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So You're About to Be a teenagerGodly Advice for Preteens on Friends, Love, Sex, Faith, and Other Life Issues
By Dennis Rainey Barbara Rainey
THOMAS NELSON PUBLISHERSCopyright © 2007 Dennis Rainey and Barbara Rainey
All right reserved.
Chapter Onethe box top
by samuel rainey
Does your life sometimes seem as confusing as a gigantic jigsaw puzzle? And I don't mean a puzzle that's just twenty pieces cut out of thick wood-the kind you could do with your eyes closed. No, I mean life can feel like a puzzle that has thousands of pieces. I sure felt that way when I was about to become a teenager.
My family has worked on a few of those big puzzles because my mom loves them. I suppose that's where my dad got a pretty crazy idea for his Sunday school class. What Dad did illustrates a very important truth I want to share with you.
One Sunday my dad brought his sixth-grade class a thousand-piece puzzle of a Rocky Mountain landscape with leaves in fall colors, a vivid blue sky, majestic mountains, sparkling water, and a deer or two. Dad divided the class into three groups and said, "You must put this puzzle together without talking to anyone." He gave each group all the pieces for what they thought was the identical puzzle.
The first group was given the pieces and the puzzle box top. Those kids set the box top up for reference, sorted some pieces, and began putting the thing together. They thought this was fun.
My dad dumped the same puzzle out for the second group, but unknown to them, he gave them the box top from a different puzzle. So as they tried to sort the pieces, they were looking at the wrong puzzle picture! Of course, they could not talk to each other or even ask my dad if something was wrong.
The third group had it the worst. My dad spilled out the pieces and left them without a box top. Several kids broke the no-talk rule and complained, "Mr. Rainey! This isn't fair!" But he simply reminded them that there was to be no talking.
Now you may think my dad is kind of weird or even mean, but he was doing this to teach the class something very important about life.
The first group worked enthusiastically and fit many puzzle pieces together in the allotted time. The second group was frustrated, confused, and a bit angry. Slowly, each person in that group figured out that the box top did not match the puzzle. One boy threw the box top outside of the group because it was distracting and frustrating everyone. A girl pointed an accusing finger at the box lid and the pieces, but Dad just smiled and said, "S-h-h-h-h. No talking."
The third group was a disaster-no signs of teamwork or progress. They had no excitement for this project. Each person just sat there playing with a pile of pieces. This group gave up working on the puzzle because they had no hope.
After ten minutes my dad brought the experiment to a halt. Here's the point he made that I want to share with you: The box top is essential in working a jigsaw puzzle-it provides a clear picture of what the finished puzzle is supposed to look like. Without it, putting the puzzle together is nearly impossible, and all you have is a bunch of little colored pieces that have no connection.
When you start to experience all the changes of adolescence, figuring out your life may seem like putting together a big puzzle without a box top. My question is, Just what will you use for the "box top"? What picture will you look at as you fit your life together? You certainly will need one to make it through this part of your life.
Hang with me. In this chapter I'm going to tell you about a box top that will help you understand what your life-a great life-should look like. During your teen years you can have so much fun, avoid boredom, have super relationships, and experience joy instead of shame and guilt. But first you must know the box top Maker.
The First Day of Junior High
Starting junior high in the seventh grade was a major moment in my life. These weren't just the sixth graders that I knew from my old school moving to Robinson Junior High, but many students from other elementary schools were going there too. That meant I would meet new people and not just be with my little group of friends anymore.
I'll never forget the first day of junior high. I wore glasses, and one boy I liked called them bifocals. They weren't bifocals! They were regular glasses, but I was so embarrassed. Later, instead of going home right after school like the other kids, my brother Benjamin forgot to come and pick me up. So here I was at the end of my first day at junior high-sitting outside, feeling a little nerdy, waiting, and waiting, and waiting. I hoped every day of junior high would not make me feel kind of different or weird. But it was exciting-I sure didn't want to go back to elementary school!
Meet the Box Top Maker
It's probably not too hard for you to believe in God. I mean, when you consider the beauty of nature and the incredible complexity of our bodies, it would take quite a stretch to think all of this just happened by chance.
But even if believing in God is not that hard, it can be more difficult to believe that God takes a personal interest in our lives. You may say, "Why would God care about me? I'm not famous. I'm just a kid. Does such an awesome Creator of the universe have time for me?"
