Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Summer Madness

It's been a while since I left Oz (that's Australia, if you didn't know) and a few weeks since we've had the chance to catch up. But summer's rolling full speed, and for me that means lots of rooms filled with tons of teenagers...something I really, really love called summer camp.

While most of the year is dedicated to the collegiate scene and sixsteps adventures, a huge chunk of the summer belongs to the youth of the nation, speaking to thousands of them in quite lovely places like Panama City and Myrtle Beach. But it's not the go cart tracks and Alvin's Island outlets that's the draw, rather the chance to serve the future, a privilege that grows with each successive summer season and each room filled with listening teens.

Though I'm presently at camp #2 with a rowdy crowd in the latter mentioned MB, SC, I still haven't fully recovered from my first stop in PCB. The night I was slated to speak belonged to the Cross, as the theme for the week brought us there. So I shared as simply as I could about the Cup from which we must all drink, one which Jesus Himself could not let pass Him by though it contained the most horrific and crushing agony anyone could ever imagine.

As the night began we talked about those moments in life where "we get it." Sometimes we refer to it as the moment when "the light bulb comes on" or when something "clicks," but we've all experienced it in some way.
No one knows how or when it happens, but wow, when it does it's like seeing in color when for ages we have only known black and white.

On this night I was obsessed with a desire for us all to "see" and "get" the cross, to glimpse its beauty and disgrace in a way that would absolutely arrest us in the moment and change the trajectory of our lives forever. Almost jokingly I said, "If you see it like never before as we're moving along tonight, by all means stand up and shout 'I GET IT!' as loud as you can. For that matter," I went on, "stand on your chair and shout it out."

Well, some time had passed when, as we were talking about the final sacrifice of Jesus... the thought that captivated His mind as He held up the Cup before His followers on the last night of His life...a girl stood way in the back and let out a clear and compelling "I Get It!," and proceeded to stand up on her chair. (Forgive me, Boardwalk Beach Resort). A little startled, I looked up mid-sentence and said, "Praise God...that's awesome." As I went back to the story of Inescapable Necessity she continued to stand.

Fortunately, there never was an "Oh, I'm going to do that, too" wave of standers. Yet, as the talk unfolded students began to stand all across the room. First five or six...then two dozen...and then thirty. As we came to the garden dilemma, that defining moment where Jesus, knowing full well that we were doomed under the weight of sin and destined for the coming wrath of God (not "pretty good" as we often think) said yes to the wrath in our place, allowing its crushing blow to fall on Him and not on us, a girl on the front row to my right stood. She tried to get the words out strongly, but her voice broke with the first syllable and her "I get it" squeaked and cracked before she began to sob. I didn't make eye contact, knowing I would most likely lose it myself, but for the remainder of the talk she wept and stood.

Grace was getting clearer as our sin and God's wrath closed in. I'm not sure when or where, but somewhere along the way in the recent journey of youth ministry and the American church in general, the reality of the coming wrath of God slipped out of our thinking about the cross of Christ. About that same time we lost our sense of desperate need, opting instead for a rosier view of ourselves than God's holiness will allow and embracing the cross as a really wonderful gesture, not life and breath and peace and everything. But in this night both the mercy and judgment of God hung in equal measure, the one making much of the other as we lifted the Cup and considered it's mandate for and from our lives.

As the talk ended, across the room many teens stood on chairs, others with feet on the floor and a few were kneeling. All this with no clever tales, just the simple reality that we are guilty without a Savior, having broken every law of a patient, yet righteous God. Many came that night to heed Jesus' invitation to take the Cup and drink from it, to savor its Inescapable Necessity, Radical Mercy, Gruesome Death, God-Sized Exchange and Radical Worship.

What was supposed to be a closing song erupted into almost an hour of thanks and praise. For how could a brief reply express our wonder and gratitude for mercy that would shelter us on the coming day of judgment?

I'll never, ever forget that night and pray for many more like it, though the wind of God blows where it will and the gale that rushed through that place was something precious and rare. So thanks to the vibrant teens that let me share with them in these days and to Jesus who is the sole reason it's all worthwhile.

"They tell of how you turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath." 1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10