I will never stop talking (or writing) about identity. It is by far one of the topics I am most passionate about because it's my heart's desire for every human to be secure in his/her identity, to know that they are loved, that they matter, that they belong.
It's a cruel world that we live in where we have to battle for our identity each day. It makes me wonder if the battle of knowing who you are and Whose you are was an easier one to fight years ago. When I was in Middle School and someone attacked my identity and my worth, I could at least go home to the safety and security of my family, protected from the harsh words and slinging mud of peers for at least 16 hours. This isn't new news but today's Middle Schoolers who have access to social media and/or devices of any kind do not have that protective covering at home. The negative, hurtful words of their peers continue to fly through the waves of cell phone towers and wifi. The task of adolescence of knowing who they are has not changed, but dare I say that the task has become more arduous.
At Century Baptist Church, we have been on a journey to clarify our discipleship process and define what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We define a disciple of Jesus as someone who actively follows Jesus and loves people. Just like we have personality characteristics that describe us, we believe there are characteristics that describe and define a disciple:
Identity: A disciple of Jesus finds their identity in Jesus alone.
Imitation: A disciple of Jesus focuses on becoming more and more like Jesus each day.
Word: A disciple of Jesus holds high the Word of God and applies it to their lives.
Worship: A disciple of Jesus worships God above everything else.
Gifts: A disciple of Jesus is given spiritual gives to give spiritual gifts.
Gospel: A disciple of Jesus knows, applies, and speaks the Gospel at all times.
Community: A disciple of Jesus lives in community.
City: A disciple of Jesus is for their city and loves people wherever they are.
As a Middle School Ministry, we spend three years with students and families helping them begin to understand the three tasks of adolescence:
1) Who am I? - Identity
2) Do I matter? - Purpose
3) Do I Belong? - Community
In the Middle School Ministry, we have determined that the three characteristics of a disciple that need to be talked about the most, discussed the most, and taught on the most are Identity, Community, and City. Everything that we do revolved around these "Big 3." It gives us a filter to know what we will teach and when we will teach it. Not only does it help us filter out what we will teach or won't teach; it also helps us filter out what activities or events are put on the calendar and what activities or events need to be buried.
We have to pay attention to the spiritual and emotional needs of the teenagers in our lives or else we're doing our teens an incredible disservice. I believe one of the greatest needs for our students is to help them see and understand the incredible identity they have been given through Jesus Christ, to help them see themselves the way the Creator of the world sees them. Imagine a generation of students believing these incredible truths for themselves. I believe the day we start to get 'tired' of talking about identity with teenagers is when we have finally begun to take back the ground that the world, culture, peers, and anything other that the precious, confident words of Christ have stolen from them. When we get weary, maybe we need to lean into our students to let them remind us of how important it is to never stop talking about the worth and value that can never be taken from us.
Easter is coming.
More than likely, you’re already feeling the pressure of that week. You might have a million services you’ll have to be at, or maybe your senior pastor has asked the youth ministry to do a drama during the sunrise service and then serve a breakfast afterwards. Regardless of our unique settings, Easter is a big deal, and rightfully so because we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. It makes perfect sense as to why we have an “all hands on deck” mentality in the weeks leading up to Easter and the week of Easter.
Because Easter Sunday is one of the highest attended Sundays of the year, the ask of volunteers and leaders in our churches gets upped a couple notches. We want people who are walking into our churches for the first time to feel welcomed, to be able to find the children’s wing, to find information, or to find the bathroom. There’s tons of strategies we could talk about, like placing a volunteer every 5 feet to make sure no one falls through the cracks, but maybe one “strategy” we’re missing out on isn’t a strategy but a group of people instead.
What if we as ministry leaders took the week of Easter as an opportunity to engage and equip our students to serve in the church? What if we encouraged them to play a role in making Easter Sunday one of the best Sundays yet? Here’s some ways we can engage, equip, and encourage our students to serve in our churches this Easter:
February. The beautiful month of the year where chocolate hearts, stuffed animals, and unrealistic expectations of love and relationships are thrown at every human being from every angle.
Think about the messages the students we minister to are hearing everyday about love and relationships. Now multiply that times a million heart emojis and that’s how much more it’s in their face this month. Maybe there’s sweetheart dances at school. Maybe some schools still do the carnation flower exchange sponsored by the student council, where you can send a flower to the crush in your Algebra class. All of this pressure crowds in on students, and it’s easy for them to believe it’s a necessity to have another human to celebrate Valentine’s Day with. (Side note: thank you, Leslie Knope, for introducing Galentine’s Day.)
