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Closing Thoughts: A Plea for Unity by Bridget Gallagher

“What have I learned over the course of the year? That is such a big question. I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is that God uses different people to teach us different things. Emotions aren’t bad. Rich people need Jesus and can have Him. Cultural Christians read the gospel too. True friends are a balm to the soul and with Christ you never have to let go (of some of them). Pick a church and stick with it because they’re all broken. Fight for unity and reconciliation. Prayer actually works; we just need to do it. Singleness and marriage are equal calls from God that require discernment. All of our work can glorify God. C.S. Lewis is a wizard. Studying the Bible one-on-one is amazing. I am more like my parents than I thought, and I want to be more like them than I am. Intergenerational relationships are healthy and swell. Girls can be your friends too. God has a plan that we need to trust and the gospel is the greatest and most powerful story ever.” - Daniel Huff, Nashville Fellow 2019

The Fellows just wrapped up Closing Retreat where for over three days we shared a total of fifteen hours or so, reflecting on where we came from, how we’ve grown, and where we’re headed as individuals and a community through the program. The above quote was spoken by our beloved Daniel Huff as he reflected on how this year has impacted him and the lessons he’s garnered from it. These words, though written by one of us, resonated with all of us (minus the revelation on friendships across gender lines, a few of us were already up to speed there). As Daniel shared these words, there was a collective affirmation of head nodding and mhmming that filled the room. I restate his words here to 1) share a thoughtfully succinct summary of what many of us have learned this year, but namely 2) to emphasize the unity that I felt in that room after it was spoken.

A theme that’s been consistent throughout the year, and was certainly present during our time together this past weekend, is the many differences amongst us. We are quiet and outspoken, boisterous and peaceful, artistic and intellectual, regimented and flexible. We share well and we listen well, we teach with our words and our actions, we embrace our emotions and our thoughts. We are a motley crew that has pushed and pulled itself through these past nine months.

As I reflect on the community we’ve formed this year, what most readily comes to mind is the image of Christ as both the lion and the lamb. By juxtaposing two creatures so different in nature and features, the image seems to be getting at the wonderful mystery that is Jesus, in that He is all things good and glorious: just and loving, humble and all-powerful, strong and meek. There’s no enneagram number for Him, and attempting to describe him concisely seems fruitless. He embodies the very character of God and in doing so dispels our human divides.

The dynamic nature of Christ has been ever-present in our gathering as Fellows. Our community, a smaller body amidst the greater Church, has held together, despite our differences, through the power of Christ alone. Unity is hard, and Christ knew this. Among his final words to his Father in John 17 was a plea for unity amongst his followers and the Church. A plea that acknowledges the sincerity by which oneness demands, and foreshadows the difficultly to be expected in pursuing it.

As we finish our final week of work and life together, I am reminded that amidst everything we have achieved and worked towards collectively, nothing is so treasured as the unity that has convicted our characters and tried our hearts. Christ again and again calls us to community, shaping and stretching each of us to become more like him. We as Fellows acknowledge the great work He has done this year amongst us, and each of us look expectantly towards our communities to come where we know that work will carry on to completion until the day of our Lord.


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A Letter to the Upcoming Fellows Class by Julie Gibbons

Dear Upcoming Fellows Class,

Wow, I am so pumped for you! Wherever you are in your life (most of you have probably just graduated from college or are preparing to in the weeks to come), I know you are probably eagerly waiting to find out who you will be doing this program with, where and who you will be living with, what church you will be placed at, and where you will be working. Don’t worry. It will all work out.

I hope you are excited for this year. This might be your first choice for your post grad plans or maybe something else didn’t work out, but regardless… get excited! There is already a community of people ready to embrace you all into the Nashville family.

