Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Reading the Gospels with Students: Three Vignettes

1.            I met Sean[1] through the conversation partners program at Ohio University.  He was born and raised in a Southeast Asian country and is familiar with the church there. Sean loves to pepper me with questions about Christianity and the church in the United States. Recently, when we were reading from the Bible, he challenged:

"Do you remember when Jesus was baptized by John? I think Jesus made a mistake."

"Really?" I asked, "Why do you say that?"

"Jesus is God, and God should have a higher position than people. When Jesus was baptized by John, he put himself under John. That was not right."

"If you think Jesus made a mistake there, then he certainly made a mistake when he washed his disciples' feet."

"Oh yes," said Sean, "that was a mistake too. God should be above people, not below."

"And isn't it the same as when Jesus died, nailed to a piece of wood," I offered. "It seems that we have a God who doesn't care about the rules of position."

"I know! But it still does not make sense," he protested.

The scandal of our humble Lord, the crucified Christ, is fresh to Sean. This week he will be coming to our CrossWalk meeting for the first time, and he’s bringing all of his questions with him.

2.            As Dodger and I were working in the office last week, Jack walked in, flopped on the couch, and fired a question at us:

"What did Jesus teach?" Jack's eyes burned with certainty: he already had the answer in mind.

"Jesus taught many things," I offered. "Loving your neighbor, caring for the poor, living righteously, and so on."

"Yes, yes. I know." Jack wasn't impressed. "But there were two things that Jesus preached more than anything else."

"It has to be the kingdom of God," said Dodger.

"To repent?" I chimed in.

Jack was satisfied. "A lot of people say that Jesus' message was love and peace or tolerance, but that's not the case. It’s true that those things were in there, but Jesus came to preach about repentance and the kingdom."

I think that Jack did his homework. Dallas Willard translates the Lord’s proclamation in Mark 1:15 as such: “All the preliminaries have been taken care of, and the rule of God is now accessible to everyone. Review your plans for living and base your life on this remarkable new opportunity.” [2]

3.            As Sean and I were waiting for his bus to come, I saw Rita across the street and waved her over. She had been involved in ROC during her first two years of school, but her schedule and social circles made it easier for her to meaningfully invest herself into a different Christian group on campus. That was no problem in my eyes; I was happy to know that she was still connected to Jesus and to folks who love him.
When Sean and I said good-bye, Rita and I walked and chatted about her post-college plans and about the ROC community. She told me that she missed having teaching that helped her grow in her faith.

"Over there, it's the same ‘Jesus-died-for-your-sins’ talk every week,” she explained. “Don't get me wrong, that's great for those who need it! But I already know that. I'm already a Christian, but I need to know what to do now! I need to grow."

She loved reading the Pauline epistles. She hungered to have mature teaching—solid food, as the author of Hebrews puts it. But Rita wasn't finding it in her context.
How easily we rush from the manger to the cross! We can point Christ’s crucifixion as the ultimate expression of God's gracious love and we can learn how to live as the Church from Brother Paul. Both of those things, however, depend on our knowledge of Jesus and his teaching as revealed in the gospels. We cannot gloss over his proclamation of God's present reign in our world, his scandalous humility, and his authority to even say,

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even life itself—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." [3]

Rita and I will soon begin meeting once a week to read through a gospel and talk about applying Jesus' teaching to our lives, figuring out "how the rubber meets the road," as Dodger puts it. I can't wait to start.

[1] Students’ names have been changed to respect their privacy.
[2] Dallas Willard. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 15.
[3] Luke 14:26-27 NIV

Monday, October 6, 2014

Darkness and Light

I was sitting with Ken in Donkey Coffee this past summer, getting to know him and talking shop about church. He worked at a local congregation and I had just started full time with ROC. After a pause in the conversation, Ken asked me:

Don't you think Athens is a spiritually dark place?

I was taken aback. I never thought of my town as "spiritually dark." There are plenty of churches and ministries throughout Athens, I thought. How could anyone say that?

John the Evangelist compares one in spiritual darkness to a blind man who stumbles around, having no idea where he is going (1 John 2:10-11), and such a person can't really grasp Christ (John 1:5). Are people really stumbling around? It seems like plenty of folks around the university are confident in how right they are and how wrong the gospel is. The last thing they would admit is that they don't know where they're going in life.
Recently, Dodger has been sharing with me his desire to reach out to the darkest parts of campus. We have to live up to our name, he explained, by connecting people with Jesus. From the party scene to the classroom, we see our neighbors living in and celebrating the destructive sin to which they are blind. Nonetheless, John recorded a holy promise:

"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

How can Jesus' words break through to this culture today? Are we waiting on our neighbors to teach themselves about Christ? Are we content to sit back, cluck our tongues disapprovingly, and say "God, I thank you that I am not like other people"?

