The Supreme Court and Campus Ministry

Yesterday (Monday) the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a Christian club at a California law school cannot close its leadership to certain students, specifically homosexuals/lesbians.  To read about this, check out Christianity Today and Inside Higher Education.  What strikes me most is that this issue is not over, as Justice Ginsberg said that lower courts had not addressed the argument that the Law School selectively enforced its policy, effectively discriminating against Christians.

I am not a legal mind by any stretch of the imagination, and I have no idea how this will affect campus ministry at all.  What I can say is, unless the Court and American universities begin an outright discrimination against Christian groups, this ruling cannot be consistently applied on college campuses.

If student-run groups are not allowed to keep their distinctives, then the whole reason for forming such a group is destroyed.  Think of the chaos that could begin.  What happens when a group of white supremacists take over an African-American heritage group?  Or a bunch of Republicans take over the College Democrats (or vice versa)?  Imagine a group of Christians taking over a Muslim Student Association and putting the deity of Jesus Christ into the constitution, or a group of Muslims joining a Christian group and taking the deity of Christ out of the group’s constitution.  Perhaps the Muslims and Christians could join together, take over the atheist group.

Groups of like-minded people should have the right to join together on a college campus and to elect leadership of those who agree on the issues which cause the group to form.  Such groups should tolerate their peers, even welcome outsiders to meetings.  But it seems obvious that when it comes to leading these groups, there should be no problem with reserving leadership for those who hold to the group’s ideology.

Obviously, in this specific case there are other issues, specifically that homosexuality is the dividing line the club created for those eligible and not eligible for leadership.  I wonder if the court’s ruling would be different if it were an issue such as the Trinity, and thus a disagreement between Christians and Muslims?

So I will keep my eye on this moving forward.  There are really only a few options: apply this ruling consistently and eliminate any student group with distinctives (which is almost all student groups) or apply it inconsistently and discriminate against whatever group of students are not liked by the powers that be on campus.

Personal Update

On Saturday, with the help of many friends and family, we moved into our new house.  I am typing this surrounded by unopened boxes, many of which were hauled up to the attic despite the groans of our helpers (thanks…sorry I read a lot and thus own a lot of books).  Owning a house is a bit scary, who am I kidding, it is practically terrifying!  It is so permanent.  This decision was made as we believe the Berks area is the place for us to be.  I plan to continue working in campus ministry for…who knows how long, at least a few more years.  The two are tied together: buying a house and settling down means a commitment to more years of campus ministry.  There is a finality to all of this.  Of course, Emily and I are still young and who knows where we’ll end up in the years ahead.  But we’re here now and we’re not going anywhere soon.

So I’ll  be writing about campus ministry, sending out e-mail newsletters and working with college students.  Emily will be teaching Spanish to English speakers and English to other language speakers and maybe even some English to English speaking kids with bad English.  Skippy will be hoping around on three legs, well, not really now that he has a prosthetic!

Thanks for your continued support of the ministry.  God Bless.

Summer in Thessalonica – Love and Work

3:12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones…

4:9 Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

 11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Paul prayed that the Christians in Thessalonica would overflow with love and holiness (3:12-13) and then he goes on to instruct them on how to do this, first in terms of holiness (4:1-8) and now love. I find this a bit funny, as Paul declares he does not need to write about brotherly love because they have already been taught to love each other (4:9). Not only do they love their brothers and sisters in Christ at the church in Thessalonica, but they have love for Christians all through the region of Macedonia. Think of it as not just caring for the Christians at your home church, but also for them through the state and the world.

Even though Paul does not need to write about this, he does (that is what I find funny). He urges them to love more and more (4:10). There is a profound truth here: no matter how much we love others, we can love more. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate love by dying on the cross for us, even while we were still in rebellion as his enemies. None of us have that kind of love for our enemies, let alone our friends, so we all may be urged to love more.

This love goes beyond simply our circle of Christian friends, it is a love that flows out among all those around us. As it flows to those around us, it looks kind of ordinary: a quiet life, minding your own business, working. But, without sounding cliched, in Christ the ordinary can become extraordinary!

