Biblical Narrative

Biblical Narrative – Chapter 1: CREATION

In the beginning, the world was good.

If the creation story in the book of Genesis is familiar to you, that may not seem like a profound statement. But read it again: in the beginning, the world was good.

This origin story, the one passed down by the ancient Hebrews and captured on paper at the very front of the Bible, is quite different than the stories told by the neighbors of those who knew God. Many of them had stories of earth created out of cosmic conflict and divine unrest. Some of them told tales of humans made to do chores for the gods, who didn’t want to get their hands dirty. But Genesis says something else—in this story, a fully fulfilled God creates the universe, and places in it earth. Over the course of a week of creative work, his immense creativity forms diverse, fascinating landscapes, from snowy mountain peaks to mossy forests to sprawling deserts where sand goes on and on and on. He shapes beautiful, peculiar creatures, from nightingales singing their songs in the treetops to fish darting back and forth underwater to gazelles bounding across the savanna. And everything—everything—is good. God says it over and over, after each day of work. It’s good.

But it’s not finished. Not until Day Six, when the pinnacle of God’s creation enters the stage: humans. Man and woman, the ones who bear God’s image. See, creation was good as it was, but God didn’t just want a cool planet to watch like a television show. He wanted a kingdom. And in a kingdom, there are images of the king everywhere that serve as reminders of who is in charge, who deserves glory and praise, who determines what good is. So now, after he lovingly, painstakingly forms men and women in his image, he sets them in creation and gives them a charge: rule.

Rule? The humans are not the Creator, but creations. They are not the King, but they bear the King’s image, and thus, they are given charge to rule over all of creation on God’s behalf. Care for it. Cultivate it. Unpack the potential that is latent in the world. Make something of it. This is the human task—this is what it means to be human.

Creation was good each of the previous five days, but now God adds onto that statement. Now, when he looks over his creation, teeming with life and beauty, he sees his image bearers there, ready to to make something of it, to steward everything for God’s glory, and he says it is very good.

The word here to describe this goodness is shalom. Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace, but this kind of peace isn’t just the absence of conflict; it’s much, much deeper than that. Shalom is perfect harmony in the midst of all of creation—between God and humans, humans and each other, humans and the rest of creation, and even humans and the way they saw themselves. Shalom is the state of being where everything—everything—is the way it’s supposed to be.

We often talk about the original, pre-Fall creation as perfect. In the English language, the word perfect can mean two things: it can mean unblemished, but it can also mean unable to be improved. Creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is indeed perfect in the first sense—there’s nothing wrong with it; everything is the way it’s supposed to be. But it’s not perfect in the second sense—there’s abundant potential packed into the world that God is eager to see his image bearers unpack and do something with! This is the plan, that God’s image bearers, his stewards, are created to glorify God by living life to the fullest in his world, continuing his work of creation.

This means taking apples and making apple pie. This means taking trees and building houses. This means taking sound and vibrations and making music. The world itself was good, but now, with God’s image bearers in place, now it’s very good.

So good that God dusts off his hands, takes the next day off, and passes the baton of creativity to man and woman, watching with glee as they live their call in his creation. In the beginning, the world was good.

—Sam Levy is a CCO campus minister in partnership with Gateway Church at Slippery Rock University and Grove City College. He loves his family, baseball, cheese, and walking with college students as they pursue the God who is making all things new. Follow him on Twitter at @sdlevy13.

For more, see Andy Crouch’s Creation talk at Jubilee 2014.

This is the first post in our four-part Biblical Narrative series. The series will continue in the weeks leading up to Jubilee 2018. Stay tuned next week for Chapter 2: FALL!


Liturgy: Understanding the Design of Our Worship (Part 2)

In last week’s post, we explored several particular elements of our worship service at Gateway. The design of the service is our liturgy, which is intentionally structured to form us into God’s people through the things we practice as a body each Sunday. These elements, such as the Call to Worship, and the Confession and Assurance of Pardon, aren’t simply something we do; they each do something to us. They prepare and shape us into people who fulfill our call to bear the image of God in his world.

The elements discussed in that post are practices that not every Christian church implements; thus, they may have been foreign to you when you first came to Gateway. However, even the most commonplace elements of a worship service are complex in their design and structure. Just about every church includes song and a sermon. This week, let’s explore why these practices have been part of Christian worship in all cultures since the church’s inception.


