I want to apologize for not writing in a while. I have been getting ready for a new baby and taking care of my extended family. While I like to blog thoughts and ideas, my blog is not high on my priority list when it comes to family, projects, and ministry. However, I was talking to Crystal, one of my co-workers at Soma, about how some students never seem ready for life outside of school, or life beyond the preparation years of high school and college.
This conversation reminded me of a game I used to play as a kid. All children play it, I'm sure. The game is hide-and-seek and while there are several variations to it, there are a few things that are standard. First, there is a designated person to be "it" and he or she counts to a preselected number and then he or she will come search for everyone who is hiding. Second, everybody else has a simple task -- find a place to hide in the amount of time given and don't get caught. If you get caught, then you have to be the one searching for everybody in the next round.
Of course, there is that critical moment of time where the person who is "it" announces, "Ready or not...here I come!" and the children who have not managed their time well will dive into a crevice or just lay down in the middle of the field.
I personally believe that in life we have periods to prepare for whatever it is that life will throw our way. That period of time is not infinite and sometimes I think I hear life tell me, "Ready or not..."
I think graduation is a moment like that, whether it be high school or college...life is about to happen whether you're ready or not.
Having a baby is like that for sure!
So is most of life's biggest risks and rewards.
Back to the game - when I was ready, hidden, and knew I had done well -- "Ready or not..." was not a threat to me but a way of knowing that something cool was happening, the game (or round in the game) was about to happen. I had put myself in position to be successful. But when I was scrambling, trying to find my place, trying to slow my breathing because I had just settled into my spot--"Ready or not..." was a warning.
It is a simple game, but contains something we can take with us. When we take the time to prepare for the upcoming "round" of life, it is not scary or threatening, but a chance for success. Sure, life isn't a game and sometimes it hands you things that you didn't see coming. However, often the things we didn't see coming are more stressful and more dramatic because we haven't taken the time to prepare for what we know is coming, and the unexpected things have just piled on top of every day things!
So, "READY OR NOT...HERE I COME!" Are we prepared?? (Do I need to mention that Jesus will say this too someday... and there is preparation that needs to be done for that as well.)
So...Being a campus minster and all I think that part of my job description is to write on the topic of the transition from youth group to college and how to continue on the faith journey AWAY FROM HOME. My friend George Welty at White Station asked me to present a practical lesson on how seniors can stay connected to Jesus. Here are, what I think to be, the important things. However, I do need to caution that this is not a check list or a fail safe methodology. This is the bare minimum we can do to continue to grow spiritually in college. I like what Michael Pakaluk wrote in his article entitled “Keeping your faith in college”
“One obviously wrong presupposition is that keeping the faith is a matter of reading some good advice and putting it into practice. If that were true, then every reader of a diet book would be thin, and every subscriber to a golf magazine would shoot par. The basic problem is that when the advice would come in most handy, the person who needs it is not likely to consult it, or care enough about it if he did.”
Ok - so buckle yourself in because here we go...but reading this will do you no good unless you have the boldness to actually TRY them...
1. Growth - You must decide right now to stay faithful no matter what life throws in our direction and we must decide that we are still in the process of being changed to be more like Christ.
A traditional story:
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between 2 "wolves" inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith." The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
2. Focus - Sometimes you need to stop looking at the landscape so you can fix your gaze on the next important step you're about to take. If you start getting overwhelmed by life, stop trying to figure out the next 50 years and start trying to take the very next step. (And cut out the distractions)
Francis Chan writes in Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit:
“It is easy to use the phrase 'God's will for my life' as an excuse for inaction or even disobedience. ... My hope is that instead of searching for 'God's will for my life' each of us would learn to seek hard after 'the Spirit's leading in my life today.' May we learn to pray for an open and willing heart, to surrender to the Spirit's leading with that friend, child, spouse, circumstance, or decision in our lives right now.”
3. Mentors - Find older people you want to be like some day who are open to sharing their life with you. Ask them to intentionally help you stay faithful to Jesus and become more like Jesus.
We need to search for people who live like Paul, who said this:
1 Cor 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. 11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
4. Community - I want you to not buy into the lie that colleges are to blame for your faith decisions, nor are they the reason for your spiritual growth. No matter where you go to college there will be opportunities to engage in authentic Christian community and cheap substitutes... you need to know the difference!
When Paul talks about community that produces freedom in the New Testament, he assumes: (from Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, 25.)
