Friday, April 1, 2011

The Passing of Generations

This week our brother C.D. Williams passed from this life to the next. C.D. was a truly loveable person, always cheerful and positive. Even in the face of his declining health, C.D.’s bright outlook did not diminish. And it is no secret why C.D. was so happy. He was a Christian,
and he was married to a natural-born caregiver. Elizabeth took great care of C.D., and the tender affection between the two of them was immediately evident to anyone who spent time with them. We will miss C.D., and we mourn with Elizabeth and the family in their loss.
The Woodland Hills congregation is unique in my experience as a preacher for many reasons, but one of the most unusual features of this church is the distribution of ages. I noticed the other day that there are only two couples in this congregation in their forties – the Shells, and Kristi and I. We have lots of post-retirement members, and lots of 30’s and under members, but not much in between. That was true when I moved here, and is even more the case now.
Which means that over the next few years, as our older members pass on to be with the Lord, this church will undergo a radical transformation. It will become very young, very fast. It is exciting to see all of the little ones among us, with many more on the way in the future. But it is also scary to think about the generational shift that is taking place in light of the many warnings in Scripture about the passing of one generation to the next. For instance, notice this statement from Judges 2:
And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. (2:7-10)
A new generation arose that did not know the Lord or what He had done for Israel. And as you know from the rest of Judges, the consequences of this spiritual generation gap were devastating for Israel.
Why didn’t the younger Israelites know the Lord? Did their parents fail them as spiritual mentors? This is possible. Did the elders try to instruct them only to be rejected by youthful insolence? That is also possible. But regardless of how it happened, the successors of Joshua and Caleb fell far short of the example of faith and obedience those two great champions of the Lord set.
By no means do I intend to suggest that it is inevitable that the younger generations will fall away from the Lord. It did not have to happen to Israel, and it does not have to happen to us. But it does mean that the transition from one generation to the next is a critical time in the life of God’s people, and we must all be aware of the possible dangers that can arise. It is all too easy (as the story of Rehoboam we recently studied in class illustrated) for a young generation to be immature, pompous, and rash.
Of course, it is also possible to place too much emphasis on what prior generations have done and become enmeshed in the tangle of traditionalism. This was one of the mistakes of the Pharisees, who confused what they had always heard and practiced with God’s word – a fatal confusion (Matthew 15:7-9). Every generation – whether in a family or a congregation – has the duty to consider the legacy left behind by its predecessors, measure that legacy by the word of God, and build on the good heritage it has received. “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).
There are several “changing of the guard” moments in Scripture: Moses to Joshua; David to Solomon; Paul to the Ephesians elders. And in each of those transitions, the succeeding generation was called to place its trust in the Lord and His word (Deut. 31:7-13; 1 Kings 2:1-4; Acts 20:28-32). I am sure that C.D. would want us to do the same thing. And by committing ourselves to God and His word, we can have great hope for the future.
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9).

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