Posts Tagged ‘hearts’

For many years as the Christmas holidays are approaching, I have often had the privilege and opportunity to speak with groups of young people involved in a youth outreach or in youth groups.  With the increasing commercialization of Christmas, it is a welcomed occasion to remind and discuss the “reason for the season” as we like to say.

It is a researched fact that the average attention span of teenagers is to be right about 12.5 minutes (for adults it is 15-20 minutes).  With that fact in mind, I have always known it to be important to grab attention, spark curiosity and be as relevant as possible within that short timeframe.

Young people often like to “rep” where they are from geographically in their cities so as I researched where the promised Messiah was born, I learned that Bethlehem was a small village five miles south of Jerusalem.  My friends in Chicago especially appreciate the title I created, “South side Messiah.”  Now that you have read this far, I share a few thoughts about this Messiah.

This miraculous child anointed by God to save human-kind is to establish a throne as the King and the Messiah.  The wise men who were seeking to worship the King went to Jerusalem first thinking it would be the city where the new kingdom would be established.  Think about it… if that were to be the case, the magi would have been the only ones who could have visited and worshiped the newborn King.  The shepherds and the lowly would have been forbidden to enter the gates of the palace and not allowed to see the Son of God.  

It had to be this way because the Good News was being delivered to everybodyeverywhere.  What an incredible moment it must have been!  All of the heavens celebrate to see God’s plan of love and salvation unfolding in this south side village of Bethlehem.   The new born King was not born in a palace, but in a stable; laid not in a crib for royalty, but a manger; dressed not in fine, princely clothing, but in swaddling rags.

The manger illustrates God’s affinity for the poor and the lowly.  The King of Kings was born into a condition that many of our young people and their families identify with today.  A condition of poverty and it could not have been any other way.  This poor and ordinary birth was an indication of the spiritual poverty required within the hearts of Christ followers to come.

It is those who know their own internal poverty who are the closest to God’s heart.  It is the religious, the self-important and puffed up that are most resistant to Christ… most resistant to a “South side Messiah”.  Jesus told us it is the simple, the childlike, and the weak who are closest to the kingdom of God (see Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:15; Luke 9:46-48).

The Messiah came to knock down barriers to God not raise them. The mystery of the King of Kings born in a lowly manger is simple yet profound. Out of a humble manger in the little town of Bethlehem came the greatest love man has ever known.  The Messiah born in that indistinct setting still touches and changes people 2,000 years later.

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HEROES or ZEROS – Who Are Teenagers Following Today?

One week during a Bible study, we looked at a powerful lesson from Matthew 8:28-34.  This is the story where Jesus cast some demons out of two violent young men.  After the demons were cast out of these two, the demons begged Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs who then led them to leap off a cliff and drown to death in the lake below.

As we discussed the story, some shared that it symbolized to them that if you are a pig or behave in a pig-like (foul) manner, you will attract demons.  The question then came up as to why so many of our young people are attracted to negative or demonic-like people?  Tupac Shakur’s name was tossed in with a long list of this generation’s popular heroes who have gained little attention or understanding from the adult generation.

Folks couldn’t quite understand why there was so much passion for a guy who ran around with the words ‘Thug Life’ tattooed across his stomach.  Tupac was known for his violent behavior and his constant association with some sort of trouble.  He was accused of causing a disturbance in Marin City that resulted in a six-year-old kid getting shot to death.  He went to jail for sexual assault.  He carried guns and was not afraid to use them, and once even shot two off duty cops.

For the most part he lived and died violently, so why the attraction?  Why were kids crying hysterically when he died?  Why do his posters still hang on the walls of so many teenagers’ rooms?  Why are there now classes on college campuses that study his music, poetry and life?  Could Tupac and his fellow ‘gangsta rappers’ who constantly glamorize street life be functioning in the role of ‘demons’ and be leading our kids to lives of emptiness and death?  Post-mortem, Tupac has taken on a legendary status.  You can often hear people refer to him as a leader who sacrificed and died for his people.  How did he reach such heights from his death in 1996 to now in 2011 with kids who are currently in middle school?

