Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Young People Turning Away From Organized Religion..but not from God.

According to some recent research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, members of the Millennial generation (those currently in their late teens to late twenties) are much more likely to have abandoned formal religion than older generations. At least one in four adults under the age of thirty describe themselves as "atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular" and 65% do not attend any kind of religious worship services.

Even as disconcerting as these realities may be for those of us that work with young people, there are a couple of encouraging trends that are taking place. For those that are actively involved in their faith, the number of those taking their faith very seriously is comparable to previous generations:
"Among Millennials who are affiliated with a religion, however, the intensity of their religious affiliation is as strong today as among previous generations when they were young. More than one-third of religiously affiliated Millennials (37%) say they are a "strong" member of their faith, the same as the 37% of Gen Xers who said this at a similar age and not significantly different than among Baby Boomers when they were young (31%)."
Also, even though many young people have given up on the traditional church and formalized religion, they are still very much open to God and spiritual issues. For far too many of us, the Christianity that we were introduced to in our youth was a boring, dry faith that was dominated by rules and regulations and missed out on a real relationship with the living God. Add to that the failure of many spiritual leaders to live by the standards that they required others to live by and it is not any wonder that young people would want nothing to do with the Church when they enter adulthood.

For those of us that have traveled a similar path, it is up to us to show the younger generation that Christianity is not about rules and it's not about suits and ties and pretty dresses. Christianity, at its heart, is about a personal relationship with our Creator and Maker. For those of us that are leaders in our churches we need to ask ourselves whether the environment we help to create in worship settings is conducive for children and teenagers to meet God right where they're at.

Is the faith that we practice and model in front of impressionable young eyes that of honesty and humility and love? Or is it a rigid formality that paints God as a distant, uncaring judge that is just waiting to discipline us? When young people are introduced to the God of the Bible -- a God of love and justice and compassion and truth -- they will be interested. In thinking about this subject, my mind is drawn back to one of my favorite songs by Steven Curtis Chapman, For Who He Really Is. Here are the lyrics:
"Too many hypocrites," I heard her say,
"I even saw it in the headlines today;
How can I follow God when His own people turn away?"
She said, "Nobody’s perfect but I just want to see
Somebody living what they say they believe;
If they’ve got all this world needs like they say,
I wonder why won’t they give some away."

Can he see God for who He really is
In what he sees in you and me.
Can he see God for who He really is,
For who He really is is all he really needs to see.

He slips into church and he puts up his guard;
They look so happy but his life’s been so hard.
He keeps his distance so they won’t see the scars;
It’s just a religion that’s all dressed up in white,
And God is love as long as you’re living right.
But does he know that Jesus also has scars,
And His love can reach Him no matter how far.


The skeptics are watching to see who will fall,
While those disillusioned search for the Truth in it all;
Maybe today we’ll cross their paths unaware,
And they’ll stop and look at us. What will be there?

If you're an invidual that is intrigued about learning more about a real relationship with God, please click here. I'd love to help you on this journey.

Monday, April 26, 2010

How a Gospel of Love Has Become Bad News

In countless conversations with others about the Christian faith, a couple of the most frequent answers that I've encountered about why people don't consider Christianity is because of the perceived hypocrisy and judgmentalness of self-professing Christians. Time after time, it is the incongruity of what we Christians say we believe and what our lives actually look like are the primary reasons people are turned off to Christianity.

Granted, there are those that do not like the truth claims that were made by Jesus Christ and there are some that understand that following God means you're going to have to make some changes to how you live. But, in the vast majority of cases, non-Christians have a problem with Christ-followers...not with Jesus. How unfortunate it is that we've become more known for what we are against than our love for God and people.

Dan Merchant insightfully explores this subject in his documentary, Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. An evangelical Christian himself, Merchant examines the so-called "culture wars" and how Christians are perceived by the rest of the world. He seeks to answer the question of how Christianity somehow became synonymous with political ideology in America and the impact that this has had on interactions between Christians and non.

The film is provocative in its critique of the current evangelical movement but also sheds light on the positive contributions that Christians make in the world. Perhaps what is most moving in the film is when Merchant attends a gay pride festival and apologizes to individuals for the sins of Christians towards the gay community. It is moving... and convicting.

You can watch the trailer here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Supreme Court, Campus Ministry and Discrimination

A case that is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court could have wide-ranging ramifications for those involved with campus ministry. A Christian-based organization, Christian Legal Society (CLS), is hoping to gain official recognition as a student organization from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law. However, the school has not allowed their paperwork to go through because the group has some stipulations on who can become a leader within their organization. Specifically, the Christian Legal Society has been denied because they ask their leaders to agree to the group's statement of faith and abide by certain codes of conduct in line with biblical standards for morality.

