Delight Amidst Mordor: the Hard Part of Psalm 37:4

Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desires. (Psalm 37:4)

Hoo, boy. Few Bible verses carry as much potential to turn us into mercenaries.

“Love God and he’ll give you things” – yeah, that’s just begging to go down the wrong alleys. How do we handle such a verse? How do we treasure God and his opinions on things in light of such an offer? It’s Scripture. It can’t be wrong. So there must be a solution to this conundrum.

Don’t obey God to get things, obey God to get God. – Tim Keller

For me, it is the sheer intensity of “delight”.

1378807888_1c49b58b1b_z“Delight” doesn’t just mean a vague affection, certainly not a conditional one. It means delight. An intense love that crowds out other considerations. I don’t just like my mom – I delight in her, such that I’d make her a priority over a great many things. Same with my friends. (That’s why they’re friends.)

Delight can’t be faked. God sees right through it, and we’d never trust our own motives without it. When we delight in God, the first half of Psalm 37:4 outshines the second half, which sidles up to us out of nowhere while we’re absorbed with God.

I know – tall order.

How do we delight in God so freely when we have so many beefs with all he has allowed? It’s the question instantly begged upon the word “delight”.Some of our lives resemble Mordor – ashes and geysers everywhere you look.

That was the fork at which I stood.

All I can say is, I chose delight. It wasn’t some saintly nobility – I just knew the way back was cut off.

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68)

And I found that things really do operate the way God describes.

The Christian who desires more money must release it, trusting so fully in God’s creative provision that charity becomes the greater joy.

The Christian who desires upward mobility must instead wash feet.

The Christian who desires more friendship must offer it, gushing like a spring upon those around him (as Christ did) rather than incessantly drawing inwards.

The Christian who desires a spouse must be filled with Christ now, so that they will not grasp like an empty one.

The Christian who desires justice must not seek it by his own hand, but depend on God’s watchfulness and convicting power. (You might be interested to know that justice is actually the strict context of Psalm 37).

At each point, our desire is tested to determine its worth. Some would survive the fire, others would not (Psalm 37:4’s applicability to Lamborghini’s is doubtful), but all must be sublimated to Christ.

And no matter what the cherished object, we must delight in his timing.

God has a funny way of keeping dreams alive. It’s one of the great paradoxes. He brings our dreams around. But they happen in his way, according to his calculations and machinations, and often with a more eternal reach (like the artist whose future work might raise souls instead of curtains).

It is difficult to delight amidst the Mordor of this world. But if we choose it anyway, we will be rescued, pulled out of the cataclysm and awakened in a new home.

The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

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.

Why Are Lies So Loud and Truths So Quiet?

If only life had the decency to be the other way around.

I do not know why lies have all the connections to adrenaline suppliers.

I do not know why it’s fear, anger, and self-hatred that can seize your heart and weigh it down with a twenty-pound force, rather than peace and love.

I do not know why worry seems so inescapably truthful and peace so too-good-to-be-truey. (Okay, I didn’t have a good word there, but you know what I mean.)

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But it is so. Some things are promised to the Christian, but not immediately possessed. Truths must be worked for; lies ride the second law of emotional thermodynamics straight to your doorstep. Truths must be fought for; lies dart across your battle lines and start whispering their propaganda. Truth is the gym visit, lies the chocolate cake. Truth is the ponderous jetliner, lies the gravity. The world and the four silent walls of your apartment shout addiction, despair, and your lack of value; God speaks in a still, small voice.

Even listening to the relatively loud voice of nature requires work – spiritual linguistics. Many eyeball the galaxy and see an accident. When your own life is chaos, it’s easy to agree. Part of your heart whispers, “isn’t it obvious? He isn’t there. Or he isn’t good. Just quit fighting to believe otherwise; it’ll all be such a relief.”

The good news is…muscles expand.

Work gets easier as it is performed. Ever heard the saying, “It’s easier to stay in shape than to get in shape?” It works here. There was a time when praying my way into peace took hours of spiritual work. Now it takes much less. In fact, knowing it’s possible does half the work. Like a youngster’s body finally bringing together all the right muscle movements on his first bike, the spiritual disciplines come.

