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.

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