Well, yes! He is God after all! That means He has a tremendous ability to keep track of everything, including all that you and I do and even think. Because God is all-knowing, He has a plan for you that will perfectly fit who you are, and He wants to use you to accomplish His plans on earth-both His grand plans and His specific plans for you.
The Bible says that God has even numbered each hair on our heads! Can you imagine keeping track of your own hair that way-to say nothing of numbering the hairs of billions of other people? The total number of hairs on each head must be huge, and I bet the exact number changes every day. And counting hairs is not God's only task. Let's face it-He is awesome!
God knows everything all the time, and that means He knows everything about you. Oooh, that could be good or bad! Actually, it's very good if we are in a relationship with Him.
And that's another very cool deal. He wants to know us, and He wants us to have a close friendship with Him! Let's think of it this way. You know your mom and dad because you are around them, right? You know when your mom and dad get upset at things you do, and you know when they are proud of you. God is the same way. In fact, He even refers to Himself many times as our Father in heaven. But if He knows us so well and wants us to know Him, how is that going to happen?
This brings me back to the box top analogy. If God created you but your life seems like a puzzle, then who do you suppose has the box top? Yup, God certainly does.
Understanding God's Box Top
Let's look at a few verses in God's Word, the Bible, that explain God's box top and how it relates to you. When God made the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, and put them in a beautiful garden, everything was perfect. These two had a great relationship with each other and with God; He actually walked in the Garden with them and they all talked.
But then an ugly thing happened. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating fruit from the one tree He had told them to absolutely avoid. This disobedience was given a name, a tiny word that is still a huge problem: Sin. The word sin means to "miss the mark" or to "mess up." This messing up by Adam and Eve meant they could no longer have easy access to God. That was their punishment. Since God is pure and holy, He hates sin. So Adam and Eve were separated from God and had to leave the Garden. This event is called the "fall of man" (see Gen. 3).
So God and Adam and Eve did not enjoy any more of those nice, friendly walks in the Garden. And because each one of us is a distant relative of Adam and Eve and we mess up, or sin, like they did, we also are separated from God. In Romans 3:23 the Bible says that we have all sinned and fallen short of God's glory. The most horrible result of sin, if it is not taken care of, is that any of us could die and end up in permanent separation from God in a place called hell. Trust me, you do not want to end up in hell.
The book of Romans also says, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23)! That's what I'm talking about. Wages are what you get when you do something. It's like an allowance for doing chores or a check for doing a job. The payment for sinning is death.
But hold on, here comes the good part! If you read the rest of Romans 6:23, you find that there is something that God has offered to us to get rid of those wages of sin: "The free gift of God is eternal life."
How did God clean up the mess made by Adam and Eve in the Garden? He sent a gift! This gift was none other than His Son, Jesus. Jesus was able to take care of our sin problem in our relationship with God. You may or may not know a lot about Jesus, but the most important thing to know is this: Jesus came to the earth to save people like you and me from the death we have earned (the wages) by not being perfect-by sinning.
Here's what the Bible says about why God sent His Son: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Isn't that awesome? Would you be willing to die for people you had never met so that they could live? They would never thank you in person, and they might not even admit you had given your life for them. God is telling us that He loved us so, so, so, so much that He gave His one and only Son to die for you and me! Why? So that we can have our relationship with God and never have to go to that awful place called hell. This is salvation.
Wow, God offers to give us a gift of eternal life despite the fact that we are sinful and have earned the wages, or payment, of death. Eternal life is life that lasts forever. You and I can live a billion years and we'll just be getting started! Now this eternal life begins while we are alive here on earth, but it continues forever in a beautiful place called heaven. That's where God has His permanent home and where everything is perfect-the opposite of hell, where everything is imperfect.
Meeting Jesus in Person
So how does someone receive this gift of salvation from God? Maybe you already are a follower of Jesus (a Christian) yourself, but please don't skip this section. God wants you to tell others how they can get their free gift too.
In order to receive the gift, you must know Jesus and understand what He has done for you. Suppose you died in a car wreck and suddenly found yourself standing before God. What if He said, "Why should I allow you into My kingdom?" What would be your answer?
It's quite simple. Jesus died for our sins because He loves us so much. He wants us to have the gift of salvation. All we have to do is believe in Him and what He did for us, and ask Him to forgive us and be King in our lives. We must turn over control of our lives to Jesus so that He becomes our leader.
