Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Me Vs. A 14-Year-Old Girl

In July 2013, I was a youth pastor and was attending a summer youth conference with our teenagers.  There were around 2000 other teenagers at this conference.  One particular night our group wanted to sit in a section that was in the front of the auditorium.  Here's something important to know about getting seats at this youth conference:  The front row is prime real estate!  It’s probably easier to get a hold of the last 50 inch flat screen TV on Black Friday than it is to get a seat in the front row.  And, one does not step foot in to that area unless willing to tolerate getting stepped on, pushed out of the way, possibly run over and, at times, maced or tazed.   

Well, our kids were the first in line at the doors and anxiously anticipating their opening. Excitement was in the air.  The doors opened and, like the girth of a fat man coming out of a spandex suit, the mob of teenagers exploded through the doors.  At that time, I was 41 years old and completely caught up in the excitement.  The first and second rows were going to be ours!  

We race up to the front, our eyes fixed on the prize.  As we were racing to the first two rows, I noticed two things.  First, I’ve lost a step … well, several steps actually.  I’m not quite as fast as I used to be.  Picture a penguin racing against Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash at the Olympics.  That may give you an idea of what it was like for me to race against these teenagers.  But, thankfully, we had enough of a head start and we made it to the first two rows before nearly everyone else.  I say “nearly” everyone else because it’s then that I noticed the second thing … a teenage girl standing in MY row of seats.  To this day I do not know who she was, but she made it to the second row at the same time that I did.  It was there that our eyes met. 

This sweet teenage girl said to me “These seats are saved.”  At this moment that the sweet, innocent teenage girl turned in to a modern day Jezebel in my eyes!  These were MY seats!  So, I politely said to her “No they’re not.”  To which she responded “Yes they are.”  I’m not sure if she was demon possessed, but I had my suspicions and was ready to put a little Jesus in to her!  The battle had begun.

I tried to explain to this clearly misguided girl that the pastor of our church was speaking tonight and that our teenagers wanted to sit up front in an effort to show support, to which she basically responded, “I don’t care.  These seats are saved.”  

This battle of wills went on for a few minutes.  During that time I found myself getting increasingly angry.  I found myself wanting to use my authority as an adult and as a leader at the conference in an effort to get what I wanted seats.  I also found myself feeling very, for lack of a better word, dirty inside.  Something was not right about this crazy situation.  And, then, in the midst of this battle of wills, a moment of clarity opened my eyes to the ridiculousness of the situation.  Here I am, a 41-year-old man a professional well respected amongst my peers I have a beautiful wife, amazing kids I’m a grown man and I’m literally arguing with some a 14-year-old girl that I do not know over seats that are not mine to begin with.  I began to understand why I was feeling “dirty” inside.

It was at that moment I took a step back from the situation when her youth pastor came up from behind me and asked, “Is there a problem?”  Yes.  There was a problem.  The problem was my selfishness.  I wanted what I thought I deserved.  I was putting my wants, my desires ... myself first.  I was making this all about me. 

I explained the situation to the other youth pastor and he kindly said, “Well, I’ll just ask her to move.”  A few minutes earlier I most likely would have said, “Thanks.  I would appreciate it if you did."  Instead, I said words that went against everything that comes natural to me.  I simply said, “You know, someone has to be second here, so I’m just going to find some other seats.  No big deal.”

I think I got it right that time, but the unfortunate reality is that I have blown it far more times than I've gotten it right.  Selfishness comes all to natural to me.  Our hearts will always have a bent toward selfishness unless we allow the Holy Spirit to intervene.  Beth Moore has said, “If you’re not fighting selfishness you’re falling in to it.”  I have seen this to be so true in my life.  As I've fallen in to selfishness I have wounded many others on the way down.

Our minds and our hearts have a natural bent toward selfishness.  I think it's important to do selfless things in order to become less selfish, but, I believe the ultimate way to overcome selfishness is to look toward Jesus.  If all I'm concerned with is becoming less selfish ... that's good and all, but it will inevitably get me looking at me.  If and when I make my life all about my behavior, then I'm still making life all about me.  In a way, it's the ultimate "selfie."  Making life all about me and my behavior, means I'm constantly looking at me and my behavior.  My greatest concern becomes "How an I'm doing?"  That, ironically enough, keeps my eyes off of you and continues to focus them on me.  The problem with constantly looking at me and my behavior is that it never really gets me looking toward Jesus.  And, it certainly doesn't get me looking toward you.  

