Wholly Forgiven, Wholly Forgiving
About the Guest
Today on the broadcast, Ron Luce, author of the book Battle Cry for a Generation and founder of Teen Mania Ministries, tells Dennis Rainey how God changed his heart so thoroughly as a young man that he forgave his mother for years of abuse and neglect and fervently sought to reconcile with her.
Ron Luce shares how God changed his heart and he was able to forgive his mother.
Wholly Forgiven, Wholly Forgiving
Ron: I felt like I'd been lied to about God my whole life, and I thought if I could just tell them what He's really like and what He can really do in their life, they'd all want it. And, really, that's putting the Gospel in teenage terms in a way they'd go, "Okay, I get it," and at least if they're rejecting the Gospel, they know what they're rejecting. They're not rejecting some petrified version of something that looks like Christianity that's really not full of life.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, March 16th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll talk today about presenting the Gospel in a way that teenagers can get it and making sure you tell them the truth.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. I guess I've never really thought of teenagers as maniacs until our guest joined us this week. It does kind of …
Dennis: Now, wait a second, Bob, you have five children.
Bob: Well, okay. I guess there have been moments when I've thought you're a maniac [inaudible] …
Dennis: Have you thought of yourself as being a maniac as a result?
Bob: I've had moments, yeah, absolutely.
Dennis: Well, we have a leader among youth today – Ron Luce, who joins us, president and founder of Teen Mania Ministries …
Bob: Not Teen Maniac Ministries, but Teen Mania.
Dennis: Ron, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Ron: Thank you very much.
Dennis: You have three children of your own. You've been married 21 years; have a great ministry headquartered in Tyler, Texas. Tell us just a little before we go back to your story about Teen Mania Ministries and what its mission is.
Ron: Well, we started 19 years ago and with a passion to reach this generation in a way that they can understand what happened to me when I heard the Gospel in a way I could understand it, I responded immediately. And we thought, "Well, we could present the Gospel in a way that draws them, doesn't pull any punches, it's not soft sell, but in a way that demands their all and that they can understand, they'll come running to Christ. So we do that with events we do all over the country – Acquire the Fire youth events, 5,000 to 10,000 kids a weekend. We're every weekend somewhere in America during the school year, some of these larger events that are 40,000, 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 kids in some of the football stadiums of the country with the idea of not just having a great event but leading them somewhere, taking them into a life of radical Christianity where they're going on mission trips in the summertime. We'll take over 4,200 kids this last summer on mission trips around the world to get them a chance to lead people to Christ and step out there and do something with their faith and ignite, really, destiny. You know, the first time you ever lead someone to Jesus, that thing you just realize, "Wow, God can use me." We want every teenager in America to realize that and to experience that so they're tossing and turning in their bed going, "Wow, if God can do this with me when I'm 14, what can He do through me the rest of my life?" That's the question they ought to be asking while they're young not what's the next cool clothes or the next music or the next movie that's coming out or whatever.
And then we have an Honor Academy where down on our campus near Tyler in Garden Valley, Texas, young people come when they're out of high school for a whole year of learning about passion and purpose and leadership and character in their life, and it's really an internship where they're being used to change their generation while they're growing in these things, and so we have about 650 students in our Honor Academy.
Bob: Well, you've shared with us this week already about growing up in a turbulent home. Your parents were divorced when you were 7, your mom remarried, home life was never a good place to be. You ran away when you were 15, you went and lived with your dad who said bring home the dope, and we'll all smoke it together. A year later you wound up at a church because a friend invited you there, and you talk about a radical transformation that you want to see happen in the lives of kids, it happened for you. In a moment, you went from being an angry, rebellious teenager to being on fire for Christ.
Ron: That's right, and I marched back into my school. My friends thought I'd freaked out, like, "What happened to you?" And they'd invite me to come to party with them and stuff, and my response – I never went to a party with them again. And the thought I had later was I don't need to go somewhere to party. I have the party living on the inside of me. Wherever I go, the party goes, because He totally changed my heart, He really did. And my thought was I'm going tell as many of my friends as I can about Jesus in a way that they can understand it because I felt like I'd been lied to about God my whole life, and I thought if I could just tell them what He's really like and what He can really do in their life, they'd all want it. And, really, that's essentially what Teen Mania is today. It's putting the Gospel in teenage terms in a way they'd go, "Okay, I get it," and at least if they're rejecting the Gospel, they know what they're rejecting. They're not rejecting some petrified version of something that looks like Christianity that's really not full of life.
