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!