Guest Blogs

Serving through Peace Corps

  Today's guest blog was written by Lauren Schaffner (COL '13). She has been serving with Peace Corps for a year in West Africa.  

Today's guest blog was written by Lauren Schaffner (COL '13). She has been serving with Peace Corps for a year in West Africa. 

One year after graduation, I arrived in Togo, West Africa to begin Peace Corps service.  After ten months here, I still feel out of my element.  I do not feel very connected to my community or productive in regards to work or at ease in the culture.  In spite of the challenges and frustrations, I trust that God has me here for a reason and is using this experience for good.  He has certainly been teaching me a lot . . .

During my initial months in village, my house was gloomy and in need of drastic improvements.  My first response was to stress about how uncomfortable I felt.  Then I sensed the Lord challenging me to look to Him as my home.  Where can I find better rest and security than in my Shelter?  No physical environment can compare to the presence of my Rock and my Friend.  

God has used the foreignness of my surroundings to enhance my reading of Scripture.  Before I came here and took long walks on dirt roads, I didn’t fully grasp the value of foot washing.  I was not familiar with the sound of a pig’s squeal (the noise produced by a herd of demon-possessed swine must be unbearable).  I had never actually seen a hen gathering her chicks and hiding them under her wings.  I didn’t have concrete mental images associated with tending livestock or carrying water from a well.

My Father has also shown me how intimately He knows me and how good He is at taking care of me.  He knew that I would need some Christian friends, would be refreshed by the small grove of trees next to my house, and would benefit from proximity to a market that supplies fruits and vegetables.

He is reminding me that faith is not about how I feel.

This experience has been tough so far.  And there are days when I would prefer to be anywhere else.  I could pack up and leave, but what kind of response would that be when I truly believe that God led me here?  So I have been dwelling on James 1:2-4:

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.  You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.  So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.  Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” 

It may not always be evident to me why He has me here, but this time is a gift.  I can rejoice in knowing that Jesus is walking with me and refining me through it.

Day 23 » Zechariah 4-6

  Today's guest blog was written by Jenny Herald. Jenny is a graduate of Virginia Tech and wrote this blog all the way in Germany where she works for Wunderlist. The best to-do list app ever. She also does many other impressive things, but if they were all written down there wouldn't be enough room in this blog to contain them. 

Today's guest blog was written by Jenny Herald. Jenny is a graduate of Virginia Tech and wrote this blog all the way in Germany where she works for Wunderlist. The best to-do list app ever. She also does many other impressive things, but if they were all written down there wouldn't be enough room in this blog to contain them. 

No doubt, interpreting scriptural passages concerning prophecies can get tricky. Thankfully, Zechariah has some help in Chapters 4-6. We find him talking to an angel. As I read through this passage the first time, I thought to myself, how frightening yet amazing would it be to a) see a vision b) have the word of the Lord come to me and c) get to discuss all of this with an angel?

While in conversation with an angel, Zechariah is shown a “…solid gold lamp stand with a bowl at the top and seven lamps on it, with seven channels to the lamps. Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” (Zechariah 4:3) Naturally, as most of us would if in Zechariah’s position, Zechariah asks the angel, “What are these, my lord?”

The angel then answers with a question. “Do you not know what these are?” (Zechariah 4:4)

Zechariah doesn’t lie. He says he doesn’t know. (Zechariah 4:5)

So the angel explains—“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6)

Zechariah’s vision was the word of the Lord (in a symbolic form)! God’s word provides guidance for Israel (and continues to do so for us). Now, you might ask, what about the rest of verse 6? The angel imparts upon our prophet an important concept. **God is able to bring about his holy design without the aid of things we humans seem to rely upon—power and might.**

“Then the word of the Lord came to _Zechariah_: The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.” (Zechariah 4:8-9) Zechariah received the word of the Lord. Not only would the foundation of God’s holy temple be laid by Zerubbabel, it would be completed under his rule as well.

Zechariah then harkens back to the original vision. “What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?” he asks. The angel replies, “These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.” These ‘two’, if we go back to the previous interpretation of the vision symbolizing the Bible refers to the Old and New testaments—ultimately the Law and Christ.

In Chapter 5 of Zechariah we find two more visions. Zechariah sees a flying scroll. It measured “twenty cubits long and ten cubits wide” or 30 feet long and 15 feet wide (or about 9 meters long and 4.5 meters wide). 

