RUF Newsletter: June

This blog will now be the place for my newsletters concerning my time with Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) for The University of Alabama.


Intern class of 2018-2020

I, and my fellow 86 (!) first-year interns concluded our time in Atlanta, GA in early June. We stayed in Atlanta for our orientation as new RUF staff. It was great to meet all of the people that I will be with for the next two years, even if we will be separated by geographical distance. God showed me His grace during this week in allowing me to see glimmers of beauty and hope in these other first-year interns. It is easy for me to pass by these glimpses into heaven. Thankfully though, I saw God’s face  in the faces of these fellow interns, in the faces of these new friends.

CO-INTERNS

MH and JJ at Orientation

This is Mary Hannah, my co-intern. We will begin working together at The University of Alabama in August. We had been introduced over the phone prior to the first week of June, but it was so good to meet her in person for the first time. She is from Nashville, TN and went to school at Birmingham Southern College. We are both so excited to work with Stewart Swain, our campus minister, in order to bless the city of Tuscaloosa.

PRAYER

I would love to invite you to pray for me. I have plenty to do before moving to campus, and plenty of change awaits me. Pray that I have the confidence and ability to show others the full vision of what this ministry is doing by God’s grace. Pray that I can relinquish all of my independence and pride as I am called to raise funds, that I can be humbled and grateful before God and others. Pray that I Ama able to adjust to all of the change included in this next step. Pray that I am able to cultivate friendships with my fellow interns and find friends in Tuscaloosa. Pray for my move to a new place, and pray that I am able to do well for my campus, my fellow staff, my students, and my God.

FUND-RAISING

I have raised around $14,000 of the $35,000 I have been asked to raised for my first year. This means that I have raised $1,115 / month of the $2,900 / month of the money I need to raise. This puts me at just over 40%. I would love for you to consider supporting me, first, through prayer, and, second, through financial support. You would be joining me in this mission, and therefore you yourself would be doing ministry.

HOW TO GIVE

If you wish to give, visit this site, select the gift amount and the frequency. Contact me if you have any questions or if you just want to talk.

Westin

A STORY FROM ORIENTATION

I wanted to invite you into the narrative of the week I spent in Atlanta. One part of our time there stands out in my head. After 6-8 hours of classes, we closed one of our days in prayer over each other. 90 people earnestly came before their Father, whom we all are dependent on, in supplication. We, then, proceeded to sing the doxology, all of us together.

Praise God fro whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Amen.

This moment – all of us singing with one voice – presented to me a clear image of the Church. I was thankful that God would have placed me in that singular moment.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:5-6 (ESV)

THE STUDY PROGRAM

For the internship program, I have just finished Knowing God by J.I. Packer, Counterfeit God’s by Tim Keller, and The Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen. I am currently reading Side by Side by Edward T. Welch and The Book of Mark.

Orientation Room

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The Spirituality of Fundraising

As a part of this internship with RUF that I have begun, in addition to this study program, I am called to raise money for this ministry opportunity. Because of this, RUF requires that we read Henri Nouwen’s book pamphlet, The Spirituality of Fundraising. Here is the table of contents:

  • Fund-raising as Ministry
  • Helping the Kingdom Come About
  • Our Security base
  • People Who Are Rich
  • Asking
  • A New Communion
  • Prayer and Gratitude
  • Your Kingdom Come

I had considered this position with RUF for a while, for over two-years prior to accepting the position itself. I knew full well what I was getting myself into with regards to fund-raising. It was daunting at the very least. Now that I have begun and continued fund-raising, I am undeniably surprised by the ways in which it has been a blessing to me. Completely outside of the financial results of my fund-raising, I have found so much comfort and joy in the conversations I have had, and in the relationships I am sustaining and building throughout this process. In addition, I am “required” to keep on building and sustaining community with these amazing and gracious children of God! I did not imagine that I would experience any pleasure from this process, but it has proved to be a weighty cause of hope and joy in my life.

Nouwen ends his book with this short paragraph-length chapter:

Fund-raising is a very rich and beautiful activity. It is a confident, joyful, and hope-filled expression of ministry. In ministering to each other, each from the riches that he or she possesses, we work together for the full coming of God’s Kingdom.

Amen.

This book, and this process, have been instruments in showing me the hope and glory and grace of God my Father. I recommend all people, regardless of their position in life, to read this book in order that they better understand the community of God’s people.

Counterfeit Gods

As another book within my study program for RUF, I have just concluded my reading of Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller.

