Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pondering New Life In Christ In Today's College Environment

I know I titled this as an article of a magazine or even a paper, but hey, what can I say, I enjoy academia even when I'm not "in" it. =)

I was talking with a student the other day and they said something that stuck with me. It struck me as peculiar when they said it, but I just dismissed it in my head and moved on in the conversation. The truth is, however, it's something that I haven't truly been able to fully get over and has resurfaced and commanded my attention (often more times than I would like). It's also a startling confirmation of the mindset that I believe many American college students who claim to be Christians today have developed. The student said that even though much of what the college campus life views as 'fun' is probably not what we should do as Christians, God still wants us to enjoy life. So sometimes that means as long as we don't go overboard and do the really bad stuff, it's okay to indulge a little and enjoy ourselves, after all, we're saved. This isn't verbatim by any means, but this was the general impression that they were leaving.

Now I know that if you're reading this and you're not college age, this might sound obvious to you that there are some faulty beliefs here. This might even be apparent if you're reading this and you are college aged. However the thing that you have to understand (and that even though I'm not THAT far away age-wise from these guys, I've begun to understand), is that college and the atmosphere that comes with it demands a lot from students (This is being echoed currently by some University officials which you can read about in this article). Yes the stresses of pursuing a degree and all that jazz have always been a big part of the life of a college student, but today these stresses have become amplified. It demands more and more every semester, all the while planting the idea/thought that IT is all that matters during the time that you spend there (it can also be stated as they believe that 'THEY' are all that matter... [i.e. get a degree so THEY can get a job, etc]). It's no wonder to me why students like the one I talked with desperately seek for enjoyment in places that are easily available to them. With all their time being demanded by school (not to mention if they have a job(s) and/or a significant other), they often settle for the closest, 'safest' (and when I say 'safest', I'm speaking in terms of doing stuff with friends and people that they know) and 'coolest' things (i.e. parties, bar hopping, etc.) to entertain themselves or escape the pressures of school/life. Yet this doesn't settle well with me, at least in terms of living life as a Christian (ESPECIALLY in your college years) with this mindset.

When I hear a student reference Jesus' words from John 10.10 (the verse students often point to about how Jesus wants us to enjoy life), I typically never hear it interpreted in light of one of Jesus' other sayings regarding how those who follow him should experience life (i.e. Luke 9.23-24). Yes Jesus did say that "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly," but he also said "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." When we come to Christ, we experience a change, and I'm not talking about JUST a change of attitude. We literally become a new creation (2 Cor. 5.17). Our old self/life is officially dead and done away with. That's one of the biggest reasons that I love why when a person chooses to surrender their life to Christ, they get baptized (it's a time when their old life is buried in a grave of water, and the rise to a 'new(-ness) of life'... (Rom. 6.4)... they 'live' the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus... they EXPERIENCE the Gospel!).

It seems to me that this reality of a "new life" is completely missing from much of this generation of college students' theology. It doesn't help either that there is an influx of college students who are increasingly interested in American politics. I'm not saying that's bad in and of itself, but when politics becomes the 'medium' a person invests in more so than faith, things get skewed. Living in a country where 'rights' are the things we fight over (sometimes even killing [literally and metaphorically] over), it's often times VERY difficult for a person (especially a college student) to comprehend the concept of taking those very rights (which they often times fight for through very heated dialogue), laying them down, and then walking away without looking back. Martin Luther once wrote about the importance of government and how important it is that Christ-followers occupy positions (because of the very nature of WHAT a Christ-follower is), but I can't help but wonder what he might say today concerning how so much of our interests in politics center specifically on 'an individual's rights.'

This new life that we receive from Christ (the one that's redeemed and forgiven) is the life that Christ came to grant to us (by pure grace) and have us enjoy (John 10.10b). The old life that we left behind when we surrendered to Christ as our Savior, is the life that the thief stole, killed, and destroyed (as we were slaves to sin and were 'dead' ... [Ephesians 2.1]). This 'life-switch' is what the Gospel is about. Jesus came to 'switch out' our old, dead, sin-enslaved life with a new, forgiven, and sanctified one. With this being said, I believe it's a little anti-Gospel to say that this new life that we have graciously been given by Christ Himself is ours to do the things with that our old life enjoyed. Jesus' role of Savior is closely tied with His role as Lord. "If anyone wishes to come after Me [and accept the life that I give abundantly], then he MUST deny himself [his life... i.e. the old life that's now dead], and take up his cross DAILY and follow Me."

This is why so much of the 'old' life is incompatible with the 'new.' Our old life (and the things we 'enjoyed' [I use that term loosely]) is gone. If we understood the cost of how we were able to 'start over' and receive new lives, I truly believe we would take a hard look at the things we do. What I mean is this. If the things we 'enjoyed' (again... loosely) in our old lives contributed to (and in actuality continually brought us to the point of) our death, and we have been given literally the GREATEST gift ever, and new life (that's ALIVE), WHY would we even WANT to go back and do the things (or even mess with the things for that matter) that destroyed our former life and were killing us?!?

