As long as I live there will be something worth fighting for, worth writing for, and worth dying for.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

And We Wonder Why...

I've heard it many times before, the beaten dead horse statistic that young adults are leaving church when they hit college and aren't coming back until they have kids. Here's a thought: maybe it is time we stop quoting statistics and work on changing them... just a thought.

I did a little research before I sat down to right this and found 101 Different reasons why young adults leave the church. I think, as a young adult myself, very few of them actually know what they are talking about. This one article did hit home. It bears the subheading "Young adults will leave church if they are overlooked." It was published by the Baptist Press in 2006.

Being a Baptist, I feel very comfortable in saying, leave it to us to nail the problem square on the head and then do nothing about it. It's like searching for years for a diagnosis of a chronic illness. The doctor finally figures it out, announces the diagnosis, then leaves. As if you have the medical training to treat yourself.

In the article, it polled Christian young adults (there's an idea: ask the people who are actually in that stage of life) asking what they were looking for in a church. I can hear the 'older' generations thinking now. Immediately, they all went down the "all these young people want is drums and a fun time." You would be wrong, and if I may, you would be half the problem.

Here is the other half. Of those young adults polled in a 2006 survey conducted by Lifeway Research, 73% of 18-34 year olds thought it was important to be able to develop relationships with people their age. 71% felt hands-on service in the community was important. 68% wanted to be able to explore religious environment without pressure (a.k.a. establish themselves in their own faith). 67% wanted to be able to get advice from people with similar life experiences, and a whopping 66% felt it was important to be able to utilize their own talents and gifts in the church.

The percentage of those things I see done in the modern-day church- 0%.

Notice, nothing was said about music, or games, or programs. In fact, the article goes on to say this, which is really the whole point of this rambling blog. It says,
"I truly believe [this generation] wants to embrace Jesus Christ and His plan for their life...They want to embrace church, but only the genuine, earth-shaking, Christ-powered New Testament church. For some churches, that’s going to mean changing methodology but not the message of the Bible.”

Johnston said the solution is simple: Give this generation the unbridled truth of the Gospel, without apology, and they will actively embrace it.

And that's where we, as a church, have fallen short. We give the truth like we give vitamins. We pump it full of sugar and make it a flavored and cute chewable. Church is a dietary supplement. Let me ask you this: can you survive on a bottle of vitamins?

In a little over a month, Reckless will be launching. Reckless, along with other already-established ministries such as The Rebelution, are geared toward activating this generation of young people to live life for Christ.

Frankly, I'm done. We're done. Done settling for second best in our walks with Christ and in our churches. Done settling for a faith that can barely move a blade of grass much less a mountain. Done.

The problem holds guilt all over our churches. We lack discipleship. We lack responsibility. We lack depth.

We have these children's and youth programs. They are shallow, pumped full of music and a good time. Pumped full of points and systems and strategies. Mass-produced and microwaveable. Tell me, can you survive on that?

What we need is depth. What we need is intention. We need a generation of leaders willing to do hard things (to steal Alex and Brett's line) in order to raise up a generation of young adults who will do hard things. I have seen it and I still see it. This generation of teenagers is a generation that is done with the sugar coating and fluff. Give them the truth raw and wriggling and keep your nasty chips (yes, I am in a quoting mood today. Name the movie!).

Liken our faith to a swimming pool. There is a community pool in my back yard, literally. There is a shallow end, a deep end and a wading pool. As a church, we have our youth in the shallow end. We don't want to scare them by going into the deep end, so we let them play in the shallow end. Then, once they hit college age, we push them down the water slide into the deep end. We expect them to become actively involved and step into leadership roles. And we wonder why they drown.

How about, instead, we take the teenagers to the deep end and teach them how to swim. Guess what, though, swimming lessons are best one on one. Less likelihood of drowning that way. What does that mean for us? That means a few things. First, we have to get in the pool. Second, we have to know how to swim (hard to teach someone when you don't know yourself). Third, we have to patient and willing to teach.

But it's so much easier to mass-produce a lesson and hand it out along with our little fortune cookies. It is much easier to smile and nod and keep walking than to sit down and actually have a serious conversation. It is less time consuming and less expensive to just meet with youth on Sunday and Wednesday. Besides, we don't have the gas to drive to McDonald's or the money to buy them a $1 cheeseburger. Can't they figure out how to swim on their own?

