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Youth Sunday

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah[a] and Meribah,[b] because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Collins Alexander

My junior year soccer season had its ups and downs. We beat Cardinal Gibbons, Pinecrest, among other great teams, went on a 13 game win streak, and earned a 5 seed in the state playoffs. At the end of the season, we didn’t have good chemistry, lost in the first round of the playoffs, and didn’t score in our last four games. Our team was selfish and often dribbled too much. Our team didn’t communicate well and blamed each other when we made mistakes. Our team didn’t bond and work together during games and practices. We had common goals in mind – become better players and a better team – but couldn’t seem to rely on one another. We didn’t have faith in each other.

Back in August, looking ahead to this past season, we had lost several key seniors but had incredible chemistry. Our team’s camaraderie proved to be a crucial factor in our success – we knew exactly what to do and how to play since we knew individual strengths and weaknesses. Through our season, I learned the importance of trusting my teammates to make plays and having confidence in each other. We executed the “Do your job” mentality of the New England Patriots to perfection. We ended the season as a mere eight seed in the playoffs, but made a miraculous run into the semifinals.

One season we had no trust, and the next season we did. One season we lost in the first round of the playoffs, and the next season we made it to the semifinals. My junior and senior seasons were totally different in our playoff results because of the difference in how much we trusted our teammates. Just as a disclaimer, I know it doesn’t make sense to compare a high school soccer team from the year 2016 to the incredible 40 year stretch the Israelites spent in the desert. But the Israelites and I (and maybe some of you) have something in common – that we often have to learn things the hard way. In the Exodus passage, the Israelites put their trust in Moses instead of God, despite God promising to provide for them. And when things seemed like they weren’t going well, the people got angry at Moses and eventually God. It seems quite often that we blame others when the going gets tough instead of turning to God. What would happen if we started to believe in the promises of God rather than condemn our peers? We can understand the frustration of the Israelites, but the passage from Exodus demonstrates the need to continue our trust in God.

When we are promised something by God, we only know that He will follow on it, but not when He will. God promised water to the Israelites without saying when it would appear. They lashed out at Moses and God when they ran out of patience. But don’t we do that too? We are impatient when things don’t occur according to our schedule and we forget about God’s promises. The season of Lent consists of waiting and watching for God. As we focus back on God, we must remember the promises He has made to us and the fact that He will always keep them.

Grace Nanney

Being a teenager in the 21st century can be incredibly exciting. There’s constantly new technology and ideas being thrown into society, making life a bit more fun and exciting. But what comes with this new technology and all of these new ideas is the culture of being impatient. You can literally pull out a phone and ask siri a question and have an answer within seconds. If you want food, you can log into your computer and go pick it up within minutes. I get genuinely angry sometimes when it takes more than a minute to load a video that I want to watch.  We have transformed into a society of now.

But, God does not always give us the answers to all of our problems right away. With God it takes time. We have to put effort into putting faith in Him and we have to take the time to build a strong relationship with God. It is not always easy and fast, which can be difficult for many to grasp.

The Israelites in Exodus grew impatient, as many of us would. They wanted an answer from God before they died of thirst and they lost sight of trusting God’s promises. How different are we really from the Israelites? Our society and culture may be different from theirs, but we have the entire Bible telling us about God’s promises, yet we still question the lord. Throughout their entire journey, the Israelites continually questioned God and his intentions, just like we do today. The key is that God made it clear that even though the Israelites were stressed and worried, God had their back, just like he has ours.

In this impatient society that we now live in, we have become dependent on instant gratification and constant positive feedback. In school, If I take a test, within the next day or two I can go online and check my grade. Whether or not I do well, my teacher will still tell me I am super smart and that I am going places. When I am playing basketball and I swish a three pointer, the automatic cheers from the crowd give me immense confidence. In pretty much every event I took part in growing up, everyone got a participation award even if you came in last place. That idea of making kids feel like they are special all the time has become a part of our culture. It has made a lot of people feel like if they don’t always get positive reinforcement from an activity, it’s not worth doing. There is no participation trophy for being a Christian, and I think that has shifted a lot of people’s minds away from following God and keeping faith. Just because there isn’t constant positive feedback when following God doesn’t mean God isn’t there. In Exodus, God is there the whole time. He is telling the Israelites to keep their faith, and when Moses comes to him asking for help, He proves his being once more.

During lent, we are called to refocus our reliance on God. It’s our time to examine and reflect on ourselves as Christians. We can look at this scripture and know that while there are so many different things in this world pushing us to lose faith and question God, he is always there, keeping his promises. Lent gives us the opportunity to take a step back and realize that those awards and positive reinforcements don’t matter nearly as much as our commitment to trusting and keeping faith in God.

