Teaching Your Kids About God: Christ vs. Christianity

Teaching Your Kids About God: Christ vs. Christianity

Video Courtesy of Ty Lewis


My 13-year-old son’s shocking confession forced me to confront my tendency to obscure Jesus behind the “religious” parts of my faith.

As is the case for many Americans, I use the Christmas and New Year holidays as a time to reflect and try to gain perspective on matters near and dear to me. So one recent evening, I sat down with my sons to discuss where we are spiritual as a family, and to get a read on their individual faith journeys. I never could have imagined what I heard or the impact it would have on me.

Our conversation began simply enough. I asked each of them to share how they feel about where they are with God. I intentionally left it open-ended so they wouldn’t feel like I was steering them in a specific direction. I could see the antennae going up in my 13-year-old’s brain, so I reassured them that this was not Mom on some kind of surreptitious fact-finding mission, looking for ammunition to blast them to kingdom come if they didn’t give the “right” responses. The antennae retracted, and the words began to flow.

Me: So, son (the 13-year-old), how’s it going for you spiritually?

Son: OK, I guess … Well, maybe not so OK.

Me: What do you mean?

Son: Well, I’m still praying some, and I kinda remember to read my devotions sometimes, but … I don’t know …

Me: It’s OK, just be honest.

Son: Are you sure?

Me: Yes, I really want to know how you feel.

Son: Well, I love God and everything. I know I need to follow Him and do the right things, but it’s just … the Christianity thing.

Alarms went off in my head, and everything in me went on full alert. What did he mean “the Christianity thing”? He was about to tell me.

Son: I mean, Christians … all they talk about is going to church, which movies you shouldn’t watch, do this, don’t do that … this music is bad, don’t look at porn …

[ Me (in my head): OH, LORD … porn?!?! Maybe I’m not ready for this conversation after all. ]

Me: OK, so what’s the problem? We should be obedient to Christ, right?

Son (now getting more animated): Yeah, I know, but it’s just the way they are … everything is do this, don’t do that … blah blah blah.

Me: Are you saying you don’t want to be a Christian anymore?

Son: No, Mom.

Me: Well, are you saying you don’t want to walk with Christ anymore?

Son: No, no, that’s not it. I want to walk with Christ. It’s Christianity that doesn’t interest me.

Whoa. What was my boy saying? And how was he able to draw this distinction between Christ and Christianity? I assumed he considered them to be one and the same. But then, a flash of revelation hit me, wrapping some concepts together that I have been grappling with and teaching on during the past year.

Just like many of us adults, my child is feeling a disconnect between who he envisions Jesus to be — and what He desires and requires — and the way in which professed Christ followers go about relating to Him and requiring others to relate to Him. Are we bombarding our young disciples and those who might become disciples, with rules and regulations without stressing the Person of Jesus Christ?

My son is no theologian or scholar, but at a visceral and instinctual level, he is resisting the system we have created to facilitate a relationship with Jesus. I know that obedience is important, and apparently so does my son. But he confessed to me that he is bored with our packaging of what is supposed to be a dynamic, life-giving, robust sojourn with our Lord.

In the midst of all this revelation, another thought hit me. I am probably one of those “Christians” to whom my son is referring. After all, he has more exposure to me than anyone else. It’s not completely surprising that a teenager would feel this way since parents often stress behavior and conduct in our attempts to control and manage our offspring. Our discussion highlighted the fact that our goal should be more about influence and guidance rather than control. Also, Jesus needs to be front and center when we demonstrate Christianity; we are following a person, not just rules.

This dichotomy of Christ vs. Christianity has intrigued me. I believe it has potentially powerful implications for everything from youth ministry to family spiritual life. In my next two columns, I’ll explore this topic from different angles. First, I’ll present a roundtable discussion with other young people to find out the biggest questions and concerns they’re facing as they attempt to live out their faith in the real world. Then I’ll finish up by asking a few urban youth leaders for their thoughts and responses to my son’s and the other youths’ comments and questions.

Consider how you might be presenting, or re-presenting, Christ to the teens and young adults you know. Are we, as the bride of Christ, obstructing their view of Him with a heavy and unattractive veil of “Christianity”? I pray it won’t be so.

Teaching Your Kids About God: Christ vs. Christianity

Teaching Your Kids About God: Christ vs. Christianity

Video Courtesy of Ty Lewis


My 13-year-old son’s shocking confession forced me to confront my tendency to obscure Jesus behind the “religious” parts of my faith.

As is the case for many Americans, I use the Christmas and New Year holidays as a time to reflect and try to gain perspective on matters near and dear to me. So one recent evening, I sat down with my sons to discuss where we are spiritual as a family, and to get a read on their individual faith journeys. I never could have imagined what I heard or the impact it would have on me.

