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So young people are leaving the church: a disastrous omen for the future of Christianity.  We must do something.  Something different than what we have been doing.  Because the church is failing this generation. 

 

It is common to point to the pizza and games youth-group-without-accountability-or-education program as the culprit for the apostasy of college students.  Church should not be about entertainment, say the pious parents who with the next breath criticize the musicians on the praise team and complain that the worship style at their congregation doesn’t suit their tastes.  Perhaps we are not sheltering youth enough.  Maybe they need more authority figures, a connection with the whole church, including their parents. 

 

Some on the conservative side of the question point to the content of what we teach young people.  Survey after survey reveals that teens don’t know the basics of Christian theology, and certainly aren’t decision-making from a Christian worldview.  These kids have no foundation to abandon, Christian leaders rightly argue.  They’re hungry for answers.  And when we don’t equip them in the realm of apologetics, high school and college professors have little difficulty refuting the shallow traditional faith of their students. 

 

Maybe the church is too legalistic, parents and pastors suffocating kids with expectations of holiness, that ever-imposing scale of good deeds versus bad deeds on which to measure God’s favor and wrath.  When at last free of the oppressive constraints, these young adults bust out with a liberal longing for pleasure, enjoying an affirming group of friends that encourages them to stop stifling their own feelings.  So we the church ought to offer more grace, somehow imparting to the up-and-coming generations the relationship aspect of Christianity.  Like so many who have been in the church for decades, these teenagers just want to know that God is love, and He wants to be your friend, to give you your best life now. 

 

“These are the leaders of the future,” is quoted, by some with hope, by others with dark foreboding.  But our model of ministry leaves a wide gap between involvement in youth ministry and being incorporated with the rest of the congregation.  Smaller churches have no college ministry.  Even those with college ministries have merely moved the disconnect to a later date.  Those in the club of grown ups are unwilling to speak to or invest in the younger individuals – let alone take their advice – trying to move into life and faith that is overwhelming without examples.  There is truth to the protest that kids are irreverent and disrespectful and self-absorbed.  But listen to what we’re saying.  Those are the kids.  What toddler have you met who knows anything different than irreverence and selfishness?  Yet the older people attempt to train them, not fight them.  Church has failed to welcome the post-education demographic; can we be surprised they leave?

 

Yet maybe that is exactly what the young adults ought to do: leave.  An institution so divided and impotent as the evangelical church, so lacking in love or substance, is more likely to inspire bitter memories of religious hypocrisy and to shore up doubt in the power of a God mostly ignored in the actual workings of the organization.  I will say more: perhaps the adults should leave, and the young parents who feel they ought to raise their children in Sunday school should never come back.  Christians should take on the personal responsibility of living a communal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: embracing grace as a gift both received and distributed; trust in the power and authority of the Creator God of the Resurrection; loving, serving, and discipling their fellow children of God; humbling themselves before the voice of God coming through Scripture, teachers, and youths; pursuing fellowship with God and with each other; and living out a life so different from the world that those exposed have no doubt that only the miracle of God could give such abundant life! 

 

And just maybe when we see such a symptom of desperate unwell in our churches, we should repent, falling on our faces before the Lord of Wisdom, desiring His healing and direction rather than the empty programs and various solutions proffered by man. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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April 24-28 I was in Jacksonville, Florida for Awana’s Journey 24-7 (High School) national Bible Quiz and Games. They call it Summit – a rather non-original name. Anyway, it was a group of 19 from our church, 13 kids and six leaders.

The short story is: At Bible Quiz we had two teams of six, who were quizzing out of the Awana study book on the entire book of Romans. They knew about 24 verses and lots of lists and facts and definitions, plus summaries of about ¼ the books in the Bible. One team made it to the forth round of Quiz (40 minutes: 20 speed like team jeopardy and 20 team multiple choice each round), and ended up between 11 and 15 in the nation (about 130 teams). The other team earned their way to the 5th round, Platinum, and ended up 8th in the nation.


Our Games team had great fun, finishing the day doing the chicken dance. We won some exciting games, including three-way tug of war, and played three rounds. No special prizes, because we’re not the tallest or fastest group ever. It was a fun team day, and afterwards the kids ran through fountains – the good thing about being in Florida.
 


Three girls earned their Citation Awards, representing 10 years of Bible memory.

We went to the beach twice, had many wonderful late-night meals, and joined in hundreds of teenagers at the main sessions. The airport and airplanes offered their adventures. People made friends, learned things, saw God’s grace at work, worshiped, prayed, and took thousands of pictures.

So I’m back, finally sick after putting off the cold for weeks before Summit. Since I got hardly any sleep while there, I’m just recovering. But I miss people. After five days spent entirely in the company of friends, sitting alone at work, even with a good book, is unsatisfying.

