Rebuilding My Morning Routine

Yesterday, I explained how I use my summer breaks. I mentioned working out first thing in the morning, something I haven’t historically done.

My history with a morning routine goes back to when I worked at Lowe’s between high school and college. I often opened, which meant getting there at 6am. Since I didn’t particularly enjoy being tired all the time, the first step I implemented was a conservative bed time.

When I went to Word of Life, they had required quiet time every morning before class. Because I was a tech guy half the class days, I had to get to class at 7:15, which I then I spent reading until class started.

This carried over to my post Word of Life years, when I started working at Starbucks (as pictured above), and once again had opening shifts (which were 5:30 instead of 6:oo). On days I didn’t work, I began to keep getting up fairly early and went to Starbucks for free coffee. And then I sat and read. And thus a routine was born.

This ritual remained more or less stable for the last 10 years. The whole time I was at Dallas, even when I had 7am Hebrew classes, I was still up earlier, coffee in hand, reading (or studying Hebrew).

If you’ve ever wondered how I read so many books, now you know. I’ve already been reading for an hour before many people hit the snooze button. While this has had its advantages for me, I’ve felt for a long time that I need a more fully developed morning routine.

Back in the spring, I came across an article called 8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8am. They are:

  1. Get a healthy 7+ hours of sleep
  2. Prayer and meditation
  3. Hard physical activity
  4. Consume 30g of protein
  5. Take a cold shower
  6. Listen to/read uplifting content
  7. Review your life vision
  8. Do at least one thing toward long-term goals

Notice that the very first thing is actually something you do the day before. Over these past 10 years, I’ve somewhat ruthlessly reverse engineered by mornings by guarding my bed time. While I’m a little lax this summer, I tend to go to bed around 10 in order to get up around 5-5:30. This will shift earlier in August to probably going to bed around 9-9:30 in order to be at the gym by 5:15.

That would put me back home around 6:30. By 7:00, I’ll have had the 30g of protein (actually between 45-60g, because I need 235g a day), taken the shower, and started my quiet time. In that way, I’m actually combining the prayer and reading. That leaves the review of the life vision and then doing at least one thing toward long-term goals. Because of my schedule works, on days I don’t teach, I’ll immediately do that thing. Teaching days, I’ll schedule when that thing will happen. For now, that thing is writing 1000 words a day.

I’m doing that because I want to develop as a writer. I also foresee needing to write more frequently for things related to SHIFT. I also would like to one day complete a dissertation, which takes a disciplined approach to writing that I don’t currently have. When you write on a strictly as needed basis, it’s harder to write when you need to. If you write everyday, it becomes easier to at least get the ball rolling on a draft for something.

If I apply the reverse engineering to finishing a Ph.D by the time I’m 40, then I need to develop a disciplined writing habit now. So, doing that everyday is working towards a long-term goal. But, it is also serving several short time goals related to teaching, research and editing, and preparing materials for SHIFT.

I’ve found in the past 10+ years of having a morning routine that if you do something first thing, it usually always gets done. Seems simplistic, but you should start your day with the most important things. If there are habits you want to develop, batch them together in the morning and they will probably stick.

If you’re going to do that, I recommend doing it in phases instead of all at once. So, for instance, when I decided to rebuild my morning habit. I started with the exercise portion. I purchased some workout supplements (this is a referral link, FYI) that included a pre-workout. The dosage includes just under 400mg of caffeine, which is what my Trenta Cold Brew contained.

When I wake up, I wander into the kitchen and mix up the pre-workout, drink it, and then I have 15-30 minutes to get to the gym and get moving. I also can’t bail and go to Starbucks and read instead, because I don’t really want to know what would happen.

In order to re-wire, I started doing this on June 1st. It was a Thursday, but the beginning of summer in my mind (it was my first full day off after teaching responsibilities). I’ve been in the gym lifting for an hour every weekday since then. This past week Thursday, I added cardio to the end of the routine in the form of high intensity interval training (HIIT). When I get home, I take the necessary recovery supplements, eat, and then start working on what needs to get done for the day.

This week, I’m going to start bumping my start time up earlier and re-integrate reading. I’m also re-building my quiet time, something I’ll tell you more about next week.

In the meantime, I’d encourage you to consider a similar morning ritual. When it comes to exercise, it doesn’t need to include the intensity of lifting. There are plenty of excuses to not exercise (at all) and particularly in the morning. But, often it’s because you try to go from nothing to what I’m doing without taking into account your average speed. Which is to say, look at what you’re currently doing, and then increase to the next logical step, not necessarily your final goal. Basically, try starting smaller, like using the 7-minute workout.

If you do, here’s a sample morning routine:

  • Wake-up well rested
  • 7-minute workout
  • Cold shower (closes the pores and ensures you’re wide awake now)
  • Coffee/breakfast
  • Quiet time
  • Review goals and vision
  • Do one thing

Depending on your quiet time length (let’s estimate 20-30 mins to read something and pray), you’re looking at less than an hour of total time before you get to the goal reviewing stage. If you’ve planned accordingly the night before, it is not incredibly hard to get up and get going, especially if you plug your phone in across the room and have to jump up when the alarm goes off.

