We have had the challenging but rewarding privilege of spending the last 8 years ministering to teenagers from hard places. Out of the many admirable traits they possess, one unfortunate trend I have noticed about this generation is their sense of entitlement, and corresponding lack of gratitude. It colors almost every facet of their lives as if it were woven into their DNA. The list of “rights” they claim is endless. Animal rights. Women’s rights. LGBTQ rights. Civil rights. Racial rights. Religious rights. Rights to a government paycheck. Rights to air conditioning, video games, energy drinks and smartphones. The right to be heard. The right to not listen. The right to be respected. The right to show disrespect. The list is truly endless.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying all the rights listed are necessarily good or bad (yes, some are!). This next generation has a strong sense of justice. But there sure seems to be a whole lot of different ideas about what that means.
[Interesting side note: the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2016 was “post-truth”. They define it as 'relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief'. Wow! As I was saying…]
As a young boy I recall musing about whether there existed a universal Right and Wrong. I naively envisioned a huge book in the cosmos that had all the Right actions written in one column and all the Wrong actions written in the other column. That made it easy for me to move forward in my thinking. Until, well, until it didn’t work anymore. Was it wrong to smoke weed? God made it grow on the earth, right? (It’s natural, man!) But it was, at least at that time, illegal. But should you always obey the law? The government could be wrong. After all, the government once condoned slavery. And that is wrong. So, surely it was ok to smoke weed. What about sex? Alcohol? Stealing from big corporations that would never feel the loss? What is truth? Well, apparently we are post-truth.
The clear waters of justice grew steadily murkier as the years, desires and experiences of life presented themselves. It wasn’t long before I found myself in a complex web of excuses, ignorance, drugs, lies, betrayal and downright confusion. Enter one of my favorite phrases in the Bible…”But God!”
Oh, yes, but God drew me in by His Holy Spirit to saving faith in Jesus Christ. I grew up "in church" but prior to my salvation I couldn’t have given a decent explanation of who He was. Suddenly, I understood that my ways were paving a solid and straight road to eternal death and separation from the God that created me and loved me. I saw that the only way that I could return to a right relationship with this merciful God was to accept the blood of Jesus Christ which was shed to pay for my sins.
The night I trusted in Christ I began to read the Bible and for the first time, I could see! I could see that my ways were not pleasing to God. In fact, I could finally see that my actions were not good for me. They were not good for the people around me either.
Slowly, God revealed that my concept of the “Right and Wrong book” in outer space was real. But it was not a book; it was a tree. Huh? Yes, it was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. You can read about it for yourself in the first three chapters of the Bible.
I began to understand very clearly the concept of sin. Simply stated, sin is when I go MY way instead of GOD’S way. That is what Adam and Eve did. That is what I did. And that is what you did. We have all attempted to decide for ourselves what is Right versus Wrong, Good versus Evil. God never wanted us to bear the responsibility of deciding this. But He knew we would try; He knew we would not accept His ways, His authority. And He loved us too much to trap us in Paradise. He allowed us to wander. But He did not let us go without a loving warning. He told us that choosing OUR way instead of HIS way would lead to death and destruction. We did it anyway.
Why all the ranting and preaching? Let me put the pop in the corn here. My point is that, based on our actions, what we are actually entitled to is…stay with me…death and destruction. Wha? See, apart from God paying for our sins, we are left to pay for them. And the only thing we have to offer in payment for our sins is our very life. Our life is but a mist says my boy, Jesus' half brother, James. (see James 4:14)
So, when I hear teenagers, or adults, or myself for that matter, talking about what we deserve, what we are entitled to, our rights. I am reminded to humble myself and know that all I deserve is death and destruction.
Realizing this makes me very grateful for what Jesus did for me, and you, by the way, on the cross. Gratitude is the cure for the entitlement disease. How will this generation know that if they don’t see it in you? We may have times where we feel like there is nothing to be thankful for. But if you will count to 10 then think about it, I bet you can come up with something. Jesus did not die on the cross simply to keep us out of Hell. He also did it so that we can have an abundant life (please don’t do the shallow American thing here and automatically think of cars, houses and money). We should all move forward in our jobs, lives, ministries and families with an attitude of gratitude, Dude.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”