When You Can’t See Behind the Door

Letting go feels like a surrender of strength, but it actually requires strength.

Brandon J. Adams

doorMy Bible this weekend has been opened to Psalms 127-132 page, and 131 caught my eye, standing out by being shorter than its surrounders:

Lord, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I do not get involved with things
too great or too difficult for me.

Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself
like a little weaned child with its mother;
I am like a little child.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forever. (Psalm 131:1-3 HCSB)

It seems as if the Psalmist is refusing to let his eyes get above his pay grade. As if there are matters beyond his rightful contemplation, things he just can’t grasp – and as if there is a holiness in refusing to try.

There is.

Only those who trust God, who trust his machinations behind the “curtain” of reality as it were, who trust him to keep…

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The Joshua Harris Fallout: The War Everyone’s Forgetting (Or Never Saw)

Few days of history compare to the last day of the World Wars. Millions danced in streets across the globe.

But those scenes seem far removed from today.

“Why continue torturing myself? Why not just forget God and get on with life, like most of the rest of the world? Instantly I felt a sense of relief and freedom, like I had just passed a final exam … I picked up my Bible and a couple other Christian books and walked downstairs and out the back door. I shut the door softly behind me, so as not to wake anyone. In the backyard was a brick barbecue grill, and I piled the books on it, sprayed them with lighter fluid, and struck a match. … at last I had peace. A great weight had lifted. I had been honest with myself. Any pretense was gone, and I no longer felt the pressure to believe what I could never be sure of.”

Sunrise Sky Battlefield

These aren’t the words of Joshua Harris, nor those of Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson, who this week declared his own critical struggle with his faith.

The words are from Richard, a young man whose conversations with author Philip Yancey served as the backbone of Yancey’s book Disappointment with God.

They’re becoming familiar. Within the battle reports offered by these leaders, there’s a pattern:

“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.” – Sampson

Though Sampson goes on to cite intellectual conundrums, I sense an undercurrent of feeling in his words. It was similar with Harris – in his case, internal conflict over a doctrine that’s particularly costly for certain Christ followers. He couldn’t reconcile, so he took the path of least emotional resistance and found himself outside.

And I get it.

I know the weight they’re talking about, the Gordian knot deep in the chest year in and year out. It’s the “oh, come on” knot, that just won’t accept paradox and longings deferred and the constant tension of cultivating a relationship with the unseen. People hit their forties and start realizing that “that thing” won’t just evaporate by itself, isn’t responding to simple prayer or maturity, and might never resolve in this life. A final straw.

That’s why I’ll decline the usual “let Scripture matter more than your feelings” line that John Cooper offered.

Not that he’s wrong. Our generation has forgotten to trust Scripture. Or never really heard it.

But remember that we are refugees in war-torn lands. Not all of us found trouble as adults; some were born into it. Into families that didn’t get us, that fell apart while we were still in high chairs, that carry unspeakable secrets. Right from the opening credits, we were beleaguered. Those feelings do not simply go away. They matter.

So the part of Scripture we might most need is the part where faith is a war.

Many Christians seem to have assumed that proper belief is one long, unbroken catharsis and inner resolution (and anything else is failure). There is partial relief to be had. I’ve found much.

But Scripture tells us that complete relief is not our present (Romans 8:23), and misdiagnosing reality is always dangerous. John Eldredge said, “It’s the equivalent of arriving on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, with a lawn chair and a book to read. It is a drastic misunderstanding of your situation.”

Read the Biblical accounts of the faithful. Does any of it look easy? Yes, Jesus is a God of victory, but victory implies war. Paul often uses military analogies. Ephesians 6 outlines spiritual weapons. Your life is a war.

It would explain some things, wouldn’t it? Look around you. See it as a war, with sides and weapons and tolls, and it makes an ugly sort of sense.

So the dragon was furious with the woman and left to wage war against the rest of her offspring–those who keep God’s commands and have the testimony about Jesus (Revelation 12:17).

It also explains the weird way life suddenly gets better when faith is jettisoned. Of course things got better – you abandoned your post. You stepped off the front lines and experienced the flooding relief of not being shot at. Of course you’re surrounded by “positive and affirming” thoughts now. Of course you have a fiancee now. Of course you no longer have theological quandaries to wrestle. You aren’t in the line of fire anymore. Already Satan has retasked his resources towards the next guy on the line. Why would he bother with you now? You’re right where he wants you.

