About Jeremiah Kepner

Father, Husband, Missionary, Follower of Christ.

Amazing stories of God moving at UC Davis

The goal of our ministry is to turn lost students into Christ-Centered laborers. We take someone wherever they are and help them find and follow Jesus, to love Him, learn from Him and lead others to Him. We have observed over the past few years that the vast majority of incoming freshmen students do not yet follow Jesus, and increasing numbers have little to no Christian background. These masses are unchurched, dechurched, or come from another religious background. So we resolve not simply to seek Christians looking for a Christian fellowship, but to seek out any student who is willing to meet with us to talk about Jesus. This shows us that God is working in their lives, and we believe with Jesus that, ““My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:27, ESV). I want to simply share a few quick stories (names changed) of what it looks like to work among the unchurched and the little churched, and the joy of helping them find and follow Jesus.

UC Davis / North Bay Area Staff Team

Our new staff team for the 2018-2019 school year.

The night of the first day of school we had a new student information night. One of our students relayed this story. They got to know one another, shared a bit about what they are hoping for in their Community Group in their dorm area, and had a prayer time. Megan asked the students what prayer requests they had and when it came to Ashley, Ashley asked, “What’s a prayer request?” This warms my heart, that Ashley must have very little background to ask that question. Perhaps she simply went to a church without a culture of praying for one another, perhaps she has never been in a small group. Perhaps she hasn’t been to church much at all, and this excites me.

img_2417.jpg

Welcome Week Tabling: getting into spiritual conversations

The first weekend of school our different community groups had social times together. In a social time for Latinx students (men and women), one of them shared part of their story about how they drew near to God. Her father was deported when she was in Jr. High and she had to take an increasing role of responsibility in her family. She knew she needed a power bigger than herself, so she drew upon God. One of our leaders, in relating the story, said that she believed this was the first time this girl shared that story with other people. They were able to cry together and minister to this young woman. It makes me so grateful for our students who are able to care for one another in their needs.

Another amazing thing that has happened is in meeting several young men who have come to Christ from a surprising background.In our men’s freshmen Community Group, people were sharing their spiritual stories.  One of them shared that he is from China, but had come to the USA in high school and lived with a host family. He said as he studied religion he found that Christianity was the most believable, and he is interested in becoming a Christian, so he is not ready yet, but wants to study more. The next man to share said that this was also his story, having come to the USA from China in high school. He had already decided to follow Jesus, and he began to share with his new friend some of the reasons why. I have NEVER met anyone with this story, and now we are connected with these 2 (and a few more), in whom it is obvious that God is moving.

Worship Night

Worship Night on the Quad

I was able to talk to a young woman after our 2nd weekly meeting last Thursday. I am from Merced, CA, and she is from a town nearby. She comes from a Sikh religious background, but started attending a youth group when in high school. She has come to believe in Jesus and is very excited about growing. Then she told me that she was so excited because Cru gave her a bible during move in day, and that was the first bible she has ever owned! I’m so excited for her to start reading and learning the very foundations of the Christian life.

Sunday, I had a student call me in excitement because she had just seen a girl accept Christ! This girl had come with her roommate who is involved in Cru. She had been to a church a few times with her family, but hadn’t really cared or understood much. In our student leaders words: “Her Christian first yr friend ***** invited her out to Cru. She could tell from Interfellowship Worship Night and spending time with believers that we had true joy and her life wasnt “whole” and didnt have “meaning.” She came to church with me today and on the way I found out she didnt know the gospel and she asked if we could tell her how to have relationship with God. After church, *****, herself, and I had lunch but she didnt touch her food because she was so eager to understand. She got the gospel, explained it back, understood what it means to make Jesus Lord of her life and was amazed God sent Jesus to die for her. She prayed to receive Christ and praised God for her new life. She wants to get baptized and now I’m going to model for **** how to do follow up with her! Shes excited to share with our community group tomorrow night what God did!!”