How I Use My Summer Break Wisely

I often get asked what I do over the summer. I wish I could say, well I just sit around and read. But, the main thing I do is figure out how to replace my teaching income for 2 months. After that, then I read.

That process actually starts late spring, when I start trying to line up work for the summer. I’ve been doing this since 2013 when I went back to working at Starbucks briefly. In general though, I’ve tried to pick up extra work with the research group I work for. Or, I’ve tutored some guys in Greek. Or, I’ve picked up extra music students. You get the idea.

Well, at least that’s what I’ve normally done. Because of the need to raise support, and the need to plan for the fall with SHIFT, I’ve taken a different tactic this summer.

Earlier this past spring, I reconnected with a tech rental company I worked for from 2005-2015. Because of availability, they closed Orlando right at 2 years ago. But there was an emergency job in Tampa back in March. We reconnected and I let them know our availability was wide open because Ali wasn’t working and Matt needed extra work. Then, in May, Ali and I did enough jobs to replace my first missing teaching paycheck.

Since school’s been out, I’ve been working on a extensive project for the research group. Ali has also started working two out of three part time jobs (the last one finishes training Wednesday). So, it looks like we’re set for covering the missing money, and God gets all the glory for the logistics.

This leaves a bit more time and attention to focus on what I really need to do this summer. You’re probably thinking “read,” but actually no. I need to build some habits that will be sustainable in the fall and lead to more productivity and human flourishing. Specifically, the humans I want flourishing are me and Ali, individually and together.

A big motivation for this is the change from what we had been doing to being more focused on ministry. While it might seem counterintuitive, I’ve always been struck by the way Michael Hyatt suggests ordering your life priorities:

  • God
  • Self
  • Family
  • Work
  • Church
  • Everything Else

I would add friends somewhere in the mix after family and work, but they might be ok in the everything else category. Many people don’t necessarily think that it’s God then me before anyone or anything else. You know, Jesus, then others, then you spells JOY. That’s true to a certain extent, but it depends on how you frame it.

It’s not so much “me” as in “whatever I want,” but “me” as in “what is going to lead to my flourishing so I can lead others in flourishing.” What I’ve realized is that if “me” is framed in terms of consumption, then it won’t work out very well. But, if “me” is framed in terms of production, organization, and health, then it is best to put me first.

The reason for that is that to the extent that I am guarding my own mental, emotional, and spiritual health, to that same extent I’ll be available and able to help and serve others. I think and feel better the more I am exercising. So, rather than it being a vain add-on to a busy schedule, I’ve made it the first thing I do every morning. I’ll explain that a bit more tomorrow, but for now I want to focus on the philosophy of it all.

In a similar manner, if I am not having communal time with God on a regular basis, I won’t really lead others to do the same. I also won’t have much of a walk with God to share about with other people, which won’t particularly encourage them to value that sort of thing.

If I’m not reading regularly, my mind isn’t staying sharp and I’m not as able to think on my toes during Ask Anything Friday’s at school. And, because of my history of reading, I have plenty of mental material to pull on most days teaching. I teach out of the overflow of my own learning, and I think that has proven time and time again to be an advantage.

What I’ve come to see and really believe in is that ministry functions much the same way. It isn’t something you do to fill a void in your own life. And it isn’t giving other people your leftovers at the end of the day. It’s inviting people into the fullness of joy you’re already experiencing and encouraging and helping them imitate you as you imitate Christ.

This is more crucial to discipleship than people often realize. If I am going to disciple someone, I am essentially aiming to reproduce myself, for better or for worse. I’ve thought back over the past years and realized that I think I’ve replicated my strengths as well as weaknesses in guys that I’ve mentored. To some extent that’s not avoidable. But, it’s something to be conscious of, and when those weaknesses are because of inattention or laziness, you can do something about it.

So, when it comes to my time over the summer, there is a fair amount of reading. But, unlike previous summers, I’m more intentionally spending time doing things that will prepare me for what lies ahead in the fall. That does mean being a bit more introverted, but I’m using that introvert time a little differently. I’m obviously spending a bit more time writing, but I’m also trying to reconnect with old friends and get together in more one on one ways with students.

At the end of the day, I’m spending my summer trimming the fat off my mind and body so I’m in better shape for the upcoming school year. Tomorrow, I’ll explain a bit more about that, and also what you should be doing in your morning routine, but might not be.

3 New Books on Evangelism

Last Friday, a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door. Unlike an ambush on Christmas morning a few years back, I saw them coming. I answered the door and the guy introduced himself and his wife, and then starting talking about comfort and read me 2 Cor. 1:3-4.

I mentioned that Ali has these verses tattooed on her back, which was accidentally wrong because its vv. 5-6. But, he then asked if we were religious or something like that, and I was like, yeah I’m a Bible teacher and we work with an on-campus ministry at UCF.

He quickly hit the eject button, offering me a Watchtower pamphlet and vaguely wondering if I might compare it to what I’d been taught. They were then on their way, and within 15 more minutes had canvassed our entire short neighborhood and were gone.

