There Are Times

I took a short break from blogging after experiencing some very difficult times related to my writing, and I’m glad to be back in my writing space. As I searched for the way to be obedient in what happened, I discovered that I don’t believe God has released me from writing here in this space, so I published a couple of essays from my archives while I prayed and thought and wrote. Here is what I wrote in the aftermath of my troubles. I pray that it will give a small bit of help to you.
 To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

There are times when I feel desperate for God.
Times when my path forward seems dark
as the hour before dawn.
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Times when the darkness seems to creep into my soul and
times when it wants to burst out of my heart and
threaten to hurt those around me.
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I always know in a cerebral sense that my very being depends on God, but
there are times when I know it in a deep, carnal way.
These are the times I see clearly into my own heart and
tremble with fear for the rage I see there.
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These are the times I am asked to forgive, to
turn the other cheek in a real and painful way.
These are the times I find I must return something
to God that is precious to me and find that my deepest self
wants to turn away from Him instead.
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It is in these times that I fall on my face and
beg Him to surround me with Himself.
It is in these times that I lift up my eyes and
plead for Him to heal me from the inside.
It is in these times that I know with a gut-wrenching certainty that
I am, indeed, desperate for God
in all times.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee.
Oh, bless me now my Savior,
I come to Thee.

The Absurdity of Jesus

Once upon a time, there was an American who took a hike in the Smoky Mountains.
'The_Good_Samaritan'_by_David_Teniers_the_younger
He was a couple of days down the trail when he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.
Maximilien_Luce_-_Le_bon_samaritain
Now by chance a State governor came along the trail, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
Good_Samaritan_(icon)
So likewise, a conservative talk show host happened upon the American as he walked down the trail, and he too passed by on the other side.
El_bon_samarità_(1838),_de_Pelegrí_Clavé_i_Roquer
Also a local pastor, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Bon_samaritain
But a middle-eastern man, dressed in military fatigues and carrying a sub-machine gun, looking much like the pictures of ISIS soldiers, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds…
Much of what Jesus says is ridiculous. Completely unreasonable and absurd. Crazy, even.
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and to the evil.
Then the King will say…, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father…For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a refugee and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
It doesn’t make sense and it is uncomfortable and it is hard. It is so very hard.
Domenico_Fetti_-_Parable_of_the_Good_Samaritan_-_WGA07860
The idea of praying for those who want to bomb me is ludicrous. The thought of welcoming people who might be preparing to hurt my children is absurd. It makes my heart freeze and my stomach hurt.
I am frightened and I want to obey Jesus only when I can see the outcome, only when I know that I will be blessed, not blown to smithereens, in return.
There are so many commands of Jesus that I skip right over. I look at them, read them, and decide that they are not for me. Following Jesus is hard, and I am a coward.
Which means, if I am honest with myself, that I am no better than those I am frightened of.
while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…
And God reached down to earth for me. He became a refugee, a stranger, for my sake, to bring me back to Him.
God, help me.
Give me courage, give me strength. Give me faith to trust that in Your ridiculousness, You know what You are talking about.
Help me to love You enough to obey You. To obey all that You command.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever.
Help those who do not love You, including myself who does not love You enough.
All_Saints_Church,_Bracknell_Road,_Ascot,_Berks_-_Wall_painting_-_geograph.org.uk_-_898496
Emmanuel, God-with-us, help me. Help your Church.

Art Credits for Good Samaritan paintings in order: David Teniers the younger; Maximilien Luce; Russian iconPelegrín Clavé y Roqué; Rvalette; Domenico Fetti; All Saints Church wall painting

Clutching at Gold Stars

We’re moving, so I’ll be fetching from the archives for the next two or three weeks. Enjoy!

