Month: July 2011

Generation Next

I feel sort of like I have been to church for two weeks straight. Wait a minute. I HAVE been to church for two weeks straight. Well, pretty much. I have shared probably more than you wanted to know about Big Stuf in Daytona. But the week we returned to Birmingham our own church, Church of the Highlands, hosted it’s own youth conference, MOTION, and welcomed 2,000 students from around the country to our town and our church for three days of worship, teaching, and learning how to go after God with all they have. I’ll just say that our church is quite a lively place, so to see these kids in full on worship just made me smile.

I worry sometimes about the next generation. Isn’t that what us old fogies do- worry about the next generation? But as I looked out at these kids holding nothing back in praise and worship of their God, I could begin to think, “Ok, they’re gonna do fine.”

So many in our faith look at the empty churches of Europe and fear that we are just one generation away from that happening in America. I’m pretty sure those people have not been privileged to see what I have seen over the last couple of weeks. I wish I had had the passion these kids have when I was their age. Youth pastors of today are leading the charge and students are following. Many of the students themselves are leading.

I won’t soon forget what our own youth pastor told those kids on the final night of the conference. He told them that many of them had a real encounter with God over the last few days- and that his warning to them was this:

Don’t be surprised when family, friends, or others try to discredit what
you’ve experienced here.

It’s a sad day when that happens, but it does. Picture a kid who goes to camp or a conference over the summer and God does a real work in their heart. They leave that place changed, touched by a holy God… only to walk right back into their reality at home, or their reality with the friendships they have. Those people weren’t there, they didn’t see first hand the transformation take place. They have doubts. After all, they know this kid. They know what they’ve been capable of. Leopards don’t change their spots, right? So the kids gets barraged with scrutiny and criticism… until the shine fades and doubt sets in.

This warning from our youth pastor struck a chord because I knew it to be true. My own son had posted on his Facebook page recently something to this effect:

“Dearest girls of the world,
If your shorts are so short that the pockets on the shorts are longer than the shorts themselves, we have a problem.

Sincerely,
Grossed out teenager.”

This a message from a teenage boy who cares about the virtue of the girls he sees around him. He understands that girls speak much louder to boys by what they wear than through what they say. Boys don’t get much into conversation anyway. They are VISUAL, remember? This from a young man who is desperately trying to keep his thought life where it should be.

Here is a sixteen year old boy sending a message out to teenage girls which says in reality “Listen to what you are telling the world when you show so much skin. It makes me uncomfortable for you. You are worth so much more than this.”

That single comment from my son made my heart swell in my chest until I thought it might burst. Then I read the comments that followed. Almost without fail, he was ridiculed in them. Even one girl took issue with what he had to say. The kids who gave his comment a “thumbs up”, were ironically kids who are also chasing after God. Thank God for them!

Young people who step out for righteousness must be prepared to take the heat for it. My prayer for my own kids as well as the 5,500 students I saw these last two weeks is this:

May they never lose the fire they felt while on their mountaintop experience. May the words of the careless fall to the ground before them and fade quickly away. May they hunger more each day for the God who reached down to them and instilled his power into their lives so that no matter what they face, they put him first in all things.

Listen and Obey

While serving at Big Stuf camp, there were tons of things for the volunteers to do. All the men in my family were serving on the production team, and Laura and I had a blast helping in the camp store. It was my first time EVER to run a real cash register. I am not sure how I have lived this long and not manned one of those, but I have decided that should nursing ever not be an option for me, I will find a job running a cash register. Maybe. I goofed up a lot.

One kid wanted to buy a sticker and somehow I rang it up and the total was over five thousand dollars… boy was he surprised. After I picked him up off the floor, I discounted his sticker to two bucks… Just keep all that under your hat. I want to run a register again next summer.

Another of our family’s new friends from our Daytona week is Pastor Jeff from Tennessee.

Pastor Jeff spent a good deal of time serving in the camp store, too. During one of the sessions, while the kids were hearing from Andy Stanley, Jeff told me about a fifteen-year-old student who came to his register. She wanted to purchase a Bible. She told Jeff that she had brought money to camp to buy a t-shirt, but she had lost her Bible while at camp, so she decided to buy a new Bible instead. The Bible and the t-shirt were each twenty dollars. She even showed Jeff the shirt she would have bought if she had not decided to buy the Bible.

