Gospel Attraction

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This last weekend I was on a student retreat with the students at our Navigators club at the UofC in beautiful Banff Alberta. Traditionally, we would be in some far flung hostel in Kananaskis some place, where we would have the hostel to ourselves, and really focus on getting to know one another and where the vision for our year could appropriately be cast.

This was so much better!

Often our retreats become these momentary escape from the world, I mean that really is the intention, and their is an importance to it. Even Jesus took time to be alone with God, so it is important that we do the same. However, when you are vision casting, and that vision is the power and authority of the Gospel to change lives, than where better to do it than at a party resort in Banff!? For those of you not in the know, Banff is perhaps one of the most popular tourist destinations in Alberta, if not western Canada, if not Canada. It is a small town (sort of) in the middle of the mountains and nestled into some of the best skiing/snowboarding in the country and not to far from one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, the glacial lake, Moraine Lake. Banff also happens to have been the STI capital of the world, and still remains the capital of the country. Banff is a party town, in ever definition of those words. In the day, it’s a quaint little place to visit, but at night, it really comes alive.

The hostel we were staying at had a pub on sight, which of course was a massive draw for me. Say what you want, but getting the chance to go and sit in a pub and share a drink with my students is an opportunity I relish, and love. As events would have it, it would be these visits that would fast become the highlight of my time there.

We were talking about the power and the authority of the Gospel and it’s ability to transform lives, and it’s call to mission. I was speaking on Mark 2:1-5 about how 4 men, transformed by this Jesus they had heard of, tore the roof of a dudes house open to make sure a paralyzed man got to Jesus. Part of that talk was a call to stop focussing so much on our own Christian activity that we miss out on the people around us who need Christ. The other part was the order in which we tend to do these things. Four men do everything in their power to get a man who needed Jesus, to Jesus, and the very first thing Jesus chose to deal with was the man’s sin.

How often do we get this backwards?

How often do we choose to deal with man’s sin ourselves, and then get them to Jesus later?

How often, when we witness to others, do we provide moral ultimatums, rather than the saving power and transformative grace of the Good News?

A woman in the bar noticed our group, and came over to talk to us. She was one of the volunteer staff at the hostel, and she was on her night off with her boyfriend.

They were very much enjoying their night off.

She saw us, and she sat down beside me and she asked, “Are you the Christians?”

This woman had checked us in.

“Yes. We are the Navigators. We’re a Christian club out of the UofC here on a weekend retreat.”

“Oh ya? That’s cool. There’s so many of you! What are you doing here?”

That wasn’t the first time someone was amazed at how many of us there were. I explained we were on a weekend retreat and that it was the start of term and this was a great chance for us to get to know one another better. I explained that we were using the weekend to get centred on Jesus and his Gospel, and how it changes our lives and encourages us to reach out into places we don’t often get to.

“Cool stuff. I don’t believe in God or any of that stuff. Jesus seems pretty cool though. I’m an athiest. I don’t believe in that God stuff. But it’s cool if others want to. I don’t really like Christians because they never do what they say.”

“That’s the same thing I don’t like about Christians as well. I am pretty guilty of that myself. That is what this weekend is about. It’s about how Jesus and his grace motivates us as his followers to not just talk about his grace amongst ourselves, but to live out that grace in the lives of others.”

“That’s really cool! That’s awesome!”

Our conversation continued from there. It was pretty clear that her expectation of Christianity was a bunch of rules, stuck up individuals who had a hard time loving others, who never did what they said, and were constantly judging people. She had never been presented people transformed by grace, eager to love others, eager to make good on the teachings of Jesus, eager to get involved in the lives of people outside of their Christian community. This was a woman who had been presented only moral ultimatums, but was clearly attracted to the grace, the power, and the authority of the Gospel. We talked for nearly twenty minutes, and she was getting really excited about what she was hearing. Her boyfriend was growing impatient, and the two eventually left. I won’t get to start a long standing relationship with these people, but I like to think that a seed was either planted, or watered in that conversation.

It was a brilliant example of just how attractive the Gospel is. That it doesn’t need our massive events, and programmes to make it more appealing to people. It just needs people, transformed by it’s grace, eager to share it with others on a personal level. My hope is that more opportunities like this arise for my students this year. My prayer is that as they continue to get firmly rooted in the gospel, they won’t feel like they just want to share the Gospel, they will feel compelled to. We, as a group, are starting to move away from an events platform, and opening up more opportunity to get out into the world and express the Gospel naturally in the lives of the people around us.

It’s pretty exciting!

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Commercial Community

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I was going to call this post, “An Unsexy Gospel” initially, but then I realised that I would just be falling into that old Christian trope of giving your literature a controversial sounding name in order to inflame passions, so I decided against it. You’ll note, though, that by mentioning what I had intended to do, I get away with the results without actually going through with the action.  Bear with me here, you’ll see what I am getting at shortly.