If you grew up going to church, take a step back for a moment and pretend the rhythms of Christian worship are completely new to you. If we’re honest, it’s strange that we get together every Sunday morning and spend a large chunk of our time together singing songs. That’s just not something adults do in our culture. Imagine showing up to a floor meeting in your dorm, and your CA says, “We’re going to start by singing ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ by Taylor Swift.” Or you walk into biology class, and your professor invites you to join in a rousing rendition of “All of Me” by John Legend. That just doesn’t happen! So what’s the deal? Here are three reasons why song is such a vital part of Christian worship:

1) We are commanded to sing praise to God. A Bible Gateway search for the word “sing” in the New International Version brings back 158 results, many of which are commands. Look at the Psalms: “Sing the praises of the LORD, enthroned in Zion” (Ps. 9:11), “Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous” (Ps. 33:1), “For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise” (Ps. 47:7), “Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious” (Ps. 66:2), “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth” (Ps. 96:1). And we could keep going!

Worship is something we give away. Music draws out the various aspects of our personhood. Through the words we sing, we assent with our minds to the truth of who God is. Through the melody, we seek to make our praise a beautiful offering to the all-deserving God. Through the soul of the music, our deepest emotions and feelings are able to be fully expressed. Our worship must engage the whole person, and music plays a prominent role in this pursuit.

2) Music shapes us profoundly. Since we carry the internet in our pockets, we are able to listen to all kinds of music from the most famous celebrities to the up-and-coming local garage band. Still, there’s probably a couple of artists or bands that you listen to over and over again. Maybe there’s a particular album that you’d have worn out, if digital files could be worn out. (Ask your parents.) You are a different person in some way because of those songs. It’s not just the lyrics; it’s not just the way the music flows; it’s not just the artist and the plethora of stalker-type facts you know about their life. It’s the combination of all of those things that connects with us, moves us, and changes us.

Our worship is not only about our expression, but also about our formation. When we sing songs together that tell the story of redemption, that brag of the amazing attributes of our God, and that point us to the hope we have in God’s now-and-coming Kingdom, we are gradually shaped into the kind of people whose very lives sing about these truths.

3) Music binds us together. Just about as far back as we can trace cultures throughout human history, music has been a meaningful part of the identity of every group of people. Even in the contemporary world, with myriad styles of music readily available to us at all times, the genres that we are drawn to also draw us to other people, and distinct subcultures are built around those forms of music.

When we stand together and sing, we are not only lifting our voices individually to praise God, but joining our voices together, as one body, to proclaim that we are the people of God. This is one of the reasons why staying at home on Sunday morning and listening to your favorite artist, regardless of how well their songs help you connect with God, can never replace corporate worship with a local branch of the Body of Christ. When we join in song, we celebrate our unity in Christ.


For students, the idea of sitting and listening to someone talk is nothing new—it’s what you do all week long. But while there are certainly similarities between a professor and a preacher, the preaching of God’s Word is something very different from the teaching of a class.

In a class, or even a TED Talk, the goal is to convey knowledge and understanding of a particular topic. This kind of teaching targets the mind. This certainly happens in a good sermon. We might learn a fundamental doctrine, the meaning of a Greek word, or a piece of church history. (And at Gateway, we quite often learn of the many strange injuries throughout the life of Chris White.) But a sermon isn’t primarily about informing the mind; it is primarily about capturing the heart.

Preaching is the art of taking a passage of Scripture and bringing it to bear on the lives of those in the congregation. That task has more to do with the imagination than the intellect. This is not to say our minds are not engaged when we hear the Word preached, but that this aspect is only part of what happens when we hear a sermon. We gather around Scripture to hear God speak to us. Then we digest the Word through the words of the Sermon by the power of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised would continue teaching us (see John 16).

And because God’s Word is the story of his redemption through Jesus Christ, every sermon must be rooted in the Gospel. Chris tells of an old professor, who, in a sharp and delightful German accent, would shout, “The Christ event! We cannot forget the Christ event!” This important dictum is not only wisdom offered to preachers, but a mantra that good preaching offers the Body: as we go forth into the world, we cannot forget the Christ event.

