Monday, May 8, 2017

Un-Crushed Students

We like to say that there are two versions of every Cornell student.  There is the regular version; a person who is brilliant, purpose-driven, often creative, optimistic and relational.  And there is the crushed version of that person: A person who's mental acuity, drive, vision and social abilities are fundamentally impaired by the "crushing weight" of homework, academic pressure, resume building extra-curricular activities,  un-ceasing competition and complete lack of margin. 

One of the best things about spring break trips is the way it enables us to spend time hanging out with the "un-crushed" version of our Cornell student leaders.  

Our spring break trips afford students the chance to get off campus, take a break from homework and get some fresh air.   The grace of the gospel pervades every aspect of the week.  And with our focus on Jesus, serving others and enjoying fellowship together the students are able to connect with God and each other in some really powerful ways.  The non-stop "success driven" culture at Cornell is actually very stifling.  But traveling together over the break is thoroughly enriching; students are categorically more joyful, clear thinking and social on the trips.  They are "un-crushed."   Lots of spiritual growth happens specifically because there is adequate mental and emotional space.  
I personally believe these experiences are invaluable for gaining perspective.  So much life at Cornell can become a neurotic shuffle from one intense class or assignment to the next.  It's "productive" in it's own rite, but at what cost?  Getting away for a week of doing nothing has it's own merits.  But for those who spend their week hanging out with friends, exploring ways to love others and soaking in God's word it is extremely fortifying.  

This is one of our guys, Paul, exhibiting some of the extra life students have on these trips!  haha. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Baltimore Reflection

Senior Andrew Shi wrote a fantastic reflection on our Baltimore Spring Break trip.

My spring break trip to Baltimore/DC was more than I could ask for. Our team of 18 stayed at the Village Church in Baltimore, a young church whose members reflect the diversity of its local neighborhood. Our week consisted of an assortment of activities. In Baltimore, we toured the city, handed out flyers for the church, did construction work on the church, went on a prayer walk in the surrounding neighborhood, tutored with an after-school program at an inner-city school, learned about World Relief, and participated in campus evangelism at UMBC. In DC, we toured the city, attended a prayer meeting at the headquarters of International Justice Mission, flyered for a new Hispanic Church, and met with church planters as well as a missionary inside Capitol Hill to learn about the spiritual climate in our nation’s capitol.
Andrew (center) with Michael and Dennis in DC

When I first saw the scheduled events of the week, I felt disappointed that the trip seemed to have no clear vision. I was hoping to work towards one big project--something to show at the end of the week. Now I realize how God used the little moments--from driving to YMCA at night to take showers to making food together at 10PM in the church’s tiny kitchen--to teach me big lessons. If there was one word to capture what I experienced and learned, it
would be “community.”

To be sure, being around the same people for seven straight days is itself a community-building exercise. What made this community special, however, was not the fact that we were physically together. It was the goal of each member to love one another that moved me. Not once on the trip did I see anyone complain about being off schedule or feeling too tired to sign up for the next breakfast shift. One night during our team time, we did a group-bonding activity where we took turns saying positive things about one person in the group for one minute. The exercise, as one member put it, was both affirming and humbling. As someone who loves to be independent, I tend to shy away from the messiness of groups. But my experience on this team helped me to see that to live and serve together with other Christians is a joyful rather than a burdensome duty.

Andrew using the Perspective Banners to talk about Spiritual Beliefs
Beyond our team, my experience of community came from observing how members of the Village Church served us. The Village Church’s members demonstrated their hospitality to us throughout the entire week. On two separate nights, I had dinners at people’s homes nearby the church. On two separate nights, I took showers at people’s homes nearby the church. The church members welcomed us into their homes--often late into the night--without reservation. They took us in as their own and expressed a genuine desire to get to know us.

I want to recall one conversation I had with two young professionals who lived near the church. Both emphasized to me the importance of living close to a local church and being involved in the daily life of the church. While this advice may appear obvious, it was not something I’ve taken seriously as a college student. To think of it, school is arguably the only time in life where I will be around people exclusively my age, who do more or less the same things I am doing--classes, clubs, sports, etc. It has been easy--perhaps natural--for me to pick and choose my community and to be involved in as much or as little as I want, when I want. As a consequence of the four-year turnover rate in college, I’ve grown comfortable with the transient flow of friendships and responsibilities, and in turn, my conception of community. This spring break trip jerked me out of the college pond and gave me a glimpse of the ocean of the real world. The two young professionals I spoke with talked about how God worked through their life through the church. Both belonged to community groups. Both were being mentored by older women. Both found ways to serve inside and outside the church. Their advice unsettled my narrow and selfish conception of community.

