Reaching New York State

     Using a new strategy to make ourselves known on the internet, our team has had many students reach out to us to help bring the light of Christ to their campus.  Many of them are attending schools in the SUNY (State University of NY) system, where my friend Chris has been directing his attention.

     I have been partnering with Chris to find local churches who can empower these young leaders, and have identified 58 churches near the first four campuses investigated so far.

  Chris and I have had several great conversations with pastors and volunteers who already have a heart to shepherd the students in their area, but my favorite encounter was with Nathan.

     Nathan, a professional chemist, began working as a professor for two reasons: to do research, and to make Christ known to students.  He has a heart for apologetics and, in the field of science and education, he stands against the stereotype that you have to turn off your brain to follow Jesus.  Nathan has had bible studies with fellow faculty and discipled a handful of students who have come to his church, but is excited about the idea of working with us to do more.

What God’s Been Teaching Us

     Recently, I read an article in Christianity Today that deeply resonated in my heart.  The author described feelings of guilt for taking time to play.  While golfing and fishing, he is plagued by thoughts like, “shouldn’t you be doing something useful?  If you must take a break, why not one that is more useful like exercise or, better yet, reading your Bible?”  This led me to scour the Bible and Christian community about healthy, biblical play and rest versus laziness, worldliness, and idolatry. 

     Author David Naugle cites Psalm 104:24-26, saying that if children and animals play, “surely the animals tell us something about the playfulness of the God who made them.”  The Hebrew word for play, śāḥaq, is the same word used in the Bible for laughing, singing, dancing, and frolicking.  It’s what David did before the ark, and it is what Isaac was named after.  Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is a time for play contrasted with times for weeping and mourning.  But, when is it appropriate?

     Naugle says that God prescribed Sabbath and festivals so that “we can alternate our mastery of the world through work with a thankful enjoyment of the world as we experience its beauty in rest, worship, and godly leisure.”  Pastor John Piper explains the difference between sloth and Godly restfulness is whether you are avoiding work or celebrating it (Prov 13:4; 1 Cor 6:12; Ecc 5:12; Psalm 127:1-2).  Author/teacher Joshua Gibbs shared what he was taught, “If you can sing the doxology when you’re finished doing something, go ahead. However, if you realize there’s no way you can honestly thank God for what you’re doing, quit doing it.”

     There is a lot more to learn.  If you’re interested, one source everyone seems to site is Dutch historian and scholar Johan Huizinga, who wrote a book in 1932 called Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture.

Progress in Seattle

     This month, I arranged for 10 of our Cru leaders to meet with 15 churches around Seattle and learn about their hearts for young people.  The goal is to build relationships with God’s agents in the city and connect them to the 21 “unreached campuses” in the area, schools that have no known gospel activity. 

     As I’m working through follow-up with those 15 churches, and about  60 more that weren’t able to meet that day, I’ve already gotten to have some incredible conversations that God very clearly set up for me in advance!  One of my favorite new friends is Pastor Paul.

     After 20 years of ministering to his employees at Taco Bell, God had already put young people on Paul’s heart. He built an internship program at his church where recent grads could grow in 1-on-1 discipleship, small group fellowship, and service.  Now, he has 75 students and young adults who want to launch Cru movements on their local campuses.  They’ll start by rallying behind a newly-wed couple, Sammy and Michael, who will launch at their campus of Pierce College, then use that as a springboard to the schools the others attend.  Please pray for Sammy, Michael, Paul, and the rest!

Reaching Disney World

     Karen and I are thrilled to welcome Alex and Joel (whom I got to disciple on campus years ago!) as they join the Cru team ministering at the Disney College Program dorms.  Here is some of what they have recently shared…

     The Disney College Program can be a dark place, with pleasure-seeking that leaves many dealing with the consequences of sin. Yet, in the midst of that, God is raising up multiplying disciples to shine a light for Christ amongst a lost generation! They are taking steps of faith to bring hope to the hopeless despite possible rejection and persecution by their peers. Our team is working to share Christ alongside these interns by coaching them in evangelism, resourcing them with relevant new tools and techniques, and spurring them on to boldly be the hands and feet of Christ wherever they go.

