Understanding Whose You Are
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Authors Brian Mills and Ben Trueblood encourage parents to engage their teens in spiritual conversations before going to college. They talk about the two beliefs that determine your life every day
Understanding Whose You Are
Bob: Which are we more focused on, as parents, raising our children? Is it how they behave or what they believe? Ben Trueblood says that, as parents, we should be working to shape our children’s thinking.
Ben: We spend a lot of time trying to form the outward flesh or behavior. What happens, when we spend time with teenagers in theology, and doctrine, and teaching them how to love God with all of their mind as well, is their view of God expands. The bigger our view of God is in our lives, the more we obey, the more we worship, the more we desire Him.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, February 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Obviously, how our kids behave is important; it matters. We need to make sure, as parents, we’re also talking regularly with them about what they believe and why they believe it. We’re going to talk more today about that with Ben Trueblood and Brian Mills. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m sitting here thinking—you guys have three sons. We had five children, and all of our kids went to college. I’m trying to think: “How many of them would I say their college experience was a net positive, not a net negative, where the good outweighed the bad?” I think, for ours, three or four out of five would have been a net positive. What about your boys?
Dave: I know what I think, but it doesn’t matter; it’s what she thinks. [Laughter]
Ben: Wise, wise.
Ann: I think three out of three.
Dave: Yes, I was going to say—not that there weren’t struggles; but yes, overall. I’ve got to tell you—I was really worried about it. I was the parent—I’m sure a lot can relate—but I’d lay in bed at night, when they were 12/13/14, thinking about two things: “One, what’s their experience going to be like with their faith on the college campus?” and “Two, how are we going to pay for it?” [Laughter] Those are heavy burdens that we carry.
Ann: But I also don’t think, just because they failed or faltered at times, I don’t see that as a fail.
Ann: I see that God used some of those times to really build into them and create this deep rich walk with God.
Bob: Of course, we look back on that—and what we’re evaluating; the grade we’re giving is: “How did they come out the other side?—with their faith intact?”
Bob: —not: “What kind of grades did they get?” or “What was their major in?” because for us, as parents, what really matters is: “How are they doing, walking with Jesus, after the end of those four years?”
We’ve got a couple of guys joining us this week, who are passionate about this same thing. Ben Trueblood and Brian Mills joining us on FamilyLife Today. Guys, welcome back.
Ben: Thank you.
Brian: Thank you.
Bob: These guys have written a book called A Different College Experience.
Dave: And that’s exactly what we wanted—a different college experience for our kids. It’s great to have a resource like this that can help them do it.
Bob: Brian is a pastor in Yukon, Oklahoma—Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon. Ben works for Lifeway, which is the Southern Baptist Convention—the headquarters in Nashville. You’re working with student ministries—high school and college pastors both—are you equipping both sides?
Brian: Middle school and high school.
Bob: That’s your area?
Bob: Okay; both of you have worked with students on the college campus, which is what led to this book. As you think about your own kids, who are far from college—but you’ve seen what happens on the college campus—are you nervous about sending your kids to college?
Ben: That’s a good question.
Bob: How old are your kids?
Ben: I have four: they’re 13, 11, 6 and 5.
Bob: So let me just—a little reality check—13?
Ben: Yes, yes.
Bob: It’s not that far away.
Ben: No, it’s not. We got to 13 a lot faster than 13 feels. [Laughter] So we’re there, for sure. I would say: yes, there’s nervousness about that moment; because having served as a youth pastor for so long before going to Life—like I’ve just seen a lot of transition—and I’ve seen some do it well, and I’ve seen others not.
The reality is—there’s some “Yes,” to the “Are you nervous?” question. I think my hope and I think one of the things we want the book to really do is, not just help somebody avoid the pitfalls, but actually, the different college experience is using that moment as a catalytic moment to propel you forward in your relationship and walk with Jesus. It’s not just a “How do I keep my kid from falling into all the stuff?”; it’s: “How do you use this amazing moment in your life to actually propel you forward?”
