A LETTER FROM LIZ BALKE

Escape22,

High school is such a busy, crazy, emotional, hormone-filled experience in life. I really think that it has been the hardest and most enjoyable time in life for me in terms of the relationships that I have had. The level of busy that you can reach in high school is insane; it’s truly magic to accomplish all the things you need to some days. In these crazy schedules of ours, we still need to make time for family, church, social media, staying healthy, and maybe enjoying a hobby or two when you get the chance.

The first issue in high school I want to tackle is busyness. In this blog, you’ll see a lot of advice from me, but very little will seem so insignificant yet be so important as this – please just go find yourself a planner. Even the simplest calendar can help you become organized so that you can spend less time being busy and more time resting, being with friends, and especially resting with God. Figure out a happy amount of scheduling for yourself. Are you type A, and you already like following structure? Outline the things you need to focus on each week, and fill in the details later. Maybe you’re type B, and you need to help yourself work on better organization. Put in some effort into prioritizing what you need to accomplish every day. I swear by using a planner, because I can rarely remember what I am doing from day to day in or outside of classes. This will make you a more successful person by organizing the things you want to or must do. It will also help you think ahead so you don’t get stuck cramming for tests the night before. Under busyness comes sports, work, music, church, parties, friends, volunteering, and every other activity under the sun. Just make sure to get some quality rest time in there. Watching Netflix until 3 a.m. sounds really great until you have to live with no energy the next day.

The next thing I want to talk about is health: physical, mental, spiritual health. I have not been a great example of what it means to be really, truly healthy in a physical sense. My freshman year, I participated in three sports which were volleyball, track, and dance team (Yes, dance team is a sport. To put it simply, it makes you sweat. Therefore, it’s a sport.). While I was getting a ton of exercise, I had awful eating habits to support that exercise. I would come home exhausted daily and snack on junk food until dinner. A lot of times, my immune system would literally just give up, and I would come down with awful colds or the flu. So please, eat well, and support your body! God gives it to you to take care of, and it’s very necessary.

Mental health is another learning journey that you will have to take on in high school. Everyone is wired differently and will have different struggles. Some struggle with motivation for school, others with motivation to socialize, and there are numerous other struggles. My best advice on caring for others is just love them the best way that you can. Sometimes you will need to be content in praying even when you think you can do more. You’ll need to let God handle a lot of your own problems in life too. You can’t fix everything (big shock), and you most likely won’t fix a lot of things in four years of high school. However, you can build an awesome relationship with God. And ultimately, by listening to what He has written in the Bible, actually composed into words for you, you can learn His desires for you and the peace that His goodness can bring you. Your relationship with God will last longer than your issues will, so trust His work in you.

Okay, so now we get to spiritual health. Community is a huge part of our spiritual health as Christians. Especially in my own life, 180 and e22 have been a source of such spiritual growth for me. Simple friendship is the best human aid in spiritual growth, because one person will sharpen the other. So in this area of health, like the others, I would encourage you to become healthy with a community of friends. They will be there to encourage you when you feel that the “low point” in your faith has reached you. Sharing your faith in a community makes the community a source of encouragement when you feel discouraged, but C.S. Lewis can teach you more about this than I can. Other than community, find ways to learn about God that you really enjoy! There are a lot plans to reading the Bible and so many ways to worship God (“…whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31).

In high school, one of the most fun things there are to experience is a relationship. This whole next paragraph(s) will be one long hot take: I believe that the best relationship for the majority to have in high school is a friendship, and not dating. You guys, dating really is so unnecessary when you are too young to get married anyway. I know that there are a lot of people who seem to be doing this whole dating thing really well while they are in high school, but it is messy. And it is really difficult to get right. Because I have been able to just observe the chaos surrounding the phenomenon of affections, I know that in high school we really don’t know what to do with ourselves. Dating isn’t bad, but it isn’t naturally wise just because it seems to be natural in our society. It is a phase in life that needs evaluation. What does dating really mean? Are you really ready to be seriously committed to spending large amounts of time with just one person that you may or may not marry? What happens when the two of you graduate from high school and go to college on opposite sides of the country? Would your friendship (the goal of which is to walk alongside a person with the same passions) better serve you in high school?

I know that dating has been a really great thing to have not happen to me in high school. I actually have not chosen this path for myself, and there have been many times that I have wished for a dating relationship. But now I know that I would have struggled with so many things that are attached to a relationship intended for marriage. I can say that at this point in life, I really value the strong friendships that I have with my guy friends. Friendship is an amazing place where you can know someone but not in an intrusive way. There is room for each person to grow independently while we discover more passions of our own and make still more friends. God has made us each complex people so we really can have a lot of things to learn about ourselves in high school. Being single is a great time in life to use in growing with God and growing with friends. Instead of dating, I have formed friendships with both guys and girls who have the same interests as me. Most of the friendships I have I value in part, because I see that they are people that I want to be like in some way. I think it is good to admire the people we are friends with. This admiration shows us the direction in which we will grow and ensures that we continually grow as people so we should be mindful of this in choosing our friendships.

