Bullying: What Does God Say?

Bullying Sermon SlideRecently we took a break from our current teaching series in our middle school ministry so we could address the topic of bullying. This is an issue that all students face at some point. Some are the bullies, some of the bullied, and some are bystanders. We want our students to hear about bullying not just from their teachers or parents (even though that’s very important and we encourage that) but more importantly from the Bible and what God says about how we should treat others.

Not only did we address what the Bible says about how we should treat others, we did an onstage interview with a young lady from our church who is a therapist and works with students. You can watch the entire talk below.

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Book Review: Storify by Rachel Blom

51cjoMnENiL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Communicating the truth of the Bible to teenagers in our culture is not an easy task. To make it even more difficult, the approach that may have worked in the past is not guaranteed to work in the present or in the future. So what do we need to do? Instead of doing what we have always done and expecting new results, we should take a step back and rethink our approach. When it comes to communicating the truth of the Bible we need to ask ourselves, “Is our current method of teaching really working?”

In her new book Storify, Rachel Blom helps us rethink how we communicate to teenagers by promoting a style (or method) of teaching that she refers to as “storify.” Storify is all about “using principles of story to empower our message” (page 15). Later in the book, she says it this way: “Storifying means using the principles of story-the characteristics that make stories so effective-throughout your talk” (page 90). Blom believes that our modern approach to teaching teenagers isn’t cutting it in our postmodern culture, which is also heading towards being a post-Christian culture (if you don’t fully understand the idea behind postmodernism and post-Christianity no worries, Blom does an excellent job at explaining them both and what they look like in this book). In order to teach teenagers effectively in a postmodern culture we must use a postmodern approach. This is where the idea of “storify” comes into play.

As I read through this book, two big ideas kept surfacing. I think these two ideas sum up what Blom is trying to communicate in this book.

First, we must make good use of the element of story as we teach teenagers. Stories are excellent ways to communicate truth in a way that sticks. Blom spends several chapters on the idea of using stories well in our talks. She gives very practical tips on how to use and tell stories in our teaching. This by far was one of the most helpful things for me personally about this book. I often spend too much time and preparation on content while neglecting the time it takes to think about and craft good stories to include in my teaching to better communicate what I’m trying to teach.

Second, we must structure our talks (or messages, sermons, etc.) like a story. A few chapters of the book are dedicated to just this idea. Blom encourages us to think about the structure and flow of stories and how we can follow that same flow and structure in our teaching. This section of the book is sure to rub up against anyone who has taken homiletics courses or read any preaching books by anyone other than Andy Stanley. As someone who has taken many courses in homiletics, read many books on preaching, and tends to take a more traditional approach to preparing and teaching the Bible, this section was tough for me. There where times I loved what Blom was saying and then there were times I am not so happy with what she was saying (probably because what she was saying went right up against my traditional approach that I have been taught and tend to use most of the time). However, I appreciated what she brought to the table on this topic and how she gives a clear argument for the benefit of structuring our talks like a story. I came away with some things to think through and apply in my approach to teaching teenagers.

There has been many books written on the topic of speaking to teenagers. However, Storify challenged me more than any other book on this topic has in awhile. I would highly encourage anyone who regularly teaches teenagers to read this book.

Books I’ve Read Recently

During the month of January we did a series in our student ministry called “Dating, Marriage, and Sex” (you can go here to listen to that entire series online). In preparation for that series I read a few books on the topics of relationships and sex. Below are those books.

sex-dating-relationships_2Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas. This was by far the most interesting book on this topic I have ever read. The authors did a fantastic job of being Biblical accurate and Gospel centered while explaining the practical side of relationships and sex in ways that I have never heard. The authors goal in this book is to move past the “just don’t have sex before marriage” argument by helping the reader see the Biblical foundation for sex and relationships and what God actually calls us to. There is great chapter on sex and how it is a picture of the Gospel. There is also two great chapters that focus on dating and helping the reader understand why the Bible doesn’t address dating (and it’s more than just “dating didn’t exist back in Bible times). In light of this, there is an interesting chapter that calls for dating to be done differently in the form of what the authors call “dating friendships.” They define this concept as “two friends getting to know each other with a view toward marriage” (page 92). They go on to explain that concept in more detail in the book. Overall this was a great book that challenged many of my own thoughts on sex and relationships. I’d highly recommend this book to singles who want a clear understanding of sexual purity, dating, and marriage.

