Fueling Freedom from the Tyranny of Grades

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Fueling Freedom from the Tyranny of Grades

In a recent post, I argued that the enjoyment of the glory of God is the proper motivation for education, but that the pervading motivation of collegiate culture is that of obtaining good grades. I argued that the obtaining of grades as a primary motivation is mercenary, a concession to the waning wonder of the human mind. The grading system itself is an acknowledgment of that weakness, and a simultaneous acknowledgment of the fierce fire of competitiveness(or reputation-seeking) in that same human mind.

But in a culture where the pursuit of grades as primary is so widespread(and readily accepted), how does a Christian student walk against the current? Where does the fuel come from? The answer, many would say, is the gospel. And they would be right. But that answer has been given so often and so dismissively that the actual power can be missed. Let’s investigate the mechanism here. What does the gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, do to release us from the tyranny of grades? Here are a few angles:

1. The acceptance of our heavenly Father through Christ (and all that comes with that acceptance) frees us from the need to live for reputation.

The Corinthians were clearing living in a culture of academic prestige, where people were valued for their intelligence and eloquence. They were even boasting in being connected to the most intelligent and eloquent leaders. But Paul’s response was both pointed and deeply comforting:

“So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-- all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” - I Corinthians 3:21-23

Paul is simply saying that it’s silly to seek identity in a reputation greater than the one you have. It’s silly to try and gain more than everything. It’s like putting a penny on a heaping pile of gold. Or perhaps trying to borrow a piece of gold from that pile and put it on top.

2. The heinousness and forgiven-ness of our sin frees us to fail.

A 4.0 is often the ultimate dream of the raging perfectionist(and I am one). But failure is the backstory of our redeemed lives, as well as a normal current experience. God has so deeply humiliated us, both through our failure to keep his law and through the extreme measures needed to save us, that we have been left with nothing in our hands. Yet his ludicrous mercy has brought us into his family with robes of righteousness on our shoulders.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” - II Corinthians 12:9-10

So a less-than-perfect academic performance is not a surprise, nor is it a death-blow. It is a (backwardly) welcome demonstration of the strength of Christ.

3. The sufficiency of God’s grace through his Spirit enables us to work hard without the anxiety of self-exaltation.

Make no mistake, the apostle Paul was a hard worker. But he was not one who worked for the sake of earning his salvation. When we seek identity in grades, they become our “salvation.” When we have true salvation through someone else’s work, and grace purchased by that work, then we have no place to boast.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” - I Corinthians 15:10

So we can work hard as image-bearers of God, but not as credit-seekers. He gets the credit, and we get the joy of knowing him through the exercise of our brains.

4. The love of Christ for us empowers our love for others.

Love for a hurting world, rather than personal prestige(others’ love for us), certainly ought to be one of our deepest motivations for studying. In I John 4:19, John shoots from point blank range:

“We love because he first loved us.”

We are reservoirs of love, only overflowing when we have been filled. When we have a love deficiency, we will seek to draw love from the world. But when we have a love surplus, we will pour into the lives of others. So day in and day out, a personal filling with the love of Christ for us will see us listen to professors and take notes with the happy aim of sending Christ’s love into this world which is so needy for it.

In a culture that uses personal merit as a Machiavellian means to the end of knowledge and productivity, we are engaged in battle. We must “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind...” because there is deeper joy to be had in our educational process.

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The Key to Freedom

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The Key to Freedom

Most nights, I tell my daughters a bedtime story. Each story is meant to capture their imaginations and their hearts, but beyond that, to teach them a lesson about life in the kingdom of Christ. The following is a story I told them following a rather harrowing season of our eldest struggling with an inability to admit fault. (It has been only slightly modified from the original version.)

There was once a little girl who was strolling through the forest when she heard a raucous noise up ahead. As she made her way toward the sound, she was able to make out the telltale signs of a party: celebratory music, overlapping conversations, belly laughs, and the clinking of glasses.

She turned a corner and was taken aback by what she saw. There was certainly a party, the likes of which she had never seen. “Feast” or “jubilee” was perhaps a more fitting name. An enormous wooden table was piled high with all her favorite foods: pickles, dill pickle chips, chicken tacos, Chinese food, cheeseburgers with bacon on them, and every cake imaginable(these are the particular favorites of my daughters--feel free to insert yours). A hundred people or more were delightedly eating, drinking, and dancing, all huddled in a fairly tight space. They bumped into one another regularly, but their smiles never faded. They simply addressed each incident with a quick, “Oh, I’m sorry!” or “My fault!” and kept right on dancing or talking. They didn’t seem to begrudge a single thing or even discontinue eye contact.

The little girl was enchanted by what she saw. “That is joy indeed,” she whispered to herself as continued her admiration of the scene. She moved closer, with full intent to join in the festivities, when she was abruptly repelled by an unseen barrier. Stepping back, she realized that a clear wall, perhaps two feet thick, separated her from her prize. Upon further examination, she noticed a door maybe twenty feet to her right. She was sprinting toward it when she tripped over something hard.

A gruff voice immediately drew her attention to the cause of her stumble.

“Watch where you’re going!” the man angrily exclaimed. “This is my space!”

The little girl was startled but said nothing. She was a bit perturbed that she was given no warning. As she stood, she noticed several dozen people scattered about. She must have been so focused on the party before that she forgot to survey her immediate surroundings. She took a closer look.

Each person stood in chains, both on their hands and feet, and each carried a cynical, suspicious look. Though the chained people were spaced apart considerably and barely able to shuffle, there were frequent eruptions of “Watch where you’re going!” or “Out of my space!” The little girl, exasperated, shifted her gaze back to the party and noted again the free and happy laughter. She stepped quickly to the door and turned the knob. Nothing. Backing up, she began to take a running start at the door before thinking more accurately of her 45-pound frame.

Her emotions bounced between anger and sadness as she longingly watched the party, apparently destined for nothing beyond that. Just then, a glimmer of gold caught her eye. She looked down at her feet and noticed a key. She bent down to pick it up in disbelief. (“Watch yourself! You almost hit me!” a man far to her right chided.) Surely this key fit the door!

The key slid easily into the lock, but didn’t even begin to turn. The little girl was at her wit’s end. She looked at the keyhole, then at the key. It definitely fit! What was the problem? What was she missing?

The key revealed the answer. There was a tiny, three-word inscription engraved into its side. The little girl looked closer and read the inscription:

“I WAS WRONG”

It didn’t take much intelligence to realize what she had to do. This was clearly an enchanted door, and the words had to be spoken as the key was turned. Easy enough.

