36 Exhortations to My College Self

In no particular order, here are some random bits of advice I would give to my college self if I could talk to him today:

1. After you land your first job, nobody will ever ask you about your grades.

2. Studying is important because you’re learning how to learn. Your grades are merely a reflection of the learning process.

3. Don’t stress out too much about your major. The odds are quite high that your career will have little correlation to your field of study.

4. When adults tell you that you have more free time now than you will ever have again, they are telling the truth.

5. Do not skip your church’s college retreat to go to your high school homecoming. Trust me.

6. When your long distance girlfriend from high school breaks up with you over the phone, it’s going to hurt. A lot. In hindsight, though, you’ll see it as one of your most significant moments of personal growth.

7. That guy who left a party to come hear you blubber after she broke up with you? He’ll be one of your lifelong friends.

8. God’s grace is bigger than you think it is.

9. You are not the only one who struggles with sin. One day you will understand the value of being honest about your failures.

10. Girls are just as confused by the dating scene as you are.

11. Every church has its strengths and weaknesses. The one you attend isn’t the only one where God is at work.

12. Call your parents more often.

13. Call your grandparents more often.

14. Visit your grandparents more often.

15. Don’t get so angry when your roommates eat your food. The day will come when you will gladly buy food for them just for the privilege of spending some time with them.

16. Don’t be so afraid of rejection by the opposite sex. Your fear is worse than the rejection itself.

17. When that professor tells you that your borderline grades are a function of laziness rather than lack of intelligence, he’s correct. Just admit it and make the necessary adjustments.

18. Pay attention to the people living on your hall in the dorm. Some of them are hurting deeply, and they need to hear about the love of Jesus.

19. Do not order an entire pizza from the cheapest restaurant in town and eat it with your roommate at 3 AM.

20. College is the only time in your life when staying up until 3 AM is considered normal.

21. Vegetables are not evil. Eat a few here and there to balance out the rest of your terrible diet.

22. Your classmates and neighbors are as open to the Gospel as they ever will be. Share it with them.

23. You will be glad that you went on those summer mission trips.

24. It’s alright if you graduate without a serious girlfriend or fiance. Sometimes the best things come to those who wait.

25. Do not laugh at the way middle-aged people look or act. It will all make sense one day.

26. Do not judge the parents whose kids are screaming and biting one another at the table next to you at Chili’s. That will be you one day.

27. You really should not spend an entire summer playing Street Fighter 2 for six hours a day.

28. Right now you are setting patterns that will mark your relationship with God for the rest of your life. Consider carefully how you spend your time and energy.

29. It is not too early to practice generosity. Give some of your money to your church, to missionaries, to the poor. It’s really not about the amount you give. It’s about participating in God’s work.

30. Do not leave your bicycle parked at the end of the rack for an entire semester. Somebody will crush it and leave it useless.

31. When you leave for Christmas break, empty out the water tray inside your mini-fridge. It’s important.

32. Pray for your Christian friends to walk with God for the rest of their lives. Some will choose to walk away from Him.

33. Working in service-oriented jobs is not beneath your dignity.

34. You will be part of the last generation of college students to write physical letters to your out-of-town friends. Write more of them. Keep the ones they send you as historical relics.

35. Get to know some of the adults at your church. One day their advice and encouragement will be invaluable to you.

36. Relax just a little bit. College is a unique and wonderful time, and it goes by way too quickly.

What would you add to the list? I’m sure you have some good ones!

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Chick-fil-A and the Accusation of Discrimination

My first “real” job was at the Chick-fil-A inside the old Prestonwood Mall in Richardson. I was 15 years old, making $4.25 an hour, and feeling like a rich man. I worked there for 18 months, until my work schedule began to conflict with marching band practice. (It was a classic teenage dilemma).

Over the years, I’ve continued to patronize the restaurant. My family and I go there on a regular basis and are friends with many of the staff at the location nearest our home.