This is one of those anti-consumerist Church posts, but to not kill the overly used word “consumer”, I’ve instead gone with the word “commercial”. I feel like it accurately describes what I want to get at anyway, which you can tell by the title is Community. I’ll be honest, I could probably write a book on community. It’s a vast and far reaching subject with so many different aspects that we can talk about, and I have no intention of covering all of those things in this post, or even in this blog. I mainly want to discuss how we’ve begun to commercialise our relationships and how that hurts a society so desperate for authentic community.

I want to take this chance to be a little more open, a little more honest, a little more raw, with you. Up until now, this blog has done a pretty good job at keeping people at length from myself, but I am going to try and invite people in a bit more. Allow a peek at the me that I am not trying to present online. For the last few weeks, I have been depressed and I have been beating myself up existentially. I discovered that I have not so much a fear of commitment, but some real issues with it (not just relationally, but in a few areas). This in turn got me thinking about all the areas where that was evident and I really started to feel down about myself. I began to question my ability as a leader. I began to wonder if I was even in the right job, or if the idea of eventually becoming a pastor was even worth it for a guy who was so clearly messed up. I wanted to talk to somebody, but I was so afraid of them agreeing with all of these fears that I would lose my opportunity to be as involved in my church community as I have been. I became distant from people, I became quiet and unplugged. That is until I finally did talk to a really close friend, who also happens to be my pastor but has just been the greatest friend ever since we met. I shared all of the things I was struggling with, and all of my fears behind them and we had a very encouraging conversation. I shared how great it was to be able to share because in a job like mine (a pastoral job) the temptation is to feel like you need to be “on” constantly, to always be performing and to not let cracks show for the sake of others. Truth is that pastoral workers need the chance to share their very real struggles and fears as much as the next person.

I also visited with a really awesome friend of mine last night, and we both shared that we had been wrestling these past couple weeks with slightly different things. Though they were different, the results on both our lives had been roughly the same. We were able to encourage one another and had a great evening hanging out! I am telling you this because it is decidedly unsexy. There are so many times where I have been on something like facebook and saw people complaining about their lives and thought to myself “Facebook isn’t for sharing this kind of stuff, keep it to yourself”, and I bet that I am not the only one. Social media communities are about presenting the best and most exciting version of yourself to the world as possible. Having friends has always been treated as a kind of popularity contest, and friendship and community have increasingly become more of a commodity and commercialised. This doesn’t just happen in social media. If you get one thing from this post, please don’t let it be that social media is bad. Social media just happens to be a place where it is very easy for us to keep people at a distance while presenting a marketable version of ourselves.

A couple years ago I wanted to work on a comic. I have these creative spats where I absolutely need to start a project that I swear I will see to the end which usually lasts until the end of the day (remember that whole commitment thing). I had this idea of creating a story around a society that had allowed commercialism to inform every single aspect of their lives, and more importantly, their relationships and how they treated people. A persons worth was measured by what they could bring to your life, friendships were merely decorations and marriages were like corporate mergers. In this story, a man was going to introduce a very dangerous idea that would undermine that commercial society. He was going to suggest that people had worth beyond what they could do for you, and worse yet, he was going to live his life in a way that reflected that belief. There were also some bits about couriers carrying ideas like computer files and spreading them like viruses. It was all very wacky. I even managed to find a way to add super awesome fight scenes and killer code names.

Who would have thought that this was already the reality of the situation? Christian or non-Christian, we all do this. We surround ourselves with people who will assist in our presenting a certain image of ourselves. We get involved in only the newest and most trendy projects to assist in this process. The clean up after a flood doesn’t demand a great deal of our time. Volunteering with the poor and marginalised demands a long term sacrifice of our time and doesn’t get you the ticker-tape parade. The Gospel tells us to go to unsexy people with unsexy problems and to love them because Jesus said that they are worth loving. Not to earn favour, not show people how great we are, not to puff ourselves up. It says that loving those who are easy to love is nothing special, but to love those who are hard to love, this is the transformative power of Jesus and his Gospel. Jesus calls us to love others as he loves us, sacrificially. Can you imagine whole communities of people loving simply because they are loved? I feel like we’d get so much more done!

Authentic community/relationships are unsexy. They are hard work, and they involve a level of honesty with people the means laying yourself bare and open to potential judgement. Authentic community peels away all those layers we’ve surrounded ourselves with and gets to the soft, and vulnerable core of ourselves and nobody likes exposing that core, let alone putting it into the hands of other people. Community is messy, and complicated and comes with problems, because ultimately communities are people and people are not perfect. People want to be loved, and people are afraid that if others begin to see the parts of themselves that don’t get broadcast to the world that they might not find love. Jesus says to love my neighbour as myself. It’s a beautifully simplistic statement with far reaching consequences. Community around the idea that I can love people simply because I am loved, and simply because they are worth loving, not because of what they can do for me, but just because. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I should know that I am loved. The reality is that I often forget this, but I should know it. Knowing that I am loved, should motivate me to love others because if I am loved, so are they. The reality is that I love people who are easy to love, and only because they provide me with something. But the good news is that Jesus continues to transform me so that the reality of my situation, and what should be, begin to swap. The Gospel is good news for all people with all of our unsexy issues.

