One Word to Define Christianity

If you had to pick one word that best characterizes Christianity, what would it be?

I’m sure an overwhelming number of people would say “Love”.

Eleven times in the New Testament we’re exhorted to “Love one Another”
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

This is a great answer. After all, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). He also said we should LOVE our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31).

In John 13:35, Jesus said, “Your LOVE for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” To Jesus, love was the pre-eminent characteristic of those who would follow Him.

Eleven other times, the New Testament encourages us to “love one another”, “serve one another in love” or some close variant of this admonition.

And of course, if you’ve ever been to a wedding, you’ve probably heard 1 Corinthians 13 read, in which Paul expounds on the characteristics of love and declares it to be the greatest of the enduring qualities.

I’d like to make the case, however, for a word that might rival the word “love” as a word that epitomizes Christianity.

In today’s culture, love has been totally distorted, and to be honest, secularism has co-opted the idea of love and adopted it as its own virtue.

Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it one of the characteristics that sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies.
Photo by Felix Koutchinski on Unsplash

So if you think of love as serving others, well, lots of non-Christians promote the idea of service. Or if you think of love as caring for those in need, or speaking up for those who are marginalized, there are many non-Christian groups that do that as well.

The word I’d like to promote that could rival to the word “Love” as a defining descriptor for Christianity is the word “Forgiveness”.

The other day, I was reading in 2 Timothy 3, starting in verse 1, where Paul says:

1 You should also know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. 2 For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. 3 They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control; they will be cruel and have no interest in what is good. 4 They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. (2 Timothy 3:1-4, NLT)

When I read that passage, I first noticed how Paul coupled the idea of love and forgiveness together. He said in verse 3, “they will be unloving AND unforgiving.”

Secondly, I was reminded of a tweet I had read the day before. It was from a woman who is an opinion writer for the New York Times (@ebruenig). She tweeted:

“there’s just something unsustainable about an environment that demands constant atonement but actively disdains the very idea of forgiveness”

Cancel culture is an environment where people try to shut down, ruin, or “cancel” those who have been deemed to have committed offenses that are not acceptable in today’s culture.
Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

I was struck by that statement because I thought it cogently described our current “cancel” culture. If you don’t know what “cancel culture” is, it’s an attitude within our culture that seeks vindication and retribution on anybody and everybody for any transgression that is uncovered, no longer how long ago, that might go against current accepted standards of behavior or current accepted views.

Here’s an example of how this works. Let’s say you tweeted a coarse joke 10 years ago that was somewhat acceptable then but is considered out of bounds now. Somebody might dig that tweet up today and weaponize it by using it to “cancel” you, publicly shaming you to the point that your reputation and often your career are irreparably damaged.

I came across this statement from Alan Jacobs, a Christian who is a professor at Baylor University:

“When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness. The great moral crisis of our time is not, as many of my fellow Christians believe, sexual licentiousness, but rather vindictiveness. Social media serve as crack for moralists: there’s no high like the high you get from punishing malefactors. But like every addiction, this one suffers from the inexorable law of diminishing returns. The mania for punishment will therefore get worse before it gets better.”  (https://blog.ayjay.org/vengeance/)

What this says to me is that in our current culture love may be indistinguishable and unidentifiable to others. Of course we should love people, but our loving actions towards others may not set us apart from the culture as much as we might like to believe.

On the other hand, forgiveness, in this culture, stands out because our culture neither teaches forgiveness, nor promotes it.

Forgiveness is hard. It takes an extreme act of love to forgive others and to seek their ultimate good instead of seeking vengeance or vindictiveness.

In Matthew 5, Jesus says:

43 “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too. 46 If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, NLT)

I believe that what sets Christianity apart from other religions and philosophies is our ability to love others, even those who disagree with us and even those who persecute us. And I think a primary way we can demonstrate that kind of love in this current culture is in our ability to forgive others who offend us, while everyone around us is seeking retribution and vengeance.

What are your thoughts?

What do you think makes it hard to forgive others who don’t share our views or values?

How can we cultivate a heart that is willing to forgive?

Is Healthier Social Media Possible?

Last week, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across a post from a friend who was announcing they were taking a break from Facebook mainly because of all the misinformation, politicizing and negative interactions.

Many people are taking a break or Sabbath from social media because of the negative interactions and anxiety it causes
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I feel ya! Going on social media these days can feel like entering the gladiator ring. You never know what political viewpoint is going to be thrown at you or who is going to challenge your ideology or what news article is going to pop up in your feed.

You innocently start off with a desire to see “What’s up?” with some of your friends and before you know it you’re engaged in a heated debate with a person you never met about some political policy on which you disagree. It’s easy to get worked up and riled up.

One of my favorite authors, John Ortberg, describes his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted as “Spiritual Disciplines for Dummies”, and says that the purpose of spiritual disciplines is really to train ourselves to love God and love others more.

Ortberg suggests that sleep could be a spiritual discipline, reasoning that If lack of sleep causes you to be grumpy and irritable, then a good night’s sleep could help us become more loving people! Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

In one of the chapters, Ortberg makes the case that for some people, the most important discipline they could practice is getting a good night’s sleep. His reasoning is that if being sleep deprived makes you moody and grumpy, then the best thing you can do to love God and others is to ensure you are well rested.

Maybe Ortberg is on to something! Given the polarizing nature of social media these days, it’s easy to see why so many people are deciding to take a break from it. The sad part about it though is that in this season where we’re sheltering at home and not physically able to connect with others, we could use the benefits of social media now more than ever. Is healthier social media even possible?

A friend of mine thinks so. Mike was a student I discipled years ago during my early days with Cru at San Jose State. Years later we’re still in touch and Mike and his family are living in Kansas City. After working as a graphic designer for most of his career, Mike has teamed up with a couple of believers who not only think that healthier social media is possible, they’ve created an app that aims to prove it.

Mike DeVincenzi is one of the developers of The Jump, a new app that seeks to provide a healthier social media ecosystem. Go to: thejump.com for more info. Photo courtesy of thejump.com

The Jump is an app that markets itself as “Healthier Social Media” with a mission of “bringing together authentic community, robust tools and a positive culture to create a better ecosystem.”

How are they doing that?

You can learn more at thejump.com but here are a few benefits:

For one, there are no ads, so you won’t be endlessly bombarded with posts urging you to buy an item that you happened to search for online last week.

Second, there are no algorithms. Tech giants like Facebook and Twitter use sophisticated algorithms to push content to you that THEY think you want, instead of just letting you determine what you want to see for yourself.

Additionally, in our high tech world, privacy is always a concern. Who has my data and what are they doing with it? The developers of The Jump are just as concerned about privacy as you are and pledge not to sell your data to third parties.

Last year I spent some time using The Jump app with my boys Cross Country team and was really impressed with how it functions. It seems to work especially well for teams and groups.

Check Out My Jump “The Lowedown” by clicking the image or the following link:
https://plm4.app.link/XH0QcDNap5

Personally, I love the idea of social media enabling me to stay connected with the people who are important to me, but much of the current social media culture is toxic and polarizing. The Jump may just be the alternative we’ve all been looking for.

I’ve created a Jump (group) on the app for those who want to stay connected to us and our ministry (Group icon is shown at left).

I invite you to try it out by texting 54293 to (913) 828-0100. You’ll receive a personal invitation to download the app and join our Jump.

In these crazy, uncertain times, now more than ever, we need a way to stay connected to encourage and support one another. Please let us know, in whatever fashion works for you (text, e-mail, snail-mail, The Jump, or whatever), how you’re doing and how we can pray for you!

We are so grateful for you and we pray that the Lord is protecting you and meeting you in the midst of this global crisis!

Adapting to New Realities

Jacob (Navy) and Joshua (Army) look on as their former team-mate races to the finish line of the 800m race!

One week ago, with my twins home for spring break, we went to a track meet where I took photos while my boys connected with former coaches and teammates. Everything seemed normal and life was good. We were making the most of our few days together as a family before the twins were scheduled to report back to their respective academies.

Within 24 hours, everything changed.

EVERYTHING!

It was announced that Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson had tested positive for the Coronavirus. At the same time, a member of the Utah Jazz tested positive and the NBA immediately suspended their season. Things escalated exponentially from there.

The next day, Jacob and Joshua were both informed that they were to delay their returns for 2 weeks and that online instruction would ensue shortly. Restaurants began closing and other large events were canceled or postponed. Disneyland closed for only the 4th time in its history. By the end of the week, all major sports leagues had been suspended, most schools had closed, weekend church services were either canceled or moved online and many people were told to begin working from home.

New terms such as “flattening the curve” and “social distancing” have become a normal part of our vernacular while crowded grocery stores and empty shelves have become commonplace. Who would have thought a few weeks ago that toilet paper would be more sought after than gold?

Long lines and empty shelves are the norm now at most grocery stores

What we’re experiencing is unprecedented….at least in my lifetime. How should we respond?

As you know, Jen has been experiencing her own health issues with her vasculitis flaring up recently. She’s been hospitalized, is back on Prednisone and has undergone two different infusions of Rituxan, a drug which is designed to suppress her immune system as a measure of stabilizing the auto-immune flare that is currently afflicting her.

A few weeks ago, Jen spent the day at UCLA, receiving a five hour infusion of Rituxan, a drug that is part of her ongoing treatment in combating her vasculitis flare.

While she’s not bed-ridden and she’s able to carry on most work responsibilities, she’s at increased risk for infections. As a result, we’re trying to be extra cautious and vigilant, but also doing our best not to panic.

From a ministry perspective, we’re still working and actively seeking to minister to Young Professionals. While many of our upcoming work trips have been canceled and events postponed, we’re still able to coach Young Professionals virtually. In fact, we already office out of our home and have been doing more and more of our coaching in a virtual environment anyway, so these latest measures have not been a major disruption to us.

One benefit of having the boys home is the dog gets more attention…but yeah, he’s already a spoiled pup!

Perhaps the biggest change for us is the fact that our boys are home and we are all sharing the same space and needing to get online for virtual classes or online meetings. Our boys are attending class as normal but everything is on East Coast time so they are having to get up at 4:30 a.m. in order to attend their first period classes.

Food consumption has also gone up, which means there are more trips to the grocery store, and more empty shelves and hunting for food and supplies to keep these guys from going hungry!

Though the nation is in crisis, we are trying to rest in the peace that Jesus is in control and we are His.

We would appreciate your prayers, though, mainly to stay healthy and for Jen’s vasculitis flare to become stable so she can begin to taper off of some of the drugs that have such negative effects. Pray too that we would find new and creative ways to minister to people during this time.

We know this crisis is affecting many of you in very real and perhaps devastating ways. We would love to pray for you. Please let us know how we can intercede on your behalf!

The Power of a New Year’s Resolution

Photo by Crazy nana on Unsplash

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who make New Year’s resolutions and those who don’t.

It’s not hard to figure out why some people hate New Year’s resolutions. Many people hate the idea of New Year’s resolutions because they’ve made them over and over again, only to fail miserably over and over again. Nobody likes the feeling of failure.

We resolve to lose weight and we actually gain weight. We resolve to get a handle on our finances and yet we go deeper into debt. We resolve to read more and watch TV less  and yet we find ourselves binge watching the latest Netflix series during our free time (when we should probably be exercising)!

Photo by Jamie Matociños on Unsplash

Have you ever wondered why so many New Year’s resolutions fail? It’s because for most of us, we try to change our outward behavior without changing the inner person. We fail to address the core issues that cause us to do the things that we say we don’t want to do but we end up doing anyway.

Photo from Pexels.com

In The Godfather III, there is a scene where Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino), feeling remorseful for his sinful life, is at the Vatican City talking to a priest. The priest picks up a stone from the fountain next to him and says, “do you see this stone? It has been surrounded by water from this fountain for many years. But the water has never penetrated the inside.” He then smacks the stone onto the pavement and it breaks in two. “You see? The inside is completely dry. This is like Christianity. People have been surrounded by Christianity for thousands of years and yet it does not penetrate their hearts.”

Forty-five years ago, my parents made a New Year’s resolution that greatly impacted me. Though they had both grown up going to church, we were not a church-going family. My parents, after much reflection, resolved to recommit themselves to the Lord and begin taking their family to church on Sundays.

