Halfway Through Year #2

We wanted to post a quick look back over the first semester as we usually do each year.  Here is one of the articles from our last newsletter:

BEMA Residents: Megan, Roni, & Amanda
This year has been a definite continuation of all of the things that God started in our ministry last year. It has also been a year full of wonderful surprises and lessons. Here is a look at where we stand after the first semester of our second year of campus ministry:

BUSINESS AS USUAL - All of the ministry that we spent all of last year talking about is still up and running on all cylinders. We have continued to grow the amount of CARE Groups and students involved in that small group ministry (appx. 120-150 students; 9 groups; 3 campuses). Life Groups continue to be a big part of individual student growth. The expansion to LCSC has gone surprisingly well and is a smash hit with a very significant group of the student body there.

INTERNSHIPS - This has been one of the biggest changes and blessings of this year. I was not expecting the time commitment that bringing two interns on would entail (I think we all had visions of our work-load being lightened). My ministry feels like it has become primarily about the work of raising up and training Megan and Nate to do the work of vocational ministry. This work comes with lots of questions, doubts, and lessons about leadership. However, I feel like through these internships, I have accomplished more discipleship than ever before. Bless God!

BEMA HOUSE - The BEMA residents have been a HUGE blessing for me over the last month. While I have been greatly discouraged about what hasn't happened at the house (i.e. strict disciplines, intentional discipleship, more time spent with the students), they have given me great faith in what is happening if I just open my eyes to see it. The students continue to throw parties that are attended by an amazing amount of students; they invite the broken and offer community to those who need it. While I have been busy worrying about the content of the teaching, they have been busy living it. Bless God, again!

BEMA STUDY GROUPS - The groups continue to grow - in attendance, in knowledge, in depth, and in character. We add new students every month and it is so exciting to see them dig into God's Text with vigor and amazement!


The Power of "No."

As this Year of Learning continues for me in my ministry, I have recently been contemplating the significance of balance.  Ministry continues to succeed in our core areas, and with that success comes endless opportunities to minister in other areas.  Some of those opportunities need to be pursued; others need to be shelved for somebody else or some other time.

One of the things I learned very early in my ministry experience was how to identify what fit with my/our core values and purposes (alas, to my chagrin, thank you Rick Warren and "Purpose Driven [Everything]").  However, there is a whole lot of things that I'm finding recently that do fit with my/our values and purposes, they do warrant some conversation, and they are convicting situations.

It's drawn my attention to the importance of knowing how and when to say, "No."

We -- and by "we" I mean individuals, teams, and organizations -- all have a certain capacity.  We have a literal point of fracture capacity and we have a healthy, optimum running standard capacity.  No matter which one we are referring to, the undeniable truth is that we have limits.

One of the things that Impact Campus Ministries (and I myself as an individual, hence my love of ICM and my job) holds dear is their commitment to pursuing and modeling a healthy and vibrant life with God.  One very big part of this is having to make sure we stay within our limits and are serving God from a healthy place.  Heroes for ICM will not be people that strive for superhuman feats, but people who have a consistent walk with the Creator that mirrors His desire and intent, modeling that for others.

This doesn't mean that there won't be seasons where God calls us to "suck it up" and work harder than usual or push our thresholds for a short time.  But as a general rule, we all want to find a rhythmic "hum" that puts us in healthy relationship with God and with others.

To stay committed to this value will mean that we become very familiar with the word "No."

When we find ourselves stretched to capacity (whether healthy, literal, or otherwise), we are forced to make decisions when new opportunities arise.

We can say yes to the new opportunity.  However, if we are stretched to capacity, this decision is going to cost you.  We like to ignore this simple fact, but it will kill us over the long run if we do not keep it in view.  The decision to move forward is going to cost you -- something is going to have to give.  You will have to give up something currently on your plate and replace it with the new opportunity.   You will have to reorganize priorities and make space for this new opportunity to breathe.  You can deny that such a cost exists, but the decision to move forward WILL cost you somewhere.

We can say no to the new opportunity.  I wont deal here with all of the secondary options that such a decisions opens up.  Things like: Who else can do this?  What is my responsibility to this need (and do I have one)?  What do I have the capacity to assist with?  I have learned that one of the things that I needed to realize was that saying "no" was not the same as saying that the opportunity wasn't good or worth time.  Every good idea is just that -- a good idea.  But I don't have the time or space to deal with that appropriately.  I am not willing to pay the price to take that on.

We can ignore the opportunity and decision that awaits.  This is often tempting, but incredibly foolish.  First of all, it doesn't respect the opportunity for what it is.  Second, it will usually continue to nag at our inboxes, our psyche, and our calendars if we don't deal with it; we still end up expending energy on the opportunity.  And third, it robs us of the chance (as painstaking as it might be) to remind ourselves of what's important, what our values happen to be, and who we are called to be in the Kingdom.  This is hard work, but well worth the decision.

We can ignore our capacity and just take more in, continuing to pile and pile onto our plate, attempting to deal with it all, crumbling under the pressures of our personal health, callings, expectations, values, and fulfillment.  We can ignore the simple fact that the costs mentioned above exist, but it doesn't remove the cost from being exacted from our experiences.  It will cost you somewhere.  It will destroy your personal health, your walk with God, and the real tragedy is the ones that will feel that cost the most will usually be your family and those closest to you.  It will cost you in overall productivity, so that even what you are doing well begins to suffer.  And/Or it will cost you in the area of the new opportunity, which will damage reputations, crush expectations and rob you of fulfillment in what God has called you to do.

I have been experiencing this reality this year.  There are lots of incredible opportunities at my door; the biggest frustration is that most of these opportunities came because either I created them or they presented themselves because something else that was a part of our ministry succeeded.  These are good opportunities!  I wish I could be more involved in the BEMA House than I am.  I wish I could be more proactive in building new relationships with more students and church staff.

But to say yes to any of those things would mean to pay the price in some other area.  I refuse to make a sacrifice that compromises my personal and organizational boundaries.  This has required some "No's" in a few areas that crushed me initially, but has been very liberating and empowering in helping me know who exactly I am and what I am called to do.

I am at my healthy capacity.  I am about God, the Text, my family, and discipleship (in no particular order).  And if I'm at capacity, then to say yes is to simultaneously say no to some part of the above list.

To say no is to say yes to the path God has designed for me.


