From the monthly archives: April 2013

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Sharing the Gospel with a Presidential Candidate (for the ASCSU)

Don’t want to get too political here. I know you’re all pretty sick and tired of being bombarded by incessant candidate ads every time you turn on the TV or read a newspaper. But that’s just what happens this time of year during ASCSU elections. We all know the candidates and are well aware of their platforms so I won’t take time here going into those details, especially with controversial topics like Ramride and printing lab hours on the docket. I’m not picking sides or pledging my allegiance to any of those running for president/vice president of student affairs at CSU. But I did still want to bring attention to a very bold brother named Patrick Galligan and his interaction with one of the candidates running for president.

A few Rockers decided to gather for a couple hours to trust God for his leading into some spiritual conversations around campus. I had the pleasure of getting to partner with Patrick for the afternoon. There are probably a lot of good reasons Jesus sent the 72 out in pairs, but one reason has to be for the mutual encouragement. It doesn’t take too many conversations with people apathetic or hard toward God for me to want to give up. Having someone there to remind me of truth and to pray for our encouragement is a blessing for sure. Also, my faith is spurred on seeing the boldness of others.

So was the case about a week ago with Patrick. One of the platforms of one of the candidates was “bridging the gap.” Patrick looked at me with a wide grin and a twinkle in his eye and said he had an idea. He then proceeded to take out a “Do you Know for Certain?” gospel tract.

You’ve probably seen them. They start with the diagnostic question, “If you were to die today, how sure are you that you would go to heaven?” People give their reasons, they’re usually pretty sure they are going because they think they have lived a pretty decent life and haven’t really hurt anybody or done anything really all that bad.

The tract continues to explain how God created the world and that is was good. Then it talks about how we (mankind) rejected God and his goodness and how we preferred our own destructive way instead of his perfect one. This is nicely illustrated by “God” on one side of the paper, “Man” on the other and a huge gap separating the two sides. It explains this gap is caused by our rebellion against God – our “sin” to use a churchy word.

Heaven is where God is and where God is perfect because God is perfect and so we quickly see that unless we are perfect like him, we will soon be forever separated from God, the source of all good. Hell is the absence of God’s presence and we see that because of our sin, we deserve to be separated from God forever in Hell. Obviously this is not good news. So the question becomes, “How does one bridge this gap?”

Most people answer with something like “going to church” or “trying not to sin.” But a closer look at God’s revealed Word shows there is absolutely nothing we humans can do to be made right with God on our own. The only acceptable payment for sin is death. We’ve all sinned, we all deserve to die.  

That’s the bad news, but Patrick went up to their station on the plaza to share the good news. And so he asked one of the campaign helpers what bridges the candidates were hoping to bridge if they were elected. She directed us to the potential future president himself, Nigel Daniels, when Patrick began his bold declaration.  

“We noticed your campaign slogan is ‘bridging the gap,’ and we were wondering what gaps you were thinking about bridging.”

Nigel seemed to have heard the question before many times. He confidently began sharing a number of gaps he and his partner hoped to bridge if they were elected: the gap between students and faculty, etc.  Patrick knew where he was going with this, too.

I wish I remembered the exact phrase, but it was something along the lines of, “Well, we were just sharing with people about a gap that no one can bridge on his own.” Patrick then began flipping through the tract and explaining the source of the gap that caused our separation from God and how only God himself could bridge such a distance by coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ, taking our death upon himself and making us perfect through his perfect sacrifice.  

Nigel definitely had a Bible background and talked about having shared a similar diagram with students he had helped through a youth-group mentoring program. While Patrick explained the great news that people could be made right with God through Christ, Nigel seemed genuinely interested, smiling warmly and laughing. I was thankful that he took the time to talk to two non-students who couldn’t even vote for him (not sure he knew that). But more than that, I was proud of my brother Patrick and his bold heart to go right up to who could be a very influential person in the future and share Christ unashamedly.  

