Encouragement

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Having written this blog since early 2016, I have often reflected what is at the heart of a mentor.  My conclusion? It is the idea to encourage one another – often with someone in the next generation. That came home to me this week in a Zoom call with several of my international friends who meet once a month online to encourage one another.

This morning’s call was particularly rich. Each of the participants, in their own way, shared what God is doing in their lives, and the common theme was that they are beginning to see traction in mentoring, not just pastors but those in the next generation.

Sam Sunder Singh, from Chennai, India, shared that he has started to develop mentoring with youth in other churches. He acknowledged that many in the younger generation don’t know what a mentor is, looks like or acts.  That’s partly because of the concept of mentoring has largely dropped out of many cultures.

But once he described what a mentor is and does, the youth were excited and wanted to participate. They can see the possibility of how a mentor can help them along their way by investing in them, and they are all in.

Sam is also working on mentoring other pastors – initially to get them to a level of transparency using the Leaders Covenant Guide which is freely available at MentorLink. In using this tool, some of the pastors have followed up with Sam because they see a need for someone to speak into their lives at a personal level – that means being willing to participate in peer mentoring..

Even though India is currently in a lockdown (again), tools like Zoom have enabled folks like Sam and Ada to continue their ministry even when face-to-face interactions are limited due to continuing issues with Covid-19. In retrospect, the pandemic has expanded the technological tools into everyday life so that it is now a common way to communicate.  

Even though he is in India, the same confusion over what a mentor does occurs here, too.  I attribute that to the change in our educational system about 80 years ago where education was often through apprenticeships, internships and mentoring which meant learning from someone more experienced. That’s a mentor in a nutshell. 

Ada Babijide (pictured above) from Lagos, Nigeria, shared how she is also working on mentoring the next generation in ways she hadn’t considered before.  She, too, has realized that the next generation are our future leaders.  As I have told pastors at MLI training sessions, most ministry does not take place within the four walls of a church.

That means that we need to be creative in connecting with  the next generation.  It also means understanding them and how they communicate, think and like to participate. They want to be involved – in fact, the dominant means of reaching them is to put them in settings where they have input and there is an opportunity for them to be heard. There’s a name for that – it’s called collaboration.  The mentor becomes a facilitator.   

Meredith Hoffman is now back in Kosovo which is 95% Muslim. She shared that most of the group she has been with in her ministry are leaving in about 6 months, leaving her and one other woman to take on increased leadership roles in a largely non-Christian culture. We all affirmed her leadership capability.

Another participant, Sasha Pyrig lives near Kiev, Ukraine. He shared his concern over the possible invasion of his country by Russia which has amassed 100,000 troops on its eastern border. Sasha shared that he was seeking comfort in stories from the bible where God’s faithful faced invasion.  We can only pray for his situation. 

We encouraged each other by suggesting resources which might be helpful for the needs expressed.  My task was to develop a comprehensive topical index of my blog for the past several years. That’s a daunting task because I’ve done well over 300 posts which covers a lot of ground.  

After my zoom call, I had my weekly breakfast with my friend, Tom Shirk, and we chatted about mentoring and how it impacted him. He talked at length at how mentors shaped his life and opened doors that would have otherwise been closed in his military career.  He, in turn, did the same for others when he saw talent that could go to the next level, but for one reason or another, had been on the wrong track and needed someone to help open doors.

As a mentor, it is gratifying to see growth in those in whom t you have invested in over the years. That’s what made this morning so powerful to me, because our mentoring calls have planted seeds that have now germinated in ways we could not envision when we first got together years ago.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: As a mentor, we need to encourage and influence those in the next generation who often need a little help along the way to become all that God wants them to be.  You might not see the results in real time but rest assured that your efforts produced fruit.

WORSHIP: Resurrecting – Elevation Worship

For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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TicTok Toe

TikTok Toe

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Not to be confused with the game Tic Tac Toe.  I used to play this game with my grandkids and would intentionally make a mistake so they could win which resulted in great delight and squealing. But that game is not dangerous.  TikTok, on the other hand is not harmless, as you will see..

For the uninitiated, TikTok is a social media platform that permits users to watch and share videos that vary in length from 15 seconds to 3 minutes. It is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company and was invented by Zhang Yiming who stepped down as CEO several months ago..

How it works is fascinating because they attempt to do a highly personalized tour to each user by recommending videos to users that it thinks the users will take in.  It uses what is called an algorithm which tracks the users choicess and then suggests more videos that feed those preferences. 

In preparing for this post, I read dozens of reports from the last two years as the world has tried to get its arms around the popularity of TikTok.  It recently surpassed Facebook as the most visited social media. But what is troubling is that a large part of its usage is in the 5 to 14 age group.  They are the ones that are vulnerable even though users under 13 cannot post videos. 

Criticisms of TikTok include the following.

Why the concern?  Well, a “staggering 41% of self-reported TikTok users are aged 16-24”. It is the platform that has advanced the Korean show Squid Games, which had 11.1 billion views since it was released on September 17, 2021.

