Why I can’t sing the song “Lord I give you my heart” anymore.

I was at Church a few weeks ago and the song “Lord I give you my heart” was queued up and was sung by the congregation. Up to this point I had been worshiping and my mind was fairly centered on the adoration of Jesus, but this song caused my mind to become disengaged and spiritually….disentangled. It was an awful, profoundly disturbing feeling.

Because here’s the thing- I like to sing worship songs in Church which allow me to tell the truth. That is, when I am communicating by singing to the Lord, I do not like it when I am put in the position of having to lie or exaggerate my soundness of faith, my motives, my intentions, or my devotion to Christ.  I do not like it when I have to sing promises and declarations to Christ which exceed my promise to fulfill, as that leaves me feeling like a liar- a cause for immediate disconnect from the song itself. It is one of those things that I’m mindful of and sensitive to. I like worship music with theological lyrics. I like psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with words that tell of deep Biblical truths about God. I don’t like singing falsehoods about who I am, what I do, and what my heart’s inclination is to Christ.

In short, I don’t like singing things I don’t mean. When I sing these songs which are about me, I become painfully aware that  I’m declaring things that I can’t and don’t back up, or which my heart is not convinced that it is able to do. I’m also aware that I am singing things contrary to my own nature, and that I’m singing words which confess that I am doing and am willing to do things that I am not able or willing to do. For example, any songs that have the lyrics “I will always love you. I will always worship you. You’re all I want. You’re all I ever needed.  You’ll always be my all. I will always follow you. I’ll never want anyone but you.

I would not say that these are bad songs, or that the writers have ill intent. Rather though, when I consider these in a theological context they strike me as impossible promises for me to fulfill.  To do these I would have to be fulfilling the works of the law perfectly, which seemed to me as a wretched proposition. Because I don’t always love Christ. And I won’t always worship him. And he won’t always be all I want. And he won’t always be all I need. And I won’t always follow him. So why am I singing that I do and will? Case in point-

Lord I Give You My Heart

This is my desire, to honour You
Lord with all my heart I worship You
all I have within me
I give You praise
all that I adore is in You
Lord I give You my heart
I give You my soul
I live for You alone
Every breath that I take
Every moment I’m awake
Lord have Your way in me

My desire to honor God does exist, as a new creation in Christ, so I’m fine with that, but the next line is problematic. I don’t worship the Lord with all my heart. Does anybody? I wasn’t worshiping him with all my heart that morning. Nor was I the week before. How about the next two lines? The third line is a bit wonky, as I’m not really sure what it means or how it connects with everything else, but that last line is also troublesome. I adore so many things that aren’t Jesus! I make idols out of sports teams, my family, my intellect., and I give adoration to things that rob Christ of glory rather than give him it. I raze the storehouses of this world for pleasure and peace- turning my affections towards inconsequential trivialities  instead of on my great God and savior. That does not strike me as the actions of a man who can say with honesty and with a straight face “All that I adore is in you”...

Line three of the chorus. “I live for you alone?” I don’t live for God alone. No one does. I can’t sing that with a straight face. I’m not sure how anybody else can. See- God knows our hearts and he knows the extent that we are “living for him”, so why am I declaring to my brothers and sisters that I’m living for him alone when I know that’s simply not true. I feel gross and deceptive when I sing that.  And assuming lines 4 and 5 are connected to line three- that is to say that with every breath that I take and every moment that I’m awake I’m living for God alone, that would be another false statement that I cannot bear to sing forth.

Am I alone in this? Am I the only one who is bothered by that? I’m not trying to nitpick, but rather to make a point that many of our worship sessions are loaded with songs that declare works, deeds, and intents  that our congregants have no intention of ever doing, or are simply by virtue of the nature of their will are unable to do. I don’t know if it makes sense that we’re singing the songs with the presuppositions that we’re only speaking of our best intentions, or in the present tense and not the future tenses. For some of the songs we sing I suppose it makes sense to look at them in the big picture, such as I generally love Jesus even if I don’t specifically do all the time, but that isn’t always the most helpful perspective.

