A Conscious Desire for God

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I recently read some interesting commentary about the effectiveness in our various methods of reaching the youth in our churches and helping them to have a faith that doesn’t fade as they head into their college years. One person (named Mike) wrote,

“If we truly were open to honest answers when we ask young adults about their faith we might learn that many of those who have left the Church and institutional Christianity did not leave because of a lack of reverence for God, but because they sought more depth than they were offered by the Church.”

After reading Mike’s thoughts it got me thinking… Yes, I do think many of our churches seem to have a depth issue (with our youth programs and otherwise)… but I don’t think it’s the exact issue we may at first think it is. It’s not that we need to get rid of all the more “shallow” fun and games stuff entirely. It’s not simply that students aren’t challenged and instructed by their church leaders to “go deep” with God either. On the contrary,students are often told over and over that they need to:
read their bible,
serve,
pray,
attend events,
etc.

So, it’s often not a lack of options or instruction. No, this lack of depth has to do with something more. I’ll attempt to gather and communicate my thoughts about that in this blog post.

As for “going deep with God” – I hear phrases like this and immediately think of relationship … I think of how God desires nothing less than to go deep with us, to have us know Him and want Him. But we mere mortals don’t seem to start life inherently/consciously understanding our need, and the availability of joy and freedom that comes from, a deep relationship with our Creator. We dont tend to naturally find our identity in God. I think the greater question is, “How can we help our youth to get to the place where they conciously desire depth with God for themselves?” Simply instructing them to go to church, read their Bible, Pray, and to serve others doesn’t seem to help them to develop a conscious desire for deep relationship with God. Their desire for God doesn’t, and won’t exist, simply because they are told to have a desire for God. I cannot tell you to desire a baloney sandwich and just expect it to happen. Let me use an even goofier example to show what I mean.

If you know me, you know that I am an avid gamer. I love me some Mario brothers. I even like reading and writing about games from time to time. I’m an “enthusiast”. It’s a fun hobby that has been a big part of my life since I was in my elementary years. And, believe it or not, there are games today that offer depth, story, character, and context in ways that just boggle my mind! They can be SO good, so fun, so rewarding (to me anyway). I truly love to play deep and engaging video games, the same way a literature nut may love Hamlet. Yes, I am a total nerd, and I have come to accept this about myself. 🙂

Now, lets say I have a friend who loves to play Bejeweled and Tetris (casual games), but I want them to become a fan of deep/engaging video games like me.. If my method of accomplishing this is to send them straight into a new game of Skyrim – they’re not going to get it or like it, they’re not going to desire to play more of it, or understand it. (Some of you are reading this and thinking “what the heck is he talking about?”.. and that’s okay. It’s my nerdy hobby, I don’t expect everyone to get it, which is kind of my point I guess. Google “Skyrim” if you are interested to know)

My friend’s first experience of sitting down with an XOBX controller and a copy of Skyrim would probably cause them great frustration and some confusion. After just a few minutes they might throw their hands up in the air and say something like, “This isn’t connecting with me.” or “You mean to tell me you like this?!” or “I just don’t get it”. And a this point my enthusiasm and excitement over the game would seem even stranger to my friend! Chances are after just an hour or so with the game – they probably wouldn’t give Skyrim a glowing review and they’d never want to try it again. And if my gamer friends were to hear this person’s disinterest and indifference to Skyrim they may want to exclaim, “But it’s SKYRIM! How can you not appreciate and LOVE it like us?!?”. Simple: they would FIRST need to have grown a desire for games like that in the first place. There is a reason why we read Dr. Seuss to kindergarteners, not Shakespeare. Sometimes I think you need to witness and experience someone else’s desire and love for something over time before you can love it and desire it too. Strangely enough, I think the same can be said of how we learn to love Jesus. If you’re not around people who know and love Jesus, it’s gonna be really hard to ever know and love him yourself.

I desire for youth to have clarity of faith and to experience a deep relationship with God …. but how do we get people there? Again, students (and adults) often don’t instinctually desire depth with God. Their soul specifically desires it and longs for it because we are all created to know and love God AND to be known and loved by God in this way… but often the youth (and many adults in our churches) don’t know or understand this truth about themselves. So they seek to fulfill that deep desire in the wrong (less worthy) places. People want depth because their soul desires to connect with God, someone deeper and greater than themselves…. but quite often they don’t cognitively know that their true desire can only be met by knowing God, by going deep with him. Their desires often get hijacked by the enemy, by the distractions and temptations of our world. We hear countless messages in our lives telling us about what will quench our deep longing and desires in this life. How has that gone for us as a culture so far?

