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Mentoring Emerging Adults

Chris Hay —  November 27, 2012 — 1 Comment

Here at Eternity Bible College, we are passionate about keeping the local church at the center of what we do. We don’t always do it perfectly, but we keep driving that direction. In light of that, we require every one of our students, including our online students all over the world, to be involved in a local church and have a local church mentor. This mentor is typically an older, wiser person who can guide our students in making decisions, debrief what they are learning, and offer general life counsel.

The importance of this mentoring role cannot be overemphasized. I could spend a lot of time just pointing out the examples of mentoring in Scripture (an equivalent term would be ‘discipleship’) and I may do that in future blog posts. But I want you to consider mentoring in terms of this current culture of young adults, or ‘emerging adults’ as Sharon Daloz Parks calls them in her landmark book Big Questions Worthy Dreams.

9780470903797_cover.inddParks is calling our culture to provide mentoring for emerging adults, the very thing we at Eternity are doing. She makes a significant observation when she states:

“For large numbers of emerging adults, decision-making now occurs through the Internet or at bars, at parties, in cityscapes where emerging adults congregate in typically homogenous, age-determined subcultures. Emerging adults are making major decisions in individual and improvisational ways without the resources of support and stability that a mature and healthy culture could be expected to provide.”

We see this all the time in the high-caliber students that God continues to bring us. They are passionate for God; they are willing to sacrifice much for the sake of advancing the kingdom; but they lack skills in making mature decisions. Thus we want them involved in a local church, which is in fact that ‘mature and healthy culture’ where one can grow, learn, make mistakes, and find mature and godly wisdom.

Now, unfortunately, not all local churches actually do provide a ‘mature and healthy culture’ for emerging adults to grow in. That is often the very reason they seek out their own age groups in bars or on the Internet. Their own age group understands them and accepts them as they are. They tend to listen to their peers and make decisions based on peer counsel. Which is certainly not all bad, for emerging adults often do have amazing wisdom beyond their years. But the input and counsel of the older, wiser man or woman is essential in their proper development.

All too often, the church expects emerging adults to already be mature and grown up, to already have the wisdom of many years of life, and does not offer a safe environment for them to question the things that we ‘older’ believers tend to hold so dear. But emerging adults need to ask hard questions. They need to question existing values, and beliefs, and culture. They need to run their ideas and concerns past older, wiser adults. They need to make decisions with the counsel and wisdom of life experience. And they need to do these things without being judged and criticized. If the church does not provide that stable, safe, accepting environment, then the church will lose this generation. That is a very scary prospect.

So I issue a challenge to local church leaders all over the world: embrace your emerging adults. Mentor them, disciple them, let them ask hard questions, listen to them without fear and without judgment. You could even check out our Resources for Local Church Mentors page on our website for ideas on how to get started. Study the example of Jesus. Make 2 Timothy 2:2 your theme verse. And you might just discover, as you invest in emerging adults, that you are more blessed than they are, and do more growing than they do!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–7)

Paul explains that the suffering we experience is not for us alone. We can get pretty selfish with our suffering. We hoard our suffering, unwilling to share it with the people around us.

How self-centered can we be?

FriendsWhen you experience affliction and suffering, know for sure that God wants you to share it. God is the God of all comfort. He is the one who comforts us in our affliction. Why? Paul is clear: “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” There is a missional aspect to the suffering we experience, and there is a missional aspect to the comfort that God gives us to help us through that suffering.

From a biblical perspective, trials are actually blessings for many reasons (e.g., see James 1). One of those reasons is the comfort that we receive, which in turn becomes the comfort we are ready to dispense to the suffering people around us.

Our suffering can be so specific to our unique situations, and the comfort that God gives us can feel wonderfully individualized. God truly does reach directly into our particularized pains and bring healing in a way that seems meant for us alone. But it’s not. Yes, God’s comfort meets us where we are, but that’s not where it stops.

The next time you experience God’s comfort in the midst of suffering, don’t stop at thanking him for it. Ask yourself how that comfort can be passed on. Maybe the answer will be immediate. Or maybe you’ll be waiting for years. But until our experience with suffering ends in the comfort of the people around us, it has not fully run its course.

