We’re continuing the conversation about Jesus and religion. I said last week I don’t think Jesus hated it, but to be sure he was wary of some aspects of it and we should be also. I’m also hoping that you will use the YouTube I featured last week as a springboard for teaching your own children and grandchildren to think biblically and speak honestly about these issues.
I was sitting with a group of Christian high school students in Panera a few weeks ago and I asked this question, “What bothers you most about religion?”
Young adults will often describe a church where the congregation sang with gusto, “I surrender all…”, but obviously didn’t. “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold”, but they did. From the looks of the cars in the parking lot, they withheld millions of mites. Their parents would greet people with a hug, or handshake, but gossip about them behind their back. Their parents would be screaming at each other in the car on the way to church, but all smiles and love when they walked through the doors of the church.
“They claim to follow Jesus, whatever that means, but I think they just talk like that, because everyone else at church talks like that. Don’t get me wrong, I have good parents. They believe they’re good Christians and I know some wonderful Christians but something is seriously wrong with Christianity!”
Guilty as charged.
I usually just listen and let them vent. I’ve learned to take a punch. The men and women I know, who are successfully connecting with younger adults are not going on the defensive over every outrageous or offensive statement. They know they need to bite their tongue on the minor issues, to win the right to be heard on the most important issues. Besides, how can you argue with the inconsistencies they just voiced? They’re right! And your own children will admire you more if you begin by admitting that many of their observations are true and then begin dialoguing from there.
“You know, I’ve noticed the same things in my church” I said. “I also noticed I was the one doing them, along with everyone else. “So years ago I began to ask myself what God honestly thought of my worship and it was a humbling experience. So I decided rather than trying to change everyone else, I needed to change.” “Like how?” they asked.
“When I actually paid attention to the words I mindlessly sung week after week, I was ashamed. I imagined God sick over my hypocrisy. As a result, “I no longer sing words to songs, I don’t really mean, unless I passionately want them to be true in my life. Because when I sing, “I surrender all” and I have absolutely no intention of surrendering all, I think it makes God angry. I now change those words and tell him that I want to surrender “more”, or surrender a certain area of my life, which I know he wants surrendered and I’ve been reluctant to do.
“But beyond changing what I sing, I began to examine my life and ask, ‘What has to change in me for those words to become true in my life?’ That’s where the 10 second rule has been helpful to keep me moving forward as a follower of Jesus and not just cranking it out week after week because that’s what Christians are supposed to do. I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to be religious that be truly obedient.
And another thing. I also found that my mind was wandering during pastoral prayers, so I began praying along with the pastor, changing his words to my own like a UN translator. That helps me stay focused on God because now I was actually praying with the pastor instead of letting him pray for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a clean slate on hypocrisy, but I’m far more sensitive than I used to be, to what God thinks of what I’m saying, or doing in worship and in my life than I used to be. I can’t change the whole church, but I can change me. And, honestly so can you.” (By the way if you like any of these worship ideas you may want to try them yourself for a few weeks so you can speak from your own experience.)
The good news.
It’s rare that I meet with anyone who has actually rejected Jesus. What they’ve often rejected is the church and Christianity, the religion. They want a Christianity that works. Sadly, many young people don’t care if their church is doctrinally correct, or not. Regardless of what they say, most of the young adults I’ve met with are really not hung up on evolution vs. creation, or some philosophical objections to God. What they want to know is this: if the Bible and the gospel message of Jesus is really true, why doesn’t it produce better people? That’s the issue. Why doesn’t the church champion justice and care for the poor more?
I’ve observed two things in young adults which really encouraged me. They hate hypocrisy and they want to change the world. And they’re still idealistic enough to think they can. They read of wars, famine, poverty, injustice – children dying for a lack of clean water, or a $10.00 vaccination. Then they walk in church and see prosperous, well groom, overfed people, who claim to follow Jesus, who appear to be deaf to these needs and it drives them crazy – and away.
The conversation continues.
So, to that issue I said this to these students, “You’re absolutely right. The church could do more but let’s look behind the curtain. What you don’t always see is the tens of thousands of hours that many faithful church members volunteer to care for the poor right in your own city. You rarely think about the tens of billions of dollars, given annually by U.S. Christians for missions and relief work. World Vision alone provides over two billion dollars each year to alleviate poverty, in Christ’s name. Christians and churches were some of the first to respond to the Katrina disaster in New Orleans – and many still haven’t left. They were there before the hurricane in Haiti and will be there long after that disaster passes from the public’s fascination. Could churches and Christians do better? Absolutely.
Here’s another think you may be missing; your pastor is as frustrated as you about why his people aren’t more serious about living like Jesus. But here’s the answer – not everyone sitting in the pews of your church are followers of Jesus. All followers of Jesus are Christians, but not all Christians are truly born again and fully committed to living out the purposes and plans of God in their life. Learn from the faithful few and please don’t throw the baby out with the bath – just leave it to God to sort that out.”
True religion is man’s best attempt to faithfully love and obey God as prescribed by God. False religion, even “Christian” religion, is man’s attempt to love and obey God as prescribed by humans and the traditions of men.
“You, the Facebook generation, have four choices, as I see it. Obviously, you can walk away or stay away from Jesus, but then what? Like the dog, who finally catches the car, what do you do with it? What comfort is unbelief, other than a certain smug satisfaction you and your friends have, that you’re smarter, or less hypocritical than the rest of us? Both may be true, but that won’t bring true meaning and purpose to your life. And, is that what you’re going to tell Jesus someday when you’re standing in front of him, “well at least I wasn’t a hypocrite”?
You could also choose to opt out of church and try to be a follower on your own. Many have tried it, but few successfully. We need our spiritual family around us to cheer us on, and they need you. I’ve not seen a Christian yet who grew spiritually, completely on their own. It’s just not the way God meant it to work. When we become part of the family of God, it’s in our nature to want to spend time with the rest of the family (or should be) and if not, something’s seriously wrong.
The third option is you could take the path of least resistance and stay in church and join the ranks of folks just warming pews. That’s what I call doing hard time spiritually. But you’ll get used to it and in a few years you’ll think this is what Christianity is all about too.
The last option is to make the decision that whatever the other people in church do, you’re going to passionately give your life to following Jesus and challenge those around you to do the same. You’re going to be part of the solution, not just whine about it. And here’s where you start, pray for God to give you the name of the most serious follower of Jesus you know, call them and ask them to mentor you in this incredible adventure of apprenticing yourself to Jesus – take the road less traveled and you’ll never regret it!”
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matt. 7:13,14
Here are some questions you may want to ask to start a discussion with your child or grandchild:
1. Is there anything that bothers you about Christianity?
2. What hypocritical behavior have you observed in people who claim to be Christians?
3. If you could change a few things about the church, or just our church, what would you do?
4. Is there someone you really admire as a serious follower of Jesus that you’d like to spend more time with to help you better figure out the life of a Christian?
If they can’t think of anything immediately, give them some time by sharing your own struggles with religion growing up. You’ll find that the more transparent you are, they will become also. Perhaps you’ll find you have some common issues you can work on together.
My personal goal when meeting with a young person is that they trust me enough to want to meet with me again and that should be yours as well. Just stay in their life, dialoguing and be a safe place for them to verbalize anything. Now, pray for incredible wisdom and just do the next thing you’re reasonably certain Jesus wants you to do.
Questions: Let’s learn from one another. What ways have you used to dialogue with your own children or grandchildren about these issues, or what issues have they raised that bother them about Christianity?