Wednesday, May 10, 2017

When God Works in the Backgroud

I have recently been studying through the book of Ruth the ladies over at Love God Greatly. Man, I love this book. Just to summarize in case you've never read it or it's been a while... A woman named Naomi, her husband and 2 sons move from Israel to Moab (another country) during a famine. While there the sons get married to Moabite women. Then the sons and Naomi's husband die. The scriptures don't tell us if their deaths were close to each other or spread out. All it says is they died. Naomi hears the famine in her hometown is over and she decides to move home. One of her daughters in law decides to go with her, Ruth. Now Ruth was the original ride-or-die girl.

“But Ruth replied: Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May Yahweh punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
‭‭Ruth‬ ‭1:16-17‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

So the next thing she knows Ruth is in a foreign country with her mother in law. Her mother in law is so angry and bitter about How life has turned out that she changes name to Marra which means "bitter". The whole situation is very dim. So Ruth goes to work because, well, a girl's gotta eat.

Chanter 2 is what I am loving this week. The field where Ruth "happens" to go to work belong to Boaz. Boaz "happens" to stop by then field one day to check on things and see how it's going when he notices Ruth. This is the part I miss sometimes. Ruth was working. Her head down looking for leftover grain that was missed or dropped by the paid workers. This is how she ate. If she didn't find enough leftover food on the ground she went hungry. It was a pretty dire situation. She was focused on living. Day to day. One meal to another. Yet over in the periphery God was working. Her life was about to change. Boaz came into the picture.


Through a strange set of customs Boaz and Ruth end up married. Ruth goes from being a homeless widow gathering leftovers to the wife of the guy who owns the field. And it gets better. Ruth has a baby named Obed (I know what friend/relative put that in the baby naming pot?) who had a son named Jesse who had a son named David who became king over Israel and a great grandfather to Jesus.

But in chapter 2 Ruth knows none of this. All she knows is that she is hungry and today she gets to eat. I've been stuck in chapter 2 before. A place where the mundane tasks of living and surviving every day takes all my energy and focus. If you are stuck in this place today please know there is hope. I can't promise a Boaz but I can promise Jesus. I can promise that God sees His children. Just because you can't see Him working doesn't mean that he isn't.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The heartbreaking work of youth ministry

In just a few days our local high school will graduate another class of Seniors. Another group of students will be sent out of the relative safety net of high school and into the big wide world to see what life has to offer. But the school system is not the only one lovingly shoving them out the door. Church youth ministries will celebrate with these young people as they reach this milestone. Then when the summer is over and many of them start college or enter the work force they will find there is no place for them in the student ministry department. They have outgrown us.  As they have moved on we have stayed behind to tend to the next group of up and coming teenagers.

My husband and I have been in youth ministry in the same church for over 12 years now. Next year we have the possibility of seeing our second generation of youth some through as some of those entering 6th grade had parents that were once a part of our youth ministry.  

Over twelve years I have watched many, many scrawny, short 6th graders grow into mature 12th graders. And once you are a part of our ministry you are one of "our kids". I may not feed you everyday or help with homework but I worry about you. And when these mature students go out into the world I worry, too, if we've taught them enough. Did I show them enough Jesus in the past 6 years?  When they felt no one in the world cared did they know they could just show up to youth group and be loved and accepted?

This year a very special group of students graduates. One summer my husband spent more time with the students in this class than he did with our family. I do not exaggerate....I counted. And I didn't totally mind. These kids came to my house on Sunday afternoon...and other days when they learned to drive. They dug out the beaver's dam in my pond and helped set off fireworks on 4th of July. Some days they would come over and mow the grass without being asked....partly because they wanted to drive the zero turn mower.

As with any relationship there are bumps along the way. We grieve when students past or present make decisions not in line with what the Bible teaches. But they will always be our kids. We will always be here if they need to talk or need advice. We celebrate when things go well. 

This letting of go of kids that were never really we borrowed for a few hours every we only had for a few short years...this letting go is the hardest part of youth ministry. Already I can feel our Seniors pulling away. This tearing away doesn't stop us from loving. It doesn't stop us from investing every year in a new group of students that will break our hearts again when they leave. This is the ministry to which God has called us. To equip, guide, grow up another generation of students to walk out into the world and stand for Him.