On another note (but one that's intrinsically intertwined with this mindset), it also troubles me sometimes when I hear well-meaning people seem to offer 'excuses' to these students (i.e. 'their primary focus should be on school while they're in college') rather than words of encouragement to focus on their relationship with Christ, even above school. I understand the desire to want to do well (whether it be to not waste money or because they're wanting to pursue a career in something) but I fail to understand that if a person TRULY pursues Christ with ALL of his/her life, and submits to Him not only as their savior but also as their Lord, that they would still put 'school' ahead of their faith. The way I see/read it, there's no chronological clarifying statement on Jesus' expectations (i.e. give me everything, except when you're in college or need to have something else above me for a time). Why is it that when students need our encouragement to press on in keeping Christ first, even in the face of ever increasing stress by way of school, we offer excuses (i.e. "it's okay that you skip opportunities to participate in the community that is the body of Christ or opportunities to put your faith into practice if you have a lot of work to do for your classes..."). Once again, I think of it like this. We have been given the GREATEST gift EVER! Our gratitude ALONE should cause us to WANT to be around the One who saved us (gave us this new life) 24/7!!! That doesn't mean that there isn't any value or worth in these other things, because there are. What I am saying, however, is that the value and worth of these things pales in comparison to Christ.

I know I'm just one person, and you might be tempted to simply view this gigantic 'word-vomit' simply as just another poor, misguided fool's musings about the world around him. But let me ask you this, what if something I've rambled about here is true? What if the college years of a person's life TRULY are the most formative years of their lives (and their faith)? What if by giving students excuses to 'check-out' of their faith for short periods of time (often times in good intentions... [i.e. get school work done]), we've also unintentionally opened the door for them to develop the idea that maybe Christ really isn't as important as we've all been told?

I'm not an 'professional' expert. There are PLENTY of things in life and faith that I still don't know (and I'm not ashamed to admit that). I try to make it my passion and purpose to solely pursue Christ with every waking moment of my [new] life. Some days I succeed, and others I don't, but the one thing I hope that when people look at me, they see a person rehabilitating ((re)learning how to live [this new] life with Christ first) with the Holy Spirit as my "physical therapist" (guide).

Just some thoughts to wrestle with.

Musing on,

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Blog Update

Of the course of its lifespan, this blog has underwent a number of changes. Each change has lead to a very different 'blogging experience', some good and some not so much. Recently however, I came to the conclusion that it was time for yet another change. I recently have been feeling the conviction to get back into the practice of writing blogs. I've also always found myself pondering questions that I thought it would be fun to share with people and have them join me in wrestling with them. That being said, I never really blogged on my ideas and questions because I would always forget about them whenever I had time to blog. I've decided to adopt a practice that many of my former professors mentioned when I was in school and that some of my friends currently do to help with that. Are you ready to hear what that is? Here it comes.... I'm going to write it down and blog on it when I have my next free time! What a novel concept right? All joking aside, I think this is going to be exciting for me, and hopefully for you as well. This being said, however, there are probably going to be times when I write something that might 1) not make sense to you (let's be real... if my teaching is any indication of my ability to rationalize things in a coherent way, you'll be lost 95% of the time when reading this thing... =) ...) or 2) create a little bit of tension. This being said I wanted write this blog post as a disclaimer and let it serve to prepare you and help you understand a little bit as to why I am doing this. The biggest reason I'm doing this is to once again be involved in the create writing realm (a big reason for my desire for this is because I have found that it helps me wrestle with creativity and come up with new ways to explain things and looking at things). However a secondary reason for this is that I'm going to open up this blog for the college students to be able to read, and one of my core values in ministry is critical thinking. I want to present them with an environment where they can ask questions and get responses, where they can read my thoughts or insights (as unimpressive as they may be) on particular passages or theological concepts that I've been mulling over, in hopes that maybe SOMETHING they read or interact with will help them grow closer to Christ. Maybe it will be the simplest of concepts or maybe it'll be the most complicated idea. Regardless, my life's desire is that when people interact with me (whether it be in person or through some sort of digital interface), they not only see Christ but they move closer to Him. I hope that you will enjoy reading, wrestling with, and interact with this 'new' blog just as much as I hope to. I will continue to add reviews of books that I've been reading via Goodreads (which if you don't know what that is, CHECK IT OUT!... It's like social media for book-readers!!) I will also periodically add in some kind of ministry update, but let's be honest... I struggled with those on here, haha.. (but hey, maybe that will change too!!!). =)  Here's to the 'new' and... (hopefully).... the faith-enriching direction of my blog. As always, thanks for reading!! =)