Dennis: There is a passage in the New Testament that says, "He who has forgiven much loves much."
Dennis: That could really be your life verse, even though you came to faith in Christ at a young age. You were forgiven a lot, and forgiveness became a central issue not only of your life but also as you address teenagers today. Take us back to how you've experienced that forgiveness for what you had done and then how you reconciled with your parents.
Ron: Well, I'll tell you, it wasn't long, probably three or four months after I had really given my life to the Lord. I'm living with my pastor now, and I'm praying one day, and the Lord gently taps me on my shoulder and whispers in my heart, He says, "What about your mom?" I say, "Forget about my mom," I said, "What about her?" He said, "Well, you need to forgive her." I said, "Forgive her? She doesn't deserve me to forgive her. Do you know all the things she did to me?" And He goes, "Well, you didn't really deserve me to forgive you, either." I said, "Oh," you know, and so I said, "But Lord," and it was one of the sweetest moments I ever had with the Lord, because my story is not just a story of forgiveness but really how He redeemed me and made me whole again, because I was pretty broken.
I said, "But, Lord, what about the time she did this to me," and I recounted all the worst memories I could ever remember."
Dennis: Such as?
Ron: What about the time she was sitting on me and throwing blows to my face, and I'm seven or eight years old. What about the time I got burned on the back by her cigarette, you know, what about the time I'm 13 years old, and she told me, "Why don't you do me a favor and kill yourself?" And I was just crying and pouring my heart out before the Lord, and the sweetest words I ever heard Him say just whispered in my heart. He goes, "Ron, listen, I never wanted that stuff to happen to you." And He says, "You know, your mom had a pretty rough childhood, pretty bad life, and she didn't understand everything she was doing to you, and you weren't a perfect kid, either, and you need to let it go. You need to forgive your mom."
So I thought, "Well, that's just great. When God builds a case against you, how do you refute that?" And so I said, "Okay, Lord, but I don't really want to forgive her, and I don't know how to forgive her." And so then I said, "Okay, Lord, I forgive her," and then a few days later I'm mad at her again because I remembered something she'd done, and then I said, "Okay, Lord, I'm sorry, I forgive her again." Then I'm mad at her and was going back and forth for several weeks and, finally, I said, "Lord, is this how my whole life is going to be? I'm just going to remember something and get angry again?" And then the Lord took me through kind of a whole stepping-stone process. He says, "Who decides whether you forgive?" "I guess it's my decision." And so "Have you forgiven her?" I said, "Yeah." "So then don't pick it back up. Don't pick up the unforgiveness."
And so what I learned I had to do is I began to take forgiveness Scriptures and memorize them and meditate on them and really let them wash my heart clean of the memories and actually, literally, took forgiveness Scriptures and carried them around with me, and I did that for several months, and I remember praying one day – I was just in my prayer time, I was praying for my mom, and I'm only a senior in high school at this time, and I was praying for my mom, and I said, "Lord, you need to reach her and touch her because I love her." And I stopped and said, "I love her? I love my mom? I can't believe it, I love my mom. Lord, I do love her. You must have done that. You must have put love in my heart for her", because I can never remember telling my mom that I loved her since I was just a little boy.
She used to force me to say, "Tell your mother you love her," and I would say it because I was afraid of what would happen to me if I didn't. But I never meant it, and now I'm like, "God, I love my mom. This is a miracle." He really restored my heart and gave me real forgiveness for her, and I was so excited I couldn't stand it. So I called my mom, and I hadn't seen her since – and I didn't tell you this part of the story, but when I was living with my dad, she had gone to get a divorce from my stepfather, and we went back to testify against her to the judge all the things she'd ever done, and she got all of her children taken away from her. And so I hadn't seen her since the courtroom. She hated me.
And so now I've forgiven her, and I love her, and I call her up. I hadn't seen her since the courtroom. I said, "Mom, I just want you to know that I love Jesus now, and I love you, and I've forgiven you for all those bad things you ever did to me." She said, "You what?" And – click – and hung up on me, and then I realized as a 16-year-old I needed to have used more tact in dealing with my mom. I wasn't real skilled in tactfulness.
