Good afternoon FPCH family! As the New Year rapidly approaches, Bridgett and I hope and pray for you with trust and love. Our students at FPCH have blessed Bridgett and I beyond words. They have encouraged us, moved us, and brought peace and joy into the midst of our most difficult days. Bridgett and I have incredibly big plans in store for this coming year for FPCH Youth Ministries in Hollywood, and are hoping that our students grow in their trust and love in a God who is pursuing them with a relentless and undying devotion. God’s children, our teenagers, our students, are the most precious gift we have and the most cherished and beautiful in the eyes of our Lord.
For sometime now, FPCH students and I have been on an unexpected, yet deliberate journey through the gospels focusing specifically on two themes:
Identity & Vocation.
Parent Connect 12/31
In an article in the Common Good magazine written by John Terrill, he wrote of a Franciscan Priest and author named Richard Rohr who spoke of the modern longing to authentically express and therefore explore our “true self” in light of whoever we assume may be our “false self.” Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Forward, writes of the modern relentless pursuit to cultivate a sustainable “container,” or in other words an identity that gives us value and creates a believable sense of belonging amongst peers. If, like Richard Rohr helpfully suggests, our identity, whatever it is that gives us a strong sense of meaning and purpose, and whatever “content” we choose to place within our “container… are vital for achieving the good life.” This “good life” is the anthropological (what humans are for) vantage point of our context and culture, but it is our goal at FPCH to solidify and establish within the hearts of our young people the anthropological perspective (what humans were created for) from the vantage point and perspective of God.
By traveling through the gospels focusing on these crucial concepts with an intent and focused lens on Jesus, we can teach our students how to perceive their purpose and meaning by understanding the fullness of Jesus’ identity as their “container” by which to store meaningful and purposeful content for the benefit of our neighbors, that by consequence brings us a sustained joy and peace. Our young people’s Christian identity must be made their own, and as they wrestle with the faith we must rest assured that God remains faithful in his relentless pursuit
of their hearts. We nonetheless, remain within the midst of a modern community that celebrates a pluralism of beliefs, ideas, and possibilities for what our neighbors perceive as meaningful identities based in persuasive worldviews and narratives. What I mean by this, is that within the public marketplace of ideas, our Christian faith remains one option among many. This can be a daunting idea for some parents, and it can also be a difficult reality to process on a day to day basis for our teenagers. However, what I want to reassure us of is that our identities that are hidden in Christ are not dependent upon the influences of our culture, but on the faithfulness of God. We, therefore, can serve and love our neighbors as Jesus served and loved us, with confidence and trust that regardless of our neighbors disposition toward us, God’s disposition toward them remains faithful and consistent.
This mustn’t weigh you down with suspicion, fear, or timidity. As you raise and love your children and do everything that is possible to set before them good and stable paths, we must trust that God remains sovereign, purposeful and deliberate in his promises that have not only been spoken over our lives as believers, but over our teenagers as well. I have spent many years around teenagers and parents in many different contexts in L.A., so I do understand how difficult this process can be if we are not seeing a return that validates to us that our investment into the lives of our teenagers has not gone to waste. However, we must not regard our teenagers or our relationships to them in a worldly way (2 Corinthians 5:16) regardless of the influences that surround them and may yet be influencing and molding them.
For starters, we mustn’t validate our relational investment into our teenagers through the modern and contextual lense of Western culture. Our culture operates within what I call the relational economy of reception and investment. We can only faithfully invest into others what it is that we have previously received from them. Therefore, if we have not faithfully and consistently received anything from others we run out of relational currency to invest into them, and we also lose the motivation to do so as well. Why? Because we are relating to others in reference to the relational economy of our culture, and not in accordance with the relational economy of Jesus Kingdom Culture. As I have gone over with our students, Jesus likens a Christian to a fig tree that may come in and out of season which is its nature. However, according to Jesus, a Christian never has a season to be fruitful and a season not to be fruitful (Matthew 11:12-25; John 15:1-8). We can always invest into others regardless of their posture toward us, because we never run out of grace to invest into others that has first been so graciously and freely given to us (John 1:16).
