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.  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Seniors 2016: James Palmer

"Close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to be at the forefront of the next great awakening as God sweeps through not only the U.S. but Europe and all over the world!" -James Palmer

Today I woke up early and I was listening to a sermon about Prayer.  My summer schedule has included a lot of "early to bed and early to rise" and I've been wanting to grow in passion for early morning prayer.  That got me thinking about my bro James Palmer.  James helped lead a prayer meeting called 'Kindle' that met 6 days a week all throughout the school year last year.   Every morning at 7:30am, James got up and gathered with a small core of guys and girls to pray and intercede for the campus.  Together they engaged in the spiritual battle asking God to work powerfully in and through the lives of the Christians on campus.  They prayed for those who don't know Christ that they would be open to the gospel.  They prayed for revival and healing and spiritual transformation.  

As I was typically driving my kids to school during that time slot, I never made it to Kindle.  But I am thankful for James and the Kindle crew!   I am thankful for all the ways they participated in the mission and I am personally thankful for James' example; his faithfulness inspires me even today.  

James is from Ithaca;  he grew up here and attended Ithaca High School. I met him just a few days into his freshman year at Cornell almost 4 years ago.  We were playing Glow in the Dark Ultimate Frisbee and James was doing really good!  

When you meet James Palmer, he will probably strike you as a kind, mild-mannered guy with a chill disposition.  He's considerate and articulate and smart.  If you met him in class you would enjoy his company.  He's kind of mellow in certain ways, but at the same time, there's a powerful intensity about him! 
James was committed to evangelism in many different forms!  During the fall, he decided to try out a little open air preaching in the middle of campus.  
Throughout his time at Cornell James set an example of radical faith.  His dedication to missions is truly remarkable.  The summer after his freshman year he joined Larry and Van-Kim Lin on a summer project to one of my favorite countries in South East Asia.  During his sophomore year I got to serve with him in Haiti over Spring Break.  I loved hanging out in our room with the guys talking and praying each night.  This last March he and I were together out in Baltimore.   
Me with James and Gaelle down in the gorge. 
It is no exaggeration to say that James Palmer maximized his senior year.  He lead the Kindle meeting and also worked as a Resident Assistant in one of the freshman dorms.  James also helped me to lead a Community Group this year!   Each week we hung out on Tuesday nights with 10 - 14 freshman guys to eat together, share life and dig into the scriptures.  James' contagious passion and knowledge of the Word were definitely a blessing to the guys!   James set a high bar and encouraged the men to live sold out lives for Christ.  

During his "Senior Share" James exhorted his classmates to really trust God for Greater things.
James had everybody close their eyes and imagine various things like telling close friends about Jesus, talking to strangers about the gospel and traveling to new places to spread the gospel.  He had everybody picture in their minds people being healed from physical illness and spiritual oppression.  James said "close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to be at the forefront of the next great awakening as God sweeps through not only the U.S. but Europe and all over the world!" James ended with the Apostle Paul's words from Ephesians chapter 3

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

I'm really grateful for all the ministry I got to do over the years with James!

While we were out in the DC/Baltimore area for our Spring Break mission, James proposed to his girlfriend Gaelle!  


Monday, July 11, 2016

Nick Biebel; Faithful Ambassador

Throughout the past few months, people would ask me "how are you going to replace Beebs?"  The truth is, there is no way to replace Nick Biebel!   We will simply miss him!  

An alumni recently visited Ithaca  and lamented the absence of Uber.  Cru undergrads probably don’t feel the lack because they’ve had Nick!  If I just wrote about the way that “Beebs” used his minivan to help other people over the past two years, you’d be able to get a sense of how tirelessly Nick has worked to serve the body of Christ at Cornell.  Week in and week out Nick was driving people and sound equipment and ministry supplies to different meetings and gatherings.  He took people to the grocery store, he took people to the airport, he picked up people from the train station and the bus station and the hospital!   I am sincerely thankful to those who have supported Nick’s “van ministry!”  The amount of money he spent on gas is a gift to the kingdom all the way through!  
Nick was part of the marching band and Pep Band during his time here. He built many significant friendships

