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These are all words that we seldom, if ever, heard before a couple of weeks ago. Now we see and hear them several times a day. The fact is, we have never seen anything like this before. The spread of the Coronavirus is the type of event that will be in future editions of history textbooks.
We are going through a season when everyone’s pattern of life is being disrupted. Events cancelled, businesses closed, schedules trashed. We are having to find a different way to do just about everything.
Most adults have worked from home before, just not for this extended amount of time. It is unusual, but not entirely unfamiliar.
This is uncharted territory for most students. They have never done school from home. High school students are having to learn geometry with their teachers as a distance. College students are having to write papers with libraries closed. Even homeschoolers are now confined to home, no doubt more than they prefer.
So, with the world turned upside down, and everyone confined to their homes, what is a student to do?
Here’s the thing…
Many have pointed “blessings in disguise” that we can find if only we look. For students, this moment presents unique opportunities for growth. I would suggest three.
With the extra time you have on your hands, tolle lege! Read a book…or several.
You may be one who thinks they hate reading. I understand. Reading is not easy, but it can be worth it. You probably just haven’t found a book written well enough or about a topic important enough to make it worth your effort. So, by all means, keep looking.
You may be one who loves to read. I understand. Reading is great, but it can also be a waste of time. You may not have found a book written well enough or a topic challenging enough to test your mind. So, by all means, keep looking.
During this quarantine, you have a unique opportunity. You can read, not just to earn a grade, but to learn a lesson. You know the difference! You can read, not just for enjoyment, but improvement. Not that the two are mutually exclusive.
Closed bookstores and libraries shouldn’t be problem. We live in the digital age! Load up Kindle on whatever device you prefer and dive in!
If expense is a concern, there are plenty of other options. You would be amazed at how much is available online for free. Amazon.com will let you “Look inside” and read part of a book, several chapters in some books. Then you will be able to decide if it is worth purchasing.
Depending on how old or popular a book is, not to mention copyrights, you may be able to find a PDF version to save to your preferred reading platform. The PDF section of my Kindle library is full of classics that I have found online for free.
One of my favorite tools is Hoopla, a platform for digital content from public libraries. The app can be downloaded on any device and offers access with only a library card number (which you can also get online if you don’t have one yet).
Suggestions? Of course! Here are several books for students that immediately come to my mind (affiliate links below):
- Do Hard Things by Alex and Bret Harris
- Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
- This Changes Everything by Jaquelle Crowe
- Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
- Thriving At College by Alex Chediak
And if I could be so bold as to suggest one more book to read during this season of social distancing: the Bible. All sarcasm aside. I have already heard from several of my students that one of the blessings in disguise of what we are experiencing is that they have been able to spend more time in God’s Word.
Students have a particularly unique opportunity during the quarantine to observe their parents as they never have. Many parents are being forced to work from home. So, now you have the chance to see them in action.
Generations ago, children observed their parents at work on a regular basis, whether it was on the family farm or a family-owned business. In fact, children often participated in the work. Then our country industrialized, and many parents began working away from home where children no longer could observe, much less participate.
“Today’s children are likely to conceive of work as one job, and yet less likely to work the same job as their parents—such as on a family farm or ranch or in the same trade—than ever before. They no longer see up close a broad range of their parents’ work struggles, and they do not daily observe their parents’ work ethic the way their great-grandparents did. Most kids’ hours are spent chiefly in age-segregated environments.”
I am not against industrialization, but I think our culture lost a lot when children lost the opportunity to see the work their parents put in day after day to provide for their families.
Well, guess what, in all the weirdness of this moment, you have regained that opportunity!
Take this time to observe your parents at work while at home. Ask them questions. What does their daily routine look like? What are the products and services they provide? What are their customers like? How many meetings do they attend? What is the most frustrating thing about their job? What is the most rewarding thing about their job?
When you get a front-row glimpse of what your parents’ work requires of them, you will more than likely get a whole new level of appreciation for them. You and your family will be all the better for it. And, who knows, maybe you will get some guidance toward your own vocation.
Take advantage of this blessing in disguise. You get to observe what your parents do to give you the life you enjoy. Watch and learn.
The type of habits that make a person successful in life do not happen by accident. They are built.
