Youth Ministry Probs

Eph_4_15According to George Barna, “A majority of twenty-somethings—61% of today’s young adults—had been churched at one point during their teen years but they are now spiritually disengaged (i.e., not actively attending church, reading the Bible, or praying).” Obviously, most youth groups aren’t making solid followers of Christ (Matthew 28:19). After recently attending the National Youth Worker’s Convention in Sacramento, I understand why.

The current youth ministry model isn’t hard to figure out. Essentially, it’s daycare for young people. It’s all about attracting young people by being “cool.” No form of amusement is off-limits, and the trendier the better. What about the young people who are truly interested in God’s Word, because they are struggling to make sense of life? They’re introduced to a shallow, cotton-candy version of Christianity that has little to do with following Christ and more to do with convenience. Self-denial is replaced with accommodation, and respect for God’s Word is replaced with compromise.

For example, consider the issue of evolution and the biblical account of creation. When you flip through the first few pages of the Bible, it’s clear that God created everything in six ordinary, 24-hour days. Yet, many Christians think evolution is true, so they promote the idea that God used evolution. As a result, they claim Genesis is just “poetry.” Now, the Bible may not be a science textbook, but it is a history book. Well, evolution is a theory of history. If you trust in God, why wouldn’t you trust His eyewitness account of what really happened in the beginning over human speculation?

Naturally, many young people view this compromise as hypocrisy. You can’t say you believe the Bible is God’s Word and then reject page one. In addition, if compromising the Bible is acceptable for their youth pastors, why shouldn’t they compromise the passages about fornication, homosexuality and drunkenness? If there is no respect for God and His Word, there’s no reason to obey Him. Besides, even if youth group is entertaining, college can provide a much better time. Is it any wonder that the majority of young churchgoers are “spiritually disengaged” after high school? Many of them weren’t truly spiritually engaged to begin with.

C.S. Lewis once said “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” Here’s my plea to youth ministers around the country: stop trying to make the Gospel “relevant” and just submit to God. Acting like the world might bring more of the world into the church, but it won’t keep them for very long. If you want to actually be relevant, preach the Word, because only it “is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” and “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

 

Count the Cost

Luke14_27_33Following Jesus costs something. After all, Jesus said that “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). This is why He encouraged everyone to “count the cost” of following Him (Luke 14:28). These days, the choice between the world and Jesus is becoming more costly. Just take the case of the Benham brothers.

At the 2014 Values Voter Summit, Jason and David Benham spoke about losing their show because of their biblical stance on homosexuality. They noted that “It is a fun thing to follow Jesus until you find out where He’s going, because He’s going to a cross and He’s asking you to come follow Him; and we got that experience in real life.”

It may not be popular to preach about, but Jesus died so that we would live for Him. The Bible says “he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Paul, who enjoyed the good life of being a well-educated Jewish leader, said “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). Power, prestige, and prosperity can’t compare to serving Christ out of love. It’s why Moses “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26). He eagerly awaited the promise of Christ, choosing persecution instead of the pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:24-25).

Jesus died for the world, that whoever would trust in Him would also die—to this world, to sin and to themselves. It’s why He said “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). If you’re a follower of Jesus, your life is not your own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It belongs to Jesus, and that’s a really good thing because only the slave of Christ is truly free (1 Corinthians 7:22-23). If you’re not serving Christ, you will be a slave to your own desires, to the fear of man and to the fear of death.

Sure, serving Christ isn’t easy. What happens when things get rough? Well, the Benham brothers got on their knees and prayed “Lord Jesus, we committed to serve you with all our hearts whatever the cost. Whatever happens to this show, happens to this show, but we will not back down because you’re worth it. Jesus is Lord.” They may have lost the show, but they’ve got everything they need: Jesus.

Cheating Death?

John_3_16In most circles, death isn’t a dinner party conversation starter. It’s not the best way to make friends and influence people, that is, unless you’re a transhumanist. In that case, it’s the only thing worth discussing.

After all, transhumanists believe in the power of technology to enhance the human condition. Naturally, they view death as their biggest foe. For example, in a recent interview, billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel said of death that “You can accept it, you can deny it or you can fight it. I think our society is dominated by people who are into denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.” He added “It is true that you can say that death is natural, but it is also natural to fight death.” Actually, death is not natural, and there’s no reason to fight it. I know, that may sound absurd, but it’s quite biblical.

You see, death and suffering were not a part of God’s original creation. In the beginning, things were “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Yet, God warned Adam and Eve, the first humans, not to eat the fruit of a certain tree. If they did, they would immediately die spiritually and begin dying physically from that moment forward (Genesis 2:17). They disobeyed, and death entered the world as the just punishment for sin (Romans 5:12). So, death is not natural. It’s a curse, but with an important purpose.

Although it’s also not a common conversation starter, humans are proud. Transhumanist Richard Seed, in eerie fashion, illustrated this when he said “We are going to become gods, period. If you don’t like it, get off. You don’t have to contribute, you don’t have to participate but if you are going to interfere with me becoming a god, you’re going to have trouble. There’ll be warfare.” While he may be a bit more extreme than most people, his desire isn’t all that different from what Adam and Eve wanted. Indeed, Satan tempted Eve by saying that if she ate from the forbidden tree, she would “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Obviously, Adam and Eve liked what they heard. Ironically, death was the result of believing this lie (Genesis 3:19).

