Monday, October 27, 2014

October 26, 2014 Reading, Understanding, and Appreciating the Bible

II Timothy 3:14-17
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,
15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Some years ago a friend of mine handed me a King James copy of the Bible and asked me to read Luke 2:7.  I read it and shrugged.  I have read that verse countless times and didn’t know what he wanted me to notice.  I handed it back to him and he asked me to read it again.  I read it again and handed it back to him.  He handed it back to me and asked me to read it again.  I knew he wanted me to notice something but I didn’t know what it was and he told me I wasn’t reading it closely enough.  Finally, he pointed out to me what it was that he wanted me to notice.  I don’t have his Bible or a copy of that particular page, but I have reproduced it on the screen.  Take a close look and see if you can find what I missed on the first few readings.

Did you find it?  There’s a typo.

It says manager instead of manger.  It’s the only time I have ever seen a typo in a Bible.  I mentioned that typo in a meeting once, saying it was odd to find one in the Bible.  Someone else said they didn’t believe there was a typo.  No matter what I said, I couldn’t convince the person that verse had a typo in it.

That encounter helped me to understand that some people are threatened by some conversations, interpretations, or realities of the Bible.  They are threatened because they have constructed a view of the Bible that is like a house of cards – take away one small element of their view and everything collapses.  I think the way that some people teach children about the Bible contributes to this misfortune.  When I was young, some people told me there was a very strict way to interpret the Bible, beginning with the early chapters of the book of Genesis and on through to other passages.  Change just one small element of that interpretation and everything falls apart and you do away with the truth of all of it.  In that view of the Bible, everything is so intricately connected that one small change in a person’s interpretation means their entire view of the Bible collapses.  That’s what I was told by some people when I was younger.  The people who taught me this were very well meaning, but they were wrong.

I think this is what causes some young people to lose their faith.  They’ve been instructed in that view of the Bible and they go off to school and they hear something that conflicts with the interpretation they’ve been taught, so they do exactly what they were told – if just one small part of that interpretation doesn’t hold up, none of it does.  So they set aside their belief in the Bible and then soon after they let go of their faith.

I was told all manner of things about the Bible, some correct and helpful, and some erroneous and unhelpful.  Years ago I was told the Bible condemned my long hair and musical tastes.  My hair is much shorter now but I still listen to a lot of the same music.  Today, I’m told it condemns some of my spiritual and political views.  Sometimes I receive criticism for what I write in my column in the Sentinel-News, and that criticism comes with Scripture references telling me why I am wrong.  Despite some people telling me I’m wrong and that some of my views could be damaging to faith, my faith not only survived, but it has thrived over the years.

I love the Bible.  I love reading it and I love studying it.  I have spent most of my life reading it and studying it and trying to live its message.  I find it to be extremely relevant to my life and to today’s world.

There’s a lot at stake in how we read the Bible and how we interpret it. 

In response to the questions you asked about how we read and interpret the Bible, this morning we are talking about Reading, Understanding, and Appreciating the Bible.   

The questions we ask about the Bible have to do with how we interpret passages such as the command of God to put to death innocent men, women, children, and even animals.  How do we make sense of the different portraits of God found in the Old Testament and New Testament? 

What parts of the Bible are to be taken literally and what parts are to be taken as symbolic?  What commands were for a specific time period only and what parts are applicable for all time?

Lurking behind many of our questions about the Bible are other questions – what do we make of the charges of today’s skeptics, who claim the Bible to be full of contradictions, fables, and lacking in any element of the divine?  There is a good deal of skepticism directed at the Bible in our day and age. 

This morning, I would like to speak to a few of those questions.

1.  Do we recognize that there are different types of language used in the Bible?
Language is difficult.  I imagine that when the Founders of our nation realized they needed to clarify our Constitution with a few amendments they worked out the language and believed it to be obvious what they meant.  Here’s the First Amendment; this ought to clear things up.  Here’s the Second Amendment; this ought to clear things up.  And miraculously, it did, didn’t it?  (There’s an example of the problem of language.  Someone reading this may not catch the sarcasm in that sentence).