As an eight-year old boy, I suddenly found myself in church on Sundays instead of sleeping in or messing around the neighborhood. It was not my preference, but as the weeks and months went by, I learned about my sinfulness and my need for forgiveness. I also learned about the payment Jesus made on the cross for my sin. I learned that I could receive forgiveness and enter into a relationship with God simply by putting my faith in Jesus and His death for me. My life was changed because of a New Year’s resolution.

If only I could get someone to take me on a walk!

What are the things you are hoping to change as you enter this New Year? What are your resolutions? They are probably similar to mine. I’d like to exercise more and read more. I should probably walk my dog more. I’d like to be more kind and compassionate and less impatient with others.

More than anything, my hope for this year is that Christ would penetrate my heart more deeply and that I would experience greater internal transformation as a result. I don’t want to just try to act better but my hope is that by Christ’s strength and power, I might be better – that I might become one who more accurately reflects Christ’s character to the world around me.

We are so grateful for you, our friends and ministry partners, whose encouragement motivates us to continue to pursue Jesus and the spiritual transformation that only he can offer.

Let us know what your resolutions are for this year and how we can pray for you to experience transformation in 2019!

Happy New Year!

Cru17 Highlights

Almost everything was different about our summer conference at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

For starters, we skipped the usual two day drive with the family that would take us through the deserts of California and Nevada, the amazing rock formations of Utah and the majestic Rocky Mountains. We opted to fly instead.

It’s been four years since Jen and I attended this conference so of course we noticed how much the town of Fort Collins and the campus have changed with recent construction. Some of our favorite places to eat have closed and new eateries have opened up.

When we entered Moby arena for the first session, I could tell this conference was going to be different.

The stage was set right in the middle of the arena, instead of at one end, as has been typical in the past. Somehow, it gave the sense of drawing people in.

The worship was inspiring and of course, the speakers were diverse and challenging. It’s hard to encapsulate all that happened in a short newsletter so we’ll share a few of our favorite moments.

HONORING THE NATIVE COMMUNITY

Cru President Steve Douglass presents a local Native elder with a traditional gift blanket.

During one of the opening sessions of our partnership weekend, Donnie and Renee Begay, the diretors of our Native ministry (Nations) led us through a time of honoring local Native elders. There was an exchange of gifts between leaders and one of the elders who addressed our conference mentioned that this was the first time anyone had approached them and included them in this way before. It was incredibly moving and redemptive.

 

PARTNERING FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

The Aruna Project seeks to help woman in India who are in bondage as sex slaves

For the first time, Cru partnered with the Aruna Project to host a 5K run on campus to raise funds and awareness for women in India who are enslaved in the sex trafficking industry. Jacob and Joshua ran the race and did quite well, but that’s not the highlight.

What was different about this race is that every runner ran with the name of a woman taped to their body who is still enslaved. As the runners started the race, they were encouraged to shout the name of the woman taped to their body.

The hope is that each woman represented will soon be able to experience true freedom.

Additionally, each participant received an Aruna drawstring bag that was made by women who were once enslaved but are now free and employed with jobs making usable clothing and gear. For more information on the Aruna Project, go to arunaproject.com. To see more photos from the race, see my Flickr album at: http://bit.ly/2vVBlVf.

 

FAST FOOD DISCIPLESHIP?

Jennie Allen shared her story of growing as a believer in the context of Cru when she was a new believer in college. She mentioned how the staff person who was following up with her initial contact invited her to Sonic in order to connect with her personally. She remarked, “Don’t underestimate the power of a Sonic run.”

It was a funny comment but it reminded me that what we do is valuable. We often meet people in various places all over Orange County and we have no idea the impact we are having. Jennie’s story was a great example of why it’s important to meet with and connect with Young adults.

 

FUN IN BOULDER

Joshua, left, and Jacob take a photo with Jerry, the founder and president of Newton Running Shoes!

We had a half day off during the conference and we decided to spend that time in Boulder, which is about an hour away. Jen had arranged for us to visit the small office of Newton Running Shoes.

Earlier in the year, the Cross Country coach had recommended Newtons for Jacob and Joshua as a way to help correct their heal-striking tendencies, which we think was contributing to some of the knee and shin issues Jacob had been experiencing off and on for the past year.

Newton is a small company that has appealed to a lot of triathletes. They make good shoes but they’re not easy to find. Basically, you have to order directly online.

