How Might We Reach This Generation of Young People, Part Two?

I used to really enjoy the AMC original series, Mad Men, but, after a few seasons, I lost interest. I am not sure if the writer’s depiction of the 1960s is perfectly accurate, but one scene resonated with my own imagination of what that era might have been like, and how it differs from our world today.

I do not remember the season, episode, or even the context of the scene, but I do remember thinking how strange it seemed to me in my own context. In short, two men in their office building, during work hours mind you, break out into a pretty serious fistfight.  After the scuffle goes on for a while, making a lot of disruptive noise, the boss breaks into the main office room where these two were fighting, and, upon his arrival, they stop.

 In our own day, both of these men would be fired on the spot. The company would go into preservation mode as news spread through the community. It would be called an “isolated incident” that does not reflect the nature of the company. One or both of the men that fought might be arrested, and one or both might try to sue the other. It more than certainly would be made into a bigger deal than it started as.

 This is not what happens in the show. Instead, the boss asks whether or not they resolved their differences, and everyone gets back to work, the two men shaking hands and going on about their day like nothing happened. This scene reflected something of the truth of modernism and its juxtaposition with postmodernity.  We are certainly not who we were in yesteryear.

 Evangelism in this day and time was very much like the scene in Mad Men. In that day, people would see evangelical admonition from a yelling preacher as the lesson they had coming to them, just as they saw a fistfight as a way to work out differences. Sure, there are still persons that respond well to a little scuffle and there are persons that respond well to a bit of disciplinary preaching, but overall, it’s just not as effective as it used to be.

 Now, I would not jump out of one ditch just to fall headlong into the other, with messages like we get from persons like Joel Osteen. However, as I argued in my last post, we need to be able to prove our side, not through tough love, but through humility and understanding. Meek love is not tough love, but it is strong love. It takes courage to be who you are called to be without being insulted when others aren’t living as they are called. And we not only need to live this example in our private lives. Our nation is having a conversation, and the church has something to say.

 We must be submissive vessels of grace before we can be effective vessels for change or correction. In the public sphere, we often see Christians arguing for what they believe to be right. In the political arena, many Christians call for legislation that would either keep the status quo—hindering others from some transgression, real or perceived, that they are wanting to be free to engage in—or would engineer outward social righteousness—which would, in many cases, produce nothing more than white washed tombs.

 The debates rise in temperature quickly, and anger ensues rapidly when each side does not get its respective way. Like many objects exposed to extreme heat, those not insulated by grace harden, and rigidity sets in. Their causes becomes cold causes, causes fought out of spite and not love. At all cost, these people will have their way, or they will burn out trying. In this, many have lost all effectiveness.

 Have we forgotten that without grace, no change is possible? This is not simply to suggest that we remain humble, forever recognizing that God is sovereign and in control of the situation, but it is also a call to action, a call for us to remember that we have a duty to show grace as our Lord has shown us grace. We are in some sense and by some degree His means of grace in the world. We are His salt and light in a dark, tasteless, and decaying word.

If we want others to be transformed, not simply because we want to control the world and have an engineered, pseudo-peace, but because we actually care for the lost ones, then we will first need to demonstrate grace before we act to see change happen. Grace always goes before. If it does not, any change will not be lasting.

 Moreover, this does not simply happen in public, but also happens in the heart first and foremost. Check your heart the next time you see the representative “opponents” of whatever issue or issues it is you are concerned about. Take stock of your feelings as you hear these “others” lobbying for their side on the news channel or social media. What feelings fill your heart? What words come to mind? What is it that you wish for them? Are you filled with compassion or malice? Do you say of them that they are precious souls in need of help, or do you call them fools, or worse? Do you want them to know peace or would you rather see some sort of vendetta visited upon them?

 If your heart overflows with negativity, perhaps it is you whom you need to work on. If it is love that you feel, remember how to love them. We, the representatives of Christ in the midst of this present evil age, influence, not by power struggles, but by service. When was the last time you served those who you wish to see transformed?

