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No Place Like Home: Don’t Break Their Spirits

June 3, 1984

To honor Christ and to honor you, I preach this sermon.

Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

It was many centuries ago now, that a man named Bengel, a great Christian teacher and mystic wrote these words, “The plague of youth is a broken spirit.” He was right. And the truth of what he wrote has been proved in every generation since.

I think here of Martin Luther who found it very difficult, for all of his life, to say the words our Father at the beginning of the Lord’s prayer, because his father had been so excessively severe toward him in his younger days, that the word “father” took on, for him, ugly overtones. And he was never very comfortable applying that word to God.

Or I think of John Newton, the great writer of hymns – hymns like “Amazing Grace” – who near the end of his life wrote, in his diary, these words, “I believe my father loved me, but for some reason, he never wished me to see it.”

Or I think of Mary Lamb, a remarkable Christian woman overtaken late in life by terrible mental and emotional difficulties so that ultimately she died in an insane asylum. But she left behind, amongst her papers, a single sentence written over and over and over again. The sentence was this, “Nothing I could ever do would please my mother.” The plague of youth is a broken spirit.

The verse of Scripture, which I hold up before us today, is a verse which underscores that truth. Paul writing to the Colossians says, “Do not provoke your children lest they become discouraged.” Now, that’s actually a very weak translation of the Greek. But what the verse actually says – and here I have to paraphrase in order to try to capture the essence of it. But what the verse actually says is this, “Do not exasperate, do not frustrate, do not dominate, do not tear up your children’s lives, for by so doing, you shall break their spirits.” The plague of youth is a broken spirit.

Now, under the directive of this verse from Colossians and in the hope of making a positive contribution not only to your life as you grow into adulthood, but also a positive contribution to our life together as families, I want to speak today and I want to say a word for our young people to our adults.

Now, I know there are some who would say that that hardly seems appropriate. I mean, after all, you certainly are not young and therefore you cannot speak for those who are young. I disagree. I’ve spent many, many hours with young people, some of them seated here, getting to know them quite well, helping them wrestle through some of the difficult times in their life. I’ve spent many hours with parents of young people, talking about them. I’ve read every book that I can lay my hands on and I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of prayer in this matter. And I believe that I’ve heard at least some whispers from the Holy Spirit.

And so I dare to speak. And this morning, I wish to make three very positive affirmations for our young people. 

The first affirmation is this, young people today are more concerned about happiness than they are about security.

Now, for those of us as adults, security is a primary concern. Our work, our money, our family, our personal reputation, our social prestige, all of these things work together in order to provide us with a sense of security in life. And the gaining of that sense of security is one of the great driving motivating factors in our lives as adults. But our young people today have a different point of view.

And how many times parents have come to me complaining like the mischief, because they can’t get their son or their daughter to make an occupational decision. They can’t get them to decide what they’re going to do in life so that they can then go on and begin to prepare for their life’s work. Yeah, I can understand why parents are concerned about that. I’m concerned about that. And it’s simply because that’s what we did when we were young. We decided what we were going to do in life. And then we went to receive the proper training for that. And then we entered some occupation or calling. Perhaps it was a career in the workaday world or a career in the home or a combination of the two, but we entered some chosen occupation or calling and we’re still there and we’re going to stay there until we die or retire. That in spite of the fact that studies reveal that perhaps as many as 75% of us are not completely happy in what we’re doing.

Our young people have a different point of view. They are more concerned about happiness than they are about security. Parents say to them, “You’ve got to decide what you’re going to do. And then you’ve got to start preparing to do it or else you’re never going to know security.” And that statement doesn’t mean very much to our young people, because they don’t count security to be what we count it to be. But I have to ask you something. Is that a sin? No, I don’t think so. I don’t. I mean, let’s remember Jesus if you will. Jesus, who had no regular source of income, who had no pension plans or life insurance programs, who wasn’t a beneficiary of the social security system.

He didn’t even own a home. That’s what the Bible says. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. He had none of the things that we count as making for security. The only security that Jesus had was the security of knowing that He was a child of God, and that was all the security that He ever needed. No, Jesus was much more concerned about a sense of joy, a sense of fulfillment in life. He said it Himself, “My meat,” He said, “My food, My sustenance, is to do the will of the Father who sent Me.” That was the source of His joy and His fulfillment in life. And that was the great driving motivating force in His life.