It was fun going to their office because everyone was super friendly and asked a lot of questions. They showed us samples of the new models that haven’t even come out yet and the founder and president took several minutes out of his time to personally greet us and ask questions about Jacob and Joshua’s running.

They even hooked us up with some free stuff, which was a nice bonus!

 

THE NATURE OF PARTNERSHIP

Andy Crouch speaks on the topic of true partnership.

Andy Crouch, author, speaker and former executive editor of Christianity Today, spoke on partnering. I’ve always found Andy to be very thoughtful and insightful as it relates to how Christianity intersects with current culture. Andy challenged our thinking on partnership. In particular, he said that, “Partnership is not a trade. You can’t walk away after getting what you want.”

He stressed the importance of relationships and engaging with one another in our struggles and our suffering.

Andy’s talk reminded me of you, our PARTNERS. We missed the Cru conference two years ago because of Jen’s health. During that trying time in our lives, you truly demonstrated the kind of partnership that Andy talked about. You encouraged us, prayed for us and suffered with us through our struggles. Your generosity and compassion sustained us and we are truly grateful! Thank you for your prayers and partnership!

What Pop Culture Tells Us About Millennials

Every fall we’re inundated with a slew of new TV offerings trying to gain our viewership in an attempt to become the next hit show.

Every fall, there are a slew of new TV shows to sort through.
Every fall, there are a slew of new TV shows to sort through.

This year’s fall and midseason lineup of new shows features the regular assortment of legal dramas (Conviction, Bull, Notorious and Doubt), along with a number of spinoffs of other hit shows (24: Legacy and The Blacklist: Redemption), not to mention a few reboots (MacGyver and Prison Break) and a surprising number of shows based on popular movies (The Exorcist, Frequency, Emerald City, Lethal Weapon, Taken and Training Day). And of course, you can always count on Fox to throw in an animated show that targets an adult audience (Son of Zorn).

One of the new sitcoms that I’ve been watching is called The Great Indoors, and stars Joel McHale (from the hit sitcom Community) as Jack, a renowned outdoor adventure reporter who takes a desk job with an outdoor magazine. He struggles not only to adapt to life indoors behind a desk, but also to understand his staff of millennials who write about outdoor adventures that they never actually experience.

The show is fascinating on many levels as it portrays many of the stereotypes of millennials that we’ve heard through the media and research.

The Great Indoors is a new sitcom airing on CBS that takes a peek into the lives of Millennials in the workforce.
The Great Indoors is a new sitcom airing on CBS that takes a peek into the lives of Millennials in the workforce.

Of course the humor and the settings are not always family friendly and the caricatures of millennials are often exaggerated, but there is often some truth to the portrait of millennials that the show creates.

For example, in a recent episode, when a feature story idea goes completely off the rails, Jack tells Clark (the Millennial who is responsible) that “to call this situation a dumpster fire would be an insult to flaming piles of trash.”

A dejected Clark responds by saying, “I knew it. I just wanted to be a great journalist but I stink.”

Sensing an attitude of defeat, Jack tells Clark, “You don’t stink at journalism. You just stink at knowing what your actual talents are because you’ve been over-praised and under criticized.”

Clark suddenly has this realization that it’s actually good to live in reality because only then can he fulfill his true potential.

Millennials need and want to know what they’re good at. They want to know what their talents are and how they can make a difference in their community. They want to live with purpose and meaning.

All of our research on Millennials, along with our own personal interactions, confirm that Millennials want input. They want mentors who can influence them and help them manage life and grow personally, spiritually and vocationally.

But after college, there often is no intentional plan or program to help Millennials with their personal and spiritual development.

Millennials want input. They want mentors who can influence them and help them manage life and grow personally, spiritually and vocationally.
Millennials want input. They want mentors who can influence them and help them manage life and grow personally, spiritually and vocationally.

We hope to change that here in Orange County. After the first of the year, we’ll be launching our Leader Development groups, which are aimed at providing some key ingredients to help Millennials thrive spiritually and live missionally in today’s current cultural and professional environment.

We hope to help Young Professionals understand themselves better. We want them to know what they’re good at and how God has uniquely wired them. And we want to challenge them to use those unique gifts and talents to help advance God’s kingdom purposes in our community and around the world.