Skeptics, it seems to me, approach the Bible in a very erroneous manner.  While many of them claim not to believe the Bible, they are very literalistic in the manner in which they approach the Bible.  They are so literalistic they have little or no appreciation for the various types of language employed by the Bible, which leads them to make many unfortunate conclusions.  A skeptic once challenged me about the words of Jesus in Matthew 15:21-28, where Jesus says to a Canaanite woman it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.  Thinking that Jesus was being incredibly rude, the person asked me how I could justify such an attitude.  My response was that their interpretation was incredibly mistaken, as Jesus could be using sarcasm or one of several other ways of speaking that is difficult to ascertain from the printed page.

It is on this point that I would offer my first suggestion as to how to approach the Bible – do not read it as a “flat” document.  It can be difficult to ascertain the difference in language when we are reading the printed page.  We can recognize it very easily when it is the spoken word.  Tanya, for instance, often calls me a genius, but I can assure you she doesn’t use that word according to the usual definition of genius.  It’s usually used in connection with something dumb that I’ve done, a roll of the eyes, and the comment you are a genius.  I get the point, believe me.  But if it were written down that Tanya called me a genius, someone might read that at some point and so I like to think that one day our grandchildren and great-grandchildren would read such a statement and think wow, granddad was a genius, because it says said so right here! 

Because the Bible uses many different types of language we must be diligent to try and understand what type of language is used in a particular passage.  How do we, for instance, interpret what Jesus says in Matthew 5:29 – 30: If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.  It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.  I don’t know anyone who has followed that verse literally.  Did Jesus mean that we should?  I don’t think so.  I believe Jesus is using hyperbole in order to get our attention about the serious nature of temptation and the havoc and heartbreak it can bring to our lives. 

Don’t read the Bible as being “flat,” that is, as using only one type of language that must be taken always in a literal sense. 

2.  How do we know the difference between a command for a particular place and time and a command that is applicable to all places and all times?
Beyond the question of language, there are other important matters to consider as well, one of which is the very difficult question of what Scriptural commands are meant for a particular time and place and which ones applicable to all time times and places?  Leviticus, for example, is often quoted in reference to some of today’s debates over sexuality but there are other commands in Leviticus that are never considered.  In Leviticus 19:19 we find the command that we are not to plant your field with two kinds of seed.  Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.  Or how about 19:28, a verse that seems rather timely to me – do not…put tattoo marks on your selves.  Does any one here have a tattoo?  There seems to be quite a few people violating that command these days.  How about this one – do not cut the hair at the edges of your head or clip off the edges of your beard (Leviticus 19:27).  Most of us would probably say that because those are Old Testament commands they don’t apply.  But here’s one from the New Testament – every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.  And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…if a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off (I Corinthians 11:4-6).

Some people read those verses and claim that is why the Bible is out of date but they don’t understand there were very good reasons at the time for the commands that seem very strange to us.  We would agree that those verses were for a particular time and place, but what about this one – You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).  I don’t know about you, but I find the commands about not having a tattoo or covering my head to be a lot more appealing than the one to love my enemy.  I think we would all agree that one applies to all time.  And I Corinthians 13; has there ever been a more powerful statement about love? 

There is a difference between time-bound commands and commands for all time, and we must be very careful to distinguish between the two.

3.  Is the Bible still relevant in the modern world?
One of the charges of skeptics against the Bible is that it is out of date and irrelevant to today’s world.  The mistake they make is they equate old with irrelevant, and those two things are not one and the same.  Sam Harris, in his book The End of Faith, says that to the ancients, a wheelbarrow would be a breathtaking piece of technology.  That’s is an incredibly ignorant statement.  The ancient Greeks were incredibly advanced in math and were ever performing some forms of surgery.  The ancient Egyptians accomplished amazing feats of engineering when it came not only to the pyramids but also to other of their building projects.  For millennia, astronomers have possessed the ability to predict eclipses with incredible accuracy.  Think of the great philosophical achievements of Aristotle and Plato, who possessed intellects beyond most modern minds.  Think of the immortal writing of William Shakespeare.  Old does not equal irrelevant.

The Bible continues to be relevant for many reasons, and is because it is like a mirror that allows us to see all the truth about humanity, from the tragedy to the beauty.  It shows us not only what we are, but what we can be, and were created to be.