It is a difficult and forever-long process, this learning how to make everything sacred.
It is also beautifully rewarding.
Learning how to make all things in your life sacred takes focus. It takes the sort of focus that teaches me how to be single-hearted towards God.
Focus
She is good at being very focused and single-minded, my youngest. Especially when she needs something.
The dreaded event of all mothers everywhere, her special lovey simply had to be washed at bedtime one night. She just couldn’t understand why she didn’t have her bunny.
Washing bunny
“Bunny?” “Bunny is taking a bath, darling. I will bring you Bunny as soon as she is dry.” “O-hay.”
“Can I read you a bedtime story?” “Bunny?” “Bunny is taking a bath.” “Bass? Bunny?” “Yes, a bath. I’ll bring you Bunny when she is done.” “O-hay.”
“Let’s talk about our day, shall we?” “Mommy? Bunny?”
I sigh in frustration, yet feel a small stir in my heart.
What if I were that focused in my pursuit of God, my pursuit of making all things in my life meaningful?
What if I blocked out more of the mindless stories I read and the meaningless discussions I have online in order to pursue God? What would that look like?
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You. ~ Isaiah 26.3
Have Mother, Will Travel
I read about a mother and daughter on a trip together through the world. During their journey, the mother speaks of a friend who accomplishes a marvelous amount of things during a day:
What’s allowed her to realize her dream where so many others fail, including me for many years, is how carefully and sanely she chooses exactly where to spend her time and energy…Kristin’s life illustrates that it takes more than passion and a lot of work to make a dream work–it takes focus. What you think about matters, a lot. Your thoughts drive your actions.
The mother continues to talk about the myriad of women who choose to please others, to accommodate others, rather than choosing to stand up for themselves and their families.
She says that many of us choose to be “good girls going for gold stars, instead of clasping tight the gold of our lives by living as we truly desire.”
This has the scent of truth that makes me pause. If I substitute “living as God desires”, this touches something deep in my heart.
How many times have I said “yes” to an activity, to a time commitment, even to a service opportunity, simply to please someone else or to create a certain image of myself?
So many times those “yeses” have cost me and my family. They have kept me from clasping tight the gold of obeying God’s desire that I should, for this season, focus most on these little disciples running around my feet.
My disciples
I want desperately to be single-hearted. I desire to chase after God, to pursue and focus on only what He has called me to do rather than to fritter away my moments on activities that attempt to please others.
What does this look like? How do you do this in your own life? How do you carefully and sanely choose exactly where to spend your time and energy?
Do you have a goal, a purpose or mission statement for your family? Do you have a lens through which you filter every request, every moment’s choice?
The mother in my book says that “change happens in the small moments, when a sliver of light finds its way through the cracks”.
To help herself to focus, “I wrote down every single thing I did in fifteen-minute increments for three entire weeks…I asked myself a thousand times a day before acting – and, miraculously, speaking – What am I creating with this choice right now?”
I want to see everything around me as sacred, to be single-minded in pursuing God and His desires for me. I want to choose with intention rather than feelings, excuses, or circumstances. I want to please God rather than man.
I want to clasp tight the gold instead of aimlessly grasping for gold stars.

Piety or Knowledge?

I have written before of the battle between holiness and justice.  Some say we are to focus on our own moral purity, on becoming more like Jesus.  Others say we are to focus on social justice for others, on being Jesus to those around the world.
Holiness
Justice
When describing the wickedness of Israel, Isaiah says “He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”
It seems that one of the Deceiver’s favorite ploys is to take a set of discipleship practices, a pairing that works best when done in concert with each other, and separate them, throwing them into battle with each another.  In doing so, he not only diminishes the efficacy of both practices but he also divides the very body of Christ.
Clearly both holiness and justice are important.  We should not focus on half of God’s commands to the exclusion of the rest.
Another battle I’ve been trying to understand is the battle between piety and knowledge.
Is it better to obey God, to act on His behalf, or is it better to learn about God, to know what it is He commands?
piety
knowledge
Some would say that knowledge is too dry, that the life of the mind is on par with selfishness.  It brings to mind ivory towers and keeping oneself unsullied by the realities of the real world.
While it is true that focusing solely on knowledge and learning would keep one from ever actually helping this world of hurting people, modern church culture seems to lean too heavily in the direction of anti-intellectualism.  There is a growing spirit of pragmatism in our churches.  A spirit whose first question about an idea is not “Is it true?” but “Does it work?”.
“Young people tend to be activists, dedicated supporters of a cause, though without always inquiring too closely either whether their cause is a good end to pursue or whether this action is the best means by which to pursue it.” ~ Rev. John R. W. Stott in an address at the Inter-Varsity Fellowship Annual Conference
It seems this is another set of discipleship practices that when separated leads to reduced success.
On one hand you have people rushing crazily about for the next good idea regardless of the wisdom or truth of it, perhaps even causing more harm than good.  On the other hand you have people sitting stagnant with their books, not allowing any of the knowledge of God to seep into their hearts and affect the world around them.
Both piety and knowledge are desperately needed together.  Only with knowledge can you know what God truly wants, what is the wise action to take.  Only with piety can your own heart be changed, can the hearts and lives of other people be changed.
Paul says in II Corinthians that we are to take every thought captive toward the obedience of Christ.
Piety and knowledge.  Obedience and intellect.  The heart and the mind.
Both are needed.  Both are required to continue to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.
Only together can these practices nourish “a warm and fruitful devotion set on fire by truth.” (Stott)