As you do continue to grow throughout your years in high school, I pray that you would become people filled with diverse and burning passions, that you find rest in God, that you remain healthy, and that you find community with people who love God. High school can be such an unsteady time full of highs and lows. Trust that God will continually grow in you throughout everything that you experience.

-Elisabeth

LIVING ONE LIFE

Growing up in youth ministry, there are certain phrases or concepts that are tossed around often. They are in the song lyrics, they are the titles of sermons or teaching series, they are said over and over by your small group leaders. And honestly, it’s easy to get sick of hearing them, especially when you don’t fully understand the necessity of them. That’s how I feel about the phrase “live one life.” We say it so often, but what does it mean and why is it so crucial that we understand it?

It’s not uncommon for one of you guys to talk about one of your friends to a staff person. You want to let us know about the things that they are doing at school or on the weekends, or the fact that they are “a different person when they aren’t at Escape.” You want to make us aware of the drinking, the drugs, the partying, the swearing, and the relationships that they shouldn’t be in. You tell us that we don’t actually know them, that they are living a double life. This breaks my heart for a lot of reasons. When you are watching one of your friends live within two identities, it’s important that you check your own heart as well. You need to make sure that your intentions in bringing others into the situation aren’t to judge them, gossip, or “tattle,” but that it’s rooted in genuine concern for their salvation and a desire for them to be seeking Christ. That being said, it’s important that we all know that living in the midst of multiple identities leads to death. Claiming Christ when you are surrounded by Christians and denying Him as soon as you are around your peers is one of the more dangerous things you can do. To believe that this double living makes you a Christian is incorrect, and to live your life in that balance is to assume a lot of lies about the gospel and about who Jesus is.

It’s only appropriate that we look to one of the greatest examples of someone who lived one life proudly for the sake of the gospel, Paul. In Philippians he writes, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).
Paul’s words aren’t an exaggeration, but it’s the true attitude of his heart that we should be working to models our own hearts after. Jesus died, giving up every part of His life for us, and it’s so appropriate for us to offer Him every part of ours. Jesus doesn’t just ask us to die to the activities that we have on Wednesday nights so we can offer Him those couple hours. He asks us to die to ourselves entirely in order that we may gain Him! “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” (Colossians 3:2-3).

It’s incredibly easy to slip into the double life living – especially in high school. Everyday you are surrounded by the temptation to sin, the darkness and brokenness of this world, and the people that you so desperately want to please. I know this because I’ve been there. You can absolutely get by with being one person in front of your small group, or as you worship on Wednesday nights, but be a completely different person on a Friday night, or even on a Thursday morning. It’s time to put that life to death and give Jesus you’re everything. Not just because He asks for it, but because it is so wonderfully worth it.

I can tell you for a fact that when we die to the things of this world, we start to experience true joy and contentment as we learn that life surrendered to Christ means true life eternally. But life with one foot in this world, and one foot leaning towards Jesus leads to death and destruction. This sounds jarring, because the gospel is jarring, it is meant to confront the things of this world, not comfort it. God knows us infinitely better and loves us infinitely deeper than anyone or anything in this world ever could. It’s because of that love that He knows that dying to ourselves is the absolute best thing for us. He doesn’t ask us to give up the sinful things just because He wants to, but because He knows that He is so much better!

My hope and prayer is that some of you will read this and start to feel the sting of familiarity with the person that I’m describing. Maybe you are the one who is giving God your Wednesdays but keeping every other day of the week, or you are willing to be a “Christian” around certain people, but not others. If this is you, it’s time to face who you really are, and who you could be in Christ. As odd as it may sound, it is actually a far healthier place for someone to admit that they aren’t a Christian, than it is to be claiming Christ with your words, but not with the way that you live your life. Or maybe you are someone who is reading this and knows that you genuinely know and believe that Jesus died for you and then rose three days later, but there are still sins that you find yourself slipping into repeatedly. So from the outside looking in, it appears that you’re living a double life, but you’re identity is set in Christ, you just haven’t been able to fight the sin to death yet.

Wherever you are, know that living one life for Jesus is so unbelievably worth it! It’s in Jesus that we find ultimate security, joy, contentment, and peace in knowing that our approval is set in Christ, and we no longer have to find our value in the things of this world. There can finally be freedom from insecurity, pain, and disappointment as we choose to surrender who we want to be, for the sake of who Christ made us to be. Every part of your life, every one of your desires, every plan you have for yourself, all of your sinful desires and temptations – I would plead with you to give them up to God. Rid yourself of all the identities that you have for yourself, and find your identity in the fact that the God sent His only Son to die for you out of sheer love, mercy, and grace. And then in power, Jesus was raised to life, defeating death so that we no longer have to die. That’s not just a story, but truly the reason that we live. So don’t give up your double identity, for me, for Mark or Ryan, for your parents or small group, but do it for yourself, and more importantly for your Father in Heaven, so that you can find true life!

Escape22 Family, we want to talk to you all about this! If you feel like this is you, or if you have questions or if there are things that you want to confess, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of us! We want to walk with you all through one of the most trying and joyful stages of your life, that’s why we are in high school ministry. We love you guys!

-Madeline Farner

A SURRENDERED LIFE

The word “surrender” terrifies me. I’ve grown up in the church and have been following Christ for many years, but I still struggle to believe truth about what it looks like to surrender to God and the plans that He has for us. 

