Generational Blessings: Set The Example

This morning, we’re beginning a new message series that challenges us to rise up and to take our place in the history of faith; setting the example for the generations to come. It’s an awesome opportunity as well as a responsibility that we have.
When I hear the word opportunity, I think of hope, that things can change and can improve.  It offers encouragement and sees great possibilities for the future.

The Lord spoke through Asaph, a Levite and chief musician in Israel to remind us of such an opportunity that we possess:

Psalm 78:1-8

1 My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
3 things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
5 He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
6 so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
7 Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
8 They would not be like their ancestors —
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him.

God has given us the responsibility and honestly, the privilege, to tell the next generation of the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.  This need is so close to the Lord’s heart that, as this Psalm indicated, He even commanded Israel to do just this.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21
18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 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. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

Of course, there are keys that we find in Scripture and especially Christ’s own example that direct us how to tell the next generation of God’s good deeds with success that we’re going to take a look at.  I believe that God’s desire is that the next generation takes hold of His truth, understands it, puts it into practice, and tells their next generation as well.  By doing so, we will begin a movement full of momentum to initiate generational blessings.  In the great commission, Christ commanded that we do exactly this, to make disciples of all the nations teaching them to obey Him.
There are, of course, also challenges in reaching the next generation that we need to be aware of.
The truth is that we are currently failing to reach the generation.  Barna Group’s research shows that there is a significant dropout problem that we experience in the church following the teen years into the twenties.  This data reveals that we’re doing great at children and youth programs, but that we’re failing to equip them to apply their faith into adulthood and show how practical and necessary God’s word is in this transition.
How does this impact New Hope?  According to US Census data, there are 25,336 individuals within a 15 mile radius of New Hope.  Of these, 29.9% are in the 18-29 age group; 7,575 individuals.
Let’s take a look at some tips in successfully starting this generational blessing, setting the example to turn these statistics around.
1. We must be united
Having authentic and healthy relationships with one another is critical.  This means being honest with each other and being quick to forgive and reconcile when someone sins against or offends us just as scripture calls us to.
We have too great of a calling and responsibility to allow room for division, to hold grudges, or to bite and devour each other!  This generation who is walking away from God speaks often of hypocrisy as one of these reasons for doing so.  Unfortunately, they are correct too often.  We need to do as scripture calls us to and to remain humble, to seek reconciliation, and view others as being more important than ourselves.  This means that we also need to be quick to honestly admit our faults and seek forgiveness and not try to hide or deny them.  Others should see and know without a doubt that we are Christians by our love for God, for each other, and for the lost as well as by the fruits evident in our lives.
Think of it in this way.  If we were brought before a judge and convicted of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence and enough witnesses brought forth who could without a doubt convict us of being a disciple of Christ?  This is exactly what happened in Acts 4 with Peter and John.  Those judging were astonished by them, yet found them only to be ordinary, unschooled men who had been with Jesus.
We must be united as the body of Christ.  Embracing our differences as being God-purposed and intentional as we each fit our unique and individual role in His body.  This includes embracing the morally neutral differences in our generational and personal preferences.  It’s good to be different, to have different perspectives, and to have different strengths.  Instead of judging each other for them, let’s seek God’s will and purpose for why He created them and cooperate with God instead of against.
2. We must teach God’s word with understanding
We need to honestly examine ourselves in our teaching within the church.  The purpose of teaching is to inform and instruct others of something that they do not know.  What good does it do to teach someone about something that they already know and to show them how to do something that they already know how to do?  The only good fruit that comes from this is to confirm our knowledge and to encourage us to put these things into practice.