Again, the angel explains what Zechariah is seeing. The angel says, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. The Lord Almighty declares, ‘I will send it out, and it will enter the house of the thief and the house of anyone who swears falsely by my name. It will remain in that house and destroy it completely, both its timbers and its stones.’” (Zechariah 5:3-4) The message is crystal clear: God will punish violators of His sacred law.

The remaining verses in Chapter 5 describe the other vision—The Woman in a Basket. The angel lifts the “cover of lead” and there sat a woman. (Zechariah 5:7) The angel then says, “This is wickedness.” (Zechariah 5:8) Then the angel closes the lid. Afterwards two women with “wings of a Stork” carry the basket away. (Zechariah 5:9) They carry the basket to Babylonia. (Zechariah 5:11) It is interesting that Wickedness is removed from the land of God’s people to Babylon, where they were previously captives.  What does that mean for us? **We, as God’s people, should avoid (or if necessary leave) environments that are destructive to our faith. Furthermore, we should reject idolatry (which is something Babylon was known for).**

Chapter 6 provides the last vision (in a series of eight) followed by another a word of the Lord. Zechariah sees four chariots of God. The angel tells Zechariah, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.” (Zechariah 6:5-6) These chariots symbolize God’s power being universal. **God is Lord over all.**

After this final vision, God told Zechariah to “Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jozadak. Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’ The crown will be given to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen son of Zephaniah as a memorial in the temple of the Lord.” (Zechariah 6:11-14)

The crowning of Joshua is merely symbolic. After a brief coronation, the crown was given as a memorial in the temple of the Lord. Why? Because as seen in the final passage of Chapter 6, the scriptures reveal a foreshadowing of Jesus. Zechariah prophesied of the coming Messiah. The action of placing a crown on Joshua’s (the priest’s) head connects the dots for God’s people. The Jews would understand the word ‘Branch’ referred to the promised Messiah (see Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5 and Jeremiah 33:15). Jesus, alone, was given authority to sit and rule on his throne over all of heaven and earth (see Matthew 28:18) Only He combines both priesthood and kingship in perfect harmony. Praise be to God!

Day 18 » Amos 1-3

  Today's guest blog was written by Jenny Herald. Jenny is a graduate of Virginia Tech and wrote this blog all the way in Germany where she works for Wunderlist. The best to-do list app ever. She also does many other impressive things, but if they were all written down there wouldn't be enough room in this blog to contain them. 

Today's guest blog was written by Jenny Herald. Jenny is a graduate of Virginia Tech and wrote this blog all the way in Germany where she works for Wunderlist. The best to-do list app ever. She also does many other impressive things, but if they were all written down there wouldn't be enough room in this blog to contain them. 

Amos is not a friendly, happy book to read. Unlike the prophesies of Isaiah, which are encouraging and inspire hope, Amos speaks of punishment and destruction.

During the time of Amos’ ministry, Israel was a powerhouse—wealthy and influential. One would think that Israel’s prosperity indicated that God was pleased with His nation, but Amos’ words proved just the opposite. God was not pleased. He asked for repentance and if the Israelites would not turn from their sin, they would be punished.

These were the charges brought against the Israelites (Amos 2:6–8):

They sell the innocent for silver,

    and the needy for a pair of sandals.

They trample on the heads of the poor

    as on the dust of the ground

    and deny justice to the oppressed.

Father and son use the same girl

    and so profane my holy name.

They lie down beside every altar

    on garments taken in pledge.

In the house of their god

    they drink wine taken as fines.

The Israelites perverted justice even though they were entrusted with administering it. They oppressed the poor when they were instructed to be generous. They were involved in incestuous affairs, an act that was considered abominable and unclean in the eyes of God. And instead of offering sacrifices, as they had been taught (to show their devotion to God), they only put on the appearance of worship.

As I read through the first chapters of Amos, I wondered, what does any of this have to do with me? How can I possibly relate to any of this?

God has given the Israelites and us–Gentile descendents/inheritors of the promise—a framework by which to live.

God tells us to do good.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,

    when it is in your power to act.

Do not say to your neighbor,

    “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—

    when you already have it with you. (Proverbs 3:27–38)

How often do we have the power to act upon something and decide instead, by our actions or (more likely) our inactions, to withhold good?

God instructs His people to help the poor.