New Testament Reading: Romans 5: 1-11

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access[b] to this grace in which we stand; and we[c] boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we[d] also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.[e] 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Will Owen

During the summer of 2015, I rode my bicycle across the country with 6 other boys, two of which were from UPC. We did this trip in order to support the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation, which helps young teens with cancer who are struggling during their time in the hospital. While it would be difficult for these patients to go out and raise money for this foundation, I was fortunate to have the resources and support in order to do this. I didn’t have to go through the suffering the teens did on a daily basis, which was my main motivation to keep pedaling up the grueling hills and mountains.

Today in America, we see many different people suffering in a variety of ways. While some may be sick and in search of medical assistance, others struggle with finding ways to pay for their mortgage and meals. Like Paul’s journey I was not only able to see these struggles, but also live in them. Almost every day we would ride into a struggling community exhausted after an extremely challenging day of biking, and have no idea where we would stay or eat. We had to rely on the kindness of strangers to compensate our needs.

In the Romans passage we just read, Paul encourages those in the midst of difficulty to see the bigger picture of God’s salvation through Jesus. Not only does Paul tell of how we are save by grace through faith, but he also tells of how God’s love is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

While we were biking through the steep rolling hills in the Ozarks, there were many times that the blazing heat and my heavy legs made me want to pull over to the side and take a break. However, the idea of Sophie Steiner battling cancer made me realize that what I was doing was nothing compared to what she had to go through. I had to think about the bigger picture, which was to raise money and awareness for this foundation, and sitting on the side of the road was not going to accomplish this.

But God is there for us when we are weak and wander off to different places. Although many of these towns faced their own struggles, many of them would unite and work together. This one town in Guffey, CO had a picture on the wall of what seemed like all 30 people in the town. Even though the town was extremely poor and had very few people, they all were willing to give up a little in order to help pay for our meal.

These experiences on my bike trip that summer really opened my eyes to how not everyone has the easy life like we do in Chapel Hill. There are people struggling who need our help, and we need to be willing to offer our assistance. As a community, we must also unite in order to help those less fortunate. Through all the suffering I endured during my time on the road, I would always look towards the bigger picture.

Ben Soderling

One of the toughest moments of my life took place the summer after my sophomore year of high school.  That summer I went on a trip with my boy scout troop to Nepal. We spent an entire month trekking through the Khumbu valley, staying in small rural villages and climbing our way up to Everest base camp. During the long journey, I managed to pick up some sort of bug… let’s just say it wasn’t the least bit pleasant. With the altitude suppressing my appetite and this bug, not really allowing me to eat I went an entire 4 days with almost no food, maybe a single bowl of rice. The days were long and I was reaching a breaking point.

It got to the extreme that one day as we were hiking into the village, I just sat down on the trail, unsure if I could muster the strength to walk the last mile. My dad had to force me to eat a candy bar. You know it’s bad when you have to force a teenager to eat a candy bar. Well I made it to the village that day and when I got there I basically just fell asleep in the common space of our hostel. When I finally woke, I was alone except for an old man in the corner quietly praying. He noticed me wake up and looked over to me, then said come… come. I reluctantly rose and followed him outside where two lawn chairs sat. He told me to sit and so I did. The sky was clear and the sun was out, and for the first time in three weeks, I felt good. The old man didn’t speak much english, so we just sat there together, in silence, just taking in the beauty.

When I first read this passage two lines stood out to me above the rest;

The first was…

5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ

And the second was…

5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains that they have been given grace and salvation though the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do that will take away this gift. Now in Paul’s day, Jewish people looked to the future and expected god’s verdict to come after they had died. If they had lived with Obedience to god, Morality, religious Practice and more, then they might get a positive verdict and be welcomed into the future glory of god or heaven. This still a pretty common view of religion today. But then Paul says something radical has happened through Christ. In a sense this verdict has been brought forward. We are declared righteous in Christ, we stand in the present at peace. But then what about the rest of our lives, what about suffering, sin, and our obedience to god’s laws? Will anything stop us from future glory. And Paul says no, This hope does not disappoint.
Now that’s all warm and fuzzy, but part of this scripture can seem a little troubling at first read. Paul tells us to Rejoice in our suffering, because suffering produces endurance which leads to character which leads to hope. Suffering produces hope?? Does God send us suffering just to make us hopeful?? No, see Paul does not suggest that God sends this suffering. Suffering is just a part of life. How can we know happiness if we have never known pain? Paul also does not suggest that ALL suffering produces character and therefore should be endured without protest. Often this passage is used to justify pain at the hands of abusers and demand silent acceptance. But this is not what Paul intended by his words. Paul wants us to pick up our cross, pick up our suffering and follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” This is our hope, and this hope will lead us through the toughest of hardships.

