HOPE FOR THE RISING GENERATION
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, September 1, 2019.
INTRODUCING GENERATION Z
The people that I call the rising generation are called Gen Z by sociologists. They were born between 1995-2015, which means they are between 4 and 24 today. There are 74 million Gen Z people in the USA and they are distinct in their beliefs and behaviors from any previous American generation.
I believe that these kids and young adults face some unique challenges and that these challenges are obstacles to faith. However, I also have great hope for this generation. Today, I want to briefly share the challenges and then dive into the hope we have. At the end, we're going take some time to pray for them and for our educators as well.
THE CHALLENGES FACING GENERATION Z
Kids and young adults face many challenges to faith in the evolving culture. For example:
Secularization: 13% of them are atheists. This is double the number of Millennials or Gen X atheists. In addition, 8% are agnostic and 14% have no religious identity at all. The culture in which Gen Z people live, go to school, and work is increasingly indifferent and even hostile to talk about God, faith, and religion, while increasingly tolerant of almost everything else.
Pessimism and Division: It's a sweeping generalization, but Gen Z view life, work, and politics through jaded eyes. They see fewer opportunities to advance; they do not expect to have the same standard of living as their parents; they are saddled with huge school debt; they see politics as divisive and unhelpful; they do not trust businesses or institutions, or leaders. Respect for or trust in church leaders is at an all-time low.
Screen-Time: 26% use their devices (phones, tablets, laptops) more than eight hours a day and 40 some percent use them for four hours. This poses major challenges through increased access to internet pornography and information overload. Social media immersion leads to social isolation, learning difficulties, depression, cyberbullying, and pressure to seem happy and successful.
Focus: The majority of Gen Zers are focused on happiness through financial success. Personal achievement is more central to their sense of identity than family or religion.
Suicide and Drugs: Suicide rates among teens are at their highest levels since the year 2000 and the trend is upward. Researchers suggest this may be linked to increased drug use, the opioid addiction crisis, and social isolation. 41% of Michigan high school students have used marijuana and 30% used alcohol in the 30 days before the survey.
Those are just some of the challenges facing the rising generation. We should not underestimate their influence on our kids and young adults, especially as they seek a faith of their own. But it is not all doom and gloom. We trust in a great God and we follow a mighty, risen Savior. Trends and statistics don't have the last word. Let's look now at the sources of hope for the rising generation.
THE HOPE FOR GENERATION Z
1. Invite them to experience the goodness of God: The Bible tells us that God does not give up on lost people. He is called Savior (e.g., in Titus 1:3) Some members of this generation may have gone far astray, but God is not done with them yet, and he will welcome them home. When Gen Z meets the goodness of God, everything will change:
The Father's heart: (Luke 15:20-24) But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
The mission of Jesus: (Luke 19:10) "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 5:32) I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Romans 5:8) God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (1 Timothy 1:15) Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners...
The mind of God: (2 Peter 3:9) He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (1 Timothy 2:3-4) ... pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth
People begin to experience God's goodness when we are good and loving to them, when we help them, and we accept them. It's a simple and powerful way to show the goodness of God when we offer to pray in times of need. Of course, the greatest demonstration of God's goodness is in Jesus Christ. He is the incarnation of the Father's love and good will towards us. This is what we call the gospel good news and it is what Gen Z need to hear.
2. Help them experience grace and power in the Gospel: God gave the church a message to share with Gen Z. It is an ancient word that has proven effective in every nation, among every generation, for 2,000 years. The Bible calls it the good news or the gospel. The gospel is simple: Our sins are forgiven, our guilt is removed, and we are restored to God, by God’s grace alone, received by faith alone, in the person and work of Christ alone.
Last week, I heard a preacher say that Father God wanted so badly for us to come back home that he bankrupted heaven to make a way. He gave away his most valuable possession, his own Son. He sent him down in the humanity of Jesus to live and die and rise again to be the doorway back to God. That's the gospel - a story of a father's great love for his lost children; a shepherd's great love for his lost sheep.
God's grace is released when we hear or read this gospel good news. And that grace frees up our hearts to turn to Jesus in faith for all the benefits he promises. The gospel is power-packed:
The power to save: (Romans 1:16) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes. (1 Timothy 1:14) The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
The power to convert: (1 Thessalonians 1:5, 9) ... our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. 9 ...They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God ...
The power to cleanse: (Ephesians 5:25-27) Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word (the gospel), 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (1 John 1:7) ... the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
The power to transform: (Titus 2:11-12) For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age ...
