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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Satan and Bathwater Theology

hell.jpgRecently, I was emailed a question by a follower basically asking, “is Satan real, or an illusion?”

I can’t believe I’ve reached this stage of blogging to where I’m being asked questions – yeeeeeeeeeeee, what do I know? – but fortunately, we have Scripture to reveal truth to us. I’ll just go there.

Satan is real. He is a conscious being with intelligence and personality. And he is a (limited) threat.

And just mentioning this subject makes people sensitive. It immediately evokes fear, anger, and irritation. There’s a lot of (pardon the expression) heated opinion about Satan and his precise role in the Christian’s life. Good teachings, bad teachings, and bad teachings that spring off both the good and the bad.

This is a chance for me to share a fierce core conviction of mine, if you’ll permit me a quick rant: I want to know Scripture, straight-up, as it truly is. I don’t want man’s “compensational” teachings. I don’t want Scripture tossed aside or marginalized by anyone going “people will run the wrong way with this teaching”  or “this teachings doesn’t match up with my preferred image of God’s sovereignty”. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in other words. The term “bathwater theology” describes this phenemenon well, and there’s a lot of it out there.

No. Let us take the Bible as it is, without shying away from or massaging anything. Then we can build around it with other Scriptural teachings so that we may be properly equipped.

Here’s what I find in Scripture (and may God lead me well in this).

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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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He Hasn’t Forgotten Our Frailty

deadflowerIf you’re asking “Just what is God like?”, few books of the Bible answer more directly and generously than the Psalms.

Yesterday I was reading through Psalm 103 (one of my favorites) and found myself stopping on verses 13-16:

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.

I stopped reading. A lump had taken up residence in my throat. Yes. This is me. Dust. Temporary. Fragile. It’s what I am, and moreover, it was how I’ve been feeling lately.

And God knows.

He knows.

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It’s Not About You, Christian Graduates

Graduation is upon you.

What a relief. To be freed from the hallways of the high school you’ve learned to hate and launched upon the world full of possibility. Just to be celebrated is a great feeling. Goodness knows we don’t get enough of that these days. Everyone is flying in from across the country just to attend your party, churches are holding banquets in your honor, and all of it is wonderful. It’s your moment in the sun. Bask.

The graduation speeches are exciting. Live your dreams. Reach for the stars. Realize yourself and your potential. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are or what you can’t do. Perhaps there is some truth there.

But we have a few problems here.

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“God’s Only Excuse is Easter!”

flowersIn Disappointment with God, author Philip Yancey describes a series of conversations with a young friend named Richard, who has turned away from the faith.

One of Richard’s big beefs with the idea of God is the conundrum of suffering. This one gets us all. Why does a loving and powerful God allow suffering, and all that.

Over the last few years, I’ve felt a part of me becoming impatient with that question, as I’ve found too many skeptics to be merely hiding behind it rather than honestly seeking an answer. And there are answers. But I’ve tried to hold off my cynicism and remain understanding, for I know suffering weakens and disheartens. It’s especially true for the skeptic, as they have no hope of an “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8) to sustain them.

After lambasting God for his treatment of Job, his apparent detachment from mankind, and every other angle he can, Richard eventually rounds it out with an interesting phrase:

“God’s only excuse is Easter!”

It was one of those phrases that sums up everything you’ve ever suspected but never quite has the eloquence or brevity to say.

I wouldn’t say Richard is theologically correct in saying that. God has, off the top of my head, at least one other great excuse for allowing suffering: the chance to demonstrate his ability to sustain and empower us in the middle of it. It’s quite Scriptural to say that this is sometimes the sole reason for our suffering: creating an opportunity for him to make our hearts ironclad, untouchable by despair and brimming with joy even in jail or on the sickbed.

But you have to admit: even if Easter were God’s only excuse, it’s a whopper of an excuse.

If the claims of Christianity are true, an afterlife is available whose gladness far outweighs any pain we experience on this earth (Romans 8:18) – and for those who reject it, a penalty whose horror far outweighs any peace, prosperity, or good we achieve on this earth.

Which means that judging God by what happens on this earth is…well, you can hardly call it a worthy verdict.

The ideas of heaven and hell may feel like cheap cop-out and motivation, respectively, for a church trying to boost its numbers. It may feel ridiculously out of touch with our modern era’s respect for what can be seen, felt, and proven. It may feel like the last thing you want to hear in the midst of today’s suffering.

But how it feels has no bearing on whether its claims are true.

That is why the claims of Christianity are too great to ignore, or dismiss as good-for-you experiential truth. They demand examination.

And if the story of the resurrection of Christ truly happened, if it bears examination then it’s all true – making the Gospel a message of enormous generosity, and enormous warning.

Though God is bringing all things together for his own glory first and foremost, he is hardly callous enough to leave our groaning hearts out of the equation. He has promised us rewards. He has prepared a great many things for those who will believe; he asks only that we receive him.

I pray fervently that the unbeliever might examine these claims.

Godly is Sexy

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30

godlyA well-known verse. But would you be interested in a male paraphrasing, overheard from an old Air Force colleague of mine?

“For every sexy woman, there are five guys in her wake who got sick of her crap.”

Crude, perhaps. Highly generalized, certainly. And you have to wonder whether all five of those men were as crap-free as he made them sound. (You’ll notice I called the guy a colleague, not a buddy.)

But if you’re rolling your eyes at a male reading of Proverbs 31, you might be surprised to learn that the chapter was written to men. Women have grabbed it and run with it as a means of educating their youngers (praise God for it), but the audience of the entire book of Proverbs is actually men. Read the book sometime; notice all the invitations for sons to learn discernment, to avoid the adulteress and the dripping faucet, to live as a pillar of wisdom.

And those words are needed.

“Desiring a healthy and vibrant sex life in marriage is a good and even wise thing. But for the Christian it’s not ultimate. As a single Christian man, I desire a spiritually healthy marriage before a sexually healthy one, though I trust the former encourages the latter. Therefore, I’m willing to trust God and wait, not because I want to have the most euphoric wedding night with someone I’m perfectly sexually compatible with, but because I want a healthy, God-honoring marriage after the wedding night with the person to whom I’ve just committed my life.” – Hafeez Baoku

I love it when I stumble across an article that speaks to what I’m pondering. It’s a God thing. Got to be. To him be the glory.

We need to be thinking about the after. When real life and boredom assert themselves over a marriage, it needs to be about more than just tan lines and muscles and things that happen after 10pm, because there’s still a 7am to deal with. Get over their surface. Get under their surface; ask God to reveal who that person really is.

That’s going to require a revolution on our part. A renewing of our minds.

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