At Bethel College, the chapel services have come to be coined the ‘heartbeat of campus’ by many. It was exactly that heartbeat during the week of Sept. 12-16 as Bethel College hosted its annual Spiritual Emphasis Week. This week designed for spiritual growth on Bethel’s campus routinely features an additional, required chapel service on Tuesday and Thursday morning as well as voluntary services in the evenings of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Guest speaker Nirup Alphonse, who is the pastor of Lifegate Church in Denver, Colo. led the sermons. In this year’s installment of the annual chapel series, Alphonse discussed various issues facing Christians as they are taught in the book of James. Session One (Monday morning 9/12) True faith requires true struggles. James 1:1-4 To lead into the week, Bethel College Vice President of student development, Shawn Holtgren encouraged students to be praying a simple two word prayer, ‘I’m open,’ throughout the week to guide the community’s spiritual progress. As the doors opened and students began filing in for the first of seven chapel services to be held throughout this week, the audience was greeted by the words of the classic Christian song “Blessed Be Your Name,” being sung by the chapel band. Alphonse first approached the Everest-Rohrer stage and issued a bold proclamation for his hope with this year’s Spiritual Emphasis Week. “Collectively we can see an awakening on this campus,” said Alphonse. Alphonse, first, created awareness to the audience of what his personal upbringing in the church looked like. He made it known that it often took the face of a “Sunday Christian” mentality. Even though his Christian perspective was rather loose, he believes that God would meet him and could move in his life, just like everyone else, wherever he was at. “The reality is we’re all in need of God to move in our lives,” said Alphonse, “Wherever you are at in your journey, I believe God brought you here for a specific reason, and I pray that you would go wherever He calls you.” The reality of the matter, according to Alphonse, is that the presence of God is ready to be embraced throughout the entire campus of Bethel College; however, sometimes that comes at a cost that’s not what we would have hoped for expect. “True faith requires true struggle,” proclaimed Alphonse, “Without struggle, faith can not be grown and develop character.” But sometimes that is easier said than done, and according to Alphonse, we’re often left asking questions about God’s presence in our lives. “So how are we to sing ‘blessed be your name’ with all these struggles?” exclaimed Alphonse, “How am I to rejoice in suffering?” Alphonse’s response to these questions may prove as a challenging concept to many. “Trials are designed by God to produce spiritual maturity, to strengthen something,” stated Alphonse, “If [God] makes everything easy, then you wouldn’t be desperate for [God]. God must come through time after time, but through that He becomes so much more real…He will not leave His promise.” Alphonse left the first service with one final insight on the concept of struggles and living in faith. “No one has been tested and has endured more than Jesus has gone through for us,” stated Alphonse, “He endured the cross so that you might become complete, lacking in nothing. That same spirit is in you and whispers to you ‘don’t stop, don’t quit, keep moving forward.” Session Two (Monday evening) God is trying to transform you into the likeness of Jesus through trials James 1:5-8 Before the service even fully began at 8 p.m, Alphonse extended an invitation for the chapel participants to come even closer to the front. As the few hundred students migrated closer with one another, Alphonse began the second service that focused upon trials. “You know that a trial is coming…You can prepare for that,” said Alphonse. However, Alphonse emphasized that trials bear a much larger role in the Christian faith. “It may seem like the trial itself is the fight, but the trial is the platform for the real fight,” said Alphonse, “Do you believe…trust in God. In the middle of the fight we often doubt.” Alphonse assured the audience that God honors the fight that you have against sin. “God does not fear your doubts nor is He saying for you to hold onto them,” stated Alphonse, “He welcomes them and wants you to bring them to him…You can ask God for anything and He will provide towards the advancement of His kingdom.” He continued to speak upon the issue of faith by comparing the Biblical story of Peter walking on water with everyday acts of faith that Christians take. “If Jesus takes the responsibility of calling you out upon the waters,” stated Alphonse, “he will guard you along the way if you keep your eyes on Him.” Alphonse returned back to the purpose of trials as he began to conclude his prepared message. “What if the trial is more?” said Alphonse, “What if the trial is a setup to do immeasurably more in your life?” The night