Blogs and Updates

Forgiveness, Toxicity, and the Space Between

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Brad Dame, Wesley Leadership Team

One of our most important pillars in Christianity is to forgive others as God forgave us, to summarize Colossians 3:13.

So important, in fact, that in order for God to forgive our sins we must also forgive anything we have against anyone (Mark 11:25). Our entire faith is based on the acceptance that we are human and therefore imperfect and need God’s grace and forgiveness in order to separate ourselves from our imperfections until we are eventually completely free.

So, it is vital that we understand forgiveness and what it truly means for us as Christians.

Something I hear a lot in sermons about forgiveness is that forgiveness is “for you, not for them”, the point being that holding a grudge is ultimately more harmful to the wronged than the wrongdoer, and forgiving and letting go is the way to be free of the emotional power the wrongdoer has. I agree with this.

However, I still believe there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what forgiveness entails after the fact.

We are not God; we do not have the ability to wash away sins, plain and simple. That is the difference between our forgiveness and His. This is precisely why we hear forgiveness is, again, “for you, not for them”. This is important because it is in opposition to what is at times expected of the Christian community. That we should be unconditionally, absolutely, totally forgiving.

But there is a line, isn’t there? There is no question that toxicity is present in people. Generally, I prefer to see the good in people. Life is hard and unfair and emotions are difficult to sort out and I do my best to be an encourager.

But there is a line, isn’t there?

People will take from you, tear you down, suck you dry, leave you for dead. Learn to know what that looks like. Forgiveness is shedding the power someone has over you. Sometimes that means shedding the person themselves.

Do not be afraid to trim the fat.

They are not your responsibility.

Thank you.

 

Outrageous Grace

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Shana Dry, Director of Campus Ministry

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of“. ~Ephesians 2:8-9

There is a story I read the other day that describes grace.
Former U.S. President Richard Nixon is infamous for his place at the center of the Water gate scandal.

He disgraced both the office of the President of the United States and the United States itself in the eyes of the world.

When Hubert Humphrey, a former U.S. vice-president died, Nixon attended his funeral. Dignitaries came from all over the country and the world, yet Nixon was made to feel decidedly unwelcome.

People turned their eyes away and conversations ran dry around him. Nixon could feel the ostracism being ladled out to him.
Then Jimmy Carter, the serving U.S. President, walked into the room.

Carter was from a different political party to Nixon and well known for his honesty and integrity. As he moved to his seat President Carter noticed Nixon standing all alone. Carter immediately changed course, walked over to Nixon, held out his hand, and smiling genuinely and broadly embraced Nixon and said “Welcome home, Mr. President! Welcome home!”
The incident was reported by Newsweek magazine, which wrote: “If there was a turning point in Nixon’s long ordeal in the wilderness, it was that moment and that gesture of love and compassion.”
Carter gifted Nixon with love and compassion. Nixon had done nothing to deserve it. It was an act of pure grace on Carter’s part.

When the Bible speaks of God’s blessing it speaks in exactly the same way. Blessing is never a reward for good behavior. It’s a gift, a gift of pure, unadulterated grace.
Outrageous grace isn’t a favor you can achieve by being good; it’s the gift you receive by being God’s.
Outrageous grace is God’s goodness that comes looking for you when you have nothing to offer in return.

During this Lenten season, I ask of you to practice outrageous grace that was expressed FIRST by our Lord and Savior.
“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to Love.”…….. Billy Graham
Remember; God loves you, and so do I.

Pastor Shana

Psalm 22: A Lenten Reflection

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Cody C. Robinson, Director of Leadership Development

    1 Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

(Lord, hear my prayer.)

2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;

    and by night, but find no rest.

(Lord, hear my prayer.)

3 Yet you are holy,

    enthroned on the praises of Israel.

(Lord, You are holy.)

4 In you our ancestors trusted;

    they trusted, and you delivered them.

(Lord, in You alone, we trust.)

5 To you they cried, and were saved;

    in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

(Lord, to You be the Glory.)

6 But I am a worm, and not human;

    scorned by others, and despised by the people.

(Lord, hear my anguish.)

7 All who see me mock at me;

    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;

(Lord, grant me strength.)

8 “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—

    let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

(Lord, in You alone, we trust.)

9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb;

    you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

(Lord, to You be the Glory.)

