Learning from History and Experience

Sometimes you just have to laugh.
A few months ago I went to get my second COVID shot, and as I was registering I had to state my birthdate aloud.  As I spoke, the clerk in the next cubicle stuck her head around the corner and stared at me.  She stayed in that position until I got my papers and began to leave for the next station.  I heard her say to the other clerks, “I just couldn’t believe someone that old was here on their own, and was still lucid!”   Well, thank you, my dear ~ I feel I have struck some kind of blow against ageism for all of us old folks who have somehow survived until extreme old age.  What is sad is that the young continue to see us as mostly invisible and irrelevant.  Very few young people care to hear about the past through which we have lived.  It has nothing to do with them, they assume ~ so why bother with all that old stuff?

Well, the thing about history is that, unless heeded, it repeats itself.  We should be able to learn from history ~ to see how certain “solutions” to things didn’t work then, and probably won’t work now.  Those of us who have been through a few things in life have learned some good lessons, and we would like to pass that wisdom on to younger generations so that you don’t have to go through what we did.  Of course, the younger generations assume that NO ONE has ever gone through what they are going through ~ that their pain is far worse, or that their problem is much harder ~ and so they don’t want to listen to the older generation.  What could we possibly know?  It has been this way forever, and those of us who are now old were probably just as naive and/or arrogant when we were young.

It is the same in spiritual matters.  Each person begins as a spiritual infant and has to learn the same spiritual lessons as those who have gone before.  We each start out just being grateful for our salvation, but as time goes on and as we grow, true believers begin to see that there is so much more to being God’s person than just being saved.  We have a mission: to share the Good News.  We are in a process: becoming more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ.  We have a role to play in society: serving as salt and light to those around us, and modeling the values of a holy but merciful God.

It is sometimes gently amusing to listen to an intense (and occasionally slightly condescending) young Christian tell me about a truth they have just discovered as if it is a totally new idea which no one has ever thought before. You can only smile and be glad with them in their discovery.  It would serve no purpose to share that you have known this for a long time; and that you have been trying to tell them about it.  Each person has to come to truth in their own time and way… and there is only one truth… none of this narcissistic woke stuff about “my truth” vs “your truth”.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father except by me.”

What is sad is when a young person is going through a really bad time and is struggling. If they assume that they don’t need any help, they may have to struggle a long time before they can come to any resolution.  They need more information and spiritual experience, but don’t want to listen to anyone.  That is why we older Christians tell you to study your Bibles.  That is where all the real wisdom lies, and scripture will teach you with more authority than any human.  Unfortunately, it has become the fashion today to minimize the study of scripture, and just go with your emotions.  This has led to increasingly shallow Christians who are focused on themselves and their needs, and have forgotten or not even known that, as God’s people, they are left here to serve God on earth.  They make the assumption that He is in heaven to serve them by solving their problems: by curing their illnesses, by making them feel good, and providing for their material needs more than abundantly.  Their idea of being God’s person seems to have become all about self, and not about how to serve Him and represent Him to others.

I have a friend who went to a huge church that focuses on appearing welcoming and friendly and signing up new members. They have a great Praise Team, and their worship service resembles more of a cross between a concert and a sing-along than a traditional service.  They don’t put much stock in studying the Bible, and even the sermons have been reduced to no more than fifteen minutes so that they don’t bore the congregation or take away from the emotional high generated by the music. They believe this is worship.  Recently my friend had a problem in her life.  She was devastated, but she had no source of comfort or direction.  Because her faith has been built on emotions and feel-good experiences rather than a solid foundation of scriptural knowledge and an ongoing relationship with the Lord through prayer, she found that her “faith” wasn’t much help during her crisis.  She was puzzled and deeply discouraged.  Several of us who are older in the Lord tried to tell her to read her Bible and continue to trust in the goodness of God, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t hear us.  She has drifted away from her church and is bitter and angry.  All her friends can do is pray and encourage her to continue to trust in the wisdom of God and His desire for our ultimate good.

There are two kinds of followers: those who are true believers, and those looking for an easy ride and who think making a profession of faith is the key to manipulating God into a protected and prosperous life.  The Lord talks about those who call themselves followers, but whose lives show none of the characteristics of true believers. When they get to the gates of heaven He may have to say to them, “Depart from me… I never knew you.”  (Matthew 7: 21-23)

How do you recognize a genuine believer?  Please let this old Christian share what I have found.  There are many ways to look at this, but it begins with a genuine recognition of your own sin and the realization that in yourself you are not worthy of being in God’s presence.  You need an Advocate. The next step is to believe God when He tells you He loves you, and that He has provided a way for your sins to be wiped out.  That way is belief in His Son.  The next step is to trust in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ, and TO FOLLOW HIM!  Following Him is the hard part.

After a genuine commitment, your life will gradually change.  You will find you have a new desire to know more about Christ, and reading your Bible and spending time in prayer with Him will become an important part of your life.  You will find that you are developing a trust in His love for you and a dependency on HIs presence in your life.  He will be a reality, not an abstract idea or an icon.  The desire of your life gradually will become obedience to the will of God instead of your own will, and as you submit more and more of yourself to Him, you will begin to develop the fruit of the spirit, such as kindness, patience, a gentle spirit, and so on.  Lastly, do not be surprised if you find that you must endure some degree of suffering.  If you want to be like Christ, then you will need to understand suffering.  The good thing is: He will never put on us more than we can bear, and He will walk with us through every trial.  All these things will help us develop compassion and patience and will shape us into the kind of Christians who reflect the love of God, and who make up the true Church on earth, no matter what your denomination. Unfortunately, there are millions who profess to be Christians, yet would not recognize any of these steps.

Don’t be fooled into believing that it is all right to try to have one foot in heaven and the other in the world. You cannot serve God and the world.  Open yourselves to the willingness to submit every facet of yourself to the will of God and reevaluate or even abandon anything that would re-direct you from that goal.  You won’t completely succeed this side of heaven, but the goal is worth the effort.  In the end, we still must stand before God and see our lives revealed through His eyes, even those of us whose sin is covered by the blood of Christ.  As my time grows ever closer, I wish I had listened more to those who had walked this same path before me.  I look with affection on the lives of the young people around me and want to encourage them to think about choices ~ to keep Christ always in their line of vision, and to continue steadfastly in their own walk with Him.  Although you may not want to hear it, I offer this advice in love: it is the best I know.

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