God’s Not Dead and the Myth of the Militant College Professor

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Let me qualify everything I’m about to say by first saying that I have not seen the movie God’s Not Dead yet. This is not a movie review nor is it meant to discourage anyone from going to see it. From talking to some friends who have seen it, I understand there are some redeeming things about the movie and the story it presents. Amongst them is the fact that the main character is willing to stand up for what he believes in and takes the time to research and find answers to difficult questions posed by the antagonistic philosophy professor. I find it interesting that Focus on the Family’s movie review website, Plugged In, had this to say as the negative elements of the movie “Pretty much everyone who’s not a Christian in this story is villainized for being mean, abusive, grouchy or narrow-minded. Several such sinners are condemned to either death or terminal illness, as if they’re being punished for their attitudes.” As much as that bothers me and could be topic in and of itself or a blog—the portrayal of non-Christians in Christian movies—that is not the issue I have with this movie.

Surely there are professors that are antagonistic towards Christianity and organized religion in general. Many of them have published works that provide their explanations of why they think faith in a deity is intellectual suicide. I don’t doubt that many of them don’t shy away from sharing their antagonistic attitude in class. That being said, they are still professional. In any philosophy class you are not tested and assessed the same way you are in a math or even a science class. The field of philosophy does not require that you subscribe to the worldview of your professor. It does however require you give a rational support and or explanation of the worldview you’ve chosen. Thus the premise presented in the movie of a professor demanding that students deny God or gods completely at the outset of the semester is extremely far-fetched. Still that is not what bothers me the most.

For a number of years we’ve been warned that philosophy and professors of the sciences pose a major threat to Christian college students. We’ve been told that these cunning men and women are the main ones responsible for the often quoted statistic of somewhere between sixty to seventy percent of young Christians leave the church by their second year of college, a third of which never return. Yet in all my years of doing youth ministry—as a student, volunteer, and a pastor—I’ve yet to know of anyone who walked away from following Jesus Christ because of what they learned in a college philosophy or science course. On the other hand, I know a multitude of persons who have walked away from Christianity, all of whom walked away for one of three reasons.

The first is that they went away to college and eventually the guilt and shame from having premarital sex and or getting involved in alcohol and drug abuse became too overwhelming and thus it was easier to abandon faith than deal with their junk. Many of them feared being left out of all the fun everyone else was having and wanted to belong with their peers. They had been handed a faith that was primarily about behavioral modification and proved to be shallow and without roots. Some quite simply can be described by John 3:19 in that they “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”

The second reason is that they encountered some sort of tragedy or crisis, often the divorce of their parents or death of a loved one, and became either disillusioned with by God’s seeming disregard for their troubles or angry with him. It became easier to walk away than wrestle with what the Bible says about the present age and the age to come, namely the paradoxical reign of Christ on earth (the paradox of Jesus reigning on earth while there is still evil and suffering in the world) while yearning for the overflowing reign of Christ on earth where pain and suffering will be no more, and death will be defeated. Often times they’ve been handed a faith that says you suffer because you’ve been bad and God is punishing you. Ironically enough, this is where some adopt the Anosticism which says, “if there is a God who created the earth he or she is now totally uninvolved in the affairs of the earth”.

My point in bringing this to the table is this… Let’s stop blaming liberal college professors for the failures of the church, youth ministries, and parents. Nancy Pearcey in her book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity summarizes the problem quite well, “it remains true that most churches are strong on teaching about conversion, but weak on teaching about how to live after conversion.” If anything college, or more to the point independence, is the testing ground of faith and the gospel message young people have been taught to believe. A gospel that primarily teaches you to modify your behavior is usually heavy on guilt and light on grace. A gospel that primarily teaches you that Jesus came to make your life better is light on hope for a world that is perishing and the cost of discipleship. A youth ministry primarily focused on having fun is going to yield young adults in search of more fun and entertainment. Sermons on how you’re blessed or claiming your blessing are light on telling the story of how God set out to bless the entire world and why it needed to be blessed in the first place. Parenting driven by fear of what could go wrong is light on talking about how the world went wrong and what God does about it in the past present and future.

We need to present our young people with a robust gospel that fosters disciples instead of converts and well-behaved kids. We need to own our failures instead of blaming them on people and institutions that weren’t around for the formational period of young adults lives. Otherwise, God’s Not Dead will be wholly accurate in their depiction of a young adult who has to go search for answers to tough questions in isolation, instead of in loving community, or abandon their faith all together.