I think this is why I prefer to sing songs that are Christ-centered, because I know that he is able to do them and has done all these things. This is opposed to  songs that are man-centered, because I know I have not done these things. With Christ-centered and Christ-focused songs, I have complete confidence in his ability to do as he says, and to keep his word and fulfill his promises. In this, I can sing those types of lyrics because I have a clean conscience when I do so. I don’t have to embellish or exaggerate my ability to complete and be faithful to the things that I am singing,  but rather I can breathe easily and rest in the grace that where my words and works fail, Jesus’ never do.

What do you guys think? Do you have any problem singing sons with lyrics like “I will always love you. I will always worship you. You’re all I want. You’re all I ever needed.  You’ll always be my all. I will always follow you. I’ll never want anyone but you.”? If not, how to you reconcile that with the reality and truth of the situation- which is that, quite frankly, you don’t?

What other songs do you have trouble singing, for similar-ish reasons?

*Note. The aforementioned post is a deconstruction and reconstruction of something I wrote last year, but with present day application.

I’m Writing My Own Bible Version. Which Church In Fort McMurray Will Use It?

Hey all. Just wanted to give everyone an update on a project I’m working on.  I’ve started the process of creating my own Bible version of the New Testament. I’ve tentatively titled it the Dustin Germain Standard Bible, [or DGSB] and am about halfway through writing out the book of Collosians, which will be available as a free downloadable PDF in the near future.  The purposes for writing this has been multifaceted. For one thing, I decided that the Bibles I typically use, the ESV, the NASB and the NRSV aren’t dynamic or relevant enough. The language is a bit too exact and precise for my liking.  I thought of using the Message Bible, but to be honest I’m not entirely satisfied with the Message Bible. It was a good attempt, but I think my translation can serve as a better medium for finding that common ground between the two. For example, in Collosians 2:8-10, the “original Greek” says this :

βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς ἔσται ὁ συλαγωγῶν διὰ τῆς φιλοσοφίας καὶ κενῆς ἀπάτης κατὰ τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων κατὰ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κοσμοῦ καὶ οὐ κατὰ Χριστόν ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ κατοικεῖ πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος σωματικῶς, καὶ ἐστὲ ἐν αὐτῷ πεπληρωμένοι, ὅς ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας.

The ESV, which is a formal equivalent literal translation,  renders it as:

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority”

Whereas the Message Bible, a pseudo-dynamic equivalent  translations reads:

“Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.”

That’s a big difference in word count alone- the Message gets 110 and the ESV gets 57. My translation is not as flamboyant or creative as the Message Bible, but I think it does a good job in offering a readable, contemporary alternative which people might appreciate. The Dustin Germain Standard Bible reads:

“Take care to ensure that no one seizes you captive through empty deception and philosophies- which rely on human traditions and are according to the elemental spiritual forces of the world and don’t rely on Christ. For in Christ the entire fullness of deity lives bodily, and you have been filled up in Him, who is the head of all authority and rule”

My translation has only 64 words, and while similar word count alone does not mean its a good or accurate translation or Bible version, it does suggest less interpolations. Furthermore, while it may not have the addition of all the friendly little flourishes [or jots and tittles, as some might call them] that Eugene Peterson liberally peppered his text with, I think it still does a good job at conveying the thrust of the point.

For that reason I’ll also be looking for some Churches and pastors to partner with to help promote my translation. There are at least two Churches in the city who have made it a habit to utilize the Message Bible as one of their main translations, and have even had services where the preaches have exegeted it. I think those two are my best bet for furthering and developing this project. I’m not sure the exact timetable for when this will be launched, or if they are willing to commit to my project, but I hope they would. In fact, I  can’t think of a single good reasons why they might be adverse to using it.

Some well meaning friends have suggested that there might be a bit of push back. They have said that when people see the Bible verse on the powerpoint slide, replete with a mountain scene in the background and a “Dustin Germain Standard Bible” tacked on to the end, that after the congregants puzzlingly try to comprehend what a DGSB is,  they will grow upset and resentful. I’ve anticipated that critique and having given it some thought, am quite frankly not concerned at all. I don’t think anyone will voice those objections or think that. No one is going to care that they are reading my translation when I laud and promote it as a fresh new way to read the scriptures. They don’t do it to the Message Bible, so why on earth would they do it to mine?