My friends, there is relief to be found in this life. I fully believe it. Though weapons must be shuffled through and strategies shifted (and God allows the process), I believe it can be found.

But I suggest the theory that if you find yourself struggling to love Jesus through your disappointment today, it means you haven’t surrendered. The Christian life is unnatural to the fallen soul. Always was. And the war that results is brutal.

Satan is furious that Jesus has a death grip on you that cannot be dislodged. This Jesus never will let go, as long as you don’t. And remember the mighty thrust of his truthful words: that reward is not found fully in this life, but the next.

Morning is coming. Hold on!

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

A Week on the Plains and Plain Truth about Reservations

Last week, fourteen high school students loaded up a van and drove across Montana with three leaders – including myself  –  for a week putting on VBS’s on a distant Native American reservation. It was our second annual mission to this site. We went with God preparing the way ahead, his glory as our rear guard, and the fervent prayer and support of our congregation going up to him.

I did miss the opportunity to spend the week blasting Audio Adrenaline’s “Blitz” with its refrain “Fourteen kids in an old church van”, but que sera sera.

(For those who don’t know our church, we’ve long run a tiered youth mission program intended to get students out of their middle-class comfort zone and set before them the struggles of impoverished and unchurched corners of our world. Tier 1 trips are our shortest, most in-culture and structured. This was a Tier 2, remaining on continent but removing students further from cultural norms and controlled conditions, demanding more work and initiative. Tier 3 is off-continent; Tier 4 is long-term.

The program has availed much. So many testimonies of youth setting hammer to nail, shovel to dirt, or Windex to window in a darkened battleground somewhere, returning home with their worldview flipped on its head, and finishing growing up that way. It spurs gospel and generosity, loosens their love of their material bubble. It’s one of my favorite features about my church.)

TLDR for those wondering how their prayer and money was used: the trip was terrific. Fruitful, providential, and foundational for the future.

peckGod had clearly positioned us for this mission. Just weeks prior, huge, potentially deal-breaking questions had loomed about manning and housing. They were all solved, albeit in that on-the-run fashion that God so often favors. In fact, some of God’s answers turned out to be improvements on last year’s situations.

The students did top-notch work planning and executing their VBS curriculum and activities. Several were visibly stretched, and welcomed it. Our team was solid and fairly inclusive; no real problems regarding unity.

The unpredictability so inherent to this kind of mission trip showed up for sure, given the tendency of reservation life to start at noon and the fact that we were running separate VBS’s in towns 45 miles apart. Schedules and key information were blurred and juggled. The students met it all with a deft willingness to pivot and adapt, to jump to unexpected tasks and fill in shifting vacancies. Few complaints. It was eye-opening to watch them embrace the whirlwind as a cost of doing business.

I heard some students, veterans of last year’s trip, remarking to their parents about how God was maturing and deepening their understanding of reservation life – the challenges of poverty, the darkness of abuse and addiction, the complex way in which social ills beget other social ills, the lack of easy solutions. There were moments that silenced them. Prayers were not skimped upon. You could see their resolve growing.

The team’s adult leaders got a chance to dream and pitch ideas with the local pastors. That was exciting. There are actionable possibilities to return and grow our partnership.

The work will not be easy. Satan holds these grounds and the barriers are considerable.

But there is progress. The local churches have secured small teams of workers, prayer warriors with rough stories of their own, who are building inroads in these communities. Thanks to the tougher moments, we have clear strategies in our pocket. Most of all, we know that God’s Word does not kneel or fade but accomplishes what he intends for it – and that he intends much.

For those who prayed and supported us, God used it. Thank you so much.

The Joshua Harris Fallout: Does God Write Sad Love Stories?

Forward Ship Force Of Nature Storm Wave Lake

One of the chief challenges of the Christian life is that we’re often blind to God’s plans.

We pray for healing, but don’t know whether it’s God’s will to heal. We pray in the storm without knowing what God wants to stop, the storm or our fragility. We pray for friends’ salvation; we don’t know all that goes on behind that stage.

Let’s not mince words: we face the reality that not only is God’s agenda different from ours, but his feelings, his definitions of “good”, might be alien to us as well.

Then there are times like Joshua Harris’ divorce.

