Peer Pressure

The following is an excerpt from Bill Rudge's booklet, "Peer Pressure" (c. 1996), which is available from Bill Rudge's Bookstore.

One of the greatest influences in a young person's life is peer pressure. Peer pressure affects how people live –– the way they dress, talk, and act, the kind of music they listen to, food they eat, movies they see, and unfortunately whether or not they abuse substances such as drugs and alcohol. It even affects their attitude about God.

Pressure to Conform

Everyone wants to belong and feel accepted. It is this need of acceptance that fuels peer pressure. The desire to "fit in" is very important to a young person as well as to an adult. The fear of being rejected or left out can be very threatening. As a result, many people use drugs and alcohol, cheat at work or in school, steal, have sex, and rebel against their parents and God merely because their classmates or "friends" do.

How about you? Do you make decisions and live your life based on your personal convictions and moral standards? If you are a Christian, do you base your choices on God's Word and the leading of His Spirit? ... Or do you just "go with the flow," allowing yourself to be influenced by others –– usually whatever crowd you happen to be with at the time?

Before I became a Christian, I was strongly influenced by others. When it came to fighting, drinking, smoking, stealing, vandalizing, and sex, I had little control over my passions — not because I initially wanted to do these things, but because my friends did them. If I wanted to be accepted, I thought I had to conform to their standards, so I compromised my personal convictions. Being cool and "fitting in" is often equated with fighting better, drinking more booze, illicit and random acts of sex, wild and crazy behavior, robbing and vandalizing, and cold, indifferent attitudes! But that's a lie. I know because I lived that lie.

Crashing Parties –– the Illusion of Grandeur

When I was a teen, I would get drunk with my friends. We thought we were cool and impressing girls when we would go around crashing parties and starting fights with guys. Sometimes we would drink just to have the illusion of courage enough to ask a girl out.

Once a friend and I got drunk and snuck into a high school dance at a rival school. We chased people all over the dance floor challenging anyone who was "man enough" to fight, but no one would accept. Finally, in order to impress the girls who were nearby and before the police were called, I jumped on my friend's back to prevent him from fighting until we could get out of there.

It's hard to believe now, but we actually thought such behavior showed strength. In reality, however, it was weakness. It was our need for attention –– our cover up for our many insecurities.

The "Smaller" the Person –– the More Attention Needed

I have discovered that the smaller a person is on the "inside," the more attention they need on the "outside," and the more extreme they'll become to get it. You can usually tell those who are most insecure. They are more inclined to show off by doing dangerous things like driving crazy on the highway or taking chances unnecessarily. They brag a lot, or bully other people, or gossip to try to elevate themselves in the eyes of others. They use smoking, swearing, or drinking in an attempt to impress or intimidate people and draw attention to themselves. But the more they do these things the more they are showing to others their insecurity.

Behind the Mask is Fear

I have talked with many gang members, weight lifters, martial artists, and those in the military. In front of their peers many of them often acted hard and pretended to have it all together. But when we were alone, and they were being totally honest, I saw behind their mask and facade as they shared their fears and insecurities. Many admitted they didn't have it all together and that something was missing in their lives. Some acknowledged it was pride that kept them from admitting their need for Christ, and that they didn't have the courage to live for Christ.

A Rebellious Teen Gang Member

For example, I talked to a rebellious teen gang member at his home in a neighboring town. After a time of sharing with this hardened teen, I finally said, "You're a really rough character aren't you?" He said, "Yeah, I'm the baddest! No one messes with me or my gang will mess them up." I said, "I'm really impressed. But here's what I want you to do. Go upstairs and look in the mirror. Be totally honest, because underneath the mask and facade you wear, is a scared, searching, insecure person, who doesn't have it all together." He remained silent and said nothing because he knew it was true.

