The Vanguard of Heaven

Jesus changes everything.

I’m sure we’ve all been to a number of orientations over the years. Whether they’re for a new school or a new job, in my experience they typically have one thing in common: mind-numbing boredom. I’ve spent hours and hours in a cramped room listening to corporate videos extol the virtues of the company founder and days in the Alabama July heat wandering from contrived university talk to contrived university team-building exercise, wishing the whole time I could just go home.

Orientation for RUF was an entirely different experience.

Marx once called Christianity “The opiate of the masses,” a wish fed to the downtrodden in order to keep them complacent. “There’ll be a pie in the sky by-and-by,” the saying goes. “There are those who are so heavenly-minded that they serve no earthly good.”

Numerous Christian theologians and philosophers have pointed out over the past few centuries exactly how wrongheaded these conceptions of Christianity are. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity:

“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.

It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

As the one who does “far more than we can ask or even imagine,” Jesus does not simply reserve the full goodness of himself for the day that we see him face to face. By the power of his Holy Spirit, we become agents of change and redemption in this very moment, the vanguard and first fruits of the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven.

I got a full taste of that beauty last week.

Sixty-three newly-minted RUF Interns made journeys from everywhere across America to the Westin hotel in Atlanta, recently graduated but feeling like freshmen again. “Will they like me? Will I fit in? What if I don’t make any friends?” It’s amazing how quickly all our insecurities can come flying back to us when we simply change locations.

As leaders in RUF, we’ve been trained over the past few years to especially keep a caring eye out for the outsider. “Love the foreigner,” our God tells us, “For you were foreigners in Egypt.” As we walked into the large conference room for the first time on Monday afternoon, we all came, in some sense, as outsiders. It’s entirely normal in our society for outsiders to avoid one another – but in the space of a few hours, something else happened.

We realized we were family.

We all gathered together the second night to sing hymns together – not because anyone had told us to, but because we wanted to. We reminded each other both of the hardships of life and God’s promise that he will never leave or forsake us. We, in song, confessed to one another our many weaknesses, but also Jesus’ perfect provision for us. We thanked our Father for his over-abundant blessings to us. And when we were done, we realized that we’d just had a small experience of eternity.

Because we’ve been adopted into the family of God, even something like orientation – with all the drudgery of filling out tax forms and learning to read income and expense statements – becomes a place full of beauty. You see, whether it’s sitting across from a friend you’ve literally just met and being able to share some of the darkest, most painful details of your life in what feels like perfect safety, or long conversations shouted over a crowded room about the beauty that you find in knowing who God is, the church is in the business of bringing heaven breaking into earth in the here and now.

At the same time, we are still in a world “groaning with the pains of childbirth.” On Thursday we got the news that a bus from a church in Huntsville had flipped over, that people had been hurt and killed. In the middle of the lobby we begged our Father to be merciful and good and caring – to be the same as He has always been. As soon as we raised our heads, we saw one of our new friends being taken out of the hotel on a gurney – and we went right back into prayer there in the middle of the lobby. (Praise Jesus she’s doing well and was able to come back to the hotel that night!)

The wedding party is gathered. Everybody is standing around and the whispers have started – they’re talking and sharing their stories about the bridegroom and the things that he has done for all of them. The ways he’s been good. The ways he’s been beautiful. There’s an almost palpable air of anticipation as everyone begins to realize: he’s coming. It’s almost time. Soon He’ll be here.

The beauty of the gathering is offset by the longing for the one reason we’ve all been gathered to begin with. But our longing isn’t a hopeless one: it’s a sure one. We long in the context of the confident knowledge that one day, some day, someday soon, we will turn and we will see the thing that we have all been waiting for: Christ himself, in all his beauty and glory and majesty, robed in His Gospel, standing in front of our own eyes! And then everything that has been wrong – all the death, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the heartbreak and loneliness – will be gone forever!

Our hope begins here and now. In our homes, in our churches, in our small groups, in our workplaces – wherever the men and women who have been united by faith to Christ Jesus go, there the “fair flowers of paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet.” Today we see in part and know in part – just a little while longer, and we will know fully. Until that day, Christ calls us to gather the rest of his guests in to his table – to feed the physically and spiritually hungry – to do for them what he has done for us.

And because He loves us, in every place in His kingdom – far as the curse is found – the dawn of heaven breaks.

