By Sydney Fowler
Every kid dreams of one very special day: the day they go off to college. As much as that may hurt parents, it’s understandable. Who wouldn’t be excited at the thought of finally moving out of your parents’ house? It’s a rite of passage in a sense. It means that you’ve grown up. You now have more freedom than you’ve ever had in your life. All that’s asked in return is that you attend classes. Pretty good deal, right? From this perspective, yes. But closely examining college life reveals another side that most newly graduated high schoolers don’t think about. College is not just a place meant to teach you skills for a career or how to live on your own. It is also a place that will present you with unexpected challenges. This was one of the struggles I faced during my first year of college.
One would think that attending a Christian school would not present a challenge to my religious worldview, but I found out that this is not true. Thankfully, the main problems I faced were not regarding the validity of the Christian faith on a general level. Instead, the challenges I encountered were more focused on the denominational level. Growing up I have always attended a Baptist church. Most of my friends have been Baptists as well. College was a completely different story. For the first time in my life, I was outnumbered. Most of the people I met were either Non-denominational or Presbyterian. Although I did have some Baptist friends, most of them were not interested in the “traditional church setting” that I was looking for and found local non-denominational churches to attend. This made it difficult to find a church that I wanted to join.
Now, I do not dislike non-denominational churches. I usually enjoy the services when I go to one. However, as someone who has grown up liking a more traditional style, the modern style that I typically associate with Sunday evening services and youth retreats is not exactly what I am looking for on a Sunday morning. But when the only options were to visit the churches my friends were going to or to stay in my dorm, I wound up picking my friends. After all, a different style of service is better than not going at all.
After visiting a few churches, I was able to find a traditional church that I wanted to attend with my roommate. While I was fortunate enough to find a church that fit what I was looking for, God used the whole process to teach me something valuable. He showed me that whether you attend a traditional or modern service isn’t nearly as important as whether or not you attend church. God does not exist merely in one style of service. Matthew 18:20 says “For where two or three have gathered in My name, I am there in their midst.” God does not relegate Himself to one denomination, so why should we? And while it is ok to have preferences for worship style, at the end of the day, the most important part of the search is finding a church that stays true to Biblical teachings and preaches what the Word says.
This has been something incredibly valuable for me to learn at this stage of my life. I am about to enter the world on my own in a few years. And I have a feeling that finding a church that checks all the boxes is going to become increasingly harder. Even though that thought somewhat saddens me, it’s comforting to know that even if a church does not seem like a complete match, that doesn’t mean that God is not there. And as I go into my sophomore year, I am excited to see what else God has in store for me.
By Sena Hagedorn
When I was in Junior High, my mom switched churches. Growing up, the normal was for mom to take her five kids to church every Sunday. My Father was a farmer and would attend on holidays. You could say he was a “creaster” (someone who only attends Christmas and Easter services). Oh, and potlucks, he loved a good church potluck!
Our church loved the Lord. We had some members in this congregation who would raise their hands while worshiping and singing to the LORD. It was here at this church, where I saw and experienced this kind of worship for the first time. I can remember my mom leaning over and saying to me as she gestured, “I wish I could worship like that”.
It saddens me greatly that she didn’t feel like she could raise her hands in worship, even though it was the desire of her heart. It’s sad that she didn’t feel free enough to be able to worship God by raising her hands.
Now, when I worship the LORD, I raise my hands. I do it in joy as I feel led by the Holy Spirit. I raise my hands in honor and memory of my mom, but also in my deep love, praise and gratitude to Jesus for his death on the cross.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
I like to think that my mom is in heaven with her hands raised high, freely worshiping Jesus. No more discomfort, no more bondage, no more yokes, no more brokenness, no more abuse, no more poverty. I’m not saying everyone needs to raise their hands in worship, but if it is the desire of your heart to worship the LORD with your hands raised, what is holding you back?
Christ has come to set the captives free and we are free indeed!
