A few words for this current generation

I realize that by giving a blog post this kind of a title, it makes me sound like an old man. And while I'm really not all that old by today's standards, I do realize just how far a couple of decades have removed me from the twenty-somethings of today. This generation faces most of the same issues, challenges, and problems as I did back in the 1990's, yet they operate under the magnifying glass of technology which serves to amplify even the most trivial of information.

I often freak myself out when I make a comment or give direction to a younger person because I find that I sound more and more like a parent, which is really not a bad thing except for the fact that I realize I am becoming that person whom I often rolled my eyes at once he or she began to speak. Nevertheless, I'm gonna go there.

There is a lot of advice floating around out there, found not just in the sphere of graduation speeches and the like but well beyond them. No one that I know wants this or any generation to fail, but I have to admit that it becomes more and more difficult to address the challenges that they face in a rapidly changing culture. So, what would I say to this current generation of older teens and 20-somethings that's any different than what they are constantly being bombarded with via social media and other outlets? I would start with Psalm 112, which gives us more wisdom than we know what to do with.

This psalm is all about righteousness. For the one who trusts in the Lord, the righteousness of the Lord is his. This is the main point above all others: Trusting in God above yourself, your influences, your culture. Happy is the man who fears the Lord, taking great delights in His commandments. That's the capstone of our satisfaction, knowing God and trusting in Him to guide us. What follows from that is solid advice that guarantees success.

The generation of the upright will be blessed. Do not grow weary of following after God and doing what is right. Serving and following God will not return void. This world isn't gonna be crazy about your love for God and you will be bombarded with a host of other paths to take. They see living for God as outdated and pointless, but that's because they refuse to see who God really is. Seeking after godliness isn't old-fashioned or prudish. The culture may call you out of touch but God calls you righteous.

Light shines in the darkness for the upright. God wants to lead you. Let Him. Everyone is on a quest for truth and most are searching for truth where it cannot be found. Whether you move on to higher education or not, you will be exposed to many alternative methods for determining truth, but in the end you will find yourself swimming in a sea of contradiction. Seeking after God grounds you in His truth and lights your path. You may not have all the answers, but you can see the way to go.

Good will come to a man who lends generously and conducts his business fairly. Give to those in need in spite of how much or little you have. Greed has become a god that never satisfies. Be generous. Establish this at an early age and don't deviate from it. Conduct your business with character and integrity. Those who cut corners and use deception may be successful now, but the righteous "In the end will look in triumph on his foes."

He will not fear bad news; his heart is confident, trusting in the Lord. Refuse to give in to the fears that this world continues to peddle. This doesn't mean that every news outlet is based upon godless information, but our hope is in the Lord, not in what man can do. Is there world conflict and the real threat of terror? Yes! Are these things able to trump the sovereignty of God? Not in a million years! God is our confidence and our strength. Whom shall we fear?

So much advice is out there, especially for young people. Not all of it is bad but most of it is not from God. Give your ears first and foremost to God's words, His very truth to you. You will find that He always has your best interests in mind, unlike the culture which seeks alternate and often incompatible avenues in an effort to define purpose and direction for you. There are many words being spoken. Not all are worth listening to. Listen and follow wisely.

The power of prayer is greater than the power of opinion

Unless you've been living in a remote cave somewhere in Patagonia, then you are aware that there's a whole lot of stuff going on in America. The economy is still shaky, health care remains in critical condition, the NSA is all up in our business, and no one seems to know who is actually telling the truth anymore (as if we ever really knew in the first place). Scale this down to a local level and the problems seem to be magnified. For instance, in my great state of North Carolina our state legislators' decisions to underfund an educational system that is already lagging behind have left people on both sides of the political aisle shaking their heads in astonishment. What is going on here?

If you have internet access then you have been bombarded with countless opinions as to what is happening in America, both on a national and local level. Some insights are filled with facts and figures, yet most are knee jerk reactions to whatever sleight may be perceived. I, too, have been guilty of posting my displeasure on social media, although my public sentiments hardly reflect the vitriol of most that I have read. It's okay to have opinions about politics. After all, we the people are the ones who vote to put these men and women in office and when they do not represent our wishes then our voices need to be heard, right?

Here's the problem with that. If I bash our president or state representatives or other elected officials on Facebook or Twitter, what problems am I fixing with that approach? Sure, I can call their offices and let my voice be heard (and I often do that) but what good comes from a public lambast of a man or woman who will never in a million years read what has been posted about him or her? Believe me, if I was a politician then the arena of social media is the last place I would choose to hang out. I'm no glutton for punishment!

