It's that time of year, when students invade college towns in their pursuit of higher education. For nearly three decades, I began each academic year delivering the same speech to collegians: The Four Keys to a Successful Freshman Year. Now, with so many universities opening with virtual/online classes, I thought it might be appropriate to digitally share the "keys" to collegiate health with the freshman crowd. So, dear freshman (and your parents!), here we go:
Key #1: Be Yourself.
Ok, I know that in High School you were a big fish in a little pond ... but now that you've arrived at the University, you may feel like a little fish in a big pond. Am I right? You're discovering you want to fit in, to belong, to be liked and to make friends. And in this pursuit, let me warn you: you'll be tempted to do things that just aren't you.
For example, my freshman year at UW was the first (and only?) time I've ever smoked a cigar. I was with fraternity brothers who used the power of peer-pressure. Honestly, I got nothing out of the experience. I didn't taste a thing. (Perhaps I didn't inhale correctly?). Now ... I'm not saying that cigars are evil. I'm simply suggesting that having a trash fire three inches from your face, with accompanying bad breath and proclivity toward lung cancer, won't help you secure a date for Friday night. That's all. (ok, just kidding).
So, be yourself. Be you. Afterall, if you won't be you, who will be?
My dorm roommate (Neal) was also learning what it meant to be himself. Midway through the year, Neal started smoking a pipe ... a bit like Sherlock Holmes. I'd return to clouds of sweet tobacco floating in my room. And Neal used a different kind of pipe, too – but didn't put tobacco in that one. In fact, for a while, Neal even sold pot out of our closet (not pots and pans, mind you). Freshmen do crazy things, all in search of belonging and being liked.
Be true to yourself! God says He made you in His Image (Genesis 1:26-27). That means you are of great value and worth. You matter to God. Why would you want to be someone you're not? I've got a better idea: let's save some energy and heartache by simply being yourself. It makes sense and will be satisfying.
Key #2: Study Hard.
Ok, your parents asked me to include this (just kidding). But seriously, why not? Why not study hard? You've come to the University to learn, and you're paying big bucks to do so.
Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all you heart, and all your soul, and all your strength, and all your _________." Guess what fills the blank? All your mind.
Some of you really ought to be setting the curve in your classes. Seriously. Do it, and love God with all your mind. On the other hand, some of you are not straight-A students. That's ok. If you're a typical C-student, then be the absolute best C-student that your University has ever seen! Study hard and nail the very middle of the Bell Curve! Rejoice in working hard to get your C's and "study to show yourself approved, a workman" who knows how to study ... and handle God's Word.
So, study ... hard!
Let me add that, while being diligent in class, you will profit by being diligent with your Bible. It is God's only Textbook for you to know Him, to become wise, to become humble, to become spiritually smart. So, invest hard work in studying it (a good place to start is the Gospel of John), and you'll end up with the greatest double Major of all time.
Key #3: Play Hard.
Ok, your parents asked me to leave this out (just kidding). But seriously, I have a challenge for you. This year, will you erase the misconception on campus that Christians are dull and boring? Do you hear me? Nobody should have more fun than those who follow Christ. I have a colleague who, before becoming a Christian, held a common stereotype of followers of Christ. He said:
"... if I became a Christian, I thought I'd have to be straight-laced, sober and sad ... you know, don't smoke or chew or go with girls who do ... give up the ten things I like most in life and start doing the ten things I like least ... you know, like give up the filthy five, the sinful seven, the nasty nine, the dirty dozen, wear ugly clothes, marry an ugly girl and hop on the first missionary boat to Borneo and swab sores for the rest of my life."
That's messed up (but funny). My challenge to you: let's bury the stereotype that Christians can't have fun. Ok? Ok!
Key #4: Live Full Out for God.
Key #4 is the most important key of them all. Live full out for God. It sounds religious, but it's not. It sounds extreme, but it's not. It sounds detrimental to fun, but it's not. It sounds counter-cultural on campus, ... ok, you're right. But so what? Are you telling me you lack the courage to start a new cultural trend? Come on, you're in college! You can do it!
You might be reading this, wondering ...
"Dan, why would I want to live full out for God?" My answer is simple: "you will never want to live full out for God ... until you become convinced that God is full out for you." (read that slowly, again)
He is. God is full out for you. But for you to experience that, you've got some decisions to make. Here's the deal:
"Jesus is not the least bit interested in being a part of your life this academic year ... (long pause) ... He wants to be your life."
And the question is: will you let Jesus be your life?
Many of us treat God like he's a folder or file on the desktop of our lives. "Hmm, there is my God folder," I say (while pretending to move my mouse in the air and stare up at a big computer screen). "Yeah, I'll double-click on the God folder ... ok, enough of that ... click-click (close). Oh, there's my Girlfriend file ... click-click ... ok, I can't take any more of that ... hey, there's my Fantasy Football folder (yeehaaa!) click-click."
My dear Freshman, Jesus is not just another file or folder on the desktop of your life – He's the entire Operating System. God is not a mere App on the Smartphone screen of your life! He's the entire IOS. You cannot survive without him.
[Each year, when giving this talk in a live event, I would segue to a passage of Scripture that highlighted how God is full out for them. I always make a beeline for God's Word, because it conveys Life and Truth and Succor and Savor. How? By shining a bright spotlight on the incomparable Rescuer and Leader-for-Life, the Lord Jesus!]
So, the four keys: 1. Be Yourself. 2. Study Hard. 3. Play Hard. 4. Live Full Out for God.
Next time, I'll unpack a passage that reminds us that "God is Full Out for Me!" Stay tuned (coming Thursday)!