I’ve really been taken by the story of Rahab in my Advent devotions this season. Her story is an amazing one…from prostitute to great, great, great (and so on) grandmother of Jesus. From the lowest of the low, to the bloodline of Christ.
Her story is certainly my story. Sure, I’m not in that “line of work” but I’ve lived a lifetime of mistakes and regrets. Yet, she has enough faith to ask Joshua’s spies who will eventually destroy her city of Jericho, to save her family. “I know the Lord has given you this land. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you.”
Based on the life she’s lead, does she really deserve that kind of treatment? Do I deserve God’s protection, patience, love, grace, mercy when I gossip and covet and worry and try so hard to be in control over and over and over again?
Joshua’s spies miraculously agree to Rahab’s request. They tell her to gather all her family and ask that she leave a scarlet rope dangling in her window from which the spies will escape. The scarlet rope is her lifeline and will keep her family safe.
What is your lifeline? Ann Voskamp says it better than I could ever hope to. “You know it with startling clarity at that moment – how there’s only a singular cord in this knotted mess of a world worth reaching for. It’s dangling right there from our impossible tangle, and it’s the one hope you need to reach for this Advent. That scarlet lifeline of Christ.”
Grab hold tight and don’t let go, my sweet friends!
Former Area Director; YoungLives Leader
I think one of the most important truths about Christianity comes from John 4. In this passage, Jesus is traveling through Samaria, when he stops by Jacob's well, asking a Samaritan woman for some water. As their conversation progresses, Jesus is talking about the eternal well when he suddenly stops and asks the woman to bring her husband. She responds that she does not have one, to which Jesus blows her mind by expressing that he knew that, and knew all of her dark, dirty past already. The woman obviously reacts out of shock, going through the town and telling all of the people of Jesus.
Okay, so why is this so important? I think often times we look at this passage and find significance in Jesus expressing himself as the living water, which is totally valid, or that he already knew the woman's secrets, which is also totally valid. However, let's take a quick second to play out a different scenario. Imagine if the woman had told Jesus that she didn't have a husband, then quickly walked away to avoid embarrassment. Or if she instead replied that her husband was away at work, and did not give Jesus a chance to respond. Would she have been able to witness Jesus' divine, loving nature if the truth hadn't come out?
The point I am trying to make is that this passage is so important because it emphasizes one necessity about our relationship with Jesus: honesty. If we are not honest with Jesus and ourselves, or do not take the time to honestly look at the state of our hearts, we will miss the opportunity to experience Jesus' divine, loving nature. How often I have found myself wondering why I sin, or why I fall, and never taking the time to be honest with myself. We fall short because our hearts turn from Jesus, and this is understandable, but if we are not honest enough with Jesus and ourselves to recognize this diversion, we will never know the necessary truth about Jesus: He loves us in the same way He loved the Samaritan woman, history and all.
Mahomet YL Leader
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
Central/STM YL Leader
After I made the 15-minute drive home for break I see an example how fortunate I am to have my family. This seems like it’d be really obvious to point out, but because we may not see them for a while we can sometimes take our families for granted. Our families do so much for us as individuals we begin to expect them to care for us and love us no matter what. Being close to home, I see my family a little bit more than most college students and I’m grateful I do. It’s really comforting to see even though I’m making the slow transformation to becoming a self-sustaining adult they love me just the same and will always accept me for who I am.
Now, I’d like to say this is true for all families. Unfortunately, that just isn’t reality. All families fight. Some fight a little, some a lot, and others a lot more than most. This is where I believe we can begin to have some impact on kids as Young Life leaders. Despite what a Young Life kid is experiencing at home, club or campaigners or hopefully camp should be a place a kid sees where they will be loved. Sure the games and songs are fun but the love comes from us. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). As a kid in high school, I always saw Young Life as a place where I could find peace for a few hours each week with some weird college friends. As a leader, I can only hope I can give some peace to another friend who needs it.
Centennial YL Leader
“I can’t do this”
“I hate this”
“I have so much anxiety”
These expressions of doubt all revolve around what we are placing our trust in. The pressure to do well is high as students put the hammer to the nail to succeed. When large amounts of money are being poured into your education, it can be difficult to find balance with your thoughts and spirit and often times it is easy to neglect God, especially when you are a student at a large university. How often during finals week did you choose studying or sleep over 15 minutes of prayer and quiet time in His word? A better question may be did you make time with Him an option to not choose in the first place? Was God considered in your planner and scheduling? This isn’t to guilt trip, but be thinking of your heart and what you’ve been letting through the door over God.