When I was in grade school, I saw high school Leaders-in-Training come home from nationals with bronze medals for Bible Quiz, and I started saving money to go myself. Nothing would stop me, not ropes or money or the fact that none of my good friends went my freshman year, or the flu. Not that I ever had the flu. This year came close. Lack of sleep and a rough two plane rides in a row knocked me out and I was in serious pain and seriously ill several days. So I got to test that.

Even after I graduated, nothing could keep me home. I immediately started coaching. I’m born to be a coach. In years past that’s been my main role, that and schedule enforcer, keeper of alarm clock, you know. This year was the first year that my role really shifted to a welcomed mentor role. I got to talk with the students on our team and build relationships with them, help them remember how God fits into their lives while hopefully communicating that whatever they think of the person I am now, I went through a lot of the same experiences and feelings they are having now.

What did I love? Getting to talk to and share life with our group. I feel like this year I really built relationships with people, and got to be a friend.

What did I learn? Jacksonville sits on a tidal river, which means it flows in different directions depending on the time of day. Surely God’s goodness and mercy will follow me… Little things chanted of His goodness.

What did I like? The ocean. It was fun. Not beautiful to the sight, but to the touch.

Where was I challenged? In being an authority and what to do when rules are broken. Also in not feeling up to par for most of the trip. I was challenged to be kind and grateful and emotional and relational. It’s so easy to hide when you’re not feeling well.


What now? I miss the constant community. At Summit I’m a different person, and it’s because I’m around those people. Things are changing. I’m starting to look at how to transition relationships from authority to purely friendship. And delighted to think that life doesn’t just end after high school; we can still hang out and be friends.

Special thanks:
That we made our connection in Memphis.
That our group got to experience Romans 12 (with a few rough patches).
That our Bible Quiz teams were blessed.
That we all felt sufficiently well to compete.
That when our van got lost we still got out of the hotel basically on time.
For finding three parking spots next to each other.
For brown t-shirts with white writing.
 
To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Exodus 4:10, “And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.”
Moses was not skillful as a speaker, so God let Aaron be the mouthpiece. 
 
Acts 7:22, “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.”
Moses was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, but don’t tell me that they didn’t know how to be great orators.  Perhaps this training was intentionally omitted. 
 
My brother and I were talking the other night about the economic oppression caused by the prevalence of debt.  Yet it is so pervasive that the few who rebel against the debt lie are still bound to it’s influence.  The only chance of massively changing the world, of fixing the problem, is to do what Dave Ramsey did: to exercise free speech and persuade people of the more excellent way. 
 
Like the ants in Bug’s Life, the voices of visionaries can spur the masses to stand up for themselves and relieve the oppression.  In America we have the right to free speech.  Egypt was not so gracious, and they certainly didn’t want their Hebrew adopted prince to be ready to lead an uprising.  So maybe they didn’t teach him speech.  Maybe they taught him that he was a bad speaker, or made fun of him when he tried to wax eloquent.  
 
Aaron didn’t have that fault in his education.  He was an excellent speaker.  But Moses could have been a good speaker if he would have relied on God, who promised to be with His mouth.  Tonight at Awana we were studying the faith of Moses.  This is the seventh in a series of heroes of faith we have been studying.  A few weeks ago we looked at Nehemiah, an excellent leader.  The quiz at the end of the lesson included a question on what made Nehemiah such a good leader.  My student had written that He was a good leader because he had God’s help. 
So I asked, “Does that mean you can be a good leader?”  Typically, I got the answer “No.  I don’t know.  I guess.  Maybe.” 
What is God calling and equipping you to be? 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Is there hope? 

In case you hadn’t noticed, I am independent and strong-willed.  This whole essay is like insider information. 

 

When I was six years old, I knew the facts: 1. I am a sinner.  2.  My sin needs punished.  3.  Jesus died for my sins on the cross.  4.  Believing in Jesus means I am forgiven.   Without invitation or companionship, I grabbed a stuffed animal, sat in my little rocking chair, and prayed that Jesus would forgive my sins.  I meant it, and Jesus saved me that day.  By His grace my strong will was surrendered to Him. 

 

I understand rebellion.  There were many times even before I was ten when I weighed my options.  If I had wanted to do something wrong, I could endure whatever the punishment would be.  To be honest, the punishment was no threat.  But I did not do a lot of premeditated disobedience.  Why?  By God’s grace, I loved people, and didn’t want to disobey my parents or my God. 

 

Strong-willed people do not give up.  He perseveres, and continues to be a friend to someone no matter what.  Circumstances do not deter him or change his mind.  That persistence can be an inspiration to other people.  Think of the Poseidon Adventure. 

 

Doesn’t independence lead to wandering away from God?  No.  The will of a Christian human being can be aligned with God’s.  Jesus was not weak-willed.  He made himself a living sacrifice (living to die), praying “not My will, but Yours be done.”  We can imitate that.  Jesus had a will to be denied.  This was not mere rhetoric. 