Julia Sisk

Although we are now free from sin and death because of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross, we constantly invest our lives into building up our resume of good works, and rating our personal achievements against one another, trying to show God that we are the most worthy of the group.  I’ll be the first one to say it, I often fall victim of this mindset.

Ever since I was eight years old, I have loved the feeling of achieving things. I remember the first time I won the 50 butterfly at a swim meet. The parents congratulated me, my friends looked up to me, and best of all, I got to put that shinning blue first place ribbon on my wall, as a remembrance of my performance. From that early stage, I wanted to be able to feel approval from God, and I wanted something material as evidence that I was worthy of His love.

Over the years, I developed a growing fascination with the idea of gaining God’s approval. In an effort to please God, I took on the responsibilities of student ambassador, class president, captain of the swim team, founder of the a cappella club, and Bible club, and most importantly the co-president of the youth choir. I tried to build up the resume of what I believed a good Christian would be. I was waiting for the day God would speak to me and say, “Julia, you’ve done enough. I am pleased with how you worked hard, therefore I love you and accept you.”

But that word from God hasn’t come and I began to realize that God’s love for me has little to do with my accolades and achievements. This seemingly innocent gift of competitiveness consumed my being and hollowed me out because I knew I could never impress God with my own achievements. In The Weight of Glory,  C.S. Lewis wrote,“To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son- it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

In today’s passage from Romans, Paul wrote that we are already loved by God because He took on flesh, and gave his only son to make the ultimate sacrifice. We are called to faith in Christ and to boast in Him, not in our own accolades and achievements. There’s no obscenely long checklist that we must accomplish to live the rest of our lives with God. I am accepted, indeed, we are all accepted, based not on our accomplishments, but because of Jesus’ perfect life and death, we are saved. In closing, one of my favorite hymns summarizes this message clearly,  “I will not boast in anything/No gifts, no power, no wisdom/But I will boast in Jesus Christ/His death and resurrection.”

Weston Barker

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German existentialist who wrote ‘God is dead’, was famous for holding a mirror up to Christianity. Although he made major contributions to the philosophical field of existentialism, his biggest impact was arguably the creation of nihilism, a philosophy that rejects any notion of a God and defines existence as hopeless, meaningless and insignificant. The nihilistic field of thought, formed as the ultimate-atheism, was a rejection of all Christian ethics and ideology, and stemmed from Nietzsche’s assertion that hope is the root of all suffering. It’s funny, because today’s verse from Romans 5: 1-11 asserts that suffering produces hope, which is in many ways the mirror image of Nietzsche’s own philosophical reflection.

For a senior in high school from a privileged family, I happen to have a lot of experience with suffering. I’ve worked at a funeral home for the past two years and during that time I have seen countless examples of people suffering- families grieving the unexpected loss of a child, a husband widowed following the death of a long-married wife, and even an old woman who died alone in a retirement facility, with no family to attend the funeral. In each of these situations I saw a profound lack of hope, a tragic end devoid of meaning that pushed me closer and closer toward accepting that hope is futile and that it only prolongs the suffering which we feel. Life is suffering when you think about it, a charade of hope that ends randomly in tragedy and death. This rather bitter sentiment is actually reflected throughout religious texts, ranging from the Buddhist concept of Dukkha to the 22 Psalm.

Of course, I had to somehow turn this rather depressing material into a sermon but as I was meditating on my experience I realized a most miraculous correlation. As I was thinking about the fact that we are all destined to suffer and die, I was brought, surprisingly, to the story of Jesus Christ.

And that’s when it all made sense. I had been looking for hope in caskets, trying to see how life could be anything other than tragic, but that’s not the point. We don’t have hope, not in this life at least, but we make hope for our community. When Christ was put up on the cross, he suffered and died, and by doing so in an act of supreme selflessness he created hope for all mankind. While we will similarly all suffer and die, it is important to realize that while we are living and while we are suffering, we can give others hope.

In these 40 days of Lent, we are called to do more than simply reflect on the suffering of Christ. We are called to reflect on the suffering of all those around us. I would argue that we are called to spread hope to those around us, not for our own benefit but rather because by doing so, by spreading hope from a place of suffering, we are emulating Christ.

In this way funerals are not the cliché of sadness and suffering, nor are they only a celebration of hope and resurrection. The truth is, they’re both. They’re a time when people recognize the trial and tribulation of life, they’re a time that loved ones grieve and suffer over the loss of someone irreplaceable, and they’re a time when family members come together to remember the love that they all share.