Before I begin talking about this book, I need to clarify my relationship with Keller’s work. I deeply appreciate the work and ministry of Timothy Keller. He has been a fantastic pastor in New York, and has one of the best understandings of ancient and contemporary culture out of anyone I can think of. Nevertheless, I, at times, am bothered by aspects of his work. First, the fandom can be off-putting. I have been a part of the Reformed world for about five years. Loving this community, I have seen the attention Keller gets, which is great because he is doing great things. Paradoxically, however, Keller has become of God of sorts within the Reformed world. Second, I find that Keller’s output-style of material does not do much in ministering to me. It is great ministry, but it does not speak to me. By this I mean that I find his frequent output of books, and moderate to little care about the linguistic quality of communication of that material, does not minister to Joey Jekel, even if those qualities can be justified for the ministry of the gospel. I do not dislike Tim Keller’s way of delivering his ideas, that method merely doesn’t care for my specific interests. It should be added that I have indeed made a God of literary quality, and so this book, despite what I have said above, has done much to usurp this god in my life.

Now to this specific book… I have appreciated Keller’s training of my mind in the way of simplicity. My natural tendency leads to me to books that boast in their literary difficulty and theological prowess. Timothy Keller is simply about Jesus Christ. This has been refreshing. While I don’t appreciate, say, Keller’s conception and reduction of the work of Soren Kierkegaard, I cannot at all deny that Keller is bringing us, on every page, to the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no greater complement I can give to a Christian writer.

Here is the table of contents of this book:

  • Introduction: The Idol Factory
  • All You’ve Ever Wanted
  • Love Is Not All You Need
  • Money Changes Everything
  • The Seduction of Success
  • The Power and the Glory
  • The Hidden Idols of Our Lives
  • The End of Counterfeit Gods
  • Epilogue: Finding and Replacing Your Idols

Whatever the qualifications I have concerning my feelings toward Keller and his work (which are overall positive), I have deeply enjoyed and appreciated this work, Counterfeit Gods, not to mention his other works that I have read: The Songs of JesusThe Freedom of Self-Forgetfullness, and Jesus the King.

Knowing God

As of June 1, I have begun my new position as campus intern for Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) at The University of Alabama. This position includes a study program. My introduction into this reading list was J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. Before I ever begin a book, I must read the table of contents. Here is the table of contents for Knowing God:

  • Know the Lord
    • The Study of God
    • The People Who Know Their God
    • Knowing and Being Known
    • The Only True god
    • God Incarnate
    • He Shall Testify
  • Behold Your God!
    • God Unchanging
    • The Majesty of God
    • God’s Wisdom and Ours
    • Thy Word is Truth
    • The Love of God
    • The Grace of God
    • God the Judge
    • The Wrath of God
    • Goodness and Severity
    • The Jealous God
  • If God Be For Us
    • The Heart of the Gospel
    • Sons of God
    • Thou Our Guide
    • These Inward Trials
    • The Adequacy of God

Packer seeks to show others what it looks like to know God, to understand His character. Through the lens of Scripture he unpacks what God has revealed to us about His character through His Word. Packer also posits that knowledge of God is both the beginning and end of theology. As someone who has become interested and entangled with theology and knowledge, I appreciated two things about this book. First, it really does want to investigate the heart of theology and the heart of Scripture. Second, it also wants to distract Christians from the vanity of theology and knowledge for their own sakes. This book is very much a tight-rope-walk between the laymen’s “ignorance” of theology and the scholar’s “acquaintance” with it. Packer both defended my desire to understand God and His Word and called that same desire into question. He both asked me to practice simplicity and pointed me to the complexity of God’s character.

I would sum up this book with these words that Packer writes, with the addition of mine:

[Packer]: it will surprise you what the Lord has done

[Me]: and it will surprise you who the Lord is

One example of where these central truths of this book stood out to me occurred when reading chapter nineteen, “Sons of God.” Packer writes that there is not any “problem of unanswered prayer.” All prayer is heard, and all prayer is answered. It is merely the nature and method of this answer that seems absent to us humans. This relates tangibly with my work in poetry and photography. I have recently finished composing a book of original poems and photographs called The Stitches Here: Poems and Photographs. One poem in specific expresses the human emotion of having their voice not heard, their prayers not answered. [I have never posted my own creative work online. I wish to publish, so it is risky. However, I see the purpose of this topic to elicit this form of sharing]. Here is the poem I speak of: “Airport Interrogation V: Unanswered.”

24, Airport Interrogation V, Unanswered, Color

Even after my epiphany of “God answers my prayer,” the emotive force behind this poem, behind this feeling of unheardness still remains. Nevertheless, that does not mean that God has not heard me, nor that he has not answered me. He has answered.

This book surprised me, with regards to my feelings about his hearing and the seeming wastedness of my words, in that God is one who hears. And this is merely one way in which the character of God surprised me during the reading of Knowing God.

I have enjoyed this first book of my study program, and I cannot wait to continue for the next two years.

My Bright Abyss

My God my bright abyss
into which all my longing will not go
once more I come to the edge of all I know
and believing nothing else believe in this.

In addition to finishing Philip Ryken’s Art for God’s Sake, I concluded my second reading of Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. Christian Wiman is a contemporary Christian poet. Previously the editor of Poetry Magazine, Wiman now is a professor at Yale. This book is a series of reflections related to his bouts with cancer and with his poetry.