When someone around me would use the concept of surrender, it usually meant that God was asking them to give up something that they treasured. Often times, it was something that they treasured more than God and it had gotten to a point where they could no longer hold onto it. So it was something that was surrendered, and God took it away. From the outside looking in, it seemed to be a painful process and one that required more sacrifice than I was ever willing to do. Whether it was giving up their lives to move to a new city (or church plant), breaking up with that boyfriend or girlfriend, or letting go of friendships. It always seemed like the people around me trusted God way more than me, because I could never see myself giving up the things that the Christians around me were giving up. But as I analyzed these situations, I came to realize that the lack of surrender in my own life reflected a picture of God that was way too small. 

I was reminded of this over Spring Break this year when I got to interact with Chad and Sarah Deibl in Pine Ridge. They had recently moved to Pine Ridge from Ohio in order to join the missionary team of people who have also given up their lives to further the Kingdom amongst the Lakota people. As our team was building the foundation for their home, you could see the different prayers and verses that Sarah had written on beams of their future home. Words like, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1) and others filled the wood of the foundation. As she tearfully explained what a joy it was to be able to serve God and to be used by Him in Pine Ridge, it stirred something in my heart. Chad and Sarah had absolutely surrendered their whole lives to Jesus Christ. They didn’t hold anything back. They didn’t desire to maintain control of certain parts of their life while offering God the other parts. Instead they had given up everything in order to be a servant of the King. Believe me when I say that Pine Ridge would not be an easy place to live, and there are few people who would move there willingly. It is impoverished, broken, and filled with drug abuse, alcohol addictions, and broken families. Overall it seems to be run by darkness. But Chad and Sarah aren’t there out of guilt or obligation, they are there because they view their lives in the correct light and know that Jesus is a King that is worthy to be served. Their lives are surrendered, and they are filled with joy, not sadness, because of it. 

For Chad and Sarah, surrendering every aspect of their lives to their heavenly Father meant giving up the life that they knew. But “surrender” doesn’t always mean “sacrifice.” God doesn’t ask us to surrender our lives so that He can take them away. He asks us to love and trust Him enough that we are willing to give Him control over our entire lives, not just the parts that we are willing to give up. It can be easy to believe the lie that we know better than God and that we can maintain control of our lives and be okay. I know all too well that this isn’t true. God is infinitely more understanding, filled with more wisdom, and more loving than we are able to comprehend. However, when we are in awe of our Father, and view Him as the loving and good God that He is, it becomes much more natural to find joy in living a life that is surrendered to Him. There is a unique relief in trusting God with our lives, knowing that He loves us and ultimately wants to work things out for our good, even if we can’t always see that. 

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:25). How easy is it for you to work to “gain the world”? I know it’s really easy for me! The concept of losing our lives for the sake of the gospel can sound so intimidating, but when we start to understand what it truly means to lose our lives, we begin to see what it means to gain it! But what does this actually mean? I think this can look different for everyone. The first step is ensuring our deep understanding of the gospel. The more that we seek Jesus through reading the Bible, prayer, community, coming to church, etc. the closer we become to Jesus and the more our understanding of the gospel grows, which leads to a deepening of our faith. When we have a faith that is active and growing, we can see God use the Holy Spirit to convict us of the things in our lives that need to be surrendered to Him. Maybe it’s the job or sport that takes up so much of your time and is keeping you from community, or its the boyfriend, girlfriend, or friendship that has grown to be unhealthy and has become an idol. Maybe it’s your plans for the future and it looks like adjusting your college or career plans so you can live in a place where you will have healthy community (insert subtle plug for a Salt Network church). Whatever it is, I would encourage you all to be prayerful about the things in your life that you’re holding onto with a white knuckle grip and God is asking you to surrender them to Him. 

Ultimately, I want for you all to understand that we serve a God that gave up absolutely everything for us. He gave up His Son, who He loves the most, to die a brutal death so that we could LIVE. He did this out of His mighty grace and love for us. Everything that we have, including the very air that we breathe, is a gift that is undeserved. All given to us by our Heavenly Father. It’s only appropriate for us to offer that back to Him in joyful surrender. 

If you have any questions on this, or are trying to process through what this could look like in your own life, let us know! We would love to talk to you about this! As always, feel free to email mfarner@cornerstonelife.com.

DISCIPLINED DAILY

It’s been almost 5 years since I was in high school (ew I got old), and there are so many ways that your high school experience is so different than mine. One of the main ways I see this is in the amount of homework that you take home each night. When I was in high school, I would rather pull out my own teeth than do homework for more than an hour at night. I would do everything in my power to get my homework done during class or study halls so that when 3:00pm hit, I could stop thinking about school until 8:00am the next morning. Now, this wasn’t a perfect system. I would procrastinate, do a poor job on homework, or purposefully take classes that wouldn’t have a lot of homework. In a lot of ways, I feel that I am on the opposite side of the spectrum than most of you. Many of you are taking AP or college classes, and working hard on homework for 3-5 hours each night, even after the final bell rings each day.