Because of this, I say that hope is life. Hope is love. Hope is a smile. Hope is anything and everything that transcends the inevitable struggle and suffering of existence to bring happiness to your fellow man. Jesus Christ was hope, and we all, through living a life of love, can be hope too.

As I look into the future, I am hopeful and burdened, as I already know how my story will end. But in the meantime, while I live and while I suffer, I have the profound opportunity of spreading hope and love to my family, community and world. Ultimately, I think that both Nietzsche and Romans are correct. Hope will always create suffering, just as happiness cannot exist without sadness to counter it. Because life itself is suffering, but it is through suffering that we create hope.

 

Gospel Reading: John 4: selected verses

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[b] 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?  13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22  25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he,[d] the one who is speaking to you.”27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman. Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,[e] can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Sam Merklein

“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” The first word that popped into my mind after reading that was “judgement.” The woman and the disciples judged Jesus’ encounter. Why would he, a Jew, come over to her, a Samaritan, and ask for water? Why cross over the boundaries which kept her in her place? Such judgement is typical in today’s age. We think we know everything based on what we see, but rather that is hardly ever the case.

The other day I was reading a short essay written by Felipe Morales, an immigrant that came to America when he was 15 years old. He talked about a time when he was older and had gone to Washington DC. He was approached by an elderly blind woman with her hand extended, upon which he quickly gave her his pocket change. The woman responded, saying “I don’t want your money. I just need help finding the post office.” Felipe wrote that, “In an instant, I realized what I had done. I acted with prejudice – I judged another person simply for what I assumed she had to be.”

Judging another person simply for what he assumed she had to be. This is precisely what the the woman and disciples did. But Jesus looked passed the fact that she was a woman, a samaritan, and offered her water.

Now, the woman did not realize the water Jesus was offering was not actual water, but in fact eternal life. This was the second thing that struck me while reading this passage. Her questioning of Jesus’ interaction and her literal interpretation of his offering of water show that faith is not about having the answers, but about growing and evolving after having our bubbles and narrow mindset torn apart. Like Felipe realized, it is through acts like these that help us grow. It is easy to assume the blind elderly woman is asking for money. It is easy to not engage with the Samaritan woman. It is easy to let the unwritten social customs and prejudices control our actions. But, when we challenge ourselves to break down these barriers, we experience the true gift of God.

Matt Singleton

One morning at a well, Jesus encountered a woman. He saw that she was a Samaritan, she had been married five times, she was currently living with a man to whom she was unmarried, and she was not wealthy. Now this is important, as it makes her the last person that Jesus’ contemporaries would have expected him to associate with. The leaders of the church at Jesus’ time would have considered this meeting to be wrong, a clear violation of the unspoken rules of biblical society.

But today, when we hear this story, we understand who the woman was, where she stood in society, and what she was going through, but we aren’t at all surprised that Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, met with this woman. That’s because Jesus did this kind of thing all the time. Throughout the gospel we are presented with stories of Jesus going out to be with the poor, the blind, the lepers, the gentiles, even the sinners. Jesus worked as hard as he could to be with those who needed his love the most, and to bring it to them where they were.

When many hear the story of the woman at the well, they immediately focus on the water that Jesus offers this woman. They too, want to know how we get this water that provides those who drink it with “a spring of water gushing up towards eternal life.” They debate the meaning of this water, and how to obtain this water in today’s world. For me though, the most important part of this story, is not what Jesus offers the woman, but the fact that he is associating with her at all. According to almost every taboo and rule that governed biblical society, Jesus should not have been speaking with the woman whom he encountered at the well. Yet, he still did. Our lord fearlessly crossed the lines of faith and society to bring his love to those who needed it. Jesus did not seek to divide people but to show the love of God to all.

I know, as a Christian, as one who claims the name of Christ, I am called to act in this way. Yet, I know that I fail, each and every day. It’s at these moments of failure when I find myself at the well. I find myself staring down, hoping for guidance, hoping for someone to light the way down a better path. It’s at these moments, when I need the love of God the most, that I shut myself in. Yet, it’s at these moments, time and time again, where someone else, Christian or not, comes to me and shows me the way, gives me forgiveness, and shows me love. At the times when I feel the least deserving of God’s love, I somehow feel his love the most. We people have been given so much love and grace by our god that the only thing we can possibly do with it is to share it, with anyone and everyone. We Christians, you and I, are constantly being called to go out and find the people at the wells, and welcome them with the love and the grace of god, just as we have been welcomed with it.

