You’re Not Alone and It Isn’t Worthless

Sexual purity isn’t a popular idea. The world at large views sexual morality as something strange, even sinister — what kind of person voluntarily denies his sexual urges? Even in church circles, the concept of chastity has fallen on hard times. Sometimes the way we talk about sexuality in the church makes people feel guilty, or less significant, or even permanently damaged.

I understand and am sympathetic to people who are concerned for those who fail, for those who wonder if they can ever restore their relationship to God and the church. 

This post is for a different group of students, though. There are some of you, students and young adults, who are valiantly striving for chastity. Nearly everybody around you says it’s a waste of time, it doesn’t really matter, and you shouldn’t worry about it too much. Some of those voices are even coming from your fellow Christians. Self-control is hard enough. It’s even harder when you feel like it’s not only hopeless, but worthless.

I know you’re out there, and I know you feel lonely. I know because I’ve talked with some of you and you’ve asked me why you should keep trying when it seems like everybody else is giving up. I know because I’ve been that kid trying to do what’s right. Now I’m that grown-up married guy trying to do what’s right. And it’s still tough sometimes.

So I have two simple messages for you today: First, it’s not worthless. Second, you’re not alone. 

It’s not worthless, because nothing the Bible commands us to do is a waste of time. Let me be crystal clear: If you think you’re earning “God points” for your sexual self-control, you’re wrong. But I don’t think most of you believe that. You correctly recognize that sexual purity is good and worthwhile because self-control and self-denial are reflective of Jesus. They are also evidence of the Spirit’s work in your heart. You know that treating your body and the bodies of others with respect reflects the fact that you’re made in God’s image. Obedience to God’s commands allows Christians to know Him closely and to represent Him faithfully. So no, it’s not worthless and it’s not a waste of time.

And you’re not alone by any means. Despite the depressing statistics about your peers, there are many of them striving for righteousness. Like you, they’re trying to listen to God’s Word and God’s Spirit. Some of them have failed previously and repeatedly, but they keep asking God to teach them obedience. Many (most of them) of them feel as lonely as you do. So today you might need to hear this: You’re not alone. In the company of your fellow saints, find encouragement and strength to keep pressing on.

Don’t let anybody tell you that obedience is a waste of time. Don’t buy the lie that you’re all alone. God’s commands are never a waste of time. And you are never alone as long as God and His church are standing with you. Press on for God’s sake, through God’s power.

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What Your Worship Leader Wants You to Know

I was a church worship leader for ten years. During that time, I led the music at several different churches and organizations. I loved the job. When we’re worshipping, we’re simply telling God how great He is and thanking Him for all he’s done. It was a privilege to help Christ’s people do that well.

I often noticed, though, that people didn’t show up on Sunday morning prepared for worship. It’s hard to blame them. Sometimes I wasn’t prepared either. Sunday morning is often a blur, a frantic rush to get out of bed, get dressed, dress the kids, argue with your spouse, speed to church, look for a parking spot, and hurriedly plop down in the pew. Add to that our modern over-emphasis on public speaking and you have a perfect recipe for the neglect (and perhaps even abuse) of corporate singing.

So how can you make the most of the corporate singing time at your church? How can you turn your mind and heart toward the worship of God during those few critical moments?

Here are a few things your worship leader would say if your pastor would ever let him preach a sermon:

1.   Prepare. On Saturday night or Sunday morning, spend a few minutes before God preparing your heart and mind to worship. It will be busy and crazy while you’re getting ready to go on Sunday. So prepare ahead time. Pray that God will give you an attitude of internal peace and worship in the midst of external pandemonium.

2.  Arrive on time. This might sound a bit harsh, but if you can get to church ten minutes late, you can get there on time. Plan for the unexpected — the parking might be full, the room might be crowded, you might hit traffic. My guess is that you plan like that on school days or work days. You can do it for church days as well. That will leave you time to sit down and quiet your mind and your heart before the songs begin.

4.  Don’t consider it the “warm-up” for the sermon. Singing does prepare you to hear from God’s Word. But it’s much more than a prelude. It’s a chance for you and your fellow Christians to sincerely focus on God. To actively participate in the service. To say to God what you hopefully feel about Him all week. So take it seriously. Don’t chat at the back of the room, spend the first three songs filling up your coffee, or look at your watch in eager anticipation of the sermon.