Please pray with us and for us as we continue to move forward with some of these new initiatives. We covet your prayers and are grateful for your partnership with us.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that the NBC show This is Us is by far our favorite TV show of the new season. With it’s positive portrayals of family, fatherhood and adoption, it’s a show that draws you in and tugs at your emotions. Check it out and let us know what you think!

The Impact of Passion in a Leader

How does a leader maintain his passion?

This was just one of the questions that was presented at the Global Leadership Summit (GLS), an annual 2 day leadership forum sponsored by Willow Creek Church in Chicago, where some of the greatest leadership minds in the world present their thoughts and experiences on what makes an effective leader.

This year, Jen and I attended a satellite location in Costa Mesa to listen to speakers such as John Maxwell, Alan Mulally (former CEO of Boeing and Ford), Patrick Lencioni, Chris McChesney, Bishop TD Jakes, Henry Cloud, Melinda Gates and others.

Bill Hybels is the pastor of Willow Creek Church and the founder of the Global Leadership Summit
Bill Hybels is the pastor of Willow Creek Church and the founder of the Global Leadership Summit

My favorite talk was the opening talk by Bill Hybels, in which he talked about the Lenses of Leadership.

Hybels’ opening line is that when a leader gets better, everyone wins. A leader moves people from here to there (a preferred future). But how does he do that?

Studies have shown that a motivated worker will outperform an unmotivated worker by as much as 40%. So clearly, motivation is a factor. But how do we motivate people. Hybels said that the highest factor in motivation is to work in and around a passion-filled leader.

So the question remains, how does a leader get and maintain their passion?

Pastor Hybels said that passion is usually derived from the mountain top of a beautiful dream or from the valley of frustration with something that completely outrages you.

Dr. Henry Cloud demonstrates the importance for a leader to have real connections with others.
Dr. Henry Cloud demonstrates the importance for a leader to have real connections with others.

Hybels said that there are three ways a leader gains and maintains passion: First, read passionate authors. Second, be around passionate people. And third, go to places that fill your soul.

Over the course of the two days, I found that my own soul was getting filled as we heard from passionate leaders who shared wisdom from their years of experience.

Dr. Travis Bradberry is the author of the best selling book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0”

Jen and I hope to continue to fill our passion bucket through some of the books we picked up from Global Leadership Summit keynote speakers. Jen will be reading a book by Erin Meyer entitled the “Culture Map” while I picked up “Emotional Intelligence” by Travis Bradberry.

Please pray that we would be leaders who are passionate and able to motivate those around us to move toward our preferred future – one where Millennials throughout Orange County are connected to and experiencing Jesus fully and who are mobilized to make a difference for Him at work, at home and throughout their community!

Derecognized!

This morning I went to the first Bible Study gathering of the New Year for the men at our church. We’ve been traversing through the book of Daniel in a series our pastor has entitled “Under Pressure.” We’ve been looking at Daniel as an example of someone who met the challenge to respond in a godly way to the personal and cultural challenges which he faced.

In Daniel chapter 6, Daniel’s enemies are looking for a way to find a charge against him because they were jealous of him. Because he was a person of great integrity, they could find nothing. So they went to the king and convinced the king to issue a decree that for the next 30 days, the people in his kingdom would not be allowed to pray to any god but the king himself. The plan was to cause Daniel to compromise his standards or face the consequences. Of course, we know that Daniel was unwilling to pray to the king and kept his practice of praying 3 times a day to the God of Israel, the God of the universe.

That act of integrity got Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. Fortunately, the Lord honored Daniel’s faith and saved him from harm. In the end, those who brought an accusation against Daniel were themselves thrown into the lion’s den and their fate was not as positive as Daniel’s. The king was so impacted by Daniel’s faith and deliverance that he issued a decree that only the God of Daniel could be worshiped, “for he is the living God and he endures forever.”

As we were reflecting on this passage around our table, we were discussing the tendency we have as frail humans to compromise our standards in order to gain favor with men and avoid unpleasant circumstances. I began to think about many of our campus ministries, especially those on our Cal State campuses.