I will not quote from this book other than the above for fear that I will distract you into thinking that that is what the book is about. I will say the book does focus, more than on anything else, on suffering and pain. But it moves from memoir to philosophy to poetry within paragraphs.

If you are at all inclined to anything in the literary world, I suggest spending time with Wiman’s poetic reflections on human life.

Art for God’s Sake

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Tree Grace by Makoto Fujimura

Philip Graham Ryken, the current president of Wheaton College just outside of Chicago, wrote a small book called Art for God’s Sake. He writes about what it looks like to think about art in relation to scriptural teaching. He bases this short book, a long homily of sorts, on four principles:

  1. The artist’s call and gift come from God.
  2. God loves all kinds of art.
  3. God maintains high standards for goodness, truth, and beauty.
  4. Art is for the glory of God.

Ryken’s book is incredibly clear, as well as insightful. It is for the self-proclaimed artist and non-artist alike. He seemed to balance the accessible and the complex extremely well.

I wanted to share a few highlights from the book itself.

At its best, art is able to do what Fujimura’s paintings do: satisfy our deep longing for beauty and communicate profound spiritual, intellectual, and emotional truth about the world that God has made for his glory. (8)

. . . a good deal of contemporary art is the art of alienation, which, if it is true at all, is true only about the disorder of a world damaged by our depravity. God can use transgressive art to awaken the conscience and arouse a desire for a better world. But as a general rule, such artwork doe not reveal the redemptive possibilities of a world that, although fallen, has been visited by God and is destined for his glory. (13)

The calling of these artists reflects a deep truth about the character of God, namely, that he himself is the supreme Artist. (22)

. . . God wants all of the arts to flourish in all the fullness of their artistic potential, so that we may discover the inherent possibilities of creation and thereby come to a deeper knowledge of our Creator. (35)

Art is an incarnation of the truth. It penetrates the surface of things to portray them as they really are. (39)

What whatever stories [art] tells, and whatever ideas or emotions it communicates, art is true only if it points in some way to the one true story of salvation — the story of God’s creation, human sin, and the triumph of grace through Christ. (40)

. . . it is the best things in life that threaten to steal our worship. (49)

The composer Igor Stravinsky wisely said, “I take no pride in my artistic talents; they are God-given and I see absolutely no reason to become puffed up over something that one has received.” (49)

. . .  as Nigel Goodwin has said, “God in His wisdom did not give all His gifts to Christians.” But even if God may be glorified by art that is not explicitly offered in his honor, he is most truly praised when his glory is the aim of our art. (51)

Art is what art is because God is who he is. (53)

The great American theologian Jonathan Edwards said, “All the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation, is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being who hath an infinite fullness of brightness and glory; God . . . is the foundation and fountain of all being and all beauty.” (55)

His design was to transform ugliness into beauty. (56)

Christian Wiman, Every Riven Thing, Small Prayer in a Hard Wind

About a week or so ago, I concluded my reading of Christian Wiman’s 2010 collection of poems, Every Riven Thing. I have posted about the first two section of this book of poems, and now I am posting about the last section.


I want to quote a favorite poem from this section, “Small Prayer in a Hard Wind.”

As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
only someone lost could find,

which, with its painless windows and sagging crossbeams,
its hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,

seems both ghost of the life that happened there
and living spirit of this wasted place,

wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
that is open enough to receive it,

shatter me God into my thousand sounds . . .

Grammatically, the main sentence resides in the very last line of the poem, the rest of the poem lie within smaller phrasal compartments. Look at the poem represented this way:

{As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
only someone lost could find,

[which, (with its painless windows and sagging crossbeams,
its hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,)

seems both ghost of the life that happened there
and living spirit of this wasted place,]

wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
that is open enough to receive it,}

shatter me God into my thousand sounds . . .

The poem almost resembles the nesting doll linguistics of Cicero’s prose. There’s a clause within a clause within a clause within a clause . . . Once this is understood, the poem can be parcelled out into sense. The main sentence is an imperative one: “shatter me God into my thousand sounds,” a line reminiscent of Donne’s 14th Holy Sonnet, “Batter my heart, three person’d God.” This poem primarily functions on this main sentence, and secondarily on the comparison that begins in the first line. The poet asks to be shattered into a thousand sounds as the wind is shattered into pieces by the broken down hut.


Here are the poems in this section, and emphasized are the poems I especially enjoyed.

  • And I Said to My Soul, Be Loud
  • Hammer Is the Prayer
  • When the Time’s Toxins
  • Small Prayer in a Hard Wind
  • The Resevoir
  • For D.
  • I Sing Insomnia
  • Then I Slept into a Terror World
  • Lord Is Not a Word
  • So Much a Poet He Despise Poetry
  • Given a God More Playful
  • Lord of Having
  • It Is Good to Sit Even a Rotting Body
  • Gone for the Day, She Is the Day