I think this is a part of Christianity that gets overlooked. What Paul is doing here, following in the footsteps of Jesus, is affirming the value of work and everyday, normal life. Sometimes Christians speak as if God calls pastors and missionaries and everyone else is kind of on their own. The truth is that God has called each of you to a career (this is your vocation): business, teaching, engineering, science, writing, occupational therapy, law, etc. Not only are you called to what you will do, but how you will do it: do your job well, work hard, don’t gossip about your coworkers, be friendly. I believe as you live out your calling in normal, everyday, mundane life that you will be an example to others.

These verses struck me this week as Emily and I are moving into our house. Our calling is not just our career, but how we live at home, with our family and in all areas of life. We already met our neighbors on both sides: Dale and Nancy are an older couple on one side, Stacy and her daughter Madeline live on the other side. I know nothing about them (not true: I know Dale likes to make smoked meat). What example will my life of mowing the lawn, trimming trees, interacting with Emily, set for them? How can I allow the love of Christ to well up within me, to overflow and pour out on to them? I doubt that “living a quiet life” and working hard means preaching to them or handing them a tract. The emphasis for Paul here is not on making a new convert as quick as possible, but on trusting the Holy Spirit to work through us as we go about our daily lives.

So remember: you are called by God to be at PSU Berks. How do you study habits, your life, demonstrate the love of God? As you move into your career, how will your work habits demonstrate the love of God?

Paul says a similar thing in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 and I leave you with that:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Souls in Transition – How does College affect Spiritual Life?

Does going to college cause Christians to walk away from their faith?

To many people this seems like a question whose answer is a foregone conclusion. It is widely believed that university education is detrimental to religion. Christian parents fear what will happen to the faith of their children when they go away to college. Many campus ministers, myself included I have to say, have spoken of how college serves up large challenges to faith whether in the classroom or through peer pressure. Further, we all know people who were religious while teenagers and who lost their faith during college.

In Souls in Transition, Christian Smith and Patricia Snell report that when scholars looked at this question more recently the results were surprising: “they found that the religiously undermining effect of higher education on recent generations of youth has disappeared…Higher education no longer seems to diminish the religion of emerging adults” (248). Smith and Snell site studies that found it was those who do not attend college who are most likely to experience a decline in religious commitment (249).

It is not as if all those who fear young people losing their faith when they go to college are just misinformed and wrong. Older sociological research substantiated these fears. Smith and Snell say that the change in college’s affect on religion represents a “major shift in the role of higher education” (249). In other words, going to college once was detrimental to faith but in the last two decades a shift has taken place to the point where going to college is either beneficial or simply has no effect on religious faith.

What has caused this change? Smith and Snell suggest many possibilities (249-251):

1. The growing influence of campus-based ministries that provide “alternative plausibility structures for sustaining religious faith and practice in college.”

2. College and universities themselves appear to be changing their “attitudes and programs in ways that are more supportive of the religious and spiritual interests of their students.”

3. A growing number of evangelical and Catholic faculty teaching at secular universities who provide role models to religious students for how to integrate education and religion.

4. Growth of religious universities who teach students to integrate faith and education and go on to influence the culture at large

5. Perhaps the most interesting one is a combination of two trends. First, there has been a decline in students’ interest in answering questions about the meaning of life, questions that on campus would have received mostly secular answers during the 20th century. Second, there has been an increase in students’ desires to become financially wealthy which to them is a religiously neutral matter. In other words, more students go to college to get good jobs and make money rather than to dive into profound philosophical and religious questions. Such subjects are confined to the grudgingly required, sometimes interesting, and soon forgotten, “gen-eds.”

7. Young people are less rebellious then previous generations and more conventional in terms of religion.

8. More generally, American culture, and perhaps Western culture, has shifted from a secular to a post-secular era in which secular assumptions are no longer simply taken for granted. Instead religion is given a place at the table and allowed into the discussion.

