The Joshua Harris Fallout: The War Everyone’s Forgetting (Or Never Saw)

Few days of history compare to the last day of the World Wars. Millions danced in streets across the globe.

But those scenes seem far removed from today.

“Why continue torturing myself? Why not just forget God and get on with life, like most of the rest of the world? Instantly I felt a sense of relief and freedom, like I had just passed a final exam … I picked up my Bible and a couple other Christian books and walked downstairs and out the back door. I shut the door softly behind me, so as not to wake anyone. In the backyard was a brick barbecue grill, and I piled the books on it, sprayed them with lighter fluid, and struck a match. … at last I had peace. A great weight had lifted. I had been honest with myself. Any pretense was gone, and I no longer felt the pressure to believe what I could never be sure of.”

Sunrise Sky Battlefield

These aren’t the words of Joshua Harris, nor those of Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson, who this week declared his own critical struggle with his faith.

The words are from Richard, a young man whose conversations with author Philip Yancey served as the backbone of Yancey’s book Disappointment with God.

They’re becoming familiar. Within the battle reports offered by these leaders, there’s a pattern:

“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.” – Sampson

Though Sampson goes on to cite intellectual conundrums, I sense an undercurrent of feeling in his words. It was similar with Harris – in his case, internal conflict over a doctrine that’s particularly costly for certain Christ followers. He couldn’t reconcile, so he took the path of least emotional resistance and found himself outside.

And I get it.

I know the weight they’re talking about, the Gordian knot deep in the chest year in and year out. It’s the “oh, come on” knot, that just won’t accept paradox and longings deferred and the constant tension of cultivating a relationship with the unseen. People hit their forties and start realizing that “that thing” won’t just evaporate by itself, isn’t responding to simple prayer or maturity, and might never resolve in this life. A final straw.

That’s why I’ll decline the usual “let Scripture matter more than your feelings” line that John Cooper offered.

Not that he’s wrong. Our generation has forgotten to trust Scripture. Or never really heard it.

But remember that we are refugees in war-torn lands. Not all of us found trouble as adults; some were born into it. Into families that didn’t get us, that fell apart while we were still in high chairs, that carry unspeakable secrets. Right from the opening credits, we were beleaguered. Those feelings do not simply go away. They matter.

So the part of Scripture we might most need is the part where faith is a war.

Many Christians seem to have assumed that proper belief is one long, unbroken catharsis and inner resolution (and anything else is failure). There is partial relief to be had. I’ve found much.

But Scripture tells us that complete relief is not our present (Romans 8:23), and misdiagnosing reality is always dangerous. John Eldredge said, “It’s the equivalent of arriving on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, with a lawn chair and a book to read. It is a drastic misunderstanding of your situation.”

Read the Biblical accounts of the faithful. Does any of it look easy? Yes, Jesus is a God of victory, but victory implies war. Paul often uses military analogies. Ephesians 6 outlines spiritual weapons. Your life is a war.

It would explain some things, wouldn’t it? Look around you. See it as a war, with sides and weapons and tolls, and it makes an ugly sort of sense.

So the dragon was furious with the woman and left to wage war against the rest of her offspring–those who keep God’s commands and have the testimony about Jesus (Revelation 12:17).

It also explains the weird way life suddenly gets better when faith is jettisoned. Of course things got better – you abandoned your post. You stepped off the front lines and experienced the flooding relief of not being shot at. Of course you’re surrounded by “positive and affirming” thoughts now. Of course you have a fiancee now. Of course you no longer have theological quandaries to wrestle. You aren’t in the line of fire anymore. Already Satan has retasked his resources towards the next guy on the line. Why would he bother with you now? You’re right where he wants you.

My friends, there is relief to be found in this life. I fully believe it. Though weapons must be shuffled through and strategies shifted (and God allows the process), I believe it can be found.

But I suggest the theory that if you find yourself struggling to love Jesus through your disappointment today, it means you haven’t surrendered. The Christian life is unnatural to the fallen soul. Always was. And the war that results is brutal.

Satan is furious that Jesus has a death grip on you that cannot be dislodged. This Jesus never will let go, as long as you don’t. And remember the mighty thrust of his truthful words: that reward is not found fully in this life, but the next.

Morning is coming. Hold on!

 

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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.

 

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Is Your Comfort Overflowing Along with Your Trial?

waterfallI’m grateful that our youth group is willing to talk about suffering. We don’t masochistically enjoy the topic, but as Paul wrote with intake of breath, we don’t want our students uninformed (2 Cor. 1:8). We can either warn them, or we can let them catapult into the world and discover gravity on their own. Pick your poison.