10 On you I was cast from my birth,

    and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

(Lord, in You alone, we trust.)

11 Do not be far from me,

    for trouble is near

    and there is no one to help.

(Lord, quell my fear.)

12 Many bulls encircle me,

    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;

(Lord, quell my fear.)

13 they open wide their mouths at me,

    like a ravening and roaring lion.

(Lord, hear my prayer.)

14 I am poured out like water,

    and all my bones are out of joint;

my heart is like wax;

    it is melted within my breast;

(Lord, quell my fear.)

15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;

    you lay me in the dust of death.

(Lord, hear my anguish.)

16 For dogs are all around me;

    a company of evildoers encircles me.

My hands and feet have shriveled;

(Lord, hear my anguish.)

17 I can count all my bones.

They stare and gloat over me;

18 they divide my clothes among themselves,

    and for my clothing they cast lots.

(Lord, hear my prayer.)

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away!

    O my help, come quickly to my aid!

(Lord, to You be the Glory.)

20 Deliver my soul from the sword,

    my life from the power of the dog!

21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!

(Lord, in You alone, we trust.)

#NoFilter: Sanctuary

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Abigail Shaw-Bolen, Student Intern

“Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary;

Pure and holy, tried and true.

With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

Sanctuary for You.”

 

It’s the song most often stuck in my head, most often hummed as I work, and most often (kindly) shushed by my husband. There’s something about the hymn that sticks with me.

Though I was raised attending three church services per week, it has taken until very recently for me to settle into God’s love. My family gave me the best foundation possible, but I think grace is the kind of thing you have to experience and claim for yourself. It’s uncomfortable, to say the least, to accept (I can barely cope with someone complimenting my outfit… How am I supposed to embrace the Creator’s love for me?). It requires me to be vulnerable and to recognize that my self-deprecation is not the same thing as the mature humility needed to take God’s hand and walk, but I am beginning to understand.

As I’ve grown more comfortable taking refuge in God, I’ve felt a push. Well, sometimes it’s less of a push and more of a shove. It’s a reminder that I am not here for myself, that God does not fill my cup for me to hoard, but to serve.

I’m sure most of you have heard of the #nofilter movement? The concept: followers on social media platforms are given a glimpse into the barefaced, authentic reality of another person. It’s similar to #nomakeup in that it seeks to dismantle the destructive ideals usually represented as the norm on social media. It’s a reminder that everyone is human and, therefore, flawed.

Sometimes, while I’m busy praising myself for coming to God with “no filter”, I forget to empathize with those who come to me exposed, raw, and honest.

I sidestep the anxious.

I brush off the upset.

I internally criticize what I see as oversharing.

And I fail to consider until convicted how hurt I would be if God viewed me that way. If my God wished to hold me at an arm’s distance, or held back cringes, or rolled Their eyes at my problems.

So I’m calling on the Lord to prepare me to be a sanctuary, to make me an instrument through which those who need can find refuge.

Prepare my cup to pour out daily.

Turn this little light of mine into a candle in the window.

Choosing Love

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KC Davis, Wesley Leadership Team

The hardest part of any project is to begin.

Starting the first paragraph of an essay, getting up in the early morning hours for a run, or forcing yourself to start a conversation with someone you’ve just met. The results of running or writing or meeting new people can change our lives, but it’s so difficult to take the first step to do the work.

It’s uncomfortable to put ourselves out there, and our beds are so much warmer than outside before the sun is up. The fact remains, though, that any work worth doing is most likely going to take us out of our comfort zone.

During our Table Talks at the NSU Wesley Foundation, we speak a lot about what it means to be a member of the church. Some of us grew up in the church and others are just starting our journey with the church here, at the Wesley.

For some of us, the church was a distant but looming organization that was interacted with only on occasion, and for others it represented a family and a place to search for and discover God as well as define ourselves.

For me, neither of those answers truly fit.

I grew up immersed in some form or another of church. My family ended up changing churches several times throughout my life, I was always a member somewhere. I enjoyed debating with my youth pastor, I loved attending potlucks and youth events with my friends, and I even liked spending time with the older ladies who wanted to hear all about school and what I wanted to be when I grew up.

The problem came when I had to sit alone with God, at the altar or in my seat in the back row and consider a verse we’d learned about cultivating a relationship with God- when I had to confront my own dissatisfaction with that relationship. In those moments I was faced with my anger toward God and my unwillingness to have a relationship at all, let alone put in the work to pull God closer.

