Saturday, October 22, 2016

What Our Kids Need Out of Religion

Seeing Christ in Christians

I absolutely love talking with young people. I have stood on Mt. Rainier with people we have met on the trail overlooking breathtaking scenery and asked young strangers the hard questions such as, "What motivates you? Where are you in the spectrum of God and religion and why?" And I do actually ask these questions. And unlike many adults, who think I am being nosy, once these kids realize that I am not going to proselytize them, the vast majority are thrilled to answer the questions. Without an agenda, I simply listen. I truly want to know their hearts. 

One of the things I have discovered in these conversations is that young people are leaving the church in droves. Decent, honorable and intelligent youth are not accepting the faith of their fathers and mothers--not because they are being rebellious. Often these kids think very highly of their parents. Many are not angry or desiring to live a life of wickedness. It's not simply that hypocrisy has turned them off or that radical Christians are seen as judgmental and critical. It is more than that. When you dig into their hearts, you will find them often wishing they could have faith. Others sincerely believe they don't need it. 

At the core, these youth are saying the same thing: religion doesn't work. It doesn't seem to give meaning and purpose to the believer. 

Our youth do not see Christ in Christians. 

In today's culture, many Christian parents are relevant, fun and cool. They aren't judgmental nor too permissive. Christian parents may be active in their children's lives, supporting them in sports, playing video games, taking amazing vacations. But they see that same thing in many non-Christian families. So they realize that to be a happy family all that is needed is sufficient money and time for those family experiences. Therefore, why be a Christian?

What Separates Christians?

However, when the music stops, when the entertainment ceases and when problems do arise--health problems, money problems and/or moral temptations--what happens in Christian families? For Christian children often are raised in a morally weak environment where parents distract with comforts and entertainment rather than sacrifice to become wise and righteous leaders of their families.  

When the ship hits an iceberg and the party comes to a screeching halt, the passengers are not running to the entertainment director, they are running to the captain. And often in crisis Christian kids look to their parent's faith and it fails. Their faith made them the entertainment directors rather than being seen as the captain. So, the kids discover that there is nothing that separates Christians from the other families.

While there may be a little difference in the statistics for Christians when compared to the rest of society, it is about equal when we look at Americans who make money their god and savior, who look at and are even addicted to pornography. Christians fornicate, live together before marriage, take drugs, get abortions, get divorced, commit adultery and in most vices they are similar to their non-believing counterparts. To the youth of today, there is not enough of a difference between the believer than the unbeliever to make faith compelling.

If our young people cannot see the miracle of heaven in Christians, why would they believe in or seek an afterlife or have faith in a Christ who saved them to live in misery in this world? In a world that pushes the pragmatism of science and math.... religion does not add up. Faith seems illogical.

Living and Worshipping in Holiness

If we want our children in church, if we want our children to experience the love of Christ:

We don't need more cool, relevant pastors with tattoos and tongue rings who can reference current movies or cable programs.
We don't need worship services that look like rock concerts.
We do not need more entertainment or fun or cool, relevant church services. 
We don't need more entertainment or fun or cool, relevant families.
We don't need more money or pursuits of happiness in our families.
We don't need more freedom.

What we need is holiness.

For when reality hits us, we look for heroes. Our children want Christian heroes that can and do face down temptations and overcome them through Christ's grace. Christians heroes that will reach out and touch them with their wisdom, love and sacrifice. 

We, as Christian parents, need to live out our faith with such courage and sacrifice that it gives our young people hope that they can overcome sin. We need to prove that sin does not get the last word, that wickedness does not have to entrap us and enslave us. Our lives of self-giving and holiness brings the Cross to our children so they can understand the love of God. 

What is Holiness?

Holiness is not a feeling, it is His love and His grace working through us. And as we let go of sin that enslaves us, we are able not only to be a more effective conduit of His love, but we are able to absorb His love into ourselves changing our very nature into His likeness. 

And the more holy we become, we are able to humbly bring His love and healing to those in need. Our witness goes from being solo verbum or words alone--to growing into a life of powerful prayer that availeth much and actions that bring about change. Our witness of the gospel that began in our own broken spirit, arises with the strength of His grace and we begin the journey of sacrifice. That eventually matures into finding more and more joy and peace in sacrifice. 

St. Paul gives women a glimpse of this secret of a life of sacrificial joy when he says that women are saved (from sin) through motherhood. I Timothy 2: 15. 

So many women see this as a chauvinistic, works-oriented passage, but that understanding is far, far from the meaning of St. Paul. It is a wonderful promise. He is saying to women, that God has given them the simple and easiest way to understand pure joy in sacrifice--motherhood. Motherhood can make us holy through the daily tiny self-sacrifices. And that is precisely why Satan has tried to ruin motherhood and its glories by enticing women to compete with men's careers with its potential worldly glories as well as Satan giving us the current form of feminism that demeans motherhood.

It is a spiritual catastrophe that we live in a  culture where couples choose to reject raising children for monetary comforts and temporal gratification. For it is through having children we experience the very nature of God and His selfless and joyful love. 

While lifestyles that do not include children can learn joyful sacrifice, it takes much more disciplined determination and daily sacrifice found outside the home with people you may not particularly like. And often this is found only in a life vocation such as being a doctor or nurse, priest, monk or nun. In any situation, we are not called to a life of comfort and ease. And parenthood is the easiest way of living sanctification.

This necessary holiness goes beyond resisting temptation, avoiding the appearance of evil and living a moral life. Holiness is a daily journey of filling our cup with Christ's graces that we may go out and live Christ to others, giving them His love, His truths.

We become holy through worship and study, prayer and thanksgiving. Through the practice of charity we are given power and strength and wisdom to become like Him. And Christ told us that we are to be perfect, even as the Father in Heaven is perfect. We can do it and we do it through faith and love. 

In essence, Holiness is being Christ in the world. As He took up the Cross His Father gave Him and broke Himself as a holy sacrifice for others, we go and do that for others. 

When our children see in us heroic holiness, they will embrace our faith.