     One student, Abby, talked about how she had been wanting opportunities to be a light to people while she was in Florida, and that she wanted more from her time in Disney. She said Cru was an “answer to prayer,” and now she is one of Alex and Joel’s student leaders.

What God’s Been Teaching Us

     One of my favorite partnerships over the years has been with my best friend, Derrick, who created a ministry called Shattered Studios, which seeks to combat teen depression by creating fun content about their favorite movies, video games, and “geeky” stuff.  Derrick and I (along with another dear friend named John) were invited to host a seminar at the upcoming convention LoveThyNerdCon, and chose to speak about why and how people can reach their gamer friends for Jesus.  I’m hoping we’ll be able to post the presentation online for you all, but in the meantime, here’s a taste of what we’ll be teaching…

     Why should we try to reach our friends for Jesus? 

1. Because God said so (Matthew 28:16-20, Ezekiel 33:8)

2. Because we love them (2 Cor 5:20; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 5:11-13)

3. Because God uniquely gifted us to reach them (1 Peter 4:10-11; 1 Cor 9:22)

     How can we reach them?

1. Be filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:12)

2. Be where they are (Luke 14:23; Matt 9:38)

3. Be brave & gentle (Eph 6:19; 1 Peter 3:15)

We also were able to share with them a strategy called the “Sometime” Question.  In the future, we hope to develop and share even more resources for helping young people explore their faith in the field of entertainment.

A Summer Mission Trip

     Zach’s drinking had started to become more of a “Monday through Sunday” thing.  Sobbing in his bed, feeling unfulfilled and without a future, Zach texted Trevor, his older brother, “I’m so sick of this lifestyle.” Trevor’s reply? “Go to Cru.” Trevor had encountered God through Cru a few years earlier. At the time, 16-year-old Zach couldn’t understand how Trevor had been able to change from the angry brother he’d known his whole life.

Feeling empty, doubtful, conspicuous on that unseasonably warm Minnesota night, Zach walked into a church where students had gathered to experience Cru’s virtual Winter Conference. He heard the band playing a song tailored just for him, and the weight fell away. 

“Like a toddler in a new world,” is how Zach sums up his spring semester experience of salvation, discipleship, Bible study, church … “ups with a few downs,” the downs dwindling when he moved out and away from his party friends mid-May, opting instead for gym workouts and basketball. “You can’t have one foot in and the other out.” He even spent four weeks of intensive evangelism and discipleship at North Myrtle Beach Summer Mission, and came back ready to reach others.

Back on campus, Zach met up with some of his old buddies, enduring their taunts of “Preacher Boy,” and agreeing with them, “You’re right. I’m not better than you. We all need help.” Zach’s been asked to leverage some of his newly discovered gifting, helping Cru reach out to other students, initiating Christian community in the dorms, and emceeing Cru’s weekly meeting. Pray for Zach to grow steadily from “spiritual toddlerhood” to a leader, firm in his faith.

Reaching Seattle Students

             One of our goals with church partnership is to go where the gospel is not.  With at least 18 registered Christian clubs, University of Washington is not one of those places.  However, in the same metro area, there are twenty-one campuses that have NO KNOWN ministry presence!  What an opportunity to do something new, and to work together as Jesus said the Church should (John 17:20-23).

     This September, as part of a training, we are arranging for Cru leaders from all over the country to meet with churches that are in close proximity to several of those “unreached campuses.” 

     We’ll also host a lunch panel for college and young adult pastors in the area so our Cru staff can learn more about how the local churches are ministering to young people, and to build a network for these pastors to lift each other up and reach the city together.

     After the event, it’ll be my honor to follow up with each church and guide them toward efforts of evangelism and discipleship with the college students in their own back yard.  Please pray that the Lord uses this as only He can, and that we are able to bring similar united efforts to many other locations.