Jeff has a big heart for students, and in that moment decided to tell her to go get the shirt she wanted to buy, that Big Stuf would take care of it for her. Jeff didn’t know if what he had done was right, but couldn’t help feeling in his heart it was. He was so moved by the fact that a teenaged girl would choose to purchase a Bible over a t-shirt she really wanted, he felt compelled to bless her.

Later that night, that girl’s youth leader came up to Jeff and told him that the girl’s parents- the one who bought the Bible and got the shirt- had both recently lost their jobs. They thanked Jeff for his kindness, and told him what a blessing he had been to her.

I am sure she won’t soon forget what Jeff did.

That was a totally neat camp moment, and a really cool God moment. But Jeff was paying attention. He was open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to really see the girl standing before him. He had no idea why he felt compelled to give this girl a shirt; rather he just listened and obeyed.

Not a bad lesson really. Sounds simple enough.

Listen and obey.

It’s not listen, ask a bunch of questions, hesitate, stammer, and then obey. I don’t think God minds questions really, but sometimes we just need to go right from listen to obey… we can know the whys later.

It’s the same with my children. I don’t always have the time or the inclination to go into all the reasons for why I need them to do something. I just need them to do it. I want them to trust me. So many times I tell them, ”Just do this, you’ll understand why later.”

As we walk more closely with God, we learn more and more that he is trustworthy. Think of someone you trust implicitly. You would trust this person with your life if necessary. In an emergency, you would do exactly what they told you to do, because you trust them. How much more, then, can we trust the Father? The one who has already given the life of his only son for us?

She was just one girl out of 3500 students, yet God knew her unfortunate situation. He brought her right to Pastor Jeff’s register. She could have come to mine instead- or to any of the other five registers in the store. I have to wonder if she had come to mine, would I have done what he did? Would I have listened? Would I have obeyed?
(Or would I have charged her five thousand dollars for a Bible?)

Camp Debriefing

I have just returned from Daytona Beach, Florida. I went there for a week with my family to volunteer at a camp for students called Big Stuf. (That’s one ‘f’- I don’t usually like intentional misspellings, but I’ll make this one exception simply because the organization is so fabulous.)

I am in serious need of a camp debrief. We had a great time, and frankly I am a little bummed about having to go back to life as I know it. Not that my life as I know it is bad, it’s not, but if you have ever gone off to a retreat or camp and have been sucked into its vortex of peace and joy, you know what I mean. (Extra points earned for using the word “vortex” in a sentence.)

It was a whole week of worship, great speakers, students, fun filled volunteering and working with other people who also gave up a week of their summer to help pull this camp off. I have come back with much to share, and in doing so I expect that I will eventually be able to stop my 24/7 singing or humming of the wonderful songs we sang at Big Stuf.

I hope that what I have to share will be meaningful for you. I know you weren’t there with us, at least most of you were not, but the stories I have come home with will bless you- I think- and hopefully challenge you as they did me.

Most of the students, and all of the staff and volunteers stayed at the Hilton Hotel in Daytona.
As the staff and volunteers gathered on Saturday night to eat our first meal together, it was our opportunity to meet everyone. The theme for the week was about opportunities to “Konnekt”. (There it is again… but again I’ll give the misspelling a pass.) Konnekting with other believers, with God, and with people across the globe.

One of the first people Matthew and I “konnekted” with was Micah. He works for a ministry called 410 Bridge that partners with Big Stuf to do, well, big stuff. They work in Kenya and Haiti to make real differences in the lives of those there.

I asked Micah to tell me about his job. Shortly, I learned that Micah is quite passionate about what he does. I like people who are passionate about what they do. Especially when what they do really matters. Micah began to tell me how most “mission” work happens. He told me about how one shoemaker in a community in Kenya was put out of business by a mission group that brought over hundreds of pairs of shoes for the people in that community. The missionaries’ shoes were free. The shoemaker couldn’t compete with that. So he lost his only means to earn a living.

Lots of mission trips are manned by well meaning people who take trips to faraway lands in order to build something, fix something, or provide something for the people they are serving. They often do not require that the people they are helping participate in the project. Had the mission group that provided the shoes worked with the shoemaker, maybe he would still have a job.

410 Bridge sees mission work a bit differently. The work in targeted areas of Kenya and Haiti with community leaders to help the people meet the great needs they have. Some need clean drinking water. Some need schoolbooks for their children. Some need buildings to house schools or medical clinics.

I also learned of a medical clinic in Kenya that was visited by some medical missionaries. During their stay they used up all the supplies the clinic had. The clinic had no way to restock what the missionaries used up. The clinic was not able to help its people for quite a while.

