Friday, March 8, 2013

Lessons From the Barber's Chair

This morning I was getting my hair cut and it dawned on me. I have trust issues. There I was in the chair wringing my hands, my whole body tensed up and second guessing every move this professional hair dresser made. In a split second, I realized the ridiculousness of my nerves. Maria, the woman cutting my hair this morning, was clearly capable. She was well trained. No doubt she had cut the hair of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Of the two of us, she was obviously better suited to know what approaches and techniques were appropriate to cut my mop. With this in mind, I felt like I had a decision before me. Would I continue to experience the internal turmoil of second guessing what she was doing, or would I entrust my hair to her care and sit back and relax?

I wonder if we often apply this type of nervousness and lack of trust to life in other ways. How often to do we find ourselves wringing our hands, physically consumed with worry and trying to figure our way through a situation that is beyond us? When we do this, we are ignoring the reality that we can have at our disposal the resources of Heaven to help guide us and empower where ever life takes us. 

But trust can be a tough thing to do. It means that we are saying that we do not have the wisdom or the resources that we need. It is a cry for help. It is an easier thing to talk about than it is to do. For me, I like to be in control. I like to know what is going to happen next. To trust God is humbling, it means recognizing that God is better qualified that I am to give direction to my life and that I am open to God reshaping my hopes and dreams. This can be scary. 

Scripture calls us to pause and realize that God is worthy of our trust ((Ps. 46:10) and invites us to lean on his ways instead of our own wisdom (Prov. 3:5-6). Indeed we would be wise to realize that the Lord's wisdom is beyond us (Is. 55:8-9) and that this is a good thing as our own wisdom can often be found to be lacking.

And so I think that the same decision is before us each and every day as was before me as I was sitting in that barber's chair this morning. Are we going to continue with the turmoil of trying to figure things out on our own, or are we going to place our trust in the One who is more than capable of caring for us and allow him to lead and guide us? As scary as trust can be, when we place our trust in the right places, the results can be amazing. 

PS I think that my haircut looks pretty good!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Everybody Welcome

There is a sign on the door of my gym that says "everybody welcome". It is a play on words that makes me smile and reflect. What they want is for people to believe that their gym is not for people who are physical specimens of health, but that all body types are welcome to come and take steps towards physical health. The slogan is supported by before and after pictures of ordinary people who have apparently had their lives transformed by their club membership and/or the help of a personal trainer. It's good advertising. 

To be honest I like this slogan. It captures for me what I think a gym should be all about -  a bunch of out of shape people who realize that something needs to change. The goal does not need to be that they enter beauty pageants but that they simply are trying to move towards being healthier. There is even a part of my brain that can envision shouts of celebration when someone who has never been to the gym before comes for the first time and people clamor to show them around. 

In a similar way, I think that this is what the church is to be all about. That we have a sign on our door that says that everybody is welcome and we acknowledge that we exist to help people who are spiritually unhealthy and searching to move forward into spiritual healthy and vitality. 

Unfortunately the reality of my gym is that is doesn't always feel like everybody is actually welcome all the time. Sure no one actually screens out the fat people, but there are an awful lot of buff people walking around and making the rest of us nervous. These are the people who make spandex look good and, no matter what time of day you decide to workout, are always there. The result is that I don't always feel like I can relax and be the recovering fat guy that I truly am. I know that it is not wise to be comparing myself to others but it is not hard to feel inadequate, weak and hopeless at times. 

I have to wonder if people feel this way about the church at times too. Sure the church has an open door policy, but I think we can present like we have it all together a bit too much and freak out those who really need to be there. I am not sure this means being disingenuous about the spiritual victories that we may have seen, but I think it means speaking of them in such a way that is encouraging and inviting.

In closing, I have always thought that the church should be thought of more often as a support group sort of like AA. As a church we are a gathering of people who have been rescued from sin by Jesus. We gather not as people who have it all together but as people who are recovering sinners, seeking to grow into the fullness of Christ. Each of us is fully dependent upon God for this transformation to take place and we look to each other for encouragement and support in the journey. 

May we be communities of faith where EVERYBODY is truly welcome!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Low Expectations= Big Surprise!

Last weekend my youth group did the 30 Hour Famine. As expected the not eating part was difficult for some but this was made up for by an all-night event that was a lot of fun. But the point of this short post is that I learned a valuable lesson through this event - do not underestimate students!

Way back when we started talking up the 30 Hour Famine I set our group fundraising goal at $750 believing that this was an achievable goal for us. As soon as this goal was announced one of my students stated that it was too low and that we should be aiming for $1000. To be honest I wasn't so sure of her confidence. I had this voice in the back of my head saying that the fundraising goal needed to be lower and that if we set it too high that we would be setting ourselves up for failure. So I ignored her.