Brian: It also gives the opportunity for a family—and I’d be curious to hear from y’all what y’all credit the three for three—because this opens opportunity for you just to have that spiritual conversation/the conversation to say: “What are your expectations for college?” and having that even at a young age.
I’ve got a 14-year-old, and I’ve got a 13-year-old. We already began those conversations of—just casually, but just development, conversations. This book really frees up that opportunity to do that. I don’t get crazy nervous—probably a little bit nervous—but I’ll be a lot more nervous, here, in about three years. [Laughter]
Bob: Do you find yourself thinking: “Well, we’ll avoid all of this. We’ll send them to Christian college, and then there won’t be an issue.”
Ben: No, because I went to a Christian school and— [Laughter]
Dave: Oh, what was that like?
Ben: Like you can’t escape by going to a—you’re going to find what you’re looking for. I think that is true of students at every age. If you want to get into something, you’re going to get it.
Dave: Yes; right.
Bob: So moms and dads—who are thinking Christian college is the protection—not necessarily. There are kids, who want to live for the world, who are going to Christian colleges.
Brian: I went to a Christian university for college. There was just as much sin within it—maybe a little more hidden; the protection so you don’t get kicked out of the school—but it’s still the sin; when, in the public university, it’s a lot more public/not as hidden.
Bob: Yes; you said something about wanting to make sure your sons and daughters can go through hard times, even make mistakes, and know how to deal with it. We had a guest on FamilyLife Today, years ago, who said something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Most Christian parents are raising their kids to be sin avoiders and sin concealers.” We teach our kids: “Stay away from that; and if I find that you did it, you’re going to be in real trouble. So avoid it; and if you fall, you get punished.” So just lie about it to me, so you don’t get punished.
He said what we should be teaching our kids how to do is—how to be sin confessors and sin repenters.
Brian: Yes; that’s good.
Bob: That’s just always stuck with me. That’s ultimately what we want for our kids when they go through college. We’d love for them to avoid sin, but they’re human beings. They’re not going to avoid sin; right? That’s the flesh—is still with us.
Brian: A popular sermon I preached to our college students was the understanding of repentance—and how it’s such a positive word—that: “To change your mind”; right? The metanoia of it/the change your mind so that you don’t fall in it; and how repentance is one of the most healthy things we can do, daily, in our sanctification process.
Bob: That’s a good word.
Brian: And that just propels us to become more like Christ if we learn daily repentance.
Dave: So what’s that look like? I want to hear you preach that sermon. [Laughter]
Brian: Well, I teach it in the understanding of your sanctification process. If it’s a chart—that you’re going up; right? You’re starting in the beginning at the bottom of the chart; and you’re getting to the top of the chart, which is heaven, and that’s when you die. Everywhere in between, from your salvation moment to your heaven moment, is your sanctification moment.
But along that, what happens is—sin creeps in and takes us off path. Well, sin takes us off track with God; it doesn’t separate us, because we’re saved. I believe once saved always saved. But in the midst of that, it separates us and takes us off path with God. Well, how do we get back on path with God? We know the value of repentance; when we repent, we experience the grace of God, and He allows us to get back on track with Him.
Bob: Let me give you an illustration of what you’re talking about. We were on a family road trip. We were going to Indianapolis from Little Rock—about a day’s drive. It was late at night. I had to stop and pull off somewhere in Indiana to use the bathroom. Well, when I got back on the highway, I was looking; and I’m going: “I got on the wrong road. We’re going to Paducah; we’re not going to Indianapolis.” [Laughter]
I realize: “I’m on the wrong road; I’m not going to get where I want to go on this road.” I thought to myself: “I could pull over on the side of the road, and just beat my head on the steering wheel, and go, ‘What a terrible driver I am. I made such…’ and just weep about it, which would do nothing to get me any closer to Indianapolis. Or I can take that exit, turn around, head back in the right direction—
Brian: That’s good.
Bob: —“which will get me going where I want to go.” That’s what repentance is; it’s not feeling bad about the mistake you made.