If you would like to ask Christ to forgive you of your sins, why don't you ask your parents, an older brother or sister, or a friend who knows Jesus to pray with you? If you don't have anyone to do this with you, here's a prayer you can pray to God on your own:
Dear God, I am a sinner. I know that I am not perfect and I know that You are perfect. Thank You for sending Your Son to die for my sins. Thank You for loving me. By faith I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and rose from the grave to conquer death. Will You please forgive me of my sins and will You be the King of my life? Thank You for Your sacrifice, Your forgiveness, and for the eternal life I now have because of You. I will place my trust and faith in You and allow You to be the Lord and Master of my life. In Jesus' name, Amen.
If you just prayed that prayer, welcome into the kingdom of God! I hope you understand what you asked God to do, and I urge you to please tell someone about your decision concerning Christ. From now on you belong to Him. You are a child of God. Obey and follow Jesus Christ every day. Your life will never be the same.
The New Box Top
I'm glad that you understand what Christ did for you. Through His truth in the Bible, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the wisdom of others who follow Christ, God will help you see the purpose of your life and will guide you every step of the way. He also will never leave you. Now that doesn't mean you won't have hard times, but "God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Cor. 10:13).
Now do you understand the importance of God being the box top in your life? I hope that you will live by His instructions and leading. God knows what is going to happen in the future and we don't. He can lead you to make wise decisions instead of wrong decisions that will haunt you in the future.
Your life does not have to be a puzzle. Let God reveal His special box top designed just for you!
The Sixth-Grade Sunday School Class
I have a few stories of my own to tell about being in my dad's sixth-grade Sunday school class. I did learn a lot, and even though I was his daughter, Dad didn't treat me differently from the other kids.
He liked using objects-such as animal traps!-and illustrations to help us remember things. One time he talked about how bad R-rated movies could be for us. He brought in a couple of boxes he had decorated to make his point.
The first cardboard box was covered with the glitzy photos of cool people you'd see in a teen magazine. This box represented an R-rated movie. On another box Dad had taped pictures of cuddly animals, cute cartoons, and photos of families. That box represented a G-rated movie.
From where we all sat in the class no one could tell what was inside either of the boxes. Like everyone else, I thought that the R-rated movie (box) looked much more cool and appealing than the G-rated movie (box).
Then Dad gave each of us a ticket and told us that we had the choice of choosing one of the two "movies" to look at, and he asked for two volunteers-one to be first to see the R-rated movie and the other to see the G-rated movie.
I'll never forget what happened. A guy jumped up and ran to see the R-rated movie inside the box. A girl who said she wanted to see the movie inside the G-rated box quickly joined him. Now remember, all we could see was the outside of the boxes and the faces of these two classmates.
The boy went first. Dad held the box very close to his face so that when he opened it the guy really wouldn't miss anything. Slowly the top opened and the boy nearly gagged. His face contorted and he yelled, "Gross! Man, that's terrible. Yuck!" He stepped back to watch the girl look at her G-rated movie. When Dad opened the lid her face brightened and she broke into this huge grin and said, "Oooh, that is cool! That is really cool!" She kept on smiling and looking into the box.
Then Dad asked the rest of the class (there were about sixty-five of us) to line up in front of the movie they wanted to see. And do you know what happened? Only a few lined up to see the G-rated movie. After seeing this guy nearly puke, and seeing the girl with a big smile on her face, the majority still wanted to look at that R-rated movie!
Now I'll tell you what was in those two boxes.
At our home we put our throwaway food in a leftover food bucket, which eventually is dumped on a compost pile. After the food decays, my mom uses it as fertilizer for her plants.
The stuff in the bucket is yucky-grapefruit rinds, coffee grounds, and all kinds of rotting food. My dad had taken that awful food from home and put it in that R-rated movie box. It smelled bad. It was moldy and disgusting and gross! But with the lid on that box shut tight, the smell did not get out.
Inside the box with the G-rated movie Dad had placed a brand-new, crisp one-hundred-dollar bill.
After everybody had looked in the boxes, Dad explained that the leftover food was like an R-rated movie that has sex, violence, and bad language in it. He asked us why so many in the class had still wanted to go see that "movie" when they saw the response of their friend. Nearly everybody said that they were curious about what was so gross in the "movie."
Excerpted from So You're About to Be a teenager by Dennis Rainey Barbara Rainey Copyright © 2007 by Dennis Rainey and Barbara Rainey . Excerpted by permission.
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