Speaking With My Father

They speak to me about cookies and caring, about flowers and family, about Legos and love in action.
My Girls
They speak almost continually, telling stories and asking questions, needing to know and wanting me to know.
Conversation
Their speaking to me is simplicity itself.  They feel curious and they ask, they become excited and they tell, they are frightened and they listen.  They speak what is in their hearts and minds, and they listen to my answers and my reassurances.
 You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
I do not speak to my Father with such simplicity.
Praying
I worry that I do not ask for the right things, I fear that my attitude is faulty, I think I know that I am not silent enough.
Should I pray “I thank You that You hear me” or “let Thy will be done”?  I do not know which is right.
Shall I pray in gratitude for beauty given to me while others are mired in ugliness all around?
If I ask for hard things to be removed am I being ungrateful for the maturity that hard things bring?
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
They do not worry if the way in which they speak with me is good.  They do not stumble over words, attempting to choose just the right ones.
Talking
When they ask for wrong things, when they speak ugly thoughts, when they refuse to listen, I love them.
I help them know which way to ask, how best to speak, and I love them.
Talking Outside
When they are frightened or upset, when they do not know the words they need, I search their hearts and interpret, and I love them.
For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
I am grateful for their simplicity.
Discussing Their Path
I know them.  I know their hearts, and want them to know me.  No anger or disappointment comes when error is made.  I love for them to speak easily, not fearful over content or word choice, but simply speaking and listening, learning to know and to be known.
You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”…And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
May I, like them, speak simply, without worry or fear, learning to know, and resting in the peace of being known and being loved.
Helping Our Kids
*Scriptures are taken from Romans 8.14-30*

Clasping Gold Instead of Gold Stars

It is a difficult and forever-long process, this learning how to make everything sacred

It is also beautifully rewarding.

Learning how to make all things in your life sacred takes focus. It takes the sort of focus that teaches me how to be single-hearted towards God.

She is good at being very focused and single-minded, my youngest. Especially when she needs something.

The dreaded event of all mothers everywhere, her special lovey simply had to be washed at bedtime one night. My littlest couldn’t understand why she didn’t have her bunny at bedtime.


“Bunny?” “Bunny is taking a bath, darling. I will bring you Bunny as soon as she is dry.” “O-hay.”

“Can I read you a bedtime story?” “Bunny?” “Bunny is taking a bath.” “Bass? Bunny?” “Yes, a bath. I’ll bring you Bunny when she is done.” “O-hay.”

“Let’s talk about our day, shall we?” “Mommy? Bunny?”

 I sigh in frustration, yet feel a small stir in my heart. 

What if I were that focused in my pursuit of God, my pursuit of making all things in my life meaningful?

What if I, too, blocked out more of the mindless stories I read and meaningless discussions I have online in order to pursue God? What would that even look like?

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You. ~ Isaiah 26.3


I read about a mother and daughter on a trip together through the world. The mother speaks of a friend who accomplishes a marvelous amount of things during a day. 

What’s allowed her to realize her dream where so many others fail, including me for many years, is how carefully and sanely she chooses exactly where to spend her time and energy…Kristin’s life illustrates that it takes more than passion and a lot of work to make a dream work–it takes focus. What you think about matters, a lot. Your thoughts drive your actions.

The mother continues to talk about the myriad of women who choose to please others, to accommodate others, rather than choosing to stand up for themselves and their families.

She says that many of us choose to be “good girls going for gold stars, instead of clasping tight the gold of our lives by living as we truly desire.”

