Multicolored Coats, Slingshots and Chat Rooms
On our Youth Graduation Sunday it is especially appropriate to focus our attention on our teenagers. The teen years are in some ways the most exciting years, and in some ways the most confusing years in a person’s life. Today we want to take a look at a few teenagers in the Bible, and then focus on some of the things that we observe in the lives of teenagers today.
Consider the story of young Joseph, the second youngest son of Jacob and Rachel. You can read all about him in Genesis 37ff. He was a spoiled rotten brat who tattled on his older brothers and got himself into some pretty tight spots because of it. One day he was at his day job watching his father’s sheep, and he noticed that his older brothers were naughty, so he told on them. His brothers didn’t like him much because Joseph was their father’s favorite child. Jacob had made a beautiful multicolored coat for him. So, all of Joseph’s brothers were jealous and they threw him in a pit and sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt and sold him into slavery to Potiphar.
But Joseph’s troubles were just beginning. What had started with a harmless sibling rivalry – “daddy loves me more than you” – turned into a pretty messy life for young Joseph.
According to the story, he must have been a real hunk at the age of seventeen. His boss’s wife had an eye for him, and tried to get him into bed with her. But Joseph remembered the teachings of his parents and ran away, only to be accused by Potiphar’s wife and thrown into jail.
The amazing thing about this story is that God was with Joseph. He protected him and blessed everything that he did. Joseph must have often felt the temptation to give up, and the depression caused by his messed up life. But God was with him, and gave meaning to his life. God’s plan of salvation for his people Israel was in the works through this young man, who came from a messed up family, and whose life experiences would not have looked good on any resume. God was with him and he blessed him.
Then there was David. He was a young shepherd boy from Bethlehem who had a great gift for play the harp. And, he was also very skilled with his slingshot. He would often chase away wild beasts while he was watching his father’s sheep. David grew up in a nation that was constantly at war with the Philistine people. This was right around the time when Israel had their first king – Saul. One day, David’s dad Jesse called him home from the field, and sent him to the battle field, where his older brothers were serving the army. He was to bring them a care package of homemade cheese, meat and some of their mother’s baking.
As David approached the battlefield, he heard the mocking laughter of the giant Goliath, cursing the God of Israel. This was too much for him. He was not going to let anyone mock his God and his people. In that instant he was determined to stand up for his convictions. And he challenged the cursing giant to a dogfight.
And you know the rest of the story: this young man, whose physical body was not yet developed enough to fit into an armor, grabbed a few stones and killed Goliath with his slingshot. God was with him, and gave His people victory over the enemy that day. David became an instant hero, and got to marry the princess.
In the years that followed, David formed a deep friendship with the King’s son, Jonathan. Their friendship was one of the greatest relationships in the story of God’s people.
And one more story from the Bible: Remember young Mary. She would have been about 14-17 years of age when she was engaged to a promising young carpenter named Joseph. One day while she was puckering around the house a “man in white” stood behind her and informed her that she was pregnant with God’s son. Talk about a “Crisis Pregnancy”. Can you imagine Mary trying to explain to her Mom and Dad, “No really, I have not been with Joseph or any other man. His daddy is really the Holy Spirit!” And imagine Joseph’s confusion.
You see, in the sweetness of the Christmas story we often tend to forget the real life drama that took place in Mary’s life. But, her trust in God made her one of the most blessed people of all times. She was the mother of our Savior.
Let us now turn to our present day. Our society tends to see young people in a negative light. Have you ever heard anxious comments like: “Teenagers are nothing but trouble. When they turn 13 you should stick ‘em in a barrel and feed them through a little hole. When they’re 17 you should plug the hole.”
Sure, we laugh about those kinds of comments. But, I believe that those comments are based on a great deal of misunderstanding. Teenagers are among the greatest and most wonderful people that God has ever created. I also believe that learning more about today's youth culture can take us a long way towards understanding the behavior, expectations, frustrations and dreams of our youth. Let me introduce you Chris (not his real name – but a real person) who is one of God’s teenage saints.
Chris is 18 years old and is struggling to become an adult. He is an only child. Chris dropped out of school and is working the night shift in a local cabinet factory. He takes pride in his work. He ran away from home in his mid-teens and came back several weeks later. His parents split up temporarily because of his father's drinking problem and abusive behavior. Later they threw him out of the house when he started to rebel. He followed in his father's footsteps and frequented the bar until he realized that this lifestyle was not productive for him. His social life includes his girlfriend and one or two friends.
On Sundays he attends contemporary worship services. He attends some midweek youth functions at his girlfriend's church, and participates in the youth group’s mission projects in the city. Chris craves the acceptance of his peers, but, his "colorful past", as he describes it, has left him with a low image of himself. When he parted from his rowdy friends he was left with no friends and some bad habits. He spends most of his free time with his virtual friends in online chat rooms or playing Internet games.
Chris would like to finish his high school, but the money he earns barely covers the rent and gas for his car. His car, which has a blaring hi-tech stereo with speakers that fill up the back seat, is a symbol of status for him. Christian Rock 'n Roll is his music of choice.
Chris is often lonely. He has plans to marry his girlfriend after her college education. Chris dreams of living a relaxed life on a ranch someday.
Meanwhile, Chris faces countless choices. He faces daily choices about his job, finances, faith issues and continuing education. Chris also has to make choices between having bad friends or no friends at all. Chris is a good kid who has a hard life. If he is going to cross the bridge from childhood into adulthood successfully he will need some people who care to help him make positive choices. He will need a support system of responsible and understanding adult and teenage friends who can give him the needed resources to make life-changing decisions.
A special occasion like today’s graduation ceremony reminds us that God is alive and active in the lives of teens today, just as he was present with Joseph, David, Mary and many other female and male heroes of our faith. Today we want to affirm the diversity of gifts that God has given us in our young people. We want to open our hearts to our young people and their friends regardless of their dress codes and hairstyles.
We want to offer our words of acceptance, blessing and encouragement to all the children and young people in our church and community, knowing that God has a very special interest in your lives. My prayer for our young people is that God will give you the resources and strength that you need to make life-giving decisions in your life. And, that you may always know that God is with you and nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
My prayer for those of us who have crossed the bridge from childhood into adulthood is that we will remember those who shared our journey, and enthusiastically travel alongside God’s teenage saints. And that we would not concern ourselves so much with making the right decisions for our young people, but rather that we would give them the tools that they need to make positive choices.