The last thing that today's youth need is a Revolve New Testament. Culture, even church culture, is teaching them to love the world and hate the Lord.
There is much that can be said today for kids who are diligent to show up at church and all the church functions instead of running with the "worldly" gang. Yet I think that there are some eerie similarities between "church" kids and "world" kids. Most of these similarities have to do with the inward person of the heart. Now that doesn't come to much of a surprise to those of you who labor in youth ministry or work with kids in some way. But it should move us to action when it comes to pressing the gospel into their hearts.
I realize the importance of teaching morality and boundaries to children. It is one of my responsibilities as a parent to instill in my son the difference between right and wrong. However, instilling moral responsibility and behavioral patterns will only produce another morally and socially capable person (which we really need). The overwhelming desire of my heart is not to simply teach Connor the difference between right and wrong or even knowing and doing the right thing. The main concern is teaching him the implications of the gospel on his living. I want him to know that when he disrespects his mother that it is because he is fundamentally morally bankrupt. For all the shaping and molding Marie and I can do, it is to no avail if Connor never connects the reality of the gospel with his attitude.
As I have watched these kids over the last couple of days (we're on youth choir tour), I have had some interesting reactions. One is that my fear of them being God-haters has been confirmed in many ways. Please let me explain what I mean. The familiar verse in James 4:4 tells us "that friendship with the world is hostility toward God." The curse of following out this truth is that "whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." This truth bears itself out in another verse as well. Jesus puts it plainly in his sermon on the mount. "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." (Matt. 6:24)
Youth have adapted to this uncanny ability of duplicity far too easily. They can speak one language straight to your face, concealing the real thing, and speak another language to the ones to which they feel they can really be vulnerable. I have seen this first-hand. Kids that want to impress me, or at the very least want me to think they have it together, will speak and act as if they are consistently walking in moral purity. However, the testimony of their lives sends the billboard message that all is not well in their hearts. "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me." (Is. 29:13) Parents foster this mentality too many times with statements like, "Would you talk to them? They can open up to you about things that they can't open up to me about." I understand what they mean, but it is another example of our people using experience to interpret the scripture for us. Gospel reality says that fathers and mothers are supposed to teach their children. When the door of communication is closed between the two, who closed it?
So, when I say that some of these kids hate God, I mean just that. They do not love Him. They do not know Him. They have set themselves up against Him as their enemy. They serve something other than Him. This, at least in the words of Jesus, constitutes hatred of the Almighty. I have used this phrase with some and have received responses ranging from disagreement to whole-hearted approval to apprehensive acknowledgement. The truth is though, that these kids need to hear that they hate God. They need to at least entertain the notion that in some way, their devotion to the world might have an impact on the reality of their relationship with God. They have heard for far too long how important they are and how loved they are and how God just desperately wants them to love Him too. They need to know that if they have not been changed by God then they still hate Him and that He hates them right back. (Ps. 5:5)
Another reaction I have had is how much I love them. I love their sense of humor and their ease with one another. I love the companionship shared by so many of them and their talents and skills. I love to hear them sit and play music, singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord. I love their friendship and their willingness to try hard at bending their will to the leadership before them. I have found that ministry with them is exhilarating and fun and refreshing and real.
Their natural inquisitiveness opens them up to conversations that they probably didn't plan to get into. When they speak their mind on a subject, they unwittingly reveal so much of themselves and what motivates them. They ponder and think and try to fit what they hear into a world-system that, in all reality, is some deformed product of the church and the world - a type of quasi-humanism that longs to know yet refuses to learn.
I have never apologized for the gospel and I never will. When I struggle with sin, be it secret or confessed, the gospel is what comes running to my aid. When they struggle with sin, it is the only thing that saves. I trust in its promise and power to deliver kids. I trust Christ when he says that he came to seek those that are lost and to heal those that are sick. The gospel is a reality that kids need. The gospel is what turns their hate into love.