Student Missions Fellowship

If you haven’t heard of the Student Missions Fellowship (aka SMF), you’ve missed excellent opportunities to learn about what God is doing throughout the world with our own TFC students. I have attended meetings for SMF semi -consistently over the past few semesters, only to be blown away by the fact that reaching across cultures to other people in order to bear witness to the truth is actually a “doable” and realistic thing that actually does result in disciples of Christ—(yeah, a late and overdue realization, I know). The reason this realization came to me is that every week, SMF meets in order to have a speaking student intern (usually) give testimony to their overseas mission trips in which they spend a large part of their summer overseas in order to work with schools, orphanages, churches, families, etc., loving people and spreading the gospel where possible. These testimonies have opened my eyes to the fact that my experience of the world is very limited and ignorant (as if a philosophy major wasn’t enough).  As a result of my experience at SMF, I am excited to seize opportunities to participate in missionary work whenever I reasonably can during my life.

Alba Garrigo, the Vice President of SMF, was kind enough to answer a few questions I had, so I’m going to include some important information about SMF for those of you who want to know more. According to Garrigo, SMF is a club that has been around for over a hundred years at TFC. The purpose of SMF is to connect TFC students with what God is doing around the globe through weekly meetings, intern training,  praise and worship (which is sometimes in other languages, I might add), and inspiration from the intern testimonies.  Garrigo told me that SMF’s history at TFC has included sending student interns to basically every country for missions work, including countries with closed access (where missionaries aren’t exactly welcome, to say the least).

So, if you’re interested, you probably want to know how to get involved. Garrigo informed me of multiple ways that students can become involved in SMF: First, the club hosts weekly meetings every Wednesday night from 6:30 to 7:30 at the Woerner Missions Building. There is worship, prayer for missionaries and non-believers in foreign countries, and then a speaker (usually an intern testimony).  You should come. Second, SMF has a variety of leadership positions for students who want to be involved, such as President, Vice president, Treasurer, Worship Band Leader, and things of the sort. Third, you can become a student intern with SMF by having served at least six weeks overseas or by having plans to. Interns receive training sessions for their mission work plans that include education in fund-raising, languages, passport/visa work, spiritual warfare, teamwork, and other important topics.

Lastly, if you ever want to know what SMF is up to on Wednesdays, there are posters in the Woerner Missions Building and the Student center that will let you know which country is being represented by the weekly speaker. Come check it out!

Ways Culture Distorts Our Minds (Part III)

Worship and Emotions

Every second of our life, our thoughts, feelings, motives, and habits are governed by assumptions about the world. In past articles concerning the ways our culture lies to us, I have addressed a few of the false assumptions we pick up from the people around us. In this article I want to briefly address the false assumption that Biblical worship is something that is primarily emotional.

If you’ve participated in an Evangelical culture, you have periodically noticed in others and even yourself the conception that the worship of God is something that is primarily emotional. In worship services, we get excited and “worshipful” during the choruses of songs which excite our emotions; our song selections on our Ipods often involve songs which contain highly emotional music to stimulate our feelings, and when we don’t “feel” God any more, our motivation to follow him often dramatically decreases.

First of all, it’s important to ask if there is anything wrong with emotions. We’re supposed to get excited about God, aren’t we? The Psalms are filled with very emotional verses extolling God’s greatness, so it would seem to be the case.  However, it seems clear that when the main substance of our faith is emotion, we are missing something. Why is this?

In the Bible and everyday life it is revealed that there is no correlation between the existence of “worship” and true worship. Emotions may run high; worship music may be top-notch, and all the right things may be performed, but according to the Bible’s analysis, none of this is an indicator of faithfulness. In Amos 5, God is portrayed reprimanding Israel for her unfaithfulness. He acknowledges the fact that they “worship” him, but claims that there is still something wanting: “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

In this passage, it becomes clear that “worshiping” or, paying God homage by recognizing him through song or ceremony is not sufficient to constitute faithfulness to him. In Western culture we have taken this idea, however, and stretched it to imply that the feeling lacking in the Israelites is what was missing in their relationship with God. We now emphasize strong emotional experiences as constitutive of a relationship with God, since the Israelites were constantly rebuked for not living their religion on a heart level. But again, this is not the answer.  Every day life teaches us that it is absolutely possible to be emotionally overwhelmed or stimulated by a movie or poem without life-change. In the same way, our emotions have become means by which we may “hack” a relationship with God in order to experience the pleasurable high of aesthetic experiences, yet without the most basic component of true worship.

