This week we picked back up our series, Generations. Having covered Generation Z and the Millennials, this week we turned our attention to Generation X. If members of Gen X have gotten things right before this season of their life, they are following Jesus faithfully and growing intentionally in their relationship with Him. But what’s next? That’s what we’ll be talking about here. If you are a member of Generation X (or even if you’re not) read on to find out what you need to be doing to get your relationship with Jesus right.
Putting Yourself Out There
So, the boys decided that they want to run cross country next fall. They’ve done Running Club and participated in Albemarle’s Mini Medley for the last couple of years, but this will be full-on cross country. It’ll actually be the first official sports team the STEM School is going to field which I think will be a great thing for the school. In any event, we didn’t want them to start running cross country completely cold in the fall, so we encouraged them to start running this summer. Simply sending them to go run wasn’t going to work, though. So, I committed to going with them any morning they wanted to run. I’m trying to think of the last time in my life I did any meaningful running. It’s been a couple of years…or decades…something of which my body has been all too happy to remind me over the last couple of weeks. Running like this is fun…if you’re just a bit deranged…but even more than that, it is an investment. Our bodies are a gift from God, and this is one way we can invest in them wisely. I’ll let you know when I can walk without wincing again.
The bigger truth here is that we have all kinds of different gifts. And while some of them are sitting right there on the surface of our lives so that we fairly well just have to pick them up to start getting some kind of benefit out of them, there are many more that require us to do a bit of digging to get down to the real heart of what is possible with them. This means doing a bit of investing. Just like getting the most out of our financial resources requires us to do a bit of work with them including putting them out there where there’s at least a possibility of experiencing some amount of loss, getting the most out of our lives requires us to invest in ourselves and to invest ourselves in seeing this potential brought into reality. This is no small task—believe me, my body is letting me know this rather loudly lately—but the results can be pretty profoundly good.
This morning finds us in the third part of our current teaching series, Generations. The whole idea for this journey has been that each different generation is just that: different. While there are some traits and trends that are universally common because people have always been people no matter when and where their lives have unfolded, there are groups of people born around some central point who share some generally similar characteristics with one another that distinguish them from groups of people born around some other central point. Because we have whole groups of people who are similar to one another and at least somewhat different from the large groups who were born before or after them, how we talk about the faith and being an effective, consistent follower of Jesus isn’t going to be the same all the time. What followers of Jesus in one generation need to hear in their efforts to pursue a relationship with Him isn’t necessarily the same thing followers of Jesus in another generation need to hear.
With this in mind, we opened this series by talking directly to Generation Z, the Generation currently beginning to make their transition into adulthood. More than anything else, what members of Generation Z need to hear in their efforts to make their relationship with Jesus all it could be is that they need to choose very carefully who they will follow. In a world awash in options when it comes to who you will spend your life following and trying to imitate, getting that right is of vital importance. Specifically, when it comes to Jesus, He’s not interested in our being merely interested. He wants us to follow Him and He’s pretty exclusive about it. Jesus doesn’t want you to like Him; He wants you to follow Him. Once that following piece is in place, though, you can’t quit there as tempting as that may be. This is why a couple of weeks ago, when we turned our attention to the Millennial Generation, we talked about the importance of growing. Millennials are starting to reach that point in life where they are more and more interested in putting down deep roots that will hold them in place through the storms they know are coming as life unfolds in the years ahead of them. If that root is going to mean anything, though, it has to do more than hold them in the ground. It has to be a root planted in the rich, fertile soil of the Gospel so they can grow more fully into who God made them to be in Christ. Growth isn’t an option for living things.
This morning we are taking the next step back up the generational ladder. We’ve talked through Z and Y. Any guesses on who’s next? Generation X. Sometimes called Busters, Generation X, broadly speaking is composed of folks who were born between 1965 and 1980. This means the youngest Gen Xers are still getting kids through school. The oldest of them have retirement as a quickly growing light on the horizon. And, as always, for folks born at the outer extremes of a set of generational limits, they might tend to identify more with the generation before or after.
