Tag Archives: Youth

Spiritually There are No Age Limits

The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.
Jeremiah 1:1-3; 6-7 (NIV)

While in high school I was part of an incredible church youth group. I almost typed the adjective “unique,” but to this day I don’t think there was anything “unique” about me and my peers. We were typical high schoolers with all the angst, foolishness, idealism, drama and absentmindedness of any group of teens. Our youth pastor for most of my high school years was a man named Andy Bales whose journey has taken him to do amazing things for the homeless in Los Angeles. Our church’s worship leader was a gentleman named Mike Mars.

The thing about Andy and Mike was that they believed that God could accomplish far more through us than anyone else believed or expected (even ourselves). Andy didn’t just disciple us, he taught us how to disciple others including our parents. Mike didn’t just assemble a “youth choir” to sing in front of our parents once or twice a year. Mike taught us how to put together an entire program, how to work together as a team, and then sent us on the road almost every Sunday of the school year to minister to other churches all over our state. Mike didn’t travel with us. He trusted us to do everything ourselves from making a first impression to set up, rehearsal, performance, giving the message, tearing down and loading out for the trip home. A couple of parents or adults chaperones rode along to watch, but they never had to do a thing.

Many of the “kids” in my youth group have gone on to continue in vocational ministries as missionaries, pastors, ministry directors and youth workers. I observed that most others have approached their life journeys as ministry opportunities to serve God as educators, doctors, and professionals in the business community.

This personal experience has colored my own world view. When our daughters were young people I tried to instill in them that they could be used by God’s Spirit and have an impact for God’s Kingdom right now. I’m proud of what they attempted, accomplished, and learned.

I am fond of reminding my local gathering of Jesus’ followers that no where in God’s Message is there an age requirement for being a believer, being called by God, being filled by the Spirit, having spiritual gifts, or exercising those gifts for God’s Kingdom. In fact, the list of Biblical characters who were called by God as young people (without education, without training, without official institutional certification of any kind) is impressive: Timothy, Mary, David, Samuel, Joseph, Esther, and Mark.

In today’s opening chapter of Jeremiah’s anthology of prophetic messages he shares that he was called by God as a boy. As typical of young people, Jeremiah responded to God, “but I’m just a kid!” But age is not a qualification for being called by God or doing God’s work. And when young people are called by God they tend to have spiritually productive life journeys. Jeremiah himself was a prophet for 40 years during a period of time when life expectancy itself was around 30 years (if you were one of the lucky few to survive infancy).

Forgive me for sounding like an old curmudgeon, but along my life journey I’ve observed that our culture seems to expect less and less of our young people. We protect them. We shelter them from life’s natural pains. We entertain them endlessly and hover over them to ensure that they experience minimal discomfort. We build up their egos while minimizing their opportunities to experience the lessons of accomplishing things on their own and learning the invaluable lessons of failure. We keep extending childhood to the point that becoming a capable, responsible adult is a post-graduate crisis experience with its own word: adulting.

This morning I’m thanking God for teaching me as a boy that I had a role to play in the Kingdom of God and that role began immediately. I’m saying a prayer of gratitude for Andy and for Mike who believed in me and my peers more than we believed in ourselves. I’m praying for a generation of young people who will rebel against being treated like snowflakes and who will lead a spiritual storm of revival and culture change that no one expects.

The old curmudgeon rant is over. Have a great day.


Two Different Audiences

The Mix

My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. Ezekiel 33:31-32 (NIV)

This past Wednesday night I was given the opportunity of speaking to a large gathering of Middle Schoolers. Many years ago, I regularly found myself in front of this particular demographic. I stress many years ago, because I can’t remember the last time I was in a room that was such a boiling cauldron of adolescent hormones and perpetual kinetic energy. Yikes!

To be honest, I had a blast. It was a great group of young people, they were a gracious audience, and I was jazzed at the opportunity to share with them. As I’ve contemplated the experience the past day or two I’ve come to a couple of realizations.

First, while a room full of middle schoolers can be an intimidating audience, they are also an incredibly transparent audience. If you are boring them you will know it because their uncontrollable kinetic energy will lead them to start twittering, fidgeting, and whispering to neighbors. This is very unlike a room full of adults. Adults have very little kinetic energy. They are, for the most part, very tired, and they have learned over time how to pretend to listen to you while their minds are organizing their work schedule and task lists for the week.

Second, middle schoolers are at a stage of life in which they are asking big questions and making big life choices. This means that the opportunity for big life impact and influence is huge. If  you can succeed at getting through to a middle schooler you might just help change a life for the better. Once again, I find this to be very unlike an audience of adults, who are pretty set in their ways and cynical. Adults are big on saying they want to make a positive change in their lives (e.g. We have a closet full of Nike athletic wear saying “Just Do It”) , but rarely do they we actually change our thoughts and behaviors (e.g. We haven’t exercised since the Clinton administration…the first term, to be specific).

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In today’s chapter we find Ezekiel struggling with the same issues 2500 years ago. His fellow Jewish exiles in Babylon loved gathering to hear his messages, but there was a big disconnect between their ears and their hearts.

