Archives For Family

On November 19, 1982 my brother came into this world in Northridge Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the first American in our Canadian family. Donnie and I grew up close and I felt like we were good friends despite our polarized personalities. I thought I would share some lessons I learned from Donnie in the 20 years or so I lived with him until I got married. These are in no particular order.

I learned the meaning of the term long-suffering

At my rehearsal dinner for our marriage Donnie got up to say a few words and he opened with this phrase: “If there was one thing I learned from Robbie it was how to take a punch.” Great line! There is an old saying though, “There is a lot of truth in jest.” I was a punk to Donnie for most of his life. Unfortunately he was my punching bag for my tempers and he was a sounding board for my crude jokes (often made on his behalf) and Donnie took that all in stride. No doubt he could return fire with intellectual jokes I could not understand which I would return with a punch. Donnie was very patient with me and endured much at the hand of my troubled adolescence. A testament to his character is the fact that he is very patient. He, as Scripture relays, “suffers long.” A term the old King James Version uses to describe patience.

I learned a lot about what dedication is.

Donnie is very successful at what he does as a lab research person at BioMarin Pharmaceutical. He knows his stuff and that does not surprise me because he has been dedicated at what he is passionate about for years. I remember Donnie staying up well into the morning building his characters on the Final Fantasy video games. That takes dedication if you know what RPGs are like. It is methodical, strategic and most of all boring. Which is why Donnie is so successful at what he does now. He only has a Bachelor’s degree and he is doing things people with upper-level masters are doing.

I learned a lot about laughter, friendship and the meaning of family

There are only a handful of people who knows what FIRED-UP-ON-THE-BUTT-SIDGE means. Donnie and I laugh a lot together about things that are, quite honestly, stupid. Nobody should laugh about them. We used to do this thing called “FIRED-UP-ON-THE-BUTT-SIDGE” where we would shake our booties and lift each other up using our butts. It makes no sense to you but it is hilarious me even typing this. Anyways, we were doing FIRED-UP-ON-THE-BUTT-SIDGE one day near our Van and I lifted him so high he landed on the side panel of the van to the right of the hood. He bent it… and it’s still there. Everytime I see it I laugh and think, “FIRED-UP-ON-THE-BUTT-SIDGE!” Dad used to get so mad when we would do this as often our goal was to lift someone up only to watch them land on the ground.

We got issues…

Anywho, I have shared many a laugh with Donnie playing Euchre with mom, Dad and Heather, or playing tennis, or playing Twisted Metal 1, 2 and 3 on PS2 or watching him as a hefty 7th grader try to climb the fence in our backyard because we were late for the bus…

and he fell…

and I laughed!

Good times.

Most of all, I have learned from Donnie unconditional love.

Three incidents I remember plain as dayabout Donnie that has formed me as a person. The first one happened at Lake Lanier in North Georgia. We would go there on Saturdays to swim and hang out as a family. One time Donnie was walking in the shore on Lake Lanier and could not swim. I remember seeing Donnie go under the water and get stuck in the shore (which is really red clay. Can I get an “Amen” Georgia folk?). I panicked and screamed and I remember mom coming to the rescue plucking Donnie out of the water. Saved Donnie’s life I did.

Sort of.

The second time that shaped me was when Donnie was really young and decided to wonder off during the Laser Show at Stone Mountain Park. We lost him. Mom and Dad were freaking out and I remember seeing this little boy with blonde curls on the shoulders of another guy. It was Dingo! I went up to him and, again I remember this vividly, I told him (maybe I was 5 or 6): “Donnie, don’t you ever do that again!” Funny.

Lastly, I was a freshman at Freed-Hardeman University and had gotten in a wreck with my girlfriend’s car. Really shook me up. Then it was not long after that I got a call from Dad and he said, “I just wanted you to know that your brother was in an accident.”

I started freaking out. Dad said, “He’s ok but he ran a red light and plowed into somebody else. He totaled the Taurus though.”

I hung up the phone and started crying like a baby thanking God Donnie was ok. Maybe God looked after him and protected him from injury or maybe it was just chance. I like to think God protected Donnie.

It wasn’t long before I got mad at him because he totaled my high-school baby: ’88 Ford Taurus…

That’s another story. But Donnie and I have loved each other ever since he has been in existence. He is a wonderful brother, an amazing son and a caring Uncle. My kids love Donnie! They call him, “Uncle Donnie with Crazy Hair.” I love it!

So cheers and blessings to a wonderful brother who made it to 30!!! May you have many more years of helping others like you have helped me! Next time I see you we will promptly enter into a FIRED-UP-ON-THE-BUTT-SIDGE!