Smith and Snell’s own research on emerging adults group found that while the transition to emerging adulthood from the teen years does include an overall decline in religious involvement, attending college does not contribute to this decline. Actually, there is a very slight possibility that not attending college is more likely to contribute to religious decline. So in conclusion: “for contemporary emerging adults, going to college does not increase the ‘risk’ of religious decline or apostasy as it did in the not-too-distant past. Some evidence now even suggests that it may actually decrease the risk, compared to not attending college” (251).

This is very encouraging to those of us working in campus ministry because it demonstrates that lives, and cultures, can be changed. This shift has at least partially been caused by the success of campus ministry. It shows that having Christians on campus is absolutely essential to the mission of the church.

There is one question I am trying to get my mind around and I am not really sure how to put it. Basically, when campus ministers visit churches and talk about campus ministry, or when university life becomes a topic of discussion among Christians, how do we describe it? Do we use fear-based rhetoric, portraying college as a place where Christians go to lose their faith? How is this detrimental? Is this manipulation to gain financial support? I wonder…

Summer in Thessalonica – Holiness, Relevance and Legalism

3:12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

4:1As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

What does it mean to be holy (sanctified)? Are we taught to be holy? Does holiness matter? When I think of holiness, there are two directions we usually go. First, we often try very hard to fit in, to be relevant. If relevant means speaking a language, presenting the gospel, in a way people understand, then I am all for it. If it means using a musical style that is familiar, rather than one that was contemporary 500 years ago, then we should be relevant. But I wonder, do we take “relevant” to mean we live and act just like everyone else, but we happen to believe in Jesus?

The researchers in the book UnChristian made some startling discoveries about the lives of young people (16-29 years old) who identify as Christians:

We found that most of the lifestyle activities of born-again Christians were statistically equivalent to those of non-born-agains. When asked to identify their activities over the last thirty days, born-again believers were just as likely to bet or gamble, to visit a pornographic website, to take something that did not belong to them, to consult a medium or psychic, to physically fight or abuse someone, to have consumed enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk, to have used an illegal, nonprescription drug, to have said something to someone that was not true, to have gotten back at someone for something he or she did, and to have said mean things behind another person’s back (UnChristian, 47)

Sometimes Christians try so hard to fit in with the world in order for the world to hear what we have to say, that we end up with nothing unique to say.

In reaction to this there is another danger, this is the second direction we may end up going when we think about “holiness”. We may end up with a “holiness” that slides into “legalism”.

Maybe we recognize that Christians should live and act differently. We understand God’s call to be holy, which really means to be set apart from sin in order to be made clean, righteous. But we end up standing so far apart that we may think we are on a pedestal from which we can look down on all the world of “sinners.” This is just as dangerous as not being different at all, for rather than having nothing to say, now no one wants to listen because we are jerks.

I find the concept of holiness challenging for just this reason: too far to one side is legalism, too far to the other side is irrelevance.

Paul prayed that God would make the Thessalonian Christians holy (3:13), then he sets out giving them instructions on how to be made holy (4:3-8). Here we see a reliance on God; ultimately it is God who makes us holy. Therefore, we cannot become legalistic or look down on others, for our strength is coming from God. On our own, we cannot be holy. At the same time, we do need to open ourselves and allow God to make this change in us.

The focus of holiness, in this chapter, is on sexual immorality (4:3, 5). Holiness is more than just sexual ethics, but it is not less. Paul writes as if those who are Christians, who allow the Holy Spirit of God to enter their lives, really will experience a change in their life. The truth is that believing that Jesus is risen from the dead, is Lord and Savior, should make us a bit different and weird. Maybe your friends are hooking up, or “test-driving the car”, or just having sex with their boyfriend or girlfriend. To be a Christian, to be holy, is to be quite radical: to have sex only within the commitment of marriage.

But please, I beg of you, don’t forget that this is not a license for legalism! Paul’s words here are directed to Christians. Paul does not call the pagans, non-Christians, to this sexual ethic. The threats of judgment at the end (4:6-8) are for those who call themselves Christians but reject living holy lives. In no way is this a weapon to beat over the heads of your non-Christian friends! In another place, also speaking about sexual ethics, Paul says it is not his place to judge those outside the church (1 Corinthians 5:12-13).