And I think our young people today are identifying themselves with Jesus. They have a different point of view from the rest of us. And how do we respond to that? Some of us try to deny the reality or try to hide from it. And that frustrates the spirits of our young people. And then some of us, believe it or not, try to act like we’re young. We start to try to wear all the clothes that young people wear, and we start to speak like young people using all of the proper words and all that does is amuse the spirits of our young people. And then some of us get angry and we begin to label our young people, lazy, worthless, indecisive, undisciplined, irresponsible, and you know all the words. And that breaks the spirits of our young people. Oh, but thank God, there are some adults, at least, who have learned the lesson of the life of Jesus. There are some who say to our young people, “You are a child of God, and that’s all the security you ever need. But if you want to know joy and meaning and fulfillment and satisfaction in life, then you will discover that by following God’s will for your life. And I,” these adults say, “I would be pleased to help you find God’s will for your life.” That, my friends, that builds up the spirits of our young people. May the numbers of such adults increase because these young people, with spirits built firm in Christ, will build a better world.

But the second affirmation that I would make, would be this. Young people today are smarter than they’ve ever been before. 

And they are asking tough questions; questions which demand equally tough answers. We need to remember that. Our young people today are asking deep moral questions and they are demanding in return, deep, truthful answers. And how do we respond to them? Well, we say some things are right and some things are wrong. And with a great inquiring spirit, so true of young people, they say, “Why? Why are some things right and why are some things wrong?”

And how do we respond to that? Well, we say, “Because the Bible tells me so.” My friends, that answer is just not good enough, particularly if you do not know your Bible well enough to point to the place where it does say so. And particularly, if you cannot then go on to convince a young person of the authority and the infallibility of the scriptures. It does no good whatever to say something’s right and something’s wrong because the Bible says so, if you cannot then convince a young person that the Bible is written by none other than the Holy Spirit of God.

Let’s understand something, please. Our young people are engaged in a battle for their very lives. They are being assaulted on every hand, by all kinds of philosophies in life, most of which have little or nothing do with true Christianity. Businessmen are saying to them, “Materialism is the answer.” Scientists are saying to them, “Positivism is the answer.” Politicians are saying to them, “Socialism is the answer.” The dropouts are saying to them, “Hedonism is the answer.” Atheists are saying to them, “Nihilism is the answer.” They are being affronted by these philosophies that challenge the way they think and the way they live. And they are turning to us and they are asking tough questions. “What’s right? What’s wrong? Why is it right? Why is it wrong?” And we, spiritually flabby, we only partially committed, we not knowing why we believe what we believe, we cannot give them real solid answers. And we wonder why sometimes they seem to be confused. My friends, this book says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This book says, “Always be ready to give a reason for the faith that is in you.” This book says, “Study to show yourself approved by God, a workman who need not be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” That’s what the Bible says.

And our young people are asking questions that are going to determine the destiny of their eternal souls. And we dare not come to them with the soft pat little answers out of our yesterdays. Oh, rather, we must come to them with minds honed sharp by our own study and our own prayer and our own profound dedication to Jesus Christ. Are you listening? “Always,” the Bible says, “be ready to give a reason for the faith that is in you.” Are you listening, ministers and elders? Are you listening, Christian education commission? Are you listening, Sunday school teachers? Are you listening, older folks? Who feel that you have nothing to be responsible for in the generations behind you, and so consequently, you refuse to volunteer to spend time with them, to talk with them, to teach them, to build a relationship with them. Are you listening, parents who have teenage children, or soon will? Are you listening? The Bible says, “Always, always be ready to give a reason for the faith that is in you.” Our young people are asking tough questions, and we as Christians had better get prepared to answer them.

And then the third affirmation that I would make would be this, our young people today want to be what we claim to be. 

Notice that I didn’t say they want to be what we are. No, they want to be what we claim to be. Two of the foremost youth sociologists of our time, Kenneth Keniston of Yale and Lawrence Frank from Chicago have written that the values of young people today are exactly the same as the values professed by their parents; by what their parents claim to be. Not what their parents do, what their parents claim to be. Trouble comes when our young people look at us and see the state of our moral and spiritual climate, and then begin to compare that with what we say, we believe.

Are you aware of the fact that in Russia today, the government commands young people to honor their fathers and mothers, to refrain from cheating and lying and killing and stealing and committing adultery? Practically every one of the commandments, both from the Old and the New Testaments. They command that of young people in the Soviet Union, but at the same time, deny the faith out of which such morality grows. And we’re almost tempted to laugh at that. I mean, the very idea, how absurd to demand a kind of Christian morality, but then to deny the Christian faith.

