Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Who has bewitched me?

I forgot that God is big. Of course, I have been giving lip service to this, who doesn't? But, really in my heart of hearts, I have been giving in to despair. Despair is cunning. Certainly God is not big enough to actually rescue people from depression, broken homes, abusive situations, heartbreak, or a bad relationship. People need to trust God to help them, for sure, and they can't do it without Him, I know I can't, but people need to put in the effort and pull themselves up, do some hard work and then God will help them. I can't believe that I forgot, I actually forgot.

This thought pattern worked its way into ministry. In times and places where I should have been giving a situation over the Spirit, I was fretting, worrying, and brainstorming about ways to equip students to do some of the hard work to get themselves where they need to be. These are good things to do, but not, in an of itself, Biblical ministry. Biblical ministry flows from a heart that is being transformed into the image of Christ. Equipping people for hard internal work is only ministry insofar as it comes from a heart responsive to the Spirit and in line with what He is already doing. Somewhere along the way I stopped believing that God could step in and change complicated human situations. Of course, I did not say that nor did I think that I believed that, but I did. Belief is born out by actions, so my lack of trust, lack of inviting God into the situation, lack of expecting Him to work is fruit of  my believing that God was not going to act.

This transition has been so gradual that I can't tell you when I pulled out of this, or even when I noticed it was there. But, I can see it now. I can see it because I am at the end of my ability in so many situations. I have brainstormed and thought and counseled my way right to the end of everything I can brainstorm and think and counsel, and I have no other choice but to pray. Not just to pray because that is what I am supposed to do in ministry, but pray because I have nowhere else to go. And how many times to we do just that? Use real prayer as a last resort. Come on, girl, you know better than this. Well, obviously I don't know better, because here I am, remembering after some desperate praying that God is big enough to change lives and hearts.

I found in my desperation that God is acting and that He, of course, never stopped. I feel like the Galatians. Paul says to them "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? let me ask you this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing through faith? Havin gbegun with the Spirit are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain- if it really was in vain?" Harsh words, but they are so applicable for me so very often. I am always needing to be reminded to act in faith and in step with the Spirit and not with my own power. What is most encouraging to me is that in my desperation I am internally stepping back and seeing if anything really is changing. And in that stepping back there is so much freedom. This is my place- waiting for God to work, and in the mean time loving others, seeking God and giving as solid advice as I know how. How encouraging to remember that God is big enough to really change our lives, our circumstances and ourselves. And how foolish of me to forget. I was only running myself ragged when I could have been investing in the Spirit's work in my life and the lives of others. I wonder if trusting in the Spirit is ministry. I know that it feel like ministry when others have done it for me. I have such a short memory, but God is good and gracious and knows my weakness. He know that I am foolish and He is crazy about me anyway.

It is so much more energizing to minister from here. Here, where I am not working from my own power, but where I am listening and waiting and expecting God to move because I need Him to move. I have much more energy to wait for a real Savior than to try to make a solution myself. I have much more energy to invest in the reality life through the Spirit than to try to push life out of myself and others. Certainly, God calls us to work. I think that as Christians we have a call to tend to our lives, our emotions, our relationships and our internal worlds in a way that does not allow for sin to go unchecked. People are messy and broken and sinful. And I firmly believe that the Spirit calls us to the mat to face this reality and work on it. I am an advocate for counseling, loving confrontation, and the hard work that is involved in self-awareness, and building and maintaining healthy relationships. But I think that I let the discouragement of not seeing results from these things in the time I think they should have been there take away the trust that God is capable of changing people. Failure is not the best way ever to be reminded that God is big, but I am happy to be here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

music for my academic, youth-loving soul

"First, realize (and celebrate) that this curriculum is a mixture of Scripture and social science data, of theology and research.  Theology based in Scripture beats at the heart of this curriculum, but good research conducted by the Fuller Youth Institute and other research centers also pulses throughout." Have I mentioned yet that I love, love, love well-done research? And that I love, love, love when it is applied to the daily practice of youth ministry? And here are some people that are doing it and doing it well! So exciting!

The Fuller Youth Institute has been conducting research for the past few years on the longevity and quality of youth-group attending students after their graduation from high school. This is the research behind the Sticky Faith curriculum and books. The quote above is an introduction to that curriculum designed as a tool to help foster lasting, meaningful, Christ-centered, transformative, community-oriented faith for high school seniors.