Like a hurricane, this storm could reach well beyond its center. Though many Christians are glad over Harris’ fall (a sentiment that does not share God’s heart toward the lost (Ezek. 18:23, 33:11)), others are doubtlessly experiencing deep unease over questions about God’s involvement in divorce. Many single Christians have hung their hat on the idea that God is writing their love stories and have never heard wedding vows containing the phrase “until God do us part”. After Harris’ limited involvement in that teaching, their confusion now is understandable. Does God write sad love stories?

I’m bumping up against ancient theological conundrums here, of course, on the nature of God’s control of the universe, of events, and of hearts.

One group would say, “Why should I marry when I don’t know whether God will preserve my marriage?”

Another group would say, “It’s horrible to conceive a world where man’s evil is the primary wind. Is it not better to be in God’s hands than man’s?”

So how about it. Was this divorce God’s doing?

My answer is…I don’t know. We won’t be resolving these millennia-old stumpers here today. (Nor do I wish to mediate any angry debates in the comment section, please, gang.)

And perhaps…there doesn’t need to be an answer.

Instead, a back-to-basics approach is good in times like these. Three things occur to me.

1. God is sorrowful.

I have a personal connection to the question of God’s role in divorce: my own parents split when I was seventeen. Never in my life have I felt more keenly that God had let me down.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

What I got from my pastors is reassurances that when God says he hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), he means it. Did he do it? At some point, that no longer mattered. That year, I learned from Scripture that God shared my outrage, that he fully identifies with us in how we feel about the world’s brokenness. This saved my faith. (You can’t swing a dead cat through the Bible without finding God displeased about something or other.)

John Piper has said, “God’s emotional life is infinitely complex beyond our ability to fully comprehend.” There might be no greater understatement. I take comfort in knowing that God enters into our pain, without needing to resolve the greater questions.

2. Fight fear.

Some single Christians feel a shaking of what they believe concerning their futures. Entire formulas feel disproven.

Satan would use this to create widespread fear among us. Don’t be part of it. “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (2 Timothy 3:7). Whatever else, be wise to Satan’s schemes.

3. Wisdom is still wisdom.

Many of us never got on board with the idea that total passivity is the only way to receive God’s future spouse, and towards the end of his walk, neither did Harris.

But neither does his apostasy negate other Scripture, or permit us to get stupid. Regardless of questions over God’s matchmaking protocols, prayer is still smarter than no prayer, wise counselors are still better than otherwise, and singleness still beats unequally yoked marriage.

If you put a gun to this non-guru’s head, I’d say the intensity you commit to seeking marriage is between you and God (assuming it doesn’t involve sin or desperation – remember “sound judgment”). Some people he does tell not to move. I’ve witnessed it. Others seem free to look more proactively. Crackpot idea: it might depend on the person and what God is trying to address within each heart.

Never try to make your experience a principle for others, but allow God to be as creative and original with others as He is with you. – Oswald Chambers

Assess your readiness with sober judgment (Romans 12:3). Know what qualities matter in another. Be driven alone by the confidence that God’s advice is best. If you believe he’s saying something – either to get a ring on a finger or return it – then obey. He hasn’t left his throne.

ship2.jpg

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

NOTE: I’m out this week, but will respond to your comments when I return.

6 Surefire Ways to Drive Your Pizza Delivery Guy Crazy

jacketThis article is written under the assumption that delivery people are people, too.

We are happy to serve you, public. We are grateful for the business you bring us and intend to continue offering the best service possible to your doorstep, regardless of what happens there.

But at the risk of eliciting the phrase “first world problems”, if I may say so, we drivers risk our necks. The weather is nuts, the mugging threat is ever-present, and other drivers are doing very little to lower our blood pressure.

One day I shall crack, and the last you hear of me as they drag me into the funny farm will be something about an extra large pepperoni whose recipient forgot the tip or expected us to deliver to some preppers’ bunker two hours away in the mountains. That’s one thing.

But here are six lesser-known but consistent habits of pizza customers that also hasten the fateful day of our committing. If you wish to help, please read on.

 

1. Misplace your credit card when you’re placing your order.

Whatever you do, if you’re paying with a credit card over the phone, do not ensure that your card is within arm’s reach as you call. If we’re doing this thing properly, there should be at least a three-minute archaeological dig for the thing while we drivers wait on the other side, other phones ringing off the hook, orders stacking up beyond the screen’s edge, pizzas sitting in the warmer waiting with nobody to take them, and their future consumers adding their own follow-up calls to the melee.