As the little girl reinserted the key, she moved to speak the words, but something prevented her. “I….I….I wwwww….” And the words stuck in her throat. “Stupid throat!” she whined. “If only my throat weren’t broken, I would be in that party! Out of my space!” She had just noticed a chained figure about ten feet to her right.

She held the key tightly, despaired of her rotten plight, and wept.

After wallowing in her stuckness for who knows how long, she became aware of a flurry of activity around her hands. First, in a disturbing development, chains had begun to grow between them. Second, a light peeked from her hand. The inscription in the key was glowing, and the light was growing brighter. It spread to her hand and began to move up her arm.

She watched in awestruck anticipation as the light traveled the length of her arm. “It’s coming to my throat! Finally!” she thought. But the light took a sharp right, veered straight across her chest glowing ever brighter, and stopped at her heart.

The little girl inhaled deeply, her eyes widened, and she wept anew. It had dawned on her. “It wasn’t my throat; it was me. It wasn’t the lock; it was me. I thought I wanted to go in, but I didn’t want to say those words. I didn’t want to be wrong.”

She looked at the party with new eyes, and now easily strode to the door, inserted the key, and turned as she smoothly uttered with happy tears, “I was wrong.”

The door opened immediately. The Host was standing on the other side with a gentle, excited smile. “I’ve been waiting for you to open this door.” he said. 

“I’m sorry,” she responded, surprising herself with the ease of the statement. “I was wrong.”

“I forgive you,” he replied, trumping the ease of her statement with his own. “Now come enjoy your freedom.”

And they danced in together.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  - Revelation 3:20

 

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How to Enjoy a Weed (Indefinite Article Needed)

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How to Enjoy a Weed (Indefinite Article Needed)

In 2013, John Piper gave a powerful farewell to his pastorate at Bethlehem Baptist Church. He began with a quote from G.K. Chesterton, an author with a penchant for poignant, pithy quotes:

“The only way to enjoy even a weed is to feel unworthy even of a weed.”

To put it another way, nothing can truly be enjoyed without humble gratitude.

Gratitude dies when humility dies, and for the human race, humility died a long time ago.

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools...” - Romans 1:21-22

The advent of autonomy was the end of thankfulness. Legitimate thankfulness can only be offered to a Being who, in His authority and power, gave you something you did not produce yourself. Autonomous people are not so keen on that relational dynamic.

But can I really assert what I previously asserted? Is it impossible to truly enjoy anything without humble gratitude? Well, first of all, “humble gratitude” is redundant. There is no such thing as arrogant gratitude, or haughty gratitude, or snobbish gratitude. So we’ll take naked gratitude. Is it truly essential to the enjoyment of everything in this world?  

The clear exception to that rule is the God who made the world. He is the happiest being in the universe, but also the Creator of Chesterton’s weed, and therefore needs no gratitude for it. He obviously doesn’t feel unworthy of the weed, but he also obviously enjoys it.

But you and I are not God. He is the Giver, and we are the collective receiver. We are creatures, and inescapably so, made without a proper experiential category for enjoying unreceived things. There are none of those for us, even when we consider our own “creations,” e.g., a scrapbook, a painting, or a physique. As the apostle Paul says to the Corinthians, “What do have that you did not receive?”

But we are not only creatures. We are sinful creatures. God has so orchestrated the universe that we, as his creatures, might not only be the happy receivers of all his good gifts, but the even happier receivers as we know ourselves to have been(and still be) ingrates.

Instead, we have rebelliously carved out an illusory niche for ourselves where we can imagine that we rule. We can imagine that we have created and earned and owned. We play pretend, putting on our fake crowns and strutting around with false authority.

But there is no true joy in an illusion. A rebellious creature by any other name would smell as foul. All ungrateful assumptions of ownership, of earning, of credit, are tainted with the tension and guilt of that rebellion. So only one, creaturely path to joy is left, and it is the path of gratitude. The path where “What is man, that you are mindful of him?” is always near my lips, with “I am the foremost of sinners” following close behind.

Let’s close with this example:

A house is angrily, rebelliously enjoyed(and therefore not truly enjoyed) when it is presumed to be the sole, well-earned property of its “owner.” He holds it greedily, yelling at neighborhood kids who would encroach upon the corners of his property.

The same house is gratefully enjoyed when the “owner” recognizes God as the true Owner, feeling humbled by the thought of such a small creature being entrusted with not only a comfortable shelter, but also the stewardship of it.

But only when he sits on the couch in that house, feels its comfort, and follows that comfort with the thought, “I have no right to sit in the warmth of a comfortable shelter. I deserve to be punished. But the Lord has mercifully pledged to comfort me throughout eternity,” will he ultimately enjoy that house.

So I exhort you to fight for a more constant consciousness of two realities: your creatureliness and your rebellion. The joy God has for you follows directly from those two things. If you want to enjoy houses or weeds or anything else, you must remember that “He gives to all [rebellious] people life and breath and everything else.”

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Mercenaries or Marvelers?

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Mercenaries or Marvelers?

We live in a standardized world. There are standardized goals to meet and intermediate standards to mark our progress along the way. Athletes are judged by statistics, businessmen are judged by profits(or production), lawyers are judged by cases won, and on the college campus, students are judged by their grades. We are mercenaries, all of us, and students perhaps the clearest of all.

A mercenary is, historically, a soldier hired to fight in a foreign army for money. The German Hessians of the Revolutionary War are probably the most famous example of this. These were men who didn’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak, but they gladly signed on to the British cause for money. They fought the same fight but with the wrong end in mind. So it is with the college student. If a student were asked why he studied, he would likely answer, “To learn,” and he would be at least partially lying. The same student, after being given a bit of truth serum, would answer, “To make good grades”(and if you didn’t check him there, he would probably continue with “so that I can be the best student in my class so that I can be impressive on my resume so that I can make tons of money so that I can be financially secure for the rest of my life”--but that’s another story). Grades, not knowledge, are the true aim.

There was a day when a collegiate system was envisioned in the United States. There were founders of early colleges like Harvard and Princeton who, as far as I can imagine it, had an ideal in mind: young, God-imaging thinkers could give themselves to studying the nuances of God’s world and God’s people with the aim of understanding it all better in order to worship and image God(after all, these were Christian institutions at their founding). But they met a challenge, or perhaps anticipated a challenge, when they realized that students would not maintain the motivation for such understanding. So whether these founders knew it or not, they plumbed the depths of the sinful human heart and found a stronger desire: personal performance and reputation. If a student was enticed with the tempting taste of being the best, or threatened with the intimidating implication of failure, his motivation was far less fragile. So the grading system, at least for the American college campus, was born.

