Ezra 8:21 | Self Absorbed, Anxious, and Alone

In my industry there is an influx of college hires, a new generation, and this new generation is changing the culture of the companies I work for. This generation is very much into saving the planet. They are into serving the community through activities that the company pays for. They complain immediately to any kind of disciplined hand of correction.  They bringing their collectable action figures to the office. They watch YouTube videos of their favorite stars while in the office. Not many have children and even less are married. The change to culture makes me ponder about the future of the country.

I am not convinced that the next generation’s desire to make corporate or government institutions their religion is a positive advancement for society. Government and other institutions should not be the spiritual structure of one’s life. Making government or wealthy business people the center of spiritual life will leave society dashed on the waves of ever-changing opinions of flawed peoples.

Ezra with a mandate from the unchanging God to return Jewish exiles home to Jerusalem had an opportunity to restore the Jewish community outside of the corporate and government institutions of their captivity. He had an opportunity to lead people away from dependence on men and this world and into a life dependent on God. The Christians of this age would do well to look at Ezra’s example because I fear that the Christian culture is almost indistinguishable from the self-absorbed culture at large.

21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. 22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty. Ezra 8:21-23 ESV

Ezra had secured approval from the king ruling over the Jewish exile to return to Jerusalem. This was a once in a life time opportunity and Ezra, to his credit, boasted in God and also to Ezra’s credit he then humbly placed his trust in God and allow God to be glorified by that trust. We as an American culture, and more importantly Christian culture, have grown dependent on government bureaucracy, school sports and activities, and non-Church institutions for our well being and health. The results are not good. Anxiety, drug use both prescribed and illegal, suicide, family disfunction, sexual abuse, and other selfish acts of sinfulness have come to dominate society. We are not healthy because we, as Christians, have not humbled ourselves before God and placed our trust in him.

So, what does trust in God look like to the modern person? When I look at what I believe to be disfunction of the next generation here are three areas of focus that I think Christians are missing. These three areas I have struggled with myself and I have altered my lifestyle on more than one occasion to focus on these three areas.

First build life around the Church. Christians that look to government for solutions like the rest of society are always in meltdown when the political candidate of their choice does not win. We are not trusting God for the future. Ezra could have asked the government for a solution but he knew that solution was doomed to fail. Looking at government to fix culture is backwards. Government is a reflection of culture. So trust God and a major way to do that is through corporate worship through the local Church. Fellowship and discipleship. Community of believers living life together is the way God has designed us. We are built for close community relationships. And for those of struggling in fear and anxiety one of the greatest benefits of building life around church is a spiritual gift of encouragement.

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.  Romans 1:11-12 ESV

Second build life around family. Children rebelling against parents. Parents being self-involved and not engaged in the life of their children. Not getting married. Not having children. These are all recipes of a lonely and broken life. God wants men and women to be married and to reproduce. But if you live a life that is self-absorbed then you will ultimately live a life that all alone. If it is God’s will for you then be married and grow a family. Yes it will be difficult. Yes it will be heartbreaking. Yes it will cut into your ability to “have fun”. But the blessings and the benefits of serving others in family will not be a regret. The only possible regret is not starting that family.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. ​Genesis 2:24 ​ ESV

Third and finally is to build life around God honoring education. Government education in current society has become hostile to family, church, and God. Many teachers are open and vocal about their desire to undermine the culture and ethic of the family a child comes from. If you have the means no matter the age of the children seriously consider altering everything to homeschool those children. If you have the means then look into different forms of private education. Post pandemic the other options of pod school and online learning are becoming available. Ask God for a way to put him first in education if you don’t see any other path. God will honor such a request. If you do not have the means then this is where the Church and the families of the local church need to step up and help support one another to start school pods or to take on other children to an existing home school. We as a church family need to build our lives around the larger church family and focus on teaching children to know and understand the wisdom and knowledge of God.

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:10 ESV

I know that these three things are difficult because these are all consuming. Living life married with children, serving in a church, and homeschool will make you strange and you will feel that judgment from the world and your own extended family. Living life by these three as Christians will be costly in time and self fulfilment because these will interfere with the ambitions of the world. But the reward will be peace in chaos. The rewards are eternal with a life well lived in Christ and in the here and now the reward will be a life of healing selfless love vs the destructive self-love the world has to offer.

