To My Future Daughter

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Sweetheart,

I was laid off from my primary job last month.

It happens. No hard feelings. It was a great gig while it lasted, good people and all.

No doubt this bores your yet-nonexistent mind to tears, so I’ll skip to where this affects you: though I’ve finally managed to save up a bit, I want you to know that it wasn’t an option to stay content with my second job (pizza delivery) after the lay-off. It wasn’t an option to just tread water financially. I found myself compelled to turn around and find new primary employment, go right back to sixty hours a week, even though I’ve been plugging away at that pace for eight years.

Because of you.

You’re the reason why I keep knocking myself out year in and year out, why it never bugs me to take a longer shift, why it didn’t bother me to skip the big-screen TV and streaming subscriptions, why I keep hitting the gym to secure some semblance of energy in middle age, and why I’m planning to buy and remodel a house next year without a while lot of experience.

Because of you, sweetheart. You’re worth it.

I want it to be the best version of me that finally, God willing, gets to hold you someday. A red carpet rolled out for your life, colored by Jesus’ blood.

This is all syrupily, comically premature, of course, because I’m so far back in the process that I don’t even know who your mother will be yet (I still hope you look like her – it’s gotta be an improvement). But still, somehow, I think about you all the time. Having church friends who are cranking out babies right and left probably has something to do with it – que sera sera.

I’ve got so many plans, God willing. We’ll talk about Jesus in the same breath as Daniel Tiger. We’ll be opening Bibles as often as candy wrappers. We’ll hit our knees in our igloo and gape at God’s handiwork from our treehouse. Your first guitar (or kazoo?) songs will be worship songs. Jesus is my hero, and I want him to be yours. He needs me to train you, and that’s why I train myself now.

If that happens, you’ll stand out. And that’s both awesome and terrifying.

Gosh, what an insane world you’ll be born into. The Joker would be proud. If it’s not a physical war, it’s a war of ideas on the worldly plane and of kingdoms on the spiritual one. The clash is fiercer than ever, and we’ve both been drafted.

If I do my job, if you know Jesus and the woman he’s calling you to be, if God answers my prayers, you’ll bear a spark nobody can miss. You’ll be functional. You’ll be kind. And, sad commentary as it is, that will probably make you stick out like a sore thumb in the 2030s. Your peers will look up to you. Employers will trust you. The church will see fit to send you to the nations, to those born less privileged. Colleges will court you. So will guys (I’ve already bought a shotgun) until they get bored and wander off because you’re waiting until God hits the horn and produces a guy who is just as enthralled with Him.

If I do my job. God have mercy.

But it’ll also make you a target. The Scriptural life isn’t popular anymore, and people also attack what they admire. Will we have to live off the grid to stand on the Word? I can’t say. But it does no good to mince words, sweetheart: you will be hated, just as I will be. Just as He is.

It almost makes me hope that you don’t stand out. That I can just hide you in a bunker, staple Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak to your shoulders, or expose everyone who meets you to memory-blocking pheromones. But we both know these aren’t options. Follow Jesus and the world will see.

So I have to train you for that, too. I have to teach you to do what’s right even when nobody’s watching (or when everyone’s watching). I must model deriving identity and strength from Christ, not the world. I’ve got to serve, date, and prioritize your mom so you know what a real family looks like. I can’t spare the rod, even if it hurts me more. Because if I don’t yank you back, life and Satan will. And they won’t be gentle.

Maybe you’ll be all dresses and dollhouses; maybe you’ll be a true country girl with an ATV and a 17-point shed by high school. Fine by me, even if one hits my checkbook harder. Your essence will be seen and loved.

But no matter what, I know God’s got you. And that wonderful knowledge crucifies my fear.

If I don’t make it all the way to hand you off on your wedding day (definitely won’t happen if the Seahawks keep getting up my blood pressure like this), may this letter find you, dear daughter. May you know how much I adore you, even now, before you were a glint in anyone’s eye. Because you were in Jesus’ eye from the beginning, and he’s given up far more for you than I ever could.

With all my eagerly waiting heart,

Dad

P.S. Grandma wants you to hurry up and get here.

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.

You Shall Be My Witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judea and…What, There?

browningThere’s a saying you often hear in my part of the world: “Don’t stop in Browning.”