The departure of our man Nick Biebel from Cornell will be felt not only in Cru, but throughout the Body of Christ at Cornell.  Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Tabernacle Baptist and Chinese Bible Study will all sense that something isn’t quite the same as will people from many other churches and Christian groups.  (Nick’s passion for unity in the Body is contagious!)   “Beebs” and his wife Ronkui are headed to California.  Right now, Nick is at Cru’s New Staff Training in Florida, but the plan is for Ronkui to attend grad school at UC Davis and for Nick to join the staff team there.  
Nick took up Power Lifting over the past couple of years. 
Nick has left a large hole in our community and not just because he’s a really big dude who’s been here for six years!   Nick is a fun-loving, encouraging and energetic guy who has been spreading the fame of Christ here at Cornell since his freshman year!  You may recall the story I wrote about him putting a sign on his dorm room door inviting others to talk about faith.  When he first popped into the small group I was leading on North campus in the fall of 2010 I had no idea what an ambassador for Christ he would become.  Throughout his time here he has helped develop younger students into sold out disciples for Jesus.   He’s lead small groups, coached ministry teams and helped organize all kinds of events!  Additionally, Nick put together a discipleship resource that we are presently using throughout our ministry here at Cornell.

When it comes to helping students to grow in their understanding and experience of the gospel, we are always on the search for helpful materials.  Some resources are free and others cost way  more than they should!  Over the years Cru has developed many different follow up and discipleship packets that we use to develop and mentor students in their faith.   Somewhere along the journey to find a really good resource that was both theologically robust and easy to use, Nick decided he would try and format something new.  Working in cooperation with numerous friends, Nick wrote and modified existing Cru discipleship materials to form up a packet of lessons.  This was no small feat and took hours of life!  But in and through it, Nick’s passion for theology and gift for teaching were put to good use.  He named the resource “The Fullness of Christ” and it presently serves as our primary set of discipleship materials.  What a gift!

Over the years I have appreciated Nick’s passion for evangelism, his zeal for good theology and his overall dedication to the ministry.  At any given event or meeting or outreach you could depend on Nick to come early and stay late.  He was “all in” in every way.  Nick managed our facebook account and helped organize our leadership meetings.  He spoke at our main meetings and also out in Cortland.  Nick was a key player in some of the biggest outreach and worship events on the campus including Easter on the Quad and the 2016 Worthy Event where we filled up Bailey Hall! And beyond all of that, Nick helped foster community.  Together with Ronkui, Nick helped make Cru feel like a family.  He loves people with such consistency, he would serve and meet up with people all the time.  He would open his home for game nights and spend his money to buy food for others!  

Nick has an exciting chapter ahead of him, but we’ll miss him here in Ithaca in the fall!  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Jake's Wedding

Jake Zapata is a friend and a brother.  He's a Cornell alum serving in the U.S. Army.   This past weekend, I got to officiate Jake's wedding to Marissa.  She is also in the Army.

Please pray for these two as they begin this new stage of life.  They actually won't be living together for about another year!  They are presently assigned to different bases and have different overseas deployments on the horizon.  This next year will be pretty tough for them!  Thankfully they are tough people!

Pray for Jesus' grace to sustain and strengthen them over the next year.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Seniors 2016: Jon Kim

"Men of Cru, the women around you are your SISTERS. Guide them, protect them, love on them as you would your own blood sisters..... We want to see our sisters flourish, to become absolute beasts for the Lord!"
I sat down with Jon Kim this past fall and I could tell something was different.  Over the summer Jon had ridden his bicycle all the way across America.  There is no doubt it takes real fortitude to make it on that kind of adventure, but it was obvious that the journey had cultivated much more than physical strength.  Jon was different down to the soul!  