From the Felt-Board to the Silver Screen: A Few Things to Remember Before Drowning Noah Movie in Criticism

16_gn07_11-12Darren Aronofsky’s Noah starring Russell Crowe in the title role debuts tomorrow. Call me skeptical but there are people who are ready to drown this movie in criticism. It would come as no surprise to see many, particularly Christians, walk out of the movie disappointed. There likely will be those who feel as though it has strayed too far from the narrative it seeks to depict in Genesis 6-9. There likely will be those who feel the writers and director have taken too much creative license. There will likely be those who in the anti-Christian sentiment think it’s ridiculous and absurd to suggest that this story is anything other than fairy tale nonsense that didn’t merit getting the silver screen treatment (then I certainly hope they haven’t seen God’s Not Dead).

I’m looking forward to going to see Noah. Having grown up in church the telling of Noah typically got the felt board treatment and the cute cuddly kids book treatment. It wasn’t until I taught Genesis to students as a youth pastor that I realized that the story of Noah is not for children. It is ultimately a story about human depravity and what can possibly be done to fix a world in which the caretakers are the problem. To this point I haven’t found anything that captures this better than the Lego produced depiction of the flood in The Brick Testament. Showing that to students helped them realize for the first time that there is nothing cute about the story of the deluge and Noah’s ark. In more ways than one it is messy.

I fully expect, even within the confines of a PG-13 rating, that Darren Aronofsky will not shy away from the implied violence in Genesis 6-9. I fully expect he will take some creative license, no different than and no more egregious than the license Cecil B. DeMille took in writing and directing the much celebrated by evangelicals The Ten Commandments. Aronofsky has a lot less text of scripture and details to work with than DeMille. Unlike Demille, to my knowledge Aronofsky has never professed to be a Christian. I’m curious to see how someone, in particular an artist, whom I presume is not a Christian tells the story. All that being the case, it’s a movie and if I’m going to pay in excess of $10 to see it I want a good story, a well told story, and certainly not least to be entertained. So if you are going to see the movie, try to go into with as few expectations as possible and try to enjoy. Be critical, but not for criticisms sake. Lastly here are a few things to keep in mind when you do critique it.

 

  1. Remember the Source—In this case I don’t mean the Bible. Darren Aronofsky is not a guy that is new to making movies. You might not be familiar with his name but there is a good chance that you are familiar with some of his work. He is the director of Black Swan starring Natalie Portman (for which she won the best actress Oscar), The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke, and Requiem for a Dream. All three of those movies garnered at least one acting Oscar nominee. All three movies didn’t shy away from showing the dredges of human depravity (in particular Requiem for a Dream which is a very well done film that I will never watch again because of how dark and depressing it was), and like I said at the beginning Noah is a story about human depravity. All of that to say if you aren’t a fan of his previous work then chances are you won’t like or appreciate his latest work. Personally I’m a little surprised he decided to keep it PG-13.
  2. And Remember the Source—In this case I am referring to the Bible. Genesis 6.5-6 gives us a brief description of what was happening in Noah’s day, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continuously. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” The rest of Genesis 6, 7, 8, and 9 is a telling of God calling Noah to build the ark, instructions or a blueprint for building the ark, the deluge, it subsiding, God making a covenant with Noah, and Noah’s descendants (including the brief story of his son Canaan’s transgression against him while he was passed out drunk).
  3. It’s an Adapted Screenplay—Obvious by now you know this movie is adapted from another source, but often times those are the movies of which it is most often said, “Well, it just wasn’t like the book”. Which at this point in some ways is lazy criticism. Most books wouldn’t translate well on the silver screen if they played out exactly the way they are written. That is why they are “adapted”. Director Peter Jackson, often maligned for his adaptations of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, once said in response to detractors that if he actually included everything from the three LOTR books in the movies they would be 20 plus hours long all together instead of 12. Now of course he is getting criticized for doing just that with the one book, The Hobbit. It goes to show you you just can’t win when you adapt a well known book into a movie. At the end of the day regardless of what a director trims or adds the main question shouldn’t be “was it in the book?” The main question should be, “does what the writers and directors decided to trim or add help keep the movie moving?” The movie shouldn’t grind to a halt trying to include every detail. Nor should it pass over important information or scenes that help tell the story and or build characters. A good story requires a conflict that needs to be resolved and most conflicts involve an antagonist. In the Bible we are not given a specific antagonist other than the general ‘man’. Judging from the previews the writers have decided to create an antagonist who embodies everything that has gone wrong with mankind. They aren’t doing it to tick off those who treasure the Bible as God’s inerrant word, no more than Bill Cosby was when he did his Noah routine in stand up comedy. They are doing it for the sake of telling the story through the medium of film.

