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.

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.

The Mystery Of His Will Made Known

God’s will has been made known to us in and through Christ. He has redeemed all of creation to himself and his will is to “in the fullness of time, gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1.10). So why has God’s will seemed to remain such a mystery to us? A problem to solve. A code to decipher. As we have often done the message of the gospel has been hijacked and meshed together with the messages and slogans of our culture and led to confusion and misdirection on what exactly it is that God is up to. Our society is all about self and individualism thus the prevailing gospel message of God’s plan of salvation and redemption of all of creation has been replaced with a message of self-help, self-improvement, personal faith and relationship with God. Our gospel message has narrowed from a view of what God is doing in the entire cosmos to what God can do for you as an individual. It is the Jesus for me Jesus. Thus when we try to discern God’s will even the way we go about it is shaped by this subtle misunderstanding.

God has always made his will known to mankind. We are not left in the dark. We are insiders when it comes to what God is up to. The problem is we so often want the details of how it all works. And we want specific instructions on what we are to do the choices to make, the right decision to be made. The mystery has never been an issue of what. It has always been an issue of how. When God made Adam and Eve he made them in his likeness. They were content to figure out what that looked like until they were deceived into thinking that there was another way of how, by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to be like God. Likewise we get distracted from the “what “ of God’s will, wisdom and understanding, and become obsessed with “how” we can get him to reveal it to us. When we do this we fail to realize that Jesus himself is the mystery revealed. When Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us God’s will was no longer a mystery. His will for us is to abide in and know him. When the mystery of God’s will becomes a personal thing that involves predestined fixed plot points of our story that require moral adherence or practice of disciplines to be revealed then we fail to recognize that Jesus is the way the truth and life as opposed to specific life events, ‘divine’ appointments, choices, or life decisions.

Do You Believe God Gives in Excess Or Is A Scrooge?

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1.7-8)

 

To say that the riches of God’s grace are lavished on us is to say that God is bestowing them on us profusely and in excess. The redemption bestowed on us in Christ due to his willful sacrifice on our behalf for the forgiveness of our sins is more than enough. Personally I’ve always thought of Christ’s sacrifice cancelling out our sins as though to say they are in equal measure this balancing one another out. But here Paul is saying that Christ’s perfect life, the sacrifice of it, the resurrection of it, and presence of it in the ascension is in excess of our sin and corruption. The scales of justice of been tipped beyond our favor.

The irony of God providing redemption and forgiveness of sins in excess is that the original sin took root in mankind’s suspicion that God was not an excessive provider. Even today many people struggle to believe that God has given to them lavishly. Some believe their rebelliousness against God is too great to be completely overwhelmed and swallowed up by the riches of God’s grace. Some see what they perceive to be God’s lavishness in the life of others in the form of ease, comfort, and material riches, and suspect that God has not in fact given lavishly to them. Either way there is a struggle and sometimes a refusal to believe that God has been lavish.

In one sentence Paul has reminded followers of Christ to see that God, as he always has, gives in excess.  Jesus’ giving of his life for the sin’s of mankind and the redemption available in his resurrection is enough to cover the entire cosmos. Cosmos is the word we use when we want to talk about every particle and molecule that God has created, from the ends of the earth to the farthest and unexplored reaches of the universe. All of God’s creation was subject to sin and death and all of it has been redeemed through Jesus’ work on the cross.

Undoubtedly, this is something that we need to be in the habit of marinating on so that it sinks deep into us. As my mother would always say and now I’m accustomed to saying, “Life is not fair”. There is always going to be people to whom we can look at the fruit of their tree and be filled with the same longing as Adam and Eve when they gazed at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired.” When we consider the depth of our sin and depravity we may say with Cain, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” If we take an honest assessment of our life next to Christ’s we will undoubtedly recognize the chasm of unfairness. Whatever the case may be we need to be reminded of God’s lavish, abundant and excessive giving of riches that can’t be quantified in anything outside of his glorious presence, which is after all the climax of all he has given and provided.