By Pastor Ben Hill (Reproduced with permission)
The woman at the well is a beautiful story of Christ’s compassion and grace. He intentionally engaged in conversation with a woman who would be considered by all in that day an outcast. Yet He brought to her forgiveness and mercy and He gave her the greatest gift imaginable!
The day after their encounter, were you to have asked her the question: “Who do you say Jesus is?” I’m quite certain she would have exclaimed: “He is THE Christ, The Messiah, He is Lord!” How would she have known? Because Jesus was (and is) a “Barrier Breaker”.
In this encounter we see Jesus first broke the barrier of race and gender… He made contact with her. Second, He broke the barrier of her need… He challenged her to look for something more. Third, He broke the barrier of her sinfulness… He confronted her sinful past. Fourth, He broke the barrier of her lostness… He revealed Himself to her and she saw the conversion of her soul available to her. Then, marvelously, we see her changed in that she left her water pot behind and ran to the very people who might have judged her in the past and brought to them the “good news” she had just been given!! She had found the Messiah!
Who do YOU say Jesus IS?
“But I say to you who hear, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs form you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But, love your enemies, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
– Luke 6:27-36
I think these may be some of the hardest words Jesus spoke. Even as I typed them out, part of me wanted to skip some parts. Part of me wanted to change my mind and not write about this at all. What Jesus says here is radical and, in many cases, may seem impossible. How can Jesus expect us to love people who hurt us? How can He tell us to turn the other cheek when we are struck? What does He even mean by that? Are Christians supposed to be pushovers? Are we supposed to let people abuse us and hurt us and just sit there and do nothing about it?
Loving Your Enemies and Setting Boundaries
Well, I want to start by saying, no. Jesus does not expect us to be pushovers. If you are in a situation where you are being abused in anyway, Jesus does not expect you to just sit there and let it happen. You are a child of God, He loves you, cares for you, and wants to set you free. And if you have been in a situation like that or have just been hurt by other people, whatever that looks like, what Jesus says here does not mean that Jesus doesn’t care.
In fact, He cares very deeply. If you read through the Gospels you will see how much God hates sin. His love and grace don’t excuse sin or make it ok or no big deal. He hates sin, all sin. When other people sin against us and hurt us, He hates that. It is good and right to set both legal and personal boundaries. It is possible to love your enemies and still have limits. You can forgive someone for what they did to you without continuing to have a relationship with them.
One example I think of is one summer a few years ago. I was volunteering at a summer camp for children in foster care. At one point in the camp we asked the kids to come up and say one thing they wanted to pray for. Almost every kid in that camp asked to pray for their parents. Many of these kids came from abusive situations. Their parents had hurt them, and yet in spite of that they still loved them and prayed for them. Of course, for most of those children it would never be right or safe for them to return to their parents. Most of them had to stay in foster care or be adopted into another family. For their safety boundaries had to be set. But, in asking for prayers for those who had hurt them so deeply, they showed the kind of love Jesus asks all of us to extend to people who hurt us. Loving your enemies can be as simple as asking God to have the same mercy on them that He had on you.
When God calls us to love our enemies, He does not call us to take their sin lightly or to treat ourselves poorly by staying in an unsafe situation.
Love Your Enemies: Look to Jesus
Loving our enemies is hard. And there is only one way we can truly love our enemies the way God calls us to.
We look to Jesus.
One thing God has shown me as I have read through the Gospels is that Jesus never gives us a command that He has not accomplished Himself. Here when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He is not asking us to do something that He doesn’t know anything about. Jesus is not just some teacher who gives vague commands without understanding the depths of what He is asking. He knows even better than we do what it means to love enemies. As Jesus hung from the cross, He prayed for God to have mercy on those who killed Him. As He died the most horrific kind of death in all human history, He cried out for forgiveness for those who murdered Him.