Many of you are so disciplined in many areas of life. You are disciplined in spending two hours on homework, you are disciplined in spending time with your friends, you are disciplined in catching up on Instagram, or spending at least 30 minutes on Netflix. Some of these things are worthwhile, and even honoring to God. But I want to challenge you a little on this.

For starters, when was the last time you spent more than 30 minutes reading your Bible? I think we are so used to being students of our teachers or professors, that we forget what it looks like to also be a student of the King over everything. Working hard in school is a good thing! In Colossians 3 we are called to do everything as if we are working for the Lord, and our studies are no different. But here’s where the trouble comes in – when we make it an idol. When we put our school work above Jesus, we begin to operate as if school is our god, and it just can’t be. It can’t satisfy us, it can’t save us, it doesn’t affect our eternity, and your chemistry textbook sure as heck didn’t die for you. It is all too easy to find our identity in the successes of this world, and I think we get our first taste of this when we seek excellence in school more than a close relationship with our Father in Heaven.

Don’t read this as me speaking down to you, because I get it! It can be so hard to make reading our Bibles a priority. Even in high school, just because I wasn’t spending my time doing homework, didn’t mean that I spent more time with Jesus. And even now, when I literally work for a church, I’m still learning what it means to prioritize time with Jesus, and how to think rightly about studying the word along with the demands of our everyday lives. But because I have a few more years of this learning process than you all do, here are some things that I think are helpful.

Set realistic expectations for yourself and find your rhythm. Rumor has it that Pastor Tom reads a whole book of the Bible each day. I want you to know that no one expects you to do that! Spending time with Jesus doesn’t always have to look like carving out an hour of quiet time each day (although, that would be amazing and if you have the capacity to do that, go for it!), but it can look like spending the first 15 minutes of your day filling yourself with truth. For me, I’ve found it’s most helpful to go through a devotional each day. My personal favorite is New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp. It gives about a page of really solid truth and then the Bible passage that the truth came from. This is a realistic way for me to get in the Bible and learn a ton through falling more in love with Jesus and applying the truths to my life. Maybe for you it’s picking out one passage or a small chunk of verses and reading it a couple times a day in order to meditate on that passage. There are so many great ways to study the Bible, with the goal being that you are actually reading it consistently.

One of the important parts of Bible reading, is remembering that there is grace for when you fall behind, or don’t prioritize that time in your day for a period of time. I’ve especially seen this when we try to follow Bible reading plans. It’s easy to get behind a few days and grow discouraged and then ultimately give up. Don’t do that! If you are behind a few days, don’t scramble to catch up (because if you’re rushing through reading, you’ll probably forget what you read anyways), but instead just jump back into the current day’s reading and go from there! Trying to catch up can leave you feeling defeated and discouraged, and we want to delight in reading our Bibles.

Be disciplined. Often times when I’ve asked people how their Bible reading is going, they say that they it’s hard for them to read the Bible because they don’t want to do it “just to check it off the list.” Or they don’t want to treat Bible reading as a “chore.” While I agree that spending time with Jesus shouldn’t be done out of obligation, I also don’t think that this is a valid excuse. There are a lot of times where I don’t want to carve out time in my day to read the Bible, but it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do it. Part of living for Christ is knowing that the best thing that we can do is to fall more in love with our Father in Heaven by reading His words.

Timothy writes, “All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). This is why we read the Word of God. Not only is it a command made by God, but it is what is best for us. When we say that we are in Christ, we are called to seek Him and grow in our knowledge of Him. The most sure way to do this is by reading the words that He inspired. We also see from this text that the Bible is what strengthens us and instructs us in how we should live our lives as followers of Christ. There is no truer source of wisdom and instruction in this life. It is also just as relevant and critical today as it was thousands of years ago. It was breathed by God and should be viewed as both a love letter to His children, and a guide on how we can be honoring Christ with our lives.

Even when we view the Bible with the right level of importance, it can still be hard to make it a habit. But I promise that the more time you spend reading it, the more your soul will begin to crave the truth and comfort that comes with it.

I can’t say this enough, but we love you guys. And it’s because we want for you to live lives of faith that we share these things. I know that your days are packed, and the pressures of the world can feel like they’re weighing heavy on your schedules. But I would ask that you would trust me when I say that you will never regret any of the time that you spend with Jesus. It truly is so life giving and is just what your soul needs to combat the things of this world.

Please let me know if you have any questions on this! I would love to hear from you guys and be able to discuss this topic.

-Madeline Farner

ESACPING THE CYCLE OF SIN AND SHAME

The Sin Problem

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Wouldn’t it be great if the moment you became a Christian all temptation to sin suddenly disappeared? Unfortunately that is not the case, and if you have been a Christian for more than a few minutes, you have experienced this firsthand. While Christians everywhere know that sin doesn’t evaporate with their new life in Christ, it does create a significant problem as we try to walk in obedience to Jesus. 

Now that you’re a Christian, what do you do when you mess up? How are you supposed to feel? Who are you supposed to tell? How are you supposed to change? 

Many high school students feel like they are stuck in their sin, and they struggle to see a way out. And this is not just the high school experience. Many Christians feel this way. Maybe you’re there right now. I know I have been there. You feel overwhelmed by the pressure to obey God’s Word, but hopeless to conjure up enough willpower to actually make any changes in your life. But you don’t have to feel hopeless.