 

I hope to see Noah sometime this weekend in which case I’ll attempt to post a review.

If You’re In a Committed Relationship But Not Married Why Is It Bad to Have Sex?

Two weeks ago we started our Sex Talk with middle school students. At the end of this first part I did some Q&A with them. The following is one of the questions they asked anonymously on a 3×5 card that I thought would be a great one to attempt to answer and post on the blog.

As these posts have the potential to gain a relatively large audience I recognize that not all who read it share my faith and worldview. If you are an outsider to the Christian faith reading this chances are you won’t agree on principle with my answer. Even so I hope you may find it a well thought out answer.

Question: “If you’re in a committed relationship but are not married why is it bad to have sex?”

Answer: What makes a relationship committed? Is it simply two people agreeing that they won’t date another? Is it two people agreeing that they won’t be emotionally, physically, and sexually intimate with someone else? Committed is defined as, “being bound or obligated, as under a pledge to a particular cause, action, or attitude.” In marriage you are binding and pledging everything. Property, assets, name, and of course bodies, all legally lawfully bound together. Committed relationships, particularly those of teenagers, are in no way binding except for the fact that they spend a lot of time together, and are therefore exclusive with one another. There isn’t anything keeping them together beyond their affections. Should their affections change they can de-commit by simply, “breaking up”. There is no need to hire lawyers, divide property and assets, or change names back to what they were. Not that committed relationships are bad and should be done away with, but they were never meant to be the Junior Varsity to the Varsity Team that is marriage. Committed relationships are more like tryouts. No one receives nor gets to wear the uniform until the make the team. Sexual intercourse has the potential to bind you to someone in ways that can’t so easily be undone by walking away. The contraceptive industry makes the bulk of their millions by assisting people in a “committed relationship” to prevent being bound to one another via babies and STD’s. The false dichotomy of “casual sex” is built upon the exercise of divorcing your heart and mind from sex as to avoid being bound to someone with your thoughts and feelings. Likewise there is a false dichotomy of “sex within a committed relationship”. A committed relationship is for the purpose of deciding whether or not you want to commit to binding yourself to another for life. Sex then within a committed relationship is to begin binding a big part of yourself to someone while still having the option to “break up” at a significantly lower cost, before you’ve actually decided you want to commit to be bound to only them for life.

What makes sex sex? The Bible teaches that sex is way more than just two bodies joining together for the purpose of experiencing sensual pleasure (even though it doesn’t shy away from that aspect of it). So often the writers of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament writers, referred to sexual intercourse by saying “and they knew one another”. What are the scripture writers saying about what sex is when they refer to it as “knowing” another person?

When I was about 19 years old unmarried and a virgin, a sexually active non-Christian female told me, “If a girl ever tells you she wants you she doesn’t know what it is she’s asking for.” Admittedly I wasn’t quite sure what she meant but I know she, a sexually active unmarried non-Christian was provoking me to think of sex as much more than a physical act and thus something not to tread lightly upon. Honestly I think she was urging and encouraging me not to have sex outside of marriage. Think of the colloquialisms we have for sex today; ‘doing it’, ‘doing the nasty’, ‘afternoon delight’, the list goes on and on, but you’d be hard pressed to find any that capture the fact that when you become “one flesh” with someone there is the potential for something transcendent to happen that leaves you very vulnerable and exposed to the person you’re having sex with. I think that’s what she was trying to tell me. There is a power in sex to help heal our brokenness, to affirm our humanity and therefore it also has power to shame and destroy our humanity as well. There is a huge investment being made when we connect with someone sexually. The promises pledge and complete joining together of marriage is meant to provide the security of pledge and promise that frees us to experience it with our whole being without fear, without holding back any part of our humanness.

