Missing these faces

Really missing my Gathering Georgetown students today, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite moments from this past school year!

I love you guys!

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Dear Gathering Georgetown

Dear Gathering Georgetown,

All weekend freshmen have been moving in on the Hilltop. They’ve arrived with all of the exuberance, dreams, and ambitions that they’ve been storing throughout their high school years. Their parents’ cars and their luggage has probably clogged the roadways and the hallways alike. They’re likely really excited and quite loud. They, with almost certainty, have no idea where the Esplanade or Bulldog Alley are located. I’m sure you’ve seen them and perhaps been annoyed by them. Please befriend them! Please come alongside them and love them. Please remember your freshman year struggles and your desire for community. They need upperclassmen to befriend them, show them the ropes, patiently answer their questions, and mentor them.

This morning the Protestant community came together for their annual Protestant Worship Service, and I heard via @jonathandrice that it was packed!

You have no idea what that news did to my heart. It reminded me that there are freshmen on campus now who I won’t get to sit down with over coffee this year. It reminded me that I’m missing my first Welcome Week on a college campus in five years. And it reminded me that The Gathering Georgetown kick off service is happening in just THREE days on the Leavey Esplanade and I won’t be there. I have to admit that I’m a little heartbroken over all of these facts, but I am thrilled that YOU are there and that your impact there will lead to more followers of Christ on Georgetown’s campus! Continue reading

Change

Heraclitus of Ephesus, a Greek philospher said this: Πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει, meaning, “Everything flows, nothing stands still.”

He was quoted by Plato in Cratylus, and by Diogenes Laërtius in Lives of the Philosophers Book IX, section 8
Various translations of this saying are below, but all make the same point – that the only thing constant in life is that life is always changing.

Variant translations:
Everything flows and nothing stays.
Everything flows and nothing abides.
Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
Everything flows; nothing remains.
All is flux, nothing is stationary.
All is flux, nothing stays still.
All flows, nothing stays.
Nothing endures but change.
From Lives of the Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius
Variant translations:
There is nothing permanent except change.
Nothing is permanent except change.
The only constant is change.
Change is the only constant.
Change alone is unchanging.

Change alone is unchanging. That’s terrifying. As followers of Christ, we are constantly being called to change to conform more to the likeness of Christ. Sanctification is not an easy process.

Continue reading

Dear World Georgetown

The photo project Dear World comes to Georgetown every year and here is the link to the photo album they’ve created:

Dear World Georgetown 2012

If you are not familiar with this project, essentially it promotes freedom of speech and allows students to be photographed with whatever they want written on their arms, legs, hands, faces, etc.

Here’s what they say about their work: “Robert X. Fogarty founded Dear World, a photo project that unites people through pictures in his distinct message-on-skin style. It began as Dear New Orleans, a photographic love note to the city. Before launching Dear World, Fogarty noticed that the simple portraits could be a vehicle for shared communication regardless of race, religion or language.”

As I looked through this album this week while I was stuck at home because I was sick, I was moved to pray. Most students’ messages are humanistic (“I can, through my own strength”), while others focus on love (“love conquers all, love one another”). My heart for them is that they will come to know their all-powerful Creator, and live through His strength and love.

I just wanted to share this with you all do that you can pray with me – that the Gospel will illuminate the hearts of Georgetown’s students and that Christ will be exalted on the Hilltop.

This one’s for the girls

This entry is about my girls. It’s for my girls. I call them “my girls” because I think they’re mine, but God always reminds me that really they’re His. This entry is about Stephanie, Ceci, Margot, Janelle, Talli, Janelle T., Karen, Megan, and Becca, and it’s about all the other girls that I’ve ever had the privilege and blessing to have in my small group.

Just like the girls are HIS girls, this vision I have for college ministry and for the Gathering, and for my life… it’s HIS vision. He’s the one who fulfills His own purposes and I am shocked and awed, amazed and astounded that He uses me and that I get to be a part of what He’s doing in my generation. Leading and loving in this ministry is never a burden or a sacrifice. It’s a joy. I feel incredibly blessed just to be used by God and to watch the Holy Spirit work in the lives of the people around me.

