And Then Penn State Lost to Temple…

Last Saturday the Penn State football team did something that has not happened since 1941 – they lost a game to Temple.  Temple?  Really?

I did not watch it, we took the kids to visit my dad and is wife at a campground they were staying at.  Hiking around the woods with the little ones was much more fun than watching that game.

But I checked Twitter and was surprised to see Penn State lose.  Of course, people were shocked.  People were angry.  Other, non-Penn State people thought it was funny.

What very few people mentioned, when talking about Penn State, was that same night the women’s volleyball team began their national title defense.  The women’s volleyball team is a juggernaut; their title last year was their seventh and a few years ago they had a 109 game winning streak.

Of course, the audience for women’s volleyball is quite small.  Football dominates our culture.  College football is basically a minor league for the NFL and the only thing most people know about most universities is in relation to their football teams.  So if a friend of mine from seminary out in Illinois, or a pastor friend who grew up in Columbus, or any local person who just has an irrational hatred for Penn State, gives me a hard time for the loss to Temple, my bringing up our excellence in women’s volleyball does not score me many points.  But as a Penn State alum, I am proud of those ladies and their successes in the name of our school.

I imagine we’re all like this when we think about our roots, where we have come from.  We are all proud of things in ways that outsiders do not care about and may even laugh at.  When I was in Detroit over the summer with a group of students we got a tour from a lifelong resident of the city.  According to her the best pizza place, donut place AND coffee place are all in Detroit.  Her pride for her city was clear, even if we outsiders did not see it.

I attended Penn State for four years then, a few years later, returned to lead the Christian ministry at the Berks campus.  I’ve been hanging around here, talking to students, for a decade now.  That means that fourteen years of my life (2/5) has been spent focusing on Penn State campuses.  Holy cow!

When I think of Penn State then, my first thought does not go to Beaver Stadium and football.  My thoughts go to the students I’ve gotten to know over the years.

 

I think of students who led worship for the first time at CSF and now lead regularly at churches.

I think of students who met at CSF and went on to get married.

I think of students who made faith commitments for the first time, or renewed their commitment as the faith of their parents truly became theirs.

I think of groups of Penn State students traveling throughout the country to bring blessing to places destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.

I think of playing games and praying, of eating and arguing, of laughing and encouraging.

So yeah, going to a football game is a fun way to spend a Saturday in the fall.  But it is a tiny part of what is going on at Penn State.  Much more is going on on our campus, on all campuses.  The Holy Spirit is working, and will continue to work, not just on this campus but all over the country.  What the football teams do may make the headlines, but what really matters happens every day where there are no cameras and little glamour, but the most long-term affects.

 

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Follow University Rules and Things Go Fine

Dealing with university rules can be a pain at times.  Whether you want to have food for an event, bring in a guest speaker, pass out information on your group or just about anything else on campus, there is loads of red tape.

Hoops to jump through.

Forms to sign and date.

It can be a pain.  It can be frustrating.  It can seem like so much waste of time, even to the point where you wonder if the university is just some sort of sadistic monster who enjoys inflicting pain.

But here’s the thing – in most cases if you work your way through all the necessary forms and red tape, the university is helpful and treats everyone fairly.  I can only speak of my experience, working at Penn State Berks for ten years, but in my experience if you do what is expected of you then the university is okay with you doing whatever you want.

This was on my mind because the other day I was driving with my kids and channel surfing on the radio.  I found one conservative commentator who was speaking to a college student and recommended this student go to a few websites to find community with like-minded conservative college students.  Later that day I spent some time perusing one of these sites and the very first article I found was titled:

“YAL Students Confronted While Passing Out Constitutions.”

Ouch, that sounds bad.  An attack on freedom and liberty!  Then I read the subheading and the second bullet point states: “The group is not yet registered with the university.

Well that changes things.  Reading on:

“Hello, I work at the university. Let me just give you the low down about what you’re allowed to do when it comes to ‘solicitation’ on a college campus. This is a public space, but within our confines we are allowed to choose what can be here, and we do that through a process of applying to be in the public space,” the employee said.