I am excited about this particular curriculum for many good reasons.

1. It includes qualitative and quantitative data over a long enough period of time, from a large enough group to be reliable. What does that mean for someone who might use it? It means that it is dependable. The underlying assumptions are based on well-documented, real-life experiences of a large number of young people who have made the transition out of high school youth group to whatever lies beyond. It means that when they say things like "Approximately 40% of youth group seniors significantly struggle with their faith and with finding a church after graduation. Only about 16% of college freshmen felt well prepared by their youth ministries for what they encountered after graduation." You can trust that they know what they are talking about, and you can take their suggestions seriously.

2. The research translates into a practical, user-friendly form. What? That simply can't be. Oh, but my friends, it is. It is. The curriculum samples (which, by the way are FREE) include preparation points, a main idea, step by step instructions, a hand out, and great verbage for starting meaty discussion. As if that weren't enough there are lists of organizations to help students stay plugged in during college, tips on finding a church, and list of questions for students to ask during a search for a local church.

3. The writers of this curriculum love Jesus, love adolescents, and have the utmost respect for those practicing youth ministry. This makes all the difference in the world. Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and Chap Clark are people who consistently demonstrate a commitment to the gospel, and will not be moved. They care that those who are in church are meeting Christ and being transformed by the Holy Spirit for the rest of their lives. That means that this curriculum is something of substance. They combine that passion with an understanding of the labors of those in youth ministry who want nothing more than to lead students to Christ and often find it very challenging to do so.

Isn't this so great? Do you know what this means? This means that there is someone out there who has put in the work for you to have reliable, usable tools to help foster gospel-centered faith in young people! Ah! If you have, for some reason, made it this far in the post and not followed a link, follow this one: sign up for the free resources from the Fuller Youth Institute.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Alicia's Sweatpants

Confession #1: I am wearing sweatpants on a Friday night.
Confession #2: I have been wearing these particular sweatpants almost every day for the last few weeks.
Confession #3: They are not mine.

They belong, in fact, to my dear friend Alicia who ever so graciously loaned them to me when we were having a movie night- a revival of Hook, I might add. Although I cannot take credit for that, it was the brain child of my delightful office-mate, Ashley. I arrived totally ill-prepared for this movie night: in a pencil skirt and tights. Alicia was kind enough to loan me the best, most cumfy pair of sweatpants that have ever been on my body. "It is like I am not even wearing pants!" I have worn them almost every day since. They look at me from their resting place - usually my floor or the dirty laundry basket- and they taunt my conscience. "I am here, just here for you, the most comfortable pants you have ever worn. Sure, I may actually belong to someone else, but I am here with you now: here to comfort you, swaddle you in warmth and fuzziness, and to help you forget all your worries, fears, and insecurities. Certainly, I have done that for Alicia, and could be doing that for her now... but since I am here, it would be a waste of my glorious gifts not to wear me. It would be, in fact, an insult to the ontological nature of sweat pants."

Now, I KNOW that I should wash and return the sweatpants. They have, in fact, been washed several times. Once after I took them to the east coast on a recruiting trip, and once since in a spurt of good intentions to return them to their owner. Even as I write this I feel guilty. These are not my pants and I am not doing a great job of respecting Alicia or of honoring her generosity. BUT.... these. are. the. most. comfortable. pants. I. have. ever. worn. I can justify this pattern of behavior by saying that I know Alicia, and I know how deeply she cares for her friends and that she would want me to be comfortable- that she would want me to feel the loving embrace of an understanding friend after a long, angst-filled day.

Since my time with the object of my affections is limited I find perfectly legitimate reasons to keep them just one more day. I will give them back tomorrow, so I should be sure to wear them for one last time this evening. The next day they are not clean and I certainly can't give them  back to Alicia dirty. I don't have time to do laundry until the weekend and we all know that the weekend is the perfect time to wear sweatpants. Luckily, I work with Alicia and so I will see her on Monday in order to return the perfectly clean sweatpants. Sunday night is youth group and not the best time to do laundry, so the pants can wait until Tuesday to go back. But who wants to laundry Monday night? And so, almost a month later, I am in the sweatpants. Luckily it is Friday night and I can enjoy another weekend of sweet, stolen time with the adultress pants.

This is a glorious love affair.