7.17.2018

MAKING AN IMPACT: Milieu

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.


With today’s post, we wrap up our approach toward reaching this generation of college students, something we call Message, Mode, and Milieu (Mx3). In order to reach young adults today, we believe we have to be able to tell the whole story of God and His invitation to join. This narrative-based approach to the Text is something we call message. We also believe we have to teach this in a way that stimulates the mind, heart, and body; this approach is something we refer to as mode, and we talked about it last month and heard Zack tell a great story about his experience on the BEMA Trip.

This month, we talk about the last component, something we call MILIEU. I remember the first time Bill Westfall presented this material (and many times after that), and I laughed at his word choice and his commitment to alliteration. “Milieu” (pronounced mil-yoo) isn’t a word we typically use in everyday conversation, and I’ve only recently been able to consistently spell it correctly, so it would behoove us to make sure we examine its definition. Siri tells me that milieu means a person’s social environment.

Our social connections continue to be what has the most sustainable potential to impact us. Many sources of wisdom tell us to surround ourselves with the people we want to become. While many mothers have encouraged us to consider the practical sapience (how about that for a word you need to look up?) of, “if your friend told you to jump off of a bridge, would you do it,” we must also routinely have that conversation because of the power of the communal voices with which we surround ourselves.

Community is important. Because of this, we have to be very intentional about the relationships we build with others. ICM has defined milieu as intentional relationships with others in the story. This idea of social networking is intertwined with our idea of message. If God is telling a story and is inviting us to join it, then that means there must be others who are already in the story and others waiting to jump in. As we talked about with discipleship, there is always somebody in front of you, and always somebody behind you.

When you consider all of this, you realize how dangerous it is for a campus minister to just run with a flock of students. If it is simply one campus minister and a bunch of college-age students, the milieu is undeniably weak! In fact, depending on the personality of the campus minister, this is downright dangerous. Another campus minister was talking to me recently, following a workshop on discipleship I had done, about the danger of becoming “cult-like” in our adherence to rabbinical principles. It is incredibly important to realize the dangers of this! I went on to talk to him about how important my commitment to the local church is in the health of my ministry. I personally need to be surrounded by other pastors and leaders who will let me know if I start to get a little crazy. I need my students (and myself) to be surrounded by older folks and children, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, conservative and liberal.
Why? Because diversity is what allows us to grow and gain wisdom. It is in encountering differing worldviews and opinions that I am kept humble and forced to consider other ways of viewing things. It is through this diversity that I learn how to respect others. The Spirit moves and bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as I interact with people who see things differently from me. Diversity is what protects us from the close-minded tribalism that threatens to destroy our world from all directions.

And it is this diversity that will help mold and shape young people into the leaders they are going to become. Just because we have intentional relationships with others who aren’t like us certainly doesn’t mean we agree with those people on everything — or even lots of things. It just means we respect their humanity and see our own development bound up in their own.

I need my computer science student to be rubbing shoulders with the IT Director of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories. I need my Bernie-Sanders-supporting sophomore to listen to the reasoning behind a Donald-Trump-supporting farmer. I need a newly baptized freshman serving in the children’s ministry with toddlers who are being exposed to a Jesus she only recently met. I need older, more experienced people mentoring my students. I need my students mentoring others in the church. And we all need the mentors to be learning from those they are leading. Why? Because it is this living Eucharist table that reminds us of the world that we are called to change.

If we Impact the U within the context of milieu, we will Impact the World.


7.10.2018

A DAY IN THE LIFE: Spiritual Practices

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.


Spiritual practices really are the center of everything I do. Organizationally, this is the spiritual DNA that Dean Trune instilled in Impact Campus Ministries (and me personally) years and years ago. You have seen me write about the importance of pursue in the work of ICM and I wrote earlier about our counter-intuitive definition of success.

