How I Grew to Love Christian Music


What is Christian Music?

Growing up, my family was in church every week. As with most churches, we sang worship songs often. I even occasionally listened to our local Christian radio station. The songs that I heard on the radio and the songs that we sang in church were the same types of songs. They were catchy and easy to remember. They were mostly worship songs, intended for the listener to sing along and to worship.

For most of us, I think these songs, such as 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman, and Cornerstone by Hillsong, are what come to mind when we think of Christian music.

When I was in middle school and started to get more interested in music, I pretty much stopped listening to Christian music outside of church. Frankly, I didn’t enjoy it that much and much of it was just not good. So I started listening to other musicians and genres of music I thought were much better and more interesting. I listened to everything from pop and rock to rap and hip hop. Little of this music had anything to do with my faith, and much of it talked about ideals that were contrary to my beliefs. But at that time, I desired more to listen to good music.

At some point during college, I started discovering some different types of Christian music. I came across artists that were different from what I had listened to before and had talent on par with many secular artists. Many played music that wasn’t worship music, but that spoke about God. They had talent that was on par with many secular artists, so I really enjoyed listening to it, and at the same time it allowed me to experience God and Gospel truth. I naturally started listening to less and less secular music, and listened to more and more Christian music, simply because I really enjoyed it.

What I began to discover is that there are many genres of Christian music. There is worship music that is played at church and often on the radio. And there’s Christian music that tends to sound more like secular music that nearly everyone listens to, but with lyrics that speak about God. And there’s music that speaks about Christian ideas, but not as explicitly. And all of this music has its purpose. For instance, the song “10,000 Reasons” may be great for singing at church. Twenty One Pilots plays great music with Christian undertones that is great to listen to at home or jam out to in the car. But Twenty One Pilots isn’t quite appropriate for a church service, and listening to worship songs such as “10,000 Reasons” outside of church sometimes leaves more to be desired.

As I began to enjoy Christian music more, I began to wonder about the moral implications of the secular music I had been listening. This led me to ask the question “Is it wrong to listen to secular music?”

Is it wrong to listen to secular music?

I’ve struggled with this question quite a bit. I really enjoy listening to secular music, and often the music secular artists produce is much better than music that Christian artists produce. I didn’t want to have to sacrifice what I wanted to listen to. Besides, the Christian life isn’t just about following a bunch of rules, right?

So is it wrong to listen to secular music?

Short answer: No. And yes.

Longer answer:

1 Corinthians 10:31 says “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

When I was in college I read a particularly convicting quote regarding media. Pastor Kevin DeYoung wrote: “I’ve learned over the years that the simplest way to judge gray areas in the Christian life like movies, television, and music is to ask one simple question: Can I thank God for this?1

The above verse from 1 Corinthians says that we should do everything for the glory of God. That even means that we should listen to music for the glory of God.

I don’t think that it is inherently wrong to listen to (and even enjoy) secular music. But I do think we should be really careful what types of music we listen to. One the one hand, there are plenty of secular artists that make really good music about all kinds of topics that are simply fun to listen to and even edifying. This music can even allow us to appreciate God through the creativity that He’s given to artists.

But there’s also a lot of music out there that spreads messages that are not glorifying to God. Does it bring God glory when artists sing about and praise promiscuity, drugs, crime, and all sorts of sin?

Can we really thank God for music such as this?

“But I don’t really listen to the lyrics. I just like the music.”

This is a popular argument, one I’ve even used in the past. I find it more likely, as was true for me, that we actually all do listen to some of the lyrics of songs, even if just a few lines and the chorus. Everyone has had a song stuck in their head before. And even if we don’t pay close attention to all of the lyrics, we often know the type of message a particular song is putting forth.

We need to be careful what we let into our minds, because the things that we listen to have greater influence in our lives than we may realize or care to admit. The reality is that lyrics run through our minds all the time. This literally affects what we are thinking about. As you’ve got song lyrics running through your mind, you’re thinking about those lyrics to some degree.

You’re likely reading this and thinking “This doesn’t apply to me.” You think that don’t need to change the music you listen to – it’s just fine. And maybe you’re right. But I challenge you to look at your heart and investigate the real reason you’re reluctant to stop listening to certain songs or artists. Is it because you’ve truly investigated the lyrics and checked your heart, and you really don’t think there’s anything wrong with it? Or do you just not believe that the lyrics could really be affecting your thoughts, and you’re unwilling to give up music that you enjoy?

Remember, Jesus doesn’t call us to give up just what is easy and comfortable to let go of, but he calls us to surrender everything for the sake of knowing Him deeply. (Colossians 3)

So I challenge you to ask yourself: Can I truly thank God for the music that I listen to?

Listening to Christian music has deepened my faith

Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

I really think that the things that we listen to have a deep effect on us. As I’ve listened to more and more Christian music over the last few years, I have seen this music have a lasting effect on me and even deepen my faith.

I often have lyrics flowing through my head that speak about God, and I can often be heard singing Christian songs. When Gospel lyrics are flowing through my head, I’m actually thinking about what they mean, and I can’t help but constantly be reminded of Gospel truth. Isn’t this the Christian faith, that our lives would be constantly focused and refocused on God?

How amazing to be able to be constantly reminded about God from within, through something that you deeply enjoy?

So I’ve really grown to love Christian music, because it’s become about more than just listening to lyrics and instruments. It’s about worshipping God with my thoughts and allowing the Gospel to affect my heart and mind.

Jesus didn’t die so that we don’t have to follow a bunch of rules. He died so that we could know the God of the universe. So that we could enjoy Him through glorifying Him with our lives. And music can be a sweet way to enjoy and glorify God.

If you’re interested in listening to some music that has been impactful for me, and that I and others I know really enjoy, check out some of the artists and albums listed below, with links to Spotify!

David Thomas, University of Illinois Cru Staff

Citizens & Saints – Citizens
King’s Kaleidoscope – Becoming Who We Are
Dustin Kensrue – The Water & The Blood
The Sing Team – Oh! Great is Our God!
My Epic – Viscera
Ghost Ship – The Good King
Twenty One Pilots
1: DeYoung, Kevin. The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap Between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. Print.

Delighting in Christ Through Depression

kathleen johnson (1)Born to delight in Christ

According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. I was presented with this idea, primarily through the writing of John Piper, about 10 years ago and was profoundly changed. I was sold. All in.

