I (Jeff) have been starting to read a series of bible studies called the 10 Basic Steps. It was written by Bill Bright (founder of Cru) to help people to grow from infancy to maturity in every area of our relationship with God (doesn’t sound so basic, right?). As I read, it feels almost like being discipled directly by Dr. Bright, who walked with Jesus like few we’ve ever known.
“Some people are reluctant to trust God completely with their lives, fearing that He may want to make a change in their plans,” but Dr. Bright asks: “Is it not logical that the One who created us knows better than we the purpose for which we were created? And since He loves us enough to die for us, is it not logical to believe that His way is best (Romans 8:32)?”
I (Jeff) have a difficulty with boundaries. I have trouble knowing what to say “no” to so that I save room to say “yes” to what is most important. In volleyball, it is always hard for me to guard my zone without trying to go for the ball when it is in someone else’s. In the rest of life, it’s even more confusing as I see people in need and want to help, but sometimes helping can hurt more people in the long run. On the other hand, I don’t want to be cold-hearted, selfish and overprotective of my personal capacity. Does the Bible have any insight? One of my favorite authors, Dr. Henry Cloud wrote a book called Boundaries that is giving me new language to think through that is solidly grounded in Scripture.
For example, in Galatians 6, it says to “carry each other’s burdens [too-heavy weight]” but also that “each one should carry his own load [cargo of responsibilities].” Knowing which is which in a situation can help us decide whether there’s an emergency we would be wrong to ignore in another’s life or whether stepping in would negate the consequences necessary for them to grow.
In another place, the book points out that serving can lead to resentment when fueled by wrong motive: “we have been so trained by others on what we ‘should’ do that we think we are being loving when we do things out of compulsion.”
We can also limit how much others can hurt us by following God’s example. His actions say, “‘You can be that way if you choose, but you cannot come into my house….’ God limits his exposure to evil, unrepentant people, as should we” (Matt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:9-13). Please pray as I continue to grow.
It is a common myth missionaries fall into when raising support for their ministry that it is a “necessary step” in order to start doing ministry. In fact, raising support IS ministry, and an incredibly powerful part of what we do. We often see God show up in amazing ways, transforming our own lives as well as those we reach out to for partnership.
This month, while raising support, I had the opportunity to visit 2 churches in Southern California that are trying to launch Cru at their local campuses of California State University (notorious for its “all comers” policy that has driven Christian ministries off campus). I stayed with Eric, a student I’ve been coaching, and his sweet Mexican-American family. Their hospitality and care filled my heart to bursting and showed me an aspect of God more clearly than I’ve ever seen Him before!
As they took me around from campus to downtown LA and into the mountains, then from house to house to church, I couldn’t believe how grateful THEY were to ME, seeking my advice and asking to hear the many stories of God at work around the world.
Karen and I marvel at the blessing of God, who calls us to connect with His children all around the country, share the ministry He placed on our hearts and invite others to link arms with us and with God in His great rescue mission! During these times, God has shown us again and again that He will provide, and all He asks of us is to be faithful to go, do, say and give as He directs. Bless this family, their church and the united efforts to reach students in California for Jesus!
It is with a heavy heart that I report our beloved Vonette Bright’s homegoing. She died at home on December 23 due to complications from acute leukemia. We do not grieve as the world grieves, but we do experience deep sadness and will miss her so much. It is not hard for me to imagine her in the welcome embrace of her Savior and of her beloved husband.
As you know, Vonette and Bill founded this ministry on prayer and faith in God. And she has led us very well by her example and encouragement. She was always so enthusiastic and positive. Judy and I and all of us as staff around the world have been so blessed by her.
Of course, we aren’t the only ones who have been blessed by Vonette through the years. Join me in praying for Zac and Terry, Brad and Katherine, and the Bright grandchildren as they process this difficult moment in their lives.
We haven’t finalized a date for her memorial service, but we have set up a website where you can get details about that and about a memorial fund – as well as where you can share tributes to Vonette:www.VonetteBright.com. We also plan to stream her memorial service for those who cannot join us in Orlando.
Thank you for your prayers and partnership in gospel.
