February 27, 2008

Messages to Young People

The following articles by two mothers, about raising youth, are not opposing views; they complement each other. They challenge us to guide our youth in faithfully balancing belief and practice, reflecting the character of Christ, and living consistently with the claims of the gospel. Doubtless, you will want to react to one or both of these pieces. We look forward to reading your responses.—Editors.
2008 1506 page24 capIT WAS ONE OF THOSE GRACE-filled moments people love to tell about. It happened right in the middle of the adult Bible study class conducted by the famous rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth.
Everyone’s attention was riveted on the speaker. In contrast to the bustle of nearby markets and streets, this area was filled with a solemn hush. This was worship at its most earnest, spiritual food at its best. The group gathered around Jesus reveled in a special worship experience.
Then the reverent silence was broken by the sounds of kids singing “kid” songs. Shrieks of laughter split the air. Cries of excitement: “There He is! There’s Jesus! I’ll race you to Him,” echoed off nearby walls.
The disciples, bless them, leaped in to salvage what they could of the ruined service. Turning on the mothers who had brought their children to Jesus, they told the moms in no uncertain terms: “Don’t you know adults are worshipping here? Can’t you see that Jesus is busy with really important spiritual issues? Get these kids out of here.”
2008 1506 page24That’s when the unexpected happened: The Bible says Jesus became “indignant” (Mark 10:14). He told His workers, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Then He “took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (verses 15, 16).
Onto Jesus’ Lap
As a mom who hopes her adolescent children stay close to Jesus, I watch children’s and youth ministries closely. There’s a lot to praise God for in the dedicated, “in-touch” workers who labor in this field. They are filled with the joy as well as the love of Jesus. By helping the young climb joyfully onto Jesus’ lap, they impart those qualities unstintingly to our children.
The more I watch, however, the more I wonder if we in other parts of the work sometimes add a couple of verses to that Bible story. In those verses the disciples take the kids away, wash the sticky off their hands, rebuke them for singing 
jubilant songs, and remind them to be quiet and keep their hands off Jesus. Then, when the kids are tame enough to be allowed near Jesus, the subdued, spiritless, dejected youngsters file into His presence for a formal laying-on-of-hands ceremony.
If we add those verses, we might as well add a few more verses, too. Those verses would tell how the kids never came near Jesus again, never trusted Him, never saw Him as someone who loved them unconditionally. We’d need such verses to explain why those Judean moms would search heaven in vain for their children.
The Ministry of Both/And
Another one of those good stories we tell, but don’t make a habit of imitating, happened at a recent camp meeting. The youth had a tent of their own for their worship services. They sang, they praised God, they “climbed onto Jesus’ lap,” sticky fingers, joyful noise, and all.
A few concerned adults approached the conference pres-
ident. “You can hear the youth clear over here,” they complained. “People are trying to worship here; can’t you tell them to quiet down?”
The president went and observed the youth for a while. Then he returned to the adult pavilion. “Well?” the adults asked.
“Well,” he answered, “the noise from the adult tent is louder over there than the youth noise is over here. The youth are trying to worship. Please ask the adults to tone it down a little.”
Too often, we hear things like: “We don’t have time for a children’s story during church; there are too many things we need to do for the adults.”
“A kids’ story? No way; they get noisy when they come and go.”
“We’re not going to have a youth service; did you hear the kind of music they want?”
2008 1506 page24“Their behavior is inappropriate for church. They hug, lift their hands, and shout ‘hallelujah.’ One of their musicians even used a tambourine!”
Worship may be the heart of the issue; they don’t worship the way we do. They worship with gleeful jubilation. They may have smudged robes and dirty faces; we can’t have that. We must subdue them, rebuke them, tame them. After we have leached the joy out of these joyful worshippers, we can safely parade them past the Lord in a dispirited, dejected, single-file ceremony.
Trouble is, that isn’t safe either. In fact, it’s absolutely perilous. When we do that, we can cross out of our kids’ Bibles the verses about making a joyful noise unto the Lord and coming into His presence with praise. Along with those, we can cross out the verses about coming to Him with confidence and finding rest in His presence, because we have made His presence fearful and His service a burden. We may get to heaven one day, but we’ll search in vain for our youth. Unless we allow them to be themselves with the Lord, our children may not even want to go to heaven.
When will we learn to let our youth come to Jesus, not on our terms, but on His? He said, “Let them come, just as they are”—just as we were when we first came to Him. It was gradually, after our hearts were won, that true reverence grew, cleanliness developed, and we learned the value of quietness.
When those traits grew in us, they weren’t the reverence of externally subdued behavior, the cleanliness of forcibly washed faces, and the quiet fear of human disapproval. We learned by experience when to make a joyful noise and when to be joyfully quiet. We learned the difference between playing with childlike joy in the mud of God’s creation and being coated with the grime of sin.
When we actually let the children come to Jesus on the terms He demonstrated in this story, we won’t have to worry about them turning away from Him as irrelevant and uncaring. What’s more, we won’t have to worry as much about the health of our own souls, either. After all, Jesus told those starchy, pompous adults who rebuked the children that those noisy, jubilant, dirty children were the real stuff of heaven.
Unless we become like them here, we won’t make it there (see Mark 10:15).
Julia Vernon writes from Grantsville, Utah.