And so it seems: more than people desire depth of character and depth with God… they desire to be “seen” as a deep person. It becomes about image. A smart, well-educated, and well versed person. A person who has a “deepness” and a life experience they are able to reference as proof of their depth. People want to be respected and revered. They want their reputation to ooze with an edgy “different-than-you” kind of cool perspective and insight. When you ask students what they want to “be” these days, one of the top few answers is **“I want to be different”. Students want something real, something deep… and often that desire can turn into a selfish pursuit because their true and holy desire to go deep with God in their soul has been hijacked by the selfish desire “to be seen as” deep in the eyes of others.

This is partly why students often survey the offerings at our churches and youth ministries and laugh. They don’t see how a pizza party, a Christian concert, a game night, a trip to a theme park, or even various organized acts of community service ultimately add any depth and significance to their life. It may make them feel good, they may make friends, they may end up with wonderful shared experiences (and photos to prove it!), and they may even do a lot of good for God’s Kingdom in the process through the way they serve and meet the needs of others through various service projects.

All of this can be fun and edifying, but when it comes to overall lifestyle – these things don’t often help students to go deep with God all that much – if at all. Many of our models for discipleship and student ministry fall WAY short of what students need. Because we all, whether we know it or not, desire depth with God. Knowing God is the point, it’s the greatest thing, it’s everything (see Philippians 3:7-10). I desire nothing less than to hear the students I get to teach come to me or another leader and proclaim, “I want to know Christ. I’m not satisfied by just knowing about Him.” Shallow relationship with God isn’t something that works. We know this to be true because of our experiences with our shallow human relationships. They do not fulfill us – they don’t rock our core and cause us to feel, to move, to act, to love. So how could a shallow relationship with God EVER be a transformative thing? So then, HOW do we help students to get to a place where they desire a deep relationship with Christ? … to desire depth with God, to know God, and to believe it’s possible to know Him? To know that God wants nothing more than for us to know and love Him… how can this take place?

As I was thinking about this I was reminded of a scene from the movie “To Save a Life.” A teen, named Jake, who is seeking to better understand himself, God, and the loss of his friend – steps into church for the first time seeking answers and comfort. As he arrives at this youth group, desperately looking for depth of character from his peers (supposedly committed Christians) and clarity about life – but he is disappointed to find so many of the students in the room disengaged and aloof. Their apparent lack of genuine faith and concern with the “God” part of youth group really bothered Jake. And to make matters worse, his first glimpse of youth group that night was to witness the students engaging in a goofy “coke can chugging contest” where the students are challenged to down an entire can of soda – strained through the sock of one of their peers (totally gross). Soon after, his girlfriend (whom he brought with to this new church – bold move) leaves the youth group time early due to feeling uncomfortable and unwelcome. This, of course, bothers Jake… The video picks up soon after that while the youth leader is speaking to all the students:

Sure, it’s a movie clip… but I don’t think it’s too far off. Chugging soda can be fun, and youth group can be a blast. And it’s certainly fun to do many of the activities and games that youth groups engage in. And, many friendships can be forged. But like Jake asks the youth group in this clip, “What’s the point of all this if you’re not going to let this change you?”

Our weekly gatherings and our fun events (the ones that typically lack depth) will, and to a certain degree should, always be around. They need time to unwind and have some fun! Should students enjoy and desire to play games together? Yes! I LOVE a good game night, bowling night, or movie night, it’s a blast! … but if those more “shallow” things are MOST of what students tend to “get” or seek from their church – then they’ll seek their own (less worthy) version of “depth” somewhere else. One that exists to bolster the deep self-image they’re often trying emote. Maybe they seek their “depth” from a JayZ, Beatles, or Death Cab album; or a movie by Darren Aronofsky, or by some philosopher they learned about in school. Some people just dwell on the sin and pain in their life, allow it to identify them, and they believe it causes them to become a deeper more experienced person. But one thing is for certain, this current exodus of teens from our youth ministries is an indicator that students are looking elsewhere for depth and connection. Too often, they don’t find it at church. And if they’re not finding it at home either – the hope of that student ever desiring to know God and go deep with Him is slim.

So I ask: “What kind of depth can the church offer that shines a light on this issue? What can effectively draw in students in a Christ centered way?” I think it comes down to having a depth of character in the adult leaders, parents, and peers that the students get to know in the church. I recently re-listened to a message by John Ortberg called “The Main Thing”. In this sermon he says:

“This world is not likely to receive a gospel of transformation from untransformed people.”