Paul-Jaimie-2014
Paul & Jaimie Nunez were students involved in our ministry at UC Davis. They now lead the Cru ministry at San Jose State University, which has recently been derecognized by the campus administration. Click their photo to read their letter about being derecognized.

If you weren’t aware, about a year ago the Chancellor of the Cal State University system made a decision that dramatically impacts religious groups on Cal State campuses, particularly Christian groups. The Chancellor decreed that all groups need to allow open access for any student to become a leader within that group. So Christian groups such as Cru or InterVarsity that have enacted biblical requirements and standards for potential leaders are being derecognized for imposing leadership standards and thus, not adhering to the new policy. Click here for an article relating to this.

Being a recognized group on campus has many advantages. For one, recognized groups can secure meeting rooms for free. Additionally, official groups are able to publicize their activities on campus more freely and may even have access to funds to help their group promote an activity or scholarship students to leadership retreats.

Despite the many advantages of being a recognized group on campus, none of our local chapters has adjusted their constitution in a way that would satisfy this new decree. In short, we believe that while anyone can be involved in the group as a whole, the leadership of the group must be selected among those who hold to biblical convictions and have demonstrated a biblical lifestyle. For that reason, nearly all of our chapters within the Cal State system have been derecognized as official campus organizations. Our campus groups will continue to exist and will continue to reach out to students on campus but the task will become more difficult and more costly. Please pray for our campus groups to persevere in the midst of opposition and adversity and pray that their faith would lead to revival!

In 2 Corinthians 4.2, Paul says that “it is required for those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”

Dave and Jen - Christmas 2014
Dave and Jen – Christmas 2014

I’m not quite sure what the Lord has in store for any of us in 2015, but my prayer is that like Daniel, we would be people of extreme integrity when faced with personal and cultural challenges where we might be tempted to compromise our faith. As our culture continues to shift our prayer for you is that you would
remain faithful. Would you please pray that for us?

We are grateful for you and pray that you experience the Lord’s richest blessings in this New Year!

The Best Laid Plans…

Click here to view the pdf version of The Lowedown.

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” 

This oft-quoted line comes from a poem written by Robert Burns in 1785 after he inadvertently plowed through a field mouse nest. The words, penned with sadness, communicate the universal truth that one cannot plan for the unexpected. This line aptly describes our week in Nashville.

For months, Jen and I had been preparing for a week in Nashville, where we would have the opportunity to meet up with fellow Cru City Millennial workers for the first time. In addition, we were looking forward to challenging our thinking on Christianity and Culture by attending the Q Conference later in the week.

We thought we had worked out all the details. We were blessed by Jen’s parents, who visited for Easter and stayed through the week to watch our boys.

I even worked feverishly through Spring Break to renovate our guest bathroom in preparation for my in-laws’ arrival. That whole process in itself is probably illustrated by the above quote given the number of unexpected situations encountered that threatened to keep me from completing the project on time. I’m happy to report though that the renovation was officially completed in the afternoon on Easter Sunday mere hours before our departure.

We arrived in Nashville as scheduled on Monday where we had the opportunity to meet our new colleagues for dinner for the first time.

We were treated to some great live music from a few Nashville Millennials
We were treated to some great live music from a few Nashville Millennials

The next day was a full day of meetings and connecting. For me, it was invigorating to increase my vision for what we will be doing here in Orange County to reach Millennials. That night, we were treated to some live music at the home of one of our Cru colleagues who lives in Nashville.

Q-quoteThe next day was the start of the Q conference. The Q conference was started 8 years ago by Gabe Lyons as an opportunity for Christians to hear from numerous leaders and experts who share thoughts and insights on 7 major segments of culture: Media, Business, Government, Social Sector, Education, Arts & Entertainment, and Church.

The first day was packed with speakers who talked on a wide range of topics. We were even treated by a surprise appearance from Carrie Underwood and her husband Mike Fisher who shared about the challenges and their commitment to marriage. Though a little like drinking from a firehose, we were eating up all of the great content.

CarrieQ
Q Founder Gabe Lyons interviews country star Carrie Underwood and her NHL Hockey player husband Mike Fisher.

