Hot Topic: Keeping Faith in God

In our teen class we have a discussion question box. This fall we are taking the topics and questions submitted by the students and using them as our class discussion on Sunday mornings.

One of the cards (and the one we began the series with) simply said, “Keeping faith in God.”

As a parent and a youth minister, it scares me a little that teenagers don’t know how to stay faithful. I read article after article and look at research upon research concerning teenagers and faith. Most of it is negative. Depending on what statistics you listen to, between 40% and 70% of teenagers will leave their faith after graduating.

Dropping out of church while in college it the new normal. The fact that one of my students submitted this discussion topic tells me two things: 1) We have not done a good job of equipping our students to be lifelong disciples of Jesus, and 2) our teenagers want to know how!

So what does it take to keep faith in God?

I think the first place to start is by wrestling with the question, What would it take for me to lose my faith? I don’t think we consider that one enough. Would it take definitive proof that God does not exist? Would you lose your faith over the death of a close family member? Peer pressure? Addiction? Tragedy? Bad experiences with other Christians? Discovery of alien life?

Know your weak areas, those stumbling blocks with which you find yourself wrestling in the wee hours of the morning. Know your weaknesses and then shore them up. Because even though you may not know your weak spots, Satan certainly does.

What would it take for me to lose my faith? Until the answer to that question is Nothing, we’ve got work to do.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

From Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17 we have coined the phrase, “In the world but not of the world.” The idea is that this world is a corrupt, evil, dangerous place, but we’ve still got to live here. Jesus’ prayer is that his disciples (including us) may be in the world but not become conformed to the world’s mold. That means we don’t put our stock into the world’s systems and securities. We don’t buy into the world’s goals and morals and values. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we are strangers and foreigners in this place.

Easy peasy, right?

Unfortunately when I look around the church, especially our younger members (myself included), we look a whole lot more like the world than we should. We look, talk, act, and think like people of the world. And why is it so hard to be in the world but not of the world? Maybe it’s because we are in the church but not of the church. (Not my own idea. I heard it from a preacher not to long ago, but I can’t remember his name.)

An article came out not too long ago on entitled “3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church.” It’s a fantastic little article that has gotten me rethinking some things. Here’s the gist of the article:

  1. They are converted.
  2. They have been equipped, not just entertained.
  3. Their parents preached the gospel to them.
The students who end up sticking around realize that there is actually something to this whole faith thing. It’s not just something they do, it’s who they are. They have been changed. They have been given the tools necessary to keep on truckin’. And they have a support system of family and friends.
Wow. Who would have thought that following the biblical example of discipleship could actually work?!
Fact is we’ve been dishonest to our teens about what faith really is. We present it as a 100 meter dash that ends in the waters of baptism. Hurry up and be baptized! What are you waiting for? Splash, dunk, and done. And then we don’t see them again. Why? Because they think their race is done.
Almost anyone can run a 100 meter dash. But not everyone can run a 26.2 mile marathon. But that’s what we are trying to prepare our young people for. It’s a long, grueling fight to the distant finish line. It’s a race that lasts our entire lives.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Keep running. It’s worth it.

The Marks of Wisdom

Who is the wisest person you know?

We’re not used to that question, are we. We could probably have an easier time answering questions like, Who’s the smartest person you know? Or Who’s the most spiritual person you know? I think true wisdom, especially as defined by God, is lacking in today’s world (to say the least).

Think about it. Where do you go to learn wisdom? There aren’t many wise people on reality shows. Textbooks can’t teach wisdom. Schools focus so much on standardized testing that character development (a springboard for wisdom) gets shoved out of the way. Besides, there is no standardized test (and thus no extra funding) for the gaining of wisdom in schools.

Since true wisdom is so difficult to find these days (and all throughout human history if we’re honest), a wise person can slip right past us without our ever knowing. We don’t know what to look for when seeking wisdom. And if we can’t see it in others, then how would we ever recognize it within ourselves?

Proverbs 3 gives us a good starting point when it comes to developing wisdom within ourselves and spotting it within others. These six markers can help us out when we seem to be playing Where’s Waldo with Lady Wisdom.

A wise person is someone who is…
1. Wise by God’s Standards

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:7-8)

Who gets to define wisdom – God or society? Our world offers us cheap, easy, fortune cookie wisdom. The world tells us things like “If it feels good, do it,” and “You’ve got your truth, I’ve got mine.” Truth is truth and wisdom is wisdom no matter where you find them. All Truth is God’s truth and all Wisdom is God’s wisdom. But it’s so easy to counterfeit truth and wisdom. And our world is full of counterfeiters.

