With situational ethics, who needs a savior?

How do we help a generation who has no sin see their need for a savior? A major part of our calling as youth workers is the vital task of evangelism. Unfortunately the tyranny of the urgent puts our true calling on the back burner. We have programs to run, bible studies to lead, and parents to keep happy. As great as these are to do, very few of us got into student ministry because we love programs and managing parents. Many of us got into student ministry because we have a heart for this broken and lost generation. We are cross cultural missionaries called to the field to connect with early and mid-adolescents so that, by any means necessary, they will come to know Jesus.

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some “ 1 Corinthians 9:22

Classic Evangelism: This verse sums up the classical understanding of evangelism. Simply we want people who don’t know Jesus yet to know him as their Lord and Savior. We want to use whatever means, whatever stories, whatever programs, whatever resources are needed to do it.

Classic Gospel: For the past 100 years, the story that has been developed is a simple,

compelling, and effective story. You may have heard of it. God loves us, but our sin separates us from him. Jesus, because of His love, took the punishment for our sin on himself. If we accept what Jesus did for us on the cross, then we will be saved and have eternal life. The classic gospel has proven to be very effective in our context where Christianity has been our national religion and story. But as our context becomes increasingly more post-christian this classic gospel has developed a classic problem.

Classic Problem: Simply put, there is no longer an understanding of sin. Our students live in a world where there are really no ethics, no right and wrong.  If there is any residue of an understanding of sin, it is when it happens to them. They can clearly identify all the times and places others have wronged them, but can not see when and where they have wronged others.

Situational Ethics is now king. Whatever might be right and wrong in theory, gets re-worked depending on the circumstances they find themselves. Cheating may be wrong, but what defines cheating, depends on the situation. Stealing may be wrong, but downloading pirated music or lifting something small is fine, because no one notices or cares. Saving sex for marriage is a good idea, until they are really in love.

It seems like situational ethics has so invaded the psyche of our students that they are convinced they are good people and do not sin. I bet that they could take lie detector tests and pass because their world is so fragmented and post-modern. There are no firm rules which means that there is no such thing as missing the mark, because there is no longer a mark to hit.

With this world view, sin is a foreign concept. It is like trying to help a first grader understand algebra. They don’t even understand basic addition and subtraction. It is mind bending for them to begin to add letters to the mix. But sin is a a foundational concept in a Christian worldview. It is impossible to understand the gospel without also understanding sin, in effects and consequences.

But this post-christian context where situational ethics rules the day should not dishearten us youth workers. We are true missionaries and culture is not the enemy, it is the tool. We have to be students of culture and our context and find a place where the gospel story can meet up with some of the cultural stories we find ourselves. And like all cultures all over the world, there is always a thin place where these stories will meet, and I think there is a gigantic thin place in the cultural context of our students. While they may have no need of a savior to save them from their sins, every one of my students understands that they are broken and in need of repair.

Our students live in a world where brokenness is the norm. Because there are no rules, there is never ending uncertainty. Their parents are getting divorced, there is no loyalty in friendships, their hearts are crushed in romantic relationships, there is bullying that happens in private, and there are no consequences for any of it. They get that the world isn’t as it should be. They may not be able to articulate it, and they may not get that there is right or wrong, but they do get that this brokenness is awful and hopeless. It is lord of the flies, but the adults never show up.

And it is into this cultural story that we bring the good news of Jesus Christ.

This world our students live in is a dark and broken world. They get that they are broken and that everyone around them is broken. Their brokenness has impacted others, and others have impacted them. It is into this dark and broken world that the light has come. Jesus shows up and brings our brokenness into the light. We are like cancer patients. On the outside we look just fine, but inside we have a deadly disease. Jesus comes and diagnoses the problem. The problem is we are broken.

In our inner being our students understand that this brokenness is not the way life should be. While it is their reality, there is a hidden memory of a life of wholeness. The gospel tells this story in dramatic fashion. God created the world and us and it was very good. Brokenness entered the world through our rebellion and ever since humans have been crushing each other. At the same time God was coming up with a plan to heal this broken world. That plan culminated in Jesus Christ.

Jesus not only shines light and exposes our brokenness, He also provides a way for healing. Most church kids have heard that Jesus died for their sins. But this statement has power when we help them understand that Jesus takes all our sin and brokenness on him when he died on the cross. His conquering of death is a conquering of brokenness. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Once we can equate sin with brokenness we can see that this gospel is truly good news. God takes our sin and brokenness on him so that we become his righteousness, we are made whole. And now the gospel is no longer a gospel of sin management, but it is a gospel of sanctification, of healing and transformation. Our students need to have hope that there is more than this life of brokenness, I need to have hope that there is ore than this life of brokenness. The good news of Jesus Christ is that Jesus came into the darkness to take our brokenness and exchange them for wholeness, healing, and life!

A gospel for students who don't think they need one:

The following post was featured at youthmin.org

the-good-newsThis last week I got in the mail some response cards from some of my students who went to a local summer camp.  On these cards my students checked the box that they had said yes to Jesus and have made some sort of faith commitment.

In my faith tradition this encounter went something like this:

Now with every eye closed and every head bowed, I would like to give you an opportunity to respond in faith to Jesus.  If you want to say yes, say this prayer with me, “Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness.  I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead.  I trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior.  guide my life and help me do your will.  In your name, Amen.”

This handful of students prayed this prayer!  Praise God!  Hallelujuia!!

But on closer investigation, I have realized that this prayer makes absolutely no sense in their world view!