How Might We Reach This Generation of Young People?

I was having a discussion this morning with a peer in ministry, and we were discussing the attitudes of young persons today. I know that I could still be considered a young person myself, but we were specifically talking about college-aged persons who are now somewhere between six to ten years younger than myself, give or take.

He just kept using the term “apathy.” He said, “It is as if they just do not care about anything anymore.” He mentioned that when we were in college, “doubt” seemed to be the big issue that ministry was trying to overcome, but, now, it is lack of belief in anything, a sort of nihilistic malaise. However, I do not think it is apathy that defines this new generation, nor is it doubt, as it might have been years ago. It is distrust.

We are living in an age that has created and sustained things like infowars.com, a website that is intended to question every news story delivered and proffer an alternative story. This generation is addicted to reddit.com, and, while reddit is many things for many people, it serves the young generation as a place to stir the pot, to discuss all the ills of society and promote unrest in the hearts of the community as they accept any conspiracy theory that comes down the pike. This is the generation that hates both parties of the political system. This is the generation that is leaving home and their faith background, not because they feel doubtful, but because they feel pain, and I am not saying all this is unwarranted, mind you.  This is what we have come to call the age of Postmodernism.

The tide has shifted, and modernity and all the tactics to influence modern thinkers no longer work on this generation. Give a modern thinker a dose of intellectual objectivity in a forceful debate style, and they might say, “Hey, you know what? I like you.” Yell your “objective” claims at a postmodern and they will walk away faster than you can say, “What’s your problem?”

This generation has seen a collapse of empire in many ways. America is not the shining star among the nations as it once was. The church of Christendom has been so domesticated that it is losing adherents daily, and on a global scale, with all the “United Nations” coming together, we still hate each other, and terrorism is a word heard daily. To these persons, truth claims are simply lies, power struggles for who gets to control the masses.

Distrust starts off so small. Let’s use the beloved platform of The Echo Life as an example: Christians promote life and health. We preach that the body is the temple of God and that it should be treated with respect. Moms and dads tell their children to respect themselves when they go off to college. Don’t put harmful “stuff” in your body. But, when they go to church, what do they see? A bunch of overfed temples. What are they to assume? They assume that the church does not take its claims seriously. So, if it is not about faith for the church, what is it about? Their assumption, “It’s all for control.” We are promoting our happy little world as we want it to be.

How do we show the postmodern college kid that Christianity is not just another ploy to control his or her life, that it is not about oppressing the way he or she thinks and lives, but about freedom? We have to live in submission to our own claims fist. We have to say, “Watch, I will practice what I preach before I ever ask you to join, and I will show you it is not fake.” We must demonstrate the freedom of walking in Christ offers from the real oppressions of life. We will talk more about this next week, but ask yourself, “Am I a good representative of the Kingdom for this young generation who needs our love and not just our arguments for what is right and what is wrong?”

Grace – Not your crazy old Aunt

Have you ever paid attention to the spiritual elite that tried to stump Jesus time and time again? How many times did this group of highly educated people try to use carefully crafted questions, questions that they thought they knew the answers to, and how many times did Jesus diffuse the query and use it as a teaching about the Kingdom of God? These people were at the top of the spiritual world. They were on all the committees, the board. They were elders. They taught Sunday School, and whenever the “church” doors were open they were there involved with whatever program might have been going on at the time. For all intents and purposes these were the people that appeared to hold the community together.

It’s very easy to look at the spiritual elite, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees, and judge them as blind and haughty. How could they not see the world changing being that was embodied fully in Jesus Christ? Afterall, this group of people was charged with keeping the law. No one would have understood the law and the prophesy of the coming Messiah better. Perhaps, they should have been the first to recognize the arrival of Jesus as the long awaited prophet, priest and king that would change everything.

So why didn’t they get it? Why did they work so hard to disprove Jesus? To challenge him? To make him look like a fraud? It is in my estimation, it seems that these people were too focused on being Jewish than they were about being Godly. They were too busy holding on to what they thought was right than to listen to what Jesus was teaching. The spiritual elite of Jesus day were critical, hostile, and often at times malicious. Focused on their own piety and their own interpretations, they had little time to entertain paradigm shifting events and teaching from the very Son of God.