A Macho Soldier

Another case where peer pressure fed on someone's insecurity can be seen in the following illustration. Once a macho soldier drove an hour from his base in Germany to hear me speak Sunday morning and Sunday night at a Nuremberg military base. He spent the day with us and later that night he wanted to talk to me alone. He said, "Bill, I'm rough physically –– but I don't have any backbone. I can't resist the peer pressure." He continued, "I have listened to your cassette message on Courage to Stand Alone several times, and that's what I want!"

This soldier was by the standards of his peers well accepted. He was strong and good-looking, yet he knew he was lacking something. He desired that inner strength and courage that can come only from God. A few weeks later he was sent to Saudi Arabia to serve in Desert Storm.

What's Under the Mask?

I love to get guys that act hard — in a dark, isolated setting — and talk to them one on one about the Lord and eternity, because then they usually aren't so tough.

As a new Christian in Bible college, I worked at a window factory where many employees liked to harass the Christians. Because of my rough past, I had a hard time dealing with that. I worked across the assembly line from a guy who had a smart mouth when his friends were nearby. He continually did things to agitate me, because I would tell him about Christ. At times I wanted to jump over the assembly line, grab him, and put glue in his face and hair, but the Lord restrained me.

Instead one night I went out to his house to talk to him about working on my car. As we talked I gradually led him toward the woods nearby, which at that time of night had grown pitch black and was full of foreboding sounds. As we walked I shared with him about knowing the Lord. I told him the illustration about the guy in the ocean who said he would show people how to find God. I grabbed him and held his head down like the story went, and he screamed in terror. He was nice at work from then on.

As a Group We Were Fearless, but That Haunted House ...

This reminds me of the time a carload of us "brave" teens drove bragging and boasting all the way to a haunted house in a nearby city. Hearing the story about older gang members who supposedly went through this haunted house with guns, and yet came out terrified only intensified our excitement. We were brave all right, until we found out we were not permitted to go through the house as a group but that each of us had to go alone. In the waiting room eerie occult music filled the air and created an atmosphere of impending danger and terror. We were each given a candle and matches to go through this dark mansion alone.

As I entered the first room, there were caskets and what appeared to be dead bodies lying in them. At the bottom of the steps, as I was preparing to go to the second floor, my candle blew out. I fumbled in absolute darkness to find the matches to light it and cupped my hand around the candle flame to keep it from blowing out again.

Yes, as a group we were fearless, cool, and confident, but as an individual none of us were all that brave. At that point the tough mask was removed, and the real person was seen.

Like the Day of Judgement

It will be that way on the day of judgement when we will not stand before the throne of God in small groups but individually, one by one, and have to give an account of our lives. Any haunted house experience will pale in comparison to falling into the hands of the awesome and holy God.

You can join gangs. You can do whatever you want. You might even fool and impress your friends, but you will know when you look in the mirror that you are not being strong. You are weak and a fake. God wants you to be strong by bringing your life under His control. Find your security in Jesus Christ. He alone can take away your fears and insecurities and give you the courage and strength needed to remain faithful to your God-given conscience and convictions.

But What If . . .

What if your self-worth is based on someone or something other than Jesus Christ? Suppose it's based on:

• FRIENDS & POPULARITY — Then you might think, "I must be special. See how many friends I have –– how popular I am!" But think about it. What will happen to you if tomorrow you get AIDS? What will happen to your friends?

• GOOD LOOKS & SEX APPEAL — You might think, "I'm so good looking and have such a beautiful face! Who can refuse me?" But if your worth is determined strictly by external conditions, what will become of your wonderful self-image, if when you are driving down a highway and are in a terrible car accident your face is scarred for life? What then?

• STRENGTH & PHYSIQUE — Suppose you have a great muscular physique and have great strength. You might think, "I'm something special, because I'm so strong and powerful." But what if you acquire a degenerative disease and waste away to 100 pounds? To what then do you base your self-worth?

• ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE — Or suppose you're a good running back or soccer player and you think that makes you important! Then you get an injury and you can't perform anymore. What then?