Three weeks before our famine event our progress didn't look good and I was sure that we had failed. After weeks of informing our students about the plight of exploited children it appeared as thought only one student was really trying to raise funds. After a few phone calls I concluded that we would be fortunate to reach $500 and that $750 was definitely out of reach.

It is now 5 days after our famine event. Physically I have almost recovered but emotionally I am still in awe. This group of students that I expected so little from came through and raised over $1400 to help exploited children! As I reflect, I realize that I had fallen victim to a mindset that many have - one that expects little from our teens. This stands as a reminder to me that our students are capable of much more that we often are willing to given them credit for and they will often surprise us at the amazing things that they do.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Pursuit of Health

Its a New Year and with the New Year often comes resolutions for change. Two weeks ago a friend and I talked about something that we were both seeking to change. We wanted to become healthier. For both of use this means a renewed commitment to exercise as well as being more careful about what we eat. And so our conversation covered topics like nutrition, exercise routines, the gym, what we weighted...all of what you might expect. But then he dropped a word of reflection on me that is staying with me. He referred to 1 Corinthians 6:19.  

If you have grown up in the church you have probably heard this verse referred to in talks about drugs, alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, tattoos, piercings and many other things. Indeed, there are many good reasons why we ought to reflect on this verse. But what my friend was suggesting was that perhaps we should be reflecting on this verse in terms of the conversation that we were having. I am embarrassed to say that I had not thought about this at all. 

As the weeks have passed I have begun to get into the routine of exercise and trying to be more aware of what I eat, I find myself reflecting on this verse again and again. While there is an immediate context that the Apostle Paul writes, I think that an overarching principle that we can glean from it is that we are to bring glory to God through the use of our bodies...and maybe living an unhealthy lifestyle of watching TV, eating cheeseburgers and potentially developing a health condition as a result, does not bring glory to God. 

I know that a lot could be said on this topic, but at this point I will offer two reflections:
  • How we treat our own bodies can be a testimony to how much we value ourselves as a part of God's creation. If we abuse them by neglect and poor nutrition, aren't we saying that we don't care for what God gave us? Isn't this an issue of stewardship? 
  • As Christians we are to be agents of kingdom-change and participants in God's agenda. As we care for the body that God gave us, we will find ourselves with greater capacities to serve than we would if we neglected our health. 
In writing what I have, I am acutely aware that for many people healthy food is unaffordable and a gym membership is a privilege reserved for the wealthy. Does this mean that the poor cannot honour God? Indeed we would be wise to be wary of how we apply these principles so not to exclude those who are limited by finances or, for that matter, existing health concerns.

I am also aware that there are people in our culture who seem to take their health very seriously to the point that their physical bodies become an idol. I do not believe that scripture gives license for this type of health-conciousness. While we are to take care of ourselves, we cannot allow the pursuit of health to direct every action of our lives and become THE goal, when I believe it is supposed to be something that can enable a greater service of God.

In conclusion, my friend and I both have reasons for why we want to be in better shape. To be honest some of them are pretty selfish. But the reality is that these selfish reasons can only motivate me for so long. While it is still too early to tell for sure, I believe that what I have written about is something that will resonate more deeply than another diet or exercise regiment. It is a theological  understanding that says that how I treat my body matters. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

It can be the small things...

My wife and I live in a small-ish apartment building and we really don’t know our at all. This has always struck me as being funny. I mean think about it, we live within inches of two families and within a few yards of many others. If we are honest, we kind of like it this way – we are introverts and like to have a quiet place to escape and recharge. But we will acknowledge that there is something strange about this and that maybe, just maybe, we should take some steps to connect on some level with our neighbours.

This Christmas we decided to do something for our neighbours. We bought each apartment on our floor a box of chocolates and Michelle wrote a card to accompany it. Really it was nothing special and cost us a total of $30. In keeping with our anti-social behaviour, I snuck around a few days before Christmas and placed these small gifts on people’s door steps so that they could be found without having to actually talk with our neighbours.

To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect. The gifts were pretty nominal and we weren’t looking for any reciprocity. In hindsight I think that the point of giving these gifts were more for us – to get us thinking about connecting with our neighbours – than it was about whether our neighbours appreciated their chocolates or not…although if they enjoyed it would be even better!

A few days after we gave out these gifts we arrived home to find two notes of thanks had been slide under our door. Both were nice but one of them has caused me to reflect more (see the photo below). It was from an older neighbour whom I had met once before. She was largely confined to her apartment and my only prior interaction with her had been in the laundry room where I found a chair for her to sit on while she waited for her laundry to finish. Michelle and I were both moved by her note. We really didn’t feel like we had done anything special but her note conveyed that our small gift had had a significant impact on her. Really our action was pretty much the least we could have done but her reaction has stimulated some reflection about what it means to have a positive impact on those around us.

