Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Millennials, pride, and hope in the Lord

Today I saw another online rant about everything the church is doing wrong.  This time it was "millennials," accusing the church of failing them and driving them away.


Yes, the church is flawed.  It's made up of humans.  Humans are flawed.  That's the story of the Bible.  Humans are flawed.  The world is flawed.  Life is flawed.  Hence: we need a Savior.

Guess what?  We all need a Savior.  Your mom needs a Savior, and your dad, your Sunday school teacher from 2nd grade, and your pastor, and the guy who strums the guitar.  If there's a lady who plays the organ, she needs a Savior too, and the school janitor, the gas station attendant, the brain surgeon and the investment strategist.  We all need Jesus.  Every last one of us.  We don't need Jesus to give us happiness, or to provide us purpose for living, or to help us attain a sense of personal significance, although some of those things might be byproducts of a healthy relationship with Him.  But the reason why we need Him is because without Him we are hopelessly lost in sin and destined for hell.  This whole world is on a crash course towards destruction.  Nothing is going to stop it.  Our only hope is to throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ, accepting the forgiveness He offers us through His blood sacrifice, His own flesh that He offered up for us on the cross to pay our sin debt.

When we do this, when we run to Him for mercy and cast ourselves at His feet in recognition of our desperate need for Him, He lifts us up out of the slime of our brokenness, into His arms, and gives us clean clothes (allegorically speaking) and clean hearts.  He fills us with His own Holy Spirit who lives in us and changes us, teaches us and bears fruit of righteousness through us, preparing us for an eternity of peace and joy in His presence.  This is Salvation.  This is what it's all about.  It's about where we stand with God (Romans 5:1-8).

It is not about whether a particular church served enough soup to the homeless.  Or whether they sang the particular songs you like instead of the particular songs that they like.  Or whether they listened to your ideas or preached to your personal "felt need."   It is good to be kind to the less fortunate.  It is nice to sing songs that bless your heart.  But that's not what it's all about.  It's about God.  It's not about your voice being heard.  It's about hearing His voice.  And nobody needs to cater to your felt need.  You need Jesus, and the sooner you figure it out, the sooner you can start to heal.

You see, God is real.  He's real.  And so are sin, destruction, and pain.  We see the sin, destruction and pain; we experience them, or observe others experiencing them, every day.  We know that the governments are messed up, people are messed up, the economic systems across the world are all messed up, education and commerce and medical care are all messed up.  The more we try to fix these things, the worse they get--wars, diseases, exploitation, violence.  This is so obvious, I want to hit myself in the face.  Someone pointed out the other day, "I consider it a miracle that I can actually go to the store and buy a bag of apples, when I see how messed up this world is, and then I think about all the steps that were required to get that bag of apples to a shelf in a store where I could buy them, and they weren't even spoiled."

It truly is a miracle, when you think about it, and it would do the lot of us a world of good if we would acknowledge and thank God for such miracles--recognizing the grace He pours out daily on this poor condemned earth--rather than assuming that the store automatically ought to be full of lovely apples, all the time, and they ought to be on sale, too.

We are so prideful.  We assume we deserve all the good things.  We should be healthy and well fed, and live in a beautiful home, and wear only the latest designer styles that came out last week.  These things should just be automatic, we think.  Everybody, whether they choose to work hard and be productive or not, ought to make enough money to afford rent, restaurants, internet and a very new iPhone.  These are inalienable rights, we assume, and healthcare should be free, too.

Ain't gonna happen.  I'm just saying.

It's an unsustainable fantasy.

Yet, when this unsustainable fantasy doesn't come to pass, we're all so prideful that we just look around and blame the other people.  It certainly isn't my fault, we believe (yes, we really believe that).  We blame ISIS, or the Democrats, or the Republicans, or the Church, or the Muslims, or the Christians, or the Jews, or the atheists, or our parents, or the schools or the UN or the unions or the airlines, or drug cartels or policemen or the NAACP or Wall Street.  Gracious, somebody is probably out there blaming the Amish.  And all the time we are blaming all the other people and all the other organizations, we remain staunchly convinced that if everyone else were as smart as we are, and did things the way we think they ought to be done, everything would be okay.

We are so stupid and prideful.  Of course this is not true at all.  The problem is not confined to any of those organizations.  The problem is that humanity is steeped in sin, with a core of pride, selfishness and greed.  The problem is the way every single one of us, the proverbial "me," sees only "my" own perspective and then demands the right to dictate what all the others should do, based--ultimately--on what makes "me" feel good (even if it is feeding soup to the homeless--it is good for me to do this, but wrong for me to force charity work on others).

The problem is sin, and the problem is each one of us.

The only way to escape the cycle is to stop blaming everything outside of ourselves, and to surrender humbly before the Lord.  We need to steep ourselves in scripture, through prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to teach us, reveal truth to us, expose the lies in our hearts and replace them with His Truth.