I will close with a story that I believe I shared early in my ministry, so some of you have heard it but many of you have not.  When I was attending seminary, I had a theology class that was very difficult.  It was difficult not only because of the material, but also because the professor could be quite provocative in some of his statements.  Some of his statements regularly upset members of the class, and one day he said something especially provocative, causing one of the students to jump up from his seat and exclaim Dr. Tupper, why are you trying to destroy my faith!  It was a large class, probably about 100 – 125 students.  I was sitting in the back row, where I had a good view of this very emotional moment.  The lecture hall became very quiet, punctuated only by the breathing and sobs of the student, who was so emotional that tears were running down his face.  We were all very curious about how Dr. Tupper would handle such a situation.  Remembering it as though it happened yesterday, I can still see Dr. Tupper walking to the student, whose desk was at the end of the front row, and putting his hand on the student’s shoulder and having him sit back down in his desk.  Dr. Tupper then sat on the edge of the desk, and with his hand still on the shoulder of the student said, son, I’m not trying to destroy your faith; I’m trying to make sure it can survive outside of this classroom.  If it can’t survive this classroom, it will never survive outside of this room.  What a powerful moment, and powerful lesson, that was.

Dr. Tupper was correct.  If a student’s faith could not survive that classroom, it would not survive outside of the classroom.  I struggled a great deal in that class as Dr. Tupper challenged us, challenged our faith, and made us think.  I lost some sleep because of that class, as I sometimes would think in the middle of the night about some of the things Dr. Tupper said to us.  But my faith was strengthened, and my understanding of the Bible was certainly strengthened as well.

The Scriptures are a gift to us, a gift that is designed to strengthen our faith.  You have probably noticed that I haven’t answered your specific questions this morning.  That is intentional.  I want you to think and struggle – and certainly turn to the Bible and study and read – about those questions.  The Bible is not always an easy book.  It is not always easy to understand, and when it is understandable it is very difficult to put into practice in our lives.  But the process of reading, studying, and struggling is all part of what plants the Bible firmly into our hearts and minds.

FCC Shelbyville | October 19, 2014 Sermon

Monday, October 20, 2014

October 19, 2014 Revisiting the Question of Suffering

45 He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous – Matthew 5:45

1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?
I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?
I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” – Luke 13:1-5

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. – John 9:1-3

I have to admit that I was a bit surprised this summer, as I read through your responses to the three questions I asked you, at how many had to do with the question of suffering.  My initial response was to think did nobody notice that I preached four messages about this topic back in the spring, as we studied the book of Job?  Didn’t I answer that question?

I read those messages this week, and as I reread them, I realized they were, basically, messages of comfort and encouragement more than they were messages about the theological questions related to suffering.  They were pastoral messages, and those kinds of messages are certainly needed, especially on the topic of suffering and difficulties.  But they didn’t give an answer to the question of why, if it is possible to do so.

In revisiting this question this morning, I hope to give a more definitive theological answer.  In doing so, however, I hasten to add that this question does not have an answer in the way we typically think of answers.  As people who live in the modern age, where science promises to give us either an answer, or the promise of an eventual answer, to every question, we have come to expect a very succinct, definitive, and logical answer to all our questions.

But not every question can be answered by science, or technology, or logic.  Some questions are very simple, such as what is the answer to the equation 2 + 2?  (Although I did ask my 9th grade Algebra teacher why 2 + 2 had to equal 4.  I wanted to know then, and still want to know now, why we can’t assign any value that we prefer to that equation.  That probably explains why I failed the class).  Other questions are much, much more complicated, and though science can answer many questions, from the simplest to the very complex, science can’t, for example, answer questions such as what is great art, what is great music, what is a meaningful definition of beauty, nor can it explain matters of the Spirit.  Such questions, and definitions, fall into a different category, a category generally occupied by philosophy and faith.

So the expectation of an answer to every question is part of the problem when we come to the question of suffering, because it is simply not the way in which the world works.  In spite of the promise of science and technology and logic, there will never be a succinct, definitive, and logical answer to every question.  The universe is so vast, and we occupy and understand such an incredibly small corner of that universe, it is the height of arrogance to believe that science will ever fully answer every mystery of the universe or every question about life itself, because a question such as suffering cannot be placed under a microscope or examined in a laboratory in order to find a satisfactory answer.

