12.27.2018

PULL UP A CHAIR: Stories on Passion

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the fourth week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.

Jeff VanderLaan (no relation to Ray, for those of you familiar with my teachings) is the Vice President for Impact Campus Ministries and has become one of my closest friends. He has served with ICM for over 24 years and knows our organization and its DNA intimatelyJeff was discipled by ICM's founder, Dean, and knows these principles in ways that few of us do. I could think of nobody else to close out this year's blog posts then by having Jeff share his perspective on PASSION. 


“Will you pursue God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul?” 

It was the fall of 1994, and I was a senior at Michigan State University attending His House Christian Fellowship when Dean Trune asked me that one question. That question was the whole application and interview process to join the first Impact Campus Ministries campus ministry plant in Albany, NY. There was no written application, no reference checks, and no skills assessment. All Dean cared about was if I would have a passion for God.

For the next 15 years, while Dean was my boss, the question about my passion for God led every conversation and was included on every report I had to turn in to the organization. Often my answer would start with ministry success stories. Dean would politely listen, then re-ask about my personal relationship with Jesus.

Dean knew what I needed to learn. Ministry is hard. It would be easy to lose focus on God and get distracted by the ministry. It was not that Dean was anti-ministry. He just knew we cannot control “making an impact” or “fruitful ministries,” but we have absolute control over developing intimacy with God. He would say, “We must not allow ‘ministry for God’ to crowd ‘intimacy with God’ out of our lives.”

Dean knew that passion for God would naturally lead to ministry. Actually, it would lead to a ministry where you would willfully do more than is required to do. It would lead to a ministry driven by more than enthusiasm or excitement when successful. Your passion for God would lead to an ambition that is materialized into action through the good times and the bad.

Dean was right. We called the first year the year of tears. It was hard. Between Satan opposing the expansion of God’s kingdom to the University at Albany through campus ministry, and God’s appreciation of my choosing to serve him, I discovered the need for God to refine me to be a more usable vessel. It was never clear if the blow was from Satan trying to stop me or God trying to shape me, but I was sure it hurt. Yet passion for God gave us the strength to continue into year two and eventually through year 15.

Through the years, Impact’s value of passion for God has continued to teach me so many things.

  • When I focus on ministry, people will be drawn to ministry. Focus I on God, people will be drawn to God.
  • When I focus on ministry, I often take the credit. When I focus on God, I often give him the credit.
  • When I focus on ministry, my weaknesses limit the ministry. When I focus on God, his strength empowers the ministry.
  • When I focus on ministry, I often choose the direction taken. When focusing on God, he directs the ministry.

There was so much learned from such a simple concept.

Impact Campus Ministries values passion for God. May this value continues to underlie everything we do and continue expanding our understanding of what it can teach us in the future.

12.18.2018

MAKING AN IMPACT: Passion

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the third week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.


The last value we have to talk about is the value of passion for God.

This value is really the first on our list and I purposely saved it for the last post in our series. Why? Because this brings us all the way back, full circle, to where we started years ago under the leadership of Dean Trune. Dean’s passion for Jesus, back then and still today, is his sole concern. For Dean, his pursuit of God was his passion, and true passion is seen in our pursuit of Jesus.

Anyone who meets Dean would be able to tell you about his spiritual posture, through all of the ups and downs of his family and their experiences. Through Dean’s successes and mistakes (he’d be the first to tell you he makes them), his steady gaze, fixed on Jesus, is the one trademark he tries to pass on to as many people as he can.

At Impact Campus Ministries, following Jesus and giving him our everything is not an afterthought. It is not a secondary focus. It is not what comes at the end, or the value that gets our leftovers.

It is the foundation we start from. We begin our workday, our productivity, with a focus on what Jesus is doing in us, through us, and around us. We attempt to discern the movement of Jesus and go with it. This is not just the thing that we do “before the real work begins.” On the contrary, this is actually the work.

