"1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light."
Ministry, especially college ministry, can be full of high's. Fun times, great conversations, and getting to watch in real time as people make decisions to follow Jesus. Baptisms, and worship nights, fellowship, and bible studies. And all of these moments have largely been what the last 6 years of my ministry at UT Arlington have been made of. But what happens when a pandemic arrives? When you can't gather like you used to? What happens when the possibility of gathering in each others homes like it says the believers did in Acts 2 isn't as feasible as it once was? What happens when people you know and love are getting sick, and when mental health issues begin to take a hold of the students you love and lead?
In the last month, my wife has been in the hospital alone with her brother as he fights cancer. Young men who I have come to consider as little brothers have struggled with severe anxiety. Others, in their early 20's, have gotten physically sick and asked for the first time in their lives, what if I don't recover?
In these moments it may be my tendency to want to dole out advice, to mentor, to encourage each of these people to "think rightly". And as a pastor, often, this is my role. But recently I believe Jesus has been reminding me that I am not the light. As much as I might like for my advice or wisdom to calm peoples fears, to fill them with great hope, and have them avoid feelings of hopelessness, the reality is I can preach all day, and ask insightful questions all night, but in the morning, the people I love may still be caught by anxiety. They may still find themselves sick, and afraid. In this humbling reality I find Jesus a great comfort. Just as John the Baptist was not the light but was only a witness to the light, this too seems to be my role in this time. To meet with these students, or with my wife, to pray for them and with them. To ask God to do something that is beyond my power to accomplish. To recognize that as I train people to live in the Kingdom of God with Jesus as Lord, God's kingdom will only come in full when he determines, not when I do. This to me is a comfort. I know most of my blog posts are full of success stories and moments of excitement in ministry. And I promise they will be again in the future! But I also hope that as you read this you realize that for me none of what I've written above is bad news. In many ways, I think this IS ministry. For if I could heal everyone I love with my words and my wisdom then what need or hope would we have for Christ's return? But here is the good news. I can not heal everyone. But Christ will return. And what I do today is to direct students hearts and minds on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Will this bring healing today? Maybe not, but our hope is not always in today, but in tomorrow. When we will see Jesus face to face, with our bodies and our hearts restored to worship him. To highlight why I think this is good news and how I see Jesus working today on the college campus I want to share with you one of our students identity statements. As he has struggled over the past month, recently he has been calling me every morning to read these over himself. I'm not going to share the entirety of his statements because I believe much of those to be personal to him. But I will share a few, so that you might see that right now, college students hearts and minds are being directed towards Jesus, and in him, not in me, they are finding their hope. Below are a few of those statements, and after that will be the monthly student testimony. I hope you find both encouraging. And as always, I am so thankful for your partnership in ministry!
"My fears and failures do not define me, but God does."
"I believe that God is my biggest fan and wants good for me."
"I believe that God's grace is sufficient enough for me, yesterday, today, and tomorrow."
"I know that no storm lasts forever. I will eventually find respite from this trial I am enduring."
"God is leading me into my future. I trust him with what unfolds as I continue the journey of life."
"I sense God's presence as I go through my day. I am not alone. He is with me. The power of his presence in my life has an effect on people I encounter."
Praise God for reminding this student of these powerful truths!