Category Archives: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

When Tolerance Becomes Intolerant

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Several months ago, my former employer, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, was featured prominently in a New York Times article entitled “Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy”.  It highlights the growing tension on a number of college campuses between campus administration and religious groups, specifically around the issue of who can serve as leaders within these campus ministries.

While this is an issue that is now starting to garner national media attention, for those of us who have been involved in religious work on colleges and universities this issue is all too familiar.  I believe the New York Times piece does a good job highlighting the issues, but to summarize, many universities and college campuses have begun to ban religious organizations from using their rooms and facilities for meetings and prayer. They have also prevented such groups from applying to be student organizations, which often means that they are not allowed to apply for student life fund or advertise their events on campus.

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It’s Back!!! It’s BACK!!!

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
~Jeremiah 20:9

Yup.  It’s back.  The truth is that, for a while, I had lost it.  But now it’s back.

You’re probably wondering, “What?  What’s back?”

The fire is back.  It’s in my bones.  I feel it when I wake up.  I think about it throughout the day.  It’s back.

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A Prophet’s Life Verse

This week I have had the privilege of posting on one of my favorite blogs:  “Release the APE”.  I’ve re-posted the piece here, but I encourage you to head over to their website and check it out for yourself.

Jeremiah

Since becoming a Christian I’ve heard lots of people talk about having a “life verse”.  Usually it is a passage of Scripture that they feel embodies their own journey with God.  It could be something that they received at their baptism or during confirmation, but whenever they discovered it has (hopefully) become a motto for how they live as a follower of Jesus.

For a while I was unsure whether I had a life verse or not.  There are tons of passages in the Bible that I love, but a “life verse”?  I wasn’t too sure about that.  And then I attended a staff training event with InterVarsity.  During one of our sessions together we were encouraged to pray for each other.  Eventually it was my turn to be prayed for by my team, so I sat in the middle of the group as the others gathered around and began to pray.

Suddenly, one of them said, “I’m getting the sense that I should pray a verse over you.”  And this is what she read:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”  “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”  But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’  You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.  Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant.”
~Jeremiah 1:4-10

I wish I could say that it was a lighting-bolt moment, a moment when the heavens opened and I heard the voice of God.  But honestly, I walked away thinking, “Wow that was cool,” and pretty much forgot about it after that.

That is until I began to transition off of IV staff and into pastoral ministry.  I was taking a look back over my 6 years with InterVarsity and saw a theme:  everywhere I went I was uprooting and tearing down, building and planting.  With each ministry assignment I was questioning old ways of doing things, offering up new and different paradigms, and calling out systems and structures that hindered our witness and were stalling people in their walks with God.  Without realizing it, this verse had become my life verse.

For those who have the prophetic edge to their ministries, I believe that this verse contains within it some important lessons.  But the one that I want to really hone in on is verse 10:  “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  Often, the prophetic calling is described in light of the first portion of this verse:  uprooting and tearing down.  Prophets are talked about as those people who stir things up, get things moving, and critique established structures and paradigms.

As such, being a “prophet” has become pretty sexy in our postmodern, post-churched society.  Nowadays anyone who has an opinion or a bone to pick is a prophet.  In fact, I think being prophetic has started to become a code word for simply being a jerk.  The truth is, just because we have a critique does not mean we are serving in a prophetic way.  Too often would-be prophets have simply absorbed our surrounding culture’s disdain for the church and cynicism toward any kind of structure.  Such an attitude is not redemptive and ultimately does more harm than good.  I say this as someone who has fallen into this trap so many times that I’m a bit embarrassed.  My first two years with InterVarsity I was, for lack of a better word, a jerk.  There was no humility in my work.  I was constantly cutting down what others had to offer.  I was being an idiot.

The truth is, the prophetic calling does involve stirring things up, getting things moving, and critiquing established structures and paradigms.  But it involves something else too:  building and planting.  Prophets are not people who are obsessed with attacking the status quo.  Prophets are people who are captivated by a greater vision of what could be. This is where their desire for movement and change comes from.  It is a putting off of the old ways of the world in the pursuit of the new ways of the Kingdom of God.