We need to do this daily, at least, perhaps multiple times per day.  We live in a temporal and fallen world, and thus we need spiritual replenishment on a constant and steady basis ("give us this day our daily bread").  We will never "arrive" and know everything we need to know.  Humbly, we need to go back to the feeding trough of the Word of God, and be nourished, day after day.  Would you only eat once a day?  You could survive, but I warrant you'd be hungry.  Here's the truth: you need God's Word more than you need food.  So if you eat three times a day, you should consider taking time to meditate on God's Word three times a day--read something and sincerely ponder what God is saying to you; ask Him what He is saying to you as you read.  If you snack constantly all day long, try translating that into your hunger for scripture.  Think about it.  We need this.  If we think we don't, we are simply blinded by pride.

You say the church has failed you?  Bah.  "The church" has failed everyone.  Earthly institutions are made up of people, and people are fallible.  Maybe you got caught up in a particularly heretical church, full of particularly petty and unkind people.  If you did, get out of it and find a better group.   Sometimes you have to do that.  Other times, you simply have to stop being critical and do what you can to "be the change you want to see," but not really, because that would be prideful.  Just walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8), and seek justice and love mercy, and live according to the truth He reveals to you, in the power by which His Spirit directs you, and let Him do whatever work He desires, through you.  To walk humbly is to walk in grace, and grace is a synonym for forgiveness.  To be humble is to accept that other people mess up, just the same as you do, and to forgive them and try to find ways to encourage them to do better, exactly as you wish someone would encourage you to do better, graciously, not lording it over anybody, but compassionately sharing our common failings and what we have learned from the Lord about how to overcome our sin in the power of His Spirit (1 John 1:8-10).

The real church, the true church, is the body of true believers.  In any earthly organization called a church, there are both believers and unbelievers, side-by-side.  This is true, regardless of denomination.  The true believers are the ones who love Jesus and respond to His call.  They resiliently keep on repenting when they fail Him (i.e. sin), and hold fast to Him, and doggedly trust Him to forgive them, cleanse them, and help them do better next time.  That is the best anybody can do here on this earth.  It's all you can hope for in another person, and it's what you should strive for yourself.  It's called the perseverance of the saints, in old-fashioned language, but it's true, and this is a modern way of explaining it.  All Christ-followers are somewhere in the process of learning the skill of this resiliency, which depends utterly on faith in the mercy of God and the sufficiency of Christ.  We need to seek one another out, wherever we may be found, and form communities where we encourage and challenge one another to learn what it means to walk in the Spirit (Romans 8:5-11, Galatians 5:16).

Stop blaming "the church" for the mass exodus of the "Millennial."  Millennials are just people, like anybody else, and they are sinners, blinded by selfishness, self-centeredness and pride, just like anybody else.  This isn't really about "Millennials."  It's about categories and labels, and demanding special treatment based on categories and labels.  I guess I just really recoil from the idea that, "The church needs to do X to appeal to people from category X."  I especially recoil when people say, "I am a representative of category X, and the church needs to do X to appeal to me."

I am a little bit angry.  I'll own that.  It probably means I'm struggling with some pride, and I'll own that, too (help me, Lord).  But sometimes--when there is a God in heaven who made us, against whom humanity rebelled, who demonstrated His love for us anyway by dying for us while we were still desperately sinful and destined for destruction--sometimes when people still insist on approaching Him with prideful demands, and an eye to critiquing His instructions, and complaints about "spending too much time in Bible study groups," then maybe there's just an impasse, and these people need to be turned loose to go whence they will go and learn their own lessons in their own ways.  God is still sovereign.

It could be that Millennials are disenchanted by money-grubbing mega pastors who want to build empires stamped with their own names, measured in square feet of designer worship space, censuses, astronomical budgets, and lollapalooza events with rock bands, fog machines, bounce houses and free espressos.  Maybe.  These certainly do exist, and they are arguably not a very cost-effective way to forward the ministry of Christ, especially when you figure all the good the same dollars could do in a third world country.  But nonetheless, real groups of authentic believers also exist.  If that's what you really want, believe Jesus when He says, "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find," (Matthew 7:7).  Seriously.  God is real, the Bible is true, and authentic-yet-fallible believers do exist.

Seriously.  I'm so weary of people complaining that they won't follow Jesus because they don't like something about somebody in a church somewhere.  This is an excuse if I've ever heard an excuse, and a paltry one at that.  People will let you down.  People will abuse their authority, exploit intimacy, betray confidence, lie and offend.  Even the authentic ones stumble.  And there are people who are not authentic, who have no real relationship with God, who quote His words and claim His name anyway (". . . these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,"--Matthew 15:8).  You must not judge Jesus by them.