(Photo credit: Collegian/Kevin Johansen)

Handprints, or Seeing the Father through Fatherhood

If I ever write a book, it will be titled How Being a Dad Has Taught Me about Jesus. Or perhaps something less direct like The Gospel according to Tessa and Alexa. Or a corny wordplay like Seeing the Father through Fatherhood. Or a vague, hipster-y, single-word title like Handprints. Unfortunately, I lack the tenacity to write a book, so a blog post about my chimerical book is probably the closest thing you’re ever going to see.

One of the chapters in the book would be called “Disabled by Disobedience.”

Right now, Tessa is almost 3 years old. She is inventing new ways to disobey almost every day. When it’s time to pick up her toys, she plays with them. When it is time to brush teeth, she runs to the living room. Recently she’s picked up telling lies. When something has been broken/taken/spilled, Tessa will claim that her oblivious, crawling sister has done something impossible for an oblivious, crawling person.

However, as her father, all of this defiance does not affect my love for her. Do I get irritated? Yes.  Do I sometimes struggle with anger? Of course. Does my affection for her decline? Not at all. When I drive home after a day of work I am excited to see her, even though I know I’ll probably be spanking her within a few minutes of walking in the door (and she’s just as excited to see me despite knowing the same thing).

This is not to imply that her obstinate behavior is without consequence. There are major consequences. For very practical reasons, Tessa’s daily activities are tied closely to her patterns of obedience. She recently threw a fit when it was time to leave the park and walk back home. Faith (my wife) did not take her back to the park for a few weeks. This was partly a means of punishment for the fit, but also for more pragmatic reasons. A loving mom seldom has the time or emotional energy required to drag a screaming toddler from the playground. As Tessa learns self-control, there will be more trips to the park and few restraints while there. Obedience leads to freedom.

Tessa seldom goes out to eat and has never been to a movie theater. She would enjoy both of these things, but I know she could not obey throughout the event. Like every family, our social activities and outings are limited by how well our children obey. (There’s plenty to say about age, maturity and proper expectations, but that’s for a different chapter of my book.)

When I disobey, how does God react? Irritation? Probably. Anger? In a godly sort of way. Less love? No way. John 14:21 does tie obedience to love but states that our love for Jesus results in our obedience to the Father and his love for us. Love is the cause; obedience and more love are the effects.

Sometimes God withholds things from us as an act of sheer punishment (i.e. Moses was not allowed into Canaan), but more often, our sin raises practical barriers to what God is able to do for us and through us. In very real ways, we inhibit God’s ability to bless us or use us.

I’m not going to roll out the “prosperity gospel,” but perhaps the reason some people have little money is because God sees disobedience in how they handle what they do have. Large bank accounts are very dangerous for proud people. I suspect God sometimes holds back financial blessing from people he knows would disobey in how they use it. I do not want to look back at my life and see that the Father has withheld any riches because I did not honor him with my first-fruits (Proverbs 3:9-10).

What about evangelism opportunities? There have been times God has called me to outreach to a specific person and I have blatantly disobeyed. Therefore, I see no fruit from that relationship. God is not directly disciplining me, but my sin of disobedience has made it impossible for me to enjoy his blessing. Just like when Tessa is slow to pick up her toys and there is no time left for a bedtime story. We both want it to happen. It’s just can’t happen due to obstinate actions.

When other adults see Tessa acting bratty, that’s all they see: a bratty kid. When I see her acting bratty, all I see is my daughter. Her brattiness will alter how I relate to her at that moment, but her identity and my love for her are rock solid. Her iniquities may ruin some chances at fun times with daddy, but nothing keeps me from being her daddy. Being a father has taught me this and taught me how my Father loves and disciplines me.

Despicable Me: On Public Education and Being a Sinner

Beware of no man more than of yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us. – Charles Spurgeon

Close friends at Summitview have more than once referred to me as “cheeky.” I assume that this is a British term that encapsulates all of the best parts of wit, sarcasm, cynicism and humor. But maybe I am being optimistic. At my worst, “cheeky” is a charitable description of my nature. I can be straightforwardly cynical, rebellious and quick-tongued. I have a desire to break from stereotypes and confront people's perception of the way the world works. So often, this is purely sinful.