That’s when our plans got derailed. Jen shared that she was experiencing some chest pain and wanted to go back to the hotel and rest. We were supposed to meet up for dinner with some friends from our University of Arizona days who were now living in Nashville. But Jen’s chest pain got worse, making it harder to breathe. We decided to go to the ER.

As many of you know from experience, the ER is rarely a brief experience. For Jen, she was subjected to just about every test imaginable to determine if there was something wrong with her heart. Thankfully, every test came back clear. It was determined that the source of the chest pain was likely caused from having a case of walking pneumonia.

Jen was eventually released with antibiotics and she’s doing much better. We weren’t able to make our dinner appointment, and we missed the rest of the Q conference. But we made our flight home, thankful that it wasn’t something more serious and also grateful for the time we were able to spend with our new co-workers.

Though the week didn’t go exactly according to plan, we still left Nashville with an increased vision and excitement to reach Millennials. It was great being with others like us who are venturing into this new arena.

We are grateful too for your partnership. Please pray for us as we continue to prepare for this new ministry to which the Lord has called us. Pray for our plans to be the Lord’s plans and that we would be able to trust Him when things don’t go “according to plan!”

Learning About 20-Somethings

Connecting to the Culture of this Generation

Click here to download the pdf version of The Lowedown.

BarnaFrame1
images from Facebook.com/barnaframes

Earlier this week, Jen and I watched a bit of the Grammys. It was a stark reminder to me of how different the current culture is to the one of my youth.

Most of the Grammy buzz was focused on Queen Latifah who presided over a mass marriage ceremony of 34 gay and straight couples while rapper Macklemore sang his hit song “Same Love”. Latifah quipped, “Whatever god you believe in we came from the same one.” It’s incredibly bad theology but unfortunately it’s a philosophy which many in the popular culture endorse and follow.

Another stark moment came for me when Country newcomer Kacey Musgraves appeared on stage to perform her hit song “Follow Your Arrow.” The song is about how there will always be people who will question you no matter what decision you make. While there is some truth in that, Musgrave’s response is “You’re damed if you do and damed if you don’t so you might as well do whatever you want.” While I wasn’t shocked, I guess I was a bit surprised to hear this ode to Post-modernism and Relativism coming from the Country music genre.

images from facebook.com/barnaframes
images from facebook.com/barnaframes

Popular blogger Ed Stetzer posted his thoughts online after the Grammys. Stetzer suggested that we as Christians should seek ways to engage the culture instead of just complaining about the things we don’t like, as we are often apt to do. He also pointed out that the Grammys don’t really reflect the true values of our country. While I agree with Stetzer that we need to find ways to lovingly engage this culture instead of just complaining, I also think that the Grammys are a reflection of what many in our country think and believe and while not necessarily reflective of everyone, it definitely demonstrates how values are trending.

As Jen and I transition to working with Millennials, we’re looking for ways to better understand our culture, particularly this generation known as Millennials. What do they think and believe and why do they believe the things they do? Why are they the least churched generation in our culture and why are they so skeptical of religion and corporate America?

While we still have much to learn, we were able to get some good input yesterday as we attended the Barna Frames event that occurred live here in Orange County. The concept of Frames is to read short books on engaging topics related to our culture in order to be better informed and hopefully better equipped to reach this culture. (see barnaframes.com for more information on the Frames concept)

One of the topics presented was on 20-Somethings. Dr. David Kim spoke on “The New Shape of Young Adulthood.” There was a lot of great information that will be helpful to us as we move forward in working with Millennials.

images from facebook.com/barnaframes
images from facebook.com/barnaframes

One of the things Dr. Kim talked about was how many global tragedies and scandals this generation has been exposed to growing up that are unprecedented compared to previous generations. From the terror of 9-11 and school shootings, to numerous political scandals as well as extreme examples of corporate greed such as the Enron scandal, it’s no wonder that this generation is extremely skeptical of everyone and everything. In fact, Dr. Kim mentioned that 1 in 4 Millennials are likely to fact check a sermon on their phone while sitting in the pew!

Yet for all this generation has been exposed to, Kim says they are less sarcastic than the previous “Seinfeld” generation. They are generally more hopeful and that is a reason for us to have hope!

We have the greatest hope ever in the message of the gospel. Pray with us and for us as we seek to present the true message of hope to this generation of 20-somethings!