This summer, I camped in the book of Isaiah. It was eerie how the prophet matched my life in terms of polarities: joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy, hope and despair. One passage in particular, Isaiah 43:1-7, captured my many twists and turns.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
It is easy to fall into fear when hard times occur: when a man randomly walks into my former university and shoots three students; when past InterVarsity president Steve Hayner is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer; when the chancellor of the California State System (CSU) rejects our final appeal and derecognizes our 23 chapters.
But the Lord tells us not to fear. Why? Because we are His children. Why? Because He has redeemed us. Why? Because He is sovereign.
I wish that I could understand exactly how this works. Frankly, I don’t. But I accept His imperative to be people of courage in the face of opposition, missional in the face of headwinds, and faithful in the face of discouragement.
With Us Through Tough Times
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
Passing through floods and fires is no joy. When a chapter leader is persecuted, no Teflon-proof garment eliminates the sting of rejection. When a sibling dies - as mine did last spring - there is no elimination of sorrow. When an InterVarsity Press book is subjected to unfair “friendly fire” from a fellow Christian, there is no masking the hurt.
But the Lord promises His presence when we are in pain: “I will be with you . . . the flame shall not consume you.” In the midst of our campus access struggles, the Lord sent a surprisingly positive front-page New York Times article, ministry allies and a number of new high-capacity supporters.
A few years ago, I had dinner with an InterVarsity alumnus. When I mentioned Isaiah 43, his eyes welled up. At 17, he was driving his older brother from their home on the Navajo reservation in Arizona to Denver. He blanked out, the car flipped, his brother died, and he was seriously hurt. Providentially, the first people on the scene were an off-duty doctor and ER nurse.
For two years, he had no memory of the event. Then, at a student conference at Campus by the Sea, it all hit him. For the next year, he told me, “I barely hung on to my sanity. But I read Isaiah 43 every day.” Through the Lord’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and a supportive faith community, he slowly made it through the fire.
Precious in His Eyes
“For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. . . . Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.”
We must never forget that the Lord is our “savior”—not just in the heaven-after-death sense, but in the right-now-life-in-the-mud sense. And we must never forget that He loves and honors us. As Isaiah reminds us, we are the apple of his eye.
As such, I believe that the Lord will do amazing things this year on a whole variety of campuses. This includes those where our chapters have been derecognized—not just at the Cal State schools, but at Bowdoin, Vanderbilt, Rollins, and Tufts as well. Look for strong chapter leaders to emerge and for missional disciples to be developed. Just as Isaiah called a righteous remnant to emerge in his day, so we call students and faculty to form countercultural communities of truth, holiness, justice, and love.
Created for His Glory
“. . . everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
The Westminster Confession reminds us that we have been created to live for God’s glory, not our own. Surprisingly - and paradoxically - when we die to self, joy abounds and fear recedes.
And so, as a community, we rejoice at His abundance this past year as we experienced all-time high numbers of core students, faculty, new believers, and staff. In our 73-year history, we have never experienced such abundance. To Him be all glory.
As we live on the edges of Isaiah 43, we are reminded to fear not, to live in His presence, to revel in His care, and to live for His glory. For it is often in turbulent times, when we are humble and dependent, that He astounds us the most.