Are Millennials Really Selfish?

I read a lot about the Millennial generation (born roughly from 1980 – 2000) and how they’re supposedly lazy, self-absorbed slackers.

This week, though, I ran across some evidence to the contrary.

I was called upon to donate peripheral blood stem cells to a cancer patient. To be honest, I’d forgotten that I was on the Be The Match registry until I received a call about two months ago telling me that I was a potential match for a leukemia patient living overseas.

I was assigned to a case-worker of sorts, a woman who took care of my paperwork and walked me through the donation process step by step. I started talking with her about friends of mine who had donated bone marrow or stem cells, and it turned out that we had a mutual acquaintance or two. One of those mutual acquaintances was a student involved with our college ministry.

“You know,” she told me, “I’ve never had a college student decline to donate bone marrow or stem cells when needed.” She told me that “grown-ups” say no all the time. They’re too busy to donate, or they hate needles, or they just don’t bother to respond to her request.

But college students (at least among the ones she’s talked to) agree to give 100% of the time. They still believe in the power of one individual to change the world, or at least to change the life of one other person. For Christian students, that gives them the potential to excel as disciples of Jesus Christ and as disciple-makers. That’s why my church expends so much energy, time, and money reaching students, a group that many have written off as lazy and selfish and hopeless.

Because they’re not lazy or selfish or hopeless. They just need something worth caring about and investing in. I believe in the power of the Gospel to provide that something. And I do believe that a few Millennials who are strongly dedicated to Christ really can change the world.

Why do you think college students and young adults get accused of selfishness and laziness so often? Do you think the stereotypes are accurate or inaccurate?

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Can Your Sexual Desires Be Changed?

Last week I wrote a short post on the subject of homosexuality, and included a link to my sermon on the topic. An issue came up in the comments that I feel merits its own post: Is it possible for a person who self-identifies as homosexual to change not only his behavior, but also his desires?

The idea that sexual desires can be controlled or even redirected and transformed is an extremely unpopular one. In fact, one Christian counselor in the U.K. recently lost her accreditation when she was fooled by a journalist into believing that he was a Christian who wanted help overcoming homosexuality. After she accommodated his request, he reported her to the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy, at which point she was stripped of her senior accreditation.

I think the question of whether homosexual men and women can change their desires is at once too broad and too narrow. 

It’s too broad because I wouldn’t even expect most non-Christians to want any sort of change in their sexual desires of practices. Yes, some seek change because of the external consequences of their sin, but I wouldn’t expect them to seek the same sort of spiritual transformation sought by Christians. For that reason, I don’t think it’s the Christian’s job to go out into the world and eradicate homosexuality. The Christian’s work is primarily to present the Gospel and to lead people toward the Savior who can forgive all sin and provide true change and renewed life.

So when my sermon discussed the possibility of change for those struggling with homosexuality, it was indeed an inside discussion of sorts. I was speaking to a group of Christian college students. Time and time again, I’m approached by Christian college students seeking to view their sexuality from a biblical perspective, and many of them really want to overcome homosexuality. Dealing with sexual sin is one aspect of a person’s walk with Christ. I know that it’s not the sum total of a person’s relationship with Jesus, and I’ve never claimed that it is. In fact, my primary advice to those struggling with sexual sin is to draw nearer to Jesus and to allow His Spirit to convict and to change behavior.

The question of change (as phrased above) is also too broad because it assumes that homosexual sin is somehow different from any other sexual sin. There’s a deep irony here. Those who insist that Christians shouldn’t be exhorted to overcome homosexuality often say, “It’s no different from any other sin, so it shouldn’t be singled out.” But out of the other side of their mouth they insist that homosexuality cannot be overcome because it’s such a strong desire and so tied up with a person’s identity. You simply can’t have it both ways. Either homosexuality is on par with other sexual sins — in which case one’s desires can be controlled and yes, even changed — or it’s the worst and toughest possible struggle, one that simply cannot be overcome. Both can’t be true at the same time.

Romans 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18, among many other passages, talk about the possibility of true mental and spiritual transformation for the Christian. In fact, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 specifically mentions that some of the believers Paul was addressing were homosexuals, but that changed when they came to know Him and to walk with Him. 

