(Pt. 4) The Teen Decade: A Clash Between Culture and Christianity
The clash between culture and Christianity has always existed. Christianity survived the dark ages, the crusades, the renaissance and enlightenment, and even the industrial age. But, Christianity may have lost its footing to the information and now the experience age. The players are the same, but, today Christianity has now become the minority and the under-dog to culture. And time is on no one's side.
I grew up the pioneer. The one who pushed the envelope. Always thinking there was no box. The risk-taker and pioneer. To many, I was the rebellious one. With that background, let me tell you my story, and then, ask some questions in this blog that will make you think. And probably make you mad. Mad and thinking could be a good thing.
Even though I attended Church all of my life and had a blast at revivals, camps, conventions, and missions trips, I didn't give my life to Christ until I was a Junior in High School. Did you catch that? I was raised in Church but can honestly say that it wasn't real until I was 17 years old in May of 1980. Right before my Senior year. In a strangers home, at the end of a party, I began to cry. In front of several friends. Knowing that the Holy Spirit was doing something in me at the moment, I left the party and sat in my car for almost an hour. Alone. No music. No speaker or pastor. No peers. Just me and God.
That night I gave my life to Christ and I have never been the same. I stopped cussing, drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, and all of the 'things' (as I will refer to them through this blog) that came with being in the world and around the wrong squad. I have never done any of those 'things' since that night. And I am so cool with that. More about that in a minute.
As a matter of fact, my senior year was one for the books.
When I gave my life to Christ, I didn't leave my friends behind. Although for some people that would be wisdom until they are faithful and able to affectively reach their friends. I didn't step into a 'Christian bubble' either. And I didn't judge my friends for the way they were living. I loved my friends so much that I didn't want to be separated from them.
But, what I did was live my faith in front of my friends as consistently as I could. Including going to the parties and not taking part of what was going on. Including being the designated driver and all-time conversationalist. There were so many times I talked friends out of doing something really stupid.
I actually leaned into my friends more.
Why did I lean into my friends? Because I had just come out of that lifestyle and I didn't want it or all of the 'things' that came with it. But I did love my friends. And time is on no one's side.
How did I lean into my friends? I tried to live as close to scripture as I could, and, as far from the culture I was once immersed in as I could. It was my aim to convince my friends that I wasn't the same person.
Maybe in my naïve thinking I was hoping that they would be as empty of chasing after those 'things' as I had now become empty chasing after those 'things'.
Giving my life to Christ changed everything. There was no battle or clash between culture and Christianity like there was before. I always felt so guilty and unfulfilled from that life before that night in May of 1980. But, now, I was so transformed by my faith that I couldn't wait to share it with my friends.
And this is the point of this blog. What is your impact upon the culture around you?
Why my story? Because I have seen every kind of attempt to reach the lost and impact culture in my last 34 years of ministry. I have watched the truth (without grace) movement separate the Church from the culture. And I have watched the grace (without truth) movement separate the culture from the Church. With that in mind, how can we remove the clash that has grown between culture and Christianity?
Here are 3 questions I want you to ask yourself. I've already done this many times personally:
Am I more mesmerized by culture or Christianity?
There is an obvious clash between culture and Christianity. Generally speaking, culture sees Christianity as out of touch and boring and judgmental. And, generally speaking, Christianity sees culture as the problem or the 'others'. This clash has unfortunately separated the two with a broad chasm between them.
I believe removing the chasm is the Church's responsibility. Christians must celebrate the message of our faith. For example, can Christian's define the great commandment, the Golden rule, or the Love Chapter? Do Christian's know the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount? Christians must define Christianity because it is no longer at the foundation of our society in the West.
In a society that now has been statistically proven to be thinking at only a 4% Christian world view and where only 30% of teenagers in America know half of the Ten Commandments (Barna.com), Christians must be Christian. And you cannot be Christian without the definition (bible). How can we share truth with people if we don't know it?
Maybe the reason Christians haven't impacted culture like we could is because we aren't Christian.