All the cultural trends may be negative, but the Gospel is God's positive power to reclaim a generation. We should not panic, but we should reject pessimism and negativity because they reveal a lack of confidence in God's power. If you've experienced the power of the gospel, don't keep it to yourself. Pray for open doors to share the gospel. Pray for a thousand points of contact. Love people who are far from God, whoever they are, whatever their lifestyles. And lovingly share the good news because it is what every generation needs.
The story of John Wesley's conversion to Christ is a great example of the grace and power that is in the gospel. On the evening of May 24, 1738, Wesley reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate. Someone read from Luther's Preface to the Epistle to Romans. About 8:45 p.m.
"while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
The gospel is so powerful and there is no better way to show people the positive benefits of the gospel than to introduce them to the community of the church.
3. Engage them in the community of the church. The church is God's people in community. God's plan for the Christian life is social; we follow Jesus together. Our small groups are one way to connect and experience God's love and support through God's people and we should consider inviting friends in. I believe engaging with the community of the church will convince Gen Z to follow Jesus because the church is:
A support system for the life of faith: (Romans 12:4-5) Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
A greenhouse for growth in godliness: (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (Hebrews 10:24-25) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
A loyal and loving family of brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers in Christ: (Romans 12:10) Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. (1 John 4:11) Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 Corinthians 4:15) ... in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.
The gospel brings us to Jesus and the church helps us stay with Jesus. The Lord is using the Cornerstone Church to reach and connect with Gen Z because as the church has done for 2,000 years, we provide a safe place for friendship, acceptance, support, and growth.
WE CHOOSE HOPE
Cable news channels thrive on bad news because nothing builds ratings faster than a disaster. However, we all know that too much exposure to the 24/7 news cycle results in depression and discouragement.
But we are not discouraged. We put our hope in God because he has a plan for this generation and every other generation until Jesus returns. That plan is ancient and has never been improved upon. God's plan is this: to offer through Jesus Christ a new life with him. This is why we're so heavily invested in our youth and young adult ministries. We are shaping a generation to follow Jesus and to swim against the cultural tides.
Our mission from God is to share the gospel good news with everyone. I'm guessing that some here today have heard it, but you don't want it. You want to live independent of God. You can do that, but you will miss out on so much.
But there are others here today, who have discovered a precious treasure. You realize that the gospel good news is the best news of all. As you turned to Jesus in faith, you experienced the power of God for salvation and you felt the weight of your guilt fall off; you encountered the loving presence of God. His lost child has come home and heaven is throwing a party. It doesn't matter what generation you belong to, you can enter life with God now. Experience his love, joy, goodness, help, and wisdom today.
Today, we have set aside time to pray for our school districts. Let's pray ...
PRAYERS FOR EDUCATION
(Jeremiah 29:7) Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
Heavenly Father, you are the Lord of all the earth, of every person, community, and school district and college. Thank you for parents, teachers, aides, administrators, home school instructors, librarians, techs, coaches, counselors, psychologists, social workers, office staff, bus drivers, staff, volunteers, community partners, and school board members. Bless them all, give them joy as they do their work. Give them good success. Provide all the resources they need. Give them wisdom and a zeal for excellence. Protect them from harm and discouragement. Thank you for them all.
We ask you, Lord, for safety and protection for every person in all our school districts and colleges. Pour out your love into every school. May every student receive a great education free from hurt, bullying, abuse, crime, and chaos. Send your angels to guard our schools and make them safe and supportive places to learn.
Lord God, help us fight against everything that harms our students and hinders their education. Give us wisdom and effective programs and interventions. Provide mentors and experts and caring leaders who will step in to help.
We know that the devil is at war with the next generation and that invisible battles with visible impacts are being fought all the time. In Jesus’ Name, we rebuke every evil spirit that seeks to take down our students and schools. We command the spirits of fear, murder, suicide, addiction, bullying, discord and perversion to leave and never return. Holy Spirit bring heaven down to our schools. Invade every heart. Bring your life and hope to everyone involved.
Lord, make this a great school year. Raise up kind, creative, thoughtful scholars who steward their minds and use them for the good of humanity. Raise them up to be leaders, heroes, and good citizens who work for a better world.
Finally, Father we ask you to open doors for the gospel in all our schools. May your people stand up for Jesus and share the reasons for the hope that is in them. Make our students like Daniel to follow you with courage and resolve. Bless the work of Youth for Christ and youth workers throughout the region. Make yourself famous everywhere.
We pray all these things in the name of Jesus. Amen!