So can I count on the pastors and preachers of Fort Murray to help me with this endeavor? Will you start using it from your pulpits? I will be contacting you all shortly to get your support and endorsements for this project. I  hope to see the DGSB quoted in your sermons very soon, and based on your already existing usage of the Message Bible, I am confident that I will receive it your hearty endorsements of my version with a “yea” and “amen”.

Singing Ozzy Osbourne in Church?

A few months ago Newspring Church@ Florence, one of his multi-church video sites, had the idea to Play Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” as part of their praise and worship set. Newspring is no stranger to this sort of controversy, having infamously played ACDC’s Highway to Hell as their opening song on Easter Sunday. When asked about that particular choice, lead Pastor Perry Noble said that the reason he played it was to “p*** off the religious people”. Other songs that have been sung by the band over there have included Kelly Clarkson’s “I do not hook up“, Taylor Swifts “Love Story,” the Darkness’ “I believe in a thing called love” Christiana Aguilera’s Hurt, Metallica’s Enter Sandman, and a host of others. In regards to this specific song, I’ve embedded the video below

In terms of what people think about this, I know several people who think this is one of the coolest ideas alive. They believe  part of the Church’s mission is to be attractional and that anything they can do short of sin to get people into Church is a good thing. A certain subset of this groups also believe part of the Church’s mission is to be entertaining, and so anything short of sin that can be done to keep the congregation members from getting bored while they are in Church is a good thing, as this also ensures repeat visits. With regard to playing these specific songs, I imagine that  much of it revolves around the Churches ability to be culturally hip and relevant, with the idea that playing this type of song will draw people in and then they’ll be able to experience Jesus while they’re here. Another group thinks this is a horrible idea, and that it is some mixture of blasphemy and idolatry as people replace worship songs with classic rock and roll in a desperate bid for relevancy. They would say that this type of mindset and everything that goes with it is what makes a goat factory that produces unbelievers with spiritual convictions of the most shallowest depth.

While I would fall somewhere near the latter category, I want to focus on how something like this blurs the line between praise and worship, and something else altogether. I certainly don’t like the idea of them playing these songs during Church, but if you watch those videos of those others songs you’ll notice at least that they are merely singing them.  They don’t have the lyrics posted up on power point for people to sing along. There is some nuanced division between song A and songs B, even if its hard to see and is very minute. At the very least this represents some sort of delineation between a rock and roll song meant to entertain, and a psalm, hymn or spiritual song, regardless of which side you take.

But this song was different, because in this case they projected the lyrics up on power point for the congregation to sing along.  On this particular Sunday morning there was no delineation. There was no separation from the Ozzy Osbourne song and the worship songs. They flowed naturally into each other and people were encouraged to sing along with the Ozzy song  and then jump right in with fare like “Revelation Song” and “It is Well”. That blurs the lines, if not completely decimates it. I’ve written before how the worship music is in and of itself a sermon. I made the case  that

“When we worship, we are saying things about the Lord. We are teaching, rebuking, professing, declaring, correcting and confessing based on the revelation of God in Christ as revealed in his word.  That is the function that our praise and worship lyrics have. Paul says that we ought to teach each other the words of Christ using hymns and spiritual songs- the intent being that this is how the words of Christ will dwell richly in us. That is how we will know more about God, and how we will know more about the words of Christ and how he works through his words. That is a sermon.That is preaching.So when we listen and sing lyrics, we need to ask ourselves “what are we teaching others? What sorts of things are we expounding upon? Are we accurately reflecting God’s character? Are we accurately teaching the words of Christ?  Are we teaching the scriptures?” We also ought to ask ourselves if we are preaching deep, thoughtful sermons through our music, or if we are singing light, breezy, unclear, muddled, mindless, vague sermons?

At the time I was arguing against vapid christianish songs, but how much more true is that when you throw in a secular song like this? When your praise and worship set is 6 songs long, and one of those songs is by someone known as “The Prince of Darkness” shouldn’t that be enough to send up some red flags? I hope that irony is not lost on people. When we consider the breadth of the lyrical content and some of the satanic, hypersexualized songs that Ozzy and his former bands have sung in the past,  I suppose on one hand I should be thankful that they did not choose other songs to be sung, and wonder how many people will think the Church is tacitly or overtly encouraging the listening of this artist? Or perhaps I should be thankful they did not  change any of the lyrics to make it more christian-y… i.e. “I’m riding on the rails of the Jesus train…”. Is it wrong to secretly hope that someone would have thrown a dead bat on stage during that song, just to see what would have happened?