Today, I’m thankful for young people and all of their boundless energy and untapped potential. I’m thankful for adults whose hearts and lives remain spiritually pliable. And, I’m praying for those of us who have frayed and severed connections between eye/ear and heart; Praying that a little spiritual reconstruction might take place and restore the potential for positive heart and life change.

A lot of Words

source: disowned via Flickr
source: disowned via Flickr

I too will have my say;
I too will tell what I know.
For I am full of words,
and the spirit within me compels me;
Job 32:17-18 (NIV)

Wendy and I often joke about the differences between men and women when it comes to words. I have heard it said, and perhaps it’s an old wives tale, that women have more words than men. Yet, I am reminded of Tolkien’s wisdom when he wrote, “Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know.” 

There are often nights, especially when I’ve been on the road for a week and Wendy has been sequestered along at home, that our heads hit the pillows yet a steady stream of conversation emanates from Wendy’s side of the bed. I quietly strain to maintain consciousness. Wendy will turn and see my struggle and laugh.

“Can you tell that I still have a lot of words?” she’ll ask.

I nod silently.

“But you’ve been gone all week and I haven’t had anyone to talk to!” she’ll exclaim as she cuddles in next to me.

Just the other night at a Christmas party, I realized that it’s not just a Mars and Venus issue. I have grown quieter in social settings over the years. When I was younger I had a lot more words. I was a steady stream of youthful conversation, wisdom, and diatribes. I speak less today than I did back then. I tend to ask more questions. I ponder more. I mull things over more in my head. Words are more precious to me than they used to be, and they carry more meaning for me. I am more mindful of wasting them.

In today’s chapter, we unexpectedly meet a devout young man named Elihu (his name means “He is my God”). Elihu has been waiting in the wings listening to Job and his three friends debate. The young man finally speaks, and he is honest when he says, “I am full of words.” We’re going to get five straight chapters of his youthful exuberance starting today.

Today, Elihu has me thinking about words. Despite my speaking less than I used, I still feel like I talk more than is good for myself or others. I’m pondering the wisdom of knowing when to speak and when to be silent. As we enter a week full of family and friends, I want to hear more and speak with purpose.

Treasure (in Black and White)

There is a mine for silver
    and a place where gold is refined.

People assault the flinty rock with their hands

    and lay bare the roots of the mountains.
They tunnel through the rock;
    their eyes see all its treasures.
They search the sources of the rivers
    and bring hidden things to light.

But where can wisdom be found?
    Where does understanding dwell?
Job 28:1, 9-12 (NIV)

I read the other day, and I’ve heard it said before, that younger generations are choosing to ignore black and white films. We live in a world of three dimensional, Ultra HD technology in which anything you can imagine in your mind can be visually generated by a computer. I can understand how masses of younger viewers would foolishly conclude that there is nothing for them in an old black and white movie. I suppose the same masses would find no value worthy of their time in an epic poem about one man’s suffering rooted in the depths of history and carried through the ages by oral tradition and religious scribes.

In today’s chapter, that epic poem reaches an interlude which asks a simple question: Humanity will search the depths of the earth for gold and treasure, but where do you mine for wisdom?

This made me think of a classic movie filmed in black and white. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a 1948 film starring Humphrey Bogart and it tells the story of two American men, down on their luck, who go prospecting for gold in the mountains of Mexico. The men find their gold, but begin to lose their wits and their souls in the process. In the end the gold is lost, but the men may just have gained a treasure of greater weight in wisdom.

This morning, I’m thinking about that which we value as compared to that which is treasure of real worth. I’m thinking about the treasure of an ancient, epic poem, the treasure of an out-of-fashion black and white film, and the treasure of wisdom. Wisdom, our interlude reminds us, is not mined in the depths of the earth like the precious metals we value, but is found in the depths of our valuable and precious suffering.

Paying the Price (or Not)

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” 2 Samuel 24:24 (NIV)

It was almost cliche. It was the first weekend that my sister and I, as teenagers, had been left alone in the house. My parents headed to Le Mars to spend the weekend with Grandpa Vander Well. I was fourteen. My sister was sixteen. We were given the standard parental instructions not to have anyone over, to keep the house clean while they were gone, yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah.

We invited a few people over. I honestly remember it only being a few people. Nevertheless, word spread that there was a party at the Vander Wells, whose parents were out of town. Somehow, the kids kept coming that night. At one point I remember hiding in the laundry room because of the chaos outside. I’m not sure when I realized that things were out of hand. Perhaps it was when members of the football team began seeing who could successfully jump from the roof of our house onto the roof of the detached garage.

This, of course, was the pre-cell phone era. News took longer to travel. The parents got home on Sunday evening. The house was picked up and spotless. We thought we’d gotten away with it. I’m not sure which neighbor ratted us out, but on Monday morning Jody and I were quickly tried in the kitchen tribunal and found guilty as charged. I could have made a defense that it was Jody’s idea and the crowd was mostly older kids who Jody knew. I could have pled the defense of Tim and Terry never getting in trouble for the parties that they had when the rest of us were gone. Forget it. I knew it was useless.