Tonight we celebrated community. We took the time to talk about and embrace what God’s done in our lives this last semester and year. We talked about our growth and the fruit we see in each others lives. We talked about how to run from sin and stay pure when we’re away from community while home for the summer. We talked about what the Church should really look like and what Christian community means to our lives. We took time out of our busy lives and away from the demands of finals to meet for three and  a half hours. I know… crazy, right? I didn’t plan on spending that much time there, but God definitely had different plans for us tonight. If I could put our meeting into words, if I were to use just a single word, all I can say is that it was beautiful.

Tonight we did what we call “affirmations.” Basically, we went around the room and talked about (and to) each girl – told what they have meant to us and to our community, how they have grown, and the character attributes that we see in them that make them the women God has called them to be. We laugh and we cry and we have to really be careful about giving each person time to talk because I think we all could have gone on and on for hours longer about each girl, if we had the time. Our group doubled in size this semester but never lost the vulnerability and transparency that we developed at the beginning of the year and I’m so very grateful.

So this is for the girls:

Girls, what a year! We walked through all sorts of difficult trials together. We walked through breakups, talked through theological differences, sent friends abroad, weathered economic hardship, prayed and interceded for salvations, and delved straight into talking about tough topics like brokenness and healing, marriage and relationships, sex and sin. Thank you for that. I can’t even begin to tell you what you have meant to me. You have grown SO much. And I’ve enjoyed walking with you each step of the way.

Christ, and what He  does in our lives, makes us beautiful and makes our time together extraordinary. It’s not every day that you put seven girls in a tiny room and watch as they affirm one another in Christ. It’s almost as though tonight we could watch the growth take place in front of our eyes as we strengthened and sharpened one another. The last meeting of the group is always a little bittersweet for me because I’m sad that you’re heading home or abroad for the summer, but oh so sweet, because I get to hear you talk about all of the revelation that’s come to your hearts, all that you’ve learned, all of the places where you have grown spiritually and emotionally, and how your need for community and mentorship was met by our group. And in that moment, I get to watch all of my dreams come true. For my life and for yours.

Thank you for coming. Thank you for being faithful. Thank you for truly loving one another and abstaining from all drama. And thank you for all of the many ways you have loved and supported me this year. Finish finals well, and remember this – community is at the heart of the Church and it’s vital to our relationships with Christ. Take this community we’ve built and recreate it where you are this summer. Embrace and search the Word. Make knowing Christ your pursuit and make Him your heart’s first affection. And run from sin – flee from whatever is evil and remember that compromise is made an inch at a time until you’re a mile from the truth.

This community isn’t dissolving. It’s merely moving. It remains and is here for you always. Like I said tonight, I pray you will all still be friends as you walk through the next seasons of life – graduation and entering the workforce, relationships and marriage, and mortgages and children… lean on and continue to learn from each other. Hold each other accountable. This community is an investment from which you will reap massive dividends.

I love you,

Whitney

The Church – the global perspective

What I have been thinking and feeling recently isn’t new or revolutionary, but I think many times it’s overlooked and forgotten and I know that it’s usually one of the furthest thoughts from my mind. For the last couple of weeks I’ve found my heart increasingly burdened for the Church around the world.

In fact, it’s been on my heart so much that I almost repurchased the book Jesus Freaks while out shopping in PA with Josh a couple of weeks ago (and I totally should have gone with that impulse purchase). As I continue to study the Church and read books about ministry, it’s become glaringly clear to me that it’s almost like we’re entirely separate from our brothers and sisters around the world… as though we’re members of a different body.

Yesterday a video was posted by Cornerstone Church Simi Valley, and has subsequently been taken down while the church verifies the authenticity. However, regardless of whether or not that video was actually showing the beatings of believers, persecution like that does take place and you can visit http://www.persecution.com/ to learn more about the persecution of the Church worldwide. I only watched about 20 seconds of it before I just couldn’t bear to watch any more and I began crying at my desk.

Then, last night at the Gathering, I was reminded once again that we are all part of ONE body. We’re the body of Christ.

