Jewels cousin invited me to write a few devotionals for a high school class she teaches. This little devotion is the latest entry, the others are listed under the category “Faith in the Desert”. I pray you are blessed and challenged by my thoughts. dave
I heard a statistic this week that made me sick; well it was either that or eating sugary cereal with warm chocolate milk again. Anyway I read that over 60% of guys and gals raised in the church will abandon their faith as young adults and the vast majority will never return. What the heck are we doing wrong? How are we as the church failing so badly that two thirds of “church kids” will walk away from Christ? Hold those thoughts for a moment and follow me on a tangent.
Immediately prior to boarding our plane to head out to Iraq we heard a few powerful and lots of painfully cheesy speeches. One speech, however really hit me. He opened with “Thanks for being a one percenter”, a what?, I wondered. He continued, “less than one percent of Americans have chosen to serve in the military and you have made that choice. You now are heading into harms way to protect that which we as a country stand for so thank you for your service.” It was pretty powerful to me, but this devotion isn’t for me so… how does that apply to you? (Tangent is now coming in for a landing.) Well Ms. O and I have a different and far more important desire for you. We want you to be a one-thirder, yep (and on a side note I do love making up words) we want you to be part of the one-third or so of young folks raised in the church who don’t walk away from Christ. In fact we even want you to have a happenin relationship with Jesus till the day you die. That’s what I were gonna talk about today…ready.
As a doctor a lot of my time is spent trying to find the etiology of disease. Even at my tiny patrol base here in Iraq if you come to me with appendicitis I have the meds which can to take you to a happy place. Unfortunately, despite being pain free, if the underlying appendicitis isn’t addressed with bright lights and cold steel you’re still gonna die. Similarly in our faith we often prefer to treat the symptoms rather than seeking the root and sadly this temporary fix often leads to slow spiritual death. Now the bible is great regarding all this because Jesus was never interested in outward appearances; in fact that stuff ticked him off. Instead, Jesus he was all about heart change, so how do we get to the root of what it takes for you to become a one-thirder? I vote we go see Dr. Luke, his rates are reasonable, availability is awesome, and he is always right if we’re humble enough to listen.
In Chapter 15 there are 3 stories set in a very interesting context. Next devotional were going to talk about those stories but this time I want to make just one observation and then give an extremely practical piece of advice. Just to prep you, my advice won’t be comfortable but it will be life changing it you have the ovaries to go for it. Back to the story, the setting for Jesus’ parable is found in the opening verses of the chapter. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So we have two groups of people; the interested but lost and the “religious leaders” who were suppose to guiding those people to a relationship with God. Now before we move on, let’s be honest. We all have jacked up hearts, be it lust, pride, sex, dishonesty, internet porn, drugs, or greed– we all have areas in our hearts that just ain’t right. Just like those sinners we desperately need guidance and help in our pursuit of Christ. Unfortunately the religious leaders of Christ day are often not too different than those of in authority now and they aren’t always helpful.
(Before I go any further I want to make a disclaimer—I don’t believe in church bashing and this isn’t my intent, nor do I think I have it all figured out. However, after spending a lot of time with lots of people who faithfully attend church but have non-exsentient relationships with Christ and display no fruit in there lives there obviously are certain trends that do need to be addressed.)
The religious leaders back then took a different approach than what is often used today but both create huge problems. The Pharisees preferred to verbally or physically beat up “sinners” using the scriptures, pedigrees and political power. After establishing the hierarchy (with them on top) they would offer, if you came from the right gene pool, the right to work or essentially buy your way into heaven. Given that salvation was basically for sale you could understand their distain for Christ, as he wasn’t too good for business.