Personally, this space in my life has been incredibly important to me over the last decade. I am thankful that my mentors (not only people like Dean, but also Steve Edwards and Bill Westfall) have invested in me to the extent that they taught me how to possess the same passion for pursuing God that they had. This was even more important when I met Ray Vander Laan and traveled to Israel and Turkey and was challenged to get the Text inside of me like I had never known. For years, I had gravitated towards the Text and struggled with our conventional understandings of prayer. ICM’s commitment to spiritual practices, combined with Ray’s passion for the Text, made for an experience that would change my life forever.

Emotionally, these practices have been a life saver. Being a person who struggles with anxiety, I find the daily rhythms of spiritual disciplines allow me to manage my anxiety in a way that is incredibly helpful — and healthy.

Vocationally, it is the center of the work I do with students. As we seek to make disciples through the art of mimicry and imitation, this is my starting place. With every student I have ever intentionally discipled, I have started with this premise: it all begins with your daily pursuit of God; imitate me as I show you how I make space for Him in my life.

There are lots and lots of ways people can create this kind of space. We are all wired differently and we gravitate towards different practices and expressions of worship. I have a teaching that I give every year to my students that you can find here. It describes many (but not all) possible ways we can create space for God in our lives. For years, I have been surrounded by people who are deeply committed to prayer. I, however, have always struggled to pray and gravitated to more structure in my pursuit. Having not been raised in a church experience of heavy liturgy, I have found structural disciplines to be life-giving.

Some of the books that have shaped me the most in this regard are Celebration of the Disciplines by Richard Foster, The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard, Sacred Rhythms by Christine Sine, The Contemplative Pastor and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson, Finding Our Way Again by Brian McLaren, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, and many other specialized works (like books on fasting or prayer).

No series on A Day in the Life would be complete without talking about the daily spaces I create to passionately pursue God with my time and attention. I made a video diary of my practices here:


7.03.2018

Top 12 of CiHD: #6

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.


The next post in our series examining the Top 12 Blog Posts at Covered in His Dust is a teaching on the Tabernacle. I called it “Falling on Joyful Faces” — and you can find it here.

In this series, as we look at each post, I want to ask three questions: why, what, and what else? Why do I think this post got so many views; why were others drawn to it? 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?

To be honest, I don’t have many ideas as to why this teaching made the list — let alone so high up. I do know this is one of my favorite lessons to teach in person, either in the classroom or on my trips in Israel. There is a built-to-scale model of the Tabernacle in the Negev desert and I love to take my students there. I know that it communicates well in person, but I never felt like written teaching was the way to go here. Maybe I’m wrong.

I also remember this post being shared by others more than usual. Many have pointed out that there is no science behind why something gets shared and some others do not — there is no correlation to quality of content — but I imagine those shares were a big part of the view count.

The only other idea I can come up with is that if people were searching the Internet for Tabernacle and Temple and their relationship to each other, this post would have shown up on the search.


WHAT DO I HOPE THEY FOUND?

Obviously, this is one of my more “poetic” pieces, so it would be safe to say I hope people found inspiration and a compelling call to engage the missio Dei in the world.

I hope it challenged readers to pause and consider the reaction of the people. Growing up in the Church and being exposed to the Bible routinely had caused me to make some assumptions about God and His presence. I had picked up the idea that God is scary; when people meet God, they fall down terrified. Without a doubt, there are those instances in the Text. But with that being my go-to assumption, I read over instances like this one — so much so that I remember having to give serious thought to what it would have looked like to “fall on their faces in joy” when I first heard this teaching.


WHAT ELSE WOULD I SAY?

I would certainly point out how much the original lesson impacted me and provided the basis for my own teaching. I first heard this lesson in 2008 from Ray Vander Laan while we were spending time in the Negev desert. Later, I was able to revisit the lesson when it was produced by Focus on the Family in the That the World May Know series (Volume 10, “With All Your Heart,” Lessons 1–2).

