The church I go to believes dancing is wrong. That hasn't been a big deal to me until this year. I'm a junior, and we have the Junior Ball coming up. I know there will be dancing there, but I really want to go. What should I do?
What you end up doing—whether you go to the dance or not—isn't as important as the questions you work through to reach your decision. The questions you're probably already asking yourself are, "Why is dancing wrong?" and "If I go to the ball, what will people at my church say?"
Now is the best time to begin taking ownership of your beliefs. But you should also get together with your parents and your youth leader or pastor to discuss this further. Is your church really dead set against dancing, or only certain kinds of dancing? What is the biblical basis for this belief? See if they might have some practical guidelines for you if you go to the ball. And ask them, "What advice would you give me in seeking God's direction in dancing and other cultural issues?"
You might be pleasantly surprised by what you hear. On the other hand, you may find your parents also have reservations about dancing. If they're not open to further discussion, I think you should respect their wishes by planning an alternate event or staying home.
Let's say you don't get a strong response either way. This is your chance to ask God for wisdom as you make a decision. Keep James 1:5 in mind: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."
My Dad's an Alcoholic
Until about a year and a half ago, I lived with my mom. Now I'm living with my dad, whom I haven't lived with in 10 years. He's an alcoholic, and he doesn't like my Christian beliefs. He'll call home when he's drunk and swear and insult me. He's consumed with his job, his girlfriend and alcohol. I dread seeing him. But I really want a close relationship with him—isn't that what God would want? What can I do?
You've already done something significant by acknowledging that your dad is an alcoholic. He's addicted to a mood- and mind-altering drug, and you suffer the consequences of that addiction.
As you well know, living with an alcoholic isn't easy. I know, too—I grew up with alcoholism in my family. But it might help you to know that your dad probably doesn't like living with himself, either. He knows his alcoholism is partly to blame for some of the severe problems your family faces. Quite possibly he's tried to quit drinking at one time or another, but because of his intense addiction, and because alcohol effectively medicates his pain and relieves stress, he's been unsuccessful.
Let me give you four pieces of advice. First, begin meeting with someone who knows about being the child of an alcoholic. You can receive needed information and support from others who have struggled with the same situation. Your youth leader or school counselor can help you find this vital help. I would also recommend looking in the local phone book for Alateen and Al-Anon support groups (or call 888-425-2666 for a local chapter).
Second, continue communicating with your dad. Once you start receiving outside support, you'll gain more confidence to talk with your dad about your desire for a meaningful, deeper relationship. Tell your dad you love him. But remember: Most alcoholics have a difficult time with intimacy. You might have to lower your expectations of a "perfect" home and relationship. As you seek a healthier relationship, don't be afraid to call your dad's problem by name. He's an alcoholic; tell him you believe he can get help for his alcoholism. You can even help him find a local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous by checking the phone book or going to www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.
Third, don't neglect yourself and your own needs. There is always the temptation to feel like you're responsible for somehow "fixing" your dad. You're not. You are responsible for taking care of yourself, so be sure you do. Build good friendships. Get exercise. Eat healthy. Find ways to relax and simply enjoy life. And be sure you stay away from alcohol and other substances. As strange as it sounds, children of alcoholics often turn to alcohol or other drugs to solve their problems. Don't give in to the temptation.
Finally, don't neglect your spiritual life. I like these verses: "You, Lord, give true peace to those who depend on you, because they trust you. So, trust the Lord always, because he is our Rock forever" (Isaiah 26:3-4, New Century Version). God doesn't promise us an easy life, but he does promise to walk with us through our times of trouble.
As a Christian growing up in a family crippled by alcoholism, I felt at times like my faith was misunderstood. I wanted the kind of relationship with my parents that you want with your dad. And to be honest, I eventually gave up much hope in the situation ever changing. The fervent prayers I prayed in high school became less regular.
But God did get ahold of my family. It wasn't while I was still in high school, but today we have the relationship I always longed for. Keep praying for your dad, and don't give up hope.