What is marriage? Contrary to what popular culture often tells us marriage is not shackles that imprison us to another but the safe confines to not have to keep parts of our self, the parts of us that can’t be quantified in limbs curves and skin, hidden from the person we are giving ourselves to and receiving them in return. Marriage is meant to be the confines within which you can be free to reveal and share all of who you are. That’s not to say that people in committed relationships can’t experience these things. It’s just that the cost to walk away doesn’t match nor correlate with the investment that sex dictates whether you want it to or not. We typically don’t tell engaged couples this when they are nearing the altar but the truth is they can still walk away without it costing them much. Sure the money spent on the wedding has gone down the drain, but they don’t have to divide up property and assets, they don’t have to change their name on legal documents and credit cards, and unless they have children they don’t have to be as concerned with who else it will have a lasting affect on. The reality is that some grown adults have chosen to join every aspect of their lives together as a functionally married couple without the formal and legal ceremony binding them together because so many married people have trudged into and out of marriage as though it were just another committed relationship.

How many committed relationships can one person have? Sometimes I wish I had dated more before I got married. I was slow on the pick up on how much a friendship with a woman and a “committed relationship” with a woman is not apples to apples. However, on the flip side if I had had a number of “committed relationships” how might they have formed me for marriage to my wife in ways that would be counter productive to our binding relationship? I can’t say for certain but she and I would have to take the good with the bad and everything in between. Say I had been sexually intimate in some of those hypothetical “committed relationships” I would have to unlearn, and undo the unique ways I had formed myself with those other women sexually, or bring all those things with me to be bound together with my wife. We often refer to all those things as baggage.

Why is it bad? At the end of the day you can do what you want. Even if you want to soften God’s commands into advisory precautions from the one who created human bodies, sex, and gifted them with this complex thing called intimacy, it’s not hard to see why sex outside of the binding pledge and promise of marriage is risky business. Encouraging young people, still dependent on their parents and under their authority, in particular to go ahead and have sex as long as it is within a committed relationship is as fraught with danger as encouraging the same young people to go to the bank and open a joint bank account. We would discourage teenagers from binding to one another financially no matter how much they thought they were in love or felt that the time was right. Likewise there is great wisdom in discouraging two people, especially teenagers, who aren’t joined and bound together by pledge and law from becoming sexual intimate.

One final thought… I have friends who aren’t Christians who have bound themselves to one another in most ways that married couples do. They have share exclusively with one another their bodies, their home, their property and assets. They are exclusively sharing their life and all of who they are with one another. In all likelihood they will never marry, but their hope is to grow old together. While I don’t approve of unmarried couples living together I treat them as a married couple. Given neither or them are Christians thus not holding the same view of marriage as me I want to encourage them to remain committed to one another for the long haul because that is their expressed desire. While I prefer they eventually make their relationship legally binding at this point I would hate for them to break the bonds they’ve formed together. In some ways based upon my view of how God designed humanity and sex they’ve gone too far in sharing their lives with one another exclusively that I’d hate to see them split and start the process over with someone else. If anything their decision not to marry is largely in response to how marriage is so often treated as a committed relationship. Too many married people don’t honor and value marriage for what it truly is. They see it as a means to be happy, and not as a means to bind them self to another person, and be fully known by them. Many people will end a marriage because they are no longer happy or don’t feel the way the once did. Many people who have pledged themselves to another in good times and bad, for better for worse, in sickness and health no matter what may come, in the sight of witnesses and God, only to leave when their marriage no longer suits them. They aren’t happy, they aren’t satisfied, the marriage is not what they thought it would be and so they break the pledge, the promise and the bond. Could it be that committed relationships while training us in some good ways also forms us to ignore, suppress, and break all the ways we have become bound to another person and muster up the ability to walk away because we’re no longer happy? Imagine how much easier it would be to suppress, ignore and break all bonds if you had done it even a few times since you were a teenager? Sex outside of marriage is not only not the best way to live it is a risky personal investment to make. Why is it bad to have unmarried sex in a committed relationship? Sex outside of marriage is potentially very bad for you.

Are You Obsessed With Finding God’s Will For Your Life? (5 Tips To Understanding God’s Will)

mqdefaultMany years ago, well over a decade, I met a girl. I really liked this girl. We hit it right off immediately. The first time we met we ended up talking for three hours. The second day we talked for another three hours. The third night she was game to do something she had never done before. Watch a Star Wars movie. Only thing better than a woman who is willing to watch Star Wars for the first time is a woman who wants to watch Star Wars again like my wife, the always beautiful, Mrs. Lundy, but this story doesn’t involve her. Suffice it to say I really liked this girl a lot and wanted to date her.