If I could, I think I would have added more to the idea of the corporate “we” being the Temple of God. It’s a common idea and so I think I just assumed it at the end of my original post, but I would have been wise to let more of the Text speak there. I would have included passages from the New Testament like 1 Peter 2:4–5:
As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
I would have also included 1 Corinthians 3:16–17:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
Connecting this idea to Pentecost is a powerful way of reminding the readers that we all — as the corporate Body of Christ — are a new Temple, opened on that day. If we are familiar with how people responded to the grand openings of God’s other spiritual houses, it would be an easy assumption to make about how they ought to respond when they meet us. In order to make this point even more poignant, one could hear this idea of God using us as living stones as a call back to Isaiah 51:



“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousnessand who seek the LORD:Look to the rock from which you were cutand to the quarry from which you were hewn;look to Abraham, your father,and to Sarah, who gave you birth.When I called him he was only one man,and I blessed him and made him many.”
It would be a powerful consideration to think about the qualities of Abraham and Sarah that we studied early in the series. If they are people of radical hospitality (referenced by Jesus himself!), it would give us an indication of the missional methodology behind the reaction of people who see the goodness of God and the enduring nature of His love.



6.26.2018

PULL UP A CHAIR: Stories on Mode

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.


Zack Dean is the team leader for Impact Campus Ministries at our location at SUNY Albany. Being an alumni of that university and our campus ministry there has always given Zack a unique perspective. None of this should take away from the fact that Zack is such a unique person! Zack has been on two BEMA Trips and was able to take his wife Melanie on the most recent trip in 2016. I thought it would be insightful to ask Zack about his perspective of "MODE" as it pertains to his experiences in Israel and Turkey.


In July of 2014, a conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip began. Within a week, I and 25 others landed in Tel Aviv and traveled south to the Negev Desert to begin the first Bema trip to Israel and Turkey. After 24 hours of air conditioned train, plane, and automobile travel, we were dropped off in the desert wilderness. I used to live in the Mohave Desert in California. I was used to jackrabbits, Joshua trees, cactus, and tumbleweeds. You know, desert. It’s a dry heat, so it isn’t as bad.

This wasn’t southern California.

There aren’t jackrabbits or Joshua trees or cactuses (cacti?). There is nothing. No plants. No animals. No shade. No water. There aren’t tumbleweeds, because there aren’t plants that grow then die and roll around.

The heat was terrific. It was the type of heat that is impressive when you first feel it; we stepped out of the bus at 9am and said wow. The sun is beating down and the rock is radiating heat up. There is no escape. Again, it is 9am. Wow.

I think Marty wanted to take it easy on us the first day. We walked the desert with what will later be seen as minimal hill climbing. As we walked this scorched earth, our shoes began to fall apart. Literally. Our soles were peeling away. Some people pulled out tape to try to coble their shoes back together, while other people started vomiting. People were coming close to passing out... from walking flat terrain.

The condition of our group was unexpected. Here we are, people who have trained to hike 7-12 miles a day while hiking thousands of feet of elevation change each day, prepared for an intense trip.

We were ready.

Day 1: We were falling apart walking on flat ground.
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wildernessthese forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was inyour heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbledyou, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, whichneither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does notlive on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth ofthe LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell duringthese forty years. 
Deuteronomy 8:2-4 
Today as we look at Mode from the Mx3, we look at how we open the story of God for students. Mode is defined as engaging the mind, heart, and body.

As I read this passage from Deuteronomy, I see that God takes care of His people. Intellectually, I know that our God is good and takes care of His people. That has been taught to me. It is clear from scripture. This has engaged my mind.

I used to live in the desert, so I can relate to the toughness of desert living. Our air conditioned home was on the edge of town. When we drove to the store for food, it was hot as I walked between the air-conditioned grocery store and the air- conditioned car (at home we parked in the attached garage because we aren’t animals and didn’t deal with the heat if we didn’t have to). My heart can be engaged because I can relate to the situation more than just intellectually. I have lived in similar situations as the Israelites walking the desert for 40 years...