The Election Challenge

So, if you were like me, you are tired of hearing about the election.  No more talk about politics.  No more opinions.  And, if you see one more stupid inhumane post on Facebook that tears down another human being while propping up your own inflated and fallacious view of reality -- especially from people who claim to follow a rabbi that called all men to lay down their arms and come to the table -- you may just lose your mind.

But alas, after waiting until all of the initial hub-bub has worn off, I hope to at least make one point that will be productive for the larger conversation.

To quote one of my favorite websites for this election season (www.electiondaycommunion.org):  Some of us voted for the candidate that won; some of us voted for the candidate that lost.  Some of us voted for another candidate; and some of us chose not to vote.  Many of us had very passionate convictions about those decisions, whatever option we chose.

To those who claim to follow Rabbi Jesus, I wanted to make some specific observations.  It appears from what we are willing to put on the interwebs that many of us think that the future is either doomed or guaranteed by what happened last Tuesday.  It is not.  There is One that continues to reign on His throne.  The song that was begun in Exodus 15, thousands of years ago, continues to ring throughout all eternity: "The LORD is reigning forever and ever..."

My understanding is that the book at the end of the Bible continues to insist that at the end of the story, God can still be found on His throne.  To quote my good friend Aaron Couch, "It's as if the writers of the Bible are saying, 'I've been to the throne room, and your troubles aren't on it!'"

Sadly, it is obvious that there are some followers of Rabbi Jesus that have mistakenly put there hope in the empires of our world.  One candidate's victory either led our spirits to be overwhelmed with despair or assured of global progress. 

To put one's trust in such things as a follower of Jesus is idolatry.  Period.
An invitation to repent would be appropriate.

We trust Jesus.  We trust the story that God is telling.  We get involved and we engage politics in many different ways.  We believe in our responsibilities to this world and to our culture and we vote or we don't.  But we don't put our hope in kings or in presidents or in congressmen or in legislation.  We do our best to impact the world for the Kingdom with every choice that we make, but nobody gets our allegiance except the "One like a lamb who was slain".

This means that our statements and our actions and the way that we treat other people matter.  On Wednesday, November 7th, the Kingdom lost in too many places.  This is a tragedy.  There is no election, no court decision, no empirical move that trumps our call to love God and love our neighbor.  Which leads me to the idea that I find most challenging today...

There are some of us that agreed with the above statements long before Tuesday the 6th.  Some of our took to the same cyberspaces as the heated debates to share our perspective.  Others of us stood in the front of classrooms and told our disciples that there is a King on a throne and His Kingdom reigns and it's not on a ballot.  Others of us kept quiet, trusting in the truth of the Good Shepherd to emerge victorious yet again.

But now, the challenge for those of us who believed in such a claim:
Prove it.

Prove that His Kingdom reigns.  If God is King, then His reign should be expanding throughout our world.  Prove that love and grace and mercy and compassion get the last word.  Many, many Christians on November 7th posted Facebook wall photos that read: "No matter who is president, Jesus is King."

Now is the time to prove it.  That's a hefty claim, to assert that the story we are a part of is more powerful then those who are in office.  A claim that insists that goodness will triumph over budgets and legislations and government programs.  It's the kind of thing that the early church claimed.   The early church's claim ended up turning the most powerful empire of the world on its head.  It's a powerful message.

But they proved it.  And it changed the world.
I am challenged by the call to prove what I said in the weeks leading up to the election.  Tomorrow, I will struggle to see the marginalized, to hear the cry of the oppressed and not be so self-involved that I miss what God is doing all around me.  I will find it close to impossible to not be defined by my consumer mentality and listen to the endless barrage of messages from the culture all around me.

But I long to grab a tambourine and join Miriam in her dance.  I long for God to bring me through the Red Sea, to rescue me from my Egypts and invite me to sing and dance and tell a different story. 

Go love somebody today.
Make a difference.
Bring healing.
Restore relationships.
Sacrifice comfort and security and luxury in order to bring shalom to chaos.
Continue to insist that each and every person is welcome at the table.
The "Good Gift" of bread and wine is for every situation, every social class, every political persuasion, and every gender.

"The LORD is reigning, forever and ever!"
        Prove it.


A Treasured Possession

Last week, Bill Buckingham delightfully interrupted our BEMA study in order to propose to his girlfriend, University of Idaho and BEMA student, Abigail Smith.  It was a wonderful surprise and a neat thing to be a part of.  Watch the event HERE.

Part of what seems so pleasing to me is how hard we work to make sure that BEMA is a place of romance and spontaneity.  Just kidding, but in all seriousness, it was neat to be able to be a part of that.

It made me think of conversations we've had in BEMA about relationships, love, marriage, and sex.  We did a lot of talking about these things when we studied Song of Songs in our study of the ketuvim (the "Writings") last year.  Our discussion settled around three Hebrew words for love: raya, ahava, and dod.

The first biblical idea of love is raya.  Raya is the friendship expression of love.  Sometimes we would talk about this love as being 'brotherly love'.  It's the same kind of idea that is connected to our neighbor.  We have raya for those around us.  In a romantic sense, raya is the infatuation that one has for the other person; that sense of not being able to get them off your mind.  It's full of the emotion and the romance of a newly budding relationship.

The second idea of love in the Hebrew bible is that of ahava.  Ahava is the commitment of a loving relationship.  In an ironic twist, the  Bible asks us not to just raya our neighbor -- don't just raya your reyacha -- but to ahava them.  The biblical call to love our neighbor is to be committed to them.  We are to love our neighbors unconditionally through the ups and downs of life.  Obviously, the ahava moment is when the couple commits to being together forever, no matter what life throws their way.  The proposal is the desire to enter into ahava.  Marriage is about ahava.

Then we have the third idea of love -- dod.  Dod is the erotic, sexual expression of love.  It's the love being referenced and described in the Song of Songs.  Pretty straight forward; not much need for explanation here.

In a romantic relationship, the three loves are meant to be experienced together.  Rob Bell once described these ideas of love as three flames; the flames are meant to be experienced as a raging fire.  Many, many of the problems we experience in our culture come as a result of not pursuing the full expression of love as God intended.  We have relationships (especially in the college culture) that are full of raya and dod without the ahava.  This is a problem.  Equally problematic is a marriage based solely on ahava without any raya or dod.  It's not meant to be that way.

