As we get ready to send off our senior class at Wheaton Academy this year, I was reminded in reading this article how much hope they have for what God will invite them to do in the future and how that hope resides so deeply in me as I see them have faith that is real and authentic...it causes me to love being a sender of students into our church and culture and world...and only God knows the great things He will be up to in and thru them...
Earlier this month I spent a weekend in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Mount Zion Baptist Church, which is led by my friend Bishop Joseph Walker, III.
Bishop Walker had invited me to preach to his congregation on a day devoted to honoring those who were graduating from one level of education to another.
Early in a two-hour (plus) service, the graduates paraded, single-file, to the front of the sanctuary to be acknowledged by the audience, to receive a gift, and to pose for individual photos with the Bishop. I'm guessing at the number of people in that parade, but I'll bet it was well north of 200.
First, came beautiful children who were transitionng from kindergarten to first grade. They were followed by handsome teen-agers who graduate this month from high school. After them: a dignified line of college graduates and those who have just received master's and Ph.D. degrees.
As each—from the smallest to the oldest—was introduced by name, a word was said about what they intended to do with their lives.
The five and six years olds: "This is James H. Brown, and he wants to be a police officer . . . this is Leticia T. Clark, and she wants to be a surgeon." On and on it went. This child wanted to be a pilot; this one wanted to be a film-maker; this one wanted to be an Olympic track star. There were future basketball players, barbers, astronauts, and firefighters. Some indicated a desire to be actors, teachers, or musicians. There was even a wanna-be preacher or two. Every child had dreams of doing something. No small thinking at among them.
Each high schooler was introduced by name and by the college or university they would attend in the fall. They were all headed somewhere up the educational ladder. One girl was headed for Princeton; others were on their way to University of Tennessee, Spellman, Morehouse, and Georgetown.
And the college grads? More than a few of them were pointed toward graduate school with the intention of tackling medicine, theology, law, biology, or music. You had the feeling that each of them was going to do something very, very good in the coming years.
As each child, youth, and young adult stepped to the bishop's side for his or her picture, the audience (extended families, friends, and even me) cheered, and whistled, and applauded. You would have thought that these young people were superstar athletes being celebrated by a sellout crowd at the Tennessee Titan stadium just a few miles away.
To me the whole affair was like a great church party. And I found myself as enthusiastic as anyone even though I had never met anyone in the parade. Why?
The answer, I suddenly realized, was that I felt a rush of simple, unadulterated hope. In these young men and women, I saw possibilities for tomorrow. I had visions of them carrying the love of Jesus into airplane cockpits, classrooms, biology labs, and operating theaters. And the visions made me glad.
You get this kind of a celebration in a church where older men and women make the development of the younger generation their highest priority, where those of us who have been around the block a few times engage with younger people in order to teach them, tell them our stories, and affirm them as they listen for God's voice.
You get a lot of hope boiling to the surface when the generations connect with each other as they appear to do at Mt. Zion.
The last six months haven't been that hopeful for a lot of us. We have come to dread the morning news because so little of it has been good. We've watched economies tank, suicide bombers create havoc, leaders crash in scandal, and tornadoes and floods destroy ways of life. .It's been like living in the tabloids
But the weekend at Mt. Zion altered my mood. It provoked some fresh thinking. Chief among my thoughts was an upgraded commitment to do whatever I can as a spiritual father to encourage younger people to aspire to the greatest heights God has intended for them.
There once was a man named Zechariah. In his aging years he and his wife birthed a son named John. Of this child, Zechariah sang these words: "And you, my child, will be a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him … "
And John did. But only because an old guy, his father, started pouring hope into him when he was still fresh from the womb.
And that's what they were doing at Mt. Zion last week: pouring hope into young people. Why not the same in every church?
Gordon MacDonald is editor at large of Leadership.