The truth is there is hope in the gospel. The truth is there is now no condemnation if you are in Christ (Romans 8:1). The truth is you are no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to Christ and to His righteousness (Romans 6:17-18). The truth is even as you are fighting your sin, God is working in you, making you more like His Son (Philippians 2:12-13). 

Maybe you believe these truths, but still find yourself struggling to make and see changes in your life. Perhaps you are trying to solve your sin problem with a solution that wasn’t meant to actually solve the sin problem. 

Solution Through The Law

When we sin, one of the first things we often feel is guilt and shame. Now, at first, this is an appropriate response to sin. We should be grieved when we sin. Sin is contrary to our perfect God and is the cause of our separation from Him. Our guilt of sin should lead us to repentance and acceptance of the gospel. But once our lives are hidden inside of the gospel there is no more room for guilt, shame, or fear. 

So what happens if we fail to truly understand our reality, that we are forgiven sons and daughters? When you walk too long down the road of guilt and shame you are tempted to do two things. 

First, you are tempted to hide your sin. Guilt and shame are powerful emotions that keep you from being authentic and vulnerable with the people around you. But this is very dangerous. Hiding your sin is one of the most deadly things a Christian can do. Sin thrives in low light environments. If you keep your sin in the dark, you will fail to experience the forgiveness that Jesus can offer and will find yourself trapped in that sin for much longer than you ever wanted. 

But I understand; it only happened once. You’ve got it under control, or at least you’ll get it under control. I have had those same thoughts too many times to count.

The second temptation will be to fix yourself up a bit, to earn back what you lost and then start fresh. Put enough time between you and your sin, and things will be back to normal soon enough. So you try to work a little harder. You set up some extra guardrails and guidelines to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But when you do this, you are obeying out of obligation to earn back the salvation that you feel you lost. And the next time you sin, the dam will break and those old feelings of guilt and shame with come flooding back into your soul, drowning you in the process. 

This is the cycle of sin and shame that we often find ourselves in. We sin, we feel overcome by guilt and shame, we try to fix ourselves and clean up the mess we made, only to sin again. The cycle continues, throwing us deeper and deeper into sin and shame.

The law cannot save you; it was never meant to. And you cannot save you, but there is someone who can.

Solution Through The Gospel

When you sin, instead of allowing yourself to get overcome with guilt and shame which leads to concealing your sin and a lack of authenticity, bring your sin into the light and the bright rays of the gospel burn it up. Remember that you cannot save yourself, but Jesus can. Remember that instead of guilt and shame, you get grace and forgiveness. When you remember the grace and forgiveness that you have in Jesus, instead of hiding your sin, you have the courage to bring it out into the open and confess it to your community. Not hanging your head in shame, but raising your hands in worship to the King who forgave you.

Confession, repentance, and the gospel all work together. When you repent of your sin and remember the gospel, you are emboldened to confess your sin to your small group or community. When you confess your sin to others, they remind you of the grace and forgiveness found in the gospel and urge you toward repentance. 

Once you have reminded yourself or someone else has reminded you of the gospel, you get to continue striving for greater obedience to your God and King. But now your obedience is not driven by obligation but gratitude and joy. You have been forgiven yet again, and it is as if you are experiencing the moment Christ first saved you all over again. Now you are full of excitement and joy, desiring to serve and please your Savior. 

Now you will still sin, and when that happens, you remember the gospel yet again. Sin, confess and repent, remember the gospel, pursue obedience as a free son or daughter, repeat.

So if you feel stuck in the cycle of sin and shame, one of the first steps you should take is to find a small group of people you can trust and confess your sin to them. Allow them to share the gospel with you again and remind you of all Christ has done. Experience His grace and allow Him to lift you back to your feet so you can continue to walk in obedience. You will still sin, but the more you repeat this cycle of the gospel, the more you will fall in love with your Savior and the more sin will become distasteful to you. God will continue to grow in you and change you to become like His Son, and one day, he will finish His work and you will finally be complete in the presence of the perfect God who saved you and changed you.

Confess your sin. Don’t let it remain hidden in the dark and grow out of control. Remember the gospel. Jesus saved you when you could not save yourself. He took your punishment on Himself so you can live in freedom from punishment and sin. Obey out of gratitude. Strive to obey Christ, not to earn salvation, but because Jesus has already given you salvation. And when you sin, repeat.

-Mark Duvick

DEALING WITH DOUBT

“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” – John 20:24-25

Imagine following a man for three years, listening to and learning everything He said and believing in His promise to usher in the Kingdom of God. In this Kingdom, He would be King and all of His followers would reign with Him over all the earth. Now imagine watching this same man, with your very own eyes, being mocked, beaten, cursed, hung on a cross, and killed by the oppressive rulers of the day.

Welcome to the story of Jesus’ disciple Thomas, who has just witnessed the horrific murder of his friend, teacher, and ultimately Savior. We can now begin to understand why Thomas was skeptical, to say the least, that Jesus had actually risen from the grave. Thomas was scared and confused and would not believe in the resurrection until he had literally placed his fingers into the holes in Jesus’ body made from the nails that placed Him on the cross.