What time did you wake up this morning? Or possibly, this afternoon? For many students, the morning is something that happens to them. However, you have an opportunity during this time at home to build patterns and habits into your life that will enable you to get up each morning and seize the day.
John C. Maxwell, author of dozens of books on leadership, says, “The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” Your daily routine is simply the series of positive habits that builds you into the person you ought to be. In other words, building good habits builds you.
They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Well, guess what? You have time!
I would suggest that you focus on your morning. I have found personally, and in conversation with many others, that the day is often won or lost in the first couple of hours. At least the rhythm for the day is set by then.
You will be amazed at how a morning routine reduces your stress, clears your mind, and maximizes your energy.
I don’t know what your regular morning looks like. Perhaps, you already have a set routine. However, I would strongly recommend that at least three features be a part of your morning.
Social media is great for many reasons, especially during this time of quarantine. However, it shouldn’t be the first thing you concern yourself with in the day. The first thing you set your eyes on each morning should not be a filtered and posed picture of someone else.
My advice would be to practice solitude by avoiding social media first thing in the morning. Instead, work more healthy habits into your morning.
Prayer offers so much more than the mindfulness practices that are so popular today. Prayer is more than meditation: it is communication with God. Prayer does more than focus your mind: it directs your heart. Prayer does more than bring clarity: it brings you into the presence of God to live your day by his grace and for his glory.
My advice would be to begin each day praying for your day, expressing your dependence on God for a good day.
One of my favorite metaphors in the Bible is in James 1:22-25. James compares the Bible to a mirror. I would dare say most of us would not go through our day without looking at a mirror and doing something about the mess we see. It is infinitely more important that we look into God’s Word, the mirror of our lives, and put to practice what it teaches.
My advice would be to spend a substantial part of your morning reading the Bible and finding some command to obey, correction to make, truth to ponder, or promise to claim.
Each of these no doubt deserves a discussion/blog post by themselves. Nevertheless, they are worth the effort to work into your morning, as is building a morning routine in general. The best part is, because of the quarantine, you are currently able to build a morning routine without waking up that early! Talk about a blessing in disguise.
For many students, this quarantine will be an inconvenience of boredom instead of an opportunity for growth. They will spend more time admiring other people than examining themselves. It will be a time of amusement instead of a time for improvement.
Which will it be for you?
Last fall, acclaimed atheist Richard Dawkins released his newest book, Out Growing God. For those familiar with Dr. Dawkins’ previous books, the book offers nothing new. However, this book has a more targeted audience: teenagers.
Dawkins dedicates the book to “all young people when they’re old enough to decide for themselves.” In the book he recounts that he “gave up” Christianity when he was fifteen years old. Dawkins offers this book as a guide for those headed in the same direction.
As I read, I stumbled on a thought that I believe has some value for Christian believers—yes, a devotional thought courtesy of Richard Dawkins!
A few times through the book thinking about Old Testament Israel. He brings into question their monotheism. Basically, he talks as though they weren’t:
“…although the Israelites worshipped their own tribal god Yahweh, they didn’t necessarily disbelieve in the gods of rival tribes, such as Baal, the fertility god of the Canaanites; they just thought Yahweh was more powerful – and also extremely jealous…” 
Dawkins is following an argument from as late as the 19th century. German theologians, namely Julius Wellhausen, reinterpreted the Jewish religion through a Darwinian lens. Wellhausen popularized the idea that the Jewish religion evolved over time from animism (the belief that a spirit lived in everything), to polytheism (the belief in many gods), to totemism (the belief one’s tribe descended from a group of plants or animals), to ancestor worship, and eventually to monotheism—well, sort of.
This idea is not new, but it is also not current and for good reason. Jewish scholar Rich Robinson explains:
“Unfortunately, [Wellhausen’s] influence was based on assumptions and philosophies which had little to do with historical evidence. The recent upsurge in modern archaeology has shown Wellhausen’s viewpoint to be arbitrary and outdated.”
(Note: I highly recommend Dr. Robinson’s article on the topic. It was concise but helpful on the issue.)