What I'm saying is this: If you build your life or base your self-worth on anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ, it is built on shifting sand and will one day let you down. Instead, base your life and self-worth on the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ, and you will remain secure, no matter what happens or what others say. You will not get security and overcome your hang-ups and phobias by martial arts, or lifting weights, or by being popular, or anything else. It comes only through a relationship with the God of the Bible.

We have insecurity and inferiority complexes and phobias because we are separated from God through our rebellion, but by having our relationship with God restored through Christ, we can begin to overcome our insecurities and phobias.

When I gave my life to Jesus Christ at the age of 18, God began to enable me to overcome inferiority complexes and phobias that dominated my life.

Don't Allow Yourself to be Deceived

If you think following the world's way is the wise or strong thing to do, then you are being deceived. I have told gang members and prisoners throughout the country and abroad that: "Anyone can live a life out of control. I can teach anyone to fight and rob and steal and vandalize and swear and smoke and drink and do drugs. Any wimp can do that, but it takes true courage, strength, and self-control to resist peer pressure and live for Christ. Let's rip off the mask of the lie the world has been feeding us about what is cool and what is strength."

Back when I fanatically worked out, my peers thought, "Wow! Look at Bill Rudge. He weighs 165 pounds, and yet he can bench press over 300 pounds. Man, he's strong. And he's involved in karate. He fights, drinks, steals, and vandalizes. That's cool! Let's be like him."

But do you know what? I was a fake! I conformed to the standards of those around me and compromised, because I did not have the courage to resist the peer pressure. I was too weak to say, "No!" I had a lot of physical strength, but I didn't have the inner strength and courage needed to resist the peer pressure –– not until I gave my life to Jesus Christ!

It's fine to have physical strength! But God, by His Word and Spirit, empowers us with something far more important –– spiritual strength, wisdom, and courage. The really strong, those who have it together, don't have to impress anybody or be controlled by natural passions.

Choices Made Today Affect Your Tomorrow

On a speaking engagement in Texas, I heard the following tragic story. Everything was going well for a lady who had a husband and three children. One day her husband who had become an alcoholic left her for another woman. Dazed by the confusion and despair, she tried to commit suicide. Not thinking about the consequences of her behavior, she took out a gun and shot herself in the stomach in the presence of her young son who sought shelter in a nearby closet where he was found cowering in fear.

She then was rushed to the hospital where her life was saved. The bullet, however, had penetrated her stomach and damaged her nerves. She was paralyzed from the waist down including her stomach, intestines, and bladder. She couldn't walk. She spent six months in rehabilitation trying to learn how to walk again. Her husband did not come back. Her children, with emotional scars and without a father and mother, were placed in foster homes because she was no longer able to care for them. To this day she is confined to a wheelchair and the use of crutches and still has problems with her stomach, intestines, and bladder.

Her life is now permanently scarred far worse than it was before she chose suicide. Why did this tragedy occur? Because rather than reasoning through the dilemma she found herself in, she based her choice only on her emotions. She didn't think of the consequences if she survived the bullet. She never thought she might be paralyzed, or that she might lose her children. What's sad is that her husband never did come back. Her solution to her problem was not a solution after all.

And suppose she had died –– where would she have spent eternity?

Tragedy Strikes Without Warning

When I was about 13 years old, my friends and I were sleeping out in the yard. A car drove by with its radio blaring and four guys screaming and hollering –– having what we thought was a great time. We were impressed and would have loved to have been with them.

A few seconds later we heard a terrible crash. They had hit a telephone pole. We got out of our sleeping bags and ran up the hill. The driver opened the door and rolled out onto the street. He laid there crying and hollering for help. Radiator antifreeze and water were running down the road. Blood and beer were all over their faces, clothes, and the street.

A few seconds earlier they were cool. Now they were fools and the road they were on dead-ended in tragedy!

Tragedy Thrives on Foolishness

Another example was the man who used to pass by my house on crutches –– he had no legs. One day I asked how it happened. He said he and his friends were out drinking and having a good time. His friend thought he could make it through a red light, but he didn't.

