I was privileged today to give a talk to some young people, mostly late high school and early college age. Here are some notes from the talk:
I. Faith – The world in which we lives says we are great if we are rich, good looking, popular, powerful, and possess many things. But none of that can save you. You can climb the ladder of success, but if it is leaning against the wrong wall you will climb it and go right over into Hell. And so Jesus says, What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul? (Mark 8:36) Thus, what makes you great is if you know the Lord. In the end faith is all that matters because faith is the way we respond to God, the way we says yes to him, the way we open the door. Faith is the supernaturally transformed human element that invites and accepts the Lord Jesus, who alone can save us.
Now this first point is so important that if you don’t get it or don’t want to follow it, none of the other points will matter, since you’ll be going to Hell and then who cares about the other three points! But if you will lay hold of it, you will welcome into your life the only one who can save you: Jesus.
Yet faith is not just accepting Jesus one day; it is obeying him every day. For faith is strongly connected to obedience, and thus Jesus says, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do what I tell you?” (Lk 6:46) Or again, “It is not those who cry Lord, Lord who will enter the Kingdom, but only those who do the will of my Father” (Matt 7:21).
Jesus sets forth pretty clearly who is wise and who is a fool when it comes to the central question of faith and to the obedience of faith:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Mat 7:24-27).
So look, there’s just nothing more important than your faith and the obedience of faith. The other stuff like land, possessions, and big hair is just a distraction. Only Jesus Christ can save you. If you grasp this and call to Him you are wise, if not you are a fool and you don’t need to worry about or pay attention to any of the rest of this talk—the exit doors are over there. Enjoy your house with its granite countertops, at least until the next wind or heavy rain comes. And then, well … you’re on your own.
II. Friends – OK, if you’re still with me I’m glad. So let’s talk about a critical issue: friends. Let’s begin with the positive: friends are a real and necessary blessing. Scripture says,
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him. A threefold cord is not quickly broken (Eccles 4:9-12).
Amen! So friends are necessary and good. But, be very careful about the friends you choose! Again, scripture says,
- I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men … I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber — not even to eat with such a one (1 Cor 5:9-11).
- Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Come to your right mind, and sin no more. For some have no knowledge of God (1 Cor 15:33).
- A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray (Prov 12:26).
- Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared (Prov 22:24).
I cannot tell you how important this dimension of your future is! The friends you choose can raise you or ruin you. I remember my high school years and what happened to people who were ruined by their so-called friends, who led them astray. I’ll admit I got lucky. I just happened to fall in with good friends who helped me make better choices. But don’t you depend on luck. Be deliberate about the friends you choose. Be careful!
You don’t have to be a snob and all “stuck-up” (as we said when I was your age). Be kind and polite to all, but be careful whom you call your close friends. Scripture says,
Let your acquaintances be many, but for advisers choose one out of a thousand. If you want to make a friend, take him on trial, and do not be in a hurry to trust him (Sirach 6:6-7).
III. Family – We may and must choose our friends but we cannot do so with our family. And thus with family there is more complexity. But the general message is clear: we should honor our parents and elders and be open to learning from the generations before us.
The Bible commands us to keep our family ties strong especially by honoring our parents:
- Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you (Ex 20:12).
- Hearken to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old. The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who begets a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and mother be glad, let her who bore you rejoice (Prov 23:22-25).
IV. Fervor – An awful lot of success in life just comes down to hard work. Even before the Fall in the Garden, God had work for Adam and Eve to do. Why? Because work builds us and perfects us; it is part of the way we become the man or woman God has made us to be and it is the way we bless each other. Work connects us and helps keep us from being selfish. God doesn’t recommend work just to make us jump through hoops. He summons us to work in order to complete us and perfect us, not just individually but also collectively.
- Hard work always pays off; mere talk puts no bread on the table (Prov 14:23).
- And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the idlers (1 Thess 5:14).
- Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work (2 Thess 3:6-12).
- You lazy fool, look at an ant. Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two. Nobody has to tell it what to do. All summer it stores up food; at harvest it stockpiles provisions. So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing? How long before you get out of bed? 10A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there, sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next? Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life, poverty your permanent houseguest! (Prov 6:6-11)
- The path of lazy people is overgrown with briers; the diligent walk down a smooth road (Prov 15:19).
OK, you get the point. Hard work pays off; laziness is a path to poverty and a disgrace. Learn good work skills. Rest is important but so is work. Too many people today want things for nothing. Life does not work that way. Hard work is part of life in this fallen world. But hard work also brings reward. Laziness brings short-term comfort but long-term hardship. Develop good work habits. God expects it of you and others need it from you.
So here are four fundamentals for a favorable future. God’s word affirms them; experience approves and witnesses to them. What of you? Will you listen and apply or reject and invite ruin?
The Lord loves you and wants what is best for you. But you have choices to make; He will not force your answer. But the guidance is clear enough: faith, friends, family, and fervor. Do this and you will live (cf Lk 10:28). Reject it and there’s a bad moon on the rise: