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Home Improvement: Teenagers: The People God Didn’t Create

Luke 2:41-52

The title of today’s sermon is “Teenagers—The People God Didn’t Create!”

You see, the fact is God didn’t create teenagers—we did. Let me explain. We divide life into six stages: birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age, and death. Six stages—that’s how we categorize life. But if you study the Bible, you discover that in God’s eyes there are only four stages to life—there’s birth, childhood, adulthood, and there’s death. Four stages. So adolescence, the teenage years, that awful mutation that we are all afraid of, was actually created socially by us. God, according to the Bible, sees teenagers as adults. In the Bible, the only difference between a teenager and another adult is that a teenager has two things called parents, that’s the only difference.

I have a friend who says that the reason the Bible gives us no stories about Jesus between age twelve and age thirty is that not even God wanted to remember Jesus’ teenage years! Of course, that’s not really true. Just look at what God did with teenagers in the Bible. Joseph, the great Old Testament hero was about fifteen years old when he saved his country. Samuel went to live with the high priest who was a corrupt man, but Samuel straightened him out—and Samuel was a teenager at the time. David was anointed the King of Israel when he was a teenager. Or what about Daniel in the lion’s den and what about the “Asbestos Trio”, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (I call them the Asbestos Trio because they wouldn’t burn!)—they were all teenagers. Here’s one that will really make your socks run up and down. When God decided to enter the human situation, He entrusted His Son, a little baby, to a teenager. Mary was more than likely just fourteen or fifteen years old on that first Christmas. God respects teenagers enough to entrust our Lord to a fifteen year old girl.

I love teenagers, and I love them because they are honest. If you get boring, they’ll go right to sleep on you or start passing notes. But I also love them because they are so resilient. Let me tell you something. Never in history has there been a generation of teenagers more assaulted by destructive ideas and behaviors than this generation—never has there been a generation whose values and moral have been more challenged, never has there been a generation who has had to endure as many broken homes and trading of partners by their parents, and yet 90% of them are turning out all right. So teenagers, God treats you as adults. And parents, the secret to those teenage years is to see a teenager as God sees that teenager—as an adult, a young adult, yes, but an adult.

In fact, that’s what this story in Luke 2 is all about. Jesus was twelve years old. His parents were taking Him to what was the equivalent of His bar mitzvah, symbolizing that He was no longer a child, but would be considered an adult. It’s fascinating to see that when He then started acting like an adult, his parents didn’t understand it and didn’t like it. So much was the case that when at last they found Jesus in the Temple, Mary said to Him: “Child, why have you treated us like this?” In essence what was happening here was that Jesus’ parents had brought Him to Jerusalem to announce that He was an adult, but they still wanted to treat Him as if He were a child. Now from this remarkable slice of the Scriptures I want to highlight two fundamental challenges for parents and for teenagers.

Let’s start with the parents. What is the challenge for parents of teenagers? Let me give you a phrase—”Let go and lead.”

Mary and Joseph had to let go. That’s what Jesus was trying to say to them. He was saying to them: “You said that I am no longer a child, but you still treat me like a child. You come looking for me because you don’t want to let me go.” Understand please that “to let go” does not mean “to abandon”. It means simply to realize that the umbilical cord has got to be severed. We grow them up in order to give them away. We turn them loose to live in the world. They may get battered and bruised in the process—and it’s okay for us to offer them a band-aid for their cuts and bruises, but we’ve got to let them go.

I love these lines from Kahlil Gibran. He says:

You may give them your love, but not your thoughts
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies, but not their souls
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bow from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer, God, sees the mark upon the path of the infinite and
He bends with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness for even
as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves the bow that is stable.

Mary and Joseph had to let go. Parents do have to let go of their teenagers. Remember that God sees those teenagers as adults.

And parents have to lead. What does it mean to lead? It says in Luke that Jesus went home with His parents and was obedient to them. That word obedient means that He allowed Himself to be led. So what does it mean to lead a teenager? I use four “R’s” to paint the picture.

Respecting. Teenagers need respect. They need to know that they matter, that they are important, that they have worth and value in your eyes. I read something that changed my whole understanding of dealing with teenagers. It said: “Treat your teenager as though he or she is a peer, a friend in your house. When you have a friend spending the night at your house, do you say: ‘The towels are on the floor and we are not going to put up with that’… or ‘Your hair is not parted right and I don’t like it’…or ‘Take your breakfast dishes to the sink and get them clean’? No, you don’t say that. Well, start treating the teenager in your house as a peer and a friend. Show them respect.

