We don’t often think about being persecuted for our faith in our modern times, but the truth is that 1 in 9 Christians experience high levels of persecution worldwide and that on average 11 Christians are killed every day for their faith (World Watch List 2019, 5). What can we do with this information? What can be our response? One response, of course, is to pray for those who are being persecuted. Ask that God keep them strong and firm in their faith. Another response is to treasure the freedom we have to worship our Lord and Savior in this country and to recognize that we are blessed to be faithful in our following of Christ unobstructed and unencumbered. Lastly, we can respond by recognizing that following Christ can be a dangerous venture, and one that is not to be taken lightly. We may not experience persecution for our faith right now or as overtly in other countries, but we need to be aware that suffering is part of the Christian walk to one degree or another. We need to stay strong, therefore, in the face of those we may ridicule us for our faith or may question why we follow Christ. This type of “mini-persecution” should never deter us or turn us away from our Lord. This should only make a stronger. Our faith is a matter of life and death. As the Bible says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). For his power is greater than any power that world can throw at us—even death!
Preaching to Generation Z (those born from 1999 on) means you can’t preach your Grandpa’s sermon anymore. Pastor Trygve Johnson has some tips for how to connect to Gen Z from the pulpit (“Next-Gen Preaching,” CT Pastors Special Issue, Spring 2019, 35-36).
- I get inside my sermon. Preachers should not be afraid to share their stories from their own lives. They should not be afraid to laugh at themselves. Generation Z seeks a preacher that is relational, that tells it like it is, that it is personal.
- I offer a sense of history and place. Preachers should put sermons in context both Scripturally and in terms of the space where they are worshiping. In this digital age, Gen Zers are not as fully aware of some of the stories of the Bible as perhaps generations before have been and they may not be as connected to the meaning and history behind the surroundings in their worship space and the community that formed there. These community stories need to be told as well.
- I treat people like insiders. Preachers need to help those who are listening that they are loved, cared for, valued and accepted. Gen Zers are eager to be a part of something and learn new terms and new insights. Preachers should not shy away from sharing those new and perhaps more challenging concepts.
- I preach for Gen Z, not at them. Preachers should not try to make their messages trendy, hip, or all about pop culture to impress Gen Z. Preaching for Gen Z means making God the subject of the sermon, and the salvation found in Christ alone. Keeping God at the center of all that is said in sermons is what will be of most value to Gen Z. The Word of God is what they came to hear.
In many ways these principles are actually what can make preaching better for all generations.
Referred to as post-millennials, iGen, or most commonly Generation Z, this group’s oldest members (born between 1999 and 2001) are now entering college, classically a time when the “rubber hits the road” for faith and ministry in a young person’s life. Christianity Today recently led a panel discussion of pastors to get a bead on where these shepherds see Gen Z Christians going as they “head out on their own” in their faith. (From “Bringing GEN Z Into Focus,” CT Pastors Special Issue, Spring 2019, 24-25).
• They want to see how their faith speaks to every aspect of their lives: where they work, where they play, where they worship.
• They want to know how their faith will engage the issues that are important to them.
• They want their faith represent the diversity they see present in the world.
• They want their faith to have a digital presence.
What can we as faith leaders learn from these insight? First, we must show application of our Christian faith, not just talk about it on Sunday mornings. We need to give practical suggestions on how our faith can be lived out Monday to Saturday.
We also need to need shy away from issues that are of interest to Gen Zers, even if that might be uncomfortable for us. Give Gen Zers the space to talk about these issues and then share how these issues relate to our beliefs of faith.
While our faith communities may not be as diverse as we would hope them to be, we can in our worship incorporate music from other cultures and integrate text in sermons and other spoken parts of the service that resonate with various ethnic origins that represent the Church as a whole.
Having a digital presence as a faith community is key and keeping it up-to-date is essential for Gen Z to stay engaged and interested in what is happening at church through websites, Facebook pages, twitter handles and Instagram posts. They too are sharing their faith digitally, so we as a church body need to be in those spaces as well with clear Christian messages.
We have a wonderful opportunity to grow as a community of all generations through the input and impact of Generation Z.
In the article “The Integrated Pastor,” in the Spring 2019 CT Pastors Special Issue, author Todd Wilson identifies three areas a pastor needs to take seriously to stay wholely healthy. While meant for pastors, the principles can apply to us all. Here are the three areas to focus on:
- Take the body more seriously. Eat healthy and regularly. Exercise. Get good sleep. Take care of your body when it is sick or hurting. You are your best self and the person God created you to be when your body is functioning at its best.
- Take the brain more seriously. Think positively. Don’t wallow in negative thought. Think about those things that are pleasing to God. I am always going back to Philippians 4:8: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Thinking on these things keeps our brains stronger and healthier in faith and closer to the mind of God.
- Take interpersonal communion more seriously. God has created us to be in community with others. We need to make time to be with others, to learn from them, to grow in our understanding of our place in the Body of Christ. “Encourage one another and build each other up,” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says. The mutual support of one another goes a long way to keep our relationships with others and with Christ healthy and strong.
Let these three principles guide your life as you live your best life in the Lord.
In the book Discipling in a Multicultural World, author Ajith Fernando introduces the idea of one type of discipling being like spiritual parenting. He defines spiritual parenting as “a long-term and highly relational ministry in which disciplers assume indefinite responsibility for their disciplees’ spiritual growth” (“Discipleship That Travels,” Christianity Today, 68). He cites such examples from the Bible as Paul and Timothy and Peter and Mark.