So why does Dawkins portray the Israelites this way? My guess is that he is attempting to relegate the Jewish religion to the ash heap of ancient paganism. After all, conflating the Biblical narrative with the mythologies of the past and dismissing it accordingly is one of Dr. Dawkins’ favorite thing to do. The strategy is clear: if he can disregard the Jewish religion, he can disregard the fulfillment of it, Christianity.
However, as with so much of Richard Dawkins critique of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, he acts as though his assertions are a given. When he offers evidence for his claim, which is rare, it is feeble at best.
But, here’s the thing…
On this issue, I think he kind of has a point. It’s just not the one he intended.
Think about how many times the Children of Israel turned to idols. Think of how often idolatry was in the pervasive land. There were many points in Hebrew history that worshiping the gods of their enemies was the norm. Moses and the prophets told them that there was only one God and that they were to worship and obey him alone. They were supposed to be monotheistic. But they often failed to act like it.
I am not sure what value that fact has for Dr. Dawkins other than criticizing believers for not being as consistent as their beliefs should make them. (A line of reasoning that has gotten him in trouble before.)
However, his comments prompt me to ask myself: Years from now, what evidence will a skeptic have on me to accuse me of not being truly monotheistic?
In other words, how much am I capitulating to my culture and bringing idols into my heart and mind when Christ has claimed them for himself?
Like the Hebrews, we live in a world with an abundance of phony gods. Our culture worships the pantheon of modern deities like money, power, and comfort. We are called on to show obeisance to the postmodern deities of moral relativity and individual autonomy.
The real difficulty is that our culture has an ally on the inside. The Bible tells us that our hearts work in tandem with the world in the idol making process. In Ezekiel 14, three times within four sentences, God indicts his people for setting up “idols in their hearts.” (Ezekiel 14:3-7) We do not make idols with our hands; we make them with our hearts.
Hand-crafted images made of wood or precious metals are not much of a temptation these days. Furthermore, most of us Christians avoid the worship of blatantly sinful idols that come by way of temptation and addiction. But our hearts are more menacing than that. You see, we tend to make idols out of the good things in life.
Timothy Keller explains how this happens:
“The human heart takes good things…and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”
That is to say, an idol is not defined by its inherent goodness or badness. An idol is “anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
So I ask myself, what am I seeking to give me what only God can give? (…and probably already has given!)
May God help us to detect and destroy the idols our hearts create. That way, years from now, no one can look back and accuse us of not being truly monotheistic.
 Richard Dawkins, Outgrowing God, p. 7.
 Rich Robinson, “Monotheism of the Ancient Hebrews: Evolved, Invented, Stolen or Revealed?” (https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-0505-letters-to-the-editor/monotheism-of-the-ancient-hebrews-evolved-invented-stolen-or-revealed/)
 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, p. xiv.
 Keller, p. xvii.
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(I know, I know. We’re all already tired of the “2020 Vision” themes. But this opportunity only comes twice in the timeline of human history–and the first time we weren’t even counting years the same way, nor were we measuring vision the same way. So humor me.)
Few ideas have made an impact on me more than this quote by C.S. Lewis:
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
It is a profound thought with many implications. But it mainly points to the simultaneous testimonies of the evidential weight and explanatory power of the Christian worldview. In other words, Christianity is not only a worldview for which there is much evidence. It is a worldview that offers an explanation for everything we see and experience in life.
Here are four things Biblical Christianity allows us to see:
A More Satisfying Vision of Our God
People have all sorts of ideas about God, but these ideas tend to leave us dissatisfied with God.
I find that misconceptions about God are often due to a shortsighted obsession with one of God’s attributes to the neglect of all the rest. For many, God is too loving to be wrathful. For others, God is too wrathful to be loving. For some, God is too elusive to be knowable. For others, God is too confounding to be real.
Each of the world’s religions present their own imbalanced view of God. He is too transcendent to be personal, and too holy to love. Or He is too erratic to be exalted and too complacent to be decisive.
With all the poor explanations of who and what God is, it is no wonder so many people have a hard time believing in God at all.
As Christian apologist Greg Koukl puts it:
If that’s the kind of God they don’t believe in, then I agree with them. I don’t believe in that kind of God either.
The Bible stands apart from all these dissatisfying presentations of God. The Biblical picture of God displays the cumulative force of every attribute of God. As such, Christianity has an understanding of God that is maximally dynamic in every attribute— and because of every attribute.
