As a pastor, one of the most frequent questions I get is this: “What do I do with my kids who left the church? What do I do with my child who left the Christian faith?” There are countless parents of teenagers and young adults who lament, “I thought I raised my kids well. They grew up in the church and went to Sunday School and youth group. Now they've walked away.”
While it's certainly important to invest in our children when they are young, sometimes a faithful upbringing doesn't yield the outcome we expected. Here I offer seven suggestions for passing on the faith to the next generation. I don't call them "steps" because they are not a checklist of action items that will bring about a particular result. They are simply observations about how the Christian faith has been passed down for generations prior.
"It's always seemed strange to me. The things we admire in men, kindness, generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second." - John Steinbeck through the character Doc in Cannery Row
Does the Christian life look different from any other life? Is life in Christ visibly distinct? John Steinbeck comments that the great traits and values that we admire are hard to work out in real life. While we may admire them, it's easier to fall back into the system. And these admirable traits often lead to "failure" while traits of self-interest lead to "success." Greed is more advantageous than generosity. Meanness easier than kindness. And so on.
So is it possible to actually live out the radically selfless calls of the Christ life? To "love enemies?" To sacrifice for the sake a resurrected Lord? To stick with one spouse for an entire life? To give without expecting anything in return? To rejoice in suffering? To set aside individual profit for the sake of communal benefit?
Increasingly, life in America is more like Babylon than Zion. Christians have to navigate a "foreign" context where the system's values and beliefs run counter to the calling of the Christ life. How do we live the "Zion life" while in Babylon? A visibly distinct, peculiar, and counter-intuitive life that confounds our neighbors and confronts the present system?
No answers, just asking the question.
We have returned from a family vacation, a tour of the Great Lakes - Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior. One fifth of the world's fresh water is contained in the five Great Lakes. Lake Superior is the largest, deepest, and coldest of the lakes. Time away on family vacation reminded me of two things:
1.) We work from our rest. We can't work effectively or faithfully without adequate rest. Exhaustion stifles creativity, skill, and the capacity to care. We may come back to a full e-mail inbox (I had 2,400), but we return with clearer perspective and renewed energy.
2.) Vacations create lasting memories. Do you remember a family vacation as a child? The long car ride? The flat tire? The laughter on a roller coaster ride? Our oldest child is 9, and we've had the realization that she's halfway through her time at home (if she leaves at 18). These days are precious and fleeting. Vacations do come at a cost. But the memories of the experience will be imprinted on us and our children for decades. We pass on to our children an appreciation for rest, an awe of created beauty, and a delight in each other's company (even after 24 total hours of driving).
Now back to work . . .
I'm on vacation with my family for some much needed rest and quality family time. Here's a previous post on the necessity of rest.
Inspired by 1.) Trinity Sunday. 2.) Playing in clover-laden grass with a 10-month-old.
Three Leaf Clover
This is proof of mystery;
Signatures of Majesty.
Signed unto infinity.
On display in leaves of three.
Wonder of the Trinity,
Who stoops into anarchy,
To present a gift to me,
By means of biology.
Made with creativity;
Blood painted on a tree;
Tongues spoke in plurality;
Counters all calamity.
Presence spans the widest sea.
Sure to make the demons flee.
Come adore on bended knee.
Reminded by these leaves of three.
“Undertake it? No; not by yourself. You are too weak. You will fail before the day is out. But what you cannot do yourself Another can do for you. His iron will can work through your feeble will, and strengthen it with a strength which is not your own.”
- Forbes Robinson
Paul says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Cor. 4:7). You feel like a weak, cracked, chipped vessel? Paul makes it clear. It’s not about the vessel, but the contents. We are weak vessels with powerful contents. Your contents are exceedingly great - the very death and life of Jesus in you.
You say, “I have nothing to give. I'm too weak.” God’s word respectfully disagrees. God says, “Someone needs what you have. Start pouring and see what happens." Someone needs your contents. Give away and watch God give more. We act as if we're squeezing juice out of a raisin while God is pouring into us, our cup spilling over. We are weak vessels with powerful contents.
I'm supposed to plug this event because I'm speaking at it. So here it is. I'm not the New York Times best selling author. I'm not the speaker of the Lutheran Hour. Scroll to the far bottom of the page. Literally, the bottom of the page.
Seriously, I am excited to be invited. Our congregation is chewing on two words - Loved and Sent. The word mission comes from the Latin missio - "to send." The term "apostle" means "sent one." The inference is that a "sent one" is sent with the authority of the sender. So this is our task as a people of God. We can't remain static. We're sent.
As a camp counselor in college, the trust walk was a staple of our repertoire. You demonstrate the nature of trust by blindfolding a camper and having one of their friends lead them around only by the sound of their voice. Of course, a 12-year-old loves this opportunity to wreak havoc on their fellow camper. Common thrills were leading someone up and down steps, crossing a log, or leading them through poison ivy. One camper led his friend Billy into a building. Billy wasn’t sure which one it was, but the echo sounded like the dining hall. He was blissfully ignorant until the shrieking of sixth grade girls alerted him to the fact he was in the female side of the bathhouse. Blindfolded, the trust walk requires that you listen. And listen carefully.
There are so many words in our world. We talk, text, and post. We’re always trying to get a word in. If we do listen, we hear a million different voices. What does it really mean to listen? And how do we listen to God?
Wherever you live, I want you to consider how you use your space. No matter what the space - dorm room, condo, apartment, house, rented or owned - you can leverage it for sacred use. Jesus gives us a great commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30,31). How do you use your living space to love God and love your neighbor? Here are some suggestions.
"The task of the leader is the ability to be out of control comfortably."
The longer I lead, the more I see how chaotic leadership is. When you lead people - whether family, church, business, etc. - it is never swiftly managed. People are not simply numbers on a page, manipulated like an Excel document. Decisions are rarely cut and dry. Issues will always arise. There will always be a level of uncertainty. Life will never be fully settled. The "to do list" will never be entirely checked off.
Life contains enough chaos to keep us regularly uncomfortable. We must understand this lest we set the expectation that life is about exercising complete control over our circumstances. Life is out of control, and this is the ideal place for faith. Faith - a confidence that there is One in control, standing above and over all that seems uncontrollable.