It may be different in your context, the but students I work with have no touch points with words like, “Lord,” “sinner,” or even “forgiveness.”  My students are the center of their own universe, entitled to fulfill their own dreams, and accountable to no body.  If someone has a problem with them, even if a teacher fails them, the problem is not them, but those outside their universe who don’t understand them or support them.

I know you are thinking that of course our kids are sinners, of course they are broken, of course they need a savior and forgiveness.  You may think this, and this may even be true, but it doesn’t compute to our post-modern, post-christian students.

So, if our students don’t think they are sinners in need of a savior, or broken in need of healing, what angle of the good news is needed to be both true to the biblical message as well as have true touch points with our students cultural context?

As entitled, self-righteous, self-centered, and connected as our students come across, every single one of them when given the safe chance to share all share the common story of being lonely, isolated, friendless, and wrestle with the anxiety of keeping these emotions under wraps.

It is this “thin place,” this cultural reality where the gospel of Jesus actually gets to become good news to students.  Our students don’t know how to have real friendships anymore.  Their family structures are crumbling, and they don’t even know how to not compare their lives to the seemingly amazing lives of their peers on instagram and facebook.  It is in this lonely, depressed, and anxious state that Jesus invites our students to be adopted into His family!

So what is this good news?

Adoption can become the gospel metaphor for this generation.  It validates their lost and loneliness.  It validates their lack of identity and purpose, and invites them into the family of God!

This family has an amazing Father, millions of sisters and brothers who actually belong to one another, and resources to empower these kids to take up the family business, to be partners with our brother Jesus as we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

This  is a paradigm that I am wrestling with as I am trying to address this changing landscape of student ministry.  What are the “thin places”  you see in your context?  What is the good news that connects with your students?

living in sin

I have to make a confession. I am writing this post from my brand new iPad2. Last Friday I braved the crowds and picked up my very own iPad. Now, owning an iPad is not necessarily a sin, but the process I embarked on to get one turns out to have been. My sin was not lived out on Friday, but actually came to light the Wednesday before, March 2nd, the day of the iPad2 announcement.

March 2nd was a crazy morning. I found myself outside the Apple Store at 9:00, an hour before the store opened, waiting anxiously for Steve Jobs' press conference. When I arrived there were Apple employees helping customers with tech support. As I wandered around the store, I was informed that the store doesn't actually open until 10:00. I played it off cool, like I knew, and went and sat down at a bench outside the store.

While I was waiting until 10:00, I opened my computer and found a website that was live-blogging the Jobs' press conference. As the hour approached I noticed that I was getting more and more excited for the possibility of what the announcement could be.

Now, most average people knew that Steve Jobs was going to announce the iPad2. But I was at the Apple Store because I was waiting for another announcement, a hidden announcement, that only those who were on the inside knew about. I was waiting for them to announce that, not only was Apple going to release the iPad2, but that it was going to be on sale immediately.

Well, ten minutes into the press conference, Jobs goes on to say that the iPad2 would go on sale March 11. The second those words left his mouth a wave of shame washed over me. I immediately closed my computer, collected my things, hung my head low, and walked toward my car.

The reason for my humiliation was that I had gotten totally and completely lost in the release of the iPad2. What started out so innocently, ended in shame. In November I came to the conclusion that purchasing an iPad would be a worthwhile investment for me and my family. By my birthday, at the end of January, I had saved up enough money to buy one. Now all I had to do was wait. And while I was waiting I stumbled upon this strange and amazing community of Mac and Apple rumors.

I spent the month of February scouring the internet for the latest info. I came across case prototypes and actual mockups. I weighed the pros and cons of a USB port, screens with higher resolution, and possible price increases or decreases. I even tracked parts from China as there were fears about shortages and production problems. The fact that I even could write this paragraph is an embarrassment.

And as I was daily searching for news and information, I came across the information that Apple would release the iPad2 the same day as the announcement. In my hours on line, I had come to trust this website and thought that I had truly stumbled into truly hidden news. But, when they didn't, I had an immediate wake up call. I had realized I had spent the month of February living in sin.

Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong buying electronics or with being an informed consumer. But to have something capture my mind so completely was wrong, and for something so silly to capture my mind is just embarrassing.

* * *

The sad truth is, we all find ourselves fixating on different things. Some times we fixate on things that will improve our status, or will bring us security, or give us a sense of purpose. And every time we put our eggs into one of these baskets, we are left wanting. I shared with you an innocuous illustration of a recent example. But if we are quite, even for a second we can start to list the countless things we fixate on to fulfill our lives. For me, some of those issues are: finances, housing prices, schools for my kids, my weight, clothes, interest rates, numbers in my ministry, good job review, the stock market, facial hair styles, baseball playoffs, and now my iPad.

Jesus lays down the gauntlet and says that we are not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth, but rather store up treasures in heaven. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Matt 6:21

It is the things we focus on that shape our heart. From the big to the small, whatever we focus on, whatever our treasure is, our heart will be there too. This is an unavoidable spiritual reality. And when our heart is bound to fleeting things, we miss out on participating in the ushering in of God's Kingdom.

I have been reflecting on how different my February would have been if I had not been scouring the internet looking for the latest Mac rumors. What if I had spent February intentionally looking out for where God is at work, for where the Kingdom of God is breaking in? What if I realized that my citizenship was actually in heaven and my treasure was there too? What if I really understood that my true security, status, and purpose is found in that reality, not in fleeting earthly possessions or fixations.

Jesus invites us into discipleship. But that call can not be answered while we are still holding on to our nets, while we are storing up treasures on earth. It is only when we put down our nets, hold loosely our possession and position that we can actually see where God is at work and partner there.

May You continue to pry my hands and mind from things that are fleeting, and use my efforts for your purposes and glory. Amen.