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

Image

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.

Why I Won’t Be Giving My Daughter A Purity Ring

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with purity rings. I have no idea who started the trend and if it is even as popular now as it seemed to be when I was in High School and college. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. I’m quite positive purity rings have been effective in being the reminder they are meant to be to young people to order their bodies and sex lives to a higher standard. I just wonder if it might be a very well-intended thing that misses the true mark. This post is meant to be less criticism and more food for thought.

The true mark of the Christian pursuit of sexual purity (cause after all biblical purity encompasses much more than our sex lives) is worship of the God of heaven and earth, architect, creator, and definer of human bodies, and a living understanding of the gospel. A living understanding of the gospel entails a full comprehension that the gospel is a message that begins with all of creation, including human bodies and sex, declared as good and ends with creation being consummated by and to God.  In particular we have scenes described and doctrine expounded that human bodies of the redeemed being resurrected and made new.

My apprehension with purity rings concerns subtle shifts in thinking that I think they could create, that while not entirely bad miss the point of Christians ordering their lives under God’s grace and love.

 

  1. Locus of Relationship: The pursuit of sexual purity is to be encouraged and ordered in response to our standing and relationship before God. I can’t help but wonder if purity rings subconsciously shift the ordering of sexual purity as a response to the standing and relationship before parents. The difference is that one is ordering their life under a holy, life-giving God, and the other is ordering their life under a guardian who is just as subject to God as they are. Put simply the desire to please and not disappoint parents becomes the primary motivation to be chaste as opposed to pleasing God.
  2. It’s Not Just Sex: There have been whole books and lectures dedicated to purity and holiness that only scratch the surface of what it really looks like to live a pure and holy life to God because they only talk about sex. They really should be called “sexual purity rings” because that is the only aspect of purity that they are encouraging. Purity in the Bible, the kind God has freed us to live and Jesus gave the perfect example of encompassed every aspect of how we interacted with our neighbors and this world, not just the sexual aspect.
  3. It’s Not Pass Fail: I’ve met people who once they had crossed a certain line decided they would no longer wear the purity ring. Not that they wouldn’t aspire to continue to pursue sexual purity after their “transgression”. The first problem with this is in most cases sexual purity had already gone out long before “the line” was crossed. Secondly, the purity ring in their mind had gone from being a reminder to a badge of honor, and thus when they transgressed they could no longer claim this status and stripped themselves of their standing. When something like that happens it demonstrates that they are struggling to remember and live out the redemption component of the gospel story and instead focus on the fall.

 

Closing Thought: Why is it I can’t think of a single dude I ever knew who had a purity ring bestowed upon them? Why has the only purity rings I’ve seen exclusively been adorned by girls? Honestly, shouldn’t there have been just as many guys wearing them as girls? Anyway, as I said in the beginning I’m not trying to discourage anyone from giving their child a purity ring. Whether you do or not I think those three things should be things you should be intentional to address with your child when encouraging them to live a life of purity.

Four Strategies For Being Chaste

If we are truly to have a gospel centered conversation on sex and bodies with adolescents then we must encourage and equip young people with strategies for how to live chastely going forward. It’s not enough for them to be talked to about it. Ultimately we want them to be about it. Many Christ Followers know and want to do what is right in regards to sex, but have no strategy that helps them remain chaste for the long haul, and thus their resolve is eroded over time. The following is four strategies for practicing chastity.

Be Chaste in Community With Others: Isolating yourself will only make the familiar slogan, “Everybody is doing it” seem all the more true. Christ Followers need to be committed to one another and live life with one another in a way that encourages each one to live the new life to which they’ve been called. Whether it is a small group or accountability group we need to find people we can trust and feel safe with the details of our sex lives and the decision and boundaries we’ve chosen. Personally some of the greatest encouragement I received to remain chaste in my early twenties was from people who were decidedly not chaste and practicing just the opposite. Accountability groups need to have an emphasis on humility and sanctity. Too often accountability has a way of becoming a performance stable where we become full of pride or shame depending on how we measure up others in the group. Humility because ultimately our sexuality is about being restored humanity due to the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sanctity because none of us are perfect and moments of rebellion don’t have to become patterns of rebellious behavior.

  • Encouragement to live chastely
  • Support to live chastely
  • Full disclosure
  • Humility and Sanctity versus Pride and Shame

Be Decidedly Stubborn: Deciding to be chaste is virtually meaningless without making decisions about boundaries for our self and others when it comes to sexual behavior. Boundaries need to be established before a choice has to be made. You don’t want to find yourself in a potentially compromising situation that forces you to have to create a boundary, you need to have the boundary already in place which leads to the next strategy point…

Seek Wisdom: Biblical wisdom places a large emphasis on what the heart is set on, or what it treasures. It would be wise to know your heart and to not underestimate the power of your fleshly desires, because as stated earlier internal pressure is often greater than peer pressure. Secondly, Biblical wisdom emphasizes avoiding situations and scenarios where you may be tempted to compromise your boundaries. Lastly, Biblical wisdom emphasizes having fleeing from situations and scenarios where you might be compromised.

