Faith Makes You Whole

AUTHOR: Bill Dogterom| Professor of Pastoral Ministries, Chair of Religion

The legal scholar in Luke 10 synthesizes the way to live this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says acting out this three directional love – for God, for Self, for Neighbor – is to already be living the life of the age to come! It is not believing right first – but loving right first.  Eternal life, then, is not just future – it is now!

This suggests to me that the spiritual life is necessarily about the whole person – our social interactions, our ways of thinking and processing information towards knowledge, our feelings in response to life as it happens, our bodies as the platform of encounter with God and pretty much everything else – as well as our sense of being connected to Someone beyond all of those things. To reduce the spiritual life to our common understanding of prayers, and worship, and Bible study is to miss the point entirely. “Everything is Spiritual.”


In fact, notice how whole person spirituality redefines our understanding of prayer or worship – they now become part of our 24/7/365life. As important as prayers are at sacred times and in sacred places, they are but the platform for a life that is prayer without ceasing. As important as worship in gathered community is, it is but the foundation for a whole life lived in response to the mercies of God with everything offered up as the sacrifice of life. Rather than an isolated religious activity or practice irrelevant to the way we live, Bible study now becomes fuel for the daily journey – and we can celebrate with the Psalmist the wonder of the gift we have received in the “way of the Lord.”

So, when we think about the Spiritual Life – we dare not just think about what happens in church, or in our private devotions, or on retreats, or at conventions. The Spiritual Life is Whole Life. In fact, the Hebrew concept of shalom means exactly that – a tuned up life, life as it was designed to be.

So that means that every aspect of our being – physical, social, mental, emotional, spiritual – thrives when aligned with the love of God, the environment in which we are built to live.

Think of your soul as a house with five windows. Most of our houses will have one or two of the windows open to the gentle breeze of God’s love – and that will bring life to the whole house and to the soul’s relationship with God.

If your primary window is spiritual your soul will be refreshed in formal times and places of prayer and worship. A chapel or sanctuary will often be a place of meeting between you and God. You will have a sense of His Presence as you kneel at an altar, or worship with the gathered community.

But if your primary window is physical, you will probably best meet with God on a run around the track, or in vigorous exercise. The gym or pool or bike will be your place of meeting. Conversation with God and worship will flow as you move.

On the other hand, if your primary window is emotional, worship and prayer and strong sense of encounter with God will often happen most naturally in a place of great natural beauty, or while listening to music with lots of space in it, or while looking at great art or architecture.

The social window will be most open to the breeze of love when sitting with a soul friend and talking together about the journey. The sharing of ideas and dreams and hopes will quickly become shared prayer and worship and you will find yourself leaving that moment soaring on the wings of joy.

If you come most fully alive when hunting for a new idea or while plowing through a dense well written argument, your primary window is probably intellectual. Your conversation with God will likely arise out of a new idea encountered, or as a result of an old idea expressed in a new way. So you will need to make time to read and think your way through a work of spiritual theology, or a solid commentary on scripture.

It is worthwhile to consider which of these five windows are primary to you. Everyone has all five windows – but the wind bringing life and refreshment to our souls and vibrancy in our life in Christ will likely enter primarily through a couple of them. So, make sure you are regularly making time to open those windows!

Stand in the reality of God’s love for you – and let the wind blow! As you do, faith – the Reality in which you stand – will make you whole.


Resources for further engagement

  • Spiritual – Opening to God written by Thomas Green
  • Physical – Daily engagement of your physical self (breath prayers, running routes around VU, daily stretches)
  • Emotional – Surrender to Love written by David Benner. Abba’s Child written by Brennan Manning. Listen to Atlas: Year One by Sleeping at Last
  • Social- Soul Talk written by Larry Crabb. Find a friend you can begin to have intentional conversations about your journey
  • Intellectual – Podcasts. Streams of Living Water written by Richard Foster

When #VUValentine Isn’t Your Story

AUTHOR: Lauren Francis | Vanguard University Alumna | BA in Communication (2010) and MA in Theology (Biola University, 2014)

I used to work in the Alumni Office here at Vanguard, and one year we hosted a contest called #VUValentine over – you guessed it – Valentine’s Day. We asked alums who met at Vanguard and are now married to submit a picture and their story.

My job was to sort through them – to read each and every single story about “how Bill met Jenny in Mike Wilson’s History class” or how “Amanda and Drew were ‘just friends’ during their whole time at Vanguard but something just clicked and they fell in love and got married upon graduation”. I especially loved the “we met on Welcome Day or GYRAD and the rest is history!” stories.

As a single girl in her late twenties who, yes, loves her life and independence, but also deeply desires to be married and have a family…this was not the most enjoyable task. Sifting through beautiful wedding photos or family Christmas cards or maternity photos was actually more difficult than I thought it would be.