Mother Theresa said, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”

The more I look toward Jesus and submit to His authority in my life, the more I will begin to remember that you have a soul  the more I'll begin to remember that my waiter or waitress isn't just there to serve me my meal.  They have a soul ... a soul for which Jesus is deeply concerned.  And because Jesus has concerned for their soul, I want to be concerned for their soul.  The more I look toward Jesus, the more I'm reminded that even if a 14-year-old girl responds to me with rudeness, I can respond to her with kindness.  As someone has said, "I can be graceful and patient because I have been saved from an old way of life and saved to a NEW way of life."  The more I look toward Jesus, the softer my heart becomes for those around me.  

I'm not going to say this doesn't require some work.  My eyes naturally want to drift away from Jesus and drift toward me.  I don't need a selfie stick in order to see myself.  All I need is a pulse and my eyes naturally drift in my own direction.  So, I have to work at keeping my eyes off of me and focused on Jesus.  I have to work at remembering not only who I am but whose I am as well.  When I remember that I am His, I remember that I am called to entirely different way of life ... “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being make in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:3 - 8) 

So, what I discovered was that me versus a 14-year-old girl was really me versus myself.  I was the enemy.  What I also found out was that the grace of God is greater than all my sin and the more I die to myself, the more I actually begin to fully live.  How I long to remember this in every situation.  I don't.  I'm still selfish.  But, I am so grateful for the grace of Jesus as He continues to call me in to His way of life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Two Years Ago I Watched A Man Die

Two years ago I was in the hospital room with a man who died.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the room with another person when they’ve passed, but it’s nothing like what is portrayed on TV.  The process was long and drawn out.  The breathing was labored.  There was gurgling and strange noises.  But, one thing was clear … the end was near.  I grieved with the family.  I cried with them.  I prayed with them.  I tried my best to be a comfort and support to them during that time, but it's in moments like these that I often feel so helpless and inadequate.  

In the Bible there is a verse in the book of Ecclesiastes.  It’s Ecclesiastes 7:2 and it starts out by saying this:  “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.”  I remember reading that and really being confused ... mainly because I like to "feast!"  It doesn’t get much better for me than sitting down to a great meal and really enjoying it!  But, this verse is saying basically that’s it’s better to go to a funeral than to a wedding.  And, I was confused about that until I read on in the verse.  “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.” 

Death has a way of refocusing us because it causes us to come face to face with our mortality the fact that we will not be here forever.  The reality is this:  One day someone will be at my funeral.

So, on the day I watched a man die, I left the hospital and made the 45-minute drive home.  I remember thinking to myself “Don’t forget this.  Remember that your days are numbered.  One day that will be you. Until then, make the most of the time you’ve been given.”  

That night, I remember praying over my kids while they slept.  I asked God to help me make the most of the precious time he’s given me with my family.  I prayed Psalm 90:12 "Teach me to realize the brevity of life, so that I may grow in wisdom.  God help me to remember my days are numbered so that I may focus on what is most important.”  I only have so much time.  I want to invest it in what is most important.  I want to fulfill God's purpose for my generation (Acts 13:36)

Even in saying all of that, I can see times when I've failed ... times when I've been selfish or less than patient or less than loving and certainly not full of grace.  But, even in the midst of those failures, the grace of God refocuses me and reminds me that my time is not limitless.  I only have so much of it.  And the truth is, every second you and I are given will be spent doing something.  Every minute we've been given gets spent.  

And, so the encouragement I'm giving myself today and the encouragement that I trust you are receiving as well is to make the most of our time here on earth.  What type of legacy are we trying to leave for those who will come after us?  What type of generosity are we showing to others?  How are we trying to build in to the lives of those closest to us?  Jesus said, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.  Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  In other words, don’t just live for yourself.  Live to make a difference.  Live to leave a legacy.  Don’t let work come before your family.  Don’t let bitterness and unforgiveness have a hold in your life and come between those you love. Don’t think that the more you have the happier you’ll be.  And, the reason for that is because wherever your treasure is whatever you think is most important is where your heart is going to be.  Let your heart be with what’s most important.  Treasure your family, your husbands, your wives, your kids.  Treasure the opportunity to offer forgiveness to someone.  Treasure generosity and the opportunity to help those in need.  Treasure your friendships.  Treasure the opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life.  Because death is the destiny of every man, the living (and if you're reading this that is you) should take note.  Walk wisely in the time you are given.
Death is the destiny of every man, but it’s important to know that death is not the end.  We have an opportunity to be in heaven with Jesus after we die. The greatest thing to ever happen to you, whether you except it or not, whether you believe it or not, the greatest thing that has ever happened in your life and my life is the fact that God crossed all barriers, He crossed the expanse of the Universe to become a man and to come after you and me.  "For God so LOVED the world He GAVE His only Son that WHOEVER believes in Him should not perish but have EVERLASTING LIFE."  Jesus gives us a life full of purpose to live today and a life full of hope for tomorrow.  

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