On campus with George

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I am coming to you from the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.  At the moment I’m enjoying some Kaldi’s at Kayak Coffee on the corner of Skinker and Forest Park.  I’m on a two day visit to my GFM staff here in St. Louis.  I just spent a full day with George Stulac yesterday.  Here was the line-up:

11:00 Coffee with Abram Van Engen – Assoc Professor of English.  We talked about Abram’s work with the Carver Project and ways InterVarsity GFM can collaborate effectively with it.  George has been very instrumental in building a network of Christian faculty members at Wash-U.

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12:00 Lunch with Taylor Cyr, a new instructor in the philosophy department (on the right in the pic above).   Taylor and his family are new to Wash-U and the St. Louis area.  He’s also a fairly new PhD teaching and researching in a non-tenure track program.  George met Taylor at a lecture on campus, found out he is a Christian and struck up a friendship with him.  It’s so fun to see George in action with his relational and pastoral gifts.

1:30 Back to George’s place for a conversation with Will Chu – Area Director for the undergraduate IVCF work in Missouri.  Conversation was about collaboration between undergrad and graduate/faculty work.  I’ll have to write more on this later, but a huge are of concern for my role is keeping our two broad ministry divisions in effective partnership on campuses we share.

3:00 Over to Forest Park Community College for a gathering with faculty for bible study and prayer.  Two professors in IT/Cyber Security met with George, caught up and spent time praying about some looming challenges in their departments.

6:00 Dinner with George and his wife Barbara.  Catching up with how the Stulac family is doing, care for aging parents, kids, grand-kids.

Around the edges

Every time I travel, I’m asking the question, how can I “enjoy the ride?”  Things that make travel more enjoyable are things like:

  • good coffee
  • time with friends and family in the area (Thanks Joel and Katrina, Steve and Lisa for good rest and time catching up with you).
  • making the most of being out of town:  I’ll be traveling through Columbia on my way back to Omaha tomorrow.  Hoping to stop in and say hello to one of the local undergrad IV staff members at Mizzou.  We have no GFM work at Mizzou
  • more good coffee
  • a rental car that doesn’t leave me smelling like an ash-tray.  This time I got a KIA Soul.  The best KIA – it’s a small car that actually feels comfortable to sit in!  Thanks Enterprise.
  • fun texts from my family and Poppy pics and videos!
  • A chance to catch a few interesting photographs – gonna go on a prayer walk with George later this afternoon.  Have to see if something catches my eye.  Wash-U is a beautiful campus!

The rest of my day…

Lunch with a Wash-U graduate interested in a year of volunteer staff on his way to grad school.  Another conversation with George talking about his Annual Ministry Plan for 2018/19.  Dinner with a bunch of Wash-U graduate students over at Ryan and Keli Weed (two other GFM staff here in St. Louis).  I’ll crash tonight with my family here in St. Louis and head back to Omaha tomorrow morning.

Off to Iowa next week!



Bad Company at Cedar Campus

What? They want me to be the speaker-guy at Family Camp? In my former days with InterVarsity it was a very big deal to be invited to be the expositor for a week of camps at Cedar Campus. For a couple of years before I left IV staff in 06 I got to be on the teaching team for Chapter Focus Week. A group of staff would meet and prepare the same expository series happening at multiple sites, multiple weeks throughout the summer.

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Aaron’s first trip to Cedar Campus was May 1993!

My assignment this summer was expositor for Family Camp – Week 4. We jumped on the opportunity as a family to go. I jumped on the opportunity to do a Jesus series and continue developing Bad Company. Check out the previous post if you’re wondering why I’m so excited about the theme of Jesus and Rejection. Here’s a quick snapshot of where the series went:

  1. Sunday: Homeboy Rejected – Jesus nearly stoned at Nazareth, Luke 4
  2. Monday: Un-follow Me? -Many of Jesus’ disciples opt out after tough message, John 6
  3. Tuesday: Power Clash – Jesus rejected by religious power systems, Mark 12
  4. Wednesday: Jesus Saves…Not! – Jesus turns away a prime candidate, Mark 10
  5. Thursday: Rejected Victor – Jesus the Suffering Servant, Isaiah 53

This is a very deep, untapped source of Jesus story-telling. I selected these five rejection narratives as an onramp to an audience of people very familiar with Jesus stories. We know many of these stories well.  But they aren’t the ones we usually use in telling the Gospel. I think that’s a huge problem. And I think we can change that. People struggling with belief in Jesus are longing to hear something other than felt need as the rationale. I’m afraid consumerism is about to burn itself out as a vehicle for the Gospel.

Where is Bad Company headed?

Look for Bad Company articles to float through the blog now and then. I’ll be eventually off-loading Bad Company to its own tab on this site. There are so many rejection stories to explore – each one packed with new challenges for Christians on mission in an intensely consumerist context. I keep telling friends I’d like to develop Bad Company into a book! But meanwhile, jump in with your thoughts about Jesus and Rejection. Am I really onto something legit?