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Intern Family

Prayer Requests:

 

  • Please pray for me and my fellow interns as we fundraise. We believe that our Father is the one “who owns the cattle on a thousand hills” and that he will provide. Consider partnering with us as we seek to bring the Kingdom of Christ here on earth.
  • Please pray for the students we’re going to come into relationships with. Pray that God would bring them to us – or send us to find them – and that his Spirit would use even our fumbling words to communicate the beauty of the gospel to their hearts.
  • Please pray for our prayer lives. The author of Hebrews calls us to “exhort one another every day, so long as it is called ‘today’, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” We are so weak that we need the power of the Spirit before we are even capable of remembering to cry out to Him.

 

 

A Report from the Beach

Every year, over a thousand students from RUFs all over the country gather in Panama City for a week of teaching, worship, friendship, and soul-crushing defeat on the volleyball court. It’s a time to rest, unwind from the stress of exams, finally get some vitamin D, and have our lives reoriented by the gospel.

This year, I got to attend Summer Conference (or SuCo, if you’re hip with the lingo) with the University of Arkansas. In addition to getting to show off my peerless volleyball skills (below), I had the opportunity to meet, connect with, and serve a number of my future students.

 

 

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A one-picture summary of my lifelong relationship with sports
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Me and some of my students

It’s an incredible thing to be around welcoming people. We all have an instinct that that’s what the church is supposed to be like – people who have been united together in Christ who love one another and invite even the stranger into their fellowship. But because we’re still people struggling with the sin that naturally flows up out of our hearts, we tend to grow cold and unwelcoming toward the outsider. We enjoy comfort.

That week, Mike, his family, and the students who make up RUF at the University of Arkansas were the body of Christ to me. I instantly felt like I belonged, like I was part of the family.

More than that, I was reminded that Jesus has not stopped being good. Even though my heart is always questioning it – after seeing his tender mercy and loving kindness a thousand times over – he hasn’t grown tired of confronting my stubbornness with his gentle correction. Summer conference was a time both of humbling, as he reminded me that I am helpless to make even a single person hear the good news, and of hope, as he reminded me that he is the one who calls, that he is faithful, that he will surely do it.

Please pray for us! All the intern class of 2017 is headed to Atlanta next week for orientation. Pray that it would be a time of being recentered on the gospel, that we would build loving community with each other, and that we would delight in who our Father is. Pray for us as we fundraise, that God would open up the doors and paths and windows necessary for his Kingdom to go forward on campuses all around America. Most of all, pray that the Holy Spirit would be at work, both conforming His church more and more into the image of Jesus and calling people who do not know him to himself.

In Him,

James

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An intern wears many hats. And glasses.

A New Hope – Visiting Arkansas

It took me at least a week to realize why I felt so different after I visited Arkansas.

A few weekends ago I made the long trek out to the north-western tip of Arkansas to visit Fayetteville, the home of the University of Arkansas. It’s about a ten hour drive (not including time for stops) from Auburn to there, so I loaded up on podcasts and caffeine and hit the road before dawn.

Most of the trip is pretty unremarkable. Everything looks pretty much the same until you hit central Arkansas, where everything turns flat and dusty. But something happens as soon as you hit Highway 49, the last turn before arriving in Fayetteville. With no notice whatsoever, flat earth transforms into the foothills of the Ozarks. Rolling hills and plummeting valleys adorn either side of the highway. The sky looks bluer somehow, and the color palette changes from earthy greens and browns to steel and lavender. It feels like something out of Lord of the Rings.

It’s absolutely gorgeous.

The whole weekend was a blur of new faces and places. I finally got to meet my campus minister, Mike, his wife, Deanna, and their family in person – one of the first things I remember is their youngest son, Peter, giving me a bear hug the way only a two year old who’s arms can’t quite reach all the way around your legs can. We ate together and laughed and talked.

I’m only now realizing how strange it is to have a total stranger come from seven hundred miles away and immediately treat him like family. I take for granted just how supernatural the church is.

The next day we went around the city – first the farmer’s market, then around campus, the RUF office, downtown. We stopped in a used bookstore that was more like a maze than a shop. I think I ate better that weekend than I have in my entire life. That night, I got dinner with some of the students, which lead to a night of frisbee and volleyball and a display of my spectacular lack of dexterity.

I hit it off with a good number of the guys (all of whom are cooler than me). There’s a refreshing honesty in the students – a lack of that pretence of nonchalance that comes with pretending to be cool.

Underneath everything, I felt welcome and wanted in a way that I never have before. I came back to Auburn practically sleepless, but feeling awake in a way I hadn’t in a very long time. I felt like I brought something back with me.

