Understanding The Past

Last time I shared some of my thoughts on Gen Z and how they are reformers and influences that have in the past been overlooked. Well, today my thoughts turn to something which I have been burdened to write about, although I doubt it will be very popular. Forgiveness. Yeah I have written on the topic before, and you can find my previous blog by searching within my archived blogs, but I think the time is right to talk about it now.

Unless you have been in complete isolation, you have been affected by all the protests surrounding the untimely death of George Floyd in Minnesota. No one should be happy to see someone die in front of them, or on their phone or TV screens. Likewise, for all the business owners and workers who have lost their places of employment due to the riots, they have unwittingly become part of a larger problem. To be sure not all the protests have turned into riots, but instead have just been concerned people asking for change for the future.

But I have been thinking that while change and reform is clearly needed, one thing has been failing to make the headlines: Forgiveness. All of us can think of our own past experiences and probably name events that deeply hurt us. People who deeply hurt us. Sometimes emotionally- they said things that should not have been said- or even physically or spiritually- a bad church experience or pastor who made us want to leave Christianity behind.

But the key phrase to consider here is the past. We cannot change the past hurts in our lives. The things we wished hadn’t happened. The words we wish we didn’t need to hear. The pain from a punch, grab, or slap. Words hurt, physical violence hurts. We can’t deny that. It was an event that even now stirs emotions inside of us. We know it was not right, that we did not deserve it, yet it happened and as much as we wish it didn’t, the point is it DID. We can’t change the past. But we can change how we deal with the past.

We can demand justice and reparation. Which is right, but sometime the people who have hurt us are no longer with us, so we cannot even get back what we lost. So, what do we do with that? And even if we can get justice, will it erase all the hurt that still lingers in our minds when we bring back the details in our minds? No. We must still deal with the pain within.

For some, escaping the pain within means to take it out on others. If we are hurting we want others to feel what we feel. We want things set right. We want a payment to be made that will fix what we feel owed to us. Or, we might choose to numb the pain through alcohol or drugs- prescription or otherwise- but it is something we will have to keep up forever, since it will not take away the pain permanently.

For some of us, it might mean harming ourselves, for it is something we can control when we feel life is beyond our control. But, it does not get rid of the pain within.

Right now there is a sense of pain worldwide and  of unrest that is constantly fueled by media to play upon the hurts and injustices done in the past. We are under the stress of quarantine and no longer able to move about doing many of the things we enjoyed in the past- dinner with friends, trips to the beach or Disney world. We have been herded like cats into a corner and when trapped we have brought out our claws towards who ever is a perceived threat. If you’ve never tried to corner a cat and get them into a box, then you probably won’t get my analogy. But for those who still have the scars from a cat scratch, you get me. We are hurting now. We are in pain. We do not like what has happened. And rightly so. But, my question is what do we do with all that pain?

Do we lash out at each other? On social media? or in person? Does this change the past? No, it could feel good for awhile, just like numbing the pain, and real change can come through reforms and allowing for good dialogue. But there will still be pain within. There are still people who will be mourning the death of a loved one due to riots. For them the pain will be a reminder every time they sit down at their tables for a meal. Their loved one is never coming back. The past cannot be undone. The pain will be there.

And if they let this pain consume them, it will be like a cancer that destroys within. Pain turns to anger and anger to bitterness and bitterness to resentment and resentment to hate and hate to unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is something few like to talk about because they feel justified in their unforgiveness and hate. They store up the hate and pain until it destroys them from within. They cannot look at another person without finding fault with them. They cannot look at themselves without finding fault with themselves. Grace and mercy are not offered to others when mistakes are made. A narrow view of the world that only seeks the good of themselves and not the good of others. They become self- centered and demanding, prideful even. And while there can be self-loathing, they still feel they are better than others. They point fingers of blame at the rest of the world. It is always someone else’s fault and someone else needs to pay for the wrongs done.

I look back to a time when instead of hate, forgiveness was offered. When a man was offered a warm southern welcome into a weekly Bible study, while unbeknownst to the friendly church people he was full of hate. He did not know them personally, and had never known them before that fateful night. But the hate consumed him. The pain he must have buried overtook him and he decided he needed to get payment by taking the lives of nine people. But then an amazing thing happened. The family of the nine murdered- the innocent Christians gathered that night- forgave the killer. The community gathered to pray for unity when others attempted to infiltrate and cause riots. The riots never happened. There were no businesses destroyed or others killed. But….. There was forgiveness. That does not mean there was not pain to bear by the families. It does not mean that there was not sadness as they saw the empty chairs at dinnertime where there loved ones should have been sitting. But. They found a way to deal with their pain through forgiveness.

