A Letter to a College Freshman (and anybody else who has ever felt insecure, inadequate, or unimportant)

Dear College Freshmen,

Do yourself a favor. Put down your monthly planner for five minutes. Don’t think about tonight’s social or tomorrow’s exam or your ongoing roommate conflict. Close out of that Buzzfeed article. Step away from the research paper. Surely you’ve noticed by now that #CollegeNoParents is a ridiculously busy time of life. And in the midst of welcome back mixers and test anxiety, it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re really getting into.

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You’re three weeks into the most important year of your life. Is that too bold of a claim? I don’t mean to exaggerate. This is the year that you are going to answer the questions that matter. You aren’t going figure out the specifics—what you want to do with your life, where you want to settle down, or whom you’ll marry—but you’ll answer the big questions, the ones that quite literally shape the rest of your life—Who am I? Why am I here? What type of a person am I going to be?

But there are other questions that seem to come before the big ones—the questions we ask ourselves every single day, questions that that run around in our brain before every first date or paper deadline or rush event—Do I belong? Am I good/cool/attractive/funny/spiritual enough?  Am I loved?

Two years ago, I showed up on Baylor’s campus—an insecure 18-year-old with something to prove.  During my freshman year, I couldn’t go to the gym or the dining hall or even Church without feeling the need to be funny, be known, be successful, and be liked. I was constantly trying to prove to others that I mattered and I belonged. And here’s what happened—a lot of times it worked. My efforts to be something I wasn’t paid off. The guys laughed at my jokes, the girl texted back, and the paper came back with an A at the top.

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I lived for the approval of others, for people saying “hey you’re smart” or “hey you’re cool” or even “Hey you really love Jesus.” I looked to people around me and let them determine my value and my worth. But here was the problem. No matter what they said or how much I succeeded in winning their approval,  there was always somebody else to impress and there was always another task to prove myself with. Trying to find my identity in girls or groups or grades left me exhausted, empty, and unfulfilled. Finally I quit. I quit asking people around me if I was good enough or successful enough or even loved enough. I quit asking the people around me and started asking somebody else.

I took those questions to God, and here’s what He said back:

Vince, you live life behind a mask, trying to put forth a plastic image of perfection that people will like.

But you and I both know that image is a lie. Vince, you’re messy and sinful and broken. Worse than that, you spend your days trying to hide that from everyone around you.But here’s what I want you to know.

My Son took care of it. He came to Earth, lived the perfect life you never could, hung on a cross for your sins, and rose again. You don’t have what it takes, not even close. But He did.

And I want you. I want your heart. I want you to find your identity in me. His sacrifice cover your sins. His sacrifice cleaned up your messes. His sacrifice filled in your holes. Now come follow me. Come live in me. Come love like me.

God told me through friends who loved me enough to point me to Jesus when I would try to find my identity in them. He told me this through an incredible church that brought me back to the Gospel each and every week. And He told me through the Bible, His immaculate love letter to His people that have done nothing to deserve his love.

Here’s the point of the letter. If you’ve been skim-reading to this point, tune in for these last couple paragraphs and hear this message loud and clear. What Jesus has done on the cross changes EVERYTHING about those questions (Do I belong? Do I matter? Am I loved?) that are rattling around in your head.

So if you get one thing from this post, get this. You matter. You belong. You are loved. Not because you’re successful or funny or attractive or even kind, but because the God who made you says so. He’s made a way to be His through the sacrifice of His Son. What does that look like? It’s simple: Admit your shortcomings and sins, Believe that Jesus paid your bill on the cross and rose again, and then Choose to follow Him—striving to live and love like your Savior.

But wait a minute, what does this have to do with college? What does Jesus have to do with sorority functions and midterms and late night pillow talk with the roomies? Everything. When you stop looking to others to answers those pesky questions of insecurity that rattle around in your head, when you stop letting other people determine your worth, then these four years of life start to look way different.