On the whole, though, members of Generation X grew up through the 1970s and 1980s as the children of Boomer parents. Boomers were the generation most known for working hard. They actually coined the term “workaholic.” This meant that Generation X kids were often on their own at home to fend for themselves after school. They were often known as “Latchkey Kids.” This tended to make them very independent. They not only want to do a whole lot of things for themselves without having to rely on anyone else, but they can do it. Because they were in the middle of their most formative years before the heart of the technological revolution hit, they aren’t tech-dependent the way Millennials and Gen Zers are, but being young enough to still learn the ropes as it came along, they are nonetheless still fairly tech-savvy. One more thing about Generation X worth understanding is that they have tended to be the group that has the best work-rest balance. They saw their parents overwork and don’t want to fall to that extreme. They will work hard when it’s time to work, but when it’s time to rest, they’ll turn work off and play just as hard.
All of this has combined to make Generation X one of our more stable generations. They aren’t fancy. They aren’t flashy. They don’t live for recognition or celebration. They want to be left alone so they can work, play, and do their lives the way they want. They are rich with gifts, but sometimes, amid all of these other characteristics, those gifts go somewhat undeveloped. The potential is there for great things, but without a little bit of work, the full extent of that potential may not be reached. This is why I am convinced the one thing Generation X needs to do if they are going to get their relationship with Jesus right in their current season of life is to invest.
Yet before you go thinking this is going to be yet another financially-focused message from me, let me clarify. While financial concerns are not going to be totally absent from what we talk about this morning, I have a different kind of investing in mind. It is an entirely larger kind of investing. In order to help you see what I mean, let me take you to one of Jesus’ more widely known parables. It’s called the parable of the talents, and you can find it in Matthew 25. Matthew 25 comes right on the heels of Matthew 24 (because, math) which is focused on apocalyptic matters. He starts out talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Rome. We know from history that His prophecy here is remarkably specific. At some point along the monologue, though, Jesus shifts gears to look even further forward than that to the end of the world itself. The whole thing is focused on putting the disciples in a frame of mind to think about the coming kingdom of God and what they needed to do in light of that.
As Jesus moves into what we know as chapter 25, He tells the disciples three parables all given with the contents of chapter 24 in mind. The first, the parable of the ten virgins, is about being ready for the kingdom when it comes. The third, the parable of the sheep and the goats, gives an inside look at the coming great sorting and what will be its basis. (Spoiler alert: the folks who get sorted into the good group with the sheep are the ones who didn’t merely claim faith without doing anything meaningful to back up such a claim, but those who committed their lives to living out its implications.) In between these two bookends is the parable of the talents, a story about some servants who are given gifts from their master and what they do with them. If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy, find your way to Matthew 25:14 and take a look at this with me.
“For it [that is, the coming kingdom of God] is just like a man about to go on a journey. He called his own servants and entrusted his possessions to them.” In a day before there were banks or secure storage facilities, much less houses with locks and security systems, if you went somewhere for a long time, the odds that all of your stuff was still going to be where you left it when you got back were pretty low. If you were going out of town for a long time, while you were probably going to take as much of your stuff as you could reasonably afford to carry, some of it was going to be left behind. The wealthier you were—that is, the more stuff you had—the more you were inevitably going to leave behind. This guy was apparently pretty wealthy because he left quite a lot behind. Rather than leaving it where anyone could get it and take it from him, though, he left it with three trusted servants.
“To one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent, depending on each one’s ability. Then he went on a journey.” Now, a great deal has been written and said about what this means. People have looked for all kinds of different meanings behind it. Is Jesus saying that God gives more spiritual gifts to some people than others because they are meant for bigger and better things? Is there some kind of an ordering of the servants of God? Are some people really worth more to the kingdom than other people? But if you’re just paying attention to what Jesus says here, and not reading into whatever cultural nonsense is floating around in your head alongside the Gospel, Jesus doesn’t say anything like that. Apparently this guy knew what the capacities of each servant were, and so he entrusted to them amounts that corresponded properly to what they could handle. This doesn’t imply any kind of judgment of the servants at all. Jesus certainly doesn’t give us a clue as to whether one was better than another or not. What He does tell us, though, is what they all do with what they have been given.