I want you to know that if you are someone who has struggled with doubt, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Not only did Thomas doubt the resurrection, he likely doubted everything Jesus claimed to be! Was Jesus really the chosen one of God? Was He really the Son of God? Was He actually able to take away people’s sins? Surely the God of the universe could not die on a cross? Jesus could not have been God…

If someone who spent three years physically with Jesus could doubt these things, surely it comes as no surprise that we would struggle with these same things 2000 years later! But just as surely as there was a cure for Thomas’ doubt, there is hope and a cure for ours today.

Often in the church, one of the hardest things to do is to admit that we are experiencing some type of doubt. We fear telling our closest friends that we are struggling and that we have questions, because we believe that if we aren’t 100% confident in our faith, that we might be seen as a ‘weaker’ Christian, or worse… not a believer at all. So we sweep our doubt under the rug and pretend like we are fine, all the while allowing our doubt to control more and more of our thoughts as it pulls us away from the truth.

The doubt that Christians struggle with can come in many different forms. Sometimes it looks like doubting a specific characteristic of God, for example, “Maybe God is not as good as He says He is?” Or maybe we think that “God doesn’t love me?” Sometimes we doubt that God is working in our lives because we are still struggling with the same things we have been fighting for years! Or maybe we don’t believe that God can even be real because of all the evil and hurt we have seen in the world and in our lives. 

When faced with doubt, it is important to take action against it. At the root of every doubt there is a lie that we are believing, a truth that is not being believed, or a struggle that we are allowing to block us from God. The longer we are passive in fighting our doubt, the deeper the roots will grow in us, and the more detrimental it can be to our faith. 

But as we see with Thomas, doubt can be overcome.

“Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:26-29

One of the first things we need when facing doubts is community. Even after Thomas publicly doubted the resurrection of Jesus, he remained with the other apostles. It would have been easy for the death of Jesus to lead Thomas away from his community; just like it’s easy for us to run from our community when we experience not only trials, but doubt. We are so much stronger when connected to the body of believers who can encourage us, answer questions, and pray for us. When Thomas doubted, he did not run from his community, but continued to spend time with them. As we face our doubts, it is so important that we allow our brothers and sisters in Christ to know what kind of doubts we are struggling with and allow them to help point us back to the truth. 

So when we see one of our friends struggling with doubt, we are called to show them mercy. Jude 22 instructs us to “have mercy on those who doubt”. God’s desire is for all of His children to stand firm in our faith and to believe without doubting. The apostles could have condemned Thomas for not immediately believing and allowed him to fall away, but they knew that what Thomas needed was to be cared for and encouraged by his friends. As we see a brother or sister struggling, we are called to come alongside them, showing mercy. Our job is to listen to their doubts, and then to speak truth to combat their doubt in love and kindness reminding them of the Gospel. 

It’s also important that we remember who God is and who we are in comparison. God is an eternal being and we are not. He is all-knowing and we actually know very little compared to Him. As we grow in our relationship with God and knowledge of Him, we need to understand that there are certain things that we will not fully comprehend as we think about our faith. It is easy to allow one small doubt to control more and more of our thoughts and time, eventually growing into something that can cause it to be hard for us to trust or believe in God.  Just like Thomas whose doubt stemmed from an inability to comprehend how Jesus could have risen from the dead, we too are called to trust God with what we cannot completely understand.

Finally, I want to say that ultimately the greatest weapon against our doubt is none other than seeking Jesus. Jesus desires a relationship with each of us and the beauty of it is this: He doesn’t wait for you to come to Him in perfect faith but is willing to meet you where you are! When we seek Jesus in the midst of our doubt, He is faithful to seek us and to comfort us in our hurt. He was gracious to not only reveal Himself to Thomas but to actually do the very thing that Thomas had requested. Thomas was able to feel His risen Savior’s wounds and in turn, had his own wounds healed.

In the middle of wrestling through our doubts, we would do well to seek Christ and to remember the truth of the Gospel. We find comfort knowing that it is not the level of our faith that saves us, but the object of our faith. Jesus is good, and He is more than sufficient for salvation. So whether you are a new believer who has just recently trusted Christ and has many questions, or if you have been a believer for years; you can find comfort in the truth that it is on the back of Jesus that you are saved, not your own.

So if you have faith the size of the tiny mustard seed, know that Christ is more than happy to work with the faith that you do have! Romans 5:8 says that “He died for us while we were still sinners” so we can be confident that He will still seek and accept us when we are struggling with doubt. 

Jesus knew that not all of his followers would have the opportunity to see Him in His resurrected body, but that is why He gave us the encouragement that “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. Do not let the fact that you have not physically seen Jesus discourage you from believing in Him! Jesus’ words here tell you it is possible and that you will be blessed and rewarded for your belief!

We know that this is a tough topic and if you have any questions or comments, you can email me at rspencer@cornerstonelife.com or speak to Mark, Madeline or your leaders! 

-Ryan Spencer

SAY NO TO SALT CO.