I’ve always known Jon to be faithful, funny and talented.  He’s smart and easy to get along with. From the moment he transferred into Cornell University as a sophomore he was a dedicated part of Cru. He is notorious in my book for showing up to the Community Group in College Town when literally no one else did! From day one, he was definitively "all in" as a servant leader in our Ministry.  But he came into his senior year with a whole new level of confidence and tenacity.  Jon came back more deliberate, assertive and diligent than he was before.
Jon and his girlfriend Jocelyn Lee
I remember asking Jon "Dude, what sermons or podcasts or audio books were you listening to while you rode your bike all summer?" His maturity was obvious and evident. Jon grew over that summer in a way that I have likened to "taking spiritual steroids!" I wanted his reading list so I could pass it along to other guys!
John came back to campus this fall with a renewed vision to help other people grow and thrive at Cornell; especially men.  Last year Jon was a big part of the Cayuga Heights Volunteer Fire Department -a testament to his adventurous spirit.   This year he decreased his involvement specifically so that he could spend more time helping and mentoring younger students.  Jon helps to lead one of our Community Groups.  These groups of 8-14 students get together each week to eat, study the Bible and talk about life.  Cru’s Community Groups help facilitate spiritual, emotional and social health. We believe these gatherings are very important, especially at a place like Cornell where the academic rigor and competitive environment tend to isolate and separate people.  Along with his friends Grant and Josh,  Jon helps other men to grow in their faith and understanding of God’s design for life.   

During his "senior share" he had some powerful words to share with his classmates. Jon talked about "growing up" and becoming a "man" of God as opposed to a "boy."

Making reference to 1 Corinthians 13:11 where Paul says, 'When I became a man, I gave up childish ways', Jon began by confessing the ways that 'boyish immaturity' and a general refusal to "grow up" and take responsibility had seriously caused other people pain. Throughout his life, self centeredness had facilitated sin that had hurt family and friends. Rooted in the gospel, Jon boldly recognized his faults. He continued; "My story of brokenness is also a story of redemption. I stand here because of God’s redeeming love. He has torn me from my old ways, he has taught me and re-taught me and continues to teach me how to put off my boyish ways and to put on the armor of God. To stand and fight. And we cannot fight on our own."

From there he proceeded to give tremendous exhortation talking about men as spiritual leaders and fathers. A father is responsible for setting the spiritual climate in his family, and for showing sacrificial love to his wife. He said "Where a father and husband and brother shirks his duties, brokenness and weakness follow. When a man is missing from his home, the family is at half strength. Now, (even if we aren't married with kids) we as men do have a family right now, and they are all around us: it’s the church. Jesus looks around at his disciples and followers in Mark 4:33 and says, “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” In 1 Timothy 5:2, there are instructions for the church: “do not rebuke an older man, but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as SISTERS in all purity.”

"Men of Cru, the women around you are your SISTERS. Guide them, protect them, love on them as you would your own blood sisters..... We want to see our sisters flourish, to become absolute beasts for the Lord!"

Jon continued saying, "Another way to develop manhood: Go and WORK. Work for the good of the church. In Genesis Ch. 2, after God creates man, it says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to WORK IT and TAKE CARE OF IT.” Men, you are designed to WORK, to be FRUITFUL, PRODUCTIVE, in a way that PLEASES THE LORD. Men, whatever they are in charge of, they must do it to the best of their ability for the glory of God. Men, you will set the spiritual climate in your homes when you have a wife and children. You also will set the spiritual climate in this family at Cru. Get involved. Get tired. Influential preacher Charles Spurgeon says, “A perfect man is a working man.” That was our design in the first place! We as men need to rise to the occasion!"
Jon definitely worked hard this year! As one of the main leaders of our music ministry he helped coordinate the numerous musicians ensuring that we had a group ready to play each week. (He also plays drums!)  Jon’s role required him to both organize logistics and take care of people.  He helped manage everything from scheduling to transporting of sound equipment to organizing the volunteer musicians and helping everybody to grow theologically.    
Jon is related to two of my other favorite people, David and Hannah Kim!! 
I am very impressed and very grateful for the way that Jon stayed so involved throughout his time here at Cornell.  Many seniors can tend to “fade out” but Jon is a man of endurance and character.  Week in and week out, he was walking alongside his friends and serving his fellow Cornell students in and through the ministry of Cru.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Seniors 2016: Josh Tai

Driving in the car the other day, one of my boys asked me; "is Josh really gonna try out for the Duke Basketball team?" I said "He should!"  