The Bema Trip is an experience of engaging the body. I knew God took care of His people. I knew what it was like to be in the desert. Going to the Negev Desert and learning from experience why people accept lying down and dying changes the whole idea of what that passage is talking about. On day one, our shoes had fallen apart. God took care of their clothes for 40 years and mine only lasted a few hours? There is no food of any kind, or water or anything. God provided food on these hot rocks? It is hot enough to bake bread, so that makes sense.

If I were to just walk this desert, my shoes would fall apart. I would be hot and tired. I would be feeling all the same things. My body would be engaged, but that’s it. Only one aspect of mode isn’t the best way to teach or learn. Without engaging the mind and heart, without knowing the story of how God watches over His people who would normally struggle to survive, the lesson is missed.

If I know the story of God in my mind, if I can engage my heart and emotion to empathize with the people of the text, and if I engage my body by trying to step into their world, I will learn in a way that I’ll remember for years to come.

I know this to be true, because the mind, heart, and body engagement of the Bema trip has been life changing. Four years later, I still talk about it all the time. It still influences how I understand the narrative of scripture. I have spoken about it so much that two years after the inaugural Bema Trip, I brought four people with me as I went on the trip again in 2016. This year, 2018, someone who I brought is sending a friend of his on the Bema trip. Life change is infectious.

We might not all lead trips to Israel, but we can all find ways to engage the mind, heart, and body. When we teach and learn about the biblical prerogative to care for the alien, orphan, and widow, we can remember a time when we were seen as an outsider. We can engage the body to serve these people who are marginalized in a multitude of ways in our hometowns.

The mode in how we teach is greatly important. Each mode by itself can be good, yet incomplete. The best and most difficult mode is to combine all three, but it is also the greatest experience for both the teacher and the student.

6.19.2018

MAKING AN IMPACT: Mode

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.


We have spoken about our purpose at Impact Campus Ministries; we exist to make disciples who make disciples. In light of this, we started with our definition of disciple and the method of discipleship. We want to allow people to become submitted to Jesus by inviting them to imitate a mentor who is imitating Jesus.

We have spoken of ICM’s mission statement: to pursue, model, and teach intimacy with Christ within the context of Christian community on the American university campus. This led us to taking the time to define those three terms — pursue, model, and teach. We spoke of pursuit being the way we intentionally engage in spiritual practices. We spoke of model being the way we pursue God in front of others so they can physically see what it looks like. Then we talked about teach being so important, because as we instruct our students in furthering the discipleship process, we are enabling them to do so much more than simply mimic the actions — we are allowing them to possess the truths for themselves.

When we speak about imitating a mentor who imitates Jesus (our purpose), we see that road map of imitation laid out in our mission statement.

In the most recent post of this series, we began walking through the idea of message, mode, and milieu. This is what enables us to become more effective in chasing our vision — Impact the U, Impact the World. Hopefully the reader can see how these are building blocks that allow us to create an approach to ministry that is more and more effective in reaching our goals. One of those things is message; this is the idea that we need to be able to understand the narrative arc of the Text as just that — a narrative.

The next word that shows up for ICM is MODE. Gifted to us by our last president, Bill Westfall, and the work he did during his dissertation, the idea is simply this: Young adults (particularly college students) learn much better when we can stimulate their mind, heart, and body. On some level, I feel ill-equipped to write about this idea as Bill was the one who did all the research, but the idea makes perfect sense to me and resonates with my experience as a teacher and campus minister.

I’m not sure if this has been true for all generations or not. I have a hunch that on some level, this has always been true. And yet, the research concludes this is even more true with this generation than was typical in the past. There are many hunches as to why this is, from the impact of technology on our culture to the very physiology of our children. But the truth remains: If you can holistically engage the learner, simultaneously impacting every part of their self, the learning is deeper, more retentive, and more powerful.

