Losing faith BEFORE college, a link and a not-so-short Friday rant. (article being edited)

This morning in Al Mohler’s daily Briefing he referred to  an article by Daniel Cox at the secular political blog FiveThirthyEight.
The article revealed that many kids from Christian homes are losing their faith before they’ve gone to college.  For years we (myself include) have sounded the warning alarm about the need to take discipleship seriously, to get our Christian kids ready for college, so they can be steadfast WHEN they go to college.  But, as the new study reveals, many students are stumbling, falling, and quitting the faith before they even get there.  stumble-at-the-finish-line
We could talk endlessly about the young professing Christians faltering in college, but in this post I specifically want to think out load about why we may be seeing more students abandon faith before college.
First, I think it is because the atmosphere we warned parents about in college has migrated to high school and middle school.  There is not even a bubble nominal “cultural Christianity” for teens that protects them till college.  Statistically, most of their friends in public school do not go to church regularly or hold to a Biblical worldview.   Does this mean our students are persecuted in high school? No.  But it seems that we have, and are, producing more Christians who seem to wilt when they perceive that their beliefs are on the margins, or not in the mainstream of views of their peers.
Secondly, and closely related.  Students see a world through social and entertainment media where Christian convictions (or an unflattering caricature of them)  are on the margins.   Their most popular dramas will at some point, or quite regularly, have a token “Christian” to be the unloving, intolerant, villain.  Sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes not so subtle, but it is not merely entertainment, but propagation.  It is taking a toll.  I see it in the likes  Maybe not in students leaving church, but in students who stay in the church privately (out of respect for their parents) leaving their convictions.
Second, while their faith is being challenged younger and younger, parents losing the reign of parental responsibility young and younger in the arena a spiritual decisions.
What seed truth was planted as a kid withered and died before they left home because they they had such limited access to water and sunlight of the Word, worship, and discipleship as a natural rhythm in their life.
In Psalm 1 we see a prescription for creating oaks, they  “delight is in the law of the LORD….meditates on his law day and night….. like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—
In American evangelicalism, we’ve got kids who excel in sports, technology, and academics, but they are withering spiritual for lack of regular access to nourishment.
1.  Communicate consistently and clearly and EARLY, what is non-negotiable for you family when it comes to what you spiritual activities they will participate in.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but this will actually lead to more PEACE and less DRAMA.  The earlier you start the better.  If you wait till they are 12 or 13 to start laying down the non-negotiables you will be in for a fiery season of adjustment.  STILL DO IT!
 I’ve seen 11 year old pout their parents into submission and I’ve seen 17 year olds humbly and fairly un-dramatically acquiesce to a parents expectations.  Why the difference.  Is one parent a mean grumpy authoritarian?  No.  But they have probably been consistent and clear about who is in charge from an early age and that makes all the difference.  In my observation, kids whose parents who are clear and consistent are happier and less anxious than kids are calling the shots.   Immature kids who get their way tend to be the most unhappy kids, drama filled, kids I’ve met.
In the last generation or so parents have been giving students autonomy over decisions about spiritual activities at younger and younger ages. Things that one upon a time were non-negotiable in Jesus-centered families are now up for debate in modern child-centered families.
2.  Be watchful about inadvertently creating an environment in your home where it is more likely for your student’s faith to fizzle, than to flourish.
Do you notice in our kids sports and academics how accelerated things are?   My 8th graders are doing things in math I didn’t do when I was a senior.  We expect our kids to be “at this level” by this grade and “that level” by this grade.
However, in the realm of American evangelicalism the opposite seems to have happened.  A child makes a profession of faith, then gets baptized, and “peeks” at the age of 10.  The next 8 years, rather than watching them “strive”, “pursue”, and press on” in the faith, there is a fizzle.  A fizzled kid has to be begged or bribed to do spiritual things.  A flourishing kid wants to know what next in their journey with Christ.
I think students fizzle in their faith because there is no expectation, and sometimes a lack of examples of what a flourishing faith looks like.
We know what progress looks like athletically and academically… it means mastering calculus or the ability to throw or hit a curve ball.   Perhaps we should take a moment and think about progress in spiritual maturity looks like from 7th to 9th to 12th grade.
Perhaps on the way to our next tournament or the ACT exam we should talk with them about how they are growing.  Are they becoming more evangelistic?  If not, where should we begin.  Are they able to feed themselves spiritual?  Or lead others spiritually?  If not, talk about how are we going to get there.  Share with them how YOU are flourishing.  Because after all, they cannot be what they cannot see.
Well, a 3 sentence facebook status has evolved into a full-blown rant.
For those who made it this far, I appreciate you enduring my fallible ramblings.  Maybe God can use them.
May God bless out efforts and give us grace when we fail, and strength to try again tomorrow.
Kevin Hash
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Club Summary: The Case Against…Everyone. Romans 1-3

tigers_pictures_10_11_17 (23)After a two week break for See You at the Pole and Fall Break I was pleasantly surprised by the turn out at our clubs this week.  About 75 students between the two.