Facing this anger seemed daunting. I knew that I couldn’t tell my youth pastor, or my parents…

Anyone.

Even the little old ladies who had loved to hear about my plans to be an Archaeologist would have rebuked me. I knew deep down that if I confessed a resentment toward the God they’d taught me I should love, I’d be met with the obstinate belief that I was the problem, not God or the way we believed.

They wouldn’t understand that anger anyway, because there was something I knew, and God knew, but the ladies and my pastor didn’t: I was gay. And even at a young age I knew the church would ultimately be a very unforgiving place.

Usually, during Table Talk, we conclude that we can’t shy away from the fact that the church it is falling short and that it’s our responsibility to build it back up again. We decide to make our amplification of God’s love louder than other people’s hate and bigotry.  There is an unspoken understanding, however, that things are much more complex than a few people’s commitment to love.

The basis of our conclusion is very true. God’s love is transformative. However, accepting God’s grace and love and deciding to emulate it is hard work. But it’s work worth doing. Love is a choice. It was a choice that, when I was a 13-year-old wanna be Indiana Jones, I didn’t know how to make.

The first step is making our love louder than hate, but the second step is teaching people how to begin the work of choosing love.

And giving them a place where they feel like they can.

Some Thoughts on Knowledge

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Brad Dame, Wesley Leadership Team

There was a period of time through most of high school and the first year or so of college where I watched as many different movies and TV shows as I could, even kept an ongoing list.

As someone who is at least basely interested in working in this medium, why shouldn’t I consume as much of the existing material as I could, in order to gain a foundation of knowledge of these mechanics?

This makes sense on an intellectual level, but I eventually found that I was worse off for this, emotionally and spiritually speaking. As it turns out, stories about people with great depression and/or hatred are not exactly comfort food for the soul, no matter how highly regarded they may be in the critical world. Now I am much more selective and have chosen to mostly watch things that are generally more positive. I bring this up because it opens a conversation about the quantity of knowledge versus the quality of knowledge.

When we get immersed in one particular subject, it’s easy to lose sight of what drew us there to begin with. This applies not just to entertainment, but every field of study, including theology. I’ve known many Christians who can school yours truly on the amount of Bible verses they know, but lack a certain passion for God that I believe is so important to our spiritual walk. It’s easy to get caught up in the knowing and focus less on the feeling, so to speak. Having an encyclopedia-like knowledge of the Bible is not as important as knowing how to use it, because at the end of the day the Word of God is a tool and not a textbook.

This writing is not anti-knowledge, and neither is God anti-knowledge (see Proverbs 1:7, 15:14, 18:15, 20:15, Psalms 119:66, etc., etc.). However, I encourage you take a moment to step back and reflect on why you study what you study, if it makes you happy, and if it brings you closer to God.

If not, why not?

Adjust accordingly.

Thank you.

 

What Is Your Purpose?

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Shana Dry, Director of Campus Ministry

We only learn who we are in relationship. I believe we only learn who we are in when we are in a community.

You’ll never learn who you really are by yourself. You only learn it in relationships. That means you must connect with others for fellowship and for life.

If you had lived your entire life to adulthood with no human contact, you wouldn’t have the slightest idea who or what you were. You wouldn’t even know you were a human being. You only know that because you’re in relationship with other human beings. You learn your identity by being in relationships.

The Bible says we need to be connected to God’s family, the Body of Christ: “We are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. . . . Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we?” (Romans 12:4-5 The Message).

For example, my ear only functions and fulfills its purpose by being connected to my body. If my ear were cut off and lying on the ground, what’s the value of it? Nothing- because it can’t hear anything.

Same goes with my nose and eyes: If they’re not connected to my body, what’s their purpose? They don’t have a purpose, because they can’t smell or see anything by themselves.

In the same way, if you’re not connected to community, then you’re not going to know the purpose of your life. You’re not going to know your role. You’re not going to know your function. You’re not going to know your value and your meaning. Find your relationships, find your community, find your purpose.

Your value, your use, your purpose, and your identity become apparent in your relationships to the Body of Christ — and to your campus ministry.

Remember: God loves you, and so do I!

