Monday, January 26, 2009

An Epistle to the Youth

The following is a letter sent from Evan to Matt Parker -- V-Team's mentor and former Youth Pastor. It is a letter that resembles a disciple's epistle to a church. And it was read out-loud yesterday, at the Woodland Park Community Church youth group meeting, back in Colorado. Every student got a paper copy. (Andrew's brother, Ty, folded the 5 page letter to keep and carry around in his Bible). Evan had Andrew and Christian read this letter and approve its contents. The wording is intentionally crafted to safely travel through any possible international email screening.
Below I have the attached email to the youth group ... this is designed for whatever the Master has planned obviously, but really just to bring about another way for people to wake up and hear, from their peer, that there are more challenging battles ahead, and what I have encountered to make it through them. My desire is to really serve the youth group with an encouragement. May our Father take this feeble offering and multiply it- I just want so badly for the youth to be rooted and united and in the body, and not to fall away like some I have seen with my own eyes.

To the WPCC Youth Group
First and foremost: I am so happy to write this to you in love as your brother!
I want to thank you so much for all you have been doing this past 2008 year and now beginning 2009 year. I am so excited to be with you and hear all what the Master is doing and how this year has been. I know it has been successful. Some things were on my heart recently that i want to share with you. Thank you so much for settling down for a sec to listen.

So what i have encountered since i have been gone (as well as Andrew and Christian) is that life will change when you leave home. If you are planning on going to school, do service and work, etc- anything, please hear me out. Two kids leave home from high school, stoked for college or whatever the plan is. They both talk the same, speak to the Almighty the same, have the same friends, the same hobbies, and same "spiritual fervor." BUT: one comes back hot and one comes back cold.

High school has a lot of luke-warm believers. You can get through with out spending time with Him. You can get through. Maybe a party here or so, maybe a Sunday believer. In addition to being luke warm. We pick up all these habits we receive from the fellowship we go to and things we feel we have to do or even do subconsciously growing up in our culture. All these things that are not real in our hearts will be shed off. You will encounter temptations and circumstances that will make you come face to face with who you really are and what you are really about. When you don't have all these comforts of home and friends; being a follower of our Creator suddenly becomes unglamorous (because it is pretty glamorous in WP) you will really come face to face with the reality. If you walk with Him because it is the thing to do, because you like how it looks, because you want to be in a certain crowd, etc, then you may fall. Both the people that leave home can say the same stuff, and even appear to produce the same fruit SOMETIMES. Your friend next to you may do all the same things, but fall away once going into the world. But our Maker came to change hearts- we can endure all these coming challenges because of our authentic relationship with Him. And if you don't have a changed heart- if He is not working in your heart daily... I am going to be straight up as your brother- trouble is coming. Because you can't "get by." You have to have Him in your heart, living for Him. It can't be this half way thing. To give you a cheesy and cliche example: if you are on the fence, when the college/real world wind blows, you will fall off. Because walking with our Master isn't always so glamorous or comfortable all over the world and in college. Winds are going to come, and so are the wolves. As your brother in youth group, i wanted to bring up this issue and encourage you to listen and act on what He says to you. The enemy not only wants to knock you off the fence- BUT KEEP YOU ON IT (if you get me).

