On May 18, 1980, Mount Saint Helens erupted in the state of Washington. I know because I lived in Oregon, 75 miles south of the volcano, and I shoveled gray ash like hot snow out of our yard.
Everyone knew the explosion was coming, but the eruption still killed dozens of people including a man named Harry Truman (not the president).
Truman didn’t have to die. He had every opportunity to survive. But he refused to believe the experts who said the volcano was dangerous. He refused to obey the governor who ordered him to evacuate. He loved the limelight—local news outlets made him a hero for sticking it to the man. But when he was 83 years old, Mount Saint Helens had the last word. A deadly column of flaming gas consumed his property—and him.
They say Harry Truman was part of the greatest generation.
Graduates, you’re part of Generation Z. In just a few years, there will be more of you than any other generation—a whopping 82 million. And you’ve faced unique struggles. The country is a mess—politically, socially, economically—and racially polarized. Your generation also bore the brunt of the pandemic with its forced isolation. No wonder Gen Z is afflicted with soaring rates of anxiety and depression.
Here’s the good news: your generation isn’t worse or better than any other. Think back to Harry Truman. He may have been part of the “greatest generation,” but he still lived for himself, blinded by his own pride. After all, people are people in each generation. Think about Ecclesiastes 1:9: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
To avoid repeating the mistakes of the foolish in every generation, here are five life lessons I believe will produce fruit in your life.
1. Remember Death
People don’t like to think about death—especially when life looks more like a starting line than a finish line. We don’t like to post about death. Mentioning it is a great way to kill a conversation.
Nonetheless, no matter how fast you try to run from it, death haunts every one of us. Pastor and author Matt McCullough says each of us lives in death’s shadow:
It shows up in our insecurities about who we are and why we matter. It shows up in our dissatisfaction with the things we believe should make us happy. And it shows up in our pain over the loss of every good thing that doesn’t last long enough.
Death is natural, but it’s not good. It’s proof this world isn’t what it should be.
No matter how fast you try to run from death, it haunts every one of us.
Even as you’re near the start of your life, the end of your life will come. Awareness of death sharpens the mind. It helps you focus on what’s most important. It humbles you—you’re not God; you’re mortal. To dust you will return.
How, then, can you remember death? Go to funerals. Spend time with the elderly. Join a church with people from every generation.
2. Marvel at Resurrection Life
Molly Worthen is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After growing up in a secular home with no exposure to Christianity, she went to Yale and became intrigued by faith, earning a PhD in religion. Yet she primarily showed interest in Christianity the way a scientist shows interest in a rat—poking, prodding, dissecting.
One day, Worthen met Christians who surprised her. They sought to answer her questions, show her the beauty of God, and point her to the power of forgiveness found in Christ. She had so many reasons not to be a Christian. She didn’t like what the Bible says about homosexuality and hell. She knew her colleagues in the history department would think she’d lost her mind if she became a Christian.
But she couldn’t get over this one glorious truth: if Jesus rose from the dead, he’s the real deal. The resurrection eventually shattered her unbelief.
You’re about to start a new chapter in life. This is exciting! But nothing is more exciting than the empty tomb. If you’re a Christian, your faith will be tested in the days ahead. You’ll be confronted with questions you struggle to answer. But you have good reasons from Scripture and from history to believe Jesus rose from the dead.
How can you marvel at resurrection life? Gather with Christians every Sunday. Put yourself in a church that preaches the gospel of a crucified and risen Savior.
3. Put Down Your Phone
Your smartphone is like a vampire sucking the life out of you. For all the good of technology—I appreciate the Find My Friends app and playing Wordle—your phone is a monster from a horror movie that exists to destroy all goodness and happiness in your life.
OK, I’m being dramatic.
Nonetheless, I do believe extended time on your phone increases jealousy, reduces contentment, and makes you think you aren’t beautiful enough, smart enough, rich enough, or successful enough. Your phone pulls you away from actual people into a secret and tragic web of anonymous darkness and pain. The way we use social media can hurt us, shorten our attention spans, and dull the beauty of Christ.
How can you put down your phone? By putting down your phone. Stick it in a drawer. Keep it away from your bed. Delete your social media apps. Instead, gather with Christians at church. Meet up with real people with whom you can talk, who love you for who you are and don’t tempt you to be someone you’re not.
4. Pick Up God’s Word
Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” God has revealed himself in the 66 books of the Bible. They’re his words, recorded by Spirit-guided men. Where Scripture speaks, God speaks.
Where Scripture speaks, God speaks.
The Bible won’t teach you how to change a tire, but it will tell you to honor your parents who may help you change your tire. The Bible won’t teach you how to cook dinner, but it will tell you it’s good to work with your hands and provide for yourself and your family. The Bible won’t teach you how to get hired by your dream company, but it will tell you how to live life for the glory of Christ. The Bible won’t tell you whom to marry, but it will tell you what to look for in a husband or a wife. The Bible won’t tell you how to get straight As in college, but it will tell you that your biggest problem isn’t a C but your sin—and the only answer is the crucified and risen Christ.
How can you pick up God’s Word? Gather at a church where the Bible is preached—where the point of the sermon is the point of a particular passage. Be around people who love the Bible and will encourage you to read it daily.
5. Run Hard After God
Leo Tolstoy wrote a short story titled “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” A Russian peasant named Pahom manages to gain a little property, but he always wants a little more. One day, he sells his property and moves to a part of Russia rich with land for sale. A landlord makes an amazing offer: for 1,000 rubles, Pahom can have all the land he’s able to circumnavigate by foot in one day. That’s the condition—he must be back at the starting line before sunset or he forfeits his money and land.
Pahom sets out on his journey, salivating over the prospect of a glorious new homestead. He runs and runs—and when he thinks he should turn back, he runs forward even faster. “Just a little more land,” he tells himself. Finally, he turns around and sprints for the finish line, trying to beat the hot Russian sun to gain his prize.
He collapses at the finish line just in time—the land is his. But Pahom is dead; the trip killed him. “How much land does a man need?” Tolstoy’s answer is six feet—just enough for a burial.
Beware of turning something good into your god. There are many good things you can run after: education, a career, financial security, ministry, even a spouse. But if what is good becomes more important to you than God, it’ll leave you with nothing.
That’s my final bit of counsel as you start the next chapter of your life. Run hard after the God of the Bible. He’s worth it! He’s the Creator; you’re the created. He’s the Master; you’re the servant. He’s the sun; you’re the planet orbiting his greatness. Live for anything or anyone else and you will die. Live for him, trusting in Christ crucified for sinners, and you will have life eternal.
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