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.  

Kainos Community

We believe that God created ethnic diversity and that he loves it.  Jesus Christ makes it possible for people who are really different from one another to come together and experience amazing fellowship!  For the Glory of God, Cru at Cornell is a distinctively multi-ethnic community.   

Pastor (and author) Bryan Lorritts has been a huge influenced me tremendously on this topic of multi-ethnic Churches.  His message at Wheaton College titled "The Multiethnic Church as the Cure to Ferguson, Charleston and Beyond" is amazing!  

Although world history is full of division, warfare, oppression and a whole lot of racial tension, we believe there is a better way.  Things are not as they should be; God did not create mankind to devour and destroy each other!  But our disregard for God and his perfect ways, (what the Bible calls "sin") is the reason everything in the world and in our lives is so messed up!  

Sin creates animosity between man and God and also between people.  Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again in order to defeat sin and make the way for people to be reconciled back to God.  Jesus' victory over sin also enables mankind to enjoy communion with one another.   The gospel bonds people together like nothing else can.  

In Ephesians chapter 2 Paul is explaining the amazing community that God's grace makes possible.  He says that Christ's sacrifice on the cross actually "Killed the hostility" that existed between Jews and Gentiles.  Being brought together in Christ, people from different backgrounds and cultures were able to experience profound unity!   
In verse 15 Paul says that God  "created, in himself, one new man in place of the two..."  The greek word for new in that verse, is the word Kainos.  Kainos is the word used to describe something that's never been seen before; Kainos implies something that is unprecedented and revolutionary!  God's grace breaks into our racially fractured world and brings a new and beautiful peace.  Through Jesus we can have access to the Father through the Spirit. 

One of the things that makes Cornell so special are the cultural and ethnic demographics.  It’s amazing!   Cornell has people from every U.S. state, students from a wide array of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and students that are literally from countries all around the world.  Even still, the natural tendency of people is to "silo" themselves into cultural and sub-cultural enclaves. Generally speaking, most people hang out and share life only with people who are very much like themselves; they are not truly experiencing the blessing of cross-cultural interaction. Sadly, even among Christians in the Church this has historically been the case. As a ministry, we strive for something different! We actively embrace the glorious opportunity to live out the kind of intercultural "togetherness" that is completely out of the ordinary.

God loves the world and is at work re-connecting a diverse collection of people to himself. In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John gets a vision of heaven where he sees, gathered around the throne of almighty God, a unified family of Christ exalting worshipers. He sees a gathering of people from "every nation, tribe, people and language." When someone comes to one of our Friday night meetings we want them get a glimpse of heaven! We want our inter-cultural fellowship to be an overt display of the power that the gospel has to bless and unite all kinds of people! In and through every part of our ministry, we want the peace making, transformational power of God's grace to be tangible and active on this campus! Being a part of Cru means coming together and sharing life with people who are different. It means uniting in worship and in mission so that "all the families of the earth will be blessed."

(Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:11-22, Revelation 7:9, Genesis 12:3)