Recently, I was confronted with the idea that I tend to play the villain, unknowingly, perhaps because there is an area of my life where I am treated as the villain. In the animated movie Despicable Me, Gru is a loveable bad guy who relishes the role of the villain – doing his own thing and living by his own rules. (Spoiler alert!) Through a series of hilarious circumstances, the film finds its conclusion in the three daughters that Gru adopts and how their love shows him that he does not need to be a villain. Love overcomes his rebellion. It can even overcome “cheekiness.”

We (myself, Summitiview, the church and society) tend to vilify others. We literally make them “other” than us for whatever reason, and the “villains” end up trying desperately to find identity in the label or stereotype that we give them. They cannot possibly be like us, so they don't even try.

I am a public school teacher. I am seen as “other.” There are several of us here at Summitiview (and I don't presume to speak for them), but sometimes I feel like a villain. According to parts of Christendom and conservative America, I propagate the lies of liberal government institutions and polish the brass on the sinking ship. I work for six hours a day, nine months of the year and get gold-plated benefits because of that evil union. Once I am tenured it is impossible to fire me. I don't let kids pray in school. I support the teaching of evolution and rewrite history. Character education in my classroom includes birth control training, keeping the public displays of affections to a minimum and making sure that no religious group gets as much of my time as the Mother Earth Club or Rainbow Club.

Is this how we see public educators? Is this who I am and is this what I am wasting my time on? Whether its members of my own church asking me, “How can you do that?" or through the political rhetoric of favorite Christian media outlets, I am a villain.

We vacate entire sections of society because they are villains and then expect something to change.

Recently, I was honored at a Mormon banquet for public educators. All of the graduating seniors in the area chose one teacher to honor as the most influential teacher from their childhood. Most of us were public school teachers, and some were dance teachers or coaches. I felt like Gru in Despicable Me. It was the first time in a long time that I didn't feel like the villain. Someone helped me let my guard down. I realized that I didn’t need to be “cheeky,” cynical or rebellious because that is not my identity anymore. My identity as the mischievous civil servant was changed to that of someone far more valuable.

I do not want to sound like a bitter school teacher. I was on the other side of this equation for once, and the one thought that popped into my mind that night was, “Shame on us.” Shame on me. This Mormon congregation did a better job than Jesus' church sometimes does in telling educators that they are not villains. We disagree on more things than I count, but one of their students spent five minutes honoring me and bridging the gap. Every elder and leader in the church nodded in approval, and before I left, every one of them looked me in the eye and sincerely thanked me for what I do. I cannot know their motives, but I do know that I felt much more welcomed than I have felt at my own church in a long time.

I am not trying to accuse anyone, but it gave me pause to ask the question: “How often to I vilify others?” Do I take the political rhetoric and cultural stereotype as the whole description of one of God's children?  I don't vilify public education but I vilify plenty of other things. I may even at times vilify those who have these misunderstandings about me. This is mutually assured destruction. 

I know that when I make someone into a villain, I am not saying, as I should rightly say, that they are a sinner, but that somehow their sin is greater and more devious than mine. I do not want to bridge the gap between me and the villain – showing someone their rebellion and their worth, their need for a savior and that I appreciate what they do. 

What am I afraid of? That I may get some of their sin on me? If that is the case, then they should be more afraid of getting some of my self-righteousness on them. 

The bottom line, and after weeks of reflecting upon this, is that it is not about me at all. I create villains out of “them” when my fears supplant the power of God. When we act out of fear, selfishness and the desire to just win the argument, the only possible outcome is self-righteousness. Somehow my life choices have purchased for me a better standing in the sight of God and the world than “theirs” have. When my standing before God is purchased only at the Cross of Christ, then no one is any more a villain than I am. The Cross is truly the only bridge between sinner and holy God, as well as between sinner and sinner. 

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:18-21)

Isaiah 55 and Finding Joy in Sowing the Seeds

Summitview’s youth and college ministries spent the first half of their spring break vacation in Salt Lake City, Utah, sharing the gospel on the campus of the University of Utah. This and yesterday’s post were written by two of our Mpact students about their experiences and how they grew closer to God in Salt Late City.

