Last night was my final youth group meeting with First Baptist Church Canoga Park. Most of the time we celebrated– which, of course, means we got extra pizza, candy, and a ton of soda. Sandy brought in homemade cupcakes that we gorged ourselves in. I gave my final talk, which was short and periodically interrupted by Emma saying, “Hi daddy!” Then we all prayed together and thanked the Lord for the time he gave us.
I started my talk by telling them I had three goals for them. More than anything, I wanted them to love three things. Having heard me speak to them over the last year and a half, I hoped they would be able to identify these things. If they couldn’t, I knew I hadn’t done well in communicating them. But they did not disappoint. Here are the three things:
1. Love Scripture. They got this one right away. My conviction is that you love Jesus to the degree that you love his Word. The two cannot be separated; anyone who professes love for Christ must to desire to hear from Christ. That’s why Jesus said, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:24). Isn’t, then, the opposite true– “whoever does love me will keep my words”? My goal was not to make them legalistic, thinking that reading the Bible every day would guarantee them a spot in heaven, but to remind them of the truths of salvation– that whoever has been converted has been regenerated, and whoever has been regenerated, has new tastes, loves, and affections. And there at the top of the list of new affections is love for Scripture. So I told them, over and over again, love Scripture.
2. Love the Gospel. After we talked about loving Scripture one last time, I asked again: What’s the second thing I want you to love? It took them a little bit, because they kept saying “Love Jesus” or “Love the Lord” to which I would say, “Yes, but be more specific!” The reason why I wanted more specificity is because it’s popular to love Jesus, and nowadays it’s possible to “love Jesus” without actually being a Christian. When they finally got it, I said, “Yes!”
Once they got this one, I did what I do often: I asked them the ever simple, ever pressing question: what is the gospel? I never assumed they understood it. I’ve explained it countless times to the same students. I do this because you never know when it will hit them with Holy Spirit power. I remember being a senior in high school, sitting in Mr. Nandor’s Bible class, and finally understanding what Jesus’ death had to do with my salvation. I knew Jesus “died for my sins” by I didn’t understand what in the world that meant, and how the transaction occurred, or how it was effective.
So when I speak to these students, I address the great doctrines as much as I can (without using the hard-to-understand theological jargon). I’ll make sure they understand how the active obedience of Christ is imputed to us, how Christ’s death was a penal substitutionary death, and how God’s wrath was poured out on him instead of us, and how the resurrection guarantees our future hope. I’ll mention those terms briefly, so that they become familiar, but it’s the concept I’m most concerned about. And last night they did surprisingly well in explaining the gospel to me. Sin, judgment, Christ’s perfect life, Christ’s sin-bearing death, his resurrection, God’s justice and mercy were all mentioned. I’d say they were pretty thorough.
But I didn’t only want to them know the gospel. I wanted them to love it. So I constantly told them how practical it is. I (hopefully) taught them how to preach to themselves.
3. Love the Church. I don’t want to produce theological eggheads who are too sophisticated for the church. I also don’t want to breed individualistic spiritualists who see no purpose for the church in their walk. I want them to love the church as they love Christ, because the church is Christ’s manifest presence on earth. After speaking on this point for a bit, I read them Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” What a sweet way to end our time together– hoping in the risen Christ to build his church!
I hope these last words are lasting words– that they stick for a long, long time. May God use them, and every other word I’ve spoken to the students, as a means of grace. “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed”– and I pray that mine have been driven deeply into their hearts.
I am thankful for each student in the youth group I’ve been able to serve. Many prayers have gone up for them. I trust the Lord has much good for them in the future, and I look forward to continuing our relationships, and seeing how the Lord grows and uses them in the future.