The target of this message is not your non-Christian friends, it is you, if you consider yourself a Christian. The call to be holy, to avoid the twin errors mentioned above, is for you. So the simple question is, if you claim to be a follower of Jesus, will you allow God’s Holy Spirit to change you, to make you holy?

Souls in Transition – Hooray for Parents!

I cannot remember not going to church as a child. My parents took me to church ever since I was born. I was involved in Sunday school, Wednesday night programs and anything else they took me to. When we switched churches, I was about ten, my parents kept me heavily involved. I never complained, I liked it. Beyond church, religion was a central part of our lives. My grandmother always encouraged me to read the Bible. As I moved into my teenage years, and after my parents got divorced, I continued to attend church and youth group. Now it was basically my own decision and I kept going. Even though the youth group was sparsely populated, many of the students being at least three years younger then me, I was always there. I looked up to the older members of the congregation, whether in their 40s or in their 80s, as examples of Christian living. From all these beginnings, when I went away to college I sought out a community of Christian students to be a part of.

My story is not extremely unique, at least according to the studies done by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell in Souls in Transition. What they found repeatedly is that a theme of religious lives of emerging adults (18-23) is continuity. Students who were highly religious as teenagers remained so, more or less. Those who were not highly religious did not become religious. Of course there are always exceptions, but the basic point is that the trajectory people are put on in their teenage years, and before, is what they remain on into their twenties and beyond.

Smith and Snell, with help from Kyle Longest, seek in the eighth chapter to determine what factors in the teenage years contribute most to religious commitment as emerging adults. The researchers found that there are five factors during teenage years that are most important in contributing to emerging adult religion: religious parents during teenage years, frequent personal prayer, high importance of religious faith, few religious doubts, and religious experiences (p. 218-9). Later they sum up the factors as consisting of strong relational ties to religion (such as religious parents, other adult religious mentors, part of community), a personal embracing of faith (eventually the teenagers makes the faith her own, not just on loan from parents), and regular devotional practices (prayer, scripture reading) (p.227-8). On the flip side, teenagers who were once highly religious but who become less religious as emerging adults have less of these factors: less religious parents, lower importance of religion, more doubts about faith, less frequent personal devotion, fewer religious experiences (p.229-230).

What struck me is the absolute vital role parents play in the religious lives of children. Along with parents, another important factor is having other adults in a religious congregation that the teen can turn to for support, advice and help (p.233). What is interesting is that having religious parents and other adults in their life was more important than being part of a youth group or having religious friends. It is not that such things are unimportant, they do help, but their absence is less detrimental than the absence of parents.

The reason that parents are important is seen in the age of first commitments to God. The researchers found that 85% of those who ever commit to God (surveying emerging adults, so “ever” means up to age 23) do so prior to age 14. Compare this with 7.7% who made first commitment between ages 14-17 and 7% who made first commitment between 18-23. The conclusion is clear: the majority who commit their lives to God do so prior to age fourteen and the role of parents in this is essential. Further, as the story of the religious lives of emerging adults is one of continuity, most who commit to God prior to age fourteen stick with it.

This message is challenging: parents, you have a vital role in the religious lives of your children. Once again though, it must be said: your children are individuals and nothing is full-proof (none of these statistics reach 100%). You could be religious and your children turn away. It happens and it is not your fault. Yet statistically, if you demonstrate a religious life to your children while they are young it appears it will often rub off on them and will set them on a religious path for many years.

My prayer is that when I become a parent one day, I will model my faith as my parents did.

Also, this may should be a challenge to youth pastors and leaders. It seems that while it is important for kids to be a part of youth group, with Christian peers, it is more important that those youth groups have adult volunteers to be friends and mentors to the youth. Perhaps separating the church by ages for worship is a bad idea, for we need to be connecting across generations. At the very least, a call can go forward based on this: Volunteer with the youth group at your church! You do not need to be a parent to change a life of a child!