Tragedy Punishes Both the Guilty and the Innocent

Once I took a group of teens on a field trip to a correctional institution. Two of the 18-year-old inmates we talked to were there because they had killed someone. Both of them were victims of peer pressure.

The first young man only had a few cans of beer, but the car he was driving hit another car and killed an elderly man. The second one had also been high on alcohol. He and his girlfriend were having a "great" time. Before he knew what happened, he hit a tree. His girlfriend was thrown through the windshield and killed. Both guys thought it would never happen to them, but it did.

Think Before You Leap

Think about your actions and behavior before you make a decision that you will regret for the rest of your life, and possibly for all eternity.

Several years ago in a gymnasium in Los Angeles, California, I was speaking to a group of teens on peer pressure and courage. As soon as I finished, a young man in a wheelchair –– probably in his mid to late twenties –– rolled over to me and said, "Bill, everything you said is true. I was raised in church and served the Lord during my youth, but during my teenage years my friends influenced me and I drifted away. I got into karate and eventually reached a fifth degree black belt. I thought I was God, and that I was invincible. I also joined a California motorcycle gang."

"I'd ride down the highway at 100 mph. One day as I rode down a highway, I hit a rock and was thrown off my cycle. I landed in a ditch. My spine broke in half. The doctors tell me I'll never walk again...."

And then he said, "Please be sure and share my testimony everywhere you speak and warn everyone of the possible consequences of rebelling against God and giving in to peer pressure. Let them know, you really do reap what you sow!"

Life is like a cafeteria –– not like a school cafeteria, but one where each item is individually priced. You can go through that line and get whatever you want, but eventually you will have to pay for what you choose. There will be someone waiting at the end of the line at the cash register to total up what you take and make you pay the price for the choices you made.

In life you have a variety of choices you can make, but one day you will have to pay for them. So choose wisely and carefully. The choices you make now will have an effect on your life.

God will forgive –– but scars often remain. So please be wise before you get too many scars.

Wake Up to Cold Reality

Soon we all wake up to the cold reality that it's too late to change the consequences of the choices we've made.

Sooner or later it's too late to study harder and party less, to reverse the destructive effects of drugs and alcohol, to turn back the calendar and exercise more sexual restraint, to relive wasted years, to undo the permanent effect of suicide.

I am suffering many consequences from the foolish things I did in my teenage years, before I committed my life to Christ. None of us is so "cool" that we can violate the principles of Scripture and not reap the consequences. I've seen it in my life, and I've seen it in the lives of my friends. Maybe not overnight, but eventually we will reap what we sow, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually! When we sin, we reap the consequences –– guilt, buried anger which often leads to depression and even suicide, anxiety, broken relationships and homes, feelings of alienation and despair, physical impairments and even death. When we do what is right, we reap contentment, peace, and joy.

We Reap What We Sow

The Bible says in Galatians 6:7,8 ––

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Psalm 37:1,2 says ––

Do not fret because of evildoers, be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass, and fade like the green herb.

How accurately I John 2:17 states ––

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

My friends used to think I was crazy for becoming a Christian. But where are they today? Some of them were killed in senseless wrecks or tragic accidents while high on drugs or alcohol. Others have been busted for using or dealing drugs, or put in jail for violent and destructive acts. Some have been victims of injuries, poor health, and premature aging due to abusive behavior. Many have messed-up marriages and families with broken dreams and no meaning and purpose in life. Some have even despaired of living to the point of committing suicide.

Playing Russian Roulette with a Loaded Gun

Perkin's Hill was a really steep, popular sled riding spot near my home. As youth we would slide there till dark after school and all day on weekends. Sometimes we would douse the hill with water to make its surface a slippery sheet of ice, and then we would see who could stay on their feet the longest. At other times using pieces of cardboard –– we couldn't afford truck inner tubes back then, so we used refrigerator boxes –– we'd load about 10 or 15 guys on and then fight to be on top. If you were on the bottom of the pile you were in trouble when you got to the bottom of the hill. Halfway down the hill we would hit a bump and fly about three feet in the air. Those on the top were either thrown off or would try to jump off. Those who were on the bottom of the heap usually had to fight for dear life so as not to hit the wrought iron fence waiting at the bottom of the hill. But no matter how hard we would try someone often ended up hitting that wrought iron fence.