Now, part of me admires their courage in going door to door. I’ve done it before in other countries, and for a several weeks in Manhattan and I hated it. I also didn’t think it was very effective, especially since we’re called to make disciples and not converts.

But, it got me reflecting on evangelism, what works and what doesn’t, and how to pursue it in your personal life. Since I also have 3 recent books I’ve received for review on the topic, it seemed the stars had aligned (which is the subject of another post).

Questioning Evangelism

This is the best book I’ve read on the subject. I read the first edition back while I was at Dallas. Now Kregel has published a second expanded edition  of Randy Newman’s book (and sent me a review copy!).

The first part explains why asking questions is the best strategy. The second chapter leans heavily into Proverbs for biblical basis. The next part comprises 7 chapters that each deal with questions people are asking. Newman hits all the hot topics, and offers sample dialogues in the process. The final part explores the personal side of evangelism and deals with our hearts in the process.

The main thing that is new to this edition is dealing with questions related to Christian stances on homosexuality. That wasn’t as much of an issue when the first edition came out (no pun intended). Much like the other chapters, Newman offers answers not only to the questions posed to Christians, but offers questions we can ask that can help flip the script.

In the end, I think this is what makes the book most helpful. We should be ready to give an account for what we believe and why. But, we should also be able to question others in a gracious manner. I’ve often found that questions can change the tone of a discussion. They can also be a way to get people thinking about their own views as they seek to challenge mine. If you’d like an encouraging read that will help you do that better, you should check this book out!

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out

This book by Alvin Reid was sent to me by B&H. Compared to the previous book, this is more of a general theology of evangelism, with encouragement to people who aren’t keen on it. It’s a kind of demystifying approach that I think can be helpful.

Each chapter deals with a principle, which are helpfully collected on page 119:

  • God created you for his glory, to advance his gospel with the gifts, talents, and opportunities he gave you
  • In order to share Jesus confidently and consistently with others, first share him confidently and consistently with yourself
  • Shifting from giving an evangelistic presentation to having an evangelistic conversation takes pressure off the witness and relates the gospel more clearly to an unbeliever
  • God has sovereignly placed you in this world at this time with the abilities and gifts you have to bring glory to him and show the joy of the gospel to others
  • Effective evangelistic conversations connect the unchanging gospel with the specific issues people face
  • Expect people to be open to the gospel, and learn to share Jesus where they live
  • Talk to the actual person in front of you about the Jesus inside you; let them see and hear the change Jesus makes in you
  • Developing a lifestyle of sharing Jesus consistently flows out of a plan to share Jesus regularly

After the principles, there is an 8 week challenge that readers can use to start living out the principles after reading the book. I think this book would work well in tandem with the previous since it is more of a philosophy and theology of evangelism itself, rather than an extensive look at one aspect (asking and answering questions). It also doesn’t get too far into answering objections, but I think it goes a great length to build confidence and a lay good foundation that will flourish in the future.

Evangelism for Non-Evangelists

If you noticed a trend in books on evangelism, and even in two out of the three I’m mentioning, you’re not wrong. Whether you’re freaking out, or just view yourself as a non-evangelist, most books on the subject are geared for you.

This one by Mark Teasedale, courtesy of IVP, is primarily aimed at teachers and students, rather than the person in the pew. While fairly short (under 150 pp), it is more or less designed to be used as a seminary or Bible school textbook. It is also designed to be used by the broadest range of denominational backgrounds, so most people I think reading this blog won’t find its theological framework helpful.

Compared primarily to the other two, I didn’t find this one as helpful. I wouldn’t use it in my classes, and I wouldn’t have students in SHIFT read it. I would however encourage them to read the other two, and would encourage you to do the same.

Why Are We Raising Support?

In a perfect world, I would have a full-time job in some type of vocational ministry. It’s what I know I am called to do, and it’s what I spent 8 years in school for. And that’s not just my opinion, it’s Dallas Theological Seminary’s as well.

But, we don’t currently live in a perfect world. We live in a world that is being made new, but it hasn’t arrived. Because of that, what should be the case, is not always what is the case. Some of that is because the world is broken. Some of that is because I think God has had us on a different path.

If we rewind 6 years, Ali and I had just moved to Florida after I graduated. Rather than go to whatever church would hire a newly minted Th.M from Dallas to do pastoral ministry, we moved to be closer to her family. There was some restoration that needed to take place, and we felt that was what took first priority.

We also felt that it might be best to find a church in the area and be ministered to for a while before stepping into any kind of leadership role. And along those lines, we thought it might be better to find a church that would need pastoral help down the road and serve faithfully off the books until a need for staffing would arise.

That never actually panned out, in part because of leadership dynamics, and in part because of the church’s financial situation. I wasn’t too bummed at the time because it was becoming more and more obvious it was not a healthy church.

If we rewind to last fall, we had the opportunity to not only look for a new church, but potentially send my resume to churches looking to hire. We had done that back in 2013 and God didn’t open any doors. This time around, we didn’t feel any leading to pursue that option.

