This past Sunday as I taught through Hosea 7, I drew several parallels between the state of Israel in Hosea’s time period, and the state of our own nation and church today. Some of the parallels I made were rising crime and increased border difficulties (vs 1), a public that generally recognizes something is wrong, we all see it, it “surrounds” us (vs 2). A poisonous political climate where men rule without honor, clamoring over one another, rushing to the microphones and tv cameras to denounce each other, engaging in character assassination, and assigning blame (vs 3-7). We have rulers that trust more in their perceived wisdom in making political alliances than they trust in God (vs 8). Hosea 7:9, 10 were the verses in which I labored to focus on for applications purposes.
Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not. The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek Him, for all this.
~ Hosea 7:9, 10 ~
How can strangers devour our strength without us easily seeing the cause of our weakness? There are many ways this question could be answered. Perhaps it could be losing our youngest, our best, and our brightest young men in war. Or maybe when our government sells short-term bonds to China and Saudi Arabia to raise money to pay our national expenditures, forcing us to print the money to cover the interest and lowering the value of the money in our wallets and bank accounts. Or when our leaders through bad trade agreements, tax policy, and regulations make it more profitable for American businesses and jobs to move over seas. Or maybe it is just when the average citizen buys more house than he can afford and uses credit cards to rack up debt to large transnational companies, thus transferring his wealth overseas. In any event, it means most of us are now living paycheck to paycheck with no ability to save any of the fruit of our labor.
What does it mean when gray hairs are sprinkled upon us and we don’t know it? Well it can happen when one generation becomes obsessed with youth culture and engages in the fruitless endeavor of trying to live forever. Since the 1970’s the U.S. population has engaged in a health and exercise craze that is unprecedented. Our obsession with youth culture has caused us to encourage our children to remain children long after the time in which they should have become adults and begun to fulfill their proper roles in church and society. The church in particular can have gray hair and not know it when it’s leaders and shepherds turn and ask the youth “what do you guys want?” “How can we change what we’re doing to cater to your inclinations?” When we do this we show that the current emperor has no clothes. By asking them what they want, we are de facto acknowledging that we don’t know what they need. Subconsciously, they have recognized the reality that we are children raising children, and they have begun to seek answers elsewhere.
So what is to be done? How should the church respond to the challenges that face a nation under the judgment of God? First, we have to acknowledge that we are part of the problem and stop blaming congress, the presidency, terrorism, and every other bogeyman. We have the culture and political climate that we have helped to create. We need for it not to be said of us, “yet they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek Him, for all this.” We need to grow up, take responsibility, look to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and receive the grace and truth that is in Him. Without our turning to Jesus Christ, receiving the centrality of His authority in our lives, all the other advice I’m going to give will be vain. We need a fresh work of the Holy Spirit. We need to be renewed in every way, personally in the inner man, theologically in our minds and hearts, and in our outer man (hands and feet) so that we are not just hearers of the Word but doers as well. We need a holistic approach to discipleship, one that teaches the whole counsel of God and doesn’t leave folks ill equipped to deal with life in a sinful world. Our bodies must be presented to the Lord for His use, and our minds must be transformed by His truth.
Secondly, and this is in line with our passage from today. As Christians, we need to stop giving our consent to wars of aggression, stop sending our sons off to die in opportunistic wars that are based more in economics than in defense of life, liberty, and property. We need to take personal action in obedience to Scripture and avoid unbiblical consumer debt to fulfill our sensual life styles. We need to become self-sufficient, working our way away from government dependency through thrift and biblical wisdom so that we can take care of our own families as well as the poor that are neglected by and in some cases trapped by the government. We need to lead in this area by example while simultaneously calling for our nation to live within it’s means as well, growing toward international self-sufficiency. No longer needing to borrow from other nations to fund our national governments profligacy. We need to stop supporting a poisonous political establishment that is only interested in it’s own power and the welfare of it’s friends on K Street (lobbyists). And we need to help elect a new crop of leadership, beginning at our local level, that seeks peace and pursues it, avoids debt and money printing, and removes costly regulations that free us to keep more of the fruits of our labors.
Thirdly, yes we need to take care of our bodies, you should eat healthy and exercise. But, you need to act your age, and attain the wisdom that one should have by 25, 30, 40, etc. If you know more about nutrition and exercise than you know about the Scriptures, “Houston, we have a problem”. Bodily exercise profits little, but godliness profits in this life and in the life to come. Grown men need to turn off their xbox, break their “Black Ops” disc, and give themselves to developing a real and vibrant relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ. Stop watching 6 hours of sports each week and you’ll probably find some time to pray and read the Scriptures, which are key to developing that relationship. Your favorite show can wait. Hulu isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Go grab the young men of the church and go do something with them. Have a godly conversation, teach them a real skill (cut grass, change oil or a tire, build something), take responsibility for the future of the Church and nation. It’s time for you to become leaders. If you don’t who’s going to? You have gray hair and you need to know it, and this generation needs to know what you know. We have to start living real life together, because a virtual one is an empty chasm, void of relationship and eternal purpose.
