Last Fall, I shared some of my thoughts with 200 or so Cru staff about how the work they are a part of on the campuses throughout California, Arizona and Hawaii is very much like mining for gold.
1) Like miners, they are bringing the light of the gospel to very dark places, as the university campus is a very hostile environment when it comes to talking about Jesus.
2) Like miners, they are entering into the loud and messy coal mine shafts that represent the broken and shattered lives of students, where we have the privilege of pointing them towards the savior, who carries away the dirt and grime of their sin.
3) Like miners, our staff swing their pickaxes day in and day out, chipping away at the bedrock of the campus, discovering tiny gold nuggets, representing the untapped potential of students, who will become the next generation of pastors, missionaries, educators and entrepreneurs that will help transform society on earth as it is in heaven.
Then, these students, these gold nuggets, come together as equipped ministers of the gospel to create a spiritual movement, a crown of splendor that God uses to glorify himself and to fulfill his purposes. It can be a dirty job, but it's our honor to do it. Thanks for giving us that opportunity!
I turned 40 today. Wow, that's weird to type. Some say, 40 is the half-time of your life. This picture sort of illustrates some of my reflections on reaching this milestone.
Recently, Ammie and I had the immense privilege of taking a once in a lifetime vacation to Italy. We dipped ourselves into the Renaissance history and reveled in the art and culture of Michelangelo. We stood under "David" - a 17 foot sculpture that truly is a masterpiece. The fine details, the proportions, and the beautiful lines that have withstood the test of time. It was even more amazing when we learned that Michelangelo was only 26 years old when he was commissioned by the Pope for this project. Lining the hallway leading up to David were unfinished sculptures that Michelangelo also created, but didn't have time to finish.
The concept of masterpiece reminded me of Ephesians 2:10, where Paul writes, that we are "God's masterpiece (or workmanship), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them".
If you've ever watched how sculptures are made, it's a very timely, intentional, long, patient process. It took Michelangelo 3 years to complete David. This picture reminds me of how I think God view us and since it's only half complete, reminds me of how I feel as I turn 40. I'm like this chiseled block of marble, unfinished, with a lot of stone that still needs to be chipped away. God, like Michelangelo to a slab of marble, continues to refine me, as he does all of those who follow Him, so that we will reflect more of his image, which is so perfectly reflected in Jesus. The beauty is, God sees all of my potential and the future of what He desires for me to become, just like David off in the distance.
Like an artist, God's patiently using different tools (people, circumstances, hardships, victories) to sculpt, chip and smooth me into a unique masterpiece- one that more accurately reflects his own character and likeness. The major difference is that I'm not unresponsive and without a choice in the matter (like a slab of marble), but an active participant who, in humble submission as an act of worship, bends and yields to the changes God desires to make within me. The hope that is such an encouragement is that I will not remain unfinished, but will one day be perfected. So as I turn 40, I realize, at least for life on this earth, it's just half time. The best is still to come.
I just got back from Chicago where we sent out a new wave of missionaries to the world. During the week I had the privilege of meeting with one of our leaders from North Africa. Let's call him Joseph. I first met Joseph in the Fall of 2011 when I was visiting one of our teams in North Africa. Joseph had come out to Chicago to specifically help prepare those we were sending to this part of the world. Many students are coming to faith here through visions and dreams and through the brave witness of those like Joseph. However, this was a tremendously challenging week for Joseph as many people from his country were protesting and also using the protests as a cover to burn churches and attack Christians. During our conference, Joseph received a call from his wife and he could hear gun shots going off in the background. "The children are scared", his wife said to Joseph. Needless to say, Joseph had to leave Chicago early to help protect his family from the violence that's been spreading throughout his country.
If you have a moment, please pray for Joseph and pray for the many Christians in North Africa and around the world who are being persecuted for their faith. For more info on how to pray go to Voice of the Martyrs.
We were in Fort Collins last week for Cru's National Staff conference that we have every two years. It's a huge gathering of close to 5,000 staff from around the country that all work under the umbrella of Cru's ministries. We've been going there every two years since 1999. We love Fort Collins-it's actually been named to have the friendliest drivers, claims more than 300 days of sunshine a year, and is one of the top 10 cities in the United States to live. One night we were driving after having dinner out when all of sudden we saw the lights of a police car in our rear view mirror. I had no idea why we were being pulled over (honest) and it was a first for Jon (at least in this town-we won't speak of his earlier years of driving).
We were in a rental car so we fumbled around for the rental agreement. The police officer slowly approached the driver side window and asked if we knew why he pulled us over. Jon said, "No sir, I sure don't". The police officer replied, "We'll, you didn't have your lights on". What a relief I thought to myself. We told him that because it was a rental car we must have hit the wrong switch and assumed that the lights were on.
We started talking more and he asked if we were with Cru's conference and we said yes. He then asked if we still lived in Oceanside. We said yes and he shared that he used to be stationed out there when he was in the Marines. Then he asked what I did for a living out in Oceanside, and sort of confused, I told him that we worked for Cru. Then he said, "Oh, I didn't know that was a full-time thing". I tried not to laugh because I still didn't know if we were getting a ticket or a warning and I said, "Yes, sir, it's a real job". He seemed satisfied with our story and gave us a nice warning. Perceptions can be funny. I guess if I wanted any kind of respect, I should have joined the Marines ;-).
Ammie and I recently traveled to South Africa where we had the privilege of going on a game drive with some of our STINTERS. This was Ammie's first time to Africa and if you've ever been on a game drive, you just never know what to expect. We heard our guide talking over the radio confirming the last known location of a pride of 7 lions as we tumbled around in our 15 seater range rover that brought us back to our first time riding Indiana Jones at Disneyland.
Ten minutes later, there they were. Seven lions (2 males, 2 females, and 3 adolescent males all lying down). We pulled up within 25 feet or so, and our guide turned the engine off, and we just sat there in awe. Then we watched as each one of them started walking around, yawning, and according to our guide, waking up to prepare for their night hunt.
Before we knew it, these lions decided to chill within 10 feet of our vehicle. Then, one of the adolescent males got too close to the alpha male's space who then charged him (right towards our range rover of course) to scare him off, which then prompted our guide to yell at the lion (because he had forgotten his rifle). Our guide then said very softly, "Now you definitely want to stay seated... or you'll single yourself out something serious". Simultaneously, the dominant female lion began to grunt to get the alpha male's attention (you know-to save her silly adolescent male from getting torn to shreds). Mr. Alpha male now thinks it's mating time. Next, the female shrugs off Mr. Alpha male and begins to tease him a bit by rolling over to play. All of this happens within roughly 30 exhilarating seconds and then my almost 40 year old mind begins to think (what the heck am I doing?!). And before I know it, I softly utter to Ammie, "uhh...this is stupid".
Now, I'm surrounded by some of the bravest men and women in the world (recent college graduates who are on mission) who have no fear. They were as peaceful as could be, but my face told otherwise. These majestic lions just cozied up to us and would set there eyes on you and just stare-let's say they won the staring contest. Eventually, after absorbing this wonderful show, our guide re-started up the vehicle. We had a fun discussion afterwards about how all I could think about at that moment was our three kids and that I hoped we'd make it out of there. Ammie, for some reason, was just happy to be outside without kids and couldn't have cared less (she's the steady one in our marriage). Now I know why C.S. Lewis used a lion to portray the character of God when he writes “He's not safe, but he's good" (referring to Aslan, the Lion, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). There's tremendous power just waiting to be unleashed.
We ended our discussion about my nervous reaction with me saying, "You guys just don't respect the lion". We all laughed and took turns retelling the story again and again as we drove back to our tents.