There will be at least 56 adults in your lives that will tell you that college is the best years of your life. And they may not be wrong! College is a blast. You get to live on your own, make decisions for yourself, eat when you want to eat, and sleep when you want to sleep (which won’t be a lot). And from experience I can tell you that one of the other greatest parts of college is that you get to attend Salt Co. and join one of their connection groups. 

But catch the key phrase in that last sentence, “greatest parts of college.” We aren’t naive to the fact that there are high schoolers that are either attending Salt Co. regularly or you really want to be. Even though this might seem like a taboo subject or one that you are wanting to keep from us, we really want it to be an open discussion! Mark, Ryan, and I understand, probably better than most, the draw to attend Salt. We’ve been through Salt and know that the teaching is amazing and applicable, the worship is top-notch and super engaging, and the crowds of new people are really cool. Those things will all remain true when you guys are in college! But for now, we really want for you all to continue to be engaged in Escape22, and here is why: 

Escape22 is your community. This ministry exists because we believe that high school students need to know and love Jesus. Escape is designed so that you have a place to go where you can hear teaching that is applicable to your lives, and engage with students who are your age. We desire for you to be in community with one another and seeking Jesus together as brothers and sisters. That is why we have connection groups and spend time in the gym after Escape. We want to create a space for you all to grow together as a family and encourage, love, and serve one another as Christ served the people around Him. Community is so critical to our walks with God, which is why God made us to desire friendships and relationships. We are made in the image of God, and God himself is in constant community by being a part of the Trinity (this is a whole blog post in itself, so I won’t go too much farther into this topic). We want for you to hear and understand that right now, while you are in high school, Salt Co. isn’t your community. You are in a different stage of life than the other people in that room. You can’t join their connection groups, and if you did, it would probably be weird for you and for them! Think about if a middle schooler started showing up to Escape regularly. You would probably feel weird about that! All that to say, we really want for you to be engaged in the ministry where God has you right now. Your time in Salt Co. will come, but until then, it’s important that you remain in the community of people that have been placed around you. 

You can’t have your feet in two ministries. A lot of you could argue (and you’d be right) that you are mature enough to understand that Salt isn’t your community, and that you just like to go sit in on the teaching/worship and then roll out. While this may be true, it is still incredibly hard to engage in two ministries in any capacity. It is nearly impossible to be fully committed to the ministry you are in, if you are already looking forward to the next ministry. And attending Salt is only going to fuel the fire of looking forward to the next big thing. I’ll admit that I have a little bias here, but I think that it is much healthier for you to spend your upperclassmen years loving and serving Escape and figuring out ways that that you can pour into and take ownership of this ministry. We want for you upperclassmen to be leaders, both within our ministry and the other ministries of the church. So instead of breeding the discontent that comes with thinking about moving on from high school and all that goes with it (including Escape), be thinking about ways that you can make Escape better and love your peers here! 

In all of this, know that I am speaking from personal experience. I started leading in Escape my sophomore year in college and for three years I was attending Salt and Escape on a regular basis. Because I wasn’t actively pouring into Salt Co, there were times where I didn’t feel as much ownership over that ministry as some of my friends did. They were leading in the ministry and were much more engaged and involved than I was. And because I was leading in Escape and not a student there, that wasn’t my community. So for years I walked the balance tightrope of being a part of two ministries, and it was stretching and, at times, exhausting. You may not realize that by going to Salt and Escape you are walking that same tightrope. It feels like you have the capacity to do both, but in reality, it’s just not what’s most beneficial for the growth of your faith. Now, I need to put a disclaimer here because I don’t regret my decision at all. I made some of the greatest friends and grew a ton in my faith while I was in Salt and obviously leading in Escape worked out pretty great in terms of my faith and my future. But that was because I was in a place where the balance made sense for my life. I was still actively being poured into by my community of college students, and was passionate about leading high schoolers. 

Ultimately, we say all of the above because we love and care about you guys more than you know. We would never want to communicate any of this in a tone that is jealous of your time or condescending of your choices. The desire of our hearts is that you all would continue to fall in love with Jesus as your Lord and your Savior, and that your lives would be shaped by the ways that you are seeking Him while in high school. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t truly believe that being an active participant of Escape is one of the ways that God uses to grow your faith and shape your hearts. 

If you would like to talk more about this, we would love to hear from you! As always, you can email me at mfarner@cornerstonelife.com

-Madeline Farner

THINKING ABOUT TATTOOS

Let’s start off with a disclaimer, especially for any parents that may be reading this – regardless of our viewpoint on this topic, tattoos are a big decision that lasts for the rest of your life. If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo, you should definitely have the approval of your parents regardless of what we say here! 

The topic of tattoos is one that has been debated for years and many of you have either expressed your thoughts on them or have asked us for our thoughts. So let’s do it! 