Now, I loved my time at Vanguard. I learned so much from my classes and cultivated a relationship with Christ that I will be forever grateful for. I made incredible friends and was mentored by people that still check-in with me today. I would never, ever say that my time at this school was anything less than spectacular.

But, as I’ve attended Vanguard wedding after Vanguard wedding…after Vanguard wedding (20 weddings in the last 4 years folks), things get a little hazy. I will admit I start to feel like I missed out on something really big by not meeting my future spouse at a place that I love so dearly. I start asking myself lots of questions…

Did I miss my chance? Did I really do everything I could have done to put myself out there or be more approachable? Should I have just asked HIM to coffee for God’s sake?

These questions swirl around in my head from time to time, and while I don’t know the answer to any of them, I do have a few pieces of wisdom that I think are valuable for current students navigating the ever-confusing Vanguard dating world.

  1. It is OK to pursue relationships during your time at VU.

I outwardly roll my eyes when I hear people mention “looking for their future spouse” at VU – but I inwardly was totally on the same page while I was a student. I get it. We come to college to learn and grow academically, but also to establish relationships. One of our natural desires as a human is to want to be in a romantic relationship with someone who shares the same values as us. So, it makes total sense. If you’re a Christian young person, Vanguard is full of other people just like you. It’s 100% natural to think about that during your time here. I believe there is a weird stigma and shame if you are someone who is actively dating and seeking a relationship with a person (or over time, persons) at Vanguard. There is nothing wrong with exploring the possibilities. Grabbing coffee (oh, the sweet cliched Alta date) is actually a super good way to get to know someone. Asking someone out on a date or saying yes to someone that asks you on date is an OK thing to do. Your years at Vanguard are prime time to get to know yourself in the dating world. By all means, put yourself out there while you’re here.

  1. It’s OK to not pursue relationships during your time at VU.

For some people, college is a really special time to be on your own, discovering who you are and what you believe and think and value. Some people are able to do this while in a relationship with someone else. Others aren’t. And that’s OK.  I talk to tons of friends who say that they just weren’t ready for a relationship during their time at Vanguard. It is OK if you feel like you want to spend part of your college experience or ALL of your college experience focusing on yourself and only yourself. You have plenty of time to date and fall in love and get married, so don’t rush it because you feel some weird pressure to get that “ring by spring.” It would be a massive disservice to everyone involved if you were to date someone just because you felt like you were supposed to.

  1. If you don’t get asked on a date or ask anyone on a date at VU you are not a failure.

You might have read the first two bullet points and thought something like this…”Well, I want to pursue a relationship, but nobody asks me out/says yes when I ask them out.” I get that. It’s tough. It’s a valid feeling to ache for a relationship when it’s not happening. But know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you if you don’t have any romantic relationships at VU. It might happen after college – and since 27 is the average age for a woman to get married and 29 is the average age for a man (National Marriage Project) that is highly plausible. It might happen when you’re 30 or 35 or 40. It might not ever happen. There was a sobering moment when an older, single friend of mine stopped me (mid-whine) and asked me this: “what if you are single for the rest of your life? Does that mean you don’t have an important place in the world? Does that mean your life is worth less?” These words really hit me because it’s true, I often think about singleness as this awful plague that needs to be cured. Singleness could very well be something that God calls me too. It could very well be something that He calls you too. The point is not to try and figure all of that out right now, but to live a life focused on Christ and pleasing toward him in any stage. Single, dating, or married. You are significant with or without a significant other. Your story matters.

  1. If you do get married to someone you meet at VU that is incredible.

Some people will meet their future spouse here. You’ll see him/her in chapel and get butterflies. He’ll walk into the cafe and you’ll hear a symphony of angelic music in your head and time will stop. She’ll raise her hand in a lecture and answer a question so brilliantly that you’ll melt right then and there (pardon the cheesiness. It worked, didn’t it?). You will graduate from this University with a degree, and also a future spouse. That’s tremendous. I don’t want it to sound at all like I resent any of my friends who met someone at VU and ended up marrying them. Some of the best memories I have are from “Vanguard weddings.” I love and appreciate all those I met at Vanguard who are modeling what a Christ-like marriage looks like to me as a single person. I am grateful for their friendship, and I need their perspective on life and love and everything in between. To all those, a sincere congratulations.

I am not a relationship expert by any means. I just know that there are some really confusing “rules” and “guidelines” when it comes to Vanguard dating, and I hope that if anything, you’ve learned that the most important thing during your time here is to listen to God, follow His leading, and pursue a life that’s honoring to him. Whether or not you meet that special someone and “ring by spring” is a reality for you…you are loved and known by God in a unique way.


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Thrive are workshops sponsored by the Living Well Committee. The purpose of these workshops are to provide students with practical tools to help them experience greater well-being in the four domains of Emotional, Physical, Spiritual and Relational well-being.