The image of building and planting is a powerful one.  Like trees planted near sidewalks, prophets break up the concrete as new roots take hold and the tree expands.  Prophets cultivate the growing of the kingdom of God and, as such, will critique and question things that would seek to hinder that growth, whether within or outside of the church.  But such critique is not malicious or self-serving:  it is always in service to the greater glory of God.

The reality is that being a prophet is hard work.  You can’t just come into a church or organization, spout off your angry platitudes, and run.  You have to commit to the long haul.  Uprooting and planting takes time, patience, gentleness, wisdom, and insight.  It takes submitting ourselves to the timing of the God who calls us.  And it often means that we need to know when to speak and when to listen.  We do all this so that the church might grow, not so that it will be torn down.

This is a calling that will take a life-time to learn.  It will be filled with disappointments and frustrations, difficulties and challenges, hurt, anger, pain, rejection and so forth.  We will make mistakes.  We will hurt others.  We will fall on our faces more times than we can count.  But it is also a calling filled with joy, excitement, and new life as we participate in the work God is doing in making all things new.  That is the life of a prophet and it is a life worth pursuing.

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Thinking Theologically About Interfaith Work (Part 3)

Well friends, it has been way too long since I have posted here.  Sorry, but I have been busy writing for RELEVANT Magazine‘s website on the intersection of interfaith work and evangelism, which is why things have been quiet here on the home front.  I’ve also been transitioning into a new position at my church, so that has also kept me quite busy.

That being said, I wanted to finish this series by re-posting my latest contribution to RELEVANT‘s website, which I think ties together well my concluding thoughts on interfaith work from an evangelical perspective.  I also want to say a big thank you to the editor of the “God” section of RELEVANT, Stephanie, for her hard work in editing and offering feedback on these pieces.  You can read the post HERE or see it re-posted below.

After this, I will start posting regularly again, primarily with reflections on pastoral ministry, leadership, and missional living.  That being said, here is the third and final installment of my section on “Thinking Theologically About Interfaith Work”.

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“BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS”
(originally posted on RELEVANT Magazine’s website on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012)

Over the past couple of months I have been privileged to write on the topic of interfaith cooperation from an evangelical perspective. During that time we have seen many examples and reasons why this topic is of the utmost importance in our increasingly interconnected world, especially in light of religious violence both here and abroad. It has been both a challenge and a privilege to address this topic.

For my last post in this series, I wanted to take some time to talk about the future of interfaith cooperation and list some of my hopes for this movement and, specifically, for the evangelical Christians who will take part in it.

Too often religion has been used as a weapon against those who are different. Interfaith work provides a corrective to this.

Interfaith as Peacemaking

This past month we saw the outbreak of violent protests around the world after an anti-Islamic video went viral on YouTube. Shortly afterward, the familiar chorus was heard: “Islam is a violent religion,” “This is why religion is dangerous. It’s irrational,” and so forth. There was plenty of blame to go around.

Now, let’s be real: The attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya was a heinous crime and should be condemned. The violent demonstrations around the world are inexcusable and should be repudiated. And that is not the only story there is to tell.

The truth is that there is another side to the story that was not readily reported on. That story is the story of the countless Muslim leaders who condemned the violence, of the citizens of Benghazi who mourned the U.S. ambassador’s death and the scores of Libyans who protested against violence in their own country. The truth is that religious communities can serve the cause of peacemaking as well as violence. But too often we focus only on the latter.

In his Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). In a world characterized by the “clash of civilizations,” religious conflict seems to be a disturbingly common occurrence.

Too often religion has been used as a weapon against those who are different.  Interfaith work provides a corrective to this.  With its emphasis on growing in relationships with people of other faith traditions, sharing stories and working together for the common good, interfaith work provides an alternative story to that put forth by religious extremists and builds relationships across faith lines that can serve as avenues of trust and dialogue when inter-religious conflict rears its head.

As people called to be peacemakers in a violent world, evangelical Christians should be on the front lines of this movement.  I am inspired by the religious leaders who have already begun building movements to serve the cause of peace—people like John Moreland of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy and the leaders of Peace Catalyst International.