The reality is that sometimes I can make things a bigger deal than they ought to be. When we started thinking about how we could connect with our neighbours I immediately thought of grand gestures and things that would take a lot of time, resources and energy to make happen. But in light of this woman’s reaction, I have been struck by how simple it should be.

I recently read someone’s twitter description of themselves and their ministry and included in it was “to be a good neighbour”. Indeed there is a simplicity to this that Jesus calls his followers to be - to love our neighbours as ourselves. We would be wise to remember that this is not a programmed strategy but rather a way of living. It is simple, day by day, looking for opportunities to let the love of Christ permeate what we do and naturally flow into how we relate to those we bump into in the ordinariness of our lives.   

May we seek to be people who are aware that our daily interactions with others matter and aware that ordinary acts of kindness often stand out in contrast to the world that we live in. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Keeping the "X" in "Xmas"

It seems at this time of year that we often hear of people getting upset at the use of the word "Xmas" in place of the word "Christmas". The concern is that by using "Xmas" instead of "Christmas" that we are blatantly taking Jesus out of the season. To be honest this argument has always made me laugh, and so I feel compelled to explain why in this blog. 

The New Testament was originally written in Greek.  In Greek the word for "Christ" is Χριστός, which begins with the Greek letter (known as chi) that is basically the same as the English letter X. So, as I understand it, the original use of Xmas was simply an abbreviation of Christmas. Really there is no conspiracy here. 

But I know that we can't deny that there is a move to secularize Christmas in our culture. This should come as no surprise to us. The reality is that we live in a culture where most people are not following Christ and therefore their understanding of Christmas will reflect this. 

But I sometimes wonder if we as Christians aren't also complicit in Jesus being removed from the season. Have we as followers of Christ allowed all the other things about the season to crowd out the Christ-story in our own lives? I recently heard someone suggest that one of the ways that we can be ensuring that Jesus remains central in our own expression and understanding of the season is to make sure that for every time we (and our family) hear a secular Christmas story (i.e. Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Elf...etc), that we should make sure that we take the time to also read, or retell, the story of the birth of Christ. In this way we would ensure that our culture's understanding of the season would not crowd out the significance of what the Bible tells us about the birth of Christ. 

I can't help but wonder if our way forward is to stop fighting the "keep Christ in Christmas" battle in the public forum, and seek to ensure that Christ is prominent in our own Christmas celebrations and then seek to live that out in tangible ways. 

Just a thought...

Also, I found this blog about St. Nicholas. Definitely worth the click! (click here)

Monday, December 3, 2012

When our escapes become all too real

I am a sports fan. I like watching sports. I like reading about sports. I like listening to sports talk shows. I even play fantasy sports. I recognize that for me that sports are an escape. When I engage the side of me that is a sports fan I am able to temporarily shut down other parts of my brain for a while - indeed listening to a sports show in the car can be a little mental getaway in between the other, truly important, things that are a part of my life.  

I say all this knowing that I am not the only one that views sports in this way. On some level we need getaways such as these. But I also know that sometimes sports as a getaway can become too big of a part of our lives and we can live in this place, forgetting what is real and meaningful and begin to believe that the entertainment is what holds substance. 

This weekend the divide between the getaway of sports and the messiness of real life has been crossed. Many of you know the story already that a football player killed his girlfriend and then killed himself, leaving a young girl orphan.  It is a truly tragic story that I believe will take a while to unpack and digest. 

This morning I find myself changing up my day-off routine of having sports on in the background of my day. My escape is no longer an escape. I am reminded that brokenness cannot be avoided no matter how I would try to. Real life includes chaos, anguish and injustice. Indeed it can look like death is winning. these places of darkness and death, we are called to point to the light of the true life. I am reminded that God is not okay with suffering, indeed God is on the side of life! As a follower of Christ, I am called to proclaim this good news to those who are without hope!

This week at youth group we looked at Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones and were challenged by the imagery that God would breathe life into bones that seemed beyond resuscitation. As one of my students pointed out, it is like the Creation story all over again! It is God's desire that we live as those animated by his divine breathe. A life that disperses darkness, confronts evil and holds a great hope.

Going back to football for a minute. A friend of mine once suggested that fantasy football has made commodities out of people. I cannot argue that this is completely untrue. The reality is that by investing ourselves in our escapes (whatever they are) that we can  forget that we are dealing with real people who are in need of God's breathe of life in their lives. May we never forget this and may we always be striving to proclaim the good news of God's hope!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Why the Trinity matters...

I have been working on a discussion topic for a group of young adults this week. The topic that was chosen by the group is on understanding the Trinity. Great. A nice easy one to explain (can you sense sarcasm in a blog?).  So after figuring out why I should never explain the Trinity using the classic water-ice-vapour analogy again, I found myself drawn towards what God's three-in-oneness teaches us about love. 