These two foundational elements of Christian worship reflect the daily rhythm we are called to: we listen to God’s Word, and we breathe out his praise in word and deed. And when we join together each week, we sing and we encounter God’s Word as we spur one another on in the pursuit of faithfulness.

—Sam Levy is a CCO campus minister in partnership with Gateway Church at Slippery Rock University and Grove City College. He loves his family, baseball, cheese, and walking with college students as they pursue the God who is making all things new. Follow him on Twitter at @sdlevy13.


Liturgy: Understanding the Design of Our Worship (Part 1)

If you’ve been to Gateway Church, you may have taken notice of the particular structure of our worship service. We’re a church in the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church), but though this designates a particular tradition that is important to who we are, we are also a church made up of people who come to us from a very wide range of traditions. We by no means want to imply that our style and structure are better, or more godly, than another. But having a deeper understanding of each element of our worship will better prepare you for the formation that happens when God’s people join in worship. Thus, we thought it might be helpful to offer some explanation of why we worship the way we do.

The service follows a particular liturgy, or deliberate design that guides our worship. Though churches vary in how structured their liturgies are, just about every church has some kind of liturgy. Ours is intentionally designed to form us in particular ways as we worship. Let’s walk through the service, discussing each element of our liturgy.

Call to Worship

Here’s what happens in my life each Sunday morning, from my perspective. My alarm sounds, and after a few (or more) snoozes, I reluctantly clamber out of bed, hop in the shower, drink my coffee, eat my breakfast, and then go to church. I worship God with my church family out of my own choice.

From God’s perspective, here’s what happens. All night long, while I’ve been asleep, God has been at work, holding the universe together. His grace has been active in my life, even as I snore away. When I wake up, I get out of bed using the strength he has given me and enjoy the gifts of hot water, delicious caffeinated beverage, and sustenance. And then, having been called by God to worship, in his written Word and by the pull of his Spirit on my heart, I join with the people of God.

The difference between these two perspectives is where the action begins. From my perspective, worship begins with my choices. In reality, it is God’s work that propels and calls out our worship. The call to worship reminds us that we are part of a narrative much bigger than what we see, and our worship is simply our response to the One who calls us, acknowledging who he is and what he has done.


Every Christian has a unique story of how God has worked in their life and how they came to faith. What every Christian has in common, however, is repentance. We cannot accept the salvation offered in Christ without recognizing our need to be saved. We cannot become “dead to sin” (Romans 6:11) without confessing our sins to God and accepting forgiveness. But once we turn to Christ in repentance, our salvation is “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:12); we need not worry about the status of our salvation, or lie awake at night frantically asking Jesus into our heart over and over, as some of us did as children. Why, then, do we continue to confess our sins week after week?

We practice confession because we recognize that sin, in all of its ugliness, though defeated by Christ, has not yet been extinguished. God reigns! And yet, until That Great Day when Christ returns to make all things new and complete his Kingdom, sin continues to have a hold in our world, in our communities, and in our hearts. We see it around us, and in our moments of honesty, we see it within us. So we confess. We confess not just the “juicy” sins that make it into a game of “Never Have I Ever,” but also the subtle sins that we conveniently overlook or shrug off. We ask God to show us where sin lies in our hearts in places we aren’t even conscious of. One confession in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer leads us to “confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

Confession is not beating ourselves up or forgetting what Christ has done (as we’ll see in the next part of the liturgy), but living into the Gospel reality that we are sinners saved by grace. How much more meaningful is the gift of life when we take the time to dwell on the parts of us that wait in death? In the words of James K.A. Smith, “Our confession echoes the groaning of creation itself, which longs for redemption (Romans 8:22), looking forward to the full reality of what Christ has accomplished: reconciliation of all things to himself, ‘whether on earth or in heaven’ (Colossians 1:20).”1

Assurance of Pardon

We confess. But we are Gospel people; therefore, we never ever ever dwell on the reality of sin without immediately dwelling on our assurance that in Christ, we have been pardoned. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20). We have been redeemed and we share in Christ’s resurrection. This is the Good News!