In the biblical culture, people may or may not have had raya early in the relationship.  Marriages were often arranged more than chosen.  They often did not know their spouse well at all.  They came to ahava, consummated the marriage with dod, and took the next year of their life (off of work, no service in the military, very little community responsibility) and they got to know their spouse.  They discovered raya.  

While this system may be less than appealing to many and have its own challenges, the tragedy of much of our culture is that we seem to get our formula backwards and never own up to our own challenges.  We romanticize the dating/courting experience.  We cover ourselves in raya.  We struggle to find the dod experience in its appropriate context*.  When the wedding finally arrives, we highten up the romance and the songs -- the raya -- and we celebrate dod, but we have somehow missed ahava.  We then wonder why marriages are so doomed in our culture.  We must do a better job equipping our young adults to find ahava in the midst of our relationships**.

I want to congratulate Bill and Abby on their recent engagement.  I celebrate with them their relationship, their love, their romance and their future.  But I also want to hope that in the months to come, they prepare themselves to accept the wild adventure that is AHAVA. 

May they stand before each other, in the presence of family, friends and God Himself, and make a promise that no matter what life throws their way, they choose each other.  

*  By the way, parents, when you encourage children to enjoy raya, but postpone dod until ahava -- and then tell your children not to grab ahava until later in life, you are setting them up for failure; God has designed the three flames to burn together.  I suppose the ideal situation would be to begin pursuing raya when you are ready to find that special someone, when you've found that someone and decided to pursue ahava together, then do it and pursue relationships as God intended.  If you aren't willing to pursue the three flames, don't mess with any of them; to do so would be disastrous 

**  I realize that there are a thousand different scenarios that I'm simply not going to attempt to deal with (i.e. the struggle of being single and finding a mate, the long and justified pre-marital relationship trying to stay away from dod, and every other exception that one could think of).  My goal is to communicate a general principle: in my opinion, to try and pursue a relationship that is void of certain aspects of Godly design is potentially (I did not say impossible) disastrous.  If, for whatever reason, one cannot pull the trigger on a full, martial relationship, they need to be ready to experience problems that could lead to the dissolution of said relationship.  We should be people that help cultivate this understanding.  Instead, I have repeatedly found that we do the exact opposite.


The Year of Learning

I have been thinking about how my experience this year has been varying from my experience last year.  If I were to give last school year a designation, I would have called 2011-2012 the "Year of Surprises and Blessings".  God surprised me around every corner by overcoming my cynicism and pessimism about what is possible around me, through me, and through those I work with.

This year has been a great one so far.  It too has been a blessing, but in a completely different way.  It has been a year of being humbled and challenged.  And while the entire experience has been very tiring over the last few months, I wouldn't trade it for a moment; I'm going to be much better on the other side of this experience.  God is at work molding me, pruning me, and teaching me to continue to grow in my leadership abilities.

If I could be so bold as to make a presumptuous prediction:
2012-2013 is the Year of Learning

It's been a year of learning about my personal capacity.  I pushed the limits of what I was trying to do this summer.  I set goals that were a little too high and expectations that were probably even higher.  From fundraising to personal growth to what I hoped to accomplish in my ministry, I kept trying to feed the "expansion monster".  I wanted my knowledge to expand, my ministry to expand, our funding to expand, our impact to expand...   I forgot to listen to what God was doing; I ran past Him.  I bless Him for His gentle call back to where He was on the path.

It's been a year of learning how my plans are not always (or even most of the time) God's plans.  To hold my dreams loosely and wait on what God wants to do in the lives of other people was incredibly important to my sanity this first quarter.  This is not to say that it wasn't a personal struggle -- it most certainly was.  But to constantly be reminded that just because our interns don't respond the way I envisioned them responding, or just because my disciples don't see life the way that I see it, or just because I'm not able to be the rabbinic Superman at the BEMA House that I wanted to be, this doesn't mean that God is not directing our steps, impacting lives, speaking to our hearts and setting captives free.

It's been a year of learning about the things I still struggle with personally.  Pride.  It rears its ugly head from time to time.  And it hurts.  When I don't hold it in check, it can hurt other people.  This leads to confession and the need to seek forgiveness from other people.  People are most often ready to grant that forgiveness and that actually leads to another challenge -- accepting grace!  When you know that you've dropped the ball and blown it and the offended party tells you that they know and that it is OK, can you accept the grace?  Do you continue to try and "right the wrong"?  Prove your genuineness?  To accept love is harder than we might think.  But it makes us better, doesn't it?  To be a part of that story is compelling and I long to put that on display to others.

It's been a year of learning.  The Spirit is such a tricky thing to discern.  As Jesus said, like the wind, She blows this way and that, and it's impossible to tell where She's coming from or where She's going.  But you know that the Spirit is working.  (see John 3:8)

To stay faithful to the call.  To be ready to jump out of the way and let God move.
This is a tricky thing to learn.

But it's good.
And it's going to be a good year.


DOC 2012!

September was the time for our second annual Dutch Oven Cookout and the efforts did not disappoint.

Just as last year, we had a ton of fun.  All of those 'Dutch Oveners' (I counted somewhere between 20-25 ovens) amaze me with their cast iron cooking genius.  The food is delicious and the company is even better.  In fact, I was pretty sure that the food actually got better this year.  Chicken and beef marinaded in pure delicious goodness. Vegetables, mac 'n cheese, casseroles, and potatoes covered the tables, not to mention my favorites -- the cherry and peach cobblers.

This is the greatest fundraiser ever.  It's a win, win, win for everybody.  People get to celebrate a hobby of theirs.  Food is delicious.  The world of campus ministry is supported.  The live music from the Garrett and the Collins' family always entertains.

The raffle was even better than last year.  The ladies added a silent auction portion.  We still had two tables of baskets that were made and donated by some very gifted and creative people.  And, of course, one of Liz Mandelkow's incredible quilts.  We raised well over $3000 at the event -- which was an increase over last year's number.  Praise God!

Again, our family's big thanks goes out to all those who worked so hard to pull this event off.  To the Mandelkow's and the Lookingbill's -- thank you for your love and support and all of your hard work.  To all those numerous people that help out, thank you.  And to all of you who came out to support us, despite the drizzle and the clouds and the 'climatic uncertainty'...  thanks to you, too :)


The BEMA House

The BEMA House is officially open.
Let the crazy experiment begin.