A few do. But just a few. The rest grab on to the life raft offered by the world and climb out, never to return again.

And we wonder why...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

More than Just Surviving

This morning, I sauntered over to my Facebook and posted about how horrible today would be. Maybe not horrible, but just how long it would be. Yesterday had been a little rough, and had resulted in a rather impressive headache last night. After trying to battle it for a couple hours, me and my churning stomach made our way to bed, where I slept until 6 this morning, when my brother woke me up (there is no such thing as sleeping in here).

The to-do list for today was longer than a normal Saturday and I was still not feeling 100%. So, in typical Jessica fashion, I vented on my Facebook status about the four major things I had to do today. When I returned home after aerobics class (major thing #1), I read a friend's reply to my status. She said, "I pray you survive."

The thought occurred to me that survival is not the issue here. I have no doubt that, barring an unforeseen accident, I would be alive long enough to see tomorrow morning. That was not the problem. The problem was how I wanted to live today.

It's one thing to hole up in your room, and drown the world. It's entirely another to face a day like today and to do so in faith. To live the day, not just survive. So it has been with today, but I think God used yesterday to prepare me.

Yesterday marked day one of two that my boss, the school principal and high school teacher, would be out of town. I walked in to school fairly confident in my ability to handle a Friday without her. Within ten minutes, my confidence was faltering. I was standing in the school hallway with a parent halfway down my throat, reeming me out about how horrible of a teacher I was, etc, etc, etc.

Four years ago, I would have returned the favor and been halfway down hers. God's timing is perfect though, that morning I had read about how even a fool is regarded as wise when he keeps his mouth shut. I proceeded to listen to her for the next ten minutes, keeping my mouth shut, letting her vent off steam that probably resulted from dealing with the child she had to deal with. She ended the conversation by informing me that it was my job to teach and her job to deal with her child, and that I should do my job and she would do hers. Then, she left.

I proceeded to go into the office and exhale. I don't recall breathing the entire time she was talking to me. I let out a few tears because it is hard for me to not defend myself. I want to come back with this crass argument and tell her that her child's issues are not my problem. I can't, and that is humbling for me, because, in a situation like this, and a few others in my life, God has to be my defense. I have no choice.

After school started, I opened my e-mail, and God smiled. While one parent was raking me over the coals, another had sat down to write an e-mail of appreciation. She wrote about her child and how the staff had helped her child do much better in school. She thanked me for the time I had given her child, who is one of my 'focus' students. Guess maybe I'm not a scum-of-the-earth teacher after all, huh?

All of that yesterday prepared me to face all of this today.

After aerobics class this morning, mom and I went shopping. Our church is doing Thanksgiving baskets for needy families in our church and there is one family in particular I wanted to ensure had a basket. In order to do that, I bought them their basket. It's not like I am some rich person. Honestly, I was using money I do not have. I turned to my mother and said, tongue-in-cheek, "Why did you have to give me such a giving heart?"

The woman in charge of the baskets thought the same thing. When we arrived at the church she looked at my mother and said, "Here we were going to extend the food to give a basket to you guys and you are out shopping for people!" I guess, for us, it is part of faith. For now, we are blessed. We have a roof over our heads, a well-stocked pantry. We are fine. We are blessed, and are pretty intent on blessing others even if it draws blood from our bank. We'll be ok. God has always taken care of us.

Living the day.

After packing the baskets, we went to shop for my cousin's bridal shower. It's a bit of a rough situation, and for reasons unknown to me this particular cousin and I have a rough relationship. As we walked through the store, I was trying to think of the most practical thing to get her (because I am a huge practical person). My mom and I finally decided to pitch in together to get her something. We are now getting ready to head over to the shower, but the whole time I have been thinking about today. It hasn't been that bad.

In fact, sometime between doing the bulletin and shopping for the bridal shower, my headache and other ailments subsided. Now, I feel fine. I would say I have survived but there are still many hours left in today. I will say this though, it is one thing to make it through a day, it is another to make it through the day with your faith still intact. That's probably the hardest part of all of this.

At the end of the day, what will people say about me?