Being the good Christian man that I was with latent insecurities and fear of rejection, I prayed about it first. I wanted to make sure that I was living in God’s will and not stepping outside of it. I took relationships very seriously and wanted to make sure it was the right thing with the right person and that most of all, that God willed it. I wanted a sign. I wanted some assurance. I didn’t want to be rejected. I wanted to please God, and I wanted to be her man. I laid myself bare before the Lord opening up my heart but ready and willing to submit to his will. My petition was simple; do I pursue her or do I just be her friend (At this point my non-Christian friends are probably wondering, “is this how Christians really think and make decisions?” Not all but enough that I feel inclined to write this).

I’m not claiming that I audibly heard God speak to me while I sought his will in my prayer regarding whether or not to pursue this girl. I am claiming while practicing the discipline of quieting myself over the years coupled with discerning and learning the heart of God according to the scriptures, a very clear thought or word became profound in my mind that I believe was God speaking to me. “What do you want to do? It’s up to you. Do you trust me? I’m less concerned with what you do and more concerned with how you do it. I’m less concerned with what you do and more concerned with who you are and whether or not you trust me regardless of what you choose to do.”

I had my answer and it wasn’t quite the answer I was expecting but it was an answer nonetheless. I chose to pursue her and her response was favorable but after a month of “talking” she decided that she just wanted to be friends. I learned a lot from that experience. It’s likely not a stretch to guess that many Christians trying to honor and submit their life to God have also spent much time seeking God’s will about all manner of decisions and choices that lay before them. What college to attend, what classes to take, what job to pursue, whether or not to marry the person you’ve been dating for four years. We are often faced with pretty big life decisions to make and Christians should want to submit to and live within God’s will for their life.

The problem is that we obsess over it and miss what God is trying to do in our lives and what the bible actually says about God’s will for our lives. If we’re not careful we live lives that are paralyzed by fear of stepping outside God’s will and having to deal with the consequences of not staying within the boundaries of the path he has laid before us. In America with a culture driven by performance busyness, goal setting, accomplishments and the next thing, we mistakenly adapt and adjust God’s values to American values. When we do this God’s will for our lives is no longer about being with God himself, and the path to God being to abide in Jesus who made the way for us to God. Instead God’s will becomes personal achievement and success, personal development, personal happiness and avoiding pain, difficulty and suffering, and the path to it is prayer spiritual disciplines and good moral behavior—aka sin avoidance. If we see God and his will this way then the instant our lives come off the tracks and we experience major setbacks, disappointments, pain and suffering although we’ve adhered morally then our faith will unravel just as quickly as we do.

With all that in mind here are five things that I’ve learned about God’s will that I believe are supported by scripture (even though I haven’t gone to the effort of citing a bunch of scripture for you, feel free to do so yourself and see if God’s word agrees).

