When God is in a Simple Camping Trip

If you’re wondering where I was Thursday when the time came to do a blog post…what? You didn’t notice. Oh, well. That’s ok.

Anyway, I was camping. Took four guys and hiked eleven miles into a nearby wilderness area. It’s a terrific wilderness, really, compared to the nearby Glacier Park; far fewer regulations, far fewer tourists, bigger group sizes and no campsite reservations required. (Also, it’s not currently on fire.)

But the fun part was seeing God in it.

There were all kinds of little blessings. For one, there was practically no smoke in the drainage we were inhabiting for three days. The double-cliff bluffs above us were there for the eye-gazing in all their God-given glory, and there were no breathing problems.

For another, I already knew the area because circumstances two weeks earlier had redirected a friend and I to camp there. (That, too, was an excellent trip.) That ended up being an enormous benefit when our original hike (in the park) was snuffed out by evacuation-worthy fires.

We saw a bear and a moose; the moose was trotting across the road as we drove out, but the bear we saw on the trail, darting across a mere 100 feet ahead. It’s unbelievable how something that size can move so quickly. I’d like to say it was a grizzly because that’s a cooler story, and I did get the impression of a humped back, but I couldn’t really tell.

A couple of hiking mishaps (broken pack straps, etc.) were averted by the engineering knowledge of two of our guys and the screwdriver that I’d happened to bring. I initially started packing it to make sure my gun holster stayed tight instead of spinning around on my belt leaving the barrel looking up at me, but it came in handy for different reasons here. Funny how things end up working.

Did I mention the trip happened to come at the tail end of the Perseid meteor shower? We spotted a few great fireballs as we retired to bed for the evening.

But I think my favorite part was the answered healing prayer. My right knee was acting up the entire time, leaving me reliant on Advil, which had the ability to knock the pain down from a 7/10 to a 2/10 but still didn’t leave me very trustworthy of the knee. The four guys said a prayer for me and in the morning, the pain was entirely gone. Even the 2/10 was gone. I didn’t feel a twinge the rest of the trip.

This really blew me away, honestly. I’ve been on a lot of trips and outings where I or someone else had a bugaboo, we’ve prayed, and nothing improved. Seeing my knee healed this time (though the Advil was enough to control the pain) was another reminder of the cynicism I’ve developed towards seeing God come through, of how my “theology of suffering” (the very good Biblical philosophy of how not all prayers answered and we shouldn’t be focused there anyway) might be a little too well-honed.

Perhaps the positive answers to prayer (there have been others lately) is because my attitude towards God has hit a new tier of improvement lately. I posted a while ago about getting past that “mad with God” thing. It’s a hard thing to get past, partially because it’s so hard to diagnose; we don’t dare walk around being consciously and openly mad at God because we know it’s blasphemy. Yet when life “bumps” us, it will surface. Often only then.

So I’ve focused on releasing annoyance towards God over the bad things that have come my way in this life (my family, for instance). It makes a difference. Not just answers to prayer, but levels of daily peace. I recommend it.

Anyway. Just a quick tale on how good even a simple camping trip can be when God gets involved. I’d been worried about it. It felt opposed. Fire activity in the area has made everything uncertain, and several guys I’d invited had been forced to drop out. But we went with the company we could, and it was an absolute blast. Praise God.

Don’t Let Satan Win Twice

desertI love the entire Scripture, but I’ve always been especially partial to the book of Hebrews. It’s partially because I long for a close, approachable relationship with the Father, and it’s (in part) the book of Hebrews that taught me to seek that, taught me that God himself seeks it.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way opened for us through the curtain of His body, and since we have a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold resolutely to the hope we confess, for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)

Let us draw near.

And if you know God wants something, it’s a good bet that Satan opposes it.

We know God wants our righteousness. We know Satan opposes that. Some corners of the church are bizarrely allergic to teaching this heavenly priority to their congregations, instead preferring endless “power and promises” stuff that keeps butts in pews. But it’s not about living your best life now. It’s about growing up, becoming more like God. I’m grateful for a church whose teaching pastors stand on this, who speak unabashedly about our call to righteousness and aren’t particularly concerned who might be walking out the doors because of it.

But another important matter is what we do once we sin. Because we will, and we’ll need to know how to handle it postmortem.

Continue reading

Having Abundance Takes…Contentment?

abundanceAt some point, we have all probably quoted this verse to encourage ourselves:

I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)

We might have mis-quoted it, too. The context of this passage is not declaring the ability to do anything you want to do, but the ability to handle what God wants you to do:

…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content — whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. (4:11b-12)

The context reveals that contentment, not abundance, is the goal for the Christian (and is honestly the more impressive trait anyway).

So if you ever launched out on some project without consulting God, then wondered why it faceplanted even though you read this verse, that might be your explanation: the verse doesn’t suggest you can do just anything. It’s about glorifying God, both his power in you and his purposes for you (desirable or otherwise).

But you know what gets me about this verse?

The idea that you would have to be content in abundance.

Because the verse implies that Paul needed contentment in both abundance and need.

Like, why on earth would Paul need contentment in abundance? I ask myself. You’d think that’s where you wouldn’t need contentment. Just sit back and enjoy the good life, for as long as it lasts.

But Paul experiences otherwise, and it seems to suggests two things.

One has to do with that pesky “as long as it lasts” tag: the good life is not entrenched. Fortunes come and go, sometimes triggered by the most trivial and frustrating events. Jesus had some bad news for the guy in Luke 12 who upgraded his barns and decided to eat, drink, and be merry. All things in this life are transitory.

And that leads to the second truth: abundance does not bring contentment. Anyone who thinks it does, has probably never had abundance. Or has taken it for granted.

When I worked on the reservation years ago, many of my students had their eyes fixed unwaveringly on attaining abundance. Get more money, they reasoned, and life would be better. They weren’t entirely wrong. Poverty was a real problem and causing genuine pain in their lives. I could sympathize; there had been a time when I, too, was living paycheck to paycheck.

But having come from off the reservation where the median income was higher, I could tell my students that being better off wasn’t making anyone particularly happy. It just made you want more. Get a nice middle-class home and your middle-class conversations shift to how awesome those big homes up on the hill must be. Attain that level and the conversations turn to the architecturally fancy mansions up on the mountain. Each step you take up the socioeconomic ladder, you build a lifestyle that sucks up everything you have. And on and on it goes. Someone’s always got a bigger boat.

Paul could have been talking about either one of these things when he referenced having to be content, of all things, in all things. You either want more, or you end up tightening your grip on what you have, out of worry.

I want neither existence. Chasings after the wind, both of them. I want peace today, and God. More of him. Paul got that, and he spends his epistles swearing up and down that it’s the best thing ever.

If wealth increases, pay no attention to it. (Psalm 62:10b)

Today, if you’re having trouble being grateful for what you have, I heard a question once that rocked my world: “What would you lose if God were to remove everything from your life tomorrow that you hadn’t given thanks for today?”

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.

Continue reading

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?”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading