In Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts” this is her admission, her announcement, her proclamation. Life is loss… when, what, who will you lose? It’s not a matter of will I lose, but solely when will I lose.
That’s what we are facing. Anyone who is in youth ministry realizes this, and too often it seems the pendulum is swinging the wrong way. Those that will are trying to help, to direct, to mentor, to lead, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to feel as if your efforts have staying power.
I have two educated guesses as to why this is happening:
One – There are very few committed Christians setting an example as disciples.
What do I mean? Well, when is the last time you picked up your Bible to learn not because you had to or were doing a Bible study but because you long to learn more about God, His will, His nature, and His way? If that answer is recently, like, yesterday… You are in the minority. When was the last time you woke up and spent dedicated time in prayer, seeking the Father’s heart, weeping for the lost, and asking to be used? Again, it is not the rule for modern day Christians. And if you are the parent or leader in a household and you only do these things when trouble comes, those around you see that, and they will follow suit. Disciples of Christ desire to learn, it isn’t the dreaded “law” at work, or the confines of “religion.” It is learning to know to become. Nothing works oriented, or legalistic about that… But it does require effort.
Two – There are very few authentic faith walkers.
Jesus asked “when I come back will I find faith?” It was important to Him that we keep hope alive! Instead, too often, we turn to logic and science to manifest truth. Thats not faith, thats probability. Jesus was desperate to see faith in action. So when we say with our mouths those things we have read or heard about God but haven’t established it in our hearts with how we live our lives, we send a conflicting message to this younger generation. They are watching us.
Recently I got a message from a young girl who is trying desperately to follow God’s will for her life. But, her home life is a stumbling block. Why? Because her good, God loving, church working parents on Sunday are cruel and demanding and verbally abusive Monday thru Saturday. This confuses her… And it should.
Another girl mentioned to me that she didn’t see any problem with watching movies that were not age appropriate. Why? Because her parents watched R rated movies all the time and they said it didn’t affect them so why should it affect her? Ugh. This infuriates me. Maybe you think I’m wrong or prudish or judgmental, but I can guarantee those movies are affecting that family, it just may be too soon to tell.
Now, I’m not an overbearing parent, restricting anything and everything that doesn’t blatantly stand for Jesus. We have to let our kids make decisions, and we need to show them how to choose. But, our role as parents isn’t to enable them to be codependent, our job is to prepare them for life outside of the nest, and this requires allowing them some mistakes in order to learn. That being said, we can’t lead them into bad decisions by choosing to gratify our pleasures at the cost of their innocence.
Parenting, leading, mentoring is not easy! I do all three! But it is imperative that we not be selfish about it! And it is necessary that we set an example of commitment and true faith.
This generation is under fire like never before. The odds are not in their favor, and they feel this intrinsically. They are the least prepared, most coddled, selfish, rebellious, and pleasure seeking generation, and we have done that to them. They are also the most passionate, educated and globally connected generation we have ever seen and stand to be a lasting legacy of faith to awaken the Body of Christ, but we must invest in them!
I heard someone say that they saw in our future a generation of believers that would have the fire of the Holy Spirit so strong and so deep that it wouldn’t waver or burn out. How does this happen? With us. It begins with us instilling in them unquenchable love and faith that rebelliously stands up to the powers that threaten to snuff it out and say, “You can kill the body but you cannot take my soul!”
Enormous stakes. Life and death lies in the balance, and we’ve barely glimpsed the iceberg.
* Tim Elmore has done a great job of making inroads to change the tide. Read more for yourself @ http://www.SaveTheirFutureNow.com
Like most parents in The South, last week my kids went back to school. My youngest began her last year of elementary school (I cannot truly be this old!) and my oldest began her seventh grade year. It seems like yesterday I held her in my arms for the first time in relief that the nausea and vomiting of the last 9 months was over and the fun had begun! What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t the pain of contractions, the pushing or the final clip of the umbilical cord that marked the end if labor… It was only the beginning.
I remember gently rubbing my bulging belly and hurrying the day when she would arrive – to see her face, to count her fingers, to watch her breathe and not just feel her move. I rushed those months in between trips to the porcelain throne to pray. When I started with contractions early, I obediently followed the doctors orders that I rest, stay off my feet, pretty much just get up to go to the bathroom. “Rest,” he said, “and don’t worry… You’ve have plenty of time to worry after she is born.”
I don’t think I really paid attention to that comment until the first night we were home, and her sleeping was so quiet I had to watch her back to make sure she was still breathing. Or the first time I heard her choke and cried for 30 minutes thinking of what might have happened if I hadn’t been there. The night she stuck a crayon up her nasal cavity, I envisioned how we would explain the bulge in her nose when she was older because that baby wasn’t going to let me help her get it out! Or the time she was playing with her daddy’s pocket knife and sliced her finger… That first sight of blood, from an injury… I thought I would faint – not from the sight of blood but from the knowledge that I hadn’t been attentive enough, I hadn’t guarded her enough and she was hurt because of my neglect.