Grades are a concession to the waning wonder of the human mind. They originated as a Machiavellian means to the end of understanding, but along the way, they became an end in and of themselves. Now they are taken for granted as the proper motivation for any college student. But the proper motivation, to be as clear and Christian as possible, is the knowledge of the glory of God. God has created a wondrous world and wondrous brains which we can use to explore its intricacies, paint its beauty, learn from its history, understand its people, and, most powerfully, delve into the glory of His grace.

But...we still have grades. So are there any appropriate considerations of our grades as we sit under their reign? I’ll give two that I feel are God-honoring:

Healthy Motivation #1: A credible testimony for your professors and classmates.
The apostle Paul spends a great deal of time in his letters, especially II Corinthians, defending his credibility. Why? So that he can be well-respected? Not at all! After all, he says in II Corinthians 4:5, “...what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.” But he knows that a respectable name offers great credibility to his message, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In academic circles, no ear will be given to the slacker. To the non-learner. And perhaps, more shallowly, to the student who gets a C-minus. I certainly believe that a healthy aim at using your God-imaging brain to learn and solve the wonders of God’s world will produce a solid grade as a by-product, but if you’re looking for a reason to be conscious of your grades, here is a legitimate one.

Healthy Motivation #2: A means to the end of loving people.
Most hospitals in the world won’t let you walk into a patient’s room and practice medicine. They require a medical degree. Medical degrees are obtained by graduating from medical school. Medical schools generally require a certain GPA for admittance. So strong consciousness of GPA is a necessity for aspiring medical students. But beware: the long-term end of advancing the love of Christ by practicing medicine should remain near the forefront of the undergraduate’s mind, or the mercenary will rear its ugly head once more.

A right response here is that of personal evaluation. Why do I study? What is the end I have in mind? And a more astute question would be, Where do I get the fuel to operate this counter-culturally?

Start evaluating, and I’ll offer some help with that last question in the next post.

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Do Little Girls Grow Out of the Twirl?

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Do Little Girls Grow Out of the Twirl?

Eugenie Bouchard, a Canadian women’s tennis player ranked #8 in the world, laid an impressive beating on her opponent in the Australian Open yesterday, 6-0, 6-3. But the news coming out of the match wasn’t focused there so much as on the on-court interview afterward. The Australian interviewer, speaking with Bouchard in front of the entire stadium, began to comment on her outfit, a bright pink skirt and corresponding pink top. He then requested that she give the crowd a twirl to show off the ensemble. She obliged with a girlish grin and some sheepishness, the crowd applauded, and she went on to commend Serena Williams’ outfit above her own.

The media has since erupted with accusations of sexism. “Twirlgate”(not so catchy, I guess) reached the front pages of ESPN and Yahoo. The aforementioned Serena’s response to the incident: “I wouldn’t ask Rafa [Nadal] or Roger [Federer] to twirl.”

Therein lies the problem. When Roger Federer was a little boy, he didn’t run into the living room, call for his parents’ attention, and twirl his outfit in front of them(he wasn’t wearing something twirlable to begin with).

But Serena did. Eugenie did. They were little girls, who were made to display the beauty they were given and to have that beauty delighted in. My daughters are perpetual twirlers, even to the extent that they are searching out the most twirlable skirts and dresses. They come to me unashamed. They giggle, they twirl, their smiles radiate with my delight. Only a bad father would stop their twirling to reprimand their self-misogyny.

So this begs the question: When Eugenie Bouchard grew up(she’s 20 now), did she grow from girl to man? Or at least, Did she grow out of the twirling stage? My answer to each is an emphatic no. I have two reasons.

The first reason is evidential. Why are Eugenie and Serena wearing the outfits in the first place? Are they not intentionally demonstrating their feminine beauty to the world? Even in the realm of professional sports, where muscle and traditionally masculine qualities are on display(I wouldn’t tangle with Serena), the ladies are distinctly seeking to be ladies. The diversity and intentionality of the on-court outfits of the WTA are more striking than their racquets. I would argue that they are living in a perpetual twirl, and that they should. Eugenie Bouchard is inviting the world into her beauty, to see the feminine glory of God. And in a godly world, there would be a strong, bold, and tenderhearted man who would delight in her as her father did, as her heavenly Father does.

I’ve bled into the second reason, which is biblical. Isaiah 62 is a clear demonstration of the biblical paradigm for femininity. Israel, the unfaithful bride of the Lord, is mourning the loss of His delight. But He makes a wondrous promise in this chapter:

The nations shall see your righteousness,

   and all the kings your glory,

and you shall be called by a new name

   that the mouth of the Lord will give.

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,

   and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

You shall no more be termed Forsaken,

   and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,

but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,

   and your land Married;

for the Lord delights in you,

   and your land shall be married.

For as a young man marries a young woman,

   so shall your sons marry you,

and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,

   so shall your God rejoice over you.

Isaiah 62:2-5

The way that a bridegroom rejoices over His bride, in all her multi-layered beauty, is the way that God rejoices over His people. The dynamic of women displaying their beauty for men to rejoice over is implicitly applauded by God here(and explicitly in Ephesians 5). Young girls and grown girls should keep demonstrating their beauty in twirls of all kinds, and bridegrooms should keep rejoicing over them, so that the dance of God and His people can remain on display in this wondrous world.

For reflection (and further posts):

What do the realities of sin and grace do to the twirl?

When is twirling self-centered?

When God has once-and-for-all smiled upon His bride, how does she then act? Does she simply keep twirling? Does she twirl differently now?

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The Non-Escapist Life

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The Non-Escapist Life

On our Summer Training Project a few summers ago, a distraught young lady came up to me after a rather heavy evangelism talk. “I don’t know how to stop being sad about hell, she lamented.

As I considered her sentiments, it occurred to me that she carried an unspoken emotional goal: unadulterated rejoicing. While this may sound logical (and indeed it is), it isn’t exactly the call of the believer in this present age. The emotional spectrum of the healthy Christ-follower dips below neutral, and it ought to. And this is not to be simply an occasional venture into the realm of pain.

The apostle Paul makes clear that his emotional state, while chock-full of rejoicing, is also rife with sorrow. He describes the state of the apostles as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” in II Corinthians 6:10, and he even goes a step further in Romans 9:2-3 by calling attention to the “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [his] heart” over the condemnation of his kinsmen. Unceasing.

