FEBA Forever!

Insights from the Forward Edge of the Battle Area

My old blog site is back up here. My first ever blog was May 28, 2008. I called my site “FEBA Forever” because I was using a military metaphor to help launch our college ministry at University State. FEBA stands for “Forward Edge of the Battle Area.” The writers of the New Testament sometimes used such military language, and it’s a helpful way to illustrate the idea of moving forward. In the military, it is not unusual for special reconnaissance assets to operate significantly forward of FEBA. They often operate deep behind enemy lines, but not always in uniform.

Over 4 or 5 years the old blogosphere atrophied from neglect, and I hadn’t posted in years. Now that it’s resurrected, I am reminiscing about how we started with about 8 college students and had a total attendance of 17 at our first open-air meeting on campus. Now we have 3 home churches and well over 100 people involved in the college ministry. The old FEBA site was part of my church’s web, so a disclaimer is in order. Some of the content in the early days was directed to my church (e.g., I name names, use “insider” terms), so it may not always make sense. Nonetheless, I think I’ll repost some of the blogs here for old times’ sake.

Speaking Jesus’ Words

After Israel received the Law at Mt. Saini, after they marched to the Promised Land but refused to enter, after 40 more years of wandering, after an entire generation died in the desert, they stood on the edge of the Jordan River ready to enter the land. The LORD spoke to Joshua before the river crossing for instructions, a pep talk, and a warning. The warning was:

“Never stop reciting these teachings. You must think about them night and day so that you will faithfully do everything written in them. Only then will you prosper and succeed.” (Joshua 1:8)

This lasted awhile. For the next 300 years, the primary leaders of Israel were “Judges.” Now that the people were independent in their own land, they needed oversight. However, they were without powerful prophets like Moses, and they had no king. After Joshua, the Judges reminded them of God’s word but the people often ignored them. By the time of the end of the Judges, people appeared to have forgotten God’s word to Joshua, and they turned to false gods. People forgot the Law and everyone did whatever they wanted. Moral chaos ensued. Civic and family life deteriorated. Everyone did what they thought was right, but nothing worked out. It all stemmed from not taking God seriously—not remembering or living out the words He had given them.

Now, 3000 years later, we have so much more revelation from God. In particular, we have the teachings of Jesus recorded in the gospels. At the last supper, Jesus had a talk with his disciples which sounds similar to what God had told Joshua 1000 years earlier:

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:7-10; emphasis mine)

Have you ever tried to do the right thing but it went terribly wrong? People don’t do what’s obviously wrong in their opinion; they do what they think is right. But our ways are naïve and misguided. After 3000 years of progress we’re not any better than the people of Israel who did whatever they wanted when they forgot God’s words. Jesus point was to stick with his teaching—that’s where things work. But how do Jesus’ “words remain in us?” I think it means knowing what they are and taking them seriously. Like God telling Joshua, Jesus here combines the ideas of staying focused on the word of God and obeying the word of God. Know them, do them. Stay in that space. This is where people are fruitful, God’s love is found, and life works.

College Hack #10: Hire a Coach, aka Faculty Advisor

The desire to succeed has given rise to a new industry of coaching. Life coaches, business coaches, social media campaign coaches, and so on. The concept is simple; find someone who is an expert at what you want to do and pay them a fee to learn the secrets of their success. Have them review your unique situation and provide guidance on how to get from where you are to where you want to be. If you google “coaching” right now the top hits will not be those who work with sports teams, but rather those who offer to mentor amateurs with ideas. They promise to turn your passion into a product, complete with a book, speaking fees, and paid consulting. As I was surfing through the interwebs related to this topic, I realized that I could be making big money coaching students to get into graduate school. Someone even showed me the site of a former professor who quit to coach full time in the area of aspiring university faculty. Her templates for letters involved in applying for positions have become so widely used that she posted a disclaimer that you should not use her exact wording anymore unless you want your query letter to sound exactly like a dozen others the search committee would receive.

Are You a Sending Church?

Pastor Benny's Sermon Now Online at Exponential


Kyle, Benny, Joel, Mark, and Sam at Salem, India in January 2015 (sorry Adam you got cropped out due to a photo composition problem)

Remember my trip to India in January 2015? After we returned, Pastor Benjamin Chellapandian (“Pastor Benny”), of India Gospel League (IGL) came to America during February, 2015 to visit several churches. We invited him to speak at our fellowship. Benny is the Director of Training and Leadership Development for IGL, overseeing about 7,000 church planting pastors in rural India and Sri Lanka, who have collectively planted roughly 70,000 churches over the past 25 years.

Recognizing the value of the vision he was laying out from the book of Acts, we transcribed his sermon and submitted it to Exponential.org to share his wisdom with one of the largest community of leaders committed to the multiplication of faith communities. Today it went live on their site, so rush over to Exponential at http://www.exponential.org/planting-a-sending-church/ and read an excerpt from Benny’s sermon delivered at Xenos Christian Fellowship of Northeast Ohio in February, 2015.

Consider downloading the free eBook Dan Jarvis wrote to describe the church planting efforts of India Gospel League; Commissioned: How God is Changing Lives, Transforming Nations and Involving You.