So I’ve been intrigued and troubled by the firestorm surrounding COO Dan Cathy’s recent remarks in support of traditional marriage. The corporation has been accused of homophobia and threatened with widespread boycotts by supporters of gay marriage. The mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, promised to chase Chick-fil-A out of town by making it impossible for them to get the necessary business permits they need to operate. Even Kermit the Frog has turned against them. I guess it’s easier being green than being a Christian chicken company these days.

The uproar shouldn’t be surprising to me, but in some ways it is.

First of all, Cathy’s remarks weren’t out of character in any way. We’re talking about a company that still closes on Sundays because of their religious beliefs. It’s also a company that donates money to a number of evangelical organizations. Did people really think they would be in favor of gay marriage? So why the sudden uproar?

Second, Cathy never even mentioned gay marriage in his comments to the Baptist Press. He simply said that his company supports the biblical view of marriage and that they try to support families in any way possible. Did he imply that he personally opposes gay marriage? Yes, he did. But again, what’s new here?

Third, the personal beliefs of the COO can’t possibly become a basis for the city of Boston to deny them business permits. I can’t help but wonder who is really discriminating here? When I applied to work at Chick-fil-A, nobody ever asked me about my religious beliefs or sexual orientation. I worked alongside people from all walks of life. Some of them were Christians and some were not. We served chicken to anybody willing to pay for it. We were instructed to treat every customer with respect and kindness. (Perhaps you’ve noticed that every employee at Chick-fil-A responds to the phrase, “Thank you,” with the phrase, “My pleasure!” How many fast food restaurants do that? For that matter, how many fast food employees actually look you in the eye and utter comprehensible sentences?) I’m guessing that Menino’s words are nothing more than political posturing, but time will tell.

The beliefs of Chick-fil-A’s COO do not constitute discrimination, any more than The Jim Henson Company can be considered discriminatory for donating their proceeds to GLAAD. You could make the argument that Lisa Henson discriminates against Christians. However, I’m not aware of her company openly refusing to hire Christians or blocking Christians from watching The Muppet Movie. In the same way, it can’t honestly be said that Chick-fil-A is discriminatory. It’s just that their leadership holds beliefs that some people find offensive. There’s a significant difference between the two.

If you’re a Christian who supports Chick-fil-A, then, how should you respond? Well, I’d encourage you not to respond with the sort of inflammatory rhetoric being employed by Chick-fil-A’s opponents. Be gracious and kind. It’s much less important to “win the day” than it is to reflect the love of Jesus Christ. I like chicken sandwiches, but the eternal future of Christ’s kingdom doesn’t hinge upon them. Continue to follow the instruction of 1 Peter 3:15, making a case for the hope within you with an attitude of gentleness and respect. In the final analysis, the fate of Chick-fil-A as a company is much less important than how we represent Jesus to the world.

Pray for those who are on the front lines of such a difficult conflict, that they will faithfully represent Christ. It’s tough to stand up for your beliefs while also treating your opponents with kindness and grace. People who are living out their faith in such a public context need our prayers.

Oh, and I suppose you could go buy some delicious chicken nuggets for lunch. Couldn’t hurt, right?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and input, but keep it nice! 

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The Growing Culture of Millennial Anger

I’m a bit concerned that the Millennial generation is becoming an angry generation. Not every young adult is hopping mad, of course, or even the majority of them. It does seem to be a significant and vocal minority, though.

Last weekend I ran across this open letter from a recent high school graduate. The Millennial author complains about constantly being told that her generation is a bunch of lazy whiners who think they deserve special treatment just for being born. She places the blame for her current situation squarely on the shoulders of the Baby Boomer generation, who in her opinion wantonly consumed the world’s resources and then placed unrealistic expectations upon their children and grandchildren.

