This past May, Kelly and I dropped our daughter off at Youth Works‘ east “ramp up” in the Philly area and then spent a lovely evening on the New Jersey boardwalk. The trip home was going well until we came to a small downpour in the Cleveland area and the car next to us began hydroplaning. We were in the middle lane, a semi to our right, and the swerving car to our left. The car swerved violently and hit my van behind my door, sending us spinning down the the toll road at 70 mph.
We slid toward the meridian, a concrete barrier thankfully off the road a bit, and I looked over to watch my wife and her side of the car heading for that concrete barrier. Too fast. We slammed into it in the front right and then spun around and hit hard in the back right. Kel’s head hit mine and then it was still.
“The Bible is boring. I try to read it, but it’s just a bunch of words. I can’t get into it. I read it, but it doesn’t make a difference.”
For those of us who work with youth in the church, do any of these comments sound familiar? Maybe we’ve even said them at one point in our lives. Bible study and spiritual practices are crucial elements to our Christian faith. And, while the church (and particularly youth ministry) is good at creating spiritual experiences, we haven’t been so good at teaching God’s Word. We’ve been even worse at showing others how to do it. And the words above are concerning when we hear it from our students. It was even more disheartening when these came from one of my own teenagers at home.
This past week most of America has been watching “March Madness,” the final basketball tournament for large universities and upstart Florida Gulf Coast University has stolen the spotlight. Only in their second year of eligibility to make the tournament, they have upset two better known teams to make the final 16 (out of 64) after being ranked as one of the worst 8 teams in the tourney.
The most striking feature of their play though is ….. THEY ARE HAVING FUN! They are [passing (what? a pass in basketball?) dunking, laughing, dancing, and enjoying every moment along the way. And making fans, including me. It’s reminded me of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird playing for the title when team play, passing, and loving the game of basketball drove their will to win.
One problem with theological litmus tests is that they’re binary. You’re either one thing or another. Sure categories and stereotypes provide quick summaries about where people stand, but I generally find that people use them to push others to the side – what we quickly term “right”or “left,” conservative or liberal.
I’m not a big country music fan, but I live in a home with two people who LOVE it. Kelly told me about the song “Changed” by Rascal Flatts and I think it’s a fantastic example of the transformation that Jesus Christ can do in our lives. And that we can stand up, raise our hands, or write that we’re changed. Because we are. Changed. Enjoy.
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.
I was listening to some instrumental music this week and the old hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee” came on. Survivors of the Titanic reported that it was the last song played on the ship before it sank. However, it struck me that we so emphasize God’s coming to Earth that we often overlook God’s ultimate goal for his coming: That we would be nearer to him. Jesus’ atoning work would again make it possible for man’s dwelling to be with God. Jesus invited us to abide with Him (John 15) and the Holy Spirit is our Guide and Comfort.
So, the question for me (and for us) this advent is, “Am I drawing nearer to God?” It seems like it should be a mark of a growing familiar friendship with God.
I teach an online class on Christian theology. Designed for adults who didn’t complete college right after high school, the course often has students who are intimidated with taking a Christian theology course in person. In return, they usually take the opportunity and the online ‘security’ to be honest and discuss their spiritual lives with great honesty and detail.
Now, I haven’t conducted any rigorous research from the papers and discussion boards, but I have heard common themes over the past two years, 14+ classes, and over 200 students from the Midwest US. I have heard them share what happened in high school, often growing up in a ‘Christian’ home, and what happened since high school.