Caring for Those Struggling
My wife and I have been serving in pastoral leadership for more than three decades now, most of which has involved students, specifically college-age adults. Of the many things I have learned about people, there is one thing that has remained constant: people have hurt. Pain comes in many forms -- physical, emotional, relational, and financial, to name a few. All too often, people hide their pain behind the mask of a hopeful smile or by denying reality. The truth is, people around us are going through overwhelming circumstances.
I recently received a text from a student who suffered trauma in her past. Through a leadership session she recently participated in at NU, she realized she needed to process her experience to become a fully functional and healthy leader. One of her discoveries included realizing that people who have suffered abuse frequently become people-pleasers to the point that they work incessantly to prove their worth and value. Of course, we know our value must be found first in our relationship with Christ, and no amount of work will change that fact. As a result of realizing this dynamic in her own life, she identified and shared some new boundaries and habits she is implementing to help create better rhythms for her future.
The apostle Paul offers explicit instruction regarding how we are to care for those who are struggling. He writes, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves” (Galatians 6:2-3). This verse is such a good reminder for me. I often get busy and quickly forget the time and investment it takes to get behind someone's mask and care about their pain. There are also times I have thought I was too important to deal with someone's presenting need.
Elsewhere, Paul tells us to “encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). In the context of a caring, hospitable community, how do we best serve people who are hurting? Let me start by saying, we should never underestimate the power of prayer. It doesn’t matter if your prayer includes a hand on the shoulder, a written card, or a text. We are people of prayer, and prayer always brings hope. A hospitable community is also a community which helps people in tangible ways. I am so grateful for the number of people who have received benevolent help at NU. Members of our community make sacrificial contributions as a gesture of support to those who are hurting. Recently, four students received support to fly to the funeral of another student whose mother passed away suddenly. They desired to be present for their friend's funeral service to provide support and comfort. Being present is a great way to show support to those in need. Communicator and author Bob Goff wrote in his book Love Does, “I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them”. As much as technology, social media, and other modern forms of communication have helped us, none of that can replace the presence of a caring, hospitable friend.
Lord, please hear the prayers of those who are struggling. I pray miracles will occur in the lives of those who need to witness the power of your hand and the love of a grieving heavenly Father. Speak to the hearts of your people so that we will be more aware of those around us in pain. Help us understand that we play an essential part in answering the prayers of people who are in need. Amen.
This past week, we completed our first full week of classes on the Kirkland campus of Northwest University. We had many activities to help people make new friends and reconnect with past ones.
While working at my desk on Monday, I felt the Holy Spirit say to me, go for a walk and find out who's new. So I closed my computer, got up from my desk and went out looking for people. I came across a mom who spent two extra days on campus saying goodbye to her daughter because she is struggling with her transition to college. I passed some students with earbuds in their ears and their heads down, and for those people, I offered an extra loud, "I'm so glad you are here!" I might have startled them a little. I said hello to a professor whom I have not seen all summer, and I saw many others as well. I walked the campus with my head up, my phone put away, and a hospitable smile on my face.
Hospitality is not only a tremendous Christian value, but it is a mark of good leadership. Paul said, overseers (leaders) are to be above reproach, faithful to their spouses, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, and hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2). In Jesus’ day, religious leaders focused on the insiders. Insiders where people of influence and means who got ahead through networking. But Jesus focused on those on the margins. If Jesus walked this campus today, I think a question he would ask himself is, “Who’s new that I should meet?” Author and poet Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. The impression we leave behind us is so important to people and is often the baseline for determining a hospitable organization. They may be hard to codify, but how we feel about something is one way of measuring credibility.