I wanted to write this to you not to tell you what to expect or what it will be like for you next year because honestly, everyone will have such a different experience. You get to be in a community with people right out of college, which is really special and uncommon, but it is not going to be just like the community you are leaving. You won’t be living together or working together; some may have friends outside the program, and some might only know the people in the Nashville Fellows community. Be prepared to really work to get to know each other outside of Fellows activities. I want to leave you with three pieces of advice as you prepare yourself for this next adventure.

1. Be present

One of the beautiful things about not knowing much about what your Fellows year will look like is that it gives you a chance to be present where you are at right now. Embrace that, and when your Fellows year starts be ready to be present. This year will fly by, and if you are too distracted by your past or looking too much into what the next year will look like you are going to miss out on a lot.

2. Evaluate your expectations

This is easy to say, yet so hard to actually follow. It is in our nature to have expectations of what Christian community is supposed to look like, what our friendships should be like, and how quickly they should form. Romans 3:23 says “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Your expectations are only going to fail you because people are not perfect, we are all different and broken in our own ways. Try to fill your expectations with grace and forgiveness.

3. Let go and let God

I know this can be cheesy and overused, but it is the best way for me to give you this last, and maybe best, piece of advice. You might have to let go of your comfort when it comes to church, friendships, or living situations. God is going to give you so much more if you allow him to use you where he needs you. When I got placed at St. George’s Episcopal Church I was not very excited. All I knew was that it was a more formal church, similar to what I grew up in and I was afraid that I was not going to get anything out of it. This year I gave this church my all, and have never felt more connected to a church. While I don’t know if I could commit to any denomination at this point, I do know that right now the Lord has me at St. George’s for a reason. I no longer think that I need to find a church that fits all my needs, but I want to be a part of a church where I can fit into the brokenness to love my brothers and sisters in Christ who are around me. There is no such thing as a perfect church, but there is a perfect God that has placed me where I am for a reason.

This year will be different for all of you. God created us in so many different ways with different desires and struggles. He created us with different personalities that do not always get along easily. Use this year to lean into your differences, learn from each other, cry with one another, and laugh together.

I can’t wait to meet you and to welcome you into this community!

Julie


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A Journey of Reflection by Fiona Holland

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” ~ Bonhoeffer

As I reflect on exactly where I was this time last year, it amazes me. Finishing projects, taking tests, rehearsing for graduation, asking what is next, working two jobs, trying to focus, and figuring out what is next. Now, I am living in Nashville, TN, interning within my field, volunteering at a local church, plugged into a great community, reading and discussing tough questions, pressing into what’s next, and praying for direction yet again. After talking with some wise people I realize that coming to crossroad moments in life never ends; there is one after another, yet hopefully I will approach each with better understanding, wiser discernment, an attention to prayer, and stronger faith. Despite not yet seeing what God has in store next, I know without a doubt it will be good because He has been faithful and is unchanging; therefore, He will continue to be faithful till the end – praise the Lord!

In my reflection time, I’ve noticed how much of an impact this year has made on me as a person in regards to faith, community, and self-awareness. These three aspects are of major importance, and I hope to press into each more in the coming years since there is so much more to be learned in these areas.

First, I recognize that spending time alone daily with Jesus is of the utmost significance. Truly, to order my day correctly and begin on the right foot, I must prioritize His presence and communing with Him through reading His Word. In addition I have been impressed to pray more intently and then rest in listening for His still, small voice in my heart. Some days I do this better than others, but I know it is vital to my all-around health and well-being and to those I come into contact with. Being in The Fellows Program this year has prompted me to read more and discuss theological, controversial, and thought-provoking things, which have enhanced my understanding of the Bible, God, and the world. For that, I am thankful!

