(Note 1: I originally posted this about 11 months ago but I thought it fitting to repost it as GYC approaches again. This is an appeal to all those who are preparing to present at this year’s GYC in Houston, Texas.
Note 2: I started preparing this blog before David Asscherick gave his closing talk at GYC this past Sunday, January 2. I was thrilled to hear him say some of the same things that I had already been thinking about. His “cautionary” words were very appropriate and, in this post, I simply want to piggy-back on what he said in that talk. I am also glad that he said it because there are a lot more people who value his thoughts than there are who even know I exist!)
I often have people ask me what my thoughts are on GYC
(Generation of Youth for Christ). As a pastor and conscientious Christian, they want to know if I think they or their children should attend GYC. Without hesitation, I always encourage people to attend this wonderful annual event. Though I have not yet attended my first GYC due to various circumstances, I have greatly admired from afar what this movement has accomplished and continues to accomplish.
It thrills my heart that there is a growing group of young people (and not so young people) who want to get back to classic Adventism and proclaim the three angels’ messages, aim for a higher standard of living, and steer clear of compromise. It also makes me glad that there is a group out there that “gets it,” realizing that we are not called to entertain our young people but to challenge them. I share most – perhaps even all – of the same values as those who have started this juggernaut. Beyond that, I consider many within the GYC leadership camp to be personal friends.
It is within this context that I want to share one of my biggest – and perhaps only – concerns with those who lead out and participate in GYC. (I hope it is clear that I submit this concern with an attitude of humility, love, and friendliness, and that it is merely one person’s perspective.)
This is my concern in very simple terms: as I have observed GYC from a distance over the years (listening to many presentations on Audioverse and tuning in live via the Internet on occasion), I worry that there is, at times, such a huge emphasis on the Adventist distinctives, standards, and – to put it simply – “doing,” that there has not been enough emphasis on “the matchless charms of Christ.”
To put it a different way: over the course of my short ministry I have determined that there are essentially five components that go into – or at least should go into – every presentation of biblical truth. This is not exact or scientific, but those five components are the following:
1. What Christ has done for us.
2. What Christ is doing for us.
3. What we have done.
4. What we are doing.
5. What we should be doing.
As I listen to much of the material that is presented at GYC, I often come away with the impression that most of the time is spent on numbers four and five – though mostly on number five. And I understand why that is to a large degree. As Adventist Christians, we are not called to sit on our hands or be passive in our faith. Rather, we are called to “go” and “do.” Similarly, the church is presently fraught with compromise (though that could be said about any time in the history of Christianity, of course) and we need to be reminded of our high calling. We need to raise the bar when it comes to standards.
I wholeheartedly affirm all these things.
But here is the problem: whenever there is a heavy emphasis on what one should be “doing” or on what one should be believing, we often find ourselves unwittingly setting others up – or even ourselves – to lead an “old covenant” (or that dreaded word “legalistic”) lifestyle. And I fear that many young people leave GYC knowing that they should not be listening to certain types of music, or watching movies, or they know that Genesis affirms a literal six-day creation, but they do not have a deeper appreciation for what Christ has done for them and what He continues to do for them.
More than that: they may leave feeling very convicted that they need to start doing certain things – engaging in personal witnessing, living a healthier lifestyle, striving to overcome sin – but they do not have the motivational mechanism nor the know-how to achieve these things. In short, they have not had their hearts compelled by the Gospel or love of Jesus Christ – which is the only vehicle by which anyone can ever accomplish the things we are admonishing them to accomplish.
And time and time again whenever people know what they are supposed to be doing but have a hard time accomplishing it, they simply get driven further and further into discouragement until, at last, they just give up on the whole thing altogether. Lawlessness is sure to follow.
This was the case with Israel of old. Whenever the book of the law was discovered and implemented by a righteous king – like Josiah – it would simply be outward conformity that was emphasized without an inward heart-change that can only be accomplished by the Gospel. And Israel ended up being driven deeper and deeper into apostasy – all because they kept trying to change their outward behavior without having their hearts changed first. And the heart can only truly be changed when it dwells upon what Christ has done for us and what He continues to do for us.
And this heart-change needs to be a daily – even moment-by-moment – experience! Thus, we need to constantly be dwelling upon the love of Christ. Or, as Ellen White says, “We must gather about the cross. Christ and Him crucified should be the theme of contemplation, of conversation, and of our most joyful emotion. We should keep in our thoughts every blessing we receive from God, and when we realize His great love we should be willing to trust everything to the hand that was nailed to the cross for us” (Steps to Christ, pp. 103, 104).”
Here is an important concept that must never be forgotten: #5 (what we should be doing) can never be accomplished without a strong emphasis on numbers 1 & 2 (what Christ has done and continues to do for us). Simply put, no talk of 1 & 2, no accomplishment of #5.
Let me repeat that: no talk of 1 & 2, no accomplishment of #5.
And we are not speaking of a “token” mention of Christ’s work – both past and present – for us. We are not talking about mentioning it in passing. Everything we present – whether it’s a talk on creation/evolution or entertainment or personal witnessing or “no turning back” – must be bathed and saturated with Christ’s work on our behalf. As Paul reminds us, “The love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if one died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor 5:14-15). This is why Paul, when writing to the Corinthians in his first letter, told them that he didn’t want to know anything among them “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).