I may be the only one who experiences this but our pre-church service routine on Sunday mornings is similar to battlefield scenarios in war situations. There are strategies to do just about everything that needs to get done. One of the following seems to happen to at least one of our children on Sunday mornings:

  • Pop-Tarts are smeared on their clothes
  • One of the girls takes a bow out of their hair (I know…first world issues)
  • Screaming
  • Stomping
  • Yelling
  • Arguing
  • Falling asleep in the three mile stretch from home to church building
  • Forgetting a child at home…just kidding

Church services should at the least be something the family looks forward to. Church services should be something every family needs to start their week. So why do we lose it so much? Why does it seem we drag our kids (and ourselves) to the building only to pretend to be excited to be there but secretly longing for the bed, TV or a combination of the two? There is probably not an easy answer to those difficult questions but I have a few suggestions for you to make the most out of your Sundays…

#1 Start early

This may seem like a no-brainer to most but start early. Wake-up with plenty of time to get things done. For you list-makers, start with the most important thing and then work your way down. It’s hard to start early which leads me to the next suggestion….

#2 Go to bed at a decent time Saturday night

You can’t always do it and I admire those of you who go to sleep at 2am and still come to services. Seriously, go to bed at a decent time to make the most out of Sunday. If you need energy to work, exercise or play you also need energy to worship.

#3 Husbands, help out.

The little things count men. I have been horrible at this and the reason why Sunday mornings are chaotic in our family is that I have not contributed like I should. So I try to get things done on Fridays so I don’t have to go into the office Sunday morning. If I do go into the office on Sunday morning it is at the last minute, only when I have helped get the kiddos dressed, fed and on their way. Help out husbands!

#4 Go out to breakfast as a family once in a while…

That would require you to execute numbers 1-2 but if you wake-up early enough then try to mix things up. Take them to Waffle House, Shoney’s, McDonald’s, Panera Bread or to the local diner. Mix things up and add some flavor into your routine.

#5 Keep things in perspective

Most of our chaos on Sunday mornings are not real problems. They are real in the sense that your teenager does not want to go to services, your hair-dryer broke, that outfit makes you look fat and you forgot to put gas in the tank. Those are real issues but in the grand scheme of things they are not real issues. Most of us get to choose to go to services or to stay home. You can always stay home. Nobody is forcing you to go. If you feel like you “have” to go to services and your family hates it then now is the time to start questioning your motives. Keep things in perspective and try not to let the little problems be “big problems.”

I love being a husband and I love being a dad. I struggle at times with both but I would not trade it for a second because I love it!!! I also love it when people ask how many kids I have because their response is the same no matter how many times I get asked. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person:  So do you have kids?

Me:  I sure do.

Person: How many?

Me: Four…Kaleb…

Person (Interrupting): YOU HAVE FOUR KIDS?!?!?!?

Me: Ummm…yeah.

Person: How close are they?

Me: Kaleb is 6, Amelia is 5, Madelyn is almost 4 and Samuel is 2.

Person (Laughing in disbelief): Sheesh, you’re crazy.

Depending on who they are they follow up with an elbow in my arm saying, “You know what causes that right?” Har…har!

People are shocked when they hear that my wife and I have four kids and at first I thought it to be comical but now I am starting to wonder if we are on an island alone somewhere in the Pacific. The trend now is to wait until you are older to get married and even more to have kids. If you do have kids then the maximum is two, maybe three if it is an accident. My wife and I certainly avoided the trend as we were married at 22 and 21 respectively and we had Samuel, our youngest, by the time we were 29 and 28 which means our youngest will graduate high-school when we are 47 and 46. Sounds good to me!

I don’t get it though as to why people wait. From a financial perspective I can understand why one would not have four kids (it is tough) but other than that why wait? Even if Heather and I waited three years to start having kids we still would not be in a better financial situation than when we started.

I love being a dad of four kids who are four and a half years apart. I love how close they are and how much they love playing with each other. I love how they grow up with each other and learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. I love how I get to have four vastly different prayers each night before they go to bed. I love how we take up a whole pew at church and I love the reaction when people see our four blonde-haired blue-eyed kids walk in a line like a bunch of ducks.

I love it. I am not saying I am better than people who are not married or who only have one or two kids (I do think I am but I am biased so that does not mean it is true) only that I am in a position to do what I can with who God has placed in my life. I have heard it said that God only places the difficult situations to people who can bear it and while that is not always the case, I think it is true for Heather and I as we are an excellent team and we can handle it.

So next time you are amazed at the fact that I have four kids just know that I am amazed that people wouldn’t want these four kids. I am amazed that people would wait for something as magnificent as being a father. I am amazed that people would wait for something as spectacular as marriage.  Why wait? We are not guaranteed tomorrow.

God thank you for my wife and for my four beautiful children. 

I got the opportunity to interview Jim Burns who is the President of Homeword.  “HomeWord seeks to advance the work of God in the world by educating, equipping, and encouraging parents and churches to build God-honoring families from generation to generation.” Jim is a three time Gold Medallion Award winning author and has written books for parents, youth workers, and students. He speaks in-person to thousands of people each year around the world with a message of hope for families. We talk about family ministry and how to engage youth ministers with the families.