According to Neal Ferguson, a senior researcher at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, TikTok is a threat to children. “TikTok is optimized for user engagement, algorithmically steering users to content that will hook them via its For You page. In essence, the [algorithm] learns what you like and then gives you more of it. And more. Future historians will marvel that we didn’t give our kids crack cocaine, but we give them TikTok.”

Ferguson and other security experts are also concerned about the data collection capability of TikTok in the hands of China due to the company’s close ties to the Chinese Communist Party. As one security expert notes, TikTok “is the perfect tool for massive surveillance collection by the Chinese government.”

That’s a lot of concerns for an App that has such broad appeal to the next generation, and most particularly Gen Z. In writing this, I was reminded of a concept known in the pharmaceutical industry called informed consent. When you purchase any drug (even aspirin), the bottle has a list in small print on the side of “contraindications”, a fancy word for potential adverse side effects.  

By disclosing those conditions, you have been informed and by taking the drug you have consented to the chance that you might experience one or more known adverse effects. 

We as mentors and parents should be rightly concerned about permitting free access to TikTok without at least considering the downside (or, contraindications). In this day and time, it may be difficult to limit access to TikTok, but we can take steps to try and stop built in reinforcement. Just banning it may not work in this digital world according to Andrew McPeak. He suggests teaching the next generation two social and emotional skills.

The first is helping them with impulse control where they master not binging by spending too much time with the App.   

The second is to help them gain critical thinking which “means examining circumstances, identifying risks and benefits, and gathering information about a given topic — all so students can make a responsible decision”.  In other words, helping them assess on their own what the risks are so they can make a responsible (or informed) decision. 

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: We should help our mentees develop critical thinking skills so they can make informed decisions on their own.

FURTHER READING:

Let’s Talk About TikTok – Growing Leaders (McPeak)

Walton (FL) Students Suspended from TikTok Challenge – Panhandle News

Gen Z is Developing Unexplained Tics from Going Online and Doctors are Concerned – Vice

How TikTok Serves Up Sex and Drug Videos to Minors – WSJ 

TikTok is Watching You – Even if You Don’t Have an Account – Vice

TikTok Traffic Ranks Highest Worldwide Raising Concerns of Addiction Problems for Children

TikTok Hit with Consumer Safety and Privacy Complaints in Europe – TechCrunch

Parents Ultimate Guide to TikTok – Common Sense Media

Is TikTok Spying on You for China? – Forbes

WORSHIP:  Here for You – Matt Redman

For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Reflections 2021

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10:13

I try and chose topics that have a universal appeal, because this blog is read all over the world. In thinking back over 2021, I tried to think of stories that had a common thread, and kept coming back to the COVID pandemic, but with a twist.

We are now two years into dealing with C0VID. We know a lot more about it today than we did in early 2020. We also have learned that the mortality rate affects those with co-morbidities, such as diabetes, obesity, age, Alzheimer’s, dementia and other known neural conditions.  

We’ve also learned that there have been different approaches to dealing with the pandemic, from the strictest lockdowns to a more laissez faire approach like that of Sweden.  Many European countries and Australia (even today) are forcing lockdowns while Sweden took the path that herd immunity gained by healthy citizens was the better approach.  

The data is in and it shows that Sweden’s approach was better. Countries that pursued lockdowns are not doing it based on science but on a means of control to an almost authoritarian level, even in democracies like Australia. 

The year 2021 also brought new variants, first Delta and then Omicron.  The latter got its name by skipping over two other Greek letters, nu and xi.  Nu was eliminated because it sounded too much like “new”.  Xi was eliminated because of the connection with Xi Jinping, the President of China, although to me, that would have been most appropriate given the origin of the pandemic in Wuhan, China.

While the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths have captured headlines, I wanted to focus on the toll this pandemic has had on our culture, especially the next generation.  I have written before that the real toll of the pandemic was not going to come from the disease itself but from how it affected people through isolation, lockdowns, and masking.

It also affected the elderly. Recent studies show that isolation of elderly people has resulted in an increase in heart attacks.  In addition, abuse of elders who are vulnerable has become a big problem in the United States.  Some who have had Covid have even had voice issues afterwards.

But the next generations – Generation Z in particular – have the most issues which will survive the pandemic and may last their entire lifetime.  Depression has increased exponentially, leading to suicide and drug use. Recent pronouncements have declared a national emergency for children’s mental health.  

As I have learned through my research, the next generation is not that much different around the world. The millennial in Africa is not that much different than one in the United States, so if we are experiencing a mental health crises here, it is happening everywhere. 

I spoke this morning to my friend, Benvictor Ojongmanyinkongho, a Pastor from Limbe, Cameroon, who confirmed that he is seeing the same issues of trauma and mental illness in his country affecting the next generation. He is concerned that once COVID is past, they will not have the resources to handle the ongoing mental and social issues caused by lockdowns and children out of school.

The most lasting fallout will be the loss of learning due to disruption of schools and attempts at on-line learning. Educators have realized that online learning is much less effective than in-person learning.  Before the pandemic, some 53% of the world’s children were living in Learning Poverty.  That number is now 70% according to the World Bank.

The result is that the next generation is estimated at losing out on trillions of dollars of income over their lifetime due to learning loss caused by COVID. That’s trillions, not billions. 