The journey to this place has been a crazy one.  If the reader is unfamiliar with the BEMA program and what we're attempting to accomplish, they should definitely check our BEMA's website first and couch this conversation within a larger context first.

The house wasn't even a part of our plan for this school year.  It was sitting on my long-term goals list somewhere around the 5-10 year mark.  Yet, when God blew the doors open (no pun intended) on the opportunity to rent out the next door house to my family's residence, after much prayer and some waiting, we jumped on the opportunity.

We arrived in Moscow and were set to move into the BEMA House in the second week of August.  On the first week of August, however, the owner decided to do a complete and total remodel on the home.  This was great news and concerning news at the same time.  The great news is that we'd get to enjoy a brand new and clean home with all-new appliances for our great experiment.  The concerning news is that we had three female residents signed up to move in in less than a week.  We all crossed our fingers and proceeded as planned.

The house wasn't ready on time.  The girls were incredibly gracious and were able to change their plans and give the workers another week to work.

The house still wasn't ready.  We were able to get the girls' moving trucks unloaded into the bedrooms and the management company put up the girls in hotel rooms for a few nights.  To make a long story short, we got the girls into the house on the night before the first day of classes.  The last two weeks has been a combination of getting the rest of the house in order and waiting for the work to be finished up.  We finally have gotten settled in the home and there is only a few small items we are waiting for.  We feel like life in the house has finally started and we are anxious about seeing what God is going to do.  We have had our first meeting and have even planned our Grand Opening party.

Here is a short video giving you a tour of the premises:

The house is designed around three guiding principles:
COMMUNITY -- We will seek to share life together.  We want to live in such a way that our paths intentionally cross every day, multiple times a time.  We will share laundry facilities and kitchens.  We will eat together and watch TV together.  We will have common places to study, to relax and to converse.

DISCIPLESHIP -- The study groups we have talked about before really aren't the essence of the discipleship process at all.  They are simply the preparation.  The biblical concept of discipleship started when a rabbi invited the student to follow him.  Acceptance of this call was not only the greatest honor of first-century biblical culture, it was also a complete change of plans and abandon to follow that teacher for the next few years.  You followed in his steps all day, every day, every week, every month, all year; you were in a never-ending atmosphere of "learning by doing; learning by following".  A bible study is not discipleship.  A small group is not discipleship.  Even a daily gathering each day isn't discipleship.  At least not in the biblical sense of the term.  Even the life of the BEMA House isn't discipleship; but it is an experiment in that direction.  Maybe God doesn't require that we make disciples the way He made disciples.  But I'm wondering why more people having asked that question or tried to pursue that call.  This is the discipleship experiment for BEMA.

PURSUING GOD -- We hope that the BEMA House creates some very intentional and unique spaces to pursue God.  In a world that busies itself with so many "other" things, we want to create spaces where we rest in the things of God.  How do we learn how to pray and listen?  How can we create an atmosphere where the "God conversation" is the right conversation to be on anybody's lips at any time?  These are the questions we want to ask about what we're trying to accomplish at the house.   The students are asked to take part in intentional spiritual discipline during their time at the house.  They will study the Text, they will memorize the Text, they will write out large portions of the Text.  They will try to find rhythms of rest and Sabbath.  They will try to find how to dwell with, converse with, and listen to God.

All in all, I'm incredibly excited to see what's going to happen in this great experiment and I can't wait to see all the things that God's going to do that will be outside of our design and plan.  I can only hope that we will be disciplined and attentive enough to catch it.


BEMA Study Groups Resume

The groups are back in full swing and the students are back with a vengeance.  As somebody who finds himself serving in his wheelhouse when he's teaching, I couldn't me more thrilled at having been given the opportunity to return to these encouraging gatherings every day, every week.

(For anybody who may not know much about the BEMA experiment, I invite you to check out the BEMA website and read more about what we're trying to accomplish.)

There were questions I had about how things would go when the classes resumed:

Would the students come back?  They did!  We lost quite a considerable number of students to graduation last year and another chunk of students who didn't return to school, but of all the students who DID return, we seem to have had a 100% return involvement.  This was very encouraging, as a campus minister holds his breath to see who will make it over the "summer hump".  Not only did they come back, but we also have seen a number of new students jump into the study midstream.  So far, the newbies have said it's a little overwhelming, but they feel like they're getting the hang of it.

If they did come back, would they be excited or would this whole study be 'old news' to many?  It appears to be that the studies maintain all their old energy -- with even the addition of a summer's worth of questions, thoughts and experiences.  One of the greatest joys in the first few weeks of study has been the insurgence of new voices in the conversations.  There are some students who were always somewhat reserved and quiet last year.  This year, they have come out of the woodwork, in the absence of last year's seniors to take charge of the discussion and dive into the tough stuff.  This is a great joy to see the treasure that was buried last year (also a great challenge to try and unearth more of that treasure that still might be hiding).

How much would they remember?  Last year, we did a book-by-book study of the Old Testament and started every class with a 15 minute review of EVERYTHING we had studied previously.  The goal was to make this information stick in long-term memory banks.  That is a lot of material that isn't easy to digest at times.  On the first day of class this year, with minimal assistance, the students recited back thousands of years worth of biblical history.  Awesome.

Of course, having said all of that, I will be the first to admit that such a feat is certainly not discipleship.  Nor is it even transformational in and of itself.  We can learn mountains of information each and every day and still far short of experiencing freedom, renewal or partnering with God to redeem all of creation.  But as cliche as it is to point that out, I do believe that part of the problem with evangelical faith is that we have lost the passion for the story -- for the Text.  We need to recapture the wonder of what God has done through His word that never returns void and always accomplishes its purpose.  Could it be that one of the first steps of recapturing this wonder is making God's story -- correctly told -- a priority in our walks?

This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."  ~Jeremiah 6:16
How will we walk in the good way, if we don't know where it is?  When somebody asks for the ancient path, who will have the answer?  Who will know what the good way looks like if we don't know his story?  We have a lot of experts these days in doctrine.  We need some experts in the good way.

One last challenge I'm sensing as I listen to these students recite back tons of information and spend summers wrestling with the implications of the theology we've deconstructed and reconstructed, I'm sensing the need for them to be able to wrestle with and own their own conclusions about their own faith.  In my passionate pursuit of framing the story correctly, I've noticed how dangerously close I am to just creating people that know how to repeat the catch phrases.  I'm wanting to see the students EXPERIENCE the catch phrases, even if they can't recite them.  This is one of my largest goals this year.  Can we have multiple moments where the lights come on and students experience the Sabbath rest of God?  Will we have anybody lay their life down in service to another because they trust that they have everything they need and don't need to worry about security, love, or acceptance?

