Competing Voices

Last weekend I traveled with the Senior High Youth to Ocean City for a youth gathering called IMPACT. It was exciting, not only to be with some of our youth and youth advisors, but to be at gatherings in the Convention Center of some 4 to 5,000 youth altogether.

It definitely had an impact on the youth as well as we the advisors who accompanied them. Some of our youth were compelled to go forward when the main speaker at the event called youth forward in re-dedicating their lives to the call of Jesus.

There were many voices-speakers, comedians, musicians, singers, even 'voices' for the deaf as a signer was present for all the functions. There were many voices, yes, yet taken together, there was really only ONE voice-the voice of Jesus calling out to both the youth and adults gathered there: Follow Me.

It was a strong voice; it had to be strong because when the youth left that place, when they got home and back to their regular lives, they would be subject to MANY voices calling out to them for their attention-calling out to them "follow me." But it wouldn't be as one voice-the voice of Jesus-as it was at the youth gathering, rather it would be voices that wanted to drown out the voice of Jesus and lead them astray; lead them away from Jesus.

Adults would face the same situation, but for the adults it would be voices cloaked in matters of TIME. That is, voices telling adults they don't have time for family or youth, or don't have time for worship or Bible study or prayer, or helping the poor or oppressed, don't have time for matters of justice and equality, don't have time for volunteering. For adults it would be the voices of greed, or want for material things, or work, or leisure time activities, or sex or pornography calling out to them for their attention. The voices would be voices trying to lead them away from the voice of Jesus.

For the youth, in their daily home and school lives the voices are more stringent, more intense, yet more subtle, calling out to vulnerable, developing minds. The voices are hid midst peer pressure to experiment with drugs. Voices hid midst use of alcohol that leads to the abuse of it, or voices that encourage sex with friends. (When the adult advisors attended the three seminars designed for them, while the youth had a dozen or more to choose from at the same time, the adults learned startling facts and numbers about youth sex with friends and how it was a 'perk' to have a friend with whom you could have sex-and just how rampant this is among youth, no matter what schools, no matter even that they attend church regularly).

There are voices calling youth to unhealthy habits like smoking or constantly eating junk food; calling them to overeating, abusing food. Voices call youth to selfishness, anger, violence, greed. There are voices that call to youth that make them feel inferior, make them feel rejected, unwanted; voices that will call youth to depression and suicide.

And where do these voices come from? Strangers? Yes-some voices are from strangers that make themselves out to be a friend through TV ads or ads and articles in magazines targeted for youth; strangers that make themselves out to be a friend through books or movies or TV or music that are filled with sexual innuendos (and some outright blatant suggestions about having sex and that it is an okay thing to do), filled with affirmations for drinking and smoking.

But the really scary part to this is that it ISN'T just strangers' voices, it's also the voices of friends and family that call youth away from Jesus.

It's friends who lead each other away from following the voice of Jesus and into dangerous areas of experimenting. Some, dangerous in that it could cause death, or some permanent physical or mental damage, but others dangerous in a far greater way, and that is losing contact with their eternal soul. They get lost and confused midst all the voices calling to them for their attention and they can't hear the voice of Jesus.

And so often family, instead of reinforcing the voice of Jesus, has voices that call youth AWAY from Jesus. Some families encourage youth to put the voice of sports ahead of Jesus in their family. Some families encourage youth to put the voice of work ahead of Jesus. Some families encourage youth to put the voice of alcohol ahead of Jesus. That is, they have no problem with underage drinking or underage drinking and driving.

And family also has voices that call youth away from Jesus when they don't teach youth about the love and compassion of Jesus; when they don't teach them the stories of the Bible, especially the story of Jesus-they call them away from Jesus to study only school work. It isn't a matter of not doing work for school, but that the voice of Jesus is left out. The family makes sure everything has the attention of the youth, except the voice of Jesus.

There are many competing voices in our world today-for youth and adults. The voices are constantly competing for our attention. Jesus seeks us out in many ways, but Jesus doesn't compete for our attention. Jesus is always there for us, but he doesn't compete for our attention. He just expects it. He knows it's the best thing for us to pay attention to him because he provides only the best for us now and in the days to come. And he holds no sin against us when we fail in our attempts. When we are genuinely trying to give our attention to Jesus he forgives our shortcomings. When we ask, and repent, we are forgiven.

It isn't easy to stay focused on Jesus midst all the other voices calling out to us that want us to follow them rather than Jesus. But we have a great symbol that will help us keep our focus: the cross. It's an attention grabber. Even as it is a symbol of suffering, it is a symbol of great love. And no matter how far we go astray, the cross is ever before us calling our attention to the great love expressed for us. No matter what our present circumstances or circumstances of growing up, we still have the cross before us. We can lay all our fears, our cares our worries at the foot of the cross. Lay them at the feet of Jesus. We have the real symbol of the cross because midst all the voices calling for our attention, trying to keep a mental picture of Jesus midst all that is very difficult. But all we have to do is focus on the cross and out attention is brought back to Jesus and his voice of compassion and care and his wonderful teachings for us.

Focusing on Jesus, our attention is given to serving, helping others. It takes the focus off US and puts it on Jesus. The surest way to cut through all the voices calling out is to do something for someone else in the name of Jesus; to show compassion and care, to serve others-to help someone in need; to perform some act of kindness (practice random acts of kindness).

Focus on the cross. That's a reality that will bring our attention to Jesus. When you feel yourself paying attention to the many voices that all want to lead you away from Jesus, focus on the cross. When you feel lost midst or confused by all the voices, quickly focus on the cross and you'll hear the voice of Jesus. When you consciously decide to follow Jesus, you will have all the support you need to do it-Jesus promises this and the Holy Spirit is ever ready to comfort and guide us. Coming to worship you have the support of your church family. Studying God's word in Scripture you are reminded of the support you have from God.

And opening your heart to prayer, to communicating with God each morning, noon and night, you will feel the love that affirms who you are-a child of God, loved by God, forgiven by God, and saved for all eternity through Jesus the Christ our Lord.

Re-commit or commit your life today to giving your attention to the voice of Jesus over and above any other voice that calls to you. Listen FIRST to the voice of Jesus and then you will know which other voices are okay to give your attention to. There is the wonderful hymn, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." Let's sing the first and second verses.

I have decided to follow Jesus; I have decided to follow Jesus; I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me; the world behind me, the cross before me; the world behind me, the cross before me; no turning back, no turning back.


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