What rankles me is that none of these ongoing “epidemics” caused by a pandemic are factored into the public health policy decisions of governments. The fallout – mental illness, loss of learning, loss of income – will go on for a long time – even a lifetime. 

This is a lot to digest, and none of it is good news going forward. These are lasting issues for the next generation. Civilizations have survived pandemics before, but this one is ours to deal with. We have a next generation affected in a myriad number of ways who need us to step up and help them, either as parents or mentors.

They need to know that Christ came into this world to provide hope where there was no hope.  We need to communicate that hope to them. It will have eternal consequences.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  We need to be ever vigilant in our interactions with the next generation who may be struggling with learning or emotional issues. They may need some encouragement along the way,

FURTHER READING:

Loneliness, Isolation and Cardiovascular Health – NIH

Teen Mental Health during COVID-19 – Johns Hopkins

Mental Health has Become a Shadow Epidemic – Axios

National Emergency of Adolescent Mental Health – American Academy of Pediatrics

We Surveyed 1,320 Therapists and the News is Not Good – NYT

How the Mental Health System is Buckling Under Pandemic Demand – Axios

The Effect of COVID-19 on Learning Loss and Adult Outcomes – ULI

Learning Losses From COVID-19 Could Top $17 Trillion – World Bank

WORSHIP: Jesus You Alone – Highlands Worship

For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Christmas 2021

The Mann Clan.

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a ]manger.” Luke 2:10-12

As we approach Christmas this year – a year where there has been a huge worldwide disruption in people’s lives  – I have thought about the real meaning of Christmas and how it plays out in our family, pictured above.

For many, the pandemic has prevented family from getting together in person for some extended period of time.  We have been fortunate in our ability to see each other, but took appropriate precautions as directed by my son-in-law doctor so as not to have our times together result in a super-spreader event.

Above is our Christmas picture this year taken a few weeks ago. As I look at the picture, I realize that every person in the picture is God’s gift to Sis and myself. We are fortunate to be able to enjoy our children and grandkids and every one of them is special to us in their own unique way.

We have spent our lives, first with our children, and now with our grandchildren, trying to leave our fingerprints on them by intentionally creating trips or things to do together, often with one or two of them at a time. We want them to know not just who we are, but whose we are as Christians.

In our materialistic culture, Christmas is often a  focus on exchanging gifts to each another but thinking about each other as a “gift” is a better way of enjoying Christmas.  Oh, sure, it’s nice to have a gift under the tree, but the real kicker for me is just enjoying their presence in our life.

Family at Christmas includes our extended family – those close friends that we have accumulated over the years. I spent this morning on a Zoom call with my extended International family. We met about 8 years ago while doing a MentorLink Institute which took close to 4 years to complete the entire curriculum.  

Our group includes Bami Betiku, Ada Babijide and Idowu Oyewole, all from Nigeria;  Sam Sunder Singh from Chennai, India;  Meredith Hoffman who was in Kosovo;  Sasha Pyrig from the Ukraine, and Kent Hoffman from Raleigh.

Even though we no longer have Skype or Zoom calls with a curriculum to study, we have kept up through a monthly “Coffee Chats” on Zoom. Our time spent together has forged strong relationships and bonds that are hard to describe because we have never met together in person (with the exception of Ada, who I met in Jos, Nigeria, several years ago).

Our call this morning included the family members of each member, including spouses and children. Each of my friends provided something special about Christmas from their culture – either a song, a poem or even a short play featuring their children.  

The songs from the Internationals were in their local language. My worship song below is from Nigeria and is in Ada’s native language (English Subtitles provided).   It has a unique African feel to it and is typical of songs I have heard in Africa.

As I expressed in our call, I consider each of my brothers and sisters abroad as a gift, and that idea was quickly embraced by all. We have spent time as praying for each other, and being encouragers, mentors and sometimes cheerleaders for each individual’s ministry.  It has been rewarding for me to see how our training has helped each of them expand their ministries  to do things that they had not thought possible. 

The ministries of our group include pastoring churches in the Ukraine and Lagos, Nigeria by Sasha and Idowu, respectively. Sam Sunder Singh runs a Christian school in Chennai, India.  Ada Babijide has a special mentoring ministry. She is a talented writer and has a heart for neighboring Benin. She has recently traveled there to help discipleship with Pastors in the Baptist church using our 40 Days with Jesus which was translated into the most common language used in Benin.

Meredith was a missionary to Ukraine and Kosovo and is now stateside for a while. Bami Betiku is a leader of the Navigators in Nigeria. Kent Hoffman heads up our MentorLink Institute. As you can see, each person has deployed their own personalities, talents and gifts in a different way for the Kingdom.

As you approach this Christmas, do what I have done which is to strip away all of the material stuff and focus on what really matters – family and friends.  Jesus came into this world so that we would have a Hope, and it is a hope that we must pass on to all we meet.  Think of everyone in your life that has made it so rewarding and enriching as God’s gift to you.

Merry Christmas.