As people ministering to students all over the world, we know it’s valuable to chat with students about love and relationships in the context of what the Bible says and because February is a month all about hearts, flowers, and mushy stuff, the timing is perfect. But what if we took some time to help our students understand what it means to love God and love others? That to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength means we have to use our hands and feet - really the rest of our bodies - to go love others. To go outside the walls of the church to love people well. To go beyond focusing on the relationship they do or don’t have and focus on the love that changed the world, and turned it upside down.
What if your student ministry took time this February to focus on loving people well? Here’s some ways your students can do that this month:
Something to think about…
December 24, 2018
The Christmas carol, “I Wonder as I Wander” was written by a man named John Jacob Niles-taken from a song he heard sung by a girl, Annie Morgan, in the Appalachians in the 1930s. She and her family were traveling evangelists, going from small Appalachian town to town, speaking the good news of Jesus Christ, that a Savior had come to bind up the brokenhearted, to preach the good news to the poor.
Their time had come to an end in this small Appalachian town; they were causing a “disturbance” and being a nuisance to the townspeople and were forced to leave by the police. As this tiny girl and her family were packing up, she began to sing a melody…
“I wonder as I wander out under the sky | How Jesus my Savior did come for to die | For poor ‘ordinary people alike you and like I - I wonder as I wander out under the sky”
These words struck John Jacob Niles. This haunting carol sung by a girl whose family would be left to wander in the wilderness of the Appalachian mountains captivated Niles and he begged her to continue to sign the song until he had written every lyric down.
For some reasons as I picture Annie and her family traveling through Appalachia, I see them traveling by light, by a lantern. The light leading them in the wandering. This family knowing that the light would continue to shine in the darkness, in their dark moments. Annie Morgan, did not know where her wandering would take her, what would come next, but she knew who the Wonder was.
Humans have a history of wandering. God’s own chosen people, the Israelites, wandered in the desert for 40 years. As we move through the Old Testament we read in Isaiah that “Those who have wandered in darkness, have seen a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”
We all at some time have wandered. We have wandered through moments of uncertainty, not knowing if we will have one more chance to say hello to a loved one. We have wandered through moments of pain, wondering when this season will end, when the healing will come. We have wandered off on our own accord, thinking that something out there is better than what the Father who is the giver of all good things have given us. Wherever we may wander, our wandering should lead us to the Wonder of a Savior.
A month or so ago, a friend reminded me of some wise words an author penned about the coveted “table,” how everyone desires to have a seat at the table. How we will fight and claw our way to that table, the driving force being that we want our voices to be heard. That someone who’s sitting at the head of the table would affirm the words we’ve spoken and maybe even utter the words “you belong here.”
I start to think, is this really what Jesus would have me to? Is that how he would want me to use the voice He’s given? That instead of using that voice to bind up the brokenhearted and preach the good news to the poor, I’m using that voice to push my power and privilege to the top? Jesus, is that what you ask of me?
Quite frankly, no.
He asks me to do justice, walk humbly, show mercy. That happens at the kids’ table.
I proudly sat at the kids’ table this Thanksgiving holiday. I’m not one bit ashamed to tell you that my fellow gatherers at the table had construction truck plastic plates, Spongebob Sqaurepants cups, and were only interested in the carb loaded buns at the table. Not the pretty stuff. Not the decadent sweet potatoes with rosemary or thyme. They wanted the simple things. They wanted carbs. And the three older kids-including myself-waited until the adult table was finished passing around the main dishes until we could dish it up ourselves.
Sure, it might not be idea for everyone to sit at the kids’ table. And of course there were moments when I felt left out wondering “what are they talking about at the adult table? is it important? is it about me? are they laughing? what are they laughing about?” I wanted to be in those conversations. I wanted to hear what they were saying. I didn’t want to miss out.
But yet while I was so focused on what was going on at the other table, I missed the mayhem and fun of the kids’ table. One swift movement of trying to pass the green bean casserole ended with me spilling some of the milk in a Paw Patrol sippy cup on the floor. On the carpet. In the living. Where no one else was supposed to eat. But there we were: the kids at the kids table. Sitting in a space where no one else would typically put the kids because spills happen, but that’s exactly where we were. We were messy. We were chaotic. And I’m not just talking about the three older people at the table. But yet we had so much fun! Yes, we had manners. We didn’t drink with our pinky up, but we sat around the table and knew that every person was welcome there. That every person around the table mattered and had a role to play.
I am grateful to be a part of a family where that is the case around the adult table as well but I am well aware that the reality we live in as adults isn’t always that way. Some of our dear brothers and sisters are never welcomed to sit at the table for various reasons that have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God that Jesus talked constantly about. And yet we abuse and taint a calling that Jesus has placed on our lives to make excuses as to why it is only the elite who can have a chair, why we don’t give up our chair at the table to make way for someone else because we’d rather use our power and our privilege than let their voices be heard.