Browning is the county seat of the closest Indian reservation, on which I taught for three years. There’s always the stories circulating around, stories of bad things that happen to white people when they stay too long. Thus the old canard, “don’t stop in Browning”.

It’s also a saying that my pastor likes to repudiate fiercely whenever the chance arises.

I love it. Thump that pulpit.

It’s a crap catchphrase, for two reasons. One, because it isn’t true. I’d know. I frequented that town for three years, stepped inside its gas stations, supermarkets, fast-food places. Nothing happened. Didn’t get ripped off, didn’t get pushed around. It’s just normal folk looking to live a normal life (without a lot of success). Maybe more people would know that if they stopped.

The second reason is, it’s not a very Great Commission saying.

Jesus didn’t place limits on our destinations for that “ends of the earth” thing. He told us to make disciples of all nations, which usually involves making friends first. And if there were safety concerns…

…well, you weren’t likely to argue with a guy who’d just had his hands and feet pierced bringing light to places that didn’t want it. Especially once he’d risen from the dead.

I’d run into my share of panhandlers and homeless in a town like that (even on the forty-second parallel). If you offered to buy them food, there was about a fifty-fifty chance. Some would accept, grinning happily through a sub sandwich and telling you their life story. The other half would quickly decline and shuffle off. They were obviously after something else.

The point is, by offering, you helped half. All it took was a little resourcefulness, a little brain-pushing, which we often don’t even do. We complain about systems and institutions and government. Is it just a cover for not wanting to lose five bucks? Who knows what eternal doors could be opened through those five bucks?

We’ve got so many poisonous attitudes clouding our evangelistic vision. The only way to vent them is often simply by walking right into them, and doing what we’re supposed to do.

How can you do so today?

 

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!

 

 

What If Jesus Announced That He Would Return On…

calendarThe following scenario will not happen. “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son — except the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).

I don’t anticipate the Lord going back on such long-laid plans. After all, the prior verse says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (v. 35).

But humor me for a moment, and consider this hypothetical exchange:

Church: “Lord, we faint. We long for your presence. Please, please tell us when you’re coming back.”

Jesus: “Oh, very well. The Father has relented and authorized me to tell you. I will be returning on…”

Global bated breath. People in every village, city, region, and nation await the next words. One of the most significant, weighty questions ever pondered on earth is about to be answered.

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The One Cure for Your Great Commission Hesitation

planeWhen I was called to teach on a remote Indian reservation, I didn’t think too hard about it.

The sign appeared, a couple priceless prophetic words came through friends to confirm, and that was that. God was wise enough to tell me NOT to think too much before I stepped out. Otherwise, I would have  talked myself out of it.

That’s how it might need to be for you.

There’s one cure for Great Commission hesitation: go. That’s it. That’s the prescription, the regimen, the chemotherapy. Prayer is essential and cannot be recommended enough, but it doesn’t move your legs. At some point, once the details are clear, we must go.

It’s not a question of whether you’re called; the calling is right there in Matthew 28:20. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” The only question is where and when. It doesn’t need to be permanent; in fact, some missions work better without foreigners’ constant presence. Maybe it’s only a couple weeks.

But it needs to be us. Instead of searching for reasons we can’t go, we should be asking how soon we can board the plane.

Worried that “God can’t use you”? The problem with that quote is the first two words. Trust me, if God can wield a moron like myself, he can use you.

You say America is a mission field now and the Great Commission can be performed right here. You’re not wrong. But is it said as an excuse to avoid stepping on the tarmac?

You say you lack time or money. Your checkbook and calendar are not your savior. God alone decides your availability. And you will be blown away at how he can provide. (I can attest that he loves to flaunt his resources in these matters.)

Maybe you’re in a truly rough season (I’ll pray for relief!) and just don’t see a way. It’s definitely between you and God. Maybe now’s not the time. But – if you will suffer me to impose just a little – at least decide that from a position of surrender. Others around the world are suffering in far greater darkness than you and I – the darkness of no God.

No matter who you are, what church you’re currently in, or what season currently defines your life, you’re eligible. Every obstacle is surmountable for the one who believes. Allow no excuse to stop you.