Josh is headed to Duke next fall to pursue a degree in nursing. And he is really good at Basketball!! But probably not:)

I first got to hang out with Josh while we were doing construction work on the Court Street House; a home that we were remodeling to house homeless men.  Josh is one of those guys that you could always call for help. Whatever the initiative, whatever the outreach, whatever the venue, Josh is a guy you could count on to show up and serve! I will definitely miss his faithful presence next year!  
I got to hang out and serve with Josh over Spring Break out in Baltimore.
I learned early on not to regard Josh Tai's introversion as a lack of passion or spirit! People might not immediately describe Josh as "outgoing" and yet I have observed him "going out" faithfully engaging others with the love of Jesus. I remember getting to know Josh during his freshman year. Specifically because he is such a quiet guy, I had not expected him to do such an incredible job gathering others, engaging his friends and striving help people to encounter Christ.   I literally marveled at the way he was always inviting friends to come check out Cru and the Christian community.
Josh with his bro's Grant and Jon
One thing I appreciate about Josh is his teachability.  As a mentor to Josh, I had the chance over the years to provide him with constructive feedback.  Josh is humble and receives input with humility and grace.   He also possesses a veritable resilience.  When something doesn’t work out according to the plan, Josh may be disappointed, but you can count on him to press on and find other options. Two summers ago he didn’t end up getting any of the internships that he had hoped for. Rather than mope about it, he signed up for a Cru summer project in Wildwood, New Jersey.  There he was able to grow in his faith, improve his leadership skills and bless the International student community out there. 
  I was really glad he went out to Wildwood! He's one of the few Cornellians who has joined us out there on that incredible Summer Mission!
Here is Josh speaking at one of the backyard parties in Wildwood.  

Josh's love for Christ and the mission has also compelled him to be a part of Cru's work in South Africa. Last spring Josh went to South Africa to serve with the Mamalodi Initiative.  (The Mamalodi initiative is a model of effective, sustainable, Christian humanitarian aid.  Students from Cornell and Harvard spend time tutoring underprivileged teens so that they can pass the matriculation exams that stand between them and a quality education. )  In just a few days, he will return there for the Summer Mission.

During his "Senior Share" Josh talked about our identity as connected and derived from our names. He talked about the names that people call us and the names we call ourselves and the names that God calls us. Throughout his life, words like "ugly, worthless, pushover, loner, and boring have served to discourage him. Josh talked about the powerful ways that words affect our lives and the importance of believing God's words of truth over the satan's lies. In Christ, we are "loved, children of God, chosen, saints, soldiers and friends of Jesus."

Friday, June 10, 2016

We Bought a House!

Ever since we arrived in Ithaca back in 2008 we have rented homes.....4 of them to be exact!  And we've lived in some really great places -specifically the house right next to campus.  When Cornell decided to sell that house, we were really, really bummed!  For a whole slew of reasons, we did not think it was the best decision to purchase that house, and so we had to move.  That began the journey that ended us up here - over a year later, with a house purchased on Ellis Hollow Road.
I have said for years now, that if I ever did end up buying a house in Ithaca, I would want it to be on Ellis Hollow Road.  I love this location because it is close to campus and yet out in the forest at the same time!  The space behind most of the houses to hang out, play, hike and even hunt deer is amazing!  
The house was owned by a wonderful family for over 50 years.  They actually built this house and raised 8 kids in it.  There was a lot of old school wall paper inside though, so we've been ripping it off this week and doing a little painting.  
One of the funner parts of actually owning the house is that you get to choose paint colors!  
The house has 4 bedrooms, but my main concern was garage space!  Haha.  This house does have some pretty good garage going on, which is really great!  
And, we are tearing down a small wall to make the living room more "open" as they say:)

Monday, June 6, 2016

"Born Again:" A testimony of "R"

Note: For some students, placing their faith in Christ means tremendous amounts of family strife and even persecution.   "R" is a student in our ministry who has an amazing story.  Because she is still in the process of communicating to her family about her new life in God, I will not be printing her name.  