A recent conversation with one of my dear friends in Auburn brought me back to this passage from C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm:

“It seems to me that we often, almost sulkily, reject the good [things] that God offers us because, at that moment, we expected some other good. Do you know what I mean? On every level of our life – in our religious experience, in our gastronomic, erotic, aesthetic, and social experiences – we are always harking back to some occasion which seemed to us to reach perfection, setting that up as a norm, and deprecating all other occasions by comparison. But these other occasions, I suspect, are often full of their own blessing, if only we would lay ourselves open to it. God shows us a new facet of his glory, and we refuse to look at it because we’re still looking for the old one.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been looking forward to the RUF internship for a long time. I’ve been preparing for ministry for what feels like my whole college career. I dearly and deeply love the ministry that has meant so much to my life here in Auburn.

But what I hadn’t realized is the way I’d swallowed the old lie that “it’s all downhill from here.” Auburn is the place I’ve experienced more joy, growth, and sense of belonging than anywhere else I can remember – so much so that I subconsciously began to assume “nowhere else can be as good as here.”

Which translates to “Jesus actually won’t be good to me all the time.”

I came away from Fayetteville with two realizations: first, that Jesus is alive and working on Arkansas’ campus. You can’t put a group of people together like the ones I met that night – people who are so different but also so loving towards each other – unless the Holy Spirit is changing hearts naturally full of hate into ones that look like Christ. Second, our Father is good – and good to me – all the time. His generosity overflows the boundaries of what I can hold. And he is not limited to the Auburn/Opelika area.

I’m not saying we only know that Jesus is good when he makes our lives easy and enjoyable. He’s called us to take up our crosses and follow him, to be refined as gold in a fire. Sanctification is often – and probably normally – a painful process. Even in the midst of heartrending tragedy, he is still good, merciful, loving, and kind.

But sometimes the ways that he reminds us that he is good is simply by blessing us until even our insensible hearts can’t deny that “[our] cup runneth over.”

He’s given me a renewed sense of hope – hope that I am not leaving the best behind, but that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” And that hope “is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness – I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus’ name.”

August can’t come soon enough.

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Two of the fantastic people I got to meet that weekend: Hunter and Abbie Bailey. Hunter is the pastor at Christ Community Church, the church I’ll be attending in the fall.

Prayer and Financial Update:

I finally got in my official budget from RUF: I have to raise $35,000 each year in pledges. Right now, I’m at $21,500 pledged+received for my first year! So close, and yet also so far. If you’re able, would you consider partnering with me to continue bringing the gospel to students who desperately need it? Information about how to give can be found under that little tab up there that says “Support James.”

Please pray for the students at Arkansas – that the ones who know Jesus would continue to be renewed in their whole being after the image of Christ, and for the ones who don’t to be brought into an encounter with Him with Spirit-opened eyes and ears. Pray for Mike and Deanna and their children, and all the chaos and beauty that comes with family life. Finally, please pray for me as I finish up my time in Auburn, say hard good-byes, and move into a new phase of life!

A Story of Grace: Why I Want To Be An RUF Intern

“No matter what happens, the gospel is still true, and Jesus still loves you.”

The words physically shook me in my seat. It had been an awful time in my life. Over the past semester I had experienced heartbreak, then the loss of an unborn sister, then the death of my grandfather – and I felt numb. My prayers had dried up, my heart felt like a lifeless chunk of rock. I was fighting the ever-encroaching sense of being utterly alone, my soul had moved past crying out “Why are you sleeping?” and had begun to simply assume that He wasn’t listening.

Then those words – spoken as part of a joke to begin a sermon (it was what he always told – and now I always tell – guys when trying to convince them to ask a girl out) – acted as the vessel by which the Holy Spirit burst through the walls my stony heart was attempting to build, to proclaim to the eyes of my soul that Jesus was not who I thought he was – just another person who would hurt me by not wanting me – but “The King of Love, whose goodness faileth never.”

I went out of Large Group with new breath in my lungs and a song in my heart.

As I was thinking about the reasons that I want to be an RUF intern, this old story of mine – I was a sophomore at the time, which feels like lifetimes ago – captured the heart of it. As far as I know, Joe (our intern at the time, who was preaching) never even knew the way that the Spirit used his words to comfort me in such a way that I still remember it regularly.

We often think about Christianity – and the success of ministry – in terms of conversions. When was I saved, and how many people come to faith as a result of my witness? But that image of ministry is simply not the one the Bible gives us. The beauty of the bride of Christ – which is the splendor of Christ himself – is not portrayed primarily through the event of conversion – that event is merely the prologue to a much longer book. If we are in Christ, then he has begun a good work in us – and he is also bringing it to completion. The brilliant testimony to his love is shown to the world as he makes us look like him.

