I have now been in Abilene for close to two weeks. These weeks have been filled with friends, moving in, setting up, food, and prayer. I am unbelievably excited for my final year as an undergraduate student. This week I have been working with a group of freshmen honors students during what ACU calls “Welcome Week.” Welcome Week is a five day event filled with everything from a service project, to worship, to discussions with older students about navigating college life.

This is a fun time to help new students explore this next part of their lives. While there are a number of older students working with my group, my role is unique. You see, the groups were created according to which section of cornerstone (the intro course every freshmen takes) each student is in. I am the peer leader for one of the honors sections of cornerstone. This means that I am leading the group during Welcome Week and will be with the group all semester. I will be in class, provide mentoring functions, and answer questions. I am stinking excited to watch these freshmen begin their journey.

The picture you see is from Candlelight Devo, a time of worship where the freshmen make their way from Moody Colosseum to the amphitheatre through a walkway lined with upperclassmen, faculty, and staff. Everyone has a candle and it is beautiful.

What I want to do in this blog post is offer a five thoughts for new students (and older students) to ponder as classes start up (again).

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First, understand who you are. I recognize that college is a place of shifting paradigms and understandings, especially during your first year, but though a tree will sway in the wind, it doesn’t shift much from the place where its roots go deep. Bob Strader, the man who spoke at Candlelight Devo, said, essentially, that everyone and everything will tell you who you are by what you accomplish. “I’m an engineer, a teacher, a student, etc. . .” No, those are things you do. You are a daughter or son of God, and he loves you. If your response to the question “Who are you?” is a function or an action, then you are not rooted and you will be moved to a place you do not what to go.

Second, understand who God is. Theologians love defining God according to his attributes, which is fine except that his attributes are all abstract and are difficult to get a handle on. So, sure, God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, immutable, and transcendent. And, sure, the scriptures describe his behavior. He is “slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” But, those descriptions don’t get in our hearts. There are no pictures for those words. God is a shepherd, a rock, a pillar of fire, enthroned in heaven, a judge, etc. Those are all pictures we can understand. But, the best picture, then one Jesus emphasized, is that God is a loving daddy who wants the best for his children. Come to God with all the bluntness, shamelessness, and even rudeness of a child. He loves to hear your voice. He doesn’t just love you, he really likes you.

Third, understand what you are doing here. I mean this as specifically as I can. What are YOU doing HERE? Last night, Dr. Stephen Johnson, the dean of the Honors College, said to the group of honors freshmen that their class would have more opportunity than any class before them to take their incredible giftings, meet Jesus at the cross, and then apply them to the world’s incredible problems. You were not made to subsist, to hold on, to survive. You were made to be a vessel of God’s Kingdom. Just listening to these new students’ dreams encourages me. There are people who want to be doctors so as to be medical missionaries, people who want to enter politics to fight for justice, people who want to work in churches with the most unlovable (middle-schoolers), people who want to teach math to share their love of knowledge with others, and people who want to do every other incredible thing. So, yes, college is fun, but you have no right to take what you do here and keep it for yourself. Since you are in a position of privilege to be here, take what you get and go do it. And, more than that, start using your gifts right now.

Fourth, find a community of people who love Jesus and join them. This one is huge for me. We were made to live with other people. We were made to sacrifice daily our own selfish desires for other people. We were made to be encouraged, edified, and rebuked by others. This community can look a whole lot of different ways. For me, I joined a Life Group through Beltway Park Church in Abilene. Others have found community with people in their residence halls or through programs and ministries at a variety of churches. Find people with whom you can share your hopes, dreams, failures, sins, and fears. Find people that will encourage you to be more like Jesus. Find people that will have your back emotionally, spiritually, or even financially. Find people with whom you can live a communal story.

Fifth, avoid hyper-spirituality. God doesn’t have a secret treasure map for you to follow to the thing in this life that will give you meaning. Don’t spend all your time trying to divine God’s will for every situation in order to see if it lines up with “God’s plan for your life.” God’s plan for your life is to love him and love others. It is to be like Jesus, whatever you end up doing. He may give you a vocation, but he isn’t micromanaging you. He is a daddy, not a programmer. The Bible isn’t a blue-print for life, it’s not an owner’s manual, it’s not a play book. The Bible is the story of God interacting with people. It teaches us who God is and how we relate to him. Don’t spend your life opening the Bible to random pages to see what God’s will is for you for that day. God gave you a brain and desires. He gave you a will. Use those things to live your life to his glory. You have God-given talents and a God-given personality. Use them.

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May God bless you and keep you and make is face to shine upon you and give you peace this year.