3. Sing. Seriously. Open your mouth and sing the songs. You don’t have to sing louder than everybody in the room. And there are appropriate times to be quiet and reflect on the lyrics. But if you never sing, you’re probably not getting the point of corporate worship. It’s not a concert designed for the worship leader to show you his skills. The idea is that we’re all worshipping God together…by singing (Psalm 47:6-7).

4. Reflect. Think about what you’re singing. In some cases the lyrics are excellent descriptions of God’s character and work in history. In some cases not so much. Either way, you’ll learn a great deal by paying attention to what you’re singing. And just like prayer, worship requires that we know what we’re saying to God.

5. Remember it’s not about your preferences.  A wise older man who faithfully attended our young-ish church would tell me occasionally that our music wasn’t really his speed. “But it’s not about what I like,” he would say. “It’s about connecting these students to Jesus. I can tolerate the noise if it helps them to understand the Gospel.” Amen. One of the beautiful things about corporate worship: it can remove us from thinking about ourselves and help us to focus on God and others. If we allow for it.

6. Finally, remember that it’s corporate worship. That means you aren’t supposed to completely tune out everybody else in the room. It’s really not just about you and God. You and God are there, but there are other people there as well. Be conscious of those who are singing around you. What can you do to help them worship more effectively? How can you take joy in hearing them sing to the Lord? How do the lyrics point to a common and shared faith rather than merely an individual faith? If worship were simply private, we’d just stay at home and crank up Spotify. It’s intended to draw us closer to Jesus as a group and as individuals.

What ideas or concerns do you have about corporate worship? Do you agree/disagree with my suggestions here? 

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5 Ways to Start Your Post-College Life Well

College graduation is a huge milestone. For most people, it marks the transition into adulthood. You’re now responsible to find a job, pay the bills, figure out a career path, and plot a course for the rest of your life.

For Christian students, I think it’s an especially critical moment. Will you set your priorities based on God’s values or the world’s values? Will you approach money, relationships, work, and the spiritual life in a way that honors Jesus? Too many graduates find themselves wandering around aimlessly. After ten or twenty years, many look back and are forced to admit that their life choices don’t really match the priorities they say they have.

For those of you graduating this month, here are a few steps to help you start your post-college life well: 

1. Determine your priorities. What’s important to you? Do you want to invest your life in sharing the Gospel? In knowing Jesus well? If you’re married, do you want your family to reflect God’s values? Most people fail to live meaningfully because they fail to consider their priorities. Decide now what matters to you — who do you want to be and what do you intend to invest your life in? Once you know what matters, begin arranging your time and energy around those priorities.

2. Find a church quickly. You cannot walk with the Lord in isolation. We all need encouragement and support, and too often I see college graduates hop from church to church for years without really connecting with one. You won’t find a perfect church, and you might not find one as “good” as the one you attended in college. That’s alright. Just find a place where they preach the gospel, believe the Word of God, and provide opportunities for you to serve and to grow. Find one within 2-3 months of graduation, and commit to it. If church doesn’t quickly become a part of your routine, it will become more and more difficult to fit it into your schedule.

3. Be careful with your money. Some of you will be on a very tight budget, while others will have more money than they’ve ever seen before. Either way, live below your means. Don’t try to match your parents’ lifestyle with your first house or car. Leave some room to save, and more importantly, to give. If you are married and both of you work, live on one salary if possible. Doing so will allow you flexibility if and when you have children. If you are single, live cheap and set aside as much money as you can. Don’t allow money to become a barrier to following God wherever He leads you.

4. Be careful with your time. Time is a more valuable resource than money. You can always make more money, but you can never make more time. Spend your limited free time engaged in meaningful activities. It’s quite easy to fall into a pattern of simply surfing Facebook or watching television with every spare moment. Don’t waste your time away. Use your evenings and weekends to serve others, participate at your church, spend time with other people, read, learn, and grow in your walk with the Lord. Use your 20s well.

5. Invest in other people for God’s glory. In the final analysis, your life will be evaluated by your impact on other people. Will you take the time to love others, to tell them about Jesus, and to help them know Him better? Will you leave a legacy of love and faithfulness to Jesus, at home and at work and at church and in your community? People matter because people will last forever. You have a limited window of opportunity to influence others for eternity.

If you just graduated, congratulations! I hope and pray that your life will be effective and purposeful, that you will reflect God’s values and know Him more and more each day. Hopefully the ideas above will give you a good start.

