On Campus at PSU Berks

Since Penn State has no fall break, students go straight through from August until today, thirteen straight weeks of class with only labor day as a respite in early September.  But now they head home for a full week off.  They need a break.  I can definitely see their weariness in their eyes and body language over the last couple weeks.  The lucky students will have little work to do over break, the unlucky ones find themselves with assignments and projects to complete as professors pile on.  Either way, all of them get time at home with their families.

Of course, that can be a cause of stress too.  Many students are excited to see old family and friends.  Others return to difficult situations filled with conflict, inevitable harsh words and in some cases, hostility to their faith.  I can think of many members of CSF whose families are lukewarm to their faith, and in some cases are outright hostile.

I will be spending time praying for the students as they go home.  For some, I will pray that they can influence their families in a positive way, letting their light shine for Jesus Christ in the hopes that family members come to a relationship with God.  For others, I will pray that they have patience with family members, or strength as they spend the first holiday with divorced parents and thus go to two Thanksgiving dinners.  For them all I pray they get rest and also finish some work if necessary.

 

 

On Campus at PSU Berks

Today the Gideons are making their bi-annual visit to campus to hand out Bibles to students.  I am sure most are familiar with the Gideons because of the Bibles found in many hotel rooms.  They do something so seemingly simple, handing out Bibles, but such acts can change people’s lives.

Two years ago one student, Josh, received a Bible from one of the Gideons.  He has often said to me that this was one of the huge turning points in his coming to Christ.  It was not the only thing, but it was a major thing.  At the end of the school year Josh had given his life to Christ, he has grown in his faith since then and this year he is serving as president of CSF.

So whenever the Gideons call to set up their Bible handout, I smile.  I smile because I know that lives can be changed today.

On Saturday, CSF students will be going into the community to ring bells for the Salvation Army’s Annual Christmas campaign.   One goal of mine is for CSF students to get into the community in tangible ways to serve and love others.  The students who are sacrificing their time on Saturday, important time since they are at a very busy point in the semester, make me proud.  These students will be joining many others to help change peoples’ lives this holiday season.

Finally, on Tuesday the students will be putting together shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.  Every year it is inspiring to see poor college students give of their money and time to show the love of Christ to others in a practical way.

I often say campus ministry is about students demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ on campus, in the surrounding community and to the ends of the earth.  Partnering with these three organizations in the next week illustrates how this happens.

 

There is always a bad egg

As a student at Penn State I always enjoyed reading the Daily Collegian.  I still enjoy reading it every now and again online.  During football season I read the football coverage each Monday.  Inevitably after a loss, people write in complaining about all the problems with the Penn State football program.

I have noticed another pattern.  Almost without fail after each home game, win or loss, there are two types of letters that show up.  The first goes something like this:

“I am an alumni who graduated in 1985.  This past weekend I brought my kids up to the game and I am appalled at how current students act!  We were riding the bus around town and heard a group of students swearing with no regard for my children.  The student section was not filled until halftime.  It is a disgrace.”

Sometimes these letters come from visiting fans who were harassed verbally, having their visit to State College ruined, and vowing never to come again.   Then there is another kind of letter:

“I am a resident of Michigan who traveled to PA this weekend to watch the game.  Other than the fact that my beloved Wolverines lost again, I had a wonderful time!  Everyone was so nice to me, welcoming me to State College.  People invited me to their tailgates; I lost count of how many free beers I got.”

It is intriguing how people could be at the same event and have such different experiences.  The obvious reason for this is that in a crowd of 110,000 people, not to mention the many students and visitors who do not go to the game but spend the whole day tailgating, there are going to be a few bad eggs.  Every single college town will have some idiots who drink too much, say stupid things, and maybe even throw some stuff.  Some people will witness this and make assumptions on the general decline in civility of college students nowadays.  But most people will have a nice time, experience the many decent, friendly students, and go home with good memories.

This reminds me of the church.  There are many negative stereotypes of Christians on college campuses.  And certainly some Christians live up to the labels “hypocrite”, “judgmental” and so on.  In the same way that the stereotype of drunk PSU students who act like idiots on football weekends has plenty of examples to reinforce it, so the negative stereotypes of Christians find reinforcement too.  Yet most Christians are not like this.  Most Christians on campus are hard workers, friendly, caring people who are trying to live and love like Jesus.

This is where I would usually write a “now here is how to fix it…”  Not today.  The more time I spend in campus ministry, the more I realize this is kind of how the church has always been and how it will always be.  Just as there will always be a few rowdies who will give a bad impression of Penn State to some people, there will always be people (and perhaps on our bad days, I am included in such people) who give a bad impression of Christians.  This is one of those things we simply cannot control.  What we can control is how each of us acts as individuals, and how we encourage the community around us to act.

Rather than worrying about things we cannot control, let’s focus on what we can.  If you’re at a football game you can’t control the guy acting like a drunken idiot 20 rows behind you.  But you can be friendly to visitors and fans of the other team.  Hopefully they will realize there are more friendly people like you in the crowd.  In the same way, you can’t control every Christian in the world, let alone your community or church (and even if you could, you probably shouldn’t!).  But you can influence the people around you for Christ.  Be a good egg.

On Campus at PSU Berks

Last week was question and answer week.  First on Monday I was the guest on Get Some, an on campus television show focused on issues of health and human sexuality.  The theme last week was sexuality and spirituality.  About thirty people showed up, most of whom did so to fulfill a requirement for class.  Alice, the campus nurse, asked the first question right around six pm…and before I knew it the half hour was over!  After this there was a time for people in the audience to interact.  The students were shy.  I thought it was perhaps awkward for them to ask questions about sex to a pastor, but Alice said they were always quiet.  When the first student to ask a question got a free t-shirt, a few other students found the courage to ask things.  Interestingly, the first question was what I think about Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

All in all, it was a fun night.  I was very nervous going in but I think I did my best.  Alice said I did great and thinks I should be the guest again in the spring.  We’ll see…

On Thursday for CSF we decided to do a question and answer night.  In the past I would partner with a student, Dillon, but he has graduated and moved to Houston.  Therefore, I invited Guy Ridge, a friend and associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church, to help out.  We had a good variety of questions, a decent turnout and some fun interchanges.  This is always a helpful night for students.

One thing I find interesting is that every time we do one of these for the last couple years, someone asks about the world ending in 2012!  I am not sure if they really think it will, I am just surprised that of all things that is the most consistent one.  The other one that always comes up is some variation of whether Jesus is the only way.

I think the questions asked on these two nights provide a window into the spiritual beliefs on college campuses.  As a Christian pastor, it is easy to say the Westboro Baptist Church does not represent real Christianity.  Yet, they get on television and cause people to wonder, is that what Christians really believe?  Along the same lines, many Christians speak with a certainty that the end is near…will it be in 2012?  Finally, when it comes to basic Christian beliefs, such as the uniqueness of Jesus…is Jesus really the only way?

These questions illustrate some of the challenges for reaching college students specifically and young people in general.  It is a challenge and I am honored to be called to work on campus to seek to meet it.