Still, this judgment served a loving purpose. Death and suffering are intended to humble us, and make us realize our need for Jesus. The only way to “cheat death” is by trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins (John 14:6). If we do, we’ll have eternal life (John 3:16). If you’re a follower of Jesus, you don’t need to worry about death. If you’re not a Christian, it’s not death that you need to worry about. It’s what happens after death that should worry you.

In the future, God will put an end to death, pain and suffering, on His terms (Revelation 21:4). Until then, death will exist, so fighting against it is a losing battle. Instead, we should be soldiers for Christ (2 Timothy 2:3-4), fighting a different battle: doing as much as we can for Him.

World Appeasement

John_14_27Pope Francis is really into peace. It’s kind of his ‘thing.’ From endorsing an interfaith soccer match to doing some Islamic prayer at the Vatican, he’s made it his mission to bring different religious traditions together. Apparently, people are taking notice.

Indeed, former Israeli president Shimon Peres recently met with Francis to discuss the creation of a “United Nations for Religions.” Mr. Peres maintained that “In the past, most of the wars in the world were motivated by the idea of nationhood. But today, wars are incited using religion as an excuse.” Actually, there have been plenty of past conflicts that have been religious in nature, and some of them involved the Catholic Church. The Crusades might ring a bell. Regardless, Peres concluded that “What we need is an organization of United Religions.” What did the Pope have to say about Shimon’s pitch?

As it turns out, he thought it was pretty cool. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said “The pope listened, showing his interest, attention, and encouragement.” In other words, Francis didn’t commit to anything, but he didn’t dismiss the idea either. This isn’t surprising, because he’s been quite accommodating to people who reject Jesus. After all, he claimed atheists go to Heaven and Muslims worship the same God as Catholics.

Still, there is one group that Pope Francis has been a bit hostile towards. He’s not a fan of fundamentalists. In fact, he said “A fundamentalist group, even if it kills no one, even if it strikes no one, is violent. The mental structure of fundamentalism is violence in the name of God.” I guess he fundamentally believes fundamentalists are wrong. What a fundamentalist! That said, does this mean Pope Francis thinks Christians who believe the whole Bible are violent (2 Timothy 3:16)?

It’s tough to say, but one thing is for certain: Francis cares more about peace than he does about Jesus. The Pope should be well aware of the fact that peace on earth isn’t going to happen until Jesus comes back. Jesus Himself said “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The question for Pope Francis is simple: what price are you willing to pay for a hollow, empty peace that has more to do with appeasing the sinful human heart than it does with telling people how they can have peace with God (Romans 5:1)? If you compromise certain parts of the Bible to have peace, you don’t believe in God, you believe in yourself.

Give appeasement a chance? No thanks. I’ll wait for the Prince of Peace to set up His Kingdom instead (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Give Me Soma More

Psalm_32For the most part, if you’re watching TV for any length of time, you’re going to see a commercial for a prescription drug. Amusingly, at the end of every pitch, you hear a horrifying, giant list of side-effects. Why would I take something to manage my symptoms, when it’s pretty much going to kill me?

Unfortunately, the United States has a nasty prescription drug habit. For instance, according to the New York Times, more than 30 million Americans currently take antidepressants. Two years ago, the Mayo Clinic found that roughly 70 percent of all Americans are using at least one prescription drug. Apparently, Nancy Reagan’s advice to “Just say no” has fallen on deaf ears.

I know, these drugs are legally prescribed by really smart and responsible doctors in white coats. Yet, are 30 million people in this country actually clinically depressed? It’s possible. In fact, the suicide rate for Americans between the ages of 35 and 64 jumped by almost 30 percent between 1999 and 2010. Forgive my candor, but it would appear that the antidepressants aren’t working.

Call me crazy, but maybe chemicals can’t cure the source of our troubles. In other words, perhaps depression is generally a spiritual problem, not a physical one. Depression isn’t always caused by specific sin, by any means, but is it really so hard to believe that many cases of depression are caused by guilt, shame or remorse? When David sinned, he said “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long…Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:3, 5). Couldn’t the pangs of our God-given consciences, pointing us to Jesus for forgiveness, be the cause of our suffering?

In a Brave New World, Aldous Huxley envisioned a future where everyone took a drug called “soma.” This drug kept everyone happy, without any side-effects. Unlike George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where people were oppressed through constant surveillance, everyone in Huxley’s Brave New World blindly accepted their oppression because they were cheerfully indifferent. Like the book says, soma had “All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects.” Considering Huxley was a devout atheist, this is a very telling quote.

After all, the Bible says “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (Romans 1:18-19). What better way to suppress the conscience than through drug use?

Sadly, sin separates us from God, and the only way to find true joy, peace and fulfillment is by getting right with Him. Sure, followers of Jesus will go through periods of sadness in our lives too. We were never promised a pain-free life. If we sin, God will cleanse us and make us feel right when we confess (1 John 1:9). If the sorrows of this sin-sick, evil-filled world get us down, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to get us through (John 16:6-7). The best part? There are no side-effects.