Hey, Students: Where Is the Gospel Right Now?
Updated: Jan 14
I have the unique privilege of ministering to junior high and high school students. I’ve worked in some form of student ministry for close to five years now, but I can say with complete confidence that 2020 was a trying year for everyone- students included. I think many people (including myself) believed that 2021 could only get better (whatever “better” means), but we were reminded on Wednesday, January 6th, 2021 that our world is indeed still broken, even if there is some hope and reason for optimism in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As I watched violent protestors storm our nation’s Capitol, I was horrified. Anger, frustration, sadness, and disappointment welled up inside me. Men and women scaling up walls, breaking windows, invading the offices of members of Congress, and assaulting and intimidating law enforcement officers was a shock to me personally as well as a collective shock to all of us. All of this happened in one of the places that, as I have always been told and believed, represented the bedrock of democracy in the world.
As I tried to simmer Wednesday evening, my mind and heart wondered about the students that I have the honor of serving. Specifically, I asked, “would a middle school or high school student believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ right now, given what has happened in our world this past year?” And then I thought, “what do students need to hear right now? What do they need to believe? What does (and what will) the mob violence that occurred in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday mean for students who live over 700 miles away in an affluent, upper-class suburb of Birmingham, Alabama? With these questions in mind, I came to these five conclusions- intended for students and parents of students alike. They are far from exhaustive, but I hope and pray that you will find some comfort- some assurance- some hope- in the truth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Over the next five days, I will post one point per day that, I hope and pray, will help students and parents think about the recent events in our country. So here goes nothing…
1. While violence is a part of our sinful, broken world, it is not the answer to our sinful, broken world. Many of you see the world around you and believe that violence and aggression is as natural to the world we live in as the air we breathe. And in one sense, this is true. When Cain killed Abel in Genesis 4, it set the course for repeated acts of violence that have plagued humanity since the beginning of time. But (and this is the tricky part), God has never intended for violence and aggression to become a regular part of our existence. In other words, our holy and loving God, who created us out of his sheer love and goodness and is the giver of life, cannot tolerate when people act violently toward others out of fear, jealousy (like Cain), hatred, and difference, just to name a few. This not only violates God’s law (see the 6thcommandment- Exodus 20:13), it also goes directly against God’s very nature.
Instead, Christ’s life and ministry turn violence upside down. During Christ’s last hours on earth, he proclaims, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). Christ later prays that those who believe in him “may be one” in order to show the world that the Father sent him and so that they may come to believe (John 17:21-23). As new beings in Christ, our goal is to live out what the apostle Paul calls the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) where we come together, despite our differences, in the name of Jesus Christ our savior. Because of Christ, we do not follow the way of the world. The peace, unity, love, and reconciliation that Christ calls us to proactively work against the violent impulses our flesh naturally gravitates toward.
If you were watching, or have watched, what went on at our nation’s Capitol last Wednesday, I hope and pray that you believe violence is not and will not be the answer that solves the world’s problems. The world tells us it is the answer. Whether we study and learn about wars in our history classes, play video games that promote violence, or simply keep up with the news on a frequent basis, violence is all around us. Our call is not to escape it, but through our life and witness, to transform it as we look to Christ and are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
2. Politicians and political parties are not where we place our hope. Christ is our sure and steady hope. One of the church’s great confessional documents, the Heidelberg Catechism, asks, “what is our only comfort in life and in death?” The Catechism also gives us the answer: “that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” Part of the beauty of such confessional statements is the fact that as we read and respond to them, we are able to discern, through the Spirit’s guidance, whether or not we are living out what we say. As I read through that very first question of the catechism, I have to admit that there are definitely times that I don’t believe or act as if Christ is my only comfort in life and in death.
But as we all know, it’s much easier to think we’re living out what we believe than to actually do it. And unfortunately, allegiance to politicians and to political parties has a special way of causing us to go astray as we seek to answer that most essential question: that Christ is our only hope in life and in death. For many of you, it might seem like politics is especially bad right now because nobody can seem to get along or because your preferred candidate lost the election. After all, the people who showed up to the Capitol last Wednesday afternoon came in order to delay (or in their minds stop) the certification of President-Elect Biden’s electoral vote count.