Although I did some daredevil things down Perkin's Hill and had many lumps, bumps, and bruises, somehow I was always able to avoid serious injury. This was not the case for my older brother, Kenny. One time he went down and hit his head against the iron fence. His friends carried him to my house on a sled, semi-conscious.

Sooner or Later Time Runs Out

Perkin's Hill is a lot like life. We often try to tempt the hand of fate by getting as close as possible to that which is quite often the most potentially dangerous and hazardous to our spiritual and physical health. We seem to love to take these things to the limit, even though we know that sooner or later our time will run out. The law of averages at that point works against us and we run headlong into the iron fence of reality. We play with fire and we get burned. Don't be deceived. Choosing to go along with negative peer pressure and not follow God's ways is like playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun. It will go off and you will run into the reality of the consequences of your sin.

Sometimes we are like my son B.J. When he was eight years old, I saw him from my window sitting in a shopping cart while his friend was pushing him as fast as he could in a parking lot. B.J. was still recuperating from a broken collar bone. If that buggy would have hit one little rock it would have tipped over, and he would have been back in the hospital. He was taking it to the limit, stretching his luck as it were, like we all so often do. Like B.J. we delude ourself into believing, "It won't happen to me."

B.J. later said to me, "Dad, why do I do dumb things like that?" I told him there are two basic ways we make decisions.

1) By using our feelings — we think how much fun it would be or how good it makes us feel, and we don't consider the consequences of our behavior. In B.J.'s case it could have been the cart hitting a rock and dumping him over, re-injuring his collar bone and putting him back in the hospital.

2) By using our God-given minds –– we consider the potential consequences. The childish and immature live in the "now" and only consider how they feel, but God wants us to grow up and consider the consequences and end result of our actions and behavior.

Eyes Like Blazing Fire

I have met some people who are "crazy" enough that they do not care about the consequences of their actions, but a day is coming when they will cower in fear.

Christ is compassionate as in the case when the Apostle John laid his head on Christ's chest at the Last Supper. However, in Revelation 1:14 -17 while he is exiled on the Isle of Patmos, John had a vision of the resurrected Christ with: "eyes like blazing fire, ... a voice like the sound of rushing waters, ... and a face like the sun shining in all its brilliance." As a result of seeing Jesus in such a way, he fell like a dead man, till Christ touched him and said, "Do not be afraid ...."

The greatest martial artist, the strongest weight lifter, the roughest gang member is nothing when compared to the power and glory of the resurrected Christ.

Revelation 6:15 -17 states ––

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of Their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

Isaiah 2:17- 22 indicates ––

The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear. Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty, when He rises to shake the earth. In that day men will throw away to the rodents and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship. They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from dread of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty, when He rises to shake the earth. Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?

Believe me, the choices you make now will have tremendous impact upon the rest of your life, and will affect your eternal destiny.

Don't Want God to Ruin Your Fun?

I used to think all God wanted to do was ruin my fun. I mean — He doesn't want us to drink, fight, steal, gamble, vandalize, have premarital sex, or anything else I enjoyed doing. Now I realize God only wants what's best for us.

He sees the end result and wants us to avoid what will hurt or destroy us. Besides, for every "Thou shalt not," there are many positive blessings and benefits that far transcend the superficial and short lived pleasures of disobedience.

Don't Throw It Away!

Even more important than what may happen as a result of your conforming to peer pressure and rebelling against the Lord is the potential you waste!

God has given you so much potential –– potential to impact the world. When you rebel against God, when you don't allow Him to guide your life and fulfill the calling He has for you, you take your potential and cast it to the wind.

I have talked with far too many people who tearfully regret the years they have wasted. Years they can never relive. You have so much potential; don't throw it away!