As Christians, we believe that 'God is love', meaning that he is the definition and source of love. We also believe that God is eternal and is unchanging in his nature. On this philosophical level, C.S. Lewis points out that the Trinity is necessary, for without it  God cannot be love. "All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that "God is love." But they seem not to notice the words 'God is love' have no real meaning unless God contains at least two persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God were a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love." (C.S. Lewis, Beyond Personality, 1948). So our Christian understanding of who God is and that he is the very source of love in the world, must include that God is three-in-one. 

On another level, the Trinity tells us something about God's relationship with us. Because God is three-in-one, God is not lonely and in need of creation, us, for his fulfilment. God is fulfilled in himself. In other words, God does not need us. Rather God chooses to create, love and redeem us because he wants to. This ought to speak powerfully to our hearts, knowing that God's love is genuine and not under any compulsion by unmet desires. 

Lastly, I was struck by how the Trinity can help us understand that we were made to be in meaningful relationships with other people. Again I will point you to a quote that I believe captures this thought rather well. "...the Bible tells us we were built for coventantial relationships. We want and need to have other persons unconditionally, unselfishly committed to us, and we to them. Christian theology tells us we were made in the image of God, and that God is a Trinity. Jesus said he never did anything, said anything, or accomplished anything without his Father. The persons of the Trinity are absolutely one - each person does everything with the others. We are meant to live like that." (Tim Keller, Indeed in our yearning to be deeply connected to other people, we are echoing the nature of the Creator who created us to be like him.

All this to say that this week has helped me to see that the understanding the Trinity can help me understand much more that my doctrinal statement, but can help me nuance my understanding of God, my relationship with him and with others. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Getting called out...

My personal reading these days is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship. This is my first time reading this classic and is really challenging me in a number of ways. This morning as I sat in my favorite coffee shop I read the words below and was moved to posted them on Facebook.

‎"Since the ascension, Christ's place on earth has been taken by his Body, the Church. The Church is the real presence of Christ. Once we have realized this truth we are well on the way to recovering an aspect of the Church's being which has been sadly neglected in the past. We should think of the Church not as an institution but as a person, though a person in a unique sense."

I am used to getting a  token amount of "likes" when I post stuff like this. But this time I got called my mother. She wrote, "OK pastor son, now speak to your people about specific ways to do this. Seldom is this fleshed out when we talk about it." 

Indeed one of the things that I appreciate about my mother is that while she has the ability to think deeply, what is important to her is that thoughts don't stay so deep that they don't ever result in action. Theology cannot stay on the mountain, it must be worked out by the people - a quote like this needs to be unpacked and reflected on if it is to truly be profound and life-changing. 

What you will find below are just a few thoughts that I have about what this quote might look like in real life. I know that my thoughts are not exhaustive in anyway, and will be limited to only a few ideas, so I invite you as the reader to add your own by leaving a comment. Let's think this through together! 

  • Recognizing that the Church is "the real presence of Christ" should wake us up to the reality that we are Christ to our whomever we have relationships with. This should move us to reject the temptation to withdraw from our society, but instead become more involved with it. And...we may need to do some reconciliation work for any sins we have committed in the past. 
  • We should be looking for opportunities to embody the love of Christ in tangible ways and looking for opportunities to invite them to know Christ for themselves. We will look to the example of Christ and realize that this is not something you can do from a distance, but will be personal, and sometimes messy. Jesus' ministry wasn't neat and tidy and neither should ours. 
  • When we realize that the Church is not an institution, we will stop thinking in terms of who is in and who is out as if we were a club.  Rather we will think in terms in terms of relationships and desire that we be helping people move closer to Christ.
  • We will realize that there is way more to the Church than meeting on a Sunday. Being a part of the Church, the Body of Christ, is a way of life that requires all of who we are. 

Late Night Reflections...

It is late. I am tired...but a little wired at the same time. This could be due to the rather large "medium" coffee I drank earlier this evening or the copious amount of sweets that I ate at our young adult gathering sometime after the coffee. Either way, I am awake when ordinarily I should be sleeping. 

But this "awake" time is allowing me to rehash some of what has happened over the past week. Indeed as I sit here I am acutely aware of the fact that I have seen God at work this week in some cool ways, and even cooler, I feel as though I have been allowed to participate in some of what God is doing in some real ways. That being said, I am not sure that this forum is the venue that I want to go into detail sharing what is all going on - let's face it, these are stories best shared over a cup of coffee. 

So what am I saying? I guess I am saying that these moments have me excited and are propelling me with a new energy to move forward. I want to continue to see God's hand at work...and I desire to participate in what he is doing. I am also wanting to encourage my readers (whoever you are) to be looking out for the ways that you see God at work wherever you are. May these be stories that inspire you to draw closer to Jesus and energized you to be involved in his mission. 

