A Note to the Young’uns

Gentle Reader,

…set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.

– 1 Timothy 4:12b (CSB)

You thought you were going to escape, didn’t you?

No, the elders are not supposed to despise you. We are supposed to come alongside you, build you up, encourage you, empower you. We are not always good at this. In fact, we often fail at this. We are short-tempered, easily frustrated and stuck in our ways. Because, you see, we have not arrived. We have not figured it all out. We’re still in process with Jesus, still needing Him to shape us into the people He wants us to be.

But.

You knew that was coming, right?

Our failures are not an excuse for you.

You, dear one who is often confused in the middle of the growing and the learning and the raging hormones but really does want to follow Jesus, are called to a higher standard. You don’t get to do whatever you want and then get mad when someone with a little more experience, a bit more wisdom, corrects you. That’s just not an option. It’s not the good or right option, anyway. In all the chaotic mess that is your thoughts and emotions, you have to make the choice to learn how to slow down and listen.

It’s hard. It doesn’t seem fair. But in a year or five, you’ll back and realize, “Wow, okay. That person loved me. And maybe they did know what they were talking about.”

I was the teenager who had big fights with her parents. I broke curfew. Spoke disrespectfully. Got so tired of hearing about how I needed to be responsible. Threatened to not go to college because…I really don’t know why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. And that’s the key phrase: Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was the teenager who tasted alcohol long before she should have. (Never was that into it, though my dad once asked why I skipped beer and went straight to vodka. I honestly don’t know). Who had dysfunctional relationships. Who looked okay on the outside, but everything inside her was screaming, desperate to be real but not sure how to do that. Full of the correct answers when asked, but really a hypocrite.

I was the teenager who let fear rule her life. The plain fact is that I could have gone to school just about anywhere I wanted to. Harvard was an option. If I had continued in journalism, I could have pursued a Marshall Scholarship and gone to England to study at Cambridge or Oxford. Now, at this point, I’m relieved that I made different choices and am not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but that practicality isn’t why I made the different choices. I was insecure and scared. I chose not to believe that I was capable.

There were people in my life who pushed me to step up and step out. I chose to ignore them. I let an opportunity to attend Samuel School, an Evangelical Friends retreat offered to students who have been identified as future leaders by church elders, pass me by. I didn’t pursue a summer internship with a local newspaper, even though my adviser and mentor assured me that I was shoe-in. Every time someone noticed me, pinpointed something in me or about me that God had planted there, I turned tail and ran away.

Sweet one, listen to me.

Don’t follow my example in these things.

Yes, we fail, hard and often. But there are adults in your life who really do care. We really do want to see you flourish. We really do believe that you have been placed in this context for a reason. We get on your case about certain things, like your addiction to your smartphone (yeah, we’re addicted, too), because we know, via our own stupid decisions and the radical, amazing grace of God, that there is more and better for you. Not one of you has to settle for the paltry, stale crumbs the world offers.

And there’s more.

Do you know that you are an elder, too? There’s always someone younger than you, looking at you, watching all the things you do. They want to be like you. They think you’re beyond cool. They love you so much. While you are one-hundred percent not responsible for choices that they end up making, you are meant to set a good example. A holy example.

You can do that. By staying connected to God through the words on the page (yes, the page, because those notifications are so distracting, even if you are sincerely trying to use your Bible app) and through prayer, especially those, “Help me, Jesus!” prayers. By finding a mentor, someone who has permission to call you on your crap and point you toward the good and the right. By sticking with church, even though it’s a real pain sometimes.

I believe in the God who made you, so carefully and tenderly. I believe that you can walk through life with your head up, neither looking down to or upon anyone. I believe that there are things that only you can do, special work designed and planned for you long before the stars began to flame. I believe that you have great value.

I believe in you.

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A Note to the Elders

Gentle Reader,

“Don’t let anyone despise your youth…”

– 1 Timothy 4:12a (CSB)

I’ve heard this verse so many times. When I was fourteen, a traveling preacher came to my school and spoke during chapel. Most of us hated chapel; it was boring but required. This particular day, however, was better than most. This man was engaging. He was funny. He had a passion for truth. And he seemed to think that we, lowly teenagers, could actually have a positive impact on this world.

The school was rooted in the soil of Pentecostalism, so at one point he asked anyone who wanted prayer to come forward. That was fine and dandy, something that all traditions do, but he started speaking in tongues and I regretted stepping forward because, honestly, it scared me. Not something I’d experienced before. Almost fled back to my seat. But when he got to me, he stopped doing that and looked at me for a long time. Everyone in the room got still. He took my hands and said, quietly, “You are a woman after God’s own heart. Never forget that.”

I never have. Never will.

Much wandering and insecurities across the years, but I can tell you that the Holy Spirit never let me go. The voice was always there. Always drawing me back to His love. To His truth. To His grace.

I watched Him do the same with others this past weekend. Young men and women, of various ages and backgrounds. They bounced and danced in the aisles as the worship music played, free in their movements. They listened attentively to the speaker, full of insights and questions after each session. Played truly competitive dodgeball. Flung themselves happily into a service project. Got hangry and tired, but who doesn’t?