Here’s what I loved about sitting at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving: the adult table could hear us. Of course we could hear them, but we definitely were louder. It wasn’t to be obnoxious. It wasn’t to gain attention (minus me, the 32 year old). It was all of us living into the image and identity we were given by the Creator. And our voices were heard.
To have been given this beautiful picture by the Creator of all good things is nothing short of a gift. I fully believe that this is the picture God paints of the Kingdom and what the Table looks like. Not the table that those in charge have created, but the Table that was created by the One in charge of all things who at this very moment is at work in bringing that table together. Bringing His created sons and daughters together to show the world what it means to love as he loved, to do justice, walk humbly, and show mercy.
I confess there have been moments in my journey where I have fought way too hard for a place at the table and I haven’t paid attention to the table God has already called me to, and it’s not one where power and privilege win but it’s one where His grace and mercy flow freely. I want to usher in the Kingdom of God that doesn’t have it’s citizens pushing and stampeding for a place at the table where only few are allowed, because I don’t believe that’s the table God has prepared for us at all.
Because the Table God has given us all a seat at isn’t perfect. It might even have a paper table cloth and crayons. And some of those crayons might even be broken. Milk will probably get spilled. Some siblings might even argue over who got the fluffiest bun, but rest assured that they will be able to walk away from the table knowing they are for each other and they love each other. We might not eat all the delicacies that the other Table might eat, but we know how to savor and enjoy what it is that’s been placed before us.
All the wise, humble, Kingdom shaking and moving people I know are the ones who are content with not having a seat at the coveted table. They’re content because they know it’s not even about the table. It’s not about a position, power, or privilege. Because the position they’ve been given isn’t to wield power or privilege like a banner but it’s actually a gift given by God to do the real, gritty Kingdom work. These are the ones that constantly invite others to the table, to the conversation, to the Kingdom. They understand that their position is not based on what it is that they’ve done. They also realize that their position was not given to them to knock someone else down to a position that’s lower, but that position was given to them to invite others to the Table, the real Table.
Don’t get me wrong. I will still have my moments when I so badly want to be at the table where it seems like everyone who has any authority is making decisions and handing out responsibilities and assignments to those sitting around the table. That’s my sinful nature. And that’s my first clue that Jesus doesn’t want me to have anything to do with that table. I know the chair He’s called me to and I know He invites me to pull up chair after chair, day after day inviting others to sit around and talk about the Kingdom and how we can bring others to the table. I can’t imagine that God is pleased when His kids are fighting for a place at the table, but I imagine he is incredibly pleased when His kids invite others to pull up a chair or give up their chair instead.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” - Psalm 23:5
Based on 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
We, your family of youth leaders, give thanks to God for who you are, for who you are trying to figure out to be, constantly praying that you would let what God says about you matter the most, remembering that you are image bearers of Creator God in one of the seasons of life and development that He created as a gift.
For we know dear ones, that God picked you: you didn’t have to earn it, fight it, or prove it. You were and are loved by Him-because the good news of Jesus came to you not only in word, but in steam rolling power that couldn’t be denied in the depth of your spirit. Your eyes are on us, watching how we’re actively following Jesus and loving people, wanting to do the same but knowing not everyone around you will join your club. But you have eyes watching you, too. We don’t have to tell others to watch you because they already see the way you love the hurting and the broken, just as Jesus did.
You have given up approval and acceptance from the world and found it in the Kingdom. Following Jesus will always be worth it, even though others will argue with you. So wait on Him. Wait for the day when all is made right by Him. It will be worth it.
For the girl that longs for something more, that knows this isn’t the end of the story.
For the girl that dreams of the ocean, but wakes up on the plains.
For the girl that wants to make waves in the world, but fear of the ocean keeps her from splashing.
For the girl who wants, who dreams, who longs, who desires…I write for you.
For the little girl that I was, that’s for whom I write.
For the girl at the pier.
For the girl in the pew.
For girls everywhere…I write for you.
I want to tell your stories. I want to know your stories.
For the girl that sat around a table a few nights ago and felt the light shine in her cracked soul.
For the girl that smiled a true smile, that wasn't trying to hide any pain.
For the girl that was present, that wanted to savor every moment.
For the girl that woke up on February 14, 2016 and finally could breathe.
For the girl that didn't know sadness as she pulled herself out of bed.
For the girl that read another's words that jumped off the page and into her very own soul, because she knew the thoughts and the feelings well.
For the girl that woke up and went along her way, knowing who she was.
For the girl that decided today she was going to start living as herself, and not a shell of herself.
For the girl that lives inside the pages of my journals…
For the girl that lives inside of me…
For the girl that's finally deciding today is the day, now is the time...
I'm writing for you.
Written February 14, 2016
Writing has always been a passion of mine, since I was young and realized I could express how I felt through written word.