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.