After the students conceded that they did not have a form giving them permission to hold their event on campus property, they were told, “there is a system through which you can absolutely do all of this. Absolutely. But you have to go through the university policy.”

When asked if there is a reason that students should need permission to demonstrate on campus, the employee responded, “[y]es, there is. So, anybody from a student organization wants to be out on the ground…It’s known as a reservation. They’re not going to deny you, sir; I guarantee you.”

At this point, the correct thing to do is politely say thank you, walk away and work on becoming a registered student organization.  What the students actually did was refuse to follow the rules and, basically, demand special treatment.

Penn State Berks has “free speech zones.”  If someone wants to come on campus and hand out Bibles (as the Gideons do) or yell at students that they are going to hell (as has been done before) they can do so in a few specific areas.  No one likes being yelled at, but it is allowed.  Why have such zones, someone might ask?  The answer is simply that students need to be kept safe and get to class.  Should people be allowed to stand in the middle of a busy walkway, blocking students from getting to Calculus, so he can yell from his soapbox?

I do  not know if the members of this group that thinks they are being treated unfairly are Christians or not.  But as Christians, it seems clear to me that we ought to submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13) and, beyond that, not expect special treatment.  So my advice to these entitled students would be to do what the university requires to become registered and then hand out their constitutions.  There is real persecution in the world, but not getting your way all the time is not it.

Explaining College Ministry to a Four Year Old

11951486_10153969197071564_3944124659357816490_o“Daddy, why are you giving bags to the students?”

We were driving home from campus earlier tonight when Junia asked me this question.  Last Friday we had gone to a church to help put items into care packages for the PSU Berks students.  Junia excelled at this, marching through the assembly line and filling each bag with soda, ramen, granola bars, crackers, markers and tablets.  Then today she went with me as we transported hundreds of these gift bags from the drop site (another church) to campus.  In the midst of large men carrying anywhere from four to ten bags at once, Junia consistently carried her two, making sure to work hard and do her part.

Unfortunately it was getting late for her, so I took her home before we actually got to hand them out.  Then she asked me why we do it.  As I thought about how to answer, anticipating other questions she might ask, I realized how difficult it is to explain these sorts of things to a child.

“Well sweetheart, Daddy works with the college students, you know that right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, my job is to help the students learn more about Jesus and God.  We want the students to know that God loves them so one way we do this is giving them a bag of free goodies.”

“How does giving them a bag show them that?”

“Well, you know how when you love someone you sometimes give them a present, like at Christmas?  One way we show we care about other people is by giving them presents.  So we give them gift bags to show them we care about them and to help them know God cares about them and loves them.  Does that make sense?”

“Yes.”

“And you know what, when you go to college it is probably the first time you have lived away from home.  A lot of the students have lived with their mommies and daddies their whole lives.  Moving away from home can be scary, some of the students may be missing their families and friends.  We want to make them feel welcome at Penn State Berks, to help them know people out there care for them.  What do you think of that?”

“I think its nice!”

So there you go.  That’s why we do it, reduced to a way a four year old can understand.

By the time I got back to campus from dropping her off, the students were already handing them out.  As it is every year, it was a wonderful time.  Many students expressed gratitude and joy at receiving these bags, some were even shocked to get something for free.  Our prayer of course is that these bags remind the students that lots of people out there care about them and beyond that, that God cares for them.

Beloit College Mindset List , Class of 2019

Every year Beloit College releases their mindset list to give us a window on the world in which incoming freshman have grown up.  This list is always a fun and enlightening read.

When I speak to churches about campus ministry, I say that working with college students does require us to speak a new language in some way.  It is not quite the same as traveling to a foreign country and literally learning a new language.  But we are shaped by our culture and times and there are assumptions and experiences people in my generation have had that are totally different then the generation ahead of or behind mine.  For example, with every year the terror attacks of September 11 become a more distant memory.  Everyone alive then can remember where they were at when they heard, but soon it will be an item for history books.

Here are some highlights from the list (or read the whole thing):

https://stats.g.doubleclick.net/dc.jshttps://admissions.beloit.edu/pinghttp://../../js/buttons.js// http://../../js/modernizr.jsThe Mindset List: 2019 List/jquery/jquery_latest.js<!–//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.11.1/jquery.min.js–>/jquery/jquery_latest.js<!–/reason/js/jquery.reasonAjax.js–>

3. They have never licked a postage stamp.

4. Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.