Building relationships and working together for peace does not mean we have to sacrifice our religious convictions.  As such, our posture in interfaith work should be one of building bridges and advocating for peace where there is religious conflict.  In doing so, we are able to stay true to our own religious beliefs while also living out this beatitude in regard to our neighbors of other faith backgrounds.

Furthermore, my hope is governments and international peacekeeping organizations would increasingly employ and partner with religious leaders to bring peaceful resolutions to world conflicts, seeing faith as an opportunity and rather than a barrier.

Interfaith in Seminaries

As a seminarian, I am deeply saddened by overwhelming ignorance that my fellow seminary students have in regard to the beliefs and traditions of other faith communities. Too often we study other religions simply to pick apart their theological truth claims and establish a basis for our own. The result is that the average seminarian can graduate with a Masters degree in theology and still never have met, much less had a meaningful relationship with, a person of another faith tradition. World events have shown us just how dangerous it is to live in ignorance of one another.

Seminaries have been charged with forming and training Christian leaders for today’s increasingly interconnected and interrelated world. As such, they should be on the front lines of equipping Christian leaders to meaningfully and deeply engage with communities that are different from their own. Yes, for the sake of spreading the Gospel, but also for the sake of modeling what it means to be an ambassador for Christ in a world that seems to encourage inter-religious conflict. In doing so, they live out Paul’s exhortation in Romans: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

In order to do this, though, they must be trained in far more than apologetics and evangelism. They must be given an accurate picture of other faith communities in order to understand them and see connections between our religious traditions. Again, I am inspired by evangelical thinkers like Gerald McDermott, who is pioneering a way forward in this area.

Interfaith in Higher Education

I remember well my undergraduate years at the University of Illinois, sitting in class and hearing professors address topics of faith and religion. Yet the response I often heard from my classmates, both Christian and those from other faith backgrounds, was, “Wow … they totally missed the mark. That is not at all what I believe!”

Again, too often the secular university treats the study of religion as merely an academic exercise, rather than seeing religion as a vital part of many students’ identity.  If colleges are truly going to prepare students to engage with our diverse world, they need to recognize this gap and evangelicals need to work together with universities to build spaces of dialogue and cooperation that serve both the campus and the surrounding communities.

I think of organizations like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which hosted a interfaith panel discussion in order to encourage greater dialogue among the student body around issues of religious identity.  Or, I think of young leaders like Greg Damhorst, who has worked with the faculty and administration of the University of Illinois to host campus-wide days of interfaith service, often bringing together professors in the Religious Studies department, faith leaders from the surrounding community, and students to serve the common good in Urbana-Champaign.

Interfaith as “Culture Making”

In conclusion, my hope is that evangelical Christians would becoming “culture makers” rather than “culture warriors,” and I see interfaith cooperation as one way in which this can happen. As an evangelical, I see a lot of hope in the interfaith movement because it provides a space where people can be fully faithful to their religious traditions while also working together for the common good.

By engaging in interfaith dialogue and cooperation, I believe I am living out Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Peace comes when we actually spend time developing meaningful relationships with those with whom we disagree. In doing so we begin to understand what it means to live side by side in our diverse world.

I believe this is why Jesus said that the second great commandment is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). Increasingly our neighbors are people of other faith traditions and worldviews. Interfaith work provides us with an opportunity to learn how to live this commandment out in practical ways. Interfaith work invites us to be faithful to God and loving to others. May we, as evangelicals, enter into this conversation and come to be known as true ambassadors for Christ. Amen.

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A Lesson Learned…

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”

~1 Thessalonians 2:8

As I’ve been preparing for my transition to pastoral ministry, I’ve been trying to take time to reflect on this past season of ministry with InterVarsity, noting especially the lessons that I have learned.  One of these lessons really hit home toward the end of Chapter Focus Week.  On our last night together, my students surprised me with a cake and we sat around as they shared stories and expressed their thanks for the time that I have served as their staff worker.  I was deeply touched and moved by what was shared.

