Friday, July 20, 2012

Leadership, New Birth, and run-aways. (Seniors 2012)

I still remember meeting Nelson during our first fall semester at a kick-off event up on North Campus.

He was sporting a tasteful but truly ‘pimpn’ gold chain and a well matched outfit.  He came by our table and I got to connect with him just a little bit.  He was living in a “program House” here called the “LLC” or Latino Living Center and since I was planning to lead a  community group up there I invited him to check it out.
                                                                                                                                                         Throughout his freshman year Nelson was a pretty consistent part of our small  group and he plugged in to our ministry full on.  He got to know other freshman dudes like Owen. 

Owen is boisterous, fun and loud –traits we fully discovered the first time he showed up to one of our bonfires.  Taking hold of the 8 pound wood splitter, Owen lead the men passionately taking on the toughest logs and turning them into burnable sticks.
During the summer between his freshman and sophomore year here at Cornell, Owen was seriously considering transferring schools to attend a small Christian school down in Florida.  I personally thought that was a lame idea mostly because he was such 

a passionate leader and we had a lot of work to do here!   I was hoping and praying that he’d return to Cornell  (and thankfully so were his parents!)   I called him two weeks before classes started to ask him what his plan was.  Even at that point he was waffling back and forth and I was like “dude, classes are about to start!  You’ve gotta make a decision!”   Shortly after that, he told me he’d be back in the fall, and I made plans to co-lead a community group on West Campus with him.   I'm so glad he came back!  I can't imagine our movement here without him!

While at Cornell both Owen and Nelson were pre-med. 
They did well, but that path is definitely a challenge and carving out free time was always a chore.  I loved seeing Owen on the Big Break trips because he seemed so free from the day to day stresses of life on campus.  He’d absolutely come alive leading, revving everybody up and engaging the lost.  For my kids, Owen will always be a legend because it once took like 10 people to wrestle him into the ocean surf.   Throughout the afternoon he’d been mischievously  and methodically ushering his fellow students into the water against their will.   But to get him back required some extreme team work!

Although both Owen and Nelson grew up church, College was a time of significant growth in Christ.  And for Nelson, it really wasn’t until late in his junior year that he truly became born again. 

Throughout that year, Nelson had been wrestling with God about different things, all the while staying fairly plugged in. It was a season of struggling in many ways.   He and I didn’t meet up on a weekly basis, but we’d catch up whenever we could to talk about life and Jesus.
I remember well though the afternoon, we’d planned to meet up,  and then for some reason, I had to call him and cancel on him.  But, it was the Lord’s will for us to hang out and so a couple of hours later, while walking thru Sage hall, I saw Nelson studying.   He had some time free and so did I  so we grabbed some cokes and sat down. 

I asked him how things were going, and his answer completely blew me away!   
“I think I just became a Christian last night.”   
“Are you serious?”  I responded.  “Tell me what happened.” 

Nelson proceeded to tell me the incredible story of God meeting him in a transforming and personal way.  Sin had been working him over and yet he felt compelled to seek after God.  He ended up reading through the copy of “For Your Joy” that we often give away.   He read through the whole thing and he told me that “everything just made sense.”  The familiar content of the gospel came alive to him in a new and clear way.  The scriptural truths regarding life in Christ were becoming real to him in a way that they really hadn’t before.  He sensed he needed to respond somehow.  Grabbing a copy of our Knowing God Personally booklet sitting nearby, he read it through as well.  At the end, he felt the Holy Spirit prompting him to get off of his bed, kneel down and pray to Jesus.  He surrendered his life and put real faith in God. 

I had assumed that Nelson was a believer already.  In addition to professing belief in Jesus, he had demonstrated a commitment to the body of Christ, he had participated in mission and had exhibited zeal and fruitfulness.  And yet, he realized that in his heart, he had not yet fully come alive and submitted to Christ as Lord. 

And so, sitting in the Sage Hall snack bar I rejoiced with him and thanked God for mercifully pursuing and revealing himself. 

There was one other student who was constantly hanging out with Owen, Nelson and those guys throughout college.    Joey is a gifted, charismatic, incredibly social party animal who actually had an encounter with God during his freshman year.    When I first met him, he was trying to seek after God.  He was also studying engineering which I felt was a terrible fit in light of his personality and giftings.  I told him he should look into the hotel school which he did and shortly after that he became changed his major. 

That next summer, he plunged deeper into a life of partying and recklessness abandoning the call of God.  I don’t think there is a single other non-Christian student at Cornell who I have prayed for more than Joey.    Since the first day I met him, I have sensed that God has a plan for him and I’ve dreamed of how God could use him, if he would stop living for his own glory and recognize God’s.   And yet up to this point, the world’s idols have continued to captivate his heart.   For me, Joey serves serves as a tragic example –a literal poster child of what it looks like to waste Cornell.  He graduated.  And, he is set for worldly success in all kinds of ways.  But he is missing the thing that matters most. 

I continue to pray for Joey in hopes that some day he will experience the transformation of the Gospel.  

I found this old picture of the guys trying to get Owen into the water

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