Want to Survive College? Join a Church.

Excellent advice and article if you are attending a college. SEPTEMBER 30, 2022 | Shelby Abbott

Do you want to be a person who’s walking with God in 50 years? Then walk with him today.”

That’s what I say each summer to the group of college students who come to the mission project I lead in Ocean City, Maryland. And here’s how I follow up: “Your lifeline for walking with God today is community. Wherever you are, find and commit to a local body of believers.”

I always urge young people—and I’m urging all college students now—to be committed members of a local church. Why? Because it’s what Christ desires for us and requires from us (e.g., John 17:20–26). And because life is going to smack you in the face and you need people to help you endure and recover from the blows. Yes, hardships will come. Trauma may bombard you. Doubts may surface. But if you’re part of a community of believers with whom you’re vulnerable, self-sacrificing, and accountable, you won’t face hardship, trauma, or doubt in isolation.

I always urge young people—and I’m urging all college students now—to be committed members of a local church.

Strength in Numbers

Watch any nature show and you’ll learn predators set their sights on prey who aren’t part of the pack. It’s far easier to attack when the prey lacks protection or help. We can learn from this example. There’s a great deal of safety in godly community, providing those who struggle and doubt with guidance, counsel, empathy, and grace.

As you navigate your relationship with God, doubting well and coping with your problems require a great deal of intentionality. Many of us have a hopeful longing for God’s peace when we wrestle, but peace doesn’t mean the absence of challenge. The roads to unbelief can be clearly marked in college, so be deliberate about where you’re walking. Temptations to stray will be prevalent in every life stage—including now.

We are, by definition, blind to our blind spots. God helps us fill in the gaps through other people. We need church community in order to have our blinders removed, grow amid trials, and remain focused on Jesus.

The Bible tells us the story of a man—perhaps about your age—who was struggling on his own, although he didn’t know it. Apollos loved Jesus, loved the Bible, and had plenty of gifts. He was smart, well-liked, and confident. But he needed more than that. He needed the church.

Priscilla and Aquilla helped sharpen his understanding of Jesus (Acts 18:26). Christian brothers encouraged Apollos and instructed the disciples to welcome him when he wished to cross to Achaia (Acts 18:27). He was greatly useful to other believers in the church as it was going forward, and ultimately, Christ was glorified because Apollos had been helped by the church.

Apollos knew Jesus, but he didn’t know the whole story. The believers in the church were God’s tool to help him to see the whole truth about who Jesus is and what he does. It all happened in the context of the early church—community.

Speaking of seeing, Hebrews 12:2 summons us to fix our eyes on Jesus. If our eyes are fixed on something, our attention never moves from it. Much like Peter walking on the water in Matthew 14, we must remain focused. As long as the disciple looked at Jesus, he remained above the waves. The moment he became distracted, though, he started to sink. His gaze had wandered away from Christ. The winds and waves of trial can be intimidatingly powerful in school. Continue looking to Jesus for comfort, power, and peace in the context of community, even as the storms rage around you.

Real People, Right People

It’s always important to be reminded you can’t battle your struggles and doubts as an island—at least not with any sustained success. Despite what our individualistic culture may push, Christianity isn’t a solo sport. Yet in a world where people block out others with AirPods and custom-order everything from the privacy of their apartment, thick community can seem impossible. But I promise you it’s worth pursuing—especially when you’re going through hardships or doubts.

We are, by definition, blind to our blind spots. God helps us fill in the gaps through other people.

I also know it can feel like you’re in community simply because you’re surrounded by people all the time in the college environment. But real relationships require depth in a way that proximity alone won’t accomplish. Likewise, don’t assume that because you’re well connected via text and social media, you’re living in authentic community. Real Christian camaraderie happens in the context of face-to-face interaction. We don’t really know someone if we only know them through the curated veneer of posts and texts.

Sure, we can begin to understand people by seeing what they’re up to on Instagram Stories or TikTok, but it’s only part of the picture. You were created for something much deeper. The real you is the real you, and you shouldn’t want people only to experience your airbrushed avatar. When you struggle or doubt, do it alongside real human beings who love Jesus.

And when people do eventually see through the shine of your edited self, change and growth can happen. As my friend Keri puts it, “Social media shouldn’t be a substitute for relationships but a springboard for relationships.”

