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Testimony by Joe Schafer

Delivered at the North American Staff Conference

September 16, 2005


John 14:1-31

Key Verse: 14:6

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

To prepare for our staff conference, we were asked to read the book Emerging Hope by Jimmy Long to help us understand the mindset of the postmodern generation.  As one who was born in 1963, I am a product of the baby boom.  My father served in the Second World War.  I grew up in a stable home with two parents, three brothers and nine sisters.  We faithfully went to church and knew the difference between what is right and what is wrong.  When I look at the current generation of teenagers and college students, they seem to come from another planet.  My instinctive reaction is, “I don’t like them.”  I don’t like the way they think; they show no respect for authority. I don’t like the way they talk, as if they know everything.  I don’t like how they dress, or their tattoos or body piercings.  To me, their music sounds like airplane noise and their favorite singers sound like sheep and cows bellowing in the fields.  I have become like the members of each generation before me who grew up and became set in their ways and couldn’t understand the next generation.  My children are postmodern.  When I ask them to do something, they ask, “Why?”  I respond in a Confucian style:  “Don’t say, ‘Why’; say, ‘Okay’!  Just do it!”  But still they demand to know why.  I need God’s help to bridge this generation gap.  I need to hold on to Jesus’ teachings and the truth of God more strongly than my own ideas and preferences.  Then I can be a real servant of God and raise real disciples of Jesus in this postmodern generation.


In John chapter 14, Jesus gave precious words of encouragement to young disciples who were not much different from the people of this generation.  These young men were very sincere, but they could not understand or accept Biblical truth because of their postmodern mindset.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, broke through the generation gap to plant in them God’s promise, God’s hope, and God’s vision.  Jesus showed deep understanding of their problems and gave them exactly the word of God that they needed.  I want to learn from Jesus how to cross the cultural divide and give today’s young people the word of God.


First, Jesus is the way.  In verses 1-2, Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.”  This generation is the age of anxiety.  The hearts of young people are deeply troubled.  They don’t know where their home is.  Half of American teenagers are not living with their two birth parents. They don’t know where they belong.  They feel betrayed by their parents and by others close to them, and they have a hard time trusting everyone.  One student from Penn State went to her parents’ house for Christmas vacation.  When she returned, she said, “I don’t ever want to go there again.”  Home is where we should feel safe, where we feel loved and unconditionally accepted.  When homes are destroyed by divorce and other family problems, young people become destabilized and lose their bearings, confidence, and sense of identity.


To these people, what does Jesus say?  Jesus says, “Trust in God, trust also in me.  In my house are many rooms.”  Jesus invites us to put our trust in God, because he alone is trustworthy.  Jesus gives us the promise of a true home in the kingdom of heaven.  If a person deeply accepts this word from Jesus, his trust is restored.  His sense of identity and belonging are restored.  He has a new home, a permanent home, in the kingdom of heaven which will never perish, spoil or fade.  This is the age-old promise of Jesus to all people of all generations.  Each of us must accept this word and hold to it, regardless of our circumstances. Abraham had a stable home and prosperous life in the ancient city of Ur.  But God commanded him to leave his country, his people and his father’s household and go to a new place to begin a life of faith.  Life is a pilgrimage.  We are all travelers who have not yet arrived at our true home.  But with eyes of faith, we look forward to a better city, a heavenly one, based on the sure promises of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Because I grew up in a stable home, I has a strong sense of who I was.  But when God called me in 1982 to begin a life of faith, I had to leave my identity behind.  I faced the disapproval of my family.   Jesus and his people became my family, and the kingdom of God became my home.  Perhaps this new generation is better equipped than I was to begin a life of faith.  They have no homes.  They are already pilgrims in this world.  They just don’t know yet where they are going.  The kingdom of God must become their direction and destination. 


When Jesus gave this teaching, one of his disciples spoke up with an objection.  The disciple’s name was Tom.  Tom said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Tom was a committed member of Jesus’ fellowship, yet he did not know the way.  I think he was expressing frustration, not about his long-term direction, but about his immediate needs and problems.  Jesus spoke about eternity and heaven.  Tom was focused on practical issues:  “How can I handle my difficult coursework, my financial problems, my family problems?  Who will pay my tuition next semester?  How can I get married?  Jesus, you talk only about the kingdom of heaven and now you are leaving.  You didn’t tell us anything!”