 

2. Order from out and about, then try to beat us home.

The occasional customer, trying to plan ahead, will call from WalMart to order their pizza with the intention of getting home before our estimated 30-40 minute delivery window.

Key word, estimated. We sometimes outdo ourselves. Often, in fact.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve reached a residence with an order far ahead of the 30-minute mark, only to get no answer. I call the number and yep, they’re still pulling their kids off the checkout conveyor and trying to get out the sliding doors, not having expected me to be so early. Oh, friends! I must then wait in the car at temperatures sometimes 30 below, sometimes 30 Celsius, while they barrel home in a manner that would make the Simpsons proud. 

Or it will be…ahem, a post-activity period that they’re trying to time their food for.

Trust me, folks, when you open the door panting for breath, hair tousled, and distractedly fumbling with a robe, we can take a fair guess as to what you were just doing.

All because you didn’t allow us a chance to beat our usual delivery times.

If you want to embarrass us, feel free to keep trying this. (I suppose I’m not in a position to know when it succeeds, come to think of it.) But if you want the opportunity to be that customer who gets a fresh, piping hot pizza after just twenty minutes, order from home and give us a chance to excel for you!

 

3. Don’t turn your porch light on.

I’d seriously say that it’s the minority of customers who light their house numbers so we can find them.

It’s not so bad if their neighbors have theirs illuminated to help, but they didn’t just order 32 hot wings and a single side of marinara (yes, I’ve seen that order), so they’re even less likely to do it.

This leaves us delivery drivers trotting down darkened streets in the middle of winter, walking up to five different houses and awkwardly squinting. Talk about daring the neighborhood watch. I’ve actually seen people quit over this. (Did I mention we’re carrying food? In bear country?)

To ensure our trip to the loony bin as early in life as possible, please continue to ensure that you do not illuminate your house number in any fashion. The simplest strategy here is simply forgetting to turn on your porch light, but there are many helpful variations! Black numbering on dark brown siding is always a winner. Or you could stick the numbers right beneath the light, exactly where the mounting’s shadow falls. Then there’s the classic move of slapping big numbers on the front of a pillar and then positioning the porch light directly behind the pillar. We do love the classics.

Speaking of…

 

4. Let slip the dogs of war when we knock.

Okay, folks. You know you ordered a pizza. You did not forget you have dogs. Why not stick your little treasures in the backyard once we arrive? (Again, I suspect many do and I never know it.)

Yet I am so often bombarded by what I suspect would be “Ride of the Valkyries” if dog language could be translated, as they slam into the closed door en masse, their barking drowning and frantic skidding on the foyer linoleum out the ineffectual cries of their owner: “Fluffyyyy! Boboooo! Snifflllles! You stop it!!!”

And sometimes there’s a doggy door. Which promptly becomes a cannon. Aimed right at my groin.

Forgive me – I almost had my thumb ripped off by a dog when I was eleven or thereabouts, so I’m still a little leery of the species if I don’t know the owner.

 

5. Offer a $50 or $100 bill for payment.

I know this is all some of you have for various reasons, but consider: we drivers are not permitted to carry more than twenty dollars in our cars. Same reason as convenience stores: to carry more makes us targets for mugging. Plus, if we have an accident, our earnings for the night are scattered all over Sixth Street. Along with our lower intestines.

Even if the order is large enough to where can break your ginormous bill with our twenty, doing so drains that twenty. The other day I was on a double run; both orders were from a trailer park. The first customer handed me a fifty and got that twenty in return. I actually had to turn around in full view of the other customer down the street, return to the store, and get a new bank before taking the second order. The walls are closing in…

Then there’s the possibility that your benjamin might be counterfeited without you knowing.

I do not wish to inconvenience you, but if at all possible, please pay with cash using lower denominations. We’ll love you forever!

 

6. Ask for specials first.

Okay, this may vary for different chains. But here’s the dealio for mine.

  • Specials are the last thing we put into the system. We can’t apply a special to an item that hasn’t been selected yet.
  • We have specials for a ton of different combinations – probably fifty specials overall.
  • We don’t run weekly or daily specials. We may emphasize a few for various periods, but most of them run for months at a time (I think our “2 for $24” special was on when Moses parted the Red Sea). So the answer to “what are your specials?” is probably the same as it was two weeks ago.

And the best answer to that question is, “Well, how many pizzas are you thinking, and what sizes?”

