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A Gallup poll released in July of 2022 1 shows that Americans’ faith in God has hit another all-time low. While the poll showed that there was a 6 percent drop from 2017 polls, the lowest percentage should be an awakening for our country. The largest drop occurred in the age groups between 18 and 29. Our media lists the principal cause as the anxiety coming from coronavirus lockdowns. But is it that simple? While other studies show that lockdowns destroy seven times more lives than they save, it is worth the time to look at our country’s handling of young citizens in the “Gap Years.” The “Gap Years” are those when children leave the protective enclave of their family, even their church, and venture out into a world that is ready to consume them. Let’s look at a few current facts 2 3:

  • About 24 percent of people over 12 report binge drinking in the past month.
  • About 55 percent of 12th graders reported drinking alcohol in the past year.
  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.5 million people had an alcohol use disorder in 2019.
  • Drunk driving rates: More than 10,000 people die in drunk-driving crashes yearly.
  • Alcohol-related fatalities: Excessive alcohol use is the cause of about 95,000 deaths per year in the United States.
  • Prescription opioid drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin) have a high potential for misuse and addiction.
  • In 2019, more than 10 million people in the U.S reported misusing prescription opioids.
  • Nearly two million were under the age of 26.
  • Opioid overdose rates: About 130 people in the U.S. die each day due to fatal opioid overdose. From 1999 to 2019, nearly 500,000 Americans died due to opioid overdose.
  • Heroin use disorder rates: About 50,000 Americans tried using heroin for the first time in 2019. About 745,000 people used heroin in 2019, and an estimated 438,000 had a heroin use disorder.
  • Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid drug that is sometimes prescribed for pain. It is also illegally manufactured in forms that are sold on the street, sometimes mixed with other drugs. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl (mostly illicit forms smuggled through the southern US border) are involved in about 70 percent of drug overdose deaths each year. From May 2020 through April 2021, more than 100,000 people died from fentanyl overdoses.

The above statistics are but a minor portion of the world youth see daily. Daily news rounds out the insanity! No wonder they question God, even life itself. One question that must be asked is how have we prepared our youth for our world? Have you paid attention lately? Catholic Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester is quoted as saying, churches have stopped “challenging” young people. He blames the church for becoming too user-friendly. Our society has managed to confuse the young about their gender and sent them into the world lacking basic skills like communication, math, history and sciences. Adults have legalized drugs, worked to provide unfettered access to abortion, removed the consequences of crime, and placed the entire focus of the rest of their life on “THEMSELVES.” Fast cars, a fast life. Why not live that way if you don’t believe there is anything else worth living for!

Our trade schools, universities, and entry-level employers then take over while they are still in the “Gap Years.” Covid has put the focus on remote learning, and social media. Then here comes the Metaverse. The Metaverse is furthering the movement of life into abstract technology by making one’s life nothing more than an avatar. An avatar is a digital representation of yourself. Not concerned yet? Here is what youth are being taught:

“The Metaverse (their future) will come with many benefits, including an increased sense of control over their environment and unlimited potential for creativity. Making a living in the Metaverse will become a reality and you need to know more about the Metaverse if you want to find a job or build a career in this alternate reality! Computers are learning to do what we have already learned to do. For many years now, we have spent our days consuming the data gathered because of our existence. All those digitized images and videos and words, all those facial expressions and micro-expressions, those poses and posturing, those intonations of voice, those opinions and beliefs and emotions, those behaviors, those effects. Out of that vast, ever-evolving online databank of human specifications, a pattern emerges — a pattern that suits us, that represents the self we desire to present to others. We will cobble together a simulation of a person that we present as the person who we are. We become deep fakes that pass, in the media world that has become the world, for real people. The child will no longer be a father to humankind. The data will be the father to the human.” (This is a composite statement taken from several Internet sites promoting the future of the Metaverse)

It is time we snapped back to the reality of life here on earth for a moment. You remember, the earth that God created, the earth that Satan would like to control. Satan is having a field day! We fight with each other over the very survival of humanity. Will we depend on a digital image of ourselves, rather than the God-given blessings of our own human life? It is no wonder there are not enough people to fill the jobs in our country. Where is the hope? The Apostle John had an opinion thousands of years ago that is most appropriate for this topic today.