Taking this into account, I am painfully aware of two hurtful ways in me:

I am an escapist in an escapist culture. I/we are apt to run from our sorrows and drown them in sports, in Netflix, in absurd comedy, in games on our phones, in answering emails, in the perusing of Facebook statuses, in food, etc. While none of the things I just listed is itself in the category of evil, each one is an available sorrow shield for most of us. God made us to be conformed to the image of his Son, in part by aching deeply, and then to bring those aches to his compassionate embrace. To truncate this process is to miss real life.

I feel sorrow over the wrong things. The sadness God calls us into is not to be universally employed. I am not called to be a wimp or a whiner. The pain that was rightly expressed by Jesus, the apostles, and the early church was not over the challenges of being inconvenienced by their children or not being able to get their sugar fix. It wasn’t being cut off in traffic(foot traffic for them) or missing a workout. It was rarely circumstantial at all. In fact, their general posture over the devastating circumstance of severe persecution was that of joy. In Hebrews 10:34, the people accepted the seizure of their property with joy, knowing that they “had a better possession and an abiding one.”

So why were they sad? I see at least three valid causes:

1. Their own sin.

"As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." - II Corinthians 7:9-10

Paul is rejoicing over the right kind of grief here, at least as it led to salvation. The church at Corinth was grieved over its collective sin, and it ought to have been. If we live with sin in our hearts that reveals itself in our words and actions, it is right to grieve. It is right to feel temporary guilt or shame about our mistrust of our Father’s loving heart. If we don’t, then the gospel of grace will mean nothing to us. There will be no sense of relief or gratitude.

 2. The brokenness of the world.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. - Matthew 9:36

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. - Romans 8:22

When we hear of an abandoned child, a severe case of dementia, a devastating tsunami, our our parents’ impending divorce, the proper response is not simply to slap a God’s sovereignty Band-Aid on it and step away. There’s another word for that: escape. Or perhaps you call it avoidance. Without groaning about the current state of affairs in the world, we lose our taste for heaven. Without mourning the pains of others, we lose love. And love, it can be argued, is the central reality of the Christian life.

3.  The condemnation of the world.

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. - Romans 9:1-3

And so we come full circle. When that young lady bemoaned her sadness over hell, I responded, “Who says you’re supposed to stop being sad about hell?” Paul had unceasing anguish, and he should have. Granted, a constant, full-on cognizance of hell is a burden too great for any to bear, but are we not the only people in the world who are free to face the pain? Are we not safely in the hands of the God of the universe? Nothing can crush us, so we are free to be crushed.

Keep rejoicing at the foundation, where it belongs. Lest you get carried away in a melancholy world, remember, our foundation is “always rejoicing.” Our sadness floats within an endless fountain of joy. Our current(and proper) grief is swallowed up in hope. And there will come a day very soon when our souls, having been painfully stretched into conformity to the full image of Jesus Christ, will enter a realm where sorrow is not fitting. And then the unadulterated rejoicing begins.

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The Illusion of Arrival and the Disappearance of Need

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The Illusion of Arrival and the Disappearance of Need

“But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me.” - Hosea 13:4-6

The Paradox

In the working world, the process is simple. You start in the mailroom doing grunt work, you do enough hard work to get promoted, and yada yada yada, you’re the CEO. You sit on the top floor in a corner office, far above the peons in that mailroom from which you graduated so long ago. This ladder of upward mobility is much the same for students, athletes, and any other capitalistic venturers. But we live in an upside-down kingdom, and a hierarchical progression is far from the reality of the Christian life.

We certainly start in a place of lowly dependence, but that’s where the parallels stop. Because we stay there. In fact, we go deeper into dependence, lower into lowliness, as we grow. This is one of the great paradoxes of the glorious journey of the believer. Growth can be defined as our increased trusting in/leaning on/magnifying the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, and none of that consists of a progression in self-sufficiency or even conscious competence.

The Problem

The problem isn't rocket science: we don’t like this dynamic(at least a large part of us doesn’t). Our flesh sees “growth” as whatever will serve to exalt us, render us autonomous, and establish us as superior. It wants to see us arrive. So while the Spirit is seeking to move us toward Christ, our flesh is setting up illusions of arrival. I will expose a few here:

  1. “I already know the gospel. I need deeper teaching.” A brief moment of self-examination shows this thought(which we all think often) to be laughable. A true knowledge of the gospel means a full understanding of our sin, a deep sense of brokenness, and a joy-filled reveling in grace. None of us truly live there. To add to this, you will be hard-pressed to find a “deeper teaching” in the scriptures than that of the creative, all-sufficient, mind-blowingly merciful gospel of Christ. It is the beating heart of all truth. When your friend seeks to encourage you with profoundly simple gospel truths, watch out for the “yeah yeah yeah” that follows in your mind. Let it sink in. You don’t get it yet.
     

  2. “I listen to sermons for the sake of my less mature friends.” It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it rings true. How often do those of us who have “arrived,” after hearing a particularly poignant statement from the pulpit, think, “I hope _______ is listening; this would be perfect for him,” while we miss how perfectly timed it is for us? We don’t need to stop thinking for our friends, but let’s take the Lord’s prompting in its proper order.
     

  3. “I’m in ministry now. I’ve graduated from disciple to discipler.” I know my own heart. I have been a vocational minister for twelve years, and my affections for Christ have not plateaued at the “consistently strong” level. My self-centeredness is ever-present. My sin issues did not magically disappear as I crossed the threshold from student to staff, or from staff to director(or any kind). I need the “one anothering” of the Bible to be aimed at me. I need to be encouraged, exhorted, admonished, reproved, and rebuked. So do you, oh holy minister.

The Danger

This illusory sense of arrival, while seemingly desirable as a ground for self-confidence, only serves to carry us away from our deepest need(irony intended). Hosea 13 is terrifying. The principle is clear: when need disappears, we forget God. Forgetting God-- losing our sense of grateful dependence on Him-- is the definition of sin(see Romans 1:20), and it is a step toward hell, if not the core reality of hell.

The good news is that we don’t have to muster up a sense of need to keep ourselves dependent on God. We don’t have to pretend to be desperate for deep affection toward God, for faith to believe in the unseen, for self-forgetful love, for unshakable joy, for the salvation of friends, and, of course, for the forgiveness of our sins. We just have to acknowledge what’s true: we need Him, and we need Him constantly.

Arrogance is not a sign of growth. So beware your business-like views of progressive holiness and your self-confident personal assessments. Repent of them and beg the Lord for His grace to forgive and heal.

