It Happened One Sunday

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It happened in Spokane, WA on a Sunday morning in the spring of 1937. Eighteen year-old Lillian Privette was in church, as was her custom.

1937 was a difficult year. Unemployment in the U.S. was 14.3 percent and climbing, reaching 19 percent by 1938. Nazi aggression made war seem likely to astute observers such as Winston Churchill. It was also during that year that Amelia Earhart vanished during her around-the-world solo flight.
But as difficult as things were in the world, God was at work, as He always is.

Gifted with a beautiful voice, Lillian loved singing the hymns of the faith. On this particular Sunday, one hymn became a special favorite. As she later told the story, they were singing the great Isaac Watts hymn, “At the Cross,” when she heard a strong, if unfamiliar voice. She looked over, and standing a few persons away, was a handsome young man named Everett. With a striking bearing and clear blue eyes, he possessed the muscular confidence of a young man chiseled by hard, physical labor. Everett had come in from the woods where his family carved a living as loggers.

Finished with school by the eighth grade, Everett helped support a family of twelve by felling timber with his dad. But it was Sunday, and they were far from home, so they attended church in the city. As God would have it, they sat on Lillian’s pew. And while singing “At the Cross,” she heard his voice, looked his way, and described her experience as “love at first sight.”

Everett was smitten with Lillian as well. That morning he asked her to go on a date … to church. Everett drove to Lillian’s house to take her to Easter services at her church. The courtship moved quickly, and they were married by year’s end, beginning 61 years together.

In the 40 years since my grandparents, Everett and Lillian Adams, told me the story of how they met, I have never sung “At the Cross” without thinking of them. We even have the song displayed in our home to remind us of the faith tradition of our family.

I tell this story as an encouragement to parents and grandparents to share your stories with your family. Children need to hear our stories of faith in Jesus Christ, and they need to know what God has done in and through our families.

The first person I helped lead to faith in Christ was my college roommate, Steve Phillips. I hadn’t seen Steve in twenty years, then, on a family vacation that took us near his home, I gave him a call and we had a wonderful visit. He and his wife have a beautiful family that loves Jesus. It had never occurred to me that our sons knew nothing about Steve and how God had used their Dad to share Jesus with Steve. I learned that I need to share such stories with them. It was good for them to know that when I was about their age now, that I was trying to serve and share Jesus with others.

One of the great concerns that many have is the salvation of their own children and their commitment to serve Jesus after they leave home. This is a valid concern that requires multiplied efforts. Sharing your faith stories with your kids is one worthy effort toward that end.

Have you told your children and grandchildren how you became a follower of Jesus? Tell them. Have you shared a time when you believe God was guiding you and it changed your life? Share it. Have you talked about serving Jesus, maybe leading a friend to Christ? Tell them. Did you help to start a church? Is there a time when you denied self, and sacrificed, for Jesus and His cause? These are stories that others need to hear, especially our own kids.

Everett and Lillian have been with Jesus for more than fifteen years. When they died I lost someone who prayed for me daily. I will always remember my Grandpa’s first words after he heard me preach my first sermon. “You are called,” he said. That meant a lot to me. It still does. And I want my sons to know the story.

Grandparents Key to Reaching Young People

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A recent conversation about older adults brought to mind a friend who died a couple of years ago.  I got to know her best on a mission trip to India when she and her husband joined my wife and me, together with a few others.  What I came to learn was that this lady whom everyone called “Mamma Dawn” was a real “mother hen.”  On that trip I became one of her baby chicks as she made sure that I did things right.  Mothering was something Momma Dawn did well.  She raised four children of her own, and grand-mothered many more, including the girls she taught in her youth Sunday school class.

Momma Dawn’s relationship with teenage girls in Sunday school contains a lesson for every church.  What I heard from her girls was that she loved them.  When they came to church, and especially to Momma Dawn’s class, they knew they were going to be treated special and receive love.  I would say that they were grand-mothered.  She taught them God’s Word, shared her experience, and loved them.

Grandparents have a relationship with children different from the parent’s.  Two words that typify the difference are love and grace.  Godly grandparents are free to express these because they have walked with Jesus longer and He has knocked off some of the rough edges.  Also, they are free from some of the disciplinary responsibilities of parents.  Grandparents often know God’s Word better and can apply it with a wisdom born of age and experience.

As I think about it, my observation of Momma Dawn’s effectiveness with young people is not unique to her.  Many of the best Sunday school teachers and ministers to young people and young adults that I have seen are grandparent types.  One I know retired from working with young people at the age of 88!  He was a legend for the impact he made on thousands of lives.  His ministry to teenagers spanned over 40 years, resulting in hundreds coming to know Jesus and serve Him as members of His Body.  Retirement only came with failing health, not decreased effectiveness or passion for Jesus and young people.

I was speaking with a handful of pastors about the importance of looking to grandparents as we consider who will work with the younger folks.  I told them that I have a growing conviction that churches error when they think younger adults are more effective with teenagers and other young adults than grandparent types.  As we spoke, one of the men asked a young woman about this.  She is a single woman in her mid-twenties.  Her response was most enlightening.  She said, “In my church, the person assigned to teach my age-group is only a few years older than us.  This person doesn’t have much life experience or wisdom in comparison to an older adult.  They think young adults are about games and fluff.  But I want to be taught the Bible.  I want wisdom.  That’s why I attend an older ladies class and not the class for my age-group.  They can quote the Bible and relate it to life without even trying – simply through their natural conversation as a by-product of their many years following Christ.”

Is this young woman unique?  I don’t think so.  I firmly believe, and research bears this out, that young people want to be mentored and loved on by older people.  And more important than anything I think, or research reveals, is that Scripture instructs the older to mentor the younger.  Older women are to train the younger women, and men are to set an example for young men (Titus 2:3-8).

It’s no secret that Americans are living longer which is one reason our churches are aging.  The average 65 year-old will live an additional 18.6 years.  Churches are responding to this by increasing ministry for older adults.  This is appropriate.  But do not forget that the most mature and experienced servants in the church are our older adults.  Godly seniors want their retirement years to count for Jesus.  You already understand this, I suspect.  But what you may not have considered is that older adults need to be teaching teenagers and young adults.  Older adults can connect with young adults.  In many cases they can do it best.

Those who understand life best are those who have lived it most.  And in many cases they have a lot of love to give.  It’s a grandparent kind of love, like that of Momma Dawn.