Love-Sex-DatingThe New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating by Andy Stanley. This book deals less with sex and more with love, relationships, and preparing for marriage. Even though the principles and concepts Stanley talks about in this book are Biblical, there isn’t a ton of references to the Bible and an attempt to helping the reader understand God’s Word. However, I wouldn’t say that makes this a “bad book.” In fact, I think it’s a great book that will challenge both the Christian and non-Christian single to understand love, relationships, and marriage better. In this book, Stanley calls singles to drop the “right person myth,” prepare well for marriage, strive to become the right person (“be the kind of person you want to marry”), and a commitment to sex the way God designed it. There are a host of other things Stanley discusses in this book but the overall message is to slow down, prepare, be the right kind of person, and enjoy marriage and sex the way God intended it to be enjoyed. I would highly recommend this book to young adults who desire to marry. I’d love to get this in the hands of upper high school students as well as college students. I wouldn’t recommend this book for anyone under that age group.

41uEQDpG5OL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Sex Matters by Jonathan McKee. This is the best book written to teenagers about sex. There has been plenty that have been written but many simply argue “just wait” rather than explaining God’s beautiful design for sex. McKee doesn’t hold back in this book. He doesn’t tip toe around this topic but answers head on the questions teenagers are asking about sex. He does an excellent job at helping teenagers see why waiting on sex for marriage is actually a very good thing. The next obvious question teenagers ask after they hear about waiting is “how far is too far?” Instead of going the legalistic route and giving a list of things teenagers “can do” and “cannot due” until marriage, McKee explains that sex is a process and that “entire process is only for marriage” (page 49). In light of that, McKee urges teenagers then to do the obvious – don’t start the process. McKee then spends a whole chapter on helping teenagers understand why the Bible says “flee” and how teenagers can do this. The last two chapters of the book deals with porn and masturbation as well as answering some common questions teenagers ask about sex. This is a book I wish every teenager would read. It will help them understand God’s design for sex and answer many of the questions they have. It’s extremely practical as well. If you’re a parent, get this book and encourage your teen to read it. If you’re a youth worker, consider giving this book to your students or at least reading it and having it on your shelve to help you understand how to address teenagers about sex.

Biblical Principles for Teen Dating

Teen_datingDating is part of the teenage experience. Most teenagers at some point will engage in dating relationships. As someone who works with teenagers I have seen almost everything when it comes to teens and dating. I have seen middle school students “fall in love.” I have seen high school students date for years and continue dating into their college years. I have seen teenagers hit rock bottom as the person they are dating ends the relationship. I have seen teenagers jump from one dating relationship to another just because they need that “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” relationship. I have sat with students who are dating that honestly want to honor God in their relationship so they set boundaries and spiritual goals for their relationship. If you are around teenagers, maybe as a parent or youth worker like me, you have seen some of this stuff. If you care about teenagers, as parents and youth workers do, you want to help them navigate and work through the strange world of dating.

So when it comes to dating many of us want to know what does the Bible says so that we can pass it  on to teenagers. We want them to obey God’s Word in all areas of their lives, especially when it comes to dating relationships. But here is the tricky part – the Bible doesn’t address dating. Yep, dating is never mentioned or even referred to in God’s Word. The simple answer as to why is because dating as we know it today didn’t exist back then.

So what are we to do? First, we tell them the Bible doesn’t address it. We need to be honest about that. Second, we look into God’s Word and draw principles out of it that can be applied to dating. That’s what we need to pass on to teenagers. We need to show them clear Biblical principles that can and should be applied to dating so they can go about it in a way that honors and glorifies God.

Here are some Biblical principles that can and should be applied to dating relationships. These are the Biblical truths we should pass on to teenagers to help them date in a way that would honor God.

Obey your parents dating rules. When it comes to dating, parents have different views. Some parents encourage it while other strongly discourage it. Some allow their children to date whenever their kid decides to while others set an age when their children can start dating. No matter what the rules are God expects teenagers to obey their parents. Ephesians 6:1 (ESV) says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Parents should set rules and boundaries for their teenagers when it comes to dating and teenagers should obey those rules.

Date other Christians. Christian teenagers should date other Christians. When a Christian teenager decides to date a non-Christian it usually hinders the faith of the Christian teenager. They will usually be pulled away from their relationship with God and be tempted to walk in a way that doesn’t line up with their Christian faith. In 2 Corinthians 6:14 (ESV) says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” Even though this verse is usually applied to marriage, it also can be applied to dating. If we would encourage Christians to marry Christians, doesn’t it make sense to encourage Christians to date other Christians? I think so. In this video, Tim Keller explains how it’s not practical for Christians to date non-Christians. In her book Sex and Dating, Mindy Meier adds a good point to remember. She says, “It’s fine to have friendships with non-Christians, but do not commit to anyone who does not share your same faith. True compatibility grows from a join quest to follow God, to conform your life to the guidelines of the Bible and to draw from the spiritual resources found in Christ.”

