"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." - Peter's encouragement to his fellow Christians, 1 Peter 3:15
What does a thirteen year-old boy have to look forward to?
What does a freshman girl have to look forward to?
Sunday afternoon, Brady Rhodes and I sat on the steps of our church sanctuary with five young adults, four jr. high students and one freshman. And we wanted to find out the answer to these two questions.
Actually, the answer to the first question was pretty easy to discover, if completely shocking at the same time.
Taco Bell. Yeah, that's right. We learned that Ethan Tuggle has been looking forward to Taco Bell's new breakfast menu for quite some time, so much in fact that he showed up at 7:00 am the first day Taco Bell unveiled its new contributions to our day's most important meal - walking a few blocks to be the first one to order.
So, there's that.
But, what else?
Are young people optimistic about their future?
Do they feel good about this world they live in?
I asked the five teenagers sitting with me this question specifically:
Do you think the world you are going to live in as an adult will be a better world than it is right now?
Without even thinking about it ... and all together ... these five young men and young women said clearly, "No." It was a definite "no," too - without a doubt.
I prodded them, "Why?"
They started to rattle off the answers ... the very ones probably floating around in your head right now: the environment, the economy, overpopulation, not enough jobs.
Isn't it amazing how much our kids really soak up from us, how much their own understanding of this world is determined by the way they see their elders viewing the world around them? Teenagers aren't stupid. They see what's happening. They are very much aware of the world. If you ask a jr. high teacher ... too aware. Much too aware about sex and violence and political wars. Much too aware about how much mom and dad have been arguing. But, there's also something deeper going on in the lives of these young souls.
We didn't talk long about the imminent demise of the world. In fact, Brady and I were there to give them something entirely different.
We were there to give them hope.
Hope that while, yes, there are great dangers present in this world, God's plans are for beauty. God's plans are for order. God's plans are for a restored and joyful sense of purpose and life.
Yes, we need to make sure our children are fully aware of the great challenges facing them. Hope without reality turns into cynicism. We must help them to be serious and sober-minded about the great ills they will inherit. We must help them to see that part of their call will be to get into the deep messes of social injustice and to labor hard for righteousness. And we must help them understand that their battle will not be just again this political body or this type of economic model, but in every way against a spiritual presence of evil that continues to cause airplanes to venture far off course and the strong to mistreat and use the weak.
But these things are not the concluding word.
First of all, we have to give them hope.
Without hope, there's no strength to endure the battle. Without hope, there's no vitality to engage the deep brokenness of the world.
So, just as that fool-hardy and stubborn Peter wrote, we must be ready to give an answer for the hope we profess.
Maybe we have to back up.
Maybe as Christians, as those who come to church, this house of hope, we have to unearth this hope ourselves. Maybe we get this hope out again. Brush it off. Clean it up. Make it shine again. There are real promises set before us in Jesus Christ, and the world buries and diminishes them.
I had set out a sheet of construction paper in the hallway leading to the fellowship hall. It stretched over ten feet, and on each side were markers and paint. It was pretty much a blank canvas, except for these three words scrawled across the top right in my ragged print: "I believe in ..."
And for twenty minutes, those five young men and women (make that six as Parker Black walked in), filled up the sheet with their beliefs.
There was a lot of mess and humor. This is jr. high after all, and that is great, for the world needs humor. So, there are scribbled messages about belief in "nerf weaponry."
There was ego. Many of the students were quick to write "myself."
But, the longer they wrote and drew and painted, other words began to appear ... words that began to speak about a universal goodness that is here in this world. What we might call seeds of virtue in this world, traces of a song worth listening to, worth believing in.
Friends and famly (complete and real in the grammatically missing "i")
This is the hope that we pass on to our children. We believe in a God who creates beautiful things. We believe in a God who provides the truest and most enjoyable experiences, wrapped up in words that all of us can understand: family ... music ... trees ... freedom. And, yes, we believe in the joy of nerf weaponry.
We believe in a God who is scattering the goodness of life into this creation, even if we have to sort through the messiness of this creation in order to find the highlights, to remember the truth.
Yes, above all else, we have faith. We have hope. We have love. These three things remain. They do not deteriorate. Love will outlast an economy that produces great wealth but fails to provide real community, sufficient/godly work, and healthy environments. Hope will outlast bickering political parties and schools that are facing really difficult days ahead. Faith will outlast the insecurities and fears that underlie the alluring temptations of this world.
We have hope ...
Because God is for us ...
And God is with us.
Don't forget this great gift we have, friends. Pass it on.