You are Expendable…

...so die historic

In the most recent Mad Max movie, one war boy blurts out a memorable quote: “If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die historic on the fury road!” (Nux. Mad Max: Fury Road. 2015, Warner Brothers). His confrontation with mortality (he was sick, and thus in need of a blood transfusion from Max) reminded him that we all die eventually, and he wanted to do something “historic” along the way.


Start ‘em Young

In a future blog, I intend to discuss the unique opportunities and challenges encountered during adolescence. I’ve taught on this twice in the last six months, but my thinking is not quite finished. In my research, I’ve come across a number of blog posts and resources on the ages of the disciples. The best one in terms of original sources is probably Ray Vander Laan.[i] Generally, these sources argue that 11 of Jesus’ disciples were teenagers (the exception being Peter). Here’s the evidence;

  • Temple Tax. In Matthew 17, Jesus and Peter were asked to pay the Temple tax. According to Jewish regulations, men 20 and older were required to pay the Temple tax. Apparently, the other disciples were exempt, suggesting that they were not yet 20.
  • These little ones. In Matthew 10, Jesus says “…if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (NIV) The word for “little ones” essentially means “kids.” Why would he call his disciples kids unless they were young?
  • The Bachelors. When a boy reached 18, they generally got married. Peter had a mother-in-law (Matthew 8). No other wives are mentioned, so the disciples may have been under 18.
  • Rabbinical Education.[ii] In Jewish culture of the first century, formal schooling ended at about age 15. Some boys would be apprenticed to a trade or would be selected by a Rabbi at about age 15 to formally disciple them. Jesus’ disciples appeared to have been engaged in their various trades (rejected from “Rabbi University?”) when Jesus called them. This puts their ages at roughly 15-17.

According to this circumstantial argument, other than Peter (married, 20 or more years old), all of Jesus 12 disciples may have been teenagers. Obviously discipleship can happen at any age, and the ages of Jesus’ disciples are not critical to any systematic theology. However, this does raise interesting implications for the church. Even if you accept that adolescence now stretches into the mid-20’s (“adultlescence”), these years would appear to be the most natural and appropriate for discipleship. What is typical in the American church is to cram all the youth into a rumpus room with pizza to entertain and distract them, combined with fun activities and short teachings. When they leave for college, most churches just release them all with no plan. After all, their addresses are going to change every 3 months and they don’t have any money, so ministry to college-aged people is not a priority. Jesus appears to have had a very different approach, strategically enrolling teens in a very intense and serious discipleship relationship.

[i] Ray Vander Laan has a Master’s degree from Westminster seminary in Philadelphia. He is a scholar in the area of Jewish studies and Israel. His site is www.thattheworldmayknow.com

[ii] See also https://kbonikowsky.wordpress.com/2008/08/20/jesusdisciplesateenageposse/

Biblical Vocabulary

Can you think in “Bible?”

In college Hack #5, I argued that factual knowledge precedes skill. I used the metaphor of language. You can’t think in German if you didn’t learn the vocabulary. I was reminded of this recently when talking to a student who had spent a year in Japan. By the end of his study abroad, he was having dreams in Japanese. He told me he spent an entire weekend recently watching Japanese language TV without subtitles, just to get to where he could think again in Japanese. I think this is a good metaphor when it comes to understanding how God thinks. What’s your Bible vocabulary?

Living in the Future of College Ministry

Review of Stephen Lutz’ new ebook


Go read Stephen Lutz’ new ebook The Future of College Ministry. It’s short (10,000 words and 30 pages), free, and insightful. The first third is an update of his 2010 book College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture, in which he re-examines his earlier predictions. The next section presents competing metaphors for understanding how college ministry will respond to the challenges and threats developing and anticipated. The final section is a list of the 7 points of greatest vulnerability for college ministries, with corresponding suggestions for becoming “antifragile”—which he defines. I’m not going to give away any of the content at all. I’ll restrict myself to this cursory glance at the structure, because you should read the book yourself. What part of short and free didn’t you understand? The last section is the most valuable because Lutz pretty much nails it (except for #5, but my critique is too long a discussion for this post). What makes it remarkable is that he’s describing how my church has been working in the college ministry sphere for decades. I wonder if Lutz understands the implications of what he is saying.

College Hack #9: I’ll pretend to teach and you pretend to learn

Universities are fatally flawed. They are required to neglect half of their core mission, or face elimination. The biggest casualty of this flaw is teaching and student learning. If you understand this basic fact of the university, you will be way ahead of the pack in being equipped to accomplish something during college. Let’s start with a metaphor.

College Hack #8: You didn’t learn anything so you can’t get a job


A few years ago Richard Arum and Jospia Roksa wrote a book arguing that college students don’t learn much in college. Based on assessments (aka testing), in Academically Adrift (2011) they concluded that most undergraduates at the Universities and Colleges of this nation aren’t learning much in the classroom, but are really good at hanging out. After that big splash, they’re back with a new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift (2015). In this book they argue (from data collected by following up the students they had tested), that it’s hard to get a job in the post-2009 recession era. Paradoxically, young adults are incredibly optimistic about their futures. So you’re doing worse, but you feel really good about it.