If you are a recent graduate, what other advice would you give to those starting their post-college life? 

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An Open Letter from One Pastor to the Millennial Generation

Dear Millennial Generation,

I recently ran across a piece titled, “An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation,” written by a college student in South Dakota. Dannika Nash, the writer of the letter, says she speaks for your entire generation in rejecting the traditional church because of its stance toward homosexuality. Perhaps her claim is correct, but for some reason I doubt it. It just seems unlikely that one young woman from South Dakota represents the views of 80 million people.

Nonetheless, Ms. Nash clearly struck a nerve. More than 10,000 people shared her letter on Facebook and Twitter. At the very least, she represents a significant minority of your generation. Many of you are tired of the ongoing culture war over homosexuality. You have friends in pain, people who feel rejected by the Church (and consequently by God), and you want to ease their suffering. You’re tired of voices on both sides of the issue shouting at one another, yet making little progress in truly understanding one another.

I wonder if you would be surprised to find that many evangelical pastors and leaders are similarly dismayed by the anger and hostility surrounding this issue? Most of us aren’t eager to go to war over moral, political, or cultural issues, when our primary purpose is to make disciples of Jesus.

Ms. Nash would certainly classify my church and its pastors as deeply conservative. We hold traditional views when it comes to the Bible, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and yes, on issues of marriage and sexuality. When we select leaders, we expect them to act in keeping with biblical standards of integrity in every area of their lives, including the sexual area. We occasionally preach to our own congregation about homosexuality and other issues of sexual morality, because we recognize that sexual sin is a huge stumbling block for those trying to follow Christ.

However, our church exists to make disciples of Jesus, not to make people polite, nice, good, or socially acceptable. Most of the evangelicals I know would agree with that statement. The core of our message is that Jesus died and rose again to save sinners, and we are all sinners. Sin is an equal opportunity killer, and grace is an equal opportunity savior.

For that reason, it troubles me that the first question Millennials (and others) often ask me about my church is how we feel about homosexuality or gay marriage. I’m certainly not a celebrity pastor, but reporters occasionally call us for quotes. Without fail, they want to talk about homosexuality — do we hate homosexuals, do we really think the Bible is against them, how often do we preach sermons on the topic, etc. I’ve decided I simply can’t answer those questions apart from a broader discussion about Jesus and the gospel. I do not want to participate in an argument about morality without a discussion of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It’s unproductive at best, and dangerous at worst. Usually that means the reporter in question finds somebody else to provide a quote, somebody who will simply condemn homosexuals in stark terms without referencing the gospel. If you’ve ever wondered why the Christians quoted in the media seem to be of the strident and angry variety, that’s why.

I don’t represent all evangelicals, or all traditional pastors, or “all” of any group. However, I know that my church and many others want the chance to talk to your generation about Jesus. Yes, we’ll talk to you about homosexuality if you insist, but we’d much rather talk about Jesus first. We would rather talk about sexual morality in the context of discipleship, for those who are already committed to Jesus and His church.

If you are a Millennial who finds yourself suspicious of the traditional church, we would like to know you and to talk with you. I wonder if you would be willing to first consider Jesus Himself before asking me about homosexuality? What if knowing Jesus and believing that He freely offers eternal life ends up changing everything for you? In the final analysis, I mostly want you to develop a living and active relationship with God. I trust that once you meet Jesus, His Spirit will begin to work on those areas of your life that seem so impossible to change. Why make a decision at the age of 20 that you must always act, believe, and think just as you do now? Why refuse to entertain the possibility that a close encounter with God might dramatically alter your plans, your activities, and your perception of who you are?

If you trust Jesus, you’ll find that becoming more like Him is a life-long process, one that is simultaneously encouraging, exciting, and difficult. There are peaks and valleys along the way, and there are moments where you would rather not submit to what He’s doing in your heart. Every single Christian struggles with doubt and sin. Those who grow deeply with Jesus agree to keep seeking change, even though we sometimes resist the plans of the One transforming us. We don’t get to decide what God does in our hearts before He begins the process. If we tell Him that certain areas are off-limits, we’ll be sorely disappointed when He starts tinkering around in those areas.

So here’s my question: Would you be willing to consider Jesus apart from your preconceptions? You might think the church is wrong about homosexuality. Your pastor might misunderstand you or struggle to help you. But Jesus fully understands you, and I think His Spirit is most active among His people in the church. You might think that you’ll find your own way spiritually, apart from faithful friends in the church, but the Bible and my own experience both suggest that spiritual growth is a team activity.

