A few months ago I was preaching in my own congregation and made mention of those who were young; as I did so I included myself in that age category. The congregation laughed! Being just over 40 I thought I was young, especially compared to some of the older members of the church who are in their sixties, seventies or eighties. However, going by the amusement of my congregation, especially the young people, I am older than I think!
That should not surprise me. Occasionally, when talking to my children, I hear myself using that famous expression, "When I was young!" When people use that phrase they are often drawing a contrast between the way the world was when they were young and how it is now. No doubt, some allowance has to be made for those who view the past through rose tinted spectacles, fondly remembering the past being better than it actually was. Yet, all of us should be aware that the world has changed - The Western world is a vastly different place at the end of this century than it was forty of fifty years ago.
The most dramatic changes took place in the 1960's. That decade saw a complete shift of thinking. This change had been building up for a long time, a couple of centuries in fact, but it was the sixties that pulled the plug on what had been traditional and familiar. Before that decade the Bible was an accepted authority, people believed in God as the Creator and Lawgiver, and most respected the laws and standards of the Bible, even if they didn't live up to it themselves.
All this has changed. The Bible is still a best seller; however, for many in NZ it is not the Word of God but merely a book like any other book. Most people today still have a general belief in God but he is simply one of the many faith options that people might choose. And God's laws as standards to live by have been replaced by the Nike slogan, "Just do it".
Our changed spiritual and moral landscape has produced a new
world and another way of looking at life. This new situation
has been described as "post-modern". It has produced
a new set of challenges for you as Christian young people. How
will you live in this post-modern, media-driven, image-saturated
environment? I would like to give you four challenges.
Build on the Truth
In today's world the truth is personalised; the truth is what is true for you personally; the truth is whatever you think is true. Each individual is the judge and jury of truth. This post-modern outlook makes truth subjective and relative; there is no final standard, no ultimate authority, no objective base on which to build your lives.
As Christians we see things quite differently. We believe that God has revealed His Truth to us, both in the Bible and in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. I don't have to live in the dark because I have God's Word, which is, in the words of the motto of the Reformed churches of New Zealand, a "lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Psalm 119:105). This light points us to the Light of the world, the Lord Himself.
Your first challenge is to keep reading, studying and meditating
on the Bible so that you have a sure and firm foundation for your
life. It is the Word of God that will help you find your way in
the perplexity and confusion of this world.
Follow Christ by Faith
At present there is a great emphasis on experience. Many people are not interested in whether something is true or not but on how it feels. Think about all the adventure sports, supported mainly by young people. People are chasing the ultimate experience - the thrill of white water rafting down the Rangitata, the exhilaration of a bungy jump of the Kawarau Bridge, the excitement of jet boating down the Shotover River. Not that there is anything wrong with excitement, action and adventure. These are legitimate activities - "everything is permissible" (1 Cor 10:23) - nothing is wrong in itself. Yet you do have to ask yourself whether these things are beneficial and constructive. Are you too busy chasing experiences? What is first in your life? What is most important to you?
The answer to these last questions ought to be: Following Christ by faith. This is the ultimate experience! Not only must you build your life on the truth of the Bible, but that truth must lead you into a living relationship with Jesus. You must know Him, love Him, follow Him and serve Him.
Following Christ is not easy. You can only do that by faith -
knowing that Jesus is Lord, being convinced that what the Bible
says about Him is true, and then trusting Him, depending on Him,
leaning on Him. This is the experience that makes life worth living.
Make Good use of your Time and Gifts
One of the striking characteristics of this present time is the range of choice. Go into a supermarket and there is a bewildering array of products available. For each type of food there are a whole range of varieties and brands to choose from. This is not just true of food but of life in general. Our present society offers us a massive selection of options - take your pick! There are so many things to sample, to try, to do, that you could spend your life tasting a little of this and a bit of that. Many do. They are like butterflies, flitting from one thing to another, never settling for long, never devoting themselves to a project, never committing themselves to anyone. You must not be like this.
A Christian is called to devote himself to seeking first "His kingdom and His righteousness" (Matt 6:33). God calls you to commit yourself to your family, your church, your study, your work. He wants you to focus your energy and ability on what is worthwhile; to use your time and talents for the good of the church and kingdom of the Lord. It is all too easy to fritter your time away in all sorts of things that have no lasting value. Sure, you are young and you don't want to be overburdened by the responsibilities of adult life too early; but nor do you want to waste the time the Lord gives you.
At this time of life you have few responsibilities and commitments:
You don't have to look after young children, you will not be called
on to serve as office-bearers, you don't have to provide for a
family. This gives you the time and opportunity to serve the Lord
in many other areas - do this with strength and vigour. Pray for
such opportunities and for open eyes to see what you can and should
do. Ask the minister of elders in the church about work you could
do. Get involved.
There are three good reasons why you should be a witness for the Lord. The first is simple: This is commanded. Just before he ascended into heaven Jesus told His disciples, "You will be my witnesses..." (Acts 1:8) This was addressed not only to the disciples standing there but to every Christian. You are to be a witness of Jesus and of the truth of God's Word.
The second reason has to do with these times in which we live. Our post-modern time presents great threats to the Christian faith but it also offers a great opportunity for Christian witness. In this pluralistic world people are ready to consider and discuss any option. It is easier to speak about the Christian faith now than it was some years ago. There is more openness to the spiritual world. If you live and speak as a Christian people will ask you about your faith and you will have opportunities to witness. Don't let them go past! Be ready to make good use of them. Study your Bible to gain a faith that is well-read and thought out so you may "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15).
My third reason relates to the age of your peers. Humanly speaking young people are much more likely to respond to the gospel than people who are older. Of course, God can convert anyone, and He has, and He will. There have been some spectacular conversions of middle-aged and elderly people. But generally speaking, the longer a person has persevered in unbelief the harder they are to change. Young people are more adaptable, more open to considering new ideas, more responsive to the gospel. You are living in a time of life when your friends are at their most receptive to the message about the Lord Jesus. Make the most of this time!
We live in changing, yet exciting times. These are days full
of challenge and opportunity. You, as young people in the Reformed
Churches, are well placed in doctrine and background to make good
rise to the challenge and to use the opportunity. Do it!
John A Haverland
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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / firstname.lastname@example.org / revised July 1998 / Copyright 1998