It can be a long, difficult phase in which we learn to routinely surrender our emotions to Christ and find stability, peace, and hope in him. But there are equally long and difficult phases in which we learn that simple mistakes can get you fired from even your first job at the chicken joint, or that driving recklessly can get your car totaled, or that your first high school relationship is rarely destiny. It feels unfair. How were we supposed to know?

But there was a second job, a second car, a second chance, was there not? A second side to the valley of the shadow of death.

To those are born on the battlefield, perhaps in a foster home or saddled with depression, God offers more. The bigger the battle, the bigger God’s reinforcements.

Don’t give up hope. You’re far stronger than when you started. As we learn the Shepherd’s voice, the lies grow strangely dim along with the rest of the things of earth, while the truth fills our ears. Though we might not possess it yet, we are promised it.

 

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!

Just Keep Showing Up, Young Dads

fatherDuring my second year of teaching at that remote rural high school I’ve spoken of, one of the school’s premiere couples broke up.

They’d produced a son by then. His mother carried him in her eighth grade. As a toddler, he liked to crawl around on my classroom floor (it was that kind of school) and tear his mom’s algebra homework riiight down the middle, with an evil grin directed right at me. Pretty cute.

Then his father changed girlfriends. He broke the news to her halfway through the school day. The sight of her face coming down the hallway will stay etched in my memory.

I lost track of them once I left the school; I don’t know whether this young man stayed in his son’s life. I’d like to think he did. He certainly seemed to adore his little boy whenever I saw them together.

The story played out again at a job a couple years ago (this film’s been remade more than Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and like most remakes, it never gets better). This teenage couple had a baby girl early on, and the dad always seemed to have one foot outside the relationship. Recently I learned the mom is single. I’d like to think the dad is still playing a role (I didn’t know this one at all), but I don’t know.

I’m happy for the successful families celebrating Father’s Day. But for me, when the holiday comes, it’s these little ones I think about.

Like many singles, I used to think I’d be a natural at the family thing. I’m a Christian, I’m a nice guy, I don’t waste my money…put me in the game, Coach, I’m ready!

Time has cautioned me. Time, and seeing my friends have kids, and the extraordinary slate of unremitting work it takes to raise children. Your attention span is forfeit. Your schedule is carved in stone. Your gross-out reflex…well, it’ll just learn to deal. And suddenly, the future is ominous. It’s not just you on the line as you pivot and adapt. Now there’s a little one dependent on everything you do.

And that’s for older dads.

For a father in his teens, who’s barely figuring out the world to begin with, who has no idea where to start…wow. I can’t imagine.

So I’m rooting for young dads today.

And I’d humbly say, just keep showing up.

If you don’t know jack about being a dad, just keep showing up.

There isn’t some shining manual resting on a mystical perch somewhere, emblazoned with all the ancient fatherhood wisdom, that you haven’t read. Truth is, even older dads are freaked out by the responsibility. They don’t know what they’re doing, either.

But they’re showing up.

When the medical bills pile on, keep showing up.

When the fights with the baby’s mom wear you out, keep showing up.

When you buy all the wrong crib materials and want to punch your steering wheel, keep showing up.

When you see those other guys killing the dad-craft on social media, keep showing up.

When the wisdom eludes you and the energy leaves you and the future seems set against you, keep showing up.

Everything else will come. Eventually the fog will clear, you’ll look down at your own two feet and realize, you’re still running. You’re still in the fight.

As I think of all the little tykes in the world giggling and looking around for their dads, I’m rooting for them. To keep showing up – as God does for us.

Yes, You Learned Math You’ll Never Use After High School. Here’s Why.

mathI see it all the time – some character on the internet asking why they were taught (fill in the blank algebra) they never used after high school instead of (fill in the blank practical math like budgeting or taxes or mortgage math).

Having served in the teaching profession, this question is really mine to answer. I now oblige.

Beyond the fact that many schools do offer alternative courses in such math (I’ve taught them)…

…or the fact that practical math is far easier for someone to self-teach, so we reserve algebra for professionals…

…or lines like “it’s about problem-solving” or “we could use more trade schools” or “because federal agencies are dictating our content #lessgovernment #murica”…

…the answer is simple.

You learned math you’ll never use after high school – because your teachers believe in you.

You’re welcome.

Contrary to popular opinion, teachers have no crystal ball revealing exactly what each student will grow up to be. We have no way of knowing a future environmental researcher or mechanical engineer from a future office receptionist or restaurant manager.