And so then I tried to call her back, and as soon as she heard my voice, she'd hang up and for months she wouldn't even take a call from me. And then I would write her letters, and she wouldn't even open the letters. She would send them back, "Return to sender." "Return to sender," wouldn't even open them up. And so I just kept praying for her and writing her letters and finally a letter wouldn't come back. I said, "Yes, she's reading it." And another letter wouldn't come back, "She's reading it." Then, finally, she'd send a little note back, you know, then she'd call – I mean – I would call her, and she wouldn't hang up right away, she'd listen for a few minutes and then hang up, and then a little bit longer, then hang up. Then finally she'd be talking – slowly, a relationship she let begin to come back into her life and let me come visit her. She moved to Las Vegas to live all by herself, and that all happened before I forgave her, and I was even glad that, "Yes, you just take some of your medicine, you know, you destroyed my life, how does it feel?"
But you know what? When you're angry, it hurts you, it doesn't hurt them, and it's like poisoning your own soul. No matter how much I saw her hurt, it didn't take my hurt away; it didn't make me hurt any less until God walked me through forgiveness. And so I finally went and saw her and …
Dennis: Wait just a second – in the midst of all that did she ever turn back to you and say, "Ron, I'm sorry."
Dennis: I'm sorry for crushing a cigarette out on your back?
Ron: No, not one time. In fact, her whole response was "I was the best mother I knew how to be, and I was a good mother," and her whole identity was in her motherhood, so she would defend her motherhood, "I was a good mother," and she'd talk about all the reasons she was a good mother. She couldn't – it was like she was blind. She couldn't even see what she had been doing to us.
So years later after 13 years of praying for her, kind of as a result of a tragedy, my younger brother was killed in a car accident, and I preached his funeral, and she came to the funeral. It was so volatile, because I was the first one that got a call from the coroner's office, and I had to call the family, and I had to call my mom. I knew my mom wasn't a Christian, it was going to make her even madder at God, and I said, "Lord, how can I possibly tell her this? She already doesn't like You," and the Lord, I think, just gave me just the right words, and so I said, "Mom, Rick is in heaven with Jesus right now." That's how I told her. I didn't say he'd died. And somehow those words kept resounding in her heart, and, anyway, as a result of all of the funeral and so forth, she committed her life to the Lord and not only did she give her life to the Lord, she got radically on fire, got plugged into a church, changed all of her friends, got plugged into an on-fire Bible study group and ever since then has really loved the Lord.
Now, it was interesting because you hope that somebody, even after they get saved, would come back and then apologize or make things right, but I never brought it back up to her. I never brought up anything about – I didn't need her to please forgive me, I'd already forgiven her. Sometimes people think that I can't forgive until somebody asks it. Well, sometimes their parents are gone, or they've died, or they'll never see them again, and they have to release and forgive even if they don't ever see them again.
So I had forgiven her long before she'd ever come to the Lord, and I was just wanting her to help get closer to the Lord and she had, before then, before she committed her life to the Lord, she had come to our wedding and come to our house for holidays and saw the Lord in our marriage and in our children, you know, how we were raising our kids, and she knew something was different, and it wasn't the churchgoing thing that she had thought church or God was all about. And her heart was softening all along but then finally this tragedy was the catalyst to give her life to the Lord.
Finally, after many years coming to the Lord, she was visiting our house, and this just happened a couple of years ago – she came to me and said, "I am so sorry for the way that I treated you," and it was a great moment, and she wept, and I wept. I said, "Mom, you know, you didn't realize what you were doing, and I forgave you a long time ago. It's gone, it's under the cross, it's under the blood, and we're new now." It's really amazing how God can transform a relationship.
Dennis: It is, but it started with you. I was thinking, as you were sharing your story, you probably don't know this, but I wrote a book about reconciling relationships with parents. It's called "The Best Gift You'll Ever Give Your Parents," and in there I talk about three specific gifts to give them en route to giving them the ultimate gift of a tribute, a written tribute that honors them. But I talk about giving them the gift of understanding – understanding where they came from and the childhood they experienced and the broken life they've had.
Second, the gift of compassion, which you had for your mom. God gave you a new heart. Instead of a heart of stone, He gave you a heart that was compassionate for your mom. But the gifts of understanding and compassion led you ultimately to give her the gift of forgiveness where you release her from the debt, and you stop punishing her. And I like the way you said it. You refused to pick it back up again. You can look at someone who is bitter, and they're punishing someone. They're picking up a club, they're picking up words, they're picking up resentment, and they're just pounding, hurting, trying to hurt them back to even the score. And what you had to do because Christ loved you and forgave you, you realized you had to, as an act of your will, give up the right of punishment.