If that letter were the only sign of this growing anger, I’d chalk it up to the ravings of one disillusioned young woman. However, I’ve also seen it popping up on my Facebook news feed. There’s no doubt that the current economic climate is tough for recent graduates. Many are having a hard time finding jobs or making ends meet. As a result, I’ve been seeing some angry comments written by frustrated young job-seekers who are tired of rejection and anxious about their futures.

Here’s the truth: If you’re graduating from college right now, the odds are high that you’re in for a tough road. My generation — the infamous Gen X, another group pegged with the “lazy whiner” label — was probably the last generation for which high-paying corporate jobs were a reasonable expectation upon college graduation. The economic climate has dramatically shifted in the past 15-20 years. Right now, there are simply more college graduates than there are good jobs.

So anger and cynicism and bitterness could be considered a normal and expected response to the current reality of your life. After all, you face a less certain future, in many ways, than your parents or even your older siblings. For your entire life, you’ve been promised that a college degree would result in a good job, and unmet expectations are frustrating. The loss of control, or at least the illusion of control, over one’s future is terrifying. And in some cases, the generations preceding you (including my own) have been completely unsympathetic and unhelpful.

It occurred to me this week, though, that my grandparents’ generation faced many of the same challenges that Millennials are currently facing. The 1930s and 1940s weren’t fun times for most people. The current unemployment rate is between 8% and 15%, depending upon which pundits you read. In 1933, unemployment rates hit 25% – 30%. Ouch.

It was during those years that my grandparents went to high school and college. Shortly after college graduation they faced a major World War, as well. If anybody had a reason to be angry, cynical, and bitter, they did.

Yet we don’t remember their generation for their anger or bitterness, but for their resilience and perseverance. We remember them as a generation that chose to face their challenges with joy and courage, creating a better life for their children and grandchildren. Crummy circumstances, great attitude. That’s why we still call them The Greatest Generation.

Lest this sound like one of those “shut and stop yer whining” speeches, let me make my point clear. I think the challenges faced by the Millennial generation can become a springboard to unbelievable opportunity. I think this generation has the potential to distinguish itself as a generation of perseverance, integrity, hard work, and strong character. I think you have the chance to be remembered as another Greatest Generation, depending on how you face the challenges life is dishing out to you today. In fact, I’m optimistic that your generation will be remembered as a stronger and more productive one than my own, or than my parents’ generation.

Of course, all of this hinges upon the attitude Millennials take as they meet the world that awaits them post-college. Bitterness, anger and cynicism might be justified, but they’re simply not productive. For the Christian students (who constitute a large percentage of my blog’s readership), consider passages like Ephesians 4:31: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Or Romans 5:3-4: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

Will your children and grandchildren tell stories of a generation who allowed trials to shape them into men and women of character and hope? Or will they remember a generation who allowed themselves to be crushed and defeated by uncontrollable circumstances?

To be honest, I can’t really offer you any hope of a near-term economic recovery. I wish I could say that you’ll eventually achieve the American Dream of a well-paying job, a house in the suburbs, and a couple of nice Hondas. But that might not be your future. I really don’t know.

I can say, though, that God is more concerned with your character than with your circumstances. When you reflect on your life in 40 or 50 years, you’ll remember your hardships either as the events that crushed your spirit, or as the events that drew you closer to Jesus. You’ll become a person of hope, or a person of bitterness. I’m curious which one it will be.

For those of you in the Millennial generation, how are you dealing with the poor economic prospects of your generation? What suggestions do you have for those who want to allow trials to shape them into men and women of hope?

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5 Creative Times for Prayer

I recently preached on the subject of prayer. As I studied for my message, I realized that most of us probably struggle with finding time to pray. I think most people feel insanely busy, making quiet time for prayer seem minimal or even non-existent. Between full-time ministry, raising three kids, spending time with my wife, and taking care of our home, it would be easy for prayer to slip out of my life.

