Every Generation

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NRSV)

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

By Chuck Griffin

America and many parts of the rest of the world have embedded in their culture a love of youthfulness. In the media and elsewhere, we often glorify the young people of our world, even as we get older on average.

As Christians, we of course value young people deeply. Every new generation is in danger of missing out on the precious message of Jesus Christ as Savior, so we want to do all we can to reach the children and young adults around us. Sadly, American Christians as a group have not done a very good job of transmitting the message to younger people the past few decades.

As we realize our failure, some among us panic, and that can cause church leaders to fall into a kind of ageism. While wishing for more young people among us, they also begin to disdain all that white and silver hair that still arrives every Sunday.

It’s as if some church leaders are thinking, “These old people are the problem, and without them, everything would be okay.” This, of course, is silly—a lot of churches would end up with a mostly empty building.

As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37.) And certainly, we shouldn’t chase away the workers we already have.

We do slow down some as “our outer nature is wasting away.” Older people, however, have an advantage, particularly if they have been in the faith a long time. Many have a deep sense of inner renewal—what we might call spiritual depth—and the life experiences they bring to a church’s outreach can be invaluable.

These people not only know how to plan and execute, they also often have more free time than your typical young adult! We also have to acknowledge that with medical advances and a better understanding of lifestyle choices, there are people in their seventies who can run circles around some people in their thirties when it comes to work.

Church leaders, don’t push these active older people away, even if they seem a little disengaged at times. Have you drawn them into the heart of your plans? Do you treat their worldview as something that remains relevant?

Once these experienced Christians are equipped with a proper understanding of the Great Commission (something lost on so many churchgoers for too long now), they can be a tremendous force for the kingdom.

Several years ago, I was doing ministry work in the Czech Republic. Senior Christians there were unusual because Soviet-enforced atheism had dominated their society and their minds for so long. The young Czechs proved to be more open to the gospel shortly after the Iron Curtain fell.

One Sunday, I worshiped with a small church made up mostly of families with young children. There was a white-haired exception among them, however. After the service, she asked me through an interpreter, “In your country, are there many older Christians, people like me?”

I suppressed a smile as I replied, “Oh, yes—most of the people in our churches are about your age.”

“Ah,” she said. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful!”

It is wonderful. Let’s never stop valuing what we have, and let’s get all the folks we have with us recommitted to the mission.

Lord, you work in our lives from the womb to beyond the grave, and every person is precious in your sight while here in this world, young or old. Give us the vision and the energy we need to grow your kingdom now. Amen.

Your God My God

Book of Ruth

By Chuck Griffin

There is no doubt that in churches all across America, we’re experiencing divisions that break along generational lines.

I don’t find satisfying the current approaches many churches are using. In some cases, they establish two cultures under one roof, leading to competition for prime worship times and resources. Other churches simply cater to a particular generation. They sometimes look successful doing so, but I wonder how they will fare as time passes. What do you do when you are 50 years old in a church aiming for an average age of 35? How does a church clinging to the old ways ultimately survive?

I do think I’ve glimpsed the beginning of an answer in the Book of Ruth, an Old Testament text taking us back to the early days of the Israelites, a time when the people were ruled by God-inspired judges rather than kings.

I’ll try to summarize a complicated story quickly; I hope you’ll take time to read it in full. To understand the Book of Ruth, it helps to grasp Old Testament concepts like the role of a kinsman redeemer, and how property rights were developed to protect family interests.

The story is primarily about a Jewish widow, Naomi, and her non-Jewish daughter-in-law, Ruth. Ruth and another non-Jewish daughter-in-law, Orpah, are widowed when Naomi’s sons die. Naomi had moved with her husband to Moab during a famine, but once all the men in her family are gone, she decides it is best to return home to Bethlehem. She tells her widowed daughters-in-law to go back to their Moabite families and find new husbands.

It is good advice; Naomi has nothing to offer the young women, and all three are in danger of dying in poverty or even by violence without male protectors. Orpah takes Naomi’s advice and departs. Ruth loves Naomi dearly, however, and cannot leave her.

“Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God,” Ruth says. She even makes a poignant promise to die where Naomi dies, a statement rooted in the poor odds they face together. A sad, bitter Naomi accepts Ruth’s company from then on.

Once in Israelite territory, however, the situation improves dramatically for the two. Rather than rejecting Ruth as a foreigner, the people of Bethlehem are deeply impressed by this young Moabite woman’s devotion. A relative of Naomi’s husband also takes notice of Ruth. He first ensures Ruth and Naomi have plenty to eat, and ultimately he arranges through some complicated legal wrangling at the city gate for Ruth to be his bride. In the process, Naomi’s family name and property are preserved.

The story ends like a fairy tale; all involved find their happiness restored. Generations later, this non-Jewish woman who faithfully followed her mother-in-law despite their desperate circumstances is remembered by the Jews as the great-grandmother of King David. And according to Matthew 1, she also is in the lineage of Jesus Christ, making her a symbol of how God has used broken circumstances to redeem the world.