These will be the true tests of our studies.  We've proven our ability to teach large quantities of information.  But now the test of whether or not there is LIFE in our words lies in front of us.  May God use the work we've done to do much bigger, much more important things in the hearts of these students.


The Next Great Frontier: Internship

When Nate and Megan came to me last year and asked what the possibilities would be of working with Impact Campus Ministries as interns on the Moscow/Pullman team, I didn't realize how unprepared I was for that question.

Of course, at meetings amongst the team, we had discussed the possibilities of interns and how great it would be.  We had even mentioned Nate and Megan's name as potential recruits for such a task, but had determined to wait on God and His leading before we pursued those conversations.  What an answer to prayer as they came and approached us about the very thing we had discussed behind closed doors.

And yet, we didn't have any idea what God would do with what He had laid before us.

As leaders, we had talked about internships purely from an idealistic standpoint (not that we were naive, but we were being pragmatic).  We talked about the things it would add to the team and the things that God would do throughout the organization as each team grew, expanded and recruited interns -- and how that would blossom into future laborers in the world of campus ministry.  We chatted about how good it would be for those interns to have an experience in vocational ministry and the opportunity to get their "feet wet".  We acknowledged how great it would be to get them a jump start on support raising.  We imagined all the ways that God would move in their lives and the things that they would learn and the way that they would grow.

In so many ways, campus ministry internships would be the next great frontier in their lives.

Why didn't I realize that it would be the next great frontier of our own lives and ministries?

I won't presume to speak for Eric, but I know that I have been profoundly challenged as a minister and a leader by the presence of these two young adults.  They being life -- real life -- into the picture every day.  They have big questions; they have questions I wasn't prepared for.  I was ready to field the questions about ministry and how I do my job.  I was prepared for the questions about theology and spiritual formation.

But I wasn't prepared for how those questions would shape a couple of individuals that are designed and crafted by the great Storyteller for roles in His great story.  I wasn't prepared to watch the emotions, the thrills, the ideas, the creativity and the doubts all come together into this glorious mess of growth and how it intertwines with all of the questions I WAS expecting.

The questions about theology that come wrapped in emotion.
The questions about how to do vocational campus ministry that are drenched in doubt.
The questions about the possibilities that are draped in creativity.

I wasn't prepared for the complexity and weight of what we would do every day that we showed up to work.
And I wasn't prepared for the sudden realization that I what did every day had intense implications for the life of a new colleague in the field of ministry -- this heavy awareness of the gravity of what we do.

And you know... I'm glad I wasn't prepared.

This first month on the job for these interns has challenged me in ways I haven't been challenged in a long, long time.  I'll be a much better leader in 12 months than I am today.  And I'm grateful for that.  I'm grateful to God for leading us into this opportunity and I'm grateful for these two interns that had the audacity to want to leap into the unknown -- with us. 

And I'm incredibly grateful for the grace that they both give me every day as I struggle to figure out how to lead them well.  I don't think I'm hiding my insecurity well anymore; I'm pretty sure they're on to me.  There are some places that I have no idea what I'm doing.  They are incredibly gracious in those areas, which makes me glad to march into the unknown with them. 

And I think I wouldn't be too presumptuous to suggest that all the things we expected to happen are true as well.  I think this will be an incredible year for Nate and Megan.  I think that they too will be better because of the time they spend on our team.  I think it will be a great training ground for vocational ministry and support raising.  And I know for a fact that our team is better because of their presence.  Their perspective as recent graduates is priceless.  They're relational spunk and giftedness is an asset to each event they are involved in.  They bring skills and talents to the table that our team just did not possess before.

So, all in all, I would highly recommend internships.  I would recommend them for your ministry and your team.  I would recommend them for anybody wondering if they might be called into the world of vocational ministry.  But I would also invite everyone in the process to be ready for the things that God will do through the experience.

May we continue to be open to the things that God wants to teach us; may we be humble enough to realize how much potential there is to be unearthed.


2012-2013 has been kicked off!

It's true.
The year has begun.

The students are back.  They are back to school for another great year of big enrollments.  They are back in church, leaving us with 'standing-room-only' situations.  They are back to their relationships and friendships.  They are back in the bible studies and CARE Groups around the Palouse.  They are back and it is great to have them.

Two weeks ago, we moved in more freshmen who are beginning their first year at both universities.  The days were full of fun conversations, great introductions, (a few awkward moments) and lots of boxes carried up lots of stairs.  Last week, classes started and many of these students are now panicking as they get use to the new expectations and schedules.  Pray for them -- many are cracking under the stress; they will recover (they always do), but its tough for them to be in the moment.

We also had our typical kickoff events.  We set up our annual booths and handed out more Ramen Noodles in order to promote our organization.  We seem to be getting better at what we do and most of the adjustments we made from last year feel like they have paid off for us.  We invited students to our annual cookouts and had even better turnouts this year.  We had a great time eating food, playing volleyball, challenging others to "cornhole" and just talking around the picnic tables.

We also had a great baptism service where we saw 22 people get baptized from Real Life on the Palouse.  Some of those people were college students and it was a great night of celebration and story-telling.

Just last week we had our official College CARE Group Kick-Off at Real Life and invited as many college students as possible to sign up for CARE Groups and make community a priority for the upcoming year.  We had more than 100 sign up for new groups over the last two weeks.  We bless God for that.  

All in all, we've had a great start to the year and we're looking forward to the fruit that God wants to bear with all of these opportunities.  Pray that the students would follow through on their initial promptings to take part in Christian community -- this will be the engine that God will use in a big way to bless and shape their year!


Still coming!

I always feel bad when I don't update my blog at least once every other week.  This transition into the school is always an absolutely CRAZY one.  So much goes on in such a short time, let alone that this year we had a lot of family transition as well.  It compounded the craziness!

But not to fear, there are updates coming.  I hope to get a family update up next week and then soon you should see an update on the following items:

KICKOFF EVENTS - Move-Ins, organizational fairs, CARE Groups, Cookouts...
OPENING OF THE BEMA HOUSE - this has been nuts...
RETURN OF BEMA GROUPS - Our studies started this week!
INTERNSHIPS - How's the experience with extra staff?