Love for Love’s sake.

Worship in the City

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Where do I even begin? I suppose this is the problem with taking such a massive break between posts.

As you can see from my last post, I have been spending my summer vigorously getting to know my city better. Truth be told, I already knew it pretty well, but getting to know it better certainly couldn’t hurt. While all of this has been going on, I have been reading Deuteronomy, a book filled with laws and regulations given to Israel before they entered into the promise land, as well as several books concerning cities. Between Timothy Keller’s “Why God Made Cities” and “Centre Church”, Matt Carter’s and Darrin Patrick’s “For the City”, Jon M. Dennis’ “Christ+City” and Darrin Patrick’s “Church Planter”, I’ve been a pretty busy fella. The workload has been intense, but the insights have been profound, and my time in Deuteronomy has been more than a little exciting.

One doesn’t always find a book of things to do and things not to do overly exciting, but from my time reading, it has been so much more than that. It’s been a book on Worship.

Deuteronomy is more than just a book of regulations and laws. It isn’t kidding about prospering in your land by following the commandments given inside of the book. The problem begins when we take these things at face value and we fail to see what is at the core of them. Almost every single chapter of Deuteronomy is filled with the same phrase, telling you not to forget what God has done for you. It is a constant reminder of just who God is, and what he has done. In chapter six, you get what is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture. It is the call to holistic worship. It says that we do not worship Jesus in one area of our lives, and then ignore him in others. And yes, I do say Jesus, because Jesus quotes this very same scripture when asked what the greatest commandment is, placing himself at the core of it. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The following verses ask that they be written on your hands, on your head, on the gates of your cities, the door to your house and that they should be a part of your daily routine. These words were meant to permeate all facets of life. Jesus is Lord and no part of our life is separate from our worship of him. It is with this in mind that Deuteronomy goes on to tell us how that worship takes place. Things like communal responsibilities, honesty, integrity, how we treat the poor/marginalised, how we treat strangers. These things are all well and good, but in themselves are not enough. We don’t do these things to earn grace, and we don’t do them for God. We do these things because we have received grace, and we do them because of Jesus. 

You see, Deuteronomy isn’t about cities thriving under the work of our own hands. In fact, the cities in Deuteronomy were taken away from wicked men because they worshipped the works of their own hands. Deuteronomy is about the thriving of cities under the revelation of God by people worshipping in all areas of their lives. The great miracle of Jesus’ day wasn’t just his healing the sick, it was the transformation that took place in the hearts and the minds of the people who would go so far as to tear the roof of a house open to get people who needed Jesus to Jesus. People who were willing to go above and beyond for the sake of others because of Jesus and his grace. The Gospel is the power to change the lives of all men. Deuteronomy 12 can be summarised as, “Revel not in what you have done to impress God, but remember what God has done for you.” God literally says that he detests those willing to trample over and use others in an attempt to impress him; that he is far more honoured and glorified by those who sacrifice of themselves for the sake of others because they remember what God has done for them. It’s the picture of grace. There is nothing you can do to earn it because earning is completely the antithesis to grace. Grace does not know the word earn, they don’t exist in the same realm. Grace is unwarranted favour and when you receive it, you work hard to give it, not because you are trying to earn it, but because it is something to freely give, something to freely pass on.

When we stop remembering what God has done for us, when we turn from his word that reminds us over and over again as to who he is and what he has done, cities suffer for it. Israel neglected to make God the Lord over all areas of their life and their people suffered for it, and their cities, like the cities of those before them, were taken away from them by Babylon (Amos and Jeremiah). Seventy years later, they get their city back, they rededicate themselves to God and his word and a mere 12 years later they neglect it again, refusing to teach it to their children and once more, people (cities) suffer for it (Nehemiah). Even in Jesus’ day the same things happen. In Mark 11-13, people become more concerned with impressing God with power and wealth that they completely neglect their worship. God does not become the Lord of all areas of life, and the people suffer for it. Jesus’ disciples try to placate him by reminding him how amazing a building the temple is. “Hey, Jesus, I know your visit didn’t go the way you planned, but check out the temple. You gotta admit, it’s pretty boss.” Jesus tells them that he has no interest in the temporary work of the hands. That he has no interest in the works of the hands of men designed to impress God with their own ego, that it is the things built in the Spirit and in Truth that will last forever while all other things fade away. Jesus uses verses from Daniel, a book written during the Babylonian occupation, to emphasise his point. Babylon, a once proud nation, that revelled in their own power, lost to the ages. He speaks of Rome sacking the Temple, a mighty nation and the house of God, worshipped for being a grand house, both torn down and no more.

Spirit and truth last forever. Our cities will thrive not by the works of our hands, natural disasters and any number of things can undo that. But a people dedicated to the revelation of Jesus Christ in everything they do is a boon.