Summer in Thessalonica – Strength

3:1 So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know…

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Where do you find your strength? What helps you make it through each day? When faced with issues at your summer job, or too much work during the school year, or conflict with friends, how do you deal with it?

We looked at this text last week, but there is more it has to say to us! That is the great thing about scripture, you can return to the same piece again and again and always learn new things! What I am struck with today is this whole question of where we get our strength. I think our culture often tells us that our strength comes from deep inside yourself – you have the strength within you to do whatever you want, to be whatever you want to be. We are taught to be rugged individualists.

It is interesting then that in 3:2 Paul says he is sending Timothy “to strengthen and encourage you in your faith“. There is recognition that the new Christians in Thessalonica could not make it on their own. They needed help from others, from people more mature in the faith, from Paul and Timothy. The clear lesson is that each of us needs help from others to live as followers of Jesus in this world. In scripture there is no concept of individual Christians doing their own thing; there’s no “its just me and God.” Community is always central. As Christians, we rely on each other.

Do you have a community and mentors who you can rely on and learn from?

A few verses later, in 3:13, Paul prays that God would “strengthen your hearts”. Paul recognizes that simply sending Timothy is not enough. Community is vitally important, but without our Creator and Redeemer God strengthening us, as individuals and as a community, we will fail.

In whom or what do we get strength from? If it is friends, family, money, looks, intelligence, muscles, smooth talk or anything other than God, then we are putting our trust in the wrong place.

We need each other, none of us can grow as Christians alone. The Thessalonians needed Timothy and Paul to help them grow. We all need friends, mentors, small groups, and church communities. Within these places and people we can find strength for the journey.

Ultimately we are only able to find strength in these places and people because they too are strengthened by our Creator God. It is God’s Holy Spirit working as the lifeblood through the church community, pointing all of us to our risen king Jesus Christ. In the end, our strength as individuals and communities comes from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I leave you with Psalm 121 (the Message):

I look up to the mountains;

does my strength come from mountains?

No, my strength comes from God,

who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

3–4He won’t let you stumble,

your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.

Not on your life!

Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep.

5–6God’s your Guardian,

right at your side to protect you—

Shielding you from sunstroke,

sheltering you from moonstroke.

7–8God guards you from every evil,

he guards your very life.

He guards you when you leave and when you return,

he guards you now, he guards you always.

What Motivates?

Last fall CSF had a “Human-Trafficking Awareness Day” during which we sold t-shirts, handed out information about modern-day slavery, and at night had a guest speaker who has worked with a group in Cambodia to save women from slavery. From this CSF ended up partnering with the Step Dance Team for a benefit show, all proceeds going to the Not for Sale Campaign to end slavery.

Why do we do this? Why do we care that slavery exists in the world and why do we work to create a world in which it no longer exists?

This question does strike to the heart of what it means to be a Christian in this world. If the whole point of being a Christian is to go to heaven when we die, then working to end slavery (or poverty, or other things) is not important. But when we read scripture it is clear that Jesus did not come to earth just so we can go to heaven when we die. Being a Christian is about a lot more than the afterlife, it is about living in this life.

I tell the students that we do this work for reasons that flow from our Christian worldview. As Christians, we believe all human beings on this earth are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent worth. Biblically and theologically it is unjust for God’s image-bearers to be enslaved as prostitutes, laborers, child soldiers or anything else.

Along with this, we believe that the God of Israel, the God fully revealed in Jesus Christ, continuously commands his people to care for the weakest among us. This is seen in the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, Paul’s letters – all over Scripture. Just look at Jesus and how he lived. He fed the poor, healed the sick and expects his followers to do the same.

Another reason is that we believe Jesus is risen and therefore old creation is in its death throes as new creation begins to break in. Jesus’ resurrection is the first act of new creation. Life is coming out of death. We live in between the end of old creation and the full onset of new creation. Our work as Christians is to bring this future new creation into the present. Jesus taught us to pray, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We seek to bring heaven, God’s domain, to earth. One way to do this is to free the slaves. Put it this way: since we know there is a future day coming when there will be no more slavery, we work today to bring that future into the present by freeing the slaves.