It all worked because two women from two generations loved each other to the point that each was willing to sacrifice for the good of the other. Ruth gave up all she had known to follow Naomi, with little hope in sight. Naomi risked being rejected by the people in her home village, her last safe retreat, when she brought home a Moabite woman.

Sacrificial, intergenerational love is an important concept if we are to strengthen our churches. When we as Christians focus on our own desires, we are being ruthless. When we are Ruth-like, and Naomi-like, each generation looks to the other’s interests, clinging to each other, refusing to depart each other, going so far as to say I will die where you die before I will allow us to be separated.

Who wins? In the Book of Ruth, everyone does, even as they fall over themselves to take care of one another.

This story of intergenerational sacrifice is part of the loving crucible in which Jesus Christ was formed. In our churches, similar sacrifice could spark a resurgence in the Holy Spirit’s willingness to work among us.

Lord, we are faithful to you first. May our love and obedience toward you be our common intergenerational bond, and may we walk together in your light from cradle to grave, accommodating each other’s holy needs along the way. Amen.

Building Plan

1 Corinthians 3:10-17 (NLT)

Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.

Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

By Chuck Griffin

Every church I have pastored has either been planning a building expansion, in the midst of a building expansion, or paying off a building expansion. The need for additional facilities means that at some point the church has been healthy, serving more people than it ever has served before.

We like to measure churches by their buildings. Structures are easy to see. Paul points us toward a more spiritual understanding of church expansion, however, writing at a time when Christians might have had difficulty imagining the kinds of facilities congregations construct today.

As we are reminded in one of our great hymns, “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” A church is strong when its people sink themselves into the core truths about Jesus Christ: That he is the promised Messiah; that he is the Son of God, divinity in flesh among us; that he died on the cross for our sins and was resurrected from the dead; that he rules over all creation and will return in full one day to set this broken world aright.

We lay a solid foundation in what we preach, teach and practice. The Holy Bible, the Holy Spirit-inspired word of God, acts as our blueprint. In terms of programs, worship style, dress, decor and architecture, we may look different from congregation to congregation, but that’s okay, as long as our churches remain rooted in who Jesus is.

Take Jesus out of the plans, and we are quickly in danger of being some sort of club rather than a church. As we work to adapt to a rapidly changing society, it’s okay, perhaps even essential, that we shift in our outward appearance. But we must offer the world Jesus and the values that naturally flow from a relationship with him.

Heavenly Father, help us to build well for the future. Whatever the church becomes, may it always be so holy that it stands beautifully in your refining fire. Amen.

Charity and Triage

1 Timothy 5:3-16 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

Some of Paul’s writings can seem difficult to process or even irrelevant because they are so tightly bound to cultural circumstances that seem far behind us. In today’s example, a reader might want to explore what it meant to be a widow in the early church as it existed in Ephesus, and what particular challenges the church faced at that time.

A trustworthy commentary or study Bible can help a reader uncover some of these important details of history, and such a learning process is always useful. That’s not where I am going today, though. Instead, I want to see if this seemingly anachronistic passage might hold some general principles that remain valuable now.

Let’s begin with a common point every church through time shares: Some churches may seem rich and some may seem poor, but all churches ultimately have finite resources. This means some care must be taken in how resources are distributed among people in need.

If we are to be good stewards, a form of charitable triage is required. In medicine, triage is a process where the wounded or ill are ranked for treatment so as to maximize the number of survivors. I see a kind of triage happening in this passage.

Of lowest priority would be those who demonstrate or express a need, but who also clearly have the ability to resolve their problems on their own. When encountering these situations, a church’s efforts should focus largely on education, showing people the path to independence.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul gave this very direct comment regarding idleness: Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”

In situations where people cannot resolve their problems on their own, church leaders still need to carefully analyze the family dynamics, exploring whether some sort of healing needs to happen in  the relationships there. The continuing importance of the family unit within the church comes through clearly in what Paul wrote to Timothy.

Where there is family, church support of people in need would again have to be somewhat conditional. As a pastor, I have seen families try to pass along responsibility for an impoverished or ill relative to the church, wanting to be free of the stress caused by the family member.

The family as a whole could very well need financial and spiritual assistance in supporting the relative. But the family still should take a demonstrably active role in the process, particularly if that family claims to abide by Christian values.

Of highest priority would be those who are truly alone and unable to help themselves. With careful stewardship of resources, a church should be able to offer these people God’s love in powerful and comforting ways.

In all of these situations, grace and gentleness should prevail, of course, with the goal of bringing everyone closer to God constantly in mind.

Dear Lord, may your Holy Spirit help us navigate the often difficult circumstances surrounding charitable work, and may your kingdom be glorified in all we do. Amen.