Friday, December 7, 2018

George Herbert Walker Bush and Legacy

We have spent the last week reflecting on the passing of President George Herbert Walker Bush.  In particular I appreciated the “Christ –Centered” focus and the traditional liturgical worship of the Episcopal Church.  Over the last couple of decades I have drifted more toward contemporary music when it comes to worship.  It was nice to hear the traditional hymns.  It took me back to my roots growing up at St. James Lutheran Church in Grosse Pointe, Michigan and my early ministry years at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Downers Grove, Illinois.

It is well known that President Bush #41 did not like the “L Word.”  Yet, there is no doubt that he did leave a legacy.  When you watched, and listened to his friends and family you could see the imprint he had left on their lives.  I suspect some of his disdain for the “L” word is rooted in the fact that it implies that our earthy mission is accomplished.  If we humbly believe it is God’s desire that we live each day as his disciples, our mission is not accomplished until we take our last breath.  Only then will others have a full view of our lives.  Those who follow us will define our legacy.

With that in mind, here are some things I have learned from President George Herbert Walker Bush.

Love your enemies.  President Bush gained a reputation for being able to work with people who disagreed with him and perhaps even disliked him.  I need to do a better job of building bridges rather than walls.

The expedient thing is not always the right thing.  He had promised, “no more taxes” but when it was clear that raising taxes was the best option he went ahead fully knowing it might cost him an election.

Learn to laugh at yourself.  POTUS 41 did have some quirky mannerisms.  No one capitalized on them more than comedian Dana Carvey.  Instead of ignoring or even criticizing those who poked fun at him, he embraced them.  He and Dana Carvey had a great friendship.

Embrace the hope that we have in Jesus.  George H. W. Bush knew his Savior.  He believed that Jesus had died for his sins and rose again from the dead.  He looked forward to the eternal reunion that awaits those who die in the Lord. 

Rest in peace George Herbert Walker Bush.  Mission accomplished.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Hersey: Maybe We Have Something to Learn from Millennials

I often hear comments from some of my older adult peers that young folks have lost their way when it comes to holding traditional Christian beliefs.  The criticism is that even teens and young adult who have been brought up in the church have not been properly instructed in basic doctrine.  And even if they were taught the core doctrines they have diluted them as they have tried to blend Christian believe with the world view.  I recently read a new report from Ligonier Ministries that examined the state of theology in the United States.  The survey was conducted by Lifeway Research and based on interviews with 3,000 Americans.  This is the third such survey, with previous studies done in 2014 and 2016. 

What is especially troubling, to me, is that many Evangelical Christians are “deeply confused” about some core Christian doctrines.  Overall Jesus is still viewed as the Savior of the World.  For example, a majority agreed that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and that he rose from the dead.   On the negative side, they rejected the Bible’s teaching on (1) the gravity of man’s sin, (2) the importance of the church’s gathering together for worship, and (3) the Holy Spirit,”  More than two-thirds (69%) of Americans disagree that the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation—and 58 percent strongly disagree. Ligonier finds this “alarming.”  A majority of US adults (58%) said that worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church. Only 30 percent disagree.  A majority of US adults (59%) say that the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being.

Other disturbing findings include:  “Most people are basically good” (52%) and “God accepts the worship of all religions” (51%).  Strangely, while most evangelicals strongly believe in justification by faith alone, they are confused about the person of Jesus Christ. On one hand, virtually all evangelicals express support for Trinitarian doctrine. Yet at the same time, most agree that Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God, which was a view espoused by the ancient heretic Arius.

Surprisingly, Millennials provided one of the bright spots.  The number of Americans ages 18 to 34 with evangelical beliefs (as defined by LifeWay Research) “rose significantly” from 14 percent in 2016 to 18 percent in 2018. Ligonier also noted a “large increase” in Millennials affirming that salvation is found in Christ alone (62%, up from 53% in 2016) and that Jesus Christ will return to judge the world (64%, up from 55% in 2016).  “There has been a significant change for the better among Millennials across a range of questions when compared to previous State of Theology surveys—so much so that they score higher than any other age group in several areas,” stated Ligonier. “Whether this is an anomaly or will continue unabated in future years remains to be seen.”

If there is a message here, it is in the need to be constantly in the word, checking our personal beliefs against what God actually tells us in the Bible.  Additionally there is the need to be in constant conversation with others on issues of faith.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).  Perhaps some of that conversation needs to be across generation.  Maybe we have something to learn from Millennials.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Has God Left the Window Open?