Being involved with youth on a regular basis, one of the constant things I hear being said when I ask about Tupac from our young people is: “He was real, and he was fearless.  He was real – while so many other people are fake… You knew about his trials and tribulations… You knew his momma was a crack addict who had several kids with different daddies… You knew he hated his father… You knew he was hurting, and you knew he was angry.”  Tupac pulled no punches and he radiated a passion that touched a lot of people.  Young people everywhere appreciated his honesty and “realness”.

Could it be whether for better or for worse, that Tupac became a hero because so many of us adults have stopped doing the job and let the Tupacs of the world take our place as the more consistent role model?  I remember as a kid hearing the familiar question asked of parents: “It’s 10 o’clock… Do you know where your children are?”  I would now say to parents:  It’s the 21st century; do you know who’s talking to your kids?  Is it someone you trust?  Is it Tupac or Snoop Dog in videos or through YouTube?  Is it the guy making fast money down the street?

The fact that Tupac is considered such a hero today represents even a bigger picture for us.  For many of today’s young people, he’s more known and admired than Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Booker T. Washington, and Barak Obama.  `Facts like this make it obvious that as adults with influence we have all got to step up our game to reach our young people.  Who is winning the hearts, souls and minds of our kids in America and why?

An exercise I like to do when I speak to young people is to ask them who their top 5 heroes are.  What I found is that most never mention a teacher, pastor, youth leader, parent or some other family member.  I often hear names like Eminem, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, Pink, Allen Iverson, Jay-Z, etc.  And what is even more disturbing is that a lot of kids say they don’t have any heroes!

Another thing that has become obvious is the fact that many adults never even bother to have heartfelt exchanges with young people to even see what sort of messages they are picking up from their heroes.  Do they want to get tattoos like Tupac and 50 Cent mimicking their videos with bikini clad women flattering them?  Do they admire their violent ways and figure that’s the way to handle problems?  Did they pick up on the intelligence and brilliance of Tupac as a writer?  Or was he just a good-looking guy who made great music?  A lot of kids pick up Tupac’s good side, but a larger number admire and strive to emulate his fearless-take-no-prisoners persona.  They see Tupac as the ultimate street soldier.

Who are your kid’s heroes?  Is it Tupac, 50 Cent, Lil Kim, or Lady Ga Ga?  Do they want to dress provocatively with their breast hanging out and get their tongues pierced like Pink?  Today’s pop and hip-hop icons aren’t so innocent.  We have little kids who are 5 years old who know how to grind when they dance, and little boys who want to walk around with their pants like Ludacris and T.I.

I was recently viewing a Kanye West concert on YouTube that was packed with young people who have made him and his crews their idols and heroes.  After listening to Kanye encourage the mostly teenage audience to ‘Yell f– you bitch’ and ‘f– you nigga’, I had to wonder how many of our young people are influenced by attitudes and messages such as that and want to be like Kanye?

All of us have a responsibility to protect the youth in our communities from harmful influences.  Even if you don’t have kids of your own, we can still strive to create better standards and conditions so that drug dealers, entertainers, and rap stars aren’t more of an influence than the parents, teachers and preachers in our children’s lives.

If you know a child or a teenager, why aren’t you or some other family member one of their heroes?  I don’t ask this question to point fingers, but our young people are in trouble.  All sorts of demons are fighting to possess their hearts, minds, and souls.  Ask them who their heroes are… and if they’re the wrong type of heroes. Let’s be sure to step up and counter that.

We must give the proper attention and understanding to the hip-hop culture so that we as adults might earn the right to be heroes and role models for this generation.  Our true heroes will stay so by staying conscious of the power and influence they have on the lives of our young people.

Originally published in 1999 by Jim Shearer in What’s the Word Magazine.  Ideaz Media Corp™ Revised 2011. All Rights Reserved.