Jesus was not content with staying in well-lit places: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Yes, there is spiritual darkness here in Athens. Yet I also see a network of gospel light, surrounding and permeating the OU campus and culture. It is followers of Jesus who show and tell a better life with God. Here at ROC, we want to put a spotlight on Jesus uptown and down the hall, and we’re going to do that by first loving our neighbors through friendship and service. And that means stepping out of the ROC House, out of our circle of Christian friends, and out of our comfort zones.

The Pharisees asked, Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? I hope that we can have a good time and raise some eyebrows, just like Jesus did.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

Support ROC through your purchases!

Dear friend of Reach Out on Campus:

Before I started as an intern here at ROC, I had a seasonal job at an warehouse.

Never before had I seen so much stuff.  Each day, the entire contents of a Wal-Mart Supercenter would be unpacked, scanned, re-packaged, and shipped from our building.

Can you imagine what it would be like for even a small part of that business to glorify Jesus?  What would it mean if even a fraction of each item that came through those warehouses built the kingdom?  The good news is that we don't have to imagine: we can make it happen.

AmazonSmile is a free way for you and I to turn all of our purchases into a way to support ROC's ministry to students at OU.  5% of the price of all eligible purchases is donated by Amazon to ROC at no additional cost to you.  It's the same products, prices, and service.  Just click the link ( and start shopping--it's that simple!

Thanks for your support and continued partnership with our ministry.  Please continue to pray for us as we show and tell good news at OU.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

5 Essential Things to Know about ROC This Fall

Whether you're a freshman, transferring in, or a returning student, welcome (back) to Athens!
Here are the 5 things you'll need to know about Reach Out on Campus this fall semester.

1. Why we exist:
ROC is about one thing: putting a spotlight on Jesus Christ.  We want everything that we do to glorify him.  We want our lives' stories to reflect the hope and change that Jesus brings.

2. How we do community:
ROC values three beats that define our shared rhythm of life:
Belonging to God and each other.
Becoming more like Christ.
Being Sent to love, serve, and disciple. 

3. What it looks like: 
We welcome people into Christian community that is filled and fueled with God's presence.
We eat, laugh, play, study, worship, and pray with one another.
We daily learn to be and act as Jesus' followers in the university.
We work together to understand, live out, and be transformed by the gospel.
We lovingly serve others, building relationships that show and tell good news.
We ask God to do his transformative work in our world and through us.

4. What this has to do with you:
You are always welcome with us.
If you're a committed Jesus follower, we want to be a community where you find friendship, growth in your faith, and being Jesus' hands and feet.
If you're not sure about Jesus, church, or religion—if you've got your own ideas or you don't know what to think—you are welcome.
Any way, you are welcome to come along. As we're trying to love and serve people the way that Jesus did and taught, we want you to go with us and see what you will find along the way.

5. What's next:
Put these dates on your calendar: August 24, 27, and 29.
SUN 8/24: ROC Introductory Pizza Party
— Baker University Center Rm. 240, 6:00 PM
— Free for all students. Come, get to know us, and find out more about Reach Out on Campus.
— Come hungry!

WED 8/27: CrossWalk
— ROC House (directions), 7:00 PM every week
— Kicking off our weekly gathering for fellowship, worship, teaching, and prayer.

FRI 8/29: Bowling Social
— Rollerbowl on Palmer Street (time and transportation TBA)
— Push heavy balls down a corridor to knock over wobbly logs!
— Most of us are terrible at bowling, so don't worry about breaking a hundred.  ;)

Thanks for reading!  Don't hesitate to shoot me an email if you have any questions.  God bless you as you prepare to come to Athens!


Thursday, May 29, 2014

"To infinity and beyond!"