One morning at a well, Jesus encountered a woman. He saw who she was, and he did not care. He only cared that she needed his love, so he gave it to her. Are we all not called to do the same?

Psalter – Psalm 95: 1-9

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!
    Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

Hunter Pearce

Psalm 95 is the introduction to a series of Bible verses centered around worshipping and praising God.  This passage starts by telling us to “make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise.”  It states that God is great, and that he is the maker of the heaven and Earth and we should praise him with joy, something that I feel I have had much exposure to as a member of this church throughout my life.  Music and songs of praise fill this church, whether it is from singing the choir and musicals, or on Sundays in the congregation.  I have much to be thankful for growing up in this church and in this community and it is easy to give God praise for this.

But what really spoke to me in Psalm 95 dealt with the idea of people questioning their faith when they saw bad things happening around them causing them to wonder if God was present.  They felt that God was silent. When the Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years, at times, they felt that God was not with them.  In our present world, when so many are displaced due to violence and hunger and deep seeded prejudices are rampant, I feel that the message of Psalm 95 is especially relevant.  I find myself questioning where is God and why is he silent when so many are suffering.

The Israelites lost their faith in God because they could not see his presence in the world. I feel that questioning God is a normal part in everyone’s journey of faith.  The youth group at PYC has given me lots of opportunities to witness the struggles that many people have to face in the world.  Through trips such as the DC service trip and Appalachia Service Project, I was able to see how homelessness and poverty affects people’s lives. Seeing this initially made me question, “where is God?”  Perhaps this is how the Israelites felt, discouraged and fearful of life in a world in which they felt that God was not there for them.

On my first Appalachia Service Project Trip, I got the opportunity to work with a family who was going through severe hardships.  This was family of four who had recently adopted another family member’s 4 children in order to keep them all together so now there was a family of 8 living in a very small 2 bedroom, 1 bath home.   This situation was hard but it was made even harder when the Dad found out he had cancer. I remember spending the week surrounded by the ASP team who talked about God’s unconditional love, but when I thought of what this family was going through, I questioned where God was for this family.  It seemed so unfair to me what they were having to go through.  At the end of the week, we gave all the children gifts and we bought the oldest child a basketball because we knew how much he loved to play.  To our surprise, when he received the present, he immediately turned around and gave his little brother the basketball, then turned back to us and said “Thank you so much, but I already have a basketball and I know how much my little brother wanted one.”  His unselfishness and kindness in that moment was a visible reminder of the love of God this family constantly showed to one another. It made me realize that God was there and always is even during difficult times if we make loving one another a priority in life.

Psalm 95 teaches us to challenge our faith. When I am exposed to difficult things, I now challenge myself to look for God in unexpected places, rather than assuming He is not there. Psalm 95 says that God’s “hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.”  God is always there, and we must keep challenging ourselves to find him even in the smallest ways.

Sam Billings

The lord gives us many things to be grateful for. For me, two of God’s most important gifts are our community, and our own voice. The Bible is filled with the tales of people who both recognized and utilized these gifts the correct way. Our voice and free will allows us to call on God for help, and listen to his word at anytime. It is said in today’s passage from Psalm that the Lord calls us to sing in his joy, and to take his word with praise. We would be lost in doing so without one another. For me, the message found in Psalm serves as a reminder of who and what I can rely on, and the importance of my faith and my community.

At times, it is easy to forget how open we can be. Many people, myself included, shut away their concerns only to have them dwell in solitude. It can be noted that even the smallest of troubling situations can grow, creating a profound effect of anxiety. This is when it is the most important to remember that God is listening and with cannot go about our lives without expressing ourselves and asking for guidance. As I open up to God, I shall become more aware of life’s opportunities that lay within his message.

This can also be noticed within the community the God gives us. We are all children of God, and it is very important that we support and recognize each other in his name. In troubled times, nobody can go about solutions alone, so it is necessary to turn to God and listen to his word and the community that he has made for us. I’ve been able to see and work with several gracious Christian communities, while attending worship services and youth group at the University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, the having dinner after a long day of biking at the United Methodist Church in Scott City, Kansas, and having exciting and new conversations while teaching English at The Central Baptist Church in Ciego de Avila, Cuba. Though several miles apart, these communities believe in the same important message and their members will always rely on each other. As Moses led a community out of Egypt, they worked together to spread and build upon God’s word. A message so important that they could rely on it for the rest of their lives. I will always remember the great community that God has given me, and I know that I can always count on how they interpret God’s word for me.
When we find ourselves alone, it is easy to forget about God’s gifts. We forget about how we can simply rely on God’s message, and how to reach out to the community he has given us. With these gifts, we can reach out to others, and see what great possibilities lie in God’s word.