What God’s Been Teaching Us

   One of my friends has been deeply studying the Jewish roots of the Bible.  I applaud this while also recognizing potential danger, just as there is a danger in heavily engaging with any non-Christian community without remaining strongly connected to believers.  Non-messianic Jews today believe a lot of the same things that the Pharisees believed in Jesus’ time, the ones who rejected Him as God’s Messiah and handed Him to the Romans.  Studying the case for why we can believe that Jesus is the Messiah is an awesome and fascinating journey (this book is a good place to start). 

     One erroneous view many modern Jews take is to incorporate Jesus Himself as simply a “good rabbi” saying claims of His divinity were only added later on.  They (as well as many Muslims) say it was an invention of Paul and not of Jesus or His disciples.  Those accusations don’t account for all the times Jesus Himself claims to be God (Matthew 28:8-9, 19; Mark 2:1-12; 14:60-62; Luke 22:67-70; John 1:18; 4:25-26; 5:18; 8:22-24, 57-58; 10:33; 20:27-28) or the fact that the apostle Peter calls Paul’s writings equal with “the rest of Scripture” (2 Peter 3:15-16). 

     Lest they should say that these passages were corruptly added later, I point to the sheer volume of passages that would have to be changed, the fact that we have manuscripts that date back to less than 100 years after the authors, and a fact on which Christians, Jews, and Muslims agree: God would not allow corruption into His Word.

     You can go deeper into proofs of the resurrection with Dr. Gary Habermas.  As Tim Keller says, exploring your doubts is a great way to grow your faith and relationship with God.  Be sure to do it alongside trusted friends in the Church, though.  Don’t go it alone.

What God’s Been Teaching Us – Chronic Pain

   Some of you already know that Karen has been struggling with chronic pain for many years. We have been to so many doctors, and been prayed for and over by so many people. We’ve heard from both medical and spiritual experts that something more seemed to be going on than could be detected. We confessed sin, believed in God’s healing and love, rested in His peace, allowed his grace to be sufficient, and set our eyes on eternity ahead, but it still didn’t change the fact that Karen’s pain stood in the way of a lot of the life and ministry we wanted to pursue here on earth.

   Over the summer, at another seemingly dead-end doctor’s visit, our attention was drawn to a book on the display that promised a “cure for chronic pain without surgery or drugs,” which struck us as odd in an urgent care facility. We were encouraged to learn that the author, Dr. Brady, is a hospital MD, is a Christian, and had done rigorous research on how the body, mind, and spirit are connected (largely to pursue his own healing for years of mysterious chronic pain). Cautiously hopeful, we saw the book was only $2 on kindle, so we gave it a try.

   The author quoted Sir William Osler who said, “the great physician treats the patient [not just the disease].” He also cites THE Great Physician, and refers to King David’s heavenly doctor appointment in Psalm 38, where he links his physical ailments (back ache, heart palpitations, weakness, and vision problems) to his emotions (his guilt had overwhelmed him). David’s solution is to dig out and express those buried feelings to the Lord and then entrust his life firmly into God’s hands: “Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.”

     The life stories and advice in this book resonate with us. Please pray for Karen, as she follows Dr Brady’s and others’ advice by diligently digging out the buried emotional sources of her physical pain and laying them out on the altar.

Getting Back Up Again

            Those of you who have followed us a long time may remember Eric from our mission to reach students in Los Angeles back in 2014. Even after he graduated from college, Eric and his family were a great blessing to the ministry, and to us personally when they hosted me on several trips to CA.

            During the pandemic, we lost touch. When we finally did get back in contact, Eric told me that his life had drifted far from the Lord. It started with spending more and more time with non-Christian friends and less and less with his church community. He gave me permission to share that a series of bad choices led to sin and eventually being arrested. All kinds of feelings flooded my heart, and lies of the enemy tried to steal the joy from all the good God had done through us together. But, God is not done with Eric (will never give up on Eric), and neither will I.

   When I spoke with him, Eric wasn’t sad but happy! He said that this was the wakeup call he needed. He was shocked to realize how dark his own heart is apart from the Holy Spirit’s lordship, and he wants to use this clarity to rebuild a path of walking with God and His community. Pray for Eric’s future!