Firstly, it was life changing to put God and his glory at the center of the purpose of the universe. There is something deeply right about that. “All things were created for him [Christ].” (Col 1:16) This universe was created and purposed to show all of God’s glory. Mankind, like everything else, was created to reflect and display that glory.

Secondly, God is glorified when we enjoy him. Here, of course, I am leaning heavily on Piper’s thesis. We are designed to enjoy God, and by enjoying Him we glorify Him. What wonderful truth! My mind is designed to be satisfied with nothing less than the wonder of God. My heart is designed to be satisfied with nothing less than God’s personal, intimate, deep pursuing love for us. And I began to mine the depths of God’s glory, delighting anew over and over every day.

But all of this joy filled delight in Jesus came to a screeching halt for me when I lost my joy all together.

The end of joy

Looking back, anxiety was present most of my life. But about four years ago, it came on in a way like never before. And it didn’t go away. I began to experience extended periods dominated and controlled by anxiety. My mind would just keep spinning with worry, endlessly. At the worst of it I was having frequent panic attacks.

Like the other side of the same coin, the anxiety was followed by extended periods of depression. Darkness would fall over me like someone turning off the lights in my head. I was covered with deep sadness, despair, and hopelessness.

When the darkness of depression overtook me, it short-circuited this wonderful delight in Jesus. What was I to do? How can I live my purpose of glorifying God by enjoying Him if I cannot take joy? In such circumstances what does it look like to walk with and cling to Jesus?

When I look back on this time, I don’t think I was a shining example of following Christ. I would describe my experience as more of a stumbling and reaching out in the dark. However, I see threads of grace that the Lord taught me. I’d love to share a few of these threads here.

Resting on truth

The darkness of depression is oppressive, and with it comes so many dark thoughts. Everything begins to feel hopeless and purposeless. Some of the time, when things were the hardest, the darkness was so great, the purposeless was so strong, the sadness was so present, I rested on something in a way more foundational than joy. I rested on Jesus as true. All I had was what I knew to be true, and I held on to these things.

I knew that Jesus was King. I knew that He loved me deeply. I knew that I would spend eternity with Him. I knew that God is working everything for my good and His glory. I knew He had a great purpose in it all. I could not conjure up the ability to emotionally enjoy Him, but I just maintained that Jesus was truth. That He was there. That He loved me. And that life was not meaningless, but full of meaning.

My hope was that all this truth would soon lead to an experience of peace, or hope or relief. It did not. So I chose to just cling to it being true through the lack of peace, hope, and relief. Experience of joy was out of reach, but I could know Jesus to be true.

Looking to a future hope

I didn’t find it super helpful to see the command in scripture to not be anxious. My anxiety was not something I could just stop. I didn’t find it super helpful to be told to take joy in the Lord. Joy wasn’t something I could feel. But I was encouraged by a friend who had gone through similar trials to look to biblical hope.

One day God will make things right again. Those who are in Christ will one day be with God forever. He will wipe away every tear. He will give us new bodies. His kingdom will come completely. When I found no hope in today, I could look to a future hope when God would take away my emotional struggles.

Now again, this was not an experience of hope. There was little or no actual emotional relief immediately found here. But it was a choice that in the face of hopelessness I would cling to the objective reality of biblical hope.

Taking joy without joy

There must be something paradoxical about the biblical doctrine of joy when the Word can say “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2) And “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings.” (Romans 5:3) There is something about this kind of joy that is rooted in something deeper than experiential joy. Something based on the Word, not experience. Something so deeply committed to Christ’s exultation that circumstances are not primary, He is.

I spent a summer a few years ago with a friend. She had been suffering with a deeper and longer depression than I had. Yet when I saw her with friends she was laughing and looking like she was truly enjoying herself. I asked her if she really was experiencing the joy that it looked like she was. She said that she was usually not, but that she had made a decision: she wasn’t going to let the depression take those times from her. She was going to still laugh, and have fun, even if she couldn’t feel it. I’d call this choosing to partake to the greatest extent you are able.

Later that summer I led a training time. In the training I talked about living the Christian life by basking on the cross of Jesus – by just taking in, reflecting on, and enjoying Christ for who He is and all that He has done for us. My friend came to me frustrated. She said that it was so hard for her to hear me talking about basking in Christ, when we both knew this wasn’t something we could really do. But I realized it was the same as her times with friends. It was a choice to take joy without joy. It was a decision to bask. A decision to partake to the greatest extent we are able.

Now, again, this is not very comforting experientially because it offers no symptomatic relief! But it is a choice to rejoice without experience. It is a choice to say I will live to bask on the wonder of Jesus and glorify Him. I will take time to acknowledge, point my attention to, and declare the wonders of God. And if it comes with no experience of joy and wonder, I’ll still do it. If all I have to give is a conscience choice to point my attention to Christ’s wonders, I’ll still do it. Every day.

A deeper relationship

There is great intimacy of relationship to be found in the Lord. Many people can attest the wonders of a deep relationship with God: the daily walking together, the quite moments together. And certainly without a doubt I leaned deeply on the Lord and His closeness during these times.

However, as I’ve said repeatedly, there was very little to no experiential comfort provided. I believe this is when a deeper intimacy is reached. There is something profoundly powerful about walking with the Lord without any of the externals. He sustained me on faith in truth and hope alone. He sustained me on joy based on His Word, not my experience.

This is really the central theme of everything I’ve said here. Truth, hope and joy can be held onto apart from emotional experience. And isn’t this only possible in a deeper relationship? What a priceless gift. To get to walk with Jesus through such a time. To know that God’s word, and promises, and objective presence is fuel enough for the hardest seasons. To know from experience that my reality is not defined by my emotions but by the word of God.

Finally, if you are hurting emotionally, please talk with someone and seek help. There is a very unfortunate stigma around seeking help for emotional needs and that is a travesty. We live in a world that is broken in every way by sin – affecting us in every category. Why would we not respond to these problems from every option and category we have available: counseling, medication, spiritual health, etc? It is totally normal and okay to seek such help. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to overcome my nervousness and depression, but with help, over time, I’ve seen giant life altering change. Change and solutions are possible. If you are struggling emotionally please seek help. There is hope and there are answers.

Doug Olexa, University of Illinois Cru Staff

Four Ways the Christian Worldview is Telling Your Story

4 Reasons the Christian Wordlview is Telling your Story (1)Everyone has a worldview. Our worldview is how we make sense of and interpret the world around us. If you aren’t sure what your worldview is you might find out by asking yourself questions like: “Where did the universe come from?” “How do I decide what is true?” “Is our existence simply material or is it also spiritual?”