And because there’s no substitute for the real thing, find a church, commit to its people, and walk with them in good times and bad. And don’t be surprised when your affections for Jesus grow.

Parents Just Go to Church

By Cameron Cole, writer for the Gospel Coalition

At a Fortune 500 corporation, many interests and demands consume the company’s time and resources. How does an executive choose what opportunities to prioritize? The same is true for Christian parents. Tremendous resources exist for discipling kids: devotionals, catechisms, and guides for family worship. Parents are paralyzed when confronted with all the good options. Where do we start?

Hear me when I say this: start by going to church. Yes, I encourage you to pray with your kids. Read the Bible as a family. Attempt to have family worship. Use a catechism. These are all excellent disciplines. But if you can only choose one discipline, go to church. Make attending corporate worship the top priority for your family. There’s nothing more positive you can do for your children than to attend corporate worship at your church every week.

Corporate Worship Sets the Tone for Life

A parent in our church once made a statement that caught me off guard: “Corporate worship is crucial to my family. It’s the center of our family’s life.” I know this family. They do family worship as well, and they read devotions, but this father said corporate worship is the single biggest priority in his family’s life. Why?

If you can only choose one discipline, go to church. Make attending corporate worship the top priority for your family.

This dad’s mentality is consistent with how Scripture prioritizes corporate worship. God is the center of our lives. In corporate worship, we make this clear. We receive God’s grace through Word, sacrament, and prayer. We respond to God’s grace with praise, thanksgiving, and love. We fellowship with him under his Word and by his grace. We serve, worship, and flourish out of that communion. In these ways, corporate worship is the whole Christian life in distilled and concentrated form.

God commands his people to meet for worship weekly (Deut. 5:12; Heb. 10:25). It’s not optional or a matter of preference, and this is God’s mercy toward us. God knows how badly we need the benefits of meeting together. God doesn’t need our worship. We, on the other hand, desperately need corporate worship to center and order our lives around the Lord.

It’s Hard to Get to Church. That’s the Point.

Nothing can prepare you for the labor that is getting small children out the door to church on a Sunday morning. I don’t know if it’s spiritual warfare or whiplash from the weekend, but dressing small kids and loading them into the car is a grind. Even when your kids are teenagers, there are days they seem to resist just about anything you suggest. Getting to church is hard. But that’s part of the value of attending church every Sunday. It sets the tone for the Christian’s daily struggle to live in personal relationship with Christ.

Daily fellowship with and service to the Lord involve a purposeful, deliberate approach. Getting up in the morning to pray and read Scripture isn’t easy. Praising God in times of pain and sorrow can be a struggle. Entering conflict, repenting, and engaging in reconciliation requires effort, purpose, and patience. But however difficult these endeavors are, we find life and peace as a result. The intentional effort we make to attend corporate worship each week reinforces for our kids the patterns of intentionality and endurance necessary for a fulfilling and fruitful Christian life.

Model Unflinching Commitment to Sunday Worship

When I was a kid, we went to church every single week, even on vacation. I often complained about it (though I liked the donuts they served at Sunday school). I asked my father, “Why can’t we take a week off?” My old-school Dad would always reply in the same gruff Southern drawl, “Son, God gives us seven days a week. We can sacrifice one morning for him.” The only other “religious thing” we did in our household was pray at meals. Still, my Dad’s maxim and our consistent church attendance made a major impression.

Getting to church is hard. But that’s part of the value of attending church every Sunday. It sets the tone for the Christian’s daily struggle to live in personal relationship with Christ.

When I left for college, this pattern was deeply embedded in my life. I was usually the only person on my hall who attended church on Sunday, but I’d get up and go. When I traveled and missed Sunday morning church, I’d go to a campus service that night.

My family’s commitment to Sunday worship communicated major truths to me: God is the center of life. God is worthy of praise and worship. The Christian life requires sacrifice and discipline. My father rarely talked to me about spiritual matters; I don’t think he had a vast vocabulary for such conversations. Still, he modeled the Christian life well, largely through his unflinching commitment to go to church every Sunday.