We used this week back for review and to get our bearing for a deeper appreciation for the cross in the weeks to come.

This semester we are intentionally moving through four categories of the gospel: God, man, Christ, and Response.   This is actually something the Apostle Paul does in the book of Romans.    Paul starts the book with God and then in Romans 1:18-3:20 I told the students that Paul takes on the roll of a prosecuting attorney.  prosecuting_attorney

In the middle school club we had some fun with that by re-creating The People vs. Mia V. in the issue of the Stolen Oreos.  We talked about how a good prosecuting attorney lays out evidence so that the one on trial cannot defend their actions.

Paul does that very thing in Romans 1-3.  He moves from the pagan to the moralist to the religious person arguing that all are guilty.  His closing summation is “fall all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

That may seem like an odd thing to do by a preacher of “good news”, to spend several chapters talking about bad news.  But Paul wants humanity, either religious or non-religious to see that they are guilty before a holy judge so that they will ask, “Is there any hope for me?”

Paul’s answer, of course, is “YES! There is hope!”  And beginning in Romans 3:21-Romans 8, he unpacks the most beautiful presentation of why we have hope because of Christ.

SIDE NOTE: I told the students that, culturally, people tend to put God on trial.  They say, “how can a loving God condemn people to judgment”.   Paul makes the opposite argument, how can a just and good judge overlook real injustice and sin.

Next week: in Romans 3:21-25 we see the answer to how God can be book a righteous judge and redeem sinners at the same time.

Pray for the next few weeks as we get to the heart of the cross.

 

 

Job’s Mom and Dad… and their God.

Last night, my wife Dana and I drove to Grace Community Church in Franklin, TN.             It chasekatie_weddingwas our second time visiting there.  The first time we attended GCC was because I had the honor to officiate the wedding of Chase Kemp and Katie Dephillips.   Last night, we returned to attend the memorial service for Chase and Katie’s 5 year old son Job.

They found out this May that Job had an aggressive and almost always fatal brain tumor called DIPG.

jobkemp_memorial_funeral_

Dana and I returned to our home in Kentucky from the service at 12:30 this morning.  In the first few waking hours of the day, I told everyone who would listen about the memorial service, including 22 high school students at a Christian club before school.

I am not articulate, and this won’t be articulate, it’s off the cuff, but I wanted to share some thoughts before they left me.  I want to honor Job’s parents, and hopefully in doing so, honor the God who has shaped Chase and Katie Kemp into who they are.

 