"But we need change in this country!" you say.

"If our voices are not heard, then nothing will be done!" you lament.

"Power to the people!" a group of radicals in the corner screams.  

Yes, we need change! Yes, our voices need to be heard! But by whom? Have we become so quick to share our opinions with others that we have forgotten who is truly in charge here?

Read these words from 1 Timothy 2:1-3 carefully:
First of all, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior.
First of all. This means that, before we air our concerns and opinions to the rest of the world about how lousy we believe our government is, we pray for our leaders. We lift them up to our sovereign God and we thank Him for giving us leaders to lead us.

This means that we believe the power of prayer is greater than the power of opinion.

This means that we choose to bow before God before we bend over our keyboards.

This means that we seek the wise counsel of God before we see how many "likes" we can get.

Why should we do this? First, it leads to godliness and dignity. There is nothing more undignified than seeing a professing Christian whose Facebook page that looks more like a hate mail forum for the president and other government leaders, especially when they mix in really great Scripture quotes between their anti-government rants. Second, praying for our leaders pleases God our Savior. This is our goal in life, to bring glory and honor to God. I'm pretty sure that a consistent stream of negative opinions about our elected officials doesn't do that.

Constantly berating public officials in the public forum gets old pretty quickly. For followers of Christ to constantly do so is just plain irresponsible and disobedient. Election times will soon come and you can cast your vote for all the change you want to see. In the meantime, spend more hours on your knees interceding for your leaders and less time online spewing irresponsible opinions.  

Taking food from the hungry

Not long ago I shared a conversation with a young man in high school who had lots of questions about God and faith. I mean some really, really good questions. He wanted to believe - he knew that there was more "out there" - but he wasn't buying into the picture that had been painted for him over the years. The whole "Everyone I know who claims to be a Christian is such a hypocrite" was in full display, and I was certainly sympathetic to his story. It's one we hear all too often and it makes it much more challenging to point others to the beauty and truth of Christ when all of His self-professed followers are acting like a bunch of boneheads.

But what struck me the most in our conversation - what left me scratching my head - was the treatment this young man said that he received whenever he expressed his doubts from other Christians that he was close to. They got angry with him. They became hostile towards him because he didn't believe like they did and it drove him father away.

I believe I'm gonna need a little bit of help understanding this approach to evangelism.

I've got a little bit of a confession to make. There were several years early in my ministry, years where I spent a lot of time in seminary classes having animated discussions with my classmates about all sorts of theological issues, that pointed me in a rather negative direction. I could call these my "zealous years" but perhaps they were more like my "arrogant years". I thought that I had figured it out all. In fact, I was convinced that I was right. About everything. As a result, my tolerance level for those who didn't believe or practice their faith in the same way that I did plummeted to dangerously low levels. The results of this were predictable: I became someone who was angry and hostile to others who did not follow Jesus.

I could totally understand where this young man was coming from because I had been one of those people that he was describing. Sure, I wanted people to know Jesus and love and serve Him all of their days, but my version of Christianity became more important than the Jesus who saves. And I'm not proud of that period of my life. I was coming into contact with people who were hungry for truth and purpose, people who were desperate for Jesus, but I was taking their food away because they didn't see things the same way that I do.

This is a huge problem in the church today. Give it any name you want - traditionalism, church politics, denominationalism, whatever - many believers are convinced that their way is the right way and all others be damned. And when that line of thinking takes root, the results are predictable. While we say that our goal is to draw men and women to Christ, what we are really doing is repelling those same people because of our arrogance and obstinance.

There really aren't a whole lot of arguments left to sift through when we talk about how to "do church the right way." Most people gravitate toward a style or methodology that caters to their own desires, and that's not always a bad thing. But the key that is often missing is Jesus. Yes, Jesus. A reading of the New Testament reveals to us a Jesus who hung His hat on the same message over and over again: repentance, faith, and love. Wash, rinse, repeat. Methodology took a back seat. Every word, every action was driven by these principles. It wasn't about whether your way or my way was better. There was only one way, and that way was Jesus. The one way is still Jesus.

I am grateful to say that my conversation with this young man led to him being convinced that Jesus is worth it. It wasn't really anything I said or didn't say but rather a realization on his part that Jesus died for him and wants a real, life changing relationship with him that knows no boundary or end. He still had lots of questions after we talked and prayed together, but his journey of faith with Christ has begun. And there was no anger or malice involved. The young man was simply hungry and was waiting for someone - anyone - to show him where he could get a bite to eat without being angry with him for having an appetite.

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