The flipside of this is equally important. If God expects us to share his comfort with other people, it means that God may well pass on his comfort to us through other people whom he has comforted. In other words, when a fellow Christian embraces you in the midst of your suffering, the comfort you are receiving from that person has its origin in God.

God is “the God of all comfort.” He’s the source. So accept the comfort of your brothers and sisters not as the misguided efforts of people who ought to be minding their own business, but as the mediated comfort of God sent to you through someone who has been comforted by God in the midst of affliction.

Your suffering is not about you. It’s about us. And ultimately, it’s about the God of all comfort.

Good Grief

Mark Beuving —  September 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

Grief is a part of life. And there are many types of grief. In particular, I want to talk about the grief we feel over our sin. First of all, let me say that it is right and good that we feel grief over our sin. If you feel no grief over your sin, beware!

In the words of Michael Scott: “There is such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown.”

But not all grief is good.

Paul differentiates between two types of grief: worldly grief and godly grief. What is the difference between the two? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11:

“Even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!”

Paul wrote some difficult words to the Corinthians. They needed to be called out, so Paul did it. And what was the result? They grieved. Rather than apologizing for upsetting them, Paul actually said that he was glad that they were grieved. Why? Because they had the right type of grief and it led to the right result.

So what’s the difference? Godly grief breaks us with regard to our sin, but it leads to repentance, which leads to “salvation without regret.” In other words, godly grief leads us to a lack of regret. Godly grief does not pin us down in a feedback loop of guilty feelings. It pushes us to see our sin for what it is, to look to our Savior in repentance, and then to accept the grace that he offers.

Worldly grief, on the other hand, produces death. We feel guilty over our sin, then we beat ourselves up because of what we’ve done, and we get trapped in this vicious cycle of guilty feelings that leads nowhere but death.

So what type of grief do you feel over your sin? Is it the grief that builds upon itself until you find yourself buried? Or is it the kind of grief that pushes you toward your gracious Savior? It makes all the difference in the world.

 

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).

“If we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:15).

If you pray for something, you’ll get it. Isn’t that what these verses are telling us? Well, we all know that it doesn’t work like this in real life. We have all prayed for things and then not received what we were asking for. So either these verses are wrong, or we are wrong to interpret them as blank checks from God to be filled however we desire.

God makes clear that there are some types of prayer that won’t be answered. On the one hand, James tells us: “You do not have, because you do not ask” (4:2). So there are some things that we don’t have simply because we have to ask for them first. But in the next verse he goes on to say: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (v. 3). So it is possible for us to ask for the wrong things or with the wrong motives, and in those situations God will not grant what we ask for.

Even 1 John 5:15 does not appear to be a blank check when we take it in context. The preceding verse says: “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” So it’s not the asking itself that guarantees a favorable response, it’s asking according to God’s will. We should also keep in mind that sin in our lives can hinder our prayers (see 1 Peter 3:7).

All that this means is that God is not a genie. And prayer is not a formulaic transaction. It’s a relationship.

But what about those times when we ask for something good and it goes unanswered? What about the times when we pray that our cancer-ridden Christian friend who spends her life witnessing to Jesus will be healed so she can keep ministering? What about the prayers we make on her behalf that go unanswered? What do we do when that godly woman dies and our godly prayers go unanswered?

The theological answer is that God’s will is still being done. He has a good purpose even for evil events. Joseph knew his brothers betrayed and sold him with evil intent, but he acknowledged that God meant those circumstances for good (Gen. 50:20). Peter knew that the most evil event in history—the corrupt conspiracy against and murder of the only innocent Person ever—was carried out with evil intent by evil people but still fell under the plan and purpose of God (Acts 2:23, 4:27-28). So we have to acknowledge that sometimes God’s will includes evil things, and we need to be okay with God choosing to forego our good requests for the greater good that only he can see.

But the theological answer is not always easy to swallow, particularly when we or the people we love are going through intense suffering and God appears to be turning a deaf ear. In those cases, people don’t necessarily need to be convinced of a theological truth. They need to feel loved. They need us to mourn with them (Rom. 12:15). They need to know that evil deeply grieves God as well, and that he is at work in our world to heal that which is broken, to destroy that which is evil. They need to be reminded that the day is swiftly approaching in which sin will be no more, when every tear will be wiped away and justice will be perfectly fulfilled (see Rev. 21–22).

