10/10/21 - Jesus IS the only way, and sometimes that feels weird, and the importance of knowing Jesus personally.
Good morning parents!
This past week in Sunday school we kept pushing into the question "Is Jesus really the only way to heaven?" Obviously, scripture tells us that this is the case, but it can often feel like saying "Jesus is the only way to heaven" is a culturally insensitive statement. We spent the bulk of our time talking about how we live in a culture that tends to value acceptance more than objective truth. We discussed how using language like "my truth" and "your truth" isn't referring to objective truth at all, but a persons lived or felt experience. When we say that something is true, we are calling back to an irrefutable authority - the Bible. Obviously language is continually evolving and it can be hard to express the truth of Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life without people calling us bigots or judgmental. We leaned into a bit of practical application then, and talked about sharing the Gospel in effective ways.
It has been my experience that the best way to share the good news of Jesus (and it IS good news, despite how the world around us might respond!) is to listen to Jesus when he commands us to love our neighbors. Something that transcends the negative stigma that people in the world today attach to words like "Christian" or "evangelical" is simple love. I am by no means an expert evangelizer, but every time I have had the pleasure of leading someone to Jesus, it was because that person knew I was invested in their life beyond the desire to convert them. I had worked long and hard to know them, the good and the bad, to the point that the negative assumptions about church or Christianity couldn't stand. Evangelism and discipleship so often go hand in hand, and I have grown to enjoy the process of discipling people who don't know Jesus as their savior, and waiting for God to work miracles.
To summarize all of that, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to the Father except through Him. This is good news, and its news that is most effectively shared when we align our lives with Christ and love God first, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Youth group was a bit of a surprise for all of us!
I decided on my way to get snacks for the evening that I wanted to talk about something other than the Bible Project that had been weighing heavily on my heart.
If you have had the opportunity to get to know "Noah the person" outside of "Noah the youth pastor," you would know that I am a pretty opinionated person. Dynelle might even say too opinionated ;) I love thinking and talking about theology, culture, the Church, effective ministry and how all of those things are woven together. You might also know that I grew up here in Zeeland, attending a church where I was one of 6 kids in the high school youth group!
Those two things often come together in interesting ways for me. One of the reasons I felt like God was calling me back to west Michigan in 2016 when I took this position was because I felt like I knew this culture - the good and the ugly. I grew up in a church that did an incredible job of helping me memorize scripture, learn the catechism, and nail the basics of all the bible stories you would hear at a VBS. They were always willing to let me teach those things in places like children's Sunday school or VBS when I was older, and in doing so grew my confidence as a leader.
There was one thing I somehow missed though, and that was a personal relationship with a risen Christ. I knew all those answers and it felt good to be someone who was seen as a "capable" teenager, but I don't think I regularly spent time in scripture, or time in silent prayer.
Fast forward to today, and Josiah and I have the pleasure of preaching this week. As we have been preparing material for our sermon, I kept hearing the same message over and over in the back of my head asking, "How are you teaching our students to really love Jesus and grow in relationship with Him?"
I know this is a huge wall of text already, but there is one more piece of context I would like to share. I have never considered myself a particularly charismatic Christian. My personal experience with Jesus hasn't involved being slain in the Spirit or speaking in tongues or miraculous special revelation. When I pray or spend intentional time with God, I experience his presence in ways that I describe as "heart tugs." Often its like a silly disembodied thought or emotion just springs up and doesn't seem logical. On my way to youth group I was listening to a podcast about the world our students are finding their faith in and I had one of those "tugs." I felt like I should talk about that instead of angels and cherubim, because while its super interesting to hear about how rich scripture is and the characters at work within it, I'm not sure that it is teaching our students to own their faith or causing them to fall in love with the Word.
So I bought snacks, went to church and scribbled on a notepad for a while. I asked our students a few questions to break the ice a bit. "What is the Church?" "What is a Disciple?" And, "Who is someone you look up to spiritually, and what characteristics do they have that cause you to look up to them?"
All of these questions were leading us into a discussion about the world that they live in, the unique challenges I see for them, and how I hope the time we spend here on a Sunday isn't the richest part of their faith journey.
Our students live in a post-pandemic, post-truth, hyper-connected-but-lonely world. The pandemic caused suffering for everyone, a post-truth world tells them that the Bible can't possibly be absolute truth, and their social structures serve them fake internet hearts or likes in place of deep interpersonal relationships. Without being dramatic, it's fair to say that they are living in a time where being a follower of Christ isn't exactly easy.
But when we turn to scripture and think about the people who were the fathers and mothers of our faith, we see that often they came from places where it was hard to follow Jesus too. Deep and resilient faith is not formed in a spa, its formed in fire. The question we are left with then is simple. How are we shaping our students to live in the flame when they leave our homes, our churches, or even our circles of influence?
Josiah and I are going to try and answer that question more generally this Sunday in our sermon, but as far as youth group goes I simply encouraged our students to be people of prayer, who are steeped in God's word. One of my greatest fears as a leader is that I churn out high school students who believe and talk like me without giving them the tools and knowledge necessary to own their faith for themselves.
As we keep pushing into that idea, I might switch up our teaching schedule a little bit to allow for some of our students and leaders to talk about some things that they are growing in or positively impacted by. I love the Bible Project, and maintain that an informed reading of scripture is an excellent thing to dive into, but I think we might need something different to hit the bullseye in this moment.
If you made it this far, you're a legend. Thanks for reading my stream of consciousness, and I'd love to hear if your student brought any of this home to you!!
Have a great week!
I'm Noah. I do High School things. Expect this page to update every Tuesday morning!