Which brings us to a few questions, what do you think about singing these sorts of songs in Church? Is there a difference between the band singing them solo and having the congregation join in via lyrics on power point? Does this blur the line between worship and secular songs? Lastly, if Newspring had enough money, and Ozzy was coherent enough and willing, do you think they would have brought him in to sing live and would that have been a good idea?

Being prophecied over- an early death and a heart for missions.


When I was in my teens I went to a youth conference of sorts. It was a church-led evangelical shindigs- but at the end there was something special. The pastor introduced us to the weekends guest speaker, a woman who we were told was a modern day prophet, gifted in miracles and visions, and that she was going to prophesy over us individually. I found myself enraptured by this idea. At the time I was having a hard time in my faith. I was confused, struggling with private sins, biblically ignorant, and the prospect of having someone who heard directly from God- from someone who was far more spiritual than I, was a prospect too tantalizing to forgo.

There was such a need there- such a strong desire to see what God had to say. I spent my formative Christian years in the quasi-charismatic/pentecostal movement and so it was not unfamiliar to see other people prophesied over, or to go to an event like YC and be told that we were all history makers, and that we were going to change the world and take the nations for Christ [there was a bit of a dominionist streak there]. I had seen adults come up and be prophesied over, but never from a woman, and never for me personally.

But this was my chance. They asked everyone who wanted to hear a word from the Lord to come forward. I jumped out of my seat and charged forward. The air was electric, the music thudding, and my blood was on fire. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life. About 15 of us stood at the altar and as I was on the opposite end I had to wait my turn. She would put one hand on the persons shoulder, lift the other hand up, speak in tongues for a minute or so, and then speak quietly to the person whose hands she was upon.  Some people would start sobbing. Others would get slain in the spirit the minute she touched them. I stayed upright, waiting…waiting….

Finally she came to me and smiled. This was it! This would give me direction and purpose in my life! I was about to hear directly from God in as audible a way as humanly possible, and I was scared out of my mind. What would God say? I had no doubt that it would be from God. After all, earlier in the night, she had stood up after the worship and said “Thus says the Lord, I am coming like a river. I will wash over your land and make everything new. I will bring healing, thus says the Lord, and I will bring blessing and riches to my people”  I was primed, pumped, and ready to go.

She spoke a few words in tongues, looked into my eyes, and then told me

“I see that you have a heart for missions, and that you are called to go. Do not be afraid, even if God calls you where you don’t want to go. He will be with you. The Lord is also telling me that you have fewer decades than most, that is your time is short, and so you can’t delay. You must reach them soon before it is too late.” [or something extremely close to that, but not exactly verbatim]

And then she moved on to the next person.

Predictably I was floored, at first that God was speaking to me through her, but also that she had just prophecies my imminent [or at least early] death. Decades fewer than most? Most people lived to be in their seventies, so did that mean that I was going to die in my Fifties? My Forties? And what was this about a heart for missions? Other than having gone on a “Missions Trip” to Mexico when I was younger , I really had no interest in them at all. What a confusing, perplexing experience. It left me all the more troubled, even morose than before, and instead of being a sure word I could hold onto, made me bitter and angry that God wanted to take my life. In fact, it made me feel like God didn’t know me at all.

Looking back, almost a decade later, Its not difficult to see the massive problems and blasphemies that were taking place that night. I hadn’t thought about that night for a long time, and in fact hadn’t shared that with anyone until I told my wife a few days ago, when the issue of prophecies and visions came up. Do I believe her prophecies were legitimate and that she was hearing from God? Not at all. Do I think I will have “fewer decades than most”? No. Like most people I don’t think of death often and have an overly optimistic mentality about my own mortality. Odds are I’ll live to a ripe old age, but If I die early, if the Lord takes me, it will not mean that this womans prophecy came true. Likewise I don’t have any particular interest in missions, much less being a missionary, but if that too should change it will not mean that this woman’s prophecies were reflective or biblicly sound.

 

Agree? Disagree? What do you all think? Have you even been prophecied over? What was it like? Was it accurate? If you had the chance, would you like to be prophecied over?