Our conversation began simply enough. I asked each of them to share how they feel about where they are with God. I intentionally left it open-ended so they wouldn’t feel like I was steering them in a specific direction. I could see the antennae going up in my 13-year-old’s brain, so I reassured them that this was not Mom on some kind of surreptitious fact-finding mission, looking for ammunition to blast them to kingdom come if they didn’t give the “right” responses. The antennae retracted, and the words began to flow.

Me: So, son (the 13-year-old), how’s it going for you spiritually?

Son: OK, I guess … Well, maybe not so OK.

Me: What do you mean?

Son: Well, I’m still praying some, and I kinda remember to read my devotions sometimes, but … I don’t know …

Me: It’s OK, just be honest.

Son: Are you sure?

Me: Yes, I really want to know how you feel.

Son: Well, I love God and everything. I know I need to follow Him and do the right things, but it’s just … the Christianity thing.

Alarms went off in my head, and everything in me went on full alert. What did he mean “the Christianity thing”? He was about to tell me.

Son: I mean, Christians … all they talk about is going to church, which movies you shouldn’t watch, do this, don’t do that … this music is bad, don’t look at porn …

[ Me (in my head): OH, LORD … porn?!?! Maybe I’m not ready for this conversation after all. ]

Me: OK, so what’s the problem? We should be obedient to Christ, right?

Son (now getting more animated): Yeah, I know, but it’s just the way they are … everything is do this, don’t do that … blah blah blah.

Me: Are you saying you don’t want to be a Christian anymore?

Son: No, Mom.

Me: Well, are you saying you don’t want to walk with Christ anymore?

Son: No, no, that’s not it. I want to walk with Christ. It’s Christianity that doesn’t interest me.

Whoa. What was my boy saying? And how was he able to draw this distinction between Christ and Christianity? I assumed he considered them to be one and the same. But then, a flash of revelation hit me, wrapping some concepts together that I have been grappling with and teaching on during the past year.

Just like many of us adults, my child is feeling a disconnect between who he envisions Jesus to be — and what He desires and requires — and the way in which professed Christ followers go about relating to Him and requiring others to relate to Him. Are we bombarding our young disciples and those who might become disciples, with rules and regulations without stressing the Person of Jesus Christ?

My son is no theologian or scholar, but at a visceral and instinctual level, he is resisting the system we have created to facilitate a relationship with Jesus. I know that obedience is important, and apparently so does my son. But he confessed to me that he is bored with our packaging of what is supposed to be a dynamic, life-giving, robust sojourn with our Lord.

In the midst of all this revelation, another thought hit me. I am probably one of those “Christians” to whom my son is referring. After all, he has more exposure to me than anyone else. It’s not completely surprising that a teenager would feel this way since parents often stress behavior and conduct in our attempts to control and manage our offspring. Our discussion highlighted the fact that our goal should be more about influence and guidance rather than control. Also, Jesus needs to be front and center when we demonstrate Christianity; we are following a person, not just rules.

This dichotomy of Christ vs. Christianity has intrigued me. I believe it has potentially powerful implications for everything from youth ministry to family spiritual life. In my next two columns, I’ll explore this topic from different angles. First, I’ll present a roundtable discussion with other young people to find out the biggest questions and concerns they’re facing as they attempt to live out their faith in the real world. Then I’ll finish up by asking a few urban youth leaders for their thoughts and responses to my son’s and the other youths’ comments and questions.

Consider how you might be presenting, or re-presenting, Christ to the teens and young adults you know. Are we, as the bride of Christ, obstructing their view of Him with a heavy and unattractive veil of “Christianity”? I pray it won’t be so.

Fatherlessness Is Not Fatal

Fatherlessness Is Not Fatal

Video Courtesy of TEDx Talks


As a Christian and a single parent, I’m convinced that if we fail to accept this truth, our efforts at rising above our circumstances and raising our children well will prove futile. We will continue to experience a daunting level of paralyzing frustration that immobilizes us. Our lives will become the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Recent conversations about the ills facing families, particularly minority families, focus heavily on the absentee father phenomenon and its devastating consequences. No argument there. Boatloads of statistics, polls, and surveys document almost ad nauseam the poverty, social maladjustment, and emotional fallout that can’t be denied. Given all the hell breaking loose, you’d think we’d be beating down church doors and wearing the pages of our Bibles ragged, searching for His answers to our problems. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A survey conducted by the National Fatherhood Initiative indicates that churches and spiritual leaders are not high on the list of sources dads consult for help with fathering issues. In one survey, mothers were asked to name the sources that fathers of their child look to for help. Only a third indicated that the father had “consulted a place of worship, minister, or rabbi.” Similarly, when fathers were asked who they go to for help, just a little more than half said they relied on a place of worship. It stands to reason that if God is not consistently and actively involved in our parenting, He’s probably equally absent from our children’s lives.