We need to ask ourselves how good of a job are we doing at teaching and presenting the word of God? Is it being heard and understood by those in need of Christ’s salvation, or are we just preaching to a choir of those who are already saved, already agree with us, and want to hear what we are saying?  God’s word needs to be preached to those in need of His salvation with a higher priority and urgency than to those growing in their already established faith in Him; always keeping in mind the imminent return of Christ.
When teaching God’s word to someone unfamiliar with Him, we need to be understanding of a few things.
To be most effective and successful in teaching someone anything, we need to have a common understanding.  We need to find common ground with those we are teaching.  This occurs by us asking questions and learning ourselves first who our students are, what they are interested in, and  what they already know.
Let’s take a look at a short video describing who this generation is that we are currently losing as a church.
* Who and what are millenials video *
This generation is far different from any of the others before it.  We are more connected and informed than any other generation who has walked the face of this Earth.  92% of those in my generation carry one of these (a smart phone).  With this, I can find any information that I desire; I can even obtain personal information about any one of you.  I can immediately connect with live audio and video to anyone willing, even if they are on the other side of the Earth.  I can share my ideas with millions of people with the simple click of a button.  In this highly accessible and connected atmosphere, church is viewed as no longer being relevant and necessary.  Now, I know that us sitting here today realize how far from the truth and from God’s heart and purpose that this is, however, how are we to convince them otherwise?  I believe that the key in doing this, of course, is found in scripture.
Jesus set us an example by using parables.  Jesus knew how to teach about the greatness and mystery of His Kingdom in a way which even the most simple minded could grasp and understand.  He used scenarios and object lessons that were common to those He was teaching.  He also knew what His students needed to learn.  The greatest way in which Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God, which I also believe is an example for us, is by simply living it.  Jesus faced all of the same temptations and difficulties that we do and yet lived a perfect and sinless life.  Our words and our actions should always be confirming and establishing each other, not contradicting each other.
Our desire should not be so much for knowledge, but rather for compassion and understanding.  This means that I need to value and understand someone else’s perspective and not be so quick to reject it because it may not be in agreement with how I see it.  I may very well know that aspects of one’s lifestyle do not honor God, but do I understand why? Christ understood those He was ministering to, He had compassion and understanding towards them.  He had every right to judge and avoid them, but He instead reached out to them and granted them the forgiveness of their sins, healing, and deliverance.  Too frequently, we sit back in a place of judgment of others because we know something about them instead of running to them with compassion and understanding.  Jesus Himself said that He came not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him.
The truth is, very few have changed their lives because of the judgment and condemnation of others, but many have changed their lives because of the compassion and understanding that another had towards them.  Compassion and understanding create a common ground and open a path of relationship to where we can speak into another’s life with God’s truth.  Judgment sets ourselves on a higher ground than others looking down on them and keeps them at a distance.  We cannot reach out to anyone and lead them to Christ through a heart of criticism, self-righteousness, and judgment.  Again, not even Christ Himself judged or condemned even those murdering Him, but interceded and requested forgiveness for them as an example for us.
3. We must teach God’s word in a relevant way
God’s word does not change even as He does not ever change.  He and His word are steadfast and unchanging throughout all generations from the beginning to the end of the ages.  The context, however, within which His word is taught and lived changes constantly.  Because of this fact, the methods that we use to teach and present His word must also change to be able to effectively teach and apply His word in a relevant way.
One of the areas that we still struggle with in the church is taking our traditions, methods, and models and, in error, making them unchangeable as if they somehow are equivalent to His word.  When it comes to the word of God itself, we must fight relentlessly to teach it with purity and integrity; teaching what the word itself states and not twisting it even as Satan himself did to have it say what we want it to or to fit our desires.
However, what we see occurring through the early church is a willingness to change that which can be changed as the Spirit lead as to not hinder the gospel and work of God in any way.  What we do see are great servants of God such as the Apostle Paul who was willing to learn and relate to the cultural atmosphere as He taught God’s word.  He never distorted or watered down the truth of God, but yet still became all things to all men so that some might be saved.  He was wise and discerning in knowing how to keep the purity and integrity of God’s word to such a degree that he was willing to give his life to defend it, yet remained ever changing as to relate to the people who needed Christ’s salvation.  He adamantly demanded in Romans 14 that we stop passing judgment on each other and setting stumbling blocks before others by quarreling over disputable matters.