Without confession, the Gospel is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Christianity isn’t a self-help message. God didn’t overlook our sin and just decide to call it even. He paid for it. But without an assurance of pardon, we remain stuck in the grave. The stone has been rolled away—“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). I once was lost, but now I’m found! Death once reigned, but no more! In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven! Hallelujah, amen!

And as we hear these words, and repeat them to ourselves and each other, we turn our eyes to the day when sin will be no more, all will be the way it was always supposed to be, and “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Lord as waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

Prayers of the People

These Gospel truths—the effects of sin and the transformation that comes with redemption—are not simply abstract principles, but concrete realities. And we sit in the part of God’s story we call the “already/not yet”: in Christ, salvation has come already, but God’s restoration of all things has not yet come. The not yet is no secret to anyone. We see it in those who fight illness and disease, in wars and violence, in hatred and bitterness, and in systems and institutions that harm people. So we sit in the not yet, lamenting what is wrong, and pleading with God to make it right—and to show us how, as his people, to be part of that right-making mission.

We think of the ways sin and its brokenness harm our own congregation, and we look out at the ways it harms our wider communities and our world. Again quoting James K.A. Smith, “We  pray for precisely the things that are continued evidence of the curse, of the way things are not supposed to be, and that thus makes us hunger after the kingdom.”2


We might look at the benediction as a churchy version of the end of each episode of Looney Tunes, when Porky Pig jumps onto the screen, shouting, “That’s all, folks!” But in Christian liturgy, the benediction is far more than the assertion that it’s time to go home. It is a final reminder of the Gospel, that God’s love and grace shines on us and calls us to walk in his ways, even as we depart from the assembled company of God’s people. You’ll always hear Chris follow the benediction with the call to “continue in worship as we go now to love and serve the Lord.” Just as our worship didn’t begin when we walked into the room, it doesn’t end when we leave. It simply changes shape as we go about our week, seeking to be faithful to the various callings God has given us, offering our life as worship.

This is our worship liturgy. As you’ve seen, it’s more than a plan for a service. These are the rhythms of Gospel-centered people, practiced week in and week out as we are shaped and formed into the image and likeness of Christ. These are the disciplines of people who are sent into the world to love God and love our neighbor, to seek God’s Kingdom first, and to witness to the now-and-coming reality that God is King, and we are his people.

1 Smith, James K. A. Desiring the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009) 179.
2 Ibid. 194.

—Sam Levy is a CCO campus minister in partnership with Gateway Church at Slippery Rock University and Grove City College. He loves his family, baseball, cheese, and walking with college students as they pursue the God who is making all things new. Follow him on Twitter at @sdlevy13.

Bible Study

People of the Word: We Why Read the Bible

A year ago, a new SRU student meandered over to the Harbor’s table at the Org Fair in the Quad with a pensive look on his face. “How do you guys feel about…the Bible?” he asked me. (Okay, let’s be honest—it was Jake Beck.)

If you’ve been to a Harbor Wednesday, the answer is quite obvious: we love the Bible! Our weekly gatherings that provide the foundations of our community are structured around small-group Bible study. To quote from the CCO’s Statement of Faith, “We believe that the Bible in its entirety is divine revelation, and we submit to the authority of Holy Scripture, acknowledging it to be inspired by and to carry the full weight of God’s authority.”

But what does that mean in our lives? What does that mean for college students, very few of which would consider themselves Bible scholars or theologians? Here are a few ways we think the Bible should impact our lives.

First, the Bible is the most available way we have to learn about God. God speaks in many ways through his Spirit to those who have ears to hear his voice, but his written Word is a constant source of revelation from God that we can access at any time, in any circumstance. A lot of people think the Bible is primarily religious commands or teaching, or simply stories about people who have related to God in some way. Certainly both of those elements are present in Scripture, but when you read the Bible for what it is, it becomes clear that it is primarily one large story of God coming to be with his people. God is the main character. If we miss this, we miss how much we are able to come to know God by reading and studying his Word.

Second, the Bible is not easy to understand and interpret. If it was, there probably wouldn’t be so many Christians in so many camps arguing about so many particular points of theology for so many centuries. It’s really hard! Here’s what’s brilliant about this design—it prevents us from skimming through Scripture like a manual and thinking we have all the answers to life. We have to wrestle with Scripture like Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32, refusing to let go until we get a blessing. This is how we come to understand God’s Word; we struggle and we chew on it and we debate it with others until we come to know God more.