“Immediately the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. In the same way the man with two earned two more. But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.” Three servants, two approaches. Two of these guys invested in the gifts they had been given and saw a return on their investment. A third literally buried it, and as a surprise to exactly no one, finished with the same amount he had at the beginning.
While we perhaps would like to think of ourselves like the first two servants, I suspect we fall in the direction of this third servant more often than we’d be comfortable admitting out loud. And it doesn’t take a whole lot of thinking to understand what makes this third approach so attractive. I mean, sure, in the context of this story, it’s clearly being set up as the worst of the two approaches taken by the servants, but when it comes to real life, that’s another matter. Investing naturally brings with it a certain amount of risk and the possibility of loss. You might not wind up with what you had at the beginning. It could be more, sure, but it could also be less. A lot less. Maybe you have invested and lost big before. And I’m not only speaking financially here. Maybe you put yourself out there and tried to develop some gift you had and your efforts failed spectacularly. Failure tends to be a teacher just as much as success is, but its lessons aren’t as much fun to learn. We learn to be more cautious. We learn to hold something in reserve. We learn to hedge our bets and to not put all our eggs in one basket. These approaches can certainly decrease our likelihood of experiencing some kind of dramatic loss, but they have the same effect on the odds of our experiencing any kind of meaningful gain.
And if we were just talking about our own stuff, while we certainly don’t want to miss out on realizing gains, taking a more cautious versus a more aggressive posture is our call to make. No one is going to come along and legitimately criticize our decisions. This was not, however, the position of these servants. They weren’t playing with their own stuff. They had been entrusted with their master’s stuff. Mishandling it would leave them having to answer to him. And that moment did indeed come. Verse 19 now: “After a long time the master of these servants came and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I’ve earned five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’ The man with the two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I’ve earned two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy.’” So far, so good, right? These guys both took appropriate risks with their master’s resources and doubled them up. They took the gifts they had been given, invested in them, and made them greater and stronger by their efforts.
Then came the third servant’s turn. After seeing what these other two guys had done with the master’s resources and his response to him, you can almost hear him gulping as he walks into the limelight. “The man who had received one talent also approached and” started making excuses. Okay, the text doesn’t actually say that, but it’s what he did all the same. “The man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a harsh man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.” With servants like these, who needs enemies, right? “Master, I knew you were a greedy, money-grubbing jerk, so I played it safe and managed to not lose any of what you gave me. Here you go.”
And, of course, the master said, “Well, I don’t much like your attitude, but at least you didn’t lose anything.” Yes? Nope. “His master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy servant! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and I would have received my money back with interest when I returned. So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. And throw this good-for-nothing servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Yikes, right!?! I mean, sure, the guy was kind of a judgmental jerk. And he was at least a little bit lazy. But this seems rather overblown, doesn’t it? But put yourself in the master’s sandals for a minute. This “good-for-nothing servant” completely wasted your investment in him. I mean, yes, you got back your original seed money, but that was it. You were expecting at least some kind of a return on your investment. Instead you got insulted and given the original amount back untouched. You’d be mad as a hornet if that was you. Imagine sitting down with your financial planner and his saying to you, “Listen, I know that you’re kind of a hard guy to please, and that if I had lost even a little bit of your money, you weren’t going to be happy. So, what I’ve done is to not invest it at all. It was tough, but I managed it. You’ve still got your nest egg totally intact.” You’d fire him. You might sue him. Or, change up the situation one more time. Let’s say you worked really hard to pick out a special gift for your significant other. And yet, six months after giving it to him, you find it tucked away in the back of the closet, still in the box. How are you feeling? My guess is that hurt and angry doesn’t begin to cover it. You’d be furious. So was this master.