Second, the power of community is huge, yet today when individualism prevails, it is ten times more difficult to gather together and be fully present. Daily, we interact with numerous circles of people, and we are the only ones that can reach each circle we are a part of. Between families, friends, co-workers, church leaders, youth kids, the guy at the grocery store, the gym, or people at the park, we have countless opportunities to engage with others. However, it is important to engage well by being intentional, which is very hard when our lives are bombarded with busy, busy, hurry, hurry. Something I have learned to press into this year is vulnerability and being openly honest with those close to me. Still, I am not the best at this since it is difficult for me to accept criticism if there is any and would rather engage others by asking questions instead of answering them myself. But when I take time to explain myself, I feel more free and understood. Lastly, encouraging and building others up is another thing I am working on; by slowing down and taking the time to notice another, offer a compliment, or just simply smile, someone’s day could be made brighter.

And third, self-awareness and self-reflection are essential. Before this year, I thought I knew myself pretty well; however, after taking more assessments, discussing the results, and asking questions, I have a deeper knowledge of not only myself, but others as well. We get a myriad of insights from teachers who lead our classes, speakers from events, and pastors at our churches. Each class time I acquire new perceptions to think through and from it comes growth. It is imperative that those we let speak into our lives are communicating truth, which is why we must weigh everything against the Bible’s standard. Overall, what I have heard and been able to discuss is valid and has helped me to be more conscious of my thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and insecurities.

When I first arrived here back in August, I kept hearing this song by Tauren Wells (which I’m sure many of you know if you ever listen to the Christian radio station☺) and since then, it has become my ‘theme song’ if you will:

I'm fully known and loved by You

You won't let go no matter what I do

And it's not one or the other

It's hard truth and ridiculous grace

To be known fully known and loved by You

Wow, that was a lot of reflective rambling! Thanks for reading, and I hope some of this resonated with your spirit to encourage you on your journey. Life is an exciting adventure filled with all sorts of joys and sorrows, but most importantly, a faithful hope that never ends!


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God, Mighty Enough by Clay Krout

During my time as a Nashville Fellow I have learned a lot of lessons that I never expected to learn. One of these lessons has proved to be very valuable as the year has progressed. Through various trials and encounters with pain, I found myself questioning God. I questioned whether he was as powerful as everybody said. I questioned whether he cared about the things I was experiencing. I even questioned whether he is a good God at all. Things were not easy, and I thought that God had just abandoned me or turned a blind eye. I learned, rather quickly, that he had done the exact opposite. Instead of turning his back on me and allowing me to fester in my own emotions and self-destruction, he patiently stood by me even amid my angry ignorance. I started to notice the support system he had given me. His word eventually started to become more precious to me, and I soon learned that instead of growing distant from me in my anger, God was graciously embracing me, demonstrating his love as Abba Father by assuring me that he could handle my questions. My bitterness eventually evolved into a prayer for assurance of the promise he had given me in James 4:8, that if I would draw near to him, he would draw near to me. And he did. He demonstrated that he is indeed Jehovah Shalom and Jehovah Rapha. He is Yahweh, ever deserving of my praise, even when I don’t understand him. Nay, especially when I don’t understand him. Praise be to Christ.

Obviously, this was a lesson that I needed to be taught, and prayerfully I will continue to meditate on his promises in my heart and be sanctified by the Holy Spirit to grow firm in the truth. I learned quickly that the Lord had not taught me this lesson so that I would simply allow it to affect my heart alone. God, in his sovereignty, crossed my path with that of a student in pain. To preserve your time and his anonymity, I will spare the details, but this became the most precious moment I have had as a Fellow. The student, having experienced immense tragedy, would rarely engage with leaders in a serious manner and never shared his emotions about the event that had changed his life forever. Then, one night, almost out of the blue, he shared that he wanted to trust God, but he just couldn’t because he was mad at God. He couldn’t understand why God in all of his “might” would not intervene to alter the circumstances he had endured. He was struggling to believe that God was in fact a good, loving Father. I did not blame him for these questions. In fact, it had not been long since I had asked similar questions. I was given the opportunity to embrace this young man and assure him that God could handle his questions and God could handle his anger. God invites us to draw near to him with our questions and allow him to reveal his character to us. He is surely a good Father even when we do not comprehend the depths of his thoughts.