Jesus’ response to this troubled disciple was simple and profound.  Jesus answered, “I am the way…”  God did not give us a complicated set of rules to follow.  He sent his son Jesus into this world to personally lead us and show us the way.  In post-modern society, all of the traditional principles that govern personal behavior and morality have been thrown out the window.  There are no more rules, no more structures.  Each person is expected to make his own way.  To young people who face difficult life choices, the responsibility to make their own way is too overwhelming.  In public schools, they are not taught that sex outside of marriage is sin.  They are told, “Everyone should use their own best judgment.  Be true to yourself.”  Without clear guidelines or boundaries, Satan takes advantage of them and leads them into sin.  The job of Christians in the 21st century is not to re-impose a set of rules and morality on this culture.  Our job is to lead people to Jesus who will show them the way.  The knowing of Christ and the imitation of Christ are the most important principles that we must teach.


We must follow Jesus.  But as we do so, we must be careful to follow the real Jesus, not a Jesus of our own invention.  These days, a popular expression is WWJD—“What would Jesus do?”  People answer this question in many different ways, and the answer depends on their own particular preferences and ideology.  One group asked the question, “If Jesus were alive in the 21st century, what would he drive?”  They concluded that if Jesus were alive today, he would drive a bicycle, or possible a small economy car, but never an SUV, because they burn too much gas.   When people raise the question of WWJD, the answer usually reflects what they would want Jesus to do.  But Jesus is a real, historical person and a living person who does not conform to our preferences.  Jesus communicates with us.  He does not speak to us conversationally, one-on-one, or through email or text messaging.  Jesus speaks to us corporately through his word in the Bible, and through the working of the Holy Spirit which helps us to understand and interpret the Bible.  “Jesus is the way” implies that we must study the Bible inductively and meet Jesus through his word, to deeply understand his mind, his heart, his motivation and his action.


Jesus is the way.  One very important respect in which young people have lost the way is with respect to marriage.  In generations past, young people did not simply marry as they wished.  They sought the approval and advice of their parents, elders and pastors.  There were well established rules of etiquette by which young men and women could meet and get to know each other in group settings, and sometimes even one-on-one, without becoming physically or romantically involved.  They knew how to take it one step at a time and make wise decisions.  Those times are gone.  On college campuses, there are no more rules or principles regarding dating and relationships.  Those who are attractive and popular move from one party to another, hooking up and sinning against God and their own bodies.  Those who are less popular remain alone in sorrow and despair.  Even in Christian circles, there are many problems.  In many churches, young people date freely as they wish, which obviously eads to trouble.  A book by Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, became popular.  Many young Christians read this book and repented and decided to stop dating.  But then a problem arose.  Without dating, how could they meet someone and get married?  No one is helping them.  They have no choice but to go to match.com.  They desperately want to have a blessed marriage, but they don’t know the way.  Jesus is the way.  We must show them God’s truth that if they commit their lives to Jesus and seek God’s kingdom first, then God will provide what they need to have a blessed life and to become a blessing.  God will provide for their material needs.  He will show them where to go.  He will provide them with a suitable helper at the right time.  Seeking to know Jesus and follow Jesus and imitate Jesus in all things is paramount for handling and solving all the practical problems of human life.  Jesus is the way.


Second, Jesus is the truth.  What is truth? Truth is universal and unchanging.  Truth applies equally to all people.  Jesus said, “I am the truth.”  His words purport to be absolutely true.  But post-modern people are thoroughly relativistic.  They say, “That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.”  One person in our ministry doesn’t really listen to her shepherd.  She uses the excuses that “no one is perfect,” and “everyone has their own issues,” so she feels that she doesn’t have to change and believes that everyone should accept her just the way she is.  But God’s truth is a universal and perfect standard.  We cannot use the excuse that we don’t have to listen or obey because no one is perfect.  The measure of truth is set by God, who is the same yesterday and today and forever.


The United States Government has a bureau of standards which decides how long is a meter and how much is a gallon.  There is an atomic clock which decides exactly what time it is so that our watches and computers can be synchronized.  But relativistic people don’t care what time it is. For them, any time is right.  The result of having no standards is that young people live in a state of anxiety and confusion.  “Jesus is the truth” means that he is God’s holy and perfect standard.  No one can live up to this standard, but we still need Jesus as our standard, so that we will not measure ourselves against the people around us but live godly and holy lives.  Those of us who are parents of teenage girls continually struggle with them over what they should wear.  Postmodern girls wear low-cut jeans that reveal their bellies and their backsides and underwear.  That is the fashion standard.  Our daughters know that this is wrong, yet they continually measure their clothes against that standard because of intense peer pressure.


