YC 2012- What are we surrendering to?

 

YC in two days and everyone I know who is going is very excited about it. For that reason I thought I would include a repost from last year this time. My thoughts haven’t changed much, and I think its worth the read.

 

“YC 2011 has come and gone this year, and I figured a bit of reflection would be in order, as next Sunday will be the day where many Churches will invite some of the youth to come up and speak about their experiences at this event. For those who don’t know, YC is a yearly  interdenominational Christian lolapalooza where some sixteen thousand teens and young adults descend upon Rexall place in Edmonton for three days of concerts and conference messages. I have been to nine YC’s in my life, being a part of three different youth groups, and going as a attendee, chaperon, and conference volunteer.

By way of reflection, YC was always the one event where it was cool to evangelize and invite your unsaved friends. We would tell them how awesome it was, how there were hard rock concerts, great live shows with killer lighting, and tons of free time in between to play basketball or laser tag or sumo wrestling in fat suits in the amphitheatre. We used to hype up how fun it was, and at the time it really was a blast. I certainly had a good time. People would show up in all kinds of outfits. In a way it was a time to show off and dress up and try to stick out and see how much attention you could get. There were Christian kids with death spikes, Goth clothing, and eyeliner. In our youth group, the kids would buy bottles of hair dye in bulk and always dye their hair and spike it up to stand out. Some would put in fake dreads. Others would wear fake lip rings. The goal was always the same though; stand out, get attention, have people look at you.  This year, a kid who is going showed me his “YC outfit” which he had purchased specifically for this event. White pants, white belt, pink shirt and skinny tie- all for the low sum of 300$.

Friday evening was always super exciting. Tons of people would be holding up their cellphones or glow sticks, and they would spend their time before the main show shouting “I love Jesus, yes I do, I love Jesus how about you!?” and then pointing to a part of the arena, who would then echo that phrase and point it to another part of the arena. When interest in that began to wane, one large group would start to do the wave. Then the house lights would dim to black and  the stage lights would begin going crazy, flashing and strobing  blue, yellow and red hues. Throw in some smoke and pyrotechnics and the atmosphere was electrifying.  It served to jack you up on the biggest emotional high you could get, and it would literally be weeks before you crashed. To that end, there was the opening conference message, by Mike Love, an altar call, a concert, and then a good night.

We barely slept that first night. The kids in my youth group downed coffees, red bulls, caffeine pills, and more energy drinks. Oftentimes we would not sleep at all, but spend the whole night in our hotel rooms talking. In the morning, we would arrive early where they would have Veggie Tales playing on the Jumbotron. One of the speakers would take the stage at a certain time and asked if we were doing good. We would scream back our affirmation. He would ask if we liked the concert, we would repeat. He would ask how many of us even went to bed, and that scream was by far the loudest and fullest. We would then do morning worship, and then the breakaway sessions would start, where people could pick to attend messages or concerts or games on different side stages. Concerts and games usually won out.

There’s always a big marketplace in Hall A where they sell a variety of Christian music, clothes, and wire crosses and fish necklaces made of horseshoe nails. Teen Message Bibles were everywhere, and I remember buying a few because they looked super cool and they were bound to spark a discussion between my classmates once I got back to school. Bands sold their merchandise and usually stuck around for autograph signing. Kids in my youth group would snatch those up as fast as they could, along with stickers and CD’s. I remember saving all my money for months before the event, because I knew there was so much stuff to buy, such as shirts with logos that said “A Bread Crumb and Fish” [Abercrombie and Fitch], shirts with the Sprite logo on them that said “Spirit: quench your thirst”, and shirts that said “I am the Christian the Devil warned you about!” and other such things.

The concerts were something else. Many of them were punk rock/hard rock/heavy metal in small venues, and you could always count on a mosh pit to start up near the front. Both boys and girls would jump around, headbanging and throwing elbows.  There was invariably always a 11 year old girl who would join the fray and then get crushed by everyone who were slamming into each other. There were also the poor souls who weren’t part of the mosh pit, but were in that intermediate stage right behind. They would spend the whole time pushing back at the people who were bumping up against them, which seemed to dampen their experience.