"R" wears new jewelry now because she is a Christian and all of her old jewelry was Hindu.  She had images and pieces that had all been consecrated and dedicated to false Hindu "gods". She discarded all of her idols and packed her jewelry in a box on April 29th, as she put her faith in Jesus Christ!   Her Community Group leaders, Anna and Margaret went to the store and bought her some new necklaces.  

I love R's story because in it we can see God's grace working through many different people all throughout the school year.  

It all started last summer, when our own Rachel Chuang sent R a facebook message. We love sending welcome messages to incoming students to let them know that the Body of Christ is alive and active on campus.  R was Hindu, and so she wasn't immediately sure what to think of Rachel's hospitality.  But she said: "Rachel is such a sweet person and we connected and messaged each other over the summer."  When R arrived on Campus Rachel invited her to check out Cru.  God also connected R with another Christian girl who is part of a different fellowship.  It's pretty clear that God had plans for R this year!

I met R back in February when she got invited to our winter retreat.  We sat around the table in a small group and studied the book of Jonah.  I didn't know where R was at spiritually, but I could tell she was really interested in the scriptures!  When she was getting dropped off that evening, she said to me "Thank you."  And then, even though it was the first time that I had ever talked to her she said "I'm not a Christian.  I'm just checking it all out."  I said "That's awesome!  I'm glad you came out this weekend!"  R has always been very open and willing to talk about what she is thinking.

After the Winter Retreat, R began to attend Anna Thompson and Margaret Gao's Cru Community Group on Tuesday nights.   Each week they would hang out, eat together and study the Bible.  R relished the chance to ask questions and engage with other women about the truths of the gospel.  The group meeting on Tuesday April 26 was considerably significant in R's life.  She regards the study that night as the "catalyst" for enabling her to surrender fully and joyfully to Christ.

She recalls, "On that day, we read a portion of Mark’s Gospel regarding how Jesus healed a man who was tormented by the demons known as Legion."   Anna talked about the reality of spiritual warfare and the discussion that night focused on Jesus' supremacy over demonic forces.   R said "The lesson that Anna taught us was that God is all powerful and mighty and demons are nothing compared to God. It was comforting, but I was still afraid. Because that discussion gave me an insight into what I was dealing with since I was a little girl."

She continued, "Ever since I was a little girl, whenever I went to bed, I would feel this oppression. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling. It felt like some kind of force or pressure was pushing down on me throughout the entire length of my body. It was a heavy, uncomfortable atmosphere. I was always afraid. I always went to bed in fear. And that CG meeting made me realize that what I was facing with was most likely a demonic oppression."

The next day, R met up with a Christian friend to talk more about Jesus and her experience of Spiritual warfare.  She said "Our conversation made me realize that in other religions, there are entities such as demons, who portray themselves as gods or goddesses and these are the things that other people in those religions are giving their love, devotion, and life to. Hinduism is heavily, heavily embedded with idol worship and many 'gods/goddesses'—now I call them entities. I was brought up in this environment of idol worship, performing rituals, having those rituals done to me. Although I wasn’t religious, I still respected and prayed to those entities and consequently made attachments to those things. I basically gave reasons for whatever demon/entity that has been oppressing me to stay attached to me. I also realized that this oppression became more pronounced once I started College, which translates to when I started getting involved in Cru. I started to feel more things that I don’t remember feeling such as fingers stroking my head. It now makes sense because when I first joined Cru, I was starting to learn about the Truth, about Jesus Christ, our one and only God…and this thing does not want to let me go."

The next few days were filled with gospel conversations, a whole lot of prayer and an intense spiritual and emotional journey.  At times R felt very oppressed and scared, but in and through prayer things began to shift!  On April 29th at about 1:00 am, R sat in her room with a friend named Sharon.  She took off her Hindu Jewelry and took her idols and bhagavad gita (Hindu guidebook) off of their shelves and proceeded to pray to Christ.  She repented of any and all idol worship and surrendered to Jesus.