At its core, the Christian worldview answers these questions with a narrative. This narrative can be summarized as: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

I am convinced that the Christian worldview is telling your story. By your story I mean your greatest convictions, your deepest hurts, and the things you simply know to be true from years of life.

Here are four reasons the Christian worldview is telling your story, as seen through the creation, fall, redemption, and restoration narrative.

1) Creation: You know that life is precious and that all people deserve to be treated equally.

Should we be outraged by the sexual assault of women? When a natural disaster wipes out countless lives, is this a staggering loss? Are all humans equal regardless of race? These are not hard questions to answer, but why?

The Christian worldview resoundingly declares “yes!” to the equality and value of all people and can explain why: God created all women and men with dignity, equality and enormous value because he created them in his image.

Consider a naturalistic worldview: the belief that all that exists is the material, no God. Naturalism has no (or arguably a very weak) explanation for human value and equality.  If my personhood is nothing more than a random byproduct of time + primordial soup, then human value is an illusion. Such a view crumbles under the conviction of the human experience.

The human story has returned a verdict: people have enormous value. The Christian worldview makes sense of this verdict.

2) Fall: You know that this world is not as it should be.

There is great suffering in the world. Humans do terrible things to humans. Great evils seem to flourish all around us. You may even have experienced great loss or suffering personally.

Perhaps this caused you to draw the conclusion that no good, loving God could possibly exist. I can understand this reaction! However I would implore you to consider: if brokenness is in your story, then your story is the Christian story.

According to the Christian worldview this current world is not as God first designed it. God created a perfect world, but when sin entered the world everything became broken. This is called “the fall.” All that we see in this world that is not right is the result of the fall. As our hearts look at the world and cry out “broken” we are experiencing the world as described in the Christian worldview narrative, a fallen world. Our heavenly father is pained when his children hurt so deeply. God will not allow evil to flourish forever.

Other worldviews crumble under the claim of brokenness and objective evil. Consider moral relativism: the claim that there is no objective moral truth. Moral relativism triumphs, “What is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me, so believe what you want.” This is a very seductive option because then no one ever has to be wrong – all faith is on equal ground. Everyone wins, right? Certainly not. Consider what our soul just testified to us: evil is tragically flourishing in our world. We can all look at a horrific act like rape and agree it is objectively evil. Evil. If moral relativism is true then evil doesn’t even exist, it’s just someone else’s truth. We know this must be false.

We don’t need a doctorate to know this world is truly and deeply broken; we only need a few years of life experience. If brokenness is in your story, and if we are honest it is in all of our stories, the Christian worldview is telling your story.

But the Christian worldview does not leave us hopeless in brokenness.

3) Redemption: You know there is something significant in beauty and love.

The human story is one that knows and values beauty. Interestingly and perhaps paradoxically some have found beauty to be the best compass to find truth in science.  The human story is one that knows and values love. If you’ve watched the movie Interstellar, you may remember Anne Hathaway’s character considering the transcending meaning of love. But more importantly than these examples, I would imagine that beauty and love are real parts of your story.

At the heart of the Christian worldview is a beautiful love story. This is a story of loss, pursuit and deep sacrificial love.

The Christian story tells the story of how God has come to save his beloved. God’s children are lost, exiled from God’s presence in a broken world. But when Jesus came he suffered the consequences that his children deserved to suffer, making a way back home to God.

I love the poetic way the band The Gray Havens tell this story:

To the serpent low
Said the king upon his throne
You’ve deceived and lied
My child has gone into exile
But I will go
I will make a way home
And I will bleed
Like the enemy

Every human heart was built to gaze upon beauty and to be filled up with love. But like a man dying of thirst drinking salt water we decided we preferred exile and have tried to fill up our hearts with so many other things. God’s beautiful story tells of the God who made a way home to him. This story displays the deep fulfilling love that God offers to those who take this way back to him.

4) Restoration: You know that the world needs a deeper solution.

What is the greatest problem in the world? Selfishness? Injustice? And what is the solution to that problem? Education? Government? We must seek to make this world a better place, and mankind has made great progress at times. However, I wonder if you would resonate with the reality that the problem is deeper, that we are more deeply broken, and that this brokenness will not be solved without a real change from within the human heart.

The Christian worldview tells the story of restoration. It teaches us that the human heart is broken, innately bent inwards to selfishness. What God offers is deep spiritual healing. He calls us to turn from trusting and worshiping ourselves to trusting and worshiping him. Specifically to trust in Jesus and his beautiful loving work to make a way home to God. Our part is to turn and when we do God heals our broken hearts. He orients our hearts away from self love and towards love of others and love of him.

The restoration God offers now is deep spiritual healing. The way home to him begins for these people with a secure relationship with God, knowing and experiencing his love. Total restoration of this world and all brokenness is coming when Jesus returns at the end of time. For those trusting in Jesus we eagerly await this day!

If your story tells you something deep is broken that needs spiritual restoration from inside, then the Christian worldview is telling your story.

In these ways I am convinced that the Christian worldview is telling the human story. As we find ourselves fighting for the value of human life, shaken by the brokenness of this world, recognizing the power of love, or longing for a real solution, I hope we see that our story is bearing witness to the Christian worldview story.

You probably also noticed that the Christian worldview presents a very real problem and a solution to that problem. If you want to learn more about embracing that solution by turning to God and trusting in Jesus, check out:


Doug Olexa UICru Staff

Does Jesus Really Know My Suffering?


Deep Suffering

We hear constantly of how God promises abundant comfort, healing and love, among so many other beautiful things, when we place our faith in Him. We have been told Jesus understands every one of our temptations and hardships, yet He still managed to live perfectly, without even the slightest stumble or drift.

But as it approaches April, I think about the brokenness of this world and how it requires us to have an entire month to bring awareness to the devastating issue of sexual assault. And as I think about the many men and women who have been personally impacted by this issue, I wonder if they and their advocates question if Jesus truly understands their suffering, or if they’re simply an outcast exception to the rule.