One of the things I should certainly do here is recommend Dean’s writings. His first two books have always been my favorite when it comes to communicating the essence of who we are at ICM. Dean’s first book is Path Toward Passion, and I’ve always felt like it is his personal magnum opus. His second book challenges me to be more “awake” and present in my interactions; the book is titled God's Divine Appointments.

This last January, we had an opportunity to let Dean come in and remind us (for some, it was brand new) of the thinking he instilled in our beginnings. One of the examples he used was the idea of deep friendship versus romance. Many of us have experienced or observed a deep and meaningful friendship; we have also seen or experienced the different kind of quality in a romantic relationship. Both are meaningful and powerful, yet one is so much more intimate.

Dean suggested to us that far too many Christians have a deep friendship with Jesus, but not a romance. I have written at great extent to show how far the Scriptures go to reiterate this perspective of God’s relationship with His people. Outside the metaphor of “Father,” the metaphor of “Lover” is a close second. God wants to have that kind of intimate relationship with us.

God wants to have that kind of relationship with college students.

It is this kind of intimacy that empowers them with a supernatural ability to Impact the World.

How will we ever Impact the U with this kind of message if we don’t experience it daily in our own lives?

Jesus, please lead us, call us, and draw us to yourself, that we might know you intimately and be able to share that kind of “knowing” with the world around us.



12.11.2018

A DAY IN THE LIFE: Promotion

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the second week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.


The last installment of A Day in the Life is going to be a post about organizational promotion. Is there some reason that I waited to the last month to talk about this? Is this the climactic part of my job that defines what I do?

Simply, no.

This was the part of my new role that I was most unfamiliar with. While it hasn’t been the worst challenge I’ve ever faced, it isn’t the part of me that comes naturally. I’m pretty introverted in my nature. I like to retreat and study, to teach and preach, to create and dream and podcast. While I don’t try to avoid people (and I can even enjoy them in small doses), I typically like to sit just enough away from social situations.

But promotion is the exact opposite of that natural tendency for me. Promotional conferences are about face time and intentional connections with others. It’s about putting your face on the organization and letting the organization grow through your interactions. It’s all about people.

And this actually explains why I didn’t have a post until now. These experiences are so filled with anxiety for me that I never get any videos! I like the challenge, but the focus needed for me to do this part of my job well can be exhausting. One thing is for sure: I sleep extra well on these trips.

We have a natural and annual rhythm to the promotional events we take part in. Every May, we head to the Campus Ministers Retreat put on by the Association of College Ministries at McCormick’s Creek State Park in Indiana. A few weeks later in June, we are usually on our way to wherever that year’s North American Christian Convention is; the NACC (no longer taking place after 2018) is a gathering where people come to hear speakers, attend workshops, and browse the exhibit hall full of different missions organizations.

In July, the Association of College Ministries puts on their annual National Student Conference where many different ministries bring their students to learn from speakers and workshops, as well as network with other opportunities to grow and serve in the field of missions and vocational ministry. Then, right before Thanksgiving, we attend the International Conference on Missions, usually somewhere in the Midwest. This gathering is very similar to the NACC, with more emphasis on networking and service.

These are beneficial times where we get to strengthen our relationships and partnerships with other ministries. We get to meet people interested in the work of campus ministry and often find new recruits at events like these. And of course, we also get to pursue some exposure, helping people recognize our name, our mission, and what we are doing.

Here’s a video diary I made of my most recent trip to ICOM.


12.04.2018

Top 12 of CiHD: #1

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (the first week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.


This is it! We’ve travelled this 2018 path of the Top 12 Blog Posts at Covered in His Dust and we have arrived at the end of our list — the most viewed post in my blog’s history. The winner of this title is the blog I wrote on the Resurrection back at the end of August 2015. The post was titled “Empty” and you can read the original post here.

So, for one last time, let’s remember what I’ll try to do.