So, what is the most fundamental attribute of faithfulness to God, from which emotions may flow, but which does not necessarily imply emotions? God in the book of Amos is clear: Justice and Righteousness. Without these components, it is clear that God does not consider our “worship” worth much at all.

How do we respond to this? A reasonable response would probably consist of a period of self-examination. Do you place too much emphasis on emotions in your relationship with God, and minor on obedience? If so, take time to worship God in spirit and truth, embracing righteousness and justice as a mindset.

Choosing a Class Schedule

Like everyone who’s planning on going to TFC next semester, I’ve been getting my thoughts together about which classes I need to choose. I decided that instead of trying to guess my way through things, I would think up a process for determining which classes to choose. I shall now share this process, and I very much hope it is helpful to you.

I think the way most people do this is by simply imagining the ideal semester—a semester which helps them accomplish everything they need to within the constraints they are allowed, and in the most preferable manner, and then describing the way that would play out. So let’s do it like that.

Step One: Determine your Goals and Values

A choice of classes at TFC (or any college, really) can only be described as good or bad by how well it helps you meet your goals and values. So, the first thing that will be important is making a list of things that are important to you. For example, if you’re a Counseling Major, it is important to you to take classes which will help you obtain a Counseling major. Duh!  On a more practical note, if avoiding the horrible suffering of waking up before 8 AM is important to you, then you should probably make it a value that waking up before 8 AM is to be avoided. If you have a job, you’ll want to remember that actually making it to your job (and thus getting sleep) is a pretty important value to add to the list as well.  Another important thing to remember is that you should list your goals and values in the order of their importance. Clearly the necessity of obtaining your major is more important than not waking up before 8 AM, and for me, generally, having time to spend with friends is more important than having time to nap during the day. So remember which things are more important to you so you’re prepared to give up less important values when they conflict with themselves or circumstances (and they will).

Here’s an example list of my goals values:

Completing the Philosophy Major by next December.
Completing a Counseling Minor
Having time to spend time with friends
Having time to read the gargantuan amounts of reading that Dr. Elkins assigns/ other stuff
Having time to eat (yeah!)
Getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night
Not making my course load unnecessarily difficult
Generally taking Classes which will challenge me
Having time to nap during the day
Generally not waking up before 9:30 if possible…
Do a Student Ministry
Generally getting to spend time in Nature
Having time for trips with friends

Step Two: Take Circumstances into Account

You’ll never meet your goals if you don’t take into account potential obstacles or opportunities that lie in your path. For example, if you’re trying to major in Counseling, it would be important to keep it in mind if a certain counseling internship is available next semester, or if you’re planning on leading a certain ministry, it will be important to know if your work shifts overlap with it. To make it simple, take into account the details about next semester which are going to affect you.

An Example list of my Circumstances:                                                   

Higher level philosophy classes are generally only available in the afternoon.
Dinner is at five.
I live in the Terraces
I have a car
I have no reason to leave early on Fridays
None of my class-choice options conflict with one-another in regards to time.
Philosophy Classes require a lot of reading.

Step Three: create a course-load which best takes into account your goals, values, and circumstances. 

Now it’s time to take your priorities and circumstances for the semester and merge them together. Take your list of goals and values, and your list of relevant circumstances and start laying down a schedule which best fulfills your priorities in a realistic way.

For example, since I need to complete the Philosophy major, one of my priorities is to take whatever Philosophy classes I haven’t taken yet.  But a relevant circumstance is that only three philosophy classes are available next semester, and also, generally if you take more than three philosophy classes, you die.  Also, I need to complete my Philosophy practicum and my Senior Thesis. If I wasn’t aware of the relevant fact that doing both of these together with other classes probably implies death, I would sign up for both of them. But I won’t, because I know that it would violate my priority of spending time with friends, getting sleep, having time to read, and etc.

Once you’ve done this properly, you probably will have a good idea of what you need to sign up for next semester. As an upperclassman, I think I have enough experience to offer a few pointers that may help:

1)     Sleep really is important. Don’t neglect allowing time for it.

2)     Anticipate failure. We often plan our schedules like a superman/woman will take our place and triumph over all laziness and short-sightedness during the semester. It’s not going to happen. You’re going to fail, oversleep, not finish some homework, be tired, want to be alone, etc. Deal with it.

3)     Friends really are important. Learning isn’t limited to Scholarly studies—friends can teach you some of the most important things about life. Don’t neglect time for your friendships.

4)     Give yourself free time. You’re going to want time to literally do whatever you want, apart from a schedule. You must have this time, or stress will crush you.