See, we like you. We give you mad props for looking for savings and don’t blame you at all, but we want to keep your business in the first place! If you are looking to save money, tell us what you’re in the mood for, and we’ll be happy to find you a special that saves you some moolah. Trust us!

 

I sincerely hope that my sarcastic ranting has not sliced up your enthusiasm for pizza. Please feel free to order and we will continue to serve you with a smile, no matter what.

Please note I’m out this week, but will reply to your comments when I return. (I’m picking out my bed at the asylum.)

The Joshua Harris Fallout: Purity’s Real Destination

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Why does all the wild stuff happen while I’m away at youth camp?

I’ve written before on navigating the fall of our Christian heroes. Frankly, it leaves us feeling a little adrift. It’s a sign of just how tangled our relationship with God can become with human intermediaries, and how threatened it all feels when the tent of cards comes down. (I remember some missionary friends moving Stateside after years abroad, hearing how the church they’d left behind started losing members immediately. They’d loved the leaders rather than God.)

Well, it’s happened again. This time it’s Joshua Harris, of I Kissed Dating Goodbye fame/notoriety. He renounced Christ publicly on Friday.

On top of that, he announced separation from his wife. Joshua Harris. Of all people.

Harris was one of the seminal generators of what we call “purity culture”. Boiled down (heavily), it theorizes that undertaking the journey of sexual purity and brotherly love that God commands, largely by avoiding dating, will lead to the destination of an amazing, God-ordained marriage.

road

Yeah, I know.

I’ve never been one to pile on. Though I disagree with much of what he wrote, I also have the objectivity to spot that many of his teachings were distorted and amplified beyond their purview by others. I’ve also seen my own criticisms echoed by Harris himself the last few years. Frankly, I think a guy deserves credit for being able to so humbly and accurately renounce his central life’s work. (Have you ever been in that position?)

But I’ve also stayed moderate because I think much criticism of purity culture actually misses the point.

Much criticism of purity culture quibbles with the journey. It tells us that we’ve selected the wrong highway, that its rules on physical boundaries and dating are stifling, counterproductive, inductive of shame, and don’t guarantee good marriage anyway.

There’s definitely some truth there. Shame is no good. And as Harris said, prohibition of dating simply isn’t in the Bible.

On the other hand, I value boundaries. My first girlfriend and I barely touched, relatively speaking. I have to imagine it made the breakup easier. And if my next one wants to save her first kiss until the altar, she’ll gets what she wants, ‘cuz I’ll want to honor her. I‘d much rather our relationship be founded on words, food, Bible reading, shared experiences, food…that sort of thing. The moment you start making out, all that stuff takes a backseat to thinking about the next time you’ll get her in the backseat. Food.

My objection is with the supposed destination.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Eph. 5:3)

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:18-20)

Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers. (Heb. 13:4)

Notice something: in all three of these pivotal purity passages, do you see any direct mention of the future spouse? There’s none.

Yet vast swaths of evangelicalism motivate singles to purity using our future spouse – how disappointed and damaged they’ll be when you have “the talk” and find out you didn’t wait, how purity guarantees wonderful marriages and stratospheric sex, etc.

That motivator is consistently absent. Purity culture gets the destination wrong.

Instead, Scripture teaches that the destination of purity is the glory of God. It’s about pleasing him, preserving his reputation, honoring his ownership of you.

And honestly, ironically, I see very little of that in most criticisms of purity culture.

Yeah, yeah, it’s easier to get students to care about their future spouse than about God’s glory. But truth is still truth. I want our youth group’s students to have the highest aim; I want singles to have motivation for purity when marriage proves elusive.

Yes, I want to protect my future wife through my purity, and plan to do so. But God’s glory needs to be my primary goal, because God needs to be primary in my marriage. The moment either she or I become the center, its prospects drop. He is where the power lies; he is the point.

Motivations matter. Eventually, life sweeps over us all like a tide and tests our foundations. I suspect it will get to our purity motivations sooner or later. When that day comes, I’d rather be anchored by the Highest.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

NOTE: I’m out this week, but will respond to your comments when I return.

It’s Never Too Late to Come Back

Brandon J. Adams

waitingI have regrets.

It doesn’t matter how mine compare with yours. Scripture says they’re all the same in God’s eyes. So I cannot approach you with judgment in my heart.

Instead, I can relay this story.

‘I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.  So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put…

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