Romans 12:4 “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

And though we’re many members, we’re all necessary – 1 Corinthians 12:14-27:

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

I feel we need to reconnect with these people. Their stories might not be well known on earth, but we’ll know their names in heaven. Please join me in praying for the people all around the world who labor and suffer for the sake of Christ. Not that God would necessarily take away their suffering, but that He would be their Provider, their Peace, and their Hope.

Purposeful Evangelism

If you’ve been following this blog for very long, you’ll probably remember my post from November ’09 entitled “Maroon 5 and College Ministry.” I talked about how even though I’m around college students multiple times a week, the ones I know and spend my time with are ones who already mostly know Jesus. And it’s amazing – I’m getting to be an incredible part of the process of their becoming more like Christ and it’s definitely the thing I most love to do.

We all play lots of roles, you know. We’re sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, parents, boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands, friends, coworkers, teammates. But the one I find that brings the most contentment in my life is the role of leader/mentor/teacher. The Gathering; however, no longer feels like something I just do or a role that I play – instead, it’s more of who I am. And increasingly I want evangelism to feel like such a part of my heart that I can’t separate it from who I am.

I went to the SHAPE workshop at Frontline Tysons last fall and while most of the things we covered were things I had already known, I did learn something significant about myself – one of my spiritual gifts is the gift of evangelism.

I had absolutely no idea and wouldn’t have ever guessed that about myself. I definitely questioned it for several weeks following the workshop. I’m not the kind of person who enjoys street evangelism, which is what I first think of when I think of evangelism (although I love overseas missions and have done a lot of street evangelism in that setting). I’ve participated in youth group discipleship trips where we were challenged to go share the Gospel in Panera, the mall, and local boutiques. I did it. I could do it again… but it’s definitely not something I feel comfortable doing.

So, ever since October I’ve been asking myself how I can begin to really utilize this gift of evangelism. I want to wield it well – the last thing I want is to be like one of servants that Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 – they squander their talents and end up losing everything they were given.

Todd’s recent message to Frontline on January 24th really helped a lot – everyone in the congregation was given a bookmark and encouraged to identify “ten points of impact” – ten people in their lives that they want to influence and pray for and witness to. I was immediately able to list 12, but God asked me to do something bigger. The more I read the New Testament, study the early church, and explore different philosophies of ministry, the more I realize that we’re ALL called to evangelism – not just those of us who have the spiritual gift of evangelism. Our lives are meant to be lived constantly in pursuit of God and the people He loves… and we have to be intentional.

I started praying and asking God for ideas and new ways that I could purposefully pursue the lost… especially college students since so much of my heart is tied up in leading them to Christ. And as I started looking for ways to get to know and serve people outside my sphere of influence, God gave me several incredible ideas!
I challenge you to do the same – expand your sphere of influence! Pray and begin to look for ways to open your life up to people who aren’t believers… establish relationships and begin to plant seeds! After all, Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).

We’ve been given so much.

Character Close Up: Esther

You might have just rolled your eyes at the subject of this post. I know that a couple years ago, I definitely would have.

I used to view Esther as just another focus of women’s Bible studies. I thought she was overhyped just because there were so few women who are the major focus of stories in Scripture. I lost track of how many times I heard about her at summer camp break out sessions for girls, in jr. high Bible studies, and in youth group discipleship programs. So when one of the girls in my small group asked if we could study the book of Esther almost two years ago, I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed. I thought I had left Esther behind in youth group.

Not that Esther didn’t inspire me – she did – but I think I thought that “if I perish, I perish,” while inspirational, was all there really was to Esther. I wanted to do a study that was “substantial” – something that would change the hearts of these girls forever. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There’s definitely a reason that the book of Esther was included in the Bible! After leading a study on Esther for the girls in my Gathering small group and really digging into and studying the Scripture, Esther now definitely stands close to the top of the list of Biblical characters I want to emulate in my life.

She was totally amazing. God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose her to help deliver the Jews, and He didn’t just choose her and throw her in – He stayed with her and empowered her and taught her so much about following His will.