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  When I hit that light, I will start writing, that's my promise to you.  :)


Summer Update coming soon... but for now...

I know, I know.  He's such a controversial figure.  We can discuss false teaching, good scholarship, and exegesis later.  I still think Rob is one of the greatest thinkers and communicators of our day.  I find his words inspiring and God continues to use them to give life to my own thoughts.  

I thought this interview was fantastic:

Watch live streaming video from robbell at livestream.com


Mid-Summer Update

Well, we are halfway through the summer and I thought it would be incredibly timely to update you on how our summer is going.  We left the Palouse up north with two goals in mind for this summer season of 2012.  First, we wanted to make sure that we took time to say thank you to all of our supporters this last year.  Second, we needed to raise funds for the team ministry and all that God is doing for next year.  I’ve been calling the two goals the “THANK YOU” and the “PLEASE”.

THE THANK YOU.   This has been – by far – the favorite part of our summer.  We have loved getting back “home” and seeing all of the faces that we know and love.  It is very fulfilling to let them all know how much they mean to us and what God is doing through their generosity in our ministry.

THE PLEASE.  This part of our plan has been struggling this year.  Part of that struggle is that it is a whole lot easier for me to schedule “thank you’s” than it is to schedule “please’s”.  The other reasons come down to just a barrage of economical realities, summer schedules, and unexpected responses.  We currently are sitting around 20% of our summer goal and need to hit it hard in the coming weeks.  If you’ve ever thought about supporting our ministry, now is a perfect time to consider doing so.  We could use your help as a financial partner and God is doing some BIG stuff in our ministry.  Just contact me if you’d like to talk about the possibility of helping us out.

There will be some other really big things to celebrate at the end of the summer.  For now, I’m hoping to let some of the details settle and have a good sense of where we are at coming out of the summer before I share some of that, but I will say this: IT IS EXICITING!!  God is doing some awesome stuff with the future of BEMA Discipleship and I can’t wait to tell you more!

If you would, be praying for our support-raising this summer, for our house, and for God’s continued direction, guidance and blessing.  And again, thank you to all of you who interact with our ministry on so many levels!


Is Your Campus Ministry a Parasite?

Well, we just finished our week-long, end-of-the-year team retreat to look back over the year, evaluate what was done, and celebrate what God did in our ministry before we head off to fundraise for next year.  It was a great time of planning as well for the year that lies ahead and between the trip to a hot springs, enjoying the local cuisine, and dreaming really big about the years to come, I had an interesting thought that is still bugging me a few days later.

One of the things that we talked about and celebrated was the partnership that our team enjoys with a local church on the Palouse.  It’s a relationship that truly benefits both parties in incredible ways and without exaggerating or ignoring the inherent flaws, I can say that the partnership embodies everything that I could imagine in a “para-church / local church” partnership.  It’s a brilliant relationship.

There are many reasons why we enjoy the successful partnership that we do as a team here.  One of those reasons is because our team leader has partnered with this budding church-plant since day one.  We didn’t have to figure out how to “enter” the relationship without being seen as a threat.  The other reason is because we work hard to help make the local church better and be a great asset to their team, rather than simply maneuver into position to take – without giving. 

The word I’ve always used for this relationship is “symbiotic”.  It immediately conjures up images from high school biology class with the birds that live atop the rhino.  They coexist within the same world, each benefiting from the other.  The birds eat the insects that they find on the rhino and the rhino enjoys the free, cleansing presence of the birds. 

However, I also remember more of the info that I received that day in biology class.  There is mutualistic symbiosis (like the one I described above; both parties benefit from each other).  Then there is commensalistic symbiosis, where the one party lives with and benefits from the presences of the other, while neither hurting nor benefiting the host (sea cucumbers are the typical example).  And, of course, there is the parasite, which harms the host by surviving at the host’s expense.

My mind drifted this last week from the local church partnership to my own team that I work with in campus ministry.  I have, one of those “type-A”, driver-like personalities that plows ahead into the “vision that God gave me for the ministry”.  I work hard to not harm my team in any way, but I became convicted that my relationship with my team is much more commensalistic than it is mutualistic.  I don’t want it to be like that. 

Now, my team leader did a great job trying to convince me that I add more to the team than I give myself credit for, which may be true, but I was still convicted that I wanted to be a more beneficial presence to those around me.

What about you?  What kind of partnerships – if any – do you have with your ministry?

One of the hard truths I’ve noticed about those who raise their own support to be in the ministry (both as a full-time staff member of a church and as a support-based missionary myself), is that many of us get into the ministry we’re in because we’re just fed up with “working in the church”.  We pronounce the church broken and march off into the sunset to restore the Kingdom of God.

God will use this willingness to prophetically pursue His Project in the world.  He will.  And it will be good.

But while that’s happening, I fear that many times we may lose a golden opportunity to help bring healing and “rightness” back to the church we left – wounded, broken, and in need of repair.  If we’re not careful, we can easily become a commensalistic partner at best – or a parasite at worst.

I’m not here to suggest that the church is the hope of the world.  It most certainly is not.  God, as seen through Jesus, always has been and always will be that great Hope.

But something tells me He’s probably not planning on working through a spiritual tapeworm.


Surprises, Lessons & Blessings

Not too long ago, Impact’s president, Bill Westfall, asked me to write up a little reflection on the last year.  What were some of the things that I learned after I looked back over my time in 2011-2012?  I thought I would share some of those reflections with you.

·      There are a lot more students out there that care about Jesus than I anticipated.
·      God is doing something with the world and the world of campus ministry; yet, God is also doing something unique on each and every campus.  Two campuses in the exact same region, less then 7 miles apart – completely different.
·      Partnerships with the local church are WAY more valuable than I anticipated.
·      The more personal and intimate you can be with student interaction, the more depth and meaning there will be in your ministry; inversely, the more organizational and “flashy” you are, the more shallow and disrespected your ministry will be.
·      Fundraising is not the greatest part of my job – but it’s also not nearly as bad as I thought it would be; God uses it as a blessing in so many ways.
·      Impact Campus Ministries has the greatest vision statement.
o   “To pursue, model, and teach intimacy with God within Christian community on the university campus.”
·      Impact Campus Ministries is at our best when we pursue that vision statement.
·      I still have a lot in learn in the realm of teamwork and relational investment.
·      God has done some incredible things in my life over the last decade – praise Him.
·      When I function as God designed me to function, I am fulfilled, others around me are blessed, and God bears fruit in ministry.
·      I can be easily distracted AWAY FROM my reckless pursuit of intimacy with God with the BUSYNESS of pursuing God through my ministry.
·      Students bring me great joy – not just college students, but those students that allow me to invest in their lives.  They are my fuel.