We are ones who are “prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love.” Our hearts are often cold, our gazes often wavering, our affections often misplaced. We tend to major and minors, and neglect the weightier matter of the law – namely, justice and mercy. And it is for this reason that Christ appoints in his church men to act as his undershepherds – broken and crooked sticks though they be – to point the narrow way which leads to him.

RUF specifically has done this in my life, and the life of my friends. In fact, it seems strange to call them “friends” – we feel more like family. We laugh together, cry together, fight, forgive, and pray together. Christ has bound us all up together under the same name, so that we can truly look at one another and say “You are my brother, you are my sister.”

Above all, there is the constant whisper of the Spirit that comes through all these things: “You see? I am more beautiful than all you could ask or even imagine.”

The Holy Spirit has given me a longing to be part of seeing the Church grow and flourish in the same way that I have under the care of Auburn RUF. He’s given me the gifts I need (and the often stern reminders that they are gifts from Him, not my own abilities, lest I think I have some grounds for boasting) and opened the doors forward, so that I can know that this call is from Him. And that is why I want specifically to be an intern with RUF.

But I can’t do that without your help. The Father has appointed his children to be the means by which his stories of grace come about. Some of you can give financially, some can’t. All wealth belongs to God, who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills” – He has given it to some, that they might bless others, but not to all, so that we might learn to love one another in different ways. But I desperately need all of your prayers. The Christian life is not one of independent triumph but but desperate, limping dependence on Christ at all times. Would you join me in begging our Father to continue weaving these stories into the lives of His children?

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Placement!!!

Last Tuesday was a crazy day. I was scheduled to work an eight hour shift at a really weird time – 11 to 8 (for those of you who are engineers and immediately said “Hey that’s 9 hours,” one of those hours was a break so it doesn’t count). I was tired the whole time, just ready to get off and go to bed. Then, about five minutes before I was supposed to get off, I finally checked the messages on my phone, and saw:

Wes Simmons: “Got your placement. Call me!”

(For those of you who don’t know Wes is the campus minister at Auburn and a dear friend)

Naturally, the last five minutes felt like they lasted five hours. To make matters worse, as soon as I punched out, I went to grab my phone – and it was dead. Another painful 20 minutes passed as I sped home and plugged my phone in and waited for it to charge. Where was I going? What if I went somewhere super far away, like California? What if they actually sent me to Alaska? It’s so cold up there, I’d have to get all kinds of new clothes, and that would be expensive, and how do Alaskans even get food if they’re buried under snow 10 months out of the year? (All my knowledge about Alaska comes from the movie The Grey, apparently, and I’m not even 100% sure it was actually set in Alaska.)

Finally, I got my phone on and called Wes, who totally thought I was dead. And then he said it:

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I’m going to be the intern at the University of Arkansas!

For those of you who paid the same amount of attention in Geography as I did, the University of Arkansas is in the North West tip of Arkansas (a little south of Missouri and east of Oklahoma) in a city called Fayetteville. I’ll be joining the Campus Minister, Mike Ford (who I’ve decided is one of the coolest people I’ve ever talked to after nerding out over obscure C. S. Lewis books and Gilead together, but don’t tell him I said that ’cause I’ve got to convince him I’m cool too) and his wife, Deanna.

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Mike, Deanna, and their three adorable children

The RUF at Arkansas is growing rapidly – when he got there about a year and a half ago, Mike said he had approximately 7 students, and now Large Group consists of somewhere from 40 to 60. Jesus is transforming the lives of men and women in Fayetteville, and I’ve been called to play some part in it.

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Students at Large Group. I don’t know any of them yet but they seem cooler than I am.

So what can you be praying for right now?

  1. Fundraising! Pray that God would bring the people in to my life who will partner with me financially in order to make ministry possible.
  2. That the Holy Spirit would be working to prepare the way for the gospel to go forward through RUF on Arkansas’ campus. Mike and I can strategize until the end of the world, but unless the Holy Spirit brings dead hearts to life it won’t do us any good.
  3. That RUF would place a girl intern with us as well! We desperately need a woman who loves Jesus to come help disciple female college students at Arkansas.

Thank you all for your continued love and support!

James

Future Intern at the University of Arkansas

Why College Ministry?

   I’ve been asked a few times – and by “a few” I mean “every time I tell someone I’m going to be working for RUF” – why I want to be involved in college ministry. I even wrote a paragraph or two about it when I applied for the internship, but my thoughts came out all jumbled.