And since we don’t know, teachers labor to equip students for as many choices as possible. Perhaps for when that space exploration video smacks your eyeballs in junior year and launches your imagination into overdrive, or when you read about that ecological crisis brewing in the Solomons and suddenly feel driven to find solutions. Darned if teachers are about to bar you from those possibilities by not teaching the basics.

Students might think we should know. “Can’t you see the loser I am? Can’t you see I have no capacity for that great stuff?”

No. We don’t. That’s not our job. Teachers believe in every human that sits before them – even when they don’t believe in themselves. How can they do their jobs with any passion otherwise? We will not count you out, even when you count yourself out.

Even if you do become a stay-at-home mom, had you chosen a path of research at Cal Tech, you at least had the option. That is not a waste of your time. For you were not a waste of their time. You may not have understood the lesson then, but it gives you limitless options later. 

You could say much the same of God – except he knows exactly where you’ll end up.

Perhaps you’re currently wondering, when on earth am I going to need these heartbreaking lessons I’m learning? Perhaps your current circumstances are stretching you to the breaking point, beyond what you thought you could bear. The fear and depression don’t lift. Money stays suffocatingly tight. The loneliness bears down like a fog. Month in and month out, year in and year out, no matter how many “things are about to change!” sermons you hear, nothing ever does.

Know that it is not in vain. Nothing on God’s blackboard smartboard is ever wasted. 

Imagine being admitted to a NASA engineering internship only to find out you haven’t the slightest math skills. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

God is averting you from that fate. He loves you fiercely and is arranging the strength and knowledge, professionally taught, that you will need for your destiny. When it arrives, you will be ready.

 

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

 

No More Apologizing for the Faith

miracleSomething stunning has happened at our church.

The story has been rising towards climax for months as our congregation wearied itself in prayer. This month, it was finally confirmed.

Until I’m given blessing to share more, I’ll limit the facts to two: it is unquestionably miraculous, and many have come to a powerful, swiftly mature faith in Jesus Christ through it – such that our firmly grounded Baptist pastor has compared it to “something out of the book of Acts”.

Sorry to be a tease.

But one thing on which I can confidently speak is what this miracle has done in my life: thrown into a sharp relief a wall in my heart. One built of a composite of materials, one that I let block me every time I consider sharing my faith in Christ. A wall of apologizing.

Apologizing for bad churches.

Apologizing for cosmically tough questions.

Apologizing for the idea of sin.

Apologizing for the ugliness of certain corners of my political party.

Apologizing for the cliches we throw around.

Apologizing for difficult doctrines that require great objectivity and surrender to consider.

Apologizing for others’ suffering and unanswered prayer.

Apologizing for the way God hasn’t made himself as evident as he could.

Apologizing for my flaws, which I fear disqualify me.

Apologizing, apologizing.

And so rarely sharing.

I do believe God is patient and has answers for these things – or comfort when answers cannot come.

But if I allow these considerations to suppress my witness of the very Jesus who claims victory over these things, to leave me walking on others’ eggshells, then something is off.

I’m afraid of what others will think.

It’s no more complicated than that. I fear reprisal. The loss of friends. The assault of a world that won’t abide the Gospel’s aroma. That unspoken instinct is really what’s at the bottom.

So I tiptoe. I trade in a mincing, eggshell-treading testimony that’s trying to placate rather than confidently proclaim.

There’s nothing like a miracle to jolt your faith. Jesus has taken a running start, lowered his head, and smashed through my hesitation like the Hulk through a twenty-foot clay bulkhead. Where is your boldness? he’s asking. In light of this incredible happening, why do you hesitate?

To those who do not yet know Jesus, bring your doubts and questions and worst mistakes if you must, but Jesus is real. He moves. He delivers. There is no difficulty to which he cannot respond with power, wisdom, and comfort. There is no sin you can mention that he is not willing to forgive.

So…you will be hearing from me. I’m now further than ever in my life from being able to keep silent. Even if I never get to share more about this particular miracle, I have others to tell of. He is real.

 

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!

Why Churches Should Have Graveyards Again

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Russell Moore wrote this blog post for me. I could never in an eternity have put it better. (Hope you don’t mind a post in the form of a tweetstorm.)