  1. Chase and Katie are hopeful.  They did not mourn like most people would, but as those who had a steadfast confidence that their son was with Jesus. (1 Thess. 4:13)  You could see it in their eyes, even when tears welled up, that they had a peace which surpassed human understanding.
  2. Chase and Katie are telescopes.  That’s an odd thing to say, but I tell me students to “be the telescope,” which means be the lens through which people see the multi-faceted glory and greatness of God.   All the songs, all of the prayers, all the Scriptures, and the readings  communicated their unshakable confidence and trust in God, even in the pain.  The apostle Paul once said, “and they glorified God because of me.”  Last night, hundreds glorified God because of the whole Kemp family.
  3. Chase and Katie are theologians.  No, they don’t have a degree in theology, but since I’ve known them they have been students of God.  Our church in BG drew students who loved theology.  And what Tozer said is true, “what comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”   Chase and Katie believe in a big, sovereign, majestic God, and that has made all the difference.  They would not have been sustained by a lesser God than the God of the Bible.   The American (g)od of moralistic theraputic deism or the (g)od of health, wealth, and prosperity would not have sustained them during this.  That (g)od isn’t big enough or strong enough to carry real people through suffering.
  4. Chase and Katie love God’s Word.  When Chase was a college student, he memorized Romans 8 by listening to John Piper recite the passage over and over while he mowed grass. On Friday night, Chase was reciting Romans 8 to his son Job hours before he died.  On Monday night Romans 8 was recited and expounded on to give the family comfort and to honor Christ.  Sometime we don’t appreciate God’s Word, like we don’t appreciate a typical Tuesday night meal, but it nourishes us and strengthens us.  The strength I saw displayed by Chase and Katie was possible because they have been hungered and been fed the Word of God.
  5. Chase and Katie love Christ’s Church.  In college, Chase and Katie traveled 5+ hours to go to Alabama with other students to go to a “True Church” conference to listen to Paul Washer and others preach hour-long sermons about why the church is important and what it should look like.   Chase and Katie were amazing members of the church I pastored in Bowling Green, serving God and others in countless ways.   One night, Chase came to my house and (with tears in his eyes) told me that he and Katie were moving to Tennessee for work and to be closer to family.  Last night, Job’s Sunday School teacher led a song they sang every week and I saw little mouths singing all over the sanctuary about their joy in Jesus.  Last night, they were surrounded by their church family (past and present) who wanted to love on them and to share in their sorrow and joy.  Hundreds of people in an overflowing sanctuary wept and sang together as Christ’s body.
  6. Chase and Katie are rooted and not drifting.  Much has been written about “millennials” who have drifted away from the church.  The Kemps are “millennials” who have experienced just about the worst that any person can experience, and yet their faith has stayed rooted, they have persevered, their trust and affection for God intensified.  How is it that they stayed rooted while multitudes drift away?  At the risk of overstatement, I wonder if the God they know and worship is simply different from the one many others profess to believe in.  The Kemps’ God is at the center of everything, and when God is at the center He holds things together like the Sun holds the planets in their proper orbit.  I think many millennials (and certainly not just millennials) walk away from God not because they experienced tragedy and got bitter against God, but because the god of either their upbringing or their imagination isn’t that impressive or inspiring–at least not enough to order their lives around and to make sense of pain and suffering in a way that leads them to be rooted like the Kemps.  Of course, the Kemps would tell you that they haven’t let go of God because God hasn’t let go of them.  Their hope is in His power, not their own.
  7. Chase and Katie are examples to be emulated, if you want to exalt Christ. I would be thrilled if my sons became like Chase and my daughter like Katie.  Not because they are perfect, but because their eyes are on Christ.  We should watch people who are watching Christ.   The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11 to “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ”.   You don’t learn much about people until you watch how they live in adversity.  Many have watched Chase and Katie, and they have learned that they serve a good God.

Club Summary: Flipping the Telescope, Broken Down in Genesis 3

kevin_tigersPicture_telescope

In our first weeks of the year we have been talking about the Glory of God and how it is “his greatness on display“.  Our Tigers and Yellowjackets know that we want them to #BeTheTelescope.  We want to be instruments that put God’s greatness on display for the world to see.

flipped_telescope_belittle_GodIn the last two weeks we have talked about sin and what happens when we sin?  When we sin we are like a flipped telescope.  Instead of magnifying God’s greatness so people can see how great he really is, we “belittle God’s greatness“…we make Him look small.   And everyone has done that very thing according to Romans.

In Romans 1:21 “For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, – 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God ….”

In Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

In our passage this week from Genesis 3, we see the first sin and how it is the prototype for all sin, it is the ultimate “flipping the telescope“.

Genesis 1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.‘” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

 

By taking and eating the fruit that God had forbidden we see at least three “flips” of the telescope, that make God “appear” less great than He is.

  1. Sin makes God appear small, belittling His justice.
    • Eating the fruit meant that they believed the serpent that there would be no consequences for disobeying God.  Whenever we sin, we belittle God saying to Him, “I don’t fear you. I don’t think it’s a big deal to ignore you or rebel against you. I think I’ll get away with it.”
    • On the contrary, we glorify God when we respect Him commands and believe that they are for a reason, and ignoring them or rebelling against them is very serious.
  2. Making God appear small, belittling His love and goodness.
    • Eating the fruit meant that they believe the Serpent that God did not have a loving and good purpose for them.  Whenever we sin, we belittle God by saying to Him, “I don’t think your reason for telling me no. I think you are keeping me from something that will benefit me.”
    • On the contrary, we glorify God when we trust that when He says “no” it is because He loves us and has a better plan for us.
  1. Making God appear small, belittling his judgment.
    • After hearing from God and hearing from the Serpent, Eve inspected things for herself and decided that the fruit was “good” and “delightful”.  Whenever we sin, we belittle God by saying to Him, “I don’t think you understand what’s “good” and bad.  I don’t think you realize that what you are warning me about is actually “delightful”, I do.  I’ll evaluate things myself and make a decision based on my judgement.
    • On the contrary, we glorify God by trusting that He knows all things including what is good, because He is that standard for what is good.  We glorify God when we humbly acknowledge our limited perspective.  Knowing that our eyes and hearts can deceive us, we trust God’s wisdom and His judgment

Everyday you will have decisions to make.   In making those decisions you will have to decide if you trust the culture, if you trust your heart, or if you trust God.

