Have you heard the story about the well-heeled Italian soldier who went AWOL while heading off to war? It seems that on the path to battle, young Frank had a “vision” and was moved to return to his hometown. On the way, he ran into a bunch of beggars and decided to join their ranks. After hanging out with them for awhile on the streets of a large city, he returned home a changed man. He had lost his taste for “worldly” things and chose instead a life of poverty and preaching.
Frank pursued a monastic life, one devoted to sharing the gospel. He is the first follower of Christ to bear the stigmata (body marks similar to the crucifixion wounds of Christ) and he staged the first known live depiction of the birth of Christ, The Nativity. He was a peace-loving man who implored religious leaders to bring an end to religious wars.
Among other things, he said this:
“Preach the gospel at all times. And when necessary, use words.”
Frank (whose given name was Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardoni) was canonized as Saint Francis of Assisi two years after his death, nearly 800 years ago.
I shared this story with a group of teenagers in a friend’s living room a couple of weeks ago. These kids have been gathering weekly during the school year for an informal Bible study that’s been going strong for over 10 years. No church affiliations, no preachers, just some local kids and a few adults who want to mentor them. They call themselves PBnJ — People Believing in Jesus.
I encouraged those young ones on that spring evening to think about who they are and how the world sees them. I told them I had just read of some names being thrown about for their generation, the one following Millennials. (I wrote about Millennials here). Among the potential tags for kids born around and after 2000 are Generation Z, indicating they don’t know what’s going on in the world, and The iGeneration, a nod to the fact young people are pretty attached to their electronic devices.
I asked them if either characterization rings true, and they thought not. Instead, in the words of one of their peers, they consider themselves “smarter, tougher and more savvy” than the teens who’ve gone before them.
So what does that mean as they embark on their “path to battle?” Do they feel prepared for where that path may lead? And as professing Christians, are they willing to bear the markings of Christ?
To go with their PBnJ, I offered them some BLT:
Be who you say you are. If you profess to be a follower of Christ, live it out with your actions and lifestyle (the whole “preach the gospel at all times” thing). And be all that you can be. Shoot for every ounce of the potential God has placed in you.
Listen to people who truly care about you and to God, who cares more than anyone. Really listen, letting words of instruction and encouragement soak in. Turn them over in your mind, study them, find the truth in them.
Tell others when God shows up in your life (and He will — usually when you least expect it). Don’t be shy about telling others. Again, here’s that chance to “preach the gospel” with your life.
I could share BLT with them because these are all reminders that I need to hear daily. I think we all do, whatever our generation.
Finally, I told them that while life will get messy and scary and confusing at times, what’s expected of them is really pretty simple, though it’s sometimes so very hard to do: