2016 has been quite a year of shifts and surprises. Brexit happened. The Cubs won the World Series. Trump won the election. The Cowboys have the best record in the NFL-what?
As I've been reflecting on the year, one of my biggest shifts in moving to Ireland was leaving such a well established ministry (such as Cru in the States), where I had significant influence in multiple contexts, and transitioning to a small start up ministry here in Ireland where I wasn't the one leading. To be honest, this has been highly refreshing and also quite frustrating at times.
But God is using this experience to press his gentle thumb on me a bit. It's not always where I like to be but I'm really glad He's pursuing me the way He is.
Henri Nouwen refers to some of what I may be experiencing as downward mobility; which results in the virtue of a more compassionate life. He writes in Here and Now the following:
“The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility! In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid. Who will freely choose a low-paying job when a high-paying job is being offered? Who will choose poverty when wealth is within reach? Who will choose the hidden place when there is a place in the limelight? Who will choose to be with one person in great need when many people could be helped during the same time? Who will choose to withdraw to a place of solitude and prayer when there are so many urgent demands from all sides?"
You don't always know what God has in store for you when He calls you into new things, but I'm starting to get a glimpse of the places He wants to set me free and how he desires to transform me into a more compassionate follower of Jesus.
Nouwen goes on to say, "The descending way of Jesus is the way of downward mobility. It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless–toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God.”
I'm not sure where this is all leading me quite yet, but I wanted to share a bit of what God is teaching me lately.
There are always barriers to overcome when it comes to living on mission.
I talk to students every week where I ask them who they think Jesus is and maybe 1 in 10 will say he's the Son of God. Most students would say he's someone that lived a good life and often say they aren't even sure if they believe in God at all. If your wondering, wouldn't Irish students know who Jesus is because it's a predominantly Catholic country? Well, unfortunately that's not the case even though the education systems here require students to study the Bible. Religion is also a subject on college entrance exams (like the SAT) and our kids even pray in their schools! But, here in Ireland, it can appear that Jesus is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. One of the reasons for this is the lack of choice people have been given.
Last Spring, I had one of my more sobering conversations where I was talking to a student in Galway and just listening to him share about what it was like to feel like he had no choice with regards to faith. I could see the anger and frustration this had created in his spirit. No one likes to be told what to believe. God doesn't barge into someone's life. Jesus says he stands at the door and knocks (Rev 3:20) and waits for us to open the door.
For many Irish students, they've never felt the freedom to choose to keep the door shut, so they go through the motions of faith even though, secretly, they may not agree with it. For this reason, one of our highest values when communicating about what we do is that we want students to have the opportunity to "make up their own mind" about who Jesus is. This posture helps us to create a safe environment for students to ask their questions.
Another aspect of ministry is building trust with students. However, because we are so small, we can only build a handful of relationships with a limited amount of students. To address this trust barrier, we've found that people are much more open and honest online (just check your Facebook feed about the upcoming election). So, one of the tools we are learning to use more effectively to help us find students who want to discuss questions about faith and Jesus is social media.
I'll be attending a conference next Thursday called 3EX Digital to learn from industry leaders on how to better use digital marketing to help surface leads and generate engagement from students on social media platforms. This will be a key component in the national expansion plan we hope to implement this year to surface key students in Galway, Cork & Limerick.
We just finished up an in-depth study of the book of Daniel and also spent time with our student leaders planning for the upcoming semester. We are now about to step foot on campus to welcome new “freshers” on universities throughout Dublin.
Daniel is a fascinating book that’s well known for its prophecies. It’s also a remarkable story of how a few exiles from Israel continued both a private devotion to God and maintained a high-profile public witness in a pluralistic society that became increasingly antagonistic to their faith. In addition, with the November election right around the corner, Daniel also gives us insight into the reality that God is involved and sovereign over human history.
One thing I appreciated most during my study was seeing how Daniel’s prayers had influence over the cosmos to the degree that certain angelic beings even refer to Daniel’s prayers as the reason they came to him.
“…your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.” Daniel 10:12
It also pulls back the curtain on the spiritual battle that goes on in both the heavens and on earth.
“The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me 21 days, but Michael, one of the chief princess, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia”. Daniel 10:13
In light of this, we covet your prayers as we step onto the front lines this week. We’ll be pioneering at the University of Limerick on Friday and then kicking things off in Dublin a week from today.
God woke me up in the middle of the night recently. The Apostle Paul’s words, written in his letter to the Corinthians, “for when I am weak, then I am strong” suddenly came to me and I couldn’t stop thinking more about what this means. I had to get up and write things down.
For a little context, I’m in a place of weakness right now, in a place of need. If I’m honest, I don’t like the idea of being weak or needy as it makes me feel vulnerable. It also means I have less control over my immediate circumstances. But, on the positive, it’s bringing me to a place of surrender, a place where I can receive from God and receive from others and die to my own self-sufficiency.
Lately, the more I’ve opened up to others about my current state, the less alone I feel, the more I can see that God is with me, the more I can experience God’s grace, the more I can give myself permission to be broken. And it brings freedom.
This is why there is strength in weakness. In the kingdom of God, weakness rallies support, weakness releases supernatural gifts, weakness summons wisdom, and it bends the ear of God who loves me so much. Weakness puts me in a posture where I can just be in the presence of God and not feel any pressure to be or do anything for God. I can just be with God and enjoy His absolute delight in me.
This abiding with God, this union life is where I exchange my battered and broken self for the resurrected Christ. Resurrection assumes a death and a losing of one’s life. Jesus said this to his disciples and then modeled it. This is why there can be power and strength in weakness. The power source is not within me, its from who lives in and through me. I've known this but I am experiencing it in a fresher way.
Power is perfected in weakness.
This is really the Christmas story! All God’s power to save all of humanity from itself begins in the weakest most vulnerable state of being-that of a newborn baby. I held a nine day-old baby this week. As I held him, I was reminded that there’s nothing more helpless and needy. It’s a great metaphor for how God must look at me. God must laugh (not in a mocking way, but in a you know better way) at my feeble attempts to do life in my own strength. It’s just absurd. This is why Paul writes that if he’s going to boast in anything at all, he will boast in his weaknesses so that the power of the risen Christ might dwell in him. That’s my prayer for myself right now.
When Handel composed the notes of the Hallelujah chorus of the Messiah, tradition holds that he “saw all heaven before him” and upon finishing this great work of art, wrote the letters SDG (Soli Deo Gloria-To God alone the glory). Heaven has indeed opened up before us and does so not to condemn the world, but to save us from ourselves.
May your Christmas be filled with the awe and wonder of Emmanuel-God with us!
Living Stones & Sacrifice
Ebola, ISIS, Putin, Syria. These are the words that dominate our news today. It's fuzzy at times to make out what God's purposes are within all of these global realities. But then again, it's still really simple-make disciples in the midst of all the chatter. But for many, that chatter is suffering.
Suffering is a catalyst for the Spirit of God to move in radical ways. 1 Peter was written to believers who were suffering. Peter encourages his readers by calling them "living stones who are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ". Our spiritual sacrifices here in the States can look so different than the spiritual sacrifices being made by those living in Iraq, Iran, Syria and West Africa?
I recently visited Northern Ireland, a country with a history of suffering and conflict after 30 years of Troubles. I visited a Peace Wall in Belfast that separates Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. It was sobering and sad to talk to those who had suffered. Peter again writes in 3:8-9, "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because in this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."
This is radical and irrational love, but that's what makes the gospel so powerful. I haven't suffered much really. But I'm sure many of you have. I know the people I met in Northern Ireland have. Regardless of what God puts on our path, we are all called to make disciples in the midst of both good times and hard times.
The late Dallas Willard in his book, Spiritual Disciplines, lists 15 disciplines, one of them being Sacrifice. Willard writes, "We give up even necessary things in our life (as opposed to frugality, where we give up unnecessary things). The discipline of sacrifice is one in which we forsake the security of meeting our needs with what is in our hands. It is total abandonment to God, a stepping into the dark abyss in the faith and hope that God will bear us up."
This is challenging and has me wondering, where does God want me to practice the discipline of sacrifice? Is it with my time, my finances, my future plans? Yes, but even those things seem petty. God wants my very life and isn't satisfied with half-hearted commitment. Jesus tells us to take up our cross and it's through that I actually become a living stone that goes into building His spiritual house.
I don't drift into sacrifice like I do into comfort. It takes a whole new level of intentionality.
Anyway, I know this has a heavy tone. But just sharing what God is teaching me. I hope it encourages you to be a living stone that make disciples regardless of your circumstances. Thanks so much for empowering us to be about that.