If you are a person who cares about hospitality and how people feel, start by being present. If people do not have access to you, they will never know you. Recently, I attended a large conference with over 25,000 people in attendance. The speaker for the opening session was the leader of the organization. Most leaders who lead a large organization are whisked away by bodyguards at the end of a session. This leader was at the main exit door, thanking people for coming as they left the building. Hospitable people are also strategic when they engage with people. While talking to a new person, they may ask themselves, "How can I help make this person feel better about their experience?" Often, people don't know where to go for information, they don't know who to ask, and sometimes they don't know that they need help. A hospitable person will be prepared to offer help, answer a question, and be ready to speak life into a person who may need a comforting word or encouragement.
Lord, give us strength by your Spirit to engage with those who need to be encouraged. Many are in a new environment and feel alone and unsure. I pray that a spirit of hospitality will come upon us, so we can make a difference for someone who needs to feel embraced. Amen.
As we approach the end of August, I am surprised how fast summer has gone, while at the same time excited for new opportunities this fall. Whenever I am preparing for something new, I feel urged towards prayer. For the past few days, I have been praying some bold prayers!
Often when we pray, we minimize our prayer requests. Hesitancies fill our minds: Do I really believe God will hear this prayer? What if He doesn't answer? Is what I am asking for really what God's will is? Doubt can come into our spirits and derail us from the prayer God wants to hear. I admit, I also have those questions and even doubt, but the Holy Spirit has challenged me not to pray prayers that come from small dreams. Small dreams do not give us big things to pray for. Prayers based on small dreams have no need for God, because they are within our human reach.
I have also been challenged not to rationalize what is and isn’t possible with God. Rationalizing gets me into trouble because it defines the boundaries of my prayers. We pray rational prayers so that if God does not answer, we can cover it on our own. When we rationalize our prayers, God has already been edged out of our plans and dreams.
Jesus said in John 14:14 that we can ask anything in His name, and He will do it. The "anything" must be within the boundaries of God's character and will. But the main point of the passage is for our prayers to be bold, confident prayers. In The Necessity of Prayer, E.M. Bounds said, "No principle is more definitely enforced by Christ than that prevailing prayer must have in it the quality which waits and perseveres, the courage that never surrenders, the patience which never grows tired, the resolution that never wavers." Over the past few days, I have been making a bold prayer list, and I have enjoyed hearing the request of others who are taking up the charge to pray boldly.
What are your “big dream prayers” today, this week, this month, this year? Write them down in a place where you will read them often, pray for them, dream them, and ask God to do something you otherwise thought was impossible. If we ask Him, He will answer!
Lord, first, and foremost, we lay our plans, dreams, ideas, and thoughts before You. Put in our hearts big dreams that move Your kingdom forward and place us in a position where we are uncomfortable with normal living. Make this year at NU one that we never forget, because you moved and provided in ways that we otherwise thought were impossible. Amen.
Phil Rasmussen, VP of Church Relations and Campus Ministry
I love God's Presence
As a follower of Jesus, Pastor, and worship leader I’ve noticed myself talking, preaching, and singing a lot about loving God’s presence and being in God’s presence. I think the intention and heart is awesome but the implications and thinking can be dangerous, causing me to miss out on what God has for me.
In short what I mean is that God may not be as interested in us getting into His presence as much as He is interested in getting His presence into us. It’s a theme throughout the whole of Scripture. There is this forward progression throughout Bible of God doing everything He can to get closer and closer. It started with walking with God in a garden, then moved to traveling with God in a tent, then to meeting with God in a temple, then to God meeting with us in flesh in Jesus. But even when we thought it could not get better and that God could not get closer, Jesus said that it was better that His followers didn’t have His physical body meeting them but rather has His indwelling presence: His Spirit in them and with them (Jn 16).
A woman once talked to Jesus about meeting with God in special, physical places. They talked about where the best place was to get in God’s presence. Jesus responded to her saying that the time has come when worshiping at this or that place won’t be the priority but worshiping in spirit will be (Jn 4). This conversation seems pretty similar to the way we talk about loving being in God’s presence.