The character traits that Esther shows throughout her story are these: an intense commitment to prayer and fasting, absolute and immediate obedience to the leadership placed over her, radical submission to God and to His plan, and an extreme desire to change her world and save not only her generation, but an entire people. Her statement “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) could stand alone in testament to her faith – but it doesn’t have to because she actually lived it out.

Her story would terrify anyone – she was a beautiful orphan taken away from her uncle Mordecai and all she’d ever known (2:8). This had to have been scary and seen (at least at first) by Esther as a negative circumstance  – after all, she was young, probably had plans of her own, and the king was known for being quick to anger, irrational, egoistic, had a harem, and had banished his previous (and probably pregnant) queen.  All of these are negative, but Esther takes it all in stride .  She acts in wisdom, gains favor, and lets God position her for greatness though she knows nothing of the drama to come or her role in it (2:9).  Her trust and obedience is amazing.

While reading Esther, I get the sense that she had a sense of what God would call her to do and did it – she ran  “so as to take the prize” (Eph. 3:12-14). We see Esther throwing off the weights (insecurity, fear, discontent) and running her race faithfully. Esther prepared herself to meet the king for a YEAR (2:9).  She could have become frustrated and maybe even asked “God, why am I here?  What are You thinking? Why aren’t You using me?” God was teaching her to wait. Esther was so wise – she asked for what Hegai advised – she was in it to win it and to please the king.  Otherwise she’d be just another concubine.  She wanted to be his wife (just as an aside – you want to learn how to talk and relate to a guy? It takes wisdom. Read Esther).

Esther is crowned queen and is queen for FIVE YEARS and it’s NINE YEARS total before God’s purposes become clear and she recognizes God’s strategic placement that brought her to the palace (4:12-16).  Once it is clear, she doesn’t cling to her position, her crown, or her life. Instead, she’s willing to lay it all down and potentially give her life for her people. She fasts and prays for wisdom, and then acts.

Esther gives us a model to follow when we feel God is asking us to do something difficult –

  • Calculate the cost
  • Set priorities (others before self)
  • Prepare (Esther fasted and prayed, and got other people involved in the process)
  • Determine a course of action and move boldly in the direction God has called you to follow.
  • Esther and Mordecai do not despair or just wait for God’s intervention – they recognize their positions hold purpose.

Esther has the most compelling ending I can think of – because her obedience a WHOLE NATION was spared certain death and destruction – her life made a difference.  The Jewish Feast of Purim was established to celebrate Esther’s life and to remember her bravery and obedience to God.

I’m not certain that I would react as Esther did and that’s one of the reasons I want to cultivate the patience, wisdom, and faith we see in her life. I feel like if I were thrown into a situation where I was torn away from my family and sent to be a concubine to a crazy king, I might be more than a little upset with God. While that particular situation is highly unlikely, I want to learn to handle difficult circumstances with grace and to never blame God for where He might decide to put me or what He might ask me to walk through.

Esther is a Biblical example of someone who learned to suffer well and to let her suffering shape and develop her character. Her life should definitely make us question how we handle difficult circumstances and how we can develop the same character attributes that we see bringing her favor with God and with men. God is just as sovereign and strategic in our lives and it’s important that we recognize that. Each of us is being shaped and placed exactly where God wants us to be and our actions echo into eternity as well. Esther is the perfect person for me to study again as I’m asked to step back, cede my life again to Christ, and simply obey.

Maroon 5 and College Ministry

Maybe at first thought it doesn’t seem like Maroon 5 and college ministry should go together in the same sentence. But sometimes God uses the strangest situations and experiences to leave us with a greater understanding of our purpose and His heart, even  though maybe it’s the last thing we would have predicted or anticipated learning in that particular moment.

Friday night I went to the Maroon 5 concert held at George Washington University. I went to have fun and enjoy live music, but I have to admit that I spent more time people watching than I did looking at, or paying attention to Adam Levine or the rest of the band. Anyone watching me was probably baffled. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed the concert (we had great seats!), but it’s rare that I’m around such a large number of college students all at once and I took advantage of the chance to soak it all in.

My first reaction, well second actually (my first was that all the girls were dressed as though it were July instead of November in DC), was to be shocked by how lost my generation is. And then I was immediately ashamed and dismayed that I had to be reminded of that fact.