But still we ask – what is the answer to the question of why we suffer?  Why do some good people suffer and, conversely, why do some evil people prosper?  Why do innocent children become sick and die before their time?  Why do natural disasters take so many lives?  Those questions gnaw at us and we continue to search for answers, especially to the two big questions – can God do anything about this suffering, and if so, why doesn’t he seem to do more? 

But here is what I believe we must know.

We have to approach the question of why in a very different manner from other questions, and the manner in which we approach that question is to say, first of all, that the question why is the wrong question.  The real question is this – of the two alternatives to this question, which will we accept?

The first alternative is the one proposed by skeptics and people of no faith.  Their alternative says that everything is random and some bad things happen and some good things happen simply because the universe is random and that’s the only explanation.  There are no forces beyond the acts of nature and the laws of physics governing the universe.  Sometimes a planet gets in the way of an asteroid and terrible destruction is the result.  Sometimes an earthquake happens because the layers of rock beneath the crust the earth randomly shifts.  Some people’s bodies have a genetic mutation that causes a disease. 
Within that point of view there has been a bit of progress made to deal with some of that randomness.  Medical science, for instance, has progressed to the point that not every disease is a death sentence, or at least not an immediate one.

We can accept this view that we live in a random universe and that everything that happens to us in life is a result of that randomness and there is no inherent meaning to anything.  If we accept that view we then face the alternative of going through life believing that we are little more than a collection of atoms and molecules and that the electrical impulses connecting the neurons of our brains that give us the illusion that there is some measure of meaning to life, but within that view, there is no meaning.

The skeptic looks around at the universe and sees a collection of planets, stars, and space debris and says let’s hope we can stay out of the way of the randomness of those objects.  The skeptic looks around and puts together an equation that would read if A=a suffering world and B=a loving, powerful God then something doesn’t add up so I’ll jettison any idea of God and live with the randomness and lack of purpose and meaning.

The perspective of faith is the other alternative.  From the perspective of faith we must understand that sometimes we have the expectation that because we are people of faith our lives will somehow be exempt from the sufferings of life.  We learn from the book of Job this is certainly not true. 

From the perspective of faith, we acknowledge that suffering exists; that is the simple, sometimes brutal fact.  Nothing is going to change that fact.  Nothing is going to exempt us from suffering. We can buy every insurance policy available, every security device, and seek to insulate ourselves in every way possible from reality but we cannot escape some measure of suffering, and that is the reality for people of faith and people of no faith.  The believer and the nonbeliever face that same reality. 

But the person of faith looks around and says we live in a world that is not random but is the result of the hand of God, and just because A and B do not add up in any way that I can see I will continue to see meaning and purpose in this great universe and in my own life.  I will believe there is a greater purpose, even when it is a purpose I can neither see nor understand.  I will hope even when it is difficult to hold onto hope, even in the face of suffering because the only alternative is despair.  I will believe even when it is hard to hold on to faith in the face of suffering because the only alternative is no faith and that leads me nowhere and to no answer. 

If faith cannot answer every question with the specificity we desire then we must also know that skepticism offers no answer at all except emptiness and hopelessness and its only promise is a few years of whatever experience we can grab and then an eternal lights out and we become nothing but fertilizer until the universe implodes and then we become that to which such a view ultimately leads – nothing.
I don’t know about you, but I find the choice between these to alternatives to be an easy choice. 

So the first question is, which of those two alternatives will we accept, and the next question becomes because suffering will come our way and is unavoidable, what will we make of the suffering that comes our way?

As people who follow Jesus, we believe in a God who suffered.  In that sense, Christianity is absolutely unique among religions, in worshipping a God who is not far off and immune to and callous toward suffering, but he has walked through suffering and he has suffered.  As people who follow Jesus we are a resurrection people and we believe there is something on the other side of our suffering and resurrection is always ahead for us.