Brian: That’s right.
Bob: There may be some; God brings grief and sorrow for our sin. But ultimately, it’s not the sorrow we’re looking for, it’s: “Did you turn the car around?” and “Are you headed in the right direction?” That’s what repentance is; right?
Ann: That’s good.
Ben: Yes, that’s good.
Dave: Wow! That’s a great illustration, Bob. I bet you’ve preached that one before.
Bob: I preached that once or twice. [Laughter]
Ann: I think, as parents, too, it’s easy to look at the actions instead of looking at the heart. We’re so fearful of what they will do instead of thinking, “Who are you becoming?” I think the teen years were our favorite years in parenting because of the conversations that took place.
I remember asking them—we would sit just at the dinner table and say—we’re talking about kids, and what’s going on at school, and partying—and even asking that question: “Why do you think people party? What do you think is going on in college when people are just totally wasted? What do you think is going on, deeper in their heart, that makes them want to do that?” Like those questions are so good to bring up—even 13/14—"What do you think?” To even ask them: “What do you guys think about that? What do you think you’ll do in college?” Just getting them thinking; not saying: “You will not drink!” or “You will not party!” because it’s more a matter of the heart.
Have you guys seen that with kids all the time? How do you get to the heart?
Ben: I think going for the heart is the right approach; because when you, in a Christian family—when the parents, through Scripture and through what God has done in their own life—capture the heart of a teenager; Jesus transforms us from the heart out.
We can take two approaches—we can say: “Don’t do this,” “Don’t do this,” “Don’t do this,” “Don’t do this.” Then, when we’re not there to say, “Don’t do this,” anymore, it’s left up to them. Or we can make sure that their heart is connected to the Vine and that influences behavior; right?—more than us just saying, “No.
How do we do that? I think the number one thing is that we have to be connected to the Vine, as parents and as leaders; and then, walking with them. I love the way you talked about it; it’s simple conversations. We’re not talking about you starting an hour-and-a-half long program in your home every night to combat this. [Laughter] It’s simple conversations, along the way, where you show your connectedness to Christ and you model for them. I think that has tremendous impact on this college moment.
Dave: I’ve said something so much at my church—I think, when they hear me start this language, they start to go, “Oh, here he goes again,”—and you have it in your book. That’s why I want to talk about this; because I’ve often said, “The two beliefs that determine every decision you make, every day, are: ‘What you believe about God,’/’What you believe about yourself’; in other words, theology/identity”; right? I see it right in your book.
It’s like okay, a college kid, trying to make decisions, has to have a proper theology; He has to know who God is. And he also—huge—has to understand who he is, or he’s just going or she’s going to cave in to the culture unless there’s a firm sense of identity. I’d love to hear you guys talk about that, because that’s a whole section of your book about a right proper understanding of the gospel and who God is and then also identity. Take that anywhere you want, but how important is that for a kid to have a different college experience?
Ben: Yes, it’s huge. I’ll say this—and then, Brian, whatever—jump in anytime. It kind of connects to our heart conversation just a moment ago. Many times what we see happen when somebody’s life sort of falls apart in college is that they had no spiritual bone structure. We spend a lot of time trying to form the outward flesh or behavior.
What happens, when we spend time with teenagers in theology, and doctrine, and teaching them how to love God with all of their mind as well, is their view of God expands. The bigger our view of God is in our lives, the more we obey, the more we worship, the more we desire Him.
I think it’s a view-of-God issue, and we have to expose them to things that expand their view of God. That begins to build the bone structure, and tendons, and the muscles of our faith that, then, the outward flesh hangs upon—what we actually see—instead of starting with the flesh. I think theology and doctrine is a huge part of that.
Wayne Grudem, in his systematic theology book, talks about it like a puzzle. When we were first taught to do a puzzle, everyone’s taught the same way—you find the corners, you do the edges, and all the other pieces fit into place. Well, when we teach a student—when we teach anyone for that matter—who God is, we begin to help build the frame of their life with God versus everything else in our lives. And when we have the frame of our life as God, all of the other pieces have a place to fit.