“But the statistics simply don’t bear out that homosexuals can change.” I was an engineering major in college, so I know just enough about statistics to give my opinion. They measure probabilities and correlations, not possibilities. I would expect the statistics to tell me that homosexuality (and other sexual sins, for that matter) are incredibly difficult to overcome. That’s because we’re talking about supernatural transformation, not about what’s possible in the normal course of affairs through a stern talking-to and a skilled psychologist.

The other deep irony here is that those who insist that homosexual sin cannot be overcome will point to the statistics but will completely disregard the testimonies of men and women who have experienced victory in this area of their lives. Such people are generally dismissed — “Well, that person wasn’t a real homosexual or he wouldn’t have really changed.” That’s not exactly scientific reasoning, friends. It’s insulting to those who are telling us that God has truly changed their lives.

So what am I saying, in a nutshell? I absolutely agree that changing one’s sexual desires is not possible apart from a supernatural transformation of the Holy Spirit. Changing external behavior, perhaps, but not internal desires and orientations. However, as a Christian pastor, I simply can’t acquiesce and say that one’s desires cannot change. If that were true, discipleship would have little purpose. The ultimate point of discipleship is that a person is transformed, inside and out, to reflect the character of Jesus. That means I’ll learn to desire prayer, something I don’t naturally desire. It means I’ll learn to desire love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I don’t naturally desire those things, but through the Spirit’s power my mind and heart can be retrained. Is that an easy or quick process? Of course not. But it is possible because we serve an all-powerful God.

Again, I’m not suggesting at all that discipleship is pursued first and foremost as sin management. However, in the broader context of discipleship, addressing sexual identity and purity is often necessary. And if I can’t offer hope that the Spirit can overcome any sin or struggle, then I can’t really offer any hope at all to anybody.

OK, I want to hear your responses. (But please keep them respectful and appropriate. I do welcome disagreement here, but I will delete comments that resort to name-calling, vulgarities, or character assassination.) What do you think about the possibility of true change in the area of sexuality for those who follow Jesus Christ? 

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Bible-Free Theology?

When I began college, I honestly didn’t know the difference between a Calvinist and an Arminian. Or an Armenian, for that matter. I did have a fairly good grasp of basic biblical content, since I grew up in a Bible church and had read the Bible a couple of times. What I had not done up to that point was make any attempt to understand theological categories or positions.

Strangely, though, I’m finding that today’s college student seems to have the opposite problem. Many students have settled on their theological positions, but they have not read or studied the biblical text. They simply know that they are Calvinists or dispensationalists or Arminians, but can’t defend their positions from the Scripture itself.

I suspect that a couple of factors contribute to this phenomenon. First, reading the Bible takes time and concentration. Studying it requires even more of both. Few of us really take the time to read a Grisham novel these days, much less a book as difficult and lengthy as the Bible. Second, there are so many sermon podcasts, short theological books, and blogs available that we have the illusion that deep understanding can be gained quickly and easily. It can’t. You can create the appearance of wisdom by mimicking the words of others, but true wisdom requires humility and years of prayer and hard work to acquire. I’m not suggesting that we tune out every theologian or teacher and simply read the Bible in isolation. Instead, I’m suggesting that we listen closely to our teachers and leaders while constantly holding up their words to the light of The Word.

The good news is that the secret of wisdom and theological understanding is not really a secret at all. Pray for it (James 1:5). Read God’s Word repeatedly and carefully (Psalm 19:7). Listen to wise people and hear what they have to say (Proverbs 4). God promises wisdom (which includes theological understanding) to the person who seeks it diligently.

Of course the bad news is that, although the path to wisdom is simple, it’s far from easy. You can’t be a skilled theologian by patching together soundbites from your favorite authors or preachers. You can’t do it through simply adopting the theological positions of your peer group. It requires two things: The grace of God and the dedication to learn what He wants to teach us.

So here’s a challenge for you: For every 30 minutes that you spend listening to a podcast or reading a blog, spend another hour reading and studying the Bible. Write down your observations and the questions you can’t answer. Seek out godly people to help you understand the Scripture better — people you actually know in real life. Long before you construct a theological system (or adopt somebody else’s), make sure you know the content of the Bible. Resign yourself to the fact that wisdom and understanding take time and effort. According to God’s Word, though, the reward is more than worth the effort it costs to attain it (Proverbs 16:16).

If you are interested in any resources to help you understand God’s Word better, look at the free Bible studies on Grace’s website: http://www.grace-bible.org/downloads/BibleStudies.aspx.