(It’s not like suffering is abstract to them anyway. In our era of family brokenness and instant access to news of the world’s powder keg, anxiety and trial are finding them. Getting into their homes, their pockets, their hearts.

They should never have had to deal with all this so young.)

Last night, we had a chance to get ahead of the game and cut off a common twisting of Scripture: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It’s a distortion of 1 Cor. 10:13, which refers to temptation, not trial. And it’s a not a trivial fudging. For when it’s trial’s turn, God will allow more than you can handle – purposefully.

For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia: we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life. Indeed, we personally had a death sentence within ourselves, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)

Sounds like more than he could handle.

trickle.jpgHasn’t that proven true for you by now? As one student said, “how do you grow unless God breaks your boundaries?” (I secured his permission to use that brilliant phrase in this post, and promised him a dollar.) This verse is unmistakably foundational in its description of the Christian life.

BUT!!!

As I sat in our circle last night, combing through this chapter while the students philosophized and giggled, one verse struck me differently. It was the fifth.

For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows. (2 Cor. 1:5)

Overflows.

In a manner grammatically constructed to compare in intensity to the suffering – and written as a promise.

Would you say your comfort is…overflowing?

For much of my life, the comfort was merely a drip. A trickle. Maybe a rivulet. I dammed it up with self-pity, entitlement, despair. I let it take center view. The implosion of my family, the stress of the Air Force, a lot of social isolation for numerous reasons…it was a waterfall. The comfort did not match it.

And that is not how it should be.

6918284549_c37f2b073b_zDid God’s promise fail in my life? I say no. Just because you’re promised something doesn’t mean you possess it. There’s a real world we must still go through, and an enemy. I didn’t yet know how to go through my enemy, how to swing the sword.

Now I do.

Triggering the second waterfall starts with being prepared for the first. We pray. We worship despite our pain. We mix in some service, partially to alleviate others’ suffering and partially to get our own minds off things. We acknowledge God is not cruel, has not abandoned us, but remains faithful and is dispatching comfort our way. And that it will match our suffering.

Let us be raised from the dead. For we know that one day, at the trumpet sound, one of these waterfalls will dry up forever.

 

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Resting Killface and the Hard Glory of Yet Another Task

desertResting killface is a condition in which the mouth’s corners do not naturally turn upward, even when you’re eight tics happier than you look. The result is a face like mine, perpetually frozen somewhere between “quietly petrified”, “incurably grave”, and “Deep South serial killer”.

Your parents during your childhood: “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” you’d reply over your book.

“You sure?”

“Yep.”

“You look annoyed.”

“I’m not. Now I’m annoyed because you keep asking.”

Years ago, I arrived at a party to announce I’d nabbed a new teaching position, only for a friend to go, “so why do you look like someone just shot your dog?”

If any of this is familiar, you might have resting killface. We’re good, we swear! We only look like we’ll strangle the next person who approaches us.

But eventually I had to face how my killface was impacting my social life. When I stood around in neutral, my downer look would repel folks. When I made a joke, my lack of smile would conflict with my tone, leaving others unsure of my intentions. It was subtle, but influential.

Following on this revelation’s heels was the fact that the onus was on me to change.

oasis-67549_1280.jpgThat was frustrating. I’ve never been socially gifted; friendmaking has been slow. To hear that I had a hand in getting where I was, and had more work to do, felt honestly like insult added to injury.

But the world wouldn’t change for me. Social dynamics were social dynamics. No matter how many Disney movies sang “be yourself”, no matter how many memes of people snapping their fingers in a “Z” motion and celebrating rejection of all advice, the score was the same. I needed to accept either this new “growth opportunity”…or the status quo.

Have you waged a years-long campaign only to be confronted with yet another battle?

Your student with special needs uncovers another learning disability.

Your illness breaks remission.

The new boss appears and turns out worse than your last three.

God exposes another soul weakness that needs work before he ends your singleness (I do believe he does this with some, my last post notwithstanding).

Another retreat fails to fix your marriage.

Your church keeps on bickering and back-biting, and now its foremost tither announces he’s moving.

Ugh.

I think of Shasta in The Horse and His Boy. He has just raced thousands of miles across country, first in a desperate flight from slavery, then carrying word of a coming invasion of the free and noble Archenland. He’s evaded city police, endured days of desert heat, and been chased by lions. Gasping, ready to collapse, he finally reaches Archenland’s citizens with news of the impending attack – only to learn that he’s the only one who can reach the king in time. He must keep going.

