TO THE STUDENT,
To the student who has had a tough 2016, don’t worry. There is hope. And while it may feel like you’re the only one in the room who has had a tough year, there is a great possibility that there are many more sitting beside you who have had a tough year, too. And rather than doing what you’ve done best this year, and keep to yourself in an attempt to be a small blip on people’s radar, begin to surround yourself with the people God has placed in your life. There is potential for history to repeat itself if something doesn’t change and I believe God desires more for you than to just “get by” another year. This change is something God is familiar with and it’s a change he knew needed to happen from the beginning. You see, history was repeating itself over and over again until God finally sent His Son. And that changed everything. It turned past hurt into future hope, past despair into present relief, and turned a potential eternity with God into an eternity with Him.
To the student who has a tough life at home, know from the bottom of my heart that I’m sorry you’re in the situation you’re in. As a dad it kills me every day knowing you don’t have a safe place to call home. I pray daily that you find safety here at Pine Hill. I pray daily that you find safety in the arms of the Father that loves you more than you can ever know. And while it seems as if you’ve been cursed with the family situation you have, I pray that you take on the posture of Jesus and His followers and look at anything tough life throws your way as an opportunity to relentlessly pursue God. While others could lack the ability to thrive in an environment such as yours, God can and will enable you to be the light in the darkness that you call family. He desires to use you, and expects you to rejoice in the predicament you’ve found yourself in. And while it may seem crazy to rejoice in a situation like yours, know that it is because God is refining you to handle, lead, and overcome more than you can ever imagine. Better yet, instead of asking God “why” these next few months, begin to ask him “how” He can use you. Keep leaning into Him and be continually reminded that you have a heavenly Father that not only would do anything for you, but did do EVERYTHING for you by sending His Son - who we celebrate this coming week.
To the student who pretends like everything’s ok, please know that it’s ok to not be ok. In fact, I believe God would prefer you to be real with him. So often you convince yourself that your issues are a burden to society and that no one truly cares about what is going on in your life. But I am writing to remind you that - yes, you are a burden - but the perfect kind of burden. You’re a burden that God has placed on my heart and it is one that I refuse to shake, that I refuse to ignore, and that I refuse to pretend along with you. Even better so, God sees you as a burden worth dying for. A burden that he willingly took on at the Cross. That you would have a place where you would be able to unload everything happening in life and would feel confident that the God of the Universe had the capacity to handle it. Ask yourself, when is the last time you felt light? When you felt free? When you felt a literal weight lifted off your shoulders? Don’t neglect the fact that Jesus desires to take your burden from you. How do I know this? His word says that He calls to his followers to come to him - those who are heavy burdened and weary - for his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. And besides, think about this… if God hadn’t the ability to take on your issues, He wouldn’t be too worth worshipping anyways, would He. Lay it on Him.
To the student who feels like they can’t get anything right, know that you have been made right in Christ. Besides, God never called you to perfection, but to righteousness. And while righteousness may be a word you think you should know, you’re not alone in wondering what the depth of it is. And before you beat yourself up for not being a “good enough” Christian for not knowing things, I challenge you to find peace in the reality that - listen - you will never be good enough. And while that may sound a little bit disheartening, you need to understand that it’s ok to not be good enough. The best part about it is that even the best person in this room isn’t good enough, and in the light of sin, they are always wrong, too. But, in the light of the Savior you, my friend, are made right. You see, Christ coming to earth, dying on the cross, and ascending to Heaven has initiated an amazing work in this thing called grace. Grace is getting something you don’t deserve… and God freely gives it to you, the mess up. But rather than you utilizing this thing called grace as a security blanket, using it as an excuse to not try as hard, this pursuit for righteousness allows grace to be seen as a safety net. That is, as you pursue righteousness, His grace (which is bigger than your mess ups) is there to catch you when - and not if - you fall. Stop trying to be perfect, and let His perfection push you towards him. He will not let you fall.
To the student who actually gets this God thing and who’s life is good, I applaud you. I encourage you to keep it up even in the hard times. And please know that we see you. That we’re proud of you. And that we talk highly of you. I know that it can seem as if you get overlooked because life isn’t too crazy for you. It might feel like your stresses or worries are invalid because they don’t match up to those around you. If you’ve ever felt left out, I am sorry. But please know you have worth in this Pine Hill Student family. It’s ok for you to be stressed about a test when someone else in your group is stressed about seeing their dad for the first time in months. It’s ok to be down in the dumps because the biggest thing you have to be worried about is what you’re going to eat tonight instead of if you’re going to eat tonight. It’s ok to be worried about how your family vacation is going to be when others are worrying about whether or not their family will stay together at all. Your stresses are valid, and that simply means that you have been set up to have the capacity to do even more amazing things in God’s name. I encourage you to take the life you have and focus heavily on serving others. Invite them into your world, because your world might be the closest thing to peace they’ve ever felt. Learn to be students of the people around you so that you may be creative in the way you bless them. And as surely as all things are good now, what I know about the reality of life is that your valley will come. And if you’ve focused on serving others in this season of good things, I guarantee you that you’ll have people there for you in the times things are tough. And please, don’t feel bad that your life is ok. God is prepping you for great works. You just need to remember to praise Him in this good season, too. You are loved. Also, go home tonight and thank mom and dad that life is good. God equipped them to both make life good for you AND put up with you. They deserve some credit.
