Thursday, June 12, 2014

My heart is full

Today is the last day of school for my boys—Micah will be an 8th grader and Noah a junior in high school. How is this possible? The last two weeks have been filled with graduation and promotion events—my niece Mary graduated from Wilsonville High in Oregon and another group of incredible seniors were honored at our church’s annual “Promotion Sunday”—a day that highlights our youth and demonstrates the amazing faith that so many of our teens have for the Lord. This was my last official Promotion Sunday as Youth Director and it was bittersweet. As I look out at my own kids, my nieces, and all the “kids” and teens who have crossed my path over the years, I say with joy, “my heart is full.”

A number of people have asked for transcripts of my advice to the seniors and my message to the teens and families. (Thanks, I am honored.)  So….this blog includes a condensed version of what I shared with teens this week.  My biggest hope is that these are not simply words, but advice that can be applied to life, each and every day.

Message and Advice to Oasis teens, June 9, 2014 (rearranged and condensed)

I am retiring in July after 28 years of hanging out with teenagers and there is one theme that stands out in what I have taught and modeled all this time--  I want teens to know the crucial importance of making wise choices. I’m a former English teacher, and I still get chills when I read the poem, “The Road Not Taken”, by Robert Frost.  It sums up what a purposeful life is all about—how the choices and decisions we make will direct our paths and our future.  The last lines of the poem say:  “Two roads diverged in a wood/ And I, I took the road less travelled by/ and that has made all the difference.”

The fully surrendered Christian life is the road less travelled.  Many times it is an uphill road, a rocky road, a dirty and dusty road and often a lonely road. But if you choose to walk the road with Jesus, it makes all the difference in the life you live—both here on earth and in eternity.

To be able to think on our own  is a gift that God gave us.  But to make choices, we have to realize that we were first chosen by God. (I Peter 2:4) says that we are rejected by men, but chosen by God, and precious to him.  (I Peter 2:9 and Colossians 3:12) say that we are God’s chosen people, belonging to God.   Paul tells us in Ephesians that we are God’s adopted sons and daughters, his chosen heirs.  The God of the universe chose us!  We exist because he created us. We love because he first loved us. We can make our own choices because he first chose us.

Even though God first chose us, he gave us free will to make our own choice to believe in him and follow him, or not.  God did this because he is the creator of relationships and he knows that love must be a choice, not something forced upon us. God offered us himself and His Son and we make the decision to accept or reject that offer.

Moses talks about the importance of choices as recorded in Deuteronomy—as he gives his final speech to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Promised Land.
15 “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. 16 For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways……
19 “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! 
 Moses says, choose God. Choose Life. It is not a hard command, but it is your decision. And this is what God has offered us—life with Him, walking the road with Him. Revelation 3: 20 says “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” 
Our first choice, our first step in entering a relationship with Jesus, is—opening the door.  Though we certainly don’t know everything about God, do we with faith believe that God is who he says he is? Are we willing to open the door and follow Jesus even though there are mysteries unrevealed, and doubts that come and go, and questions that will never be answered in this lifetime?

Once we make that choice, Jesus steps in and equips us with how to face the world. He tells us that the road won’t be easy, but that he will be our shelter, our comfort and our strength.  He tells us that his grace is sufficient and that through Him we can do all things.

First, He equips us with the Holy Spirit. After Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, he appeared to many people and told us that we would be given the gift of His Holy Spirit. Before he ascended to heaven to be with God, he said that he would continue to live in us through the Spirit.  In Acts 1: 8, he tells us “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” and in Acts 2: 38 Peter tells the people, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit gives us power. When we believe, we are equipped with Christ in US—That is huge! That changes our lives! We can do all things through Him who lives in us.

Second, Jesus equips us with God’s Word. The Bible is one way God speaks to us. The Word of God gives us direction, history, commands, promises and prophecies. Psalm 119 is filled with words about the importance of the WORD. God’s Word shouldn’t be something we just look at on a screen on Sunday mornings, but it should be living active part of our life—something we cling to and interact with to get us through each day.

Third, Jesus equips us with other believers. That is why a church fellowship is so important.  Jesus says that a faith community will equip us with strength to stand strong when faced with trials. Hebrews 10:24 tells us to continue to meet together and love and encourage one another. Who we choose to spend the majority of our time with will shape who we are. We need to choose to surround ourselves with people who will help us, not hinder us.  Friends can build us up or break us down. Friends can make us better people or drag us away from God.

Lastly, Jesus gives us His strength and power .  Ephesians 6: 10-15 tells us how we are equipped with all we need through the Lord.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

With Jesus we can stand firm.  I repeat my favorite quote all the time to the Oasis teens to remind them of their faith and their values. It is a saying that I have used to guide my own life and decisions. I tell them this: “If you don’t  stand for something you will fall for anything.” They must know what they stand for, or they may crumble in the face of peer pressure, stress, anxiety, or indecision.” My prayer for all these teens is that this isn’t just a quote they repeat, but a lifestyle they live.  In this world of instant gratification, entitlement,  and quick decisions—a world of Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter, I pray that our teens would stick to what they believe in , that they would apply the biblical principles they are taught and live it out in the world—at home, at school, on the sports field, when with their friends and when interacting with others.  In tough situations, I want them to remember that “What is right and true is not always popular.”

With Jesus, we can stand firm and strong, despite what the world entices us with. With Jesus we are emboldened to take a stand for our faith and make a difference in the world.

My hope is that teens will leave Oasis empowered by the Holy Spirit, knowing that they are chosen by God, precious and dearly loved, that they are saved by grace, not by their works, that they are found by God and that he desires to be in a relationship with them all the days of their lives. 

But it is all about our choices, our responses to God’s divine grace and mercy. How and what we choose will make all the difference.

(Advice to seniors, teens and parents)
First, remember that:
You must find your identity in Christ—, not in grades or jobs, or status or sports, not in parental approval, nor what your friends think, and certainly not in the media’s lies, but in Christ alone.
Second, know that you will make mistakes and poor choices. It is part of the life experience. But Jesus is filled with grace and mercy. He is the God of multiple chances. He loves you unconditionally and wants nothing more than to be in a relationship with you.
Third, parents and community—this is a team effort. Oasis leaders can teach kids about God and His Word, we can pour into kids and counsel them, but ultimately, what is modeled at home is what sticks.  We can’t get your kids here, but you can. We can’t choose priorities for your lives, but you can.  Make every effort to put Christ and His Word at the center of your home. As it says in Joshua, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Summer 2014 is here! I am so proud of the teens in my life… heart is full.

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