Youth expert Ron Luce wore a classic cowboy getup and sat on the back of a horse at the BattleCry conference on Friday evening as he challenged more than 13,000 teens from across the greater New York City area and beyond to pursue the Lord, and not the "things" that lead to a life of emptiness.
Wearing boots, buckle, leather coat and a ten-gallon hat, Teen Mania founder Luce spoke on the Gold Rush of 1849, explaining how the men and women of the time sacrificed everything in hope of finding gold – and after that, happiness.
The mentality of that day is not too different from the consumerist, me-driven world of today, said Luce at BattleCry, a two-day youth rally that kicked off Friday. The thousands of teens, many of who traveled long distances to reach the IZOD Center in Rutherford, N.J., looked stirred as they applauded and cheered many times during the message.
Many youth think if they just had something else, their lives would be better, but Jesus spoke against this propensity, Luce said, and read from Matthew 6:25-33. He asked the audience to read the last verse aloud with him: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
"Relentless Pursuit" is the theme of Acquire the Fire's BattleCry conference this year, which includes live music by musicians including Lecrae, Desperation Band, Shonlock, and Andy Mineo.
Luce shared the example of a Christian couple in West Virginia, who bought and won a lottery one day. They won $300 million, and they were happy. Their 16-year-old granddaughter was living with them – the only grandchild and they were parenting her. She was given $2000 as monthly allowance. They also got her a brand new car, and bought a brand new house. She started disappearing for a day or two at times with her boyfriend. Soon, she was found dead, dead from overdosing on a combination of oxycodone, methadone, meperidine, and cocaine.
What we really want is to be loved, to be pursued relentlessly by someone who can give us a hope and a purpose, Luce said. If we knew how God values us, we wouldn't try to earn people's approval or respect or be manipulated by people's opinion. "God put a value on my life."
Started by Teen Mania, one of the world's largest youth organizations, BattleCry is a national movement for teens who are responding as the new counter culture group against popular culture. It challenges teens to pursue the Lord with their lives and to stand as a remnant in a culture that is sold-out to consumerism.
By the time the average teen graduates high school, he will have spent 60,000 hours watching movies and television, 11,000 hours in school, and only 800 hours in church, the ministry says, adding the conference is also meant for parents and youth workers.
"We wonder why it's really hard to connect with God. But what are we really submerging ourselves in?" Luce said in a statement prior to the event. "This conference is challenging teens to look beyond the culture and defy the American Dream. We are looking for the Jim Elliot's and Mother Teresa's of today."
Luce told the teens Friday night that many a times our relationship with Jesus can be compared with someone who's married to a stranger – without any excitement or commitment. But God is relentlessly pursuing us, and He is pursuing every part of our lives, he added.
We do not allow God access to every area of our lives because of lack of trust, Luce suggested. Many people mistakenly think Jesus will "wreck my fun."
If you're running from God, stop; He wants to catch you. If you are withholding any part of your life from Him, stop. If you're chasing after something else, just stop. We may not intellectually understand how, but God can change us, give us a new heart, Luce said.
This year, the ministry is approaching a landmark of reaching teens through the Gospel message to an astounding 3,000,000 American and Canadian teenagers, Texas-based Teen Mania says. "During this ATF season, we have been blessed to see nearly 130,000 teens across North America at 30 different locations." The events are being broadcast live on GOD TV.
The ministry has announced an "all-day mind-blowing" Acquire the Fire on June 21, 2014 at Madison Square Garden in the heart of New York City. "Young people will be learning about Christ for an entire day and it will be simulcast to the entire Nation."