Remember The Day
Do you remember the day you became a Christian? It should be crystal clear. Today, so many young people in the Church are struggling with their role in culture. Their place in the world. I believe one of the reasons why is because of a lack of understanding scripture. Their place in Christ. Let me explain.
Maybe they have never experienced a Christian conversion or salvation or transformation in their life. Maybe they couldn't even tell you the day they gave their life to Christ or the difference it has made in their life. It is my experience that many in the Church today have simply evolved into what they are and what they believe through attendance and not repentance.
And so, if you aren't really Christian, how could you know your place in society? If our faith is so valuable and meaningful to us, why have we not given it away? You cannot expect someone who is not Christian to tell someone who is not Christian about Christianity. But, what you can expect, is that someone who is Christian will tell someone who is not Christian about Christianity. It is natural.
So, how would you define Christianity? (John 1)
All of us should start here. Christianity is grace (love) and truth (laws). They are inseparable to the message of Christ. Christianity is about who we are and what we do. It is defined by our lifestyle. A lifestyle of conviction, repentance, death, transformation, being born again, and ultimately life. This is an easy cycle to understand. And it all begins with grace and truth. We are normally comfortable with grace. It is the truth part that we have a rough time with.
But think about it. Every society, government, organization, and family unit has a way to live. A set of ethics. Call them precepts, standards, rules, principles, or laws. And Christianity is no different. Without law there is no distinction. Without law there is only chaos. Are you mesmerized more by culture because of its ease? And turned off by Christianity because of its law? Use the same measurement. Christianity is much more freeing, enjoyable, and attractive than we think.
Jesus said the most significant trait of the last days was deception.
It wasn't even lawlessness. Jesus said the defining trait of the last generation would be deception. The morphing, or, the dis-integration of truth. In the 21st century, truth has become relative and discussable. There are no absolutes any more. And yet, according to Jesus, truth is the vital prescriptive cure for the ailment of every person who has ever lived. And yet we have failed to prescribe it. Probably because we really don't know how powerful truth is in culture. It is easy for us to share grace but usually difficult for us to share truth. And yet, I believe truth shared is as powerful as grace shared.
In the words of the atheist Penn (of Penn and Teller fame), 'How much do you have to hate someone to not tell them the truth?'
Because time is on no one's side.
Am I offering the one thing our world needs, or, the many 'things' they already have?
Is the answer really to become so much like the world and our culture that we have nothing different to offer them in our relationship with them? Let me be really honest with you. Remember, I was not a good boy. But when I gave my life to Christ, I became a different person. Old things passed away. And new things came into my life. And I was so excited about my transformation that I had to tell everyone. And they didn't care. Because it was real. It was like when I met my wife Jane. I couldn't help but to tell everyone I was with her!
And so, I didn't go back to my old way of living so that I could understand my friends. No, I lived this new way of life so that my friends could understand me. And ultimately, Christianity.
Here's the reality. The more I prayed, the less I wanted to do the 'things' that I used to do. The more I prayed, I didn't need those 'things' to communicate to my friends. The more I prayed, the less I wanted to become like my friends and the more I wanted to become like Christ.
My experience, and countless others I know, is that the transformation in our lives is what was so attractive to our crew when they saw it. My life wasn't attractive when I was like them doing the same 'things'. That lifestyle didn't bring any of my friends closer to Christianity or to attending my youth group. It only delayed it. What put them on a path to Christianity was my conversion.
Many of my friends saw the change in me. And they were intrigued by it. One of them, Rick Smith, gave me a plaque my senior year from my basketball team that read, 'Jeff, thank you for bringing us one step closer to where we know we should be.'
I never received a plaque for going to party's or being just like my friends. The greatest impact upon my friends lives happened when I became Christian.
The faith of the Church is for the fears of the world. It is easy to offer our love and acceptance. But, what about our faith? We must offer our faith to our friends because it is the one thing they cannot get anywhere else!
Because time is on no one's side.
