It doesn't get much better than this weekend for me. I am speaking at a Spiritual Retreat for 60 youth workers at the beautiful Mount Hermon Christian Camp and Conference Center. I am leading four sessions. Scotty Gullick, MJ, Jason and the rest of the staff are great. I thought YouthFront has been around forever. We are only 65 years old. Mount Hermon is 102 years old. I thought it was going to rain the whole weekend. Getting here was pretty rough because of the storms. However, today the rain has stopped and the sun has tried to peak through the clouds. It's cool to see the passionate commitment the youth ministry staff here at Mount Hermon has to engage in doing camp and spiritual formation of adolescents in a deep and thoughtful way. They say they have been watching and learning from YouthFront Camps but we have a lot to learn from them.
A couple of months ago we featured a story on Sally Rymer in the YouthFront News. Sally is 15 years old and is a YouthFront Teen Staffer. She has launched a student movement for the purpose of stopping modern day slavery. We are so proud of Sally. Sally recently appeared on NBC news. Watch the news story here.
Last May I shared my frustration here with the Charlatans of the Prosperity Gospel movement and the examples I saw of their abuse during my trip to Africa. Recently I have been curious about the content in the 1st Century Church Manual called the Didache that was probably written between 70 and 100 AD. It is believed to have been connected to the Apostles of Jesus (and their disciples) either by direct and/or indirect influence. The Didache is mentioned by Eusebius (c. 324) as the Teachings of the Apostles following the books recognized as canonical. The Didache describes practices and conduct of the emerging 1st Century Church.
One section deals with Charismatists or Prophets who are traveling around with messages and agenda's for followers of Jesus. The translation I was reading states that if a Charismatist claims they are speaking for God and says, "'Give me your money (or anything else)!' do not listen to him. On the other hand, if he bids you give it to someone else who is in need, nobody should criticize him!" Didache
John 21 is my favorite story of Jesus to read in the Bible. I’m not entirely sure why other than it seems really personal. During one of my two summers as a cabin leader at YF Camp South, the speaker for the week read this story aloud and we were supposed to picture it with ourselves and our friends as the characters. It was a beautiful feeling to think about being able to sit down with this friend, who you’d thought you’d lost and to be able to spend just one more meal with them. For some reason I have always been challenged by and found comfort in this story. One of the highlights of my trip to Israel was going to the very spot where this story took place. I stood right by the Sea of Galilee and saw where Jesus would have stood on the shore and called to his disciples. There was a church there that was built around a large rock that may have been right where they sat and ate together. Where Peter had to answer Jesus three times when he asked, "Do you love me?" When I was sitting on a rock by the sea that day I thought to myself "There is no other place in the world that I would rather be."
Another highlight for me came on our last day of the trip. We went to the Garden Tomb- one of the spots thought to be where Jesus was buried and resurrected. A few days before this particular one we visited another possible site of Jesus’s death located within the Church of the Holy Seplicur. It was one of the most disheartening things I’ve ever seen. Here at this place that was supposed to be holy and a place of joy and excitement was actually a picture of tension, anxiety, and hate. Masses of people were standing in line to get in the tomb. They were pushing, arguing, taking pictures, videoing, and fighting for their place in line- fighting to be the first ones to see the tomb of Jesus. Ironic? I thought so. It was not about Jesus. Our visit to the Garden Tomb brought with it a much different experience. We were guided around this beautiful and peaceful garden by a very sweet old british man. He gave us very convincing evidence suggesting that this was the actual place of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Yet despite all of this very convincing information, our tour guide kept stressing that it is not about the place, it is about the person. It is about the man who came here to offer salvation to all the world! It was an amazing place, but more importantly, it was about an amazing man. Following our tour we all shared communion and reminisced as a group. It was a beautiful moment. It was about Jesus.
I often have people ask me if I am still passionate about youth ministry after doing it for 33 years and being over 50 years old. The answer is YES. I am especially passionate about working with late adolescents, particularly late adolescents involved in leadership development.
Last weekend we hung out at our YouthFront headquarters with more than 100 "late adolescents" (college student aged) many who are YouthFront Camp Staff Alumni. Tonight, we have close to a hundred high school students involved in YouthFront leadership development who are participating in a Lock-In at the YouthFront headquarters. I'M NO LONGER PASSIONATE ABOUT LOCK-IN'S - haven't been for the last 20 years.
We have the privilege to work with hundreds of amazingly sharp and committed Christian young people. I am very passionate about the zeal these kids have for Jesus Christ and God's Kingdom Agenda.
From Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament through the Gospels, Acts and the Epistles we see a theme of transferring faith from older generations to the young emerging generations. The Shema in Deuteronomy 6 is referred to as the Israelites Confession of Faith.
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" Deut 6:4-7.
There is a sacred obligation to care for the spiritual formation of young people. We see these kinds of relationships demonstrated throughout the Old Testament in examples like Moses’ relationship with Joshua, Samuel’s relationship with David, and Elijah’s relationship with Elisha. In the New Testament the theme continues. Titus 2 speaks of the principle of older generations teaching the younger generations. Jesus, who begins his ministry when he is approximately thirty years old selected a group of young men (several may have been teenagers) and invested his life into them. Paul continues this pattern in his relationship with Timothy.
This sacred responsibility should not be taken lightly by passionate and obedient followers of Jesus Christ. And yet, while research clearly shows the effectiveness of adult efforts in the spiritual formation of young people, research also sadly shows that churches and ministries are having a hard time finding adults who are willing to invest in the spiritual development of young people. This is a tragedy and negligent violation of God’s intention for adult followers of Jesus to engage in the spiritual formation of the emerging generations.
According to research commissioned by The Pioneer Club Ministry, most Christian adults strongly agree that their own faith development was shaped by adults in their lives during their youth. And yet, less than half of this same group believes that they have a responsibility to nurture the emerging generation of Christian young people.
Youth Pastors are struggling to find adults to serve as mentors and prayer partners for young people. Youth ministries are falling short of having the resources needed to reach a new generation with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I have never experienced a time when youth were more interested in becoming deep disciples of Jesus Christ. Too be honest, we simply lack resources. We need volunteers. We need prayer partners. We need passionate followers of Jesus to give sacrificially to help us fulfill our mission and God’s command to bring youth into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
I always try to keep the Garden Tomb as the last site we visit. This is such a peaceful place where the Anglican Church and its volunteers have stewarded well the site but even more the mindset that regardless of where the crucifixion and resurrection took place - it's not the place but the reality of the events which are of real importance. This is a truly a sacred space. HE IS RISEN.
This is one of my favorite sites for prayer and contemplation. This Church built to commemorate Peter's Denial is situated on the site that many believe to be the House of Caiaphas, the High Priest. If so, this is where Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin likely occurred. The prison system located underneath the church could have been where Jesus was detained until he was taken to Pontius Pilate the next morning. It truly is an excellent place for prayer and meditation.