So, the hard truth is this:

The absence of an earthly father, while sad and unfortunate, can be overcome. The absence of God the heavenly Father cannot be overcome and is deadly. There is no substitute for Him. It’s vital we shift our focus to include the absolute necessities of: (1) Our children knowing, loving, and following God; and (2) parents making Him the foundation of our homes. Not necessarily to the exclusion of everything else, but most certainly preeminent to all else.

How will our children’s lives be affected when God is the absent, forgotten Father? Consider:

 Psalm 127:1 tells us that if God Himself is not the builder of our lives and homes, everything else we do is vain and accomplishes nothing.

Practical application: If no one in a home seeks God’s wisdom about priorities and strategies that will make a child’s life what God intends — and no one introduces that child to his true Father — then having a present, active, involved father doesn’t accomplish anything. There aren’t enough workshops, programs, lock-ins, websites, or resources that will make an ultimate and eternal difference in that child’s life.

 Action steps: Single-parent families and dual-parent families, first let’s take stock of our children and our homes. Have we allowed God to be the master-builder of our homes? Does God’s will and desire to determine our behaviors? Do our children know Christ? Do they understand that their lives must be anchored in Him for them to be meaningful and influential? If in a single-parent home, do they experience the power of overcoming obstacles created by the absence of a parent? If we must answer ‘no’ to these questions, it’s time for a new game plan. Second, go to the Word of God and see what He says you should be doing as a mother or father. Third, pick one thing and pray specifically about it every day for one week. See what He will do.

 A child’s life built around the absence of a father rather than obedience to the Word of God has a shaky foundation that cannot sustain him against the winds of circumstance.

In Matthew 7 the Lord Jesus Christ compares the life of an obedient person to someone whose house is built on a rock. This house, though buffeted by the storms of life, will still stand, providing security and safety. In contrast, one who hears and knows His word but does not obey it foolishly relies on something that will not withstand the strong winds and adversities of life. This one will find himself without protection when trouble comes.

Practical application: While God clearly indicates the role of fathers, nowhere does He instruct us to completely build our lives on their presence or absence. God and His word alone are our foundation, and upon Him alone, we must rely. When we frame our children’s lives in terms of a father’s absence, we are in effect making that fact a foundation of their life. If we make them feel that their father’s absence or lack of involvement is the determinative factor of their success, safety, and quality of life, should we be surprised when they, in fact, succumb to poverty, and poor choices? We’ve drunk our fill of the liberal social science Kool-Aid that tells us poverty and incarceration are caused by fatherlessness. Think about that. My child does not live with his father. Therefore, he will be poor, angry, aggressive, and land in jail. Come on now. We are laying a false foundation in our children’s lives with this faulty mental paradigm. What about God’s instruction to be angry and sin not? What about His promise to comfort and heal the brokenhearted and to provide all our needs? It’s time for us to skip the Kool-Aid and drink the living water the Spirit gives, which offers a life-giving alternative to what we are now experiencing because our collective house has come crashing down.

Laying the false foundation of father-absence victimization reflects a heart and mind that have not yet fully grasped the absolute power of God. If God cannot give us victory over circumstances that come with absent fathers, how can He be who He claims to be? Friends, God is waiting for us to fully trust Him with our children’s lives, no matter the circumstances of their conception, birth, or life. If you’ve laid this false foundation by internalizing the horror-story statistics: (1) Go to God, confess your fear for your child’s life and bewilderment over what to do. (2) Ask Him to renew your mind regarding your child’s future. Keeping a journal will help you keep track of answers you get in prayer and as a result of prayer. (3) Find resources that give practical and biblical strategies for parents. (4) Most of all, actually begin to do what God tells you.

That’s it for now. Truth is hard to hear, hard to digest, and harder still to implement. Everyone’s talking about “speaking truth to power,” but I say let’s speak the Truth from Power. Next time, I’ll highlight one more way in which our children’s lives can be adversely affected if the Lord remains the forgotten Father. Until then, I close with this prayer for us all:

May God give us all spiritual wisdom and insight so that we may grow in our knowledge of God. May our hearts be flooded with light so that we can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—us his holy people. Lord help us to understand the incredible greatness of your power for us who believe you. Your power to save our children, to heal their and our brokenness, to make our children mighty and a praise in this earth, no matter what situations they are experiencing now. And surprise us, Lord with your unique answers to our unique situations  (adapted from Eph. 1:15-20).