5. Four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park.

7. They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.

9. The announcement of someone being the “first woman” to hold a position has only impressed their parents.

10. Charlton Heston is recognized for waving a rifle over his head as much as for waving his staff over the Red Sea.

11. Color photos have always adorned the front page of The New York Times.

13. “No means no” has always been morphing, slowly, into “only yes means yes.”

14. Cell phones have become so ubiquitous in class that teachers don’t know which students are using them to take notes and which ones are planning a party.

16. Their parents have gone from encouraging them to use the Internet to begging them to get off it.

18. They have avidly joined Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione as they built their reading skills through all seven volumes.

 

22. Phish Food has always been available from Ben and Jerry.

24. When they were born, cell phone usage was so expensive that families only used their large phones, usually in cars, for emergencies.

25. The therapeutic use of marijuana has always been legal in a growing number of American states.

26. The eyes of Texas have never looked upon The Houston Oilers.

27. Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online.

35. At least Mom and Dad had their new Nintendo 64 to help them get through long nights sitting up with the baby.

36. First Responders have always been heroes.

37. Sir Paul and Sir Elton have always been knights of the same musical roundtable.

38. CNN has always been available en Español.

39. Heaven’s Gate has always been more a trip to Comet Hale-Bopp and less a film flop.

40. Splenda has always been a sweet option in the U.S.

43. Humans have always had implanted radio frequency ID chips—slightly larger than a grain of rice.

44. TV has always been in such high definition that they could see the pores of actors and the grimaces of quarterbacks.

46. The proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.

47. They had no idea how fortunate they were to enjoy the final four years of Federal budget surpluses.

48. Amoco gas stations have steadily vanished from the American highway.

49. Vote-by-mail has always been the official way to vote in Oregon.

50. …and there has always been a Beloit College Mindset List

Should Christians be searching for further Experiences of the Holy Spirit? (Weekly Word)

This summer I am going to dedicate each Friday to questions that students have asked me about God, faith and such.  Some of these questions come were forwarded to me from Christian students or their skeptical friends.  Others are questions that I have been asked in some way, shape or form many times.  I do not claim to offer the final answer on any of these questions, though I do hope to offer something helpful.

 

Is the baptism of the Holy Spirit an altogether separate event from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon conversion?

Follow up: Are the gifts of the Spirit as listed in 1 Cor. 12/14, for every believer or those whom have been baptized in the Spirit?

This is clearly a question of interest for Christians and not secular people.  Christian belief in the Trinity teaches that there is one God who exists as three equal persons.  The first person, God the Father, sends the second person, God the Son into the world.  Jesus then is the human face of God, God in the flesh (incarnation).  When Christians today put faith in Jesus and are baptized, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us (indwells).

But is there a further experience of the Holy Spirit we should expect?

Honestly, this is not an issue I’ve really ever worried about or thought about.  The ways the New Testament speaks of the Holy Spirit differ.  Some Christians parse out, or seek to systematize, these differences, leading to conclusions that there is a second blessing of the Spirit, a baptism of the Holy Spirit, at a time after conversion.  I think such nuances are practically unnecessary, akin to splitting hairs.

So my answer to the first question above would simply be a combination of “I don’t know” and “I don’t think it matters.”  When I read that question, it sounds like an attempt to mechanize the work of God in the world.  It is an attempt to take the messiness of a life lived following Jesus, empowered by the Spirit, and make it a formula.  Along with that, I think such debates are rooted in an over-emphasis on spiritual experiences and feelings.

Here’s what happens: A person is baptized as a Christian but does not feel any different.  So, they are told, they need some further experience in which they will be baptized in the Spirit.  But once that experience too comes and goes, I fear people wander through life looking for the next experience, and the one after that, and so on.  The danger is that such a Christian may feel something is wrong with them, for they do not feel like they did when they were baptized in the Spirit, or at that retreat or revival.  The truth is, there is nothing wrong!  It is just that normal life following Jesus is filled with lots of mundane moments and spiritual highs are not the norm.

