The Terrible Twenties

“IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” (Charles Dickens, the opening line of his classic: Tale of Two Cities)

If I did not know the two cities of which Dickens wrote were London and Paris, and if I did not know he was speaking of that period of time surrounding the French Revolution, I might well have thought he was describing what it is like to be in your 20’s.  He was right in say, “The period was so far like the present period” because since the time when Dickens wrote to the present day, the struggles of life are very much the same. Dickens words describe the era of those who are twenty-something as well as any.

The twenties boil down to the issue of choice.  What you choose in your twenties will be the foundation for the rest of your life. You live with the consequences of those choices. You choose Light or darkness, hope or despair, belief or unbelief.

The choices are clearly defined. Choose wisely.

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When No One Shows Up

A youth pastor asked me this question recently so I want to encourage those of you who have poured a lot of time into an event and had only one or two people show up, that what looks like a flop to you, might look very different from an eternal perspective.

Several years ago my best friend and her husband decided to run an Alpha course in their neighborhood. They asked neighbors, cooked, prepared, and several neighbors promised to come.  On the first night exactly one woman showed up. With four of us present, only one of whom was a guest, my friends asked me, “What do we do now?” I suggested we carry on like it was the most normal thing in the world to have just four of us.

After four weeks of meeting, the woman told us she could no longer continue to come but wanted to know if she could purchase the DVDs. We were willing to give them to her in the hopes at least one person would be reached. She said she’d rather buy them because, “I’m Sikh and I share this with the community but there are too man of them to invite to your house”.  Somewhat stunned we asked her to clarify and she thought she would show them to her community center since it would have been presumptuos to bring several dozen people to the house.  Our “one” person “flop” was not what we thought.

In reality,  welll over 100 people were being exposed on a weekly basis to the content of Alpha because our faithful friends treated one person just as it she’d been a dozen. All the time they were unaware their faithfulness to one was multiplied a hunred fold or more. How totally human to see with our eyes and how totally like God to see a whole lot of people we could not.

Will there be nights when you are alone?  Perhaps.  If so, you have demonstrated to the heavenlies that you will be faithful to your God even if no one one else shows up. Will there be nights when one or two show?  Yes. Treat them like they are the most important people in the world. Don’t be ashamed of having a “flop”.  Perhaps what looked like a “flop” to you was the Lord proving to the unseen accusers that you will not give up, you will stay faithful, and you will trust God for results.

When no one shows up carry on like they had and remember the audience of One is the only audience that matters.  God is not big on wasting stuff, so don’t you worry. He’s got something in the works.  I am not a fan of Woody Allen but in this regard he was right.  He said the harest part of life was showing up.  Sometimes in ministry the hardest part is showing up and trusting that God has shown up as well.  All is well.

Processing That Summer Ministry Experience

This post is dedicated to those of you who think you already have, or still are processing your summer ministry experience. You will generally fall into one of these two categories:

  1. “Everything was amazing. It changed my life forever”. This reaction is normally spoken by those who got on airplanes and went to new and exotic places. Some worked very hard building things for two weeks, sweating profusely and being exposed in real life to sights, sounds, faces and souls that are a lot more heart-tugging up front and in person than they are on a video.  For those who took those trips I applaud you for going and remind you to please remember the following:  you took a two week trip.  You did not commit a lifetime to the foreign field, don’t really know what it is like, and all Americans are not spoiled hypocrites.  You are in the initial stages of processing an experience unlike any you had before so give it time to gain perspective. Be nice to your classmates and fellow church members when you get home. For those who spent an “entire summer” in (name that country) you are not experts on any place you lived in for just a couple of months.  You were probably caught tourist sights, had some ministry experiences, and got just enough exposure to fall in love with someplace.
  1. “It was a total waste of time and all I know is I never want to do that with my life. I might even crawl through glass before I spend another week in a cabin with 7th graders”. This reactions is typical of people who spent the summer doing things within the realm of their skill set, faithfully serving in settings with fairly predictable outcomes.  Nothing was spectacular except the level of aggravation pre-teens can arouse in an adult and the work got to be rather repetitious  “I never want to do that” can be said of many jobs.  I once spent a summer making shoe tongues (really, 40 hours a week, stamping out leather shoe tongues) and I can honestly say the high point was sharing the gospel with people at lunch.  The job itself was mind-numbing. Years later I learned that five people converted as a result lunch time conversations but at the time I thought God had me in the factory so I would have greater insight if I needed to write an essay on the hardships of working conditions around the time of the Industrial Revolution.

To those in group “a”, the dust will settle and while the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, you were entrusted with a great experience and now need to ask the Lord how to best use it for His glory. Other people are not called to live up to your experience, but you are, so if the Lord gave you that opportunity, He gave it to you to use wisely for His Name’s sake. Whether it is pray for the people with a certain need, support work in such a place, or return there yourself, treasure the experience. It will not be wasted.

To those in group b, you have had the tough and real experience of faithfully doing things that need to be done and are not personally thrilling. Good.  It’s part of growing up and growing up means learning there is a lot of value in things you do not enjoy.  As you get some distance you will see more of the bright spots, remember the kid at camp who dogged you and will one day pray he or she can find you again and thank you for what you have done to help them.  For those camp counselors and youth pastors you met who looked tired and burned out, the summer is a lot of work for camp leaders and youth pastors and they were tired. Cut them some slack and buy them a smoothie. They are not less genuine or less passionate. They might just be tired. But they are faithfully serving an age group that is notoriously time consuming, self-centered and thankless.  It is an interesting reality that if a group of 50 people banded together to save a life it would make national news.  Yet that scene is repeated over and over again in camps and VBS and summer programs across this nation, when college students, and youth workers spend themselves and the eternal lives of dozens are saved and as it was not observably dramatic the miracle of what occurred goes unnoticed. The fact remains that 80% of those who come to Christ do so before the age of 18, so before anyone bashes a youth pastor, show some respect. Those of you doing those jobs no one wants to do, are actually the “top harvesters” in the kingdom.

Fall is coming. Perhaps you graduated and are now beginning to really transition. Perhaps you are returning to school. If you graduated and don’t know what to do next, take a peek at my last blog. If you are going back to school, embrace what you learned this summer and keep growing and you will find that you eventually have a healthy perspective. The great part about having a fantastic experience is you realize this is not about you but something so much bigger.

The great part about having an uninspiring experience is you will understand it was not a waste because the experience wasn’t about you. You did those skits, sang those songs, and got covered in mud for some kid for whom that was the greatest week of his or her life. Life is not about you and your ride on an elephant or the camp staff who showed the same maturity as the campers.  It’s bigger than that and you all did the part you were given for these short weeks. Now be thankful: You all had a great summer.