My family and I went to Disney World on Monday and Wednesday experiencing the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom.  I loved the times but I have to share some lessons for all of us as my experience gave me insight on the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good…

  • The shows were amazing from the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom to the parade at Magic Kingdom.  They were all well done.
  • If you have small children you NEED to go get your picture made with Mickey and Minnie or the Princesses.  The look on my children’s faces is something that will be etched in my mind for a while.
  • Pack your lunch.  We saved an average of $15 per person by simply packing a lunch and eating it at the car.  Yes it was a hastle to go back and forth but it was well worth it.
  • Fast pass.  Seems a little unfair for those people waiting in line but it makes sense for people who don’t like to wait in line.
  • This time of year.  It was fairly busy but was nothing compared to how busy it was in the summer.  The most we waitied for a ride was 35 minutes.  Nice.
  • Disney does an excellent job catering to the needs of young families.

The Bad…

  • Expensive.  It was a nice time for me and my family but the price for it was a bit unnecessary.  The dichotomy between the rich and the poor is becoming more prevalent in our economy and it was evident by the people who were there.  I saw many expensive SUV’s, BMWs, and then there was this Chevrolet Venture.  Seriously…the amount of materialism here may be unacceptable.
  • Attitudes.  It’s hard to keep your cool at theme parks.  I have seen it across the board and I am certainly guilty of it as well.  The amount of people, the lines, and hunger often make you upset.  I saw many people yelling at their kids and their kids yelling at their parents.
  • Rudeness.  If I had a dollar for every time someone cut me off in line I could probably have paid for the expensive trip.  Seriously.  People cut us off to ride the tram, the monorail and even some of the rides.  People would walk in the middle of the crowd and just stop right in front of us to look at their map.  Come on people.

The Ugly…

  • I hate to sound like a broken record (not sure teenagers understand this analogy) but modesty continues to be an issue and with warmer temperatures come shorter clothes.  Not sure this will ever be solved but there is hope among parents.
  • The amount of money spent across the board.  I was blessed to have family to help me out but it is getting to the point where nobody is going to be able to afford the trip.  Gas prices, Florida Turnpike Tolls, food and everything else make for a nasty price tag.

These were my reflections.  Not normative but simply my thoughts.  I loved the experience overall and would recommend to parents who could afford it.  Maybe Disney could start a program for families who can’t afford it?  Not sure how they would regulate it but maybe they could provide some help.

Dear Spouses and Families,

It is with an emotional heart that I write this post for now I am speaking not only to the families of youth ministers abroad but I am also speaking to my own.  I want to start off by saying a big “thank you” for your sacrifice.  I know there are times when you must be at wit’s end because we have not been at home to help with the dishes, laundry and giving the kids their bath.  I know there are times in the summer when all you get is a kiss on the cheek each morning and you don’t see our face for another week.  I know there are times when we bring our emotional baggage from the ministry home (and we swore we wouldn’t do that) and our first target is our wives and our children.  I know our fuses are short and the demands placed on us by so many different individuals keeps us on edge.  I know that this is not what you signed up for when you agreed to marry us.  I also know, children, that you did not have a choice in any of this either.  I also know that there are times when it appears we invest more physically, emotionally and spiritually into the lives of teenagers instead of the lives of our own families.

For all of this and more that is sure to come we ask that you, our wives, husbands and children please, in the name of Lord, forgive us.  We apologize for doing that which we know we should not do and not doing that which we know we should do (Romans 7 of course).  I could make excuses (it even looks like it above) and give you a sob story at how tough youth ministry is but there are no excuses for not doing what is right.  We have three things to offer you for our unacceptable behavior: 1) Confession – We admit we have sinned; 2) Request for forgiveness and 3) a request for your help to alter our mindset to avoid future mistakes.

If I were to say something by way of a request that would be, first of all,  to help us.  Please become our partners in ministry and help alleviate some of the demands by working alongside of us.  No you do not get paid for this but perhaps I can talk to the elders and work that out and we can work together for the long haul.  That also means our children will have to grow up serving in the ministry in some capacity but I believe this is partly what the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-6 asks us to do.  So please become our partners in this ministry.     

Secondly, I ask that you communicate with us if we are doing too much and the family is starting to suffer.  Of course, we should be slowing down anyways and listening to our families but some of us are addicted to ministry (more on that in the next post) and it has become an idol so we need you to, like a minor prophet, confront us of our calamity and pronounce judgment on us.  If ministry is tearing apart our family then we need you to communicate that to us and if you cannot be a “minister’s wife” then we will do something else.  God has brought us this far and I can guarantee you he will not fail us if we do the right thing.  Please just communicate to us.