Let the church say, Amen.

Calling All Moms

Calling All Moms

Calling All Moms for Urban FaithWhether you’re a teen mom, a divorced mom, a stepmom, a stay-at-home mom, a foster mother, a mother of a special-needs child, a mom who has lost a child, a mom who is struggling with addiction, or a perfectionist mom who’s realizing she’s not perfect, here’s the most important thing you can do to be a good mother …

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. If we’re not careful, this commemoration can go the way of other annual observances — like Earth Day, Columbus Day, and Presidents Day, to name a few — and become nothing more than a perfunctory nod dictated by the calendar. Moreover, with all the intense concern about teenage pregnancy, abortion, foster children, child abuse and neglect, and single parenting, the significance, honor, and privilege of motherhood can get lost in the mire. I’d like to make a concerted effort to not let that happen by sharing some thoughts and giving some shout-outs on motherhood.

Being a mother is a biological fact. Being a good mother is extremely challenging, especially in the face of so many competing priorities, societal pressures and cultural shifts. Everything from the price of diapers to how much water we drink can impact our effectiveness. And I’ll be honest, there are times when I’d rather not be a mom.

I have a reputation as a serious, self-sufficient girl and that often clashes mightily with the goofy antics of a teenager and the occasional depression of a chronically ill young adult. Right now my biggest private joke is what a motley crew my sons and I are: a prematurely menopausal woman, a hormonal teenager, and a twenty-something with a brain injury. Sometimes I count my blessings just to get everyone where they’re supposed to be, and that I haven’t given my oldest son my estrogen pills instead of his own medication. Did I mention I also have a teenager? Hmm … where was I??

Anyway, all of the pressure and responsibility sometimes weighs on me and distorts my view of what it really means to be a successful mom. I get caught up measuring myself against the typical litmus tests: attractive, winsome kids who are good students and active in many extracurricular pursuits, and who don’t smoke, drink, curse, or have sex, who are respectful of authority, and who love church and youth group; a family that follows an orderly but appropriately busy schedule; a great looking house that shows little to no evidence of children even being present … on and on it goes.

When I feel myself sinking under that load, I remember an internal conversation I had with the Lord when my oldest son was still in high school. Long story short, God reminded me that He’s looking for faithfulness, not perfection. For someone who profiles as a perfectionist on just about every personality assessment known to man, that’s a hard message to internalize. But I believe it, and I encourage other moms to believe and internalize it, too.

That leads me to my shout-outs.

To all the teenage or premature moms: It doesn’t matter so much how your journey of motherhood began, but it matters tremendously how you navigate through it, and how it ends up. Whether you’re 15, 17, or 22, be faithful. Love yourself and your children one day at a time, or one minute at a time if necessary.

To all the moms struggling against addictions and other life issues: Whether your bondage involves drugs, tobacco, sex, alcohol, partying, self-pity, shopping, depression, rejection and abandonment issues, dangerous relationships, or some combination of these, be faithful. Dig deep and change your focus from feeling better, to being better. Give your undivided attention to recovery so that your mothering can improve. And don’t be afraid to tell your kids your story.

To all the moms in difficult marriages: Having a bad husband or an unfulfilling relationship doesn’t mean you can forego your responsibilities to your children. Be faithful. If you have to read bedtime stories, review math homework, or braid hair with tears in your eyes, do it. The tears and your kids’ childhood will pass sooner than you think.

To all the stepmoms, play moms, foster moms, godmoms, and adoptive moms: Thanks for not letting the absence of a biological tie keep you from being faithful. You’re a wonderful example for us all.

To all the church mothers: Thanks for faithfully showing us the way to God like any good mother should.

To all the moms who have lost a child: Whether it was a miscarriage, an abortion, a stray bullet, friendly fire, an accident or something else that took your child from you, be faithful to remember that progeny and to thank God for the privilege of being the mother of that child.

To all the single moms: Even though you can’t be mother and father, be faithful. Pray hard, because their lives — and yours — depends on it. I’m a witness that God really is a father to the fatherless.

To the moms of special-needs children: You may not be able to cure their disease, raise their IQ, or prolong their life, but you can be faithful. Give them the best physical and emotional care you can, and you’ll have the peace of a job well done.

To all moms out there: Celebrate yourself this Mother’s Day. If you haven’t been as faithful as you should be, it’s not too late.

Happy Mother’s Day, Ladies!

Is this Kwanzaa’s Moment?

Is this Kwanzaa’s Moment?