Rooting. I mean rooting as in cheerleading. Teenagers need someone rooting for them. I remember once watching a track meet where they had an 800-meter race for seventh graders. (I ran the 800-meters one time, and I realized that God made the 800 for horses, and so I switched to the 110-meter high hurdles. I didn’t do very well but at least it was over quickly!) Well, they had this 800-meter race for seventh graders—two laps around the track—tough race. When at last the runners crossed the finish line, we looked up to see that there was one boy a whole half-lap behind, struggling for all he was worth to finish. He wouldn’t quit. As he slowly made his way around the last turn, everybody had fallen silent watching. Suddenly his parents jumped up and began to cry: “Way to go, Buddy! You’re doing great! Run, Buddy, run!” Finally he crossed the finish line and collapsed in exhaustion. Two men were sitting next to me. One of them said: “Poor kid. Kind of sad, isn’t it?” The other man said: “What do you mean ‘sad’? That kid’s got the greatest gift in the world—parents who root for him regardless.”

Our teenagers, in our personal families, and in our church family, need to know that we are rooting for them.

Relating. That means talking, but most of all it means listening. I remember years ago when my son, John David came in asking me a question, and before he was finished, I unloaded on him a ten-minute answer. He sat there patiently, and when I finished, he said: “Well, Dad, you answered a question I was not going to ask.” You see, I was lecturing, not listening. I wasn’t really relating. Ask teenagers what they’re interested in; get their advice; let them help you solve some problem. You won’t regret it.

Relaxing. I like this one best. We have them for a dozen years or so and in those years we’ve got to teach them and mold them and build into them a sense of character. After that it’s too late. After that, all we can do is model and mellow out. Model— live like you want them to live. Mellow out—remember that they belong to God and don’t belong to us. When they get to be teenagers, they’re gone—so you might as well model and mellow out. It’s all right to have three or four basic rules for them as long as they’re living under your roof, but don’t major on the minors. Parents, find some good hills to die on. Don’t die on the hill of hairstyle or earrings or how they clean their room. Find a good hill to die on, not something that doesn’t really matter.

So here’s our challenge as parents and as church people—let go and lead.

Now teenagers, what’s your challenge? Again I offer a phrase: “Grab hold and grow.”

Grab hold. What does that mean? It means that when you get to be a teenager, you have to quit blaming everybody else for how you turned out. You are responsible. There are millions of people in the world who have had a lot worse life than you have had, and will turn out a whole lot better because they don’t spend their lives blaming their parents or their environment or anything else for how they turned out. To grab hold means to seize responsibility for who you are and what you become. Jesus grabbed hold. He went to the temple and said: “My business is the business of God. This is who I am and who I want to be. I am going to spend my life doing the things God wants me to do. I am going to be about my Father’s business.” That’s grabbing hold.

What does it mean to grow? We get a clue from this passage. Jesus grew on four fronts we are told. He grew in wisdom. He was smart. Young people, you have two choices in life. You can wise up or dry up. Jesus grew in wisdom. He was “booksmart.” The religious leaders in the temple were amazed at what He knew. He was “street smart.” He knew when to leave town and when not to. And He was “self smart.” He knew who He was, accepted who He was, and never wanted to be anyone but who He was. Wisdom. He grew in stature. He grew physically. Somebody needs to tell teenagers before they get to be teenagers that they will start sleeping late—not because they’re lazy, but because their growing bodies require more sleep. Too many parents fuss about teenagers sleeping late and they don’t realize that when you get to be an adolescent, you have to have more sleep. Growing bodies also produce deepening emotions—your highs are higher and your lows are lower. Dramatic mood swings among teenagers are a function of physical growth. It helps to know and to remember these things. Jesus grew in stature. He grew in favor with God. The very first word we ever hear Jesus speak was: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” And then the very last word we hear Him speak before His death was: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” At the beginning, “Father”. At the end, “Father”. It was His love for God His Father that was the driving, compelling force in His life. I could never give you teenagers better advice than to make friends with God in your life. And Jesus grew in favor with people. He loved people, and people loved Him. Why? Let me give you the eleven-word secret for getting along with people. It’s the greatest secret in the history of the world. Eleven words. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Teenagers, write down how you would like to have people treat you, and then take that list and go and do those things to other people and you will be astonished at what will happen! Your life will become user-friendly.

So our challenge as parents is to let go and lead. And our challenge as teenagers is to grab hold and grow.

Well, let me finish with this…

“Nicholas Nickleby” is a Broadway play based on a story by Charles Dickens. There is a wonderful scene in the play where Nicholas takes to himself a young teenager named Smike. Smike is an orphan, a street urchin, whose heart has been broken a hundred times over, who lives from hand to mouth, who has been in trouble constantly, who has been used, abused, and misused, who trusts no one and thus gives himself to no one. But Nicholas befriends Smike and takes him into his heart and into his life. Smike’s whole experience is changed by the caring concern Nicholas showers upon him. There comes a point where Nicholas begins to spell out the options they have for a place to live. Smike listens for a moment and then says: “Wait. Wait. I don’t care where we live. I’m not interested in a place. Nicholas, home is with you. You are my home. I don’t care where we are as long as you are there.”

Parents, teenagers, church people, take that little story to your hearts. You see, parents, your teenager is going to turn out pretty good because of you or even in spite of you. And teenagers, you’re going to turn out pretty good because of your parents or in spite of them. Why? Because we have a heavenly Father who loves us and an elder brother, Christ, who saves us.

And they are all we really need…

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