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Advice for Collegians

Greg Hendrickson is the pastor for staff coordination, member integration and college ministry at Trinity Baptist Church in New Haven near Yale University. I’ve known Greg for many years and delight to introduce him to you with this excellent piece on being a student in a secular university setting:

When I left home to be a freshman at Yale in 1999, my dad urged me to delve into the book of Daniel. After four years in college and eight years as a campus minister in the Northeast, I am still struck by the parallels between the challenges and opportunities that Daniel faced in Babylon and those of a Christian student at a secular university.

Daniel was suddenly transplanted from his “Bible belt” home in Jerusalem (which, despite its reputation, had become quite compromised spiritually) to the pagan capital of Babylon. He was enrolled in a three year training course along with other elite students from all over the empire. It was an educational and cultural opportunity far beyond anything that he had ever known, with the promise of a sweet government job to follow.

As the book unfolds, the recurrent temptation for Daniel is to identify himself completely with the benefits and opportunities of his new life in Babylon, and in the process to compromise his loyalty to the God of the Bible. And in my experience, that is the main challenge confronting a Christian student at a secular university. Yes, there are the obvious temptations to avoid — such as drunkenness and sexual promiscuity — which cultural critics often lament. But simply trying to avoid a list of “bad” things can miss the point entirely. The bigger issue is a question of identity: where do you find your deepest identity, your confidence, your affirmation? Who do you belong to?

In Daniel’s case, did he belong to Nebuchadnezzar, the lord of Babylon, or did he belong to God, the Lord of all heaven and earth?

The good news in the book of Daniel is that the God of the Bible is sovereign. Everywhere. God is sovereign in Babylon, just as he was in Jerusalem. And because God is sovereign, nothing can stop his plans from going forward. Because God is sovereign, Daniel is enabled not only to “survive” spiritually through his time in Babylon – but to thrive in his relationship with God and with those around him. He encourages his three Hebrew friends who seem initially more timid than he, and he boldly bears witness (even to King Nebuchadnezzar himself) of the God who rescues and redeems.

So if you are heading off to college this fall: remember that God is sovereign, wherever you are. Find your deepest identity in him, for only in him can you be truly secure and gloriously free. And because God is sovereign and his promises to you will not fail, make him your #1 priority. Find some other Christians on your campus, pray with them and reach out in love to your fellow students and neighbors. Find a local church where you can be reminded each week that you belong to Jesus and his body. Begin this year with confidence in Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, to whom you belong.

Greg Hendrickson
Trinity Baptist Church
New Haven, CT

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