The main reason why is that since we’ve been here, we’ve really felt called to minister to students at ICS, the high school where I teach, and the university that’s across the street.

The school is on a university model, which means even though I have taught all the available periods (for the most part the past couple of years), it was only for 3 days a week. That means I am part time, as well as hourly, and only for 10 months out of the year.

Because of that, since 2013, I have had at least two additional jobs that have flexible scheduling (but not always available work). And because of that, Ali has always had to work full-time, which at Panera actually meant at least 40, but sometimes 50 or more hours a week.

While we might both feel this calling to minister to and disciple students, neither of us really had much spare time to do that. And often, the time that was available was more wisely spent on recovering since you need to minister out of an overflow not a deficit (something we learned the hard way a few years back).

This all started to change around this time last year when we first started raising support as missionaries to students in east Orlando. We are crossing a culture in legitimate ways, and are called to a people in a specific geographic location.

Over the past year, that calling has been clarified and refined, and back in March, the opportunity opened up to go on staff with SHIFT. Because of how it is financially structured, being on staff means raising support for income. Would we prefer to have a job that offered its own salary? Sure. But, we feel this is the opportunity that God that has put before us, and so we’re being faithful to what we’re called to do.

Now, there’s a few ways we could go about this. We could aim to raise enough money to quit every other job, and just focus on college ministry. In order to do that, we would need to raise at least $6,000 in monthly investments in our ministry.

That may seem like a lot. But when you factor in the administrative fees and our own personal giving, it actually leaves us with around $4,500 in spendable income. Without being too transparent in our budget, our monthly bills (which are 90% non-negotiable) are $3000. That leaves $1500 a month for food, gas, and anything else that comes up (like savings and incidentals like car repairs).

Trying to be both wise and realistic about this, we decided to not initially aim to raise the entire amount for at least two reasons. First, I want to continue teaching at ICS. We see what we’re doing in college ministry as on a continuum with high school ministry. Second, we would rather have a diversified stream of income, rather than everything coming from support. Getting to $6000 monthly would take several big donors. If they pull out down the road, it’s potentially devastating to the budget.

At present, we’ve also raised just over $1000 in monthly commitments. Since I can’t maintain three part time jobs, teach at ICS, and work with SHIFT in the fall, one of my part time jobs will fall off, and the other two will be reduced to five or less hours a week. That means I’ll be working right around 40 hours when you factor in work with SHIFT and a slightly reduced teaching load compared to previous years. Ali will have two part time jobs that entail about 11 days of work a month, and a third that will have flexible as needed scheduling.

That leaves us hoping to split the difference and raise between $2500-3000 in monthly support by this fall. If we raise less, we have to keep working our side jobs more. If we raise more, we can spend most of our energy reaching and discipling the next generation.

I realize that this is an impersonal call, but I’d like to prayerfully consider partnering with us on a monthly basis. You can do so at this link. Select 102 in the dropdown, fill everything in as requested, and let me know if you have any questions.

While you are supporting our budgetary needs, you are really investing in kingdom work that can be accomplished through two people that have a solid track record living on mission. You’re not helping us, you’re helping them, and we’re just the conduit. The conduit doesn’t need to be gold-plated, but to mix metaphors, it does need to pay the bills to keep the water running. Prayerfully consider whether God might lead you to be part of process of reaching these students in east Orlando.

The Well-Educated Mind: Autobiography and Memoir

Last week, I posted a list of novels from Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind. The next section in her book covers autobiography and memoir, which is a bit more complicated than you might think.

After giving a brief overview of the history of criticism of the genre, Bauer guides readers through the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages of reading. Here are those questions:

Grammar-Stage Reading (129-132)

  • Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
  • What are the central events in the writer’s life?
  • What historical events coincide – or merge – with these personal events?
  • Who is the most important person (or people) in the writer’s life? What events form the outline of that story?
  • Give the book your own title and subtitle

Logic-Stage Reading (132-137)

  • What is the theme that ties the narrative together?
  • Where is the life’s turning point? Is there a “conversion”?
  • For what does the writer apologize? In apologizing, how does the writer justify?
  • What is the model – the ideal – for this person’s life?
  • What is the end of the life: the place where the writer has arrived, found closure, discovered rest?
  • Now, revisit your first question: What is the theme of this writer’s life?

Rhetoric-Stage Reading (137-141)

  • Is the writer writing for himself, or for a group?
  • What are the three moments, or time frames, of the autobiography? (When the events happened, when they were written down, when they were read)
  • Where does the writer’s judgment lie?
  • Do you reach a different conclusion from the writer about the pattern of his life?
  • What have you brought away from this story?

Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated novel list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases (e.g. Gulliver’s Travels) to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.

I’ve gotten through the Augustine’s Confessions, Meditations, a good bit of Ecce Homo but I need to get back on track:

You might be surprised by what’s included and what’s not. Hopefully you’ll notice that many of the inclusions are from African-Americans. For those of us, like me, who are white and grew up in the South, some of these books might be more worth our time than others.