Deo gratias

This post is dedicated to my wife Heather Mackenzie who is absolutely amazing in every sense of the word.  Let me tell you about her.  She birthed four beautiful kids in five years.  In that time she watches four other kids every day to supplement our income.  She brings our kids to all of the MAJOR activities in the youth group.  She volunteers occasionally for my son’s school.

She teaches class at Sunday School.  She cleans the house, does the laundry and all of this while putting up with me for a husband.  The fact of all of this is that she doesthis without complaining.  A lot of people whine about how hard their lives are and how busy they are and how they do not have time to even relax yet Heather does all of this without complaining.  Some people who say they “married-up” are just trying to be nice but when I say I married-up you have no idea how true that statement is.  You will not find a person who exemplifies Proverbs 31:29 better than Heather.

The Graduation Speech

May 16, 2011 — 1 Comment

[DISCLAIMER: It is 3,299 words so pack a lunch and read it then.]

The Graduation Speech

By Robbie Mackenzie (Preached at the Main Street church of Christ May 15, 2011)

            I have done many things since I have been alive.  I have been to South America and Africa.  I have attended numerous World Series games.  I hiked down the Grand Canyon and back up in one day.  I have watched four beautiful kids come into this world.  But there are many things in this world I have not experienced.  I have never jumped out of an airplane.  I have never, unfortunately, found gold on the other side of a rainbow.  I have never been to the North Pole and I have never, ever participated in synchronized swimming.  Something else I have never done is speak at a graduation.  I have probably sat through some thirty graduations and even leaving one in the middle only to arrive at another in the middle.  I have heard every quote imaginable like, “This is the first day of the rest of your life,” and “If it’s to be it’s up to me.”  I have heard many people misquote enough Scripture for me to pull my hair out and by the looks of my hair I have heard a lot of misquoted Scripture.  Nobody remembers a graduation speech because they are all the same.  This is why I am offering you a different graduation speech but in the end it will be forgettable and pretty soon it will be—well—just another graduation speech.

            If I were to graduate again (which may happen) I would want to hear this type of speech at my graduation.  I would want to have someone tell me what really might happen as opposed to God’s plans to “prosper us and not to harm us” (Jer. 29:11; taken out of context of course :)).  Those who have battled drugs, alcohol, divorce, financial heartache and difficult circumstances usually are not the ones invited to speak at graduations.  Why?  People want to hear the wealthy, famous, successful and “problem-free” at graduations yet those people are in the minority.  Most of us fit into the second category of simple, problem-full, but content with our lives.  That’s boring and nobody wants to hear about it.  So this is my attempt to put pen to paper and give flesh to words that I would say if it were the last words I would say to a graduate.  The speech is more about what you really may experience but it is a little uncertain.  So here we go.

            First of all, you’re going to grow apart from your friends.  There are certain people in your graduating class you will never ever see or talk to again.  Even your BFFs, whom you swore, pinkie-promised, and vowed to stay in touch via text, phone, SKYPE, or even just a visit on weekends, will grow apart from you.  It’s going to be awkward when you come home and go back to a high-school football game and see your old buddies.  You will realize they have changed and so have you and it will be a cool feeling knowing you are the college kid.  Pretty soon you will just feel old and then you will stop going back to high-school functions.  The saddest part about going different ways is watching some of your friends who cannot accept the fact that they are no longer in high-school.  They still talk like high-schoolers, hang out with high-schoolers, and their maturity level stays that way for years.  If they could just grow up and move on life would be better but they can’t.  That may be you by the way.  What they don’t tell you after you graduate is that life happens and things get in the way and we just become too busy.  You might even lose a friend tragically in a car accident, overdose, or a physical ailment like cancer or something else.  It’s going to hurt and you will cry.

            You’re going to realize that the boyfriend or girlfriend you thought you would spend the rest of your life with will not work out.  Nor will the next three or four.  You will realize that there are some seriously messed-up people out there who are looking for nothing more to score with you and that is going to hurt.  Perhaps you’re on the other spectrum and you will just wait, and wait, and wait while everyone around you is getting a significant other without trying yet you pray, ask someone out and still nobody will date you.  Then you’re going to go home and it’s going to sting every time someone asks you, “Are you seeing anybody yet?” and then the awkward look you get when you say, “No!”  To make matters worse they will offer you a monologue about them having two kids by the time they were your age.  That doesn’t help either.  Life does not consist in a relationship but it sure beats being lonely sometimes.

            You’re going to have to say goodbye to your parents.  Whether you work at home or go off to college you will have to say goodbye to them somehow.  You’re going to have to convince your parents that them moving in with you in your dorm room is actually a horrible idea.  They are going to call you, once, twice maybe three times a day just to hear your voice.  Some of you will want to run from your parents so bad and so fast that you are going to blaze a trail along the way but some of you are not going to want to leave your parents because you will be afraid.  You will get homesick because you’re going to miss the family meals, nights at the park, and games of uno, vacation and long conversations on the way to school.  The phone calls from mom will get really annoying but deep down inside her voice will be like water in the driest African desert.