Older women (25, 30, 40, etc) need to have some serious talks with young women about predatory males, modesty, their past mistakes, regrets, receiving grace, and become themselves living breathing examples of a virtuous woman. Honestly, I have less to say to you, personally, I’m a guy, so I don’t really have an inside track here. But also my experience has been if I throw a Bible into a room, the ladies will fight over who gets to read it, while the guys run for the walls. However, I must say this to you…… some of the responsibility for what has happened to men in the church and society at large can be placed in your court so to speak (Sorry for the sports analogy, I’m a guy). Feminism was about women becoming leaders in church and state. It had/has nothing to do with equality, it was always been about supremacy. The problem is at least partly of your making. If you want your man to lead, you are going to have to make room for him, including his mistakes. It’s been two generations since he lead anything at all. He, also, likely never had a man show him how to lead gently and lovingly, so expect there to be plenty of mistakes along the way. Hopefully, “love” still “covers a multitude of sin”.
Pastors, if you want to keep the children of the church, quit hiring other children to be their pastors. Perhaps the Youth Pastor needs to be less of a buddy to play Frisbee golf and compare LeCrae mp3 collections with and more of a deeply spiritual man who is able to guide them into a love relationship with Jesus Christ, discipling them in the timeless truths of the Christian Faith, and helping them form healthy relationships within the church as participants and servants. Don’t ask children what they want and then give it to them. Shepherds give their sheep what they need, they lead them to the best pastures, they don’t let them wander wherever they want to go and eat whatever they want to eat. As a father, I have an 8 year old that would eat Captain Crunch and play Mindcraft 16 hours a day if I let him, but I don’t, because that would be a terrible existence and it would destroy him in the end. The people I shepherd aren’t 8 year olds, I grant you that, but most of the 13 thru 18 year olds I do shepherd would want to play games every Wednesday night and barely even talk about the Gospel of Jesus Christ if I left it up to them to decide. But that’s not what’s best for them. So I give them what they need, a healthy dose of the “Apostles doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42). Yes we have some fun, but fun is not the point. The actual point of being a shepherd, is giving people what they need, because most of the time, what the masses want, or what people think they need, will hurt them in the end.
What I’m saying here actually applies to all pastoral settings. Pastors, don’t think this is just about Youth Ministry. The last 30 or 40 years has seen the rise of the Mega church, which essentially had a ministry philosophy that went something like this, “Let’s ask people what they want and then give it to them”. It is the same trap that most Youth ministries fall into, except on steroids. Over this period, church attendance declined drastically across the board in the U.S., with some studies showing that conservative, Bible believing evangelical churches were losing up to 89% of their children. The relative size of the average church increased, and this masked the steep decline in church attendance for most Christians, because they equated the growth of THEIR church with the growth of THE Church. It’s more than high time we recognize the bankruptcy of this failed philosophy of ministry, abandoning it in favor of the “old paths, wherein is the good way”.
You’re likely smiling right now thinking, I knew it, he’s one of those anti-contemporary church guys, here comes the lecture. I didn’t say return to the church of the 1950’s or even the 50’s AD, what I am suggesting is that “we have gray hair” and “we should know it”. The church is an ancient entity not a contemporary one. There is a reason why most churches were, relatively speaking, organized in the same way for millennia. It is only recently that the church devolved in appearance to be akin to a concert venue. Let’s play a word association game, shall we? I’ll say the word, “worship”, and I bet you just thought about singing. Again, “Houston, we have a problem”. Now, how did we get to become musically centered in our churches? Well, it’s linked to our obsession with youth culture and making things fun. One thing those young people like is their music. And so our attempt to draw in youth beginning in the late 1960’s and 70’s has resulted in a baby boomer dominated church that is also dominated by music. The sad fact is, and here is where I’m going to take on a whole generation of people, they are THE generation that “has gray hair” right now and refuses to “know it”. I’m generalizing, I know, not everyone fits into this category, so listen with an understanding ear as I describe what I see. An exercise crazed, nutritional fad oriented, sexual revolutionaries, the birth of rock-n-roll, Viagra taking, Mega-church founding, 50 is the new 40 generation that refuses to develop new leaders because they think they are going to live forever. They have stunted the growth of their children and put their future in jeopardy. They are the current political leaders, and under their leadership spending and debt has spiraled out of control. They refuse to be adults and sacrifice for their children, instead strapped them with 17 TRILLION dollars worth of debt. They are the elders and pastors of most churches today, and under their leadership the church has drastically declined. Maybe they have been the unfortunate victims of happenstance, but I don’t think so. What the world needs, what the church drastically needs, is for those with gray hair to know it, act like it, and lead like it. We need to abandon this fruitless attempt to be cool, and begin to fulfill our roles as Fathers and Mothers of the Faith. This is an emergency. Those that are my age, Generation X’ers, you need to be preparing to attempt to right the ship as we move into the halls of leadership and power. Generation Y, you need to move out of your parents basement, put the video game controller down, get a job, and stop blaming everyone for your lack of productivity and motivation.
Millenials, read this, learn from it, and begin to prepare yourselves now, for the roles you will play in the all to near future as parents, civic leaders, mentors, disciplers, etc. You are likely to have very few role models, so you are going to have to dig deep into God’s Word to find the truth, and then strike out with your face in the wind to live it out in a world that is likely going to be very hostile toward you, and of course, your Savior. You will not be the first generation to have to begin anew. But you have great tools at your finger-tips like the internet, and an entire sacred history to explore and learn to apply in new creative ways. The world desperately needs you, needs us, all of us, that name the name of Christ, to live Gospel centered, gloriously productive lives, for the Father’s glory.