Over a series of three summers during college and graduate school, I was privileged to work at a medium-sized camp in the eastern hills of Pennsylvania.  It was a wonderful experience to touch the lives of so many campers and to form lifelong friendships with the year-round staff and my fellow counselors.

Early in that first summer, one of the full-time staff invited all of us to his house for a devotional time.  It made a deep impression that Rudy (not his real name) and his wife Violet (not her name) would go to the effort and invite us to get away from the camp for a while in their home.

The more I worked with Rudy and all the full-time staff, the more I saw his huge heart for God and for others.  In one situation, I saw him working with one of my campers who was more than I could handle.  Patiently, lovingly, and filled with God’s Word, Rudy touched that child’s life and started to deal with some of the core issues.  Some people wear off their testimony, but others grow on you; and that’s what Rudy and Violet did.

At one point Rudy shared with a group of us that he and Violet had tried to have children for almost a decade, but weren’t able.  So they told us they were going through the adoption process and kept us updated.  At some point in the following school year, Rudy called with the thrilling news that the adoption agency had located a child for them.  But within months, the birth mother changed her mind, and Rudy and Violet went home to grieve in an empty house.

The second summer I worked there, Rudy and Violet again got called.  A young teen was expecting a little girl, but didn’t want it.  They visited the birth mother and endured numerous other evaluations of their home and their suitability for a child.  But even these hurdles seems tiny compared to their joy.

After birth, the mother transferred the papers to my friends.  To say they were ecstatic is too tame a word.  They instantly became the godly parents we had observed every summer as they worked with campers and counselors.  They were happier than I’ve ever seen them.

A couple of months into the following school year, I again got a call from Rudy.  He explained that Pennsylvania had a law allowing a birth mother a certain number of weeks/months to reconsider.  If she changes her mind during that period, it cancels the adoption.  Their baby had only been with them for four to six months, but the teen mother decided she wanted to try to raise her daughter.

Again, we were all in shock and aching for our friends.  After having a baby and creating a family home, Rudy and Violet now had to pack up their nursery things and pass back the daughter who had been “theirs” since her birth.

Many of us questioned God’s goodness and His justice.  Here was a young couple dedicating themselves to ministry, praying for a child, but investing themselves in other people’s children.  Rudy, on the other hand, tried to help all of US work through our grief for them.

During my third and last summer of camp work, Rudy shared that they had once again been contacted with the possibility of an adopted child.  This time they were still excited, but more reserved.  The extra exciting thing we learned was that this was going to be a little boy–the perfect match for a Christian School teacher who was also a die-hard sports coach and fan!

We prayed about it all summer, and then kept in touch often to make sure nothing had gone wrong.  Nothing did…and little Michael has now been a part of the family for almost 20 years!

But less than a year after Michael arrived, Rudy called with news of Violet.  During some testing the doctors had found a mass in her abdomen.  It turned out to be cancer with limited treatment options, given its progression.  I wept with Rudy on the phone and again prayed and wrestled with God.  It just seemed that this couple DESERVED better from the God, Who had already tested their faith in heart-broking ways.

Violet endured multiple treatments, surgeries, nutrition regimens, and medicines, but the cancer continued to grow.  All in all, Violet had about three years more with Rudy and Michael.

When I heard that she was close to finishing her race and had been moved to a facility that tries to make terminal patients as comfortable as possible during their last days (otherwise known as “palliative care,” I called Rudy to let him know they were constantly in our prayers.

Even as the phone on his end rang, I began sobbing.  Rudy picked up, we cried together, and I asked about Violet and Michael.

Rudy shared something on the phone that I will never forget.  He said that he and Michael had just been down to the little stream on the property, because Rudy felt he needed to help Michael prepare for Violet’s Homegoing as best he could.  After talking about Mommy going to live with God and being free from any more pain, Michael asked simply: “Are we going to be OK without her, Daddy?”  Rudy answered, “Yes,” but Michael immediately asked how his dad knew that so certainly.  Rudy said he started internal panic prayer for the right answer.  Then God gave it to him.

“Michael, I know we’re going to be OK because God loves us, and everything that touches us is filtered through Him, to make sure it’s good for us.”  A short paused punctuated the conversation; then Michael looked up at his dad, satisfied, and said: “You’re right; we’re going to be OK with a God like that.”

That thought has often come back to me in hardship and many times in my own illness.  I pray it’s a thought that will change your life, too–whether people have hurt you, illness stalks you, or you daily wake to face disablement, Go back and read the first two chapters of Job, Christian.  Read them well.  Note Satan’s destructive, malicious intent, and then note that Satan could have never touched Job’s family, wealth, position, and body, unless God allowed it and intended good for Job through it.

Remember this blessing of being a Christian: Nothing can touch our lives unless it has first come through God.

(In Memory of Violet Soane–a friend, a Godly example, a wonderful wife and mother, and an ongoing inspiration to trust God’s hand and timing.)

When working with teens and college-aged students, two things become immediately clear: 1.) They can smell hypocrisy a mile away; 2.) They resonate with and respond to transparency from the generations before them.

While some older Christians wring their hands over these characteristics in young adults, I believe we actually should view it as a tremendous opportunity. We’re ministering to a generation that is a.) highly relational, and, b.) highly responsive to truth spoken and demonstrated to them.  What a perfect time to touch young lives!