  1. You Are Not A Patriarch: In other words God’s will for your life is probably not as specific as you think or would like it to be. Christians often take verses or narratives involving the patriarchs and prophets that tells of God’s plan for their life, and claim them for their own life. Abraham Isaac and Jacob, King David, and a number of the prophets God chose for very specific purposes because they were all leading and pointing to the one in who God’s plan for all of our lives ultimately rest—the Messiah, the Great Shepherd, the Suffering Servant, Christ Jesus our Lord. We live in the time between the ascension and the Christ’s return. In multiple places throughout the New Testament, in particular Revelation, we’ve been told exactly what God’s will and plan for our lives is—continued obedience, faithfulness, long suffering, and yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us making us more like Jesus through whom we are justified.
  2. Becoming v. Doing: I’ve become convinced that God’s will for our lives has less to do with what we doing and more to do with who we are becoming. Certainly we are to do right but as far as scripture is concerned what we are to do is not a mystery and has not been withheld from us. God’s will is not about being at the right destinations. God’s will is about being who he destined us to be in Christ. Regardless of what job you take, person you marry, school you put your kids in, college you choose God’s plan for you is to be like Christ whenever, wherever, whatever, and with whomever you find yourself.
  3. Wisdom: I’ve come to realize that scripture spends way more time talking about and teaching wisdom than it talks about or teaching us to ask God for specifics, yes or no answers to choices. The reason why many Christians may find themselves in turmoil or trouble is not because they’ve made choices and decisions that have taken them off the track of God’s will for their lives. We find ourselves in trouble and turmoil because either circumstances outside of our control, the effects of individual and corporate sin, or because we lack wisdom. There’s not a whole lot we can do about the first two but we can ask for and seek wisdom. In fact asking for and seeking wisdom is one of the specifics that God has made known he desires for our lives. God wants us to learn wisdom so that we can navigate all the grey areas of life.
  4. Trust: Wisdom is good but it doesn’t guarantee we will avoid trouble and hardship. In fact we are told numerous places in scripture that we should actually expect to encounter trouble and that trouble and evil will increase as the time draws near for Christ to return and God to put the world to rights. When bad and terrible things happen people will often try to incorporate it into God’s plan as to suggest that he is using that specific situation to build something us in you. The reality is that this world is broken enough that more times than not stuff just happens. Not to say that God won’t bring or allow something very specific into your life to accomplish his work in you, but who are we to know? When we come out the other side of trials and tests is it because we knew we were being tested or because we trusted God? When we fully trust God we become less concerned with whether or not something is a test and more concerned with trusting God no matter what comes our way.
  5. Who Brings The Glory: When I was obsessed with discovering God’s will and plan for my life it came from a good place. I wanted my life to glorify God. I believed that if I didn’t make the right choices and my path was somehow altered then God would either have to intervene or my life wouldn’t bring God as much glory as it would have otherwise done if I had made another choice. There were two mistakes with that thinking. First mistake, I don’t bring God the glory, God glorifies himself through me. Secondly, it places higher value on position and accomplishments as though God’s glory is dependent on what we achieve and our lofty endeavors instead of depending on God himself. God can glorify himself just as much through a janitor as he can through a professional athlete.

 

Summary: Maybe you’ve seen those Fidelity Investments commercials where someone has just met with an advisor and upon departing is directed to stay on track. On the ground there appears a green line with arrow icon streaming down it directing their path down the plan to a secure future. In a western culture with so many things, so many options, so many choices I believe many of us are like the people in those commercials—we want some guidance. God has given us all the guidance he intends to give in his word and the presence of his Holy Spirit residing in us. Learning to just trust God and know that I have the freedom to choose while remaining faithful and obedient to what he’s made known has kept me from being paralyzed by all the options that I am fortunate to even be able to consider.

Who Does It Harm Anyway?: The Harm In Using ‘Harm’ As Measure of Right and Wrong

Let me clarify something: this post is not in any way shape or form meant to be a commentary on the marriage debate. I am using it as an example to point to something else that I think the Christian community should be concerned with. How Christians determine or distinguish what is sin, right and wrong, is an area of concern. We would be foolish to believe the line of thinking that has arisen in the marriage debate won’t play a role in how we think of other behaviors that scripture has named sin and more importantly behaviors that scripture isn’t as explicit about. Often times in discussions and debates about gay-marriage, you’ll hear someone make the following point: “Allowing two people who are already in a committed relationship living together to marry isn’t hurting anyone.” For the Christian—whose life and thinking is largely shaped by God’s revelation to us through scripture, and who is committed to having the life of Christ generated in them—this philosophy of using the question of harm to determine what is right and wrong is hugely flawed. Evidence of this kind of thinking has been around long before the “marriage debate”. It has led to many paradoxes that can’t be resolved if harm is the measuring stick of right and wrong.

The question of harm has allowed for many Christians to start questioning the validity and existence of Hell. The question of harm has caused many Christians to be unsettled by God’s allowance of evil, pain, and suffering in the world. The question of harm has allowed for many Christians to excuse numerous behaviors that God says miss the mark of holiness because we determine that it doesn’t cause very much if any harm.  Ironically the question of harm was a reasoning that many in the purity and holiness camp used to try to persuade Christian teens to not even kiss prior to marriage because, they could be someone else’s wife or husband, and could cause harm in their relationship. Ultimately an ethic based on what is harmful potentially leads Christians to ignore or take issue with one of the central calls to the Christian life: to be willing to endure suffering, trial and testing. A Christian who determines right and wrong based upon how much harm is incurred will eventually have to question whether or not God should be God in the first place. A Christian who determines right and wrong based upon how much harm is incurred will not see, in Jesus, God was willing to endure more harm than we will ever know in order to deal with everything that is wrong with and in the world.