When students come up close with people whose DAILY life and character have been transformed by Christ, then they see something unlike anything else our world has to offer. That is a depth of character and a living truth that cannot be easily ignored or cast aside. When someone is following Christ in such a way that it has transformed them.. then, perhaps… students will be able to see this love and engagement and begin to desire depth with God too… instead of some less worthy form of trendy “depth” that doesn’t satisfy the soul. Not to say that Aranofsky movies aren’t deep and interesting, and not to say that students should only be moved by things directly related to God and the Bible… but, if they begin to see EVERYTHING through the lens of truth that they receive from believing the gospel message, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and by the cloud of witnesses that they join with as followers of Christ – I believe we’ll see students come into contact with the deepest desire of their heart – which is to go deep with God. But, it takes seeing it in others, experiencing it in scripture (often in a group setting), it takes rubbing up against transformed people, it takes parents who model Christ and are themselves in a transformation process. And all of this… it is not easy to do. But I believe this is what it takes to lead this generation of teens to the cross and to have them experience a relationship with their Creator.

Shallow is easy, shallow can be fun, shallow is less risky… but it does not make disciples on its own. I love students, I love to see them grow and to live out their convictions passionately. Seeing God at work in someone’s life takes my breath away – and that’s even more true for me when I witness it in a youth. I think many of our efforts as church leaders (including my efforts) to help connect students to God have not been what students truly need. Rich Mullins once said, “We’ve taken the blood of the cross and turned it into kool-aid…” and I think he’s right. I know I’ve been guilty of this at times for sure.

Luckily this doesn’t change that God STILL wants to know us, love us, and go deep with us. And we can’t simply lug students into the deep end of the relational pool with God either. It takes time, it takes personal mentors, it takes students having a front row seat to the transforming power of God in the life of another human (maybe even MORE than one). It takes hearing testimonies of what God has done in the lives of others. It often takes observing people who desire and love God first – which also means, it requires that we love these students with Christ’s love so they can experience it first hand. And at some point as Christ followers we ALL learn – ALL of us desire God! Whether we knew it consciously or not, the desire has always been there. It’s the deepest desire of our soul. My hope and prayer is that this soul desire becomes a very conscious desire and pursuit for the youth and families of our churches – and for our students: that their head and heart align with their soul in its desire for Christ and knowing Him more closely.

So, to “Mike” on that random comment thread – thanks for making me think today.

** I apologize for my lack of a reference on this statistic… I remember reading about a study that claimed this result.. If I find the reference, I’ll add a link here. I’m sorry 😦

“The Main Thing”

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** This blog post is not my own creation… this is a passage from a sermon by John Ortberg.  PLEASE check out his teaching at mppc.org sometime.  

The name of this sermon is called “The Main Thing”. It claims that the main thing for churches, our ultimate mission is to “present everyone mature in Christ.” And I agree. Young & old, new Christian & veteran Christians, men, women, … everyone.

Sermon Scripture: 

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”    Colossians 1:27-29

On television over the last several years there have a number of shows about what are called makeovers…extreme makeovers. Did you ever see any of those? They can actually be surprisingly moving because they usually involve not just like new makeup jobs. They’ll take people who have features for which they have been ridiculed, felt embarrassed since they were kids, and then people go through a process. It might involve surgery, reconstruction, diet, exercise, some processes that might be fairly costly or painful to do a makeover.

These show are watched by millions of people, and it’s swamped by folks who would like to be a part of something like this. Everybody wants a makeover. I’ve seen the before and after pictures and it’s amazing how dramatic the changes are. You’ve probably seen similar shows and photos. After seeing them you can’t help but think, “I would never would have guessed that the person in the “AFTER” picture is the same human being as the one in the “BEFORE” one.”

Typically the climax of the whole makover process is when the “new you” gets presented. Everybody who loves you is gathered there…spouse, friends, relatives, workers. Then there is this unveiling. “Now I present”… and this made-over person comes out. Very often they’ll look in the mirror and they’ll just be in tears because you know what’s on the outside is what we really long for is to be remade on the inside. The friends, when they see them, they can’t believe the difference.

Now one other thing we all need to know about these shows, and you’ll know where I’m headed with this…the people who go through this process, they actually expect to be transformed. Like if they didn’t look any different at the end of the process than they did at the beginning, they would want to know what went wrong. They would want all that money and effort back. They assume transformation is normative. It is expected.

Now how about us as Christians? Just take one statement from the apostle Paul. Paul says to the church at Philippi, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” …  How is that one going for you? Should we really aim for that? What do you think?  I’m serious about this. Let’s say somebody has been around a church for five years. Do you think they really should have made some progress in that department? Should we all expect if somebody is following Jesus, getting to know people who love them, learning to live in His presence, studying the Scripture, praying, should we really expect that people are progressively growing in their ability to do life without complaining or arguing, or is Paul just talking to hear himself talk?