So if you’re the quarterback on the football team, or you’re a mathlete, or you’re in the band, or whatever you are, all of a sudden, your gifts, talents, abilities, relationships fit to the frame of God rather than a false frame that we often are tempted to build.
Bob: So one of the things that a lot of parents are concerned about in sending a child off to college is: “Are they going to find a spouse, or are they going to get herpes?” [Laughter]
Ben: Well, there you go.
Bob: I mean, “Are they going to find a spouse?” or “Are they going to make a train wreck of their lives, emotionally and sexually?” Anything parents can do? What’s your coaching for them to help their kids get ready to navigate aggressive girls, if they’re boys; or boys, who are not gentlemen, approaching those girls?
Brian: We address it a lot in our book. We do a whole chapter on relationships or a whole section on relationships. We provide boundaries within it. We provide the topic of:
“Is there just one out there for me?” or “How do I identify the one?” that everybody always talks about. We address those issues within this book because of how big of a deal it is.
I was watching a lot of our college students were ending up—not a lot of them—but it was often. At least, once a month, I’m meeting with a college student, who’s ended up pregnant, or they had a moment, or a late-night moment, or this or that. There’s boundaries and barriers you’ve got to create in your life if you’re going to have healthy relationships. I think a lot of that starts back around the dinner table, before they go to college, and walking them through what it’s like to date healthy and not just to have a boyfriend or have a girlfriend.
But then, how do you battle temptation? Pornography is a major problem; and statistically, we know by middle school, kids have at least looked at a pornographic image. That’s more terrifying to me, raising a boy, than sending my boy to college. We’ve got to begin to equip and empower students to battle against those temptations. I think, as a result of the pornographic addiction today, is driving these relationships to be so poor and so bad and they are making such poor decisions. There is a different way, and we really address a lot of that within that book.
Ben: Yes, and even the value—how to look at sex, and the value of it, and the place it holds in a relationship—is brought so far down by the pornography problem in our world. It’s casual now. It’s just, you know, you used to go have dinner, or go to a movie, or go on a date; and now, you hook up; and that’s part of the process.
Bob: There can be coaching that, again, moms and dads do about: “What does it look like to have a proper relationship with the opposite sex?” I don’t know that my dad ever had a conversation with me about how to treat a woman or “What’s the purpose of a date?”—or the things we help parents with in the Passport to Purity® series or the Passport to Identity® series that we’ve designed for parents to take kids through. You have to be having regular conversations about these things. Your kids may roll their eyes and say, “Oh, you’ve told me this before.” Keep talking and keep having the conversations; right?
Dave: Yes; as parents, you’ve got to do that. You pray and encourage your sons and daughters, as they get to college, to have that peer group that’s talking about that stuff; because the worst thing you can do with a pornography problem, or any kind of problem, is keep it in the dark and not talk about it. The second—we talked earlier about confession and repentance—the second you confess or you speak out loud, honestly, what’s in the dark, the dark loses its control.
It doesn’t mean that you win, but you begin—the power of the dark is lessened. Yet, that’s the thing that’s so scary for a young man or woman in college. If they’re struggling with something in the dark, the tendency is to just hide; right? And yet, when you bring it, then things start to happen.
I’m guessing you’ve seen that—you’ve seen—I mean, we’re talking about the struggles; but you’ve seen victory in sanctification—right?—happen in young men and women. It’s just awesome to see the victory happen in their lives. I’m hoping you’re going to say, “Yes.” [Laughter]
Brian: I’ll tell you a story/a short story of a quick victory. A young man came into college, very addicted to pornography/very addicted to sex; he had been with several young ladies. I ended up sitting down with him in the law building at the University of Arkansas. He just poured out all of his sin. In this quiet room, he’s just pouring out everything he’s ever done. He’d given his life to Christ—highly convicted of it—and he said, “Pastor, what do I do?”