Living with God is to live in a relationship and human relationships cannot be reduced to easy formulas.  Take marriage.  I enjoy cooking dinner and my wife greatly appreciates this.  You may even say that me cooking dinner = happy wife.  For me though, cooking dinner includes a vigorous cleaning of the kitchen afterwards.  I struggle to relax the rest of the evening if dishes are not cleaned or in dishwasher, table is not wiped, leftovers not put away.  Most times my wife is fine with this.  But there are times when my cleaning obsession irritates her.  She wants me to just leave the mess for later so we can take a walk with the kids or go out for ice cream.  In cases such as these my formula (cooking dinner and cleaning up = happy wife), actually fails and may lead to an upset wife.

If you allow a formula or a mechanism to replace a real relationship of love and communication, you are missing the life God desires for you.

In Jesus we have everything we need.  I do not think you need some further experience or indwelling or baptism of the Spirit.  You put your trust in Jesus and are charged to follow Jesus, to go into the world.  So just go and do it.  

The Spirit is your strength as you go, but the Spirit does not come in magical ways.  The Spirit is akin to fuel for the journey and I think we experience the Spirit in a million little ways – reading some scripture in the wee morning hours, worshiping with the saints on Sunday morning, sharing a beer with the saints around a cookout on a Sunday night, serving at a soup kitchen, dropping off food for a new mother or a grieving widow, helping a neighbor repair a fence, praying on the way to work…

The Spirit is always there.  We have all we need in Jesus.  Let’s not over think it (though late night theological debates about the Spirit are not bad, and can also be places to meet the Spirit). Let’s just go do it.

PS. I never answered the second question.  I think we are all naturally gifted in certain areas and not others but I also think you can pursue new gifts (as 1 Corinthians 12:31 says, eagerly desire greater gifts). But even here I think we ought to beware of simple formulas.  Not every spiritual gift is listed here.  Further, it would be a shame, though just like us living in a scientific culture, to take this beautiful poetic writing and make it a to-do list.

Why Does God Favor Certain People? (Weekly Word)

This summer I am going to dedicate each Friday to questions that students have asked me about God, faith and such.  Some of these questions come were forwarded to me from Christian students or their skeptical friends.  Others are questions that I have been asked in some way, shape or form many times.  I do not claim to offer the final answer on any of these questions, though I do hope to offer something helpful.

I have heard this question posed many ways over the years.  Most recently I was having a, mostly friendly, discussion with an old friend on Facebook.  He was voicing many problems he has with Christianity.  One of them is that God seems favor white people.  I corrected him as far as pointing out that the majority of people in scripture were not “white” as the action centers on Africa, Asia and the Middle East.  For centuries after the Bible most Christians were located in this region, the idea of Christianity as a white religion came much later.

But beyond that, I knew what he was really getting at.  Why did God only reveal himself to the Jews?  What about people living in Australia or South America?  Its a good question.  I have a few thoughts that may point us towards an answer:

1. God’s special revelation to Israel/Jews did not mean they were God’s favorite – in actuality their election was for the benefit of the world.

When God called, or chose, Abraham in Genesis 12 the text says that “all nations on earth will be blessed through you.”  We see right away that God’s choosing of Abraham was not solely for his benefit, but with the hopes that the blessings would overflow to all people.  This hope was repeated to Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites.  Israel was actually warned against thinking their relationship to God meant they were God’s favorites and when they rebelled against God they faced the same punishment others faced.  Just one example, in Deuteronomy 9:4 God reminds them that they are not being given the land because of their own righteousness, they did not earn this gift.

Perhaps we may question God’s method, how God worked to bring blessing and salvation to the whole world.  Could there have been another way that might have worked better?  I doubt it, but I think that question is better focused since from the beginning of the scripture story we see that God does indeed care to be in relationship with the whole world.