WORSHIP:  Muru Onye Zoputa – (A Savior is Born)

We Three Kings of Orient Aren’t

 

Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. Matthew 2:1,2

That’s not a misprint in my title. The book of Matthew details the story of the birth of Jesus, but we often get it wrong. First, there weren’t any kings hanging around even though we sing this popular song at Christmas.  There weren’t three of them, and they didn’t come to Bethlehem as shown in many Nativity Scenes. Oh, and there weren’t any camels. 

The “Kings” in the song were actually Gentile wise men from a tribe called Magi, a religious sect that were influential king makers. Their approval was needed for someone to become King. That’s important to the story because the Magi came and worshipped the baby Jesus.

But the song gets a few things right.  The Magi followed a star “in the west” and brought gold to “crown Him again” (he had royalty lineage through King David).  They also brought myrrhknown for its healing properties, and frankincense, both of which were expensive and fit for a king.

So, who were these Magi?  They were a priestly tribe from the middle eastern empire and were known to be connected to magic, astrology and diviners of dreams. They were the most literate and elite people in the Middle East.

They believed in one God (not the God of the Bible) and that there was going to be a savior to come into the world. The Magi acted as senate and also sort of supreme court and, as such, were a check on the power of despotic monarchs according to John MacArthur.

To get an idea of the importance of the Magi, we need to go back to the Old Testament book  of Daniel in 586 B.C. where the Israelites were in Babylonian captivity for 70 years. Daniel was made Chief of the Magi after he interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams when the other Magi failed.  

Later, Daniel was elevated to the third highest ruler in Babylonia.  This is significant because the Jews intermarried while in captivity which introduced Jewish scriptures and prophesies of the Messiah to an eastern culture.

Daniel was also a prophet, and in Daniel 9,  he laid out details of the character and accomplishments of the coming Messiah. He learned the law of the Medes and Persians from the Magi and, in return, taught them the Old Testament. That’s how the Magi were familiar with the prophesies of the coming Messiah.

Fast forward to the time of King Herod who had been appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate. He was not a Jew, but an Edomite, which explains why he didn’t know Jewish scripture or prophesy. Apparently his meager army was off somewhere else when the Magi show up. He was paranoid about any threat to his power, so when the Magi ask “Where is He who has born King of the Jews? We saw His star and have come to worship Him”, Herod panics.

The bible does not provide a number of the Magi. Given their stature, prominence and importance, they would require a large entourage for the long journey which could have numbered in the thousands. They needed animals, animal keepers, servants, and all kinds of cooks and soldiers to keep them safe. So much for the “three Kings” in the song.

Herod has two meetings with the Magi – one public and one private. His goal was to find the Messiah and have him killed.   Herod asked the Magi to report where the Messiah was, but the Magi never returned, having been warned in a dream.

Under  Old Testament  prophesies, God would announce the arrival of the King by the appearance of a star – it’s called “His star”. In Matthew 2:2 the Magi said: “We saw His star in the east.” It may not have been an actual star, comet, meteor or even planets conjoined as some have speculated. More likely it was the Shekinah glory of God announcing the arrival of the Messiah. 

As Matthew reports, when they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  But this star didn’t occur in Bethlehem, and it didn’t occur when Jesus was born but some time afterwards, possibly up to two years later.  Matthew records that the Magi visited the house where Mary was (as opposed to a stable in Bethlehem).  

And they worshipped Him – they bowed down on the ground, recognizing the regal significance of the Messiah and Appointed One from scripture.  That’s their significance even if the song takes poetic license.  They were worshipping the true King.

Their gifts are also interesting. Herod, now paranoid and outwitted by the Magi, orders that all children two and under be killed.  Having been given the precious gold, it is not a stretch to think that this gift alone would have helped Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt until Herod died in 4 B.C.

.What do the Magi mean for Christmas?  Well, they were the ones that accepted Jesus as Messiah where the Jews rejected Him.  That’s where we are today. As John MacArthur notes, there is no middle ground. You either accept Him or reject Him.

So there you have it. A story within a song with a little poetic license, but not much. When you hear the song again this Advent season, you can knowingly nod your head because now you know “the rest of the story”.  

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Historical accuracy is important, but even more important is the message of Advent that Jesus came for you and your mentee.

FURTHER REFEFERENCE:

What the Magi Means to Christmas  Part 1 – MacArthur

What the Magi Means to Christmas Part 2 – MacArthur

Who Were the Magi?  First Fruits of Zion

WORSHIP:  My Soul Magnifies – From Mary in  Luke 1:46

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Atheism and Gen Z

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15

I recently catalogued attributes of Gen Z- a broad spectrum of things that forms the basis for their actions, belief system and habits. One area I didn’t focus on was their spiritual side.  While I have written before that both next generations – millennials and Generation Z – have a spiritual curiosity, they are coming at it from a post-Christian perspective, so it looks a lot different than prior generations.

For millennials, one area of spirituality is the Wicca movement, which is actually witchcraft with a veneer of goodness so it has a better appeal. In 2003, it was the fastest growing religion.  The New York Times proclaimed it as a Return to Paganism and then goes on to say: “Maybe there actually is a future for post-Christian America.”

