Have you ever noticed sometimes, many times, we make plans and they just don't seem to work out the way we had hoped. It doesn't mean we shouldn't plan, but I've been reminded about the difference of "doing mission for Jesus" vs "Joining Jesus on His mission." It's easy to be distracted and think we are doing what we are supposed to be doing; even within organized missions and churches.
There are good days and bad days of course, but lately I've been looking with new eyes. Some of this inspiration has been because of getting past the struggles of last year. Other inspirations are several books that I have been reading over the summer, refocusing me to be in close relationship with the Lord like men of faith from history: John Woolman, John Bunyan, David Brainerd, John Newton, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, William Cowper....
These are men that struggled with depression, set backs, discouragements and who earnestly sought after the Lord, although their plans did not turn out the way they expected.
David Brainerd for instance, sought to attend seminary at Yale. He started out there, but after a speaker (I believe Jonathan Edwards) spoke at their campus to encourage the students to follow the Lord's word even at the cost of offending others, David was eventually kicked out. One day in ear shot of some staff on campus, he said something to the effect of "so and so has no more grace than this chair." That statement got him kicked out of seminary. He tried, along with other advocates to get him back in to Yale, but to no avail. After much discouragement and depression, David received an invitation from a friend to apply to be a missionary to Native Americans. So for the rest of his life until he died at the age of 29, he served in this capacity and led several hundred Native Americans to faith in Jesus. He suffered his last few years with tuberculosis, but kept a good attitude and faithfulness to the call God had given him. Jonathan Edwards cared for him in his own house, with his daughter serving him until his death. The sacrifice that Edwards did not expect was that his daughter died shortly after.
I've made plans last year and everything was decimated. Nothing came out as I had hoped. But I have to trust God has his purposes, even in the midst of challenges which come from my sin, others sin and spiritual warfare. Yet we know, "..that God causes all things to work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28
So I am earnestly praying for and expecting the Lord to move this year in ministry at WCC and beyond. I am watching even more keenly to the work He is doing and joining Him. I am showing students how to watch and listen for Jesus' work around them. The yoke is easy and the burden is lighter when we watch for Jesus and learn from him. I'll share more about missional communities in another post. But for now watch and pray!
Jeremiah 18 English Standard Version (ESV)
The Potter and the Clay
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
I am clay. Continuing to reflect upon this last year, I've come to realize "I am clay." God is the potter. I am a vessel that He is creating, as He is with all of us.
Genesis2:"7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."
It's amazing enough to think about God creating us from dust, but He also is creating us in our soul (our inner being) our mind, our will and our emotions; and if that were not enough when we believe in his Son Jesus - we receive the Holy Spirit and He continues to shape us, to mold us, to develop and transform us into His glorious image!
We will never have some qualities of God, like being Almighty, omniscient or omnipresent; but we can grow into the qualities of his divine love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, patience and self control. We can obtain hearts that serve and give sacrificially, not just out of duty.
It is seasons as in this last year dealing with student sin, dealing with the illness of my wife and caring for our daughters and many other disappointments and hardships that I have felt stripped down, pounded on, tested through flame and cut to the heart and soul - I am clay. I've been stripped down and through this I have discovered (in my times of solitude with God and his word) that there are vulnerabilities, weaknesses and insecurities that have been covered up by clay that I shaped into a mask to hide such things. Where is my fear? Where is my anxiety? Who am I? What is my identity really? There are layers here friends. We all have layers. We are human. We are sinners.
Since I have taken time to slow down (really forced to slow down) and find a place of solitude and silence, to pursue my relationship with God and not just work for Him, I am faced with myself in the presence of a Holy God. I have only Him to compare myself to. Yikes! He is Holy! I mean He is really Holy! I am, well, a man, a sinner who has been trying to work hard to build His kingdom, but He lives in me and I need to nurture that relationship; as God is desperately desiring. I am a single stone in His kingdom. Christ is the foundation upon which I stand. But if I don't let God chisel me to size and shape, I will be a stone only worth casting away. I need to keep my first love, Jesus. Only then can I do the work HE calls me to. It is then that I will cease to please men and even myself. My identity will be in Jesus and my reputation will be in his possession. This should offer me security that can withstand any storm - but there will be continued shaping by the potter, until I reach completion on the day I stand before Him.