This has the scent of truth that makes me pause. If I substitute “living as God desires”, this touches something deep in my heart. 

How many times have I said “yes” to an activity, to a time commitment, even to a service opportunity, simply to please someone else or to create a certain image of myself? 

So many times those “yeses” have cost me and my family. They have kept me from clasping tight the gold of obeying God’s desire that I should, for this season, focus most on these little disciples running around my feet.

I want desperately to be single-hearted. I desire to chase after God, to pursue and focus on only what He has called me to do rather than to fritter away my moments on activities that attempt to please others.

What does this look like? How do you do this in your own life? How do you carefully and sanely choose exactly where to spend your time and energy? 

Do you have a goal, a purpose or mission statement for your family? Do you have a lens through which you filter every request, every moment’s choice? 

The mother in my book says that “change happens in the small moments, when a sliver of light finds its way through the cracks”. 

To help herself to focus, she “wrote down every single thing I did in fifteen-minute increments for three entire weeks…I asked myself a thousand times a day before acting – and, miraculously, speaking – What am I creating with this choice right now?”

I want to see everything around me as sacred, to be single-minded in pursuing God and His desires for me. I want to choose with intention rather than feelings, excuses, or circumstances. I want to please God rather than man.

I want to clasp tight the gold instead of aimlessly grasping for gold stars.

A Lasting Character

I was writing last week about discipleship, about how we form our character. N.T. Wright says that we form our character by a long, slow change of deep, heart-level habits. Hard work up front to make small deliberate choices. These choices feel awkward and unnatural at first, but they allow the Holy Spirit to form our character.  This week, I want to write about why our character matters so much. 


Of course, if you believe that after we die is that we leave this earth and rest and relax with Jesus for all of eternity, then there is not much reason to develop our character. If, however, you believe (as I believe the Bible teaches) that God will give creation a complete makeover so that it is filled with the glory of God and that we will be given new bodies to live with delight and power in God’s new world, well, then the development of our character becomes very important indeed.


Jesus talks often of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, implying that it is already here. That the transformation of our world and of ourselves has already begun in Jesus! This is huge. This is why what I do, what my character is, matters: because my character, the virtues that I practice and choose, every moment of every day, is permanent. It does not only last for this life, but for all of eternity. 

Let me repeat the C.S. Lewis quote from last week:

every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.

We are preparing ourselves for the day we become truly human.

As I have written about before, here and here, our ultimate goal is a dual one: to be stewards of God’s rule and care of creation and to reflect creation’s praise and worship back to God. This is achieved by having a character of holiness brought about by the Holy Spirit and our choices (Romans 8.12-17) and by prayer, as the Spirit helps us intercede for the whole world (Romans 8.26-27). 




We begin this now, and it is the permanence of virtue, lasting not just for this age but into the age to come, that makes character worthwhile to work at. These virtues will last: In I Corinthians 13 it says:

…where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Some things will not last, but others will. 

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. ~ I Corinthians 15.58

This is why working at forming our character, working at developing virtues, is worthwhile. Because this is what will last. This is what prepares us for all of eternity.

Virtue is…part of the life of the future breaking in to the present. That is why it is both hard and glorious work. ~ N.T. Wright

One last reason why building our character is so important: When the Christian community, the Church, is truly striving after virtues (faith, hope and love) and working hard to produce fruit of the Spirit, it has a huge apologetic value. It shows the watching world a new way of being human. A Church that looks like this is a missionary body which puts forward the purpose of God to the world. 



Discipleship is hard. It is well worth the effort and sacrifice! So I will try to keep making those small, daily choices, those choices that now seem so awkward and false. Will you keep going too? It will get easier.


And someday, who knows? You might be mistaken for a native of God’s kingdom.


art credit: New Earth photograph by “King David”

Character for God’s Country

Discipleship is hard.



Sometimes I think that it should be easier. If the Holy Spirit was truly in control of my heart, I would be much more able to obey Jesus. If the Holy Spirit had changed my heart, I should want to live by God’s will at all times. It should be easy. Sometimes, because it isn’t easy when I think that it should be, I pretend. I put on a holy face and pretend that obeying is easy.