It is difficult to live by God’s absolute standards when we are surrounded by a godless culture.  But we should not be too critical of this culture.  If the culture was predominantly Christian, people would then substitute the practices of the Christian culture for the truth of God.  In UBF, we have our own practices and style and culture.  In many aspects, they are good, but they are not absolutes.  All of our UBF practices fall short of God’s perfect standard.  I know a woman who attends a fellowship called a “holiness church.”  People in that church claim that they can live a holy life and not sin any more.  They don’t smoke, drink, go to movies or watch television.  One person said, “I haven’t sinned at all for the last three months.”  How do they maintain this holy life?   They do it by defining holiness down to the current practices of the congregation rather than up to the standard of Jesus Christ.  All people are sinful in one way or another.  All people are somewhat relativistic.  But Jesus is not.  Jesus is the truth.  He alone lived up to God’s standard of obedience.  Naturally we are inclined to follow the practices of our culture or family or congregation.  But Christians must be determined to follow Jesus, because he is the truth.


One thing I learned about postmodern people is that they really don’t like it when a leader tries to appear strong or holy or confident.  In our typical UBF message style, we try to be very convincing and make absolute statements.  With a loud voice, we say, “Jesus is the way!”  But the typical response of a postmodern person is, “How can you be so sure?”  To them, it sounds arrogant and presumptuous.  “Who are you to say that you have the truth?”  They are taught from a young age that all human authority is false because all human beings are flawed, and no person has the right to tell another person what to believe of how to live.  This characteristic of the younger generation is deeply ingrained and represents one of our greatest challenges as we seek to train and raise disciples. Many young people immediately leave UBF when they sense that our ministry is hierarchical.  They hear about shepherds and missionaries and senior shepherds and chapter directors, and soon they find out that they are “sheep.”  To their minds, all people are imperfect and should be regarded as equal.  What should we do about this?   Don’t know.  I have no answer.


But one thing I do know.  This generation doesn’t need shepherds who try to look like strong leaders and always demand respect from those under them.  Young people need humbles shepherds who are human and repentant and sincere.  This is one of the principles taught by Dr. Lee.  He said, “A shepherd should not look like a saint.  He should look like a forgiven sinner.”  A shepherd should not look like Saul, a proud holy man, but like Paul, a little guy who comes in weakness and trembling to preach the gospel of Christ.  In this postmodern culture, we should speak to students not in a lecture style, but in a conversational style.  There must be “give and take.”  We must not be afraid to reveal our weaknesses or struggles to our sheep.  We must come to them in humility and weakness, confessing that Jesus is the truth and encouraging them to follow Jesus.


Third, Jesus is the life.  Jesus said, “I am the life.” Following Jesus is the path to eternal life.  It is also the path to a meaningful life, full of joy and purpose and struggle and discovery.  The life of sin is empty and meaningless and boring.  The life of following Jesus is exciting, exhilarating and extreme.  Jesus is the life because following him leads us to know God.  To sinful human beings, God is mysterious and infinite and unknowable.  But Jesus leads us to God, the author of life and the source of life.


When Jesus said this, another young disciple spoke up.  His name was Phil.  Phil said, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”  Phil was a postmodern person who demanded experience.  He did not want to just sit and listen to Bible lectures all night long.  He wanted to feel God, touch God and taste God.  He wanted his life of faith to be a deeply moving experience. In reply, Jesus gave Phil a gentle rebuke: “Don’t you know me, Philip?”  “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?”  Jesus did not give him the immediate experience that he wanted.  Instead, Jesus challenged him to believe his words, to obey his words, to deeply pray, and to participate in the work of God by faith.


Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  Sitting down and listening to Jesus’ words does not bring us into the presence of God.  The only way to feel God, touch God and taste God in this world is to believe Jesus’ words, put them into practice, pray and participate in the work that God is doing in these times.  Postmodern people want sensory stimulation and instant gratification.  To them, our Bible study and worship style may seem too intellectual and boring.  In some respects, they are right.  When we habitually study the Bible and mindlessly repeat the same things we have been saying for the last 20 years, it is boring and it doesn’t please God.  We must help young people to experience God’s presence by making the word of God come alive to them.  Whenever we venture “outside the box” and try to present the word of God in a new or fresh way, young people really appreciate it.  At our European Summer Bible Conference last month, on the opening night, we saw a brief drama presented by the second-generation missionaries from Germany.  It was not highly polished or professional, and there were technical difficulties with the lights and sound system.  But it was written and performed entirely by second-gens, and the young people liked it.  One second-gen from another European country said, “That was the most remarkable and real thing that I have ever seen in UBF!”


“Jesus is the life” means that we cannot simply repeat the words of Jesus.  We must put them into practice and live them so that Jesus becomes our life.  I pray that God may help all of our USA and Canadian chapters to minister to the young people of this generation and show them that Jesus is the way.  May God make postmodern  North America into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.