In this time of year, it is easy to shift our worth in God to a final grade in a class, how our family views us, or our future. Now don’t get me wrong, there is no sin in studying for exams, being a healthy family member, or having creative and unique ideas of the future. These are good things in and of themselves. However, the line can be blurry when we lay our trust and worth into the answers we put on a sheet full of bubbles, or another person, rather than in the One who knows us more intimately, perfectly, and brilliantly than anything in all creation.
“All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me…”
What has been distracting you from the truth of God’s authority? Remember, God is mightier, wiser, and more powerful than your worries. He is faithful. (1 Corinthians 1:25, Isaiah 40:31, Hebrews 13:8)
In a world that ties success and worth in what you do and what you have, Jesus loves you for something very simple...yourself.
When the darkness of sin, doubt, worry, anxiety over tests, or even stress with family over the holidays builds up in your heart and clouds your mind, don’t give up. Let’s rid our obsequious desire of our right to ourselves and take up the plans, paths, and adventures that Jesus has in store for us. Throw open the door to your heart and let the light of Jesus permeate through. Let Him wash out the darkness because one thing He has always shown is this:
Darkness can never extinguish His Holy light in us.
Mahomet YL Leader
“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the Earth.” Psalm 46:10. A verse so commonly known, but yet so rarely acted upon.
How often do you sit quietly and wait on the presence of the Lord to captivate your heart and mesmerize your intellectual thinking?
My answer to this question would be "hardly ever", but I vividly remember this moment just over a year ago while at MCC where I was simply still and waited upon the Lord to show me his divine beauty and endless grace and mercy. The speaker had finished, we were now all instructed to spend a little time with Christ, doing something that made us feel “in touch” with the Spirit. For some that was painting, others, it was writing and for some like myself, it was simply to sit down and bask in the glorious riches of the Father’s love. I placed myself on the floor, hands lifted high, heart far from at ease and tears pouring down my face, and waited on the Lord to speak to me. I demanded to be let into his presence. Over and over again I cried out, “Lord I solely want to be in your presence, even if it’s just for a moment, I need to be in your presence, reveal yourself to me.” After this repetition perhaps 10 times, I was kneeled, hands stretched out, sulking in the presence of the most-high king. It was as if I were a small child kneeling before the father’s throne in humble adoration. In that moment I basked; mind free of thought, heart surrendered and arms stretched wide. It was only for a spit second, but I was finally rejoicing in what seemed to be a divine romance. My heart was free of pain, mind at ease and content, and spirit full of joy and assurance of my father’s love.
I took a few moments to come to terms with who I was and with who the Father is. When I stepped back to encounter His tangible love and sheer gentleness that is when I saw the Father for who he is and when I noticed that I was desperately in need of His love daily.
It is incredibly easy to get caught up in our daily lifestyles and miss what Christ is truly attempting to show us. So, I challenge you, take a moment, simply be still and know that HE IS GOD. Chris Tomlin talks about this relationship in his lyrics to the song “Good Father” when he states, “You’re a good, good father, it’s who you, it’s who you are, it’s who you are and I’m loved by you, it’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am.” He is a good father and we are endlessly loved by Him, so over break take a few moments and sulk in the presence of our God.
Mahomet YL Leader
The prodigal son is one of the most popular stories in the Bible. We talk about it a lot in Young Life to communicate the idea of coming home to God.
We all know the story, the younger brother leaves his father and goes off on his own to live a life of sin, a life that he thinks will make him happy. The son runs out of all of his money, sleeps in a pigpen, and finally decides to go home, where his father embraces him like none of it ever happened. YAY! Party time! But not for everybody.
While the big reunion was happening, the older son was out in the field working. When he came back to the house, one of the servants told him his brother had returned and his father was pulling out all the stops to celebrate his coming home. The older brother was ticked and he yelled at his father saying:
“All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me anything. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you throw him a party!’
But the father replied:
“My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because your brother was dead and is alive again; he was lost and now is found.”
Everyone’s walk with Christ is different. Some people are the older brother, the faithful and the loyal, holding steadfast to the gospel and hanging onto the promise that is our inheritance in Christ. Some people are the younger brother, the fickle and wavering, those who leave and come back time and time again. And the father loves them both equally.