Pastor Shana

 

Putting Your Love Into Action

 

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Shana Dry, Director of Campus Ministry

A Scripture Reading from the Gospel of Luke

30 Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31  Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32  Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33  A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34  The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35  The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ 36  What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”37 Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

On June 17th 2015 a young man entered the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina, sat down and attended the prayer service. After about an hour of meeting with these people 21 year old Dylan Roof pulled out a .45 caliber Pistol and shot 9 church members multiple times. The next day Roof was apprehended and arrested in Shelby North Carolina. Relatives of those who were killed told suspect Dylan Roof during an initial court appearance that they forgave him.

These people forgave someone who took the lives of their mothers, fathers, siblings and children. This may seem like an impossible task, but it is possible with God! The natural response would be to seek revenge. But the members of that church illustrate how to show the love of Jesus in the most difficult of times.

Those people do not just attend church, they show us how to BE THE CHURCH!

Being the church is not just following Jesus in “doctrine” or “belief”…It is following Him out into the streets, among the people, mingling with them and loving them where they are.

We can preach Jesus with our words but we will reach people with our actions! Yes, we are to tell people that Jesus loves them. But we will have a greater impact when we SHOW them the love of Christ!

Obviously this “Samaritan” who showed compassion to this man was the one who acted as a neighbor.  It is not hard to love our family, our faith family and our friends. But nowhere do you find that Jesus commands us to only love those who deserve it. He says that we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves”. In His closing words to this “teacher of the Law” He says “Go and do likewise”.

That is our assignment today. It is not enough for us to say we love others. We must show that love each and every day.

Love is not an option… it is a command. My prayer for you as we go into this Lenten season is to take this command to heart and put our Love Into Action.

Peace & Love Always,

Pastor Shana

The “Why” of Ministry

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KC Davis, Wesley Leadership Team

I was a rare breed of young churchgoer. My father thrived at Bible college, and while my brother and I were growing up he would frequently whip out his books on Hermeneutics and Bible study techniques.

Names like A.W Tozer and C.S. Lewis graced our bookshelves, and it was understood that if you had a question about something you heard in Sunday school it would most definitely be a lengthy discussion (oftentimes a debate with at least three different translations of the bible on the table and as many concordances to match). When I was little, I longed for the days that I could go to youth group because I knew that it would be more my speed. When I finally made it, I was the kid with a Bible the size of my head, a notebook, and multicolored pens. I was not expecting to struggle there, and was shocked to discover that Christianity wasn’t just intellectual.

For me, the chance to flex my study muscles was the purpose of every week, it was then that I was in my element. I wanted to soak as much up as I could so that someday something would click, and I would be good, “church-y”, or just useful in some way. What I wanted more than anything was a grand and beautiful purpose. I was quickly disappointed. I would take studious notes at youth group, I try to have a spiritual experience during the worship songs, and pray and pray for guidance and the ability to be right and good.

Countless evenings of my youth were spent journaling and praying and overthinking, trying my hardest to flip some switch inside me that would make me “good”. I knew from what I was taught that I was fundamentally wrong (I was a sinner) and that in order to be called by God I had to be better, but try as I might I never could look or act like the image of a Good Christian, like the image of a Christian I was raised with.

As I have grown more and more I realize that my ideas about the church and the point of it all have been internal and focused on myself.  If the point of church is to be intellectual (or to be seen as intellectual) then it isn’t fulfilling or sustainable. The way that a person feels changes with the season. If you didn’t get enough sleep, or forgot to eat breakfast, or didn’t get the chance to talk to your friends or significant other at all that day, then the way you feel about God and the church will be in constant flux. A God whose character is based on how we feel will begin to seem frustratingly distant and inconsistent, when, in reality, it’s us who can’t seem stay put.

Recently, the members of the Wesley Leadership team attended a leadership retreat. One exercise asked us to consider why we commit ourselves to this campus ministry. If I were answering this question in my early teens, I would have said that the reason I serve the Church was to find my purpose and eventually become the kind of person that God could be proud of. Today, my answer is the opposite. I am already the person that God wants me to be, because my value in Her eyes is not contingent on my reading just the right verse or studying just the right subject. The person that I am, the people we all are, are exactly who God wants. I am loved. I am Her child. Accepting this has taught me that what God wants from me, from all of us, is servitude and love.

And we don’t need to be any “perfect” version of ourselves to do that.

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