To the student who is new to all this, keep it up. It’s ok that you don’t understand everything yet. In the Bible, Mark talks about a person’s faith growing like a seed. There’s a process. It can’t hop from seed to fully grown over night. There is time and cultivation that is necessary to make it all grow to where it needs to be. Please know that this is a safe place for you to have doubts and to work things out. If you were to look to your left or your right, it is a statistical fact that they have been where you’re at right now. They have been in the spot where they have been trying to connect all the dots and that they have had their doubts. I want you to be real with your faith here and own it because you’re convinced of Christ’s love for you and not because anyone or anything else. But please know two things on this journey you’re on. One is that God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it. What I mean is, you’re not in control of God loving you. So no matter how mad you are at Him, or how much you’ve messed up, God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it. For a student society so focused on control this is a hard pill to swallow, but I encourage you to do it sooner than later because it’ll set you up for a whole heck of a lot of success as you continue your pursuit of Jesus Christ. And secondly is that there is nothing you can do to make God love you less or more. That means you can’t try harder to get more love. That means you can’t mess up enough to qualify for less love. It means that there is absolutely nothing you can do to make God love you less or more. There’s a chance you’re so unfamiliar with unconditional love that it is too farfetched to even believe that a love like this exists, but it does. And it was demonstrated on a cross over 2,000 years ago. It’s a love that accepts you where you’re at and a love that challenges you to be more than that. It’s a love that loves you way to much to have to stay the same as when it met you. Keep pressing forward and I am confident that the God I fell in love with back in 1994 will meet you personally, too.
To the student who is doubting or is mad at God, know that he can handle it. In my eyes, if he couldn’t handle us being upset with Him then - once again - he wouldn’t be too worth worshipping. Your God is not weak. Your God did not wire you to be a robot with a smile on your face all the time. Your God did not wire you into a forced love of Him. He is strong. He made you to feel real feelings, to hurt real hurts, and to find joy in real happiness. He is with you in those moments good or bad. He is not ahead of you, frustratingly waiting for you to catch up on your knowledge. He is right beside you, encouraging you along the way, ready to reveal himself to you. News flash… his revelation will overpower your doubt. You just have to make sure you’re ready to accept it when it comes. And in these seasons of doubt and frustration, please know that you are not a “bad Christian” because of it. In fact, there is a lot to say about someone who has the ability to stick to obedience in times of doubt and frustration. What that models is a possible inadvertent posture of submission to God. My encouragement to you is to add purpose to that position. Add purpose to that obedience. God will bless it, and a bounty of much needed rainfall is just around the corner to your dry spell with God.
To the student who has ever hurt themselves, please stop. As a dad speaking to his own adopted kids, please stop. There is so much in life to find value in. There are so many other ways of communicating hurts and pains, or lack thereof. Know that I am not disappointed in you for ever hurting yourself. Know that I am not ashamed that someone like you is a part of my life. Know that deep down, you are the students I spend much of my time thinking about because I have had seasons in ministry where I wasn’t confident I would see you the following week. Please hear me when I say that life would not be better without you. And even more importantly hear me when I say that God is not disappointed in you. God is not ashamed of you. God has, does, and always will see you as His beloved sons and daughters. He desires to fill those holes in your heart. He desires to be the strength in your weakness. He desires to be the warm in your cold. He desires to extend feeling in times of numbness. Let Him in, because unlike much of the world around you, He will not let you down. He can’t. It’s not in His nature. He’s shown in the past that He prevails in His people’s lives. That means He has no other choice than to repeat Himself. And the best part is, you’re not just a “people” to God. You’re His kid. So next time you’re hurting, turn to Him. Don’t hurt yourself to mask other hurt. Let the Healer mend the wounds. Know that I value your life and I would be devastated if you were gone from my life. God will use little old messed up you to do amazing things if you hang in there and lean hard into him.
To the student who is searching for their identity, it’s ok that you’re not there yet. It’s ok that you haven’t landed yet. Please know that I see you working hard to find your identity. Please know that I see you working hard to make it happen on your own. Please know that I see you attempting to achieve your own victory in whatever context you’re searching. Please know I see that weight you carry around on a regular basis. Please know that I see you doing your best to please those around you. But even more so hear me when I say this. There’s a better way. With an identity in Jesus Christ, you don’t have to make it happen on your own because Christ made it happen on the cross. With an identity in Christ, you don’t have to achieve your own victory because Christ has invited you into His victory that he achieved on the cross. With an identity in Christ, you get to take that weight off your shoulders and lay it at the foot of the cross of the man who love you and died for you before you even decided you loved him back. The victory Christ achieved on the cross is one you’re invited to be a part of. Imagine going into a competition of sorts knowing you’re going home with the “W”. Could you imagine how good that would feel? That’s what you get with Christ. Stop trying yourself, and give up in Jesus’ name.
To the student who is counting down the days to 2017, I encourage you to begin thinking about life in a broader context. If you simply take life on one calendar year at a time, there will be hurts and sorrows and frustrations that come along with it. And it’ll be a matter of time until you’re sitting the end of 2017 waiting for 2018 to come. Instead, look at life in light of an eternity with the same God that created you. The same God that loved you enough to send his son for you. The same God that you have an opportunity to have a personal relationship with. You see, a personal relationship with God means that you don’t have to look at life in the same context as everyone else - day to day, week to week, year to year - it means that you live each day in light of the fact that when you have a personal relationship with Jesus and you’ve decided to follow and give your life to him, that your time on earth is the closest to hell you’re ever going to get. And that’s pretty reassuring.
The reality is, this letter probably hit just about everyone reading or hearing it. That has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with you. It has EVERYTHING to do with the fact that God wanted you to hear His truths through these words.
You. Are. Loved. No matter the category you fell into this day.