We’re all just chasing after God the only way we know how. It’s not always pretty and it’s not always the same as our neighbor, but it is always good. So don’t compare your walk with others because none is better than the other. Each journey is novel and beautiful and tremendous, because of the direction we are going: towards God.
Centennial YL Leader
Lost, messed-up, average people...
O to grace how great a debtor
...stuck in a broken, sinful world...
`Yet with the woes of sin and strife,
...God sends them a solution...
"Mild He lays His glory by
...who offers them hope...
Midnight, Christians, is the solemn hour,
...of a world restored...
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
...and a vibrant future with God.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Spoiler alert: this story was never ours to begin with. Christmas is a reminder of our invitation into God's story. Even when things feel messy or hard, he knows what he is doing, and has sent us Jesus as a solution, counselor, friend, & savior. He deeply loves us, cares about us, and invites us into his process of restoring the world. That's the true story of Christmas.
I've come at last. She has kept me out for a long time, but I've have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch's magic is weakening...Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!"
I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to please others. No matter who the person is, I want them to like me. It took me a long time to realize that this was unfulfilling, but when I did I decided to make a change. Towards the end of high school I made it a goal to act without anyone else in mind, only myself. I made the mistake of thinking this was a step in the right direction when it was actually another wrong turn. Instead of trying to make people happy, I started fighting them. I was always arguing with my parents and my teachers, I stormed out of class on more than one occasion, and I cut some of my best friends out of my life.
You can never find satisfaction living for other people or living for yourself. When you do, your feelings of success and accomplishment are short-lived and easily washed away. Galatians 1:10 reads, “Am I trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” It is so easy not to live for Christ but it is so worth it. He gives me the approval I spent so much time seeking in other people. He quiets the voice in my head that criticizes what I say, do, and look like. Now I want people to look at my life and see Jesus, His love and His grace. It’s not about me. It’s all about Him.
Well we made it, friends! All of our hard work for the fall semester of 2015 has paid off (hopefully) and we finally have several weeks to enjoy time with family and friends, or time sleeping, eating, catching up on TV shows, reading books or working. But, during all of this free time, let’s not forget that it can be used most constructively if we focus on continuing or improving our relationship with Jesus. This will keep us filled up with the Lord’s love and joy to guide us in being the light of the world to those who need it most.
When we graduate and enter into the professional working world, we no longer will have 4 weeks off to do absolutely whatever we want. We will only have so many days off a year; no more Thanksgiving breaks, winter breaks, or summers. It’s easy to set a schedule when you have classes to be at during certain times, homework and projects due on a certain date, and specific shifts at work. However, when we get into the non-routinized way of living during breaks when we can sleep in until whatever time, sit on the couch all day, or spend hours out around town, it’s even easier to fall out of that schedule. A lot of times, at least for me, this means lacking time spent in the word.
Before I left for break, I attended the last CRU large group and received an encouraging letter titled “Don’t waste your break”. I think it speaks a lot of truth to us as college students and all of the struggles during breaks discussed in the above paragraph. This break I am challenging myself (and all of you if you’re up for it) to make scheduled time to grow in the word either alone or with community. Set up a schedule on your first day home so there are no excuses! Focus on the following to make a plan for success:
1. When will I meet with God?
2. What will I seek to learn?
3. How will I step out in faith?
4. Who will I do it with?
5. Is there a unique opportunity for growth?
I truly believe that setting up a schedule of how and when you want to dive into the word will keep us accountable and help us to make the most out of our time this winter break. Remember - don’t waste your break!!
“Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God.” - 1 Chronicles 22:19
“We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised." - Hebrews 6:12
Central/ STM YL Leader
I am sure most of us can agree that being vulnerable is certainly not the easiest thing to do. It is hard for us to break down our walls of comfort and dive into the deepest parts of ourselves. As the definition suggests, vulnerability can be a scary thing. Culturally, vulnerability is a sign of weakness; yet, God calls on us to be vulnerable all the time, with Him and others, if we want to experience true joy.
God created us with weaknesses so that we may confide in Him. Weakness is an aspect that allows God to play such a large part in our lives.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul was given a thorn in his flesh, to keep him from becoming proud. Three different times, he begged the Lord to take it away. The Lord responded each time saying: “My Grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” Paul experiences tranquility through this statement. He becomes glad to boast his weaknesses so that the power of Christ can work through him.