Typically when i hear talk about loving God’s presence, people are alluding to worship songs and services. I say things like “Don’t you just love God’s presence? Don’t you want God’s presence? You can sense God’s presence here.” We get it a lot from the Psalms where David cries out for, pants for, longs for, and loves God’s presence (i.e. Ps. 42, 73, 84). But David, and the other writers of the Old Testament, in all of the intimacy that they had with God still longed for what God has given to His people now (Joel 2, Isa 44, Ez 37). God has given something so much better than needing to get into His presence.
My love for being in God’s presence can and has created a need to “get into God’s presence” in physical spaces and moments (which can be good). But the distortion of that love for God’s presence is that I completely miss the fact that God has done everything to get His presence into me already. I say “I love being in God’s presence” yet neglect His presence in me for most hours of the day. Doesn’t that seem like a contradiction? Even worse than a contradiction it’s a bad trade. Why live needing to go somewhere to get something you has already been given? I’ve watched it time and time again where I and people I care about feel a need to go to a place, or a song, or a moment and forget that I already have a Person who has come into me.
Please know me well enough to understand my heart. I love singing worship songs and participating in Church gatherings. There is a unique sense of God’s presence that happens only when His people gather together. My life has been changed because of it. I’m all for that. I’m all about that. I won’t stop being a part of that and helping others do the same. My point here is that I have seen in my own life a subtle, dangerous belief that causes me to miss out on what God has for me. The Bible tells a story of God getting closer and His presence getting nearer. How much more could we want?
What hasn’t God done to get His presence into us? What hasn’t He given? How else could He say lI love you and want to be close to you and want to never leave you”?What if we took seriously the fact that God is closer than a building, better than a song, and more special than a service? What if we really believed that right now we have His attention and He is closer than we can imagine? God is interested in us getting into His presence, but what if God is even more interested in getting His presence into us?
I love being in God’s presence, but I love God’s presence being in me even more.
-Christian Dawson, Campus Pastor
I had an extraordinary thing happen to me this week. I don’t usually dream, or at least I don’t usually remember them, but this week, not only did I dream, but I imagined a portion of Scripture. The dream came out of Luke 13:7-11. I pictured Jesus invited to dinner with a prominent leader. Others were at the dinner as well, but they wanted to be noticed by the leader, so they strategically positioned themselves at the table. Then I heard Jesus say, “Don’t position yourself in such a way to be noticed, because you might be embarrassed if you are sitting in someone else’s seat. It is far better to be invited to a place of honor rather than position yourself and end up humiliated”. I woke up the next morning with a surreal feeling. What came next was what made it so amazing!! Without realizing what passage my devotional would lead me to read, I spent the next several minutes in prayer and reading. The verses that I had just dreamt about was the same passage I ended up reading the very next morning. Basically, I dreamt the scripture that God was going to lead me to read. Let me just say, God got my attention!
It is likely the Holy Spirit did not speak this to me so that it would become a devotional thought for others. Rather, he did this because he is working in me and I need to listen. At the same time, I feel that it might be agood thought for our community as well. This passage in Luke becomes even more impactful in the Message version: “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself”.
For me, God has challenged me in a couple of ways. First, I need to make sure I stay in my lane. In other words, I want to do what God has called me to do, no more and no less. Second, I want to be the best me I can be. With God’s Spirit working in us, our lives can make a difference as we walk in humility before him.
Jesus, I pray that you will help us to walk humbly before you today. I pray that your spirit will continue to work in us individually and throughout our community. Help us prefer one another and show deference as we continue to build a life-giving community at Northwest University. In Jesus name, Amen.
-Phil Rasmussen, VP for Church Relations and Campus Ministries
Press in to Prayer
Recently, while reading my Bible, I spent a few minutes in a familiar passage from Luke 1:5-25. If you haven’t recently read it, I encourage you to spend a moment to be reminded of the birth of John the Baptist. Zachariah was John’s father and his mother was Elizabeth, who was also the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both Zachariah and Elizabeth were beyond the age of child bearing, so the birth of John was a miracle to begin with. God had a plan for them that went beyond what they could see at the present moment. Zachariah spent extended time in prayer in the temple, seeking a word from the Lord. Through that experience, God provided what seemed to be the impossible. Beyond the miracle, God used Zachariah and Elizabeth to fulfill his purpose of preparing the way for Jesus.