I’ve been on my share committees, boards, teaching positions, and filled pulpits; how many times have I committed the same egregious actions that the spiritually elite of Jesus day committed? How many times should I have noticed and proclaimed a teaching that was right, but, instead, forsaking it for my own personal preferences? The next question is how many times does this happen in the Christian community at large? Are we too focused on being Christian that we forsake being Godly?

A long time ago when I was in my first position as a pastor I had mentor and friend give me a piece of wisdom that rings in my ears almost daily. He said, “If you’re going to error, error on the side of grace.” How true this piece of Godly wisdom has been year after year. There is a lot of personal thoughts and feeling that percolate through the Christian community, some good, some bad, but more times than not, well intentioned. Having the ability to error on the side of grace rather than holding to what we think is right is one step we can take towards being more Godly.

Then sings my soul???

What if the majority of American Christianity was heretical?  Should we address it?  Should we find every single opportunity to correct and refine and redefine our faith?  Or should we ignore it? 

Now perhaps that is too bold of a statement to make.  I may in fact be mistaken that the “majority” of American Christianity is heretical, but I am afraid that the numbers may be higher than we think…especially when we look at the more fundamental denominations in our faith.

So what is the heresy?  What is heresy?  Heresy is a belief or opinion contrary to Christian doctrine.  Almost of all of the major heresies in the church were determined in the first few hundred years of our existence as great ecumenical councils came together to wrestle with this new type of faith.  One such heresy that has been around from the times of the Gospels is Gnosticism. 

Gnosticism essentially said that people are actually souls trapped in these terrible bodies of flesh.  Our bodies are broken and sinful and diseases ridden and they exist in a world of filth, corruption and pollution.  The “real me” has nothing to do with my body…the “real me” is trapped inside this body longing to get out.  And to get out, all a person needs is the correct knowledge (or gnosis).  If we want to escape this terrible world and become ourselves without our broken bodies anymore, all we need is to see the light and know the right stuff. 

Have you ever heard a message like that in a church?  This world’s not our home…our bodies have nothing to offer…just pray this prayer; believe this way; have this knowledge…and know that one day you will be home (i.e. your soul will be in heaven…).  Have you ever really listened and thought about some of the old gospel songs we sing:

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

     – from “This world is not my home” by Jim Reeves

Too many churches and pastors have unknowingly taken their theology lessons from Plato instead of our Gospels…especially the Gospel of John!  The word became flesh….flesh…body…This was written to combat the ideas of Gnosticism.  This was written to remind everyone of who we are as people.  This was written because if Gnosticism was allowed to run rampant what would happen?

Bodies don’t matter anymore…As Wendell Berry has said, “while the body goes about its business of destroying the earth, the soul is supposed to wait for Sunday…while the body exploits other bodies, the soul stands aloof, free from sin, crying… ‘I am not enjoying it.’”  Why should the body of Christ matter if we are just souls waiting on a transport?  Why should our bodies or creation matter if they’re just evil anyway?  What if it was this hatred for our bodies that paved the way to hate other bodies?  Why not then hate the bodies of slaves or women or animals or the earth?  Sound familiar?  Seen the news recently?

What if we were called to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice not to appease and pave the way for our souls, but to offer all of ourselves to the transformative grace of God? 

Why have we stopped believing Jesus?

Last week I stood on a bit of a soap box and asked “Why Wouldn’t we?!?  And apparently that question struck a chord with a lot of people.  If you missed it, check it out for 2 reasons:  1 – it resonated with a lot of people & 2 – that story was only the beginning.  Walhalla Presbyterian is still not meeting in their space; people are still finding ways to reach out; and that story is still being lived out every day here in Walhalla.

The hard part for me is, how do I follow that up?  What else will resonate with people that they will share with their friends and wrestle with throughout the week?  My answer this morning…take the next step on the soap box.

