One of my favorite events of youth ministry is a weekend called DNOW. In our community, this is a weekend where middle and high school students from different churches and different schools from all around the county get together to connect with each other and with Jesus. There are games, worship, service opportunities, deep conversations, and really good teaching. I love it!
Students typically stay in host homes throughout the weekend, so as you can imagine there isn’t a lot of sleep happening. One year I was serving at a church and our tradition was to bring the students back on Sunday to regular church. They would sit in service and their parents would pick them up afterward. Without fail, kids would fall asleep during the sermon, but can you blame them? They had just been up for two days straight!
I remember one year we had a student that came along with us. This student had a really rough year at home. There was abuse, financial issues, drug use, and more. Like I said, it was a really tough year for this sophomore. Here’s the amazing thing, throughout the weekend I saw this giant wall start to chip away in her life. She opened up. God was undoubtedly moving. I was so proud of her.
So at the end of the weekend, we get to the church on Sunday and she was exhausted. She sat with her friends in the youth group and pulled her hood up to blend in a little more. I didn’t really think anything of it. I was just glad she was there.
I was scheduled to do announcements that day and as things happen I was standing in the lobby talking with one of the leaders of the church. I was coming off of this DNOW excitement and said something like, “Isn’t this so cool? There were 1,200 students from all different church backgrounds. God was doing something really big this weekend.”
The leader replied, “That’s all great, but when are you going to teach these students to take their hoods off in the sanctuary?”
My heart sank. The student he was talking about was the student I was so proud of. I was devastated. Somewhere along the way, his theology had morphed into elevating the place over the person.
I don’t blame him though. I think that stuff happens a lot in the church world. It’s like we get in the habit of constantly moving the marker. In this example, the sophomore should be a Jesus follower, but not only a Jesus follower, she should attend DNOW, but not only DNOW, she should come to the service on Sunday, but not only come to the service on Sunday, but she should also take her hood off.
Where does it stop?
That’s the problem with religion, it never does stop. The hoop someone has to jump through keeps moving. The marker of a “good christian” constantly changes.
If this has been your experience with the Jesus following movement, I’m so sorry. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Jesus actually says something really powerful about this.
One day he was leaving the temple and his friend looked up at how grand the temple was. His friend turned to Jesus and was like, “Jesus isn’t this place magnificent? Look at how awesome this place is!” Jesus responded with something that would have blown their mind and should blow our minds as well. Jesus looked at this grand temple and said,
“You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Matthew 24:2
Man, that moment pumps me up!! First off, as a Jewish person, you’re not supposed to say that. This was the most sacred place on earth. They believe God was living in there! You don’t tear it down, you protect it! Second, the place was built not to come down-like it seemed physically impossible. The structure was built to withstand major earthquakes and more.
Jesus wasn’t speaking metaphorically though. What He said, actually happened! Not long after that moment, Rome came in and destroyed the temple. Every stone was thrown down.
So, what does all this mean? Well, it means Jesus was bringing in a new way to relate with God. A way that was bigger than the temple. A way that says, “You want to honor God? Stop honoring a building and go honor each other!”
Jesus didn’t come to give us better church buildings, church songs, church traditions, or church rules….He came so that you and I can join Him in this mission to change the world by His love!
Jesus followers, on this day of love, remember that! As others have said before me, because of Jesus there are no more sacred places only sacred people. That’s what Jesus offers and that’s what he commands from his followers. “Love one another as I have loved you.” That’s what it means to be a Jesus follower…plain and simple.
What the world needs now is not more religious practices, not more religious rules, in fact, not more religion….the world needs more of that type of Jesus love.
That sophomore needed more of that love. Someone to be present in her life and love her as she tried to navigate a world that you and I may never understand.
What things do you need to give up to love like that today?