Good night!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cracked Pots and Flourishing Flowers

My wife and I try to make a habit of going for walks. During our walk last night she enthusiastically shared with me a story that she had heard on a podcast during her commute. As she shared we both found ourselves reflecting on the profoundness of this short story. It is simple, and yet very deep.

Back in the days when pots and pans could talk, which indeed they still do, there lived a man. And in order to have water, every day he had to walk down the hill and fill two pots and walk them home. One day, it was discovered one of the pots had a crack, and as time went on, the crack widened. Finally, the pot turned to the man and said, "You know, every day you take me to the river, and by the time you get home, half of the water's leaked out. Please replace me with a better pot." And the man said, "You don't understand. As you spill, you water the wild flowers by the side of the path." And sure enough, on the side of the path where the cracked pot was carried, beautiful flowers grew, while other side was barren. "I think I'll keep you," said the man.
~ By Kevin Kling (accessed on September 14, 2012 from On Being with Krista Tippett

For me this story has illustrated a recent reality that I have found myself living - that my brokenness can be used to bring life to others. Indeed, as I share myself, being honest about fear, hurt and my questions, I find myself with opportunities to be with people in similar situations and to also share with them my experience of God in these times. In fact I wonder...well maybe I know... that if I had it all together (or pretended to be flawless), that some of these opportunities for life to spring up may not happen. 

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Speaking from Experience...

It has been a while since I last wrote on here, so I am going to ease back into things with this reflection from my quiet-time this morning...

I was reading the story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man (see Luke 8:26-39) and was struck by the last few verses. Jesus has just totally changed this man's life and it seems logical to me that the man would want to go with Jesus...I would! But instead of taking the man with him, Jesus instructs the man to go home and "tell how much God has done for you." 

As I have been thinking about this I am impressed by the reality that the healing of this man was not just for this man. Sure Jesus has great compassion on this oppressed and afflicted individual, but I can't help but think that this miracle is also for the sake of the others who are in the area. Jesus intentionally leaves this man behind to be a lasting reminder that the old ways of spiritual oppression were being dismantled, that God is doing something new. Just by his presence in town, this man was to be a testimony to the power and compassion of Christ. In addition, this man was charged with the task to speak about what God had done for him. To simply share what has happened and who is responsible for his radical transformation.

I can't help but think that this story has a lot in it for those of us who call ourselves Christians today. Sometimes after big God-experiences we are tempted to pull ourselves out of our culture, we can hide in Christian bubbles, we can disengage from relationships, we can function in our society just enough to get by but really have no vested interest in it. But I think that this story points out that pulling away is not necessarily why we have been "saved". Indeed what God has done in our lives should be there for others to see too. We need to be present and active. We need to find ways to live out our faith in vibrant, and culturally appropriate, ways that point people to Jesus. Not only this, but I believe we too are charged to be able to speak to the very real difference that God has made in our lives. Remember, this man is not asked to spout knowledge about God, he is not asked to learn a specific evangelistic methodology, he is asked to share from his experience of God. 

So today I am pondering what this all means in practical terms. How can I best live out, and testify to, my experience with Jesus that help others see him in real ways too. Thoughts? 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jesus Wept...

Jesus wept (John 11:35). This verse is the shortest verse in the English Bible. Two words. But these words represent so much. Bible scholars tell us that these words in this story are not just referring to  the tears that fell down Jesus' face, but of much deeper emotions. Outrage. Heartache. Anger. Uncontrollable grief. What is described is Jesus' total outrage at death. He is overwhelmed with emotion. He is angry at the brokenness of his world. He is grieved by the loss of a friend and for those who are mourning. What is described here is God personally standing with those who are mourning and fully entering into the range of emotions that comes with the human experience.

At the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing where 168 people died is this statue of Jesus. His back is to the site of the destruction. He is facing, with his head in his hands, the memorial of those who died. I think that it reminds that God is not absent in such horrific events. He might not answer the "why" questions in a way that satisfies our souls, but he is present. He is heartbroken at the brokenness of life - he can't stand death and pain. He is standing with those who mourn. Weeping. Indeed our God is not remote. He does not stand back and leave us to feel the sting of grief and loss on our own. He is with us. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Discovering God's Will For Our Lives

Ever found yourself wrestling with what God might want from you or for you? What is God’s will for your life? Well this week in my church’s young adults group we grappled with this topic. This is some of what we talked about…and then a bonus video that we didn’t have time to look at.

Usually when someone is wrestling what God’s “will” might be, they are trying to make a decision. They want to get a sense of what God might have in store for them and maybe find clarity of purpose or direction. In this sense we can understand God’s will as being two-fold. There is God’s “universal will” and God’s “specific/individual will”.