But we dare not laugh too quickly, because, my friends, we do exactly the opposite. We say that it’s wrong to lie and it’s wrong to cheat and it’s wrong to steal. We say that adultery is wrong and perversion is a sin and respecting the flag is the thing to do, and honoring fathers and mothers is right. We say that what life is all about is accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and making a commitment to Him and going to church, and then trying to live Christ’s life in the world. We say that’s what life is all about. We say that’s what we believe. And then our young people look at us and at the way we live. And that, above all else, breaks their spirits. It need not be so.

I know a man who had some severe economic reverses. He was a man for whom faith in Jesus Christ and commitment to the church is a top priority, and his two teenage children know that. On one occasion, in the midst of this very difficult time for him, he was talking with his wife about their troubles. And he said to her that he felt like they were going somehow to be able to get through those difficulties. Yes, somehow they would do it, but he was so worried because it appeared that for a time he would not be able to meet his tithe at the church. His children happened to overhear that conversation. The next morning at breakfast, on the table, there was an envelope. It said, “To dad.” Inside the envelope were 25 $1 bills. Now that man is not to be congratulated because he got $25 from his kids. $25 wouldn’t begin to solve his problems. No. But he is to be congratulated because his children knew just how seriously he took his commitment to Jesus Christ, and the glory of it is that knowing that, they wanted to be a part of it.

I’m not saying here today that our young people are perfect. They wouldn’t say that either. And I’m not saying that we as adults are always wrong and that we’ve utterly lost contact with our young people. I’m not saying that. They wouldn’t say that either. What I am saying is this, if we break their spirits, they not only lose, but the world loses. Because if our young people, if the members of this graduating class can move into adulthood with spirits in full bloom and full power, then I submit to you that they can change the world. I think that’s why there is this word of warning on the pages of Scripture, “Do not exasperate, do not frustrate, do not dominate, do not tear up your children’s lives, for by so doing, you shall break their spirits.”

Well, the military hero of Great Britain in the Second World War was a man named Field Marshal Montgomery. He was known far and wide as a man who was very stern, rigid, and demanding. 40 years ago today, Field Marshal Montgomery stood with a group of British officers watching what was to be a rehearsal for D-Day; the allied invasion of Europe. The mass troops were simulating the beach landing. And as those thousands of young soldiers came storming to the shore under the watchful eye of the British generals, including Montgomery, suddenly there was one young soldier boy who had gotten seasick on the voyage. And who staggered onto the shore carrying a heavy pack so that his boots were weighted down and they were sticking in the wet sucking sand of the beach. He was dazed, he was nauseated, he was confused, and in that state, he staggered and he tripped and he fell flat on his face, right in front of the reviewing generals. Immediately Field Marshal Montgomery was at his side. Very gently, he lifted the young man up out of the sand and very carefully brushed the sand off and then gently moved him on his way. But the young man, still dazed and confused, only now he was sobbing, sobbing like a child, couldn’t see where he was going and he headed off in the wrong direction. Montgomery ran after him, and very gently put his arms about the boy’s shoulders and equally gently turned the young man around so that he was headed once more in the right direction. And Montgomery said to him, “It’s this way, son. It’s this way. You’re doing well, very well. Just stay in touch with the chap who is in front of you.”

That shows a lot, I think, about the humanity of Field Marshal Montgomery, but it shows me much more than that. It shows me that when we encounter our young people, a little bit sick sometimes from the voyage this planet is on, weighed down with a pack of decisions which most of us never had to make when we were young, with their feet sticking in the wet sucking sands of a society that sometimes dehumanizes and sometimes even destroys, when we encounter our young people in the midst of that, and we see them trip and stagger and stumble and fall flat on their faces in the midst of it, we must not condemn them. No, rather, we must pick them up and gently brush them off. And if we see them then headed off in the wrong direction, we must not hurl words of judgment, no. We must run after them and put our arms around them and turn them gently in the right way, saying to them in love, “It’s this way, son. It’s this way, daughter. It’s this way, my young friend. You’re doing well. Oh, yes, very well. Just don’t lose touch with us chaps who are in front of you.”

Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, enable our young people to discover the greatness which You have planted within them and enable us to commit ourselves anew, to a ministry of love and support and encouragement and guidance, that they may become all you intend them to be through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


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