What do Christian teenagers actually believe about Jesus?

I came across an interview of Mike Nappa, who recently published The Jesus Survey.  This was a survey of Christian teens who not only self-identified as Christians and as active in their youth groups, but since the survey was taken at a short-term mission site, obviously these are also ones willing to put their faith into action to some extent.

Of these precious ones, 70% expressed “persistent, measurable doubts that what the Bible says about Jesus is true.”  Of course I was surprised by this, but when I think about the culture our kids are being raised in, where they leave church on Sunday morning and/or Wednesday night, and the rest of their experience is awash in opposite messages, it’s not that surprising.  In most of our culture, living for Jesus and seeing Him work in our lives isn’t even on the table for discussion.

But here is the gold:

The data show that Christian kids who actually have strong confidence in Scripture actually experience God more noticeably in their daily lives.  For instance, four out of five (82%) of teens who have “unshakable” faith in the Bible also report possessing “strong” proof that the Holy Spirit is active in their lives.  Among kids who are uncertain about Scripture, that number is less than than half (49%).  For Christian teens who disbelieve the Bible’s reliability, only 22% strongly claim real-life experience with Christ’s Holy Spirit.

Do you see it!  Kids who see the Holy Spirit active in their lives actually believe the Bible!  Or, kids who believe the Bible actually see the Holy Spirit active in their lives!  Which comes first?  I’m not sure it matters.  It’s a symbiotic relationship.  People take a little step of faith, find out God is real, and then realize that the Bible is reliable.  Or people read the Bible, feel led to put it into practice, and find out God is there.  It’s both/and.  Experience and belief must work together, because if we don’t believe it, we won’t take a risk and try it.  And the more we try it and find out God is real, the more we believe it.

Nappa asked teens if they agreed to a set of belief statements, for example: the Bible is completely reliable, they were 100% certain Jesus had answered one or more prayers and could prove it, and they were 100% certain that the Holy Spirit was active in their lives.  Those who affirmed all of his core beliefs—he called them “Confident Christian Teens”—are outnumbered 10 to 1 in youth groups today. But they are there!  And God wants to build their numbers.  Not for the sake of us being able to “claim” them as disciples and be proud of our families and youth programs, but so that they may experience the love, hope, and transforming power of Jesus in their lives.


“Stay in your prison of fear”

I was surprised recently to feel like the Lord was speaking to me through Kung Fu Panda 2, believe it or not.

In this scene, the main characters are trying to break two legends of Kung Fu out of prison to help them defeat the bad guy.  But the bad guy has a new weapon that previously defeated the two inmates.  As a result, they are kept in prison not by the bars, but by their own fear, as this scene illustrates.


You stay in your prison of fear,

with bars made of hopelessness,

and all you get are three square meals a day of shame!

With despair for dessert.

I don’t know if it’s father’s day, or just that I am doing more ministry with other men, but I’ve been seeing in myself and other men many manmade “prisons of fear” lately.

When we live in fear and fail to take the risks we know, deep in our hearts, that God wants us to take, then comes the shame.  We conclude that we can’t do it.  We make up a million justifications for why.  “I couldn’t afford it.”  “My wife won’t go for it.”  “My children need something different.”  “I won’t be very good at it,” etc.  It’s this combination of knowing that God has called us to something greater but instead convincing ourselves that we can’t do it that produces shame.  Years of living in shame produces hopelessness, and finally, despair.

The sad irony is that we play it safe because we think we are meeting our families’ needs, but what our wives and kids really need is a man who pushes past the fear and takes those risks, not because he thinks he can do it, but (and here’s the critical part) because he knows that God can.  When we put ourselves in places where we are totally screwed unless God shows up, God is faithful. And our families are watching.  They are watching us to learn how to live.   But when we play it safe and keep it under control, we often end up losing our children’s hearts, because they are looking for a bigger story.

There is tremendous freedom in this life of faith.  When I realize that my job is not to be the hero, but to point them to the hero, it’s a lot easier.  I’m not enough for them, but he his. I don’t have to have it all figured out.  I just take the risks he is asking me to take, and I trust that he has it all figured out.  My goal is to make Him look good, not myself.  And with that faith, I become the husband and father my family needs.  And together we live the story that captures their hearts.

So Lord, strengthen me to take the risks you are calling me to take.  I renounce fear, shame, hopelessness, and despair.  Take my life and write Your story—the story that will capture my imagination and that of my family.  In Jesus’ name.

54 minutes

From Jim Cymbala, in Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire:

The services have to be uniformly positive, and the services can’t go longer than 60 minutes.  Even then, church is inconvenient for some, especially during football season…

One minister told me recently that two families left for another church because his parking attendants didn’t direct cars out of the lot fast enough.  What would these people have done the night in Troas when Paul preached until midnight? (Acts 20:7)

Can you imagine someone handing Peter a microphone on Sunday morning and whispering, “Okay, now, you’ve got twenty minutes. We have to get people out of here promptly because the chariot races start at one o’clock”?

The truth is that “user-friendly” can be a cover-up word for carnality.  The same people who want sixty-minute worship services rent two-hour videos and watch NBA and NFL games that run even longer.  The issue is not length, but appetite.  Why the misplaced desire?

Seriously, what will our children and grandchildren grow up experiencing in church?  Extended times of waiting on the Lord will be totally foreign to their experience.  There will be no memory bank of seeing people reach out to God.  All they will recall are professionally polished, closely timed productions. (p. 132-33)

And then we wonder why 80% of our children and almost all of our young men leave the church when they become adults!  Why do people watch the 2-hour movies and the 3-hour football games?  Because they are a source of thrill and excitement.  We were born for that, and if we don’t find it in the Lord, we will find it elsewhere.  And that’s the reason we are loosing our men.

What if we trained all of our teenage boys how to cast out a demon?  What if we trained them to listen for words of knowledge and act on them?  What if we trained them to seek the Lord for as long as it took to know His presence?  Pretty soon, the NFL wouldn’t seem so exciting.

But instead, our churches and youth groups have largely bought into the idols of entertainment and comfort.  I recently heard another father brag about how, during a building program when space was constrained, his church had gotten their service down to exactly 54 minutes.

Of course 54 minutes or 3 hours is not the fundamental issue.  But just as Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” I think we could add, where your time is, there your heart will be also.

Lord, give me the determination to surrender my time to you and to seek you with all my heart.  I confess that too often I chase after entertainment and comfort.  Lord, whet my appetite for the things of the Spirit.  Draw me into your word and your presence.  I want the exciting life of faith, where I get to see your miracles.  Give me the strength to press into it!  In Jesus’ name.

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