issue header 2008 1506 25

2008 1506 page24 capI BECAME A SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST AS a teen. I grew up in a non-Adventist culture, but in academy I learned to understand and embrace Seventh-day Adventist convictions. I received Christ as my Savior and was taught that the Bible was my guide for life. I became the only vegetarian in my family, didn’t pierce my ears when my neighborhood girlfriends did, wore my dresses a bit longer compared to the miniskirts of the 70s, didn’t read romance novels, and quit going to the movie theater (in the pre-DVD era, that meant I didn’t see any popular movies).
Twenty-five years later, I’m raising a teenager. I’ve tried to pass on the beliefs I learned—not just a set of rules about external behaviors, but ardently held convictions: love for God, acceptance of His Word as the final authority for my life, care for the temple of my body, simplicity of life, modesty, and purity of thought.
Yet I’ve found that rather than being helped by my church in my struggle to raise a godly child in an ungodly world, I’m fighting it. Rather than validating the beliefs it taught me decades ago, my church sometimes tells my teen those convictions no longer matter.
Healthful living has been replaced by a soda machine in the academy hallway; kids come to class with their lattes, and high-fat, sugar-loaded muffins stand in as breakfast at most overnighters.
2008 1506 page24Simplicity is drowned out by the wide acceptance of jewelry, rented limos for eighth-grade graduations, and expensive class trips. Modesty has gone the way of spaghetti straps and plunging necklines on banquet night. Those things annoy me, but I understand why some feel those externals don’t indicate the state of the heart.
But surely we can all agree that it is vitally important that we maintain purity of thought by being careful about what we read, see, and hear. Perhaps Scripture doesn’t directly address Twinkies, limos, or spaghetti straps, but God’s Word does say: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).
Alas, it seems that purity of thought is joining those other “dinosaurs” of Adventist history: care for God’s temple, simplicity, and modesty. Adventist teens can put anything into their minds as long as they don’t swear, act out the violence they see, or become pregnant. As long as our kids look wholesome, we don’t seem to care how they feed their minds. After all, by their teen years they are watching movies with Mom and Dad. And apparently Mom and Dad feel less guilt about their own infatuation with Hollywood than they did a generation ago.
My main concern is not the sexual immorality, violence, or bad language in movies, though I deplore it all. There is little danger that our exposure to the media will cause us to become prostitutes, murderers, or blasphemers. The greater and more insidious danger is that we are developing a way of thinking that finds entertainment in the very sins for which Christ died.
Some say, “We need to know what’s ‘out there,’ so we can be relevant to our culture.” Unfortunately, our fascination with what’s “out there” has made it “in here.” It’s one thing to know your enemy; it’s a far different thing to cuddle up with him on the couch on Saturday nights.
This Film Is Rated
I’m not recommending media police in our churches. Each individual must apply God’s Word individually. But church functions should uphold the highest standards. That has not, however, been my experience. At home we’ve tried to judge our entertainment, although imperfectly, by Philippians 4:8. We watch some television and rent some DVDs, but we’ve found most of Hollywood’s offerings fail the biblical test.
We’ve tried to be careful about the music, books, and magazines we bring into our home. But as my child has grown and begun attending church functions, I’ve felt betrayed by the very organization that gave me my standards.
My child’s first PG-rated movie included a scene that mocked religion and was shown by his Pathfinder club. He saw his first PG-13 movie in a first-year academy class. And my teen’s first R-rated movie was shown in a Sabbath school class, which used segments of the movie to illustrate spiritual truths.
Why has there been such a mind-boggling change in 
the attitude of Seventh-day Adventists toward media in the past two decades? Has Hollywood cleaned itself up since 
I was warned to avoid theaters 25 years ago? If anything, Hollywood’s moral decay has only become more pronounced. Why then, as movies and television have become more ungodly, have God’s people become more accepting of them?

Developing Biblical Standards for Media 

By Jane Smith
Encourage love for God and value His ways. Search God’s Word together for help in making decisions.

Be true to your own convictions—your kids are watching. I don’t just prevent my child from seeing movies others see; I don’t watch them either.

Respect authority; when you must disagree with a leader, separate the individual from the offense. The same leaders who have shown inappropriate media have also done wonderful things for my child, which I appreciate.

Explain that movie ratings are made by Hollywood, not by pastors. “G” does not stand for “godly.” Check out Christian online reviews (such as Focus on the Family’s www.pluggedinonline.com) before making a movie decision. Besides getting good advice, you’ll see that other Christians are careful about what they watch, too.

It’s a matter of perspective. If we judge ourselves by the world, we may look pretty good. But the world has taken a quantum leap away from the standards of God’s Word. When the world still embraced many of the values of the Bible—honesty, sexual purity, modesty, respect for authority, etc.—our distance from the world’s culture was noticeable, but not terribly painful. As the world moved away from those scriptural principles, the church kept its same comfort level—a noticeable but not painful distance from the world’s standards. Each step the world took away from Scripture, Christians followed at a comfortable distance. We can look at ourselves and say, “What we’re doing isn’t as bad as what the world’s doing,” never noticing how far we have strayed from the standard of God’s Word.
The Bible says we should be “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Phil. 2:15, 16). It exhorts us: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11).
We live in a depraved generation, and Hollywood specializes in darkness, not light. Why are we drinking from polluted wells, rather than placing warning signs around them?
Many church programs treat young people who have grown up Adventist as if they were unchurched; with activities heavy on entertainment and light on spiritual substance. In a youth group I led, it became almost a joke that we couldn’t maintain a spiritual conversation for five minutes without someone mentioning a movie he had seen. I suggested a one-week moratorium from talking about movies. The kids voted it down as impossible.
I have written this article with a pseudonym, not because I lack the courage to stand for my convictions, but rather to avoid pointing a finger at any specific school or congregation. I can only hope that each of us will hear God’s call to shine like stars as we raise a higher standard in this generation. Our world has never needed our light more than it does today.
Jane Smith is a pseudonym.