Well, make the interpretive leap with me. We can’t do anything like a one-to-one correspondence here, but like we’ve talked about before, everything in this world really belongs to God. All of it. Including you. Including “your” stuff. Including your personality and talents and other resources. He’s the right and sovereign king over everything there is. If there is a thing—and let’s go ahead and include intangible ideas and unrealized gains in that definition—that thing came from and belongs to God. If you have charge of anything that is rightly and primarily to be understood as God’s, that thing is a gift of grace. And, since everything is God’s, anything you have is really His and should be understood to be a gift of grace. These gifts, however, aren’t given without purpose. They are given to be maximized. They are investments in you to see what kind of return you can create for them. If you are going to be faithful with what you’ve been given, you need to invest it; you need to invest in it. God has given you resources; invest them well.
If you are a part of Generation X, you have spent the last several years riding high at your peak earning season of life. And, yes, I mean that financially, but that’s not all I mean. You are in a season of life when you’ve had the time to develop the skills and talents you’ve been given by God. You have enough years behind you that you’ve had the chance to gain some real wisdom you could put to use maximizing your potential in this world. You may not be quite an expert who should be pouring into the generations after you, but you’re definitely at the top of your game in a lot of different parts of life. If you will invest in the gifts that you have, the potential for incredible gains is pretty profound. God has given you resources; invest them well.
Okay, but what does this actually look like in practice? At the most basic level, it looks like seeking to intentionally advance God’s kingdom using the resources He’s made available to us. Let’s get a bit more specific than that, though. If we are going to use the resources God has given us to advance His kingdom, that is not often going to come in ways that are easy or convenient. Our enemy will make sure of it. It will come at a cost. All investing does. You go without now so you can have more later. What this means personally is that we are going to have to learn to live our lives sacrificially. God has given you resources; invest them well.
So then, if you are part of Generation X (and even if you’re not, this is still a worthwhile exercise) ask yourself the hard question: How can I be more intentionally sacrificial in my use of the resources God has entrusted to me? If you want to break things down here, think about it in terms of investing in your time, talents, and treasures. You live sacrificially with your treasure by giving generously to advance kingdom causes. For some of you, I suspect you are in a place where you can take some more sacrificial steps in this direction—which are always scary to take—and still have more than enough left to meet your needs. Invest well because there is a kingdom to advance. God has given you resources; invest them well.
When it comes to your time and talents, living sacrificially looks like finding ways to be intentional about using those less and less for your own sake and more and more for the sake of the people around you both inside the church and out. It means serving in the places God has called you. Honestly, right now, He’s calling some of you to get more involved in serving with our kids program which is the fastest growing part of our ministry right now. If you aren’t already involved there, it’s time to invest more. Given that many of you still have kids who are at home, it may look like investing more in your kids’ school, being a Gospel presence in a place where a Gospel presence is more and more needed these days. And, if you don’t have kids in school, it looks like investing more of yourself in our local school. Time is a precious resource. Invest it well and the returns just may shock you. God has given you resources; invest them well.
And think about all of the different talents you have. These may be hobbies you’ve nurtured over time; skills you’ve developed at work over the years; unique interests you’ve made something more than just a passing fancy; and so on and so forth. How can you use those to advance the kingdom? This is a great opportunity to be creative. It may be that God’s calling you to start something new, but it may also be that there is a ministry (in this church or beyond) that is in need of your talents. Investing those and investing in those could change someone’s world if you’re willing. God has given you resources; invest them well.
The truth here is that the possibilities are as endless as God’s resources are. Generation X, your kingdom impacting potential is simply beyond measure. You’ve only got to invest in it. If you are from another generation, your kingdom potential is great as well. Begin investing in it. There is a kingdom to advance and a world to change. God has given you resources; invest them well.