Aug 04 2011
On Giving Up: A Response to a 16 Year-Old Girl

Hi Brant, I'm Jane.

Just another 16-year-old girl.

And I don't know if you have time for this, probably not, but I need someone to talk to right now, and some advice. And my friends have their own problems, so I don't want to bother them with mine, mostly because they can't really help me, but I felt like I needed to reach out to someone, and you seem like a good guy, so, anyway...
I seem to be growing further and further away from Jesus. Not that I'm doing anything bad or committing any serious sins, but I just can't seem to get close to him. A while back, I was doing pretty well with it. But it's always the same old thing. I'll surrender everything to him and decide that from then on I'll try my hardest to live how he wants me to live, and be in 'constant prayer' or at least talk to him. But that never lasts very long. Pretty soon I'll never really pray and just kind of neglect him. And then that'll make me feel guilty and I have to start all over again. And that's happened so many times that I've stopped believing in myself and know I won't be able to keep that sort of promise to him, because I never have before. And now I'm at the point where I just don't care. I don't want to be like that, but I am...
I don't trust him. I don't know what to do.
I know you're busy, but if you could give me some advice, it would be appreciated more than you realize.
Thanks. I love your show, by the way.
Hey Jane!
I love your question.  And I really like you.  Not to make light of your situation;  I just love it because it's so honest, and -- more honesty, here -- few will voice it, though MANY feel it.
I hear you about the cycle of re-commitment, failure, guilt, silence, re-commitment, failure, guilt...  MAN, have I been there.  And I have an idea for you.
Give up.
Seriously, I recommend this.  It's scandalous in many Christian circles to say this, but I mean it.  You will never, ever, ever, be able to get yourself together enough, morally, to think you're finally acceptable to God, or that things are finally "okay", somehow.  Ever.  Or, if you did somehow think that, you'd be deluding yourself. 
You're being perfectionistic, in the sense that your language reveals that you're holding out hope to finally be in "constant prayer" and finally keep all your promises.  But you won't ever do that.  So it's a prescription for not only misery and anxiety, but ultimately, becoming a person who can't love other people, a busy-body, and no fun to be around whatsoever.

Paul writes that when you've "put on Christ" the Lord no longer sees your sinfulness, He sees Jesus.  And He is very, very pleased with Jesus. This is the scandal of the Gospel itself, and you've likely heard it before, but hearing it isn't the same as really getting it. 
You tried the moral thing, you tried making promises, you tried all that, but you keep blowing it, and you always will. 
So give up.
P.S. -- And, oh, by the way, once you've done that, and realized that God hasn't left you, isn't angry with you, isn't wanting to punch you in the mouth, you might actually start to fall in love with Him.  Seriously.
So you go a few weeks without really praying.  You don't think DANG IT I'VE BLOWN IT AGAIN! -- I WON"T EVEN TALK TO HIM NOW!  You'll think, "I miss Him.  God, I miss you.  Here's what's going on..."
And, when you love Him, He promises He'll give you the desires of your heart.  Bear in mind, those "desires" will change, for the very reason that you now love Him.  You'll find your desires changing.  You'll be more loving, more joyful, more at peace, more patient...  Ironically, after giving up the morality/religion game, you'll become more of a lover of God, and, quite possibly, a better "moral" person.  You'll want different things. 
And a person who wants different things is a different person, entirely.  Maybe a better moral person.
But make no mistake:  The better morality is not the end goal.  Knowing God is.  Christianity is not a philosophical ethic, a construct, or a system of ideas.  Other religions are about the discovery of those systems.  Jesus doesn't point at a system, He points at Himself.  He's it.  This is a relationship.
Yes, I grew up in church.  But I like God now.  He brings actual rest.