  • Know your heart and your flesh for “you are your greatest enemy”
  • Don’t put yourself in compromising situations
  • Have an exit strategy; think through “what would you do if?” scenarios, so that you can be prepared to do what is right and wise.

Abide In Christ: Ultimately a gospel-centered conversation on sex and bodies is not so much about sex and bodies as it is about being raised with Christ to new life. The new life that we have been raised to and reborn in is not a life that we have to wait for some moment in the future to experience. It is a life that we can begin experiencing now as a foretaste of what is to come. If there is no desire for Christ, no love for Christ, and no practice of Christ, then efforts t be chaste are utterly in vain.

  • Take off the old self (Colossians 3.5)
  • Put on the new self (Colossians 3.10)
  • Practice Christian disciplines
    • Confession and repentance: chastity is not a “pass fail” endeavor, it is a forward calling no matter what has happened in the past.
    • Preach the gospel to yourself regularly so that you can be reminded the truth about sex and bodies, and thus counter the false messages we hear everywhere else.

20 Years Later Charles Barkley Is Still Right: Parents’ Job To Be Role Models

charles-barkleyTwenty years ago as a freshman in high school I became a writer for my school’s newspaper despite the fact that freshman weren’t allowed to be a part of the class. Looking back I probably should have taken shop anyway so that I wouldn’t be paying other people to do odd jobs around the house. Anyway… One of the articles I wrote was an op-ed piece in response to Charles Barkley’s proclamation in the latest Nike commercial that he “is not a role model. Later that summer after the school year was over Mike Royko of the Ann Arbor News  wrote an op-ed piece on it as well which my news paper teacher sent me to encourage me to keep writing. Mr. Royko and I had the same opinion. We agreed with the overriding message of the commercial, “Parent’s should be role models. Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” While neither of us condoned of his throwing a guy through a window at a bar fight (thus the mugshot above), or missing the adult he was aiming for and ‘accidentally’ spitting on a kid sitting courtside instead at one his basketball games Barkley is right.

I still have copies of both articles and the note my teacher included with Royko’s. Here are some of the points we both made…

“Parents are the ones that are going to have the biggest impact on their children. Yet, on the whole, some parents haven’t done much at being role models for their children.” (Me)

“Before TV kidnapped our brains, athletes and show biz stars were not an everyday part of our lives. We didn’t have the endless parade of celebrities that now roll across the TV screen. Which was probably beneficial. Social values weren’t being established by Madonna, Roseanne, Magic Johnson, Geraldo, Oprah, Letterman’s guests, MTV, religious hucketers and hop-head rock stars.” (Mike Royko)

“Why,” you ask am I bringing up two decades old commercials and news articles? Last week when Miley Cyrus performed her song “We Can’t Stop” live at the MTV VMAs. There was a deluge of news and social media response to her antics, most of it lamenting her transformation from teenage Disney Star, portraying the very likable and admirable fictional character Hannah Montana, into the twenty year old performer portraying, singing about and portraying a morally reckless lifestyle of uninhibited sexuality, drug and alcohol abuse. Many of the responses centered around her apparent rejection and descent from being a role model into one of those kind of girls you shouldn’t be within a hundred feet of. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, and time to write about it, I have two prevailing thoughts.

Not to defend or excuse Miley’s performance but it was obvious to me that very few people, at least those saddened by her apparent turn, had actually listened to the lyrics of the song or saw the video to the song. If they had, her performance wouldn’t have been so surprising. Her live performance was pretty much a live version of the music video where she did all the same stuff. Goes to show you, if there is one thing MTV doesn’t do much of it is show music videos.

Secondly, and more importantly, the hullubaloo brought me back to what Charles Barkley said in that Nike commercial twenty years ago, “Parents should be role models.” There is no denying that public figures and famous people have influence, but we are the ones to be pitied if we continue to promote (even if it be unintentionally) the belief that their influence can even hold a candle next to the overwhelming influence of private figures. The number one private influence in the life of children and young people is their parents. Even if the parents fail to be positive role models someone else who children and young people can have face-time with have immeasurably more influence than all the famous people they have screen-time with.