...from certain things like sin and Law and death and spiritual powers
...for certain things like doing right, following Jesus, and suffering
...resulting in a personal and life-giving experience of liberty
...upon Christ, who provides the hope of Salvation
...upon the Spirit, who gives us our gifts so we can participate in the life of
...with others, since liberty leads to service and can only be practically applied
to other people’s needs
...with the world, since all of creation will experience the transformation along
with those of us in Christ
...there is an interplay between the social and the cosmic, the personal and the
public, the human and the divine.
If you are trying to follow Christ but feel enslaved by a community, it’s probable that you have not found a settlement of the Kingdom of God on your campus.
5. Study - Yes, it is important to read your books and actually get the education that you are paying for, but I think it is also important to take your questions and new ideas to the Bible. We need to know what the Bible says about that... whether it’s drinking alcohol, the role sex plays in our relationships, sin of any sort, or even a decision we are about to make like declaring a major, finding a spouse. Don’t neglect the Word, because
America’s favorite Bible Verse is "God helps those who help themselves," which originates from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac
Remember the words of Paul to Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
6. Experience - I here it all the time from the University of Memphis, they are no longer marketing an education, but an experience to students. I mean, you have heard it too...
The Great Commission says this: Matt 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Notice that this doesn’t ask you to know more but to be about the experience of the Christian life, which involves knowing but doesn’t stop at that point.
7. BUILD - understand that you, in your first 18 years of life, have been given a foundation upon which to build. And this transition out of youth group and out of mom and dad’s house is a chance for you to take what you have been given and use it as you build your life.
Finally, we come to the way Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 7:
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
I want to end with another quote from Michael Pakaluk, he wrote
“No one writes books on how to avoid losing your faith on the golf course, or working in the insurance agency, or spending time with your family. College after all is education. Education is supposed to build up, not attack...So what is wrong with this "education" which has the tendency to tear down the most important human goods (like faith)?”
Go to college understanding that your faith is good, and that your faith journey is a inherently good part of who we are. Education, ultimately, is suppose to help you build your thoughts, skills, and character although there has been a tendency to ignore the third part of this triad. College can be a place in which your faith is tested and tried, but it can also be a place where your faith become your own and where you faith begins to help you find your mission in this world full of opportunity.
I often turn to the book "God is no Fool" by Lois Cheney for some good insights. It is a book full of small devotional writings and prayers, each numbered chronologically. So, there is no categorical topics or anything, but I recently came across reading 35 as I thought about what to say to my fellow colleagues for a staff devotional. Here is the reading from the book (which I recommend you buy) and some personal thoughts as I reflected on the reading as a minister and believer.
First the reading from "God is no Fool"
I once knew a man who had been given a very special gift, In his particular field he had the heart and ability of an artist. And more impressive was that this art was dedicated to its giver, Christ. As this man's life unfolded, so did his gift, and he seemed very special in the eyes of God and man.
How important is it to rediscover our original purpose for getting started in the first place? Remember feeling the calling of God? Remember the first time you did something and realized that you had been discovered.
I remember those first few sermons that I prepared, organized, and created. They were probably terrible, but for me they were works of art. The audience responded graciously to my attempts and I realized that I liked creating sermons. I liked teaching. I remember the first time I performed a song, and understood that I could interpret the song in my own voice, in my own way. For you it might be something else, but do you remember the moment that you knew you had a gift and that gift wad something that you were going to nurture and develop and hold as sacred -- it was from God.
Yet, sometimes the biggest distractions from keeping our eyes on Jesus and using our own special gifts from God are not all of the evils and sins and wickedness of the world, but the people we tend to hang out with - family, friends, and even our church body -- as they share with us their problems and issues and needs. And we realize that they are not asking us to create art for them, but solutions...
In Acts 6, some problems arose regarding food distribution for widows in the church. The ministry team met and decided, "It is not right that we should neglect the Word of God in order wait on tables." WOW - did you hear that? These leaders selected seven men, popular with the church, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, to wait on the tables of the widows. The Bible tells us that the ministry team devoted themselves to prayer and the word.
You are the keeper of your very special gift. You are the artist who produces art for the Lord. The thing is, the artist knows when the piece is just good and when the piece is HOLY. I know when a sermon or teaching is just ok, and when it is inspired as if I am a direct line between God and the audience that needs to experience Him. Your friends, family and the church might not notice, but you will...because it's your art...your gift.
Do not be conformed to the pattern...But create art...Beautiful...Holy...Sacred art for our Lord as he intended you to do when he gave you the gift.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.