August 9, 2006

Seven Things I Hope You Tell Your Kids

2006 1522 page8 cap’d hate to be you on judgment day.”

That’s how one adult summed up his opinion of my editorship of Guide, the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s weekly take-home magazine for juniors and earliteens. The writer was convinced that due to my irresponsible leadership, I’d one day be held accountable for showing legions of now spiritually misinformed kids a shortcut to perdition.

Granted, I am an imperfect editor. But if the writer thinks that I take my appointed spiritual and editorial responsibilities lightly, he is dead wrong. I fully understand that the Guide target ages (10-14-year-olds) encompass a hugely statistically significant time for committing oneself to Jesus. The magazine’s tagline, “True Stories Pointing to Jesus,” reflects our deepest desire. Regardless of our critics’ personal attacks on the Guide editor and his team, we really do mean well.
Still, it can be quite a leap from meaning well to the closest baptistry. You see, in the matter of leading kids to Christ, there are times when parents must step up to the plate. Parents are living, breathing souls, typically harboring a love for their children so deep they’d think nothing of taking a bullet for them.
Now, I love Guide readers, but my commitment to them might waver at the business end of a .357 Magnum. Maybe not, but it might. Not so with my own kids, though. I’ll take all six of those slugs right now, thank you.
Strange that we’d display such valor in protecting their earthly lives and yet slack off in the matter of their eternal destiny.
There are some issues that are better dealt with in a forum other than Guide, namely the home. Call them “hot topics,” if you wish. Other crucial themes that the Guide editorial team considers appropriate to address in the publication simply need to be embedded through repetition by parents, grandparents, and other primary caregivers.
With that background, here are seven things I hope you tell your kids.

1. You live in a morally twisted
society that rewards sinful behavior.

“Richard Pryor dies at 65.” That item appeared on the front page of our local newspaper, the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. As the piece notes, Pryor was “the ground-breaking comedian whose profanely personal insights into race relations and modern life made him one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. . . .”1
Music producer Quincy Jones eulogizes Pryor as a “true pioneer of his art. . . . The legacy that he leaves will forever be with us.”2
Thanks, Richard. Maybe Martin Luther King, Jr., would have been more effective if he’d laced his “I Have a Dream” speech with four-letter words, huh?
2006 1522 page8The name Monica Lewinsky used to make a lot of us blush. Commercialism seized the moment, however, and rewarded Monica’s indiscretions with a book contract, TV show hosting opportunities, and a line of designer purses. While forgiveness is Christlike, repentance has a role to play as well.
A recent visit to Billboard magazine’s Web site left me feeling like I should take a quick bath. The filthy and degrading lyrics of such popular performers as 50 Cent and Eminem, along with groups such as Black Eyed Peas, surely must have the demons dancing right alongside the human objects of their attention.
Much of what western culture views as acceptable entertainment is simply spitting in the face of Jesus. Tragically, most Seventh-day Adventist kids have fallen victim to this blitzkrieg of moral desensitization. But as a parent, you can help your child make better choices.
 A confession. I used to want to marry Mary Tyler Moore. Seeing her on The Dick Van Dyke Show, I knew right away that she was everything a 12-year-old could want in a wife.
But a few years later—after she’d landed her own TV show—that began to change. I guess the star figured uttering a mild oath on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was in keeping with the changing entertainment times; perhaps it would help keep the show’s ratings high. The audience laughed and applauded. But when that word slipped between Mary’s lips, her image tarnished just a bit in my mind. In the end, it all worked out OK, because Ted Turner was probably a better fit as a husband (for a while) than I would have been. But I still feel an occasional wisp of sadness about losing the onetime girl of my dreams to the Neilsen ratings system.
From Oscars to Emmys to naming a Chicago street in honor of Playboy magazine’s founding editor, Hugh Hefner, society’s affection for rewarding wrongdoing seems boundless.

2. Illegal drugs can make you feel really, really good.

Stop—don’t write before you hear me out!
My good friend Rick* has experienced the nightmare of having a child addicted to illegal substances. One day as Rick and I sat eating our lunches outside the Review and Herald building, my friend shared with me a deep regret from his parenting days.
“Kyle* and I were battling over the drug abuse thing one night, and he got right in my face,” Rick told me. “Kyle said, ‘Dad, you want to know what I really resent? I resent the fact that you never told me drugs would make me feel so good.’”
Rick sighed. “My son was right,” he lamented. “I hadn’t been totally honest with him.”
Rick’s point was simply that while more than anything else he wanted his child to avoid the horrors of drug abuse, he’d shared only half the story.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that a parent spend quality time with their kids espousing the joys of dabbling in illegal substances. But whether it’s substance abuse or any other life-wrecking behavior, we do a disservice by not providing all the facts. It builds credibility.
Are there exceptions? Probably, depending upon a child’s stage of development. But don’t excuse yourself from tackling tough stuff just because it makes you sweat. Consider the full range of implications before holding back part of the story as the best option. In the end, you just might conclude that “full disclosure” is the way to go.