Twenty years later as a youth pastor and a parent I couldn’t agree with Charles Barkley more. Instead of questioning Miley Cyrus or more importantly the latest version of her ten years from now when my daughter will be less than a year away from being a teenager I’m questioning myself. Am I going to be the kind of role model to my daughter that will make the exploits, good bad ugly and in between, of the latest teen celebrity turned young adult vixen inconsequential to the kind of person she is becoming and aspires to be? I want my daughter to think of myself, and her mother as her role model. I desire that there would be other adults she knows personally who can also serve as excellent examples. As a Christian my parents were role models to me because they were doing their best to be followers of the model Jesus laid forth. They weren’t perfect, but they pointed me in the direction of the one who is. They couldn’t provide unshakable security through life, but they pointed me towards the one in whom life is found. My parents were role models by simply doing their best to model their life after Jesus. My wife and I won’t be perfect role models either, and we’ll make mistakes, but our influence in our daughter’s life will far outweigh the influence of any celebrity or famous person, ever. Even if we somehow became best friends with one spending lots of time with them we still have the primary job of being role models to our daughter.

As an adult I understand more than ever that life is not found in the life of celebrities and famous people. There are plenty of athletes who I enjoy watching compete and entertainers perform act and sing. I have no expectation that these individuals behave in a way that would suggest that they have trusted their life to Christ and are being shaped morally by him when they’ve made no proclamation of allegiance to Jesus.  Even if they did the likelihood that our young people are going to rub shoulders with them on a regular weekly or daily basis is exponentially unlikely. Nowhere in their contract is it written that they are to be role models for our kids. However, we are bound to our children by something that transcends written agreements with performance clauses. We should be very wary of giving that tremendous responsibility and privilege to flesh and blood people who do little more than flash across our many various screens. Especially a twenty year old girl who could probably have benefitted from one herself instead of being thrust into the position of role model at the age most of us are yearning for our parents and other adults to show us what it means and looks like to be an fully formed adult. Give Miley and all the other famous people a break and let’s do our job.

The One Question Every Student Asks

A few years ago I was at a small graduation ceremony for a handful of students who were homeschooled. I didn’t know many people there , and thus ended up sitting next to a complete stranger.

Most of you who know me know me as an extroverted and engaging person. While I can be very loud and gregarious, I can also be very chill and in a quiet mode. I can be the life of the party but I definitely don’t need to be and will defer to others. All that to say I wasn’t in a chatty mood this particular afternoon. The stranger sitting to next to me on the other hand was all for striking up a conversation.

Upon finding out that I knew the graduate through church because I was one of her youth pastors he became very intrigued. Admittedly most people become intrigued when they find out you’re a youth pastor for various reasons usually to do with your mental health. This individual was intrigued because he was currently in seminary. His plan was to get a job as a Youth Pastor that would hopefully launch him into eventually landing a position as a Senior Pastor. The seminary he was attending specialized in apologetics, so in some ways the question he asked me should have come as no surprise.

“So what do you think is the biggest question that students are asking these days; How can a loving God allow evil in the world, creation versus evolution debate, faith versus reason debate, how can a loving God send people to Hell? In your experience which question is the question students are asking the most?”

I didn’t even have to think about the answer, but I took a second just to look at him in the eyes and pause before I gave him my answer… the answer. I wanted to make sure that when I said it I had his full attention. I also looked into his eyes hoping that in all of his training he hadn’t missed the point entirely. Not that I had something against apologetics, far from it. Something about the way the whole conversation had gone to that point conveyed an arrogance on his part and I felt the need to bring him back down to earth.

“None of my students ask any of those questions”, I said calmly. “There is only one question they ask, and all of them ask it. The question they all ask is, ‘Do you love me? Do you care about me? Will you see me and accept me for who I am; the good the bad the ugly and all the in between?’” How you answer that question will determine whether or not they listen to a word you have to say about all those other questions. If you can’t answer that question to their satisfaction then they won’t care what you have to say about anything.”

Truth be told they have hundreds of questions, but one matters more than the rest. Whether you’re a parent, youth worker volunteer or pastor, be in the habit of answering the one question your student(s) ask in the affirmative. They don’t care how cool or hip you are, they just want to be loved and accepted without pretense, without condition, without having to earn it. 

 

What’s God’s Will For Me?: Discerning God’s Will

How do you discern God’s will? What job should I take? Who should I marry? What college should I attend? Should I have Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Frosted Flakes for breakfast? Should I have a cappuccino or a latte?

I can remember becoming obsessed with God’s will in this way. It came from a good place. I greatly desired to be in God’s will. I wanted my life to go down the pre-ordained path that God had designed for me. The problem was that I became more obsessed with God’s will for my life than I was with God. I greatly feared living outside of his will, and the consequences I might encounter, the difficulty I may have to endure, if I didn’t not seek and discern his will. At times it was paralyzing.

