4 Ways to Travel-Proof Your Child’s Faith

travelproofAs a youth worker with ten years of experience, I’ve known the pain of watching my students lose their faith.

Sometimes it’s on them; they just decide it’s more interesting to live the way they want. But sometimes the loss looks more akin to theft, being snatched away by the brutal realities of life after high school. They “get out into the world” and quickly find themselves mired in a slog of doubt, and the strength needed to wade through is rare.

As I’ve prayed over and grieved these friends, I’ve seen their struggles fall into categories. This is encouraging, as naming the battleground is half the battle. These are categories that many youth groups address with all their might, but there simply is no substitute for a parent’s influence.

I humbly offer some brief thoughts on these categories.

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Pizza Lessons #7: The Old Man

pizza5(For the previous parts of this series, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

 

The other night, I pulled up to a house for a late delivery run.

The house and lawn were run down. They all look that way in March, of course, as the snow melts. But the interior didn’t look much better, dirty and unkempt, as I peered through the curtain-less sliding door.

I knocked and saw the lone occupant – an elderly man with a beard that would make ZZ Top raise their guitars in salute – rise slowly from his chair. He was using a cane.

This’ll be a stiff, I thought, steeling myself to be fine with no tip. Customers of this profile were often cantankerous. Sometimes, you could argue that life had given them reason to be. Yeah, you could argue that if you lack the money to tip, you lack the money to order pizza in the first place, and maybe that argument works for the folks who order thrice a week without ever tipping. But sometimes a man’s gotta live, you know? So I was good either way. (And just to be clear, I never ask for tips. Bad form.)

The door opened. The man’s eyes crinkled with a shy warmth. A small cat had padded in front of him to the door, almost as if guiding him there.

I greeted him enthusiastically, quoted the price, and he presented a hundred dollar bill. “I’m sorry I don’t have smaller bills,” stammered the man. “I told ’em that when I called…can you make change?”

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How I Stumbled at Work and Grace

There was a period last year in which I could seemingly get almost nothing right at my primary job.

The nature of my job is such that errors lent themselves to a nice paranoia. They’d take long stretches of time to come back and show themselves, so I’d spend weeks worrying over any large batch of work I sent out. They also had a habit of clumping together for some strange reason. So when it would rain, it would pour – come in Monday and a huge batch of mistakes from two month ago, sitting on my desk.

My boss was decent about it. He’s a good guy to work for. But this went on for months, and he eventually let me know in no uncertain terms that improvement was needed.

God had a lesson in it.

But it wasn’t what you think. It wasn’t just the lesson of “work harder, be diligent, be the best at your job in order to glorify me,” although that Scriptural lesson is always before us.

It was about how hard I am on myself.

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Struggling to Be Thankful? Just Get Older

When I was younger (not that I’m old now, thank you), I had an issue with being ungrateful.

Every parent out there probably just said “amen”.

When you’re young, you don’t know how much you don’t know. It rarely occurs to us that others have it worse; we just don’t see it. I often struggle with the section of my heart that just plaintively shouts “NO. I’m tired of cliches. Just fix this, God!” whenever hardship shows up. May God have mercy.

But reaching the age of 33 has quieted that voice. Time has given me the chance to see more suffering. It’s devious, unfair, and creative, just how badly the world can go wrong for people. And it makes me thankful.

I’m seeing clients’ bodies break down from cancer, paralysis, mood disorders, even diabetes induced from head injuries in war (didn’t even know that could happen). Six-figure medical bills, ensuring debt for their children no matter how well they settle with the insurance company. It leaves me grateful that I can breathe, run, even walk, or pay for something – and noticing each time I do. Noticing. I thought being grateful for my sight and hearing was for older folks who had ascended to some higher plane of earthly wisdom. Nope – it’s for me, too.

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God Is Not a Magic 8-Ball (And How to Know If You’re Treating Him Like One)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do— He reveals to you who He is.” – Oswald Chambers

So I’m sitting at my desk years ago, slowly eroding a mountain of math papers and waiting for God to do something. You know the feeling. I have to change jobs in the next month; I’ve got applications out in the wind. A dark knot has taken up residence in my stomach. I know God’s moving. I sense the electricity in the air – the “God space” I sometimes call it with my students, those junctures where he likes to step in. But I don’t know where or when he’ll appear. And with the end of school year closing in, I’d really, really like those details.

Finally, a call comes in. My applications have been seen. “Are you available to interview next week?”

Sweetest words ever.

Immediately the pit of anxiety lifts. Someone once said, “All happiness is the release of internal pressure”, and right now such quotes seem sage. It occurs to me that I’m happy just to have prospects; they offer a few days’ vacation from anxiety, a few days of effortless peace.

But the interviews go nowhere. The gnawing pit returns.

I’ve known couples who must bear the question of “Will our baby be healthy?” for an unavoidable season. While the couple waits, the knot feels like an unavoidable companion.

Or there’s the myriad of singles who repeatedly drag a parent, mentor, or friend to coffee over the honest question tugging at their heart: “Will God ever bring me anyone?” After talking their latte cold, they walk away with renewed hope. It feels so good. But after a few more months pass and nobody shows up, the pit returns. And they arrange another chat.

“How is this ministry going to work out?”

“Do you plan to heal my father?”

“Are you going to come through in the way I’m hoping?”

“Will everything be okay?”

After years of this all-too-familiar cycle, the Holy Spirit popped his own question to me. Through conversations over many years, it ultimately came down to this:

Why do you need to know the outcome to get rid of the knot?

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Sorry, Mike Pence, It Was Really the “Graham Rule”

110619316_96f3530a93_oBilly Graham is dominating my Facebook feed today, and well deserved. Millions are in heaven today because of him.

Like many other tributes, one of the first things that springs to my mind when I think of Billy Graham is his reputation with the world. I’m reminded particularly of one thing I learned from reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye in years past:

In the early days of his ministry, Billy Graham experienced deep concern over the public’s distrust of evangelists. How could he preach the gospel to people who assumed he was a fake? As he considered this question, he realized that most people who distrusted evangelists did so because those evangelists lacked integrity, particularly in the area of sexuality. To combat this, he and the close circle of men who ran the crusades avoided opportunities to be alone with women who weren’t their wives.

Think about this for a moment. What an inconvenience! Did these men really fear that they’d commit adultery the moment they found themselves alone with a woman? Weren’t they going a little too far?

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Does Jesus Command Us to “Be Ourselves”?

ourselves

“Be yourself”.

It’s the rallying cry of our generation. Be true to our personalities. Stay in our natural grooves. Stick to our comfort zones. Whatever you’d like to call it. We trade this mantra like a recipe, a handy formula for success in personal interactions, handling of money, dating, choice of college major, what have you. Feels pretty affirming.

At first.

A year or two ago, I remember a time I was myself. I made a joke at someone else’s expense. It was an outgrowth of my teasing sense of humor, and it wasn’t taken well. I apologized, but you can bet that “myself” didn’t look so appealing to me in hindsight, which is always 20/20.

Just how much sin do we keep under the umbrella of “being ourselves”?

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