Revelation That Calmed My Fears About Adopting: A Father’s Day Reflection

_DSC8298I never imagined that infertility would be something I would have to navigate. It’s safe to say that no one imagines walking through the painfully indiscriminate and out of our control ways the curse of sin can touch our lives. Whether it be infertility, cancer and other illnesses there is just some things that invade our lives with indescribable grief and massive amounts of pain.

As a man of faith in God and Christ I prayed about it for a time, but eventually became resigned to the fact that if I was ever going to be a father then it would be by a different route. So many become parents, in some cases so “easy”, that we all take it for granted how amazing conception is, and how difficult it can be. As much as it sucked to not be experiencing the blessing firsthand that God gave to mankind to “be fruitful and multiply”, that I may never have a child that is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, or as my wife and I used to say, “have a child with my big nose and her high forehead”, I decided I wasn’t going to be mad at God for the ripple effect into my life of Adam and Eve rejecting God in Eden.

Any adoption agency that is worth their salt will make you go through the gauntlet in order to be put on their wait list for a child. Amongst the many prerequisites we had to go through with our adoption agency we had to read four books on adoption. Three of the four books we read were terrible. Honestly they really were depressing. The main thrust of those three books was that in adoption everybody is wounded. The child is wounded, the birth parents are wounded, the adoptive parents are wounded. Everyone involved is wounded and grieving. So there’s a good chance that adopting a child is going to bring its fair share of difficulty and misery into your life (to which I thought, “Isn’t that the case with having kids in general regardless of them entering a family biologically or via adoption?”). The fourth book however was profoundly different.

First of all let me say that Russell Moore’s Adopted For Life is a book that any Christian should read. Even if you are done having children cause you’ve already conceived and raised ten of them you should read that book. I was fortunate enough to be able to connect with him via Twitter to let him know how profound his book was for myself and my wife by simply including in the tweet a picture of the two of us holding Isla that first day we met her. I’ve never been prouder to make someone’s day, as his reply said, because that book made me aware of something that I had never noticed or been taught prior in all my years of being a Christian.

Those of you who know me well know that I don’t worry about much. I’ve trained myself to be concerned but not worry about things, and it times it can unnerve others around me. Honestly though, I had my concerns about how quickly I would become attached in the very depths of my heart to the child I would hopefully be made the father of. A child who was not mine. The other three books spent a lot of time preparing you for struggling with the fact that your adopted child in all likelihood will not have a lot in common with you (Like I said earlier, it’s not as though it never happens with biological children). They labored that point excessively. I wasn’t concerned as much about whether or not I’d be a good father. However, there was some concern as to whether or not I’d have that overwhelming depth of love that all parents have for their child from the moment their born since I would be receiving a child that wasn’t flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. A child who I not only hadn’t procreated but I also wasn’t there for their birth.

Emma and I were headed up to Michigan for our friends Lauren and Andy’s wedding. Emma had been reading the books before me, and early on she told me I needed to read Adopted For Life first. At one point headed somewhere in the car she turned down the radio and read to me a portion of the book that had her absolutely floored. We don’t have the book anymore because we passed it on to someone else, so I can’t place an excerpt here, but I don’t need to because it was five simple words. Jesus was adopted by Joseph.

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In all my years of being a Christian it had never dawned on me or been taught that Jesus was adopted by Joseph. It’s as though it’s so obvious that we completely miss it. Or if we’re being honest we don’t realize it because we don’t see much mention of Joseph being on the scene in Jesus’ life past the age of twelve, the church has cloaked Joseph in a cloud of mystery and suspicion. However, how was Jesus often referred to in the gospel accounts by the people of his time? He was often referred to as the “son of a carpenter”, which is deeply profound if you know anything about first century Jewish society and culture. I knew enough about it to start filling in the blanks. Good Jewish fathers taught their son their trade. Good Jewish fathers taught their sons (and their daughters) the torah or God’s word. And what were the two things Jesus was well known for? Being the son of a carpenter, and even at the age of twelve, having a mastery of the sacred text (Luke 2.46-47). Surely having the fullness of the deity of God indwelling his flesh probably had something to do with it, but there is no reason to doubt that Joseph took the charge of Deuteronomy 4.9-10 & 6.20-25 to heart, because to him Jesus was his son (In other words, in a mysterious and dare I say weird way that boggles my mind Joseph is the one that simultaneously introduced Jesus to his heavenly father, and by doing so introduced Jesus to himself. Let that roll around in your brain for a second).