2 Corinthians 12:10
“That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
We too can experience the light of God’s Grace by breaking down our barriers. We must admit that we need God. We must admit our weaknesses, fears, and desires. We must be willing to say, “I need you God.” When are fully exposed, the Holy Spirit is able enter us and give us a new-found strength—a strength that will set us free.
A huge way Jesus reveals Himself to us is through allowing all of us to be with Him. With the daily grind removed, I had the chance to sit with a sliver of Jesus this summer in Jackson Hole, WY. This scarcely unpopulated location is filled with raw beauty that is brimming with wild animals and locals who leave little trace. During my stay, I ventured 10,000 feet above sea level atop of the Grand Teton Mountain Range. The culmination of the stark beauty and an intense feeling of isolation from human life, made me feel so small and helpless. To put it candidly, it reminded me of my innate and intense need for Jesus. It unveiled very real necessities like food, shelter, and water, but also my dependence on Jesus for things like relationships and feeling worthy and loved. I was reminded of how much He had provided and gave me faith that He will provide again.However, something started to happen. I quickly became greedy and unsatisfied that this spiritual clarity would not last forever. Permanent spiritual perfection is not what Jesus wants for us though. Oswald Chambers, to me, explains it best:
We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life-those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life, and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength. Yet our spiritual selfishness always wants repeated moments on the mountain. We feel that we could talk and live like perfect angels, if we could only stay on the mountaintop. Those times of exaltation are exceptional and they have their meaning in our life with God, but we must beware to prevent our spiritual selfishness from wanting to make them the only time."
Looking back on that moment now, I realize how climactic it was in my faith, but how it was not the most important. The important times have come when I was at my wits end with school, friends, Young Life, etc., but remembered that mountain top exaltation and responded more like Jesus, simply because I knew Him better.
Looking at winter break, I think we could all use a mountain top moment or just a time where we feel Jesus’ presence more than the bits of it we get during our quiet times next to our biology and finance text books. So let’s use this break to meet Jesus intimately. Some of us may be lucky enough to travel and encounter Jesus through His creation, but I also believe one of the most radical ways to hear Him is to open our Bibles; maybe more consistently or for longer than normal. Let’s use this break to receive our daily bread from the word and not just a daily snack to get us by. I know soon enough we will have to prove our spiritual strength and stamina in the various and awesome things Jesus will call us to do in 2016, but let us be equipped with a solid foundation of faith to lean back on when things get dark.
Thanks for being in this with me,
Mahomet YL Leader
It's interesting, courage is rarely directly mentioned in the Bible. It's not one of the Ten Commandments, Fruits of the Spirit, or featured in any of the great Christological passages. However, the command "DO NOT FEAR" is the number one most-repeated phrase in the entire Bible. I think Jesus knew that fear is our life-default; too often we trend towards worry and a lack of trust in God.
I'd contend that the best way, hands-down, to fight fear and to follow Jesus is courage. Perhaps this seems obvious to you...but courage is more integral & base to following Jesus than we realize. In the same vein as C.S. Lewis, I firmly believe that every single characteristic of Jesus we might want to emulate is requisite on courage (For example: humility takes courageous ceding of self, love takes courageous vulnerability, discipline takes courageous follow through, etc.).
Contrary to what movies portray, real courage is harder, quieter, and less glamorous than we've been sold. We don't have to go of to war, embark on a quest to Mount Doom, or defeat Lord Voldemort to be courageous. Courage is a choice we make in the leap between fear & growth. It means looking hard things in the face & saying "this makes me uncomfortable", "I don't know about this", and "is this safe?". Then doing it anyway,
It's easy to slip into neutral over winter break. It's been a whirlwind, stressful semester of school, Young Life, & everything in between. We all need some well-deserved R&R. But I think staying in neutral with Jesus over break is a missed opportunity. I hope this blog is a place that revs us out of neutral for the next month...right off the cliff of safety, and into the courageous unknown. For the next 28 days, let's keep asking ourselves these three questions:
What is God trying to teach me?
How does God want to change me?
How is God calling me to courageously respond?
You are more courageous than you know, & more loved than you can possibly imagine.
By Ben Battaglia
This blog is operated by the Young Life Leaders at the University of Illinois & Parkland. A different leader will post daily over winter break. Our hope is to push each other to grow, & to love Jesus more.
Feel free to write your thoughts or encouragements back in the comments at the bottom!