However, there was one phrase that kept coming up as these leaders shared:  “I wish I got to know you more.”  This really stood out to me because it forced me to reflect on the kind of ministry I have had there, and to look ahead to the kind of ministry I hope to have at the church where I will be serving.    This phrase was a telling reminder of the importance of being open and vulnerable in ministry.  Too often it is easy for those of us who serve in professional ministry to erect walls between ourselves and those that we are serving alongside or ministering to.  Sadly, I fear that this was a trap that I fell into during my years at UIC.  No doubt there were certain students that I confided in and got close to, but the reality is that I created very few avenues through which the students could have spoken into my life.  It was rare to have them interact with me outside of “official” ministry times.  Life together was minimal.

Now, there are a variety of things that I could say contributed to this:

  • Life stage
  • Distance (I commuted into the city)
  • Family responsibilities

But it is too easy to blame these things.  We are called to far more when we serve in ministry.  I think Paul summarizes it best when he writes to the Thessalonians:  “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 1:8, emphasis mine).  Paul highlights the importance of shared life in the course of ministry.  It is far easier to create programs, develop training conferences, and give talks than it is to allow life-on-life discipleship to take place.  The reason:  because this kind of discipleship is costly, messy, and risky.

However, Jesus would have it no other way.  In fact, it was this very kind of discipleship that he modeled so well.  Well before sending out the Twelve to do the work of the ministry, we read that, “He appointed twelve that they might be with him…” (Mark 3:14, emphasis mine).  Jesus’ own M.O. was to share his life with his disciples first.  It was out of this kind of discipleship that they learned how to be ministers of the gospel.  It was Jesus’ hope that his own life and model would rub off on these few men, with whom he spent so much time.  Jesus put it best when he said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15, emphasis mine).  Ultimately, he would pay the ultimate price for his friends, dying on the Cross for them, even when they all abandoned him.  Jesus was willing to take the risk, enter the mess, and pay the cost for the sake of the ones that he ministered to and ministered with.  We are called to do likewise.

So as I step into a new stage of life and a new form of ministry, I want this lesson to remain front and center.  I need to develop deep friendships with those around me because this is the model we are called to implement.  It is the way that Jesus taught us by his life and example.  It is how disciples and disciple-makers are formed.  Please hold me accountable to this.  May that be the first step on the next stage of this journey together.

The End of One Chapter, The Start of Another…

“I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness”

~Isaiah 42:6-7 

“American society does not talk much about calling anymore.  it is more likely to think in terms of career.  Yet, for many people a career becomes the altar on which they sacrifice their lives.  A calling, which is something I do for God, is replaced by a career, which threatens to become my god.  A career is something I choose for myself; a calling is something I receive.  A career is something I do for myself; a calling is something I do for God.  A career promises status, money or power; a calling generally promises difficulty and even some suffering — and the opportunity to be used by God.”

~John Ortberg

This morning I spent some time reflecting on the theme of “calling” with several of my colleagues on InterVarsity staff.  This seems particularly appropriate considering that the past four months have really been a time of looking back on my own calling into ministry with InterVarsity and my upcoming transition to pastoral ministry with Trinity Lutheran Church.

In December I celebrated 6 years on staff with IV.  As a part of that, I felt that it was appropriate to take some time reflecting on those years in ministry as well as looking ahead toward what God might have for me in the future.  But before I could begin, I had to answer a nagging question:  “Is it wrong for me to even enter into a time of discernment?”  You see, I have always told people that God called me into this ministry with InterVarsity.  As such, I would never leave this ministry unless it was clear that God was releasing me to do so.  In fact, my very first post on this website was dedicated to highlighting this very conviction.

So, I took a retreat day in January to sort through this question with God.  One of the things that He made clear during that time was, “The calling which I gave to you still remains.  However, I am changing the scope.”  You see, God called me to staff work during my InterVarsity chapter’s winter retreat during my senior year of college.  What was interesting about that initial calling was that it was a general call to ministry.  Working with InterVarsity did not come until later.  What God was saying was that InterVarsity has been a place of formation and growth for me, but that it was not the ultimate call which he had given me.  The ultimate call was to serve in full-time ministry by constantly introducing people to Jesus Christ through preaching, teaching, discipleship, and witness.  His calling was to help people know Jesus and experience freedom that a relationship with him brings.  InterVarsity has been one part of that calling, but not the whole story.