I thought those were the rough days, until we experienced loss of friendship, abandonment, bullying, and heartache and disappointment, and those days have just begun, and I find myself wanting to scoop her up, open my womb again and tuck her back in… Safely, because the world is just too unpredictable and I can’t guard her from the perils or the problems.
But in those moments, I have to take a deep breath. I have to remember the words of Daddy God to me in some of those fearful moments when she was a baby, “Where your eyes cannot see, Mine keep watch. Where your hand fails to reach, Mine never leaves.” Those have been His words of comfort to me for years, and I cling to them!
Not just for my babies… But for myself. Life is unpredictable and full of uncertainties. Just when we think we have it figured out, everything changes. I once heard, “The only thing that never changes is that things always change.” It’s true. The more I live and experience and gain and lose the more this simple silly quote makes a world of sense.
Truth be told, I hate it. It leaves me dazed. I can adjust, but I don’t want to. It’s like this common thread in my life that screams, “Don’t get comfortable, it won’t be this way for long.” And still, like a fool, like a naive child, I forget and I allow myself to dream and believe only to watch it all change, again.
In those moments, just like with my baby girls, I have only One constant. One voice that can soothe me and remind me that where I cannot see, He has already charted a path, and where my hand is unable to reach, His is already there. And, I rely on that. I cling to it! Because as much as I’d like to build a cocoon around us and stay there safely tucked beside my Saviour’s breast sheltered and safe, life requires me to live apart from that haven for now to face and walk among the hurting, dying, and broken that might not understand a parent’s heart, that may have never felt protected, appreciated, encouraged, or loved. He requires of me to die today so I might live with Him forever, and that is anything but comfortable! But, I have a choice I can learn or I can sleep. I can roll back over making my own cocoon of comfort and denial and pretend like the Teacher isn’t calling my name, or I can sit at a desk right up front, pencil in hand ready to take notes, and learn all I can.
School is back in session, and I’m still a student.
From the time I was pronounced as a bride, I have been admonished to live up to the character of this woman. Not that that is a bad thing, but it can be quite intimidating and daunting a task, even for a woman that feels guilty for resting. One of the most peaceful words of advice I have ever received regarding this woman, and by a mother of 4 and consummate wife, were these: “It’s important for us to remember, that this was over her lifetime, not in the course of one day.” Sighhhh. Can I tell you what a relief that was to a mom that was stressed to the limit trying to make every day look like a “successful” day as it lined up with that woman!
Then, yesterday, I was reading the Proverb again. Try as I might it always convicts me to be better, to do more, to give more, to love deeper. Only, as I was soaking in the gargantuan challenges, God whispered to my ear, “This is a look at My Bride.”
So I read it again, this time not as woman failing, but as the Bride of Christ striving to make my Groom proud. I challenge you to read it and do the same:
A good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds. Her husband trusts her without reserve, and never has reason to regret it. Never spiteful, she treats him generously all her life long. She shops around for the best yarns and cottons, and enjoys knitting and sewing. She’s like a trading ship that sails to faraway places and brings back exotic surprises. She’s up before dawn, preparing breakfast for her family and organizing her day. She looks over a field and buys it, then, with money she’s put aside, plants a garden. First thing in the morning, she dresses for work, rolls up her sleeves, eager to get started. She senses the worth of her work, is in no hurry to call it quits for the day. She’s skilled in the crafts of home and hearth, diligent in homemaking. She’s quick to assist anyone in need, reaches out to help the poor. She doesn’t worry about her family when it snows; their winter clothes are all mended and ready to wear. She makes her own clothing, and dresses in colorful linens and silks. Her husband is greatly respected when he deliberates with the city fathers. She designs gowns and sells them, brings the sweaters she knits to the dress shops. Her clothes are well-made and elegant, and she always faces tomorrow with a smile. When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly. She keeps an eye on everyone in her household, and keeps them all busy and productive. Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise: “Many women have done wonderful things, but you’ve outclassed them all!” Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God. Give her everything she deserves! Festoon her life with praises!
I’ve heard a lot of attitude about service lately. Some of us are of the mind that it doesn’t matter, that it shouldn’t drive our actions, and the smallest offering we give should be enough. We don’t want to be bothered in our selfishness to actually “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And, we don’t want to be treated as we treat others. I challenge us to think past ourselves. To see our “husband at the gates” as our Father in Heaven, our eternal Groom. Is He bragging on us? Is He, like with His beloved Job, able to point us out and say, “Look at him/her! Look how well they love me, how obedient they are to reach out to others, to serve with their whole hearts.”