3. The sexual experience is reserved for marriage,
and that between a man and a woman.

Remember what I just said about kids’ development? Here’s where it applies in real life. Save this one for when they’re ready, but don’t allow it to fall between the cracks.
I live in relatively rural Washington County, Maryland. Recently our local newspaper surveyed 20 public school teen girls about their sexual lives. Only a couple of the young women’s remarks seemed remotely rooted in a Christian worldview. The group reflected plenty of premarital sexual experience. Especially disheartening is the fact that certain sexual activities were not considered as, well, “sex.”
Tragically, Monica’s legacy lives on.
Some Saturday evenings I serve myself up a snack, plop down at the kitchen counter and channel surf the AM radio band. (Did I mention that I am recreationally challenged?) At that time of night I can receive stations I can’t get in at other times of day. One of my favorites is WBZ out of Boston.
On a recent Saturday evening, discussion on The Pat Desmarais Show turned to same-sex parenting. Pat, a fellow who seems intelligent, well-meaning, and typically exhibits a gracious spirit and humble attitude, shared his position on same-sex parenting. This was a proverbial “no-brainer” to Pat. Here’s a summary of his viewpoint: Since there are lots of kids who need adopting, wouldn’t those kids be better off in same-sex homes with adopted “parents” who love them and meet their other needs rather than keeping those emotionally needy kids in state facilities?3
2006 1522 page8Now, my objective here isn’t to spark debate on the subject of same-sex parenting. Rather, I’m providing a real-life illustration of yet another area of moral confusion that’s hitting our kids broadside every day.
Recently I pulled into the Taco Bell drive-thru and ordered my usual Border Chalupa “with beans instead of beef.” I paid for the goods and drove over to the parking lot to feast on the frijoles. That’s when I noticed two young women in the adjacent Wendy’s parking lot expressing their amorous affection for each other. Later I related the experience to a work colleague. “That’s just not natural,” he said.
I think my friend was right. Same-sex attraction is not part of the natural order that God established in the beginning. But it’s very real in today’s less-than-perfect world.
This is a difficult one, parents, but we need to deal with it at home before someone hands your child a brochure with a big rainbow on the front, the inside of which claims that two people of the same sex in an eros love relationship is indeed “natural.” Teach your kids to care about every person, but to resist the devil’s spin on the secular same-sex lifestyle. Handle this very complex issue according to the way you understand the Bible and the Holy Spirit to be informing you. But do not not talk about it when the time is right.

4. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has gotten a lot of things right.

Ha—some of you think that’s a misprint! Not so. Frankly, I’ve never believed as deeply as I do today in the prophetic calling of this church.
Oddly enough, after 16 years of exposure to and participation in church institution committees and corporate board meetings, I just don’t see much evidence of the so-called “church politics” that seems  such delectable fare at many fellowship dinners. Oh, undoubtedly it surfaces here and there, but mostly I see sincere, faith-filled leaders crying out to God and doing the best they can for Him, not for themselves.
Eternal truths such as the saving grace of Jesus; God as Creator and Sustainer; the ministry of the Holy Spirit; the three angels’ messages; the pre-Advent judgment; purity of mind and body; the seventh-day Sabbath; the sleep of death—the Seventh-day Adventist Church has prayed its way toward an incredibly sound belief system. On average, in a biblical debate I’ll take a Seventh-day Adventist pastor over your typical evangelical Dallas Theological Seminary-trained Sunday pastor any day of the week (and especially on Sabbath). I’ve learned a lot from the latter group, but most Adventist pastors I know connect the scriptural dots in a way that creates an amazingly accurate likeness of what’s really going on in my life and in our world. By extension, I think these pastors have a reasonably solid grasp of what’s happening behind spiritual curtains. Sure, I’m biased. But Adventist pastors have had some 2,500 sermonic opportunities thus far to mess with my head. Mostly they’ve just convinced me that they know what they’re talking about.
No, we Adventist leaders haven’t done the best job on every issue. One example has been our tendency to set forth Ellen White as the message instead of the messenger.
But nevertheless I am deeply proud of our church message, its leadership, and our God. If you’re not, maybe you should give serious thought about whether you’re sending your kids a mixed message about your denominational commitment. Maybe it’s more important to tell your kids what’s right about Adventism rather than harp about its shortcomings.