This model encourages a more one-on-one approach and highlights meeting people where they are at in their spiritual journey without overwhelming them with knowledge-based rhetoric. Spiritual parenting involves loving and caring and guiding and not so much preaching and teaching and telling. “Like earthly parents, spiritual parents take primary responsibility for their children’s growth, but they realize that their growth requires relationships and insights beyond what they alone can offer” (“Discipleship That Travels,” Christianity Today, 68). The ultimate goal is to reach spiritual growth and maturity through the power of the Holy Spirit. The role of the spiritual parent then is get the ball rolling, so to speak, to help to “present everyone fully mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28-29). Consider today someone you can be a spiritual parent to. Perhaps you can establish a weekly or monthly time to meet or talk on the phone. It is certain you will grow in the your spiritual life in the process as well.
In 2017 the Barna Group did a study that asked the question: What does the content of your prayers most often pertain to? (% prayed at least once in the past three months). Here were the top 5 responses:
Gratitude and thanksgiving 62%
The needs of my family and community 61%
Personal guidance in crisis 49%
My health and wellness 47%
Confession and forgiveness 43%
I am pleasantly surprised to see gratitude and a concern for others at the top of the list before petitions related to oneself. This arrangement of prayer topics is, in fact, a good model for us to use in our daily prayer life. Think first of what you are thankful for, then move to praying for others, followed by what is on your heart and mind regarding what help you need from God for yourself. Ending with a time of confession and forgiveness is a good idea, too, in order to move into the rest of our day with a clean slate, a new start and a renewed sense of purpose and direction. May God bless your prayer life this week.
While I have extolled the virtues of digital Bibles on this very blog, there is a mounting backlash against the exclusive use of digital Bibles. In “People of the eBook” in the Spring 2019 CT Pastors Special Issue, author Karen Swallow Prior says, “As our reading becomes more immersed in a digital rather than a print culture, the more we return to some of the qualities of the pre-literate world. We are reading more, but the way we read replicates the effects of the discrete images of stained glass windows more than the sustained, logical, and coherent linearity of a whole book” (50).
Before people had access to the written word of the Bible, parishioners learned about what the Bible said in bits and pieces, most often through the images found in stained glass windows in the church. The same thing seems to be happening when accessing the Bible digitally. We are only getting bits and pieces and we are drawn to imagery on the screen.
Many pastors in response are encouraging deeper engagement with physical Bibles to help to see the whole salvation story and make stronger connections with various parts of the biblical text. This has brought about a growing popularity in printed Bibles that include space in the margins for journaling and notetaking to make these connections within the text. Also, people have come to realize that they like to hold the weight of God’s words in their hands. So while digital Bibles can have their benefits, consider getting reconnected or more connected with your physical Bible to stay connected to the whole story of Jesus and his love.
In the article “Three Tests in the Wilderness,” in the March 2019 issue of Living Lutheran, author Brian Hiortdahl reviews for us the three temptations that Satan tried to entice Jesus with during his 40 days in the wilderness. The temptations were:
- To turn stone to bread.
- To throw himself from a high place to be rescued by angels
- To gain power over all the kingdoms of the earth by bowing to Satan
Each of these temptations Jesus resists and overcomes, using Scripture and declaring that God should not be put to the test.
Hiortdal reveals that Jesus overcame each of temptations in a much greater way in the last days of his life.
- Jesus turns his body into bread for those with hearts of stone on Maundy Thursday.
- Jesus is thrown down on the cross on Good Friday, but rises from the dead on Easter.
- Jesus ascends to absolute power when he returns to his rightful throne in heaven on Ascension Day.
Because Jesus ultimately overcame these temptations in this way, we, too, have the ultimate power to overcome every temptation the devil sends our way.
In an article called “Sin and Forgiveness,” in the March 2019 issue of Living Lutheran, author Erin Strybis talked about a time when her young son’s tantrum led her to have a tantrum of her own. To her surprise, her son came up to her afterward and said, “It’s OK, Mommy,” and hugged her (42). Our kids “get” forgiveness more than we perhaps realize.
Strybis suggests three principles to practice in the home to reinforce the power of forgiveness:
Lean on story: The Bible is filled with stories of people who sinned and were forgiven. Think of the prodigal son, Simon Peter, the thief on the cross. Bible stories of forgiveness can be the bedtime stories we tell our children.
Lean into hugs: Remember the father of the prodigal son who ran to embrace repentant son. We need to be quick to reach out and wrap our arms around our children when they come to us confessing their sin. We need to show them that we love and forgive them wholeheartedly.
Lean on prayer: Prayer is an important piece in the practice of forgiveness. We need to pray to God when we are angry at our child and need to reorient ourselves to God’s merciful ways and we need to pray with our kid when we express forgiveness to remind us all the forgiveness comes first from God through Christ and the cross.
Let forgiveness flow freely in our families by the grace of God.
“I’ve always thought it odd that we gospel people so easily fall prey to the false gospels of moralism. Sometimes moralism is directed at myself; sometimes it’s directed at others. In the wake of the right kind of mishap, I can spiral into self-doubt and self-accusation about my own pitiable nature. Yet just as quickly, I can start casting aspersions on those who’ve made similar mistakes. Only the grace of the gospel can pull me out of the pendulum swing” (9).
Though this was written several years ago, it seems more true than ever to me. We can so easily be swayed by outside forces. We are so quick to judge others, to judge ourselves, to shake our heads in disgust or shame and leave it at that. But that is when we need to pull everything back into the context of the gospel, the context of grace, the reality of forgiveness for every sin, won for us and the whole world through the cross of Christ and through his resurrection.
It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is our sustaining force. It has the power to put right side up every apple cart sin has overturned in our lives and in our world. No sin, no evil, no misdeed is beyond the gospel’s scope of reversing when we come to Christ confessing our waywardness. How so? Only through the undeserved favor of God through the sacrifice of his Son. That is grace. And that is why we call it amazing.