            You’re going to be broke.  Growing up your mom and dad were like a free-flowing ATM but now that day is long gone and you actually might have to work which, by the way, you don’t have time for.  You may get into credit card trouble thinking you can pay the balance sometime later if you just meet the minimum payment and it’s going to come back to bite you in a very personal way.  Worst of all, you might actually get that date with that someone only to be so broke you have to spend your romantic night at the dining hall or McDonald’s because you can’t afford anything else.  By the way, your mom is calling you and you probably should pick the phone up.

            You’re going to change physically.  It’s a strange thing that actually eating 8-10 Krystals used to be fun and proper nourishment but now all of that eating during freshman year has become a part of your backside that you, literally, carry with you wherever you go.  The concept of “freshman 15” no longer is a myth as you’re just trying to avoid freshman forty as you huff and puff up the stairs to your room.  On top of that, guys you might start to notice that you lose hair at this time and girls you might start getting wrinkles.  Your chaotic schedule and stressful demands does not make your physical issues any better.  You may also get the world’s worst case of Athlete’s Foot because apparently your roommate does not have the human dignity to wear shower shoes or at least cut his feet off.  The sad part of this is that you’re going to realize quickly that the physical issues, from this point on, only get worse.

            You’re going to struggle attending worship services because mom and dad are not there to wake you up.  Wait—is that mom calling me again?  You are going to wonder what’s the point of attending services.  You’re going to look at the people in the church and say it is filled with hypocrites and, you may be right.  You’re going to struggle immensely at fitting-in and you are going to wish you could come back and participate in youth group again but your jerk of a youth minister will not let you.  You’re going to wrestle with what the church is versus what it was in Scripture (welcome to the club).  You’re going to wonder why churches invest so much time, resources and money with programs like the youth, older members, missions, building funds and yet not much time, resources and money (if any) are invested in college students.  For you, church is going to be difficult.

            You’re going to do some things you’re going to regret.  Some of them may be minor but some of them are going to be major.  You’re going to wish you could take it all back but you won’t be able to.  You’re going to remember what your parents said about the dangers and now you’re going to have to tell them what you just did.  It’s going to break their heart.  The saddest part of it all is that you’re too stubborn to learn your lesson and so you’re going to do it all over again.  You’re going to sit there late at night looking up at the ceiling wondering what you are going to do with your life.  You may want to end it all.

            You’re going to struggle with God.  Who is this divine being that was taught so heavily to you?  God has not been helpful to you and by the looks at what’s happening in the world God really doesn’t seem to care anymore.  You’re going to have people cast doubt on your faith with different beliefs, ideologies and philosophical inquiries which some seem possible to believe.  You’re going to try to help your faith by doing what your parents, youth minister or preacher suggested.  It’s going to be tough and in my experience, when the going gets tough sometimes…well…the tough gets tougher.  There are going to be moments when all you can think about God is anger, frustration and confusion.  Like David, you are going to say, “How long, O Lord?  How long?” (Psalm 13).




            You’re going to make new friends.  The kind of friends who do not have strings attached to them.  The kind of friends whom you will laugh with, cry with and the kind of friends who will be, like the Proverb writer said, “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24).  The friends you make will be in your weddings,Teen girls on college campus at the hospital when you have a baby and next to you when you lose someone you love.  The kind of friend who will utterly depend on you and years down the road these friends will need you most when their own world is turned upside down.  You’re going to go to baseball games with these friends, have cookouts, go on mission trips with them and you might even have the opportunity lead a few of those friends to Christ.

            You’re going to meet someone…it may take years…and you know what…it may not happen.  You’re going to look at that sweet lady who keeps asking you if you’re married yet because she had two children by your age and you’re going to smile and say, “that’s not what God wants me to do right now.”  God will make it happen if it needs to happen and you’re going to be just fine with that.  You just might have four kids before you are thirty though and people, by the way, will make fun of you and call you crazy and psycho but you will realize that you will be 47 by the time your last one graduates high-school which will be the age your buddy will be when his first one starts middle school.  But it’s also ok if you wait that long.  You follow what God wants you to do not someone else.  It’s ok to be crazy so don’t change that for a second.  In the words of the musician Tom Cochrane, “Life is a highway and I want to ride it all night long.”  You’re going to be able to look at the person you will spend the rest of your life with and vow to be with them in sickness, and in health until death due you part.  You’re going to get that same passion every time you go to someone else’s wedding and you’re going to wake up each day feeling unworthy to wake up beside the most beautiful person in the world…not your youngest child who crawled in the bed…but your spouse.  You’re going to really feel blessed to be next to that beautiful person especially when you make it to the mirror in the mornings.