Also, I can’t think of a better way to have a better grip on where race relations are today than by reading some of these stories. I mean, yes, you can also talk to people, but I am speaking as an introvert who wants to do some helpful summer reading. If that’s you as well, why not select a few titles here and have at it?

Our Target in College Ministry

Yesterday, I reflected on what it might look like to do college ministry different. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m ripping off Apple by using an adjective when you “should” use an adverb (my views on grammar are somewhat philosophically radical).

After answering why and how, it’s time for what. As in, “what should the end goal of a college ministry be?”

The short answer is that we are shooting for helping produce mature disciples of Christ who are competent Christian adults. I think this target is actually more or less the same whether the college ministry is in a local church or in a parachurch ministry. The difference would be what part of the end goal you are helping produce.

For instance, SHIFT states its mission this way:

SHIFT’s Mission is to see college students

1.  respond and be transformed by the Gospel;

2.  engage in Biblical community through worshipping and serving with a local church in the area;

3.  share the Gospel with others in a way that’s relevant to their culture; and

4.  lead others to do the same.

Just to unpack this a bit, here’s what I see as required by this mission. In general, a student coming through SHIFT should:

  1. Respond in faith the gospel
  2. Join a local church
  3. Be involved in serving in the local church
  4. Show signs of growing in their faith (the “transformed” component above)
  5. Become equipped in sharing their faith
  6. Develop cultural awareness in several dimensions (pop culture, politics, prevailing philosophies, sports, etc.) in order to speak to the signs of the times
  7. Become a leader of others (peers, but preferably those a stage of life below, so college students able to lead high schoolers, young professionals able to lead college students).

Notice that I inserted the local church connection between “respond in faith” and “being transformed.” That’s because I think the primary arena of Christian discipleship is the local church and that’s where transformation more readily takes place as students are in multi-generational community, hearing the Word preached, and partaking in the Lord’s Supper. Then as they grow, they start to serve in the church and are well on their way to the other phases.

I might go so far as to say I don’t want students involved in a college ministry that aren’t willing to be part of a local church. I also wouldn’t want students who know tips and tricks in evangelism and apologetics, but aren’t developing the virtues in 1 Timothy 3. And I wouldn’t want students who are growing but not living out their faith in away that can connect with others, Christian and not.

In short, the mission all works together. It specifies an end goal, but it also divides the labor between the local church and SHIFT in a way that I think is helpful. It also puts a burden on us to work to facilitate the local church connections to properly outsource what we need to outsource (and vice versa).

When it comes to the actual end goal, we would like to produce more Christian leaders. This is also how SHIFT will grow and develop more moving forward. And it is the one point that probably needs more sub-points unpacking just what a leader entails.

In a sense, in order to lead others, you have to lead yourself well. You have to be going somewhere and know where that is. Otherwise, no one will be interested in following you. This entails a range of competencies, although one shouldn’t think that it necessitates a person who has everything together and no struggles or weaknesses.

While we often tend to cast the qualities of leadership in Christian categories, I think a good bit of actual leadership involves competencies that aren’t distinctly Christian. This is perhaps why it is helpful to read business and leadership books alongside theology books if you want to be a solid Christian leader.

Recently, I saw this as I was reading Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult a few weekends ago. According to his subtitle, he sees a crisis in our culture because of a lack of self-reliance. Now, you can tell in reading his book that he’s not thinking of self reliance in a strictly non-Christian sense. What he means is that young adults are often not able to take care of things themselves that a competent adult could. There is a kind of lapse in development that by its nature prohibits leadership development.

His solution to the problem covers a lot of ground and revolves around 5 themes he unpacks through the course of the book. He takes three chapters to set some context before spending a chapter each on these goals for young adults (8-10):

  1. Overcome peer culture and wrestle with other life stages
  2. Learn to work hard (he says suffering in our work is actually a character building virtue)
  3. Resist consumption (he says consumption is not the key to happiness, production is)
  4. Travel to experience the difference between “need” and “want”
  5. Become truly literate

Going off that last point, it probably goes without saying that leaders are readers, and Christian leaders are first and foremost Bible readers. But, most solid Christian leaders I know are also general readers and so end up being biblically as well as culturally literate. As a result, a big part of what we’d like to do with SHIFT is see an increase in both of those types of literacy.

As I mentioned yesterday, one way of doing this is through Bible studies aimed at developing biblical literacy. Another way may involve book clubs and the beginnings of a study center. Regarding the traveling component, that’s something we’d like to see happen through the student’s local churches as they take advantage of time during the summer to go on mission trips.

For the first three, I think that we will work to help students develop those areas through either monthly or bi-monthly large meetings. We are still thinking through the logistics of that at the moment, so hopefully I’ll have more to share later. But, when we do have larger gatherings (remember we’re staying de-centralized), we want them to be focused on developing cultural and leadership competencies, and so are focused on “adulting” rather than being something that could be confused for a church service.

It is also through these type of events that we can reach non-Christians. While we would want students to invite their non-Christian friends (that they are hopefully making in classes and around campus) to church, we’d also like to be a venue that they can invite them to something “secular” (which isn’t actually, but would be perceived that way).