It is easy to be discouraged about the future when we hear some of the statistic when it comes to today’s teens.  The social group identified as Gen Z’s does seem to do most of their communicating through their mobile devices.   Their world also seems to revolve around social media.   Their values often do not match up with what we view as God’s desires.  While it is true that less than 4% of today’s teens have a biblical world view, what happens if we focus on the minority who do believe in Jesus and have made a commitment to follow him? There is a pretty good chance these are the teens that attend our church and participate in our youth group. 

The research on Generation Z done by the Barna Group indicates church-going teens are holding to traditional Christian beliefs.   Ninety nine percent (99%) of engaged Christian teens believe that “Jesus is the divine Son of God.”  They also believe that “Jesus was a real person who was crucified by Rome and was actually raised from the dead” (94%).  The also hold to the belief that “faith in Jesus is the only way to God” (96%).  They also share some of the same beliefs on moral issues as older adult Christians.  In response to the statement “Marriage should be a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman” 91% agreed.  On the issue of abortion, 80% of engaged Christian teens agreed.  They also believe that “lying is morally wrong” (77%) and “Sex before marriage is morally wrong” (76%).  As a point of comparison, only 14% of unchurched teens viewed “sex before marriage” as wrong and only 35% believed that “marriage should be a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman.”

There are some other things that we know about this generation of teens. 

Having grown up post 9/11 they are driven to make a difference.  They want to make the world a better place.

Many are already charting their future education and careers beginning in middle school.  They often have a vision of where they want to be in five years.

They value history and want to learn from previous generations.

Unlike previous generations, they enjoy hanging out with their parents and families. 

As a result we have a unique window of opportunity.  Over the next ten to twelve years we have a chance to change the direction of the church.  I truly believe this is the generation of teens who could potentially reverse the years of decline.  The challenge comes in how we equip engaged Christian teens to be disciples .  I am not just referring to training professional church workers.  We are going to need young people to move into all kinds of positions from lawyers to plumbers.  I think the future lies in equipping them to be disciples of Jesus wherever they serve.  It involves training them to not only defend their faith but to relate to the world in an evangelical manner that leaves unbelievers want to know more about what makes us tick.  Where exactly is our hope found?   They need to see the Jesus in us.

I recently previewed a new presentation: Why I am Excited about the Future of the Church.  My target audience is older adult Christian.  My challenge to them is to step up and pass the torch of faith to this generation of teens.  Get to know them.  Listen to them.  Focus on building a relationship that will allow us to share our story and mentor them in their faith.  It also means making sure youth and children’s ministry remains a high priority within our congregations.

God has left the window open.  I am praying for a fresh wind of change will blow through the church.  Pass the torch.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving Prayer

Mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, turkey and dressing,
            desserts as far as the eye can see.
It’s a spread worthy of this
            stuff’em-till-they-drop-in-front-of-the-TV holiday.
For a day that started with such a noble purpose,
            we’ve certainly managed to pervert it.

Lord, I’m confronted by the fact that Thanksgiving
            no longer has much to do about giving thanks.
The focus is on gluttony and sports and
            only momentarily on You.
For some people, the question may even be
            “Why say thank You?”
            I work hard for all this.
It’s so easy to overlook You in
            the good times, Lord.

But you never forget us.
You send the rain on the just and the unjust,
            whether we say thanks or not.
Our tables overflow and bank accounts bulge
            whether we remember you or not.
What a great God You are.

And nowhere is Your greatness more apparent
            than on the cross.
You sent Your only son to save us-
            a  gift freely given with no expectation of repayment.
Nor can repay the great price-and
            Our thanks Yous seem insignificant.

But thank you Lord, for the
            bounty on our table,
            for family and friends,
            for possessions and jobs,
            and for the extras to numerous to count.
A special thank You for the gift I treasure most,
            my salvation.
Words cannot express my gratitude.  Amen.

Real Men Pray: Prayer Thoughts for Husbands and Fathers
Thomas Couser
CPH, 1996

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Millennial Monopoly

One of the most talked about items last Christmas was the Millennial Nativity.  There was an attempt to not offend that generation by marketing it as the “Hipster Nativity” but there were too many cues referencing Millennial culture.  In case you missed it, Mary was holding a Starbucks cup and Joseph was taking a selfie on his iPhone.  The Magi were riding Segways and came bearing gifts packaged in Amazon boxes. 

Now, just in time for this Christmas Hasbro has released "Monopoly for Millennials."  The cover encourages players to take a break from the rat race because "adulting is hard."   Instead of collecting as much cash as possible, players are challenged to rack up the most Experiences to win. Players travel around the game board discovering and visiting cool places to eat, shop, and relax. They interact with other players via Chance and Community Chest cards, (which are super relatable).   There is no Boardwalk or Park Place in this game.  It says on the front of the box, "Forget real estate. You can't afford to buy it anyway."