To learn more about this pivotal case, you can read here.

As a campus minister, I am watching this case closely. What is at stake here is whether Christian organizations can require their leadership to agree to a common set of beliefs and behavior that is in agreement with the purpose and philosophy of the organization. Amazingly, Hastings rejected the CLS's application as a registered student organization not just because they felt it discriminated against homosexuals but because it discriminated against those with other religious beliefs.

The school is not saying that the CLS can't exist on campus but they would be denied certain privileges that other registered organizations are afforded. These privileges would include such things as funding from the school, the ability to reserve on-campus meeting rooms, set up informational tables on the campus, etc. Should the U.S. Supreme Court uphold the school's decision, we would be heading down a very slippery slope.

Because all state run universities have some sort of non-discrimination clause for student organizations, Christian organizations have had to agree to keep their group open to all students. However, when choosing its leadership, Christian groups (like others) have been allowed to only select those that are in agreement with the group's core beliefs and practices. Should Christian groups now be required to select anyone as a leader then those groups could cease be greatly hindered in their ability to live out their mission.

Since religious organizations are based upon the beliefs of its members, they inherently discriminate within its leadership against those with different beliefs. And so do other groups. The president of the atheist group does not believe in God and the leader of the College Republicans is not a Democrat. A women's group is not forced to have a male chauvinist as it's leader nor is the Gay and Lesbian Society headed up by someone that believes homosexuality is sinful.

In denying the CLS as an official organization, the school has stated that they believe the group is discriminating against homosexuals. I find it odd that they are not coming to the defense of heterosexual students that are engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage also. Because, in reality, many more straight students are denied leadership positions in Christian organizations because of their extramarital activities. Since the CLS does not accept leaders who exhibit "unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle", it can be considered that any sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and woman -- heterosexuality, homosexuality or anything else -- would be a disqualifier for leadership.

Should Christian groups on college campuses be required to accept anyone into leadership positions, then there would be a dramatic shift in how campus ministries would operate. By being denied meeting space, funding and other similar amenities, Christian groups would have to operate in a much more low-key and relational manner. The big meetings and on-campus events would be a thing of the past as we would be forced to meet in smaller group settings without official recognition by the school.

Throughout history the Christian message has spread rapidly during times when Christians were persecuted or churches were not recognized by the government. So although I hope the Supreme Court is consistent with our country's value of freedom of religion, God is not limited by whether a school recognizes a group. As long as God is in it then His name will be made known.

Monday, April 19, 2010

God at Work Among Students in New Orleans

Although Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans in the fall of 2005, there are a number of dedicated residents that are committed to helping rebuild the city. Among these individuals are a small group of Impact students at Xavier university that are passionate about reaching their campus and community for Christ.

Xavier University was founded in 1915 as a private Catholic school that would develop young African American leaders. Nearly a century later, although 1/3 of Xavier students are not black, the school consistently ranks among the top schools in the nation in placing African American graduates in medical schools across the country.

In the wake of Katrina, Xavier, like other schools in New Orleans, lost the majority of its students as they moved to other locations in order to continue their education as the city recovered. Now boasting an enrollment of nearly 4,000 students, the school is once again re-establishing itself as one of Louisiana's premier universities.

Since Xavier is a private Catholic institution, our Impact chapter is not recognized by the school as an official organization on campus. But that doesn’t stop the Impact students from sharing the gospel with their friends, mentoring younger leaders and serving in their community. I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans earlier this month and serve as one of the presenters at an Impact Leadership Institute (ILI) that was hosted by the Xavier Impact chapter on the campus of Tulane University.

Having visited New Orleans a few times in the year following Katrina, I was encouraged to see how much it has been rebuilt and how the vibrancy of a unique place is returning. I was also inspired by our Xavier students as they hosted other Impact student leaders from Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas. The students focused on their relationship with God, learned about how to effectively serve as leaders on campus and in the community and did outreach on Tulane’s campus.

The ILI in New Orleans was just one of five ILI’s that were held throughout the nation this spring as over 150 Impact student leaders were equipped to lead movements on their campus this upcoming school year.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What I Learned During My Break From Social Media

If you're a regular reader of this blog then you know I took a break from writing on here and from other social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter during the Lenten season from late February to early April. I haven't been that active in blogging since I returned from this break since I've been fairly busy and it's taken me a little while to get back in the blogging groove.

There are a number of topics that I'd like to write about that I'll hopefully be working on in the coming weeks but for now I'd like to share a few things I learned during my break from some of my regular online activity. Here goes...