I am clay. As I am vulnerable and sharing my weaknesses with others - God's light will shine through the cracks. If I keep covering up the cracks to seem like I have it all together - his light will not shine so brightly. I've been fearful of what others will say if they see my cracks, my weaknesses, my faults - but now when they do see, I will boast of Jesus. This is all that I have and all that I am.
Here I am again in my office at home, a fan blowing on me, photos of Laina and Kysa on the wall and I am contemplating this last semester of ministry with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and my chapter plant at Washtenaw Community College.
Ministry at a community college is full of opportunities, failures, discouragements and shining moments that seem to pass so quickly. I've learned more about patient endurance this last year as I was seeking to develop more students to be disciple makers who love Jesus and love others. It takes time working with people. They are not projects and often do not fit our prescribed expectations or agenda's when working through the sanctification process. I long to see students embrace Christ with all of their hearts, all of their thinking and all their time and resources.
So many students have good intensions, yet they are easily distracted from actually following through. We had several hundred students (there are 13,000 students at wcc) express interest about getting to know Jesus better through bible study, prayer or serving on campus - yet only 35 students followed through with varying commitments. We ended the previous semester with 26 active students. When this semester began it was difficult to have 4-5 students show up. I was eager to see the group grow, but I know patience in disciple making is key. The 4-5 students who were passionate about serving Jesus on campus faithfully came together; 4 of them were teachable and put into practice what I was teaching them about bible study, prayer, building community, using their natural networks and spiritual gifts. By the end of the semester 3 of the small group communities which had started from nothing, grew to 8-15 students in each group - each of the students being challenged in their understanding of Jesus's Identity and their own identity.
A couple of bright and shining moments for our chapter was attending Ignite - Intervarsity's Black Student Leadership Conference - in Cleveland, OH. Several of our Black students that attended came back and were excited to lead. Several of those students are now either transferring or serving in missions this next year. I am so thankful for them.
The other shining moment was at Cedar Campus for Chapter Focus Week. We were one of the only community colleges in attendance, yet our students felt right at home. It is often a struggle to convince students of the impact that a camp like this can have on their entire life. The cost is a bit intimidating $358, but we offer scholarships to cover some of the cost. However, the students who attended this year "got it." Each met Jesus in very special ways that caused them to confess addictions and struggles. The distractions were cut off. God had their attention and they were seeking Him fully. And it was amazing to see the body of Christ (Intervarsity staff) working together in whatever role and gift they were given to serve students. The exposition was phenomenal, the worship & praise led us into God's presence, people were praying, others were mentoring, teaching etc... And God moved among us setting captives free and leading students to repentance and tears.
I love my students. My heart broke with compassion for them as they shared their wounds and scars that sin had left them with; but there is healing in Christ. And that is why I love serving students with Intervarsity.
You've heard it said, that "God is the potter and we are the clay." Have you ever tried to imagine what that looks like? I've taken some sculpture classes in college and it is a bit of work creating the human form. It's messy, takes great strength and a gentle touch. There's carving tools that scrape and pull clay which removes portions and then you can add clobbs of clay if an area needs some more mass. Then there comes the firing in the kiln.
This last year has been a testing and refining time for me. I am the clay and God is the potter. We often wonder, why do I have to go through these tough times? What purpose do we need to suffer? It is to refine us and shape us into the image of Christ - if we are willing to accept that purpose. Yes, some - who do not seek God in his word or by prayer often grow bitter and even blame God for the hardships in life, but God is love and his purposes are true and righteous. So even as I wait and am tested I know without a doubt that God has the best in mind for me. Not the best as the worldly would say best - not with money and fame and power and riches, but with the riches that are in Christ; love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control and most of all the salvation of our souls in Christ Jesus! These riches can never be taken away from those who are in Christ. Can you imagine possessing such great treasures as these?! In Christ, we inherit these things and more because we are adopted in God's family. Wow, what a joy!