We must therefore become an abundant overflow of love and compassion for the benefit of others (John 4:14).
When we seek to understand our relationship not only with our neighbors, but most importantly with our teenagers, we must learn to always define their identity and our relational intimacy with them from the vantage point, definition, and interpretation of God. All throughout the Beatitudes and Jesus Sermon on the Mount we are given this perspective, as Christ compels us to never define our relationships with others according to their worldview or interpretations regardless of their posture toward God being that of affirmation or resignation, we are nonetheless to remain inclusive of our neighbors, seeing them from God’s vantage point and accommodating space within our hearts for them in our communities and lives. One example that always comes to mind was Jesus’ unexpected, yet deliberate encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
In this narrative, we find Jesus validating another by uplifting her dignity and bestowing upon her a sense of integrity without belittling the religious expression that has molded her, while in the process making his own weakness and vulnerability evident to her by seeking after a drink of water from her; he makes evident his dependence on her, which sets the stage for jesus to consequently display her deeper dependence on what he offers. However, as the conversation progresses she adopts a posture of suspicion toward Jesus as she continues to accentuate what made her, a Samaritan woman, and Jesus, a Jewish man, unable to find common ground, because (to her thinking) what makes she and Jesus sacred and dignified comes from different and therefore contradictory sources. She forcefully asserts their distinctives and for sometime, continues to hinge her self worth on highlighting the tension and difference between her identity and Jesus’ identity. Why focus so much attention on her cultural, religious, and political distinctives which only brought seemingly unreconcilable tension to the surface? Because it was within the hostility that she found refuse for her distinctness. Always remember that this woman was guarded and suspicious of Jesus’ motivations and reasons to enter into public conversation and relationship with her for obvious and meaningful reasons; Jesus, remaining a patient peace-maker (Matthew 5:9), understood this.
Why does this matter in a conversation over our relationship as parents with our children? Precisely because our teenagers can and will at different moments become suspicious of our motivations at the crucial moments we attempt to teach them that perhaps a specific path they
have chosen to tread might not be the best experience for them. They will therefore, inevitably adopt a posture of resignation toward us, choosing to resign themselves in reference to our best purposes for them. Because of this they will seek to forcefully assert and solidify our differences and every reason why we couldn’t possibly understand what it is they are going through as we attempt to curb or put a stop to their journey toward self expression and an authentic identityamongst their peers that is contradictory to an identity rooted in Christ.
What can be any practical application to any of this? First off, keep in mind that the Christian life is one of constant, intentional and purposeful reconciliation. What I mean is that, for the Christian and the local church, we must enter into love relationships even with our children from transparent and vulnerable postures, reminding our teenagers that even we still don’t have it all figured out. We, once upon a time, asked similar questions and were motivated by similar world influencers, and we must recall how sensitive this time of seeking to find and establish an identity of purpose and meaning can be and how influential the voices around us are. We must not only say, yes, trust me, I remember how that felt. Through the application of our identity in Christ we must demonstrate an honest and vulnerable transparency, that our teenagers see less of us and so much more of the love and trust of Christ working through us. By doing this we can cultivate a safe environment of a repentance that will built public and communal dependency in your family that’ll lead to healing and joy.
The more intimate and vulnerable we become in relationship with Christ the more public our perception of our sinful disposition becomes, and the more difficult it becomes to hide this perception from those around us, and the more difficult it becomes to outrun the healing grace of God.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 writes persuasively about how the cross of Christ alters our perception and disposition toward those around us. He says in 5:14-15:
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
I have spoken to many parents who have felt as if they failed as parents, as if walking with a consistent posture of defeat because their teenagers chose to turn from the Christian confession they made when they were young. I plead with you, trust in the faithfulness of God through Jesus Christ. Therefore, relate to your teenagers as those Christ gave himself for, and live as though Christ will secure them and keep them.