Shortly after that retreat I attended InterVarsity’s Ambition conference in Tampa, FL.  That conference proved to be catalytic for me.  The goal of Ambition was to help staff workers press into their calling to plant new ministries on campuses where there is currently no ministry taking place.  However, as I went through the conference, it was as if God was tugging on my sleeve the entire time.

One tug came from a conversation with Brian Sanders, the lead pastor of The Underground, the church that was hosting the conference.  Brian was a former InterVarsity staff worker who felt a calling to plant a church that would create and grow missional communities throughout the city of Tampa.  During that conversation I asked Brian why he felt called to start his church when he so clearly loved InterVarsity and the ministry he was doing with students.  His response:  “I felt like God was saying that the calling he had for me was still the same, but that he was broadening the scope.”

The second big tug came on the final night of the conference.  As we were praying together as a staff team, one staff worker leaned over to me and said, “I feel like the Holy Spirit is telling me to tell you that you are released and that you would know what that means.”  I finally knew what the tugs meant.  It was clear that God was calling me to continue to plant ministries, but with something beyond InterVarsity.

In the following weeks I had several amazing conversations with leaders at my home church, Trinity Lutheran, in which I learned that our church was very much moving in the direction of becoming a more missional community.  Specifically we want to reach people who would never walk through the doors of our church, either because of bad past experiences or because they feel they could never be a part of a church community due to mistakes they have made.  This is what God has been moving me toward.  I realized that I am going from helping plant witnessing communities at colleges and universities to planting witnessing communities throughout the western suburbs.

So, that is why I am moving from InterVarsity into pastoral ministry.  Let me be clear, I love InterVarsity.  I have been a part of this ministry for 10 years, first as a student and now as a staff worker.  I still think that college ministry is one of the most strategic missions fields in the world.  However, it is also clear that God is calling me into a new ministry field with the local church and I am thrilled to be a part of the work that he is doing, ministering to people before and beyond their college years.  It is my hope to always stay connected to InterVarsity and to continue to have paths that intersect with this great organization.  But it is also my hope to see the church in the ‘burbs really embrace its counter-cultural calling to be ambassadors for Christ in the world.  And it is my prayer that both on campus and in the communities that I will now serve, Christ would be glorified as Lord and Savior:)  I invite you to pray that prayer with me and may we serve Jesus wherever he takes us.

Preparing for Urbana 12

Urbana 12 – Be Part of History from InterVarsity twentyonehundred on Vimeo.

While December 2012 still seems like a long way off, those of us in InterVarsity are already looking forward to this historic month.  The reason?  Because December 2012 marks InterVarsity’s 23rd student missions conference:  Urbana 12.  Hosted every three years, this conference has called over 250,000 individuals to commit their lives to living out Christ’s Great Commission since its inception in 1946.

This will be my third Urbana conference since joining InterVarsity staff and I couldn’t be more excited.  Though originally created for college students, this conference is open to anyone over the age of 17 who is interested in God’s global mission.  With hundreds of exhibitors from a variety of missions fields, it is the place to connect with what God is doing around the world.

Here are a couple of reasons that I would personally recommend attending:

  1. Worship, Revelation 7:9 Style
    In the book of Revelation, John writes, “I looked, and there before me was a multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  They were holding palm branches in their hands…”This is a glimpse of what worship in Heaven will be like.  But we don’t have to wait until Heaven comes to experience it now.  At Urbana, we worship in the thousands, in different cultural styles and languages.  It is a beautiful and amazing experience, as we join with brothers and sisters from around the world in worshipping our God and King together.
  2. Preaching Like None Other
    Urbana has been blessed to have speakers and preachers from around the world come and open God’s Word to us.  Some of the most life-changing messages that I have ever heard were at this conference.  You can listen to some of these incredible messages here, as a way of getting a foretaste of this year’s speaking.
  3. Global Encounters, Divine Calling
    At Urbana you can meet with brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world and speak with missions agencies in every field imaginable.  Not only is a great chance to encourage one another and celebrate what God is doing, but it is a chance to see how God might be calling you into ministry either here in the States or abroad.

So stay tuned here and I will let you know when registration opens!!!  You can also follow the Urbana 12 buzz on Twitter and Facebook.

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