Eventually someone wanting to pray over our dinner interrupted Micah. I think if that interruption had not come, he could have gone on talking about his job for hours. Over the next few days, I met more people who work for 410 Bridge, and they were all just as passionate about what they do as Micah.

Thanks to 410 Bridge, during Big Stuf camp the students each received letters that had been written to them by a child in Kenya. The students could then write back to their child on a white board, have their picture taken with it, and then the photo was sent over the Internet back to their Kenyan child. Each day of camp, the students received another letter, and each day, they could write back to their child as many times as they wanted. It was about making connections, um… konnektions. Kids that are worlds apart were brought close last week. It was way cool.

They were also given the opportunity, if they wanted to, to buy a couple of bracelets for ten bucks. The students kept one of the bracelets, wrote their Kenyan friend’s name on it, and sent the other bracelet back to Kenya for their friend to have with the student’s name written on it. The money raised will go to further the mission work of 410 Bridge helping in the communities where their Kenyan friends live. I don’t know the final count but on the third night of camp those kids had given over ten thousand dollars of their own money. Amazing. They really are doing Big Stuff, er Stuf.

If you’d like to learn more about the work of 410 Bridge you can check them out at www.410bridge.org. The people you will see in the photos are the very people I got to serve alongside of this last week. These are some really cool people. Really cool.

College Orientation

My husband and I went with our oldest child to college orientation this week. I sat there wondering what the heck a young woman like me was doing with a college-aged child. They talked a lot about transitions, college life, opportunities available, course offerings, and tuition. Of course they talked about tuition.

My son is a rather laid back sort, and we are not entirely sure he’s grasping all he’s about to step into. I did take comfort as I looked around the large room at other parents and kids and could see I was not alone. It helps to know you are not alone in your boat, especially if the boat has a leak or two. I actually had to fight back a tear a few times. And it had nothing to do with tuition payment.

As we dismissed for lunch the first day and exited to go find the cafeteria, I heard someone call my name. Odd. I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew. I turned to see a friend from years ago standing there. As confusion morphed into recognition my mouth fell open at seeing her there. Then I realized she must be there at orientation with her daughter whom I had not seen since she was four.

I guess I expected to see a little four-year-old girl standing there, but when I turned and saw her, I was forced to realize that she, too, had grown up just like my son had. A beautiful young lady stood before me now, hoping against hope (I am sure) that this strange lady wouldn’t make a big deal over her. Oh well. Couldn’t help myself. She had been too little to remember how our families had become close, and had even taken a vacation together years ago. Like so often happens, when our family moved away, over time we just lost touch.

Seeing both of our kids, all “grown up” and preparing for college was both an exciting and sobering experience.
We talked over lunch about our families and tried to squeeze twelve years into thirty minutes. We shared about our other children (each of us had added one or two to our families) and it was good to hear that we had all faired pretty well.

As first time college parents, we could easily fall into a full on panic. Did we teach our kids all they needed to know? Do they fully appreciate what they are about to do? Will they always make good decisions? Do they understand how much money all this involves? The answer to each of these questions is likely a resounding, NO.

The truth is, when I was their age I wasn’t fully prepared either. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. College was four of the hardest and best years of my life. And honestly, had I known just how hard they were going to be, I probably would not have even started them. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

I grew up so much during my college years. Made my share of mistakes. (None of which I plan on sharing here.) I am sure my son will have his share of struggles, but I know that the Lord will go before him, and will be his rear guard. I’m counting on that in the days ahead.

My most fervent prayer is that he stays on the path the Lord has for him.

I bought a cheesy college parent t-shirt in the school bookstore yesterday at the end of orientation. They were five bucks, and I’m all in on this one…

My son’s gonna have to learn to fly solo some now, but I’ll always be here for him… wearing my t-shirt and cheering him on.

My Story

I grew up in the Methodist church. They are a wonderful, methodical people, the Methodists. Whoever named them such hit the nail on the head with that one. As a Methodist kid growing up in a Methodist family, I too, grew up with a certain method to my church-ness. It was all very predictable. And safe. There is a certain amount of safety and security in the predictable.

On occasion, as an adult I have gone back to visit the church of my youth and find that I can with great ease, slip right back into that comfort. The methods haven’t changed all that much in the last several decades. It’s like a warm blanket that wraps around your shoulders.