Obviously, we walked through ways to help. There’s lots of avenues out here in today’s society that can help us with that. Then I really challenged him to use God’s Word. I said: “Just memorize Scripture,” and “Everywhere you might look at porn, post Scripture. Everywhere you might go through acts you should not be doing, post Scripture.” His roommate came to me, two weeks later, and was like, “What did you do to my roommate?” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said: “There is Scripture everywhere. [Laughter] Like everywhere we go—in his car, in our—everywhere we go, there’s Bible verses.”
Ben: That’s awesome.
Brian: He said, “I’m just winning the battle through the Word,”—that was his statement: “I’m just winning the battle through the Word.” There’s just power in the Word of God. I get that there’s other ways to help, but there’s power in the Word when we put the Word in our life.
Ann: Which goes to Romans 12: “Don’t be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of our mind.” He was renewing his mind.
Bob: I heard Dennis Rainey say many times, here on FamilyLife Today—he would say: “Your kids are going to go to college either as missionaries or as a mission field,” and “You need to sit down with them and say, ‘Are you going to be a missionary, or are you going to be a mission field?’”
We’d like to think our high school kids are headed off with a missionary mindset. They may stumble along the way—but if they can keep their focus: “I’m here to point other people to Christ,” and “If I’m going to point other people to Christ, I’ve got to keep pointing myself toward Christ”; right? But if they wind up stumbling perpetually, then they become a mission field; and somebody else has got to point them to Christ.
Your book gives moms and dads a framework/a place to start to have these conversations. I guess you could—well, you could do two things with the book. Sometimes, I would give my kids/my high school kids a book; and I would say, “I will pay you $25 to read this book and to write a book report on it.” The other thing is to sit down and say: “I’m going to read a chapter; you read a chapter. We’ll get together Saturday and talk about that chapter,” and then we’ll do the same thing the next week and go through it with them. The book becomes the springboard through which those conversations between parents and kids happen.
Guys, we’re grateful for the book. We’re grateful for your work and for the time here, helping coach us as parents. Thanks for being here.
Brian: Glad to be here. Thank you.
Ben: Thank you.
Bob: And we’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. The book is called A Different College Experience: Following Christ in College by Ben Trueblood and Brian Mills. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy of the book from us online, or you can call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can go online to order A Different College Experience: Following Christ in College by Ben Trueblood and Brian Mills; or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
We’ve got the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, with us. I’ve been thinking, as we’ve been having this conversation: “This is not all that far off for you. You’re going to be launching your first one to college before you know it.”
David: I mean, high school is on the brink—this coming year. [Laughter] All of a sudden, you know, I have these apps that show me how many more days I have left with my kids in my house. It’s startling; it really is; it gets overwhelming. Then, hearing a conversation like this, you realize everything that they’ll be navigating. It just takes me back to the simplicity of John 15 as I think about them still being in my home now—that Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. That unless we abide in Him, we can’t bear fruit; that apart from Him, we can do nothing.
The greatest gift we can give our kids is a living and active faith: “Are they seeing us walking with Jesus often? Are they seeing us, as parents and grandparents, responding in faith and repentance when we do stumble? Are we truly abiding and finding life every day in Jesus as the source?—not in activities, and in work, and the false places that we find our identity—are we really rooting in Him?” Yes, it gets overwhelming; but yet, there’s some simplicity to the nature of: “Am I really just having an active and living faith?”
Bob: Well, a good word/a good reminder for us, as parents, that, if we focus on what is the main thing, that’s what’s going to endure—that’s what our kids are going to remember/that’s what’s going to impact them more than anything else. That’s good, David. Thank you for that.
In fact, speaking of that, next week, Phil Vischer is going to join us. He’s going to be talking to us about how we can start, when our kids are little, to be making sure they understand the big picture of the Bible. He’s developed a new tool for that. We’ll talk with him about that starting Monday. So I hope our listeners can be back with us for that. I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team for today’s program. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. You have a great weekend and we’ll see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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