Not For Sale

The truth is hard to take. It is impossible to take when it is something about ourselves. Ouch! It hurts to face the truth about ourselves. Recently I was reading an article on the rising number of atheists among Gen Z. What was hard to take was that the article mentions the fault for such a thing was not that there wasn’t enough opportunities for them to have heard the Gospel, aka the good news, but that their parents had presented them with a Christianity that just wasn’t realistic.  It is one that was based upon self fulfillment, prosperity gospels, and entertainment. The Gen Z saw right through that, but the parents did not. Gen Z desired social justice, authenticity and acceptance. And they are right in expecting this from Christianity. This message is found in the Gospels. Jesus accepted all people who were willing to follow Him (equality). He came that all men might be saved. He called for community (acceptance) He also treated women with high respect, compared with the religious leaders of the time ( women’s rights).   Examples of caring for the  environment (Environmental justice) is found in the Old Testament as well, as mankind was called to be good stewards of the land and animals (Genesis 1:28). They were given the role of care taker of the earth and to be generous and support the widows and children (social justice) as acts of pure religion( James 1:27).  So the Gen Z’s who want this are actually wanting what Jesus wanted for His followers. But what the Gen Z’s see is a church full of self serving hypocrites. And they are right. So they look elsewhere to find the answers to life. So what happened?

I suspect that we as parents of Gen z and millennials failed our kids by allowing them to be sold out to the highest bidder. What do I mean? We sought out churches with the best youth activities and mission trips, but not always considering whether they were getting the best understanding of the Bible. We sought the best worship music experiences with the best lighting and video effects. However,  we failed to help them learn to disinguish between the true and false teachers taking up pulpit space. We ourselves wanted a blessed life without problems. We wanted to be blessed in our finances and health and fell for the lies of the prosperity gospel that we just have to believe and we can somehow manipulate God into doing our bidding. We thought He was there for us, to serve us and our needs, rather than somehow we were to serve Him? That poverty and lack were to be battled against as an enemy to our happy Christian life. We allowed ourselves as parents to believe the lies that it is an “us” versus”them” world; the” us” that have it and the “those” who do not. We ourselves fell for the clever marketing of the Gospel. We bought the T shirts and attended the concerts and conferences. We loved our churches and branded church emblems more than God. We idolized Christian speakers and leaders and taught our kids to do the same. We watched the leaders we idolized fall away from the faith and were shocked to hear them denounce Christianity.  We taught our kids that acceptance and participation awards were more important than standing out as an individual. We told them it was more important to feel good about themselves and to avoid dealing with negative thoughts. We filled their schedules with activities so they would fit in with their peers and not feel left out. We taught them that feelings were more important than facts. We ourselves did not want to feel bad, so we found ways to medicate pain and difficulties we did not want to face. We failed to give them the truth. We sold them out to a marketed truth that filled the pockets of a Christianity which fell to the same marketing strategies as the corporate world. Give people want they want, and if they do not know what they want, help them to realize that you have what they need. Invent felt needs that only you can fill with your product. Offer to give away some of this magic elixir for free, but just enough so they will desire more. Do not include warnings, except in tiny fine print, for any side effects. or better yet, just omit any warnings and give them only promises of good results if they follow their specific Church plan.

Does Christianity come with warnings? Yes, the Bible is full of them. Christians will deal with all of the problems of this world and then some because of their faith. Christians should expect that they are not shielded from real life. There will be hurts, heartaches, disappointments, isolation, loneliness, grief, sadness, financial loss, job loss, diseases, accidents, rejection, suffering, pain, and the deafening silence from God when you seek Him for answers to prayer. This does not sound appealing does it? It would not market well, but it is truth. The God we have been sold by contemporary Christianity has failed us and we in turn have failed our kids. When they, and we, hit real life problems the catchy sound bite Christianity fails us. How do I know? I have been there, done that and bought the t shirt. No pun intended, but I couldn’t resist. I found out the hard way that ministries are not always what they seem and some are for profiting themselves and not helping people find God and grow their faith. The only thing growing are their bank accounts. I have also learned that God’s plans are not mine. We can’t “name it and claim it” to get what we want. It just doesn’t work that way. We shouldn’t expect God to give us everything we want. It is about Him, not us. We will have pain in this life. It is something we must deal with and go through. I know this from losing my Mom. My brand of Christianity almost failed me through the grief I felt in her death. I have also fallen for the false acceptance (over- eager church welcomes) and the free give aways done in clever marketing of churches who are seeking to pad their numbers. I felt accepted and important and needed, until I wasn’t, or until I raised questions about their motivations or programs.

