Sowers is eye-opening, dismal, but ultimately hopeful.

The first half of the book paints a bleak picture of fatherlessness in America. Thirty-three percent of youth—over 25 million kids—grow up without a dad. According to Sowers “the fatherless boy lives with the nagging accusation that he will never be adequate, never measure up, never really be a man.” And, “while our fatherless sons rage, our fatherless daughters decay. Driven by a crippling sense of unworthiness and a gnawing hunger for Dad, they are emotionally and sexually promiscuous.” Citing various sources, Sowers concludes: "The fatherless generation is accountable for most of the serious problems we face today…"

63% of youth suicides
71% of pregnant teenagers
90% of all homeless and runaway children
70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions
85% of all youth who exhibit behavior disorders
80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger
71% of al high school dropouts
75% of all adolescents in chemical abuse centers
85% of all youths sitting in prison

But there is hope. The second half of the book is an urgent plea for churches to invest in intentional mentoring programs. Sowers is currently the president of The Mentoring Project, which “seeks to respond to the American crisis of fatherlessness by inspiring and equipping faith communities to mentor fatherless boys.” He offers countless stories and statistics of boys and girls who made successful and healthy transitions from adolescence to adulthood. The common denominator was that they had mentors in their lives, showing them want it meant and looked like to be men and women. Understanding the daunting task of being a mentor, the book concludes with helpful and inspiring advice on how to engage the fatherless among us.

Sowers forces us to open our eyes to the devastating crisis of fatherlessness. It is pervasive. And because it affects everyone in some way, everyone should read this book. If you come from a fatherless background this book will help you to make sense of your situation. Youth workers should read this book in order to better understand how to serve the fatherless in their congregations and communities. And, finally, fathers should read this book to be reminded of the importance and challenge of being a faithful dad.

-- Derek Melleby

Monday, November 8, 2010

Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers

Billy Joel once sang about how only the good die young. It was a song about a good catholic girl and a bad rebel trying to sway her from her religious roots. Now we never know what happened to that girl at the end of the song (to many ooo’s and woah’s to find out) but if the author of Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2007), Mark Regnerus, has any say in the matter he might conclude that she ran off with the boy.

Forbidden Fruit is a few years old so it wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve missed this one recently. However, the answers to what is happening in the lives of teens as it relates to sex and sexuality, and more importantly the behavior of teens, is why this book deserves to stay on our reading lists. Regnerus asks questions about religion and sex among American teenagers, and his conclusions are neither simple nor straightforward. In fact, he poses that simple and straightforward answers to questions about sex (like, avoid sex before you're married) have largely fallen flat among American teens, Christians included. There's new material on emerging sexual norms, masturbation, homosexuality, virginity loss, and post-virginity sexual decision-making. For these reasons, I think the book could be considered as a standard in the study of adolescent sexual behavior, independent of its emphasis on religion.

Forbidden Fruit
is not only a meta-analysis on the issues of religion and sex as it relates to teens but it also gives insight into how people of faith have discussed the topic of sex. Regnerus quotes Don Schrader who says, “to hear many religious people talk, one would think God created the torso, head, legs, and arms, but the devil slapped on the genitals.” Unfortunately the data collected suggests that religion has failed to persuade people to talk about sex in ways that are not dehumanizing and demonizing all in the hope of keeping teens from having sex before marriage.

Whether you are a parent, pastor or educator I would recommend this book. It can at times be very thick with statistics, but Regnerus masterfully balances his overall analysis with the rawness of teenage emotion and experience. Overall, I think this is worth the time to sit and read. There are few authors who can tackle such a serious subject in such a disarming way.

-- Jason Soucinek

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again)

I’m not a guy who has a long list of heroes. Perhaps it’s because it takes a lot to impress me. To qualify as a hero for me, someone has to be a real flesh-and-blood person (sorry, Superman!) who has unselfishly pursued their God-given life-calling with single-minded purpose and almost reckless abandon. They also have to have done with great humility and integrity. It’s for that reason that I list Wayne Rice as one of a small handful of my youth ministry heroes.

I was a freckle-faced kid longing to survive life Huntingdon Junior High School and the harrowing transformation from childhood to adolescence when Wayne Rice was blazing the youth ministry trail with his buddy Mike Yaconelli. . . a partnership that would very quickly birth Youth Specialties. Although I didn’t know it, my youth pastors around that time were discovering and tapping into the youth ministry stuff Wayne and Mike had originally been selling out of the trunks of their cars. In a few short years, I would find myself answering the call to youth ministry, a calling that was fueled in large part by the growing volume of resources and training provided by YS.

Over the years, my relationship with Wayne Rice morphed from me admiring him from afar as he led music onstage at a convention, to a highly-respected friend. Wayne Rice has always been the real deal. . . that’s what I love about him. Now, after a few years out of the spotlight spent pondering his own story and legacy, Wayne is sharing his time-tested wisdom and heart in his brand new book, Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again): From Bells and Whistles to Flesh and Blood (InterVarsity, 2010).

Let me be straightforward and blunt about this book – every youth worker needs to pick it up and read it. Reality is that lots of younger youth workers might be tempted to write Wayne off as an old guy who’s a youth ministry has-been, which means that he’s got nothing worry saying to people in youth ministry today. But if you understand the wisdom that comes with having a history and honestly evaluating that history, then Wayne Rice is a voice who needs to be heard. It’s no stretch to say that Wayne Rice had a huge hand in making youth ministry what it’s been since the 1960s and into today. . . . both the good and the bad. Wayne would admit that – and does admit that – himself in this book. Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) takes readers on an autobiographical and historical tour of youth ministry without the cloudy vision caused by taking the tour with rose-colored glasses. And by telling us all what was done right along with admitting what was misguided and wrong, Wayne helps today’s youth ministry mavericks avoid the mistakes that so many of us made. Instead, he calls youth workers back to a biblically-faithful and mature view of the Scriptures, the church, the family, and what has to be in place for lasting spiritual nurture to take place in the lives of kids.

Some day, everyone of today’s youth workers will arrive at the age where they take a look in the rearview mirror and think about what they’d do differently if they could only have a chance to do it all over again. It’s inevitable. But I believe that today’s youth workers will reach that point with a shorter list of regrets and would’ve, could’ve, should’ves if they would carefully consider Wayne’s words in Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again). All of us in youth ministry owe a debt of gratitude to Wayne Rice. With this book, our debt just got bigger.

–- Walt Mueller