5)     Adjust your schedule to your personality type if you can: If you can’t handle working on homework for long periods of time without any class interruptions, you should probably space your classes out in such a way that you get breaks. If you’re good at focusing, you should allow yourself long time periods to do work.


Ways Culture Distorts Our Minds (Part II)

“Jesus Doesn’t Mind if I’m Ignorant”

If you’ve never had to deal with fellow Christians who aren’t willing to recognize that their beliefs about God or anything else might be inaccurate, you probably haven’t experienced much of the Christian world. Many people like this exist, and though we are at no liberty to think of them with distaste or treat them with disrespect, we all feel deep down that there’s something wrong with this. Why is it that people who cling to the simple and naïve mindsets they were raised with, refusing to respect that this world is actually complicated and hard to understand, seem to be unfaithful to God in a serious way? Well, I don’t really know if I can give a specific answer. But I do know that since our consciences disapprove of it, it’s probably something that we need to take care avoid.

Yet even though we all know deep down that it is wrong to ignore the truth, Christian culture has absolutely imbibed the idea that the pursuit of Academic studies is somehow unimportant and irrelevant (even bad)  for our “journey with God”, or “what really matters” after the point at which it can no longer help us with our ministries. Why is this? Well, there are several reasons for it, and I’m going to attempt to very briefly explain:

Around 120 years ago, Western society’s intellectual world was populated by theories to explain the world around us without God. Scholars who subjected the Bible to historical studies had begun to form theories as to the Bible’s origins which were opposed to the widespread Christian view of the Bible, questioning the reliability of the Old and New Testaments, and evolutionary explanations were given for humans and all biological life. In response, many Christians who, despite this apparent contrary evidence to their faith, were convinced they knew the true God, emphasized the fundamentals of the faith, rejecting conclusions of the intellectuals in Universities and popular culture (wouldn’t you expect the world to be opposed to God anyway?) Unfortunately, this caused Christian culture to become very opposed to scholarship and Academia, thus inundating the Church with anti-intellectualism and ignorance of scholarly work concerning the nature of the world (in the name of Jesus). A little later, a philosophy called “Post Modernism” worked its way into culture as all Western Society became skeptical of whether truth existed or mattered anyways, causing many misled Christians to de-emphasize the idea of God as an actually existent (whether we believe it or not) being, instead emphasizing a heartfelt relationship with Jesus as the only thing the Christian faith requires of a man or woman.  All of these influences have sculpted our Christian culture into one which is skeptical of academia and intellectual pursuits, and the unfortunate thing is that we all have the impression that Jesus doesn’t mind.

So are Academic studies important? Or is it alright to be ignorant? Does Jesus want us to be “fools for Christ”, or ought we to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves?” My conviction is that Academic studies and critical thinking are essential to a healthy Christian faith, and I’ll explain several reasons why.  First, let me define Academic studies, for those who were wondering: By this I mean the practice of thinking objectively about the world and forming accurate viewpoints concerning all manner of subjects such as human nature, God, theological topics, scientific theories, political philosophy, ethics and etc., based on the best available evidence and reasoning.

There are three main reasons why Jesus probably doesn’t want us to be ignorant: First, beliefs fundamentally shape the way we experience ourselves, others, God and the world. Second, Christians are commanded to be wise. Third, truth is a worthy and obligatory end in itself.

Firstly, beliefs fundamentally shape the way we experience everything. The only way we know the world outside us is through what we see, feel, hear, taste, and smell, and what we believe. If what we believe is wrong, then we experience the world in a false way, and our beliefs mislead us. If what we believe about God is false, we don’t accurately know the true God and his works. This is incredibly important to realize, for one’s life is completely transformed by changing beliefs. Academic studies consist of forming accurate beliefs about the world, and thus are necessary in order to understand everything in existence. Some argue that such studies and thinking are unnecessary, because the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. As nice as that would be, this line of thought misses the fact that if taken to its logical conclusion, it would render even the Bible unnecessary in light of the Holy Spirit’s ultimate sufficiency in delivering all truth into our minds. Thus, Academic studies are absolutely essential in coming to an understanding of the world the way it really is.

Second, Christians are commanded to be wise. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Proverbs 18:15 says, “The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Christians are called to be mature and wise—taking an objective view of the world rather than being controlled by how we feel about it. But how can we take an objective view of things if we’ve never taken any steps to find out if what we believe is true? How can we serve God in loving wisdom and knowledge if we don’t think critically about the things we believe, say, and do, on a day-to-day basis?