Sometimes it is difficult to know what to do as a Christ-follower. What, exactly, is it that we are supposed to do between our decision to follow Jesus and our death when we go to live with Him? Is it only that we are supposed to walk around telling people about Him? 

These are hard things. Too many Christ-followers, too many churches struggle with these ideas.




Recently, as I have been thinking about these sorts of things, I have been reading After You Believe by N.T. Wright. He is writing about the formation of character, what that means and how it is formed, and is also writing about how forming our character is the answer to many of my thoughts.

Wright describes our moral transformation as “a long, slow change of deep, heart-level habits”. Hard work up front to make small deliberate choices. These choices feel awkward and unnatural at first, but they allow the Holy Spirit to form our character.




This only follows what humanity seems to have always known, from Aristotle to modern neuroscience. That the very small, daily choices that you make forms who you are, it physically changes your brain. Some think that if they act before they “mean it”, they are being hypocritical. Rather, as we struggle to follow Christ, authenticity will follow. If you wait to practice virtue, to make character-choices, until you mean it, you will wait a very long time and will mess up a lot of lives in the process. 




Wright compares this idea of character formation to learning a second language. At first, it is awkward, uncomfortable, unnatural. Yet the more you work at it, the more you practice, the easier it gets. The goal? To be at home in the place where that language is spoken, to enable you to function here and now as a competent citizen of that country. The biggest compliment you could receive is to be mistaken for a native.




Isn’t that what we want? To be at home in a world that has been made perfect, that has been filled with the glory of God? To be mistaken for a native of God’s kingdom?

The habits of character is all about learning in advance the language of God’s new world. C.S. Lewis says that 

every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.

To be clear, the Bible is emphatic that we cannot form a Christ-like character on our own. We cannot work hard enough and practice long enough in our own strength to be able to become perfect. Instead, we are like members of a really awful choir. When we welcome God as our new choir director, we suddenly can hear our out of tune singing and ragged rhythms and we find a new desire to learn how to sing in tune. We can’t sing in tune immediately, simply because we have a new choir director, but the Holy Spirit gives us direction and guidance to help us acquire the right habits to replace the wrong ones. 

                                  


None of this would even be possible without the death of Christ and the Holy Spirit in us. We wouldn’t have even known that we sang horribly had we not accepted the rescuing grace of our Director.

Why, though? Why does this all matter so much? I think I’ll leave that until next week. 


art credit: bust of Aristotle, original by Lysippos; Cantoria by Luca della Robbia

How Can We Find Truth?

Why do we have so much trouble with Truth?



One would think that Christ-followers would have a good grasp on what Truth is, yet we seem instead to settle into two separate and distinct camps: either we think that interpretation of Scripture is personal and whatever it means to you is what it means, or we think that there is only one possible interpretation and we know what that is.

Part of the trouble is, I believe, simply the worldview that our own time and place of living thrusts on us. 



We Americans take great pride in being individualistic, of having individual rights and freedoms. These are good things and have allowed us to worship with great freedom, yet they also teach us that religion is a private matter, that it is up to the individual to choose what they will believe. 

Which leads all too quickly to the idea that there is no one truth.


As I sat in Panera one afternoon, reading and writing, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between three people who were discussing the start-up of a New Age magazine. As they were talking about how to bring in money, advertisers, one of the women said, “Well, I can always find something in my Christian-ness to attract New Agers. I can find something in the Bible that will relate to them where they are.”

As distressing as this sort of worldview is, many Christ-followers have reacted too violently against this way of thinking about Scripture, which sends them spinning into that second camp. I have met so many who think that there is only one interpretation of Scripture and who are quite certain that they know which one is correct.



So much of Scripture contains layer upon layer of meaning. The deeper you delve, the more you uncover. Why do we give in to our pride and think that we know all there is to know about God’s Word? Why do we shore up our defenses against those who believe differently than we do? Have other Christ-followers become our enemy or is our enemy much more insidious than that?

So how do we solve this? How can we keep from falling too far towards either extreme? How can we who claim to follow Jesus know what Truth really is?


What if we simply listen? Listen to the words of Him Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life?

In the gospel of John, Jesus gives one of His most famous statements: 

The truth will set you free.

That is a beautiful (and oft-quoted!) statement, but how do we know what the truth is?

Ah. Just listen. Jesus gives us that answer too.