(2 John 1:12) 4 – “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”

Those 18 to 29 years old have just completed the foundations of public education. The purpose of public education was to prepare them for life ahead. In the years to follow, they will move on to preparing themselves for life. To gain a skill, to establish ethics, adapt a moral behavior, master how to adapt to changing technology and opportunities, to find wholesome work. Humans were created to live together, work together, and love one another. Against any notion that heaven is good while the earth is bad, Genesis declares on each day of the earth’s creation that “God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). On the sixth day, with the creation of humanity, God saw that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

God had created man and woman to work together, making the very nature of work relational. Work only became toil because of the fall of humanity, not less, because more work is required now to yield the necessary results including any sense of satisfaction. Relationships are not incidental to work. They are essential! Work serves as a place of deep and meaningful relationships but under the proper conditions. Jesus described our relationship with Himself as a kind of work, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29). A yoke is what makes it possible for two oxen to work together. In Christ, people may truly work together as God intended when He made Eve and Adam co-workers. The goal, therefore, must be to assure that education prepares our youth for a life of “good work.” Good work will then provide satisfaction in life. To be prepared for God’s work, humans will need four attributes (skills of sorts):

  1. Humans need to believe there is a God! Lose God and you have not only lost eternity, but you have lost life itself. God does not exist in the Metaverse. God created the UNIVERSE! The need to work is an intrinsic part of the human spirit placed there by God. Work is not easy, but work can be challenging for the human spirit to find joy. 
  2. There is ample evidence that our world and all its natural laws were created by God. No one needs a computer to walk about the earth and see God’s handiwork. Hold a newborn in your arms and you will always know there is a God. Watch a seed grow into a beautiful flower or close out your day with a sunset in the mountains. What Natural Laws require, however, is deciphering. Learning new skills, the crafts of science and the ability to observe without bias is essential to understanding the Natural Laws of God’s world.
  3. Common sense is also necessary for understanding God’s Natural Laws and then discovering a path to God. Common sense is taught best by understanding that with every action (cause) there is a reaction (effect). History is filled with examples. There is no such thing as discovery without common sense. Let’s stop teaching our youth uncommon sense ideas! Consequences and accountability help build common sense.
  4. Finally, there is the necessity for humanity to seek God’s knowledge and revelation through His gift of the Spirit. We have a living God, a living Savior, and the living Spirit, ready, willing, and able to help us with our journey through this world. To see our citizens give up on God should bring tears to us all!

To abandon God is to abandon one’s future to a broken and finite world. To abandon face-to-face relational learning for online courses, for a metaverse, is also inconsistent with how God created humanity’s need to work together. No one can predict how our world will change. Change, however, it will. The creativity of humans must assure that what a child is taught today, will keep up with the changes in this world for tomorrow. To leave them without the skills to work productively and to work as a team with others is to abandon them to the destructive nature of the world we live in. To fail to pass on God is to end any hope and joy in life. Change, however, does not hold true for God. God is the never-changing creator of a magnificent universe where humans were meant to flourish together. Don’t let this secular world get you sidetracked. We need to close the “Gap Years” and fill them with God’s Truth and the understanding that God’s work is “good work.” God’s work requires us to know each other, hug each other, cry with each other, and live together in peace.

(1 Corinthians 13:12) – “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

The Apostle Paul is describing our knowledge of God and His ways as incomplete. Paul wrote in Romans 11:33–34, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” Paul is describing our world as one with only partial knowledge of God as if we are seeing a reflection in a dim mirror. After the coming of Christ, when the church is fully mature as God is, we will see God face to face, knowing Him in person. Then and only then will the gap our youth face be fully closed forever!

Contemplations

  • What programs does your congregation have for youth in the “Gap Years?”
    • Ideas to Explore: Are there faith-building programs for all age groups? What skills do you think youth will need in the future that might be missing? Are youth given opportunities for service work?
  • How have our secular educational systems, both high school and gap years failed?
    • Ideas to Explore: First, do you think there have been failures? What is the impact of isolation and remote learning on young people? What is causing the loss of a belief in God? Why are young people despondent about the real future and seeking an alternative like the metaverse?
  • Life seems to be losing its value in our world today. What do we use to determine whether a life has value?
    • Ideas to Explore: It is one’s income? How about one’s appearance? It is popularity, or the car they drive. Maybe it is the number of trophies they win? Is someone with a handicap lost to this world forever?
  • For youth in the gap years, is there expectation that God should be fun?
    • Ideas to Explore: What are the expectations of someone 18 to 29 years old? Have you asked them? Are their expectations reasonable? Are the adults you know setting the proper examples with regard to work, God, and life?
  • To give up on God is to give up hope for joy. How would you address the hope of 18- to 29-year-old?
    • Ideas to Explore: How would you educate them differently? How would you keep them a productive part of society? How would you pass on to them the gift of faith?
  • Where have families, churches and educational institutions failed our youth?
    • Ideas to Explore: Have they failed? If they have not, why would someone ever give up on God? Who is best positioned to make a lasting impact in the Gap Years?
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