The other day someone asked me my favorite thing about Jesus.
It has been awhile since anyone has asked me that question. It reminded me of a recent lunch where I asked a college student what she loved most about her long-time boyfriend. She had a momentary stunned look and then replied, “Wow. No one has ever asked me that question before.” She went on to explain a lot of things she loved about him and as words poured out of her, it was clear to see she loves him. Very much. Yet to narrow it down to a favorite thing was a daunting task because her reasons for loving him where countless. Where should she begin?
The reasons I love God are countless. Where do I even begin? I could speak of His great love for me. I could speak of His amazing grace. I could give witness to His comfort in my times of pain. I could tell you stories of His faithfulness to me, to people I love. I could point you to people, including myself, who have been freed from all types of slavery by His mercy. All of these are reasons I love God.
But this past year another truth has become my favorite thing about God. A truth that leaves me amazed and overwhelmed nearly every day.
The truth is this: Not only does God deeply love me, God genuinely LIKES me, too!
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I wrote this a year ago after some time with some former youth. I’m currently working on a sermon that brought it to mind and decided to share it again.
I’m starting my thirteenth year as a youth pastor at the same church. That is a really long time in youth ministry and a really long time as a youth pastor in the same church. I remember my current youth when they were mere babies and the first youth I had in my ministry are now having babies.
Over the thirteen years, I’ve shared countless moments with hundreds of teenagers. I honestly don’t have a number for you but I do have names. Names and faces; joys and sorrows.
It is important to remember the joys from the years. Those memories are life-giving and often help spur continued years of ministry. I recently experienced reunions with a couple of youth that had taken the Prodigal Son route and when they were ready to return home, I’m so grateful that I could help demonstrate God’s grace and love to them. I can’t capture in words how much joy that brought to my life to see them let go of baggage and grab hold of God again. It is worth it all to see them come Home, to see them shed the guilt, pain and burdens.
But I still remember the time when they “left”. When our relationship was broken or distant. And there lies some of the darkest moments for a youth pastor (and pastors and parents and pretty much any human that loves another human).
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The youth in my youth group teach me a lot of things. There are the very useful things like how to master the Wii, how to have fun, how to fart on demand (okay, I already had that mastered.) They remind me that you can make a difference and that it is never to late to start. They remind me to relax and that to be present in some one’s life is more important than designing a stellar program or event. They teach me that selfishness is pervasive and that I once was as awkward and self-conscious as they are and I would be wise to not forget it.
They frustrate me a lot, too. I can’t count how many times we have a really great discussion or retreat and then in the next breath my youth are treating each other like no class citizens. I love social networking until I read the passive-aggressive status that “wish a certain someone would just get over herself” or “hate it went so-called ‘friends’ ditch you at the last moment for their loser boyfriend”. One can’t helped but feel used when the only time you see or hear from a youth that you’ve cared for is when they need a reference or recommendation or they are having a horrible time in life. But you hang in there with them. Because you love them. Because God strengthens you to love them. And because you are reminded ….
The way my youth behave is how I behave with God. First of all, let it be noted that I’m not comparing myself to God. Despite my occasional joke stating otherwise or because of that one t-shirt I wear that declares “I have the body of a god” accompanied by a picture of Buddha. The comparisons here are completely in the way my youth act and respond to someone that loves them and the way I act and respond to Someone who loves me. How many times does God teach me something and I’m totally excited about it and like, ready to live it out 24/7 and then, like, forget it, like, in 24 minus 7. How many times do I acknowledge the debt that God has forgiven me and then turned around and expect a friend, a church member, or a youth to pay up now or pay later with interest (aka passive aggressive behavior). How many times do I run to God only when I need God to fix a problem, calm a worry, answer an unknown, or recommend me to an awesome guy whom He knows really well. Yet God hangs in there with me. Because God loves me and forgives me. Sure, God lets me fall on my face or down the stairs in front of hundreds landing, wisely, at His feet. But He is always waiting at the bottom to pick me up, to brush me off, and walk with me again. And after making sure I’m okay, to rib me until my ego is put into place.
It took me awhile to learn this lesson but it was a lesson well-learned. I’m a better youth pastor for it. By no means perfect but glad that when I get frustrated with my youth, God whispers in my ear, “I know exactly how you feel.”