1. My mind was less cluttered with less time spent online. There is so much activity that is readily available to us due to the Internet that our minds are nearly always in overactive mode and we rarely get a time to mentally rest. I found that when I was not trying to track with everything that all my friends were doing online, my mind wasn't nearly as busy and active. I discovered I had more time for reflection and was even intentionally leaving the television off and not listening to the radio in the car as much since I had a greater appreciation for quiet. And as a father of four young children, quietness is a precious commodity in my eyes.

2. I became more focused on what I needed to learn and less on what I think others needed to learn. As a regular blogger that seeks to primarily write about things that are important and significant, I'm often thinking about the things that I think others need to hear when it comes to issues pertaining to God or race or religion or culture. I, unfortunately, can miss out on what it is that I need to learn because I'm so busy formulating thoughts for the consumption of others. Sharing information with others is fine, but I need to not miss the lessons that I need to learn as well.

3. There can be a real tendency towards negativity and meanness on the web. By removing myself from online dialogue for a season, I was able to recognize how quickly virtual conversations can turn into mean-spirited lectures and not necessarily genuine, respectful conversations. With the anonymity that our online personas afford us, we are quick to offer judgmental, sarcastic or just flat-out mean commentary in ways that we never would in face-to-face interactions. This has caused me to take pause and think twice about what I post online.

4. Although Blogger, Facebook and Twitter can be useful, I don't "need" any of these things. Online social networking has online been part of my life for the past handful of years and I did okay before I had any of those things. Since I have spent time each day for years utilizing these tools, I did wonder if there was some sort of an addiction that had consumed me without me realizing it. Within a couple days of going cold turkey on social media, I was confident this was not the case. I really didn't miss it and my life was fine without it.

To be fair, though, I did miss learning about some of the important updates in friends lives (like engagements, birth of babies, job changes, etc.) but my wife, Lori, filled me in on those things if I hadn't spoken with friends personally. I feel more confident that while online social networking can be useful in my life, it is not a necessity.

In closing, I'm glad I took the break that I did. I view my time online differently and have a different perspective on the things that I'm going to choose to write about. I have also been encouraged by a number of friends that told me that they missed reading my blog or seeing my status updates. In some cases, I didn't realize that these individuals were regular readers. It has been a good reminder that our time on online has the power to influence people and it's up to us whether we want that influence to affect people in a positive or negative way. I hope that my writing reaches people in a positive manner.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The "Grace" of Giving

From the Black Voices blog on
Grace Groner lived as a secret millionaire in a modest, sparsely-furnished one-bedroom house. When she died at the age of 100, she shocked the world by leaving her alma mater, Lake Forest College, $7 million. It's not every day that someone donates her fortune to a worthy cause, after living a life of great financial restraint. The Chicago Tribune reports:
"Like many people who lived through the Great Depression, Grace Groner was exceptionally restrained with her money.

She got her clothes from rummage sales. She walked everywhere rather than buy a car. And her one-bedroom house in Lake Forest held little more than a few plain pieces of furniture, some mismatched dishes and a hulking TV set that appeared left over from the Johnson administration.

Her one splurge was a small scholarship program she had created for Lake Forest College, her alma mater. She planned to contribute more upon her death, and when she passed away in January, at the age of 100, her attorney informed the college president what that gift added up to.

"Oh, my God," the president said.

Groner's estate, which stemmed from a $180 stock purchase she made in 1935, was worth $7 million.

The money is going into a foundation that will enable many of Lake Forest's 1,300 students to pursue internships and study-abroad programs they otherwise might have had to forgo. It will be an appropriate memorial to a woman whose life was a testament to the higher possibilities of wealth."
A testament indeed. Grace Groner's spirit will live on through her amazing act of generosity, which will touch the lives of many students and positively influence greater society for years to come. Her act of charity is a beacon of inspiration in our trying economic times. Having lived through the Great Depression, she knew that Americans can survive anything, especially if we focus on helping each other. Although Groner was a millionaire she chose to use her money in a way that would benefit all, showing that her spiritual fortune was at least as great as her material wealth" (via The Huffington Post)

Saturday, April 03, 2010

I'm Back

After a several week break from the world of blogging and online social networking, I'm back on online. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with friends and sharing my thoughts through this blog. Fortunately, my intentional hiatus online taught me several things that I'll be sharing with you soon. And there were a number of events that happened in the world around us that I'll be sharing my thoughts on (even if it may be many weeks after the fact in some cases).

For now I hope that your heart is encouraged as we celebrate the most significant event in world history -- the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For a message that I post each Easter about Jesus, click here. God bless!