Over recent months I’ve been meeting with other parents from church, to pray for our teenagers. The adolescent years can be pretty volatile. Kids are turning into adults. Hormones are kicking in. Once delightful compliant children can morph into something from the Twilight series. Key among these changes are issues of faith. Do I believe what mum and dad believe, and do mum and dad really believe it any way? Have I just been swept along by the expectations of my church or youth group? What is real?
As I was talking (and later praying) with another dad from church a few weeks back, I got the idea of offering to take a bunch of graduating year 12 boys/young men away for a couple of days to focus on life after school from God’s perspective. I invited 10 guys in our church and ended up having 6 come away with me, and my son, Luke, and our youth director, Steve, for the weekend. We headed to the coast and set up camp for the weekend. Some time was spent in the surf, playing various games, or just chilling around the campsite. The main game was to open the Bible and to talk together about stuff that mattered – and we did!
Here is a simple summary of what we looked at:
Getting to the guts of the gospel. I shared my experiences as a teenager of constantly failing God, wondering if I was really a Christian, wondering if it was true, not being able to turn over a new leaf, hoping a change from Canberra to Sydney would change everything, and more. During 1st year uni I came to understand Romans 5:6-11 and this changed everything. God wasn’t waiting for me to make myself good enough for him. He was reaching out to me as a rebel, forgiving all of my sin in Jesus, and having guaranteed my current standing with him as not-guilty, I had nothing to fear from God, and was freed up to serve him with joy.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
Beginning with the end in mind. We talked about how the shortness of time clarifies what’s important. If 80 minutes has passed in a game of rugby and your team is 4 points behind, then you hang on to the ball for phase after phase, aiming for that 5 point try. If you have an exam tomorrow, then it makes sense to start studying. If your life is short, then it’s important to know what is worthwhile doing. I shared how my cancer diagnosis has sharpened my focus of what matters in life.
I got all the boys to share their plans for the year ahead and beyond. Some were looking at gap years, others heading to uni or tech, some leaving home, others staying with family. We looked together at Psalm 90 and saw how the eternal God has numbered our days and called us to live for him and find our satisfaction in him. In particular we brainstormed what this verse would look like for each of us in our contexts.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
We also looked at the typical Aussie dream and how chasing affluence, influence, pleasure and security are the messages we hear every day. Jesus critiques these ideas and shows how the brevity of life and the certainty of death make a mockery of a life spent chasing this stuff.
15 Then he (Jesus) said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21)
This bloke made 3 fatal mistakes. He thought riches would guarantee him security. He thought he had all the time in the world. And ultimately he thought only of himself, leaving God right out of the picture. That night his life was demanded of him. I urged the boys not to fall into the same foolish and fatal mistakes.
Q and A. We built a raging campfire and sat around with the boys asking me questions. We covered a lot of ground with different topics. These included relationships, marriage and sex; life in residential colleges; helping people grapple with issues such as the horrors done in the name of Christianity, or what happens to people who’ve never had a chance to hear about Christianity; what to do when you’re struggling; and more.
Don’t sell out for a bowl of soup. We looked at how temptations can be so appealing and seem to offer so much, and yet how easy it is to get everything out of perspective. Everyone agreed that we wouldn’t swap an inheritance from our parents for a meal, and yet this is the risk when it comes to inheritance from God. We can be tempted to look at people not following Jesus and think we’d be better off if we were like them. Perhaps it’s their perceived sexual freedom, or their power or wealth, or maybe it’s that our inheritance from God seems so intangible or remote. We checked out these verses from Hebrews:
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)
15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. (Hebrews 12:15-16)
We talked together about how being Christian is for the long haul and God wants us to encourage each other to persevere and live our lives for him. These verses show how we can invest in the lives of one another.
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
God doesn’t expect us to be Robinson Crusoe Christians. The boys shared how they thought they could encourage each other. There were some great ideas that focused around being genuine, getting past trivia, and caring about how each is going with God. This was important, given they were heading in different directions, with different challenges ahead.
Finally, we discussed how we would all stuff up and why it was so important to remember the grace of God. Rather than hiding from God when we feel that we don’t measure up, or when we know we are guilty of not living for him, this is the time to draw near and rely on his grace. Jesus knows what we’re going through. He was tempted as we are. He was challenged to give up his inheritance for a ‘bowl of soup’ too. But he drew near to God and trusted him, even to death.
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
I think this was a good weekend. The boys told me so! One shared how it had encouraged him as he struggled with his faith. My prayer is that it will help these guys to remember the gospel, and live it out as they face massive changes in the year ahead.
It wasn’t hard to pull off a weekend like this. It’s a simple schoolies alternative, or add-on. It was fun, relaxed, and at its heart it was a serious time together. Maybe next time we’ll do it for 3 or 4 days. Perhaps you could consider this with year 12s from your church or network. I focused on boys so as to keep things simple, but there would be opportunities with girls too. God-willing, we might try to do both separately next year. If you’d like to know more about how it worked or to talk through possibilities for something similar, please get in touch.