Today while delivering a message to my sixth graders I was reminded of a simple truth about God’s will for which I am so grateful. Contrary to how many of us may have somehow picked up some bad theology or faulty understanding of being spiritual, God’s will is not something that we have to search for, pray for, or wait for God to reveal to us. God has made his will known to us and made it plain.

Much in the same way that God instructed Joshua after Moses passing, his will is that we enter into the land of his presence (Joshua 1.2 “into the land that I am giving”), heaven and eventually the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21.1-3); the place you find yourself is of no consqequence (Joshua 1.3 “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you”); to be strong and full of courage (Joshua 1.5-6); to obey (Joshua 1.7 “Being careful to do according to all the law”); and not be afraid because he is with us and will not leave us (Joshua 1.9-10).

One of the biggest decisions I ever had to make in my life was where to go to college. I can remember praying over it and wanting to be sure I picked the place that God wanted me to be.  I had the option of Calvin College, Grand Valley State University, and Spring Arbor College. I choose GVSU, ended up at Washtenaw Community College, and graduated from Spring Arbor University. Having gone to three totally different and unique college and universities, one state, one community, on private Christian, I gleaned something very important about God’s will. God wasn’t all that concerned about where I went to college. However, God was greatly concerned about the kind of person I would be at whichever college I was at. It was never about me being in his will, it was about me doing his will wherever I be.

There may be some that will beg to differ, saying that God has a unique purpose and will for your life. That God has something very specific in store for you. I’d say to them that as much as I wanted to believe that I couldn’t support it with scripture. There are some individuals that God had something very specific for them, but those instances a very rare and all pointed to the preservation of his people, and often were in the direct lineage of Christ in whom God’s people are forever preserved. Personally I found it quite liberating to be freed from a life of trying to coerce God into giving me details. Cause if I’m honest it was that’s what it was. Me trying to coerce God, giving the appearance of him being in control. If I had specific details then I wouldn’t have to worry cause I was in control. I would have never seen it this way before but in my effort to trust God I wasn’t trusting him at all.

I find it much more freeing to simply get on with life exercsing the wisdom and discernment God gives to those who ask, to make good choices when the path seems foggy and grey (no clear cut bad options like what college to attend), and simply obey God’s law because his law is what he has revealed. All paths lead to the unobstructed full glorious presence of God, and his kingdom for those who trust and obey God.

A Good Friday Reflection: Where You Fail, Jesus Succeeds

Everywhere Israel failed Jesus succeeded.

It’s no coincidence that Jesus went out into the wilderness for 40 days to be tempted by the devil, right after he was baptized and publicly confirmed as being the Son of God. There is an intentionality in Jesus’ actions that demonstrates he was going to re-enact the journey of some of Israel’s greatest failures in the wilderness, except he would succeed where they failed.

Israel had been declared God’s firstborn son during their rescue from Egypt (Exodus 4.22). Throughout their journey from Egypt to the doorstep of the Promised land they were tested and failed to trust God. Finally Israel sent spies into the Promised Land to spy it out which took 40 days. Ten of the twelve spies gave a bad report, which led to the rebellion and refusal to enter the promised land. Their failure resulted in 40 years in the wilderness until each person of that generation had died never entering the promised land.

Jesus on the other hand succeeded. Where Israel complained of hunger and even complained about the miraculous provision of manna Jesus declined Satan’s taunt to turn stone into bread to quench his hunger. Where Israel tested the Lord despite his presence amongst them in a pillar of smoke and fire in the tabernacle Jesus declined Satan’s taunt to test God by throwing himself from the pinnacle of the temple. Where Israel bowed down and worshipped the golden calf Jesus declined to worship Satan for all the kingdoms of the world. Where Israel failed Jesus succeeded.

Good Friday is a solemn day for the believer. Not only do we commemorate Jesus’ selfless sacrificial atoning death we also remember our failures, shortcomings, and sins that hung him there. And there in lies the beauty of the cross and salvation. Where I have failed Jesus succeeded. Where you have failed Jesus succeeded.

During his ministry Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” So many of my failures come down to the fact that I don’t deny myself. So many of my failures come down to the fact that I don’t take up my cross and follow Jesus. However, I would like to remind you of what I am reminded of this Good Friday… Where I have failed and where you have failed, Jesus Succeeded.

Wherever you have failed, are failing, and will fail Jesus has succeeded. Just like Jesus knew the disciples would fail to follow him on Good Friday Jesus knows you will fail many a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, etc. Just like the disciples we must allow for the miracle and inheritance we have in Easter to be the catalyst to move us beyond our failures, our shortcomings, and our sins, to deny ourselves and follow Christ because he succeeded exactly where we fail.