“Jesus is that huge kid at the other end of your teeter-totter. What are you going to do when your will to follow is out of scale with Jesus’ identity claims?” A diagram here and a few application questions in light of Jesus’ own followers opting out (John 6). Becoming a disciple integrates belief and the will to follow. When disciples couldn’t grasp the implications of Jesus’ identity claims, their will to follow flagged. Today many have the opposite problem. They’ll just fake the beliefs and do what it looks like Christians have to do to fit in.

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Following Bad Company Jesus is soooo much harder. And so much more rewarding. I dare you to try it yourself. More to come.

Die on the Vine? Explode on the Vine!

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Ever had one of those moments when your brain latches onto a new idea? Or a new course of action? Something new just grabs your attention and won’t let go. When I was a kid and first discovered windmills, I was obsessed. I wanted so badly to build my own small scale windmill to match the one on my grandparents’ farm. What would it take to actually make one? Where could I get some sheet metal? How could I cut it out, put it together and make it work?

Little by little, I stopped thinking about windmills. I stopped noticing them everywhere. Stopped scheming about building one of my very own. I moved on to airplanes. I never looked back.

die on vine

Highly addicting dictionary for word-nerds like me.

Sometimes however, that idea or plan just won’t leave you alone no matter how much you ignore it. Let me introduce you to Ecaballium Elaterium. Otherwise known as The Squirting Cucumber! Ever seen one? Far from dying on the vine, this weird plant has seed-pods that actually explode when they get bumped, pinched, plucked or chewed by an unsuspecting herbivore.

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The seeds erupt from their pod at speeds up to 60 miles per hour! Each pod spits out 20-40 seeds like a vegetarian machine-gun! Here’s the most fun, least worthy-of-your-time video you’ll encounter online. The squirting cucumber video – from Earth Unplugged. Before I completely lose my reader, why in the world am I talking about exploding cucumber seed pods? Here’s the back story…


Two and a half years ago I was teaching a class while on staff at Christ Community Church. It was for seekers, skeptics and the unconvinced. The pilot for my idea was a series I designed for my crowd that paralleled a church-wide adventure in the book of Exodus. Our lead pastor was teaching through Exodus in the weekend messages. I was taking my tribe through what I called Exodus for the Unconvinced. Each week we presumed unbelief and explored all the critical problems we could find. This is about when the squirting cucumbers started sprouting in my garden!

After Exodus for the Unconvinced, I started writing material for a new study in the Gospels. What would happen if I took the same approach from Exodus and applied it to the book of Mark or John? What would a skeptic see looking at the public ministry and teaching of Jesus – if viewing the NT documents strictly on their narrative merit? I was surprised what people actually noticed. It was different than what the eyes of the already convinced typically see. Different. And better – for skeptics!

I had always felt the pressure to make sure people see the incredible healing miracles of Jesus. Skeptics need to get it – how someone claiming to wield that kind of power always used it in such selfless ways. People with great power today are far from selfless in its use. I was equally adamant that unconvinced seekers really need to hear what Jesus taught – the brilliance and uniqueness of his message.

Jesus got rejected… a lot!

People started noticing Jesus’ actual lack of popularity. He absolutely refuses to be slick – to the point of repeated rejection from audience after audience. I’d want people to notice how he chose to heal a man’s hand in the synagogue. Skeptics weren’t that impressed with the display of compassion. They were struck by Pharisees who were plotting Jesus’ death! And why would Jesus’ own hometown want to lynch him on his first day of public ministry among them? Why the intense rejection? If Jesus were sooooo powerful, why didn’t he use his power in ways that would guarantee belief? If the Gospels were mere legend, why put the hero at the mercy of people who didn’t care about miracles even when they witnessed them?

The idea that just won’t die is this: The believability of Jesus’ identity claims rests more on his suffering and rejection than on his crowd-making miracles and compassion. The miracles don’t need to be taken out of the story – they just don’t carry the whole weight of what Jesus was attempting to do. Taking the unconvinced by the hand and showing them the theme of Jesus’ rejection is actually more attractive than constantly showing them how Jesus met felt needs. Everything else in a consumer culture is trying to prove it can meet a felt need. Jesus has to be doing something more consequential than that in order to keep getting rejected like he does.

Commercial Church Jesus

The impression most get from commercial church today is that Jesus is the thing you need for what is hurting you most about life. Most “industry best-practice” evangelistic communication skilfully stages Jesus between a seeker and his or her felt needs. Felt-need consumerism. It works. All you have to do is throw in the right coercive emotional word-picture and people will respond right on cue!

The Jesus of the New Testament is larger and different than the specially formulated one branded for the unconvinced. There’s something freeing about helping seekers unhook from commercial Christianity and connect more directly with Jesus through simple bible reading. Jesus for the Unconvinced became a new channel to explore an unfiltered Jesus. Each week my hunch got stronger. “Stop pitching the therapeutic Jesus. Seekers need to see the Suffering Servant. Stop hiding the disconnect between the power of Jesus and the suffering of Jesus.” It wouldn’t leave me alone. Solving that disconnect with the help of my unconvinced friends was a challenge that wasn’t dying on the vine over time. It was exploding on the vine. Like a comical squirting cucumber! The rejection of Jesus is more compelling than what we would call a successful public ministry. A crucified Messiah has to be taught somehow without poisoning the well with consumerism.