    When I think about what attracts me to college ministry, there are two paths I can take to answer the question. The first is a subjective route, examining the place that the college ministry I’ve been part of – in both leadership and participant roles – has played in my life. That could be a useful story if I wanted you to understand a little about who I am, but the problem with subjective experiences is that we can only describe them to other people. We can’t really share them.

    But there is another path to explaining why I am attracted to college ministry. To use a romantic metaphor, describing the subjective experiences that brought me to where I am would be like answering the question “How did the two of you meet?” – but here I would rather answer the question “Why is she beautiful?” The first can only be seen and experienced by one; the second can be appreciated by anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. The first is mine; the second is ours, whether you are a campus minister or simply someone praying “Thy kingdom come.”

   There are a number of different facets of college ministry to investigate. What is the work itself? Who are the people we minister to? Who are the ministers? What is the foundation of ministry itself?  As we examine each of these questions, I hope to shed a little light on what makes college ministry a necessary and beautiful gift from Jesus to his Bride.

   What Is College Ministry?

    The first question we need to tackle seems obvious enough – “Well, it’s ministry to college students. Duh!” But, of course, that isn’t a very satisfying answer because most of us have preconceived notions about what ‘ministry’ is and who ‘college students’ are that will lead us astray. To many people, college ministry is a step above ‘youth ministry’ but a step below ‘being a real pastor.’ “College ministry,” they say, “is all the fun of college with no exams.”

    This, of course, is overly simplistic. There is nothing “fun” about walking with men and women through their addictions and depression, through the unique ways they have been cut by their families and relationships, which Satan uses to blind them to the real love of their Father. Nothing fun – oh, but so much beauty. For the Holy Spirit has seen fit, for so many of His children, to use the college years to reveal the face of Christ more clearly and personally than He ever has before, and He has appointed broken and crooked sticks like campus ministers and interns to point the narrow way that leads to him.

    So the first thing that draws us to college ministry is its vital necessity to the Church. College students, by and large, exist in a virtual island from the rest of society. Sometimes this is literally geographical (Auburn, my alma mater, is at least 20 minutes away from “where all the adults live”), often it is culturally enforced (as generations have an increasing tendency not to mix; more on this later), and is further complicated by the difference in schedule (for the college student, waking up at eight is like an “adult” waking up at six). Therefore, for practical reasons, college ministry is an absolute necessity; if the Church (the majority of which is not currently in college) does not make special efforts to reach out and establish relationships with them, they will at best have fellowship only with other college-age believers, and at worst will slip through the cracks altogether.

    But college ministry is not just vital to reaching a single class of people who would otherwise be neglected; in America college ministry is actually the front line of the mission field. This can be seen through a number of avenues. Obviously, American universities are ripe with foreign students who have never been exposed to the gospel before. The opportunity to tell these people about Jesus only exists on these campuses, and the rate at which we see foreign students come to know Christ and become our brothers and sisters is over-joying!

    To challenge the traditional Evangelical model of missions, however, I want to point out that we have all too often thought of missions as out there, pointing to some space outside America’s borders. In here (pointing to the good ‘ole USA) is home base – we live for and tell people about Jesus if we’re out there and we (occasionally) write checks and pray for people out there while we’re in here. We even posture politically to try and keep other people who might be different from – or even dangerous to – us from getting inside our bubble. This is to our shame. We have been found guilty of “fearing the one who has the power to kill the body” instead of “Him who can destroy both the body and soul in Hell.”

    This “in here, out there” model has never been a right way of thinking, and God – by His grace – is making that fact unavoidable. As mainline and liberal denominations collapse, and as American culture aligns itself more and more with beliefs that are obviously antithetical to Christianity, fewer young people come to college professing any personal relationship with Christ. So from both a local and foreign standpoint, college ministry becomes the first real point of contact with the nonbeliever.

    This does not mean that college ministry is exclusively evangelism. On the contrary, college ministry is deeply pastoral and discipleship oriented. As I mentioned earlier, the bulk of college ministry is not reveling in the fun of college, but administering gospel medicine to wounded, hurting, angry Christians – many of whom have only just realized that there is anything wrong at all. Sometimes this medicine is given through preaching, other times through a bible study or a conversation – more often than not, it can only be applied by sitting wordlessly and crying with someone. No single campus minister or intern is equipped to handle every case. The body has been given all kinds of different gifts so that none of us can be lured into thinking we are just fine on our own! This means that it is crucial that college ministry never replace the local church body, but rather becomes an aggressive pipeline running both ways from church to campus, calling men and women into contexts they would never have conceived of so that Christ may care for His Bride.