     Yes.  We just had a Toy Story marathon recently in our home.  We watched Buzz Lightyear realize that he was just a toy.  Then we heard Woody explain just how important it was to be Andy's toy.  And we saw a relationship grow between Buzz and Woody...a relationship that lasted through the years and continued even after Andy passed on his favorite toys to a little girl named Bonnie and drove off for college.
     Every time I watch those movies, and it doesn't matter which of the three, my emotions are a mess and I cry at some point.  These movies do what good stories should.  These stories draw you into this world of talking toys, reconnect you with your own experiences (in this case with your toys) by awakening memories as well as tie you to new characters. 
     Andy reluctantly left Woody with the other toys that he gave to Bonnie.  Even in this animated movie we recognize the difficulty Andy faced in leaving behind those who helped him through so many years.  Carrying with him a heart of gratitude, he whispers, "Thanks guys," gets in his car and drives off.  The toys will miss Andy too and that is articulated as Woody watches the car drive off and he says, "So long, partner."
     The difficulty of leaving behind relationships that have meant so much is heart-rending.  The friendships and partnerships that we've been able to form over the past twenty-two years with you and here in Athens have been precious, challenging, encouraging and deeply meaningful.  There is a place in our hearts in which we mourn this transition and we sense the loss.
     However, after saying "So long," Woody begins introducing Buzz and Andy’s other toys to Bonnie’s toys.  They are together and they will continue to fulfill the important role as toys now in Bonnie's arms and imagination.  There are new adventures just around the corner!
     Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying here.  I am NOT likening Reach Out on Campus to toys that I am leaving behind.  I am NOT saying that now that I have grown up, I'm leaving.  NOT AT ALL.  Rather, in spite of the fact that my family and I are leaving and that this parting is difficult, the ministry of Reach Out on Campus continues and there are great adventures about to happen.  There are students who need to be reached with Christ's love.  There is a university, probably the most strategic context for a gospel witness, that needs the prophetic voice and example of Christian community calling it to Christ; His goodness, justice and grace.  There are international students to welcome, to bless and by whom to be blessed.  There is much to be done.
     ROC continues to encourage students to grow in love and relationship with Jesus.  Students are hearing the call to Jesus and are responding.  Many students have voiced how they have grown in Christ.  Four students were baptized this year and another student made a statement renewing his commitment to Christ.  Here is what Zach shares about this decision.
     My name is Zach, and I’m a recent graduate of Ohio University.  I was a member of Reach Out on Campus for two years.  My only regret was that I wasn’t in Athens sooner so I could have been a part of ROC for all four years of college.  ROC opened up my eyes to who Christ was and the love that he has for each and every one of us.  I learned that He doesn’t hold my past sin against me.  I have accepted Him into my life and strive to follow His example of how I should live.  My fire for God grew during my time with ROC, so much that I chose to rededicate my life to Christ this April.  Everyone in ROC made me feel like a part of their community and I grew very close to them.  I am especially glad that I was a member of the worship team and men’s bible study.  ROC gave me so many tools and lessons to use to spread Christ’s message to others.  I will certainly miss it, but I definitely enjoyed my time there.  Thanks for blessing me by faithfully supporting ROC! 
Sincerely, Zach
     As ROC continues to be Jesus' hands and feet here at Ohio University, I pray that you will join me or continue with me as a ROC financial support ministry partner.  Together we seek to be used by God to enable this community to testify to His great grace and demonstrate the reality of God's kingdom present as we await Christ's return.  We really will, at that time, worship Christ together "to infinity and beyond!"  We will enjoy the reunion of partners who were loathe to part but who faithfully served God by following Jesus wherever He led embracing the adventures that came to us.  So this "so long" is not final but is simply a "See ya there or in the air!"  Until then, we'll all be faithful as Jesus' disciple-making-disciples making disciples together wherever we are.  Thank you for the ways you have enabled us to do that with ROC and for the ways we will continue to enable the ROC community to do that far into the future.
Serving with you! 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The narrative of seeking to hear God's lead:

Dear Friends,

     God has a way of pushing us into things we never thought we would ever do.  Have you noticed that?  When I was a sophomore in high school, I dropped out of church thinking that it wasn’t for me.  I went to the University of Minnesota intending to leave the Christian thing as far behind me as possible.  At the University of Minnesota, God graciously sought me out through a friend in marching band and I began hanging out with a community of Christians whom God used to get through to me that He loved me and wanted me as His child.  When I began to wonder whether I could serve as a campus minister, He provided an opportunity to do an internship at a church there in Minneapolis to see whether I had the capacity to do ministry at all.  Next, I transferred to Minnesota Bible College, met and married an amazing woman, finished my bachelor’s degree, returned to the Univ. of MN as an interim campus minister and then went to Emmanuel School of Religion (now Emmanuel Christian Seminary) to continue my education in order to be equipped to serve full time in campus ministry.  When I was about to graduate from seminary, Reach Out on Campus invited me to consider serving at Ohio University.  This is my 22nd year with ROC.  God has led each step of the way.  