There is some good news though. Putting one’s hopes in politicians, kings, and rulers as well as in governments and political parties has been a problem for a very long time. While our political climate might seem especially bad right now in America, history and the Bible reveal that’s actually the case a lot. Remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace? While King Nebuchadnezzar had ordered all the people of his empire to bow down and worship the golden idol he had constructed, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused. It wasn’t just that they didn’t want to bow down and worship the statue (although that was a part of it). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew that worshipping anything or anyone other than God was in direct violation of what God had commanded (see Exodus 20:3).
In response to Nebuchadnezzar as to why they would not bow down to the golden statue, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If the God we serve is able to deliver us, then he will deliver us from the blazing furnace and from your majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up”(Daniel 3:16-18).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were certainly not worried about pleasing or appeasing an earthly king. They knew their hope was not in Nebuchadnezzar, but in God alone. Not even the threat of burning alive in a fiery furnace was going to deter them from trusting in God and his promises and commands. There is good news for you: politicians and political parties will not save you because they cannot save you. In and through Christ alone can you and I be saved and assured that no matter what the world throws at us, we will not be separated from Christ’s love (Romans 8:35). Because at the end of the day, Christ- not the Republican or Democratic parties, not Donald Trump or Joe Biden- is our only hope in life and in death.
3. Even though we may be tempted to judge others, cast blame, or excuse ourselves from what happened last Wednesday, we must know that we are the problem, and we should believe we can be a part of the solution. As the afternoon unfolded last Wednesday, I could not wrap my head around how the mob at the Capitol building could be doing what they were doing. My thoughts were, “what do they think they’re really accomplishing? Why do they think breaking into the Capitol is a good idea? Why do they think violence and force can really get them what they want?” As last Wednesday afternoon progressed, I felt as culturally, socially, and economically removed from their lives as a ten year-old boy living in Thailand right now. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything like what these people were doing. Kind of like when Jesus tells the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. The pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people- robbers, evildoers, adulterers, and even this tax collector” (Luke 18:11).
The reality, however, is that I’m more similar to the people at the Capitol last Wednesday than I think. I’m a white, 27 year-old husband and father of two. Chances are, many of the men that took part in the mob fit a similar demographic profile as myself. As I’ve thought back on it, I became convicted that all I was doing was judging and blaming others while trying to excuse myself away from what was going on, because, let’s face it, that’s the easiest thing to do. I realized that I was in disbelief of what was going on because I really only cared about myself.
At its core, the problem (and therefore our problem) is a sin problem. It’s a condition that we cannot get rid of unless we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8). And because it is a sin problem, we must realize we’re wired to have the wrong types of inclinations. We judge, thinking that we are somehow morally superior to those who’d storm the Capitol. We blame others because it’s easier to protect ourselves rather than care for people, especially those who are different from us. Jesus himself says, “Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?’”(Matthew 7:1-4). Do not get caught in the trap of thinking that you could never do something so bad or be led to believe nothing is ever your fault. Instead, admit, along with the apostle Paul, that you are the worst type of sinner (1 Timothy 1:15). And confess along with that “horrible” tax collector, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner! (Luke 18:13).
Even though most of you reading this were over 700 miles away in Mountain Brook last Wednesday, it is so important that we do not excuse ourselves from the problem. Frankly, it is easy for us to run away from the real issues facing our country and our world when we live in the Mountain Brook “bubble.” Oddly enough, our call as Christians is not to run away from the world, but to run into it. To be sure, the Christian’s citizenship belongs in heaven (Philippians 3:20), but as Christ’s ambassadors, we have the responsibility of living out God’s appeal as his co-workers (2 Corinthians 5:20; 6:1). In other words, God ironically desires to use people like you and me to make his plans and his will be made known on earth to all people in all places.
This is what it means to be a part of the solution. Instead of judging and casting blame, ask yourself: “how am I at fault?” What plank do I need to take out of my own eye before I examine the speck of someone else? Maybe if we can begin to start doing the little things God calls us to as Christ’s ambassadors, then he might graciously allow big results to follow. All of this doesn’t mean anything unless we listen to what Paul says in Romans 12:1-3: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do no conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” This is the Gospel: while we are the problem, God’s Great Solution, in and through Jesus, is that we may be a part of the solution here in our time on earth. What great news!