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Living in the Headphone Culture

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Living in the Headphone Culture

I understand the desire for a personal soundtrack. I’ve often wished for one. To have Mark Isham’s “A Really Good Cloak” playing softly as I tucked in my children would bring profoundly happy tears. To have Trevor Jones’ “Elk Hunt” in the background as I exhorted students to fight for the souls of their friends would be deeply inspiring. But in each of those scenarios, the music would be in the background of a relational context.

Therein lies the trouble. As I walk across campus, I am taken aback by the fact that many, if not most, of the students I pass have their headphones in. When I exercise at the rec center, I am one of the only people in the entire place who’s headphone-free. While headphones during a workout may seem more reasonable, consider this: one of our staff recently went to exercise with a student (in order to develop a relationship in the context of a normal daily activity), but she was rebuffed by the little earbuds that girl put in before their workout began. It was unashamed individualism on display. What we have are thousands of individual soundtracks, with each student obliviously going about his/her individual business. While the headphones may be consciously intended to bring beauty and inspiration to the person wearing them, they are actually building walls.

The headphones are a microcosm of the entire relational culture. The relational contexts in which we are used to operating are eroding, and they are doing so at the subtle behest of sin. After all, a pure, godly desire of the human heart is to be known. But there is a competing, fleshly desire to keep one’s deficiencies from being exposed, and it is this desire that far too often wins. The headphones are covering up more than just ears. They are the fig leaves of the 21st century, covering the shame of sin.

So how do we fight this? First, we maintain a steady resolve to build relationships. We tear down the cultural walls by asking questions, deepening friendships, even getting our workout partners to remove their headphones in order to connect with a friend. It seems like the primary battle we have in equipping Christian students isn’t even to get them to share their faith anymore. It’s to get them to make friends. Now, I would say that this commitment to building and deepening friendships is an example of giving people what they need, not what they want, but it is what they want. They long to be known.

But they don’t just long to be known. They long to be safely known, which brings me to the second weapon in this battle. We must exude safety. We must ooze forgiveness. We must demonstrate with our words, our attitudes, our facial expressions, and our time commitments the inexplicable acceptance of our Father in the face of our sin. There is not one area of our lives, not even a single thought, that is hidden from Him. Before a word springs from our lips, He knows what’s coming (Psalm 139:4). That is terrifying to the unforgiven sinner, but it is life to the one who knows the unwavering embrace of Jesus. Let’s set our faces like flint toward knowing and embracing those who right now just look like sinful strangers.

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Beware of TAWG

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Beware of TAWG

For the last several decades, the Navigators ministry and its descendants have been using the acronym TAWG (Time Alone with God). The more general vernacular for this practice is “quiet time,” or perhaps “devotions,” but whatever you call it, there is a clear culture that aims at spending extended personal time studying the Bible (and perhaps praying or journaling as well). It is a wonderful practice, stemming from a fierce desire to know God in His word.

The idea of being by yourself to commune with God (in prayer, at least) has some biblical precedents. Daniel 6:10 says that Daniel devoted three different sessions in his day to pray to God. The gospels also mention several instances of Jesus’ withdrawing to be by Himself, usually to pray(Matthew 14:13, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16).

But TAWG is a practice that was born in an individualistic and moralistic culture, so it inherently carries individualistic and moralistic dangers. Thus, I offer a “beware” here, certainly not with the aim of eliminating the practice, but with the aim of seeing the potential dangers of what is inherently a good thing.

Danger #1: Compartmentalization

One problem with establishing a certain segment of your day as your time to “meet with God” is that you can unwittingly preclude yourself from meeting with Him in any meaningful way elsewhere. We know that “God does not dwell in temples made with human hands” (Acts 17:24), that “if I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:8). In fact, the New Covenant reality is that the Spirit of God dwells in our hearts, so not only is God generally omnipresent, He indwells us wherever we go.

Therefore, we ought not relegate Him, or our communion with Him, to any specific time or location. The rampant practice of compartmentalization often yields a form of practical atheism where thoughts of Jesus do not follow us into our daily routines, so we don’t think and feel like Christians as we face the world.

Practically speaking, I believe that meditation is the lynchpin here. I don’t mean some sort of mind-emptying, mantra-repeating Eastern discipline; I mean Romans 12:2-style mental renovation. I mean living and walking in the truth of a glorious gospel that didn’t stop being true when you shut your Bible and walked out of the house this morning.

Danger #2: Pharisaism

Horatius Bonar said it well: “All fancied sanctification which does not wholly arise from the blood of the cross is nothing better than Pharisaism.” Now, it is obvious that TAWG may be (and hopefully always is) a means to the end of knowing the love of Christ at the cross, but such a quantifiable measure of growth demands a little vigilance. I have seen too many students (including myself) judge themselves spiritually worthy by going “7-for-7” on quiet times one week, then plunge themselves into self-condemnation when the next week  they go a paltry 3-for-7. As Flannery O’Connor masterfully put it, “The best way to avoid Jesus is to avoid sin.” The best way for many Christians to avoid the reality of their sin is by looking to their quiet times as a quantitative measuring stick for godliness. No missed days, no sin. No sin, no need for repentance. No repentance, no receiving of mercy. And the gospel is circumvented.

For those who are in ministry, be wary of assessing a student’s spiritual maturity simply by their consistency in the Bible. To be sure, a desire for God’s word can be a sign of maturity, but motives matter. The Pharisees had their scriptures down pat, but they were a group that was arguably the farthest from God in the history of the world. As an alternative to measuring quiet times alone, try to major on the fruit of the Spirit when assessing maturity. Love and joy matter big time.

Danger #3: Isolation

In Colossians 3:16, Paul exhorts the church in Colossae with these words:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

The exhortation of 3:16a, like many others in the New Testament, is often received by modern American readers as one aimed at the individual. But the corporate context is ignored. Were this verse written in the modern vernacular of the South, it would read, “Let the word of Christ dwell in y’all richly…” It is a call to the collective practice of getting the word soaked into the community through verbal sharing of the truth. In the first century, there was likely not strong competition between the personal study of the written word and the corporal verbal sharing of that word. After all, the printing press was not invented for another 1400 years, and the vast majority of people in the ancient Near East were illiterate. So what they did was gather together to hear the word preached and then speak it to one another throughout the week as they did life in community. Ought that dynamic to have changed once the printed word and subsequent literacy arrived on the scene?

The danger here is determining your Bible intake to be a strictly personal affair, therefore (inadvertently?) precluding any communal interaction over the scriptures during your daily conversation. This practice yields spiritual isolation and leads the inevitable daily conversations down the path of surface interactions, or worse, unchecked worldly ones.