So I’ve had to think creatively. Here are a few of my favorite “non-traditional” times to pray:

While driving. Several years ago I decided to try leaving the radio off while driving. I loved having that built-in time to pray and to think. While I occasionally listen to music (especially on longer trips), I’ve found that some of my best prayer time is in the car.

In the shower. The running water blocks out nearby noises (e.g. children, my dog) and I’m totally alone. Perfect time to pray for a few moments.

While doing household chores. I find that washing dishes doesn’t occupy all of my attention and requires very little mental processing space. Consequently, I can often talk to God while I scrub. The same thing goes for sweeping the floor. If you’re working with electricity, plumbing, or gas appliances, though, you might need to focus more intently on the task at hand.

While waiting for something to begin. If I’m early to a meeting, waiting in the car while my wife runs into a store, or sitting at the doctor’s office, I have a few moments to pray. Because of my impatience I don’t always use the time well, but it’s valuable time if I can redeem it.

While exercising. I’ll confess that I’m in a stage of life where it’s tough to find time for exercise, but when I can I’m usually able to pray at the same time. To be honest, I hate running, so I’ll often pray or sing worship songs just to take my mind off of what I’m actually doing. If I’m doing push-ups or extremely strenuous activity, I can’t usually focus on prayer, though.

How about you? Have you found creative or unusual times for prayer? I’d love to hear them!

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Is Something Wrong With Me?

If you’re involuntarily single, you’ve almost certainly asked yourself that question at some point. College students and young singles regularly tell me they struggle with insecurity. I remember struggling with it myself during a prolonged period of singleness (with no apparent prospects) in my early 20s. “Why can’t I find a date/significant other/spouse? Am I too short or tall or quiet or loud or unattractive or intimidating or picky?” It doesn’t help that those around you often ask the same questions. “Why are you (still, after SO long) single? Are you not trying hard enough? Do you think you should get out more and stop being so picky?”

We all know people who are clearly wonderful — attractive, godly, normal — and yet remain single for a long time. (For that matter, we also know unattractive, worldly, and strange people who get married young). From a logical perspective, most of us understand that singleness isn’t always — or even often — caused by a person’s defects. There isn’t any discernible rhyme or reason to who gets married at 22 and who remains single at 35. You probably know that in your brain, but it’s hard to apply personally when you’re sick of being single. The temptation is to try to isolate what’s “wrong” with you, thinking that once you can isolate the problem you can fix it.

The truth is that human relationships are complicated and often mysterious. They don’t lend themselves to simple evaluation or pat answers. Every relationship involves the personalities, feelings, and desires of two complex human beings. Not only that, but as Christians we have to take into account the work of God in each person’s heart and mind and life. We don’t always understand God’s plans, and sometimes we don’t even like them. That’s a hard truth, so it’s easier at times to seek out factors we think we can control — maybe if I lose 20 pounds or tell funnier jokes or just stop being so picky, I can fix this pesky singleness problem.

But relationships with God and others just don’t work that way. Seeking change and growth is appropriate and good and a necessary part of the spiritual life. However, it’s not a guaranteed means of finding a spouse, and as long as you view it that way you’ll be in danger of minimizing or missing the real work God wants to do in your life. For all of us — whether we’re waiting for a relationship or a better job or a child or something else altogether — God is simply more concerned with our character than with giving us the life circumstances we would prefer.

So is something wrong with you? Sure. Me too. Lots of things. We’re sinners in need of God’s grace. But your personal deficiencies probably aren’t the reason you are single. I don’t know exactly why you’re single, but it probably has something to do with God, who arranges the circumstances of your life so that you can know Him and pursue Him (Acts 17:26-27). So instead of agonizing over questions that can’t be answered, turn your eyes toward Jesus and follow Him with everything you have.

(And as a postscript, those of you who are married can certainly help your single friends in this regard. Resist suggesting easy “fixes” for their singleness or implying that if they would only do x or y or z then they could make everything better. Although we usually mean well, such advice is rarely helpful, often demoralizing, and always distracting).

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