August 21, 2008 was a day that, perhaps, holds little or no significance to most of us. But for 8 American runners at the Beijing Olympics, it is a day they will not soon forget. It was on this day that the highly favored men’s and women’s 4x100 meter relay teams laced up their shoes for what should have been a seamless race that would send both teams into the finals.
From the outset, both races appeared to be going as rehearsed. Each runner ran his or her 100 meters flawlessly. The baton exchanges appeared perfect. Until the final exchange. In a confounding sequence of events, both the men’s and women’s teams were disqualified as the last runner prepared to take the baton. In both races, the baton fell to the ground, and a collective gasp was heard around the world.
A relay race is won or lost in the “exchange zone.” Quick feet and trained legs help, for sure. But if the baton is dropped or is passed incorrectly, the result is disqualification. I am coming to realize this is true of our lives as well. How we do life in the exchange zone is crucial as we live out what God has called us to do. There is much at stake.
Judges 2:10 is a great example of how the baton was passed successfully to one runner (Joshua), but was dropped somewhere in the next exchange. “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.” Scripture does not tell us exactly what happened. But somewhere along the way, as Joshua passed the baton, it was dropped. May this not be true of us! We have all been given a baton. And it is our responsibility to pass it. Not Hollywood. Not the music industry. Not our government leaders. The baton is in the hand of the church of Jesus Christ, and it is our responsibility alone to make sure it gets from our hands to the hands of those coming behind us.
A few weekends ago, my friend Esther Fleece, who works at Focus on the Family, was in Washington D.C at the Values Voter Summit, and was given the opportunity to talk about this very issue. Her official job title? Focus’ assistant to the president for millennial relations. Translation? Someone who is very passionate about the condition of young people, mostly in their early teens to late twenties. She is someone who understands the importance of passing the baton to the next generation. She is aware of the issues facing our generation, and knows the statistics. She is familiar with what is true. But she stands on something far greater than what is true. She stands on the Truth. The Truth that says our God is good and loving. The truth that says our God is compassionate and gracious. That He is still in the business of redeeming what’s broken.
Esther sat down with her boss Jim Daly, the President of Focus on the Family, and had a candid conversation about why it is important to reach the next generation. She raised a battle cry for those ahead of us to be willing to sit down and answer the tough questions. To be mentors. To walk alongside us and believe in us. Our generation has seen its share of “role models” crash and burn before our eyes. Sports stars, politicians, musicians, and even church leaders. We are desperate to be taught. And as Esther says, “The good news is, we are teachable.” She shared staggering statistics about how the Millennials will form the voting majority in 2020, with the numbers reaching 103 million strong. 103 million people who have grown up with tremendous brokenness, with the cards stacked against them. 103 million who have been dubbed the “hopeless generation” by some. How many of those 103 million have accepted truth as relative and have their moral compass determined by their peers or pop culture? What better time than now to believe in our generation? To believe greater things ARE yet to come. To believe the tide can be turned. Perhaps we aim so low because no one has given us anything higher to aim for.
Truly, I cannot do the conversation justice. See it for yourself here:
After hearing this conversation between two people who are zealous for the hearts of young people, I was convicted. I realized that so often, I find myself accepting the actions and brokenness of my generation (and the one coming behind) as the status quo, without spending time on my knees to see the status quo change. Sometimes, I’m guilty of losing sight of the exchange zone because I am too worried that other people are running their race faster or are more skilled than I am. Or, worse yet, I’m too focused on my own race, forgetting that in a relay, how we run as a team is far more important than how I run my individual race. And, sadly, in some cases, I've dropped the baton altogether.
Perhaps what went wrong in Joshua’s day was that people stopped talking about what God had done. About what He was capable of. Perhaps the next generation thought it would be too hard to trust God to be huge on their behalf, so they dropped the baton. Maybe they got so immersed in what they were doing that they forgot a generation was coming behind them. We cannot know with absolute certainty what happened. But I am absolutely certain of this: I do not want to see this happen in our generation. I want to live with intention, believing better things for my generation, and the one to come. To carry my baton, remembering the legacy of those who handed it to me, and to live in such a way that the exchange zone is a place of triumph and victory instead of failure and loss. If I know anything about Esther, I know this is her heart’s desire as well. And I have to believe we are not the only ones. For this reason, I have hope for our generation, and the one that will come after us. It is my prayer that when our generation has finished the race, that a generation would come behind who knows the Lord AND what He has done for His people. May we pass our batons well.