Today a good chunk of US churches have created a much different and less offensive yet just as harmful approach toward those “drawing near” to seek the truth. Instead of condemning folks to drive them away most churches rarely even mention the word sin or acknowledge the reality that we have screwed up hearts. This is far more comfortable, but unfortunately you end up with nice polite people who don’t even know the Truth despite the fact they have gone to church for years. It’s a tragedy but for some reason our church culture has managed to create an environment where everyone is suppose to be “OK”. If you are not ok, that’s fine just don’t let anybody know. Put on your happy face, because in reality that’s between you and God…right? It’s widely known that the most unholy hour of the week is the one right before church complete with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Yet, when most families step in to church everybody is humming “Kum ba Yah” and smiling real pretty. In these fake environments, the Christian life becomes devoid of surrender and dependence on our Savior because nobody ever sees what’s really on the inside. People slowly die from the inside out and the Gospel message is robbed of its power. Even worse– us screwed up folks are the exact ones Jesus died for, but given the “Just keep smiling, Just keep smiling” (to be spoken with a Dori from Nemo inflection) church environment we start to wonder if we are beyond His reach as everybody else seems to have it all together.
Countless studies show it’s rare for adults (men especially) to be in relationships where transparency and accountability are the norm. That’s a huge problem and part of the reason why so many guys and gals just like you fall away. All of us know we have issues, so if your church or relationships in the church don’t address your real needs, why stick around? Common sense says that if you don’t have any Christ centered relationships where you can be real, faith ends up feeling like an annoying game you are forced to play every Sunday. Millions of Christians slowly walk away from Christ seeking a different place to have relational needs met because they are lacking transparent relationships. For men this is often why and where porn, alcohol or drug addictions start—men with relational needs feel alone, so they run to a fantasy world to get those needs met. Just think for a minute, we all know of a family who went from everything is peachy to a bitter divorce, DUI, or domestic dispute because despite going to church, somebody always felt all alone in the packed church foyer.
So what is the point? Acknowledging that these type of relationships haven’t been modeled well in church and most homes– what is the practical step I want you to take. Simple, every one of you who is serious about pursuing Christ needs to get into Christ centered transparent relationship with a mentor of the same gender. I’ll say that again because it might be hard to swallow. Every one of you who is serious about pursuing Christ needs to get into a Christ-centered transparent relationship with a mentor of the same gender. If you like just playing games on Sunday and are looking forward to a wide road to destruction, don’t worry, college isn’t too far way. It will give you ample opportunity to create regrets, so you can just ignore me for now. However, if you want to grow in Christ, I can honestly tell you, making this choice to find a mentor will change your life. I have never met a man or woman strong in the Lord who has not experienced joy and benefits of a mentoring relationship.
This challenge won’t be easy, especially when you probably don’t know where to start so let me give a little practical advice. First choose a few different possible people to ask but choose carefully, age doesn’t really matter but you must make sure this person has a relationship with Christ you want to emulate and they are few steps ahead of you. Secondly, don’t give up, mentors are sometimes hard to find, so think, pray and make this a priority, otherwise this will never happen. Lastly don’t ever use the word ‘mentor or disciple‘; it will scare pretty much everyone away. Instead use the word latte, as in you’ll get a free latte if you chat with me about being a man or woman and your relationship with Christ. I guarantee you if you offer to buy a cup of coffee for your youth pastor, teacher, dad’s buddy, mom’s girlfriend or favorite coach with the intent of talking to them about how to become more like Christ, you will never regret it. However, like I said, focus on the word latte or mocha perhaps and don’t forget Jesus as well, but not “mentor“…people kind of freak out.
On a happy side note, the US Army planted a money tree in our back yard the day I flew out to Iraq. They were even kind enough to give it a catchy name –“hostile fire pay”. So I’ll make you a deal, if you’ll show the courage to step out in faith and find a mentor, the first coffee is on the Ayer’s. My prerequisites are that you talk to the person about meeting at least once or twice each month and you show Ms. O a pic from your cell phone of the two of you out so we know you’re not pulling our leg. Do that and 2 coffees are yours.
And one last note about the speeches, the last words of the final speech last September were “It’s go time soldiers, time to go fight for freedom…” I would echo that to you today with similar amounts of warm Velveeta by saying, “It’s go time people, time to go fight for your faith…”. Live life on purpose and take this tangible step towards Christ, you won’t regret it.