Oh, getting to the four things I've learned this year. : ) It's really quite simple and you may even scoff because it's so simple. 1). Pray, 2). Read & meditate on the word (the bible), 3). obey God's word and 4). then go and share God's word with those who don't know it. I've known this for a while but once you are tested in these areas you will recognize there is a difference between knowing them and practicing them in your daily life. It comes down to your relationship with God and your relationships with man.
Today man has really complicated ministry with programs, movements, events, curriculum, concerts etc... these are all good things, but none of them suppliment a relationship with God or relationships with others. It's simple, see I told you. : )
Hey, God says He wants to talk with today.... He's waiting!
This last year God has been teaching me so much about Him, His word and myself and others. There have been times I haven't "felt" like talking with Him and other times when I did want to talk with the Lord (in prayer) and I could not express any words. Overall, I just REALLLY want to please the Lord. Do you know what I mean? I'm learning that I may not always have the "feeling" of intimate talk with the Lord, but He is committed to me and patiently teaches me His ways so that I can please him; but there is nothing I have done that pleases him - it is his Son Jesus who pleases Him. Matthew 17:5 The Father said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"
God the Father is well pleased with His Son Jesus. It is through him that we have the hope of Salvation! Do we understand what that means?! He is saving us from certain death, eternal death! Our sins are like flithy rags, we cannot enter heaven because of them. It's like when we were all muddy and our mothers wouldn't let us come in the house until we were clean. Jesus take all of the filthy sins of our lives and gives us new clothes, pure, white and holy. This is why the Father is pleased with his Son. He was obedient to death, even death on the cross, to pay the penalty of our sins. And he didnt' stop there. He also rose from the dead and those who are in faith in Christ will do the same - rise unto life in Christ!
What pleases God? When we recognize by grace (his free gift) and through faith in His Son that we are saved. Have faith and please the Lord. I'm leaning this difficult lesson. It's not by my strength but by faith that I can please the Lord. I am so thankful for my relationship with him and I pray for the same for you my friend.
"Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it." Ephesians 5:10.
"This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"
These are not commands to weigh us down, but to lighten the Load. God loves us and wants the best for us. Let's set our hearts to pleasing the Lord!
There are days when I am very discouraged with raising support for my ministry position with IVCF. It is a "marathon" of faith and hard work and prayer. God's timing is crucial as He develops my character, knowledge, faith and so many other traits necessary for ministry. It's days like this, that make me vulnerable to Satan's lies and tricks... "just give up", "it's no use, God won't provide for you." "Go back to Architecture where you can make good money." But in the midst of my doubt and trouble a friend gives me a call, or an email or sends a letter and lifts up my spirit and sets my eyes back on Christ and not on my circumstance. Here is such an encouragement from a friend who has had to persevere more than I ever could imagine. A friend filled with faith in Christ!
Todd--keep with your ministry and persevere. We need you sharing truth with those college kids! We NEVER ever know what tomorrow brings. May God continue to bless you my friend.
The short story here is that my friends lost their teen son in a tradgic car and bike accident a couple years ago. Then recently another teen lost his life in a similar circumstance in the same community. Yet my friends encouraged me!
No one knows the extent or number of his/her days on earth. The urgency of sharing Christ and believing in him is now! There is NO other way to heaven! "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.." Hebrews 3:15. No matter where a person has been because of their sin, God has paid for that sin by the suffering and death of His own Son Jesus, who also rose from the dead. The punishment that we deserve, Jesus voluntarily took it upon himself! Don't beat yourself up over the sin that you do over and over again; Jesus already took that punishment. Turn away from it and confess it to the Lord. He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:5-10. We have a loving God friends. He has called each of us to build up the rest of the body. If you see someone discouraged, hurt, alone, falling into sin... build them up, share truth with them in love.
Thank you friends, for your encouragement to persevere in faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen!
Here you will find updates, thoughts, discussion and prayers for my life and ministry...