I confess that throughout college, I’ve often treated Cru fellowship time or Sundays at church as just another block of time on my schedule. God convicted me of these sinful and misguided thoughts this week. I realized that my primary obstacle to a deeper engagement with the body of Christ was not some well-meaning excuse but the pride of my heart. I wanted community on my own terms. Weary of falling into a Christian bubble, I considered it weak to develop a dependency on the Christian community. As a result, my imagination of what community looks like and what it can do has been so modest.

Praise God for revealing these truths to me in this time of my life. I am one month away from graduation as I think about these things. When I begin law school in the fall, I will have the opportunity to be involved in the law school’s Christian fellowship as well as the local church. Community there will not look the same as community here, but it will still be God’s body of believers. With what I learned on this spring trip, thanks to your prayers and support, I look forward to deeper waters that lie ahead.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Jesus and Uncle Drew

This week I came upon the "Uncle Drew" videos that Kyrie Irving made with Pepsi.*  In episode 1, Irving gets made up like an old man (Uncle Drew) and shows up to a city park basketball court in New Jersey.   He looks like an elderly guy who probably isn't able to get anything serious done on the court; he seems frail, and possibly even a bit senile.  No one regards him as any sort of "force to be reckoned with" but as he begins to play with the "youngbloods" he slowly reveals his incredible skills.   Onlookers are "wowed" as he proceeds to warm up and then dazzle the court with authority.

The whole scene is intriguing.  This unlikely, seemingly fragile man steps up and conquers.  It's got some "underdog"  motif, the ordinary Uncle Drew, turns out to be an extraordinary NBA star!  He looks like some regular old guy with absolutely no game at all, but in fact he's a champion of the game!

This narrative that captivates everyone!  The people standing on the side of the court are completely enchanted, and pretty much so is anyone who dials it up on youtube!

I would say there's a certain "glory" to the whole thing.  And I suggest that the reason it's so enthralling, the reason it strikes us being so "cool" is because of the way it essentially "echoes" the gospel story.  What Uncle Drew did was pretty cool; he showed up looking like a nobody and then proceeded to inspire everybody!
Reminds me of that time Jesus left heaven and took on the form of man.  He didn't seem like anything special, but in fact he was supremely so.  He seemed an unlikely champion, but as he lived, died and rose from the grave he revealed himself as the ultimate victor.  Under-estimating him is easy to do, but it is only to our shame and detriment.

Pepsi and Kyrie came up with a cool story.  But Jesus thought of it first.

*I think these were made like 4 years ago or something.  I'm not sure, but I guess I am a bit "late to the party" on these vids.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

God's Plan for Ben

Ben got connected to Cru during his first few days on campus back when he was a freshman.  But it wasn't until he attended our "Ironman" men's retreat that God really got a hold of his heart!

At our Fall Getaway this October, Ben got to share his story with everyone.  It's an amazing testimony of God's pursuing love!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Leader Profile: Lucas Raley

When Lucas Raley picked up a double headed ax and instigated a game of "chop the burning catapult" with Jake Haddock, I knew he and I were gonna be great friends!  During our Men's retreat we had a "trebuchet build off" where I had teams of guys construct primitive catapults which we used to launch pumpkins.  Calibrating a trebuchet is quite challenging and in the end none of them launched very well.  But, they burned just fine!  Since they were made from scrap fence and pallet wood we heaved them into the fire once it got dark.  That was cool enough, but it got even cooler when Lucas and the fella's decided to deconstruct it while it was catching on fire!  What a riot!  

We talk about junior Lucas Raley a lot in my family.  Not only is he an incredible student leader who happens to be dating one of our staff interns, but he's a hero to my kids!  From Jack on down to Junie, Lucas is one of our favorite people in the world.   Lucas' fun-loving, gung-ho spirit is inspirational, helpful and contagious!  Because he was here working in Ithaca this summer we got to spend a lot of time together.