It’s amazing to see students minister to students. These are only a few stories of what God is doing at UC Davis. Pray we are able to help these young believers to know Jesus better and to help connect with their non-believing friends and help them come to find and follow Jesus as well.

Advertisements

Comfort to those in pain…a story from Argentina

I turned a corner and saw her crying, standing about 10 feet away. I and my partner for sharing that day, Melanie, walked over to her and I asked if she needed help with anything. She turned and said, “Can I have a hug?” So I hugged her for a few moments while she cried on my shoulder.

Juli (name changed) was worried about an upcoming test, not knowing if she should take the risk of taking the test she did not feel prepared for, in case it lowered her grade. She was under so much stress. That was the moment I saw her–she was overwhelmed with the pressures of life and I was there to merely comfort her.

IMG_3777

Other team members sharing the gospel at the spot where I first met Fran

Her teacher came out to talk, and they spoke for about 10 minutes about the situation. Juli decided not to take the test, but to focus on her other upcoming tests.  Knowing she now had a bit more time, I re-started the conversation.

Melanie (my teammate) and I were able to have about a 45 minute conversation with Juli, helping her move from a place in which she was trusting in her own good works to be right with God to trusting in the saving work of Jesus on the cross for her right standing with God.

After our conversation, she gladly gave us her information to get connected with Vida Estudiantil y Professional (the name of Cru in Argentina). She then gave both Melanie and I big hugs, thanking us deeply. All of this happened because I was available to help in the moment someone needed it.

Link

Last night we were talking to a friend who does not not see the need for God in his life. He is self-aware enough to know this fact. It made me so sad to see. He rightly saw that Jesus’ offers of life only make sense to someone who wants more than what they have. Jesus gives amazing offa such as “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, and from within will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7)

This morning I turned in my bible reading to John chapter 4, to Jesus’ interaction with a woman who does not show a need for God in her life either, and I see Him showing this woman her own need for a savior. Jesus speaks to her of living water. She hears this as an offer to not go to the well any longer. So Jesus speaks of the relationships that have been broken, whether because she is a widow, or divorcee, or other brokenness. He shows her her need. My friend and several of my other friends and neighbors, however, seem to not have this need on the surface of their lives. In fact, many of the people around me do not seem to feel such needs at all.

Jesus’ interaction with the woman in John 4 begins with physical needs, namely water. My neighbors seem to have their physical needs taken care of. I have grown in my understanding of the Christian responsibility to take care of physical needs, and highly regard efforts to care for those who have these needs. It’s hard to listen to lessons about God when your stomach is growling and your limbs are shaking with cold.

5-jesus-and-samaritan-woman-well4-626x272

In addition, my neighbors and my friend last night seem to similarly have many of their relational needs taken care of. I know many of their deeper needs may be hidden, because such needs are not appropriate to openly show to the neighborhood. Nevertheless, many of their marriages seem to be going well. Not many of them seem to have kids that are rebelling, as many of them are still young. They are still experiencing the “American Dream” and do not seem to have the need for Christ to come in and heal anything there. It seems as though they do not have a gap for Jesus to fill in this area of life. I know, again, that were I able to gain access to deeper and deeper areas of their souls there may be areas of discontent, but it’s often difficult to speak to those when I’m standing around watching our kids play on the street.

It is interesting that in Jesus’ interaction with the woman, it is she that moves the conversation from the personal to the theological, the third level of need. This need comes at the level of universal need; it is often neither felt nor thought of, but is a need of deepest importance. It is a need of eternal consequence.

The way Jesus and the woman approach this need to relate to God is through the lens of worship.  Indeed, this is the first and greatest command—to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Jesus says that we must love God in spirit and in truth (vv 24). This means we must worship God with a true sense of who He is, with correct thoughts about Him, and with correct affections for Him. We must have a correct relationship with truths, which exist externally to us, as well as a correct relationship to affections that exist within us. If either of these are incorrect, then our state of relationship with God is in a incorrect state, and we are not relating to God in the right way.