When I refer to God’s “universal will”, I am referring to what God desires for all people, everywhere, regardless of personality type, culture, geographic location and other variables. It is through scripture that we realize that God’s will for all people is to be in relationship with him through Christ (1 Timothy 2:3-4), that he wants us to yield to Christ and be transformed (Romans 12:-12), to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:5-17), and to invite others to follow Jesus as well (Matthew 28:19-20).

Of course there are other aspects of this will of God for us such as putting God and his priorities above our own, loving others, doing good to our enemies, hanging out with other believers, representing Jesus to our neighbours, and seeking justice and mercy. These are just a few other aspects of what God would desire for all people. In fact, one of the most basic tests of whether what we are doing/considering/pondering/desiring would be acceptable to God for us, or his will for us, would be to check with scripture. In this way we are to ensure that we are in line with God’s desires for us. The reality is that it is possible to honor God, to be acting in his will, doing any number of things

However, there are times when God seems to want to fine tune his desires for us to something more pointed. These will always been in line with God has revealed in his universal will but are specific to an individual in a unique circumstance. So how might we discover what God might have in store for us? I would suggest that the following are four parts of the conversation that God has with us as he reveals himself and his desires.
  1. God will reveal himself and his desires to us as we are in the habit of reading scripture. It is here that we learn God’s heart and he shapes ours. It is here that we have our priorities reshaped and our dreams recast in light of who God is and what he asks of his children. It is here that his Spirit moves within us. 
  2. God reveals himself and his desires to us as we are in the habit of spending time in prayer. As we spend time in prayer, we allow room for God to speak to our hearts. As we give him our burdens we realize his ability to carry us and things find new perspective. As we sit and listen the Holy Spirit transforms us and whispers movements and visions.  
  3. God reveals himself and his desires as we include the godly counsel of those whom we trust. These are the people who see things differently than we do. With wisdom, perspective and experience they can ask questions, reflect our thoughts back to us so we can see them for what they are, and pray on our behalf.
  4. God reveals himself and his desires through the circumstances of life. God uses the circumstances of our lives to shape us into the people he would have us be. He has given us passions, abilities and places in locations and situations that can guide us to find our place. These may not always be fun or what we might wish for in our “ideal” setting. But all circumstances can be used for God’s good. 

Lastly, in my own search to understand how God speaks to me, I have found the following guidelines helpful.
  • Leadings from God are consistent with the Bible.
  • Leadings from God are usually consistent with the person he has made you to be.
  • Leadings from God usually involve servant-hood (in contrast with fame and fortune).
  • If a leading requires you to make a major, life-changing decision in a very short period of time, question it.
  • If a leading requires you to go deeply in debt or place someone else in a position of awkwardness, compromise or danger, question it.
  • If a leading requires you to shatter family relationships or important friendships, question it.
  • If a leading creates unrest in the spirit of a mature Christian friend or counsellor as your share it with them, question it.

My experience tells me that discernment does not happen as quickly as I might like, but that the timing is always bang on. May your experience be similar as God shapes you and leads you into the person that he desires you to be. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Responding to Issues of Injustice

Last Tuesday/Wednesday I witnessed something amazing. I watched my Facebook newsfeed blow-up with people becoming aware of an injustice in our world and passing the word along. As a person who works with teenagers and young adults, and would like to consider themselves looking for ways to address injustice in our world, I found everything surrounding the Kony 2012 campaign very intriguing. I watched the video, read blogs and articles, posted thoughts and responded to questions from students and friends. I am not sure what will happen next with this…nor am I entirely sure what I think should happen next. But in my processing this event around the issue of Joseph Kony and the LRA, I have found myself reflecting on a number of things. This blog entry is me attempting to organize my thoughts. It is not my intent to directly address the Kony 2012 campaign by Invisible Children. Rather, I am sharing where my brain has been over the past few days in hopes that through sorting out my own thinking that others may be encouraged to think about issues such as this in different ways than they did before. I am not someone with all the answers, just someone trying to sort some things out as he goes. ~ Josh

·         The power of social media is absolutely incredible!

The response to the Kony 2012 video re-enforces for me that there is a generation of people out there who care about injustice and are willing to get excited about a cause if they can only become aware of it and be given practical ways to engage in a solution.

I can be swayed by a well put together video with a cute kid in it. *sigh*

I appreciate simplicity and directness in how a cause is advocated for. This makes it easy for people to grab onto and for them to understand what they can do. However, I am realizing more and more just how complex our world is and that to reduce issues of injustice to simply being “black” or “white” is not fair, nor does it lead to actually addressing the issue. More often than not the issues that we are reacting to are symptoms of something deeper and more systemic.

For every good, or well-intentioned, idea there will be feedback and criticism. It is wise to listen and evaluate all voices in the conversation. Who knows, maybe these other voices can provide some missing perspective.