So Christians have deep theological and Biblical reasons to work to end slavery. Yet, as we work to end slavery we join with others who also seek to end slavery. This is great and Christians should work with whomever will join us to end such suffering on this planet. Some of those we end up working with consider themselves agnostic or atheist, lacking any belief in God. While I believe we should work with these people, I think as we work with them the natural conversation that will come up is about why such work is necessary. If we step back from it we can ask: Within their own worldview, what motivates them to give their time and energy for this, or any, social issue?

Christians have every reason to work to end slavery: we believe humans are created in God’s imagery so enslaving them is unjust, our Lord commands us to work for those in need, we look to a future that we know is coming when there is no more slavery. Without such beliefs, to be blunt, I do not think there is any reason to work towards ending slavery. In other words, a naturalistic worldview void of any Creator and Redeemer God gives people no reason to work to change the world into something better. Certainly, many who hold such a view of the world do work for justice, but the question is, based on what they believe, ought they work for justice? Within their worldview, can we say working for justice is better than sitting at home and watching TV?

Atheist groups throughout the country, and world, have gone on PR campaigns with billboards such as “You can be good without God.” I agree, you can be good without God, that is certainly true. But that is a meaningless statement, no more true than “you can be good with God“, “you can be bad with God” or “you can be bad without God.’ The question is about the word “can”. “Can” means you know how to, you are able to. Certainly any person, atheist or Christian, is able to be good.

The issue is should or ought you be good without God? Or to move to our specific issue, if there is no God, ought you work to end slavery and thus bring in a more just world? You certainly can, and if you do we all celebrate that decision. But without God, without any objective reason for “should” replacing “can”, then you do not have to. To put it another way, there is no obligation acting on you which means no one can complain if you choose not to engage in ending slavery.

Think about it. Imagine there is no God, that somehow the universe came into existence and we naturally developed into the humans we are today. You have one life to live and then you are gone forever. If you happen to have gotten lucky to not be born in a situation where you end up a slave, then why should you spend the one life you have working to end injustice? Why not enjoy your life? Who can possibly tell you that you should help others? What could someone possibly appeal to in order to motivate you to help others?

In such a situation, there is no good reason for why you should work to end slavery. You can work to end it, if you so choose. Or you can choose to ignore it. Neither choice is more or less praiseworthy, within a naturalistic worldview.

Only a worldview in which God created every human in his image with inherent worth and then took on flesh, died and rose again in order to save the people and create a new world gives us strong reason to join the fight to end slavery.

Two final thoughts. One: this by no means proves God exists. My point is, if there is no God, there is no reason to work to end slavery. If there is no God you can choose to end slavery, or you can choose to enjoy the short life you have and none of us can criticize your decision. Two: this does not discount the fact that Christians fail consistently and often to work for justice, even being perpetrators of injustice. That leads into a whole other discussion, moving from the abstract ideal of what Christianity is to the messed up ways we put it into practice. But Christians who fail to obey Christ no more disproves Christianity than a baseball player who fails to hit a home run disproves the fact that home runs exist.

PS: For a helpful video on this same topic, go here.

Souls in Transition – Real Life Change?

Souls in Transition is a study of emerging adults, ages 18-23, and serves as a sequel of sorts to Soul Searching which studied the same group of young people when they were 13-17 years old (and which I have not read). This has allowed the researchers to see how specific people have changed over time and what has caused such change. In chapter seven of Souls in Transition, Christian Smith updates the stories of some of the students he first interviewed for Soul Searching; they were interviewed in 2003, 2005 and again in 2008. Reading stories of real people is always fun, so this narrative chapter is enjoyable as well as thought-provoking.