This, I believe, is what my friend needs to hear. He does not feel the need for God in his life in in regards to his physical and relational needs—those are met right now. His wife is praying that he comes to feel the need for Jesus, like she did, but I’m not sure it has to be that way. His journey may be through a different path. It may be that he realizes through thinking, through his intellect, that he has not met the appropriate conditions to be right with God, and is therefore separated from Him. Either way, my friend needs to hear that the truth is that unless he is correct in his BELIEFS and AFFECTIONS then he is not in a right relationship with the God who made him and loves him.

The trouble is, we do not have absolute control over either our beliefs or our affections. We must place ourselves in situations where our beliefs and affections for God can grow. We read the Scriptures, we participate in the activities of faith (spiritual disciplines and practices), we participate in the lives of other saints; but we do not have direct access to our own souls to flip switches in our beliefs and affections—we have only indirect means. We must consistently use those indirect means to do the best we can. We say with John the Baptizer, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given from heaven.” We must humble ourselves and say, I can’t make this happen, I need to be born from above (John 3), I can’t make this new life happen myself. I need to be born by the will of God, yet my acceptance of Christ plays some part in it as well (John 1:12-14). We all need to have the attitude, “God, save me.”

To my friend, or to someone else who may read this who is not a believer, who knows that he does not believe the right things, or who does not have the right affections for God and wants them, I say: pray. Ask God for those things. He is a giver. He is good.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:7-11

Ask God to give you the right heart and the right mind towards Him. Ask Him to draw you near to Him and help you worship Him in Spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking worshipers such as these. He will help you become as such if that is your desire. Read the Bible—it is His testimony towards us to help us know Him.

If you already do believe, but like me, you find that your affections waver, then again, pray. Ask God to make the reality that He has saved you more real again. Pray like David: ”Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” – Psalm 51:12. Indeed, the whole Psalm is appropriate here, for if the command of God is to worship in Spirit and truth, to love God with ALL our heart, mind, soul and strength, then to do anything less is actually sin, falling short of perfection. So confession for our shortcoming is our first order of business. This is not confession in which God is looking down upon us as a disappointed judge, but where He looks on us with the eyes of a loving Father.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.  – Psalm 103:8-14

I pray that as these truths enter more and more deeply into my heart, and into others hearts if anyone reads this blog, that we will be able to be like Jesus, saying about ministering to others,

“But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.  Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. – John 4:32-36

Ripe-wheat2.jpg

Pajamas, Parenting and Paraclete

IMG_4242I simply wanted to have a little time of family prayer. For that to happen, it required for our kids to get their pajamas on and brush their teeth. I told them to do that, then sat down and studied my Hebrew vocabulary, since I am in seminary right now.

Our youngest came back to the living room after 10 minutes, without having brushed his teeth, since he can’t on his own yet. The older ones weren’t to be found. I was a bit frustrated, so I went to their rooms to see what was happening. When one of them was half pajama’d (but with teeth brushed) and reading a magazine, I responded with more frustration, and our family prayer time needed to start with confession instead of thanksgiving.

IMG_4394

Lori helping make a fortress at the beach

When we talked as a family that night about how the whole “getting ready for bed quickly” affair went down, I realized that I had done nothing to help them. I simply said, “Get ready quickly and come back to the living room.” Usually, getting ready for bed takes a good 15-20 minutes and is filled with distractions of various kinds, but it doesn’t matter a ton. We usually allow for that amount of time and it isn’t a problem. I wanted that accelerated that night, but I simply told them to go faster, but did nothing to help.  That night,
God very clearly told me, “You did nothing to help them. Your job is to help them, not simply tell them.”

