Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Stop Picking on Millennials

Please excuse all the broad brushstrokes below.

I'm getting a little tired of hearing people dump on millennials. They are depicted as spoiled, arrogant, easily offended, coddled, and idealistic. They live in their parents' basements and play video games all day, wearing pajamas.

They are searching for themselves, but don't know where to look.

I'm at the tail end of the Baby Boom, and I never felt like I really fit in that generation. Most boomers are older than I, and I always felt like the little brother. But boomers were well known for disagreeing with the older generation. I remember hearing constantly about the "generation gap." Old people just don't get the young folks.

Now the boomers are the old folks, and--shocker--the old folks don't get the young folks. But we boomers have taken on the challenge of putting millennials in their place. We ridicule the youngest adults for their participation trophies and "safe spaces." Heck, I remember getting a participation trophy for baseball in 1972, and I was glad to get it. I don't think my team won any games.

Yes, millennials have different perspectives than their elders, but that doesn't mean they are stupid. It doesn't mean that they have nothing of value to say. It means that they can see what we are blind to.

Part of what ticks off boomers, at least in church world, is that millennials point out the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of typical Christians. The evangelical church is built for comfort, not justice; for big numbers, not big impact; for big budgets, not sacrifice. We have an Americanized version of Christian faith, and it is, necessarily, a distortion of the true gospel.

Boomers pointed out the hypocrisy of our parents. Anybody remember, "Don't trust anyone over 30"? The younger generation has a knack for pointing out those bothersome gaps between principles and practice. Boomers objected to the Vietnam War. What were we really fighting for? Boomers rejected arbitrary rules about guys having long hair. And I think we objected to some other equally important things.

Then boomers turned 30. Over time, boomers became the establishment. But we are not acting like our parents, just ignoring the silliness of the young. Boomers are offering open ridicule of a new generation, because they are idealistic. They want to save the planet, fight for justice, end racism, feed the hungry, cure diseases, etc.

They don't want to sit in pews to hear excellent music and inspiring sermons, and just leave their faith there. They want to make a difference. They want to head into the danger of fighting systemic injustice. They want to engage in fair trade. They want to help create sustainable economic health in developing countries. They see that Americans don't have all the answers. They see that Americanizing the world is not a desirable goal, and certainly not the role of the Church.

I think it's time for the boomer generation to stop picking on millennials and begin to listen to their hearts. Yes, they lack our experience, but that's a good thing. It helps them look at the world's issues more open-mindedly. They don't take for granted that more stuff is better. They don't really want--dare I say it?--the American Dream. Christian millennials want to see Christ's Kingdom come.

After all, this is not an "us vs. them" thing. It is us together, the Body of Christ. We really need each other: old and young, rich and poor, American and international. We can do better at making disciples of all nations. We can do better at loving orphans and widows. We can do better at using our resources. We can do better than merely counting people in pews on Sunday mornings. We can engage in this world with the power of Jesus.

A Daughter named "Not Loved"

Reading through Hosea this morning, I was struck by God's command to the prophet. God told him to marry an adulteress. And when she conceived her second child, a girl, Hosea was to name her Lo-Ruhamah (Hosea 1:6). Translated from Hebrew into English, the name means "Not Loved," or "Not Shown Compassion." A few verses later we learn that she was weaned. Other than that, we know nothing of this person.

God used the names of Hosea's three children as object lessons for the nations of Israel and Judah. He also used Hosea's marriage to Gomer as an object lesson. God had a bigger purpose in mind. Hosea willingly obeyed the Lord, and the prophetic message went to the Hebrews and endures forever in scripture.

But I feel compassion toward this little girl born around 750 B.C. I want to imagine that Hosea loved his (only?) daughter with great tenderness and strength. Surely she needed the warm, loving embrace of her father, and surely Hosea found the time and heart to show her God's love. Apparently she would never find that attention from her mother.

My point is that we don't always understand what God is up to. When he leads us into dark places and situations we want to avoid, we need to shine his light even brighter.

May those today who feel like Not Loved find the Lord's ambassadors and know that they truly are loved--by God and by his people.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How to Write a Christmas Family Newsletter

Here they come. Those Christmas Family newsletters, folded neatly into so many Christmas cards. (I suspect that we see fewer of them now, with social media offering instant updates...) In fact, the happy-faced, polished profiles on Facebook look like ongoing stories inspired by actual Christmas newsletters.

This Baby Blues comic from Dec. 5, 2016 sums it up perfectly.

It may be annoying to read about the perfect lives of friends and family, but it could be worse. We could read about all the dysfunction and disappointment plaguing the world, and this delivered with a personal touch.