If the question last week was why are we so surprised when churches actually act like churches towards one another?  My question this week is why have we stopped believing Jesus?  Let that sink in for a minute….

Why have we stopped believing Jesus? 

Now before you get all hot and bothered, do me a favor and go read John 14:11-14.  Remember this was Jesus’ last meal with his friends and he was leaving them some last words to live by.  Why is it that we love to talk about foot washings and service (which are obviously great) but never talk about this promise?  We seem surprised we churches come together to fulfill his final prayer from John 17.  And we seem to forget that he promised that we would do greater things that even he!

Why have we stopped believing the words of Jesus?

I think it is because we watch too much news coverage.  No offense to the media, but we have become convinced that the world is going to hell in a hand basket.  We are fascinated with economic collapse and the threat of global war and food shortages…and we’ve stopped believing in Jesus’ last words.  I am not saying there are not threatening aspects of our world. 

I am saying that we should stopped treating the Good News of the Gospel like a life raft on the sinking ship of earth.  We should stop celebrating some ethereal rapture where God will swoop down and saving us before the world collapses on itself.  We should start believing as if greater things were possible.

What if we actually believed greater things are yet to come and stopped just singing it?

We should start living as if greater things were possible, as if redemption and transformation actually matter and were actually possible.  Perhaps then we would see our churches as places of transformation instead of museums of a long lost era.  Perhaps then we would see our bodies as gifts to be cared for instead of trash to be discarded.  Perhaps then we would see the brokenness of the world as the greatest opportunity for the Gospel to actually matter. 

If you were inspired by the stories of last week’s post, then what can you do this week that is even greater?  What can we do to show the world we still believe the words of Jesus?

Temple Talk

Heaven isn’t some cloudy, golden paradise…we decided that two weeks ago.  Last week we imagined the possibility that we are searching for heaven in the wrong place…maybe heaven meets Earth in us?!? 

As nice as that sounds, we can’t just make a statement like that without any type background or support.  And if we’re going to understand how we got here, then we need to start at the beginning…The Beginning. Continue reading

Is Wile E. Coyote’s Heaven for real?

As a kid, nothing made me happier than early Saturday morning cartoons.  I loved waking up early and watching as many as my parents would allow. 

wile_e_coyote_gravity

Who didn’t love the epic battles between Tom and Jerry or the Roadrunner and ole’ Wile E. Coyote?!?  Nothing says children’s entertainment like violent cartoon characters finding creative ways to kill each other. 

This is not a critique of children’s entertainment at all.  I just wonder if our theology has outgrown our childish TV shows.  I cannot remember a single episode where at some point someone died and their angelic, opaque spirit, complete with wings and a harp, drifted towards the clouds and heaven.  Does our theology look any different or do we still hope and pray for our spirits to drift towards a heavenly bliss when we die?  Continue reading

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right (Pt. 2)

Part Two: Antinomianism

 While there is no new heresy under the sun, the heresy of antinomianism had its biggest hay day in rather recent history, namely right after the Reformation. It has always had its adherents, perhaps not calling it by name, and it continues explicitly or implicitly in the minds of many Christians today. But the Reformers had the biggest battle with persons trying to pervert their message so as to have their cake and eat it too.

Continue reading

God Bless America?

So many of our conversations so far have been directed at our own health.  How can we become more healthy?  Why should we care about obesity or diabetes or what have you as it relates to a faithful way of life?  These are all excellent questions and I don’t disagree with any of them…I just wonder if we have tunnel vision.  Have we become so focused on our own situations that we have lost sight of the world around us? Continue reading

Creation Care: Part 2-Worldview

CreationFirst, I realize that I am arguing from and not to my worldview. In this essay I will be starting with presumptions that are dependent on arguments elsewhere, but arguments not primarily concerned with the topic at hand. In short, I will be assuming the biblical view that God is our creator is a correct view, and the neo-Darwinian view is false. While you might wish to argue these points elsewhere, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume this to be true so that we might explore the implications. Continue reading