I realize that’s vague, and so as you might guess, that means we need another post to unpack further. But, the main point is that we are hoping to help students grow into competent Christian adults, and that entails doing college ministry different, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

What If We Did College Ministry Different?

This is a question I’ve been thinking about for over 10 years. Ever since we’ve been in Florida, I’ve been involved with a college ministry at UCF called SHIFT. I’ve also been a high school teacher at a small private school about 20 minutes away.

As far as teaching, I’ve taught 3 classes now from freshmen to seniors. I’ve also seen two cycles of UCF students come in as freshmen, graduate, and adjust to life outside of the school schedule. I’ve seen students in both cycles flourish as well as flounder. And I’ve mostly wondered what could promote the former while diminishing the latter.

Generationally, I’m a millennial, but I prefer the label Generation Y. That’s probably because I like “why” as a question, and I actually think that’s a reason people don’t like millennials (sorry for the hot take there). Part of it is also my analytic personality type (INTJ) that leads me to question traditional methods, especially when they don’t seem effective.

So let’s ask some why questions.

First off, why do college ministry to begin with? Probably because college is a pivotal time in most people’s lives as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. Your identity tends to solidify in the 18-25 range, and for many people, a big chunk of that time is in college (or all of that time if you’re me). College is when teenagers become adults, for better or for worse.

I would like to see college ministry done in a way that helps young adults move through the sink of swim stage of their early 20’s. It can either be done through the local church, or through a parachurch. But, those two venues should have different aims.

So, with that in mind, how should you pursue college ministry?

This is where the different part comes in. The college ministry we are working with, SHIFT, is a parachurch organization. That means that what we do needs to be done alongside the local church (para means beside in Greek).

Too often, college ministries inadvertently replace the local church. If they create their own discipleship structure and have a weekly meeting that includes worship music and preaching, that’s effectively replacing the local church rather than working alongside it. We don’t want to do that.

A big part of that stems from taking a centralized approach, rather than a de-centralized one. In the former, it is about coming to a central location for a meeting that involves everyone in the ministry. It is a “come and see” sort of thing. The weekly meeting is the primary vehicle of engagement and all the activities flow from that central event.

In a de-centralized approach, you may never have a big meeting. SHIFT took this approach last year and rather than relying on a weekly meeting, had three small groups that met in various locations on campus. One was more apologetics based and dug into why Christianity is true. Another wrestled with the dynamics of integrating your faith into your work. And the other was a more traditional girls discipleship Bible study. Here and there all the groups would converge, but the primary avenue of engagement was the small group.

This is what we anticipate continuing into this coming school year. Not those exact groups per se, but the basic commitment to go small and mobile rather than large and inert.

We also want to work to get students plugged into local churches as their primary outlet for growing and serving. In other words, if students have time to volunteer for outreach and mission, we want them doing that in a local church, not through SHIFT.

As far as discipleship goes, I think that is something that takes multiple mentors to accomplish. For that reason, we still see Bible study as something should happen through a college ministry. But, we would see it as not just teaching about the Bible but as about learning to study it for yourself. While this can be caught through quality preaching, sometimes it is better to hash it out in a discussion based format.

As an example, for our summer Bible study in Ruth, it is part teaching Ruth and part learning to ask good questions when you’re reading the Old Testament. It is also a good test case for reading the Old Testament in light of the New since Boaz is literally called a redeemer. Learning to read the Bible well is both science and art, and college is a great time to start the journey.

A last, but not least question is, “what’s the target?”

Imagine a basketball team that used practices exclusively for conditioning drills. Everyone would be in really good shape, but wouldn’t know what to do in an actual game. On the other hand, if you had a team that only did shooting drills all practice, they might all be the next Steph Curry, but they wouldn’t have the endurance to get through a real game. And what if a team just did defensive drills all practice, without any explanation of how they fit into the flow of a game?

College ministries, and even local churches, can make similar mistakes. All the activities that take place as part of a college ministry need to have an end goal in mind. College ministry can’t just be youth group 2.0 (and no offense if your youth group is solid). It can’t feel like its church for your college years. And it can’t waste a bunch of time keeping people busy doing all kinds of “ministry” activities that don’t really lead to seeing people grow in Christ.

So what’s the target?

I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Car Repairs and The Providence of God

On Sunday, I dropped my car off for a much needed oil change. Since it’s on high-mileage now (just under 250,000), I try to space them out as much as possible (within the guidelines). This is tricky because as the car has aged it has acquired a taste for oil. I can’t actually make it between oil changes without adding a quart or two along the way.

I usually have my fingers crossed when I drop it off because it seems just about every summer there is some sort of repair needed. My original Camry was good to me, and only needed routine maintenance until I totaled it just shy of 285,000 miles. This car has been a different story. Lemon is probably a strong word, but whoever had it before me got it off on the wrong trajectory.

During church, in fleeting moment of service, I noticed voicemails from the mechanic. As it was too soon to be ready, I knew this meant something need fixin.