And ultimately that allowed you to love your mom and the story with her coming to faith in Christ and finally coming back around to you and asking for your forgiveness.
Ron: I hesitate sometimes to even tell the story just because I want to honor her now, and that was all before Christ, because she really didn't understand what she was doing, and we do have a great relationship now. But it helps so many kids as we travel and do events all over the country. This last year at all of our events we had a whole forgiveness session – honoring your parents and how do you honor them when something horrible has happened to you? And I can't tell you how many stories of kids, you know, when you have a chance for them to come forward and really walk them through the same thing that I walked through in forgiving my mom.
Dennis: I started out my ministry working with high school kids, and a message I used to give – not in front of 80,000, by the way – the Silver Dome, Ron – but I used to speak to small groups of junior high and high school kids, and I would speak to them about honoring their parents and you know what? The lines formed back in the '70s, the early '70s. And, given the condition of the family today, those lines are longer, and they're deeper, emotionally deeper.
You also forgave your father. There was reconciliation there as well?
Ron: Absolutely, and, of course, I forgave him. There was a lot less, you know, I sort of felt like I forgave him for not being the dad that I always wish I had.
Bob: It was more for deficit than for what he'd actively done against you?
Ron: Right. It really felt like God had been my Father all along, and I really never got ripped off. I had the best Father you could ever have. And, really, that's a message that a lot of young men and young ladies need to hear today. The Bible says that God will be a Father to the fatherless. And when you don't have a father in your home, God, in a very real way, will be your father, and He'll bring father figures into your path to be an embodiment of that.
So I forgave my dad, and he also came to the Lord. I went back home, and we got to go to a Promise Keepers together in Fresno at Bulldog Stadium, and I got to walk forward with him as he committed his life to the Lord.
Dennis: No kidding?
Ron: Yeah, in front of 50,000 men. It was really a great moment.
Dennis: As you minister to young people today, and you call a generation out of their bitterness and anger and their brokenness and their deficits, what's your advice to a parent who is looking at this generation of young people, and they're raising a son or daughter in the midst of this, and, I mean, you're really speaking about if not some of the kids they're raising, you're speaking about some of their kids' best friends.
Dennis: They're growing up in homes like this.
Ron: Well, there's a battle going on for the hearts and the souls and the lives of this generation. A big part of this battle has to do with their home life and their family life. There's all kinds of other things we mention in the book, whether it's the media that is really ripping them off. It's a battle for their heart and their attention and their bucks, their dollars, and I speak to parents in the book, and when I speak to them live, that, first of all, yes, let's take responsibility for our own kids, make sure we're parenting them well. But also taking responsibility for the kids in the neighborhood, the kids in our church, the kids in our community, because a lot of them don't have Christian parents.
Dennis: I'm glad you said that, because on an earlier broadcast you mentioned what you looked like as one who wasn't a Christian yet, one who hadn't place his faith in Christ, and I think a lot of us in the church look down our noses at some of these sassy, embittered young men or young ladies who may be seductively dressed, and we just kind of wrinkle up our noses and judge, I'm sorry to say, and we don't see them for who they are – young people made in the image of God.
Bob: But we don't see all that's gone into shaping them, and if we could see a lot of that pain projected, it would give us hearts compassion rather than hearts of judgment, which is really more of a Pharasaical attitude that we've got to guard against.
Dennis: And, Ron, what you're doing in your book, "Battle Cry for a Generation," you are sounding a trumpet to call the older generation, senior pastors, youth pastors, parents, and specifically parents – I think your exhortation to look beyond your own kids and say, "Who has God placed in your path that you can be that father to? That you can be that mother to? That you can believe in them?" Because you may be the only hope they have in their lives.
Ron: That's right. Well, there's an urgency burning in my soul right now, because if you look at what's going on with this generation, it's not just "Oh, kids have problems – I remember I did, too, when I was a teenager." At the present rate of evangelism this largest generation in the history of America, only 4% of them will be Bible-believing evangelical Christians – 4% – compared to the baby boomers' 35%.
