Doubt Your Doubts

You’ve got to see this video. A powerful shot of faith, straight to the heart. That is all.

Do Even Harder Things

shovelThere’s a book called Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. I’ve heard it cited by a number of hopelessly inspired teenagers who have been drawn out of their comfort zones, I’m intrigued. But I haven’t gotten a chance to read it.

So perhaps it is redundantly that I ask –

Are we really doing hard things?

A young man from our youth group preached a sermon from Acts 10 last night. I hope I’m not simply regurgitating what he said (is that illegal?), for something fell together for me in my own words as I listened, and I’ve got to get it out.

It was not ten chapters into the era of the church, the era of salvation through Christ, that the gospel went from being “just for Jews” to open to all nations. You’d think this turn of events would have been obvious from “and Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth” (1:8). But to get his message across, God orchestrated an encounter between Peter and a Gentile – a centurion of the hated Italian Regiment, natch – and brought the Spirit upon him in full view of Jewish believers. After that, there could be no doubt that the gospel was for Jew and Gentile alike – anyone who would hear the Word and respond.

What’s crazy is that God had to send Peter three visions to get him into position.

Would Peter have gone with Cornelius’ messengers without the visions coming immediately beforehand?

That the visions were needed first – and evidence from his own life – implies that Peter was ready to take the Gospel to his own Jewish countrymen before the Gentiles.

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It Can Come Out of Nowhere

God's miracle can come after decades of nothin'.“I haven’t given up hope, but…”

I was catching up with a friend. She and her daughter have seen a rough stretch. Death in the family, countless unanswered prayers. Though my battles were different, we reached the same conclusion: the last fifteen years had not gone as we’d hoped.

When you go that long with something wrong, your mind finds ways to deal with it. The most common is to assume that this is how things will always be. This is how God operates; this is his modus operandi for you. Every year offers hope. But it always ends with disappointment. The last go-around didn’t bring any breakthrough, you reason; why would this one?

“I haven’t given up hope, but…”.

We know in our hearts that we shouldn’t throw in the towel. Still, our hope features a “But”. We’re not sure we want to put our hearts out there. Not again. It might just be easier to Gethsemane this one and move on.

And yet…

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The 3 Ways Jesus Sifts Our Desires

siftThis one might lose me a few followers.

Desires. Dreams. Prayers. Goals.

Whatever you want to call them, they are fire to Christians – powerful, vital, destructive when handled wrong. We must be careful with desires these days. There is such bad teaching out there about God and desires, so much energy mischanneled into pursuing your dreams without a thought as to God’s dreams, that we must handle the subject gingerly.

My testimony involves the sanctification of my desires. I found over the years that viewing God as annoyed, threatened, or dismissive of my desires did not bring me closer to him. Of course, nor did clinging to them ahead of his will and love. Neither view is flattering to God, nor entirely Biblical.

Jesus ran into a lot of deep desires in the course of his ministry. Healing, justice, provision, greatness, life. His responses to these pleadings contain surprises for everyone. He granted some, denied some, but most importantly there seemed to be a sifting. He didn’t always heal/feed/deliver immediately; he’d ask a question first, or deny a desire flat-out, in order to get at the heart of the person. Whatever the desire, Jesus was determined to sanctify it, to make it holy.

Interestingly, his denials seem to undergo three distinct tests: faith, paradox, or eternity.

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4 Areas Where You Can Travel-Proof Your Child’s Faith

travelproofAs a youth worker with eight years of experience, I’ve known the pain of watching my old students lose their grip on 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 way 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.

It’s interesting – 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 sometimes 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 – your influence – in your child’s life.

I humbly offer some brief thoughts, in the hope that they might help you build a faith that will survive travel and the post-high-school world.

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How 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. As I wait, 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 do so. And I’d really, really like those details, rather than daily silence as the end of the school year looms.

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. Technology has given us marvels, but absent from them is the ability to fully diagnose an unborn baby. 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 a mate?” After talking their latte cold, they walk away with renewed hope from their well-meaning friend that God has someone out there for them. It feels so good. But after a few more months or years pass and nobody shows up, it appears that God wasn’t listening to the chat, and the pit returns. (So they arrange another chat.)

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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When God Arrives at the Last Minute

Time winding down on God's answer?I honestly didn’t know where I’d be living in a week’s time.

My first teaching stint was coming to an end. The remote school sat surrounded by the trailer park they called teacher housing, on the very western edge of the Great Plains, right where they finally sweep upwards into the Montana Rockies – a glorious, meteorologically dramatic, almost heavenly collision of alpine and prairie. As trying as those three years had been, I found (as we often do with such trials once they’ve finished) that I was going to miss the place.

Unfortunately, my job prospects were just as empty as those vast green prairies. Each interview that spring had led only to the familiar “You interviewed well, but we’re going in a different direction”.

Since I’d been busy preparing and chaperoning the school’s senior trip (to Las Vegas, natch, and at the expense of attending some dear friends’ wedding, and after which I had to chaperone one of my students back to Montana by bus because he lacked enough ID to board the return plane!…but anyway…), the administration had given me two extra weeks in teacher housing. That was less than I’d been promised earlier. I had two weeks after returning (did I mention by bus? LOL) to secure new living arrangements, which largely hinged upon figuring out where my next teaching job would be. Then I had to be out.

Unfortunately, those two weeks hadn’t come through in the “get Brandon a job” department either.

I could always return to my hometown, and it wasn’t hard to imagine finding a church friend willing to take me in temporarily. But it certainly wasn’t the way I’d hoped to end the year. And let’s just say that employment gaps on a resume are particularly deadly for teachers – especially with hundreds of applications for any given position. (It’s a sparse state.)

With four days until I had to leave teacher housing, I was blind to the next step of my life.

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