Sure enough, my radiator was leaking. Not being entirely sure if this is a thing you can just ignore (probably not), and having an afternoon to take care of it, I drop the $500 to get it done.

All is well and good until I notice Monday morning that the car is leaking coolant. On a return trip to the mechanic to get the coolant topped back off, I set an appointment to come back Tuesday and see if it might be the water pump (spolier: it is).

Apparently, when the pressure is stabilized by replacing the radiator, other weak spots might give. In this case, it was the water pump, and as is my car’s custom, it couldn’t be replaced without fixing another broken mechanical part (a tensioner that had to be removed to get to the pump). Bottom line: another $500.

On Wednesday, I took a break from visiting the mechanic. But, I noticed the car was now leaking oil instead of its usual habit of burning it internally. Not knowing what that might entail, I decide to wait and see if it is still doing tomorrow (now today). Sure enough it was, and when I called they said they could check it out right away.

Luckily I did because a crankshaft pulley had lost a seal and the metal was scraping through the housing of the timing belt, leading to the oil leak. Had this continued on, it would have eventually ruptured, all the oil would have drained out, and the car would have been dead. An unfortunate third repair this week, and another $700 (I am rounding numbers for your convenience).

Now, would I have noticed this leak if I hadn’t been already vigilant because of the previous repairs?

Probably not.

It is inconvenient (and expensive!) to have to deal with car repairs by the quarter dozen?

Absolutely.

But, better this week, when school is over and I have a work project that I can do in a waiting room. And, better now, when we could go down to one car, rather than earlier in the spring when we couldn’t or later in the fall when that isn’t feasible again.

The bottom line is that after spending more than the value of my car to keep it running, I need to find a new one. But, in God’s providence, I’ve got a couple of months to work all the details out, instead of having a dead car on my hands and need to do something ASAP.

And, as is custom, I can look to how God has taken care of my recent past as a blueprint and promise for how we will take care of our future. Although with the caveat that God is too creative to do the same thing the same way twice.

If you could though, pray for wisdom for us, and for provision. Since Ali quit Panera back in January, she hasn’t drawn a paycheck since early March (her last bonus). I just got my last paycheck for school last week. On paper, we don’t like we have steady income, although that will be different in a couple of months. If we rely on how our support has been payed out, that helps, but it is also coming from a source that has only been paying me for 6 months. We got a great deal on Ali’s car, but that was at the height of her Panera income, so it’ll have to be a different route this time.

In God’s providence, we have time to sort this out, but pray that we’ll be wise with our options and that God will bring the right car at the right time. He’s done it for us twice before, so it’ll be interesting to see how it comes about this time!

Update on Summer, Life, and College Ministry

While the last day of school was May 25th, it feels like summer only really started this week. We did have our end of the year teacher workday last Tuesday, so this is the first week without any school obligations. Although, I am not without a bit of prep and planning to do for the next year.

This completes my 7th year teaching at International Community School, so I’d like to announce that next year I am taking my sabbatical. Just kidding, although my teaching neighbor for the last few years is doing just that, but to focus on being a stay at home mom (and after 11 years, so she’s earned it more than I have).

For me, I’m gonna shift focus away from school for several weeks and do some decompressing. May always takes a bit out of me, socially at least. I’m pretty caught up on reading, so I’m actually gonna catch up on writing instead over the next few weeks. Ali and I are in a new workout routine and will probably make some theme park runs in the near future.

As far as life in general, we just had a new roommate move in, who is starting at RTS in the fall. He’s one of Ali’s brother’s best friends and is a pretty cool guy. In some ways, he reminds me of me 10 years ago: in a new place and about to start seminary. We also had another new roommate move in back in March that graduated from Liberty and is looking to find work at a church in youth ministry. He’s also pretty cool, and we’ve already a few good theological discussions.

Our other roommate Matt, one of my best friends from back in the day in Tennessee, is still living with us as he goes through a divorce. Up until last May, we had been living with him and his wife and a teenage girl they were fostering (not through the system though, long story). We are renting a large house and had been easily able to split the living quarters (upstairs and downstairs) as well as rent.

Relationally, things began deteriorating between the three of them last February, and it culminated in the girl getting kicked out, and the wife abandoning to go be with her the following week. She left without warning and we haven’t seen her since (although Matt has, but only after over 6 months). Obviously, there is a lot more to the story, and it’s still brewing in the background. Matt had lost his dad unexpectedly earlier that year, so it was two back to back losses and he’s had a pretty hard time dealing with it. The trauma we experienced pales in comparison to his.

I only mention all that because it explains what things have been like inside our home for the past year. I don’t often post personal updates, and I don’t want to spend too much time talking about someone else’s story. At the same time, because we lived together, it is part of our story now too. Peace was a struggle but it has come gradually and we are thankful. Matt’s not out of the woods yet, but God’s brought people into his life to share his burdens and be the body of Christ.

In the midst of all this, the decision Ali and I made last summer to start the support raising process and see where God would lead us has culminated in formally coming on staff with a college ministry at UCF. I am still continuing to teach my normal schedule, although without any electives (besides sports journalism, and possibly weightlifting). I plan to continue doing that for the foreseeable future.