The whole sentence is this: 

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Then. A very key word! What comes before? One very important if.

IF you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. THEN you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

There it is. If we hold to Jesus’ teaching, if we read it, meditate on it, live it, then we are His disciples.

Jesus’ disciples know the truth (even, perhaps, the truth about Truth?). 

God’s Spirit Himself teaches us.

Beautiful.

And then the Truth will set us free.





art credit: flag photo by Robert Linder; Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Johannes Vermeer

The Future of the Church

I overheard someone the other day. 



I wasn’t trying to “drop any eaves”, but he was speaking quite loudly. 

“Our churches are turning into places of moral relativism, places where young people come to hear abstract ideas that have no bearing on their daily lives. What’s the matter with young people today? Why can’t they understand Truth?”

It’s a fair question. It does seem as though many who claim to follow Christ show up at church every now and then but ignore Him at all other times.



This older man’s complaint made me think of a book I read a few months ago: The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. He speaks of this idea quite a bit and says things such as this: 

Consumer Christianity is now normative. The consumer Christian is one who utilizes the grace of God for forgiveness and the services of the church for special occasions, but does not give his or her life and innermost thoughts, feelings and intentions over to the kingdom of the heavens.

Many things in this book caused wonderings to whirl about inside of me (Dallas Willard does this to you). Is this really true, that Consumer Christianity is normative in our time and place? If so, how can I protect my children against this? How can we, as a Church, change this?

It is not often that I find a book that directly and perfectly answers a set of ideas and questions that I have been mulling over, but I found it in this case in a book called Souls in Transition by Christian Smith. 



This is a book full of numbers, statistics and research, a book that I struggled in places to understand, but it is also a book about what young adults believe about God and religion and, more importantly to me, what in their youth caused them to believe those things. 

I won’t bore you with the details of their research; for this essay suffice it to say that there were significant numbers of youth that were followed and interviewed over many years as they grew up.  I surmise that even my statistician brother would be content with their procedures and numbers.

I was, I admit, overwhelmed and saddened to read about the common beliefs in the majority of these young adults:  

  • that the purpose of religion is to help people live good lives 
  • that the church is not a place of belonging for them so they turn to other, non-religious groups for a sense of belonging from others
  • that the religious beliefs that they do hold are abstract – they do not affect the way they live
  • that religion is blind faith and without evidence or proof no one can know the truth

How has this happened? How is it that our churches are not giving our teens and young adults a sense of belonging? How is it that even those who attend church have such a disconnect between what they believe and how they live?

As frightening as all of the statistics were, however, the statistics about those young adults who did have a strong internal and external faith were encouraging. It has almost everything to do with the parents.



Did you hear that?

Even in this day when peers are so very influential to teenagers, the parents still have the most influence of all!

That is a beautiful thought.

The importance of faith, prayer and Bible reading in the parents’ lives makes “enormous substantive difference in religious outcomes during emerging adulthood”.

Be encouraged, you parents.



Those of you who pray with your children, read the Bible with your children, show your children how to live a life of faith – it is affecting your children’s hearts and it will be the most important factor (earthly factor, of course!) in the shaping of their adult lives.

I was so relieved when I read those words. I get nervous about the teen years, as do most parents, and was grateful to discover that I and my husband will still be the most important influencers in their lives, even as teenagers.

Yet I still wondered about all of the children who do not have godly parents. Are those children simply out of luck? 

And then I read this: almost as effective as having faithful parents was having another supportive, religious adult who played a major role in the teenager’s life. 

What grace from God! What a beautiful way to design things: even if the parents of a child do not obey God, as long as someone else is willing to step into that role, the teen will still remain faithful as a young adult.

Do you see what that means? 

It is up to us, the church, to influence our world, our teens for God. Grandparents, parents, singles, young adults, it is up to you. 



Be encouraged, you church.

God has given you the power to change lives. You who pray, read the Bible and serve – bring a teenager into your circle. You can be a huge influence in shaping their adult life, even if you are not their parent.

Talk with your youth minister, your children’s minister; look around your neighborhood. Find out if there are any nearby who need your support, who need you to listen and to speak truth into their lives.

If we each only took one? I imagine that we could change that “normative consumer Christianity” into normative discipleship Christianity. 

That is a beautiful thought.