    This is especially necessary in a culture like ours, where different generations rarely interact. This is a place where a college ministry must be extremely careful – it is both necessary for them to exist for the spiritual good of college students, and it is also necessary that they always keep in view the fact that they are not sufficient for the spiritual good of college students. Christ does not have many different bodies. He does not equip each part of the church in such a way that she does not need any other part. Rather, “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Cor 12:21)

   A bad college ministry forgets this fact, and the end result is a generationally stratified community. The members of the body feel they have no real need for each other – that comfort is more valuable than growth – and the local church suffers because of it. A good college ministry always remembers its own inability and the result is a multi-generational community, one where the energy and vigor of college students is shaped and informed by the wisdom and experience of the older generations, and the older generations are likewise energized and empowered by the passion of college students. Covenant children are given an example of what it looks like to love and be loved by Christ even after they have left the nest – college students, likewise, are able to see firsthand what being a Christian looks like in the “real world.”

   College ministry, then, is the vehicle for ensuring that “making disciples of all nations” and “bearing one another’s burdens” really reaches everywhere that Christ intends. It is not icing on the cupcake of the church; it is part of the skeletal system that holds the whole Body together.

   Who Are College Students?

   As necessary as college ministry is, it is not merely necessary. Doing one’s taxes is necessary – it is not, however, particularly interesting. Thankfully, college ministry is (usually) nothing like taxes. College ministry, while often difficult, is also endlessly fascinating because of who college students are.

   First, of course, is the fact that each and every one is made in the image of God. Oh, but what a shame it is that I say “of course”, as if it were a commonplace truth! As if it is not a wonder and a mystery that the Eternal beauty should make creatures from the dust in such a way that anyone who truly looks at them does not at once see Him! This, I think, is one of the main sources of dryness in our ministry, our failure to love others, our discontent with our families: we think that it is a matter “of course” that they bear the image of God. It is not. “The dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to,” Lewis writes, “may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship; or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.” Spirit, press down on our hearts the tangible truth of these things!

   Further, the college campus, like no other place, offers a deep diversity of experiences, backgrounds, races, and cultures. A person – minister or not – who cannot find variety on campus must be trying very hard to stay at all times in his apartment. And in this too we see Christ’s kingdom realized: rich and poor, black and white, southern and northern, worshiping the same Christ who has freed us from slavery to sin, side by side. Not that this diversity is impossible to find in other places, but it is beautifully impossible to avoid on the college campus.

   Additionally, the American college student is in a totally unique place in life. She has, until that moment, spent all of her time and made all of her decisions in the context of a family. The ideas that challenge her are familiar, expected – the decisions she has been faced with are, for the most part, seemingly inconsequential.

   All this changes overnight. As soon as her parents pull away, the student finds herself for the first time outside of the family context. Life begins to twist and turn in unexpected ways, choices of majors and internships suddenly seem life-wrecking or career-making, relationships feel more real than they ever have (for good or ill) – and above all, the question that was once ignored in the busyness or drowned out by the chaos of family life, relentlessly rings in the deafening silence of the dorm room:

   “Why am I here?”

   So it is that we find college students in a special state: orphans with living parents. Each and every one – Christian or not – can no longer be satisfied with an answer for that question that is simply true for “us,” the family unit. So the covenant child and agnostic alike, at this special stage, both ask the same question when they hear his name: “Who is Jesus?” The beauty of college ministry is that we may answer that question in many different ways about the same Jesus. One student longs to find a Jesus who really lived and died, another longs for one who wasn’t indifferent while he was being sexually abused, another imagines that there is no way that Jesus could love her but is desperate to find that He does. We offer the same tangible, sword-wielding, grace-soaked Jesus to them all, because He provides for them all.

   But if no one is preaching Christ on the campus, how will they hear? If no one pastors, how will they be healed? If no one disciples, from whom will they learn to grow in grace? So again, this ministry is necessary; more than that, it is beautiful.

   So the work of college ministry is wonderful by virtue of the multiplicity of image-bearing people who come to know Christ not simply as a name, but as “Jesus, Lover of my Soul.”

   What Gifts are Required for College Ministry?

   One of the exciting – and daunting – things about college ministry is the wealth of gifts it requires from campus ministers and interns. Every ministry position has its own special difficulties, but in an often-understaffed, ever-changing environment like college ministry, the number of different hats a single person must wear – and shuffle between – is sometimes overwhelming.