then shifted towards a time of reflection and worship as countless men and women of Bethel poured out their hearts in song at the front of the stage’s altar. Students, faculty and staff all remained assembled in the building until after 10 p.m. Alphonse closed the night with a prayer. “Help my unbelief,” stated Alphonse, “because I want to live in the freedom of who you are.” Session Three (Tuesday morning 9/13) Theme- What does it mean to see Jesus and see like Jesus? Book Study- James 2:1-13 Alphonse began this service with a simple instruction for the day’s attendants by saying, “Before you sit, tell three of your neighbors, “I see you.” Little did the audience know, this simple icebreaker would provide a clear segue into Alphonse’s profound message addressing “neighbors” and a Christian’s love for them. “It’s okay for us to notice a distinction between us,” said Alphonse, “It’s okay for us to notice and realize that we all have differences. But God says, ‘I see you for who you are on the inside.” Alphonse informed the crowd that he believes that there sometimes is a mindset disagreement in the way we see others and the way God sees others. “[People] are great at telling other people what their potential is in life,” stated Alphonse, “But Jesus is really great at telling people what they are and who they are, but [they] just haven’t realized it yet.” However, what was perhaps the turning point in this sermon lay within Alphonse’s exploration of poverty and diversity. “We will never in our lifetime end poverty,” stated Alphonse to an auditorium that filled with poignant silence, “There will always be poor. He has never called us to end it, but has instead called us to be with them and be one with each other.” Alphonse addressed the importance of living a life of love for people, built upon loving all people, who make up our neighbors. “So who is my neighbor,” said Alphonse attempting to drive home his final point, “What if the answer is whoever you are around, especially the broken and hurt…it’s whoever you have the opportunity to serve and love.” Alphonse issued one final challenge by stating, “Do you see these neighbors in their hurt and distinctions?” Session Four (Tuesday evening) Theme- Diversity, poverty, suffering and justice Book Study- James 5 The second night chapel for this series catered to both a different venue and setup. Attendants were not ushering themselves into the auditorium amidst their normal seats for chapel, but instead found themselves cramming like sardines into the packed Bethel College dining commons cafeteria. Hundreds of students came to participate in this night’s service. However, there was a peculiar change in setup to be had as the sermon, as delivered by Alphonse, was followed by an open-microphone-style discussion about the topics of diversity, poverty, suffering and justice in society. Alphonse referred to James chapter 5, which speaks upon the presence of the ‘rich’ and the presence of suffering, in his Tuesday night sermon. Alphonse made the distinction that even though the crowd before him is full of “broke” and “debt-filled” college students, they still are considered incredibly wealthy in comparison to the billions of people around the world who make less than a dollar per day. However, Alphonse encouraged the audience to think upon a unique definition for poverty. “We think poverty is the lack of possessions,” said Alphonse, “but poverty can actually be the lack of justice.” Alphonse cited the presence of epidemics such as bond-slavery and gentrification that are modern-day examples of “injustice” in the neighborhoods of the world. However, the presence of rifts and gaps between people groups has become quite noticeable according to Alphonse. “It should bother us that it doesn’t bother us,” said Alphonse passionately before the attentive crowd, “Unfortunately, many people are more concerned about patriotism than the pain of people.” Alphonse declared that the reality of the matter is simple but incredibly poignant. "For [people] to know that others are being exploited in order for me to live in luxury is sin,” said Alphonse, “Peace doesn’t mean the absence of hostility, but the absence of justice.” Alphonse then began the open discussion portion of the evening by asking questions that the students could openly respond to. Alphonse asked the crowd if any minority student could respond to the question, “Does it bother you when people don’t engage in conversations regarding our differences?” One student responded, “It makes me feel uncared for. It makes me feel like nobody cares.” Alphonse asked the same student, “Why do you want to be heard?” The student responded by stating, “I want people to take the time to have the hard conversations. What I experience [as a minority] can be hard, but if you don’t ask those questions, then I just feel like I’m not even heard.” Alphonse then addressed the majority students by asking, “So what hinders you in asking questions and starting conversations