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You Have More Influence Than You Think

I’ve been a college pastor for eight years now, so I’ve seen several generations of students come and go. One of the most intriguing aspects of college ministry is watching the process of discipleship happen in a compressed time frame. While an adult might leave a legacy at his church over the course of several decades, a student only has four or five years, at most, to make a mark.

I’ve learned, though, that most of us have more influence on others than we think we do. Even though they’re only around for a few years, many students impact the feeling and direction of our ministry for years to come. Students who lead with integrity and faithfulness often leave behind an army of like-minded student leaders. On the other hand, students who are immature, lazy, or unkind can create a toxic environment that takes a long time to overcome.

Most of us don’t think we have very much influence. We’ve been conditioned to believe that the real influencers in our culture are celebrities, business moguls, and politicians. Those people certainly have an influence, but to be honest it’s more of a wide-spectrum influence than a deep one. Think about the people who have really changed your life, and chances are they aren’t famous. They’re ordinary people: your parents, close friends, teachers, pastors, boyfriends/girlfriends, and roommates.

When Paul told Timothy to teach the truth of Christ to faithful men, who would teach it to faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2), he understood that real cultural change happens one life at a time, as one person influences another, who influences another, and so on. That’s the process of discipleship.

Although we tend to think of discipleship in strictly Christian terms, it actually works the opposite direction as well. If I use my influence to hurt others or to insult them or to feed my own ego, I’m going to produce others who act in the same ways. On the other hand, if I use my influence to draw others toward Christ and to share with them His kindness and love, I’m going to leave an entirely different sort of legacy.

So here’s a challenge for you this morning: Think about the people you influence. Make a list of your friends, family, classmates, roommates, professors, and anybody else who could be impacted by your words and actions. Then ask yourself, “What sort of legacy am I leaving?” It might be that you need to make some adjustments. Whether you think about it often or not, you are making a difference. The question is simply, “What sort of difference are you making?”

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Can You Have Too Little Student Debt?

I’ve written before on the subject of student loans, but I ran across a very interesting article on the subject this week. The University of Utah has the lowest average student loan debt in the country among traditional four-year colleges. Most of us probably think that’s a good thing — after all, don’t we want students to graduate with minimal debt to pay off in future years?

However, administrators and experts question whether too little debt actually hurts graduates in the long run. The theory is that students who take out few or no loans are often working long hours outside of school to make ends meet and to pay tuition. As a result, they tend to graduate later and make lower grades. Consequently, they sacrifice earnings during their early 20s, and they have lower earning potential. If you are interested in detailed loan statistics, visit this website as it is a great resource for such topics. The writers involved are some of the most renowned in their fields.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this. It seems like one’s chosen career field makes a difference here. For example, one student in the article is working as a realtor and he hopes to be a realtor after finishing school. Why would he sacrifice the work experience and take on debt to finish school faster?

On the other hand, it might be beneficial for students hoping to go to graduate school to finish college faster and have more time to focus on their undergraduate studies. They are sometimes using installment loans bad credit services (ex.: Student Loan Forgiveness Atlanta) if they are no longer approved by the state, which increases their revenue short term but may have consequences in the future. If you have bad credit and are looking for a company to help fix that, you can read the full comparison here. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, your grades are important. Not to mention that finishing your undergrad degree when you’re 25 delays your career until you’re nearly 30 or older.

So do you think in some cases it makes sense to take out student loans in order to finish school faster? If so, where’s the acceptable threshold? At what point does the debt become too overwhelming?

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How Do College Students Spend Their Time?

I ran across this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about how college students use their time on a daily basis:

A few things struck me as I looked at it. First, the average college student spends more time in leisure and sports activities than in going to class and studying. That’s a bit surprising, although it’s not totally inconsistent with my own college experience. Second, despite the perception that students don’t get much sleep, they seem to average more than 8 hours of sleep each night. That’s more sleep than the average adult with children. Third, I was surprised that students travel for an hour and a half on average each day. Maybe because I lived on campus as a freshman and sophomore, my travel time was significantly less than that.

At any rate, the value of information like this is that it hopefully inspires you to consider how you use your own time. It might not look exactly like this chart, but it’s worth considering whether you’re using your time effectively. Psalm 39:4-5 talks about how we are a mere breath, and our lives are like a vapor that appears and disappears just as quickly. Will you and I live in a way that pleases God, “making the most of the time” (Eph 5:16)?