Part of Methodist tradition states that at a certain age or grade, children pass through what is called “Confirmation”. Children attend classes led by their pastor and are taught things such as church history, and a little Bible theology. Then on the appointed Sunday, the students are confirmed into the Church. The church folks stand and promise to help raise these newly confirmed church members in the ways of the church. And wha la. That’s it. You’re in.

My pastor gave us some little books to read as we went through the classes. I read every one, and placed them on a special bookshelf in my room. I gathered every copy of the free devotional books, “The Upper Room”, I could find and started amassing quite the church booklet library. All in order by date. Very methodical.

I was confirmed into the church at the end of the classes, but I didn’t really know Jesus. I mean, I knew who he was. I knew what he did for humanity. I appreciated it. I really did. But that was about it.

I set my mind on being a really good church member. I enjoyed all I did as a part of my church. My church was an extension of my family. Those good folks held to the promises they made on my confirmation day.

The problem was, I knew all about being a good Methodist, but I didn’t know Jesus. There was no real life change that had taken place in my life as a result of my confirmation. I’m not trying to place blame, it’s just the way it was.

It remained this way until I started middle school. There was a young enthusiastic couple that had come to our church, and had a heart for young people like me. Their names were George and Janet and they were newly weds. They had a small apartment not too far from our church, and offered to have a spend-the-night party for all the girls my age one Friday night.

About five of us took them up on it. It was the first time I had ever been in an apartment. We had a great time. These were fun people. George could walk on his hands. I was easily amused back then. We ate slice-and-bake cookies, and watched the local drive in movie from their apartment window.

Later that night, George talked to us about Jesus. He told us that God loved us so much that he sent his only son to die in our place. He told us that Jesus died for each one of us, and that he would have done it for only us. Jesus would have died just for me. He did die for me.

I had never heard this before. I’m not trying to say it had never been said in front of me before. I don’t know. Maybe it had, but I had never heard it before. That night, my eyes opened to Jesus for the first time. George led us in a prayer that I prayed in my heart to accept Jesus.

I never told anyone about this. Not a soul. How could I? I had already been confirmed into the church. This was supposed to have happened to me already. But I knew then, that it had not. I didn’t tell George, my friends, my parents or my pastor. No one knew but me.

I had spent several years being a cultural Christian. I was a good one, too. Dedicated, committed. I did a lot of good things. I served well. Yet I was serving a cause, not a person. I was not serving Jesus. All that changed the night he became real to me.

More than thirty years went by before I ever told George what happened to me that night. I came to appreciate so much what he did for me in that small apartment. He shared Jesus with me, and it changed my life for eternity. I found George about a year ago, and sent he and his wife an email telling them what happened that night so long ago. I’d like to share his response with you here.


Stacey,

You will never know how much your note has meant to me & Janet. I got it on my birthday, & we can tell you that it is the greatest single birthday gift I have ever received. When I think of you as a little girl praying to receive Christ, it brings tears to my eyes. My daughter read it aloud to some friends last night over supper, & she could not get through it – she was crying too hard.

Janet & I are so honored to know that we helped in some small way to lead you to the Great Master.
Your sweet note makes me think back to my dad, who led me to Christ with the plan of salvation when I was 21.

I want you to know that Janet & I are still trusting God, in our flawed way, to lead our lives.We so look forward to meeting you, your husband, and your children, maybe for a cup of coffee one night.

Even as I write this note I am tearing up to think of the sweet spirit
you must have in taking the time to bring us such a blessing.

Your brother & sister in Christ
George & Janet

Did someone step out and share Jesus with you? Have you told them thank you? It changed your life for eternity…maybe you should. Then turn around and share him with someone else…

That’s the great plan, you know.

….. And George, thanks again.

“Difficulty is Inevitable. Drama is a Choice”

I really like that quote from Anita Renfroe. She has it on a t-shirt for sale in her online store. It’s twenty bucks so I’m not buying it, but I’d like to. The Bible tells us that in this life we will have trouble. It’s right there in black and white.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may
have peace. In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33)

God was quite honest about the whole thing, and yet when trouble comes our way, often we behave as if we had no idea it would ever come. And in fact, we are often pretty offended when it does.

Ever find yourself running late for work only to walk out to your car and find a flat tire? How about that on the hottest day of the summer, the air conditioner in your house goes kaput?