about our differences?” A different student responded this time by stating, “I’m scared to ask those questions, since we’re all supposed to see ourselves as one or a unified people.” As the dialogue came to a close, Alphonse asked one final question. “What do you do now that you’re informed about the presence of injustices in the world,” stated Alphonse. So do we need to eliminate all earthly possessions that trace back to injustice or, better yet, should we engage in more open forum conversations until we have solved all of our human differences? Though the question of our response to injustices was left in a rhetorical fashion, Alphonse did suggest an approach to the issues at hand. “One thing you guys can do as a body is pray,” proclaimed Alphonse, “Prayer is what breaks our hearts for Him…I pray that you all be one and come together in revival.” Alphonse concluded the time together by thanking the student body for being honest and real with one another during this chapel service. Session Five (Wednesday morning 9/14) Theme- what we say matters. Book Study- James 3:1-12 The fifth session of spiritual emphasis week dealt with the nature of the tongue and our words as taught in the book of James. “Our words are powerful, they have the power to praise or cause pain,” stated Alphonse to the audience of students, faculty and staff present in the Everest-Rohrer auditorium, “They create, hope, destroy…our words contain life and death.” Alphonse stated his theme quite precisely as: “What we say matters.” This is no small task, as the goal for Christianity is thought by many to be based upon a fight for perfection through all that you do and say. But Alphonse tried to give students a new perspective on that fight. “To be perfect is not to pursue perfection,” said Alphonse, “It is to live from perfection. You are not living for victory, but are living from victory.” Alphonse took a moment to make a striking reference to the audience. He told of how a large majestic horse can be guided by the tiniest bit resting within its mouth. He made the comparison of how we are like the horse. We often find ourselves controlled by the aggressive nature of our “bit” (tongue). “We are born with natural tendencies,” said Alphonse, “Natures to gossip, blame…[these tendencies] pull us back to the way we were born.” Alphonse shifted the attention of the discussion to something much more personal, the words we speak of ourselves. “What you say to yourself matters,” said Alphonse, “Where are your words guiding yourself and others, into life or into death?” The poignant reality of the matter, as Alphonse described it, is that people hold the capability of building others up, while also quite frequently tearing others down to their ruin. “How many lives [or] relationships do you think you’ve contributed to the destruction of?” asked Alphonse to a fully captivated crowd, “Every time you put someone down, you are quite literally speaking the words of hell. In other words, you’re doing the devil’s bidding.” However, despite all of this harsh talk of our human capacity for evil, Alphonse reassured the crowd of the loving Father, who will always be there to redeem His children. “God has never raised his voice in anger against me,” stated Alphonse. Alphonse ended the service by opening the altar for students to make amends with themselves and others, who have spoken destructive words. What followed was an incredible moment. Many of the seats emptied, leaving the altar, aisles and nearly any open spot in the front portion of the auditorium packed with students, kneeling in reverence as one before God. Session Six (Wednesday evening) Theme- resisting the devil and submitting to God Book Study- James 4 Alphonse began the session by addressing the nature of our desires as humans and how they often put us in a position that aligns with selfishness. “If God answered all your prayers, would it only change you, or all those around you as well?” questioned Alphonse, “Our prayers end up sounding like, ‘God, can you bend Your plans to my will and the desires of my heart?” Alphonse went on to discuss how our desires take shape. “Delight drives desire, not the other way around,” said Alphonse, “How devastated God must be when we choose things of the world over Him.” And what we take delight in can often lead us towards sin. However, sin isn’t supposed to be held as bondage over us. “Sin does not make you a bad person,” clarified Alphonse, “Sin reveals that you are a dead person.” God wishes to create a bond with us that we may passionately pursue him in our lives. “The reason God is jealous for us is not for His gain but for ours,” said Alphonse, “He prays He would be the object our affection.” Alphonse informed the audience of the power that submission to God can carry in our lives. “If you [submit to God], you won’t have to run away from the devil,” stated Alphonse, “he’ll run away from you. The message was then pointed towards what the results of the submission process