Bigger Than Life- 4Him
Life – sometimes such a bully. It sneaks up and knocks us to the ground. Life – seems to show no mercy. Well It laughs at us and kicks us when we’re down.

Well I’ve been there in it’s shadow and the time has taught me this, if we look over its shoulder, we’ll see that our God is

Bigger than life. Bigger than anything that comes our way. Bigger than life. Bigger than any problems we might face. Our God is so amazing beyond all we can say so hearts of faith take courage come what may. He’s bigger than life.

We, we all have had our bruises when life has led us to a painful place. Time and again hasn’t our God proven, He can handle any struggles that we face?

Well He’ll be the same tomorrow as He’s been through all the years so even when this life’s not fair, we have no cause to fear."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Our Satisfaction

Satisfaction is a strange part of our lingo today. We can satisfy our hunger or satisfy a debt. It holds the idea of being completely content or fulfilled. We can fulfill a longing, or fulfill the terms of a contract. Customers have satisfaction surveys that indicate if a product met, even exceeded, their expectations.

The sad point is, if Christians filled out satisfaction surveys on their walk with Christ, I doubt many would have a high rating.

But isn't God enough?

Ready? No.

Before you report me to some ethics and religion board, let me explain. Should Christians rejoice in their salvation? Absolutely. Should we have life abundant offered to us because of our salvation? Sure!

That's just it though- it is offered to us. We don't receive life abundant at salvation. We receive life eternal at salvation. We receive life abundant when we are living out God's will for our lives.

That was the message my Pastor shared Sunday night, right after I got back from the purity retreat in Vermont. I had been thinking all weekend about how this is what I want to do! This is the kind of stuff I love to do! I thought of how much I would love to be able to minister to teenage girls for the rest of my life. I came back to school Monday extremely frustrated by the fact that I did not have another ministry event to prepare for.

But God...

This morning, I prayed for the next step. I prayed for Reckless. For wisdom in getting it started. I shared the concerns and short-comings I felt, and I drove to work today much more at peace with where I am. I know that God has brought me here and He will use me here. Then, this afternoon, a ton of discipleship- the one on one kind that I love. Reckless was just born... and to me, that is nuts. It is exciting though! Extremely exciting and I must say I am satisfied.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Impeccable Timing, Your Majesty

No, that isn't an original title. I stole it from a Disney Movie. Can you name it??

At any rate, that is the dialogue between God and I at the moment. It is rather amazing how He always seems to know just when I need something. He especially likes to use the unexpected. I think that brings Him a great sense of joy when He can delight us with the simple things.

I am finishing a critical reading (editing) of an upcoming book. It is the 10th Anniversary of An Anchor for the Soul, by Ray Pritchard. This marks the third book that I have been able to have as a preview copy (the official term just left me). This, however, is the first of those three that I have been able to edit and give input for. It is a rather daunting but enjoyable task. I am not responsible for grammar as much as I am for content. I'm actually helping to update the book for its release, which is fun!

More than fun, it is informative. An Anchor for the Soul is simply an expanded Gospel Tract. It is an indepth look at the Gospel and presents truth in a take-it-or-leave-it matter of factness that would be good for some preachers to practice. Dr. Pritchard pastored a church himself and was one of my professors in Bible college. It is a blessing to work with him on this project.

The project itself has been a blessing. I have seen God and the Gospel in a new light since I read through the first 20 pages of manuscript. The timing couldn't have been better. At a moment when I was desperately needing to drink in some grace, when I was needing a new look at my Saviour, I found it... in a writing assignment nonetheless. Who would have figured?

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Fear of the Lord

The past 24 hours have been a spiritual roller coaster. I have to confess that for the last couple weeks I have, in fact, been cocky. Really cocky. Life has been going so well that I began to feel like I could handle life on my own. It was as if I said, "Ok, God. Thanks for getting me out of that mess. The road looks pretty straight from here and I have a GPS, so if You don't mind, I am going to take it from here."

Thing is: He does mind.

That was never more evident than last night when the utter blackness and depravity of my own heart scared me. Even when regenerate, we are such sinful creatures. Even when desiring a walk with God, we are so prone to fall. In time, our eyes adjust to the darkness and we find ourselves walking just fine in the black night, until God's light shines in. Then, we find ourselves truly blinded, shocked by the contrast of Truth and the reality we have been living.