We were grounded for a week. I didn’t argue. I didn’t complain. I didn’t whine. I was guilty and I knew it. I gladly paid the price for my sin.

I was struck by David’s response to Arauna, who offered to give David everything he needed to atone for his mistake. David understood the spiritual principle that the price has to be paid for your mistake. David had blown it and he deserved to pay the price of the sacrifice. I had blown it and knew I had to do a week in the 3107 Madison penitentiary as a price for my infraction.

I think most all of us know when we blow it, whether we wish to admit it or not. I think most all of us understand that we deserve to pay the price for our mistakes. What is difficult is to accept that Jesus paid the price for us. That’s what the cross is about. When we arrive at the metaphorical threshing floor seeking to make some sacrifice to atone for what we’ve done, Jesus says “I’ve already paid the price. I’ve already made the sacrifice, once and for all. The only thing you have to do is accept it.

For many of us, the spiritual economics of this make no sense. We want to pay the price for our sin. We need to pay the price for our sin. We can’t believe that our guilty conscience can be absolved in any other way that for us to personally pay the price and feel the pain. So, we self flagellate. We become Robert Di Nero in The Mission (watch move clip at the top of this post), dragging a heavy sack of armor up some rocky cliff because we simply cannot believe that forgiveness can be found by any other means than personally paying the price.

How ironic that, for some of us, the obstacle to believing in Jesus is simply accepting and allowing Him to have paid the price for us.

Today, I’m thinking about the things I do out of guilt for what I’ve done, rather than gratitude for what Jesus did for me when He paid the price and made the sacrifice I deserved to make.

Enhanced by Zemanta

This Has Not Changed

verses in the stairwayMy old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NLT)

On the stairway leading d0wn to the main floor of our home hangs a frame in which three different verses from God’s Message are hand written in three different calligraphy fonts. It was a gift to me from one of my brothers, who penned the verses himself and had them framed as a college graduation gift. The three verses were ones that I had memorized as a young follower of Jesus. They were verses I considered to be spiritual stakes in the ground and they took on deep personal meaning about who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life when my spiritual journey and my life journey were in the early stages. One of those verses was the verse above from today’s chapter.

It has been a quarter century and those verses have hung in every one of a dozen or so places I have called home. The paper is yellowing with age. The frame shows wear. Each day I pass it countless times as I walk upstairs to my office and back downstairs again. Every time I catch sight of it in my peripheral vision I remember the three verses. They go through my head once more and my heart touches them like a compass seeking true north. I think about where I started in my journey. I think about where I am today. I think about where I am heading.

A lot of water under the bridge; I’ve journeyed far since the day I first opened my gift. I’ve attempted short cuts that proved tragic dead ends. I’ve stumbled and fallen, and have gotten back up again. I’ve seen much, heard much, and lived much. I’ve experienced good times and bad. I’ve struck out more times than I’ve gotten on base, but I’ve also knocked one or two out of the park. I’m older. My hair seems to turns more gray with each passing day. I’m losing my hearing at a sad, rapid rate. Though blessedly healthy, I don’t have the strength or stamina that I used. I am nowhere near the waypoint I thought the journey was taking me when I was young and naïve (and that’s ultimately a good thing).

Still, I pass those old framed verses and I am reminded that this has not changed:

I am crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. This life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself up for me.

The Old Man in the Crowd

"If you want to feel young, hang around with young people. If you want to die young, try to keep up with them." - Carl Bales
“If you want to feel young, hang around with young people. If you want to die young, try to keep up with them.” – Carl Bales

Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
    they will remain vital and green.
Psalm 92:14 (NLT)

Most people that I find myself around are younger than me. Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of friends who are my age or older. Most of the time, however, I find myself around younger people and I am the unmistaken “old man” in the room. Because my hair started to gray at an early age and I inherited the hearing loss gene from the Vander Well side of the family, it sort of puts the proverbial frosting on the cake. “Who’s that gray haired, deaf guy hanging out with those young people?” 

I’m exaggerating, but the truth is that sometimes I feel it acutely.

When I was young I often felt marginalized and dismissed by older people because of my youth. I memorized a verse from Paul’s letter to a young Timothy: “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” I worked hard to earn people’s respect and trust.

Now that I am older, I find that young people can just as easily marginalize and be dismissive of those who are older. I now look back at my younger self and realize that while I was feeling dismissed by older generations I was just as dismissive of them for being “out of touch” with my generation and the times.

Age is a funny thing. I’ve come to the conclusion that the suspicious dismissing of the young by the old, and the suspicious dismissing of the old by the young is a natural part of life. It will never change. The bottom line is that I want to cultivate life and produce good fruit every step of my earthly journey until I cross the finish line. Every generation has much to contribute and much to teach me if I’m willing to listen (and if I have my hearing aids in) and engage in life giving conversation. I can’t do anything about what other generations think of me other than be an example in my love and life. I can, however, act to appreciate and honor the generations that came before me and the generations that are coming up behind me.

I’m sorry. What was that you said?