And I thought, “Yes. The church is going to be okay. These people truly want Him, even if they don’t all fully realize that yet.”

So, elders, whether an elder by many years or just a few: Don’t despise them.

That’s the implied command in Paul’s words. He’s aware that some will not respect Timothy because of his age. He tells his protege to set an example for them by conducting his life in a Christ-pleasing way. All very straightforward. In the roundabout, he’s also saying that Timothy shouldn’t be disrespected simply because he’s young. He shouldn’t be despised.

I’m a Millennial, set to burn the world down while clutching my avocado toast. At least that’s what all the think-pieces claim. That’s what some of the elders in my life have communicated to me in the past. You can’t do this. That’s a dumb idea. I don’t get you. Get back in your place. It sucks. It hurts to be shot down just because you haven’t reached certain milestones or you have a different way of approaching situations.

And, if I may, it’s an arrogant and fear-based attitude.

Battles between the generations are as old as Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. (I wonder what they fought about)? But here’s the thing: We don’t have to keep repeating the cycle. We who have the Spirit of Christ within are enabled to make better choices. We can approach the younger with open hearts. We can say, You can do this! And then teach them how to do it. That’s a crazy idea and I love that you came up with it! And then, slowly, patiently, show them how to implement those crazy ideas. I don’t always get you, but I love you. And then genuinely, truly love them, just as they are. Your place is right here, with me, doing this thing. And then actually, really, integrate them into the life of the Body.

Teenagers aren’t some separate, scary species. They don’t need to be tucked away in a basement room, cut off from everyone else. Their awkwardness, enthusiasm and ideas breathe life into the church. They are our brothers and sisters. Sure, little brothers and sisters, squirrelly brothers and sisters, but equal participants in the Kingdom of God.

Let them in.

Let them do.

Let them be.

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Five Minute Friday: More

Gentle Reader,

I can’t tell you how much this little across-the-miles writing community means to me. Social media is a double-edged sword, to be sure, but when it’s good, it’s very good. The way God knits hearts together through the ether and the words…I am blessed.

Kate says:

Go.

“I say to you, my friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.”

– Luke 12:4 (CSB)

Jesus is something else, isn’t He? Always kind, always gentle, but not one to mince words – ever. He is constantly, through the words of Scripture and through the Spirit, teaching us the correct order of things. Teaching us how to be free. Teaching us how to walk through this life yielded to His direction.

Last night, I stood in line to receive an ashen cross on my forehead. A symbol of mortality. A reminder of what the Savior did for me. For us. For all of creation. Nothing magical or mystical about it. Simple elements that washed away with a bit of water. A transient mark upon my transient flesh.

I belong to God. People, they will come and go, just as I come and go. Some relationships last longer than others, of course, but ultimately, it’s me and Him. Acknowledging this doesn’t deny the reality or importance of the Body, the corporate aspect of Kingdom life. I am not a person alone, but surrounded by and part of a great group of witnesses.

And yet, the bottom line, the realest of real things – God.

He is more than I can imagine or dream. He provides more than I could want or need. He is the true treasure, the great reward. He is the source of my life and identity. He is my King.

When I pause and really think on this, everyone else takes their proper place.

Stop.

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Five Minute Friday: Just

Gentle Reader,

What a week.

I’m feeling better, but so sluggish. As if the virus chose to leave the parting gift of zapping what little energy I possess.

Kate says: just.

Go.

She cut her hair short. Danced the Charleston. Was an early adopter of store-bought bread. Loved beautiful clothes.

In the time that I knew her, my Great-Grandma Jessie was a slim, white-haired lady, but she held onto the sass. She wore leather jackets, made bets on how long car trips would take and had an opinion on every topic under the sun. She was also gentle, kind and unendingly generous; as a teenager I admired a garnet ring she wore and she slipped it off her finger and pressed it into my palm. Only later did I find out that the ring was her retirement gift after years of working in a department store.

I want to be like her.

Family lore says that when someone tried to convince Jessie to move to a different expression and practice of faith, she replied, “I was born a Pentecostal and I’ll die a Pentecostal, thank you.” I love that so much. While I’ve never spoken in tongues or taken a ride on a chandelier (big smile for my charismatic friends), a bit of Jessie’s tradition comes out in me when I pray. I feel compelled to use my whole body. Hands moving. Rocking onto the tips of my toes and back again. There is something electrifying about knowing that, while I am here, I am also there, in the throne room of God.

Prayer doesn’t have to be long-winded or eloquent. Some of the strongest praying people I know stumble over their sentences. What prayer does have to be is more than “just.” Oh, I’m just praying. No, my dear. You are standing against the Devil himself every time you take your petitions to Jesus. You are in the arena, engaged in the battle, even when you don’t have words, when your prayers are silent and tinged with tears.

Not “just” anything, but the thing. All that you’ve learned from Scripture and sermons coming together in a bold act of faith. Choosing to believe that God really hears and really will respond.

What fierce people we might become, if we learned to take prayer seriously.

Stop.

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