Last night was a serious time of reflection before my God. A prodigal son moment, if you will, when this heart came crawling back to her Maker, battered and bruised yet again. Yesterday afternoon, I read a blog by Leslie Ludy in which she tells the story of taking her two oldest children to a local pumpkin patch. When they arrived back at their car, a swarm of bees decided to attempt to ride home with them. Leslie tried to heroically defend her children but finally called her knight, Eric, to come rescue them. When their oldest son, Hudson, heard Leslie talking to Eric, Hudson exclaimed, "Daddy, help! Come save us from the bees!" It is a heart-warming story, and Leslie, being the gifted writer she is, draws a beautiful parallel to our walk with Christ. That is the reliance, the dependence we are supposed to have on God. We are supposed to run to Him yelling, "God! Please save me!"

That was our conversation last night. It was a "God! Please rescue me... from myself." Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. If we weren't so darn independent, we wouldn't have this problem, but our nature makes us act as if there is no God and we are in no need of one.

Yesterday I also came across a video blog by author Joshua Harris. In the video he was talking about self-control and how we have to make ourselves make time for God. How we have to actively alter our life schedule and make time for God. He was speaking on a passage from Proverbs that talks about sleeping leading to poverty. He says that it doesn't always have to be sleep. It could read, "A little Facebook, a little e-mail and your poverty will come upon you..."

It made me realize that my priorities have been, once again, way out of whack. Instead of getting up at 5:30 to read my Bible and pray and eat breakfast, I have been getting up at 6:30 to check my Facebook, e-mail, Beggar's Daughter and leave. The ministry God gave me began to become more important than my walk with Him. Everything in my spirituality had grown to center around what it would do for Beggar's Daughter. It had begun to consume me in an unholy way.

This morning, I decided to change that. Because change, really, is within our control.

I woke up at 5:30 this morning, took a shower while my mom was out on her walk. Emptied the dishwasher and settled in on the couch for a solid, uninterrupted time before the throne of Grace. This morning, God was waiting there for me, with a message very clear. I opened my Bible to Job 23 and read chapters 23-28 where Job is talking about how he would come before God. Somewhere in the middle, he says that hypocrite has no place before God. Ouch. The last verse talks about the fear of the Lord being wisdom and that departing from evil is understanding.

I then turned to Psalm 25-26 and read that 'the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.'

On to Proverbs 2 where the fear of the Lord brings wisdom.

It all started tying together.

So often we pray for wisdom and understanding. We will ask God to give us discernment and guidance. Here it is, in black and white. God's plan- the source of our wisdom, understanding, discernment and guidance is to fear God. When I am searching for a topic for an upcoming speaking event, my first step is not an outline or research. My first step is to fear God, to remember that I live and breathe only because He allows me to intake oxygen. To remember that I write because He has gifted me, not for my own glory, but for His and He is jealous of that glory. That is what it means to fear Him, and He is a God worth fearing.

Read on to Jeremiah (I did not write down the chapter). God is dealing (again) with the nation of Israel. Talk about a group of rebels! He discusses how He does not take sin lightly and is not at all happy with what they are doing and that He will be sending wrath, and lots of it, on them and their enemies. It awakened the realization that my God is not just a God of mercy. Is He a God of mercy? Yes. However, He is a jealous and holy God. He wants me to have fellowship with Him and only with Him. He wants my entire heart. He wants my entire life and, if history bears any likeness, will go to great lengths to bring me to Him.

Prayer this morning was bittersweet. Bitter because of the mud and filth that had to be cleaned out of heart and mind. Sweet because there was a restoration of fellowship, even if it was slight. There is a scar, a reminder that this is not a wise path to take, and Lord willing, I will not take it again. The Facebook was deactivated this morning. I probably will not sit in front of my computer for a while. It is a media vacation of sorts. I am finishing up an editorial project for the 10th Anniversary Edition of "An Anchor for the Soul" by Ray Pritchard. It is a beautiful 'Wal-Mart English' read about the Gospel.

That is as far as my media goes. My speeches will be hand-written. This is a time to sit and relish in the God who made me, loves me and desires to be with me. This is a time to restore a fellowship that has been broken and to bring healing where healing is needed. A time to learn what it means to truly fear the Lord.