The next night, she came out to our Friday night Large group meeting.  Every time someone would ask her how she was doing, she would excitedly answer, "I've been born again!"  It was awesome. At our last Leadership Meeting of the year, we had R share her story! It was an amazing time of celebration as we looked back on the year through R's testimony. The story of God's faithfulness and grace was and is an encouragement to our faith.

Please pray for R as she continues to grow in Christ. Her witness is already very passionate and overt. This summer, she plans to continue to read the scriptures along with a couple of other books like Tim Keller's Reason For God.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Senior 2016: Jon Iavarone

During the opening days of the fall semester, we typically spend an afternoon playing the game we call "Big Red Ball."  It's a chance for us to spend time on North Campus and have some fun as we meet new students settling into Cornell.  We are always praying for "divine appointments"; opportunities to meet people who are spiritually open and curious.  Four years ago I was standing on the sidelines when a freshman kid named Jon Iavarone came riding by on his bicycle.   I invited him to play with us, but as he was on his way somewhere, he decided not to get in the game.  We ended up watching and talking for 10 minutes or so.
Jon grew up on Long Island where his family has owned a couple of local grocery stores for many many years.  Jon and I hit it off right away for at least a couple of reasons: #1 he was riding a bike!  Most people walk across the vast sprawling campus of Cornell, but some of us have an indelible appreciation for the wheel!  #2 Jon was a "hotelie", he was studying in Cornell's famed School of Hotel Administration.  Although I didn't attend Cornell as a student, if I did, I would want to get the hotel degree -it is definitively my favorite major here.*   Jon was looking for a particular building where he needed to drop something off, and since he was new to campus I jumped on my bike and helped him get where he needed to be.

I am so thankful for that providential meet up that day.  Over the years Jon and I have grown to be great friends.  Jon connects well with others, he's very friendly and also very generous.  Like most Cornell students he is driven and ambitious, but not in a way that's neurotic!  Jon likes to live life, he loves to fish and eat and spend time with people.  One of my favorite memories is the time time Jon came over to my house in the morning, we went to the store and bought these huge steaks, and then we grilled 'em for breakfast!  

Although Jon grew up with a Catholic background, when he came to college he wasn't really looking for a spiritual community.  Like most students, seeking and connecting with girls was a way higher priority than seeking and relating with God!  On his own, he wasn't going to come looking for a group of Jesus-loving students to study the Bible with.   He wasn't trying to find any Friday night worship meetings or mission trips or small groups!  He probably wouldn't have even stopped at our Cru table at an event like "clubfest".  When I met Jon Iavarone 4 years ago in front of Dickson Hall he was a really cool guy, but he was not a guy that was planning on growing in the gospel during his time at Cornell.  Thankfully, God had other plans.  
Jon (middle) with Sean Salmon and Will Poon
Jon started coming out to our Large Group meeting on Friday nights, he got plugged into a small group and then during spring break, Jon went on  Cru's Big Break Trip!  At Big Break, students hear awesome Bible teaching, they get trained in how to share their faith effectively and they spend every afternoon engaging others with the good news of Jesus.  That trip was huge for Jon! That week living in community on mission was very helpful for Jon's understanding and experience of the gospel.  

Last year Jon was out in England at the London School of Economics.  To finish out his senior year, I asked Jon to be a part of the freshman Community Group that I was leading.   Jon was a servant leader all the way through this year and his faithfulness was a real blessing to the younger guys!  We had an awesome year meeting up every week with a phenomenal group of dudes.   

Jon is headed to the Bay area to work with a small company in Real Estate Investment.  My prayer is that God will use Jon in San Fran just as he has out here in Ithaca.
Jon and I cooked the Fajita's for our Men's time. 