I Don't Get the Trinity
Why do we call God "Father"? And what role does the Father have in our lives that's different from Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
To answer your first question, we call God "Father" because Jesus said to. He instructed his disciples to pray to "Abba" (Matthew 6:5-15), which means "Daddy" in the English language. Never before had God, the almighty creator of the universe, been addressed so personally and informally in prayer. With just one word, Jesus showed that God is our loving Father, and we are his children.
Now about the role of the Father. Your question deals with one of the great doctrines of Christianity called the Trinity. Although it's a very difficult idea to grasp, we believe in one God in three persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity has a distinct role. Generally speaking, God the Father is the creator, Jesus is our Savior, and the Holy Spirit lives in each Christian, comforting, empowering and leading. But even that's an oversimplification; in reality, the roles are shared by all three persons of the Trinity. The Trinity is a complex concept, and even the world's top theologians have difficulty defining the roles of all three persons.
But it's not important to have the Trinity all figured out. What's important is worshiping and loving the great God the Trinity represents.
I Feel Called to Missions
I'm just starting high school, but I feel a call to ministry. Actually, I've felt a call for over a year. The problem is, I don't know how to get started. Eventually, I want to be a missionary to another country, but I also want to do something now. I think my parents would support me if I had some definite plans, but I don't. What should I do?
I don't think your call is unusual or untimely. In my experience, most missionaries and pastors say they first felt God's tug on their life in their teens or earlier.
Right now, begin to develop a solid relationship with your youth leader, pastor or another full-time Christian worker you respect. Don't wait for this person to come to you—take some initiative and express your interest in a relationship. You'll learn a lot just by sharing your dreams and asking for personal insight.
You've probably got some big plans, but you'll want to start small. Find out how you can get involved in Christian ministry locally, if you aren't involved already. Consider helping out with your youth group, volunteering at a shelter for the homeless, visiting a nursing home once a week, or joining your church's worship team. Take a short-term missions trip; ask your youth leader for suggestions on how to arrange one. Begin corresponding with a couple of missionaries (ask your church office to help you get some addresses), and ask them about life on the mission field. And whenever missionaries visit your church, try to arrange a lunch or other meeting with them just to talk and learn.
To fuel your fire, read missionary stories. I recommend several: Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot, Bruchko by Bruce Olson, Don't Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees by Thomas Hale, God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew, and "It's a Jungle Out There!" by Ron Snell. (All are available on Amazon.com.) For other recommendations, ask your youth leader or pastor.
God has planted a dream in your heart, and that's wonderful. As time goes on, your family, friends and church will probably also confirm your call. Right now you don't need definite future plans but simply a faithful and willing heart.
How Can I Build This Friendship?
I met a girl recently who is really great. She's a Christian now but had a really bad reputation not so long ago. She's told me some amazing secrets about herself, and I feel like she's really starting to trust me. I want to build a friendship with this girl, but I don't want to push myself on her. How can I initiate more friendship without crowding her?
People have a way of letting you know when you're crowding them. They might tell you to back off outright, or just stop revealing details about their life. Either way, I think you'll sense an imbalance in the friendship.
If you think your new friend is sending signals that you're crowding her, you may want to pause before you continue vigorously pursuing a relationship. You could simply ask her how she's feeling about the friendship. A less direct approach might be to wait for her to initiate your next conversation. If the conversation never happens, she's ready for a break.
Since your friend has told you "amazing secrets" about herself, I don't think crowding is a problem. My guess is, she's as interested in building a deeper friendship as you are. She likely admires your faith and appreciates your genuine care for her as a new Christian.
Good friendships take time, though. They're based on lots of mutual experiences and a growing trust in the relationship.
Invite her to come to church with you, too. It's a great way for her to be spiritually nurtured in her new faith.
Due to the volume of mail, Jim cannot answer every letter. Questions you would like considered for this column should be sent to: "Let's Talk," Campus Life, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188. You can also reach "Let's Talk" via fax (630-260-0114).
Jim's most recent book, Addicted to God (Regal, $9.99), is a 50-day devotional aimed at jump-starting your spiritual life. Pick it up at your local Christian bookstore, at www.amazon.com, or by calling 1-800-4-GOSPEL.
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