In this series, as we look at each post, I want to ask three questions: why, what, and what else? Why do I think these posts got so many views; why were others drawn to them? What do I hope people found when they got here; what do I hope they heard? Finally, what else have I learned about this; what else would I say about these ideas?


WHY THIS POST?

Well, if you would have asked me about which post I had hoped would get the most views, it would have been this one. I am a big believer that the most important truth, the most profound reality, the pinnacle of all theology and of the Kingdom is the resurrection. There are many theologians who talk about the crucifixion as being the most central to theology, that everything revolves around the work of Jesus on the cross. Many of these theologians are men and women I respect very deeply. But I respectfully disagree.

The apostle Paul did not say that without the crucifixion, our faith is in vain. No, he said that without the resurrection, our faith is in vain. That’s a strong assertion to make and it drives my theology.

Having said that, I wonder if there are other reasons the page views were driven up. I don’t feel like it was one of my best written posts. Are people that driven and interested in the resurrection? That hasn’t been my experience, typically. I can’t seem to find any unique or unusual words or phrases that would have caught some other Google search. Did people think I was posting about how I was feeling empty and so they were driven to click in and read? That could be.


WHAT DO I HOPE THEY FOUND?

Well, the truth and power of the resurrection is really, in a lot of ways, a mystery. Part of the reason we don’t get more excited about it is because there is so much about it that we don’t understand. Much of the last century has been misdirected in simply trying to prove the historicity of the event. This is a shame, as the power of resurrection doesn’t lie in intellectually proving that it happened. No, the power of the resurrection lies in realizing what it means for our daily walks, trusting that great truth to be real, and leaning into the consequences.

Even I struggled (then and now) to write about the resurrection in such a way that captures the power of this great truth. To that end, I recommend a great book called Surprised by Hope by NT Wright. It does a good job of talking about the resurrection in a western way that helps us capture some of the applicable ramifications of the resurrection.


WHAT ELSE WOULD I SAY?

I would talk about the power of hope.


The story of God’s people, all the way back to the story of Abram, is a story about hope. It’s a story about people who believe there is more going on — that more is possible than simply the concrete thing we experience in the Order of Brokenness. This reality is deeper and greater than a battle between optimism and pessimism. This isn’t about whether or not the glass is half-full or half-empty.

This is about whether or not you believe the glass was meant to be full — and, no matter what happens, will be full again.

The resurrection is about what you fundamentally believe is true about the world. What is the truest true? What is the realest real? What is the thing that if you burned away all of the dross, would remain? Does love win? Does life end in death? Or is death not really an end? And no, I’m not just talking about what happens when we die. I’m talking about the true order of things.

Here. Now. When we are alive.

When the Order of Death rears its ugly head, is it a roar of triumph, or is it the gasping and grasping of a creature whose days are numbered?

When you encounter greed and selfishness, are you dismayed? Or are you grounded — as a Child of the Resurrection — in a truth that what you are looking at is a fleeting shadow? And does this change the way you live?

It should. It should make us more selfless. More generous. It should make us better priests. It should prepare us for Kingdom, making us conduits of God’s redeeming work. It should rid us of fear and equip us to lay our lives down — because we understand that there really is no way to lose our life.

Maybe this is the reason the Rabbi said the only way to save your life is to lose it.



11.27.2018

PULL UP A CHAIR: Stories on Church

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the fourth week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.

For the last two years, Alex VanDuyne has served as ICM's team leader at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. Alex, Emily, and Samuel have demonstrated a very thoughtful presence amongst the students at USF and have been very intentional about their engagement with the local church and its ability to help them minister to young adults. I knew that with Alex's passion for teaching and communication, he would be a great staff person to ask to share his thoughts about our value of church. 