For a Christian right and wrong is determined by God’s holiness. Leviticus 19.2 summarizes all of the law of the Old Testament by saying, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” In Ephesians Paul echoes the call to holiness when he writes, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Not to say causing harm shouldn’t be a concern of Christians whatsoever. In the discussion of human ethics it’s a good place to start. For the Christian, however, human ethics begins and ends with God’s holiness. For the Christian often times the things that cause us harm, pain, and discomfort are also the things God uses to sanctify us and make us holy.

Party and Rest or Die: Cause Even a Black Man Can Turn Pale

Our facilities manager described me as being pale. Our HR manager detected some exaggeration, “Pale? He’s black. How is it that he looked pale?” Our facilities manager reiterated, “He was pale.”

I don’t doubt her because that is how horrible I felt that day. Two days after Christmas I went into work and lasted one hour before I had to leave. On my way out the Senior Pastor took one glimpse at me and told me to go home. I think I had just enough energy to drive home and no more. Thankfully I made it home and slept pretty much the rest of the day, and much of the next. Considering that the mother of all flus had been going around I was a little paranoid and checked my symptoms on WebMD. I discovered that in all likelihood I was suffering from fatigue, which considering what the past two months had been like I wasn’t surprised in the least.

My youth ministry professor used to refer to Leviticus 23 as the “Party and Rest or Die” commands of the Old Testament. It’s ironic that the same God that gets the rap of being a cosmic killjoy and a general party pooper pretty much commands that we party and rest regularly. Even to this day God appointing times of rest and celebration is probably the most overlooked commands in the entire Bible, by believers and skeptics alike. These commands are not controversial or hot topics because they are not followed by or in the same breath as the phrases we find numerous times in the book of Leviticus, “shall be put to death” or “is an abomination”. I’m here to tell you that on December 27th 2012 I felt like I was being put to death and I felt like I was an abomination. Not to say that God was making me feel that way as a form of punishment, discipline, or to get my attention. However, it got my attention. I needed to be more intentional in getting rest. With a wife undergoing chemo treatments and an energetic two year old I can’t afford to not rest to the point that I hit the wall like that again.

Is Rest a Moral Issue?

For all the precedence that pornography, sex, drugs and apathy towards God take as the main moral issues that face today’s Christian youth, why is rest not one of them? Considering how much experts and sociologists have been saying that today’s teenagers are busier than any generation before them why isn’t rest being treated as a moral issue? Considering that many sociologists are saying that the High School years may well be the busiest time of an individual’s life, shouldn’t the issue and practice of rest be a front burner topic? For our young men who are tracking towards a white-collar industry where “time is money”, long hours is the way of justification, and productivity is their righteousness we can’t treat rest as a side topic. For the young women who are slowly discovering that they are “expected” to be a superwoman, where to be a woman means mastering the to do list, only to be mastered by the to do list, we can’t breeze over this portion of scripture.

Reclaiming Partying and Rest

The importance of and proper practice of partying and resting must be reclaimed. For many teenagers who put in 35-40 hours of school, 15-25 hours of homework, and 10-25 hours of extra-curricular activities a week, they need to learn the discipline of a day of rest now not later. College typically offers them more free time than they know what to do with, and yet doesn’t prepare them for a life in the workforce or running a home. Entering into adulthood without learning how to intentionally rest is to their detriment. Partying by teenagers (and adults) is too often defined by activities that encourage chaos (lack of control and order) impairs the ability to remember, and leads to exhaustion. Youth Pastors need to teach and encourage students how to celebrate properly as opposed to simply instructing them to avoid partying the wrong way. Parents need to instill a rhythm of intentional rest for the family so that it is more natural for teenagers to implement when they become independent.

Here are a couple of tips and thoughts on how to properly party and rest.

1. Running errands and otherwise knocking out things to do is work, not rest.

2. Resting means doing things you enjoy that are relaxing, Things that are rewarding are fulfilling but not restful. Save the rewarding things for the other six days.

3. Day of rest doesn’t have to be the same as the day you go to church, but should still involve reconnecting with God in some manner.

4. Proper rest helps maintain the balance between “man defining his work” and “man being defined by his work”.

5. If you do not rest you will slowly become undone.

6. Proper partying or celebrating allows our present to be informed by the past as opposed to our present being lived in the past.

7. Partying has purpose (typically remembrance), has food, has beverage, and has order. It does not involve disorder (over consumption), destruction, and chaos.

8. The feasts or celebrations of the Old Testament celebrated what God had done, what he was doing, and what he would do.