   First, in college ministry you cannot be satisfied with simply being an academic. It is vital to know your theology, and if Jesus didn’t think he could make it through his ministry without knowing his bible backwards and forwards, how do you think you can? Philosophy will help you learn to think and theology will teach you who God is. But if your knowledge of Jesus never leaves the chalkboard, you will be worse than useless to the people you are ministering to.

    Jesus promised us that “In this world, you will have troubles” – which means that the college students you are ministering to are going to go through suffering, guaranteed. Moreover, since they are now separated physically from their family, they no longer have their old network of support immediately available when any kind of hardship arises. More often than not, when a college student gets plugged in to a campus ministry, that ministry assumes the role that the family used to play – which means that students bring their problems to you, looking for biblical counsel and advice, or maybe just looking for someone to listen.

    But as the bible very often shows us, people who think they know all the right answers typically make very, very bad counselors. Job’s friends immediately come to mind – the beginning of the book is filled with Job’s friends (mistakenly) telling him what the right answer is (“Repent! Bad things only happen because of a specific sin”) while Job keeps telling them, “You don’t understand, that isn’t what’s happening here!” Job’s friends, instead of relieving his pain or supporting him, actually become an additional source of suffering.

    A more positive example is found in Christ himself. When Lazarus dies, he answers Martha’s questions to him with theological truth (“I am the resurrection and the life”) and he answers Mary with wordless weeping. This same wisdom is required of us when college orphans come having experienced for the first time a broken heart, the shattering of their parent’s marriage, the loss of a loved one. Some need the objective truth that God’s love is “greater than their hearts” – their feelings that Jesus can’t really love them. Some can never hear this truth unless we first silently cry with them.

    At the same time, campus ministries cannot be content with simply having a staff of great counselors. Counseling is wonderful and necessary for every single person who has been touched by the Curse. We all bear sin and shame – we have all at one time or another believed that we are “the only one” who could do something like that, that there is no way Jesus could really love me. We are called to seek out wisdom and – if the Holy Spirit has provided it to us – give wisdom to those who seek it from us. But campus ministry demands more than just an insightful and calm demeanor.

    Especially in our current generation, students are fundamentally skeptics. Even people who have been raised in the church ask “why? How do you know?” every time someone makes an assertion. College ministry requires the same – if not greater – understanding of theology, philosophy, and the cultural religion that an academic profession would. In a world where the predominant narrative has shifted from “the future is utopia” to “the future is distopia”, the requirements for being “always ready to give a reason for the hope that is within” become much steeper. College ministry needs teachers – men and women gifted by God with the ability to point out flaws in the cultural narrative, to show the ways it has tried to hijack the gospel, but in fact makes no sense without the cross, empty tomb, and heavenly throne at its center.

   Additionally, it is more likely that you will have to seek than that you will be sought out. College ministry requires great shepherds especially because college is one of the easiest places to hide. In the hustle and bustle of class, work, and life, when problems arise many people find it easiest to withdraw from the community they really need. Shame makes us try to hide our problems, but we can never muster anything better than fig leaves – they don’t help the problem, and they don’t even hide it that well. College ministry requires a gentle and careful pastorship to pursue men and women trying to hide behind broken leaves and bring them back to the pure robes Christ has purchased for us with his blood.

   But by the same token, a campus ministry cannot simply consist of great preaching. Preaching is a beautiful, necessary way that God feeds the souls of his children. When the Scriptures are faithfully explained, Christ comes alive on every page, waging war against the sin of his people and bringing them to a fuller understanding of his love. The Holy Spirit promises specially to move as the gospel is preached, and of course there can be no faith without preaching – for “if no one preaches, how will they hear?” Even so, being a powerful, passionate, wise speaker will fall far short of your students’ needs.

   Preaching is not a substitute for relationship. Evangelicalism has, in recent years, begun to resemble something like a club meeting. People gather together to hear a (hopefully) good and (possibly, for the very devout) interesting message once a week, then return to their normal lives until it’s time for the next meeting. The messages themselves are evaluated by asking things like “Was it entertaining? Did I feel it? Did it do something for me?” Ministries that never extend beyond preaching fail to meet the call of the great commission – especially in the “Christian” South, where religious attendance is rarely coupled with changed hearts.

   Ministry must consist of intimate, personal, two-sided relationships, where we “exhort each other every day – as long as it is called ‘today’ – that no one may be hardened by the power of sin,’ where we ‘bear one another’s burdens,’ where we ‘in humility consider others better than [ourselves].’ You may be a powerful, passionate, quick thinking speaker – but if you cannot also gently listen and understand others, you will not be able to minister.