There were two other staples at these concerts. One was that there was an unbelievably bad smell; a lingering odour of stale body sweat that wafted over the entire venue. Such is the result when you have so many prepubescent boys perspiring in tight quarters. The other thing of note was that there were always an abundance of girls, dressed in spaghetti strap tank tops and short shorts, that would begin to body surf over the crowds. Not just during the concerts, but I saw it once even during the worship. I’ve never body surfed before, so I can’t speak for what it would be like having hundreds of hands of the opposite sex touching you all over your body. I do remember later in the hotel room on Saturday night that the guys from my youth group, many who had raised their hands in worship and wept just a few hours earlier, would talk about how hot the girls body surfing were, and how they wished they could have “passed her along”.

That was another part of it; going to YC for the hookups. An unbelievable amount of time was spent trying to pick up girls, get their phone numbers, and whatever flirting you could get away with.  There were some teens in the youth groups I was a part of, and also chaperoned who had sex in the hotel rooms at some point in the weekend, in between the concerts and the open sessions. I remember feeling confused at the time because I had seen them worshiping just hours before they hooked up and slept together, and I couldn’t reconcile that. To that end, the amount of energy which was expended on getting the attention of the opposite sex during this weekend was, in retrospect, astounding.

The messages themselves usually followed a predictable formula. It is a interdenominational service, and so much of the talks were in vague abstracts, mostly revolving around being sold out for Jesus, dreaming big dreams, being a history maker, and taking your school for Christ. There were no theological distinctive or hard lines, as it was an event crafted by the nondenominational denomination to appeal to Baptists, Roman Catholics, other non-denominationals, and various mainline protestant evangelical stripes. I do know that apart from the messages, there were many exhortations to ask Jesus into your heart, and a continual emphasis on those who had back-slidden. They would say “Some of you haven’t been living the Christian life this past year…well now is the time to rededicate your life to Jesus.”

Which is not to say it was all like that. I know there are some very fine speakers there who were rock solid in their faith and gave great messages, I just don’t really remember any of them.  Maybe as of late the speakers have been phenomenal, but back then it was light, fuzzy, and easy. The only message which really stuck out to me and which will be seared into my memory was from a guest speaker who had been brought in short notice. It was Saturday evening, about ten years ago, and after seeming to become frustrated with audience who were talking and laughing throughout his whole message, said “Lets call this weekend what it is, a place for kids to make promises to God that they never intend to keep.” Having had rededicated my life to Christ at 4 of those 9 YC’s, and knowing exactly what he was talking about, it was a punch in the gut.

Saturday night was the last major concert, the headliner, though right before there was an intense worship time. Individual songs with catchy riffs and shallow words would be sung for five, ten, twenty minutes until the crowd was in a tizzy, and every hand was raised and people were on their knees in tears. People would be laying hands on strangers and you could hear little pockets of tongues here and there. After that, the concert blew the ceiling off the roof.  If you weren’t drained of energy by the end of it, you just weren’t trying.

There was a message in the morning, a final exhortation, and then we were dismissed around 2:00pm. It was a long, sleepy way home. On the way back, we would brag about who had slept the least over the course of the three days, and some kids would recount their sexual conquests and regale with stories who they had hooked up with. We argued which concert was best, but we all agreed on one thing- that it was a really fun weekend, and that we couldn’t wait until next year.

Are my experiences typical? I think they are. Not everyone will have the same experience, but I think many will recognize familiar aspects of it. I have seen the YC experience change some people’s lives for the better and utterly transform them. [Or was it Christ who transformed them despite the YC experience?] But I’ve also seen the darker, more cynical side of it, the part of it which reduces the whole weekend to pretty much a less worldly version of Burning Man. To that end though, my comments shouldn’t be taken as an indictment against those who attend now in 2011. I don’t know if it is the same event. I don’t know what the preaching was like this year. I don’t know what the worship was like this year. I certainly don’t know the hearts of the people going there, other than to say from few people I’ve talked to who are going, it doesn’t seem like much has changed, or that the mindset that a 16 year old has as he approaches this weekend has changed in any fundamental way than from when I went.  This is simply a reflection on my own experiences with past YC’s.

I certainly remember YC as a time of pure euphoria for me. It was spiritually exhilarating. It would make even the most uncaring heathen a Christian for a day- it just had that effect on you. The whole weekend was a blur of exploding surface level spirituality;  an assault on the senses which moved both people who knew better, and those who didn’t. I think that some people who went to it with the right mindset took away from it some very good things. I think it grew and strengthened those who had that firm biblical foundation to begin with, who were able to approach it with the right attitude and discernment.