Church kids need to stop being so gay

There is a microcosm of our popular culture today that is spread and spewed on a daily basis by many members of the Body of Christ, and this is the fact that “gay jokes” are socially and spiritually accepted within the Church. That is  tragic, disturbing, and damaging. Most Christians know that you shouldn’t tell dirty or sexual jokes and if you confronted a man telling a coarse joke, more often than not he’ll become embarrassed, self-conscious, and acknowledge that he probably shouldn’t be saying them. There is no such stigma for “gay jokes.”

Congregation members, especially teens and young men, have made this a part of their daily repertoire of insults and wit, specifically using the term “gay” as a disparaging epitaph. Innuendos and insinuations of effeminacy and queerness come naturally and quick. They do this based on perceived character defects, personal mannerisms,  speech patterns, clothing style, affectations, interests and oftentimes for no reason whatsoever. It doesn’t really matter what the impetus is, if there is an opportunity to burn another soul [usually in jest]  it’s rare that someone would think twice before saying  “that’s pretty gay” in order to frame them as a homosexual and demean and marginalize them. That’s part of it. The other part is when people  thoughtlessly define “gay”  and make it a synonym for stupid, lame, week and boring.  They might say “that restaurant was pretty gay” or that band is so gay”. Its very, very common, and Church kids love saying it.

Church kids are being bombarded by one of the worst dimensions of  Christian culture which says it’s either alright to make fun of homosexuals, or as is far more prominent and is usually the case, that they don’t care when you make fun of homosexuals. It doesn’t register. They are lethargic and apathetic, and they need to be woken. It is  inexcusable. It is an immature, uncaring and unloving practice. Our culture does it all the time, and instead of making this a dividing line where we draw a distinction between the hateful rhetoric of our culture and the loving, welcoming, nurturing character of the Church’s soul towards homosexuals, our young men have joined the party and have become indistinguishable in this regard.  The pastors and leaders need to take them to task and correct them when they say things like that. They need to be told that what they are doing is a sin and that it has no place in that community of faith. The pastors need to rebuke, shame and discipline them. Call them out on it and take them aside and help them develop it as an issue of personal sanctification.

It is a shame in every sense of the word, and it needs to be seriously dealt with.  It’s not funny and it demeans the name of Christ when they are being allowed to profligate it with impunity through careless and crass words.  Their joking may not all be overt, but they implicitly bleed superiority and condescension when they  take a facet of a person spirit  that they’ve wept  and trembled over and use it as a dismissive disparagement- when they reduce such an important, raw part of gay person’s identity to a punchline to score points.

A while ago I was in discussions with some people about what I would say if I were apologizing on behalf of the Church for how they’ve treated the homosexual community. I think what I wrote then has some relevance to the topic at hand and I figured would share part of it to close out the post;

“I would not apologize for the theology, but rather how we have presented it. I would apologize that we haven’t been more accepting of homosexuals in the congregation and have not aggressively been evangelizing them. I would apologize that we have related to them as lepers, instead of as image bearers needing Christ- and that we are less “leprous” than they. I would apologize that we have not denounced the young men in our congregations who have made a habit of telling “gay-jokes” and other shameful humor. I would apologize that we have been ambivalent and have not paid attention to the men and women in our congregation who have been struggling with same sex attraction. I would apologize for not ministering to them enough, and for not supporting them enough in their desire to be free from this. I would apologize for the tactlessness that certain ministers have exhibited in public forums and for the lack of loving tone with outsiders and unbelievers. Last of all, I would apologize that we have not been clear, intellectual, concise and consistent in our theology of marriage. We have let people who have no theology of marriage hijack the conversation and speak for us. We have let ignorant people with loveless rhetoric and billboards saying “Adam and eve, not Adam and Steve” represent us, instead of thoughtful, wise and well spoken men and women of God who are  able to intelligently lay out a loving, clear presentation of why and what we believe marriage and sexuality to be and how that relates to the homosexual and heterosexual.”

*note. the title of this blog point is deliberately provocative and ironically tongue-in-cheek. When contrasted with the content and thesis, I believe it serves its purpose well.

YC 2011: girls crowd surfing and all the hype 89$ {early bird special} can buy.

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 loss 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.

What do you all think?  For those who have gone to YC or other similar large Christian shindigs, how much of that can you relate to?