One of the best ways I can talk about this personally is describing my biennial trip to Israel and Turkey. Every other year, I take a group of students to wander around the Middle East for a few weeks. All the things you would expect to happen are going to happen. We are going to take lots of pictures, learn lots of information, and see lots of famous places. But the trip is so much more than a tourist experience.

On our study tours, my goal is to help students experience the lessons that the biblical story is trying to teach us. A great example is the time of Israel wandering in the desert. I take my students and drag them into the Negev and Paran deserts of southern Israel. I purposely take this trip in August so it is as hot as it will be all year. (I have been in the Negev with students in 117-degree heat.) I do this on purpose because I want to teach them (intellectually, this is the mind) about the Negev and the experience of the desert. I want them to feel (physically, this is the body) the heat and the thirst and the hopelessness of it all. I then want them to connect with the struggle of those ancient Israelites as they cry out for water — and then make the connections to the deserts they have experienced in their own lives (emotionally, this is the heart).



If this is done correctly, the student will learn a lesson, have a mental image, and experience a heart tug that will forever change their walk with God. We attempt to do this over and over again, multiple times a day, day after day for three weeks. I can speak from personal experience to how effective and life-changing this learning style is. I have been with over twenty seminary-trained and graduate-level participants who all said they got more out of two weeks in Israel then in four years of seminary.

Why is this method so impactful? Because it engages the whole person and doesn’t just pursue a transfer of data. It instead creates a complete learning package where nothing is wasted and everything is loaded with potential.

Realizing we don’t drag people around the world every day, we must do the hard work of figuring out how to pursue this kind of engagement in our day-to-day environments. It is difficult, but it is also very rewarding when it’s successful. May we strive to settle less and less for classroom-style teaching (although it certainly has its place) and emotionally manipulative moments. May we create big, holistic moments of learning where the entire student is engaged in the lesson.

6.12.2018

A DAY IN THE LIFE: Real Life on the Palouse

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.


One of things that has defined my weekly work presence over the years has been my family’s relationship with Real Life on the Palouse. It’s been an incredible blessing to have a church family that we love as much as we do here on the Palouse. Those of you who know me know that I don’t qualify as “normal” (easy with the jokes). The church has often struggled to know what to do with those who lie outside the bounds of typical. But RLOTP has been incredibly accepting of me and all of my quirks; there are days when I still can’t believe the level of involvement they’ve encouraged (not just allowed) us to have.

Becky and the kids love serving in the children’s ministry here. They have been a fantastic encouragement to my children, identifying their ability to lead and encouraging their involvement at every level of the ministry. They treat my kids as true volunteers, inviting them to the same events and awards they would offer to any other volunteer.

When I first arrived on the Palouse in 2011, I was certain I would not be welcome in the faith community. Instead, I was ushered right into staff meetings and invited to staff retreats; I was immediately given a seat at the RLOTP table and was never forced to “earn” a voice at the table. I found my first place to serve as I always have in church — behind the drums. I enjoyed helping lead worship on almost a weekly basis for the first few years.

Eventually, I was invited to fill the pulpit for a Sunday when Aaron was gone and that led to a place on the teaching team. For years, we have met for what we call “Sermon Club,” a weekly get-together where we plan upcoming sermons and sketch out the message for the upcoming week. We share ideas and give feedback on how to design each message and what we think might be important. It’s a wonderful practice. Obviously, preaching and teaching are my greatest joys and most prominent gifts, so I love to get to use them on a regular basis. I know I’m playing my part in the body in a way that blesses others.

We have served the community in different ways throughout the years — leading small groups and helping establish accountability and mentoring — but what I mention above has definitely been the places where we have found our home as members of RLOTP.