Although Joseph obediently stayed after previously considering to divorce Mary quietly due to his non-involvement in her pregnancy, I’m sure he was likely troubled by the thought of raising a child who people knew wasn’t his own just like I did. I can’t help but believe that God did the same thing in Joseph’s heart as he did in mine. From the first time I saw Isla and heard her cry she was undoubtedly mine. Instantly my heart was fixed and bonded to that girl to the very depth of my being, no less than any parent who went through 10 months of pregnancy. There was no need to worry or be concerned anymore. From that moment on I am her father.

I stepped out for a moment as I was writing this to tell Emma what I was doing (and get her blessing to share these things). She summed up my reflection best, and I’m not ashamed to say it makes my eyes well up with tears even as I type it. I’m a Joseph. The grief and dare I say wounding of unexplained infertility, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy if I had one, set me on a path that eventually led to me being bestowed with the legacy of Joseph. Maybe that’s why there’s few things I treasure in my heart more than the first time while praying with Isla before putting her down to sleep for the night she said before I could, with that sweet voice and articulation of a toddler of not quite two just beginning to string sentences together, “Dear God, thank you for…” I get to be Joseph to Isla who is by no means Jesus, but we certainly won’t hold that against her. Because after all one day I’ll get to tell her that she was adopted just like Jesus was. Though she isn’t flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, I have something far greater to give her than my big nose.

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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. 

 

Where Are All the Christian Artists? (My Response to Seeing Les Miserables for the First Time)

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Over the weekend I saw Les Miserables. I had never seen the musical, read the book, or seen the previous movie adaptation starring Liam Nesson. What a great movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Everything about the movie was great; acting, cinematography, directing, music, singing (Yes Russell Crowe by far had the weakest voice, but you’d be hard pressed to find an actor who could better capture the presence of the relentless Javert).

More than simply enjoying the movie, I was left with a desire and hunger for more. I don’t know much about Victor Hugo other than that he wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame as well. I don’t know what his religious affiliation was, but it is quite clear he had been influenced by a biblical worldview and its understanding of law, grace, atonement, justice, sin, depravity, and wove those themes into his work. There is so much depth to that story that I don’t even know where to begin if we were to discuss what all makes it so great other than to say it is a beautiful piece of art.

Les Miserables is the kind of work that Christian writers, artists and musicians of today should aspire to make. Les Miserables puts Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and other “Christian” movies to shame. I know that’s a really strong statement to make but allow me to explain what I mean.

There was a time, not that long ago, that we didn’t have this divide between the sacred and secular. You may think that this divide is a good thing but it’s not. All it has done is spawned a separate Christian sub-culture where Christians make art for other Christians to enjoy. In other words Christian art is for Christians only, not the masses.  Christians or at least people who thought Christianly because they had been influenced by a biblical worldview were at the forefront of music, the arts, architecture, etc. Christians were making beautiful things that were accessible to everyone and available for all to enjoy, and not just those who frequented the Christian bookstore or the Christian music section. The work they produced was done with the kind of excellence, creativity, and originality that I feel is often times missing from the work we produced in the CCM world. The last thing we need is another generation of musicians who will make the latest version of “Amazing Grace” or “Better is One Day”, perform for and are promoted exclusively to Christian audiences.

For the next generation of artists, writers, storytellers, thespians, and musicians being in the world but not of it needs to become more than just taking familiar cultural forms and throwing John 3.16 onto it and calling it Christian. For them being in the world but not of it needs to become producing rich, thought provoking, and beautiful pieces of work that engages and is for the enjoyment of the masses, and not just the Christian masses.