In so many ways it is a celebration of the Christian subculture, and I’m not sure how helpful that is. In fact, I think the whole weekend is probably a lot less Christ-exalting and God edifying than many people think it is, especially once they begin to reflect on it, and the attitude and mindset it breeds. If you think its cool and acceptable for Christianity to try to be relevant by aping the culture and Christianinzing everything they do, then I imagine this weekend was a great time. I have a hard time seeing it, in retrospect, as anything other a celebration of Christian subculture, instead of a celebration of Christ. It was all about being pumped up so that I could do great things for Christ, instead of taking time to drill deep the great things Christ has done for me.

I know that for the vast majority of people who would give their testimonies on the following Sunday about how YC changed them and how they encountered God, that most of them left youth group, left the church, and became practical atheists and agnostics. Many of the people who will be offering their testimonies next week will be living as if it never happened the week after that. That creates a really weird situation, I think, in the life of a youth group and the Church, and for that reason I think this word of caution is in order.

Talk to your kids about this. Warn them about this. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t go, but warn them of the pitfalls to be wary of, and the things they ought to be mindful of. Tell them not to succumb to that emotional high and make it reflective of their Christian faith. Pull them out of that mindset and propensity of thought, so that they don’t base the hope of their salvation in how wound up and tingly they get. Isn’t that at least worth a mention? I pray to God it might be.

20 Great Matt Chandler Quotes

What follows are 20 quotes that caught my attention as I read Matt Chandler’s new book, The Explicit Gospel (Crossway, 2012):

“More often than not, we want him to have fairy wings and spread fairy dust and shine like a precious little star, dispensing nothing but good times on everyone, like some kind of hybrid of Tinker Bell and Aladdin’s Genie. But the God of the Bible, this God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, is a pillar of fire and a column of smoke.” (29)

“We carry an insidious prosperity gospel around in our dark, little, entitled hearts.” (31)

“Because a God who is ultimately most focused on his own glory will be about the business of restoring us, who are all broken images of him. His glory demands it. So we should be thankful for a self-sufficient God whose self-regard is glorious.” (32)

“The universe shudders in horror that we have this infinitely valuable, infinitely deep, infinitely rich, infinitely wise, infinitely loving God, and instead of pursuing him with steadfast passion and enthralled fury — instead of loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; instead of attributing to him glory and honor and praise and power and wisdom and strength — we just try to take his toys and run. It is still idolatry to want God for his benefits but not for himself.” (39–40)

“This avoidance of the difficult things of Scripture — of sinfulness and hell and God’s notable severity — is idolatrous and cowardly. If a man or a woman who teaches the Scriptures is afraid to explain to you the severity of God, they have betrayed you, and they love their ego more than they love you.” (41)

“If God is most concerned about his name’s sake, then hell ultimately exists because of the belittlement of God’s name, and, therefore, our response to the biblical reality of hell cannot, for our own safety, be the further belittlement of God’s name. Are you tracking with that? Someone who says hell cannot be real, or we can’t all deserve it even if it is real, because God is love is saying that the name and the renown and the glory of Christ aren’t that big of a deal.” (44–45)

“Heaven is not a place for those who are afraid of hell; it’s a place for those who love God. You can scare people into coming to your church, you can scare people into trying to be good, you can scare people into giving money, you can even scare them into walking down an aisle and praying a certain prayer, but you cannot scare people into loving God. You just can’t do it.” (49)

“The hard-won lesson I’ve learned in marriage, something I’m very grateful for knowing now, is that there are some things in my wife’s heart and some struggles she faces in life that I cannot fix. It doesn’t matter how romantic I am; it doesn’t matter how loving I am; it doesn’t matter how many flowers I send, or if I write her poetry, or if I clean the kitchen, or if I take the kids and let her go have girl time — I am powerless to fix Lauren. (And she’s powerless to fix me.) Doing all those things to minister to her are right and good, but there are things in my girl that I can’t fix, things that are between her and the Lord.” (66)

“If we confuse the gospel with response to the gospel, we will drift from what keeps the gospel on the ground, what makes it clear and personal, and the next thing you know, we will be doing a bunch of different things that actually obscure the gospel, not reveal it.” (83)