 What about marriage?  Can a strong-willed person enter into the relationship of mutual submission?  There are few greater gifts that a person can give than to willingly submit his preferences and will.  The Anglican church’s marriage ceremony includes the vow: ‘With my body, I thee worship.’  I don’t mind that idea.  It’s the idea of self-sacrifice.  And worship isn’t something the worshipers are forced into doing.  Their strength enables them to lay down self at the feet of someone else’s will. 

This question is particularly relevant in the case of a strong-willed woman, who is called to be a helper to her husband, to submit to him as the head of her household.  A strong-willed woman cannot marry a man who will follow her.  She wouldn’t respect a man like that enough to marry him.  What she really needs is a man who will assert his strength without trying to enslave her.  But she might be a follower.  If there were a cause big enough, and a leader great enough, she’d be fulfilled in joining that.  That’s what her faith in God is.  His cause is bigger than her ideas; His strength is greater than hers.  So she follows Him.  And she loves Him.

 

Strong-willed people are like lines.  They shape the world.  If that’s the case, though, the more emotional people color the world.  They make it interesting.  I’m a lines person.  I even eat ice cream inside my mouth (without getting it all over my face).  But I just wish the colorful, less strong-willed people would color in the lines.  When they don’t follow any predictable rules, interaction is very hard.  I’m trying, though. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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What is a strong-willed person? 

Some people are born strong-willed.  Others work into it.  We might think of them as leaders, independent-minded, strong-willed, or stubborn.  They do not go with the flow.  Usually we recognize them in rebellion. 

 

Let me draw a comparison.  The majority of people are driven by emotion and beliefs.  It has been said that facts are far less powerful than what people believe.  These people feel that the most important thing is being sincere.  Inconsistency means nothing.  Life is lived as though relative.  If they felt it at the time, they did it.  They can be impulsive.  I don’t mean they seem impulsive, but that they really are.  (Wisdom can appear impulsive; if someone has an alert comprehension of a situation and an inherent sense of right and wrong, he will confidently choose very quickly and act on that decision.)  If a person is always true to himself, he is able to be manipulated.  His decisions are thus the floating, sleepy subjective of “follow your heart” – almost animal. 

 

However, a different kind of person is always trying to match himself to an outside ideal, whether pragmatic or spiritual (at the altar of self, of parents, of a romantic interest, a hero, a political ideal, or of God). Sincerity is important; only he wants to sincerely be his ideal, and believes reformation of actions will cause the change.  He still has that impressionable emotional side, but is not capable of being manipulated.  His decisions are on facts, rules, and objective evidence.  Standards are set by what he worships. 

All humans are born not worshiping God.  Self might be worshiped, in which case decisions are whatever self wants to do.  Self will be glorified.  Pain and bribery are nothing if the condition is not what the self wills.  Particularly if subjecting to them would profane independence, the terms are not embraced.  Or the idol might be another person, or a book, or TV show. 

 

There are people who begin as the first type of person and are trained or converted into something else.  Subjective manipulation can birth idolatry of a particular thing, rendering the person anchored, and not blown about with emotion any more. 

 

Conversion can happen for a strong-willed person from one idol to another, but it is not a matter of manipulation.  This is caused by more information about the idols.  No amount of pressure effects a change of mind.  I venture to guess that these people are not easily lied-to, either.  They tend to have a comprehensive view of reality that discerns truth. 

 

So eventually a strong-willed person will discover the truth or die in the process.  Discovering the truth and accepting it are not the same thing.  Many strong-willed people live in determined rebellion against God.  They believe in Him, know what His purpose is, and are not pleased.  They have chosen to worship self, and will not be supplanted.  Like the demons, they believe the truth, shudder, but hate the truth all the same.  In fact it is impossible to fully hate what is unknown. 

 

God can convict even an independent person of their sin, and humble them.  He can also establish formerly unstable, wind-of-the-moment-driven people as His worshipers.  I don’t claim to know how He does it.  I do believe that only He can.  When a person is saved, his spirit is made alive, rendering the sinful nature dead with Jesus on the cross.  Then the will has the power, by dependence on the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ life through them, to choose righteousness.  A strong-willed person recognizes that worship is absolute.  When his worship is given to God, his choices are made to God’s standard. 

 

What he worships, he values supremely in a way that the first kind of person cannot understand.  A strong-willed person understands commitment, is a zealous person, and expects fidelity from others.  He sees priorities as life-statements, reflecting not only the preference of the minute, but the direction of the years.  Yet he understands repentance, because it is a complete turnaround, a replacement of allegiance.  Repentance is not simply the recognition that a particular action is no longer popular or pleasant. 

 

A strong-willed person is not emotionless.  He feels just as deeply, and must reckon with the emotions.  But he cannot let them control him if they contradict his convictions.  This can be simpler, but not easier.  Some strong-willed people, when faced with intense emotional situations, feel torn in two. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

PS: Remember.  These are confessions of a strong-willed person.  My conclusions might be a little biased.  The object remains to aid communication between stronger and lesser wills.  Let me know what you think. 

 

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