The Thrive workshops are designed to be experiential in that the students become active participants in the learning process either through Q & A and/or hands on learning and practicing of tools they can immediately implement. These workshops are proactive vs. reactive and address the challenges that our students face. Our goal is to help our students become resilient, confident and responsible men and women of God who will flourish during their time at Vanguard as well as in the years to come.

The workshops will take place once a month for 50 minutes. In the Fall, Thrive will occur the second Monday (9/12, 10/10, 11/14) of every month from 10:00-10:50am in Smith 101.

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The Power of a Positive Mind

By Michele Robison, PhD | Associate Director of the Counseling Center

Is it really important to count our blessings? According to research, the answer is a resounding Yes! When we are able to focus on the blessings, or what is going well in our life, we experience positive emotions.  Positive emotions are known to increase dopamine and serotonin levels, neurotransmitters that not only enhance mood but improve memory as well.  In fact, optimistic people have been shown to engage in more creative thinking, are better at problem solving, have improved performance, rebound from negative events more quickly, set more goals, put more effort into attaining goals, stay more engaged in the face of difficulty, rise above obstacles more easily, cope better in high stress situations, and maintain higher levels of well-being then their pessimistic counter parts.

Negative thinking is believed to be the cause of 75-98% of illnesses (Leaf, 2011) and fear triggers more than 1,400 physical and chemical responses and activates more than 30 different hormones. (Leaf, 2009).  Now that can’t be healthy!

Even a momentary focus on the positive can have a beneficial impact.
One study showed that children who were told to think about something that makes them happy before putting blocks into particular patterns, significantly out-performed children who were not given that instruction.  Another study showed that students who were told to think about the happiest day of their life before taking a standardized math test, significantly out-performed the students who were not given that instruction.  And Doctors who were primed to feel happy by simply giving them a lollipop came to more accurate diagnoses more quickly and were more creative in treatment solutions then the doctors who were not primed to feel happy.  (Achor, 2010)  Note to self, next time you see your doctor give him/her a lollipop and reap the benefits of doing so!

Scientists have shown that we can create new neural-pathways in our brain with intentional focus.  If we tend to focus on the negative, our brains will be wired to pick up the negative and drop the positive in our day-to-day lives.  The good news is, it works the other way around as well.

In a study at Harvard University, research subjects played the game Tetris for several hours a day, three days in a row.  Tetris is a game where shapes fall from the top of a screen and the objective is for the player to rotate the shapes to create an unbroken, horizontal line across the screen before it hits the bottom of the screen.  After playing Tetris for several hours over a three-day period, subjects dreamt about falling shapes and begin to subconsciously find themselves looking at how various shapes in their environment could be turned to create unbroken lines.

Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage stayed up playing the game Grand Theft Auto until 4:00 A.M.  He recounts that for five hours following playing the game, he found himself scanning the streets looking at which cars he could break into.  The good news is he stopped himself from acting on his thoughts yet this does demonstrate the power behind where we place our focus.  Think about the video games you play.  What impact might they have on your thought life?

There have been numerous studies that have shown that intentional focus allows our brain to get stuck in how we view the world.  With ongoing repeated focus, we can actually create new neural-pathways in the brain that are enduring.   This means we are not doomed to a life of negativity.  We can use our mind to change our brains, to change our mind for the better!   What?  In other words, if we begin to scan our environment for things that are going well, we will eventually create new neural-pathways so that our brain focuses more easily on the positive aspects of life rather than the negative.  This does not mean we will not ever experience negativity again.  It does mean, we will have a better outlook when facing adversity and we will rebound more quickly from the adversity.

The 3 Blessings Journal is one way to train our brains to scan for the positive in life.  Depressed subjects were asked to write down 3 things that went well at the end of the day and why it went well for a period of one week.  At the end of the week, subjects reported not only a significant decrease in depression but also a greater level of happiness.  This effect was seen up to six months later.  (Seligman, 2011)

By simply writing down 3 things that go well in our day along with why it went well, we can experience a more optimistic look on life and reap the emotional and physical benefits.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that what science is now discovering is what God’s word has been teaching us all along, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-7.  God is deserving of our thanks but it is much more than that.  When we seek Him through prayer and give thanks, He guards our hearts and mind.  What does this mean?  It means we experience peace and joy despite our circumstances.  God knew that by giving Him thanks, it would transform us.  We reap the benefits of a life filled with joy and peace.


Image sourced from Marquette Magazine




  • Achor, Shawn. (2010). The Happiness Advantage. New York: Crown Business Publishers.
  • Leaf, Caroline. (2011). You Are What You Think: 75-98% of Mental and Physical Illnesses Come from Your Thought Life.
  • Leaf, Caroline. (2009).  Who Switched Off My Brain? Inprov, Ltd.
  • Seligman, Martin. (2011). Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. New York: Free Press