In the Bible all God’s attributes stand in balance with one another. God’s righteousness is balanced by his love. Wrath is balanced by mercy. Condemnation is balanced by grace.
All man-made visions of God will forever be too small. In Christianity, we find that God is bigger than any caricature with which skeptics portray Him. God is more complex than any misrepresentation by which the religions of the world present Him.
This is because in the Bible we are not given a manmade vision of God. The Biblical vision of God is one given by God Himself. The Christian understanding of God is more satisfying because God is more satisfying.
A More Lofty Vision of Our Humanity
Misconceptions about God almost immediately result in misconceptions about us. Whenever we recast God in our thinking, it will always be a demotion from who and what he has revealed himself to be. And because humans were made in his image, humanity will be demoted in our thinking as well.
Christian philosopher Nancy Pearcey stated it this way:
When a worldview exchanges the Creator for something in creation, it will also exchange a high view of humans made in God’s image for a lower view of humans made in the image of something in creation.
Some worldviews describe humans as a feature of an exclusively physical universe. As such, we are the result of random mutations, highly intelligent animals, living on oasis of life-permitting good luck. Some worldviews describe humans as a manifestation of an exclusively spiritual universe. As such, we are the delusional manifestations of a universal over-soul, working our way toward oblivion.
As much as biology influences the human experience, we are so much more than an accidental pack of neurons. As much as people long for spirituality, we are meant for more than nirvanic nothingness.
The Bible stands apart from all these presentations of humanity. The Biblical explanation of humanity tells a story in which a personal God decisively creates us for the purpose of, and with the capacity for, a relationship with him. Unlike all other creatures in his creation, we were made like him to be with him.
Christianity has the greatest possible view of humanity because it holds that humans were made in the likeness of the greatest possible Being.
A More Accurate Vision of Our Problem
I think everyone can agree on at least one thing: the world is not as it should be.
Turning the pages of world history, it’s easy to see that humanity has a problem. On one page we are doing fantastic things—exploring frontiers, creating art, and splitting atoms. On the next page we are doing terrible things—exploiting people, producing filth, and dropping bombs.
What is our problem?
Over the years, important thinkers have devised explanations for why the world is out of whack. Buddha taught that physical desires were our problem. Karl Marx taught that economic oppression was our problem. Sigmund Freud taught that repression of our physical desires was our problem.
Some believe we are simply uneducated. Our problem is that we do not know enough about the universe and each other. We are not lost. We are ignorant and confused.
Some believe we are simply unenlightened. Our problem is that we are off-center and out of touch with deeper reality. We are not lost. We are unconnected and distracted.
What do all these views have in common? They describe what is wrong with the world as something that has happened to us. Something ‘out there’ is our problem.
As the story goes, The Times in England once asked several prominent intellectuals, “What’s wrong with the world today?” Christian author G.K. Chesterton responded simply,
Yours, G.K. Chesterton
The Bible presents the most accurate diagnosis of our problem—sin. It is a problem that resides in each and every one of us. We do not do what we should because we are not what we were meant to be. The problem is very much ‘in here.’
A More Hopeful Vision of Our Salvation
When you survey the philosophies and religions of the world, you notice that each one has its prescribed list of things to do in order to attain salvation. Whether by education or meditation, sacraments or sacrifices, removal from the world or involvement in it–there are things we must do to fix the problems we have. Because the problem is something ‘out there,’ the solution must be as well. All we have to do is go out and get it.
Christianity on the other hand offers a unique hope. Philosopher of religion Albert C. Wolters tells us:
As far as I can tell, the Bible is unique in its rejection of all attempts to either demonize some part of creation as the root of our problems or to idolize some part of creation as the solution.
In other words, because we are the problem, the solution is out of our grasp. We cannot attain salvation; it needs to be given to us. Like criminals in a court of law, or a terminally ill patient, if we could have saved ourselves then we would not be in this predicament in the first place. Our exoneration must come from a righteous judge. Our cure must come from a great physician.
In the Bible, there is only one solution presented: Jesus Christ. The entire Old Testament anticipates his sacrificial death. The New Testament celebrates his miraculous resurrection. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is the power of God unto salvation. He has done for us what we are desperately incapable of doing for ourselves.