Because Ali quit Panera (after almost 11 years) back in January, we’ve been in the process of raising support. We are covered for the summer, but the fall is a question mark. We are a good ways along, but have quite a bit more to go in order to not have side jobs. That means at this point, Ali will be working a couple of part time jobs moving into the fall, and I’ll continue teaching at the school, as well as minimal private music lessons and the editing and research work I do.

We are hoping to take advantage of the two less busy months and spend as much time planning for the fall as we can. Planning in the financial sense (raise monthly support), as well as missional sense (how SHIFT will do para-church ministry in the fall). We are also trying out a summer Bible study to see if that’s helpful for students that are incoming freshmen as well as those still around in the summer. And, we need to solidify leadership and other back-end things that I won’t bore you with right now (but might if you ask later).

I’m looking forward to the change of pace, but am also not kidding myself about how much juggling is in our future. There is less of that the sooner we meet our August 1st goal of monthly support. In the coming days, I’m going to be processing some thoughts about our ministry on here. We are taking a step of faith by losing a primary source of income in order to pursue our calling. If that’s something you’d like to invest in, do not hesitate to contact me (and I might contact you before you know it).

In the meantime, I hope to get back in the writing groove, live without an alarm for a few weeks, and enjoy some much needed rain here in central Florida.

2017 Reading Challenge: April Update

This month, I feel like I did a decent job of diversifying my reading. That trend will probably continue going into the summer, although May is gonna be a little crazy.

I added 13 books this month, which is back closer to January and February, with 12 of the 13 hitting categories in the challenge. That also means I hit 50 for the year. Most of these I read cover to cover this month, but a few (you’ll notice them) are much longer and it just happened that I finished them in April.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (a book about current events)

Here’s what I already wrote on Rod Dreher’s book.

Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels (a book about theology)

This was another part of my pre-Easter reading. I’ve got a post in the works about how this fills in a significant lacuna in another semi-controversial book that just came out. I’ll keep it ambiguous until then.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (a book about history)

I don’t often read brief histories of humankind. Much less do I read radical gay vegan takes on it, that go where only Nietzsche and Foucault dreamed of going. Yuval Noah Harari is probably a presuppositional apologetist’s best friend because he starts with atheism and then consistently traces out how it would apply to the human species and their cultural products and practices. I need to trace that out more, and hope to do so soon.

The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Courses (a book recommended by a friend)

You may notice an uptick in beer related reading, but I’m not quite ready to explain why. Let’s just say it is actual research, and also attempting to understand one of life’s simple pleasures.

An Anomalous Jew: Paul among Jews, Greeks, and Romans

If Michael Bird writes a book, I’ll probably read it and tell you about it. I need to do a more formal review of this one, so I’ll wait and tell you more then!

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (a book of your choice)

I spent the better part of Easter weekend finishing this up and it is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I would highly recommend wrestling with Fleming Rutledge’s work. While it is a theology book, it is conversational in tone and culturally saavy in references and anecdotes. In other words, this isn’t your typical 600 page theology book. I wouldn’t say I quite agree with everything she wrote, and this post from Andrew Wilson explains a good bit why.

Know Why You Believe (a book about apologetics)

I’ve got a review of this third volume in the KNOW series from Zondervan in the works. It also made for a great read during Easter weekend.

The Triunity of God (Vol. 4 in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics) (a book you have started but never finished)

This represents finishing Richard Muller’s massive study in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. I can’t really summarize my thoughts here, but I can let you know that an updated version of this series is coming out soon(ish) that will include two new volumes. If you’ve thought about getting them, wait until then (because $500 on Amazon is not worth it)

Reformed Dogmatics Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation (a book your pastor recommends)

When I graduated Dallas in 2011, I got Bavinck’s four volume Reformed Dogmatics. I would wish that everyone who fancies themselves a theologian would take the time to work through these volumes. Maybe not drag it out as much as I did, but if you read one multi-volume systematic, make it this one.

Paul and His Recent Interpreters (a book you own but have never read)

This was originally going to be part of N. T. Wright’s fourth volume in the Christian Origins and The Question of God series (otherwise known as PFG). But, it became its own volume and came out later. I got a review copy from Fortress, so I’m going to share more in a seperate post.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (a book about Christian living)

I did a write up on this for Christ and Pop Culture, if you’re a member, you can get it for free!

This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (a book for teens)

Once again, I’ll have more to say on this one in a review. But for now, it has become a late addition to my textbooks for next year but it was written by an 18 year old girl and it makes good on the promise in the subtitle.

Reality Is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity (a book of your choice)

I’m not sure I can actually explain where I’m at on this one. On the one hand, it is supposed to be a popular level physics book. On the other hand, I had a hard time understanding it and people tell me I’m smart. I think it might be because of how much of a paradigm shift it is (time and space don’t exist the way you think they do). But, as I’m about to embark on an Interstellar re-watch, I’ll have more thoughts down the road I imagine.