What Smith deems the most important theme is that the dominant tendency in the lives of these emerging adults is continuity: “most people continue being essentially the same people that their lives growing up have shaped them to be, including their way of relating to religion” (180-1). In other words, as teenagers enter their twenties they very rarely make huge changes in their religious beliefs. Instead, they tend to continue on the same path, becoming more or less religious, that they were on while teenagers. Again, Smith writes, “the default of most people’s lives is to continue being what they have been in the past” (208).

So how does change happen? What causes people to make adjustments?

One thing is certain sociologically: operating at the heart of both personal and religious stability and change are the crucial matter of significant personal relationships – both those that affirm and bind and those that break down and set loose. Rarely do people’s thinking and feeling and behaving change dramatically (or stay the same) without significant social relationships exerting pressures to do so and facilitating these outcomes (209).

The key is personal relationships. The key is getting down in the dirt with people, investing our lives in the lives of others with all of their hurt, pain and sorrow. If we Christians desire to see people come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, then we have to get to know them.

About one year ago I read Billy Graham’s autobiography and it was a moving experience. Billy Graham is the epitome of evangelism; he traveled the world preaching to huge crowds and calling on people to give their lives to Jesus. But Billy would be one of the first to say that walking forward at an altar call is merely the initial step. Billy’s crusades always partnered with churches in the cities to help those who did walk forward at the altar call to get involved in local churches. This was because Billy knew that real life change occurred within personal relationships.

Under the right circumstances, anybody might “make a decision for Jesus” whether walking forward at a Christian gathering or being accosted by a street preacher. But our calling is not simply to get people to make a one time decision. Rather, Jesus said our calling is to make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Disciples are people who experience real life change, who allow the Spirit to transform them from the inside out, and who desire to live more like Jesus each day. Disciples are not perfect, but disciples strive to follow the one who is even while being broken themselves.

Disciples are made in Christian community where they are in deep, honest, real relationship with other Christian disciples.

My prayer is that CSF would be such a community on campus; my prayer is that many such communities will exist in Reading, the United States and throughout the world. My prayer is that within these communities relationships will be created and real life change will occur.

Summer in Thessalonica – I Miss You!

2:17 But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you— certainly I, Paul, did, again and again— but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy. 3:1 So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.

6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

This is an appropriate piece of scripture to reflect on over the summer as the community of Christian Student Fellowship is dispersed throughout the world. During the school year CSF exists as a community of college students who seek to grow as followers of Jesus Christ and help others come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. CSF is a community of friends who regularly meet together to pray for each other, to worship as one, to learn, and to have fun!

As the pastor of CSF, I am so blessed to be able to know each of you, to spend time with you, to help you grow in your faith. I feel kind of like Paul over the summer though, orphaned by being separated from you for a time (2:17). In other words, I miss you!

Paul was separated physically from the Thessalonian Christians, though not in thought as he continued to pray for them. Paul knew they would be facing trials and persecution (3:3). Yearning to know how they were doing, he sent his coworker Timothy to them. Timothy returned with a good and encouraging report (3:6). Knowing that the Thessalonians are enduring through persecution, Paul can say he only now is really living (3:8)! That is a powerful statement! Paul says he experiences life to the fullest when he knows the new Christians in Thessalonica are growing in their faith.

How are you doing? Are you growing in your faith this summer? What is the Holy Spirit teaching you? How are you facing the difficulties of being home with family and old friends?

Paul had to wait for Timothy to return with a report. Today we have email, telephone and Facebook. I would love to hear from you, to hear how life is going and to know how I can pray for you while we are apart physically. I desire to echo Paul, to be encouraged by a good report from you, to experience life to the fullest in knowing you are growing in your faith.

After receiving the report from Timothy, Paul writes this letter, telling the Christians in Thessalonica that he hopes to see them so he can add to what is lacking in their faith (3:10). Basically, this means Paul has more to teach them (and some of these teachings will come up in chapters 4-5). Likewise, I look forward to the day when we can be back together, having Bible study and worship, learning as a community how to live out faith on the college campus. We still have a lot to learn and work to do! Until that time, I leave you with the prayer Paul says for the Thessalonians in 3:11-13, a prayer that we could be saying for each other while we are apart physically:

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.