As someone who can personally identify with these survivors myself, I feel we are often given by the church reassurance and comfort from songs saturated with the lyrics of God’s goodness and by promises in the Bible of how He will never leave us. Please don’t hear me disregard the BEAUTY of these songs and promises, and their immense truth, but to someone trying to begin healing from the shattering infliction of sexual assault, I see even the most comforting of those aforementioned promises like this: it is a loving gesture for someone to be there for you and offer much of their time to listen and weep with you, but it is not quite the same as someone who offers their time and tears for you because they completely understand and identify with that specific suffering  which you are hurting. And even on a broader scale, isn’t this how we pick our close friends? Those who not only are present in our life but whom we share deep understandings? I would argue so.

So do we know the sufferings of this Jesus, who at one time lived perfectly on this earth and is offering to us this relationship with Him? And maybe more importantly to us, does He truly know ours?

Can Jesus relate to me?

Here are some quick facts: in America, up to 90% of reported sexual assault victims are female, whereas Jesus is male. In the Old Testament, rape was penalized by death (Deuteronomy 22:25), whereas today in America, a perpetrator can be imprisoned if the incident is reported but even those prosecuted can avoid punishment if they are politically, economically, and/or culturally valued. It may sound easy to stop here and say the contexts are just too different for Jesus to understand as an advocate, much less a survivor.

But before we all reach a conclusion, I want to reflect on the life of Christ. I want to reveal to you all the extent of His suffering so you can decide for yourself if He knows the suffering of a survivor of assault, or any specific form of suffering that may weigh on your heart.

I want to start with the part of His life where after revealing Himself as the Messiah, Son of God, people sought for Him to be arrested (John 7:32) and constantly, despite His goodness, He was slandered (Matthew 12:22-24), hated (John 15:18), and plotted against to kill (John 11:45-57). This translates to me as when a survivor goes to someone they trust: family, friend, sorority/fraternity, medical professional, law enforcement, and that person calls them a liar and may even choose to make efforts to silence this person’s claim because it may stand as a challenge to their understanding or as a threat to the reputation of an individual or institution. Jesus knows all too well that suffering, my friends.

And when they did arrest Him, it was only made possible by the betrayal of a close friend, who sells Him out for a bag of money (John 18:1-3). I cannot even picture someone doing that to me, much less a close friend. Are you beginning to see any parallels? 75% of sexual assault survivors know and trust the person who ends up deeply betraying and hurting them, leaving them at the hand of further suffering and implications. It’s still okay if you don’t see it yet, for at this point, Jesus’s suffering had just begun.

Once it was confirmed that Jesus was to be crucified, He was then scourged (Matthew 27:26). And let me paint this picture for you: to be scourged is to be stripped and severely beaten with a multi-lashed whip which holds imbedded pieces of bone and/or metal. And what this does to the skin is it rips out pieces of not just skin, but deep muscle tissue still with blood in it, completely shredding what was once functional muscular/epithelial tissue and nerves to inconceivable amounts of damage and blood loss. This pain and humiliation alone was merely the preparation step. Next, Jesus was intentionally clothed in a robe where the exposed wounds dried to the cloth, only to again be stripped to reopen the gashes.  Meanwhile, a crown of thorns is put in place to pierce the many veins of the scalp, adding to the completely immeasurable pain and humiliation (Matthew 27:27-31).

The next stretch of this journey include Jesus carrying His own cross, estimated to be around one-hundred and twenty pounds, weighing against His bare and scourged body. But due to Him constantly tripping from the weight, blood loss, and pure exhaustion, they found a man, Simon of Cyprene, to carry it the remainder of the journey for Him.

Once Jesus reached His destination, He had nails driven into His hands and feet so that He would be pinned and poised upright on the cross, making the nature of these afflictions in relation to gravity nearly impossible to breathe. Although it would have been, at this point, enough to be left alone to die, people still made comments of rejection (John 19:19-21) up until Jesus proclaims in John 19:30b, “It is finished”.

Now I don’t mean for these details to merely make you squeamish without making my point clear- to clearly illustrate the extent of Jesus’s suffering. Also, it’s important to realize that Jesus is characterized by His strength and might in Scripture…meaning He chose to suffer and die an unimaginably horrible death on that cross, out of His love and desire to save us. Ultimately save us from missing out on an eternity with Him and an everlasting relationship with God the Father and in dwelling of the Holy Spirit, but what’s included in that is to save you or anyone you know from the lie that Jesus doesn’t understand what it’s like for those who have been sexually assaulted.

More Than a Death

He didn’t just die on that cross just so that you’d feel understood by Him. He died so our sins would be forgiven, so that one day we could dwell eternally with Him in a place where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV).

He didn’t just live perfectly and die horrifically for us to wish away this life in awaiting the next, but He died so that we would be made like Him and bring glory to His name by proclaiming to others the redemptive work He has done, is doing, and will continue to do in our hearts and lives.

With that redemption, Christ graciously allows us not to be labelled as victims, survivors, etc. but as His masterpieces, made beautifully in His image, and as His precious children, adopted from the orphaning imprisonment of sin and brokenness. We are jars of clay, and in the words of Paul, “We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

With all those promises come challenges, and with this incredible gift comes so much hope in even our darkest experiences. Paul finishes this passage and I want to leave you with this: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Allie McCarthy: University of Illinois Cru Senior

The Seduction of Progress

the seduction of progress

The Seduction of Progress

I’ve always loved technology.  From watching the Jetsons as a kid to ordering an iPhone at midnight as an adult, I’ve always been drawn to the new and improved.  That is certainly how everything is packaged today. Newer is better. Period. As clearly as the sky is blue, the newer is better than the older. My dad once worked in a computer… not on a computer… in a computer. It was the size of a room and you input data into it using huge punch cards! Today we all carry substantially more computer technology in our pockets, or even on our wrists, than he had in that room.

Every day new scientific discoveries are reported in the news. We know more now about our world than we did even 5-10 years ago, not to mention 100 or 1000 years ago. Science, technology, medicine, engineering… there is a long list of topics we could cover where what we know and can do today is vastly superior to the past. That progress is good. We should all be very glad that we have things like antibiotics and airplanes.

But there is a danger inherent in all that progress. It makes it easy to look down on the past. Initially, we denigrate their technology and scientific knowledge, but then we easily transfer that sense of superiority to other areas as well. We confuse knowledge for intelligence and assume we must be smarter than people from the past.

We conclude that our worldview must be more advanced. After all, societies in the past accepted and even promoted things we consider disgraceful today. This leads us to determine that our morality is superior to the past. New and improved!

Except that it isn’t always improved. Newer isn’t always better.

