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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The Wilderness Downtown

Myself overlooking the city of Calgary.

Myself overlooking the city of Calgary.

I’ve been wanting to write this for a while. I guess I got caught up with the busyness of life.

Feels good to be back at it with this blog.

A month or so back, my pastor showed me this amazing website, http://thewildernessdowntown.com/. It’s an incredibly cool video project by Arcade Fire with their song We Used to Wait, and while the song is amazing, that isn’t what caught my attention. As you continue to watch the video unfold, you’ll begin to notice trees springing up all over the place. Trees breaking through the concrete, developing an enveloping wilderness on the map that you’ve placed into the video. This is the image that caught my eye, and it’s the basis for this post.

Mark Chapter 4 has several stories that Jesus uses to help unpack some of the things he is trying to teach people about, all of them dealing with things like:  investment, relationship building, timing, trust, growth, the spread of ideas, and provision. Jesus starts by telling the story of what I feel is a careless farmer, sowing seed in every which direction, regardless of the environment for growth. He follows that up with the importance of placing your lamp upon it’s stand where it can shed light for all to benefit, followed by a story about how farmers aren’t responsible for the growth of a seed, but the sowing and the harvesting. Lastly, Jesus talks about how even the smallest seed has the capacity for bigger things. It’s that last story that I want to focus on (Mark 4:30-32). It’s that last story that speaks of the Wilderness Downtown.

Jesus has a plan for Cities.

I had written out a huge explanation of the above statement before realising that it was perhaps another blog entry on it’s own, so I will try to keep my explanation brief. All through the bible we see stories that involve God’s people either in their own cities, or in the cities of conquering nations. In Deuteronomy, God’s people are promised the cities of the wicked. In Jeremiah, their city Jerusalem is destroyed by Babylon and they are told to take up residence in the cities of their invaders, to multiply in them, and be a blessing to them. In Nehemiah, after 140 years, God’s people are able to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it, in the process being restored themselves. During Roman occupation, Jesus tells Israel to give to Ceaser what is Ceaser’s and to God what is God’s. In Revelations we see the New Jerusalem descending upon the restored world, a massive city with a giant garden in the centre. Jesus has a plan for cities because cities are where the majority of this world lives and cities are where the widest variety of the kinds of people we are called to reach, as followers of Jesus, live. The story of the Mustard Seed in Mark 4:30-32 is about something small, and yet something that has within it all of the information needed to grow, not just into something big, but into a blessing. Jesus talks about a small seed growing into a massive tree that becomes a home, a place of rest and a boon, for the birds of the air. And every single tree as the capacity to produce after itself in kind. A wilderness begins with a seed. A wilderness begins with something small with the capacity for amazing transformation and then it becomes something big, and connected! Did you know that one of the oldest and largest single living organisms is in fact a forest!? Pando Forest, found in Fishlake National Forest, near Fish Lake at the western edge of the Colorado Plateau in South-central Utah, is a single organism connected by a root system of about 106 acres!

Are you starting to see what I am talking about when I say the Wilderness Downtown? Can you imagine a forest of Churches and Missionaries (we

Pando Forest

Pando Forest

are all called to be these after all), rooted in (Jeremiah 17:7,8) the life giving water of the Gospel, each of them a place of restoration and care for the people in residence around them? What an amazing picture! The Gospel is about community, and it is about not merely thriving in communities but creating thriving communities, each of them full of people seeking the benefit of not just themselves, but those around them. We are built to be a blessing for others. Proverbs 11:11 says that the upright are good for a city and help to make it prosper. Jesus over and over tells us to get into proximity with people and to be a blessing to them, not a burden. In doing this, we glorify (a fancy way of saying “reveal”) God.

This is what has excited me in my time with God these last few weeks. Thanks for letting me share it with you. I hope that you’ve found it as encouraging as I have!