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!
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.
Here is the prayer:
I am feeling weak. But you, O God, are strong. And you give strength to your people. As you gave strength to Abraham, so keep me strong in my faith. As you gave strength to Moses, so keep me strong over the long haul. And as you gave strength to David, so keep me strong in the face of giant obstacles.
This prayer helps me to remember that I am not alone whenever I feel weak. Our great patriarchs felt weak in their lives, and God gave them strength. Abraham in his old age (and Sarah in her old age) were promised a son but it didn’t happen right away. But God gave Abraham strength to have faith in the promise. And Isaac was born in God’s time. God even gave Abraham the strength to be willing to sacrifice that son until an angel stopped him from going through with it. That same strength from God keeps me strong in my faith in him no matter what the promise or test.
I think of Moses, too, who felt weak in leading the Israelites out of slavery, saying he didn’t speak well. But God gave him strength to lead his people out of Egypt and guide them on a 40-year journey through the wilderness to the doorstep of the Promised Land. That same strength from God keeps me patient and confident in the extensive journeys through my life and through any qualms I may have of not being capable of completing the plans he has for me.
Then there is David, who as a young shepherd boy, seemed to be no match to the giant Goliath. But God gave David strength to fling his slingshot with a stone and fell that foe. God gives me that same strength against the giant foe of the devil that I may defeat his slings and arrows with the Word of God in my arsenal. I may be small in the grand scheme of things, but I am mighty in the presence of the Lord. Let me never forget that.
One part of the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness. And in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he wants to make sure that this congregation’s gentleness is evident to all. Why? Because the Lord is near. Our gentle ways should be what people are seeing at work in us when the Lord returns.
In a world that is often hostile, angry and at odds with one another, our gentleness as Christian people can stand out. What do we mean by being gentle? We only need to look to our Lord Jesus when he was on this earth for guidance. He said, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). He took little children into his arms and blessed them (Mark 10:16). He spoke gently even of those who were crucifying him, saying, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
In the same way, we can be people of gentleness by being humble in our approach to people, by embracing children and caring for those around us in a loving way, by blessing those around us with the peace of God and encouraging them in their endeavors. We can be gentle in our forgiving of those who have hurt us, recognizing that we are all sinful and in need of the grace and mercy found only in the cross.
Even when we witness to others of the hope we have in Christ, we are to do so “with gentleness and respect,” St. Peter says (1 Peter 3:15). We need to be comforting in how we share our faith, not overbearing. Our goal should always be to be kind and helpful and reassuring. That is what gentleness is all about. Be gentle in your ways today, with the help of God.
I read an article recently that after Neal Armstrong brought back moon rocks from the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, they were distributed to all 50 states, but many of the mementos vanished. Saddened by this development, intrepid rock hunter Joseph Gutheinz made it his mission to find the missing treasures. He has successfully located all the states’ rocks, except for 2, New York and Delaware, and he hopes to find those by the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 2019.
How could this happen, we ask ourselves. But the truth is that something similar can happen with the treasure of our faith in Christ that we have been given by the power of the Holy Spirit through our baptisms.
Our precious faith can sometimes get ignored under that piles of work assignments, school activities and personal hobbies. For instance, if you can’t think of where to find a Bible in your home, then perhaps it is time to put the Bible front and center in your living space to remind your entire household that our faith is precious and needs to be honored and recognized.
The same goes for those who have wondered away from the faith or whom we have simply lost touch with. If you haven’t talked to a special friend in the faith for awhile, it is probably time to set aside some time to search for them and reconnect with this treasured person in your life.
I am reminded of the parable of the woman searching for the lost coin. Like Getheinz with the moon rocks, she is determined to keep looking for the coin until she finds it, and then she is overjoyed when she does.
Our attitude should be the same in our re-embracing of our faith and our fellow followers of Christ. Never let the Word of God or the bonds we have with others disappear from our lives!
In Wendell Berry’s recent book, The Art of Loading Brush, he talks about the the fact that in agrarian life there is a certain way to go about, an “art” to, the mundane task of loading brush. “The loader must pay attention to each limb so that all the brush can fit on one wagon load,” a character in Berry’s story says. “If the art of loading brush dies out, the art of making music finally will die out too,” the character continues. Berry draws a connection between the rural and the urban life and how the practices in one can inform the other and vice versa. We should not live in one world, and not be informed about the other, he dontends.
But Berry also makes it clear that something like loading brush needs to be learned and practiced. This is something that must to taught from one generation to another.
This reminds me of the words of our God in Deuteronomy 11:18-19:
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
It is our task as parents and Sunday school teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, even neighbors and friends to pass on the faith to future generation so that they know about the great love of God for them. Otherwise the faith will die out if it is not passed on.