If you feel inadequate to lead your kids spiritually, just go to church. If strategizing about your Christian parenting feels overly complicated, just go to church. If you’ve been taking a few too many Sundays off, just go to church. If all of this seems overwhelmingly difficult, ask God to give you the grace to have this consistent discipline in your family’s life. Faithful church attendance can have an eternal influence on your kids.

Jesus Saves Villains: Read Romans to Your Kids

Story by Joanna Kimbrel

Believe it or not, the elementary-age children you parent, teach, and care for are ready for the book of Romans. It’s true that Paul’s letter to the Romans is notoriously intimidating. It covers topics like sin, election, and justification that can be difficult to grasp and accept whatever your age. Even Peter said some things in Paul’s letters are difficult to understand (2 Pet. 3:16), and Romans is Paul’s longest and arguably his most theologically dense epistle.

But though Romans doesn’t seem kid-friendly, it tells an adventurous story of peril and rescue. The book of Romans is about a hero. But not just any hero—the greatest hero of all time. He’s the hero who frees people from slavery, defeats the Devil, and even brings the dead back to life. He’s a hero who came to save villains!

Though Romans doesn’t seem kid-friendly, it tells an adventurous story of peril and rescue.

Wait a minute. Save villains? Isn’t the hero supposed to fight against the bad guys? What kind of story is this! It’s the story your kids need. It’s the story we all need.

Still intimidated? Here are three truths you can point out to kids as you read the book of Romans together.

1. You might not think you’re a villain, but you are.

What if I told you you’re a villain? That’s right. You’re the bad guy, and so am I. Every person in the whole world has the same big problem—sin. In fact, this problem is so big that Paul spends chapters 1–­3 telling us about it. As you read, explain to kids that we sin when we disobey God. This makes us God’s enemies, the bad guys! We sin with our actions, our thoughts, and our hearts. We see our sin when we want to do things our way instead of God’s way. We see our sin when we want to hurt someone or take something that doesn’t belong to us. We see our sin when we’re unkind to others and always want to be first.

Why is sin such a big problem? Because in our sin, we love and worship things more than God. And sin has big consequences. The payment for our sin is death (Rom. 6:23). To live forever with God, we must become one of the good guys. We must be righteous—perfectly holy and right with God—but no one is righteous. Not one person (Rom. 3:10). This means every one of us deserves to die. Yes, that’s a big problem.

2. The good news is Jesus loves us even though we’re villains.

Instead of fighting against us, the greatest hero fights for us. He changes us from bad guys to good guys, from enemies to family. Jesus offers a perfect solution to our big problem. He offers himself! Even though we’re bad guys, he loves us and rescues us. Point out to your kids all the places in Romans that talk about the salvation we have in Jesus Christ (there are a lot of them). Remind the kids that Jesus was the only righteous person who never sinned. Tell them that Jesus didn’t deserve to die as we do, but he died in our place so we don’t have to. Jesus gives us his righteousness so we can live with God forever (Rom. 6:23).

Isn’t the hero supposed to fight against the bad guys? What kind of story is this!

How do we get Jesus’s righteousness? By trusting him (Rom. 1:16-17; 4:5). Explain to kids that having faith in Jesus means believing that he’s the Son of God who died for us and trusting him to save us from our sins. If we have faith in Jesus, he takes all our sin and gives us his perfect record. That’s really good news!

3. Jesus changes our villainous hearts and helps us serve others.

Jesus loves us when we’re bad guys and turns us into good guys. The gospel is the good news that those who trust Jesus will live with God forever, but it’s also the good news that Jesus changes hearts right now. Romans 12–16 tells how our lives should be different because of Jesus. Tell kids that when we trust Christ, he makes us new (Rom. 6:4).

Jesus saved us, so now we can love him and obey him (Rom. 12:1–2). When kids trust Jesus, it should change the way they obey their parents and teachers, treat their friends and siblings, and deal with disappointment. We can love others even if they act like bad guys toward us (Rom. 12). We obey God by obeying the people he put in charge (Rom. 13). We don’t always need to get what we want—we can give up things we want to show love to other people (Rom. 14). Jesus is the reason we want to obey, and he is the reason we can.

