I had never felt such a deep sense of purpose as when Ron Luce announced in 2005 that we had 4-5 years to save the world.
I was 19, an intern at Teen Mania Ministries just finishing my first year. I was full of fire, wide-eyed and ready for more action.
According to his passionate “statistic” laden speech, if we didn’t get the teens of our country saved in the next few years, then America would become a post-christian culture where only 4% of the population would claim they believed in Jesus. And that would be the moral downfall of our nation and the rest of the world.
I had always felt that beneath my fear and self-loathing, maybe I was destined for something great.
I knew I was going to be a writer, but writing wasn’t enough.
I wanted immediate results.
The world was dying and needed me.
After all, what else was going to give me purpose?
What else was going to give me worth?
I felt the stirring, maybe the same stirring young men have when signing up for war.
The need to be a part of something greater than myself.
It was, after all, a spiritual war, or so they told us over and over.
Our weapons were prayer, but prayer wasn’t enough.
Our tactic was large Christian youth events, but that wasn’t enough.
They needed to be the biggest, the best, the most relevant, in order to snatch the young people of America from the moral decline of of our once god-fearing country, the sexualization promoted by MTV and Victoria Secrets, and the violence made “cool” by Grand Theft Auto.
This “spiritual war” quickly transitioned into a cultural one.
It wasn’t until I was on my last year touring on the road after three years, that I began to realize:
This had nothing to do with Jesus.
But if I couldn’t save the world by telling teens to turn to God and away from distractions and sin, what was my purpose?
I forgot I was a writer somewhere along the lines. But my experiences haunted me, crept through me, and just wouldn’t leave me alone. They had to be told.
At first, the words came out the only way I was conditioned to let them: as a rallying cry.
I wanted my stories to move people out of their “comfortable christianity” to do something.
But I was still trying to change everything.
The main issue was, I didn’t yet realize Jesus already had.
I remembered being in a van, riding back to my hotel in San Francisco. We were expecting 20,000 to attend our huge youth rally at the Giants Stadium that weekend.
It was the height of the Battle Cry movement, and the media was angry, which made us even more excited,
“It means we are making a difference! We are being persecuted! Yay!”
People lined up on the city hall steps to hold a rally and pray. There was nothing specifically said against homosexuality, but the residents of the city felt like our choice of location spoke very loudly- after all, those were the same historic steps where homosexual marriage took place.
It sure looked like we were there to fight a cultural war. I didn’t recognize it at the time because I was smack dab in the middle of it.
I was just trying to do God’s work.
So there I was, driving down the road that ran in front of the city hall steps. On my left on the steps were my people, a passionate group of young teenagers and youth pastors, praying and singing worship songs, speaking over a bullhorn about taking back America for God.
On the other side, was them. Protestors. Supporters of the LGBT community. Atheists. Liberal media. Transvestites dressed as nuns.
I felt sick. Dizzy looking from side to side.
I wondered if Jesus were there, where he would stand.
We drove by quickly, and I was relieved to be in the van, to avoid participating.
Something was wrong, fundamentally, deep down.
I had spoken a gay nun earlier, at another California event. We had an honest conversation and it really put some things into perspective for me. The funny thing was, the sign he was holding said, “God is love.” I don’t remember much specifically about the conversation, only that we were interrupted several times by youth pastors wanting to put their two cents in.
Something was wrong.
And it wasn’t just Teen Mania.
It was me.
Jesus never pushed people aside in the name of “standing up for truth.”
He was truth, and demonstrated it in his actions, with his loving words.
The ones he spoke harshly against were the ones who put morality over people.
The ones who valued their “cause” over individuals.
He did not bother fighting a cultural war.
He realized who the real enemy was.
He never even claimed his “rights.”
He knew his citizenship was first and foremost heaven.
I’ve known all this for some time, but do I really believe it? It’s so much easier to value “stone-cold, hard truth,” because it’s tangible. The law feels easier.
When it comes to belief, it’s a little scarier.
You can’t control another’s beliefs. You can’t even know them, really.
Jesus said once, “Your only sin is that you don’t believe.”
Which makes sense because what we believe about Jesus and God is the single most important thing about us. I mean, that is life, to know Jesus, and how can you know what you don’t believe in?
Also, what we believe about ourselves matters greatly. Because if we don’t believe Jesus has given us all things, we won’t act out of that. Instead, we’ll think we have try to behave and avoid sin by focusing on all our flaws and trying really, really hard to be good. Ridiculous, right?
So what we believe matters greatly. I think we can create our entire reality based on what we think about.
Negativity attracts negativity.
In the same way, positive thinking attract positive things.
But that is not the end of the story.
There is this thing called grace, and in one way, it turns the whole system on it’s back.
Or, as Bono so wonderfully put it,
Grace, she travels outside of karma.
But at the same time it makes the whole thing truer than true.
Grace is a gift. And that gift is all things pertaining to anything positive: life and love.
But in order to take that gift, you must first know that you do not have to pay for it, and believe that even though it may seem to good to be true, it is.
Now, isn’t that a better purpose? I don’t have to save the world. In order to really “make a difference” I simply feel compelled to speak and write the truth of what Jesus has already accomplished:
Now I can rest.
Be at peace.
That is my purpose. To love and be loved and rest in his grace.
I know this now. I wish I could go back and tell twenty-year-old me that. I wish I could sit down with her and calm her anxious and zealous heart. I’d tell her she doesn’t have to break her back working for a ministry, volunteering her time, burning herself out pouring out to the world.
I’d tell her she doesn’t have to choose sides.
I’d tell her she is free. That Jesus has already redeemed. That grace is truly enough.
I’d tell her,
The war that your fighting has already been won.
(Sleeping at Last)