If you are using the failings of others to justify your walking away from the Truth, you need to own it and get on with your life.  If you don't like the idea of a God who has authority over you, or a Savior towards whom you should be grateful and reverent, then you don't like it.  That's on you, not "the church."  You don't want a god except if you can design and define him.  Therefore, you don't want God.  You want an idol out of your own imagination.

Idols have never gotten anyone very far.

There is hope for everyone, forgiveness for all, and it is never too late, as long as there is life.

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
call on Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for He will freely pardon.
~Isaiah 55:6-7 (NIV)


Hope T. said...

One of the things I love about the Millennials I know, is that they are learning how to form supportive communities. It may not be anything especially organized and it may look slapdash and pieced-together, but they've got their friends' backs. They seem almost instinctively to know how to form welcoming and accepting circles, which would be an ideal characteristic in a church.

Social connection is the raison d'etre for any institution, especially the church (small c). I'm afraid that it appears that more systemic abuse than social connection has been found within its walls for quite a while. Some of this coming generation of young people have a gift for examining the dogmas that their predecessors have held to more out of habit and fear, than out of love and truth. In other words, they see through the humbug.

Certainly, traditions have their place, and perhaps they are too hasty to discard some of those traditions in their (rightful) distain of others, but the fresh eyes that this coming generation brings to society is invaluable. I think they do have a lot to teach us and their disgruntlement is a legitimate response to their dismissal in the media. The Millennials I know in real life are quite different from those who are painted with a broad, black brush in the media.

Ruthie said...

Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment.

I do not mean to attack millennials. I don't even know exactly what that term refers to. I just think there are people of all different ages and experiences, shaped by the world they grew up in, whatever that has been at any given time. I love my children and their friends (well, most of their friends), and I know many lovely young mothers, and mothers of school age children. I don't know what specific age "millennial" encompasses, and my sense is that it might vary anyway, depending on one's source.

I guess I just really recoil from the idea that "The church needs to do X to appeal to people from category X."

I especially recoil from something where people say, "I am a representative of category X, and the church needs to do X to appeal to me."

Throughout history, the church has undergone transformations and resets. Because it is a flawed and imperfect organization, composed of flawed and imperfect people, this is necessary! Over time, even when the church has had very good seasons, it will always stagnate into a sort of complacency and require some new life, a reset, at a certain point.

I'm not trying to defend "the church." As an American institution, I agree heartily that it is time to carefully examine and evaluate many things about how many church institutions function today. The church does need to be more welcoming, and certainly less cliquey! I personally have experienced the pain caused in a church where there are clear "insiders" and "outsiders." I know that this is real, and I agree that it is very detrimental.

I guess my anger (that's a harsh word--I'm not really very angry, just flummoxed) comes when people use these things as justification for walking away from the faith, from Jesus. I've been hurt by some churches, yes. But I keep believing that there is a place, a church home, a body of believers where I will be loved, accepted, encouraged and fed, where I can serve meaningfully and grow. I keep searching until I find that place. And in the meantime, I hold on to my faith in Christ and His power and the salvation He offers. I hope others will do the same, and set their hearts on truth, and as they examine dogmas, may they do it with justice, humility, and a desire to find the Lord and His people.

Ruthie said...

and ugh. There's a dangling modifier up there: No, I am not an American institution. But I hope you can glean my meaning.

Hope T. said...

Your tenacity and patience in your church search is admirable! I think there are factors that make it more challenging for Millennials (roughly referring to those born in the last two decades of the 20th century) to be as persistent in their search, but the discouragement and disillusionment that comes with being severely let down or, as is all too common now, abused, by the church, is shared by every generation. The fact that you've pushed through it, is a testament to your strength of will.

I didn't notice the dangling modifier until you pointed it out, but now that you did, it gave me a chuckle. It would be a nice example to give to young grammar students.

Hope T. said...

You know yourself best, dear Ruth, but I often wonder if you are too hard upon yourself. Currently, I am listening to a book in which a character says, "It's always a pleasure to me to be tender towards human infirmity." I love that phrase. It's not that I think that we shouldn't be incisive in the perception of our own character and motivations, but being able to balance it with tenderness towards ourselves is a lovely gift we can extend to ourselves.

Ruthie said...

This was a prematurely birthed post, when I was struggling with a lot of things (besides what it covers). I have done a fair bit of editing since it first went up, and I think that it now more clearly represents what I was trying to communicate. I'm not a patient or tenacious person, and my will is not strong. I only know that my hope lies completely in Christ, and I thank Him that He will never let me go, despite my weaknesses. My fate is in His completely trustworthy hands. I do not know why it makes me angry when others are unable to perceive His great value, sufficiency and grace. Well, I guess it is right to be angry, but I should be angry at the evil that deceives them, and not at them for being deceived. May the Lord pour out His righteousness on the earth and open the eyes of humanity to see and receive His beautiful salvation.

"You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the Lord, have created it." ~Isaiah 45:8