And, He loved you and me. I sometimes forget that I at one point in time was an enemy of God. Romans 5 says that even though we were enemies of God, because of the death of Jesus we were reconciled to Him. God had mercy on us and extended forgiveness to us even though we rebelled against Him. I don’t deserve mercy any more than anyone else who has sinned against me. Jesus knows how hard it is to forgive those who have sinned against us. He knows what it is like to be sinned against. He knows what it is like to be betrayed, to be hurt by people. So, as He calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us, He is not doing so without any understanding of what He is asking of us.
If we want to know what it looks like to love our enemies, to love difficult people, we need to look to Jesus. We can’t do what He is asking on our own. And, He doesn’t expect us to. He shows us how to love others in His death and resurrection. And He comes alongside us to help us love others, even those who seem impossible to love.
By Pastor Ben Hill (Reproduced with permission)
“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30
Think back to the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Do you remember how the massive pile of rubble, molten steel and unrecognizable human remains became a focal point of terror’s evil? Remember President Bush ascending a rubble pile with a fireman, and with bullhorn in hand proclaiming for the world to hear our Nation’s resolve, our determination to bring to justice those who were responsible for that horrific attack? That section of destroyed land was referred to over and over again as “Ground Zero”.
What is a ground zero? It is a place of origin, an established point of beginning. Can you think of the “ground zero” moments in your own life? For the Child of God, the ultimate “ground zero” moment happened over 2,000 years ago on a hill called Mt. Calvary!
God is perfectly holy, and His justice demanded punishment for sin. The complete wrath of God was poured out against the rebellion of man, at the cross where Jesus suffered and died for OUR sins! It was there that the justice of God was satisfied through the Lord’s sinless sacrifice.
This is where we see the divine paradox of the cross. In that very moment, God unleashes His unbridled punishment of sin but He also reveals His greatest expression of love, mercy, and grace! (Romans 5:8) God the Father gave His Only Son to die so that we don’t have to… this is grace defined! Yet grace is further revealed in the reality that Jesus was not an unwilling sacrifice. He freely laid down His life to pay your death sentence and mine!
O, what a Savior! We are redeemed by the blood of The Lamb!
The ultimate Ground Zero: Jesus died once for all who will surrender to Him.
Pray that you might fully appreciate the divine paradox of grace and that we all might share the love of God everywhere we go.
By Mark Winchell of National Christian Counselors Association (reproduced with permission)
About 2 years ago, I was hiking down some trails here in Florida. While I was walking, God began to lay a vision out for me, one that greatly impacted my life and I pray will impact your life as well.
God showed me a pathway of large flat rocks and in order to start down this path, I had to wait for the next rock in front of me to flip over, before I could move ahead.
So I waited… and I waited for the rock to turn over, and when it finally did turn over, I saw that there was a word written on the rock and the word was “Faith”.
Well, I kept trying to move from my rock, and stand on the “Faith” rock, believing that this would allow me to move forward, but I was unable to move from the rock on which I was already standing, even though I thought I had great faith.
I was stuck…
…so I did what anyone else would do, right? I looked for another path to take because I didn’t want to be stuck there on that rock. Then in my vision – Oh look, there’s a book. My solution was to pick up this book and read it. Suddenly a path manifested to the right of me, which had many rocks already turned over.
“Great!”, I thought. I no longer had to wait for my next rock to flip. I had a path open to me and I followed all the steps in the book; I followed the revelations and the teachings and I prayed all the prayers and I moved right along this path all the way to the end. I was so excited that I had gotten this far, that is, until I heard God speak to me.
He said, “This is not YOUR PATH”.
I realized at this point that I was not only on the wrong path, but also very far from my rock, and the path that God had actually laid out for ME. You see, the path I had followed was someone else’s path, and it had everything they needed to walk in THEIR God-given calling, but it wasn’t mine.
I have to go back to my rock now.
“Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established.”
[Proverbs 4:26 NASB]