Lucas plays on the Cornell football team, but he's struggled with a back injury for the past two years.  Commenting on his back pain, Lucas said "Originally, I thought it was just going to be a few months of taking it easy and it would be recovered, but God had some other plans."  Lucas had hoped to be starting all last year during his sophomore year, but it just wasn't working out!  That was frustrating, and yet it gave Lucas the opportunity and the space to grow in his walk with Jesus.
  Lucas said that when he came to Cornell, he "had been completely wrapped up in the belief that being a starter on the team was what it was all about."  He said; "Having played in several games during freshman year behind a player that had graduated, I was convinced that it was my time to shine. But, what God aggressively informed me of is that it was not, nor will it ever be MY time to shine. However, it is always HIS time to shine."  Having his own plans and dreams disrupted enabled Lucas to recognize and rest in God's plan instead.  

"No longer having my Friday nights occupied with football, I had decided to try out this “Cru” thing that I had heard about from a few people.  So my friend Cole and I decided that we would check it out. That first Friday that we went, about three weeks into the year, we showed up and were immediately welcomed by tons of people that we had never met.  The gospel band played that night which was amazing, and then we heard a solid message. The next week we went back and then heard the announcement for the fall retreat which happened to be on a weekend that we had a Friday night game, giving me the opportunity to go after the game and spend the weekend at the retreat."

 Although we had met before, I remember clearly last fall when Lucas walked up to me with his friend Cole and said "we want to go to the Fall Getaway!"  Lucas came up to our Seneca Lake retreat and he's been a huge part of our ministry ever since.  Although it was a bummer to be injured, God redeemed the time tremendously and we've all been able to benefit.
Lucas Raley is all in.  Starting with that Fall Retreat he's been a faithful and passionate part of Cru.  This summer we got to spend some good time working at the Second Wind cottages together each Saturday.  We also got to cook every Wednesday night for our Summer fellowship.  This semester Lucas is helping to lead a Community Group.  More football guys are being given the chance to connect with Christ and walk on mission like he is.  

It's hard for me to express how grateful I am for him.  He's a faithful man of God, an incredible student leader and a beloved role model to our kids!  Lucas is a blessing to his fellow Cornell students and to our family.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Our Initiating God!

The God of the Bible is a God of action and initiative.  Even and especially as it relates to the saving of mankind, God is not passive.  Before the foundation of the world, God had determined that he would gather a people for himself.  Throughout history He has expended himself to make the way for men and women to be united in fellowship with himself.  Despite man's sin fueled rebellion, God graciously sent his one and only son, Jesus Christ to earth to rescue us!   Jesus lived the perfect life that we could never live and died the death we deserved to die to make the way for us to live the glorious life we were created for!  

1 John 4 makes it very clear -we love because he first loved us.  Nobody is in a relationship with God because they took the first step!  Paul, in the book of Romans says "no one seeks God!"  If you are a Christian, it's not because you went out looking for God!  It's because he was looking for you!  He looked for you, and he found you!  God takes the initiative to save sinners!  Romans 5:8 famously says that God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  God cared for you, and laid down his very life for you his life for you before you every gave a rip about him!   

Brought into fellowship with God, Christians are now commissioned to join God in his mission of reconciliation.  Following Jesus by faith, the discipleship life is a life of action.  With Christ as both our Lord and our leader, we expend ourselves to connect others with his transforming Love.  

As Christ's ambassadors we want to act like Christ. We reach out.  We take initiative.  We give.  We bless.   As a ministry, we don't just set up camp somewhere and hope people happen to hear about Cru and come find us!  We move towards the campus, we find ways to start conversations, we look for ways to serve and we strive to make the gospel as visible and accessible as possible.   We want to care for others irrespective of their care for us!  

 God is on the move, and we are in movement with him!     

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Foreign Policy and Missions

As we continue through this crazy election season, I want to encourage Christians to be thinking (and then voting*) about how this or that administration will affect the proclamation of the gospel to the nations.

When I was in college I had the chance to "smuggle" some Bibles into a foreign country.  Although carrying Christian literature was constitutionally legal in that country at that time, the anti-Christian religio/political situation was such that you pretty much had to sneak them in.  Ten of us folded a total of 250 thin-line Bibles into our clothing in our backpacks.  We hid the books in such a way that a superficial inspection of our bags would leave them undetected.  We traveled into the country in pairs and proceeded through the various baggage checks and customs stations without making any noticeable contact with our group -in case one of us got caught, we didn't want all the other's to be compromised as well.