...and, from that rest, you'll be a blessing to people. Check THIS out, from the Bible's book of Ephesians. NOTHING you can do will save you. And yet - more good news! - God's got some wonderful work for us to do. Stuff you're made to do, even. And it becomes joy, knowing where we stand, finally.
Yeah, when He's got your heart, your behavior will change, most likely, but it's borne of the fact that you LOVE Him now, and FREELY respond to Him, rather than mire yourself in a life-long, busy-body guilt cycle.  You begin to actually trust Him, begin to suspect you're safe with Him, and then everything else becomes easier to take, including stuff that seemed like the end of the world. 
Shoot -- seriously -- the end of the world gets a little easier to take.  Everything becomes kinda funny, even.  Heaven will have lots of laughter.
Anyway, I, for one, gave up.  And boy, do I feel better. 

Jul 31 2011
A 401k Plan You Can Tickle

(I wrote this while in Africa last year. I just got back from Rwanda, and am still thinking about the little kids.  And the God who loves them, and... my money.)

So we're visiting village after village today, and playing with a whole lot of very sweet little kids.  Sweet little kids, I should say, with not a thing to play with.  Literally no thing.  


So we play tickle monster (standard operating procedure for a dad, of course) and we twirl and I laugh and they giggle.  And we take pictures with our digital cameras, and show them what, for likely the first time, is a first look at themselves in a photo.  Their eyes brighten, and they smile, look away -- then look again, and smile.  Thank God they don't think what I thought when I first saw them:  These children are not eating well.  Many have hair clumps.  But they see themselves, and they smile, and so do we.

It says on our money, "In God We Trust", and many Christians pass emails around, protesting rumors of the removal of that phrase.  Understandable?  Okay.  But so is wondering, of course, if we who protest really, truly trust God with our money...or whether it's easier to have our coins say it.  

I say we don't, really, trust God with our money.  If we did, we'd invest in His ultimate retirement plan:  "He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord WILL repay him."  -- it says that in Proverbs.  I may not be exactly quoting -- don't have my Bible right here -- but I'm darn close.

Our entire banking system -- our entire economy! -- is based on just that:  trust.  Shoot, the root word for "credit" is the same as "credibility".  It means "trust".  You have money, so who do you trust with it?  Maybe you trust a banker you've never met, a broker you'll never see, or a corporation that, God promises, will vanish, eventually, like a vapor.  

People are now struggling to find a trustworthy place, with a solid return, for their money.  May I propose, for those who say they subscribe to "In God We Trust", that they actually trust God with their money?  Maybe that's you.  It's certainly me.

God says:  Give to the poor, and you're lending to me.  And I WILL repay you.  That's a guaranteed return.  God says He WILL repay you.  

Give to the poor.  Give to the poor.  Give to the poor.  God WILL repay you.  GOD will repay you.  He promises it.  

Take it to the bank.

Or don't -- take it to these children, or others like them.  God will repay you.  When?  How?  I don't know.  But He promises it.  Still worried about your retirement years?   Listen to one of these children giggle, smell their milky breath, hold their dirty little hands...and wonder, with me, if they'll even see high school.

God says He WILL repay you.

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Jul 29 2011
Dear Makers of P90X Extreme Exercise Regimen

Dear Makers of P90X Extreme Exercise Regimen,

Thank you for your excellent "extreme" product.  I have been trying it for five days now.  You promised "extreme" changes to my body, and you've already delivered in startling ways.  You promised I'd experience "muscle confusion", and, indeed, my muscles are very, very, confused.

I can't move.

Your advertising includes many testimonies:  "I've lost thirty pounds and four inches off my waist," and "I've lost ten pounds of fat, and two inches," etc.

Well, I'm not sure about my weight loss, since I can no longer summon the energy to roll across the floor and onto a scale.  Nor am I sure about losing any inches.  I can't put my pants on.

I have, however, lost a lot:  My ability to perform routine tasks.  My hopes and dreams.

Control over my bladder.

My will to live. 

Thank you, P90X people.  Like you say on the videos, I'm just "pumped" to "bring it" every day and it delights me to no end to see your smiling, toned faces as I flicker in and out of consciousness lying on my living room floor.  Thank you.