2. Though other cultures did not receive special revelation, it does not mean God was absent

God was never absent from other cultures and anyone who desired to know the Truth was actually pursuing God.  We see glimpses of this in the scripture story as “outsiders” like Rahab (Joshua 2), Ruth and Namaan (2 Kings 5) are seen to be welcomed into relationship with God.  The important thing in all those cases is that God accepts them based on their limited knowledge.  In other words, God accepts them for who they are.  They probably had a lot of wrong or false beliefs about God, but their desire to know God was most important.

There is a great verse in Amos 9:7 – “”Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?” declares the LORD. “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?”  Here we see God reminding the Israelites that he has also worked among other peoples too.

Further, many of the early Christians believed that God was present in Greek cultures just as in Hebrew ones.  The Hebrews were prepared for the Gospel with the Law of Moses and the Greeks, they said, were prepared for the gospel of Jesus through Greek philosophy of Socrates and Plato.  The principle here is that wherever people find Truth they are finding God.

3. Those who “never heard” are not automatically doomed

I have been asked this question probably every year – what about those who never heard about Jesus?  Are they automatically sent to hell forever?  My answer – no.

The assumption of this question is that those who never heard were never able to believe in or accept Jesus.  They never said the right words or performed the right actions.  I am not going to say that these things are unimportant, but the danger in such assumption is we reduce a relationship with God to making sure we say the magic words perfectly.  God is not going to condemn people for not dotting their I’s or forgetting to cross their T’s.

In Hebrews 11 the author discusses people who had great faith prior to the coming of Jesus.  In the middle of the chapter we read: “13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance,admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.”  I think this passage helps.  These people, prior to Jesus, never were able to confess and believe “in Jesus.”  Yet they had a hope based on the limited knowledge they had.  I think we can apply this same idea to those who never heard.  

To put it most simply – we can trust that God is fair.  No one will be condemned for lack of knowledge.  God knows people’s hearts and what they desire.  God knows what people would choose if given greater knowledge.  In the end, we need to focus on what we know of God, on who God is revealed in Jesus, and I think we are on solid ground saying no one will suffer for all eternity because the message did not get to them clearly enough.

4. God desires a relationship with all people

Finally, and I am sure there is much more I can say, but I am a firm believer that the God revealed in Jesus truly is a God of Love.  God is so much better then we often imagine.  And God desires a relationship with all people.  When God visited this planet in the person of Jesus, not even death stopped him from accomplishing his mission.  I doubt, based on that, the geography of where Jesus’ followers are currently located will slow God’s Spirit down from accomplishing his.

5. God desires a relationship with you

I was going to end at four, but as I reread what I wrote I thought something more practical was in order.  It is important to take questions like this from the speculative to a more personal level.  We can spend all day ruminating over texts, trying to discern the fate of people in tiny villages on the other side of the world.

But in the end, the question facing us is what will we do with the person of Jesus?

Does God care about those people who have not yet heard?  Yes.

But God also cares about you, sitting right here talking with me.  We cannot do much, right now, about other hypothetical people but we can discuss you and I.  And the fact is, God loves and wants to be in relationship with both of us.

That’s what I’d want to leave a person with who asked this question.That’s what I’d want to leave a person with who asked this question.

Is God the Author of Sin? Part Two (Weekly Word)

This summer I am going to dedicate each Friday to questions that students have asked me about God, faith and such.  Some of these questions come were forwarded to me from Christian students or their skeptical friends.  Others are questions that I have been asked in some way, shape or form many times.  I do not claim to offer the final answer on any of these questions, though I do hope to offer something helpful.

So if God is all-powerful and creates everything, is God the author of sin?

My answer is no (and I think I have much of traditional Christian theology on my side).  God created humanity and gave humanity freedom and it was humans who chose sin.  Now some will not buy the difference there, they will simply say that since God is all powerful then God was the author of sin.  To such people I say, we will agree to disagree 🙂  I think, to use an illustration, that there is a huge difference between allowing a child who is learning to ride bike to fall and pushing her over.  In the same way, I think there is a huge difference between God allowing humans to choose sin and being the one who motivates them to choose sin.

Of course, if God knows the future and thus knows what humans will freely choose, is not God still guilty for allowing it to happen?  In other words, even if God did not put the idea in Adam’s head but merely knew what Adam would choose, God still could have stopped it.  And if we look at all the evil and suffering in the world, then we may say God should have stopped it.  If I know a terrorist will detonate a bomb and do nothing to stop it, even though I easily could stop it, most would say I am guilty of a crime.