I’ve been reading the online comments regarding this game that are coming from Millennials.  They are more than a little bit offended.  I cannot image many of them investing in the game.  To be honest, I cannot blame them.  Millennials have perhaps become the most decried and lampooned generation ever.  There are countless videos on Youtube that mock Millennials and their culture.  Perhaps, it is time to say, “Enough is enough.”

Has they have aged; Millennials have kind of blended in.  Many have married, started families and purchased homes.  Some of them have even found their way back to church, although most still prefer non-denominational mega churches to mainline congregations.  While they still can seem a little self-absorbed, as I look around I see the same characteristic in some of my peers. 

Monopoly for Millennials; let’s stop playing games and embrace them for who they are.  Learn to know them, love them and pass the torch to them.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Students Living in Fear

The most recent mass shooting took place in a country and western club in Thousand Oaks, California.  The affluent community of Thousand Oaks has a reputation for being one of the safest cities in the United States.  Once again many of those inside the Borderline Bar and Grill were young adults celebrating the weekly College Night.  The event only reinforces the conclusion reached in The Barna Report on Generation Z: Real Safety is a Myth for this group.  

This is the cohort that has grown up post 9/11.   The threat of domestic and international terrorism is all they have known.  We are coming up on the 10th anniversary of the Columbine Massacre.  At the time it seemed like an isolated tragedy.  Unfortunately school shootings have become almost weekly occurrences. 
The November 5, 20188 issue of Time Magazine focused on the issue of gun control.  One article referenced the experience of a middle school music teacher in Dallas.  Each year Beth Poquette Drew asks her students to create a “respect agreement” outlining how they would treat each other. This year in addition to the “listen to each other” and “respect each other’s space” one of the first things to come up was “Don’t shoot each other.”  A reality is both kids and their parents live each day in constant fear.

An obvious response for the Christian community is to offer our children, teens and young adults a safe place, but it needs to go further than just an increased sense of safety.  We can keep the doors locked, provide our staff with training, and install security cameras, but the security measures need to only be the beginning.  We need to covey the peace and confidence that can only come through faith in Jesus Christ. 

Living in fear is nothing new to the church. First Century Christians lived in constant fear that the next knock on the door might mean they were headed to prison.  Many of them were martyred but still they not only kept the faith but shouted it from the rooftops.  The scriptures are full of reminders that as Christians we are to live fearlessly.  “The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me” (Psalm 118:6).  Yet to today in parts of the world Christians meet in secret because to do so publicly would put them at risk. 

Paul reminded Timothy, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love, self -discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7).  As adults we need to not only provide a safe place but model that fearless spirit and live boldly and confidently without fear.   

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Election Day 2018: A Reason for Hope

Today was midterm Election Day.  I took advantage of early voting. I can do that at our local City Hall.  It is a matter of convenience; for some unknown reason I have to drive past another voting location to get to my assigned polling place. Voting in advance did not mean I avoided some Election Day politicking.

Our current State Representative, Matt Rinaldi, has the reputation of being the most outspoken conservative in the Texas House.  Obviously, he is a Republican.  His Democratic opponent, Julie Johnson, has made it clear she takes a more liberal view of all the issues.  Matt Rinaldi is strong border control, gun right and school vouchers.  Julie Johnson’s stance is the exact opposite on all the issue. 

My encounter with Election Day electioneering took place when I stopped by our local library, which just happens to be the polling place I pass should I choose to go to my assigned spot. Today I was greeted by a young man representing Matt Rinaldi and two women who were supporting the efforts of Julie Johnson.  Surprisingly, they were all smiling and standing in close in close proximity. 

The conversation began with me assuring them that I had already cast my vote. They all thanked me.  My next question was how it was going?  I was curious on the overall mood of the voters. They all agreed that people were more passionate then they had anticipated.  It confirmed my opinion that there is a lot of emotion on both sides of the issue.

I did leave the conversation with a bit of hope.  Even when another Julie Johnson campaign worker showed up, making it 3-1 in favor of the Democrats, the tenor of the discussion stayed positive.  We all agreed that we were troubled by the deep divide when it comes to key issues.  Like me they are concerned about the anger and bitterness expressed by our leaders. 

Oh yes, I had to pass by the same campaign workers on my way back to my car. They were engaged in friendly conversation and I smiled and thanked them.   I can only pray the atmosphere is contagious.  It is amazing what happens when we smile and listen to each other.