“He created the flavors! He created the colors. He created it all, and he did it all out of the overflow of his perfections. It’s not like he was thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got some fajita flavoring over here. I know: let’s put it on the cow and the chicken.’ He created the avocado to have a certain flavor; he created the skirt steak, the fillet, and the tenderloin to have certain flavors. That was God’s doing. So every aspect of creation, from the largest galaxy to the tiniest burst of flavor in food or drink or seasoning, radiates the goodness of God.” (102)

“It is easy to see that you and I have been created to worship. We’re flat-out desperate for it. From sports fanaticism to celebrity tabloids to all the other strange sorts of voyeurisms now normative in our culture, we evidence that we were created to look at something beyond ourselves and marvel at it, desire it, like it with zeal, and love it with affection. Our thoughts, our desires, and our behaviors are always oriented around something, which means we are always worshiping — ascribing worth to — something. If it’s not God, we are engaging in idolatry. But either way, there is no way to turn the worship switch in our hearts off.” (103)

“No change of job, no increased income, no new home, no new electronic device, or no new spouse is going to make things better inside of you.” (118)

“The cross of Christ is first and centrally God’s means of reconciling sinful people to his sinless self. But it is bigger than that too. From the ground we see the cross as our bridge to God. From the air, the cross is our bridge to the restoration of all things. The cross of the battered Son of God is the battering ram through the blockade into Eden. It is our key into a better Eden, into the wonders of the new-covenant kingdom, of which the old was just a shadow. The cross is the linchpin in God’s plan to restore all creation. Is it any wonder, then, that the empty tomb opened out into a garden?” (142–143)

“No matter what our job is, we view it not as our purpose in life but rather as where God has sovereignly placed us for the purpose of making Christ known and his name great. If you are a teacher, if you are a politician, if you are a businessman, if you are in agriculture, if you are in construction, if you are in technology, if you are in the arts, then you should not be saying, ‘I need to find my life’s purpose in this work,’ but rather, ‘I need to bring God’s purpose to this work.’” (149)

“The reconciling gospel is always at the forefront of the church’s social action, because a full belly is not better than a reconciled soul.” (150)

“Engaging the city around us and ministering to its needs reveal to us the remaining bastions of sin in our lives, the areas we refuse to surrender to God.” (181)

“Once we remove the bloody atonement as satisfaction of God’s wrath for sin, the wheels really come off. Where the substitutionary atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross is preached and proclaimed, missions will not spin off to a liberal shell of a lifeless message but will stay true to what God has commanded the church to be in the Scriptures.” (198)

“The marker of those who understand the gospel of Jesus Christ is that, when they stumble and fall, when they screw up, they run to God and not from him, because they clearly understand that their acceptance before God is not predicated upon their behavior but on the righteous life of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death.” (211)

“Grace-driven effort is violent. It is aggressive. The person who understands the gospel understands that, as a new creation, his spiritual nature is in opposition to sin now, and he seeks not just to weaken sin in his life but to outright destroy it. Out of love for Jesus, he wants sin starved to death, and he will hunt and pursue the death of every sin in his heart until he has achieved success. This is a very different pursuit than simply wanting to be good. It is the result of having transferred one’s affections to Jesus. When God’s love takes hold of us, it powerfully pushes out our own love for other gods and frees our love to flow back to him in true worship. And when we love God, we obey him. The moralist doesn’t operate that way. While true obedience is a result of love, moralistic legalism assumes it works the other way around, that love results from obedience.” (217–218)

“Church of Jesus, let us please be men and women who understand the difference between moralism and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s be careful to preach the dos and don’ts of Scripture in the shadow of the cross’s ‘Done!’” (221)

HT Desiring God

The Moral Hierarchy. Unbelief > Pedophilia

Here is an excellent observation from Dan Phillips at the PyroBlog

Consider this description of a guy. We’ll call him… Guy. Guy G. Guy.

Guy’s really a good person. He’s as honest as the day is long. He’s hard-working, a straight-shooter. He gives to charity — and not just to formal charities: I’ve never seen Guy turn down a panhandler on the street. He’s devoted to his wife and children, he’s a regular church-attender. He drives within the speed limit, always seems neatly dressed and clean. I hardly ever see him sitting around. He’s often out working on his yard, or even helping elderly neighbors work on theirs.

Good guy, right? Oh wait. Left out a trait.

Guy does have this one pastime. When the mood strikes, Guy molests small children.

But otherwise, a good guy, right?