There are literally a million things that can veer off course in just a single day of our lives. If we ever make it through even one day without one of these things going “wrong” we should realize what a miracle that is. I’m trying to think if I have ever had a day where every single thing I wanted to happen did happen in just the way I wanted it to… I’m pretty sure that’s a no.

Even little things that go awry can frustrate. There is a book out that I have never actually read called,
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. The subtitle is, “And It’s All Small Stuff”. While I’ve not read it cover to cover, I did peruse it once while killing some time in Barnes and Noble, and found its principles a bit interesting.

It’s sort of a self-help book on attitudes. The only problem I had with the book is what the author did not say. He talked a lot about peace and tranquility, but I didn’t find where he shared how to get the peace that lasts. For that reason, I left it on the shelf and moved on to skim other books I had no intention of buying.

All the relaxation, breathing techniques, and attitude adjustments in the world won’t give us the lasting peace that only comes from the Holy Spirit. It’s the peace that the Bible tells us surpasses all human understanding. It’s the peace that holds strong during the large storms of life as well as when we have to write that big check to the air conditioner repairman.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

Difficulty is inevitable. Eventually the cat is going to puke in your shoe. It’s our response that is completely up to us. It takes quite a bit of practice not to over dramatize our situations or our responses to them. For lots of us, drama is our go-to reaction. Yet when we walk in the knowledge that no matter our circumstances, God is in control, we are better able to take in stride those unexpected detours in life, and keep the drama to a minimum.

It’s Only Fun Until Someone Gets Hurt

It’s a sad but true statement. On our recent trek into the Georgia Mountains to visit our time-share cabin in Big Canoe for family vacation, my youngest son learned all to personally how both sad and true it is.

It was our family’s third trip to Big Canoe; a mountain lover’s paradise of lakes, hiking trails, and thankfully- swimming pools. It’s hot, even in the mountains, this time of year. This time we extended the invitation to my husband’s sister and her family to join us. That made twelve of us. Add an extra cousin or two, and grandparents who couldn’t resist seeing all their “grands” together again, and that made sixteen. We can take over a place.

One of the fun events was a family game of Ultimate Frisbee. There was a wide-open field just begging to be played upon. So we obliged. I don’t recall who won, possibly because it wasn’t my team, but who really cares?

The Frisbee fun continued the next day at the pool. The pool happened to be lakeside in the middle of picturesque mountains. The beach area also called to the Frisbee throwers. So once again, they did not disappoint. All was going well until…. “crack!”

And then there was the scream…

…And the blood

There was quite a bit of blood. My ten-year-old was holding his mouth, and my husband was holding him. He had taken a Frisbee to the mouth and in doing so, had misplaced his front tooth. It was nowhere to be found. Suddenly no one really wanted to play Frisbee anymore.

My husband had thrown that fateful Frisbee into the mouth of his own son. Later, he lamented that he had just given his son a lifelong problem to deal with. That may be true, but my son seems to hold no grudges against his dad. Evan forgives really quickly. It’s a character trait that will serve him well in life.

Later that evening, much later, Evan was laughing about the whole thing. He stopped short and said to me, “Hey, you told me earlier when I lost my tooth that one day I would laugh about it. You were right, I’m already laughing!”

Honestly, I didn’t remember saying that, but he remembered. I was in full nurse mode at the time he lost his tooth, and I guess my mouth was running on autopilot.

We’ll have some rough spots to go over getting this tooth taken care of, but I have a lot to learn from my ten-year-old son about forgiveness. He could have been mad with his dad over the whole thing. Who could blame him? Accident or not, he did leave a part of himself on that beach. My husband apologized again and again, but Evan had already forgiven him.

The Bible tells us that God is like that, only in a God-sized way. As believers in, and followers of Christ, we don’t have to ask for forgiveness to receive forgiveness. The forgiveness issue was settled upon our salvation. That debt has been paid in full. Jesus paid all of any sin debt we had, have, or ever will have at Calvary. The asking of forgiveness is for us. We do not ask not knowing what the reply will be. The reply is always the same.

Forgiven.

We ask because in asking we are recognizing our own dark shortcomings against the light of his perfection. We are reminded how much we need him, how we belong to him, and desire to be in right relationship with him. There is wonderful freedom in walking in forgiveness.

It’s a beautiful thing, forgiveness. A gift God gives each of us to share with those we are closest to, with those we have never met, and with everyone in between. Forgiveness is an outpouring of his love for us and it is a gift that blesses both the giver and the recipient.

A pretty good reminder from a snaggle toothed ten-year-old.