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
(http://www.who.int/healthinfo/statistics/mortality/en/index.html.)  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 (http://www.fool.com/investing/beginning/why-should-i-invest.aspx).  

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.

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