I certainly pray that is not the case, by the way. Lori Shannon chronicles her journey from Christianity to witchcraft. She was influenced by Bishop John Shelby Spong who claims that Jesus was not the son of God but “was a human who attained such a high level of spiritual transcendence that he became one with God.”

I won’t even bother to take that on from a theological standpoint – it is a liberal theology that is rotting out mainstream denominations across this land. This is false teaching that does so much damage and God has a special place for false leaders.

What brought this to the level of writing a post was a recent Barna report that atheism has doubled among Generation Z born between 1999 and 2015.  It went from 7% for millennials to 14% for Gen Z. 

As Barna notes, they may be drawn to spiritual things, but they have a very different starting place. Attending church, religious affiliation, bible reading, belief in God and prayer have declined for decades.

As I wrote last week, Gen Z have become relativists with no moral absolutes to guide them. Put another way, “anything goes”. As long as they think their actions won’t hurt somebody, they can pretty much do anything they want. Pretty slippery slope when it comes to ethics and moral behavior. 

According to Barna, teens and young adults have difficulty connecting the existence of God with the existence of good, evil and suffering. It is described as a “deal breaker”.   They have a hard time trying to find a compelling argument of the existence of good and evil, on the one hand, and a loving God on the other. 

Of course, the Genesis episode in the garden with Adam and Eve gets lost in this conversation.  Humans from the beginning disobeyed God and have free will. That’s the source of evil, not God.

Barna notes that most members of Gen Z are less turned off by what they may see as hypocrisy but are more likely to say that they had a bad experience with a Christian or going to a church. More than a third (37%) of Gen Z believe it “is not possible to know for sure that God is real.” That’s where you and I come in.

When I think about this trend to atheism, I often think of C.S. Lewis, an atheist, who set out to prove that the Bible was wrong and Christianity is therefore false. He studied the bible, and lo and behold, became a Christian when he realized Jesus was real.  His numerous writings are a chronicle of his journey from atheism to faith.

For a deep dive on Atheism, I suggest listening to a long podcast titled Responding to Atheists Arguments: Why Their Top Claims Don’t Hold Up to Scrutiny with Dr. Frank Turek on Edifi. Another resource is Eric Metaxis recent book titled Is Atheism Dead? which is a tongue in cheek take on the 1966 Time Magazine cover titled Is God Dead?

In a nutshell, Metaxis’ new book takes on the premise of atheists which is that we have a “Creatorless” universe.  He also outlines why atheism is” implausible, unrealistic and intellectually indefensible.”

I won’t attempt to go through an apologetic argument on atheism. Metaxis and Turek have already done that better than I could ever hope to achieve. The fact remains, though, that this trend is not entirely surprising in an environment where kids are being lulled into the idea that socialism is a better model than capitalism.  

Socialism, at its essence, makes our need for God irrelevant. The State is to supply all our needs and wants and is opposed to Judeo-Christian principles.  The progressive indoctrination of our kids in public schools is adding to this spiritual malaise.

As Christians, we are pressed on from all sides by a culture which often is poisonous to our faith. That’s not new.  Romans 1 tells us that.

As we head into the Advent Season, we are reminded that Jesus is the Reason for the Season. We have an opportunity to use this Season to proclaim the hope that we have.   The song, O Come All You Unfaithful, selected below, has wonderful lyrics. The song ends with “Christ is Born for You.”  All I can say is Amen.  

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: You may encounter an atheist mentee and will need to bone up on how to reach them with the Gospel. Your first step is to start a relationship. That’s where it begins.

FURTHER READING:  From Christianity to Witchcraft: A Spiritual Journey – Lori Shannon

Atheism Doubles Among Generation Z – Barna

Responding to Atheists Arguments – Edifi Podcast

Is Atheism Dead – Eric Metaxis

Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case – Frank Turek

WORSHIPO Come All You Unfaithful – SovereignGraceMusic

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Generation Z Attitudes

We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. Psalm 78:4

I find it interesting to delve into attitudeshabits and tendencies of the next generation.  It helps me think about how they differ from my generation other generations that preceded them. 

The data on Gen Z is the latest generation to get researched.  We have loads of data on millennials, but Gen Z is different, or, in their words “we aren’t one of them [millennials].” Yet in some ways, they are similar.

Often, generational attitudes are a function of their perspective. Gen Z  learned about the September 11, 2001 tragedy as part of history, not current events. It also means that they came after Google which was founded in 1998. Until this year, the Afghanistan war was being fought by the military for their entire lives.

They also don’t have any memory of the tragic events of Columbine High School in 1999 where 15 people died from two young perpetrators. That event caused parents to become obsessive about the safety of their school kids. Yet it is now a history lesson. 

They grew up with terrorism, recession and other hardships that follow. Their current events have been all about the pandemic that has impacted their education and early career. This is their history.

As noted frequently, their lives are monopolized by social media apps. Millennials grew up with cellphones; Gen Z grew up with smartphones which were introduced in 2007 by Apple. As a result, they have a portable computer in their hands which they refer to at a rate twice that of other adults per day  (96 times a day).

They are more anxious than prior generations. That attribute was true before Covid hit which has only exacerbated separation and lack of normal social interaction.  Mental illness is a real problem: last year 25% of young people considered suicide according to the CDC. 

