I can tend to avoid speaking in youth and young adult settings. I am not loaded with funny material. I cannot dredge up dramatic stories from a sinful past that holds people spellbound. I do not think well on my feet and tend to need my notes (although I am working on that one!). I am put off by the trivial stuff that can fill talks given in youth settings which contributes to dumbing down, and thereby disrespecting, the audience. I like to be serious and demand thought-filledness from listeners. And one thing I do have is a deep burden for youth and young adults and the challenges they face in this world if they are to be authentic followers of Jesus. I so want to help...
This is why, with some trepidation, I took up an invitation to speak at the 'young adult' stream at an Easter Camp this year. The talks I gave have been geriminating inside me for about a decade and I've never done them as a bunch before. As I drove home I decided I would post a synopsis of each one on my blog and kinda 'put them out there'...
I used a tangible prop each time. My first talk placed a door on the stage. The idea was to symbolise the moment of conversion with this door - but to include lots of space either side of the door so that something of the timeline of the Christian life could also be pictured. So - to the far left of the stage would be the time of apathy/hostility towards Jesus through to recognition of sinfulness and our need of Christ - then through the door with an act of faith/conversion - and then on into the space to the right of the door, symbolising the life of following Jesus in which we grow into maturity, becoming more and more like Christ.
My burden with the door is a simple one. What has become of our attitude to sin and sinfulness in ourselves and in others - and the evil in our world?
Within the church there are signs of a growing softness towards sin - or at least not being as strong on it as the New Testament is. We can tend to have a 'saatchi and saatchi' gospel in which we 'accentuate the positive:eliminate the negative' out of fear of offending people (and, ironically, back-burnering the reality of sin as an offense to God) and out of a desire to attract people. This can be a flaw in the mindset of the seeker/guest service approach. There are those who argue that the 40Days material is weak on sin and sinfulness as well. I've even seen this conclusion made about ALPHA. I don't know as I have not used these resources extensively - but it is worth examining. The same could be said of the Emerging Church literature. There is a lot of softness around...
Then within the world there is a growing celebration of sin. Recently our newspaper had an article noting that a feature which top performers on the share-market had in common was that they all were doing business within the worlds of one of the seven 'deadly sins' - making bucketloads of money by catering to these sins.
A lot is at stake here! We are in danger of going from "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me" to "Innocuous grace, how dull the sound that saved a nice guy like me". It is not possible to magnify God's amazing grace and love without deepening the recognition of our own wretched sinfulness. That is the whole point of the story in Luke 7 where Jesus is anointed by a woman 'who had lived a sinful life.'
Back to the door and the space to the left... My burden is that youth and young adults can tend to 'come to Christ' through a window, or a backdoor. They hear some effective testimonies. They sing some affective music. An invitation comes. They respond to something. But if the invitation given does not contain some focus on what the cross achieved in light of their sinfulness - and therefore what the door opens ("the wood that made the cross is the wood that made the door") - by some paraphrasing of concepts like reconciliation, or justification, or redemption, or propitiation... then we run the risk of spurious conversions. Later in the year we will find ourselves speaking of young people as 'back-sliding' when, in fact, maybe they were never converted to begin with. This creates massive counselling problems for us.
Back to the door and the space to the right... My burden is that young people are stepping through what they think is the door (sometimes a window!) and doing so with unrealistic expectations. Temptation does not turn off like a tap. There is a difference between the penalty of sin and the power of sin. The cross paid the penalty for sin (God forgives us and treats us as if we had not sinned) - but the power of sin lingers on. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in - to make us holy (duh?!). This is a painful process which includes developing new disciplines and forming new habits. Salvation in the New Testament is 'past/present/future.' We have been saved. We are being saved. We will be saved.
Now you may ask - is this emphasis on sinfulness really the way to go with young people who have a tendency beat up on themselves as it is. Well - yes it is. The love of God for them is that much sweeter, for starters. If we are not accurate with our diagnosis we won't be accurate with our prescription either! And we do want to be based on the New Testament, don't we?!!.
But it is always better that sin be spoken of gently, with (genuine!)tears in our eyes. Sometimes I do worry that the loud soap-boxers are projecting their own battles with sin, hiding their own 'dirty little secrets' (as I think a compelling contemporary song/video expresses it) with volume and passion...
PS - I spent Easter watching a DVD entitled "A Billy Graham Music Homecoming". Whatever you may think of Billy or of those crusades (I think the day of crusades is pretty much done), there is no denying the simple spirituality in those cross-focused, sin-acknowledging, Jesus-loving songs. Brought tears to my eyes multiple times!!