Third, studying the Bible shapes and forms us. When you sit down to read the Bible, or engage in a Bible study with others at the Harbor, there’s a lot to be gained from whatever passage you are reading. Hopefully you are able to learn from that passage more about God and what it means to live for him, and to find things you can apply to your life. But the value of reading Scripture is even more than this. Bible study is a practice; it is a discipline. Beyond what you learn and discover in the specific text you read on any given day, the very act of sitting down, reading Scripture, and submitting to what it has to teach you will shape you in ways you may not even expect. The more you do this, the more you become a student of God’s Word, the more you are attuned to his voice, the more you become willing to live obediently to God’s ways. Reading the Bible isn’t just something you do—it is something that does something to you.

And that’s why we spend so much time together every week digging into Scripture. We turn our hearts and minds to what God is saying in his Word, we wrestle with what it means and what it is calling us to, and we allow God to transform us through this practice. We are promised that those who dwell on God’s Word will be “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3).

If we are to be God’s people, we must be people of the Word.

So, yeah…that’s how we feel about the Bible.

—Sam Levy is a CCO campus minister in partnership with Gateway Church at Slippery Rock University and Grove City College. He loves his family, baseball, cheese, and walking with college students as they pursue the God who is making all things new. Follow him on Twitter at @sdlevy13.


Academic Faithfulness: When God’s People Are Called to Be Students

In a recent post, we said that we will spend this fall at the Harbor exploring what it means to be God’s people.

One thing we will find as we look at Israel in Exodus and the Church in Acts is that being God’s people is never an abstract call. We don’t worship God and bear his image in a vacuum; this happens in a particular context, in a concrete time and a geographical place. It happens in our real work and real relationships and real, living-and-breathing life.

So if you’re a college student, what does this mean? It means that your calling is, among other things, to worship God with your studies.

You may have never thought about that before, or even heard of the concept. Worship is what I do in church on Sunday mornings—what does it have to do with my studies? A lot!

In contemporary North American church culture, we have a very narrow definition of the word worship. Worship often has two simple meanings for us: worship is the musical portion of a church service, and worship is the name of a genre of music, headlined by artists like Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, and Jesus Culture.

These are really narrow definitions, and both confine worship to music. The Bible, on the other hand, gives a much more expansive definition. Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament, has a word called avodah that, depending on the context of each passage, can be translated work, service, or—you guessed it!—worship. Think about that.

In his great book A Movable Feast, my friend Terry Timm quotes the worship leader Gerritt Gustafson:

    Worship is simply the expression of our love for God, which Jesus said should involve all our heart, mind and physical strength. It’s both an action and an attitude. And not just in part but holistically giving ourselves to God, our spirit, our soul, our body. It is a tangible way we express our love to God. And Jesus said it should involve our heart, our mind and our physical strength.

In a biblical worldview, our work, our service, and our worship all go hand-in-hand. This has a lot of implications. It means, for one, no matter how passionately or excitedly we sing on Sunday, if we mope around at our job on Monday, we’re not just being a bad worker; we’re being a bad worshipper.

It also means that even when on Sunday we sing “Christ alone, cornerstone” or “Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God, you are higher than any other,” our priorities on Monday may betray a different god, an idol, that our heart is actually serving.

What does this mean for college students? Your work, or at least a large part of your work, is the work of academics. Even if you can’t stand school, even if you’re just here because you need a degree to work in the field you are called to after school, if you’re a student, you’re called to be a student who worships God with your studies. And even if you aren’t sure if SRU is the right fit, or even if college is something you want to continue, until the day you are no longer enrolled at this university, you are called to be here.

The day before God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses was called to herd sheep to the glory of God. His calling was about to shift radically, but until God showed up with a set of instructions, faithfulness for Moses meant being a shepherd. Calling isn’t simply about what we will do in the future, but also about what we’re doing right now, even if our present circumstances don’t match the goals we look forward to.

This means you are called to study in such a way that brings glory to God. It also means you may not study in such a way that your studies themselves become your god.