4. As we follow Jesus, we must witness to the truth and gently and humbly correct those who do not believe the truth. On the one hand, we all must be careful to not judge and blame others and run away from the real issues that confront us personally and corporately. But on the other hand, we also need to “call a spade a spade” as the old saying goes. We live in a highly polarized and divided time in the United States. Fox News tells you one thing, CNN tells you another, and vice versa. Social media gives everyone who wants one a platform, even though many (Christians and non-Christians alike) do not steward such a platform well and therefore contribute more to the division and polarization than they do to unity and civility. In this day and age, we hardly know who to listen to and who to trust.
The Bible makes it clear that we as Christians are to believe, know, and act according to the truth. This first means we believe that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). It also means that we earnestly seek the truth about the world we live in. This does not mean we try to fit the “truth” to our personal worldview. When David asks God to guide him in the truth and to teach him in Psalm 25, he is drawing nearer to God through prayer as he asks for God’s help to understand the world we live in. This, too, should be our goal as we attempt to discern the truth (which always comes from God) in our world today where many believe truth is merely relative and/or personal.
So, to call a spade a spade: on Wednesday, January 6th, 2021, a protest formed at the U.S. Capitol building because people questioned President-Elect Biden’s validity as the next president of the United States. The protest was not peaceful; it quickly escalated to violence, destruction, and chaos. President Trump did little to stop what was going on and perhaps offered encouragement. The overwhelming majority of the people involved in the riot were white males. Yesterday (January 13th), the House of Representatives impeached President Trump, claiming that he incited violence. Just to be clear: that does not mean President Trump has been removed from office; it simply means he will face an impeachment trial in the Senate, most likely later this year.
This is the truth of what happened now two Wednesdays ago and where our country is headed from here. I have tried to be as objective as I can be in presenting the truth of the situation. I’ll let other people discuss and analyze the causes for why and how such an event would occur because that is not why I’m choosing to write. We all need to know the truth of what is happening in the world and around us personally, and we need to gently and humbly correct those who do not and will not acknowledge what is going on.
So, student, what does this mean for you? It means that you should be aware of what is going on in the world. It means that you need to be careful with the way you use and interact with social media- Instagram, Snap Chat, and Tik Tok. Unfortunately, social media can be used in destructive and unhelpful ways as we seek the truth rather than in good and productive ways. Have conversations with your parents, youth leaders, and other people you trust and ask questions. And parents, know and believe that your student looks to you for guidance and direction. Pray that you would be equipped to lead them to the truth and offer them comfort, a listening ear, and encouragement. Let us all seek the Lord (and therefore the truth!) while he may be found (Isaiah 55:6), and let’s come alongside others to help them do the same, no matter how difficult, uncomfortable, or challenging it may be!
5. While the world and the things of this world change, the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not. This is extraordinarily good news, and it really sums up everything that’s been said. Nothing about our circumstances or what’s happening in the world changes the promise of life we have in and through Christ. Even though heaven and earth might pass away, Christ’s words never will (Matthew 24:35). And when Jesus said, “It is finished” on the cross (John 19:30), the world received the greatest gift when Jesus rose from the grave. Death, violence, mobs, division, elections, wins and losses, insecurity, anxiety, stress- whatever it may be- do not have the final word. Christ does, and that’s good news!
Our task is to believe in this good news of Jesus as we patiently await when Jesus comes again and makes all things right. As one theologian says, “it is through faith [in Christ] that man finds the true path of life, but it is only hope that keeps him on that path.” In other words, the fuel we need to live out our faith day by day comes through hope. We all need to hope that Christ promises more than any politician or political party can. We all need to hope that Jesus’ resurrection conquers death. When our faith is grounded in Christ, we hope for the things that are of Christ’s kingdom, and not of this world (John 18:36).
So students, where is the Gospel right now- even amidst all the sin and evil in the world? The answer is simple: the Gospel is here! “The Light shines in the darkness, and darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Receive this good news, and remember where our hope truly lies!