Finding your desire to be successful, your sense of belonging, and your need to be loved in Jesus changes everything. Rather than walking around your campus looking for approval, affirmation, and acceptance, you start looking for ways to dish out all the love that’s been shown to you by your Creator.

Your ideas of success, the way you keep score, the way you view the people around you, all of it starts to shift when you’re rooted in the love of Jesus. Everybody you bump into—the people across the hall who play the music too loud, your rival fraternity, your roommate who hits the snooze button six times every morning—becomes an opportunity to show the love and grace that has been shown to you. Jesus transforms #CollegeNoParents from a period of insecurity and self-absorption to an incredible period of your life full of opportunities—opportunities every day to show the love of Jesus to every single person you come in contact with.

Whether you’re a freshmen or a fifth-year senior, here’s my hope for you and me:

Let your roots grow down into Him(Jesus), and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:7

Let it happen. Cast off the questions and the doubts and the insecurities, and plant your roots deep in the person of Jesus. Fill up your glass with His love, grace, and truth, and watch those things overflow on your campus.

Sincerely,

Vince Greenwald

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Is Our Church Too Sober?

Maastricht Musings is a new category of posts that I’ll be adding to as often as possible while I study abroad for 11 weeks this summer in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Some will dabble deep into theological truths; others will offer comic relief, but hopefully all will offer entertaining and informative glimpses into this summer overseas.

My roommate Patrick and I spent the weekend in Zermatt, Switzerland, a mountain resort town more populated with deep-pocketed tourists than backpackers on a budget. Our early opinions on Zermatt was the epic mountain hiking was a blast but the regal and ritzy town was a bore.

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On Sunday morning, we and some newly acquired friends from our hostel walked into a little anglican chapel on the edge of town. On arrival, we instantly cut the average age of the tourist congregation in half. We timidly walked down the center aisle and filed into the second row. I had never been to an Anglican church before. and if I’m being honest, I was expecting a service quite fitting to the town of Zermatt: a boring, and traditional snoozer of a service. I expected an lethargic church service that would leave me missing my contemporary and hip church back home.

Well, God had different plans. Today is Pentecost Monday, a continent-wide holiday here in Europe. Yesterday’s service marked the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The text for the sermon came out of Acts 2. The pastor began to read Acts 2 in a monotone voice, conforming to my expectations for the service. I don’t know how you drearily read a text about Pentecost, but he was managing. He got to the part where the Holy Spirit has descended on the believers, and they begin to proclaim the wonders of God in all different languages, attracting a large crowd. He read verse 13:

But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

The pastor described how the crowd gathered around the Christians on that day and begin to mock them for being drunk. At this point in the chaplain’s sermon, the tone shifted dramatically. In a booming voice, the previously mild-mannered chaplain asked a piercing question that hasn’t left my mind for the past 36 hours.

“Is our Church today too sober?”

“When was the last time that the world took notice of Christians that were so full of the Holy Spirit that they looked different?”

“In our church today, we love our system of religion but want to deny God’s power to move in our midst.”

He wasn’t talking about alcohol. He was talking about how our church today feels too much like a book club and not enough like a life-changing, paradigm-shifting, and universal collection of people who are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit within us. After this poignant indictment of our church today, he turned our attention back to the believers in the story.

“The truth and the irony of this story is that they were full of the new wine, the new wine being the blood of Christ shed on their behalf. Because of the reality of  this new wine, the Gospel, this very early Church looked different and, on Pentecost, the world took notice when the Holy Spirit moved through them.”

Needless to say, my expectations for the service were shattered in the best possible way. As our small motley crew of a congregation sang a few hymns off-key, that question echoed in my head. It’s still bouncing around up there, enough so that I want to pass that question on through this blog. Think about it. Ponder it. Pray on it.

 

Is our Church today too sober?

That first day of Pentecost ended with a sermon by Paul and a description of the early Church that was anything but sober.

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call. With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:36-47