*(I take credit for convincing a number of students to change their major to Hotel Admin.) 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Grant and Michelle: Marriage over Money

Grant Hoffecker and Michelle Ji are engaged to be married on June 11th.
Both Grant and Michelle have been very involved in Cru since they were freshman. (Grant actually put his faith in Jesus during his freshman year.)  They started dating at the end of that year and got engaged last spring.  God has used them to lead Community Groups, and mentor younger students throughout their time here at Cornell.  Michelle is a part of our Yellowstone Summer Project tradition; she went on that mission trip back in 2013.  Since that time she has helped others to catch a vision for summer missions with Cru!

Michelle is a pretty quiet and reserved person generally, but ever since her freshman year she has been able to express herself and bless others by playing guitar.  Whether she was playing a comedic ballad with some of the other ladies or helping accompany our praise band, her talent's were enjoyed by others.  Grant is known for his sincerity and  helpful spirit.   Grant is a guy who loves his friends family well.  During the past couple of years he would bring his Dad out to our February retreat which was really cool.
Last Spring's Engagement was an incredible celebration for friends and family!
As a couple, Grant and Michelle have set a great example.  Starting out as friends, they moved into their dating adventure with a zeal to keep Christ at the center.   With the help of friends, they have fought hard at every turn to seek God and walk in ways that glorify him.  This past fall they navigated a  pretty significant challenge in a way that encourages the heck out of me!
Grant interned at Linkedin last summer and when they offered to give him a full time job after graduation, he gladly accepted it.  After they honeymoon, Grant and Michelle will start their new life together in San Francisco. Then, during the fall, Michelle was offered a job with Apple in the Bay Area.  What a great opportunity!  Apple is a cool company, the pay was good and the location was right on!  Everything seemed to be coming together perfectly!  But when the details of the job were revealed, things got messy.  The job that Michelle was offered would require her to travel to Asia for about 30% of the year.  Almost every month she would be gone for days and days at a time.

Michelle and Grant began to pray and deliberate.  Yes, working for Apple was a "good career move."  Yes, the pay was good.  But what about those really important things besides career and money?  Was this a good job for marriage health?  Is the nature of this job worth sacrificing so much relational time for?  Was it a good idea to have a job that required a husband and wife to be separated for almost a third of the year?  Would it be wise to have that kind of a job during the first year of marriage while trying to establish a strong healthy foundation for the future?

Grant and Michelle are driven by a vision to have a strong Jesus-centered marriage; a marriage where they love each other well and a marriage that can be used by God to bless others.  Grant and Michelle want to help each other to flourish as disciples of Christ and they hope that as a couple they can help others to see and understand the gospel.  Having that kind of marriage is actually quite difficult!  It takes a great deal of faith fueled hard work!

Many people thought that Michelle should take the job.  Most Cornell students in her position would definitely have taken the job!   There is no doubt it would have been good for their financial future.  The truth is, they could be more "rich" if Michelle said yes to Apple!  But the reality is that life is about more than just money or a career!   Grant and Michelle made a decision that would better serve their relational future: Michelle turned down the job!

The decision to not take the job at Apple was not easy.    It was -and continues to be scary to have said "no" to such a reputable job.  Although Michelle has applied for some other jobs, nothing has panned out yet, and the waiting has been extremely nerve wracking!!  It's easy to wonder whether or not they made the "right" decision.

I personally think they made a great decision!   I love their faith and conviction!  Grant and Michelle want to have a marriage that is healthy and strong in love. They want to be a couple who together, live out the stuff Paul was talking about in Ephesians chapter 5;  Paul explained that marriage is ultimately about Christ and the Church.  A God-centered marriage gives the world a picture of the good news that Jesus Christ loves his people with an awesome and magnificent love!    In order to cultivate that kind of marriage, you've got to be together!   Many people are all too willing to sacrifice relational flourishing for financial gains; they literally prioritize money over marriage.  But Grant and Michelle chose otherwise.

Grant and Michelle are trusting God with their future.  I'm certain God will provide a job for Michelle, and looking back, there will be no regrets!

February Retreat.  Grant's dad, Grant and Joshua Tai out at the Tenwood Lodge.