They were all Christians who knew what the Bible teaches on the matter. See, for some of you, the Bible is just a book that was written so long ago that it is out of touch with our modern post Christian age. But let me tell you that is a wrong assumption to make. Human nature has not changed over the centuries and the Bible has much to say about how to deal with others. For those who are familiar with the story of Peter and Jesus discussing forgiveness then you know where I’m going with this. But, if not, here it is:

Peter is asking Jesus how many times should he forgive a brother. You know like asking for a friend, LOL. So Jesus replies with the famous “Seventy times seven” Some people actually takes this literally while others smarter than me say it means until you have forgiven them. So, I think we can figure out not everything was always perfect in the relationships between the twelve disciples. There must have been some stepping on each other’s toes. After all, right before Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness, the disciples  wanted know who will be the greatest in His kingdom.  Like what is my job and title? VP, Prime Minister, or what? The disciples still thought Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government through a revolt and become King. This is all in Matthew chapter 18 if you’d like to follow along. This chapter also covers the lost sheep, the children and Jesus and the unmerciful servant.

It appears that Matthew is making a point by tying all the stories together. We must be humble, not self- seeking,  seeking those who have lost their way and help them, forgive when others hurt us as many times as it takes, which appears like it must take many times because Jesus is either telling Peter, hey you are going to continue to be hurt by your brother, or hey, you probably will be thinking about this a lot and will need to be continually forgiving, and we must show mercy, even to those who don’t appear to deserve it. Why? Because that is precisely what Jesus did for us. He humbled Himself and became a man- He left Heaven where He had a throne- to become a servant, He goes looking for all the lost people who cannot find their way, He forgives us as many times He needs to, and for some of us that’s a LOT – just saying-, and He shows us mercy when we did not deserve it when we deserve to pay for our own debts- our own mistakes. So…

The question is: Why can’t we forgive? Are we going to keep on looking for ways to numb the pain? Are we going to demand payment when sometimes the ones who have hurt us are gone? Will we demand payment from others by lashing out at others- who had nothing to do with causing our pain? Or will we instead, offer forgiveness, seek to talk and understand each other, and pray for God’s wisdom in how to move forward. We can learn from the past and understand from it, but we can never get a full payment from the past. It is done. It happened. We must forgive and move on.- God Bless Nancy

Understanding the Future

You might think that this post is about knowing the future. What will happen in the future or how to control the future. I mean after all this blog is about moving forward. About dealing with all the changes that life seems to throw our way. But, what I want to discuss is how people are viewing the next generation. The z’s. I know some of you are already familiar with all the bad raps the millennials get, but how many of you have realized, all the while the complaints have been made about millenials, there has been a silent generation developing before, or rather behind, our eyes. The future has been quickly growing up and now entering the work force and will soon overtake the number of millennials. But, I doubt few take the time to understand them. To understand the future.

Too often, we look to the past and our own ideologies to force those younger than us into a mold. A mold that has at times been broken, whether we realize or not. The new generation is looking for answers to deal with the world the previous generations have left. They are not the overly sensitive and fragile of generations before. Neither are they materialistic and self centered. I suspect their passion for issues of the environment and social justice will lead them to make sweeping reforms worldwide. Like the greatest generation who fought wars against dangerous ideologies, generation z promises to fight wars not on battlefields far from their homes but locally through their voices and influences.

But, sadly, what they find is a world that is without hope. A future without promise despite their desire to see change, they believe it won’t happen. They are looking for the hope that those of us in Christ have found. If you have been alive on this planet, then I can say with some certainty that you have been through a lot. Physically, spiritually, emotionally. Life is difficult. We know that and have figured it out. Life is not always what we have expected. It changes. But, yet, one thing does remain true….God. It is my faith in God that has gotten me through all the challenges in my life. I really don’t know who I would be today without a relationship with Christ. But, I’ll be honest, I have stumbled at times with belief. If anyone has been a Christian for very long, and is being completely honest, they will agree to the same doubt. Faith isn’t faith until it has been stretched and tested.

And this is what the z’ers need to know. They need to hear us being transparent. They need us to be real and offer them a real hope for their future. A hope that doesn’t claim to be perfect or have all the answers and to never have doubts ourselves. But to offer the real Jesus to them. The Jesus who was all about social change and justice. The Jesus who broke the religious and social norms of his day around who was welcome to eat with Him and for allowing women to learn, that is be discipled by Him, and even travel with Him. Jesus who healed on the Sabbath, talked to a woman from another ethnic group, talked about money. But most importantly talked about the kingdom of God. His kingdom. In which everything will be finally made right, even the planet which groans now awaiting to be redeemed from its current state.  And Jesus talked about who would be in His kingdom. The ones who believed He had come for them. The ones looking for hope. The ones wanting a future. The ones  accepting His justice on their behalf, which He willingly offers to everyone. It doesn’t matter about social status, gender, race or age.

I know we as an older generation have let the younger generation down by not offering them a real hope grounded in Christ. We have offered them religion, but not honest truth about a relationship with Christ. Let’s listen to them and hear what they are saying. What they are asking for. And let’s give them hope.

 

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