I closed the first of my messages on Job with a story about the oldest couple I married.  I’ll close this one with a story of another couple, who were much younger.  Early in the first Gulf War, I was in the attic of the church I was serving at the time, working on some insulation.  I was dirty and sweaty and had been up to my elbows in the work when someone called for me to come down.  A young couple had walked into the church and asked if there was someone who could marry them.  The young man was in the military and in a few days he was going to be sent to the Middle East.  I told them I could do the wedding, but would need to go home and get cleaned up.  They didn’t want to wait, it didn’t matter to them how I looked, and I looked pretty bad.

As we talked for a few minutes before the brief ceremony, they told me they wanted to get married in case something happened to him.  I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be easier to wait?  Why put yourself through all the sorrow if something does happen?  Don’t you want to provide yourselves with a measure of insulation from the possibility of loss and grief?  But they were determined, and I performed the ceremony, and I never saw them again, but have wondered about them a number of times over the years.

I find something wonderful in their determination to get married just days before he was sent to war, with no guarantee that he would come home.  I find something encouraging about the fact that they did not decide to break up in order to insulate themselves from the potential of sorrow and heartbreak.  I find it wonderful and encouraging because that is life.

We can’t live life in an insulated bubble.  I could get used to a life of sitting on the porch, taking vacations, doing only the things that will make me happy.  I find that to be very attractive, actually.  And even though it won’t insulate me from all of life’s sorrows and difficulties, it would insulate me from a lot of them.

But that’s not the way I am meant to live.

Why is there suffering?  I will tell you that is the wrong question.  The real answer to that question is that we have a choice between only two alternatives – one of a random, empty universe that has no answer, or one that tells us that God has created this universe, and for whatever reason that suffering is a part of it, he is not only with us in our suffering, but he has also suffered, and has entered into our suffering, he asks us to enter into the suffering of others.

FCC Shelbyville | October 12, 2014 Sermon

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October 12, 2014 Understanding the World of Our Children and Grandchildren


13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.
14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
– Mark 10:13-16

There’s a fascinating element to that passage of Scripture.  It’s hard to imagine why the disciples would rebuke people for bringing their children to Jesus.  I imagine they had no idea they were standing in the way of kids and young people coming to Jesus, and were probably shocked when Jesus became angry with them.  People don’t always know when they stand between kids and Jesus.  Do you ever wonder if we do?  Perhaps there are times when we stand in the way of kids and Jesus, and we don’t even realize we are doing so.  I pray we never stand in the way.

I want to share a geezer moment with you this morning.  That’s right, I’m an old geezer about a lot of things.  But don’t laugh, because some of you are as well!

Have you ever had one of those moments where a memory is triggered, and you are transported back into a moment of time in such a powerful way that you feel you are almost physically there?  Not long ago I had such a moment.  I have no idea what triggered it, but my memory kicked in and took me back to Franklin Elementary School, where I spend 1st to 6th grade.  I enjoyed my years at Franklin School, and a couple of years ago, when I was home visiting my mom I drove by the school and stopped, hoping to get in to walk through the halls once again.  It was during the summer and the school was closed and locked, but I looked in the windows and walked around the playground.  When my memory took me back there on that recent day, I could almost hear the sounds of the playground and smell the hallways of that old school.  I could see the basketball court, the kickball field, and the playground.  There was a very real sense of assurance and peace that came over me as my mind took me back to that place and what I remembered as a much simpler time of life.

But my mind also reminded me that those days were not all simple.  It was a time of immense and unsettling social change.  It was a decade of war and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  We have to remind ourselves from time to time that as much as we like to think and talk about the good old days, they were not always as good as we remember.  We might desire to return to the simplicity of earlier years, but we have a somewhat selective memory about those good old days.  The good old days included the Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, segregation, and many other difficult chapters in history.

Young people today are coming of age in a world radically different from that of previous generations, and to be honest, it is a world that often confuses and troubles me.  I struggle to understand today’s world.  I struggle to see beyond the horizon of the present and try to imagine what the world will be like in another ten or twenty years.  At the current pace of change, I am troubled by what changes may yet come.

I realize that much of my uneasiness is related to the world becoming less like the one in which I was raised and more like one that seems alien to me in many ways.