With things like this, it’s always a good practice to see what the Bible has to say on it. Tattoos are only mentioned once in the Old Testament. Leviticus 19 says, “You are not to make gashes on your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves; I am Yahweh” (v. 28). When you first read that, it sounds pretty clear. However, we need to do a little more research before we can determine how to best apply that to our lives today. For starters, the word tattoo used here isn’t the type of tattoo that you are thinking of. It wasn’t an artistic picture or inspirational quote or anything like that. It was actually in the Old Testament because it was a practice of the pagans to mark themselves as a way to mourn the dead. If you are unfamiliar with what a pagan is, it was someone in Bible times who didn’t worship God but instead worshipped multiple gods that were created by their culture. The author of Leviticus told Christians to not engage in this practice, because he wanted people who lived for the Lord to be set apart from people who practiced pagan worship. So while this was a very real command for people back then, we would apply this command differently in our context. Another example of this can actually be found in the verse above it that says, “You are not to cut off the hair on the sides of your head or mar the edge of your beard” (v. 27). If we applied these verses in the same way that the original audience needed to apply them, then we would all have hair down to our feet and guys would have really unappealing beards. But I would be willing to bet that everyone reading this has probably had a haircut at some point in their lives! In the Old Testament, the people of God tried to obey the law because they were to honor God by being different from the world. Ultimately, they failed again and again and needed to offer sacrifices because of their failure. But here’s the best news – Jesus came and became THE sacrifice for us. He knew that we were sinners and were incapable of obeying all of the commands, so God sent His son to die in our place so that Jesus’ righteousness could be given to us and we could live. What a sweet truth that is! We have the freedom to struggle with sin and to fail at keeping the commands because we know that when we repent, we are covered in grace. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to strive to uphold the commands, but when we fail, Jesus provides grace and forgiveness for us. This is all because God decided to allow for Christ to fulfill the covenant for us. All of the Bible is true and is breathed by an unchanging God, but it is important to understand the context, both cultural and otherwise, of the verses that we read! 

If you know the e22 staff, you know that both Ryan Spencer and I have tattoos, and I don’t believe that any part of them are unbiblical. I actually have two tattoos! I have a ship with the verse Hebrews 6:19 which says, “We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure” (HCSB). I also have another one that says “be thou my vision” that is written in my little sister’s handwriting. If getting a tattoo is something that you are thinking about, here are some questions to ask yourself: 

Do you have your parents approval? 

So while I don’t believe that the Bible speaks against tattoos, I do think that it is something that requires A LOT of thought and approval by the authorities that God has placed in your lives. Both of my tattoos were something that I thought about for over a year before actually getting, and it was something that my parents approved of. Since getting them, I have been thankful for them as they have been great conversation starters and have segued into the gospel on multiple occasions. Even though I am confident in my decision to get these two tattoos, I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have my parents’ full approval as they are authorities that God has placed in my life to watch over me. 

Are you glorifying God and furthering the Kingdom? 

The Bible says that we are to do everything for the glory of God. So if tattoos are something that you are thinking through, I would urge you to truly think about whether or not it is something that could be used to bring honor to Jesus. If it’s something that doesn’t have a significant meaning, try to think through whether or not it is truly beneficial for furthering the Kingdom of God here on this earth. 

Is it actually cool? 

Ryan Spencer says, “If it’s not dope, don’t get it.” From a more practical standpoint, it’s also important to remember that this is a decision that you will live with for the rest of your life. Even though something seems cool right now, you have to think about its cool factor 40 years from now. It’s also important to consider circumstances like future careers. While I currently have a boss that approves of me having tattoos, that hasn’t always been the case. I have had jobs before where my direct supervisor has asked me to cover them up when in a professional setting, and as an authority in my life, that is something that I needed to submit to. 

Overall, I don’t believe that tattoos are inherently sinful or dishonoring to God. But I do think that it is a topic that requires a lot of processing, prayer, conversations with parents and other authorities in life, and confidence in that decision. If you have any questions on this, let us know. Until then, we would love to hear some of your thoughts! What do you think about tattoos? Have you had any conversations with people where you have disagreed on the topic? 

-Madeline Farner

WELCOME TO THE BLOG

Hey e22 Students and Families, 

Welcome to the brand spankin’ new ESCAPE22 BLOG! 

I can’t fully express how excited I am to be welcoming you all to this place! To let you into my heart behind writing this, for the last year I have been hoping to start a blog. In August of 2016 we had a staff retreat where Mark asked us to think of some projects that we would like to see started that would better Escape. Since then, I’ve had a blog on the brain. I want for this to be a resource for you all to hopefully find an opinion that you trust. We want to share our thoughts on the things that you all are going through! As always, we desire for those thoughts be based in truth and shaped by the gospel. We want to be speaking into topics that we see as prevalent, as well as hearing what you would like for us to write about! 30 minutes on a Wednesday night will just never be enough to say all of the things that need to be said, and we want to do our part in walking with you through all that we can. High school is a time that can be both wonderful and filled with trials, and we want to hit on all sides of that. 

Ultimately, we as a staff love this ministry and want to be faithful with what God has entrusted to us. I believe that part of that is sharing our hearts on the things of this world in more ways than just Wednesday nights. We will be posting every other Tuesday throughout the semester with a variety of topics and authors. If there is ever something that you think you and your peers would benefit from hearing about, please let us know! You can always email me at mfarner@cornerstonelife.com with your ideas. I can’t promise that we will write about all of them, but I know that you all have really good thoughts and insights and we want to hear from you! Our next post is live, so you can keep scrolling to find out our thoughts on tattoos and whether or not you should get one! 

See you in two weeks! 

-Madeline Farner