What does that look like? Is it about getting good grades? Is it about impressing your professors? Is it about compiling as much knowledge as you possibly can in four years?

Look at your context. Who are you? How has God equipped you, and how has he not equipped you? Like in every area of life, you must discern the particulars of what God’s calling will entail. You must meditate on God’s Word so you learn to hear his voice, and you must quiet your heart and mind in prayer, asking God to open your eyes to see what he is doing. And our always-faithful God will show you what it means for you to be a faithful student-worshipper.

To help you think through this more, check out the fantastic book Learning for the Love of God by Don Opitz and Derek Melleby. (You can order it from our friend Byron Borger at Hearts & Minds Bookstore, or you can borrow a copy from Sam.)

In the book, Don and Derek offer The Student Creed, a statement that captures the exciting and worthwhile call to academic pursuits. I don’t know of a better way to close than to offer their words as a benediction. Read them, speak them, and then get out there in your classrooms and the library and the lab and in your books and your research and all of your work, and embody this vision, to the best of the ability God has given you, in worship to him.

The Student Creed
We study in order to
understand God’s good creation
and the ways sin has distorted it,
so that, in Christ’s Power, we may
bring healing to persons and the created order.
As God’s image-bearers we are preparing
to exercise responsible authority
in our task of cultivating the creation
to the end that all people and all things may
joyfully acknowledge and serve
their Creator and true King.

—Sam Levy is a CCO campus minister in partnership with Gateway Church at Slippery Rock University and Grove City College. He loves his family, baseball, cheese, and walking with college students as they pursue the God who is making all things new. Follow him on Twitter at @sdlevy13.


Changes: Things’ll Never Be The Same

The other week I was scrolling through Buzzfeed, and I noticed a ton of quizzes and articles about being ready for college. They had titles like “What Percent Ready For College Are You?” and “Share Your Best Tip That Helped You Get Ready for College” and “Are You Actually Ready For College?” Turns out I’m only 40% ready for college. While these articles and quizzes are fun and entertaining, I couldn’t help but think they really do nothing to prepare you for transitioning into college life. Sure, they talked about decorating your room, getting into good study habits, making sure you know how to do laundry, and getting involved on campus—which are all important things—but what about the mental, emotional, and spiritual struggles of transitioning into a completely new season of life? How do you prepare and cope with those things?

As someone who’s recently graduated college and is also transitioning into a completely new season of life, I don’t think our situations are that different. Changes and transitions are hard, no matter what they entail. We are forsaking what is familiar to us and embracing something new. While a lot of people may be excited to come to college, there is also a lot of uncertainty, and that can be very stressful and overwhelming too. This presents a great opportunity to lay these feelings at the feet of our God, lean into the discomfort, and learn how to better trust and depend on him. So, I’d like to share some things that have helped me do this during my recent transition:

1) Recognizing the difference between change and transition. Change is what is happening on the outside, like our situations and our circumstances. Transition is what is happening inside, like our thoughts and emotions. People may experience the same changes, the same external circumstances, but not the same transition. The ways people go through this transition process is different, and that is OK. So, give yourself the time and space you need to transition. Don’t compare your process to someone else’s.

2) Familiarize yourself with the stages within the transition cycle and be aware of what stage you are in. These stages include an ending, the neutral zone, and a new beginning. However, be aware that this is a cycle so you can go back and forth between these stages as well as see some overlap of the different stages.

At this point, you have already ended the previous chapter in your life, but you may not be completely past this stage yet. A part of the ending stage is recognizing that you have experienced a loss, and it’s important to grieve that loss. Embrace this, but also grieve with hope because we have a God who is in control and we can trust that what he has for us next is good.

The stage you might find yourself in is the neutral zone—you don’t really feel connected back home anymore but you also haven’t found your place here yet. This stage is extremely uncomfortable and stressful. It just feels empty, but the key to overcoming this is to allow yourself to just be. Just be in the empty, fallow space. Our culture is obsessed with filling our time and we are constantly busy to the point where we don’t know how to just be still and alone with ourselves. But to move past the neutral zone we need to reflect, process, relocate, and reorient ourselves. Thankfully, we are never really alone in this because our God is always with us and will guide us through. Stop doing, and start being.