Thousands plunge into hell every day.

And God can show you amazing things, if only you will go.

We Must Stop Living Like We’re Home

tentFolks are binge-watching multiple seasons of “Game of Thrones” while Satan does his best Night King impression on the hearts of everyone around us.

That show is less of a fiction than we think. Imagine Jon Snow sitting in a castle somewhere, endlessly munching mutton by a roaring fire, perusing books of philosophy as Westeros falls apart around him. I’m afraid that picture is all too close to our daily lives. (I hope my GoT metaphors aren’t too far off – I’ve never seen the show.)

Last night, my students spoke keenly of the ease of staying “on task” on the mission field versus at home, about how easy it is to tell others about Jesus, spot service opportunities, or just take time out of the day to sit with a lonely person, when you’re on a mission field – compared to being back “home” doing our everyday lives.

I’ve run into this. I love mission trips, and one reason I love them is because you’re in an altered frame. Distractions are refreshingly absent. When you’re at home, that’s not the case. Schedules, classes, work projects, home projects, and family life rush back onto center stage.

It was my students’ words that helped me put my finger on my problem.

We’re not at home.

Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. And the One who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.

So, we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:4-6)

It’s when we reach God for good that we’ll finally be home. Until then…

Being “in the field” – in another city or country, or perhaps simply a local mission for the evening – is a refreshing exercise in focus. You’re removed from television, chores, work, maybe even your phone, free to just do what God calls us to do.

But get back to whatever earthly tent we’re paying rent for, and it’s back to the distractions.

The United States is one of the world’s biggest mission fields now. We get into political bickerings to fight for our comfort zone and forget that we’re not home yet in the first place.

Given that our true destiny awaits at Jesus’ side, how much of our sense of “being at home” is just an illusion? How much of it can be cast aside simply by treating our technology and hobbies as we would if we were across the ocean? It might be as simple as a mental exercise.

Paul tells us that our current address is a tent. Perhaps we’d do well to live as restlessly as one would in a tent. May we do so for the sake of those around us.

 

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!

3 Funny Things About Judging Others (That Might Help Us Get It Right)

lucyIn the Gospels, Jesus imposes strong conditions around our tendency to judge others:

Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

It’s not that we’re never supposed to identify sin. What often flies under the radar in this passage – especially to those who misappropriate it to justify a permissive lifestyle – is the final verse, numero cinco. It says the goal is to help the brother remove his speck. If we’re not allowed to address each other’s sin, a primary mechanism of church health (as identified throughout Paul’s letters) is taken away from us.

Here are three things I’ve noticed about judging (yes, because I’ve done it):

 

1. We don’t always realize we’re doing it.

Judgment is not always a burning, eye-twitching hate that consumes our entire being. It’s more a sidelong, glancing thought, or a steady but subtle buzz like a program running in the background. That’s why we get away with it.

Catching our minds in the act of judgment requires an active monitoring of our thoughts that few of us want to be bothered with. It’s a little like Lucy and Ethel on their assembly line of chocolate candies, with the speed cranked up to Red Bull Cheetah Space Warp. But it’s necessary if we want to be holy.

 

2. We’re sometimes right.

Oftentimes, when we’re judging someone, we’re correct. When you look at a friend and go “Man, he just has to make everything about himself”, you might be right. When you hear someone talking about another behind their back yet again and go “she is such a gossip”, well, you’re not wrong. Some people are kind enough to make judgment obvious. That’s another reason we get away with it.

But Jesus’ commands in Matthew 7 don’t assume we’re wrong. The “log in the eye” parable grants the speck in your brother’s eye. Jesus never denies it. He just says, “knock it off until you have a better attitude”. If we’re to help a brother concerning sin, Jesus says, then we’re to do so from a profound awareness of our own. It changes our entire demeanor.

 

3. We judge those we love and know the most.

We don’t just judge already-disliked people in our D-lists or outer circles. We judge our closest friends and family and get away with it because of #2 – all the while loving and admiring them to pieces simultaneously. Isn’t this stuff weird?

 

By the grace of God, I’m praying for deliverance from these habits. It starts with remembering my own sin before I ponder others’. An unpleasant expedition, but worth it. May we all follow the Spirit’s leading in these things.

 

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!