Summer 2014 is flying by and I am finally winding down my tenure as Youth Director at Canyon Springs Church. I made the decision to retire back in March, and these past four months have been full with passionately “finishing well.” This Sunday I gave my final message in Oasis (our youth ministry). As I was praying for and preparing my message this week, I thought long and hard about it. We are in a summer series on the parables of Jesus and I chose to teach on one of my favorites—the Parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13: 1-8. As I always do when I prepare, I studied the scripture and prayed on it, then reflected and waited for God to speak clearly to me—so that when I spoke it would be His words and not mine. In all my years in youth ministry my prayer has been, “Oh Lord, take me out of the equation…let the focus be only on YOU.” My final message to teens wasn’t a grand performance or one last chance to hammer into their heads all the things I want them to know and remember—it was simply “straight up” scripture. The Word of God speaks on its own. It doesn’t need gimmicks, embellishments, hype, or production—it is TRUTH, plain and powerful. I didn’t want it to be all about my last day or my last message, but about God’s Word in all its wonder. (Even though one of my high school friends said he got all dressed up in a button down shirt because it was my last Sunday to speak).
Sunday arrived and as the teens were gathering, many of my former “kids” showed up—some who are now young adults, out of college, with real jobs. Some who are getting married and others who are off at colleges across the country, home now for the summer and visiting Oasis-- their old stomping grounds, a little youth group that meets in a multipurpose room at a middle school and gets transformed each week into a makeshift gathering place to worship God. I loved seeing many of these graduates, young adults, and college kids as well as all the current teens who attend weekly. I stood up to speak after our time of music worship and I looked out at this crowd and I was completely overcome with a wave of emotion. I stared out at these faces that represented the passage of time and my memories there, and my eyes blurred with tears and my throat closed up. I didn’t know the emotion at the time, but as I look back, I realize that I was overcome with pure love. The love that Jesus has for me and each of these teens and the love I have for each of them. Love for these kids who have been part of my life for the past eight years, for their families and this church and this community. And when I finally was able to speak despite the large boulder in my throat, I realized that it wasn’t about my message or my words, nor any words I have spoken over the years, but about the lavish love that Christ has for each of them. And that is all I want for these precious kids who have touched my life—for them to know, taste and experience the pure and beautiful gospel of grace. My hope and prayer is for each teen and each person I know and love to truly experience Christ and Christ crucified. It can’t be told, it can’t be forced; it can only be experienced through the power of the Spirit.
I began my Monday morning with my journal, coffee, and Bible for my quiet time with God. I thought about the week ahead and it didn’t include preparing a message or scheduling a Sunday. I thought about the 28 years of my work and it has all included some kind of preparation for sharing a message of some sort….whether it was my daily lessons when teaching English and history, or preparing Bible studies or club talks for Young Life, or lessons for core groups in Oasis or a message for our Sunday service. Always, always, preparing to teach something new to the teens I have interacted with over the years. I have given great importance to the power of words—it has been a huge part of what I do and how I teach. I have hoped that my words have had an impact on the lives of young teens. But in my reflection this morning, I realized that words without action mean nothing, just like faith without action is dead. And though I want what I have taught to sink in to kids’ hearts, more than anything I want the content of my character to impact their lives. More than anything I want them to have seen Christ in me, that my words and my actions and my life would point them solely to Christ.
As I close out this long chapter in my life, I am overcome with awe and joy that the God of the universe has chosen to use me through these years. I look forward to all He has in store for me as He pens my future.
2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3: 2-3