Unanswered prayer will only be a roadblock to faith if we assume that prayer is a blank check designed to make us happy in every moment. Prayer is powerful and effective, and God is constantly accomplishing mighty things through the prayers of his people. We will not always see the direct effect of those prayers, nor will we always receive the things we ask for. But if we trust that our God is good and that our God is powerful, then we can enjoy the fellowship of prayer. We can delight in the reality that God calls us to know him and to be involved in his workings in our world through prayer. And we can lean on him when things aren’t going the way we think they should.

I will end with the same passage that I closed with last week. It is so essential to know we are not always going to know what to pray for and to be okay with that. The Spirit himself is praying for us, and he knows what to pray for. God is on your side, and if all you can muster is a prayer of uncertainty and a request to God to guide you as he sees best, then you’re on the right track:

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:26-28)

 

We all want to hear the voice of God. What is his will for my life? Should I buy this car? Marry this person? Attend this school?

It makes sense that we’re looking for God’s voice in these things. We make so many decisions every day, and we don’t completely trust ourselves to perfectly assess each situation and know what is best. And as Christians, we want nothing more than to see God’s will done in our lives.

So how do we discern what God wants us to do in each situation?

Let’s start with the obvious. God has declared his will to us in the Bible. So there are some areas of God’s will that you never have to doubt. God always wants you to love your neighbor, to be faithful to your spouse, to not be anxious, etc. So if you ever find yourself in a decision between sin and righteousness (“should I sleep with my girlfriend or not?”), then finding God’s will is easy.

But things are not always that clear. Let’s say you have $100 that could be put into savings or could be given to a charity. Neither decision involves sin. So what do you do?

Well, pray. Ask God to guide you. Ask him to lead you into the right decision. Ask him to close doors and open doors. Maybe you’ll hear a clear response. But maybe you won’t. That’s okay. If you are a Spirit-filled Christian seeking the Lord’s will, he’s not going to trick you into spending the money in the wrong way. We can have enough confidence in God that if we’re seeking him, we can make the decisions that seem best at the moment and trust that he is going to use those decisions in the way he wants to.

I have made plenty of important life decisions that I was convinced were God’s will for my life, only to discover that God had something a little different in mind. I prayerfully chose to study Electrical Engineering in college. After two years, I prayerfully decided that I should switch to Speech Communication and become a minister. I prayerfully decided to go to seminary to be a church planter. Then during seminary I prayerfully decided to use my seminary training to be a Christian educator.

The point is, I made each of these decisions while trying to do my best to stay within God’s will. When I discovered that God’s will for me was not exactly what I expected, I didn’t need to have a crisis of faith. I can look back and see God guiding my life through each of those decisions. Had my life not followed exactly that pattern, I wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have my daughters, I wouldn’t be serving at Eternity Bible College, I wouldn’t be writing, etc.

We do our best to discern God’s leading, we follow that leading as best we can, and we continue to discern and follow when it seems that either (1) we misunderstood what God was leading us to do or (2) God’s guidance in that moment of our lives was not for a permanent life course but was meant to continue leading us on a beautifully wandering journey.

I know some Christians that are paralyzed if they are not hearing God’s voice telling them what to do in each situation. One of my friends described it this way: “trying to hear the Spirit’s leading in every situation breaks down into OCD when you’re not hearing him clearly at every moment.” God delights in faith, and for that reason we shouldn’t expect a divinely written itinerary for our lives.

I do believe that God will at times tell us something very clearly. But we still need to be careful. We are never infallible and can certainly misunderstand even what we are certain is God’s clear communication to us.

Some of my more “charismatic” friends have heard God telling them that a certain person is going to die soon. Three separate friends of mine were in this situation. And since God revealed it to them, they went ahead and warned the person. But then the person didn’t die. You can argue that those people are still going to die, but my friends were predicting an imminent death for these individuals—in one case it was within a year. Yet years have passed and those people keep living. I think we have to admit that we don’t always hear God’s voice perfectly, even if we feel certain in the moment.

Ultimately, trying to hear God’s voice is a wonderfully faith-filled adventure. We do our best to seek and follow the Spirit’s leading, but we have to be okay with not knowing in every situation. And we can have the confidence that even when we don’t know, God does, and he is still working in our lives:

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:26-28)

 

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