If you’ve been hurt at church in the past, I’d like to suggest that you try again. I’m not saying that you should search for a church that endorses everything you do and think — that’s not a church, that’s a fan club. Instead, look for a place where the pastors and the people are fiercely committed to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Look for a place where they agree to help you, where they provide accountability and correction in a context of grace. Then dive in and seek help to grow closer to Jesus, even if it hurts at first, and even if you don’t agree with everything.

You just might find that Jesus, through the mercy and love of His people, changes everything.

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Guest Post: Letting Go of Lesser Dreams

(This is a guest post from Erin Christian, one of our college interns at Grace Bible Church.)

Special thanks to Masterpiece Conference 2013 whose speakers Leigh Kohler (quoted) and Donna Stuart helped inspire this post.

If you’ve seen the YouTube video Pep Talk from Kid President, you know just how cute that kid is.  My favorite line is “It’s like that dude Journey said, “Don’t stop believing” …unless your dream is stupid, then get another dream!”  The video leaves you with the charge to give the world a reason to dance because everyone has the ability to do or be something awesome.  What is there not to love about that video?  It’s our generation’s version of the American dream. We all want to make the world a better place, regardless of if you love Jesus or not.  We tell our children they can be anything they want.  Dozens of reality TV shows are created so ordinary people can have a shot at reaching their dream of becoming the world’s best chef, model, singer, dancer, and so on.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m a dreamer if there ever was one!  I love how Eph 3:20 states that God “is able do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” I think like any good father, God wants to see our dreams come to fruition.  It doesn’t always feel that way, though.  I have recently felt like I am living in the realm of all things ordinary.  The great things I want to happen seem to be outside of my grasp. There are times when it seems like the Lord is doing the exact opposite of the good dream that I’m wanting.  I repeat: GOOD dreams – not sinful, selfish ones- but ones that will bring Him glory or grow me in my walk with Him or make a difference in the world! So when those ‘closed doors’ come, it hurts.

People often say once you’re willing to let something go, then God will let you truly have it.  The problem with that is you’re essentially willing to do anything to keep whatever ‘it’ is above all else, even if that means “letting it go.”  We find a holy way to preserve our idols. The truth of it all is that the Lord wants us to let everything go-even our best-intentioned dreams for His glory- in surrender to wherever He wants us.

I don’t know what your specific dream is, or what the weight of waiting feels like.  Maybe your dream is to raise a godly family, but you aren’t even dating someone.  Maybe it’s to end human trafficking, but you’re currently stuck having to study for a geology exam. Maybe your dream is to be part of the bigger solution, but you don’t know how your meager efforts will ever truly add up.

I’ve been there. Some days I am still there.  I’ve presented open hands before the Lord just to close them again.  What the Lord has been patiently teaching me is that our dreams and passions are not separate from our walks with God.  And they can never be accomplished without Him. We’re often tempted to seek God so that our dreams can be fulfilled. How backwards that is!  We seek God first. We become a living sacrifice.  We walk by His Spirit.  He wants our obedience and devotion more than He wants our great conquests against evil in His name. You see, our intimacy with the Lord will always have a direct correlation to the impact we have on others.  He wants us to love Him and love others, right where He has us at this very moment.  And I’m pretty sure that if the God of the universe is going to use us in some specific way, He knows where to find us.

So what do we do today? For we who have accepted Christ as Savior, we can choose to walk by His Spirit.  We can take His hand and let Him be our guide. We die to self by realizing that there our lesser dreams often have to die. They may be postponed, or they may never happen in the way we think they’re going to pan out.  I have had dreams of working for specific ministries, or places I would live in my twenties, or even men I thought I’d marry. These weren’t little dreams, but they were lesser dreams compared to God’s grand dream for my life. Prayer and dependence align us with God’s grand dream for our lives.  I love what Leigh Kohler stated so beautifully, “We are prideful to think we can change the world without our faces on the floor.” True joy is found right where He has us in this exact phase of life. He wants us to be a part of carrying out His ultimate dream- that all may come to the knowledge of grace found in Christ alone.

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Is It Wrong to Desire Marriage?

Last week I sat with a group of college men as they were talking about relationships, personal purity, and marriage. In the context of the discussion, one young man asked, “Is it wrong for me to desire marriage? Is it alright that I think about marriage and hope to get married one day?”