Isaiah 2:6 | Pulling away from Culture

As a parent of teens, I am in the phase of life where I am actively thinking about their future. Are they prepared for the world? Are they innocent of evil but not naive to cruelty and selfish lusts of mankind? Are they enthralled and distracted by the current culture? Or could it be said that they might be different or maybe a little strange? I pray, God, that they would be counter cultural. I pray, Father and King for their sake, that they would forsake everything this world offers to love, serve, and be devoted to you through Jesus.

I worry that the public square has no room for Christians who love Jesus. I have seen it change in my lifetime. Leadership positions in all stratus of society from government, public companies, non-government organization, news media, and education are held by the culture in an increasingly oppressive way. There is no room for ideological diversity. A pluralistic society in thought is no longer the norm. We are told what to believe and how to act. Anyone that does not conform will be shamed or canceled to prove a point. Twitter mobs roam from outrage to outrage facilitating the oppression. So where do my kids go from here as they mature and start their own lives? Do they join the culture and be absorbed by it? Do they forge their own unconventional path?

For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners. Isaiah 2:6 ESV

God rejected his people because they choose live like the rest of the world around them. They choose the gods of the Philistines. They wanted a path for their children that looked like the lives of children of people who had no regard for God. When I was a young man chasing after young women my overriding constraint was to ask a question. Will a relationship with this young lady pull me toward God or pull me away from God? Most of the time the answer to that question was away from God. And that is the root of what God wanted from His people. He wants people who are devoted to him and not people who are devoted to a culture that has no regard for Him.

31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” Exodus 23:31-33 ESV

I pray for my kids as they transition into adulthood. What relationships will they choose? Will they choose relationships that pull them toward God or will they choose relationships with the world that pull them away from God? If they choose poorly then the world will become a snare to them and then they will be just like everyone else.

22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:22-26 ESV

Lord I pray for my kids and for the youth of this present age. Draw them to you. Pull them in close that they might worship you and not themselves. Keep them from the snare of distraction and anxious living that has cursed the youth of this present age. Make them strong because they love you first. In the name of Jesus I pray.

Awkward

Jesus did not act as many people might expect, he certainly did not act as the people of his own time expected. Jesus challenged everyone around him. He challenged the sinner to stop sinning and he challenged the religious to stop being religious. That challenge to stop being religious stands even today. Being religious for me is comfortable. There are rules, I know the rules, and I can for the most part comfortably slide through life picking the rules I like. That is because religious rules are manmade rules. Rules like what one can wear at Church or how to worship in Church. Rules like these really have nothing to do with God.

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13 ESV

Jesus speaking to the religious leaders tells them his purpose, resolve, and intent is mercy. There is no place for mercy in a religious mindset because the rules are more important than people. When the non-religious mix with the religious that lack of mercy makes everyone uncomfortable. Jesus was comfortable spending time with sinners and many sinners appear to have wanted to spend time with Jesus.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew 9:10-11 ESV

So how did Jesus avoid the awkward? How did he cross the divide of someone who appeared as perfectly religious and hang out with people who appeared without religion? How did cultures and people who would not normally share a meal together sit and eat? Jesus cuts through the uncomfortable cultural divide because he loves people even where they are at the moment. He loves his children. He created people (John 1:3) and the good Shepherd has moved heaven and earth to restore the relationship. Eating with sinners is a result of that love in action. It is real, genuine, and trustworthy compassion and the sinners that Jesus ate with recognized it. That kind of love could never be awkward.

Jesus became a servant who interacted with people as they are. He has provided and pointed to the way one should go. What do you think they talked about at this dinner? Did he talk about sports? Did they bad mouth the religious leaders? I imagine that he talked about what was important to those tax collectors and sinners. I imagine that the conversations were similar to others recorded in the gospels where Jesus with compassion would tell them about their future and the better way that only God can provide.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:10-11 ESV

He loved them first. He befriended them. He showed compassion by being willing to spend time with them in their home. He allows sinners to come as they are without judgment. Religion only judges and has no room for love.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 ESV