Honestly, this question causes me to pause.  It causes me to pause because the world is an awful place much of the time.  How can a good and loving God look at holocausts and genocide and rape and violence and not step in?

If God causes it as some sort of ultimate determiner of everything, then God is a monster, no different then Satan.  If God allows it…that is where I struggle.  Why?  Why doesn’t God do more to stop it?  Its a tough question and it does not one any good to pretend it does not cut right to the heart of faith.  One answer that helps me a bit is remembering that I am finite and God is infinite.  Without all the information, I do not know.  In  my anger that God does not do more, I need to realize that perhaps God has already done quite a lot.  My daughter screamed and cried when she got shots as a baby, not understanding how much the vaccines would help her.  I imagine a lot of our suffering, if we saw things from God’s view, may be similar.

Beyond that, I look at the alternative.  If there is no God, then all those holocausts and rapes and genocides are pointless.  If there is no God, then suffering and violence just might have the last word.  But if there is a God, and further if this God is the God revealed in Jesus, then we have hope that a better day is coming.  Suffering is not the last word, resurrection and new life is.

To me then, it is a choice:

1. In the face of suffering and evil, I have a lot of questions for God but have confidence that Jesus showed the way to live and hope that when Jesus’ work is complete there will be no more evil.

2. In the face of suffering and evil, I reject God and despair because life is dark, hopeless and painful.

For a variety of reasons, I choose the first option.  Like so many questions, I do not think there is an air-tight answer nor do I expect all people with a rational mind to agree with me.  But, speaking from my perspective, which is all I can do, option one is much more satisfying.

Why I Am Always Reading a Book

I love to read.  Its a disease and its only getting worse.

I have always loved reading books – I have fond memories of Matt Christopher sports stories as a kid and then Star Wars novels as a teenager.  In college I discovered the Wheel of Time series as well as A Song of Ice and Fire (i.e. Game of Thrones, before it was cool).  Then as I moved towards a career in ministry, I began reading theology and church history.

I’ve spent the past ten years working in college ministry at Penn State Berks.  Here’s the thing: there is a lot of downtime in ministry.  Whether you are the pastor of a church or working on a college campus, it can be a solitary job.  Sure there are meetings with people, but there is a lot of time spent in an office or in front of a laptop.  Thus, time management is a vital skill to develop.

When I began ministry at PSU Berks I committed that I never wanted students to walk up to me when I was sitting in the library, student center or anywhere on campus and see me…wasting time. So if I am in a situation where I have finished work for the week’s Bible study, or a student has just left a meeting with me or if I am waiting for one to arrive, I will have a book out.  There are a variety of reasons for this, I offer three positives and one negative below:

I get my salary from donations from individuals and churches and I owe it to them to use my time well.

I remember having a conversation with an alum and he asked me point blank about playing games on the computer.  He remembered visiting a campus pastor while he was in college and it seemed like this pastor spent a lot of time playing Solitaire.  This was in the days before the internet sped up enough to allow users to watch Netflix and Youtube.  Either way, donors do not want to pay pastors to watch television and play games all day.

This is a big reason why I write reviews of books on my blog.  I doubt many people read them, but it is right there out in the open for donors to see.  The message I hope to convey is that I am using my spare moments to read and learn which will make me a better pastor and person.

 I am in an academic atmosphere so I might as well be constantly learning.  

One of the mottos of the seminary I attended was “lifelong learning.”  They reiterated this message over and over again, calling on us to be lifelong learners.  I loved seminary as it was there that I was introduced to so many subjects, books and authors who have continued to influence me.

Working on a college campus, I continue to be surrounded by ideas.  To be able to engage with intelligent students and brilliant faculty, I need to keep learning.  When we have a question and answer night, it will show if I do not know what I am talking about!

I realize the students will learn more from me by how I live then what I say

Many college students have poor time management skills.  They tend to spend a lot of time playing video games and watching Netflix.  It is one thing for me to encourage them to manage their time better.  It is another to set a good example in my actions.  If they see me playing games and watching Netflix this will set a bad example.  If they see me reading a book, this sets a better example.