You see- it is funny how our Creator has made it that NOBODY can ever know what your heart is like except Him. This proves this is really about a personal relationship with the Almighty. And ahead i share a lot about love. This isn't me telling you to love well (although we should)- I am trying to put into perspective the difference between a pharisee and a "sinner." That one has a real relationship and in love, and one is legalistic. And how the sinner is authentic with the Father, the sinner is AUTHENTIC - and we need to come to His throne in the same way. And about how this love proves a changed heart, because the fruit produced comes from your heart. Hang in there with me....
In Matthew 9:13 Our Creator says, "I want you to show mercy not offer sacrifices..." And the Pharisee's were the ones who always appeared to have it right and looked good and glamorous and had it together. Their fruit was there. They went to church and followed the rules. They had scripture memorized. Their devotion and zeal for the Father is not bad, but what was is their hearts. "You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things..." (23:23). In Matthew, His Son goes on to say how they are like white-washed tombs, "white on the outside and filthy on the inside..." So when you leave and you are on your own- you will come face to face with our Father.
Are you clean on the outside but filthy on the inside?
Do you go to youth group, serve, go to church in the wrong heart?
Or has your heart been changed by His love, and you are walking as a broken person in that love?
What this pharisee comparison shows us is that our actions are not enough. We can't get by in life just tithing and going to our fellowship and doin' it because it is what our friends do. 1 Cor. 13 talks about how everything is like a noisy gong without love. What kind of love is this? We're talking about a kind of relationship with the Almighty that changed this theology about a man dying on a cross in your head to your heart. We can know and do all the right stuff, but until it is in our heart, until we are changed inside which flows out- it is in vain. Common thought and impulses in us say that we need to do works to earn our points. To earn His favor. We are such screw ups that we could never do enough stuff to earn His favor. But He is saying something amazing- that our favor is undeserved. The contrary to these impulsive feelings produce the kind of love and faith that offers not only changed our fruit, but our inside- our heart. In John 15:1-17 Our Master is explaining that He is the vine, we are the branches. ALL OF OUR FRUIT COMES FROM HIM. He says for us to remain on that vine we have to remain in that love. And to remain in that love we have to be changed. If we don't remain in his love (on His vine) we won't have nutrients and we will wither and die. Just as a leaf on a vine- if it is severed and steps out of that humbling love, it will FALL AWAY. To remain in that love we have to be like the woman in Luke ch. 7:36-48. It tells a story of a woman on the ground kissing and washing the Almighty's feet- while He is having dinner with Simon the Pharisee. He says, "I tell you, her sins- and they are many- have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love..." This kind of love paints the picture of a change of heart vs. a change of actions. The heart is first. Of course the Pharisee does all the right things, but our Maker is telling the Pharisee that the broken woman understands this love- and THE PHARISEE DOESN'T. Later on in Luke (Ch. 18:9-14) it again shows us a sinner vs. pharisee. And the tax collector's prayer was, " merciful to me for i am a sinner." While the Pharisee's prayer was this long, self- centered prayer about all he could do. And the parable ends with, "This sinner, not the pharisee went home justified..."
Through all of this we see we are to be emptied, totally broken, offering up all we have- and receiving this grace and love. Receiving this mercy that we don't deserve. Getting in touch with our sin and really coming to grips with the fact that we need the grace only He offers. Allowing that to change us. Realizing our need for that love, letting it fill us up, letting it change the way we think and our hearts- then pouring that out on others. This is the significance of a changed heart. And so we must be centered, wrapped up in this love and grace, letting this relationship change what's inside. 1 John 3:16 talks about how our Creator gave up His life for us, so we know what real love is. "So we ought to give up our lives for our brother's and sisters." Then later in verse 12 of ch. 4 it says that if we love each other, "the Almighty lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us." This shows us that real love was our King coming down off His thrown, becoming emptied, lived as a slave and died a painful death as a mere human just so we could be in a relationship with Him.
We cannot understand that kind of love, dude. And it says the love is brought to expression in us when we love each other. That is because we didn't deserve this love, and so when we serve each other and love each other even in the worst of times, when we serve other sinners we begin to understand the kind of love that our Master has for us as sinners. This love is not just in the head. This change is not just in the brain. We don't just read theology and try to become a better or more advanced person. 1 Cor. 13 says that we are noisy without love. And this love can only happen when it flows out of an empty- changed heart. Not trying really hard to love with our human effort. The emphasis is that this love comes from being grounded and in relationship with the Almighty. That when things come our way and we don't have the general youth going the right direction, we can work through these things and grow in our walk with the Father.
Lastly, the book of Psalms discusses this so much. "You do not want a sacrifice, or i would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart." This is in psalm 51 and this is the Psalm, David wrote after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. You know the drill how they used to have to offer sacrifices for sin- but David realized, Just like our Creator wanted the Pharisee's to- that He wants our hearts. A simple sacrifice would be easy. Because David would make his sacrifice, then go on his way all righteous. And we can do that today. Simply do all the right things (however that looks) then carry on our way. But there is something different here. He is saying, "I want your heart." He wants David's devotion. He wants David to repent, just like the woman in Luke ch. 7. To come crawling realizing his or her need, then letting His love in the heart. And to give it to Him. the Pharisee and even most of us, simply try to do all the right things. But the Father is asking first that we give Him our heart. He wants a broken and repentant heart. A heart that is not haughty, but is on the ground washing feet, that is changed because in the worst this heart receives grace and is transformed by it. This is not an objective thing, it is not a task- but about relationship. So there must be this authenticity with the Maker.