Don’t get me wrong: I am not speaking about a shallow, fluffy, or “feel-good” presentation of God’s love that doesn’t challenge anyone. These types of presentations are a dime a dozen and they are generally vague in what it is truly meant by God’s love. Subsequently, they don’t truly grip the heart – much less change it.
What I am speaking of is a deep, balanced, heart-changing explanation of the love of God that will truly draw one into a whole-hearted commitment to Christ and His mission.
My good friend, Herbert Douglass, likes to talk about the “ellipse of truth.” He explains this ellipse: “This means that truth is the sum total of its objective and subjective elements, the two foci in the ellipse of truth.” Thus, in any presentation of truth we cannot emphasize one element to the neglect – or diminishing – of the other. It will result in an imbalance that is unhealthy and even deadly.
So when we see the landscape of Adventism and how there seems to be a huge diminishing of our doctrines, our standards, our mission, and an inbalanced emphasis on love, grace, acceptance, forgiveness, etc., we must resist the urge to swing the pendulum in the other direction, unwittingly forcing us into the other ditch. (I am not saying that this is what has – or hasn’t – happened with GYC, but that it very easily could happen – especially considering that, as GYC grows in popularity, more and more young people attend who may or may not have a whole-hearted commitment to Christ before attending.)
What we need is a perfect and balanced blending of the two. We need to challenge people – whether young or old – to reach a higher standard and fulfill their divine calling as their hearts are motivated and changed by the love, cross, and Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, will Christ finally have a prepared bride who can truly accomplish what we have been trying to get her to accomplish for the last 167 years (but have been thus far unsuccessful because of the tendency to fall into either ditch).
So that is my friendly appeal to my friends at GYC.
Lastly, I want to share some select quotations from the pen of inspiration that emphasize the need to lift up the love and cross of Christ in every presentation we give. I ask that you give them your prayerful consideration (I would also invite you to read the book Lessons on Faith, by A.T. Jones & E.J. Waggoner, for a good idea of how a person can truly enjoy a changed life as they live by faith):
- The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption–the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers. (Gospel Workers, p. 315)
- It is our duty to preach faith, to present the love of Christ in connection with the claims of the law; for neither can be rightly understood without the other. In every discourse the love of God, as manifested in Christ, the sinner’s only hope, should be dwelt upon until the people realize something of its power and preciousness. If this is done as it should be, it will not be said of this people that they teach the law but do not believe in repentance, faith, and conversion. We want these subjects to be blended as God has blended them; then will the truth be presented in its completeness, not as a mere theory, but as a power that will transform the character. It will then be preached in demonstration of the Spirit and with power. Then those who have accepted the doctrines of the Bible will not be unfed; they will feel the vivifying influence of the Holy Spirit. (Gospel Workers, pp. 227, 228)
- Ministers and people have lost much by not dwelling more continually upon the work of our Redeemer. We should contemplate the love that led Christ to give himself as a ransom for fallen man, and this amazing love should be revealed in every discourse. The sacrifice of Christ not only makes apparent his compassion for the children of men, but also makes manifest the love of the Father; and this love ought to draw all men to God. The closest relation exists between God and his people, and the ambassador of God’s truth should ever represent Christ. He should exemplify, by precept and example, the love of God, that those who are instructed by him may be brought into a position where they shall receive the divine blessing. The servants of God are to be earnest, penitent, trustful, thankful. Their lives should be living epistles, known and read of all men. They should be continually looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. The subjects dwelt upon by the gospel minister will be of a character to elevate, ennoble, and sanctify the soul. The teacher of divine truth should present the necessity of close communion with God, and dependence upon the righteousness of Christ. When the minister fully realizes his own helplessness without the aid of Christ, the danger of his becoming exalted will be removed, and Christ will absorb everything; his presence will pervade the whole soul, and impress all the senses. (Signs of the Times, January 27, 1890)
- The Lord can do little for his people, because of their limited faith. The ministers have not presented Christ in his fullness to the people, either in the churches or in new fields, and the people have not an intelligent faith. They have not been instructed as they should have been, that Christ is unto them both salvation and righteousness. The love that Christ manifested in taking human nature, in bearing insult, reproach, and the rejection of men, in suffering crucifixion on the cross, should be presented in every discourse. It is Satan’s studied purpose to keep souls from believing in Christ as their only hope; for the blood of Christ that cleanseth from all sin is only efficacious in behalf of those who believe in its merit, and who present it before the Father as did Abel in his offering. (Review and Herald, September 3, 1889)
- It is true men will say, “You are too excited; you are making too much of this matter, and you do not think enough of the law; now, you must think more of the law; don’t be all the time reaching for this righteousness of Christ, but build up the law.” Let the law take care of itself. We have been at work on the law until we get as dry as the hills of Gilboa, without dew or rain. Let us trust in the merits of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. (1888 Materials, p. 557)
- In Christ is the tenderness of the shepherd, the affection of the parent, and the matchless grace of the compassionate Saviour. His blessings He presents in the most alluring terms. He is not content merely to announce these blessings; He presents them in the most attractive way, to excite a desire to possess them. So His servants are to present the riches of the glory of the unspeakable Gift. The wonderful love of Christ will melt and subdue hearts, when the mere reiteration of doctrines would accomplish nothing. . . . Tell the people of Him who is “the Chiefest among ten thousand,” and the One “altogether lovely.” The Song of Solomon 5:10, 16. (The Desire of Ages, pp. 826, 827)