Cross-Shaped Part 1

Disclaimer: All dialogue is based on my best recollection and could not possibly be word-for-word exactly what was said. But it’s dang close. Unfortunately, I do not record every conversation I have and my memory is that of a thirty-eight year-old with poor diet and exercise habits. Keep this in mind.

Eastern-Mennonite-UniversityThe college chaplain at Eastern Mennonite University knows his students better than I. So he prayerfully chose the sermon he felt students needed to hear most. It was on the subject of salvation, what we’ve been saved from (sin, separation, death) and some of what we’ve been saved for (participation in God’s will being accomplished on earth as it is in heaven).

99% of college chaplains ask me to talk about this. Why?

They fear – with good reason – that many of their students have a one-dimensional faith. Students, like the rest of us, have heard much more about being saved from hell than being saved for a life of purpose. And this leaves them lopsided. And so I come on campus for the purpose of affirming salvation by grace through faith in Jesus alone, and exploring with them how they might participate in God’s plan to see His “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

But things are different at EMU.

Before walking onto the stage to kick off Spiritual Life Week, I tried to take the spiritual pulse of the campus by asking the chaplain a few questions. He said his students are required to serve the poor. They take trips overseas. They take classes in peacemaking and justice. “They have a robust Christian ethic,” he said. “But many of them do not have a relationship with Jesus.”

I must have looked bewildered because he chuckled. “So different from what I’m used to,” I confessed.

Upside down.

I was being asked to preach an evangelistic sermon to a gathering of Christians.

So I did.

I preached that humankind is sinful and deserving of death and separation from God. I preached that God so loved us all that He put on skin and came to our rescue. Though innocent, Jesus was crucified, suffered the death and separation I deserved. Three days later He lived again, walked out of His tomb, defeated separation and death so that I could receive life now and everlasting, in relationship with God.

And then I moved on to what we’ve been saved for, Jesus in us doing through us the very work He did while on earth – work that proved God to be loving, compassionate and powerful. And I closed by asking students who hadn’t yet found that kind of work for themselves to trust Compassion International and sponsor a child. I told them that sponsoring a child through Compassion is both telling and showing a child the love of Jesus.

What happened next was surprising. The students in chapel sponsored the smallest number of children – by percentage – that I’ve seen in six years of speaking on Compassion’s behalf. No one stuck around afterward to visit with me either. No “thank you.” No questions about Compassion’s ministry model, financial integrity, how I liked Virginia so far or the cafeteria food…nothing.

I knew something had gone horribly wrong. I didn’t yet know what.