But it is not about the numbers, it’s about real people with real lives and real eternities. What Gen Z’s want is authenticity. Will we give them the truth of what it means to be a Christian? Will we tell them it is not an easy road? I applaud the skeptics of this generation that are asking the tough questions of Christianity and demanding real answers. We should have answers for them, not marketing strategies. We can’t sell them out any longer. God doesn’t need our marketing; He does a pretty good job reaching out to those who are looking for real answers, not false promises. I fear more for those who do not ask enough questions and fall for a less than the truth Christianity. We need to admit we were wrong for giving them this model to follow. We need to help them find the truth among many opposing truths that Peter warns about in 2 Peter chapter 2. I found this verse interesting, “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” (vs. 3, NIV). I think this is what the Gen Z’s have called us out on and they are right. Although this verse refers to what was happening in the first century church, it is also true of today’s churches. They exploit and make up stories so that we will buy what they are selling. A false gospel that will make us feel better and benefit those who teach it. It was a problem then and it is the same today. Human nature has not changed. We are all designed for acceptance and relationship. This is to be met in personal relationships with friends, community, and in marriage, but ultimately is to be met by God Himself. We were designed for a relationship with God. It is not just a “felt” need, but a real one. Gen Z’s are wanting this and have discovered that in some cases, churches are standing in the way of them discovering this truth. They do not want a relationship with a church; they want a relationship with God. Will we continue to tell the younger generations to love their church, idolize their pastors, and seek for blessings? Or will we point them to Christ, who although He had never done anything deserving punishment for a crime, chose to suffer on our behalf, experiencing unbearable pain in the name of loving mankind. Will we tell them that once they realize what Christ has done for them, they won’t need to keep seeking more blessing? This is all the blessing they need. Will we tell them this love for Christ and from Christ will motivate them to suffer and endure things such as pain and even isolation, in His name? The first century church we read about in the New Testament existed in a world that was hostile to them. It was a difficult world, as it is today.  Will we continue to present a false story of Christianity or a true one? Will we teach younger generations to be watchful of false teachings, such as the prosperity gospel? Will we tell them that discernment is an important tool to sift out the scams of Christianity that exist?  Will we warn them about idol worship in the form of churches or pastors?  Will we teach them apologetic methods to help them explain their faith? Will will teach them to learn the Bible and not just memorize Bible verses for a prize? Will we teach them good hermetical practices so they will not fall for false teachers who take Bible verses out of context? Will we do the same for ourselves? Will we realize that the truth is not for sale? I hope so.

Risk

           “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” ( 1 Timothy 4:16, NIV).

I thought for a moment about choosing a different title for this week’s blog. Maybe “mediocre” or “status quo” would work instead of “risk”, but what am I really trying to say here?  In the end I hope always to encourage you to move forward. So, it seems “risk” would work better.

What has set me on this path today is my daughter. She has been working on researching our family tree. Over the weeks, she has made some impressive discoveries about who we really are. I shared earlier about the puritan movers and shakers in my family tree and of those who were locked in towers and faced beheading for their beliefs. Recently I have learned of knights and of Ladies and Lords in the family tree. A big surprise this week has been finding that John Locke was a relative. John Locke has been credited with ideas that would later shape the United States. He was the great grandson of one of my great, great great (etc) grandfathers -a mover and shaker who once fled to Geneva to keep his head attached to his body in fear of Queen Mary, who was seeking to take his life.

Which made me think about where we are today as a culture.Are we a culture of movers and shakers? Of thinkers? Of philosophers who change countries? Of country builders? Are we so concerned with technology and sciences, that we have forgotten to think for ourselves? Are we leaders or followers?

Recently,  I asked some younger people just what is important to them in today’s culture. Their answer; acceptance, and of fitting in. Which decidedly is not something exclusive to generation Z or  the millennials; its all of us, every generation We all want to feel like we fit in and are accepted, its how God has wired us for relationship with others and with Him.Yet, for many keeping the status quo becomes more important than seeking change. No one likes to stand out and fear rejection by friends and colleagues. When the status quo changes or shifts, so do we and are swept along with the crowd.

I included the quote from Paul’s letter to Timothy as a reminder that status quo was a thing in the first century too. Here, Paul reminds Timothy to live out what he has come to believe for it not only affected him, but those he was teaching. Paul told him to persevere in what he taught and model it in front of those he was teaching.

It is easy to go with the flow of the crowd and to let others think for you. It is harder to think for yourself and go against the current of trends. I am proud to come from a family tree that included those who thought for themselves and refused to go along with the crowd, even risking death for upholding the truths of the Bible, in opposition to what was being taught by the state church. They sought to persevere for their faith and move across an ocean so their children could have a new life, free of religious corruption.

I thought about what this means for me. Am I willing to go against the current? Have I settled into acceptance of popular thought? Even popular christian thought? How does my own doctrine, my own teaching stand up to the criteria of Biblical truth? Do I want acceptance from the status quo, or am I willing to risk standing out from the crowd because I believe the Bible? Standing out might be uncomfortable for a moment, but I am so thankful that those in my family tree did just that. I would not be here if they hadn’t, living in a country where I am free to worship apart from a government controlled church.

So, I encourage you to step out and follow what God has been putting on your heart. If it a little different than what others do, but still compatible with what the Bible teaches, than take a chance. Have you been told you’re too young or too old by culture? Or its just not done by everyone else?  You don’t have to follow the crowd, just follow Jesus. Some day your descendants just might thank you for not accepting the status quo, but on taking a risk, their lives might be impacted just as mine has. I like to think that I have inherited some of my ancestor’s tenacity and stubbornness and maybe even their intellectual keenness as John Locke had, who knows? But I do know that I will not settled on being mediocre or status quo, but will attempt to persevere in my life and doctrine.  -God Bless -Nancy