Third, truth is a worthy and obligatory end in itself. Without truth, we are nothing but social creatures with no concept of reality apart from what is popular in culture, what we desire, and what feels “right”. But as humans we are given an incredibly powerful intellect for the purpose of understanding and believing the truth, the denial and ignorance of which amounts to the denial of our creation after the image of God– who embodies all truth within himself. The denial of truth-seeking is the denial of the most central part of who we are as humans.

Let us learn, then, to think well and accurately, in order to represent God as people of the truth. How do you do it? Read a book, and think really hard. Take a few subjects that you don’t know much about and just start reading. Seek to actually understand what you perceive to be true in the author’s writing and integrate it into your worldview. It can be quite fun at times, if you take it seriously. Good luck.


Ways Culture Distorts Our Minds (Part I)

Tim Keller, a pastor and theologian in New York, wrote in his book “The Reason for God” that, supposing that Christianity really is true, “…we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point, because human cultures are ever-changing and imperfect. If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place.” When he says human cultures, he means the beliefs, practices, values, and structures of society.  I think he’s right. I want to write a few articles on why Christianity can critique not only American culture in general, but also “Christian” culture. In this first article I will talk about one of the ways that our surrounding culture has lied to us, and how we can work to reverse this deception.

Lie #1: I’m Not Being Judged= I Can Do Whatever I Want!

Back in the Sixteenth century when Martin Luther introduced the idea of sola fide, or, “faith alone” as it related to what gives a human peace with God, one of the Catholic Church’s problems with the idea was that it seemed to leave no room for works in our relationship with God. If how well we submit to God’s commands doesn’t affect how much he approves of us and loves us, what motivation is there to do good? The Doctrine left room for the necessity of doing good, however, as Luther and other reformers then knew.  But it appears the Catholic Church did have a legitimate concern.

When us humans see that no other person is “Judging” us, or displeased with our actions, we tend to do whatever the heck we want, which usually has nothing to do with what we ought (why else do we do all kinds of weird and sick stuff when no one else is watching?).  As long as others are happy with us, we often feel free to do what we wish, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us.

With the advent of Post-modernism, a wave of non-judgmentalism has gradually entrenched itself in the attitudes of many Americans—and this is a good thing. What gives us the right to assume a condemning stance of others when we likely don’t understand their situation, and when we harbor a wealth of imperfection in our own souls?  But it seems like this attitude can have some pretty bad consequences when it gets mixed with the likes of sinful hearts (most things do). Something about finding out that nobody is going to judge us anymore has turned, in large degree, the collective post-modern humanity into a group of un-disciplined fun-addicts with no desire for much more than what other people’s approval demands—which isn’t much, these days.

So how do we fix this? Well, there are three important things to remember. First, that standards of what is acceptable and what is not most certainly do not rest in hands of other people (no, not even in your TFC professors!), or even ourselves.  For this we can be thankful. But not only should we embrace it when it is convenient (i.e. recognizing that when other people don’t like the way we act or look, we have no obligation to change these things to please them) but we should also submit to it when it is inconvenient (i.e. accepting that whether or not we or our friends recognize it, sometimes the actions we are performing and mindsets we are entertaining need to be changed because they are unacceptable).

Second, we have to find a real standard to decide which of our actions are acceptable and which aren’t. Clearly, we can’t rationally think that people can determine how we should live, on pain of all manner of logical error. There is, however, an omniscient Judge who determines what is acceptable or not as a mindset or action. The Bible isn’t quiet about it: The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.” (Psalm 111:7-8) So, rather than looking to other people to decide whether or not what we do is acceptable, we ought to instead go to God to find out if what we do pleases him.

Third, make God’s standards your own. You’re going in the right direction when you recognize that the people around you don’t get to determine the way you ought to be living (despite how much they often think they do). You’re going in the same direction when you realize that it is God who determines the way you should live. But you haven’t completed the process until you recognize and make God’s standards your own. Until you made your standard of personal purity and conduct one which honors and is acceptable to God, you still haven’t fully made it past the first two steps.  Paul wrote in Romans 12, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Rom. 12:1) As you can see, the ideal Christian who has followed Paul’s advice has taken to heart all that God has required, living his or her life as a full sacrifice out of honor and worship.

In this process lies the formation of confidence and conviction. For when we no longer depend upon what others think to determine how we shall act and think, we no longer need their approval to feel we live rightly. At the same time, we act in conviction, knowing that the truth requires much of us—regardless of whether we or the crowds around us realize or not.

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