I walked through an apple orchard in Kentucky last weekend. Experiencing a true fall moment where the leaves were vibrant colors of red and orange is rare for me, I was soaking it in. It was a gorgeous day and I was excited to pick a few apples to take south to my lovelies.
But wouldn't you know it. I couldn't find any apples to pick.
Two brave college students drove me to the orchard from the campus where I was staying. They walked with me, row after row. Looking into trees but seeing nothing. Where are they? Did we miss it? Everyone else had the same idea we did...maybe weeks before we arrived?
We saw plenty of rotten apples on the ground. But who wants to make pie with those? Grody.
I started to feel disappointed but the occasional spider web walk-thru would encourage me to want to return to the barn to buy apples straight from the bins. An easy out. At least I tried. Right?
We gave a row of trees one last chance. I'll walk down the lane. I'll swipe away the gnats I'll get apple guts on my Toms. It might just be worth it.
Then we saw it. An apple.
It looked like it had been dipped in the wicked queen's special hypnotic juices for snow white--straight out of a movie looking. It was that desirable. I wanted to pick it. And eat it. Before buying it. It was there for us to eat, God gave it to us right?
And I wondered. If I were given everything in the whole world but couldn't have this one thing, could I resist it?
Wanting something that may be good for us but maybe wasn't intended for us? Maybe it's for another time. Maybe it's worth waiting for?
I thought about my own temptations. There are a few that I could think of right away but one that sat quietly in the corner of my mind hoping to go unnoticed stared up at me, arrested.
The temptation of youth ministry is that we would take and eat the things that aren't ours to enjoy. Or at least aren't for us right now, in this very moment. That we would be premature in our attempts to enjoy the fruits before they are ripe for the picking. Or to hoard them for our own when God deserves the praise.
- We strive to be known by other youth leaders.
- When God calls us to make Him known among teenagers.
- We want to know other known youth or ministry leaders.
- When God calls us to set an example for believers.
- We want our names to be recognized and we seek affirmation.
- Our work is for God's glory and will to be done.
Every person who ever begins work in youth ministry understands that teenagers aren't the ones standing in line to thank us. There will be some who do and when they do it's beyond rewarding. But most don't. So we turn to those whom we admire and look up to. We hope that they'll tell us that we're on the right track and doing awesome. We want them to thank us and encourage us and give us esteem. None of that is bad. In fact, it's Biblical to edify each other, spurring one another on in love and good deeds. Mentoring is a critical and important thing and I would be less of a person and a pastor without it. What isn't biblical is when the striving becomes our focus.
When we strive to become known, to attain some sort of Christian celebrity, we have to pause to remember that the glory isn't for us. It's for our King. And that we are already deeply and wonderfully known by the creative God of the universe. (Psalm 139)
When we desire relationships that fill our need to be desired, recognized, affirmed, lifted up.
God will remind us that he longs for us, see us, has our worth tattooed on the palms of his Son's hands. And the things Christ inherits, we will as well. But it's not because of anything we're doing. It's because of what He has already done.
The temptation of youth ministry is to forget who we serve and why we serve.
The temptation of youth ministry is to get it backwards. To love God and others if it benefits us.
The temptation of youth ministry is to make a little god of it and worship it in our own strength.
The remedy is the knowledge that God knows us already and we can know Him.
God knows our names.
When we get close to the "burning-but not burning-bush" moments we can hear him saying our names and giving us instructions (even if we are pushing 80 and talk with a heavy tongue, God knows better than we do and has given us everything we need to accomplish what He asks)
And when we answer back with our big "buts", God speaks life and truth and reminds us that "I AM" has sent us and if anyone doubts that, we are to just tell the questioning that "God is with us."
God told Moses.
"I am with you."
God tells us today.
"I am with you."
A fearless yet humble approach.
A listening ear.
A hopeful heart.
A willingness to say yes to the stuff God put's in our hands (For Moses, God gave him Aaron and a staff)
And when we do. We submit to the greatness of God and the ministry born in the possibilities of grace. We guard our hearts from the temptation to be selfish and self-sufficient.
We say, "You know me, and I can know you God. Thank you for giving me this office to be a part of making you known wherever I go and wherever I serve."
When is the last time you read the Exodus narrative? What is your typical response when God says your name, asks you to do something, or wants to express his sovereignty over your limitations?