Danger #4: Dichotomizing Worship and Ministry

We are a ministry that is committed to teaching others how to study the Bible. We therefore spend lots of 1-on-1 time with students with our Bibles open, helping them learn to chew on the scriptures and point them to Christ in every passage (John 5:39). We even teach the students to teach other students this practice. But somewhere along the lines, a subtle and sinister message has crept in: “I can worship Jesus during my TAWG, but I can’t when I study with another person.” One is fueling, the other is draining. One is rest, the other is labor.

While I understand that personality differences matter here, this mindset is indeed a danger, and it actually incorporates the first two dangers above. It compartmentalizes worship, relegating God to one’s personal closet, and it can become a Pharisaical practice, where dutiful obedience without happy overflow is a means to being an acceptable laborer before God and man.      

We are called to glory in Christ together as we pore over the scriptures. We are called to confess our sins to one another, to repent together, to offer gospel grace to one another. From the current state of our mainly individualistic practices, it will likely be a real fight to get there. But fight we must. There is robust, worship-filled, communal life on the other side.

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The Problem with Shrek

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The Problem with Shrek

In 2001, Dreamworks produced Shrek, a computer-animated anti-fairy tale that has established itself as highly quotable must-have for any DVD collection. Now, I don’t have a problem with Shrek as a stroke of comedic genius or with Shrek as a cynical, sarcastic, but soft-hearted ogre. I certainly don’t have a problem with the celebration of inner beauty that is the main theme of the movie. I have watched it a number of times(and am coming back around to it with my kids), always delighting in that little quip that I missed before, always having my heart warmed by the story, but always feeling a little dissatisfied when the credits roll.

It all comes down to the climactic scene in the chapel, where Shrek storms in to interrupt the wedding of Lord Farquaad and Fiona (all unfamiliar/disinterested parties can skip to the next paragraph for less movie and more principle). He loves Fiona, Fiona loves him, and only true love’s kiss can break the curse she’s been under all these years, apparently making her an ogre after sunset each night. The twist comes when that kiss does indeed break the spell but leaves her in permanent ogre form, revealing that being an ogre was no curse at all. To add to this “inner beauty is all” principle, the second movie leaves Shrek and Fiona with an opportunity to live together in new, beautified bodies, but they decline it.

The point of the film is clear and powerful: inner beauty is more important. I believe that. First Peter 3:3-4 makes that abundantly clear. But when I read I Corinthians 15 and its contrast between our current, perishable bodies and the glorified bodies that are to come, I am convinced that we ought not get ourselves into a baby/bathwater situation. Outward beauty is still beauty, and all who trust in Christ will have that outward beauty in abundance forever. The reasons for our desiring of that outward beauty are often twisted and self-centered, far from the loving enjoyment of beauty that is found in the Trinity, but it does not follow that we ought to cease to desire that beauty(or worse, to wish the world to be outwardly ugly instead).

To put this more simply, God is comprehensively beautiful. His world reveals a stunning picture of Himself, whether it be through the loving character of His people or the impossible color combinations of sunsets. As the source of all beauty, He clearly  loves that beauty and is in the business of either creating it or restoring it. He created us as beautiful things, “very good” things, and we are now in the process of having our beauty restored.

From our perspective, we are to do two things: see God’s beauty and partake in God’s beauty (that He graciously imparted to us). We are never called to delight in ugliness because it is ugly, but rather to love ugliness as God has loved ours, with an eye to the restoration of its beauty.

This is a hard tension to live in. Self-exaltation has brought our society to a place where outer beauty has become everything, where eating disorders run rampant, where the mirror is more important than the friend. It all makes Shrek seem very reasonable. But there is coming a day when inner beauty, outer beauty, and our love for others will all flow together in perfect harmony. When Fiona and Shrek are as beautiful on the outside as they are internally. If we desire that day, and the God who is preparing it, we ought to fight for that heavenly blend, with all the gospel power that He has given us.

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How to Handle the Liberal Barrage

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How to Handle the Liberal Barrage

My freshman fall at Furman University, I sat in Introduction to Biblical Literature, a historical-critical look at the Bible, and I began to sweat. The professor, a graduate of Harvard Divinity and an ordained Methodist minister, was spouting claims about the Bible that I had never encountered from such an authority figure. She treated it as a myth, dismissed the miracles through alternate explanations, and made Jesus out to be a great teacher, but little more than that. She attacked supposed contradictions and, intentionally or unintentionally, sought to wear away her students’ foundational trust in the Bible.

I battled. My hand was raised in class every day, Dr. ________ and I having it out as we both asserted our positions with confidence. But when I returned to my dorm room, my confidence was much more evidently shaken. I cried out to the God whose existence had been thrown into question. I wrestled with historical questions whose answers proved elusive. I stood in front of the campus chapel in the wee hours of the morning, looking up at the stars in desperation. And there I came to a crossroads that many students and parents hit a few months earlier: Is it all worth it? Is the barrage of anti-biblical religion, philosophy, and science a valuable use of a Christian freshman’s time? Is it simply a threat to faith?

Let me answer with my story. My battle raged on for most of that school year. I read and read...and frantically read. C.S. Lewis and I were best friends. Josh McDowell fought for my soul in absentia. I observed the world with vigilance, seeking evidence for the Christian worldview but allowing myself a certain amount of neutrality so as to test the validity of my faith. My life felt like wet cement, and I was determined to see it solidified. I said to(pled with) my God, “If the resurrection happened, then Jesus was who He said He was. If He was who he said He was, then I’m in, hook, line, and sinker.” The more I read, the less I could escape the validity of the resurrection or any other substantial claim of Christ. The boulders of evidence were building a mountain, and the molehill on the other side could not compare.

At the end of that year, I knew that finding proof for Christ’s claims, or any other ancient figure’s, for that matter, was a fool’s errand. I knew that faith was involved at the end of the rational road. And I surrendered, with newfound mountains of evidence, with newfound ownership of my faith, and with newfound intimacy with my Father. I had leaned on His power to carry me through a valley, His comforting sympathy in my weakness, and His mercy to forgive a skeptical son.

So to answer the question, it was not only worth it, it was one of the most worthwhile seasons of my life. It hurt deeply. It weakened me for a while(forever?). But the reality of Christ is far more real to me now than pre-freshman year.

This is no risk-free venture. I walked in the loving support of the body of Christ as I battled, without which I may not have made it. I came in with a biblical knowledge base that helped greatly in the midst of the barrage. I kept God’s word in front of me throughout. But with those things in place, I plunged in, and walked out repeating, “To whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life. [I] have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God”(John 6:68-69).