In a recent conversation with a pastor friend, he told me a story of his son who recently graduated from college. He had a job opportunity ready for him, but it was not the perfect situation. In conversation with his dad, he asked his son if he had prayed about the job before taking it. The son decided to take a week and focus his prayer on this job opportunity. After the week was over, he felt the job was not right and declined taking the job. One week later, another job opportunity came up. This job had better pay, a better working environment, and it utilized the exact degree skills he had acquired in college.
What is your impossible situation? Maybe God is waiting for you to press in a little more in prayer. Perhaps God’s plan is to prepare you for something you could not imagine.
Jesus, help us to seek you first in all things and fully trust you for the outcome. Lord, you have a purpose and a plan for each one of us that is often bigger than we can see right now in our present situation. Help us believe for great things into our future. In Jesus name, Amen.
-Phil Rasmussen, VP for Church Relations and Campus Ministries
Letter Since Las Vegas
In light of the shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, I wrote and read a letter to our community at Northwest about how I believe Followers of Jesus should handle tragedy…
Weeks like this are hard for us. They are hard because we care. We care deeply for the needs and hurts of the world. We hurt with those who hurt. We weep with those who weep. I wish I had a comfortable answer with why God allows tragedies like this to happen. I have come to see that God does allow things to happen that He does not enjoy. When I think about evil things that happen in the world, I get frustrated and wonder what God will do about it. But then I am reminded of what He has already done.
God, in Jesus, did not merely dislike or disapprove of violence, murder, and evil, God took it on Himself. Jesus subjected Himself to violence and pain and suffering and evil. He took it head on. He knows what it’s like. What seemed to be a tragedy and foolishness to the world actually became a great victory. That is our hope. Now, I am not asking us to smile and be happy while this madness is going on in the world. I am calling us to weep with those who weep. But weep well.
Weep knowing that there actually is hope. A hope that says Jesus the Christ has taken on evil and a hope that says one day He will completely rid the world of evil. Weep with the Apostle Paul’s words ringing in your hearts, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” Weep knowing that these things are not good but weep knowing that God can use anything for His good.
I have been asking what type of community we will be. Will be a community who is known by our love for our brother, neighbor, and enemy? Will be a community who weeps with those who weep? Will we be a community who prays better than we post? Let us be a community who follows Jesus well. We have been. We can be. And we must be. So how can we start? Or better said, how do we continue?
There are at least three things that we can do. First off, let’s weep well. Let’s weep with those who weep. Weeping well may mean sending resources and money to those in need.
Second, we study well. We are here at northwest not for ourselves and not for now but for the world and for the future. We are here for more than a degree. We are here for more than a future pay check. So we study. We are here not to acquire things but to become the right sort of people. Let us become great followers of jesus who bring the kingdom of god as psychologists and counselors. Let us become great followers of jesus who bring the kingdom of god to businesses and the work force. Let us become great followers of jesus who bring the kingdom of god to government and policy making. Let us become great followers of jesus who bring the kingdom of god into the classroom, and into the music studio, and on the fields and courts, and in the pulpits, and on the stages, and in the streets, and in our homes. Let us do well here and bring God’s kingdom everywhere we go so that these tragedies happen less and less.
Last and really first, We pray.
Every Monday night from 7:15-8:15 our community meets under the chapel in Amundsen 24 to pray, and we will continue to dedicate that time to pray for the issues going on in our community, our country, and our world. Whenever there is any tragedy going on in the world we will pray on Monday nights.
So right here and right now, let’s pray.
-Christian Dawson, Campus Pastor