I talk about college ministry all the time and I spend quite a large amount of time pouring my life into it. It’s where I find so much fulfillment, purpose, and joy. But Friday night I realized that part of the reason I tend to forget how lost the collegiate generation is, is because I spend most of my time with the found and rescued. I get to listen to stories of rescue (see related posts) on a regular basis. I get to watch students who are completely sold out to Christ serve in the inner city, serve their campus, and serve their community of believers. I love that time – I love it that I have the opportunity to pour into, mentor, and love the students at The Gathering and in my small group. I frequently wish that I had more time to give and that life and other obligations didn’t get in the way of what I really love so much.

Yet, in spite of that love, I find that another love is growing stronger (and maybe fiercer than ever before)… a love for the lost and yet-to-be-rescued of this generation. I want to use my time with The Gathering to not only to help strengthen and mature the faith of the students, but to constantly be serving to enlarge the community and draw the campus in. I don’t want to ever forget the purpose of why The Gathering exists or why I have chosen to serve with this ministry – “to impact the collegiate generation with the message of Jesus Christ.”

I’m passionate about The Gathering and about college ministry in general because the majority is lost. If I remember the statistics correctly, only 3% of the Millennial Generation (80 million strong) is expected to come to know Christ (if trends continue and no dramatic change is made). That frightens me. I blog a lot about church and culture – those things as we currently know them and even the dreams we dream about them, may cease to exist within a generation if we don’t focus on evangelism and make it our top priority.

Todd’s message at Frontline tonight was about evangelism and sharing the Gospel. Several thoughts definitely stuck with me – “One of the greatest indicators of a life that has moved from dating the church to a life totally surrendered to God is one thing – actively sharing the Gospel.  Evangelism is what marks a believer’s understanding of the Gospel.”

I’ve fallen in love with the local church, its purpose, and its people. The last thing I want to do is just date it  perpetually without making a commitment, or showing signs of such a commitment in the way I live my life. I want my life to be marked not only by service to the church, but also by reaching out to the lost as though it’s the most critical thing I do. Now, on to thinking and praying about how best to go about that…

beautiful rescues

We were rescued a long time ago. It’s a story we tell, but not often enough.

Tonight in small group the last few of the girls shared their stories of how they came to know Christ. I’m always totally and completely amazed at how unique each story and journey is, even though the ultimate theme is SALVATION. Pain, grace, forgiveness, and redemption are woven into each story, whether the storyteller was raised in church, in a broken, hurting family, or in a broken, hurting family that was also in church. We’re saved from so much, and yet… we forget all too often. I think we tend to lose sight of what such a rescue really means… what we were really saved from. When we focus on today and its problems and troubles, we fail to look at the big picture… and we forget how important these stories really are.

A rescue story, one in which we become “free or delivered from confinement, violence, danger, or evil,” is a story that is generally told over and over… and each time with just as much enthusiasm… because one who was lost is now found… recovered and brought back from the brink of death. When we hear of a lost child being recovered, or of a trapped miner being freed, those stories spread like wildfire online, are picked up by all the news outlets, and usually remain in the news for several days. The more dramatic stories, like long-lost kidnapping victims being returned, remain in the news for months or years, even.  Generally PEOPLE Magazine runs a several page spread of photos and a human interest story and then they check in with the individual several months or a year down the road to see how they’re doing. Rescues are really big deals.

At the beginning of the fall semester, John shared again with the Gathering  the story of how he was found by Christ. I’ve heard the story many times, but I’m always totally amazed all over again at the lengths God will go to, just to get our attention. I grabbed a CD (quite appropriately entitled “Rescue”) and listened again this week… I feel like we need to remember these stories of rescue more often. The grace wrapped up in John’s story amazes me and every time I hear him describe the relief and the feelings that came with his salvation, I’m totally reminded of my own story… and of the grace I myself have been given.

Colossians 1:13-14, 21-22 paints such a beautiful picture of this grace:

13:-14: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

21-22: “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…”

Wow. How can we fail to be amazed perpetually, much less daily?