5. There really is such a thing as right and wrong.


I do not claim to be a prophet. Still, I have this uncomfortable sense that moral relativism, the idea of doing whatever is right in one’s own eyes as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, will be a key factor in the United States of America’s undoing as God’s oasis for spiritual freedom. Let me put it more forthrightly: I believe our nation is in a moral free fall and someday we’re going to hit the sidewalk really, really hard.
One survey showed that 56 percent of Christian kids are not convinced that “humans are capable of grasping [moral] knowledge.”4 Simply put, millions of young Christians do not believe there is such a thing as “absolute truth,” that certain moral laws apply in all places to all people at all times.
Have you ever asked your children what they believe about right and wrong?
The Ten Commandments—not nine of them, as an increasingly overt evangelical teaching trend espouses—is an eternal blueprint for building a life on solid moral ground.
2006 1522 page8Some folks—and maybe your own kids—don’t like that idea. It seems “intolerant.” At just the right time in their development, help your child (or grandchild) understand the basic principle behind this thought:
“Truth is not what I believe. Truth is not even what I know. Truth is fact. I may not believe it. I may not know it. That does not change it. It is there nevertheless, waiting to be discovered and believed.
“Truth does not depend on the unsettled and changing opinions of men [and women]. It was truth before it was believed. It will remain truth, whether it is believed or not. Reason does not originate or create it. It merely discovers it. Consequently, reason is not a source. Truth goes back beyond reason.”5
Perhaps less academic-sounding but quite to the point, the apostle Paul put it this way: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen . . . so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20, NIV).
Jesus, who perfectly reflected the character of His heavenly Father, is Truth. Encourage your kids to follow in His steps, and they will not only discover ultimate truth but they will live it as well.
6. God is on our side. 
The term “fear factor” didn’t originate in a TV producer’s mind. It hails back to Adventism’s uncanny knack for mortifying our young people with nightmarish scenarios of what the end-times and the “investigative” judgment will be like. Happily, we’re making some progress in this area, an example of which is reflected in a recent Guide Web site bulletin board posting: “of course the end of time is scary! but we dont have 2 fear cuz God will protect His faithful people. even if we might get hurt, even if we might die, itll all b worth it cuz after all that, the Son will come 2 take us 2 heaven where there will b no more sorrow or pain or death or sin! we dont have 2 b afraid, tho its understandable if u do. but im glad the end is here, so i can b with my God 4 eternity.”
But some work remains, as shown in this excerpt from a posting in the same section of the bulletin board:
“My grandmother is very very strict about church and sometimes when they start talking about wat will happen i start to cry. . . . My grandma said that people will take away our Bibles. . . . i am scared. . . .”
A while back I visited a teen Sabbath school where the leader asked the young people to raise their hands if they felt confident of their salvation. Not one hand went up (except mine, and that didn’t count since I no longer qualify as a “young person”).
Sadly, I remained spiritually insecure well past my seminary training days and on into my stint as pastor to youth and young adults. Praise God I eventually figured out that Satan is honored when we stumble on this point. Nowadays I celebrate the reality of what Jesus has done for me regarding my eternal destiny. I rest in the assurance reflected in passages such as this:
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. . . . I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13, NIV).
What’s to not understand about that message? With Jesus, you and I are good to go! Undersell His role in the matter and, well, I’d hate to be me on judgment day.
Who can separate us from the love of God? As far as I can tell, only a life disconnected from our Savior. Drive that point home with your kids until they start mumbling it in their sleep.

7. Knowing about Jesus isn’t enough.

My wife, Diana, and I enjoy hiking the Appalachian Trail. We also like hitting local back roads for pseudo-exploration. But something else we love to do is . . . nothing. Just being with each other is enough.
It seems to me that this may be what Jesus had in mind as an important relational goal between Himself and His beloved children. Sure, I like to learn things about Diana, and we love chatting with each other. But more often than not, the most powerful communication of love comes in a tight and wordless embrace.
Relational intimacy doesn’t come naturally for some of us. It’s been my observation that Adventism itself tends to frequently breed “relationally challenged” church members. It may be that because we have been entrusted with communicating end-time biblical truth we sometimes overlook the more fundamental human need of heartfelt relationship. Spiritually speaking, this is deadly.
A study of 996 Australian Seventh-day Adventists revealed some important differences between healthy and unhealthy spirituality in the home. The study indicated that an “introjected” religion—a brand of religion rooted more
in the head than in the heart—“was associated with higher levels of anxiety and increased vulnerability to symptoms of depression, and lower levels of self-actualisation.”6 Suffice to say that a spiritual life providing those types of rewards will soon be jettisoned for something more fulfilling.
Conversely, a healthy spirituality, labeled an “identification” style religion, is viewed in more positive relational terms, including “I enjoy spending time with [God].”7 What a concept! But the question remains: At home, are your kids getting the message that “hanging out” with Jesus just to be with Him is a wonderful use of time? Are you modeling from the center of your soul the mutual embrace between you and your loving Savior?
I must confess that in my own home, I haven’t done too well in this area. But I am working on changing my spiritual role modeling to reflect less “theo-talk” and more of a loving “walk.” While I want my kids to be of sound theological mind, it is eternally more important that they have a heart for others. That happens best when we lead them straight to the heart of Jesus.

There’s More

There are more than these seven things that I hope you’ll tell your kids, but this may provide a good starting point. Maybe someday we can swap stories of our parenting adventures. Meet me on the south bank of the sea of glass—and bring a hot dish to pass. Fellowship dinners are something else the Adventist Church has gotten right.
*Not their real names.
The Herald-Mail, Hagerstown, Maryland, December 11, 2005, p. 1.
3The Pat Desmarais Show, WBZ radio, December 10, 2005.
4Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, Right From Wrong (Word Publishing, 1994), p. 79.
5This is from one of those annoying forwarded e-mails. I have no clue as to its author.
6Bradley J. Strahan, Does Religion Support Family Relationships? It Depends on What Kind of Religion, Australian Family Research Conference, November 27-29, 1996, Brisbane, Australia.

Randy Fishell, editor of Guide, writes from Smithsburg, Maryland