Happy New Year! It's time to kick off another busy semester of ministry! We leave for Winter Camp on Friday and we have 250 people signed up to go. Compare that to last year when we took right at 200 people--I think every campus is taking more this year than last! I'm sure I'll have more to share about camp when I write again in a couple weeks.
The last few weeks have been a needed break for all of us on campus, staff and students alike. I've used the time to rest, be with family and friends, read some fiction, work on curriculum, write letters to students, and study more deeply into the New Testament. It's been great! I spent the last weekend with my staff at our second staff retreat of the year. What an amazing group! Every one of them is gifted and intelligent and has a huge heart for God and for people. Every one of them could be incredibly successful in the marketplace because of their education, character, and experience. And every one of them has carved out a place in their life to love and serve college students because of their conviction that Jesus loves those college students. I feel so blessed to be on this team.
We spent the weekend talking about thinking strategically--looking beyond the next week or month or semester and making sure we are ready for what God has in store for us 5 or 10 years from now. We wrestled with finding a balance between planning for the future and staying open to letting God lead us each step of the way. I don't know if we came up with the right answers, but I think we were asking the right questions! So much of it comes down to being faithful with the work we've been given and letting God prepare us through that for the work ahead that only He sees. It's easy to read the scripture and skip over the long periods of preparation that are dealt with in a sentence or two--the first 80 years of Moses' life, the first 30 of Jesus' life, the 10-15 years between Paul's conversion and the beginning of his missionary ministry, etc. But those times are crucial to accomplishing His purposes.
I've already heard from a few students about their reflections on last semester and the goals they are setting moving into the next. One guy wrote in an email that, "This past semester has largely been about seeing what following Jesus looks like when the rubber meets the road." What a great lesson! Our goal for these students is a lifetime of ministry. I told one of our women small group leaders this last month that we needed to cut back on how much ministry she had taken on--an unhealthy amount--because our goal for her is to be mentoring women into spiritual health 50 years from now, not burning out in a one-school-year blaze of glory. God is preparing each of us for tasks He has ahead--you too! He "knows the plans he has for us." He has good works that He has "prepared in advance for us to do." And He using life as teacher and disciplinarian, that we might experience a "harvest of righteousness and peace" once we've been trained by it.
One quick story, this time from a FOCUS alumna who is doing ministry at a university in another part of the country. I found it an illustration of something my dad always says--that there are lots of open people out there; they just aren't open to us yet.
She took a friend who had always been reluctant to discuss anything spiritual to a lecture about assisted suicide held on campus:
After the lecture, Amanda and I went to a coffee shop to enjoy live music as
we embarked on possibly one of the most engaging 2 hour conversations I have
ever had. Our conversation was lively as we discussed our thoughts and feelings
about the practice of assisted suicide. Then, Amanda grew quiet as I proceeded to
explain to her that I believe there is a purpose in absolutely everything, even
suffering and pain. It took her a few minutes, but she ﬁnally confessed to me that
she could not agree. After a few more minutes of silence, Amanda explained that
she was an atheist. As we continued our conversation, she stopped me and
declared, “Wait, wait. Iʼm sorry. I just need to understand. I just told you Iʼm
an atheist, I donʼt agree with your spiritual beliefs... and you still want to be
my friend? You are not like the Christians I know!”
In that moment, I could feel the giant wall come crashing down. What a
crucial opportunity I had to embody Godʼs unconditional love and truth in her life!
This was a crucial moment that deepened our friendship and caused her to open
up to me about spirituality and life in a way that was unprecedented for us.
I'm reminded of the deep and explanatory evangelism instructions the Holy Spirit gave Philip in Acts 8: "Go to that chariot and stay near it." So that's my challenge to myself and to you this new year. Go stand next to someone who needs God and be ready for the opportunities that come up. They may not be open to you yet, but that doesn't mean they aren't open to our amazing, loving, forgiving, life-saving God. Thanks for your love and prayers and support. I'm one of the most blessed people on earth.
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." - Jesus
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