As i fly over to India right now- i see what some messenger's of the Good News feel. It is not this fashionable, stylish thing all the time. And getting burnt out or lost is a reality. Life was somewhat easy in high school, just monotone. If things get hard, or problems come or anything like that- we can easily stuff those holes with other stuff. Those holes in our hearts get filled with ANYTHING other than the Almighty and His love. And I am finding the importance of the authentic relationship with Him. In addition to this authentic relationship with Him, the Word is all we have. I went through a process during Brasil, where I was stripped. All i thought was true and what i thought i believed was challenged. All that was surface was stripped from me. I was alone, and as I laid in bed at night, i asked the questions, "what is this really about? why do i really walk with the Master? is He really alive? does He really want a relationship with me if He is alive?" And guess what: the Word is all we have. During spiritual warfare and common daily tasks, the only way to find the truth is in the Word. It got to the point where I didn't have a mentor or a large group of peers going the same direction i wanted to go. IT WAS UP TO ME. IF I WANTED IT, IF I WERE TO SURVIVE, WHEN I CAME FACE TO FACE WITH THIS I HAD TO MAKE MY OWN DECISION AND CHASE AFTER IT.
What guided me through this grueling and exciting process was the Word. Along with who you are and what is in your heart being brought into focus- so will what you really believe. Psalm 119 talks about the significance of His Word, Heb. 4:12, 1 Thes. 2:13, Gal.6:5, 2 Tim. 3:16 all talk about how the Word is alive, powerful and true. That it is alive and will truly become your guide as you begin to need it- not just something we look at every now and again. We need to have our roots in the Word, not what is common belief. Not just what the fellowship of believers says. You need to know and study yourself. "They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat, or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit." -Jeremiah 17:8. We become this tree when we have roots that reach deep into the Word, and everything we have, all of our fruit that is produced comes from where our roots are planted. And if we are centered on God's character and Word, then we will not tumble when the winds of the world come. Matthew 7:20 talks about a tree and it's fruit. Hosea 14:8 says, "...And all your fruit comes from me." Our fruit comes from what is really in our hearts. It comes down to who you really are and what you truly believe soon enough- we And from this real relationship with Him, we want to know what He says, watch it come alive in our lives, and learn more about Him and who He has made us as His children.

And so you will encounter things that will make you lay down at night and ask, "Why do I walk with the Almighty? Do I REALLY believe in this? What do i believe? What is this whole life and school thing about?" You will come face to face with these questions. We need to be prepared as far as being in the Word, but from a real, authentic relationship with the King. I am not saying that if you are imperfect you will fall away from Him when you leave. What i am saying is that you are going to come face to face with what really makes you tick. Because when comfort leaves, when all these pleasant and luxurious things are not in your life- when you have a job, responsibility, loads of homework that is actually hard, YOU MUST HAVE A REAL REASON TO ACTUALLY DO THE THINGS LIKE SMALL GROUPS, FELLOWSHIP, ACCOUNTABILITY GROUPS, EARLY MORNING STUDY, ETC. The whole "Sunday Believer" thing doesn't last. All the conditions of life will come barging in they will sand away shallow reasons.
It is going to come down to what is in your heart. This is amazing about the heart. When everything goes away, what do you live for? When you wake up in the morning, what is your motive for pressing on in the day? When you go to class you don't feel like going to, why do you go? The Master wants us to make that decision, and wants us to be real with ourselves and Him. "...Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect anything... " James 1:6,7. It is because their loyalty is divided between the Father and the world.
I love you guys and i hope and pray that all of this running out crazy from my brain and heart has helped you. This is to every single person -- no matter the grade level. Because We all need to get serious -- it is true. This is not a list of things to do, or telling you that you are doomed. I am just bringing up this issue ahead of time, so we can all be prepared for these challenges that are ahead.
So, my encouragement and challenge to you is to make that decision. From that heart and encounter with our Creator, walk with your friends. Have consistent study and accountability. You need a partner and you need to be in the Body. "As iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend." Proverbs 27:17. You need to get things out in to the light and open your hearts with each other. We need to tell our close friends the hard things in love when they need it. We need to hold each other accountable. We need to get built up for the Kingdom. We need to get spiritually buff and real before leaving so we will actually make an impact on this world and not fall away like the rest.
WE REMEMBER, WHAT THIS WHOLE THING IS ABOUT, we get ready and become the people He wants us to be- because of this love. We will be nothing and will gain nothing if we don't have this heart and life- changing love.
"So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong." Hebrews 12:12-13
Making sacrifices is easy- giving your heart to our Creator and letting Him change it isn't easy. If we don't really have our Creator and his saving, changing love in us -- what reason do we have to pursue him when everyone else around us isn't doing the same?

With much love, passion and fire,
Evan Stookey
ENCOURAGING VERSES (I couldn't write them out, sorry.)
Look Up:
Hebrews 10:19
Hebrews 10:24
2 Thessalonians 3:3
James 4:8

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