The demographics have changed, too. More women are enrolled in college than men by about a 10% margin, and they have higher graduation rates.  Nearly a third of all college students don’t have a degree 6 years later.   The latter is a crisis no one is talking about. 

According to Pew Research, Gen Z may be less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to be enrolled in college than millennials. Their life goals have changed. Millennials placed a high value of emotional maturity as a life goal, but according to Barna, 6 out of 10 teens look up to role models based on their career or financial success.

Unlike prior generations, they grew up in a polarized society, and are, according to Tim Elmore, more likely to be in favor of an activist government. They feel the solution lies with a larger government which is a reason they tend to see socialism favorably.

As the Squid Games show, they can fight boredom by turning to on-demand entertainment, whether it is via Zoom, or a host of other streaming platforms like YouTube or Netflix.  Add to that their ability to receive instant answers via Google on their smartphones. They don’t need to go to the library and wade through books or ask parents; the answer is in their hands.

As Tim Elmore notes, they are largely woke and have views about racism and what equality (or equity) is all about which may cause divisions within their families. They have been bombarded with media that tells them that traditional sexual and gender boundaries are passé. 

They are also the most diverse generation ever.  According the last census, Generation Z is about half white and half minorities. In coming years, that trend will continue, and people of color will become the majority.  

In a post Christian culture, they have grown up without traditional morals to guide them and feel betrayed by leaders. For them, “anything goes” according to Elmore.  They believe that “what’s right is what doesn’t hurt anyone”.  That is a slippery slope because everyone has their own definition of what is right or what might hurt someone else. 

Truth is now relative to Gen Z who say that “evil” is what’s stopping them from believing in Christianity according to Axis. We should take note – this is now a “shame” based culture so the concept of sin is less relevant to them. They have no guilt if they don’t see conduct as a sin.

The solution is for parents and mentors to focus on social and emotional development of this  generation. They are not getting it from their peers or from the screens in their hands that never get put down. That involves connecting with them but not controlling them.

They need help with self-awarenesssocial awareness, in order to develop Emotional Intelligence. They also need help to develop responsible decision making and critical thinkingwhich is not being taught in schools as before. 

This is a lot of information to digest. Gen Z is complex, but spending a little time understanding what makes them tick is important to be able to reach them and mentor them.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  If you are mentoring someone from Gen Z, take time to understand what makes them different from prior generations. It will help you connect and may be the best gift you can give them for Christmas.

FURTHER STUDY:  Women Exceed Men Enrolling in Colleges – But Why?  Georgetown

A Generation of Men Give Up on College – WSJ

Ten Interesting Facts About Gen Z – Elmore

History of September 11 Attacks –History

Ten Defining Terms for Generation Z – Elmore

Understanding Generation Z Culture – Axis

What We Know About Gen Z So Far – Pew Research

Is Gen Z the Most Success-Oriented Generation – Barna

WORSHIP:  Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground) Chris Tomlin

For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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From Top to Bottom

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.  Psalm 103:2 (NKJV)

Ask any of my nine grandchildren in the above picture what this title is about and they will be happy to tell you.  When I pray before a meal, I always say thanks for my family “top to bottom”.  It’s a shorthand way to include both children and grandchildren, and if I omit that phrase, they will all kid me.

This is Thanksgiving week. I would prefer that they reverse those words into Giving Thanks.  That is the essence of what we should be doing, not just one day a year but every day.  We do it at the dinner table when give “give thanks” for the food in front of us and the hands that prepared it.

We (including me) often take for granted the blessings we have in our lives. For Sis and me, we have enjoyed good health and an active life. We see many our age who are unable to do the things we can do which only underscores how blessed we are.

Our family – all 17 of them – continues to amaze us as they grow up.  With 9 grandkids going in 9 different directions, you almost need a spreadsheet to keep up with their activities. Plus, we are keeping one grandson – Teddy on the far right in the picture – with us for his entire school year while he goes to a nearby school in Pinehurst.  Reverting to being a parent again brings back memories of raising our own children.  

Oh, and he makes the same mistakes his parents did, which actually makes me smile a bit.  I recently scolded him for not communicating his schedule clearly, but his two uncles made similar mistakes.  Some things never change.

We give thanks for the lives and gifts that God has bestowed on us and the health He has provided to accomplish them.  Each day is a new day. When people ask how I am doing, my stock tongue in cheek response is that “I am vertical and above ground.”  For that I am grateful. Consider the alternative.

Life throws curve balls from time to time.  How you respond to them says something about you. When you are the one in the crucible, who comes to your aid?  That’s what friends and family are for.  We were not meant to be alone in this world and having deep friendships that have stood the test of time is a blessing. We are so lucky in that regard.

With an active family, things change quickly, and we’ve been able to be flexible to meet those  needs when they occur.  My wife’s brother has Alzheimer’s and we have taken time to fill in for his wife who has been his principal caregiver and needs a break now and then.  Our last trip two weeks ago was interesting. Just when my sister in law was to return home to Atlanta from Charleston, she ended up in the hospital to have her appendix taken out.