Pursue sexual purity. The biggest issue with teenage dating is the door it opens to sexual temptation. I have never met a teenage dating couple who does not struggle in this area. Teenagers need to understand that God created sex to be enjoyed in the context of marriage. When you engage in sex, or any sexual activity for that matter, outside of marriage it is sin. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 (ESV) says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” First Corinthians 6:18 (ESV) says, “Flee from sexual immorality..” Both of these verses use the term “sexual immorality,” which is the Biblical term that covers all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage. Teenagers should know that the Bible considers more than just intercourse outside of marriage a sin. God commands us to abstain and flee from any sexual activity outside of marriage.

Don’t let the person you are dating become the center of your life. Many times when teenagers date they place the person they are dating at the center of their lives. They neglect friends, family, and even God at times because their boyfriend or girlfriend has become the most important person in their life. Teenagers must understand that God should be the most important person in their lives. He doesn’t tolerate or share that spot with anyone. Whenever we put anything before God, it’s becomes idolatry. It’s safe to say many teenagers make the person they are dating an idol. Teenagers who desire to maintain a healthy dating relationship will not put the person they are dating as their first priority.

A few weeks ago I talked to our students about dating in our “Dating, Marriage, and Sex” series. Much of what I posted above was from that talk. However, if you want to hear more about these Biblical principles that can be applied to dating I’d encourage you to listen to that talk online. Click here to listen.

Books I’ve Read Recently

Catalyst-Leader-BookThe Catalyst Leader by Brad Lomenick. I decided to pick this book up and read since I haven’t read a leadership book in a while. Brad Lomenick wrote this book while he was the leader of Catalyst, which is an organization that equips and inspires young Christian leaders through events, resources, consulting, and community. In this book, Lemonick puts forth eight essentials that are required for what he calls a “change maker.” The eight essentials (which could also be called characteristics) are: called, authentic, passionate, capable, courageous, principled, hopeful, and collaborative. Each chapter covers one of these essentials. In each chapter Lemonick explains why the particular characteristic is important to leadership as well as ways leaders can grow in that area of leadership. Two of the things I really liked about this book was how practical it was as well as all the stories Lemonick includes of people who demonstrate each characteristic. The stories are inspiriting and serve as great reminders of what being a “change maker” really means. This is a great read for anyone in leadership who wants some practical tips on becoming a better leader.

Amish-Values-for-Your-Family-195x300Amish Values for Your Family by Suzanne Fisher. I have always been intrigued by the Amish. Their simple life and faith has always been something I want to learn more about. One of the areas of the Amish I have always admired is how they view and go about family, which is why I decided to read this book. The point of this book is not to encourage people to “go Amish.” It’s an encouragement to look into the family life of the Amish and see what values we can take from them and apply to our own families. Fisher says, “There is much we can learn from these gentle people about raising our families well: to help prioritizes what’s truly important, to simplify decision making, to slow down as a family, to safeguard time together, and when age-appropriate, to let go” (page 13). The book covers four broad “values” the Amish have in regard to family: children are love but not adored, great expectations, daily bread, and letting go. Each chapter gives a short story of a family living out one of those values. The section I really enjoyed and learned the most from was “children are loved and not adored.” As a culture parents put their children at the center of their life and their family. Everything seems to revolve around the child. However, this doesn’t always proceeds the best results. In many cases this hurts the family and the child. The Amish have figured out a way to love their children but not revolve their whole life and family around those children. Instead, those children become a vital part of the family and benefit the family. Also, each chapter ends with a short summary of how families can take that story and the value it teaches and apply it to their family. This is a book I would highly recommend to parents of children of any age.

41wF1qfueZL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_Beyond Small Talk by Rachel Blom. This little book contains extremely helpful information on how to have conversations with teenagers. As the title suggests, Blom helps the reader understand how they can move from “small talk,” which is actually important and needed, to more meaningful conversations about God. What I loved about this book is how Blom doesn’t paint “small talk” as a bad thing or something we should look down on because it’s not “spiritual.” Instead, Blom shares how we can actually become better at “small talk,” which will set us up to move into those deeper conversations. This book contains very practical tips on almost everything someone needs to know in order to have good conversations with teenagers. There are chapters on things like building trust, getting small groups talking (which is a must read for anyone who leaders a small group made up of teenagers), and knowing what to say/what not to say. I’d encourage anyone who deals with teenagers often, especially parents and youth workers, to read this book. It’s short and simple, but very helpful. Talking with teenagers is important and those of us who deal closely with them should strive to grow in this area. As Blom says in the introduction of this book, “It’s imperative that we talk with them, that we succeed in opening up a real dialogue.” This book will help you do just that.

Two other books that I also read that I chose not to review were A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer, which is an older book but is still a great read that I would recommend to all Christians, as well as The Divorce Dilemma by John MacArthur, which is a very helpful book in understanding what the Bible teaches about divorce.