If you received our latest newsletter, than this blog post will be a tad redundant, but it just felt like I needed to post a summary of our first year on campus on our blog.  I will be posting the second half of our newsletter next week.

It’s over.  Our first school year on the University of Idaho and Washington State went by like a blur and we’re still trying to catch our breath.  While we do so, we wanted to capture the experience in a nutshell and look ahead to the fall…

As you’ve read in our earlier publications and blog posts, God has truly blessed the ministry of Impact here on the Palouse.  From the partnership with the local church to the steady involvement of college students, things have gone really, really well.

Probably the toughest thing about this last year has been our family’s’ living situation.  After we could not sell our house, we were forced to live apart for this school year.  Becky and the kids lived in Montana with her family while Marty lived with a WSU student in Pullman.  At the time, we just didn’t feel like God was leading us to put the home up for rent.   Well, the house still hasn’t sold, but our time living apart is over.  We will be together throughout the summer in Twin Falls and we have signed a lease on a duplex for next school year.  We pray for our home to sell or rent in the next couple months in order to keep us out the danger of foreclosure.  We rejoice in a God that gave us everything we needed to do what we needed to do to follow His call and remain close as a family.

We have approved two interns who are spending their summer fundraising for their full-time salaries next year with Impact.  Megan Palmer and Nathan Lanting are two WSU graduates that love the Lord deeply and we are excited to work with them.  God also opened doors to sign a lease on another unit in the same complex as our family’s duplex.  We already have four students who will be living in the new “BEMA House” and pursuing intentional discipleship.  All of these open doors will require some additional funding – but we’re excited to watch God provide for what He’s doing in our ministry!


My Top 12

I read a blog post this morning from my friend, mentor, and organization president, Bill Westfall.  Three days ago he posted this:
As a part of my doctoral studies, I recently read 12 Books that Changed the World, by Melvyn Bragg. He argues that the wisdom of others, through writings, is a powerful formative tool in our lives. He then proceeds to detail, from his perspective, the 12 most influential (formative) writings that have served to shape the modern world.

As I considered Bragg's ideas, I gave thought to my own list of 12 books. Actually, since some of Bragg's 12 were not actual books, I figure my list can be a bit broader as well. So...here it goes...
You can read Bill's Top 12 here.  

I was inspired to think about my own list and figured I would write about it here.  So, with no further delay, I bring you -- Marty's 12 "Books" that Changed My Life.

1.  The Text.  Otherwise known as the Bible.  I know that it sounds cliche, but I have found that particularly over the last decade, I have experienced more personal inspiration, transformation, and insight from this one source alone.

2.  The teachings of Ray VanderLaan.  I owe my #1 stated above to the teachings I have experienced while being covered in the dust of this incredible historian.  His insistence that so much of our worldview comes from a deep awareness of the Text convicted me to become immersed the consumption of the Word.

3.  Velvet Elvis, by Rob Bell.  God brought this book into my life at just the perfect time in the midst of a personal crisis of faith.  I can vividly remember reading the book over and over again as I thought, "This is what I've been trying to articulate the entire time!"

4.  Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne.  Shane's prophetic approach to articulating the tension between "Empire" and the Kingdom of God helped me gain the courage to say and "believe out loud" some of the hunches I had about changing the world.

5.  Bill Westfall.  I will forever be indebted to the guy that say through my smoke screen and challenged me to walk passionately with my God.  I will always bless God for Bill's insistence on spiritual practices and his incarnation of peace and goodness.  I am a better follower of my Rabbi because of him.

6.  Stephen Edwards.  Head of the Intermountain Church Planting Association, Steve mentored me in ways that I will never forget.  His perseverance in love -- loving God, loving other people, loving your enemies, loving your friends -- allowed me to see God when He showed up as love.  I realized that God only shows up as love.  Steve is also on a very short list of people who have always believed in me; no matter what happened or what anybody ever said, he thought I could be everything that God created me to be.  That kind of faith in people will always be life-changing.

7.  The Source, by James A. Michener.  This book opened up an incredible world that let me see the bible in human history.  The images that I use to preach, teach, and understand the Text are largely in part from this writing.

8.  The teachings of Rob Bell.  After reading Velvet Elvis, I listened to over 7 years of Rob's sermons without missing one.  His teaching shaped my own.  I am able to articulate my worldview, because of his willingness to risk and say things differently, to preach differently, to ask big questions.

9.  A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller.  I long to tell a good story.  This book really flew into my face and sucker-punched me into introspection, asking big questions about whether I was choosing to live a great story -- an adventure for God.  My take away: "Go for it.  You're not going to get another chance."

10.  The music of Andrew Peterson.  It's hard to articulate in words what one experiences in music.  I have always appreciated the emotional response evoked in music and it's ability to capture doubts and questions and longings and inspirations.  Peterson's music has seemed to weave a thread through the story that God has been telling in my life.

11.  The teachings of Rabbi David Fohrman.  Fohrman's ability to deal with the text and ask incredibly provocative questions that bring me to an awareness of God's story has been an incredible asset to my study and teaching.

12.  My parents.  I'm discovering that this book continues to get better and better the more I pick it up and read it.  The life they lived taught me things that penetrated to the very core of my existence.  They instilled values in me that have gone with me every step of the way.  I am the person that I am today because of the parents that God gave to me as I matured.

I bless God for all of the voices that have influenced my life!

To quote Bill, what would your list be?


Lots of Things to Pray For!

OK, I'll just have to apologize.
After a lot of prayer and contemplation, I have shelved the blog project that I have been working on for quite some time.  I wanted to do a blog series on college students and sexuality and I just don't think God is behind the project at this point.  I'm passionate about the content, but I think that it's just not the right time yet.

Too much work to be done before the concepts would be communicated well.

If you're curious, ask me about it the next time you see me in person; for now, the ideas are going on the shelf.