Can He trust us with the work? Can He be assured that we are taking care of the affairs of the home while He is away? Do our actions and words prove that He is a good Father, a loving God, a generous and gracious Groom? I pray so. And, that is what I am living my life for…not to gain respect or admiration or the praise of others, but so that He is praised and respected and worshipped for the amazing One that He is!
I will do my best to live up to the character of the Proverbs 31 woman as a wife and mother, but I will give my all to be the Bride of Christ that is worth far more eternally than the accolades of any human being, because what I do in this life needs to mean more, do more, and inspire more to find the Groom that so desperately loves us all. My effort is not to gain His love, I have that without trying, my desire is to kneel at His feet with arms full of crowns that I did not attain on my own and hear the words, “Well done….enter your rest.”
I am scared.
That’s not an admission of guilt; it’s a transparent expression of fear.
I am scared of what I don’t know, what I can’t see, what I can’t quite put my fingers on, and what puts its hands around me.
I can utter a million reasons why I shouldn’t be. I can recite scripture after scripture of how God wouldn’t have me fear, doesn’t want me to fear, and begs me not to fear…and yet… I fear. Doesn’t mean I don’t trust Him, I do. But He knows I fear, and He has compassion on that fear, and gently guides my heart to peace.
I am fragile.
That’s not meaning I am weak; it’s means instead that I am vulnerable.
I am vulnerable to the emotions of others, to my own feelings, to the way that others see me, and the way I see myself.
I can hold a grip around my heart and beg it not to beat, not to bleed or feel the internal struggle and the worlds needs. I can remember His Word that says I am strong and brave and courageous and able to do anything through the power of His name. But, I’m fragile just the same.
I am small.
Though my frame is slight and my height petite, this is my humble reality.
I am too small to change the world by myself, to save any desperate soul, or to end any wrenching heartache.
I can’t even pretend I am more when I am not. I don’t expect to have the answers, to rescue anyone from any pain. I don’t imagine I can hold my ground with any giant that steps upon my land. Not in myself. In myself, I am merely small…merely human.
But when I commit my scared, fragile, small self into the hands of a powerful, strong, and mighty God, who I am ceases to matter. Who He is becomes my destiny! And I let the words of His character roll off of my tongue and slide down my heart and into my soul –
He is peace.
He is a strong tower.
He holds the universe in His hands.
And because of Him, I am.
One of my favorite poems is “Road not taken” by Robert Frost. Let me share a taste:
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both.
But being one traveler, long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth.”
I smiled as I typed that. It was the first poem I ever memorized and recited. I fell in love with its cadence and simple language. I always felt it was substantial – That each line was poignant, and each stanza a choice. And somehow I knew I’d need it, to make my choices, to examine the roads that appeared, and to remember the outcome.
Every day is a fork in the road. Every day meets us with choices – what to do and what not to do? Only, many of us rush through, never taking the moment to ponder the outcome. We don’t see the choice. We see the obligation, and life becomes a chore rather than an adventure. It becomes a rat race instead of a walk. And we lose our joy.
Are you struggling with happiness, feeling useful, or like your life has meaning? Then I would ask you, do you see the fork in the road? Are you at odds with your family? Do you feel like you don’t know your kids? Does your spouse seem distant? Then, I would direct you to the roads. Sometimes the difference between life and death, happiness and depression, optimism and pessimism lies in one thing – the path we choose.
My aunt is an optimistic woman, loving and kind, open and giving. I can look at her life and be amazed. By the circumstances life handed her she had every excuse to be bitter and mean, distrustful and selfish, and entirely pessimistic. But, she chose to walk a path in direct opposition to her circumstances. Some of the family would think she was strange. But, I think she is beautiful. Has her life gotten any better or easier? No. In many ways it’s gotten harder, but has she lost her genuine smile, or stopped giving out makeup stain leaving hugs, or ceased praising her Father in Heaven? Not a chance!
We often hear of forks in the road, roads to travel, and we think that is about choosing our circumstances. Life isn’t that fair. We are often left to choose within the circumstances others make for us what road we will take.
In Deuteronomy God laid it on the line: “I’ve brought you today to the crossroads of Blessing and Curse.” (Deuteronomy 11:26 MSG)
There is the fork.
Here is what you need to know – what you choose affects not only you but everyone around you. See, unlike Frost’s poem.. We aren’t traveling alone. We bring with us family and friends, and they, too, have to bear the consequences of our choice.
Every day is a choice.
Every moment a decision.
Every decision a path.
And, the one we choose matters. If I’m in a bad mood, I must choose not to take it out on my kids And, if I do, i must choose to humble myself and ask forgiveness. If I’m not feeling well, I must choose not to become depressed. And, if I do, I must choose to forgive myself. If I am not happy, I must choose to find the source of happiness not dwell on its lack. If I am feeling useless, I must be intentional. If I feel unloved, I must make sure I am loving others, and I must remember that love is selfless.