     I have never really considered serving in any other sphere of ministry than campus ministry since the late spring of 1981.  There were a couple of times when I felt discouraged and began to wonder whether I should explore other possibilities but I didn’t feel comfortable seriously considering other options.  God called me to ROC for these years of ministry and they are precious to me.  God has pushed me and pulled me and formed me through these years of walking with students and faculty here at Ohio University.  I am delighted to have known so many quality people with whom I’ve been able to follow Jesus.  During this time I have always thought of myself as a campus minister and I didn’t see myself as ever serving in a local church congregation.  I often thought to myself or said out loud, “I could NEVER do that!”  I think God chuckled.

     A few months ago a friend asked me to consider joining him on staff at Fern Creek Christian Church in Louisville, KY.  I laughed at his suggestion thinking he was kidding but he responded that he was serious.  Typically, I say no to these sorts of conversations because I’m a campus minister.  That “no” wasn’t on my lips this time.  I said that I would be willing to enter a conversation about the possibility of considering the position in order to seek to hear God on the matter.  We have been chatting, emailing and been in face-to-face conversations for some time now.  In the process, I have sensed that God is inviting me into a new challenge, one that I never planned on considering.  The elders of Fern Creek Christian Church have asked me to come on staff with the congregation there as a discipleship minister.  Having had many conversations with God, with my wife and family as well as with the ROC board of advisers and trusted, wise Christian friends, I have accepted this invitation from God and this church.  I will continue to serve as Director of Reach Out on Campus through May 2014 and then move to Louisville in June.  One friend pointed out to me that my call to make disciples will not change, just the context.

     For the past 33 years I have sought to follow Jesus wherever He leads.  He has used the past 22 years with ROC to shape me in particular ways of His own design.  I sense He is leading in this direction and trust that He will do whatever He desires with us in this new adventure.  We are all on the quest of following Jesus and are formed by Him for His use all along the way.  Thank you for your partnership with ROC that has enabled me (and several others) to serve full-time with students and faculty at Ohio University.  You know that the ministry of Reach Out on Campus is important to this campus and to many people.  I trust that God will continue to use ROC to glorify Jesus for many years to come.  As he leads me into another context in which to make disciples, I will continue as a ROC financial ministry partner.  I trust that you will also and that together we will be able to continue to encourage the staff and students of Reach Out on Campus to make disciples of Jesus who can make more disciples of Jesus.  

     If you don’t financially support ROC’s ministry, now would be a great time to start!  The ROC board needs your partnership and encouragement as they seek a new director.  It’s an important time to provide a solid foundation for the continuation of ROC’s ministry.  Your partnership really is vitally important.  Would you please consider becoming a monthly support ministry partner?  (You knew that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask this, right?)

     Finally (at least for now), thank you!  Thank you for your partnership, your friendship, your encouragement and your prayers.  Alumni, thank you for being part of the ROC (or CSF—before my time) community and for your ongoing ministry in Christ’s body.  Faculty who have been part of Faculty Fellowship, thank you for your friendship and challenging me to think more clearly and for your important mission on campus to love as Jesus loves and help students to grow in intellect and spirit.  Your example has been a huge encouragement to me.  Current ROC students & young professionals, God bless you as you continue to seek first His kingdom and righteousness and as you continue to grow in Christ and in community.  May you faithfully follow Jesus now and into your own futures continuing to serve through the local body of Christ after you graduate.  I have thanked the ROC board of advisers in person but wish to do that here also.  Serving with the men and women on the ROC board has been a high point in my service with the ROC community.  They have sought to follow God’s lead and they are humble, faithful servants who have given so much of themselves and their resources over the years.  It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with such fine men and women who earnestly yearn to see Jesus glorified on campus and for others to be drawn to Him.  Their care and leadership over these many years has buoyed me through challenges and many joys.  Thanks also to my co-workers, current and former, for your service in Christ’s kingdom and for being used by God to teach me many things (too many to list here!). 

     Thanks be to God for creating us, sustaining us, redeeming us and calling us to be His in Christ Jesus our Lord.  All praise and glory to Him now and always!