I have never celebrated Kwanzaa. Neither my immediate nor extended family has ever celebrated, or barely even acknowledged Kwanzaa. I only know of one personal friend who celebrates Kwanzaa or knows what it is. When I was growing up most people in our family and social circles viewed Kwanzaa with suspicion as some kind of offbeat, anti-religious, maybe even anti-Christian, observance. Apparently my experience is not an outlier.

A 2011 article on The Root.com, “Who Actually Celebrates Kwanzaa?” discussed the results of an unscientific survey of its readers which indicated that only 35% of those surveyed celebrate Kwanzaa. It’s curious why a holiday created by us, for us is still—almost 50 years after its creation—experiencing such lackluster participation. Different explanations have been offered for Kwanzaa’s failure to capture either the imagination, finances, or national interest of the black American community: the after-Christmas timing of observance—December 26-January 1—is not ideal because it taxes people during the busiest holiday time of the year; blacks don’t really understand the purpose of the holiday and haven’t been able to contextualize its celebration to make it meaningful or practical; the scandals that surrounded its creator, Dr. Maulana Karenga, who was convicted in 1971 of felonious assault and false imprisonment following charges that he tortured and beat women members of his activist circle. Whatever the reasons may be, we can’t deny that the stated principles and purposes of Kwanzaa are relevant to the social, political, and economic realities of black people’s lives, especially now as we struggle against renewed assaults on our very value, freedom, and right to exist.

Cultural grounded-ness is at the heart of Kwanzaa as it was created to “serve as a regular communal celebration to reaffirm and reinforce the bonds between us as a people,” and to “be an ingathering to strengthen community and reaffirm common identity, purpose, and direction as a people.” Its origins as a tactical resistance measure against white oppression in the mid-1960s and its presence as part of the Black Freedom movement reveal striking parallels between Kwanzaa and the burgeoning protest movements rising today. #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Alicia Garza describes her effort as a “tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.” Activists have already begun to recognize and highlight the common ground between our struggles today and the antecedent conflicts of yesterday. The night the nation was notified that there would be no criminal indictment of former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing teenager Michael Brown, online images almost immediately surfaced that compared photographs of interactions between protesters and police during the King civil rights period, and those between residents of Ferguson and its police. We know we’re both re-living and creating history.

How do we stand our ground against this re-emerging tide of anti-blackness manifesting itself in unjustified killing, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipelines, police brutality and racial profiling, cultural misappropriation, rapes and violent assaults, lower wages, job discrimination, predatory lending, re-segregated schools, and all the other mayhem coming against us? What was once the war-torn environment of large urban areas like Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland, and New York has now migrated across the country and blacks feel like embattled refugees in our own country. Tweets from the black community and allies call for unity, resilience, and focus. Black mothers are reminding families to hold their children close and stand up for their rights to a demilitarized education and to live free from unwarranted surveillance, harassment, and targeting. Leaders of established organizations urge protest leaders to identify shared objectives that can unify our concerns and forge a path ahead for results-driven action. Local communities are holding town hall gatherings to discuss their options for protecting their children and getting their voices heard and heeded by politicians and other neighborhood leadership. Spoken word artists, muralists, poets, writers, bloggers, and actors are expressing their and our fears, hopes, frustrations, and resolves over the conditions we face. Even President Obama has weighed in with his My Brother’s Keeper funding and policy initiative. All are good strategies and all are encompassed within the principles of Kwanzaa.

Modeled after traditional African “first fruits” celebrations, Kwanzaa outlines seven principles of focus and practice to uplift and strengthen black identity and community, one for each day of the weeklong celebration. Umoja (Unity) promotes cohesion in the family, community, and race. Kujichagulia (Self determination) says we can define, name, create for and speak for ourselves. Ujima (Collective work and responsibility) encourages us to “build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems.” Ujamaa (Cooperative economics) stresses entrepreneurship and supporting each other’s businesses for our mutual benefit. Nia (Purpose) reminds us to work together for restoration of our people to original greatness. Kuumba (Creativity) speaks to our ability to use our talents, gifts, and ideas to beautify and enhance our community. Imani (Faith), encourages us to believe, with all of our hearts, in our people, parents, teachers and leaders. Without faith, nothing is possible.

Grassroots activists are already living these principles everyday through die-ins, shutting down of freeways, silent vigils, and large-scale marches. It’s just a small step to de-centralize our activities and set time aside in our families and churches to honor their origins and reaffirm our identity as black people striving, dying, and resisting together. Sometimes we must revisit previously discarded aspects of our culture and revive what’s good and helpful for our advancement as a people and Kwanzaa might just be the perfect way to regroup after a tumultuous year.