Jesus offered both grace and truth. Paul used grace and truth in the same sentence. Grace and truth are inseparable. We all know that grace is attractive. But, what you may not know, is that truth is also. If you are living the truth, you are much more attractive to un-believers than you think. We cannot simply live in grace with people without offering them the truth or the faith. Christianity is everything that people need.
We should be offering people the one thing they cannot get anywhere else. Grace and truth. The definition of a relationship with God is more attractive than you think because it is the only thing that can fill the void in their life.
Am I more concerned about being a 'friend of sinners' or about the 'fate of sinners'?
Jesus was the FRIEND of sinners. But, He was also the FAITH of sinners. One of the things that I have seen in the experiences of many of my friends and the story of my own life, is that I have often been more concerned with the friendship of my lost friends than I have been their faith or their fate.
Please stay with me. And unlearn some things if you need to. If I spend years with my friends in conversation and relationship, but never get them to the question of faith, have I simply held their hand all the way to the eternal gates of hell? How long is too long before I ever get them to the faith question? Only you can answer that. I have had to do that many times in my relationship with an un-believing friend. The point is that you get there sooner than later.
Because time is on no one's side.
Too many young believers today think that they must do the 'things' their friends are doing in order to relate to them. Tell me, how is that working? Has that approach led your friends any closer to Christianity? Or, have you simply continued in the cycle of the same lifestyle and conversation you have always had with them? That is backwards thinking. Unlearn that. That is conformance and not contextualization. Context is living originally in a native setting. Are you living originally?
Remember, your faith is the one thing they cannot get anywhere else but from a relationship with you. Are they getting it?
And I'm not talking about 'jamming it down someone's throat', or standing up and preaching on a table in the school cafeteria, or posting crossed on all of you social media. I'm simply advocating that we all define Christianity more consistently and more quickly than we are. Time is on no one's side.
Rich Young Rulers
In Mark 10, after a very quick faith discussion, Jesus did not hold the hand of the Rich Young Ruler and lead him to the synagogue. Nor did He offer him an easy way into the kingdom of heaven.
Don't get me wrong. We should ere on the side of sharing grace every time with unbelievers. But we must not ere on the side of not sharing truth over time either. Time is not on anyone's side.
Back to Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler. Jesus questioned him about the Ten Commandments and let him walk away. Knowing that the Spirit would give him another chance when he saw the young man later. And, Jesus made it very difficult for several others as well in the gospels (stories of scribes, pharisees, Judas, Kings and government rulers, publicans, and others we do not have time to re-tell).
Silence is the enemy of truth. And because Jesus loved the Rich Young Ruler, and many of these others, He wasn't silent. About His love or His truth. And if we are His followers, we should not be silent either.
A 19th century European poet named Lord Byron wrote about his role in society, saying, 'I am among them but not of them. I stood with them but their thoughts were not my thoughts.' Lord Byron was not a religious man to say the least. But he understood the concept of separation. And listen to Jesus on the same subject. He defined our relationship in culture very clearly talking about the disciples in John 17. 'I am not of the world but I have loved the world. As I was in the world, I send them into the world with my truth.'
I believe righteousness is exactly what the world is looking for. But the Church isn't seeing it. We have rightfully offered them grace many times over. But, we have wrongfully not once offered truth. In Christ's words we find a simple command. Be the contrast. Be the light. Be the salt. Be the difference. The solution. Be careful of having too many similarities to the culture and not enough differences.
Next week we deal with the fifth, and last, challenge to The Teen Decade. And how we can lead the young people in our youth ministries into spiritual disciplines and desperation for God. After -all, they will be the one's who lead The Next Great Awakening in America:
Week 1 - INTRODUCTION TO THE 4 CHALLENGES
Week 2 - THE LIMITS OF PROGRAMMING AND EVENTS
Week 3 - MAJORING ON DISCIPLESHIP IN YOUTH MINSTRY
Week 4 - CULTURALISM AND CHRISTIANITY
Week 5 - SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE AND DESPERATION IN YOUTH MINISTRY