“Road not taken” ends like this:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh, ages and ages hence. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
The final line of Frost’s poem has left literature majors the world over ponder, “So, was he happy with his decision?” I suppose that depends on the reader, and how we interpret our roads and our sighs. We can take away two endings – an ending with a sigh of contentment, of a path well traveled despite what forest of a life we had to walk through. Or an ending with a sigh of regret, of a path that didn’t lead where we had hoped, sitting bitter and disillusioned and alone.
I’m an optimist. I choose the sigh of contentment. I choose the ending that says regardless of where exactly that path dipped and bent and whatever bridge appeared, I walked it with hope and trusted it was the best road for me… Regardless of my circumstances.
Today is a new day.. And two roads diverge.. Which one will you travel? That will make all the difference.
The minute I walked in the doors of the church his presence was felt. Or was it the Holy Spirit? They echoed the same. I walked forward in a line when someone extended a hand, “Here, you first.” I smiled. Knowing. This person had been touched by the life of Robert Ammon Warner as well. He had been touched, and in that small gesture, was showing homage to a life lived well.
Today I started the day by contemplating my epitaph. Strange yes, but not random. I am going through a Bible Study that asked it of me. But, I realized it was fitting as I walked into a room of people that I didn’t know. I may not have known their names, but each held meaning and purpose and a destiny whether they were aware of it or not. Each life touched in one way or another by an extraordinary man of God, a man we affectionately referred to as Brother Bob. He was revered and loved and remembered, and this memorial was more of a testament to the work of Christ than any other I’d been to.
Bob Warner was a saint. No doubt. But he’d never say it. He was a kind man, prone to emotion, and filled with love. I will never forget our first encounter as he handed me a book, “The United States of America was built on hope and faith!” He said with a loud and passionate voice. He was so convinced of this that he asked each and every member of our church to read that book, “The Light and the Glory”. He evoked passion for our country for the founders and for its purpose in the Kingdom of God. I admit with a frown that I never read through the book. In fact, it still sits, collecting dust, on my bookshelf, dog-eared about a fifth of the way through.
I will also never forget the sincerity in his voice as he shared how Jesus met him in the cockpit of a fighter plane in World War II and how his life was never the same. It was with great grief that he shared of the many friends that had lost their lives, and the eternal question of “Why me?” was whispered in his heart as he still possessed his life. It was out of that deep understanding that he then gave his life over to God, and that is the place that God took an ordinary man to the man of distinction that we remembered today. He wasn’t proud of the violence of war, but he never insulted his military. One year, a missionary woman from Japan came to our church, and with her she brought one of the native pastors. With tears in his eyes and love in his voice, Brother Bob spoke: “I am so sorry for what we did to your country and for the bomb. Please forgive us.” All that were there that day were touched by two things: his repentance and the acceptance of the Japanese man that represented a country that had been ravaged. It exemplified the heart of Christ, and the truth of the Body that sees no lines of distinction.
If I posted his picture, you wouldn’t know his face, most likely. But if you took that picture to a group of people who were uneducated and poverty stricken, those he taught to read and thus gave them hope, they would most likely weep. He was an educator by design much less than occupation. He believed that every person had a chance to an education and that education would bring them confidence. He offered tutoring at no cost. He hosted it for a few years at our church with others of our congregation, and it was a blessing. In fact, he was so committed to education he also taught in the prisons and fostered a ministry there. I will never forget the time that I joined them. Yes, me. A young woman in her early twenties went into a men’s prison and ministered. I sang. They listened. And I remember quite keenly that I had no fear. Brother Bob also invited my husband to go. We each went once. But, they were remarkable memories. Sadly, the ministry fizzled out and others came in and we never had the opportunity to go again, or maybe it is that we didn’t make the opportunity.
As Brother Bob’s son gave the eulogy he said that more than any other characteristic his father exemplified love. Yes. He didn’t live his life worrying whether or not he was in the Father’s will or if he was a part of the right group or wondering what anyone thought of him. He simply walked this earth giving out love. No one had to ask him, “Are you a Christian?” With one look at his outstretched arms and the smile on his face, the answer was clear. This man was a follower of Christ.
I left the church thinking. Seeking peace and understanding in my own circumstances and the ministries that I am a part of…when I heard the Voice that governs my days and my nights say, “Peace. Live. Love. This is what I ask of you.” And, the realization hit me, if no one speaks another word about me on the day of my memorial, may the love of God ring out! May it fill up the room, and may the truth of my life be exemplified in my love for God and others, and may my gravestone read, “This woman was a follower of Christ.”