Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sex-traffickers, the Prophets and Jen Hatmaker

The past few weeks God has been creating a perfect storm that is MESSING. ME. UP.  I feel compelled to write, but I'm not even sure I can express clearly what is churning in me. I want to be polite, clear, and logical in challenging people, like the ever-gracious Tim Elmore, but my discontent is so deep right now that I think I'll probably slip more into a Matt Walsh-esque degree of snarkiness.

Except that, honestly, I don't feel snarky.  I feel desperate.

Here's the storm:

I have recently begun working to put on a 5k to raise money for She is Safe, an organization that works to fight human trafficking through prevention, rescue and restoration.  I've been interested in the issue for several years, but in recruiting helpers for my cause, I have been reading and re-reading stories of girls affected by human trafficking.  I am sickened by the number of cases in which it is actually a girl's family that sells her into slavery to be used up and abused as a commodity to satisfy the greed and perversion of oppressors.  What kind of parent would sell a child into prostitution?

At the same time, my chronological read-through of the Bible has landed me in Jeremiah (aka, the weeping prophet).  Turns out he was weeping because he was commanded to give God's message of judgement to a people who didn't want to hear it (Jeremiah 7:27). As He speaks through Jeremiah, God calls His people "adulterous" and accuses them of prostituting themselves to other gods.

Meanwhile, during my break from teaching, I am also finally reading the book 7:An Experimental Assault on Excess by Jen Hatmaker, which was recommended by a friend.  While reading the chapter on her drastic reduction of media consumption, the final "disturbance" collided with the previous two to produce a spiritual typhoon within me.  I don't know what it was specifically about that particular chapter (conviction, perhaps?), but suddenly the realization hit me full in the gut:

How can I be enraged by impoverished parents selling their daughters, when we here in the land of plenty are prostituting our own children to idols?  Because whether we realize it or not, I'm afraid we are.

For the past nine years I have worked in the youth ministry at our church.  For the past eight years I have taught writing classes to Middle School and High School students.  Every year for the past four years, the young people I've encountered have gotten markedly more self-absorbed, demanding and apathetic about the Gospel.  And I'm talking about the good kids.   This does not make me angry; it breaks my heart, because I LOVE these kids!

Sincere, godly parents bring their kids to church faithfully, send them to camp, VBS, and mission trips.  What they don't recognize is that their kids don't even see the spiritual feast laid before them because they can't take their gaze and attention away from their smart phones.  They have no interest in the Word of God because they are too busy broadcasting their own words and images into cyberspace and then compulsively checking their "approval ratings."  (I once listened to a group of 14- and 15-year-olds discuss their marketing strategies for getting Instagram followers.)

I've watched as teens receive praise and honor (heck, I've been one of the adults heaping praise) for worshipping at the altar of achievement, even when the pursuit of that success has become a source of identity, an idol, in the life of that student.  I've watched when that success leads to arrogance, pride and contempt for those less talented.

I've witnessed teens who obediently sit in church, passionless and bored, critiquing not the content of the message, but the entertainment value or delivery.  If it doesn't satisfy them, they feel they are absolved of the responsibility to listen--because the Word of God is no longer good enough on its own.  Yet I've seen these same seemingly passionless kids raising their hands in adoration for a boy band or football team. I know many girls who know exponentially more about the members of One Direction or Luke Bryant than they do about Jesus, and many boys who know more about their favorite athlete or video game than they do about their Savior.

More often than not, I leave my time spent with youth grieving for them and the emptiness that they don't even realize is their life.  I'm not blaming this entirely on the adults in their lives.  The culture that surrounds them certainly plays an overwhelming role, relentlessly bombarding them with lies and distractions.  I constantly thank God that I did not have to navigate my teen years during this generation.

But here is the conviction that is crushing me.  We tell our kids to follow Christ, but then we give them full access to every possible distraction that isn't blatantly evil.  We avoid boundaries because we fear stirring up a heart of rebellion.  Wanting to extend grace, we make excuses for "little"sins so often that I fear this generation doesn't see the need for a Savior, because they don't really think their sin is all that bad.

It's tempting to simply shrug these trends off and say, "Well, they're teenagers--it's a stage---they'll outgrow it."  We would be buying a lie.  According to Jen Hatmaker's research for 7, "94% of evangelical churches reported loss or no growth" last year.  She claims, "We are losing three million people annually, flooding out the back door and never returning."  The people flooding out are those who have been raised in church--those we thought were just going through a stage and would outgrow it.  Why do they leave?  Because they have found something else to worship.

Honestly, if I found out that one of my kids was battling an addiction to drugs, I would WAGE WAR on those drugs.  Why, then, do I buy into the notion that it's unreasonable to wage war on an addiction to an ipod, video game, cell phone or shopping?

My aim is not to point fingers or place blame, but simply to challenge us ALL to examine our role in the lives of our young people.

In my case, I know the first heart I need to examine is my own.  Do I have idols that pull me from Jesus?  Do I need to remove anything from my life that competes for first place?  Am I placing importance on any thing or behavior that is actually misplaced worship?  Am I making excuses for my own sins, rather than agreeing with God, being honest about them and repenting?  I want to start with myself because the best way to help the young people in my life is to set the example of honestly and humbly tearing down the idols in my own life.

Next, (and, I have to confess, this is MUCH harder for me), I need to put in place and enforce appropriate boundaries in the lives of those over whom I have authority.  This task is tough for me because I hate confrontation--and boundaries create confrontations.  Boundaries are not popular--and I want people to like me.  In many cases, the boundaries I need to set will be very countercultural. People will think I am weird--or worse--judgmental.  For a weak-willed, distractible people-pleaser like me, enforcing boundaries is a daunting task.

But God calls me to speak the truth, and the truth is this:  Anything that keeps a person from full surrender to Jesus is an idol, and we as parents, teachers, mentors, have an obligation to protect our young people from idolatry.   If not, we are prostituting them.


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