“No problem”, Sis said.  “You drive home to take care of Teddy and I’ll fly back when things are stable.” So I did and she returned 4 days later.  That’s what family is for, and that’s what we do for each other. That, in and of itself, is a blessing to be thankful for.

Not every family have happy stories all the time. We have friends with two siblings suffering terminal illnesses which are heartbreaking. Still, we can support and surround them as friends. We can’t fix their problems, but we can offer to be there for them as they go through a difficult time of life. 

This year, all of us are meeting in Washington, DC tomorrow.  We will stay with my youngest son, but my older son only lives 15 minutes away. Both of my boys are  ”foodies”  which means that they enjoy different foods and restaurants.  They are both great cooks, although one of them follows the recipe and the other makes it up as he goes along. 

My one contribution to our time together on Thanksgiving is to cook a standing rib roast on a smoker called a Big Green Egg.  I found a recipe for it about 6 months ago called “Butter Herb Encrusted Prime Rib” which is probably the best thing I have ever cooked in my entire life. If you are looking for something to wow your family, this recipe is it.

As we enter into this Thanksgiving week after a year of Covid and topsy turvy schedule and life-style adjustments, we should look back on the year for those small incidents in life that made us smile.  Something funny perhaps.  Or something that made you laugh when you didn’t think you could. Share those moments with your friends and family.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentees are one of God’s benefits to Mentors. We should pray for them daily.

RIB RECIPE:  Butter Herb Encrusted Prime Rib – Big Green Egg

WORSHIP:  Thank You Jesus for the Blood Applied – Charity Gayle

For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Squid Games

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Philippians 4:8

Something from Asia involving squid made me think of my visits to the Ginza District in Tokyo to eat sushi at one of many small restaurants. One sushi delicacy is Ika,, the Japanese word  for squid.  While it doesn’t have a strong unique taste (outside of the soy sauce and Wasabi, a hot mustard), the Japanese like Ika for its different texture.  It is quite chewy.

But Squid Games is a new show on Netflix.  It is a hot watch – over 111 million views have happened since it was released in the in the last two months alone. One in four Americans have watched. It is the number one show in 90 different countries (it’s number two in Denmark). 

It may become the most watched series ever on Netflix and it has spread by word of mouth and social media. Most reading this have never heard of it, including me.

It is disturbing in some ways and was created by Korean Director Hwang Dong-Hyuk.   It’s primary target demographic is Generation Z.  While Generation Z is a smaller demographic than millennials in America, it is the largest demographic in the rest of the world – in Asia, India and Africa. 

Why is it so popular with Generation Z?  They somehow identify and share the aspirations and feelings. Yet it is violent.  The plot is not all that hard to understand. The protagonist is a gambler down on his luck who is recruited to join a mystery game as a way to solve his gambling debts.  

He arrives at a secret venue and becomes the 456th contestant, all of whom are in dire straits, but all of them wishing to win a cash prize of $38.7 million.  In order to win the money, they have to go through 6 games – simple familiar childhood games like Red Light/Green Light. – without being eliminated.

One game is the Squid Game, a Korean variation of tag.  But this is where the series gets morbid:  the contestants soon learn that being “eliminated” means being killed. It causes a visceral experience in the audience and has been called “addictive”.  As one writer noted, people watch this black comedy because everyone is talking about it, so they don’t want to miss out. 

But miss out they should. Yet this show is everywhere.  It’s has gone viral on TikTok where the hashtag #squidgame had over 11 billion views recently. 

Tim Elmore breaks down the show’s popularity with Generation Z.  According to the Director, there are four categories of characters in the show:

  • A population of society’s elites
  • A population of blue-collar workers
  • A population of undocumented immigrant workers
  • A population of elderly people who are victims of poverty.

To many in Generation Z, this is what they see in society today, having been bombarded in social media by issues of equalitysocial justicegender and LGBTQ issues.  Gen Z have been exposed at an early age to adult content, so it takes more “wow” to attract them according to Tim Elmore The series is not for those with a “weak stomach” because it is “gory, graphic and disturbing”.  “Squid Game is just the most recent iteration of ‘wow’.”

One of the primary reasons I write this blog is to call attention to trends in the next generation – some of which are under the radar.   If you mentor them, you need to understand what is in their head (or not), as well as what content they are ingesting.

Members of Gen Z feel like victims in this world, and that is what this show is all about. The basic theme is a life and death struggle to survive and achieve wealth. As Elmore notes, “millions of members of Gen Z feel like they are victims in the world they live, [..] financially, socially and politically.”

One attribute of the Gen Z population is that they “binge easily, and this show is quite addictive.”  There are plenty of addictions to go around and many affect the next generation. The digital world has brought the ability to have access to shows like this on demand. 

I have so many questions about this series, one of which is how it got so popular under the radar of older generations.  “How can this series be emotionally healthy?” is a question posed by Elmore.

While I have written about the confusion of equality and equitywe need to understand the next generation’s passion for injustice and equality.  It exists, and the role of a mentor is to channel it in a positive direction.

Two last thoughts.  Millennials endured an extended recession and poor job prospects in 2008.  When they were just getting on their feet, the pandemic hit and turned things on their head again.

