Excerpts from Chapter 11

Point Your Teen to the Cross

How permanent do we want change to be in our young adults?

My African-American son, Ben, has been designing clothes for the past year and a half. He hopes to start a company producing a line of urban fashion, art-decorated shirts, pants, and hats as a means of outreach to urban cultures. He’s learned about different kinds of fabric, stitches, ink, and paint so that the designs he creates don’t wash out. He’s still learning and it is exciting to see his dedication. I bought a really terrific looking white T-shirt bearing one of his custom designs. It was beautiful and I was proud to wear it. But on a family day at Ocean City, New Jersey, while we were on the boardwalk, I got a small spot of pizza sauce on the shirt. Sure that the ink had set well, I splashed some water on it and began to rub. To my disappointment and Ben’s surprise, the beautiful design began to bleed. That small section of the design lost some of its sharpness and the fabric around it lost its stark white contrast. The ink hadn’t set as we had expected!

Getting the Ink to Set

Something similar happens to any of us when we want the ink of God’s character to mark us permanently, but we have not been captivated by the cross of Christ. Many professing Christians, including many young adults in evangelical churches today (according to survey specialist George Barna), have lives that look remarkably like those of the unbelieving community around us. They profess to believe in a gospel that is significantly different from the world’s belief system, yet their lives are tragically similar to the lives of those who hold no such profession. Spiritual power is lacking. The ink has run and the boundaries have become blurred. The Christ-like character that God wills for his people has lost its defining edge. The resulting image looks remarkably like the spiritually complacent and politically correct culture of the secular world.

How can we prevent this in the lives of our teens? The answer is the cross. The cross is the power of God that will set the ink of a young person’s character permanently. The cross changes more than simply one’s outward behavior.

Paul asserts that “…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). The cross is more than a symbol for a gospel presentation. It is certainly more than a design for a piece of jewelry. Paul says that a right view of the cross is to recognize it as the “power of God” for those of us being saved. The cross is God’s statement that anyone who is separated from him can be brought near through the death of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul teaches that the life of a Christian is to revolve around the crucified Savior, and indeed this lesson was the focus and passion of Paul’s entire ministry. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (v.2). Paul wasn’t interested in the academic degrees, athletic prowess, artistic creativity, or leadership abilities of his hearers. He wanted their attention to center on Christ, that the power of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection might radically reform how they think, speak, and live. When I acknowledge myself to be embedded in the crucified Christ, the wickedness of my self-centeredness is unmasked by his love, God’s judgment against me is removed by his sacrifice, the promise of life and adoption into his family is guaranteed to me by his Father, and the possibility of the character of Christ is reproduced in me by his Spirit—permanently.

Each of us has a sense that we ought to be more than what we see when we look in the mirror or survey our own lives. Yet, for as long as man has walked the earth, the world’s efforts to bridge this gap have universally failed. Romans Chapter 8 tells us why. It describes us and our world as being in “bondage to decay” (v. 21). No one has to tell us that everyone and everything wears out, breaks, fails, rusts, or fades. We are part of a world that is “groaning” for the fullness of God and his character that we were created to exhibit (Romans 8:22). Something in all of us knows that life isn’t the way it should be. We want more. But neither education, health, self-esteem, economic prosperity, nor having the right politician in office will create the lasting sense of wholeness that we want and which God has created us to exhibit. Neither will any of the hundreds of other spiritual, mystical, psychological, or practical prescriptions for balance, well-being, or happiness. Paul declares the unchanging truth of God to the entire creation when he tells the Galatians that wholeness and irreversible change is possible only in the cross. “…far be it from me…” he says, “… to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

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The False Assurance of Rapid Results

The model of youth counseling summarized in this book often produces rapid results. Teens are motivated to do the things that will get them what they want. If you’ve helped them see their wise wants, they often make impressive decisions to obtain those wants. With the LCLP approach, teens who have been uncooperative, uninterested, and unwilling to talk about serious personal things often change significantly for the better.

Before too long, they often become cooperative and open in ways they may have never been before. This in itself can feel like success to the parent or counselor. But we must not become satisfied with the external changes our teen makes. The storm of their emotions may have passed. Their anger or complacency may have been substantially mitigated. This can make it seem like the emergency is behind you. There can be such a sense of relief, because the battle appears to be over, that you may be tempted to declare victory and stop moving forward.

But this is exactly the time when you must use that communication bridge to begin to talk about your teen’s heart and to move toward a discussion regarding the place of the cross in his life. Otherwise you would be like a surgeon who makes sure all the preparation for surgery is complete, and then sends the patient home! The preparation is obviously vital, but nothing truly helpful has taken place until the surgery is finished. From the very beginning of your bridge-building, when you are listening big, you should be praying and planning for the time you can speak to your young adult about his need for knowing Christ, that unique and all-important relationship that brings spiritual power and faith for every aspect of life.

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Throughout this book we have spoken of the LCLP approach as a bridge of communication to your teen. But we have also made clear that crossing the bridge is not the final goal. When your teen is ready to make a journey of his own, you must point him toward the Son of God, who paid the price to redeem the whole life of those who trust him.

LCLP is the bridge to your teen. But the ultimate destination for your teen is the cross. Who can sanely turn down the offer of such kindness in the cross?

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