can be. “Blessed are you and I when we realize that we are bankrupt before God,” stated Alphonse, “Though you are not worthy, you are not worthless. Are you ready to submit to God?” The service was then opened up to the worship team as they performed a few songs while students reflected. The altars were opened again for students to draw near to God and members of Bethel’s spiritual life team anointed students who wished to be anointed with oil. Session Seven (Thursday Morning 9/15) Theme- Working for God’s kingdom Book Study- James 2:14-25 “The Gospel is not just inspirational, but transformational,” said Alphonse to begin the day. Thursday was Alphonse’s last day preaching at Bethel and with it came his final session in the school’s 2016 Spiritual Emphasis Week. “God does not need us in order to move and advance His purpose,” said Alphonse, “That’s how sovereign God is. God is inviting us to join in His transformation of the world.” Alphonse spoke on the sovereignty of God and relayed the importance of living our lives in a matter that constantly lives towards the advancement of God’s kingdom. “This God decided if we will have another breath,” said Alphonse, “we are here today and gone today.” However, Alphonse also taught that we should be willing to put our money where our mouth is in regards to biblical practices. “Are you willing to work for the advancement of [God’s] kingdom?” stated Alphonse, “You cannot escape the truth that you as a believer are called to work for the advancement of His kingdom.” If Alphonse got only one thing across with this message, it was a push for Christians to actively work beyond just believing. “Will we be the generation that has faith and works or just has faith,” questioned Alphonse as the crowd listened intently upon his every word, “What good is belief when it has no action to go behind it? Do we believe enough to put our money where our mouth is?” This idea may sometimes be daunting, but Alphonse took the moment to remind the Bethel students about their mission and how it should relate back to Jesus’. “Every single one of you has been invited in the redemption of humanity,” said a fever-pitch Alphonse to the room full of students, “God has been preparing this for you since He laid the foundation of the world.” Through it all, Alphonse wanted students to realize that God is still on their side and will guide them through every high and low they experience in life. “When you are at your worst, how do you think God sees you?” asked Alphonse. “Is He disgusted? …If you’ve given your heart, soul and mind to Jesus Christ, He still says ‘you are Mine’…He sees the blameless spotless image of His Son in you.” In conclusion, Alphonse challenged Bethel students to be a people who don’t let their mission end with the close of this spiritually enriching week. After all, the real work is still to be done. “I pray that [Bethel College] would not be a place where you just gather but where you go to scatter,” said Alphonse. Session eight (Friday morning 9/16) Theme- Discipleship and mentorship As Spiritual Emphasis Week began to wrap up, the focus of the sessions shifted to real world application. The topic of the final session was the importance of discipleship and mentoring opportunities with an emphasis on those at Bethel. Before this chapel service’s discussion, vice president for student development Shawn Holtgren gave the crowd a brief introduction into the topic of discipleship. “There is a distinct difference between being a Christian and being a disciple,” stated Holtgren. “Discipleship is the process and relationships are the method of our approach.” The discussion was then lead by student life resident directors Elizabeth Studebaker and John Kaehr. Each gave the audience their unique perspective on the power of discipleship and personal mentor relationships. Studebaker began by discussing the importance of learning from others and their powerful experiences. “What can you do next after being challenged and convicted,” said Studebaker, “watching someone else work through their faith…[mentors] saw my mess and were able to speak into me and my life.” Kaehr then related his idea of why Christians are called to be more than just believers, but disciples. “Our story is the way that God works through us,” said Kaehr, “I needed a voice in my life that I could look up to and know accepted me. There’s something special about going to someone you’re walking through life with…They know you and speak into your life and that is super powerful.” As Kaehr put it, it’s all about relationships and the power of walking through life with another person or other people. “Jesus always leads us into relationships with more than just you and [God],” said Kaehr, “Don’t leave Bethel without taking that step.” Kaehr put the idea of beginning a mentor relationship quite bluntly. “Just go for it,” said Kaehr as the chapel service came to a close and with it, the end of the 2016 Bethel College Spiritual Emphasis Week.