Karen and I have come to realize that our hearts have different needs. If we are going to minister well to our family, our community and our mission field for the marathon rather than a sprint, we need to take good care of ourselves as well. We try to become champions of each other’s “tanks,” keeping an eye on whether our spouse is getting the time they need alone, with God, with friends and doing specific things that bring us life (like art or woodworking as Karen is rediscovering for herself).
It’s amazing to see the difference in our attitudes when we’re filled up, but it’s also important to recognize that those tanks will not stay full. They need to be monitored and refilled, but there’s a deeper truth too. We cannot rely on having our tanks or our needs met as the basis for whether we’re doing well. God talks about not trusting in broken cisterns (or wells), but rather in the spring of living water that is a relationship with God (Jeremiah 2:13) and fellowship with the Holy Spirit in particular (John 7:37-39).
So, what is the answer? Do we take care of ourselves or rely on the Lord? In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” That’s not a mystical concept that we will be fulfilled even without the things we love. God LOVES to lavish us with gifts and opportunities, giving us back whatever we surrendered ten-fold!
One of the talks that blew me away the most at Cru15, our staff conference, was the one presented by Andy Crouch on reflecting God’s image. It was surprising to hear him describe the image of God as a combination of “authority” (Genesis 1:26) and “vulnerability” (Genesis 2:25). We tend to think it almost blasphemous to consider God vulnerable in any way—but the Bible describes a God who is often grieved, and was there ever a more vulnerable act than for Jesus to put aside all the privileges of godhood to suffer and die for His enemies (Philippians 2:5-8)?
What does that mean for us? Crouch believes that in order for us to truly flourish as image bearers, we must have both authority and vulnerability. He says that the fall created inequality, injustice and idolatry because some would escape vulnerability at the cost of others losing authority. According to Crouch, this hurts both parties, cutting us off from the life God intended for us. He calls “privilege” a wind that blows us away from vulnerability and away from fellowship with God.
You can’t read Scripture without seeing God’s mandate for us to love the impoverished, and that would mean those with power (that’s you and me) becoming vulnerable and giving our authority to those without it. That doesn’t mean a handout from on high, nor does it mean Cru comes to “show churches how it’s done.” Our posture must be to lift others up, and I’ve still got a lot to learn about that kind of humility.
One of the ways we’ve learned to recognize the movement of God is through conspicuous “coincidence.” For example, it is no coincidence that we’ve been studying the book “With” by Skye Jethani, which explains that life is not about what God will do to us or for us, or even what we can do for Him. It’s about an intimate relationship with our Father. God has been coaxing intimacy out of me (Jeff) by all means.
I’m not generally super in-touch with my emotions. Ask me how I’m really doing and most of the time I’ll give you a blank stare until I can think of some circumstance or other that was pleasant or hard. Mostly, my happiness is based on how good of a job I think I’m doing (as a husband, father, missionary, lawn owner, etc). God is showing me again and again, though, how out of my control all of that is. Jethani says that “faith is the opposite of seeking control. It is surrendering control. It embraces the truth that control is an illusion—we never had it and we never will.”
Scripture says that God controls our success or failure, and a friend pointed out that sometimes God won’t let us see success (even as He accomplishes His good will) because it would not be good for us. I learn not to put my hope in circumstances, and as the world fades from my attention, God softens my numb heart and draws me to a special place with Him like a candle in the dark.
One of my favorite things about ministry is the chance to “by faith, try stuff.” Some people talk about formulas for success, but God wants us to engage with Him in relationship, not just check boxes in our schedule. After all, “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor 3:7). Other religions put the control in our hands and our relationship with higher powers is strictly transactional—if we perform certain rituals, things will go well.
God doesn’t want any of that! He says “stop bringing me meaningless offerings” and “return to me” (Isaiah 1:13, 44:22). He’s interested in a relationship. My team has been studying a book called “With” by Skye Jethani, and have been learning about the 5 postures we have toward God. We often try to live “over” God by exchanging the living Lord and just keeping the principles and life strategies of the Bible. Other times, we live “under” God as if He’s waiting to zap us if we don’t legalistically do everything right. Then our consumerism kicks in and we live “from” God, like he is a butler who exists only to meet our desires. The most tricky, though, is life “for” God, where we spend so much time doing good things that we lose sight of the actual relationship “WITH” our first love (Revelation 2:4).