Does your use of time resemble this chart? If not, how does it differ? 

Do you struggle with using your time well? If so, why?

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Why Money Management Is A Spiritual Issue

I ran across a blog post the other day in which Seth Godin talks about money and opportunity cost. His point is essentially that every dollar you spend on one “dream” rules out a different dream. If you spend $200,000 on college, you eliminate other options in your life.

When you and I purchase a car or a house or even a burrito, we’re making decisions based on our value systems. If having the fanciest car on the block is my highest priority, then I might not be able to eat out often or buy new clothes. If I highly value summer vacations in Italy, I might have to live in a smaller house or drive a cheaper car to make that happen.

How does all of this relate to the Christian life? 

It relates in a number of ways, but the biggest mistake I see college graduates make is trying to immediately match their parents’ lifestyle. Doing so requires an enormous investment of time and energy. It often requires working long hours or taking multiple jobs. As a result, church involvement or community service becomes impossible.

In addition, many young adults max out their budget buying the biggest house or most expensive car that the bank will allow them to purchase. Then they have little left over to give to missionaries or to their local church.

If you are about to graduate from college, here are a few suggestions regarding money. First, live well below your means if at all possible. Don’t base your spending on what your friends are buying or what your parents own. Your friends might be up to their eyeballs in debt. Your parents have been building their wealth for 30 years or more. Second, recognize that your seemingly enormous salary won’t go as far as you think. Living on your own in a big city is quite different financially from living in a 2-bedroom apartment with 16 of your college friends. Third (and most importantly), determine your values early. Do you want to have enough money to be generous? If you have kids, do you want one spouse to stay home with them? Do you plan to buy a house or save for retirement? Create your budget accordingly.

Most of all, never forget that your money is a delegated resource. You’re intended to use what you have to further God’s kingdom. Do your spending priorities reflect that?

What are your thoughts regarding money and the Christian life? What challenges do you face? 

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Stop Kony, But Don’t Stop There

Ever since Invisible Children released its first film in 2004, they’ve been adept at creating awareness about the war in Uganda and directing grassroots movements to end it. Their latest film is a challenge to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, the brutal leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The hope is that with enough awareness and political pressure, the United States will intervene to arrest Kony and stop his reign of terror. (If you haven’t seen the film yet, just scroll through your Facebook News Feed until you find it. Or do a quick Google search for Kony 2012).

Kony is a criminal, and his arrest and prosecution would be a good thing. I wrote in a similar vein after the death of Osama bin Laden and concluded that God loves justice. As Christians we ought to care about the children Kony kidnaps, exploits, and murders. The campaign to stop him is appropriate. I’m encouraged that so many college students and adults are concerned for the welfare of children on the other side of the world. That concern reflects the heart of Jesus. He loves each child, and so should we.

I have an additional challenge, though, for those involved in the Kony 2012 effort: Don’t be satisfied with the removal of one evil leader. In other words, we need to ask ourselves, “What’s next?” If Kony is arrested and imprisoned or executed, what comes next? How do we prevent the next Kony from picking up where the first one left off?

It’s my belief that unless the movement to stop Kony is paired with an effort to bring the Gospel to Africa, then it will ultimately fail in the light of eternity. Kony is a problem, but he’s really only part of the problem. The problems that plague Africa, that plague the whole world, run a lot deeper than one wicked man. War and violence and corruption begin in the human heart, and they can only ultimately be solved by the intervention of God’s Spirit.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t engage in seeking earthly justice for terrorists and warlords. It just means that it’s not nearly enough. Remember this: The deaths of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden didn’t end terrorism in the Middle East. Only Jesus can do that. We represent His kingdom, but we can’t bring it here on our own. Our greater goal, then, is to provide avenues for the world to know Jesus and to one day be a part of His perfect kingdom.

I’d love to see the effort to stop Kony paired with an effort to feed and clothe the children he has abducted, and to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.

So I would add some action steps to the ones IC provides at the end of their video: 

-Pray. Pray for the hearts and minds of Africa and the world. Pray that God’s Spirit will move and that men and women across the country will lay down their rifles to fall down before Jesus.