Newer Isn’t Inherently Better  

In Europe last summer I saw a plaque on a wall that said 305 A.D. I asked the owner if that was the date of the wall that made up the back of her gallery. It was! I doubt the walls of my home will be standing in 170 years, let alone 1700 years. We buy vintage items not only because of their age or style, but also because of their quality.

While you may or may not be a fan of classical music or art, it would be a difficult argument to win to assert that the music of Beethoven or the sculpting of ancient Rome is inferior to today’s.

Even technology doesn’t always improve our lives like it was expected to. We live today with unparalleled communications technology. Yet as a society we are living more and more disconnected and alienated lives than ever.

Revelation Throws a Wrench in the Cogs of Progress

If an all-knowing God interjected information into the world in the past, then that knowledge represents actual truth-not just societal opinions, but objective eternal truths.  Any deviation away from those truths must represent regress, not progress. The machinery of progress works for good as long as it is moving toward truth; but if it is moving away from truth, it is to our harm. We can certainly advance in our understanding of that revelation from God, but as I observe today, much of that “advancing” really seems to be a denial of the revelation, not a better understanding of it.

The seduction of progress can make it unimaginable to look back in time for wisdom… and certainly not to an ancient source. This poses a serious problem for those of us who have concluded that the Bible is the word of God. It can be a problem for us because we can find it difficult to hold firm in the truth of God’s word while the world around us moves so steadily away from it. It also has immense implications for us as we talk to our friends about truth and suggest to them that this ancient book is actually a guide for life.

But the Bible actually is just that. Though ancient, it is truth revealed from God. And that truth was revealed to a people who were not as different from us as we tend to think.

Scott Berkey: University of Illinois Cru Staff

Commission of the Single Person


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If you would have asked me freshman year what I expected my life to look like at 22, I would have told you I’d be engaged and living in a high-rise in a big city, wearing a suit every day as I go to my corporate job. None of those things apply to me today, but the hardest unmet expectation to come to terms with is that the“ring by spring” is not my reality.

So how does someone be content, or happy, in singleness? How do we desire a relationship without becoming bitter? What does it look like to walk with God in a season of singleness that is not guaranteed to end?

First and foremost, the desire for a relationship is not a sin.

I think it’s easy to be ashamed of wanting a relationship, feeling like you should just snap out of it, and be happy where God has placed you. Yes, we should praise God for the gifts and circumstances He has given us—this is vital when walking with Jesus. It’s even commanded in the Bible that we “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). But that truth doesn’t mean the desire to be in a relationship is inherently bad. Relationships today can most definitely  be glorifying to God, pointing each other and the people around them to Jesus. However, when we believe a relationship or marriage will bring the ultimate happiness, we will most definitely be disappointed, and it discredits the ultimate satisfaction found in Christ. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus says to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” If we are devastated by the loss of a relationship or fear the idea that we might never get married, then that is a pretty good indicator that we have an unhealthy desire, and are idolizing the love of another person over the love of God.

A healthy desire looks like praying for a relationship, but believing God is still good if we are single for the rest of our lives, and trusting that God’s plan for our life is so much better than what we can come up with in our imperfect minds. Isaiah 55:8-9 says that “’my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” If we pray, expecting that all our prayers will be answered in the exact way we want, we are not acknowledging that God’s thoughts are so much better than our thoughts. We have to cling to this truth that God knows so much better than we do, even when it feels hard.

Because we’re not guaranteed a relationship, we must fight the lie that our lives are on hold until we enter into a relationship.

How often do you think about what your walk with God  is going to be like ten years from now, instead of thinking about what your walk with God could be like right now? Is it easier to  think about pointing your future boyfriend or girlfriend to Jesus than it is to think about pointing your roommate to Jesus? Do you ever dream of your entire dorm or apartment complex knowing Jesus, or do you dream of the ministry you’ll have with your future spouse?

Your life is not on hold. Our calling to fulfill the Great Commission is not limited to when we are settled down (Matthew 28:18-20). I think it’s easy to believe we’ll start pursuing people radically for Jesus once we figure out where we’re going to live, what our job will be, and what our life is going to look like in five years. The reality is now, and five years from now, Christians are called to tell people about Jesus. We are called to share the wonderful, amazing truth that God sent His son Jesus down to die on the Cross for our sins, and we can have an eternal and an all-satisfying relationship with the God of the Universe if we ask Him into our lives.

The Bible gives examples of people of all walks of life answering the call to tell people about Jesus and take steps of faith for His glory. Paul was single his entire life, and wrote more books in the Bible than anyone else. The woman at the well was married multiple times, lived with a man that wasn’t her husband, and told her whole town about the amazing works of Jesus (John 4:16-30). Abraham and Sarah took a huge step of faith to follow God’s call to the Promised Land in order for God’s glory to be evident in His provision (Genesis 12:1-5). A relationship status does not qualify or disqualify you from the call to make Jesus’ name known. That is the beauty of the body of Christ—God gifts us with different stages of life in order to see His glory on display in every person in every season.

There are different strengths in every season of life to fulfill the Great Commission. And in singleness, there are some unique characteristics that equip us to share about Jesus in unique ways. In singleness, one major way we are gifted is the amount of free time we have. You might be reading this, and thinking that free time is a foreign concept to you.  By free time, I mean time you are already using for other things, but that you can invite other people into.  There’s more free time to get meals with people, to invest in living life with people by studying together, and to pour into roommates. But, most importantly, there’s more free time to be totally devoted to pursuing your relationship with God.

In 1 Corinthians 7:32-34, it says that “the unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.” As a single person, there’s a unique opportunity to serve and focus on God that a person in a relationship does not have.

There is thankfulness to be found in the seasons of waiting. These seasons  are sweet and tangible reminder of the season of waiting we are in for Jesus to come back. I love a quote by Betsy Child Howard, using an example of a woman that is single, which says:

 “If God ever gives her a husband, she will live out the picture of Isaiah foretold of rejoicing in the long-awaited bridegroom. Her wedding and the feast that follows will foreshadow the marriage supper of the Lamb described in Revelation…But what if she never marries? Does she fail as a picture of the gospel? Not at all. Instead, she will live and die as a portrait of what the church is meant to be now”1

My prayer is that we might not wait with bitterness, but live as citizens of Heaven who are awaiting Jesus’ return. We can pray for a relationship, just like we pray for Jesus to come back, but it might not happen in our lifetime. What a joy it is that we are called the bride of Christ, and we should be rejoicing in the marriage to our Savior so much more than we should be rejoicing in the idea of a potential marriage (Isaiah 54:5). He fully satisfies, and any relationship is a dim, imperfect representation of the relationship we have with Him.