I think my tendency as a parent is to fail to be a paraclete. This is the Greek term for the Holy Spirit that we find in John 14-16. It can be translated “Counsellor, Helper, or Advocate.” It means one who comes along side. That night, God showed me that part of my job description as a parent is to come along side, not simply command. It is to come along side the little ones as they are putting on their clothes, brushing their teeth, making their beds. I have the expertise, the strength and the dexterity to reach up to the top bunk. Yet so often I am passive, or more often, busy. So I tell them to go do things and make them do it in their own strength, teaching them the exact wrong things about what the Christian life is all about.

IMG_4245God does not give us the commands of the Bible and then expect us to do them with the feeble strength and wisdom that we have in ourselves. He wants us to look to Him and lean on Him. He gives those who have received Christ the Holy Spirit to dwell inside them to give them the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. God is our paraclete.

I want my kids to see me as a paraclete. I want them to see me as paraclete in these early years and that it would continue into the years to come. I want them to ask me to help, and I want to jump up and help, no matter what I’m doing. That’s part of my job description. I want them to want me to walk along side them when they are navigating making their bed, learning to ride a bike, winning and losing at sports, making friends in the neighborhood, learning how to adventure, camping and backpacking, entering junior high, entering puberty, learning about boys and girls, the scary world of high school, driving, adolescence, applying for college, picking a major, and entering adulthood. I want to be along side them that whole time, and I think part of it lies in learning how to let the dishes lie undone for a while, and letting the studying wait. It’s both bringing them into my tasks and teaching and training them in those, but also entering into their little world as the IMG_4306one who can train them and come along side them, to be a paraclete, one who comes
along side them, to help them make it and succeed.

I think if I can do that, those family prayer times will go a lot better, both because they will get ready for bed faster, but also because we will be in relationship as we head into those prayer times in the first place.

#blacklivesmatter at Cru15

19154291404_361c21e931_z

One of the major themes of our Cru15 conference was racial reconciliation / ethnic diversity. As Lori and I looked over the conference schedule, we noticed a breakout called #blacklivesmatter. This refers to the hashtag that has been used to speak of the disparity in treatment of black people, especially men, at the hand of law enforcement officers in the past year or so. Part of the reason we wanted to attend the event had to do with the fact that we have cared for two black foster children in the last year, and recognize that we know very little about what it is like to be a black person in our country.

The main purpose of this breakout was simply to hear the stories of what it is like to grow up black in the USA. It was heartbreaking to hear of the racism that my brothers and sisters in Christ have dealt with that I’ve never had to endure. There was one story that gripped my heart more deeply than all the others, the story of a father speaking to his son on the cusp of getting his drivers license.

Part of the driver’s training a parent must now give to a black child must include what to do if you are pulled over. There is the sad reality that many have been pulled over simply for a DWB (Driving While Black). One father shared how he told his son that if you are pulled over, pull to where there are a lot of people who can watch the situation unfold. You must keep your hands on the steering wheel, looking straight ahead at all times. Only when the police officer reaches the window do you roll it down, very slowly. Do exactly what they tell you to, or else he may pull you out of the car. Do nothing suddenly, for the policeman may assume you are going for a gun and shoot you.  He told his son to swallow any pride or anger or anything but absolute submission, because his life may depend upon it. This broke my heart, because I never had that talk. Mine was simply, give respect to the police and you’ll receive it as well.

I do not write this to talk about how police act, or if anyone is responsible when pulled over or any of those things, but simply to show that there is an inherent bias against these young black men. It was a powerful time of listening to people who have suffered hurt, and some times at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve us.

19864301756_773cd03246_kThere were also stories of people being told by their black family and peers to not come on staff with Cru, because it is a predominantly white organization that they thought would not understand what it’s like not to be in the majority culture.  Their lives have been a different path than mine, and I hadn’t much—up to that point—stopped to listen to what their stories might be.

My desire is to be part of the solution that rejects the continuing inequalities of opportunity in our country. I don’t know what it will involve, but I think it begins with listening to people’s stories, making friends, and being an advocate for every person to be viewed primarily as a person of infinite worth, made in the image of God.