I pray that this will not be lost on us. God does not expect us to fully understand, instead he wants to show us more of his heart so that we may run to him in reliance for nourishment and strength. It is in our weakness that his power is made perfect. He is El Shaddai, God Almighty. He wants to show us that he is our God and we are his people. What a sweet assurance to be called a child of the One True King, our loving Father. Praise be to him forever and ever. Amen.


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The Power of Identity by Alicia Dahlman

I got my first tattoo when I was a sophomore in college. The word “beloved” is written in a script lettering on my left wrist. I often get asked what it is about and what it means. I decided to get this tattoo as a declaration of identity over myself. I wanted a daily reminder of the permanent identity that Christ has declared over me as His beloved daughter.

Identity is extremely powerful. What we believe about who we are can have huge impacts on our life choices. We see time and time again scripture urging us to cling to our identity in Christ and not be tied to other things to find our identity.

Colossians 3:1-4

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

There is a specific call of the believer to press into their identity in Christ through seeking the things that are above. We will only seek after what we are sure of. If we are 100% secure in our identity being in Christ then we will always trust and seek the things above. Yet, the reality is that we are broken and sinful. We all have fallen victim to seeking after things that will not satisfy, leaving us empty and broken. I experienced this first hand in my own life story.

For the longest time I have censored my story. I never shared the full weight of the sin-chains that held me down for so long. Honestly, for a while it was because I was terrified of what other people would think. As I have grown in my relationship with Christ I’ve realized that my identity in Christ does not change despite my past. So, I have continued to commit to sharing my journey to a renewed understanding of my identity in Christ and freedom from sin that entangled me for too long; hoping that someone reading this can know that they are not alone and that the fight for their identity is worth it.

I was 14 years old when I was first exposed to pornography and at the age of 15 I started actively pursuing sexual sin. The truth is, desperate humans do desperate things when they don’t feel loved. And no matter how hard I tried to craft my image on the surface, sexual sin was the enticement I always let in. This was the start of my battle with sexual sin and my addiction to pornography. I grew up in the church, knew all the Sunday school answers, and yet I settled for a cheap and fabricated love that left me broken.

For me, sexual struggles began long before any type of sexual activity. My promiscuity and deep soul wounds grew out of a heart that was out of tune. I missed the truth about the identity of the person who stared back at me in the mirror. I failed to see my worth, so I looked for someone or something to assign it to me.

Matthew 6:22-23

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

We are shaped by what we see. What we choose to watch. And what we consume, mindlessly. Spiritually, our clear view of our identity in Christ is blurred and blinded when our gaze is entertained by cheap and easy things. We are what we see. And if they eye is the lamp of the body, then it is also the gateway for broken and impure things.

The first step to healing was admitting I had a problem. That was the hardest part. Everything was in the dark. I had to come to the reality that God couldn’t heal what I didn’t give him access to. I genuinely believed I was the only Christian woman living with this struggle. We are foolish to think that this issue only happens outside of the church. We are afraid to boast in our weaknesses and point to the power of the cross, so instead we stay silent and leave far too many hurting hearts feeling like they are the only ones weak enough to give in to these broken things. In failing to talk about the issue we doubly fail to talk about the power the Holy Spirit possesses to purify our eyes, reclaim our hearts, and break our chains of bondage.

My breakthrough from this sin was a process filled with hard conversations, months of counseling, and discovering for myself what the bible says about my identity in Christ. It was worth every second. I am living proof of the power of the Holy Spirit to break the chains of addiction and false identity. My tattoo is a daily reminder of that. A daily reminder that I have been raised with Christ. A daily reminder that I am His beloved and that identity will never leave.

Psalm 34:4-7

I prayed to the Lord, and He answered me.

He freed me from all my fears.

Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy;

no shadow of shame will darken their faces.

In desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;

He saved me from all my troubles.

For the angel of the Lord is a guard;

he surrounds and defends all who fear him.


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