              You’re going to regret trying to run away from your mom and dad so quickly.  You’re going to want to pick up the phone and call them as much as possible.  You’re going to remember their lectures, words of “wisdom”, and caution and know that they were actually right.   If God blesses you with a child you’re going to name the child after your parents because of the influence that had on your life.  However, if home was a nightmare filled with abuse then you’re going to prove mom and dad wrong.  You’re going to make a difference and with God’s help you will show them what you can do even when they told you it couldn’t be done.

            You will eventually make money but still, somehow, be broke for a while.  It will be tough at first (remember the credit cards and loans?) but God will provide and mom and dad will help you out.  I promise.  If you don’t go to college then no worries because no matter what anyone says it’s ok for you not to go to college because, get this, college is not for everyone.  You will show them that you can still provide and work hard and do what God wants you to do.  The church will step in and provide for you in times when you could not provide for yourself.  You will have to fight the evils of consumerism and you will eventually give much of your income to the church.  People will think of you as crazy, stupid and a little off kilter but you will consider that suffering for the kingdom’s sake and little bit like emptying yourself which is what Jesus did for you.  You will have ups and downs financially and there will be days you will have to eat beans and rice and rice and beans but you will make it because all you need is a roof over your head and food on the table.

            You will learn to live with your body.  It’s ok that your body is not in pristine shape or that it’s shape looks like a hamburger rather than an hour glass.  It’s ok.  God just wants you to be healthy.  You will eventually enjoy eating things like salads, grapefruits, tree bark and you will especially enjoy drinking lots and lots of water.  Balding only gets worse and so do the wrinkles and your physical deterioration will be a daily reminder thanks to your kids and sometimes teenagers who decide to take a stab.  Laugh at this and consider it a way God humbles you.  Look at your body as a gift from God and each day is another opportunity that someone else did not get.

            You will eventually grow to love and adore the church.  Yes there are hypocrites in church but your experience in life will show you that there are hypocrites everywhere inside and outside the church.  The church never claimed to be perfect anyways besides there are so many people in the church who have changed their lives drastically because of the work of the church through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  The church will need you to teach a class, lead a song, direct a program, visit the sick or teach a bible class.  You will have a renewed commitment to the church and it will drive you and you will soon find out that it is not you that is driving you but it is the Spirit of God inside of you.  You’re going to find out that the church is filled with plenty of people as messed-up as you!  That will put a smile on your face and the face of thousands of angels watching.

            You’re going to think about the regrets from time-to-time and they will enter your thoughts at weird moments.  The regrets will be like a bruise that won’t go away or rainstorm that will not depart.  You may have to call people to apologize for what you did and you may have to tell them you have changed.  You may have to earn someone’s trust back because of what you did but it’s going to be worth it.  You’re going to show God and others that you are a radical disciple who has radically changed.  “I’m not that way anymore” will come out of your mouth as effortless as air discharged from your lungs and you will say it with a smile.  Like Paul, your past will not break you rather it will shape you.  Your story will become a testimony for so many people to hear.

            Then there is God.  He always was and always is and always will be.  You’re going to find him because you’re going to long for him.  Like a fire in the midst of a blizzard you will long for his warmth and light.  He will show up in your life not as a boxed-in, compartmentalized God but as the living, active God.  He is going to lead you to places in life you never thought were possible but pretty soon you will realize that God is in the making-the-impossible-possible business.  You are going to realize that truly Jesus came so, like John told you, “we may have life, and life to the fullest” (John 10:10).  You will long for something John and Isaiah described as the New Heavens and New Earth.  You will feel God’s presence in your life with the utmost assurance that nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ (Rom. 8:31-39).  You will feel God in your bones and in your core and it will be most satisfying.  There will still be valleys where the questions of theodicy (making God just) come back but you will know, deep down in your core, that eventually God will reign over all and all will be made right.

            This is my graduation speech and it is filled with paradoxes, difficulties, some contradictions and uncertainties.  But such is life right?  Life is never a linear process but often we find it as a cyclical pattern that repeats itself but rests on the grace of God.  So may you find the friends you need.  May you discover the spouse who is yours or may you rest in the state you are in.  May you love every minute your family is alive.  May you live fiscally sound so you can give until it hurts.  May you rejoice in the body God gave you but may you treat it well.  May you love the church and realize it truly is, like the preacher said, a hospital for the sick.  May you use your regrets to empower and inform your future.  And may you run to God, wrap your arms around him and never, ever let go.

            So, Dr. Seuss was right…a little…“be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places! Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.  So…get on your way!”

Man doing push-upsWe as ministers, parents, and even the government (whether admitted or not) know it… after all, the Bible says it and studies [Must Read Growing Up Too Fast: The Rimm Report on the Secret World of America’s Middle Schoolers, Sylvia Rimm, PhD.] show it.  But, do we as parents cultivate it?  What I’m talking about is the simple truth that parents are the most influential instruments in the faith and social development of their children’s lives.