We need to keep our eyes fixed on the goal that Christ has called us to, which is to make disciples and teach them to obey the commands of God.  This is what we have been commanded to do, the method in which we use to disciple was not commanded.  This is because the methods in which we disciple will change and should change.  It will look differently from generation to generation and even from person to person.  Look at even the practical example of how differently we learn.  Some people can learn and apply information just by reading a book. Others learn best by watching and learning, then doing it themselves.  Does this mean that one is right and one is wrong?  No!  Whichever method is effective at discipling is the one that is right for that individual.
Of course, we should look at the way in which Christ and the early church through scripture made disciples because we can receive great and timeless insight from those examples.  For example, Christ taught in the synagogues, which would by like having Him speak at one of our Sunday morning services.  However, He also went throughout the regions proclaiming the gospel publicly as well as privately in people’s homes.  He also not only taught information to His disciples, but also showed them how to practically live out that information.  Jesus also sent out His disciples and gave them the authority to minister on their own.  These are all different aspects and methods of discipleship that we can take and use as examples.
Now, does that mean that because Christ didn’t pull out His iPad and Facebook Peter that using social media for discipleship is not of God, absolutely not!  We need to use whatever means possible and effective to share the good news of Christ’s salvation!  I often wonder what Christ’s ministry would look like if His earthly ministry would have occurred during our generation.
Of course, I would also have to honestly ask myself if I might be like the Pharisees and Sadducees of His day and challenge His methods and ways as they did.  After all, He was friends with sinners and spent much of His time not only with the religious people, but very frequently in the company of the demon-possessed, prostitutes, leprous, gentiles, tax collectors, and many others in dark lives of sin and addiction.  He who is the mercy seat would have been ‘unclean’ and not fit to enter into the inner parts of the temple.  In fact, the religious people of His day, the church folk, are the ones who judged and sentenced Him (God in the flesh) to His death for blasphemy against God (Himself) screaming, ‘CRUCIFY!’.  In Matthew 11, we find that they looked on the very face of God and called Him a glutton, drunkard, and friend of sinners!  Even His very own disciples whom He chose to build the church upon were vulgar men who would not fit the picture of holiness and respectability that you would expect God Himself to choose to invest in and identify with.
Would we be any different?  After all, I’ve frequently heard quoted that we are to avoid even the appearance of sin.  Ha ha, I’ve even been told that even if you have the diarrhea, don’t you dare stop at a bar to go lest someone think that you are a drunkard.  Wasn’t Jesus just accused of being a drunkard because he befriended such ‘sinners’.  Wow, is the source of all of this coming from the Jesus of the Bible, our eternal, everlasting God.  The one who shows His love to a thousand generations who turn to Him who is quick to forgive and slow to anger?
God desires that all repent and accept His salvation; especially those who we would last expect to receive it.  After all, Jesus said that whoever is forgiven little loves little, but whoever is forgiven much loves much.  What would the church look like if we were to reach out to those in the darkest pits of their lives, those caught in the worst of sins and the most of them.  According to this principle, they would be some of the most grateful and fired up men and women of God who the world has ever seen.  Do we see this in scripture, how about Paul who was murdering Christians and stopping the spread of the gospel?  After accepting Christ’s forgiveness, He spread the good news to even us today!  God doesn’t want anyone to miss out on what He has for them!  Do we have this same heart towards those who are perishing without eternal life; those destined for eternal punishment?  It’s coming sooner than we all would hope to believe!  None of us are promised even our next breath.  Let’s rise up and make the most of every opportunity as scripture calls us to!
2 Peter 3:8-14

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Christ’s return is certain.  We need to be sure that we are making every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him.  This does not come through self-righteousness and judgment as many try to obtain it with, but it rather comes from willingness to do His perfect will, follow His example, and speed His coming by compassionately reaching out to those still needing to accept His free gift of salvation.  This is His heart’s desire and our responsibility before Him, let’s tell the next generation of His great deeds and set the example for them of how to effectively reach their next generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ!