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Trusting God In A Time of Transition

By Hannah Spaulding, USA

Three years ago, I began my college career at a small Christian college called Calvin College. I had a lot of anxieties in the beginning—moving to a school far from home, not knowing anyone, making new friends, etc. But by the second semester, I was well-adjusted and praising God for a good first year of school and for the friends He had provided me with.

 

Experiencing God’s Grace

In February, however, I received some bad news from my parents. My dad’s autoimmune disease, as well as lingering arthritic pain from a car accident many years ago, was worsening, and he might no longer be able to do his current job. This would mean a drop in our family income, and we might no longer be able to afford the high tuition at a private Christian school.

My parents offered me a choice: even though the job change was not certain yet, did I want to transfer to a different school for next school year? Specifically, they asked me if I wanted to transfer to Purdue University, a large public school in my home state of Indiana. Purdue would be much cheaper since it’s a public university and I would be an in-state student.

My first answer was an emphatic “no.” My boyfriend attends Purdue, and from visiting him I knew that Purdue was the exact opposite of what I wanted in a school. Where my small Christian school had winding walking paths and a campus filled with beautiful trees, Purdue had crowded crosswalks and a campus filled with year-round construction. It was large and loud and nothing like the kind of college I had always envisioned myself attending.

It turned out that God graciously provided the finances necessary to stay at Calvin for another year. I was able to stay at the school I loved while getting used to the idea of a possible transfer.

 

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

My father, however, did have to leave his job. Our family went through some ups and downs as my dad tried to become healthier and find other work he could do, and I had to start thinking more seriously about transferring.

I looked into Purdue’s program for my major and made an official visit to the campus. I also began to consider the possibility of attending the same school as my boyfriend—which would mean we wouldn’t have to be in a long-distance relationship anymore. I started praying, and the more I prayed and thought about it, the more interested I became in transferring to Purdue.

But I had so many questions. Could I successfully transfer my class credits halfway through my college career? Would it cost an extra year or two of school? Where would I live?

What if I made an irreversible mistake?

During this time of uncertainty, I looked back at how God had provided in the past. Despite my anxiety prior to college, God had been with me, and the transition to college went better than I expected. God also had provided the finances necessary for me to stay at Calvin for my second year.

While I still struggled with doubts and hesitations, these reflections gave me hope. Though at the time I still worried about whether or not Purdue was the right choice, I tried my best to trust God, knowing that He had provided for me in the past, and would continue to do so.

 

Trusting in God’s Provision

It was at this particularly difficult time that God provided for me in a completely unexpected way. One of my biggest worries was finding somewhere to live at Purdue. I didn’t want to live in the dorms with a random roommate; I wanted to live somewhere that was going to be positive and feel like home.

As I explained some of my worries to my dorm mentor at Calvin one day, she reminded me that I needed to trust God and that she believed God would provide for me during this transition. I realized she was right and acknowledged my need to trust God in my heart. As soon as she had left my room, my phone buzzed with a text from someone I had met on a visit to Purdue. She wanted to know if I still needed somewhere to live.

This friend connected me with another friend, someone who needed one more roommate for a four-girl apartment. Not only would all my roommates be Christians, but they also turned out to be kind and sweet people that have been a great help during my transition to Purdue. Their willingness to be friends and welcome me has made a huge difference as I’ve adjusted to living at Purdue.

After seeing God provide for me in such a direct way through that text, I was able to let go of many of my anxieties about transferring. While I was still nervous to see how my classes would transfer, I realized I could trust God, and that if He provided me with somewhere to live, He would also provide regarding my academic record.

 

Now I’m facing the end of my first semester at Purdue. This semester has gone better than I ever could have expected. Not only do I have great roommates, but I’ve also gotten involved in a Christian group my boyfriend is a part of. Many of the people from that group have come alongside me to support me and love me during this time. I’ve seen and experienced Jesus’s love through them. Over and over again I’ve been reminded of God’s goodness this semester.

Though the uncertainty I’ve dealt with for the last year has been difficult to hold, I’ve learned the importance of trusting God and allowing Him to direct my life and shoulder my burdens. Again and again I’ve been reminded of this verse; “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

May you also experience the transcendental peace of God in whatever transitions you are going through this season.

Why Should Christians Care About Social Justice?

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

Every fall, my college holds an event called “Un-Learn Week”. Un-Learn Week is a week full of different events focused on “un-learning” racial bias. This was the first time that I started really learning about social justice and what it means—especially in a Christian context.

Social justice is pretty easy to define, but harder to illustrate. One definition might be “social justice is the pursuit of justice to correct systemic problems within a social context.” But what does that really mean? For some, the words “social justice” might conjure up pictures of angry protesters marching in defense of their beliefs. Or maybe social justice seems more like a hazy umbrella term for various “-isms,” such as racism, sexism, ageism.

The Bible never uses the term “social justice”. But in ancient Israel, God gives detailed commandments for setting up a social welfare system, instructing the covenant community how to treat the poor, widows, and foreigners. When the people failed to follow through with these commands, God says through the prophet Amos, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24).

One of the speakers at Un-Learn Week explained why as students, and Christians, we should spend time doing something that sounds as contradictory as “un-learning.” The speaker explained that, regardless of our personal opinions, if one of our brothers or sisters in Christ comes to us and starts to tell us about a time they experienced racial bias, we have an obligation to listen to them as a sibling in Christ.

This idea really impacted my understanding of social justice. God wants us to listen when there are people around us crying out, whether they are speaking out about racial bias, poverty, sexism, abuse, discrimination, or any other issue. Even if they are not a fellow believer. Even if we end up disagreeing with the person we are listening to, when we listen first, that disagreement can come from a place of mutual understanding instead of bias. Listening is the first step of loving.

I got the chance to do some listening when I participated in Un-Learn Week this past fall. I attended a presentation by two female black students about the history of American media portrayal of black women, and the issues black women in America still face today. Merely attending a presentation might not seem like a work of social justice, but a big part of social justice is educating oneself about issues others are facing. That presentation gave me the opportunity to learn about someone else’s experience that I didn’t previously know.

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment is, He replied that loving God was the first commandment, and the second was “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). A few chapters later, Jesus gives an example of this great commandment put into action. Jesus says that at His return He will say to the faithful:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 22:39)

These verses are a prime example of social justice—caring for the marginalized. The early disciples understood this, and in fact, social justice started largely with the early Christian community. If you were to flip back through the pages of history, you would find that many of the first institutional systems that cared for the poor or marginalized were set up by Christians. Many of the first hospitals, schools, orphanages, refuges for the homeless, etc., were often funded and run by monks, nuns, and other early Christians.

As Christians were then, I believe Christians are now still called to participate in bringing justice where injustice has penetrated in a systemic way. This begins with education and awareness, but goes beyond that. It is a willingness to stand in the gap with our brothers and sisters—and even those who aren’t yet our brothers and sisters in Christ—and love them by listening and doing. As 1 Corinthians 13:6-7 says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

This past school year, I participated in the work of social justice through being involved with the Sexual Assault Prevention Team (SAPT) on my campus. My involvement in SAPT modeled to me the way social justice works: First, you learn. Then, you act.

In SAPT, we did the work of learning, and sometimes “un-learning,” at our weekly meetings. Each week the director of SAPT would bring an article, video, or presentation for us to learn about and discuss. As a group we expanded our awareness about different issues pertaining to sexual assault, such as the way toxic versions of masculinity contribute to a culture of assault, or how people that are differently abled are often more vulnerable to sexual assault.

Educating ourselves was only half the work, however. The rest of the work of SAPT involved taking action around campus. Some of the efforts of our team included taking a survey of the student body to see how many students on campus are being affected by sexual assault, creating resource flyers to be posted in select bathrooms around campus, and providing sexual assault prevention training programs for members of the student body to attend.

Sometimes social justice is hard to understand. Sometimes it’s inconvenient. But the truth is that love is an action, and participating in social justice is one way we can show God’s love for us to others.

Simply put, social justice is love in action. Will you choose to take the first step today?

What Does It Mean to Be Sanctified?

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

Someone recently wrote “#holy” on my dorm room door. I live in a dorm at a Christian college and facilitate a weekly Bible study on my floor, so this innovative hashtag made me smile. It also brought to mind a question I have been wrestling with for the past several weeks. What does it mean to be “#holy”? Or in other words, what does sanctification mean?

I’ve grown up in the church, so the term “sanctification” is not new to me. But I’ve never felt that I had a clear understanding of the term. My interest in learning more began one day when I was reading 1 Thessalonians 4:3, which begins, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.” The verse ties sanctification to avoiding sexual immorality, but I wondered what sanctification might mean on a bigger scale.

My mentor brought to my attention Romans 6-8, where sanctification is also mentioned. Romans 6:22 describes how we are dead to our sin, have been released from slavery to sin, and have now become slaves of God. According to Romans 6:22, this “leads to holiness”, or as the ESV translation puts it, “leads to sanctification”. But how exactly does this work? What does it mean?

 

It Begins with Being Set Free From Sin

I recently heard a sermon about forgiveness. In this sermon, the pastor used an illustration based on American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In the story, a woman who commits adultery is made to wear a red letter “A” on her chest as a mark of her sin. During the sermon, the pastor explained how Jesus takes away our sin and forgives us, metaphorically peeling away the sinful letters we wear on our chests. I think this can be a great illustration for how sanctification begins. Sanctification begins, as Romans 6:22 says, when we are released from slavery to sin and are set aside as slaves of God.

That sermon about forgiveness helped me to connect the term “sanctification” to its role in the story of the gospel. I am fundamentally un-right and covered with different letters. But when I am forgiven, Jesus doesn’t see the letters, or the decay of sin, but rather a new creature. He sees me as holy, reborn through His love and work on the cross.

However, there is still a problem, which Paul outlines in Romans 7. We still have to deal with our sinful nature. Paul says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). This is perhaps the central struggle of all Christians. We’ve all struggled, and continue to struggle with sin. We are all caught up in an inner battle of good and evil.

For example, I (sometimes) try to eat healthy. I know I should eat healthy, I want to eat healthy, but for some reason, when I see one of my favorite unhealthy snacks, I eat that instead, even though I know what it does to my body is bad and I want to try and live a healthier lifestyle.

God has forgiven my sins and sees me as holy, yet I am still continually torn between desiring holiness and desiring sin. I’m tempted to say to God:  Just relax. Take it easy. I’ll do all the right stuff. I’ll come to you, I’ll read my Bible every day and be nice to people. It’s fine. I got this. You don’t really have to do anything, I can take care of myself.

 

It Involves God Working in Our Hearts

But, this is not how sanctification works. Sanctification is an ongoing process that God works in my heart to change my desires. It begins with God’s forgiveness of my sins, and then it continues throughout my whole life as I walk in relationship with the Lord and learn how to become more like Christ.

Paul comforts us in our sin by reminding us that “if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11). If God can raise Jesus from the dead, He can quench our desire to sin and make us desire righteousness instead. 1 Peter 1 tells us that the Spirit works in us to sanctify us for obedience to Christ and for a life of holiness. And so, we are confident that the God who began this good work of making us holy will carry it to completion (Philippians 1:6).

It is by His grace alone that I was able to believe in the first place. It is by His continued grace that I walk the road of holiness, until I am presented before Christ, without blemish. But I don’t walk this road alone.  One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 41: 13, which says, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

I think of 1 Thessalonians 4:3 again, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; […].” This verse reminds us that as Christians, we are set apart. It is the Lord’s will for us to become more like Christ, to become sanctified. Even though we still sin and suffer the consequences of our sin, God is working in our lives to change our hearts and show us what it means to be like Jesus. We do not have to be afraid, and we don’t have to be defined by the sinful letters that stick to us. Jesus holds us by our right hand and walks with us; all we have to do is humble our hearts and be willing to walk alongside our Lord.

There’s nothing I can do to make me right before God. There is nothing in me that can sustain my pursuit of holy living. But I’m sure glad that the all-powerful, gracious God has done it and is doing it for me. It is the sanctifying power of God that makes me “#holy”.

Is Jesus our Significant Other?

Written By Hannah Spaulding, USA

Unlike many of my peers at college, I did not receive a purity ring* from my family or church when I was in high school. I know that if I had asked for one, I would have been given one, but I never felt like I needed a ring on my finger to show the commitment I had made in my heart to abstinence before marriage.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe the commitment to purity before marriage is an awesome, biblical, and God-honoring commitment to make. I think purity rings can be a great expression of the commitment to put God’s will above our own desires.

But one of my issues with the purity ring phenomenon was that it seemed like a gender-based practice. None of the Christian guys I knew ever received a purity ring or other sort of token to symbolize their commitment to God’s design for purity before marriage, which seemed to suggest that there was an implicit difference in the way women ought to relate to God.

For example, I sometimes hear phrases such as “Jesus is my boyfriend,” or “I’m married to Jesus first” when women talk about purity rings or their relationship with Jesus in general. And this is not without some foundation; the Bible does sometimes compare God’s love to spousal love, and several theologians have also written about the intimate qualities of God’s love. There are passages in the Bible that compare Jesus’s relationship with the church to marriage, such as Ephesians 5:22-32. These verses, however, refer to Christ’s relationship with the church, not to our personal relationship with Christ.

This is an important distinction to make, because the problem with professing engagement or marriage to Jesus is that it plays into a culture that promotes the role of a significant other over that of God in our lives.

Such thinking also gives rise to the problem of what happens when you are no longer single. Are you dating both God and your significant other? Does God take a backseat?

 

 We Need to Expand Our View of God

 When we confuse our Christian calling with a marital calling, we fall into the worldly trap of confusing God with a spouse. We then miss out on the reality of how life-changing a relationship with the triune God is because we have created a limited role and view of God for our lives.

Jesus is so much more than a substitute for a significant other. Jesus is God Himself. He’s the one by whom all things are created, and for whom all things are created (1 Cor 8:6). Jesus is also our almighty Savior, who came down to earth as one of us to be near to us and even die for us, showing us a love that we can’t fully comprehend, even after a lifetime of journeying with Him.

The God I know and love is the God the psalmist sings of in Psalm 95: 3-7:

For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.

Let’s not view Jesus as a significant other or as a placeholder for that person, but as the praiseworthy, mysterious, and powerful Savior of the world that He is. This means turning from focusing on how God can fulfill my needs and desires, to loving God for who He is and responding to him in worship.

As I try and reframe my thinking about God in this way, I find myself having a renewed understanding of the depth of God’s majesty, love, and grace, being more attuned to the Holy Spirit, and drawn into deeper relationship with Jesus. Each day, I want to continue to expand my view of God from narrow definitions that fit my needs, to a truer understanding of our mysterious and awesome God.

 

*Purity rings (which have also been called abstinence or chastity rings) represent chastity and are usually worn as sign of one’s commitment to practice abstinence until marriage.