Every day a young person wakes up with the challenge to face his day in his life.  This day will undoubtedly be filled with peer-pressure, heart-ache, joy, excitement, sadness, anger, peace, difficult decisions about respect and actions, easy decisions about food and music… and then there’s the indescribable, awkward, difficult, crazy, embarrassing, difficult to deal with parents and family.  Ok, so maybe that’s a little over stated on paper.  But if we’re honest with ourselves as adults, we remember all too well the horrendous roller-coaster ride called adolescence, coupled with the job of trying to “cope” with our parents.  Simply put, there’s nothing easy about the mixture of teen life and family.  However, just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it ceases to be worthwhile.  And just because your teen may NEVER admit his parents’ influence in his life, doesn’t mean that it’s non-existent.

So, back to the question at hand… Do we as parents cultivate our influence in the lives of our children, or do we make our children’s lives more difficult by refusing to be understanding in all that they are facing on a daily basis?

[PS –Parents, don’t quit reading just because I’m picking on you right now… Teens, don’t get self-righteous as you read this portion directed at your parents.  Both parties are going to be addressed in this discussion!!!]

As a parent, it’s so easy to remember the words of the Bible (It’s one of the 1st verses I taught my four year old to memorize), “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honor your father and mother…” (Ephesians 6:1-2). We expect obedience regardless, and it’s fair that we should.  We are responsible for the training and development of our children, and as best as we can, we guide them in our feeble wisdom and experience.  We do know a little bit about a little bit, right?  They are, after all, still children living under our roof.  But that doesn’t make it easy for our teens to simply swallow our demands on them.  So, I encourage you to look a little further into this simple passage.  Paul goes on to say, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NLT).  In other words, Paul is encouraging us as parents – especially fathers – to consider the feelings of our children in our dealings with them.  Maybe we need to step back from time to time and try to remember how difficult our own teenage years were…  When our teen comes in from a rough day at school with a chip on his shoulder (not justifying a negative behavior in the least, just asking “why?”), it might benefit the entire household for us to step back and consider the source of the problem before escalating it with attitude speeches and behavioral lectures.  We must continually consider whether or not we are cultivating our influence in the lives of our children (over-bearing and pushy impatience does not cultivate influence).  Above all, that influence must be salted with the discipline and teaching of the Lord.  If we are going to push our children in any way, let’s make sure we push them toward the Lord, or else we might push them away altogether.

Teens, let’s get right to it… We are called to be better than we often are as we “cope” with our parents.  I like the way the New Living Translation states Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do.” Simply put, God never said that we could base our responses and attitudes toward our parents on whether or not we like what they ask of us or how they treat us.  We respond and behave in a way that is becoming of our relationship with God.  We respect because of who we are, and not because of what they have done or said to hurt us or make us angry.  I know that curfews can sometimes be unfair (yet necessary).  I know that parents can be impatient and demanding (yet lovingly hopeful).  I know that they embarrass you thoroughly in front of your friends (I can’t wait to do this with my two kids).  I also know that they love you more than you will ever understand, and they deserve a little more from you than an attitude that attempts to “cope” with them.

Parents and teens… influence and understanding will only ever be cultivated by communication.  Try it!  Listen and talk to each other in ways that divert anger and resentment and foster growth and compassion.  It may be awkward and difficult to talk about feelings and situations at first, but it will certainly be worthwhile in the long run.  Who knows… you may even enjoy (if that’s really the right word) riding the adolescent roller-coaster together!

Jon David Schwartz has been a Youth and Family Minister at  since 2002 most recently with the Church at Chapel Hill, TN since 2005.  Wife- Amy, Children – Abigail and Lane.  Education – BA, Bible (FHU); M.Min (FHU).  He says, “My only real qualification for writing about this difficult topic is that I have the two most patient parents a man could have, and I strive daily (and fail often) to be a godly father for my two children (Abigail – 4, Lane – 9mos).  It is the most difficult thing in the world to be a teen; it is the most difficult thing in the world to be a father.”

African American teenaged student holding Help signWhen it comes to the faith formation of young people, we can confidently make two observations. First, parents matter most. Second, peers matter a whole lot too. Study after study has shown that adolescents who experience a vibrant faith at home are much more likely to stay devoted throughout life. However, we know that peers make a significant impact as well. Quite simply, if the closest friends of a teenager are people of faith, he or she is much more likely to be a person of faith, and the opposite holds true as well. This much we have learned from research.

Now, what does the Bible have to say on the influence of peers?

Let’s start with the wisdom of the Proverbs writer. He tells us that those who seek the wisdom of God will “walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous” (2:20).

Later, the writer goes a step further with a contrast: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (13:20).

Now, let’s throw in this ancient Greek adage the Apostle Paul employs: “Bad company ruins good morals” (I Corinthians 15:33).