So how do we know if “wisdom” is God’s or the world’s? James 3:17 tells us that wisdom from above “is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere.” When someone offers you what sounds like wisdom, always hold it up against this framework.

To a wise person…
2. Intimate Relationships Are Important

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man. (Proverbs 3:3-4)

Is “love and faithfulness” talking about our relationship with God or with each other? Yes.

It’s a tragedy that relationships today are so disposable. We can “hide,” “unfriend,” and “block” people with the click of a button. It seems like most of our relationships last only as long as we get something our of them. If there is no longer any benefit to us then we end the relationship and move on. And that goes with God and the church, too.

It’s not that we necessarily hate these people. In fact I believe that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy. We just stop caring. When you stop caring you stop loving. But Christians are called to a higher standard when it comes to relationships both with God and each other. We are called to love – unconditionally and without expecting anything in return. We love God because He first loved us. We love each other because God is love (1 John 4). People are not commodities. They are not disposable. A wise person understands that.

A wise person is someone who…
3. Shares Wealth

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine. (Proverbs 3:9-10)

To honor the Lord with your wealth is, again, something directed both toward God and others. We honor God when we give to the Lord’s work in the church. And we honor God when we use our blessings to bless others directly. A wise person does not get sucked into the trap of materialism, i.e. “Buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like.”

A wise person does not care about keeping up with the Jones; he cares about blessing the Jones. He’s not concerned with impressing people with his possessions; He’s concerned with impressing upon people the love of God. Everything we have is from God. It’s not ours in the first place. Who are we to hoard our wealth and possessions to the neglect of God and others?

A wise person is someone who is…
4. Disciplined

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:11-12)

 Oh boy. How much does the “wisdom” of the world attempt to speak to parenting, especially in the area of discipline. It seems that people don’t realize the difference between discipline and punishment. Punishment may be a part of discipline, but it’s not the whole story. But now we’ve got a whole generation of parents who are too afraid to discipline their children because they think it will cause some sort of emotional trauma down the road.

A wise person understands that discipline is a part of love. To discipline simply means to teach or train. And when a child is learning something new they often need a good strong rebuke. [For example, “DO NOT through your hat on the stove while daddy is cooking!] Discipline, when done right and consistently, is exactly what children and teenagers need in order to reach their full potential. No one is ever going to be a world-changer without self-discipline.

A wise person is someone who is…
5. Obedient

My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,
for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you peace and prosperity. (Proverbs 3:1-2)

Obedience is far more complex than just following a set of rules. Dogs and monkeys can do that. The kind of obedience modeled by a wise person involves obedience to God even when the situation is unclear. They are obedient even when it doesn’t make sense to them. They don’t get caught up in the particular details of God’s commands, as the legalistic Pharisees would do. They don’t turn life into one big checklist of do’s and don’ts.

A wise person is able to keep God’s teachings and commands in his heart so that no matter what kind of situation arises he has a foundation established upon which to make his decisions. A wise person is also able to take the advice and instruction of others and weigh it against what he knows of God’s will.

A wise person is…
6. Motivated by Faith

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The wisdom of this world tells us to follow our hearts, chase our dreams, and trust our instincts. We try to navigate life relying on our own senses and feelings. The only problem with that is our senses can be easily tricked and our emotions can be manipulated. Before we know it the world begins to look like a fun house maze lined with mirrors doing nothing but distorting our view and keeping us from our true goal.

That’s why we’re told to walk by faith and not by sight. That’s why we are to trust in God and not our own understanding. That’s why with every fork in the road we submit to God and his will. Faith is the only motivation for the wise person. He is not swayed by emotional appeals or his own self-promotion. He has his eyes fixed on Jesus, not the winds and the waves. He knows that God knows more than he does, so he defers to the one holding the map.

When searching for wisdom, it’s easy to get bogged down in everything the world shoves in front of us offering up as “wisdom.” So it’s extremely important to remember the Marks of True Wisdom.

W-ise by God’s standards
I-ntimate relationships are important
S-hares wealth
M-otivated by faith

Another way to sum it up – If it looks like Jesus, then it’s probably wisdom. Jesus is the very embodiment of wisdom. He lived out this lifestyle of wisdom in a way that no one ever had and no one ever will again. He came to model wisdom for us.

So when we are looking for wisdom, look no further than Jesus Christ himself.