When you trust God, you will #BeTheTelescope putting His greatness on display!

telescope_quote_piper_

Club Summary: Sin is bigger than breaking rules, it’s belittling God… it’s flipping the telescope.

kevin_tigersPicture_telescope

Each week we build on he previous week, so each week we do some review and then build on what we have learned.  We have been focusing on the Glory of God.

I think most of our students have been sufficiently catechized on the question, “What is the glory of God?”   Answer: “His greatness on display.”

This we read from Romans to talk about the essence of sin.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,Romans 3:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Several students could recite Romans 3:23 from memory.  (we encourage our students in sunday school to learn the romans road).  Then the whole group recited the verse a few times.

When I was in high school I learned Romans 3:23 and I understood it to mean we have all broken God’s rules which is why it says, “fall all have sinned”.  I confessed to the students that I didn’t really understand the second part until I was well into adulthood.  What does it mean to “fall short of the glory of God”?

The answer is found in Romans 1:21-23 when Paul brings up the “glory” of God in the context of explaining our sin.  To sin is to “know God” and “not glorify Him”.  To sin is to “exchange the glory of God” for other things.

We’ve talked about telescopes every week as our primary illustration of glorifying God, being instruments of putting God’s greatness on display for the world.

“The whole duty of the Christian can be summed up in this: feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as he really is. Be a telescope for the world of the infinite starry wealth of the glory of God.”  John Piper

So sin is basically flipping the telescope.  When you look through a telescope the wrong way, the telescope “belittles” the object of it’s focus, it makes a large object look smaller than it really is.

So the essence of sin is “belittling” God, living in such a way that He looks less glorious, less reliable, less worthy of our submission and worship.

Before we left, we prayed that we would be a telescope that puts the greatness of God on display in an understandable way for our classmates and our teammates.

I don’t know if it will take off, but I hope to make #BeTheTelescope a thing we all understand as shorthand for live your life for the glory of God.

telescope_quote_piper_.jpg

 

A majority of “nones” in UK now… a cause for concern here?

noneoftheabovenonesEarlier this week I read in BBC News about a recent survey, in which more than 1/2 of the UK describe themselves as having “no religion”.  71% of those aged 18-25 are described as such.

The decline of Christianity in the United Kingdom is something that has been happening for some time, but crossing that 50% line of “none of the above” is a milestone worth noting and reflecting on in our own context.

FROM BBC NEWS //  Last year 53% of people described themselves as having “no religion”, in a survey of 2,942 adults by the National Centre for Social Research.

Among those between the ages of 18 and 25, the proportion was higher at 71%.

Here in the US, many pastors and researchers are labeling this shift from professed believer to “none of the above” as the “Rise of the Nones.”  The numbers are not as stark here as they are in the UK.  Here, we see about 32% of those under 30 identify as “none” and 20% of the population in general.   Still, things are shifting fast, and that is causing concern among many about the future of Christianity.

What should be our take on this?  Should we fear the death of Christianity in America?  Or is it no big deal?

Ed Stetzer has given lots of thought to this and has provided insights here and here.

Generally, Stetzer is not concerned that this means the death of Christianity…

Christianity isn’t dying and no research says it is; the statistics about Christians in America are simply starting to show a clearer picture of what American Christianity is becoming—less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of American culture.

For example, the cultural cost of calling yourself “Christian” is starting to outweigh the cultural benefit, so those who do not identify as a “Christian” according to their convictions are starting to identify as “nones” ….  Because of this, the statistics show (on the surface) that Christianity in America is experiencing a sharp decline. However, that’s the path of those who don’t read beyond the surface.

So Stetzer is not concerned that the numbers show a decline in Christianity, but only a decline in nominal, superficial Christianity.   Perhaps, as people who were nominally or superficially identified with Christianity shift to a “none of the above” category, Christianity in America could become a stronger, more focused, and more refined Christianity (though initially seeming to be smaller in number).

While I’m not concerned that declining overall numbers equals a decline of Christianity, the numbers do give me reason to be concerned about the quality of disciples we are producing in our churches and our homes.  I don’t think we would have such a problem with nominals becoming “nones” if we weren’t producing so many nominals.

A few big questions that Christian families and churches should be asking ourselves and seeking answers for….

  1. Are we producing more nominal, or is our changing culture revealing more nominals?
  2. What are we doing, or not doing, that has resulted in producing professors who aren’t persevering in their faith?
  3. What do we need to do to produce strong believers who will persevere in a changing world that is increasingly inhospitable to people who embrace the historic Christian faith and conviction?