I found the question itself to be illuminating. Is it possible that we Christians, in our zeal for purity, have communicated that all sexual and relational desires are somehow wrong? If so, that’s tragic, because the absence of desire is not a Christian concept. It’s true that certain passages in the New Testament tell us that for some people in some contexts, it’s better to remain single (1 Corinthians 7:24-35). However, the Bible simply never says that a desire for marriage is wrong. The Scripture speaks highly of marriage as a gift from God (Gen 2:18-25; Prov 18:22; 19:14).

What is wrong, of course, is misdirected desire.  When we desire marriage (including its emotional, spiritual, and physical components) as an opportunity to display Christ’s love (Ephesians 5:21-33), it’s perfectly legitimate. God made us with a desire for intimate relationships with others; we see that desire displayed from the very beginning with Adam and Eve. However, when we begin to seek marriage — or any other relationship — for strictly selfish reasons, we have a problem.

In other words, if I’m seeking marriage solely as a means to satisfy my sexual cravings, or to fill an emotional void in my heart, then I’m not looking at it as God intends. But the desire for sex or love or emotional intimacy, in a relationship that is centered on reflecting Christ’s love, is perfectly legitimate.

Desire turns into sin when we seek the fulfillment of the desire for our own purposes, rather than for God’s purposes. That principle holds true whether we’re talking about money, sex, physical health, success on the job, or anything else.

Often, our problem is that we believe that the fulfillment of a particular desire will satisfy us in a way that only God can satisfy. We seek earthly treasures for their own sake, rather than seeing them as mere reflections of the much greater treasures promised to those who know God (Matthew 6:19-21). C.S. Lewis put it well (see The Weight of Glory, pp. 3-4):

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord fins our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is really meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Far too easily pleased, indeed.

Do you struggle with the concept of desire? Where does legitimate desire turn into sin, and how do you avoid going down that path in your own life?  

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The World’s Worst Marriage Proposal?

A friend alerted me to a recent story about a young man who faked his own death as part of a disturbing marriage proposal to his girlfriend. I’ve heard of bizarre proposals, but this one tops the list.

Men, don’t try this at home. If you are so insecure in her love for you that you need to fake your own death, your marriage is starting off on the wrong foot. What could you possibly do to reassure yourself the next time you wonder if she really loves you? After all, pretending to die only works once.

Ladies, if a man ever does this to you, run the other way. I mean that quite literally. Don’t stop to say, “Why did you that?” Don’t try to convince him it was a bad idea. Turn around, run to your car, and just drive in the opposite direction. You will never fill up his needy soul, so there is no real point in trying. Marriage is challenging enough without a spouse who fakes injury and death to make sure you’re still interested.

What is the strangest marriage proposal story you have ever heard? Do you think men should shoot for the biggest and most elaborate proposal possible, or should they just ask nicely?

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36 Exhortations to My College Self

In no particular order, here are some random bits of advice I would give to my college self if I could talk to him today:

1. After you land your first job, nobody will ever ask you about your grades.

2. Studying is important because you’re learning how to learn. Your grades are merely a reflection of the learning process.

3. Don’t stress out too much about your major. The odds are quite high that your career will have little correlation to your field of study.

4. When adults tell you that you have more free time now than you will ever have again, they are telling the truth.

5. Do not skip your church’s college retreat to go to your high school homecoming. Trust me.

6. When your long distance girlfriend from high school breaks up with you over the phone, it’s going to hurt. A lot. In hindsight, though, you’ll see it as one of your most significant moments of personal growth.

7. That guy who left a party to come hear you blubber after she broke up with you? He’ll be one of your lifelong friends.

8. God’s grace is bigger than you think it is.

9. You are not the only one who struggles with sin. One day you will understand the value of being honest about your failures.

10. Girls are just as confused by the dating scene as you are.

11. Every church has its strengths and weaknesses. The one you attend isn’t the only one where God is at work.

12. Call your parents more often.

13. Call your grandparents more often.

14. Visit your grandparents more often.

15. Don’t get so angry when your roommates eat your food. The day will come when you will gladly buy food for them just for the privilege of spending some time with them.

16. Don’t be so afraid of rejection by the opposite sex. Your fear is worse than the rejection itself.

17. When that professor tells you that your borderline grades are a function of laziness rather than lack of intelligence, he’s correct. Just admit it and make the necessary adjustments.