…”he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed, your reward usually is to do another and harder and better one.”

I don’t know where C.S. Lewis got this sage stuff (well, yes I do), but it’s the kind that alters a young man’s trajectory.

Perhaps it is not cruelty but honor and reward, wearying though our journey be. Perhaps we should throw ourselves in without hesitation, as Shasta did the first river he found after his desert crossing. Or into the next leg of his journey.

For Shasta’s mission succeeded. In fact, not only did Archenland receive his warning in time to fortify its defenses until Narnian reinforcements could arrive, but Shasta discovered who he really was: the long-lost son of the very king he’d warned, heir to the very kingdom he helped save.

Be refreshed by God today. It is only through these travails that we will discover Whose sons and daughters we’ve been all along.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

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When Singleness Gets Ugly

treeI’ve been getting a little mail from Christians struggling with singleness.

I have a heart for them. Long-term singleness is a delicate, heartfelt matter. If my journey has taught me anything, and if I may be honest, I’ve found the Kingdom’s singleness teachings…lacking. Not always deep enough. Frequently written by people who married at 21. Often rushing to deny that it’s even a struggle (for various reasons).

I may not be John Piper, but I am a single Christian, and you know the saying: write what you know.

Okay. For some believers, singleness is…a longing. They could use encouragement. But that’s as far as it goes. They’re okay. They wouldn’t call it their foremost trial.

For others of you…it’s something more.

You find yourself thinking about it often. It’s what you usually mean by phrases like “unspoken prayer request” or “I’m just struggling”. You used to take comfort in having plenty of time before you reached the age of the married people you admire. Then you look around and they’re all younger. Perhaps you’ve ground through three or four committed relationships (that wasn’t in the manual) and wonder what it will take for one to finally stick. Or you haven’t had a date in six years.

This stuff matters to you. You’ll not catch me looking down on you for it.

It’s not about just your “plans” (which is how the church often responds), thank ya kindly. We wanted this. Some people don’t want to vacation on their own. They just don’t. We want a witness to our lives, someone to share a ministry or thunderstorm, a Netflix series or an ominous newscast. We want someone waiting at home, to laugh and cry with us, to know our favorite words. Just getting to say “we” instead of “I” sounds amazing.

Instead, your faithfulness seems unrewarded. Singleness involves rejection. In what universe is that not supposed to sting? After a while, singleness feels less like a season and more like a statement. This is beyond campfire cliches. Anyone who’s carried a hope deferred for ten years qualifies for better spiritual aid. (Even college students can feel this ache pretty keenly.)

Singleness landscapes life. You’re walled out of ministries, less sought after by married friends who still love you but want to celebrate and grow with those in the same season. You realize families have a bigger footprint at church. Ever noticed how couples can make friends just by swapping stories of their kids? You don’t have that. Depending on the crowd you run with, it takes a greater effort each year just to keep up. I doubt that’s what Hebrews 12 meant by “run the race”.

Some judge you. They’re annoyed to see someone struggling with something so “minor” and “escapable”. They assume some dysfunction or immaturity that’s driving all your dates away. (We even assume this of each other.) Or they might just not know what to tell you anymore.

I know chaste singles who no longer wear their old purity ring. It’s long ceased to be a promise and become only a reminder.

At the end of the day, it is a profound test of faith. We don’t talk about it anymore because it never changes anything and others are tired of listening and we’re wondering whether it should be this big a deal, but honestly…nothing else seems as hard. Wisely or not, some of us staked large parts of our hearts – even the question of God’s goodness – on the dream of getting married. We feel blindsided by how bumpy and lonely and ordinary life has turned out instead.

There have been long nights, tears, clenched teeth, or abandoned purity. You’d be amazed at how often someone leaves their faith and some failed romance (or no romance at all) shows up on the autopsy. Depending on the person and their story, this season can be debilitating and scary.

You’re welcome on this blog. You’re not nuts. You’re not pathetic. You’re a child of God (or can be), target of his patient love, beneficiary of his endless strength.

Singleness is the journey I took (or was given), and know this – God has not run out of things to say. Even if the church has. We’ve only just begun to tap into the depths of his resources. When he offers to lift us through any trial – well, I have much to say about what that looks like.

For now, come back to this: he still loves us. He still pursues us. He is still for us. He has not left our side. Despite the disappointing weight of the years, he still knocks on the door of our hearts, hoping to share a meal. No new teaching is better than that.

 

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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!