Since you’ve begun your college life already, you’ve already started the new beginnings stage. The novelty of college life can be super exciting. However, sometimes we get so caught up in the external change that we avoid the internal transition. Don’t do this. Again, give yourself time and space to process everything, just like in the neutral zone. Another issue that may arise during this stage is a sense of incompleteness. Things just aren’t quite clicking yet and you just don’t know what to expect. If you experience this, remember that these feelings are normal, show yourself some grace and kindness, and be patient with God.

3) Recall God’s character, and remember his goodness. With so much going on in our lives internally and externally, it’s easy to get wrapped up in ourselves. We put all of this unnecessary pressure on ourselves, and we forget that we have a God who is sovereign over all. When I fail to remember these truths, I like to look to the Word, specifically the Psalms, which are full of people remembering and recalling God’s character and his good works. It comforts me to know that God has always been and always will be faithful to his people, and it brings me to a place of gratitude for all he’s done and just who he is.

These times are tough. In the words of the wise Tupac Shakur, “that’s just the way it is.” But it doesn’t end there because we have hope. Hope doesn’t mean it will be easy—in fact, hope is usually hard work because it relies on something outside of ourselves. But we can take heart, and remember that God is the same God here as he is back home as he is wherever we go.

—Leah Hornfeck is a CCO Fellow at Slippery Rock University. She’s an officially certified athletic trainer and a graduate of Duquesne University. You’ll find her listening to hip hop, watching horror movies, or eating ice cream.

Bible Study

God’s People: Our Fall Study Series

What does it mean to be God’s people? This will be the question at the center of our studies at the Harbor throughout this semester.

It’s a question that is tough to answer. Western culture places a huge emphasis on human beings as autonomous individuals, free to make their own way in the world. This individualism colors the way we see concepts like freedom, calling, and Christianity itself. Some Christians believe we ought to interpret the Bible to best fit our own lives and contexts. In recent years, several authors and speakers have advocated “living your truth boldly,” suggesting that even truth is individualized.

Certainly the Christian Gospel is a personal message—Jesus Christ works in and through each one of those who believe in and follow him. But the Bible, from start to finish, both Old Testament and New, is less concerned with individuals; the Bible is fundamentally the story of God working in the world through his people.

The word used for “church” in the New Testament is the Greek word ekklesia; it means “the called out ones.” God’s people, throughout time, have been those who are called out to be set apart so they may worship God and bear his image in the world. It is clear throughout Scripture that the ekklesia is never intended to be a loose connection of Christians who check in with each other now and then. It’s a family, a body, made up of all those who know God, all over the world, past, present, and future. When we read Revelation 7:9’s picture of “every nation, tribe, and tongue” gathered around the throne of God, singing praise to the Holy One, we recognize what the Church is meant to be, not just in the life to come, but right now.

According to the Bible, there is no such thing as following God outside of being a part of God’s people. When we put our trust in Jesus, we become a member of the Church. The Gospel is deeply personal, but it is not individual. Yet, we can reject this idea and try to function as a “lone ranger” Christian, building our life around a me-and-Jesus worldview. Indeed, many have, and though their salvation is not called into question, we must wonder how much one can live the abundant life Jesus speaks of when remaining outside of his design for the lives of his people.

If we embrace this teaching—that the body of Christ is meant to function together, that God is calling a people, not a bunch of persons—we are faced with a host of questions. What is required of us as God’s people? What does this mean for the various parts of our lives—relationships, academics, work, ethics, hobbies, family, politics? What does this mean for local churches, and what benefit is there to being a part of one?

In our studies at the Harbor this fall, we will see the way God assembles his people, and who he calls them to be. We’ll start in the Old Testament book of Exodus, exploring the way God rescues the nation of Israel, forms them into his people, and calls them to be set apart to worship him and bear his image in the world. Later, we’ll jump through the pages of Scripture to the New Testament book of Acts, the story of the formation of the Church, made up of those who become God’s people through uniting with Jesus in his death and resurrection.

In each of our studies, we will wrestle with the way God answers our questions in his Word. And we will seek not simply to fill our heads with theology and theoretical ideas, but to let God mold us, the Harbor, into a community marked as his people, pursuing Christ together, and loving our campus in his Name. Join us each Wednesday!