18. Pay attention to the people living on your hall in the dorm. Some of them are hurting deeply, and they need to hear about the love of Jesus.

19. Do not order an entire pizza from the cheapest restaurant in town and eat it with your roommate at 3 AM.

20. College is the only time in your life when staying up until 3 AM is considered normal.

21. Vegetables are not evil. Eat a few here and there to balance out the rest of your terrible diet.

22. Your classmates and neighbors are as open to the Gospel as they ever will be. Share it with them.

23. You will be glad that you went on those summer mission trips.

24. It’s alright if you graduate without a serious girlfriend or fiance. Sometimes the best things come to those who wait.

25. Do not laugh at the way middle-aged people look or act. It will all make sense one day.

26. Do not judge the parents whose kids are screaming and biting one another at the table next to you at Chili’s. That will be you one day.

27. You really should not spend an entire summer playing Street Fighter 2 for six hours a day.

28. Right now you are setting patterns that will mark your relationship with God for the rest of your life. Consider carefully how you spend your time and energy.

29. It is not too early to practice generosity. Give some of your money to your church, to missionaries, to the poor. It’s really not about the amount you give. It’s about participating in God’s work.

30. Do not leave your bicycle parked at the end of the rack for an entire semester. Somebody will crush it and leave it useless.

31. When you leave for Christmas break, empty out the water tray inside your mini-fridge. It’s important.

32. Pray for your Christian friends to walk with God for the rest of their lives. Some will choose to walk away from Him.

33. Working in service-oriented jobs is not beneath your dignity.

34. You will be part of the last generation of college students to write physical letters to your out-of-town friends. Write more of them. Keep the ones they send you as historical relics.

35. Get to know some of the adults at your church. One day their advice and encouragement will be invaluable to you.

36. Relax just a little bit. College is a unique and wonderful time, and it goes by way too quickly.

What would you add to the list? I’m sure you have some good ones!

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The Growing Culture of Millennial Anger

I’m a bit concerned that the Millennial generation is becoming an angry generation. Not every young adult is hopping mad, of course, or even the majority of them. It does seem to be a significant and vocal minority, though.

Last weekend I ran across this open letter from a recent high school graduate. The Millennial author complains about constantly being told that her generation is a bunch of lazy whiners who think they deserve special treatment just for being born. She places the blame for her current situation squarely on the shoulders of the Baby Boomer generation, who in her opinion wantonly consumed the world’s resources and then placed unrealistic expectations upon their children and grandchildren.

If that letter were the only sign of this growing anger, I’d chalk it up to the ravings of one disillusioned young woman. However, I’ve also seen it popping up on my Facebook news feed. There’s no doubt that the current economic climate is tough for recent graduates. Many are having a hard time finding jobs or making ends meet. As a result, I’ve been seeing some angry comments written by frustrated young job-seekers who are tired of rejection and anxious about their futures.

Here’s the truth: If you’re graduating from college right now, the odds are high that you’re in for a tough road. My generation — the infamous Gen X, another group pegged with the “lazy whiner” label — was probably the last generation for which high-paying corporate jobs were a reasonable expectation upon college graduation. The economic climate has dramatically shifted in the past 15-20 years. Right now, there are simply more college graduates than there are good jobs.

So anger and cynicism and bitterness could be considered a normal and expected response to the current reality of your life. After all, you face a less certain future, in many ways, than your parents or even your older siblings. For your entire life, you’ve been promised that a college degree would result in a good job, and unmet expectations are frustrating. The loss of control, or at least the illusion of control, over one’s future is terrifying. And in some cases, the generations preceding you (including my own) have been completely unsympathetic and unhelpful.

It occurred to me this week, though, that my grandparents’ generation faced many of the same challenges that Millennials are currently facing. The 1930s and 1940s weren’t fun times for most people. The current unemployment rate is between 8% and 15%, depending upon which pundits you read. In 1933, unemployment rates hit 25% – 30%. Ouch.

It was during those years that my grandparents went to high school and college. Shortly after college graduation they faced a major World War, as well. If anybody had a reason to be angry, cynical, and bitter, they did.

Yet we don’t remember their generation for their anger or bitterness, but for their resilience and perseverance. We remember them as a generation that chose to face their challenges with joy and courage, creating a better life for their children and grandchildren. Crummy circumstances, great attitude. That’s why we still call them The Greatest Generation.