Well, no. I’m pretty sure I lost you with that last, stomach-jolting little attribute. It’s what we call a deal-killer. However nice the other descriptives might be, that last one counter-balances and stains them all. It’s a vice so repellant, so intuitively appalling, that extended argumentation isn’t necessary. Our image of this imaginary fellow does an abrupt volte-face, with one simple, specific bit of information.

So why do we, Christian and non-Christian, so regularly commit even a worse error in moral evaluation?

I just finished laboring through Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World for a class.Four sets of authors batted around the question of “the fate of the heathen.” They ranged from (IMHO) the clueless (John Hick, Clark  Pinnock), to the sorta cluey (Alister E. McGrath), to the considerably more clued (R. Douglas Geivett, W. Gary Phillips [no relation]).

Hick and Clark Pinnock wrung their hands about the horrible injustice of God sending good, moral, decent, religious people to Hell just because they didn’t believe in Jesus. McGrath stood a bit to their Biblical right, though in a muzzy way; Geivett and Phillips considerably more so.

Unless I missed it, however, no one challenged what I think is the fundamental issue. Clark Pinnock stood pretty much with John Hick in accepting the proposition that “there are pagan saints in other religions” (p. 119) So Pinnock shrinks back from the thought that God could condemn everyone except believers. Even in their responses, the other three writers did not focus on what I think is a central issue.

Which “central issue” would that be?

Well, back up with me for one second. Can a person be rightly considered moral if he does all the wonderful things I mentioned, but just has this one little recurrent indulgence that he embraces and practices, involving little kids? If you can’t give me a hearty “No” on that one, further conversation probably would not be fruitful.

Why can’t we say that he’s basically good, though? He does more good things than bad, doesn’t he? But none of that matters, because we intuitively recognize a certain hierarchy in morality. Replace the sin of pederasty with a failure to signal his right turns, and we’d relax a bit. He might be a decent fellow after all. On any hierarchy, failure to signal one’s turns ranks well below the abomination of child molestation. A child is infinitely more precious and valuable than a traffic regulation.

Let’s stay with the same man, then, with an alteration. Remove the pederasty, leave him with all the other virtues (and if you like throw in a score of others). Just add this one specific: he does not hold Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

What do you think now? Is he a moral man?

Your answer to that question will tell me everything about your moral hierarchy.

Someone asked Jesus once what amounted to this: What is the chief imperative of the universe (Matthew 22:36)? What is at the pinnacle of the moral hierarchy?

As you may know, the Lord Jesus answered the man’s question. Plus, at no extra charge, He laid out the second imperative of the universe.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, emphases added)

Jesus laid down two categories: first the vertical, then the horizontal. First, the theological. Second, the social. First, love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got. Second, love your neighbor as you already love yourself.

When we rank a person’s morality, we usually primarily judge as to whether he is kind, honest, generous, decent, giving, merciful, loving — to people. What outrages us is pederasty, rape, murder, theft, violence — against people. Horizontal crimes. These are, indeed, important areas. In fact, they comprise the second-most important area of morality in the universe.

Second. Not first.

The chief indicator of a person’s character is his relationship to God. In other words, his theology, his doctrine, his faith.

Nor should we anachronistically imagine that by “your God” Jesus means “whoever you conceive God to be.” No honest Jesus-scholar would suggest that He means any other than the living God of Israel, who reveals Himself in the Law and the Prophets. It is that God — and, by extension, the God who reveals Himself through Jesus Christ (Matthew 11:27; 17:5; John 1:18; 17:3, etc.) — who must be loved above all else.

Can a person be a moral person, and violate what Jesus calls “the great and first commandment,” the commandment that comes before and above all others?

An affirmative answer reveals a genuinely worldly viewpoint. It indicates that we’re seeing the moral universe through man-centered glasses.

But if you believe Jesus, you must answer “Of course not. It’s a deal-killer.”

Yet we have the odd spectacle of folks who may well confidently say of a rapist, pederast, murderer, or terrorist, “He’ll burn in Hell” — but balk at saying the same of someone who violates the ultimate moral imperative in all of creation. A good guy who rejects Jesus is, by our skewed priorities, still a good guy. But if he harms women or children — well. That’s different.

When you make yourself think it through, it’s odd.

But the spectacle of folks who claim to be “really, really” evangelical, balking at the justice of laying the most severe judgment on the most heinous crime in all creation? “Odd”?

Worse than odd.