Sarah Cobble: University of Illinois Cru Staff

1:   Howard, Betsy Childs.Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams are Delayed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016. Print.


Why I Serve

why-iDear Christian College Student:

Though we may have never met, I want to encourage you using my story of college and post-college. It is my hope and prayer that the Lord would use my story to give an honest perspective to students who are deciding whether or not to work a secular job or enter full-time ministry. I pray that God will use my story to encourage you in faithful obedience to His leading. Using my story of Why I serve with Cru, I want you to hear two things: why it’s worth it and why you can too

Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Joe. My wife and I are first year interns with Cru at the University of Illinois. I graduated with an Accounting Degree from U of I in May of 2015 and after graduating I worked for a year at the Corporate Headquarters of a Fortune 100 company (“Company”). Prior to that I was a student-leader in Cru at U of I.

During my senior year, I had a job offer from the Company but was seriously considering turning down the offer to instead do a one-year STINT with Cru in Croatia. When I was deciding to STINT or take a corporate job, I wrestled with the idea that if I did not work with Cru I was choosing something lesser. This is false. In deciding what you will do post-college you are not choosing between following Jesus or not. Working with Cru is not a higher, better, perfect calling. You can glorify God in all work. It is not disobedient to work a different job or go to grad school. I serve with Cru because God is and has been doing incredible things through Cru for the fulfillment of the Great Commission, and I want to help you see if God might be leading you to be a part of this after you graduate.

For a few years now a verse I cling to has been Acts 20:24 in which Paul, writing in the face of certain imprisonment and persecution for proclaiming the Gospel, says,

“But I do not account my life of any value, nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God.” (ESV)

Why am I serving full-time with Cru?

First and foremost, I quit my corporate job to serve with Cru because I am 100% convinced the world’s problems are spiritual. I believe eternal investments are those we make in God, His Word, and the souls of people. I believe sin is the biggest problem and we are in desperate need of a Savior. I serve with Cru because I believe the Gospel is the only solution and I believe Jesus is everyone’s only Savior and only Hope.

During my time in the corporate world, I quickly learned that, in the workplace, there is very little time and space for Gospel conversations. No matter what job you have, the typical workday is mostly spent doing the work the job requires of you. And unfortunately for me last year, that left very little residual time for me to invest in the lives of coworkers for the sake of the Gospel. In short, workplace ministry is difficult and constrained by the obvious limitations of the daily responsibilities of work.

I did, however, get to befriend and work with other recent college graduates. I spent many lunches getting to know coworkers and I did get to engage in spiritual conversations at work, but it was always limited by time and work responsibilities. This week, as I was reflecting on last year, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that before working in the corporate workplace all of my coworkers, much like myself, were on a college campus. In reaching college students for Christ, are we not simultaneously reaching the future workplace? I serve with Cru because I believe that reaching college students today means reaching the world tomorrow.

One reason I love Acts 20:24 is its simplicity. You could say this verse is Paul’s mission statement, his motto. Basically, what he’s saying is “I want to be all about the Gospel at any cost to myself”. The simplicity of our mission is another reason I chose to serve with Cru. I want my life, my work, my marriage, my mornings, my evenings, and my everything to be about the Gospel, and that’s what you get to do with Cru. I serve with Cru because I have the incredible privilege of focusing my efforts everyday on testifying to the Gospel of the grace of God.

Last year, it was not uncommon for me to sit in my cubicle, staring at the excel spreadsheet on my computer screen and ask myself, “will this matter eternally?” or “will it matter, even in ten years, that I made this spreadsheet more efficient or made sure the numbers on this paper added up correctly?” 

On a typical day, I would show up to work at 8 am, sit in a cubicle, stare at spreadsheets, and work on problems that had no eternal significance. This year, I get to spend my workdays meeting with a Christ-centered team of coworkers, encouraging disciples in their walk with God, and telling students about the Savior they desperately need. On Wednesday this past week I spent time meeting with a leader in Cru for discipleship, and later that afternoon I shared the Gospel with a freshman who had never heard it. Yes, that’s really what I get to do as my job! How thankful I am that I have this incredible privilege! If we truly believe that only God, His Word, and people’s souls are eternally significant, wouldn’t we want to spend our days investing in these things? I serve with Cru because I want to invest in eternal things as my full-time job.

God also used Psalm 67 to clarify why I wanted to be in full-time ministry.

“May God be gracious to us and bless us, And make His face to shine upon us, That your way may be known on earth, Your saving power among all nations” Psalm 67:1-2 (ESV)

I still remember reading this verses on a Summer Mission with Cru in Croatia when God lit up these verses to my heart to show me what it meant to steward my life well. What these verses are saying is basically, “we’ve been blessed by God to make much of Him.” I realized then the responsibility I had to use all I’ve been given to make Jesus known. In my four years in Cru I was unbelievably equipped to walk with Jesus and share my faith. I’ve also been given a US passport that let’s me go just about anywhere in the world, I’ve been given good health, a college education, and so much more! You and I have a lot to steward for the sake of the Gospel.

Last year, during a morning commute to work I listened to a podcast in which John Piper answered a question about Careers. Part of his response included this statement:

“Those of us in the prosperous West should keep in mind that one of the most surprising features of our culture which visitors from the two-thirds world are amazed at when they come is the stunning number of choices we have…And we tend to take all these choices for granted. Most places in the world, people do not have 100 possibilities in front of them for how to make a living. They may have one or two or three options given their village and the family they are in and the society they are in”

Even having a choice in our jobs/work is a western idea and privilege. When I heard this, I saw so clearly the gift of grace it is that we get to choose our vocation.

We have been given a lot. How will we steward it?  I pray Psalm 67 for us, that God will bless us so “that His way may be known on earth, His saving power among all nations”. I serve with Cru because we are called to steward our entire lives to make Jesus known.