After crossing the border we traveled into a city and convened at a restaurant.  At the Restaurant we sat at a table and stealthily transferred all the Bibles from our 10 individual bags into 2 bags under the table cloths. Two guys then boarded a train and traveled deeper into the country to deliver the Bible's to an underground church somewhere and the rest of us occupied ourselves with some sight-seeing for the day.  Especially for a college student, the whole experience was a blast; we felt like missionary James Bonds or something!

The experience was profoundly inspiring in a few different ways.  Not only was it strengthening of our faith and confidence in Christ, but I also took away a significant lesson related to international relations and the accessibility of the gospel.

If any customs officials or police would have found the stash of Bibles in our bags or caught us transferring the goods etc. the consequences for us as American's would probably have been pretty minimal.  This country had (and has) a good relationship with the U.S. and pretty much out of respect they would most likely have confiscated the Bibles and then refused to let us across the border, sending us back the way we came.  Possibly we would have been detained for a few hours for questioning.  Although it was possible that there could have been more dire consequences, that was pretty unlikely at that time.

A local resident or even a citizen of another country might not have been so blessed; they could have been subjected to a more harsh punishment.  But simply because we were from the U.S. we had less to worry about.  Our countries relationship with this foreign nation was so positive and they were so fundamentally appreciative of the United States,  that we as American's would have been given extra mercy for transgressing a serious social norm.

On the way out of that country I had another experience that was interesting.  We were actually leaving on a boat/Ferry and at the port station there were the various different security checkpoints.  If I remember correctly, there were 3 different checkpoints that we had to pass through.   The lines were held up and the boat departure time was drawing nigh.  We weren't sure we were going to make it!  But then, while in line at the last checkpoint, a border guard stood up and held up a Blue U.S. passport and shouted "American's" and began waving his hand in a gesture for any American's to pass on through.  The line was full of international travelers with passports from many different places and we were able to walk right by them to the front of the line and pass expediently through the last checkpoint with virtually no handling.   We simply held up our passport and the guard directed us to the boat!  We were literally given special treatment because we were from the U.S.!

I remember thanking God for such a successful adventure while marveling at the irony of the situation.   And I also remember thinking this: "Wow! Blue American Passport's are very powerful!"  To quote 'uncle Ben' "with great power comes great responsibility"   I remember thinking about how useful American citizenship was for enabling the spread of the gospel!  I remember being grateful and even proud that America had such rapport!  Because of America's role in the world, we were able -as American college students to carry scriptures to people who needed them with incredible expedience and a considerably limited risk to boot!   I remember thinking that this was really cool!

America's role and reputation in the world were actually helpful for the cause of Christ!  Having an American passport was a powerful and precious gift!  I didn't personally earn it, but for the sake of the Gospel, I wanted to steward it well and help other American's to do the same!  And I felt there was an urgency -even as I rejoiced, I remember thinking that such privilege probably wouldn't last forever!   Even then, I speculated that a day would come when our blue passport would gain us nothing positive at a foreign border!

In September of 2002 I was in Spain standing outside one of the University buildings handing out a mini-magazine talking about the events of 9/11 and explaining the gospel.  Most people were respectful, a few were engaging and another few shouted belligerently at us, ridiculing us for being American's.   On that day, in that country, our U.S. citizenship was NOT actually helping us to make the gospel accessible!

I have many concerns about the candidates running for president and the effects their administrations would have on our lives and the world we live in, but one primary grid that I can't not filter things through is what I'll call the "missionary grid."   I look at potential candidates and ask questions like "if this person were president, how would that help or hurt the forth-going of the gospel in the world.   In particular, I ask; "will this person as president make it easier for American's to travel abroad serving as gospel-proclaiming ambassadors for Jesus, or harder?"

Jesus' command (known as the Great Commission) to us in Matthew 28:18-20 factors into pretty much all of my big life decisions, as I actually think it should for every follower of Christ.  I know that the president is not the "pastor in chief", and yet, I think committed Christians should be thinking very much about the spread of the gospel to the nations and how a presidential administration will either impede that or enable it.   There are many important issues in the world, but the ultimate answer and hope for the world is found in the good news of Jesus Christ.

*Yesterday I went to the DMV to get my address changed.  While filling out the forms I also changed my political party affiliation to "none".  I'm planning not to vote in the presidential election in November.