So pick up your Bible and read the book of Romans with the children in your care. Show them the Savior who saves even his enemies. And let God’s grace capture their imaginations and hearts. Help them to see their need for Jesus, the good news of his salvation, and the way he changes our lives.

Editors’ note: 

Read more from Joanna Kimbrel in her new kids’ book, The Greatest Hero: The Book of Romans(Kaleidoscope Books, October 2022).

Is your device controlling you?

A great article by Jeff Mingee

Against the backdrop of God creating humanity to exercise dominion, consider the man who misses his son scoring the winning goal because he’s distracted by the vibrating phone in his pocket. Or the young employee who browses social media but with the mouse cursor hovering over the “x,” ready to close it should her boss walk by. Or the student who ignores his body’s cry for sleep and instead strains his tired eyes to scroll for a few more images. They are not in control.

Paul warned about those who weren’t in control. He described one controlling factor of enemies of the cross as “their god is their belly” (Phil. 3:19). Idolatrous passions or earthly concerns governed them. In contrast, Paul exemplified the importance of control in the Christian life (1 Cor. 9:27).

We’re to exercise control because we believe God deserves our active obedience and not merely our accidental praise. Yes, he will ultimately be glorified even if we rebel against him. But he’s worthy of our lives—even our digital lives.

God created you to have control over creation. He didn’t intend for you to be controlled by your device.

Rather than being passive, reckless, and undisciplined in our digital behavior, what if we exercised digital control in obedience to the greatest two commandments? What if you took control of your devices as an act of love toward God and your neighbor?

Digital Control and Love of God

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). If you want to process how to steward your digital devices in obedience to Jesus, this is a pretty good place to start. Take control of your digital devices because you love God.

Without digital control, we’re drifting—aimlessly scrolling and passively swiping. And no one drifts in the right direction. Rather than drifting recklessly, into behavior and words that can dishonor God, we practice digital control for the glory of Christ. In our actions online—as with every other sphere of life—we want others to see Jesus.

We exercise dominion ultimately to fill the earth with image-bearers and to glorify God. David Mathis explains, “Christian self-control is not finally about bringing our bodily passions under our own control, but under the control of Christ by the power of his Spirit.”

We’re not seeking control over our digital devices merely for productivity or for our own fame but to make much of Christ. Christian men and women are gladly under the rule and reign of Jesus. His commands are never burdensome (1 John 5:3). Obedience to Jesus brings joy, even in the digital world.

We’re not seeking control over our digital devices merely for productivity or for our own fame but to make much of Christ.

In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul lists evidences of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Among this list he includes “self-control” (Gal. 5:23). Self-control is not mere effort. Christians, as we pursue self-control in our digital habits, recognize that such a fruit is a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. This affects both how we understand self-control and the means we use to pursue it.

Paul also directly ties self-control to our salvation. In explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ to Felix and his wife Drusilla, Paul thought it necessary to reason about self-control (Acts 24:24–25). Self-control is an essential part of us working out our own salvation. Like an athlete developing self-control in the pursuit of a win, Christians develop self-control in the pursuit of our ultimate salvation (1 Cor. 9:25). We cannot take our sanctification seriously while dismissing the need for self-control, not even in the digital world.

Digital Control and Love of Neighbor

What is your lack of digital control doing to those you love? Do your kids feel unheard? Does your spouse feel neglected?

If I want to love my wife well, I need to control myself. If I want to serve her by making her a smoothie before she heads to school with the kids, I need enough control to put my phone down. If I want to love my son by playing football or a board game with him, I must have the self-discipline to close the app or computer. Our failure to develop self-control stifles our love for others. Our digital devices are not helping.

Our failure to develop self-control stifles our love for others.

We’ve all felt the sting of neglect as someone chose to pay attention to a device instead of us. Perhaps they didn’t mean to hurt us. But we asked the same question multiple times and got no response—their face tilted down at a screen, lost in another world. We tried to move closer to them, but couldn’t get their attention. We sought intimacy, but only got isolation.

May it not be so with you. Develop control as an act of love toward others. Exercise digital dominion as a display of affection toward those you cherish. Don’t hand over control of your life to a digital device. Take control and love others well.