A big concern that many have about choosing to serve with Cru or enter full-time ministry is your circumstances. Whether that’s student debt, lack of support from parents, a fear of support raising, other job offers on the table, grad school, or anything else. In making this decision last year to work with Cru, my wife and I were engaged, and, yes, it was a sacrifice to choose to work with Cru. I could have kept a job that paid me a regular salary. We could have had an easier first few months of marriage if we didn’t have to support raise. I could have paid off a lot more student debt. In many ways, it would have been a lot easier to stay at my job at Allstate. However, God honors our sacrifices. He provided for us as we took this step of faith. He provided an incredible team of partners, and we got to experience Him deeper as we trusted him with these decisions. I do not say this to tell you how great I am. My only boast is Christ and any good in me is only by His grace. I tell you this because our God is worth any sacrifice. I’m sure every one of you could think of at least a few reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t choose to serve with Cru. Parents, student debt, support raising…whatever it is for you, I can tell you confidently, NO ONE has the perfect situation to choose to go into full-time ministry. It will always be a sacrifice, but it’s worth it. I serve with Cru because sacrificing everything to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God among college students here and around the world is worth it.

My prayer for all of us is that we would be willing to say with Paul, “I do not account my life of any value” so that we would live so to make known Jesus’ “saving power among all nations”. I pray that God will raise up laborers for His Kingdom to serve with Cru here at U of I, across the country, and to the ends of the earth, because “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”. (Luke 10:2 ESV)

Joe, University of Illinois Cru Staff

The Holiday Hangover 


We all know the feeling.

In the weeks (sometimes months – looking at you, people who play Christmas music in September) before the holiday season, we are inundated with the message that this is undoubtedly the most wonderful time of the year. There are celebratory lights lining every street, photos of laughing families sent on Christmas cards and highlighted on storefronts, and the word “JOY” literally plastered everywhere. We are fed the message, implicitly and explicitly, that this season will bring us peace and happiness. I know that I can’t help but get swept up in the excitement and anticipation of the holidays and the joy that I’m promised.

And then, before I’ve caught my breath, it’s over.

The end of the season has always brought with it a strange feeling. Personally, I experience this most strongly after New Year’s Eve celebrations. Every year, my expectations of this single night have risen and I have felt acute pressure to make decisions which will guarantee that this will be the most incredible night of my life. I have purchased outfits for this oh-so-magical night, have strategized with friends to ensure that the parties we attended would maximize our fun, and have manufactured an internal image of what the night should look like.

Yet every single year, no matter the length of planning or diversity in decision from the year prior, I wake the following morning feeling let down. Without fail, my reality never meets my expectations, and I feel a loss. Cue: the holiday hangover.

This feeling of confusion and disappointment after the holiday seemed only to be exacerbated in the coming hours. A quick scroll of social media instantly revealed that I was the only one feeling this way: according to Instagram, 73 of my friends had the best night of their lives bringing in the New Year. But after sharing my feelings of disappointment with those close to me, it became obvious that I was not alone.

The reason that I have been feeling let down was obvious, had I taken a step back from my immediate reality. I had been buying into the idea that Christmas and New Year’s would be the answer to my problems. Everywhere I looked, I was fed the line that this season would bring true joy to my life. I was putting my faith in the Christmas season instead of putting my faith in the one person who will never let me down: Jesus.

Jesus is the only thing in in this world who will promise eternal joy and actually deliver on that promise. We were created to seek joy; we were born with an innate sense that things are not as they should be, and we desire to find the solution. We seek after worldly things with the genuine belief that our lives will be made better by them. We do this with all sorts of things: relationships, money, fame, success… and perhaps also holidays.

Thankfully, this idolatry is not a surprise to God! He knew that we would turn to temporary, worldly things even though we were created to seek the eternal. He sent His only son to the world so that we could run after a better hope, a promise which is guaranteed.

Of course, it is absolutely acceptable to engage in and, quite frankly, adore the Christmas season. I have a roommate who loves Christmas so much that it looks like an elf vomited Christmas in our living room. The problem arises when we place our hope in this season as the solution to our problems and the source of our happiness. The problem arises when we expect New Year’s Eve to be the pinnacle of our existence, the way that I did.

How to cure the holiday hangover

We can treat it the same way that we treat other sources of idolatry: flee from it, and ruminate on truth. We can prepare ourselves in advance by acknowledging that the glitz and the glamour are temporary. When we compare the holidays to the promises of God, they inevitably shrink at even the slightest comparison. We were not created to dwell on these worldly things, but on eternal things. Turn your face to God and praise Him that the gospel is objectively the most wonderful news we will ever receive. Its brightness will not fade, and the hope it promises will never disappoint. For “the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.” (Ps 147:11). Scripture is clear: we were created to put our hope in the Lord, so when we place our hopes elsewhere, we set ourselves up for failure.

The holiday hangover is not inevitable, and has a foolproof cure found in the gospel. Therefore, friends, let’s break the pattern of holiday idolatry this season together and place our hopes instead in the good gifts offered to us freely by the Lord, gifts which will always exceed our expectations.

Brit , University of Illinois Cru Staff

The Broken Instrument


The Broken Instrument

The door swung open as I entered my room. My backpack hit the floor as my body slumped into the bed that’s been calling my name for days. I didn’t even bother turning on the lights. Darkness and silence – the setting perfectly portrayed my present feelings. I reflected on the long hours of studying followed by the cold, dreary walks to and from the UGL that now seemed like a complete waste of time. I replayed the memory of my first final exam that utterly wrecked me.

In that moment, I felt like a failure.

Maybe that’s not how your finals week is going. If that’s the case, then you are more fortunate than others. However, I’m willing to bet that the feeling of failure is not a foreign concept to anybody. Some time in your life, you probably felt something similar.

I was reading Acts 9 today. The chapter covered Saul’s conversion story, when Jesus spoke to Saul and blinded him for three days (for more details, read Acts 9:1-10). What struck me was when God spoke to Ananias, a disciple nearby.  God told Ananias to lay hands on Saul so he could regain his sight. He then said this about Saul: “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15 ESV).

God called Saul, who later was renamed by God himself as Paul, His chosen instrument. Someone who hated, threatened, and killed became God’s chosen instrument to love, to save, and to bring glory to God. Paul ended up writing most of the New Testament, and most people would consider him to be the MVP of early Christianity.

This passage filled my mind with imagery. I thought of a guitar, completely off tune with a fractured neck and missing strings; however it’s in the hands of a musician who skillfully fixes up everything that has been broken – constructing a new neck out of mahogany and carefully replacing each string back in place, fine-tuning it back to its original pitch. The guitar becomes brand new, and the musician joyfully uses it to create beautiful music.

The problem is that this imagery did not resonate well with me. I still feel like I’m out of tune and fractured at times. I sometimes still think that my strings are out of place. I often still feel like a broken instrument, but the truth is Paul was never fully fixed.