I need to get into the habit of researching the organizations that I give money to. This is not pointed at any one organization, it is just wise stewardship.

I think that for “awareness” to be more than simply an emotive response to new information we need to be willing to learn more on our own.  There is always more to the story. In addition, I think that for “awareness” to be genuine, that it needs to move us to some sort of action. Being an advocate cannot simply be passing along a video that is going viral and changing a profile picture. It should change us.

I think I often delude myself into thinking that writing a letter to my MP or donating funds makes me somehow an advocate for the weak and working to end injustice. While these are good things, these are often acts to appease my conscious so I can feel good about focusing again on myself. I am thinking that being “aware” is a way of life that probably begins with an examination of my own priorities and how things like my coffee purchases effect (and possibly oppress) others.

I feel uncomfortable with responses to injustice that remind me of colonialism (i.e. western domination, the west solving the world’s problems for them, etc.). We haven’t exactly had a great track record with this. Rather I am drawn in by organizations that seek to partner with indigenous peoples and empower them to implement solutions.

I like the idea of mobilizing the public to advocate to their government officials to stand against an injustice and be a champion for the weak. I am uncomfortable with mobilizing the public to demand something from their governments that may in the end look like military force.

I am encouraged when I hear stories of forgiveness and reconciliation amidst a situation that seems to not be conducive to such movements of grace.  

I  feel like however we (I am speaking specifically to Christians here) respond to issues of injustice that we need to be devoting ourselves to praying for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven (see Matthew 6:10).  It is through prayer that we can discern how God would have us participate in his kingdom-mission against injustice and through prayer that we will see God do what seems impossible to us.  

Well, those are my thoughts for now…

Monday, February 6, 2012

Reflections on Counterfeit Gods

I have just finished Tim Keller’s Counterfeit God’s and found it to be very thought provoking and challenging in many ways. It is about idolatry. But if you are like me you don’t exactly have little statues of pagan deities set up around your home. However, what Keller writes about is so much more. He defines an idol as being “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” (pg xx).  With a definition like this, we realize that perhaps we have more idols in our lives than we would like to admit and Keller spends considerable time looking at things like money, success and even love. The concern is that God commands, and has designed, us to live with Him in the top priority place in our lives. Anything else is idolatry and will result in us not being all that God designed us to be relationally or spiritually.
In the epilogue (pages 165-177), Keller lays out four thoughts/questions that are designed to help the reader, discern the idols in our own lives. I am still pondering what it means for me, but wanted to share it with my readers in case it might be helpful for you as well.

The first way that Keller suggests that we identify idols in our lives us to look at our imagination. He writes, “The true God of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention.”  And he asks, “…what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?”

The second thing that Keller suggests is to ask about how you spend your money. He writes, “Your money flows most effortlessly toward your heart’s greatest love. In fact, the mark of an idol is that you spend too much money on it, and you must try to exercise self-control constantly.” I think that it is important to note how Keller phrases what he writes. I don’t think he is simply talking about where the majority of your income goes to (i.e. rent, hydro, groceries), although I suppose it could. Rather he is suggesting that we look to where our money seems to disappear to and where we struggle to rein in our spending.

The third identifier that Keller suggests is for those who would profess faith in God. He asks, “… what is your real, daily functional salvation? What are you really living for…?” Indeed many of us struggle with placing our trust in things that are not God and relying on those things in order to give us happiness, satisfaction and security. “A good way to discern this is how you respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes.” When we are faced with unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes, where do we go? What do we lean on? How do we react? Perhaps here is an idol that we have given the place of God in our lives.

The final test that Keller lays out looks at our uncontrollable emotions. Keller writes, “…look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong.”

I know that I am working through these questions, and will hopefully do so for the rest of my life, but I would hate to end this post like this. Idolatry is putting something in our lives in the place that God should be. But Keller is careful to note that if we uproot an idol and fail to replace it with Christ, then the idol will grow back. Indeed this is where spiritual disciplines are important. Because they focus our hearts on the love of Christ and are an instrument of the Holy Spirit to reshape the deepest aspects of who we are and what we rely on.

Keller, Timothy. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope 

Monday, January 30, 2012

standing at the back of the room, afraid to look silly...

Yesterday I was helping out with our children's program at church. As the group was singing together, I found myself critiquing the song for coolness (completely forgetting that it was for the kids not for me) and I was resistant to doing the actions because I thought I would look silly. But then I made eye-contact with two little boys.  They were new and we had bonded when they came into my class. I realized that they were looking at me to know what was okay and what they were supposed to do. And so I started singing and doing the actions to the song and then they started singing and doing the actions too.