Lest this sound like one of those “shut and stop yer whining” speeches, let me make my point clear. I think the challenges faced by the Millennial generation can become a springboard to unbelievable opportunity. I think this generation has the potential to distinguish itself as a generation of perseverance, integrity, hard work, and strong character. I think you have the chance to be remembered as another Greatest Generation, depending on how you face the challenges life is dishing out to you today. In fact, I’m optimistic that your generation will be remembered as a stronger and more productive one than my own, or than my parents’ generation.

Of course, all of this hinges upon the attitude Millennials take as they meet the world that awaits them post-college. Bitterness, anger and cynicism might be justified, but they’re simply not productive. For the Christian students (who constitute a large percentage of my blog’s readership), consider passages like Ephesians 4:31: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Or Romans 5:3-4: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

Will your children and grandchildren tell stories of a generation who allowed trials to shape them into men and women of character and hope? Or will they remember a generation who allowed themselves to be crushed and defeated by uncontrollable circumstances?

To be honest, I can’t really offer you any hope of a near-term economic recovery. I wish I could say that you’ll eventually achieve the American Dream of a well-paying job, a house in the suburbs, and a couple of nice Hondas. But that might not be your future. I really don’t know.

I can say, though, that God is more concerned with your character than with your circumstances. When you reflect on your life in 40 or 50 years, you’ll remember your hardships either as the events that crushed your spirit, or as the events that drew you closer to Jesus. You’ll become a person of hope, or a person of bitterness. I’m curious which one it will be.

For those of you in the Millennial generation, how are you dealing with the poor economic prospects of your generation? What suggestions do you have for those who want to allow trials to shape them into men and women of hope?

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Is Something Wrong With Me?

If you’re involuntarily single, you’ve almost certainly asked yourself that question at some point. College students and young singles regularly tell me they struggle with insecurity. I remember struggling with it myself during a prolonged period of singleness (with no apparent prospects) in my early 20s. “Why can’t I find a date/significant other/spouse? Am I too short or tall or quiet or loud or unattractive or intimidating or picky?” It doesn’t help that those around you often ask the same questions. “Why are you (still, after SO long) single? Are you not trying hard enough? Do you think you should get out more and stop being so picky?”

We all know people who are clearly wonderful — attractive, godly, normal — and yet remain single for a long time. (For that matter, we also know unattractive, worldly, and strange people who get married young). From a logical perspective, most of us understand that singleness isn’t always — or even often — caused by a person’s defects. There isn’t any discernible rhyme or reason to who gets married at 22 and who remains single at 35. You probably know that in your brain, but it’s hard to apply personally when you’re sick of being single. The temptation is to try to isolate what’s “wrong” with you, thinking that once you can isolate the problem you can fix it.

The truth is that human relationships are complicated and often mysterious. They don’t lend themselves to simple evaluation or pat answers. Every relationship involves the personalities, feelings, and desires of two complex human beings. Not only that, but as Christians we have to take into account the work of God in each person’s heart and mind and life. We don’t always understand God’s plans, and sometimes we don’t even like them. That’s a hard truth, so it’s easier at times to seek out factors we think we can control — maybe if I lose 20 pounds or tell funnier jokes or just stop being so picky, I can fix this pesky singleness problem.

But relationships with God and others just don’t work that way. Seeking change and growth is appropriate and good and a necessary part of the spiritual life. However, it’s not a guaranteed means of finding a spouse, and as long as you view it that way you’ll be in danger of minimizing or missing the real work God wants to do in your life. For all of us — whether we’re waiting for a relationship or a better job or a child or something else altogether — God is simply more concerned with our character than with giving us the life circumstances we would prefer.

So is something wrong with you? Sure. Me too. Lots of things. We’re sinners in need of God’s grace. But your personal deficiencies probably aren’t the reason you are single. I don’t know exactly why you’re single, but it probably has something to do with God, who arranges the circumstances of your life so that you can know Him and pursue Him (Acts 17:26-27). So instead of agonizing over questions that can’t be answered, turn your eyes toward Jesus and follow Him with everything you have.

(And as a postscript, those of you who are married can certainly help your single friends in this regard. Resist suggesting easy “fixes” for their singleness or implying that if they would only do x or y or z then they could make everything better. Although we usually mean well, such advice is rarely helpful, often demoralizing, and always distracting).

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