As much as the change unsettles me – and probably you as well – what must it be like for our children and grandchildren?  I imagine that what is worrisome to us is normal to them.  Commentators often speak of the new normal.  Well, the new normal is very different from what most of us knew as children.  But to our children it is just the way things are – it is what it is, as you might hear them say.

But I am hopeful as well, as I shared in last week’s message, and I hope that what I have to say doesn’t come across as despair. This morning we are talking about Understanding the World of Our Children and Grandchildren, and I’ve been very curious to discover what I would have to say about this topic, as I don’t really understand the world of our children and grandchildren.  In fact, Tanya asked me recently do you know anything about that topic?  Not as much as I’d like to know, but when has that stopped me from commenting anyway?

After thinking quite a bit about this topic I finally decided that what I would like to do today is to speak to what we need to understand about the world of our children and grandchildren, which will be a very brief overview, and then speak of what those children and grandchildren can learn from we who are further down life’s road.

We don’t know what it’s like to grow up in today’s world. 
The world is not at all like it was when I was young.  Mayberry is gone.  The Cleavers don’t exist (that’s a reference to Leave It To Beaver for those who are younger).  We lived in a world that did not have cell phones, personal computers, tablets, the internet, video games, satellite dishes, cable TV, and other technologies that now fill our daily lives.  We could also walk home at night with very little fear.  We could count on finding a good job after graduation, could count on the possibility of staying with that employer for the entire length of our career, and then enjoy retirement with a pension from that employer.  Today, students graduate with mounds of debt, no guarantee of a job or a way of repaying that debt, little or no hope of staying with one employer throughout their working years, and certainly not the guarantee of a pension.

We did not grow up in a world overrun with drugs, violence, and uncertainty.  We grew up in a world where most families remained intact and where there were three or four TV channels to watch, and we all watched the same programs.  As kids, we were raised in a joint effort by our entire neighborhood.  Now, a lot of kids raise themselves and don’t have any idea who their neighbors are.

We don’t know what it’s like to grow up in today’s world, so when we say back in my day, we must remember that day no longer exists, and it’s not coming back.  We need to know that when we are tempted to criticize young people for a lack of commitment or work ethic or in some other area that we may be mired in misunderstanding because the world is so different and they are different.

The world of today is one of constant change and uncertainty.
The other day a radio commentator said the world is changing fast.  You think?  Did he just figure that out?  Has he been living under a rock (even if he did, in this day and age the rock probably has Wi-Fi). 

It’s not changing fast; it’s changing at a break-neck speed that is confusing and disorienting to all of us.  Every generation experiences change, but it is the pace of change that is so different today.  Whereas it took several generations or decades for significant social change to take place, it now comes at a dizzying pace.  It is this world, where things change quickly and nothing seems certain, that our children and grandchildren live.

It has often been noted that young people think differently about social issues, trending to more liberal or open-minded points of view. When you study surveys about attitudes toward social issues by generation you find a great deal of difference when you come to young people. They are, for instance, much more accepting about same-sex marriage.  But the issue that looms extremely large for young people is not a social issue such as marriage, but whether or not the world is going to survive.  Instead of worrying about many of the social issues that trouble my generation – and older generations – they are worried about whether or not the human race is going to survive, so that trumps all the other issues.

 Take, for example, this fact – the world’s population has increased from 1.5 billion in 1900 to 6.9 billion in 2010
(  How many people can our planet conceivably support?  We may find out in the next century.  And then there’s global warming.  A good number of people in my generation and older are skeptics of global warming – I am not one of those skeptics – but talk to young people and you’ll find that almost all of them do, and for good reason – it is their future that is at stake.

Their relationship to faith is often different from ours.

It has often been reported that younger people are less religious than previous generations, citing, primarily, the rise of the nones.  But this is not as true as it appears.  Younger people aren’t necessarily less religious as much as they are religious in a different way, because their desires and preferences are different. When was the last time, for instance, that you saw a young person reading a newspaper?  You probably can’t remember.  Do you know any young people who watch an evening news broadcast by one of the major networks?  Probably not.  You would probably struggle to find a young person who evens wears a watch (most of them use their phone to tell time).  They still consume news and need to keep up with the time, but their desires and preferences related to so many things and the manner in which they consume those things has evolved into something very different.