I am also reminded of the words of Romans 10:14-15:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
The “going about of” faith, the “art” of faith, cannot continue if people are not told. We are to be “the beautiful feet” who share the practices of prayer, worship, Bible study and devotion, who proclaim that Christ is our Savior from sin, death and the devil, and that by believing in him we may have everlasting life in him. At times this teaching of the faith may seem mundane, but it is not optional, It is something that has to happen by the power of the Holy Spirit that all may know the truth of the Good News!
Who is someone you can teach the faith to today?
Mindy Belz, in an article in the September 1, 2018, World Magazine, shared her experience with root rot in her garden this past summer. Apparently her area had received so much rain that the soil became so saturated that no air could enter in, causing the roots to dissolve and her plants to die.
Belz came to realize, “In the garden and in life, we can be lulled by why seems a buoyant ride into ignoring underlying perils.”
The only way to remedy root rot is to lift the plant from the saturated soil while at least some of the roots are still intact and move the plant to completely fresh soil. There the plant can thrive once again.
This story about root rot reminds me of Colossians 2:6-7:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
When we find ourselves swimming along and trying to root our lives in material things or our own accomplishments, the roots can quickly dissolve when things break or are lost or when our accomplishments don’t get us anywhere.
It is then that we need to be transplanted, if you will, into the rich soil of faith in Christ. Only there can our lives develop deep roots, nourished and fed by him. Only there can we thrive and bear fruit for him. And only there will we continue to grow for all eternity into the plantings he wants us to be.
Be routed and grounded in Christ today and always … and overflow with thankfulness!
Christian musician Peter Mayer has this advice for aspiring musicians: “If you’re a songwriter, guitarist or singer, do it every day. Let those voices seeking a home know that yours is available. Do the practice, playing of gigs, writing and rehearsing more than you talk or post about it. Fail at least as much as you succeed, and you’re on the discovery road” (“I’m a Lutheran,” Living Lutheran, February 2018, 13).
After reading words, I realized Mayer’s advice to musician here is a blueprint for Christian living as well in our walk of faith. Here’s what I mean:
As Christians, we need to live as Christians every day. There is no day off from serving, praising, praying, loving, confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness. Do your Christian faith every day.
Be open and available to carrying out the mission and the calling that Christ has for you. Always be ready to say yes to opportunities that come your way that are in line with your God-given gifts.
Actions speak louder than words, we know. So be people of action. We can say we will do this or that very easily sometimes. But it is the follow-through that takes the most effort and has the most impact.
Never be afraid to fail. We all know stories of famous people who failed many times before they reached success. We as Christians are no different. We cannot live in fear of not doing well and then do nothing at all. Failure leads to learning and helps us to do better the next time we are called into action for Jesus. No one can do everything right all the time. Once you accept that fact, it frees you up to keep trying. And God will bless your efforts in the end.
The Christian life is about discovery. Become a lifelong learner. Keep growing in your knowledge and fear of the Lord and let him keep leading you on.
The path of every Christian will lead directly to a deep relationship with Christ. As Peter Mayer would say, “Know and experience this mighty love of God in Christ” as you walk in his way.
In the Testimony column in the March 2018 Christianity Today, Iranian refugee Annahita Parsan says, “For some, the journey to seeing Jesus as Savior is sudden and dramatic like ti was on the road to Damascus. For others, the journey to faith looks more like the road to Emmaus: a gradual realization that Jesus is closer than the air we breathe” (p. 88).
Insightful words that got me to thinking about how coming to faith and growing in faith is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Sometimes we do indeed need to be knocked off our (high) horse, as St. Paul was on the way to Damascus. And oftentimes we need a quieter, gentler approach, as the Emmaus disciples experienced when Jesus inconspicuously walked alongside them.
My personal journey of faith has been more along the Emmaus Road lines. The words of Christ were revealed to me over time and I grew to know Jesus along the way. But there have been indeed times when I literally was caught off guard by a message from God.
It came recently at a conference in Phoenix during a breakout session in which the speaker was talking how hard it was for him as a father to watch his daughter who has Crohn’s disease suffer.
This verse flashed on the screen:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things? Romans 8:32
And I almost fell over.
Tears burst from my eyes and I recognized that I was being struck head-on with the good news that there is no length to which God will not go in order to care for me and love me. I do not need to worry or be afraid.
God watched his only child suffer and die so that we might be saved. That is how much he loves us.
I came out of that session with a new vision of and a new confidence in what God in Christ has done and is doing for me.
Think over your life about your journey of faith and recall what has been your Dasmascus Road moment and what has been your Emmaus Road experience. Our lives are filled with each and we need to be aware as much as we can of how God is speaking to us both dramatically and subtly. This is how we will grow more and more into who he wants us to be in Christ.