Transparency should be a natural thing between older and younger believers. After all, it is the wisest man in the world who equates an “honest answer” with a kiss of true friendship (Prov. 24:26).  Additionally, Asaph the psalmist reminds Israel that God commanded each generation to tell the next about God’s works and commandments, in order that each generation might make its own choice to place their trust in God (Psalm 78:5-8).

That passage in Psalms makes it clear that the young generation HAD to know these things if they were to avoid the failures of/in the previous generation–failures of stubbornness, rebellion, inconstancy, and unfaithfulness.  And Paul makes it clear that the Body of Christ should be characterized by people who have left falsehood behind and now speak only truth to each other (Ephesians 4:25).

There are many pastors, parents, and others in the elder generations who understand and practice this with their own children and the young people entrusted to their charge.  But there are others who risk the next generation’s faithfulness by holding to a more stoic and distant approach that was modeled to them by generations that spoke right things, but didn’t often speak of personal struggles and growth.

To continue that approach is appealing.  After all, admitting we still struggle in our walk–inconsistency in time with God, wicked thoughts, pride, covetousness, the pressure to conform to this world, and all sorts of fleshly desires–is painfully humbling. Focus instead, however, on the fact that you would be sharing those words with younger believers who struggle daily with the same things–and often feel hopeless and failing in their desire for growth.  Sharing warnings and lessons from our own lives demonstrates that we’re after the bigger picture–commitment to and love for God in theirs.

We can also share with them that growth is possible; that God supplies grace and maturation over time (Philippians 1:9-11); that the struggles weaken when we’re walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-24); that God has given us His Word, His Spirit, and everything we need for life and righteousness (2 Peter 1:3); that God’s love is steadfast–independent of our performance, yet strengthening us to live in a manner suiting the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27); and that God’s forgiveness is faithful and just, no matter how many times we have to return to Him in confession of the same sins (I John 1:9)!

These are things that help put flesh and bones on the “pilgrim’s progress,” and they give encouragement that younger Christians aren’t alone in their struggles or their walk.  Christ has blazed a trail and left a testimony.  Older generations have followed Him obediently, though imperfectly.  And this generation can follow Christ even more faithfully, aided by the honesty and transparency of those who have already lived and learned these lessons–by God’s grace and to His glory!

Stephen

P.S. This is part one of a two-part entry.  Obviously, this post is largely addressed to those 40 and above.  The next will be an appeal to younger believers to live as citizens of heaven.

My parents and others were always transparent with me that Christians will never be free of temptation until we reach heaven.  But beyond that, I assumed that temptation would somehow “cool” after youth.  After all, I’d heard from my Biology teacher that a man reaches his hormonal peak at age 17, so I took that to imply that the burning temptations of teen years would decline.  To a degree that’s true; but  lust of the flesh is only one category of temptation.  We also battle with the lust of the eyes (possessions or material covetousness) and the pride of life (desire for prestige, recognition, commendation).

What we must remember is that Satan, the arch enemy of our God and of our souls, is not limited to using certain types of temptation only during certain seasons of life.  In fact, it serves his purposes well when he can blind-side us with temptations we thought we had overcome (or outlived).  Scripture drives that lesson home when it tells the one who thinks he stands to take all the more heed, lest he fall (I Cor. 10:12)

Getting hit anew by temptations we thought we were overcoming can be a terribly discouraging and defeating experience–one that can even make us wonder about our salvation.  But I want to encourage younger believers to expect that kind of temptation…and expect those temptations to get WORSE the greater your level of responsibility and the more people depending upon your leadership in life.

For example, the first year I served as President of Bob Jones University was honestly one of the hardest years of spiritual warfare in my life.  I’ve told my wife and a number of young friends that my areas of heaviest personal temptation intensified about 400% throughout that year, leaving me confused, discouraged, doubting, and wanting out.  God got me through that year and ministered to my heart the following summer, but I was nearly overwhelmed by the fierceness of the battle.

Looking back, I realize that I shouldn’t have been a bit surprised.  In his ultimately doomed warfare against God, the devil tries to trip us up and defeat God’s purposes in our lives.  Ultimately Jesus WILL complete the work He has begun in us and will present us perfectly righteous before the Father.  But until then, we have a supernatural adversary trying to defeat us.  And the more responsibility the Lord gives us in life–a spouse, a family, positions of ministry or business influence–the more destructive Satan’s attacks have the potential to be.  Because if Satan can cause parents or pastors or successful Christian businesspeople to fall, there’s increased potential that our failures will also spell spiritual defeat for the individuals depending on us . . . or that he can bring scandal to the Name of Jesus through some public failure.

So please just store this tidbit away for the days when you inherit more responsibility, prominence, and influence.  When that advancement comes, EXPECT the spiritual battle to intensify and don’t be discouraged or surprised when the storms of temptation hit with new force.  In fact, get ready for it: Make no provision for your lustful flesh, commit God’s Word to memory in areas of your greatest struggles, be assured that “Greater is He who is in you, than he that is in the world” (I Jn. 4:4), lean on the Holy Spirit’s strength, and rejoice in God’s promise that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9).

Make use of God’s provisions for the battle.  Don’t let Satan bring you down just as God is lifting you to new heights of influence and effectiveness for Him.

January 4, 2014