Ron: Well, what does America look like at 4%? It is not pretty. It's post-Christian Europe. So the urgency is that we have a window. It's just a small window – five to seven years – before most of the kids in this generation are into their 20s, and most people, up to 90% of anybody whoever comes to Christ does so before they're 20 years old. And so this is all men on deck, all women on deck – everybody's got to rally to this thing just like in World War II. And it's the same issue now; that it's not my job, it's not the youth pastor's job, it is our job – the body of Christ.
Ron: It's the pastors – we need to turn our churches in hospitals for a broken-hearted generation; that when young people come in here looking like I did or even worse – piercings and tattoos and wild-looking hair or whatever – the grandparents are loving on them, they're mentoring them, they're inviting them over for food and baking them goodies or whatever. I'm encouraging parents – don't just take your kids to church – you ought to tell them, "Before we go to church today, we're picking up four or five of your friends or we're not going." People go, "Well, that's inconvenient. I have to buy more gas, I have to get up earlier." Listen, we do it for soccer, we do it for cheerleading, why wouldn't we do it for God?
Dennis: There you go.
Ron: Our nation is at a crossroads. This is not like, "Oh, please, let's rescue kids." The future of our nation – are we going to be a Christian nation? What nation are we giving our kids? You can say, "Well, I have my hands full rescuing my own kids." Well, you can rescue your own kids, and we still lose. Who are they going to marry? What communities are they going to grow up in? And so this "Battle Cry for a Generation" is not just a book, it's a campaign to wake up the leaders and the laypeople and say "We all better engage," and people throw up their hands, "Well, what can I do against MTV or against Hollywood?" Well, there's a lot we can do. That's why we wrote the book. It's full of ideas of things that people have done, whether they're senior citizens or businessmen or pastors – things they have done already, and we're encouraging people to go, like, through their Sunday school class or Bible study group – take the book, there's a study guide, go through it together, discuss how can we rescue the kids in our town? We can do it.
Dennis: I really agree with you, and I applaud it, and I want to encourage our listeners not only get a copy of your book but also go to FamilyLife.com, and we have a link there to Teen Mania Ministries where you can find out more about how your son or daughter and you can engage in this battle.
Bob: Well, and the book really does lay out some strategies. It's the kind of thing that you'll not just want to read, but you'll want to highlight, you'll want to talk about as a family. What are some things you can do to join the battle, because we really are in a battle for the soul of the next generation.
We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if our listeners are interested in getting a copy and reading through it together as a family perhaps or using it to spark discussion around the dinner table. Again, the title of the book is "Battle Cry for a Generation," and we can send you a copy. Go to our website at FamilyLife.com, click the big red "Go" button that you see right there in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to the page where you can get more information about Ron's book and other resources we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center.
In fact, let me mention the book you and your wife Barbara wrote called "Parenting Today's Adolescent." That's a great companion book for the book that Ron has written here.
Again, there is more information about these resources on our website at FamilyLife.com or call us at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can let you know how we can get these resources sent out to you.
When you get in touch with us would you keep in mind FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. Folks just like you in cities all across the country who listen to the program regularly, who have benefited from what they've heard on FamilyLife Today and who believe in what we believe in – many of those folks have contacted us in past months to let us know that they want to support this ministry with a donation to help keep us on the air in this city and in other cities.
During the month of March, we have a special way of saying thank you to those of you who can make a donation to our ministry. We'd love to send you a set of what we call Resurrection Eggs. You've probably heard of these before – a dozen plastics eggs, each one containing a different symbol that represents something that took place in Christ's life during his last week here on earth. And I know you may be thinking, "Well, we already have a set of Resurrection Eggs at our home," but this month I want to encourage you to consider getting a second set to pass along to a friend, to a neighbor, maybe a family members. We'll send you a set of these eggs as our way of saying thank you for a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Call 1-800-FLTODAY to donate and just mention that you'd like a set of Resurrection Eggs when you make your donation or go online at FamilyLife.com, fill out the donation form, and as you fill it out, when you come to that keycode box type in the word "eggs," and we'll know that you'd like to have a set of the Resurrection Eggs sent to you.
Again, thanks for your financial support of this ministry, and we trust that the Resurrection Eggs will be a valuable tool for your family or for you to pass along to someone else you know.
Well, tomorrow Ron Luce is going to be back with us again. We're going to continue to look at the challenges that are being faced by this generation of teenagers and young people. We'll hear more about what Teen Mania is doing to address the deep spiritual issues that are at the root of the battle cry for a generation. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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