 

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The Power and Danger of Music

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The Power and Danger of Music

"Music is God's gift to man, the only art of Heaven given to earth, the only art of earth we take to Heaven." 

Walter Savage Landor

Easy, Walt. I wouldn’t go that far. But when someone tells me that they have been in a spiritual/emotional funk, mired in a case of the “blahs,” one of the first remedies I suggest (in concert with the classic spiritual disciplines) is a heavy dose of music. The reason I do this is that the “blahs” are often the result of a mundane sense of the world, when life has lost its color. Music, when used well, is a reality enhancer. It tears the drab veil off a world that is full of power and meaning.

Your sense of emotional intensity, left unchecked, seems to erode over time. When this happens, the resulting malaise can seem inescapable. Your lens is grey, so the world is grey, and anything that is communicated to you is grey. The day’s tasks seem purposeless; news of another’s salvation is just okay; eating is perfunctory; your response to a kind “How are you?” is an absent “Fine.” Even the words of eternal life that the Bible offers feel like just that: words.

This is where music comes in. It seems to have the power to get behind the lens, evoking emotions that were otherwise locked up. It attaches itself to people, to words, to pictures, and it connects us to their true meaning. Music is, in that sense, a heavenly language. The sense of weight that comes to us through it is unparalleled, drawing us to a more heavenly understanding of life.

Don’t get me wrong-- like anything else(movies, novels, etc.), music can be mishandled, used as a means of escape from present circumstances. It can be a means to turn off the world by turning up the volume. Escapism is an idolatrous aim and not what I have in mind here.

We also ought not equate beautiful music to the presence of the Holy Spirit. I have been in many a corporate worship setting where the singer-worshipers are captivated, even entranced, by a particularly lovely or powerful worship song. And they hear the worship leader say, “The Spirit is with us tonight, is He not?” This may very well be true, but it isn’t a function of a series of guitar chords played cleanly and with a bit of soothing reverb.

I am simply highlighting God’s gift of music as an underused means to the enjoyment of Himself and His creation. In The Warden and the Wolf King, the third book of Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather series, it is the sweet music of a little girl’s “whistleharp” that rouses the spirits of downtrodden people again and again. Here is the scene as they battle a monstrous enemy:

“At the sight of the monster, they might have cowered, might have cast themselves upon Gnag’s mercy or fled, but with the melody surging through the air and earth, piercing their hearts with its great beauty, wounds were forgotten, strength was replenished, and fear only served to renew their fury.”

Isn’t this just a dramatic example of how music might aid our daily resolve? Every time I am preparing to teach students, I am listening to powerful melodies while studying the truth, and my heart is often, if not always, full. I always mourn the fact that I can’t bring the music with me when I teach. It brings passion to my heart, and I know it would bring depth of meaning to the hearers.

So when you’re feeling numb, open your Bible. Find the great truth of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Then put on a little epic soundtrack music, maybe some Enya or Sigur Ros, and let those deeply emotional truths sink in the way they ought to.

 

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Who Says: You Are a Student First?

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Who Says: You Are a Student First?

I frequently find myself in conversations in which Christian students are considering their commitment to ministering to others. The card they play in order to avoid such commitment is frequently, “I have to remember that I’m a student first.” Maybe Mom and Dad have so drilled it in that it’s the default response. Maybe on move-in day, as Johnny Freshman shut the car door for the last time, Mr. or Mrs. Freshman whispered profoundly, like Tom Hanks’ “Earn this” from Saving Private Ryan, “Remember, Johnny. You’re a student first.” Maybe it’s just a noble-sounding way to live out a self-centered existence. Whatever it is, it’s not true for the follower of Christ.

To be fair to Mom, Dad, and Johnny, it’s true that his primary vocation for the next four(ish) years is that of student. Inordinate amounts of money have gone into this pursuit, and many “educations” have been wasted because of the lack of that very perspective. But believing moms and dads should consider a new tactic, lest they build for themselves a worshiper of academic achievement(who probably already is one).

What I tell students most often is a Piper quote, usually with an attempted impersonation: “You are ten thousand times a Christian!” College student, as its own identity, not grounded in identity in Christ, yields all sorts of perversions. Obsession over grades, prideful competition, self-centered lonerism, and a forgetting of eternity are just a few.

College is not a necessary step in the life of a person, an American, or a Christian. It is an option. A wonderful and rare option when considering the opportunities of the world, but an option nonetheless. The only necessity is the giving of one’s life for the enjoyment of the glory of Christ, and others’ subsequent enjoyment of that glory. It is only in understanding that foundational purpose, along with the setting of this broken world, full of sin and lost souls, that college begins to fit in. It is then that a student can ask, “What ought I to do with these four years? How much should I study? How much should I read the Bible? How much time should I give to others? To helping them know Jesus?” These are all valid questions without cookie-cutter answers. Poor students make poor witnesses for Jesus and ungrateful image-bearers, but so do obsessively perfectionistic students who tout “being excellent” as their sole Christian purpose.

When Johnny Freshman (or more likely Johnny Junior) is able to zoom out and understand his four years of college as one chapter in the larger story of God’s redemption of this broken world, then he can establish aims that are greater than simple academic achievement. They may very well include academic achievement, but it is never the end. The souls of men are the end. The glory of Christ is the end(see III John 4, I Thess. 2:19-20, I Thess. 3:8, Philippians 1:20-26 for evidence of the non-contradiction in the last two statements).

So remember this, Johnny: You are not a student first. There is nothing about your performance as a student that defines you in the eyes of your Father. To quote the apostle Paul, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”(Colossians 3:3). And because of this, your life is not “of any value nor as precious to [yourself], if only [you] may finish [your] course...to testify solemnly to the gospel of Christ Jesus”(Acts 20:24). Your testifying to the gospel of Christ may take on more dimensions that Paul’s very specific call as a frontier missionary, but make no mistake, that is your call. You are a disciple of Jesus, and you are now in the business of putting the glory of His grace on display to all you know, both in word and in studies.

To ask yourself:

  1. Why do I study? Why do I study as much(or as little) as I do? What does it have to do with Jesus?
  2. Why have I chosen my major?
  3. How do the souls of people contribute to my perspective on college?

 

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about matt

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about matt

The Fall 2014 semester is in full swing, and students are knee-deep into their studies. We all know that also means hours spent procrastinating on Facebook and other social media sites like BuzzFeed (ugh, help me).