-Support missionaries. I’d love to see an effort among Christians to give to those missionaries who are on the front lines sharing the Gospel in Africa. I’d personally love it if that effort were supported as strongly among evangelicals as the effort to arrest Kony. What if members of evangelical churches asked their pastors this week, en masse, for the names of specific missionaries to support in Africa? What if we gave millions of dollars to the proclamation of the Gospel in addition to the money and exposure we’re providing to the military effort to stop Kony?

-Go to Africa and share. My own church is leading a trip this year to Bulembu, Swaziland to provide medical care for orphans and to share the Gospel. Maybe your church is doing something similar. If you want to impact Africa for eternity, think about taking a couple of weeks off of work or school and going on a trip like that. “But stopping Kony seems so big. Sharing Jesus with a couple of poor kids feels small.” Only as small as the power of the Gospel to change a country or a continent. Never believe the lie that a few faithful men and women can’t impact the world for eternity.

So will you pick up the challenge? Will you engage not only in seeking earthly justice for a terrible criminal, but also in the task of pointing men and women to the one true source of justice and eternal life? 

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When Should You Share Your Past Sins With Your Significant Other?

Many (if not most) Christian young adults enter into dating relationships with some baggage from their past. It’s quite common for people to worry about how their past sins will affect their future relationships, especially as they approach the point of marriage.

Should you tell your current boyfriend or girlfriend about your past sexual sins? If so, at what point in the relationship is it appropriate?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, since every couple is different and every person has different needs. However, I think some general principles apply:

First, past sexual sins ought to be discussed at some point prior to marriage. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, marriage requires trust. It’s hard to enter into a relationship of trust if one or both parties are hiding information about themselves. As painful as it may be, honesty is the best policy. Second, the possibility exists that your potential marriage partner could find out about your past anyway. It’s much better if they hear it from you rather than from a third party.

Second, choose your timing carefully. Don’t unload everything on the first date. That’s awkward and unnecessary. On the other hand, you don’t want to spring the information on your fiance the night before the wedding. That’s unfair and overwhelming. Simply wait until the relationship is seriously progressing toward marriage. That doesn’t mean you have to wait until you’re engaged. Again, every couple is unique. As a general rule, though, once it’s clear that you’re both seriously contemplating the future, go ahead and discuss your past.

Third, you don’t need to share every graphic detail. Be truthful without being explicit. Don’t paint a high resolution picture for the other person. That isn’t helpful. Just share the basics of your past in an honest and tactful way. Ask forgiveness for any behavior that could negatively impact your future marriage and commit to being faithful to your future spouse and to God from this point forward.

The result of this conversation ought to be increased closeness and trust between you and your potential marriage partner. By the way, if you happen to be the person on the receiving end of this conversation, remember that we’re all sinners in need of forgiveness. Assuming we’re talking about sin that is truly in the past (before you two were dating) I strongly urge you to offer forgiveness and acceptance. If necessary, take some time to think and pray before you respond.

Would you add any suggestions or ideas to what I’ve written here? I’d love to hear your input!

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“It’s Just an Idea”

There’s no such thing as “just an idea.” Every idea, good or evil, has the potential to change the world. Or at least to change a small corner of the world.

A couple of days ago I ran across an article, published in a medical journal, on the subject of infanticide. The authors are Australian bio-ethicists, and they’re arguing that infanticide is acceptable, since it’s morally equivalent to abortion. (Incidentally, they aren’t the first ones to suggest this idea, just the latest and most publicized).

When their “ideas” were met with criticism and outrage, the primary author responded by saying, “This is pure academic, theoretical discussion.”

Except it isn’t. What begins in the academic world often moves out to the real world. Ideas are not neutral, and they have real consequences. These ideas are so outrageous that many people don’t even believe the authors are serious. But they are. If you doubt that ideas like this can become reality, you should know that the Netherlands already allows infanticide in certain instances.

The devastating idea at the root of this article is that not all human beings are “persons” worthy of life. There is a contrasting idea, one that safeguards against this sort of evil. It’s the biblical idea that every person is made in God’s image and therefore inherently valuable, regardless of his or her mental and physical capacities.

So we have two very different ideas, both of which make an enormous difference in how we view and treat other human beings. One idea leads people to suggest destroying the weakest and most vulnerable among us. The other leads us to treat them with dignity and to offer them protection.

Ideas become beliefs, and beliefs become actions. So ask yourself this: To what beliefs and actions will my ideas lead? Where will they lead me, and where will they lead those in my little corner of the world? Because there’s no such thing as “just an idea.”

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