   Who is Jesus?

   If you finished reading the last section and thought to yourself “There’s no way anyone could ever do college ministry,” then I wrote it the way I wanted it to come across. In his little book Called to the Ministry, Ed Clowney, after laying out all the things a minister must be and do, concludes the section by saying, “If this survey of the function of the minister has not given you pause, please abandon all thought of becoming a minister.” Children, students, and adults alike need someone who is kind, gentle, compassionate, slow to anger yet truly hating sin, quick to listen yet powerfully persistent in counsel, willing to weep over brokenness yet always ready with gospel medicine, consistent, sacrificial, loving.

   But if you think that sentence describes you, then you have never seen your own heart.

   The greatest beauty of all ministry is this: that Christ uses broken and shattered stones to build his perfect house. The very greatest of his workers cries out about the requirements of simply preaching the gospel, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Our God works contrary to the way that we would expect, because he is one who “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to put to shame the things that are, that no one might boast in the presence of God.”

   What we need is Jesus himself, robed in his gospel. There and only there can we find the fullness of unalterable truth united with perfect compassion and healing, a sword unsheathed against sin but also boundless grace for the sinner, a lover who will weep with us while still ruling over all his and our enemies. The role of the minister – and every Christian is a minister of the gospel of reconciliation, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” – is to play the part of pointing to and presenting the real Christ.

   If it were not so, then ministry really would be impossible. But, because it is not on our own abilities, but rather on the Lordship of Christ that ministry stands or falls, as weak and stuttering children we may say with the Apostle “I will boast all the more of my weakness, that the power of Christ might rest upon me.” And as we do, our own eyes and the eyes that might have been directed towards us are drawn up to the one of whom John writes:

   “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! And the one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothes in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’”

   “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desire to take the water of life without price.”

   This is the motivation, the goal, and the method of ministry: the power and beauty and glory of Christ himself.

 

(Special thanks to Ginny Sherrod for turning this grammatical mess into something readable)

 

An Announcement and a Request

An Announcement and a Request

Hey everyone! As many of you know, I recently accepted a position as an RUF Intern, which will officially start this June. I’m starting this blog to keep everyone updated on the things that are going on, as well as to share some of the things that I write from time to time.

The next seven months are going to be full of support raising, so if you’re reading this – please consider helping me. RUF Staff members – Campus Ministers and Interns alike – fundraise all of their budget, and I’ll need to raise roughly $32,000 before I can move to campus. Honestly, that number is really scary to me. I’m not good at asking people for any kind of help, much less money. But I also believe that God has promised that He will provide daily bread for His people – and that fact isn’t true because I feel like it’s true any more than it would be untrue if I didn’t feel like it was true. It’s true because it’s Truth, because He is True – and in him there is no deception at all, nor shadow due to change (James 1:17).

I don’t just need financial support, though. I need just as much (in some way, more) people who will pray for me. I can’t tell you exactly how prayer works (“The secret things belong to God,” Deut 29:29) but I can tell you that God has promised us that “The prayer of the righteous person has great power while it is working” (James 5:16). And why is that? Not because of any righteousness we have – all of that, considered on its own, is like “filthy rags” before God (Isaiah 64:6). No, the prayer of the righteous person has great power because of the one who gave us his righteousness: Jesus, the Eternal Word of God, who makes people who used to be his enemies into his brothers and sisters, not because we did something to deserve it, but simply because he loves us.

I need your prayer because I simply can’t do ministry on my own. Being an intern requires being caring, patient, bold, calm, and wise. I have to raise a daunting sum of money, be ready to listen to heart-wrenching stories, know how to communicate Christ in the middle of pain, and love others even when I don’t feel like loving them. None of those things are native to my heart. To my relief, even the Apostle Paul, while he was reflecting on ministry, cries out “Who is sufficient for all these things?” (2 Cor 2:16) Thank God He provides for us in Christ, for without that provision even the greatest of us would be doomed to fail. But He has also called on us to ask for His help, that He really does hear and give because we ask (James 4:2). So, even if you are unable to give financially – please, please pray for me.

I’m still waiting to be placed, so I have no idea where I’m going to be in the Fall. For now, I’m working in the Auburn/Opelika area, fundraising, doing things with the RUF here, and reading a lot.

If you’re interested in supporting me, or you’d just like to know more about the RUF Internship, you can contact me at james.post@ruf.org, or click that little button over there that says “Support James”.

 

For His Glory,

James