We now live in a world that is organized less by obligation and more by desire and preference, and this has serious implications for the church, especially when it comes to young people.  

Many young people don’t, for instance, feel the necessity to connect to God in an institutional manner, such as church.  Because younger people are not “joiners” in the way our generations were, civic clubs and all manner of organizations, not just churches, are awakening to a very different reality.  Attend a meeting of a civic club today and you will probably struggle to find a member under the age of 35.  My generation, and previous ones, felt it important to join a civic club.  Doing so was part of our “civic duty.”  The fact that attending church could also be good for their business had an impact as well.  Today, instead of traditional networking, such as in civic clubs, business contacts are forged most often online and civic duty is fulfilled in crowd-funding or creating an online movement via social media. Young people probably won’t use the phrase “civic duty,” but they still hold to the concept of serving their community.  Young people simply do not relate to things in the same manner as previous generations. 

But the big question in this category is one that people often ask me – should I force my child to attend church?  I don’t always answer that question in any kind of concrete manner.  My siblings and I were taken to church regularly, it was assumed we would go to church each week.  There were times, when I was young, when I did not want to attend church, but I was “encouraged” to attend in spite of my resistance.  I’m grateful my parents encouraged me to attend, even against my will at times, because I don’t know what I would have done had it always been up to me.  Looking back, I am grateful that my parents instilled in me a pattern and appreciation for something I could not adequately value at the time.  Tanya and I have continued with this approach.

At some point, though, the decision on how to relate to faith must be made by every individual; as parents we cannot make that decision for our children.  I would say that as parents the dilemma is when to leave that decision to your children.

I would also add a word of encouragement to the parents and grandparents who grieve because their children and/or grandchildren do not attend church, or demonstrate much of an interest in faith.  Young people generally do what young people so – they experiment with different ways of thinking, of finding their own way, and, very often, doing things to separate themselves from their parents, including attending church.  But let me remind you that many people who leave either church, or faith, often return at a later point in life.

Now I want to add a word about what we – as older generations – have to offer young people.

You know a lot, but you don’t know everything.
The world has changed a great deal, there is no doubt about that fact, but there are still some important truths and some wisdom that we have to offer.

Most of us probably realize how much wiser our parents seem to get as we become older.  When I was 18, 20 years old, my parents didn’t know much of anything.  As I aged, it was amazing how their IQ went up along with my age.
Which means it is important to –

Have a greater appreciate for your parents.
A few days after becoming a parent I sat down and wrote a letter to my mom and dad, thanking them for all they had done for me.  It was a long-overdue letter.  Although I had been a parent for only a few days, it totally changed my perspective on life and certainly my perspective on my parents.  I’m grateful I wrote that letter.  I’m grateful for what I learned from them.

You need to learn the relationship between time and money.
I don’t mean anything at all related to the old saying that time is money.  What I mean about the relationship between time and money is the manner in which time can work for or against you in relation to money.  If you invest early in life, time is your great friend.  If you invest $2,000 at age 18, and never add another penny to that amount, and if you receive a 10% return each year, at age 48 that $2,000 would be worth $34,898.80 (  

Imagine if you took other amounts, smaller amounts, and added each year.  The point of this is not simply to amass wealth, but to help you escape the debt that burdens so many people and dictates all their financial decisions, but most of all, to allow you to be generous, and a good steward of the gifts given to you by God.

Understand the value of church.
I struggle to understand online education.  I know that’s a big part of education now.  Lexington Theological Seminary is now totally online.  Maybe some day all education will be online.  Maybe one day a lot of church will be online.

Church is not outdated or irrelevant, as much as some may claim that it is.  One of the beautiful gifts of the church is the gathering of people cross-generationally, which happens almost nowhere else in society.  That’s not possible in an online format.  We need to be together.  We were created for community, which the church provides in a more powerful way than any other entity.

The world has changed.  The world is changing.  The world is not the same as it was when I was young.  It’s not the same as it was yesterday.  It won’t be the same tomorrow.

But the good news is that we have a God who is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  As uneasy as we might be about the changes in our world, and the challenges that face our children and grandchildren, we must remember that God has carried us this far, and will continue to care for every generation.