Millennials are victims of circumstances. While the Gen Z population who didn’t go through those travails, they see themselves as victims of a messy world.  

We, as parents, friends and mentors, need to reach out and help them “escape” the victim mindset through support and challenge them to be the best they can be. They need positive images, role models and encouragement.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: You can assume your Gen Z mentee watches the latest craze on social media and you need to educate yourself about the inherent dangers to their outlook on life.

FURTHER READING:  The Deadly ‘Red Light, Green Light’ game has become a Viral TikTok Meme –  Insider

Squid Game is Most Disturbing Show I’ve Watched: How is it so Popular?  Daily Beast

What We Learn About Generation Z from the Top Netflix Show: Squid Game – Tim Elmore

WORSHIP: Break Every Chain – Jesus Culture

For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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Treasure Hunt

To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given.  Luke 19:26

Dealing with “stuff” – your wealth – is a difficult lesson.  The topic of money and possessions is the most frequent topic in the Bible.  It’s all in there, but we often don’t pay close attention.

Sadly, the prosperity gospel has twisted those principles.  Their message is that you give more to get more, which is suggested in the above passage. It is a distortion, but sadly is widely believed.  Close to half of Christians in America believe it, as do some 96% of Christians in Nigeria and 82% in India. It is a false gospel, and those who teach it are false leaders.

It is such a big problem, that MentorLink was asked by its international leaders to address false leaders in its materials, the prosperity gospel being one of several false doctrines.

Return to the principle above:  We should be less quick to possess and more willing to give.  I learned that lesson early in my walk with the Lord.  I read Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle many years ago. It still shapes my thinking today.

Randy lays out several principles on stewardship: 

  • God owns everything. It is my job to manage it.
  • My heart follows where I put God’s money.
  • My home is in heaven, not earth.
  • I should live for the “-“ [dash] not for the “.” [dot]. The dash represents eternity, and the dot represents my life here on earth.
  • The antidote for materialism is giving more.
  • God’s prosperity in my life is not to raise my standard of living but to raise my standard of giving.

Where most people fail in observing these principles is on the first one:  we fail to admit that our assets, resources, gifts and talents are not ours to possess. We hold them too tightly in our hands and we spend a lot of effort to acquire and build bigger barns than we need.

The last two years has been instructive – both for me and for many of my friends.  I learned how Covid impacted the world in ways that were not easy to see. Most news about the Pandemic was about the numbers of those getting ill, hospitalized or deaths.

In the developing world, however, most cultures are cash cultures.  Credit cards or checks are not widespread.  If a church doesn’t meet, the offerings cease. That means pastors don’t get paid.  I discovered pastors in the developing world had no food and were starving – literally. Most countries don’t have safety nets for them.

It started with my friend Sam Sunder Singh who runs New Life Community College in Chennai, India. I sent him a small gift for his ministry. His responded by asking if he could share it with 12 pastors and their families that had no food.  1,000 rupees would buy two weeks of food for a pastor and his family – often an intergenerational family.  That’s only $13. The picture above shows Sam distributing food to a pastor.

He had some left over and wanted to know if he could give some to his students who likewise had no food to eat.  I said of course, but it struck me that my small gift was being multiplied and that Sam was really the one with the generous heart. He could have kept it, but he gave sacrificially to others in greater need.

I asked around through the MLI network and found other pastors in sub-Saharan Africa and the Philippines were also suffering a lack of food. The needs were beyond my ability to solve on my own, but I have a lot of friends who were quick to jump in and help. 

In a short time, checks started appearing in my mailbox. The gifts are not tax deductible, although I am working on that. I had to figure out the logistics of transferring money abroad in a safe and inexpensive way.  I tried various platforms, and finally got to one that was easy to use and didn’t charge big fees. 

I have raised over $30,000 for these humanitarian needs – partly from the MentorLink family and part from a long standing men’s bible study started by Danny Lotz 40 years ago. Danny was Billy Graham’s son-in-law.  

Because our Friday bible study went to Zoom for months, I suggested that many of my international friends join in the Bible study which meets every Friday morning at 7 am. For the Internationals, depending on where they are, that meant noon in West Africa, 3 pm in East Africa and 4 pm in India. 

The result is that my friends have been embraced as our international brothers and vice versa.  Had we not gone to Zoom during a pandemic, it wouldn’t have happened. 

There are many takeaways from this, but the principle of generosity comes to mind – not just by my many friends, but by and through the pastors in the MLI network who have been the hands and feet in distributing our gifts to those most in need. Some of their reports brings tears to my eyes – pictures of them giving food to the really needy in their region.  

Getting back to the Treasure Principle – I keep learning that it’s not mine to keep but mine to give away, and my friends have realized that, too. These are principles that need to be taught to the next generation who all too often are too self-centered in their own little cosmos.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Being a living example of generosity to others is important for a mentor to communicate to a mentee.  

FURTHER READING: 

The Dangers of the Prosperity Gospel – Clyde Chan

False Leaders – MentorLink

The Treasure Principle – An Excerpt

WORSHIP:  I Don’t Have Much – Taylor Leonhardt (a friend of mine).

For more information about MentorLink, go to www.mentorlink.org.

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