Yeah, this year was even worse than last year. Joe lost three jobs, and Jane gained another 50 pounds. The kids are flunking, and their friends reject them. But when the house burned, we did save three photo albums and an iPod. Everyone's got the flu now. Maybe that's why the dog ran away...

So, how do you craft a sincere, honest, uplifting newsletter? I offer these as theoretical suggestions, because we don't send out a family newsletter, and never really have. And we DO like to receive them from others, even if they are airbrushed.

Keep the focus on gratitude.
Yes, the kids made good grades, but aren't the teachers extraordinary? We are blessed with a great school!

Little Johnny is loving his basketball team, especially his encouraging coach.

Share some growing edges for the family.
Times are still tight for us, but we expect to see the family business turn the corner next year.

Mary's cancer has returned, but we have so much support from our friends. We couldn't do it without them!

Acknowledge the big picture.
We are thankful that we have this time of year to reflect on God's love for us and you.

In the joys and the struggles, God has shown us such goodness. We rejoice at being part of his story.

So, enjoy all the holiday greetings, and don't get too proud if your family is better than mine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Washington's Advice to Us

George Washington has some wisdom for us. As he prepared to turn over the reigns of leadership to John Adams, he offered some suggestions, in his Farewell Address.

Watch out for those who would pit areas of the country against each other:

            One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

Work against the human tendency toward the “spirit of party.”

            I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

            This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

Resist the temptation to “pay back” the other side.

A party spirit can lead to severe pendulum swings in governing, often accompanied by efforts to “pay back” the party recently removed from power.

            The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.

Don’t give too much power to anyone.

When public policy swings to greater and greater extremes, people can long for someone to take charge and fix everything. Such a person may be hungry for power, and may consolidate power and threaten the liberty of citizens.

            The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

            Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Breakthrough to Revival

I don't know how I missed it.

We have been praying for God to break through to us personally. We have asked God to jolt us out of our ruts, to get our attention, to shake us up.

The Spirit took over our worship on Sunday. The music ushered us into the Lord's presence. He spoke as we applied his word. People responded to his challenge. We encountered him as we celebrated holy communion.

God is breaking through to us. Thank you, Lord!

What I missed is this: Real breakthrough from the Lord is actually revival. When he breaks through to us, he breathes new life into us. He REVIVES us.

May we continue to embrace your Spirit, Lord! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Good Thing about this Election

Tomorrow is election day. Like most Americans, I am ready for it to be over. But in the spirit of looking on the bright side, here are a few positives that I see:
  • People are taking a fresh look at government.
  • Both major parties are forced to admit flaws with their candidates.
  • Third parties are receiving much more attention.
  • The Washington ruling class (of both blue and red stripes) recognizes a deep fed-up-ed-ness in the American electorate.
  • Many Christians see more clearly that government is not the answer.
  • Christians find that they must sincerely evaluate what really matters, in terms of policy and character.
  • The church can turn its attention away from partisan politics, and focus on sharing the gospel, with its call to faith, repentance, and justice.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Washout to Breakthrough

I have been preaching on Breakthrough, and how God uses various means to break through to us. We can't take those steps of faith when we are stuck in a rut. We don't grow when we are not stretched.

With the major flooding in eastern NC, people are responding with kindness and generosity. Mobile feeding stations provide hot meals; trucks loaded with supplies bring hope; one store offered to fill propane tanks for free.

But I was surprised to see another perspective on this disaster in today's News and Record. The story quotes Lumberton resident Keira McGirt saying, "Lumberton needed this. We needed this to come together as a city." The town has struggled for centuries as black, white, and Indian residents have worked through racial tensions. This 23-year-old mother believes her city can do better.

The town has flooded before, but this may be the worst on record. Now, people have to work together to rescue the stranded, to care for the elderly and young, to find ways to prepare food, to obtain clean water. Working together brings healing. Our differences become trivial when we are united for survival.

This could become a Breakthrough moment for Lumberton. Fellow residents become friends, neighbors become co-laborers. The town can break through with a new spirit of cooperation, a new attitude about others, a new faith in God who brings them together. I pray that the Spirit of God works powerfully to change hearts there.

Right now, they need some of what we've got--like clean water and clean clothes. So this Sunday we are collecting cases of water bottles, packages of new socks, and boxes of baby wipes. We will deliver them on Sunday afternoon to those who need them.

But right now we need some of what (apparently) they have got--a powerful trust in God, a spirit of loving one another, a determination to make a difference.

We all need a Breakthrough of some kind. A flood of water can bring a flood of prayer; and that can bring Breakthrough to our souls.

May the power of Jesus Christ overwhelm this hurting city. May God break through to them and to us.

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