I love the theology of the church universal. Almost everyone believes in it, though some people talk about it more than others. It means that the Church—the “big C” Church—is the communion of all Christians, across every country, across all time. We are an incredibly tiny part of a great chorus of praise to God that involves every Christian who has ever lived and ever will. But part of the beauty of this idea is that it’s so big and abstract and that it does not actually require anything of us. It’s just a certainty. It’s clean and beautiful like looking at the earth from space.

For our purposes, for the practical now, the “real church” is the local church. This is where the action happens. Our local churches are the hands and feet of God. The local church is much different. It gets messy and dirty and complicated. Churches are inherently messy because they’re made of inherently messy people. Sometimes we act like messy churches are a sign that the gospel isn’t working, but messy churches are like hospitals with sick people—neither surprising nor something to condemn, but entirely natural.

Churches are where God lives. We think of the Holy Spirit as living inside each believer, but the primary metaphor for the Holy Spirit dwelling within us is not as individual believers, but as believers assembled. We like to say, “We don’t go to church, we are the church.” This is partially correct. It is better to say that we become the church when we gather as the church.

The local church is to the universal church what a brick is to a wall. It’s what a cell is to a complex organism. It’s what a nutrient is to a meal. The local church is the least common denominator, the base unit that makes up the greater Church. And this is simply the way it is. There’s no alternative. No competing design. God has ordained to work primarily through local churches. And thus so do we as Christians. And thus so does Impact.

There’s no biblical precedent for a solo believer. Neither the Bible nor church history suggests that a Christian should be a Christian apart from membership in a local gathering. Are there exceptions? Probably. Thought experiments show it to be possible. Life certainly yields people on the outskirts who cannot leave their home or who live in countries with few believers. But these people are the exception, not the rule, and certainly not the ideal.

Impact values church. We value church because church is the native language of God. Church is primarily how he speaks and acts. We cannot preach “Pursue” without calling people to do so in the context of a local body of believers when possible. And it’s nearly always possible. For our staff to say we are pursuing God if we are not invested in a local church is problematic at best. Students, more than anyone, require the stability of a healthy, multigenerational church if they are to nurture a serious and significant relationship with Jesus. Impact doesn’t try to supplant this because it’s fundamentally impossible. A student who treats Impact as their church is a like a sick person on a ventilator. Sometimes it is necessary, and it might be helpful during times of crisis, but eventually you need to start breathing on your own.

Ultimately I have not done my job if I don’t direct our students into the local church. Ultimately one of the clearest signs of whether I have been successful with students is whether they insist on membership in a flawed, messy, beautiful local church after graduation. My own serious input on a student’s life lasts only about two and half years. I hope this sets the foundation for a lifetime of church membership, where my own strengths and failures in each student’s life will be rounded and smoothed and balanced out in the beauty of Christian submission.

This hard commitment to churches made of broken people is one of the core signs of Christian maturity. But it’s also one of the key paths to Christian maturity. Church is where we learn submission, and submission means submitting to not only those we acknowledge are right, but also to those who we think might be wrong, and those who are definitely wrong. We have to work out what submission means in each instance, but it usually means staying in your community and fighting for unity, peace, and a passion for God. Remember, Christ’s great act of submission was not submitting to the crowds who called for him as a king, but submitting to the crowds who called for his murder. This is the model for the backward gospel ethics that we learn about in the Bible, the model of life we call students to at Impact, and the attitude we learn to live out in the local church.

11.13.2018

MAKING AN IMPACT: Church

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the third week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.

One of our values at Impact Campus Ministries is church.

It might seem like a silly value, but let me explain why we put it on the list.


Too many times, para-church organizations get started because of some need that the local church isn’t meeting — oftentimes because it would not be practical, wise, and good stewardship of their time and resources. There are many ministries like this and almost any missions organization you can think of will fit into this category. While some of these efforts are less para-church than others (e.g., sending missionaries to international settings is less about filling an unmet need and more about sending missionaries to do the work in other corners of the world), a bulk of these organizations will be like this. Homeless shelters, food pantries, and benevolence ministries will be like this. Pregnancy crisis centers and free medical clinics will be like this. Campus ministry organizations often make the list.