In the meantime, however, we've had a lot of great stuff happening over the last few weeks that I would ask you to join our team in praying over.  I will update the "Prayer Needs" portion of this site as well.  God has been putting some pieces together and opening some doors that I didn't anticipate being opened for quite some time.

First of all, as the school year comes to a close, things are continuing to flourish within the ministry environments.  While some of the numbers have waned with the school year getting busier and busier.  The core groups of all our ministries are as strong as ever.  Many students talk with enthusiasm about coming back in the fall and reuniting.  Other groups are piecing together time for summer Skype calls and chances to reconnect before classes.  In short, the conversations that are being had are encouraging and stories that are being told are communicating life change.

Secondly, two of the graduating seniors in my Pullman BEMA Group have applied for internships with Impact this next school year.  This is a huge blessing and great challenge for our team!  The ministry that could be accomplished by doubling our manpower could be astounding.  We encourage you to join us in praying for God's guidance, His provision as they attempt to raise funds this summer, and our ability to lead them in pursuing God well.

And finally, my family has signed on a lease for a duplex rental this fall.  We will be living as a family in August on the Palouse!  This is a huge blessing that we are hoping will be complemented by the sale of our home in Twin Falls or (if it hasn't sold by June) renters to help us cover our mortgage payments.  As we looked into the unit in this particular complex, we also ran into another unit that was available and the perfect fit for college students.

This opportunity was one of my long-term goals of crafting a community-based approach to campus ministry and intensive discipleship.  We wanted to be able to offer a place for students to live and be mentored more directly and discipled more intentionally.  Also, with the possible addition of interns, our current office space would need some adjusting.  Renting this kind of unit would answer those kinds of questions.

This, of course, will demand some fundraising this summer to help cover those costs and happens a little earlier than we anticipated.  We certainly have never wanted to rush our dreams or force our plans where they shouldn't belong, but this opportunity seems to have come to us and we don't want to miss out on what God could potentially be doing.

Would you join us in prayer for all of the above items?  It is incredible and a little overwhelming to be in the middle of what God appears to be doing in our ministries.  It is our desire to stay in tune with His Spirit and follow in His steps as we turn each new page of our ministry here on the Palouse.


In the works...

Hey all, just wanted to let all of you who follow my blog know that I have a blog project in the works and it's taking me a little while.  That's why you are seeing some blog silence.  I will hopefully be getting something out there soon!




Here is a great video I stumbled across yesterday.  I love to find stuff that I believe gets "the story" right!


"That's what it means to be on a team..."

Four weeks ago, I had one of the hardest weeks of my life.

It's taken me this long to simply recover from that week and gain enough perspective to reflect on what I experienced and what the 'take away' was from the whole thing.  I won't be boring you with all the details of what went wrong since -- in hindsight -- all of the details were pathetically trivial for me to deem it "one of the hardest weeks of my life".  It just wont have the same effect.

I'm hoping that you [the reader] can resonate with what I'm trying to express.  Have you ever had one of those days/weeks where every single little situation seems to implode and everything you touch both literally and figuratively seems to be destroyed?  I had one of those weeks.  I was wondering when my stretch of bad luck would stop and it just kept going.  Whether it was my family's vehicles or my schedule or alarm clock or... or... or...

I will share one of those details with you, however, as it leads to the reason I'm writing this post.  It may have been the capping 'mess' of the whole week -- the pinnacle of crappy days.

I left the espresso machine on.

No, not just on.  I left it on on a Friday and it stayed on over the weekend until Monday.  And I'm no espresso machine expert, but I can tell you this from recent experience.  If you leave the espresso machine on, it will eventually pop the pressure release valve.  I can also tell you that when that valve pops, water will begin running nonstop.  This water will eventually flood the office building.  I can also tell you that if you happen to have an office on the top floor, this flooding will affect all offices that happen to be located below you who, of course, also decide to take the weekend off.

It was a bad, bad week.

I came in that Monday to the sound of running water.  I walked down a wet hallway and peered into what I affectionately have come to refer to as Kitchen Lake (I'm almost able to laugh at it now -- almost).  I got the water turned off and called the pastors to inform them of the tragedy.  At this point, I had not yet realized that I was the culprit of such an offense.  I mean, I had had my lapses in memory; I had this horrible habit of leaving the espresso filter in the machine.  But that was the extent of my stupidity.

The pastors said they would be there quickly and as I waited for them to arrive I thought about who could have possibly been so absent-minded as to leave the espresso machine on and cause this huge mess.  I thought about how much trouble that person would be in.

The pastors arrived and started to assess the situation.  They were pretty calm considering the situation.  We were all trying to figure out who the last person or group could have been to use the machine.  Somebody's head was gonna roll.

That's when I saw it.
The espresso filter was still sitting in the machine.

As all the pieces fell into place in my head, I felt as if all the life in me was falling to pieces.  I was the culprit.  I was responsible.  I was the one.  It was me.

I felt horrible.  I couldn't sleep for a couple nights.  I remember the next day at the office, I was trying to communicate my twenty-seventh rehearsed apology in hopes that if I just said I was sorry enough, it would make the problem go away.  I had been assured that mistakes happen and that we would deal with it.  And yet, the pain and the frustration seemed to be getting worse the deeper it seeped into my soul.  During that apology, Aaron Couch, the lead pastor at the church, said with the slightest chuckle:

   "Marty, it's OK.  That's what it means to be on a team."

The statement hit me like a thunderbolt.  I played it cool and then went into my office and cried.  I've heard a lot about teams; and I've heard a lot about what it means to look out for everybody else on the team.  I worked hard at trying to make sure I'm always bringing something worthwhile to the table -- for the team.  I had never considered that I would encounter a day where I would experience what it would mean to let the team do something for me.

I've thrown a lot of stones at the Church over the last decade.  There's lot of stuff to be upset about and a lot of things to critique and deconstruct.  But every now and then, the Church has these brilliant moments where we actually look a little like the Christ we're supposed to incarnate.  Sometimes those moments will come in the form of caring for the oppressed.  Sometimes they will come in a broken espresso machine.  But in all of those moments -- we will learn about grace.

Needless to say, I'm the brunt of a lot of jokes around here these days.  And the espresso machine is still broken.

I'm kind of glad that it is.  I've come to know that machine really well and she serves as a reminder to me every time I walk into the kitchen of a lesson that I'm still learning -- every day.

I've given her a name:  Grace.