Kevin

Updated: For some sobering stats that came out since this blog was written, click here.

 In 20 states, people with no religious affiliation outnumber those of any single religious affiliation, with Vermont (41%), Oregon (36%), and Washington (35%) leading the way.

Club Summary: Why teach on the “glory of God” instead of “peer pressure” at school clubs…

kevin_tigersPicture_telescopeLast week we talked about what the glory of God means.  It’s “the greatness of God on display” FYI.  This week in our HS and MS clubs our students will learn about the Holiness of God from Isaiah 6.

You may think, “that’s a weird thing to do with your limited time with students.  why not talk about something relevant like coping with peer pressure?”

Here’s a few reasons…

  1.  Because I believe what A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.
  2. Because if our students don’t understand the greatness of God, they might think that they (or other things) are the center of the universe rather than God.
  3. Because if our students don’t understand the holiness of God, they won’t appreciate the grace of  God, and how amazing is our access to God through Christ.
  4. Because understanding the greatness of God actually is very relevant to coping with peer pressure.  Christian students give in to peer pressure when their peers are BIG and God is small.   So… as students learn of and embrace a BIG VIEW OF GOD, the pressure from peers shrinks.  Students who develop a BIG view of God, will want to honor Him with their lives even if it means risking the approval of their peers.
    • In Isaiah 6:1-3 (see below), the prophet has a BIG vision of God before embarking on the mission of God (v. 8).  Isaiah would experience LOTS of rejection as a prophet and an ambassador of God.  If his life was anchored in self-esteem, he would abort that mission right away.  But because his life was anchored in a big robust view of God Almighty, he would persevere under great adversity.

Whether the topic is peer pressure or sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, students today know the talking points and can usually regurgitate them verbatim.  However, that doesn’t mean that they know who God is, and knowing who God is changes everything.

UPDATE: HERE’S THE OUTLINE OF WHAT WAS SAID IN CLUB TODAY (and yesterday at the high school)

REVIEWING THE PREVIOUS WEEK:

  1. From last week I asked, “what is our definition of the glory of God?”  Jackson C. raised his hand and said “his greatness on display“.  Although several student seemed to remember it.  We repeated it a couple times to help it sink in and for first time guests.
  2. I asked if anyone could remember the illustration we used last week.  Several could! Our illustration is a telescope putting the greatness of planets and moons on display.  I explained that my son Mo got a telescope for his birthday last week and looked with renewed awe at the moon he had seen a thousand times before, because the telescope put its greatness on display.
  3. Asked about what the telescope means for us, the group said that we are telescopes putting God on display in our school and on our teams.  I asked what happens when you flip the telescope the other way?  They said, “big objects look smaller!”  Likewise we make God look small when we sin.

TODAY’S TALK:

  1. I asked the students to shout out words that describe God.  They said: mighty, powerful, kind, merciful, love, glorious, and holy.
  2. Nathan read, Isaiah 6:1-3, “1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.
  3. Here are the main things I shared about holiness from this text.
    • I explained that a Jewish person would repeat a quality for emphasis.  Using one of the girls for example, I said a Jew would say, “Hannah is tall, tall, tall.”   Some students volunteered that they were “short, short, short”
    • Out of all of God’s attributes, only His holiness, is repeated 3 times.  And the three-fold repetition can be found twice, once in the old and once in the new testament.  Therefore, holiness must be God’s preeminent quality!   But what is it?
    • The holiness of God is His “otherness” or how He is set-apart and distinguished from everyone else.
      • I used Steph Curry as an example.  Steph Curry has a better shooting percentage from 30 feet out than everyone else has from 20 feet out.  He is unique and distinct and set-apart qualitatively when it comes to shooting 3 pointers.
    • Ultimately, God’s holiness IS NOT just one of many attributes, but it defines qualitatively ALL of his attributes!
      • Therefore God is holy in power! No one is strong like God is strong.
      • Therefore God is holy in love! There is no love like God’s love.
      • Therefore God is holy in mercy! There is no mercy like God’s mercy.
      • Therefore God is holy is righteousness!  No one is righteous like God is righteous.
    • To fully appreciate how amazing is the holiness of God, our students read v. 2 again, “Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.”
      • I asked the students what kind of posture the seraphim took?  Jackson M. said, “a posture of humility.”   Correct!
      • What is amazing about that is that the seraphim are sinless beings!  These sinless, angelic, figures, are moved to humble awe and adoration in the presence of the Lord.
    • (time running out)  Last week I heard testimony after testimony about how moving it was to be at the center of totality of the solar eclipse.  I told the students that I want them to have the same awe when they think about God and his greatness!