In this series I am sharing some of the passages of the Bible — or Life Verses — that have most impacted my own life.
“These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also….they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, proclaiming that there is another king, Jesus.”
After college I immediately began seminary studies at Bethel. For four years I lived two very different lives that eventually collided with one power-packed Bible verse to create an internal explosion that set the course of my early ministry efforts.
I was taking seminary classes at night, nose deep in the world of the Bible and exploring how best to “do church” in the 21st century. By day I was immersed in the world of teenagers in my hometown school district as a sub teacher, coach and driving instructor.
Over time I had many telling conversations with local teenagers about Jesus, church, God, the Bible and Christianity. The common theme in these conversations was that teens were bored silly by their church experience and the Bible was viewed as a dry, ancient book with nothing to offer today’s youth. Yet, I also noticed how bad young people wanted to give their life to a good cause that could make the world a better place. They were young, passionate and naive enough to believe that they could actually be part of the generation that changed the world!
So, here I was a young, zealous idealist spending my evenings immersing myself in an ancient story about a movement of young world-changers who gave themselves wholeheartedly to a mission and cause that they believed would change history.
I’m spending my days with a generation of young people who are seeking a way to rock the world but who have only negative things to say about the contemporary church. The last place they would look to find a grassroots movement of young people organizing to revolutionize society and disrupt the status quo would be their local church.
And then one day I am reading the Book of Acts and I get to chapter 17. I am blown away by what I read in verse 6.
“These people are turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
Turning the world upside down? Sounds more powerful than a potluck in the Fellowship Hall. Sounds more dangerous than a midweek Hymn Sing. Sounds more world-altering than sitting through another boring sermon. As Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright has quipped, “Everywhere Apostle Paul went to preach there was a riot. Everywhere I go they serve tea.”
The first Christians were a group of young idealists spouting subversive political views and advocating an illegal religion. They have the audacity to question the status quo and offer an alternative view of reality. They proclaim a new Way to be human. They are giving their life and allegiance to a new leader.
There was nothing innocuous and boring about being a Christian in the first century. And yet I was interacting with a generation of young people who had no idea how revolutionary being a Christian ought to be. Somebody had to show them. Somebody with influence among local teens and a knowledge of the truly revolutionary nature of Christianity had to awaken them to this exciting truth! Somebody needed to find a way to get a wide hearing with local teens and begin repainting the Christian faith in ways that capture their hearts and ignite a flame to further the cause.
In 2005, I graduated from seminary and heard God calling me to launch a fresh, new youth movement in my hometown of Mound, MN, with the primary aim to invite young people who are bored with church but curious about Jesus to reconsider what it means to be a Jesus follower today.
That fall I was hired as a youth director at Bethel Methodist Church. On my first night of youth group that fall, I stood in a musty choir loft youth room in front of about 7 teenagers whose parents had all made them go to meet the new youth guy. With some cheesy Christian music pumping on the boom box, I awkwardly placed a transparency sheet onto an overhead projector that announced the launch of a new youth ministry. The transparency was made with poor WordArt font and graphics and simply read:
Turning the World Upside Down for Jesus
That Revolution ministry was to be a small, mustard seed revolution for sure. Read about it in detail here. But the revolution inside my heart as a young leader was profound and I’m still feeling the effects. Acts 17:6 turned my world upside down.
A central part of my life’s calling from that day forward would be to preach the revolutionary message and mission of Jesus to bored Christians going through the religious motions, and invite them to join me in turning the world upside down for Jesus!
I simply cannot over state the power that this one verse has had on my life and ministry.