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I am a member of the baby boom generation. My generation thought the problem with the world was low self-esteem and that people needed to learn to love themselves more. There was a lot of emphasis on this so-called problem, but it didn’t turn out so well.
The offspring of the baby boomers are the millennials, or the Me Generation. They received so many participation trophies growing up that, according to a recent study, 40 percent believe they should be promoted every two years on the job, regardless of performance. They don’t believe they have to work hard or be resourceful; everything should be given to them because they are so wonderful. It is called a sense of entitlement, and it is a big problem in our nation today.
Consider these statistics from the cover article entitled “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation” for the May 20, 2013, issue of Time: “The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that’s now 65 or older.” The article goes on to say that 58 percent of college students in 2009 scored higher on a narcissism scale than college students in 1982.
If you’re still skeptical, just watch a few auditions for “The X-Factor” or “American Idol.” Contestants with no vocal ability whatsoever are completely oblivious to that fact. And when a judge has the audacity to suggest that a professional singing career isn’t what they ought to do with their lives, they of course get upset.
When a recent poll asked 18 to 25-year-olds what their goal in life was, 51 percent said their goal was to be famous, 30 percent said their goal was to help people who needed help, and 22 percent said their goal was to be leaders in their community. Ten percent said their goal was to be more spiritual.
Our No. 1 goal should be to know God. If we chase after fame and fortune, then we will end up like all the others who have done so. Just take a look at a man called Naaman, whose story is told in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings. He was rich and famous and powerful. But he had a problem – a life-threatening problem that all of his money and fame and power could not fix.
Naaman was a general in the Syrian army. We hear a lot about Syria these days with all of their internal conflicts. But at this time Syria was a great world power. Because of his position, Naaman was a powerful and influential man. He had everything the world says you ought to have to make you happy: power, fame and great wealth in keeping with his position. He had the trust and friendship of the king himself. He was loved by his people. He had everything a person would dream of.
But one day, Naaman – and I am just imagining for a moment – might have noticed a little spot on his hand that he had never seen before. He probably thought nothing of it. The next day, he saw four or five more spots. Before he knew it, there were others spreading on his arms and legs. He thought, What is happening to me? So he went to his doctor for a checkup. Then he was given news that no man of that century ever wanted to hear: “I regret to inform you that you have leprosy.” It would have been like hearing that you not only were going to die, but you were going to die a painful death.
Leprosy at that time was incurable. So there was Naaman with all of his power and fame and fortune – and an incurable disease. He would become one of the walking dead. Maybe he stepped onto the beautiful balcony of his home overlooking Syria and thought about all his accomplishments and victories on the battlefield and asked himself, Now what? He was going to die for sure. It’s as though God was tapping him on the shoulder.
So whom did God handpick to reach the great Syrian war general? It was a young, unnamed slave girl who was strong in her faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This girl somehow had heard about a prophet named Elisha. He didn’t send out tweets or have a Facebook page, but she had heard stories about him. But there she was, in a foreign land, waiting on Naaman’s wife, and her heart went out to the general. She said she wished that he could go and meet that prophet in Israel.
So Naaman went to the king of Syria, the king of Assyria contacted the king of Israel, and they found out where Elisha lived. Naaman showed up at Elisha’s house, looking for a healing. But Elisha’s servant Gehazi simply delivered a message from the prophet: Naaman was to go down to the Jordan River, immerse himself seven times, and he would be healed. Naaman’s pride was wounded. Initially, his leprosy was the enemy of his personal happiness, but then his pride became the greater enemy. So one of his officers reasoned with him. He said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!'” (2 Kings 5:13 NLT).
Naaman swallowed his pride and followed Elisha’s instructions. He went to the Jordan River, removed his armor and then immersed himself – once, then twice, then a third time, and a fourth, and so on. I wonder if he stayed underwater just a little bit longer the seventh time? Sure enough, when he came up that time the leprosy was gone. In fact, the Bible says that his skin was like that of a baby’s.
There is no life without its share of problems. If you don’t have much, you always think about how to have more. If you have a lot, there always will be someone who has more than you. If you have the most, you are worried about how you are going to keep it. You can have it all and still have something missing in your life.
Yet this is what so many people aspire to. They want to be like the rich people, the famous people, the successful people. But the rich, the famous and the successful have their troubles, too. Everyone feels empty. Everyone feels lonely. Everyone feels guilty. Everyone is afraid to die. Whether you talk to someone on skid row or on Rodeo Drive, the problems of humanity are effectively the same.
The remedy for Naaman was to go down to the Jordan River, peel off his armor and immerse himself seven times. The solution for us is to realize that we need God’s forgiveness. Just because God’s forgiveness is a free gift, it doesn’t mean that it came cheap. God had to send his son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place so we could be forgiven of our sin. And we find eternal life by believing in him.