Now with a new blog we are launching called "Labor to Rest", you can take a weekly study (or work!) break to digest some thoughtful substance from Matt Reagan, the downtown area director for Campus Outreach Minneapolis. Matt plans to share his thoughts on life, culture and Christianity twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. So, while you're here, bookmark this page and check back weekly for new posts. Maybe he'll even write one on online procrastination!

To get us better acquainted, here is a little bit about Matt:

Q: For readers who don’t already know you, who are you?

A: I am the Downtown Area Director for COM, meaning I oversee the ministries at the University of Minnesota and St. Thomas.  I have been working with CO since 2002, so while I may be young relative to the general working world, I am ancient in college minister years. I started on staff at Furman University(my alma mater) and then made my way up to Minneapolis in 2004. I ministered at Northwestern College, Bethel University, and the U of M over the last decade, and I have watched the Lord do some powerful work in the lives of students.

I grew up in South Carolina, but I married a Minnesota girl. Lisa and I were married in 2006 and have spent our marriage giving ourselves to students and staff. We have three delightfully maniacal children: Annie(b. 2008), Lucy(b. 2010), and Eli(b. 2013).

Q: What is an interesting fact about you, or anecdote about your life?

A: Since I have two daughters with my hyperactive genes but some clear feminine mystique, we have always alternated our fun daddy-daughter times between wrestling and dancing. More recently, we morphed them into a little thing we call "dance-wrestle." We put on a jam and aggressively attack each other in a graceful, semi-choreographed way. It's a true art form.

Q: What are topics you plan to cover on Labor to Rest?

A: Being something of an absent-minded professor, I will most certainly be all over the map. But I plan to tackle a number of topics related to the life and ministry of a college student, some reasons I believe in Jesus, some current events, lots of Bible and gospel, and hopefully some humor.

Q: Why are you writing this? Why is this worthwhile to read?

A: The easiest answer for why I'm writing this is that my mind is exploding with thoughts and emotions, and it seems much more helpful to have a focused venue to express them for the benefit of others. It's kind of like Cyclops, the X-Men character. His power is that he shoots fire from his eyes, but it has to be controlled by a visor or the fire goes everywhere. I think the Lord has given me a fire that is shooting every which way, and the blog gives me a medium to hone in and hopefully see the Lord bless others with the fire He has given me.

A less abstract answer would be that since we now live in a social media age where information can be disseminated instantly to anyone anywhere (with certain virtual limitations, of course--spoiled American here), and since the Lord seems to have confirmed communication as part of the gift-mix he has given me for the sake of His body, I figured this a fitting means to the end of lifting up the name of Christ in order to build laborers for His kingdom.

Q: What is your hope for the blog and/or your readers?

A: I have three big goals here:

  1. To help people wake up from the mental malaise of their daily lives, where a schedule often comes and goes with little thought of what/who is real and how the world points to that ultimate Reality.
  2. To see people take those worshipful thoughts and use them in personal relationships with fellow believers. Reading a blog is not the ideal medium here. Time with people is.
  3. To see those newly motivated believers, now wakened to worship, take the glories of Christ to a sleeping world. A man can dream, can't he?

We think this will be worth your time. Stay posted ;) later this week for Matt's first post on the meaning behind the title "Labor to Rest".

 

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The Meaning Behind the Title

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The Meaning Behind the Title

While no title would have been sufficient to cover the varied content of this blog, I wanted to name it something that pertained to the mission of both our ministry and the blog itself. So, with help from our staff team, I chose “Labor to Rest”. Here’s why:

  1. In Campus Outreach circles, you would be hard-pressed to find a word that is more often used than “labor” (in some form). Our very mission statement is “Glorifying God by building laborers on the campus for the lost world” (italics mine). We believe that a great need in the world is for believers to expend their energy for the sake of the growth and progress of other people’s faith (Philippians 1:25). Jesus calls us to pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest field (Matthew 9:38). Paul speaks of his labor to present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28-29), and he later tells the Corinthians that their labor in Christ is never in vain (I Corinthians 15:58). It is clear that the call to believers is to work with all the strength Christ gives, and so we aim to see our lives characterized by labor.
     
  2. Then there’s the other side of the coin. The offer of the gospel is not labor; it is rest. In fact, Jesus calls “all who labor and are heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28) to come to Him to find rest in place of their labor. Jesus labored on our behalf, finishing a work that we were unable to perform, and leaving us to rest in His love and righteousness. Rest is also a consistent theme in biblical descriptions of heaven, of which the gospel is a clear picture. God’s full presence, which is the essence of heaven, is actually called His “rest” in Psalm 95:11. So we would be remiss not to talk about rest with frequency and zeal.
     
  3. But how do these two seemingly contradictory themes work together? Are we building laborers or resters? Or is it simply both? I would argue that it is not simply both. There is a trajectory here, a progression, hence “Labor to Rest” as opposed to “Labor & Rest” (though the ampersand would have been cool). We do not simply sometimes labor and sometimes rest; rather, labor is the means and rest is the end.

It would be inaccurate to say that life in this world is simply labor while life in the new earth is simply rest (though I may argue that the second half of that proposition is true). This life is where the labor lies, but this life is also where rest lies in the aforementioned gospel. So we ought to be quick to aim our labor at the proper target: rest. We do not box as if beating the air. We do not work hard just to work hard. We fight for rest, both ours and others’.

When it comes to our personal battle, we know that our unresting, anxious flesh cannot be quiet. There is no peace for it (Isaiah 57:20-21). It is relentless, constantly clamoring for exaltation and unsatisfied as it plunders the idols of the world. But God calls us to be still in the knowledge of Him (Psalm 46:10), to calm and quiet our souls as weaned children(Psalm 131:2), to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11-12). We are saved in returning and rest, in quietness and trust(Isaiah 30:15). His yoke is, of course, easy (Matthew 11:30). But because the fleshly nature still resides in us, and because we want desperately to rest, we are involved in a tooth-and-nail battle for that rest. It is an agonizing fight to the death, and with the Spirit in our hearts, showing us the glory of all that Christ is for us, we will win.

When it comes to laboring for others (the CO mission statement’s connotation), the same trajectory applies. We are not laborers just because Christians are to labor. We, as those who have received the good news of rest in Christ, toil that others might know and live in that rest. We know that they are harassed and helpless, unable to be quiet, just as we still can be in our own flesh. But they have no option for rest, so we labor to the end that they, by the quickening work of the Spirit, know the sweet relief of forgiveness, of unfailing love, of eternal hope.

So there will be lots about labor and lots about rest in the posts that follow, but make no mistake, one is always headed toward the other.

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