Because of this natural gap, there is often an animosity that grows, whether intentional or unintentional. Oftentimes these organizations are started because of a frustration that the local church isn’t meeting an obvious need. That chip on the shoulder is an unhealthy attitude that festers in the church world. In places like campus ministry, it can become easy to critique the local church, throw stones at their methods, and start our own thing to replace the broken piece. In return, churches become increasingly frustrated with organizations critiquing without helping, wanting to take without giving back, and always draining the resources of a church community that struggles to give generously.

And so, ICM wants to be sure we state up front that we value the local church.

We do not think we are here to critique or fix the state of the church. We are not the answer to all the world’s problems. We are simply here to help. And we want to start by coming alongside what God is already doing in His local church.

We will not try to replace the local church. We will not talk negatively about the local church. And while not all of our teams will have intentional partnerships on the level that some teams do (like our team on the Palouse), we will seek to partner with the local church whenever that partnership will be effective and efficient.

We want to do our job in a way that encourages all of our brothers and sisters to run the race well. And we want to do our job in a way that makes the church want to return the favor.

If we truly believed in the work of MILIEU (that we spoke of before) then we have to be active partners with the local church. You may remember Eric Wright sharing his stories of having students exposed to different ideas. We want to remind ourselves that if we are Impacting the U because we believe it will Impact the World, then we have to keep our students surrounded by healthy diversity and a wide demographic of people. This kind of exposure will enhance their personal development, make them better professionals, and increase their ability to lead others later in life. How could we truly pursue this and not value a connection with the local church?

And yet, it is easy to miss. And so we have to remind ourselves by putting it on our list of values.


11.06.2018

A DAY IN THE LIFE: Personal Time

For a summary of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this blog series (in the second week of every month of 2018), I recommend reviewing my explanation here.


“OK, Marty, but what do you like to do for FUN?

I get this question a lot when I talk about my life. It’s a good question and it’s important for all of us to find space to do things that we love — personal space built to refresh us and let us simply be who we are, unplugged.

This part of my life used to be a lot larger, that is for sure. Some of that is OK. I love my job and find it incredibly fulfilling. There are many parts of my job that don’t feel like a job at all. Moments when I get to teach, preach, or speak to a group of people are awesome times that fill up my tank. It is what I am made to do. I also find that whatever free space I have is going more and more to my children. I think God is teaching me to be OK with this. I’m not sure any alternatives are the right option. My children are becoming my joy and that is just fine.

However, it’s still important to make sure you don’t always have to be “on” all the time. In years past, I used to enjoy major commitments to different video games. I had a long, long affair with World of Warcraft that than turned toward Star Wars: The Old Republic (yes, I was an MMORPG guy) and I’ve had my seasons where I flirt with Skyrim or Call of Duty, but those are short-lived. Too often as I’ve grown older, these relatively brief seasons turn into watching different TV shows or documentaries.

I do enjoy the Cincinnati Bengals whenever I can (which isn’t very often the way that they play).

And I have some other vices that involve tobacco pipes and distilleries, but we don’t need to pull that apart here.

One favorite hobby of mine comes around each fall and involves solitude, silence, and beautiful mountain scenery — hunting. I recently finished another season of hunting and enjoy this annual activity so very much. I love fall/winter, I love the mountains, I love the practical nature of filling my family’s freezer with meat that I harvested myself and can be confident was taken and butchered humanely (I am not trying to offend my vegetarian brothers and sisters; I respect you very much). I enjoy guns and the sport of hunting (while not acting like common-sense gun legislation is a ridiculous conversation). [My goodness, why all the disclaimers? What a world we live in.]

At any rate, I do make space for personal enjoyment. I love lots of things, but I also love hunting and here is my short video. (Don’t worry, there’s no bloody animal at the end.)