Sometimes I’d Rather Read then Talk to People

I admit that reading comes easily to me.  I have always enjoyed reading.  All pastors have different gifts and while I think all ought to read something, how much each reads is up to them.  While reading comes easily to me, going up to strangers and engaging them in conversation may come more easily to others.

For me, especially when it feeds my introverted side, reading can become a distraction.  The risk is that I might rather read a book then talk to actual people!  There are some who have to force themselves to read, knowing it is good for their soul.  Others, like me, must force ourselves to put the book down and talk to people, knowing that is good for our soul.

So come visit me on campus and chances are I’ll have my nose buried in a book. But say hi and I will certainly talk with you!

 

Why I Don’t Give a Straight Answer to Every Question

“Yeah, but Dave, what do you believe is the right answer?”

One evening during our recent Spring Break trip I was sitting at dinner with two member of our team.   The student who asked this question is Heather.  Heather has been a member of CSF for over three years.  In that time I have gotten to know her well and I am impressed with her spiritual maturity and thirst to grow in her faith.  We have had many conversations, from debates over politics to arguing differences in our theological beliefs.

The discussion on this night moved from topic to topic – the college dating scene, gay marriage, the nature of hell and what it means, at its core, to be a Christian.  When Heather asked me what I thought about some of these topics, I would offer a couple different answers, honestly pointing out where sincere Christians differ.  If she shared a point, even one I agreed with, I would offer the opposing view, just to make her think.  After a while she got frustrated, wanting me to just tell her the answer!

But I have come to believe that simply telling people the answer, or at least what I think the true answer is, may not be all that helpful.  It is worth more to give a variety of viewpoints, to ask questions and keep the discussion going in order for the student to figure out what she thinks the answer is on her own.

That said, there are some subjects where I am much more willing to offer a clear-cut and definitive answer.  If someone asks me how to be saved or who Jesus is, I will answer and be more committed to my answer.  But on most other topics, on the sort of secondary issues that Christians disagree on, I may share what I think but I am more likely to work to get the student I am talking with to think things through.

The goal of campus ministry is to help students become more like Jesus, to grow and mature in their faith.  While I make no claims to be an expert, I have learned that this sort of change happens, and sticks for the long-term, when students begin to discover truth and Jesus and answers for themselves.  So maybe I am simply back at the old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching a man to fish.

My prayer in this is that Heather, and students like her, would continue to take the steps to grow in their faith.

 

Question and Answer Night (Weekly Word)

Last night we had a question and answer night at our CSF meeting.  Full disclosure – I am writing this at 5 PM, two hours prior to the event beginning, though this post will not go up till Friday.  So I do not know for sure what questions will be discussed.  But I do know that this is always a fun night filled with lots of ideas and dialogue and debate.

It is one of the nights that reminds me why I love campus ministry so much.

On Fridays on this blog I tend to write what I call “Weekly Words”.  These posts are intended for the college students in CSF, thus for Christian students on a secular campus.  Often I basically summarize what we discussed the night before, in case anyone was absent and wants to catch up.  I am thinking that, with summer break quickly approaching, that it would be fun to dedicate each Friday to answering some of the questions from our Q and A nights.  Or even answering new questions that come in via Facebook or email.

I have always hesitated at the title “question and answer” night though, because it seems presumptuous of me to imply I can offer a quick and easy answer to questions that have stumped people and caused debate for centuries.  We have moved to calling the night a “Spirituality and Religion Discussion” though that is vague enough that people ask what it means and the response is: “ask questions and pastor Dave will answer them.”  That said, I am always very clear that I am offering my opinion.  For some questions I offer what I believe is a straight up and certain answer.  Other questions I offer a variety of possible answers and encourage the students to pick one.  It depends on the question.

All that to say, if you have a question about God, religion or whatever, I’d love for you to send it in to me.  You can reach me via email (campusminister_dave@yahoo.com) or on Twitter (dmlhershey).  Starting in a few weeks, I’ll throw out some answers.

It should be fun!