The Bible, as we can see, clearly tells us that choosing the right friends is important because they hold sway over our decisions.

There. Now we’ve got our sociological and our theological reasons for hanging out with the right crowd. But you already knew this was true, right? Even without the witness of survey research and the Scriptures, we instinctively know that the company we keep matters; that our friends can greatly impact and even alter the paths our lives will take. This is unquestionably true! However, believing something is not the same as practicing it. How well do we let this reality inform our ministry to young people? Here are three suggestions for ministry, based on the truth that peers make a big difference on faith:

First, let’s hang on to and defend the fun, social events in youth ministry. The great influence of peers on faithfulness validates these! Current forms of youth ministry are being critiqued by many voices. However, one of the things we’ve gotten right is this: there is value in simply “getting these kids together.” Since peers make such a substantial difference on the faith of young people, every journey to Six Flags is justified, every tiring lock-in is warranted, and every trip to the bowling alley is vindicated. These and other fun events give kids of faith a chance to be with other kids of faith. Being together forms bonds which grow into friendships and young Christians need to have friendships with other young Christians to increase the likelihood that they will profess Christ throughout life.

Second, it may be helpful for churches and youth ministries to focus their ministry efforts on clusters instead of individuals. This game plan would match up better with the current social landscape of adolescents. Young people today join themselves together in tight-knit peer groups that Chap Clark calls clusters. Listen to his explanation: “Today, high schools are populated by smaller groupings of friends, or clusters, who navigate as a unit the complex network of social interdependence with a loyalty similar to that of a family” (Chap Clark, Hurt, 74-75). We lose far too many kids for this stated reason: “I just don’t have any friends in the group.” However, if we reach out to entire clusters of friends, we can potentially change this perennial problem. And if we just can’t reach an entire cluster, then we must aim to create new clusters of Christian young people within the church.

Third, let’s remind our young people of the greatest peer of all: Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, scripture tells us that the Lord would speak to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). That’s a pretty close relationship. But now through Jesus Christ, God brings Himself nearer than at any other time in history. Jesus is not only our Savior and Lord, but also our Friend. He can help us in temptation because he suffered through temptation himself (Hebrews 2:18). He intercedes for us, going to God on our behalf and cleansing us from sin (Hebrews 7:25; I John 1:7). Jesus’s friendship can compensate for lackluster and imperfect friendships on earth. To be sure, teenagers need to know that Jesus is their definitive Lord. But they also need to know that He is their perfect Peer.

What do you think about these suggestions? What are some other implications for ministry from the truth that peers greatly impact the faith of young people?

Joseph Horton has been the youth and family minister at the Winchester Church of Christ for nearly four years now. He graduated from Freed-Hardeman University and is now working toward an MDiv at Harding Graduate School of Religion. He is married to Lauren and they have a six-month old daughter, Elise. Above all, he loves the Lord and seeks to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.

It’s hard being a teenager.  This past weekend I heard stories of difficulties some teenagers were having and my heart just breaks listening to their pain.  Much of what you hear is disparaging as many teenagers still have sex, drink and treat other with disrespect.  I was talking with one of my teens this past weekend and I asked him, “Do a lot of people at your school drink?”  What he said was piercing, “Yeah man.  It’s really bad.”  Maybe you have heard (or had) this conversation between a teenager and his parent.

Mom:  I just don’t understand you anymore Tom.  You argue all the time, you’re so disrespectful, you’re grades are horrible and it’s like you do not even care about your father and I.  What is wrong with you?

Tom:  You don’t even understand me.  You think being a teenager is easy?  Things are different now than when you were in high-school I just wish you could be in my shoes and understand what I am going through.

Sound familiar?  Maybe a little too familiar.  In response to that I am starting a new series called “A Day in the Life of a Teenager” with guest posts from youth ministers and ministry experts from all over.  We will discuss some topics that I think are pertinent to many teenagers in hopes that you will be able to empathize a little either as a teenager or with your teenager.  We do not have all the answers so this will not address everything.  These posts are more of a primer for you to do more studying, searching and dialogue.  These guest posts all come from a biblical worldview specifically in a full-time ministry context.  I hope you enjoy these posts and here is the line-up:

  • March 1 – “Bullying” Scott Bond, Jr.
  • March 2 – “Peer Pressure” Joseph Horton
  • March 3 – “Drugs and Alcohol” Chuck Morris
  • March 4 – “Physical and Emotional Changes in Teenagers” Lonnie Jones
  • March 7 – “Spiritual Changes in Teenagers” Rusty Pettus
  • March 8 – “Family Issues” Jon David Schwartz
  • March 9 – “Teenagers and Technology” Joe Wells
  • March 14 – “The Pain they Endure” Barry Throneberry
  • March 15 – “The Hope they Possess” Philip Jenkins