A Doctor And the Secret to dying well

For almost 20 years, I’ve been working as a hospital doctor. While being a doctor isn’t nearly as glamorous as what you see on TV, it can still be intense. I care for people in the best and worst moments of their lives. Of all the different situations I’ve faced, the most memorable professional encounters have been caring for terminally ill patients.

I have been at many bedsides with patients near the end of life—a few times even as they took their last breath. I’ve lost track of the number of death certificates I’ve filled over the years. But my experience isn’t unique among those in my profession, except perhaps for the fact that I’m a Christian working in a major hospital in the heart of San Francisco, a city known as the “least Christian metropolis” in America. Most people who have died on my watch weren’t believers. With very few exceptions, I’ve been the only Christian doctor in my group for most of my career. This vantage point has put me in a unique position to see how the gospel provides far better resources than any man-made way of coping with the existential angst of death.

The gospel provides far better resources than any man-made way of coping with the existential angst of death.

Bewildered by Death

When I care for terminally ill patients, I ask if they’d like to see a chaplain or if they attend a church. That’s my go-to line to gauge whether they have spiritual interests. At this point in my career, I must’ve asked that question several hundred times. Only a handful of patients have said “yes.”

“Death” is initially a confusing concept for most terminally ill patients. I haven’t seen too many tears as I break the unfortunate news that a patient has a fatal disease. Instead, what’s much more common is a look of bewilderment. Though everyone knows death is inevitable, most don’t know what to do with the news of a terminal diagnosis. They do not see impending death as a call to evaluate their lives and change. After the initial shock, most patients keep on living the remainder of their days as they always had; I’ve never seen a patient reverse their philosophy of life because the end is finally here.

I’ve heard some people say, “I’ll live however I want when I’m young, and when I have room in my life, I may take my spiritual life seriously.” I’m sure this must happen—but I’ve never seen it with my patients. Solomon said, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” (Eccles. 12:1). Solomon’s words have proven true with nearly all the patients to whom I’ve broken the sad news of a terminal diagnosis. Unless they’d sought their Creator before the diagnosis came, they were unlikely to seek him after it came.

Marked by Faithfulness

The opposite is true for those who know intimacy with and obedience to God; if a person’s life is characterized by faithfulness, his death is as well. On occasion, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing a life marked by what Eugene Peterson described as a “long obedience in the same direction.” Such a life pays its dividends when the end comes.

One morning I came to work and, as usual, was assigned a new list of hospitalized patients to take care of that week, which included a middle-aged man with incurable cancer. My job was to make sure his pain was under reasonable control and then discharge him from the hospital so that he could fly to his hometown and spend his last days there.

If a person’s life is characterized by faithfulness, his death is as well.

When I walked into this man’s dimly lit room, I saw him—quiet, cachectic, and with no hair. Yet he was surprisingly calm and pleasant. I could tell he was in quite a bit of pain, but there was an ambience of peace that filled the room.

After discussing his pain regimen and related medical issues, I asked my usual question, “Would you like to see a chaplain?” I got the usual “no.” But this time for a different reason. With a big smile on his face he answered, “Dr. Cho, I’m a Christian. I know God is with me. I am okay.”

Ah, no wonder.

What followed was a short, delightful conversation with a brother about the joy and hope we have in Christ. The man told me he’d been walking faithfully with God for quite some time: “And I’m not about to change because I’m dying!” Though his physical body was failing rapidly, and everything he’d known in this life was being taken from him, the hope of resurrection remained (2 Cor. 4:16). In fact, this man’s Christian hope was now more real to him than ever before.

With his permission, I laid my hands on the man and prayed for him. Then I discharged him from the hospital with enough pain medication to control his symptoms on his way back home. That was many years ago. When I see him the next time, I’m glad he won’t need a doctor.

There may be no way to be completely ready for death when it comes. I have also seen believers gripped by fear, despair, doubt, and anger at the end; the enemy is not passive even in our fading hours. But though the manner in which Christians face death varies, I’m so thankful that Christ’s grip on his people’s souls never changes (John 10:28–29).

The best way you can prepare for death is by walking faithfully with Christ one day at a time. Trust him today as you want to trust him at the end. Then, someday—just like my patient—you’ll walk into eternity with the faithful God who has led you all your life.

Story by Dr. Jack Cho through Gospel Coalition