Christianity offers infinitely more hope because Jesus is infinitely more capable of saving us than we are of saving ourselves.
Here’s the thing…
When it comes to the battle of ideas, there is no such thing as neutral ground. There is no “view from nowhere.” We all believe something, and we all believe what we believe based on assumptions we cannot prove.
As I see it, there are then two questions:
1. How well can you see the beliefs you have?
This is where most people begin and end. They find the evidence to support their belief, and that is that. They believe it because they “see it.” But, a second questions must be asked.
2. How well do your beliefs help you see everything else?
Do your beliefs involve a misconception of God? Do your beliefs diminish your vision of humanity? Do your beliefs confuse your vision of our problem? Do your beliefs present hope in your vision of salvation?
We Christians believe in Jesus Christ, because in him we see God of very God, the fullness of the Godhead bodily. In him we see humanity the way it was meant to be. In him we see our sin identified, paid for, and defeated. In him we see hope for the eternal life for which we were made.
We Christians believe in Christ, not only because we see him, but because by him, we see everything else.
(Footnote links are affiliate links for Amazon.com. If you click or purchase from these links I will receive a small commission. So, thanks in advance!)
 Greg Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, p. 163.
 Nancy Pearcey, Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes (p. 98).
 Albert C. Wolters, Creation Regained: A Transforming War of the World, p. 50.
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Have you heard about Joshua Harris? Chances are you have heard more about him in the past two weeks than you have in the past two years. If not, allow me to update.
Two weeks ago, Harris and his wife announced that they were getting a divorce. This is big news for the former megachurch pastor and author of the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a book that was central in sparking the so-called “purity culture.” (See here.)
Then, last week, Harris announced, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.” He went on to write,
[T]o the LGBTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.
So, here’s the thing…
We have seen people embrace a Christian identity and deny a Biblical sexual ethic in order to embrace the sexual revolution. What strikes many about Harris’ story is not simply a repudiation of Biblical sexuality but of Biblical Christianity altogether. As Christians, how are we to think about such an influential figure renouncing the faith?
I would offer three passages to guide us. Continue reading “3 Bible Passages for Thinking about Joshua Harris”
As a Christian parent, are you concerned that your children have doubts about the faith you are passing on to them? As a youth pastor or minister, are you troubled by the apathy so many of the kids in your youth group show toward spiritual things? As a Christian educator, are you worried that you are out of your depth with the questions your students have about the Christian worldview?
Being all three, I can relate. The fact is that the generation currently coming of age, Generation Z as they are called, are living a profoundly different adolescence than even the most recent generation before them. So, how do we Christian parents, pastors, and teachers help them stay grounded in the faith and thrive in the culture?
Here’s the thing…
Thankfully, we have some help.
In their newest book, So the Next Generation Will Know (set to release May 1), renowned Christian apologists Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace offer a guide to engaging what is quickly becoming the largest and most secularized generation. Continue reading “Book Review: So the Next Generation Will Know (McDowell & Wallace)”
Many Christians find themselves living in two separate worlds, one on Sunday and the other the rest of the week.
They may see their faith as an add-on that merely supplements their daily routine. The effect that being a Christian has on their lives is limited to nominal traditions and comfort in times of crisis. They do not see their Christianity as having any implications on their jobs outside of being an upright, honest, hard-working, gospel witness while doing it.
On the other hand, they may see their faith as being somehow beyond their day-to-day. Worshiping God is something done in a Sunday service. Serving God is something done in organized church ministry. They see their jobs as John Beckett describes “a second-class endeavor—necessary to put bread on the table, but somehow less noble than more sacred pursuits like being a minister or a missionary.”
In other words, they have bought into the secular/sacred split, dividing all of life into a two-story house that Francis Schaeffer described decades ago. They have relegated “real world” issues and “everyday” life downstairs along with all things secular. They have confined their Christianity upstairs, as it were, with personal preference, subjective values, and everything else sacred.
But, this is a huge departure from the Christian life as prescribed in the Bible, doing everything in Jesus’ name (Colossians 3:17) and to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31)
So, here’s the thing…
We need to mend the secular/sacred split. Continue reading “Mending the Secular/Sacred Split”