By Katelyn Fahrenbruck

My spring break wasn’t like most spring breaks. I didn’t party, I didn’t sit on a beach and I certainly didn’t get a tan. I went with about 40 Rock and Mpact students to visit our sister church in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’ve been to Salt Lake City for High School Leadership Training with Mpact a few times, but this was different in that our only goal was to share Jesus’ love with as many people as possible. 

Before we started our mission, however, we experienced the servant heart of Jesus through the host family Abbie Hanawalt, Kristi Hunt and I stayed with. We dragged our mountains of luggage into their new home close to 10 p.m. the night of our arrival, waking up their preschool aged son in the process. They didn’t complain; instead, they made us feel loved and welcome – a feeling that would last through the week. Their house became our home away from home. 

The first morning in Salt Lake City, we visited the Olympic Oval and met an Olympic speed skater who also happened to be a member of the Salt Lake City church, The Rock. That afternoon we braved the cold weather to flier neighborhoods with invitations to The Rock’s Easter service and to an art show they were hosting. I’m amazed at the art and graphic design produced by the creative minds at The Rock. (The SLC Rock has talented artists and musicians the way our church has engineers, just as a comparison.)

The second and third days we went to the University of Utah to share the gospel. I spent most of my lunch hour of the second day inside the University Union, talking to a young girl with my sharing partner Kristi. When we ventured back outdoors around 1 p.m., what we saw was beyond encouraging. As we walked out of the Union, a sloped law ran down the hill and tables were set up on either side of it. At each of these tables, Rock and Mpact teams were talking to students about Jesus and sharing life-changing testimonies. It brought tears to my eyes to watch God work through my brothers and sisters.  

From my place on the top of the hill, I could see no fewer than eight conversations going on at the same time. It seems like a simple thing, but it was beautiful to see Jesus so clearly in that moment. If God hadn’t put us there, those conversations wouldn’t have happened. We were there for a reason, and that reason was to spread his name to those lost people. The love of Christ was spreading like wildfire through the campus – powerful and unmistakable.

In that moment, I could feel the power of the gospel more clearly than I’ve ever felt before. My thought process shifted from seeing the results of our work to just enjoying talking about Jesus. It wasn’t about seeing salvations or talking to more students than the other teams: It was about loving our Savior in such a way that we wanted to talk about him more than anything else. I stopped and prayed for a few moments, reveling in God’s glory. He brought to mind a passage from Isaiah 55, one of my favorites in the Old Testament:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, make it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to  me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55: 8-11)

(Photo credit: Flickr/Irwin-Scott)

Broken and Humbled: Following God to Salt Lake City

Summitview’s youth and college ministries spent the first half of their spring break vacation in Salt Lake City, Utah, sharing the gospel on the campus of the University of Utah. The next two posts are written by two of our Mpact students about their experiences and how they grew closer to God.

By Jess Brock

Once upon a time, God asked me to go with the Rock to Salt Lake City, Utah, to share the hope that we have. And I said no.

I said, “I’m too young. I’m not ready. I’m not an expert on the Bible. My faith isn’t strong enough and I wouldn’t say the right things and … I’m afraid.”

Then God said, “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” Mathew 10: 19-20). I realized that if Jesus could be my heart and my mouth for me, then I had nothing to lose. So I changed my mind and said yes. It’s funny how the best adventures are the ones I never would have chosen on my own.

Before going on this trip, I had already made assumptions about Mormons and other people with different religions. I counted them as “on the bad side.” I saw them as inferior, irrelevant and foreign to me. I’m pretty sure God used this trip to knock me outta my mind. He pulled me out of my own little world for a moment and sat me down with certain students on the campus to tell me, “Look, these people are just like you! They have a story, they have hurts, they are sinners, and I want them back.”

God broke my heart. He reminded me who I used to be without him, how at one time I also wanted to control my own life. I didn’t think I needed God, so I pushed him away just like they did.

But now when I saw others reject my Jesus or talk badly about him, it opened my eyes to how much I must have hurt him when I did it. After just minutes of conversation, I could get a glimpse into these people's hearts and see that they were just the same as mine: in desperate need of a Savior. God humbled me on this trip and gave me eyes to see his beautiful people.

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