9. If you do not party and celebrate then life loses meaning.

10. Napping is restful, but rest limited to sleep is incomplete.

11. Partying is fun, but partying hard puts life in jeopardy.

Three Lessons from Giglio and the Inaugural Prayer

Middle of last week it was announced that Louie Giglio, founder of Passion City Church and the global Passion movement had been invited to give the benediction at the Inauguration Ceremony next week. The current White House Administration has been very impressed with Giglio’s efforts in recent years to help bring an end to modern slavery across the globe. It only took two days for those who took issue with a sermon he preached 15 to 20 years ago, that had been archived online to raise a big enough stink that, depending on how you take it, Giglio decided to withdraw from delivering the benediction or was asked to step down by the Inaugural Committee. The sermon from 15 to 20 years ago that started this controversy was on homosexuality where amongst other things he said that homosexuality is sin.

Since then the blogosphere has been littered with commentary on what unfolded by countless in the Christian community. Some of them are suggesting that Giglio was bullied, that his first amendment rights were violated, or that he should have taken a stand and done the prayer anyway. Many have forecasted that this spells trouble for Christians in a country that is growing less and less Christian.

While this is yet more Christian commentary, and albeit a little bit behind everyone else, here are some thoughts I had about the situation. More specifically, since this is a blog for parents of teenagers and those who work with teenagers, youth workers, pastors and volunteers, what can our young people take from this?

  1. Nothing is Private in Public: The climate and general attitude towards homosexuality in America has changed significantly in the last 15 to 20 years, thus it may seem a little unfair that Giglio is getting raked over the coals for something he said well over a decade ago. To say it’s not fair is not the point because the reality is he said it, it was recorded, and it can be found. Young people need to be sobered, not scared, by the reality that anything they say and do that makes it’s way onto the internet is not private. More importantly it is accessible. They need to be mindful of what they post on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, and strongly consider, “is this something that could come back to bite me later?” Crying that it’s not fair is not going to get you anywhere because that is the reality.
  2. Stand Up or Sit Down?: I’ll be honest. Initially I wished that Giglio had gone ahead and done the benediction anyway. But upon further reflection, conversation with a friend and looking back over his statement I can’t help but wonder, “Could it be that Giglio stepped down in an effort to obey Romans 12.17-18?” Romans 12.17-18 instructs us, under the heading of Marks of the True Christian in the ESV, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Nowadays young Christians and Christians in general are being encouraged to take a stand. That these controversial issues, like abortion and sanctity of marriage, are the tasks that we as Christians are called to take a stand for if we are really about the gospel. However, take a look at the second part of Giglio’s statement, “Due to a message of mine that surfaced from 15-20 years ago, it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda a focal point of the inauguration. Clearly speaking on this issue has not been in the range of my priorities the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.” Did you catch that last part? Giglio is saying that ultimately the gospel has is and always will be about making ‘much of Jesus Christ’. What a great example of wisdom, discernment and self-control to seek peace with all as far as it depended on him, that Giglio has given us and to the millions of young Christians he ministers to nationally. We need to help teenagers learn wisdom and the ability to discern when is the time to stand up and when is the time to keep calm.
  3. The Plank in Our Eye: Recently the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reported that 80% of unmarried evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 29 had engaged in sex. Likewise the National Association of Evangelicals, using a stricter definition of “evangelical” reported that 44% of 18 to 29 year olds had sex outside of marriage. It’s pretty clear in scripture that God does not endorse sex outside of marriage in the same manner that it does not endorse same sex sexual relations in or out of marriage. Based upon the research of those two organizations it might be time for the church to start directing more of our attention towards heterosexuals within the body of Christ, encouraging them to live rightly ordered sexual lives as opposed to outsiders? This needs to start with parents and youth workers continuing to call young people to live sexual lives in accordance with the Creator’s design out of reverence and love for God and being consumed with the love of God for them, rather than fear of God’s wrath for getting it wrong. People outside the church have access to the Bible and can see what it says. How can we expect them to take us seriously about our standards if we don’t appear to take them seriously by our own actions?

Conclusion: At the end of the day I think we have three tangible ways we need to encourage young people to be mindful of their witness. What are they putting out in public even if they believe it to be private? As far is it depends on you are you living at peace with everyone including and especially those outside of the body of Christ? Are you living a life that is rightly ordered driven by the knowledge of and love for the God you claim?