Is it all just a bunch of religious language? Is what we’re really expecting for people is to go to church and be kind and respectable and do the obediant church thing… and hope they end up in heaven when they die? Quite often it seems that we really don’t actually expect for everyone to progressively be growing toward being presented mature in Christ. But, That’s the main thing! It boggles my mind how people can go to church and think that it’s about doing certain kinds of services or perpetuating certain kinds of traditions, or engaging in certain kinds of programs, and nobody is actually expecting that people are really genuinely becoming the people God created them to be.  

The main thing for a church is not just to put on great services, not just to attract a whole bunch of people, it’s to actually help people become mature in Christ and it ain’t easy. But then Paul finds this strange thing right in the middle of all that difficulty, labor, and reality and sin and junk and habit, I find it’s not just me at work. Everywhere I turn there is God at work. I labor struggling, but not just with my power, with His energy. Over and over, I actually experience this, you will too. There He is. His energy that works, not just works, that so powerfully works in somebody like me.

The main thing is to present everyone mature in Christ, and maybe the most important two words are in Christ. See that is Paul’s signature phrase. He uses it scores of times. The reality in which we’re to be immersed, to live, the way that a fish lives in water, the way that we’re surrounded by air, the spiritual reality that is more important to us than air is to be in Christ and for Christ to be in us, to be connected to Him….

… The sermon goes on, and it’s VERY good.  If you have time, you can check it out here: http://mppc.org/series/john-ortberg/main-thing

I hope to post “my own” blog entry soon, but I just wanted to share this with all of you!

Crew 8

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This crew worked on a home that had a major leak in the roof, and over time this leak caused a ton of water damage in their home. So they fixed the roof, and completely re-insulated and drywalled the wall that had water damage.

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Crew 5

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This fantastic crew helped their resident Hal by patching and re-roofing part of his roof and completely re-doing their bathroom floor and ceiling. They also installed a new toilet! 🙂
Our camp nurse Lindsay Lundvall is also on this crew – but this day she stayed back at MPCC because she wasn’t feeling well. Prayers for her please. 🙂

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Are you “Making the Switch”?

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It’s Sr. High Workcamp time! Only 48 hours till lift-off and we’re gearing up for our annual mission trip. A flurry of green shirts, ladders, bibles, coolers, and vehicles (and a U-Haul) will be heading out to Mt. Pleasant, MI bright and early this Saturday morning July 23rd. We’ll be back on July 30th with joy to share and stories to tell. That’s a promise. 🙂

During chapels for our week in Mt. Pleasant we’ll be talking about the changes in our lives, the switches (from one thing to another). From one leader to another, from one way of thinking to a different way of thinking, going from certain habits to starting new and better rhythms and habits… and the list goes on. Our students (as well as the rest of us) live in a world that is constantly changing… so we’re asking the questions, “How do I deal with change? How am I changing? How does God want me to change? What shift is God MOST desiring to see in me?”

Musically, we’re blessed to have the band We Are Leo leading us in worship all week. They have performed two concerts here at CUMC over the past 10 months, and our students have grown to know them and have had great experiences with them. We’re very happy that they’ll be with us! You can check them out here: http://on.fb.me/rsa2kU

In addition to the chapels and lessons, we have a wonderful opportunity to serve the community and a number of residents of Mt. Pleasant, MI. Roofing, decking, painting, building bunk beds… and more. Our students LOVE to serve and to come to workcamp, and we are all so grateful for the support, love, and for the prayers offered by all of you. Our church family, our friends and neighbors – you’ve helped to make this trip a reality! Thank you so very much!

As a way of inviting you all to engage with us throughout the week – we’ll be posting a daily video blog right here on this blog! Movement412.net is my blog about Students and their ability with God’s help to set the example for the world about what a follower of Jesus Christ looks like. 412 comes from the scripture verse found in 1st Timothy 4:12 that says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” So, long after Workcamp is over this will be a source for info, inspiration, and discussion about the work God is doing in and through the lives of teens and youth.

That’s all for now! There are a few more things to do before Saturday 🙂 Please check back here throughout the week to see daily updates, interviews, and reports on what’s happening in Michigan with our workcampers. And please pray for God to be glorified in all we do, for good weather, and for the health and safety of our campers.

Grace and Peace to you.
-e

Please help to support our Sr. High Workcamp! :-)

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It’s so hard to believe that Workcamp is a month away! We’re close to completely raising the funds needed to carry out the work we need to do up there, but we’re not quite there yet. If you haven’t had the chance to support our student ministry or the Workcamp efforts here, this is a great chance to do so! By clicking the link below you can donate money to Workcamp.

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