With recent changes to my job and the increase in my travel schedule, I have had to continue to step further and further back as I do the things my position requires. This has been one of the most difficult things to navigate in living here on the Palouse. I suppose this kind of connection is a good thing and a testimony to the kind of family we have. I have made some of the deepest friendships I have ever had in my life here in this body of faith, and I’ve experienced acceptance like never before.

Here is a video diary of my weekly time at RLOTP:


6.05.2018

Top 12 of CiHD: #7

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.


We continue our look at the Top 12 Blog Posts at Covered in His Dust by introducing the seventh most viewed post in the history of the blog. This is the first post I ever wrote for this more-than-four-years journey; it was written all the way back in February of 2013 and served as the launching point for my entire body of work. It is titled “SABBATH: A Trust Story” — and you can find it here.

In this series, as we look at each post, I want to ask three questions: why, what, and what else? Why do I think this post got so many views; why were others drawn to it? 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?

First of all, I’m super happy to see that this post made it onto the “top 12” list. This is the foundation of my entire body of work. The first time this idea was presented to me, it changed everything. I began to orient my entire theology around this idea. It was the approach that I believed (and still do) maintains the most hermeneutical integrity, logical consistency, and compelling potency.

There are a lot of reasons people might have found this post. They may have been researching Genesis 1 and the creation narrative. They might have been trying to study Sabbath. I know this particular post has been shared by many, many students and people connected to my ministry. People who know me well know this lesson is where it all begins and where it all keeps circling back to.

For me, this is it. It doesn’t matter so much to me why they got here — but I’m thrilled they did.


WHAT DO I HOPE THEY FOUND?

This concept is the result of me piecing together two separate teachings that impacted me and changed my theology forever. The many questions and observations I had compiled over years of study and Bible college education finally found expression, and over the course of a few years I was able to package them in a way that finally “clicked.”

To give appropriate credit, the first teaching was one I heard in person at the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs. It was the Everything Is Spiritual tour by Rob Bell, and I got to see an earlier version with additional material that never made it into the recording. This was before Bell’s more provocative days when he became such a controversial figure. I also listened to a sermon from Mars Hill Bible Church on August 16, 2009, that finally dropped the last few pieces into place for me intellectually.

What had bothered me for years was the fact that almost all schools of Protestant theology I had been exposed to had made the story of Christian theology about the entrance and removal of sin. As I studied the Text, though, the story seemed to be about something much wider, deeper, and comprehensive than that. Sin was certainly a part of the story, but it seemed not to be taking its proper place in a larger theological narrative — it had become the narrative.

To hear a teaching that spoke of the importance of beginning where God started His story and ending where God ended His story was like throwing the lights on in a dark room. I realized the theology I had been handed started a tad late in the biblical story. Even if Genesis 3 was only a couple chapters later, skipping the first story (or rendering it irrelevant because of the second) was a major theological faux pas.

Obviously, I want to keep writing about this, but that is what my four-and-a-half-year blog series was for. Suffice it to say that I hope people found a refreshing way to reframe the biblical narrative, and perhaps a different way to begin to understand God.


WHAT ELSE WOULD I SAY?

I’m not sure there is much I would add to this post. It’s relatively thorough. Over the years, I have continued to learn, shape, and adapt this teaching in different ways. There might be nuances I would approach differently, but I would be nitpicking. There is a lot of material here to get introduced to beyond just the theological shift. This whole teaching is bathed in a combination of historical-contextual and literary hermeneutics. There are conversations about chiasms and other Hebraic literary devices. There is a lot in this post!

I can also appreciate the way Rabbi David Fohrman’s teachings have shaped the material in this post (and even more so over the following years). I would certainly recommend his online academy (Aleph Beta) for those looking to learn more from an orthodox Jewish perspective. While Fohrman is not a follower of Jesus at all, his approach will help one become familiar with how Jews interact with the Text, and his conservative perspective will temper the progressive overtones of a voice like Bell for those who struggle to accept that.

Overall, I’m thrilled to have this make the list. Here’s to trusting the story!