Yes, he received eternal life when he put his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (John 10:28). Yes, all his sins had been forgiven (Ephesians 1:7) and he had become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), but he wasn’t perfect. Paul still constantly battled with sin and wrestled with weakness (Romans 7; 2 Corinthians 12). Though he wasn’t perfect, God still called Paul and used him for His glory.

I wondered which other “big shots” in the Bible had considerable weaknesses, and I found quite a few.

  • When God called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, Moses pleaded for Him to choose someone else because he felt inadequate for the position (Exodus 4:13).
  • Jeremiah, one of the Major Prophets of the Old Testament, was severely depressed (Jeremiah 15:18).
  • Jonah tried to run away when the Lord called him to preach to the people of Nineveh (Jonah 1:3).
  • Peter, who is known as the Rock of the Church, denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62). Jesus even warned him before it happened!
  • David, who God considered a man after His own heart, committed adultery to Bathsheba and then killed her husband (2 Samuel 11).

But despite their weaknesses, failures, and mistakes, God still used them for extraordinary things. And despite our weaknesses, failures, and mistakes, God can and will still use us for extraordinary things.

I think that God loves to use broken instruments to play His music. When a musician plays a song perfectly with aninstrument that’s broken, we praise them for their impeccable talent. In that same way, it brings more glory to God when He uses broken people to accomplish great things.

And although God doesn’t fully repair us the moment He saves us, His Holy Spirit begins to heal and sanctify us. Even as I feel broken now, I know that the hands of the Almighty are working to mend me until one day I am fully restored (Philippians 1:6).

Looking back, I realized that God never called Paul His perfect instrument. He called him His chosen instrument. If you feel broken, weak, or inadequate, be encouraged by this: we have a Masterful Musician in our midst.

 And He chooses us.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

-2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Adam Jo, University of Illinois Cru Senior

An Engineered God


The Heart Issue: Idolatry

There is a pretty average joke that goes something like this:

“How do you tell if someone is an engineer?”

“Don’t worry, they’ll tell you anyway.”

The joke does not get more than a small laugh, but it reveals something that Scripture already teaches: knowledge can puff us up. I can say confidently that my engineering and arrogance are closely associated. There is a widespread belief within engineering that majors outside of engineering are irrelevant. As Christians, this attitude of placing too much importance on academic pursuit leads to idolatry. But it is not just engineers who are guilty; all students are susceptible to seeking purpose and identity in academic success and intellect instead of finding it in Christ. We’ve created our own gods – engineered them, if you will – and are insistent on worshiping them.

Idolatry of an Engineered God: Academic Success

Ultimately, if a Christian idolizes academic success, he thinks he can find more purpose and satisfaction in academics than in Christ. It is easy to agree intellectually that such a belief is false, but difficult to live as if it is. In a desperate prayer, Jonah explained the issue of idolatry bluntly: “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (Jonah 2:8). If a Christian worships a false idol like academic success, he abandons his hope in Jesus’ steadfast love. A Christian cannot expect to be satisfied after abandoning Christ’s steadfast love.

In case Jonah is not convincing enough, I can give you an example from my own life: The mentality on campus is that the road to academic success is achieved through graduating with a high GPA, having multiple prestigious internships, holding leadership positions across campus, participating in research, and so on and so forth. This life, of course, requires sacrifice of community, free time, and sanity –and it’s all in the name of satisfaction and purpose.

I am a semester away from graduating and have accomplished most of those things.  At times, it has been out of enjoyment and good stewardship, but too often it has been idolatry. I can say two things definitively: (1) academic success is not satisfying and has left me wanting, and (2) the times I have been most satisfied have been pursuing Christ in community. Even in community, the source of this satisfaction is Christ, towards which community points. Even selfishly using my satisfaction as the only criteria, pursuing Christ above academic success is the right decision.

Idolatry of an Engineered God: Intellect & Science

Another related- but more subtle- type of idolatry is that of intellect and science. It moves knowledge to the position of God. Pursuit of knowledge is no longer a means to an end, but knowledge itself is the end. It is this type of idolatry that leads to intellectual arrogance. Under this worldview, all propositions are false until the scientific method and peer reviewed studies have provided strong evidence (but of course, never proven) that a hypothesis might be true. It produces the belief that we cannot know anything for sure, which is a small step away from relativism.

This type of idolatry and worldview is in contrast to the teachings of scripture: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10). To those who idolize intellect, this verse emphasizes the importance of knowledge of God. Knowledge can no longer be the end itself, but the means to the end of knowing God more intimately.

Just because the emphasis of the knowledge we obtain should be on Christ does not mean that we cannot or should not pursue other knowledge. Studying creation through science should motivate us to worship God as the Creator. Braille and Propaganda, two musicians from the West Coast, expressed this same thought in their song “Lofty”:

“It’s evident in creation that God is the primary cause

The origin of all scientific laws

Everything else is secondary…

Intelligent design doesn’t even begin to define his creative craftsmanship”

The Solution: Creativity Pointing to the Creator

In my Internal Combustion Engines class this semester, I’ve learned about how automobile manufactures use closed loop control to adjust ignition timing of an engine to prevent knock. Without explaining what any of that means, I remember marveling at the ingenuity required to design such a system. In Christ, I have freedom to marvel at the creativity of previous engineers, can admire their intellect, and work diligently to successfully learn to be such an engineer. But in doing so, I must not lose sight of the ultimate Creator, Designer, and Engineer of Life.

Nowhere else is His creativity on display better than in his design of the Gospel: a way to pardon man of sin like of idolatry of academic success and intellect. God designed a way to pardon us of sin while still remaining just by satisfying His wrath on His own son at the cross. By preserving his justice, He also extended us grace for our wrongs. Jesus satisfies all the needs our selfishness, arrogance, and pride are trying to. Christ humbles us but also gives us true meaning and purpose to life. Science will fail to show compassion and intellect will fail to love. Idolizing these things will leave us dry and dead, but Christ will not.

The design of such a system should cause us to marvel at the work of the Creator, and bring us to a sense of awe, worship, and freedom. Propaganda, reflecting on the design of the Gospel, was brought to that sense of awe:

“A system of redemption that could only be described as perfect

A seal of approval, fatal debt removal

Promised, prominent, perfect priest

Brilliant designed system, redemption for our kinsmen

Can only be described as perfect with excellent execution

And I’m in awe, the only one truly excellent”

Isaac Neale, University of Illinois Cru Senior

Propaganda’s song referenced above can be found here