If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. (Leviticus 25:35)

When someone is in need, how willing am I do offer aid? Will I take time out of my busy day to even bother finding out if and how I can help those around me?

God has spoken time and time again against sexual immorality and specifically finds incest abhorrent.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1)

Is my mind clear of unclean thoughts? And when my mind wanders to places that it ought not to go, like filthy places, do I even try to take hold of them and submit them under obedience to God?

Samuel spoke about God’s view on offerings and sacrifices—to God, to obey is better than sacrifice.

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices

    as much as in obeying the Lord?

To obey is better than sacrifice,

    and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)

Do I give God lip service? Or do I live a live that is in accordance with God’s word?

Amos’ words hit close to home. Sometimes, with the busy-ness of life, we neglect those things that God has charged for us to do. We think that because things are going great, things are great. Amos reminds us to take stock of our spiritual condition, acknowledge our sin and repent so that we can be made right with God.

Perhaps for you that means you need to do (more) good, be (more) generous, get your mind out-of-the-gutter or sincerely give God your all (both in your private and public life). Whatever it is, know that His grace is sufficient and that His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). And because of that, we can be who He asks us to be—holy (1 Peter 1:13–16).

Day 16 » Thoughts on Malachi

  Today's blog was written by Natalie Hill. Natalie hails graduated from American University and leads missions and worship at AU Chi Alpha.

Today's blog was written by Natalie Hill. Natalie hails graduated from American University and leads missions and worship at AU Chi Alpha.

When I was in college, a couple friends and I wrote a couple songs, recorded them onto an album, and called ourselves The Modern Nomads.  Most of us didn’t have a future in music, and the future of the band was uncertain anyway because we were all about to graduate and disperse all over the world.  But it was fun and we loved it while it lasted.

One of my favorite moments was when we played our first concert ever as a band (unless you count the NCC Easter Eggstravaganza).  It was at AU during Welcome Week, and a crowd of eager freshmen waited to hear what the indie college music scene had to offer.  Before the show started, we were so stoked to share our music and play for a crowd of people we didn’t know.  I remember the butterflies in my stomach, and I couldn’t keep myself from smiling.  We were doing something so cool! 

That show was the most pumped up I think I had ever been.  I played better than I ever had before.  Sweat was running down our faces from playing so hard.  We were so happy.  It was like an adrenaline rush.

* * *

As a worship leader, I’m realizing I rarely offer that same energy to the Lord.  How often do I start sweating because I’m just playing so hard during worship?  How often do I get butterflies before I get to lead others in praising Jesus through music?  How often do I offer God all my energy in worship to Him?  At that concert, I was performing with what the Bible refers to as my first fruits, but I find that I often worship God with my leftovers.

* * *

The prophet Malachi spoke a word from the Lord to the Israelites about worship and what they had been giving to God.  In chapter one, Malachi warns them that they are breaking their covenant with the Lord by offering Him blemished sacrifices.  In the Old Testament, the Israelites were to sacrifice a perfect lamb, their best in the flock, to atone for their sins.  They’d been doing this for generations, but they had started bringing blemished sacrifices.  They no longer thought it was necessary to give God their best, so they just gave Him the ones they didn’t really care to have anyway.  Malachi basically asks if they’d give these sacrifices to their governor, and he answers by saying, of course not!  But then why were they offering it to the Lord?

For me, if all of AU were watching me perform some of my songs that I wrote, would I not practice and come extra tired and just give 50 percent of myself?  Of course I wouldn’t.  I’d give it everything I’ve got and bring out my best stuff.  But then why won’t I do that for my Savior and King?

I think it’s easy for us to make ourselves believe that God is far away, that He’s just this entity-thing hanging out somewhere kind of watching over us but not really caring.  We might never actually say that out loud, but if we think about it, I think that’s sometimes where our hearts are at.  We often lose sight of how personal He is.  We lose track of the love He has for us or the grace He’s shown us.  We forget how much He’s saved us from and how much He provides for us.  When we do that, we worship with just our leftovers.  We find in us no desire to give Him our first fruits.  Our prayers are empty, we tithe our money after we’ve paid all our bills, we only spend the extra minutes in our day in His Word, and our worship is merely Christian karaoke.

Malachi reminds the Israelites, and us, that God wants all of us.  He wants and, more importantly, deserves our first fruits, not our leftovers.  He deserves my absolute highest praise, not just the extras that I find lying around after I’ve already given everything else away.