Afterwards I reflected on this event and realized that it illustrates the importance of positive role models. These boys were looking for the one person they knew to show them that it was okay to participate in what was going on. What would have happened if I just sat back and crossed my arms? Would they have engaged in the group activity? I think that my leaving my comfort zone meant that these two boys were more engaged in what was happening, and maybe more open to the lesson than they would have been other wise.

I think that perhaps there is a lesson here beyond just how to lead children. That we need to realize the importance of positive role modelling and the impact that we can have on people's perceptions of Jesus. I believe that people are looking for examples of what it means to follow Jesus in real and tangible ways. They want to see that Jesus matters in everyday life. Can we do this? Can we testify to this? Or are we standing at the back of the room afraid to look silly?

~ Josh

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why I Don’t Mind People Calling Them “Holiday Trees”

As Christmas has approached I have found myself in a few different conversations with other Christians about their concerns with the trend to rebrand “Christmas” as “the Holidays”. The conversation frequently sounds the same, with most lamenting the loss of what once was in our culture and someone passionately demanding that “Christ” be put back into “Christmas”. As these conversations unfold, I find myself unsure about how I feel. Am I angry? No. Am I happy? No. Am I surprised that this is where our society is at? No, not really. Am I sad? Maybe, but less about what we call this time of year and more that most people are ignorant of the significance of what we are supposed to be celebrating.

As I reflect on what passes as “Christmas” celebrations in our culture, I think I may actually be okay with simply referring to this time of the year as “the holidays” for reasons that go beyond political correctness. There are many good things about the way that we celebrate this time of year (i.e. charity, gift giving, the opportunity to spend time with family, peace and good-will, etc.). But the reality is that how the season is celebrated at a popular level has very little to do with Jesus (i.e. over-indulgence, over-spending, greed, waste, some vague empowering force called “Christmas Spirit”, etc.) and perhaps it would be best to separate these things from his name.

In one of my recent conversations a story was told of a primary school classroom survey that revealed that very few children were aware that Jesus had anything to with Christmas. As one participant in the conversation stated, “maybe this is a good thing, because it means that they haven’t been jaded by Christians.” In a podcast I listened to today by Dr. Tony Campolo he suggested a similar thought. He suggested that many in our current culture have been inoculated against the gospel by “Christian” culture. He went on to suggest that perhaps this move away from a “Christian” holiday was an opportunity for the church to do its own marketing and storytelling about who Jesus is in a compelling way. I agree!  As Christians we cannot rely on our culture to tell the story of Jesus and convey the significance of Christmas. This is not their role or job and to expect this of them is unfair and unrealistic. Rather as the church, it is our job to proclaim the birth of Jesus and to invite people to experience Jesus for themselves.

Now I don’t think I am suggesting a boycott of everything our culture does during “the Holidays”, although I would certainly advocate for moderation and discernment, but I think that we need to figure out how we can be different. Perhaps it is a slowing down to contemplate and reflect on God’s love and gift of Jesus. Maybe it is the development of traditions that focus our attention on the significance of the birth of Christ. It certainly could be, and should be, the telling of the story of Jesus in a manner that connects with those around us. The significance of Christmas does not diminish with branding or whether we call the trees in our living room’s “Holiday trees” or “Christmas trees”, rather the significance is found in the baby in the manger - God dramatically breaking into our reality so that we could experience God’s forgiveness, restoration and divine peace. It is our responsibility to remember this and to proclaim it to our culture.  

The Tony Campolo podcast can be found on itunes ( See the release on 12/18/11.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why Going to the Dentist Brings Me Closer to God...

So I'm going to the dentist (again) today and I realizing something about myself. I think that going to the dentist some how brings me closer to God. You see I am not a big fan of going to the dentist - although I am learning that being in the dental profession does not make some one a bad person (my recently experiences have been very positive). Going the the dentist makes me nervous. I am never sure what to expect. I feel exposed. I feel insecure. My efforts to cut corners are seen for what they are. There is nowhere to hide and I feel a lack of power. And so I find myself praying, meditating on God's goodness and quoting scripture to myself as I walk into the office and sit in the chair. It always strikes me as funny that I do this, but also always calms me.

I know that I might just be a big wimp, but I am realizing just how much we need experiences like this. Experiences where we suddenly realize our lack of power and that our best efforts have failed. Experiences where we don't have the means to get out of a jam or where those times when we have been faking it have been exposed. This is life. But these are also experiences that can cause us to realize that we need God - that without him we are lost, that we need to experience his presence and power to somehow survive.

For many of us there was a big crisis moment in our lives where we realized that we were in trouble, admitted defeat and threw ourselves to Jesus to rescue us. We may describe this as the time when we decided to follow Jesus. But the reality is that we don't just face one crisis moment and then the rest of life is hunky-dory. Rather the reality of life is that it is filled with moments where we need to realize that it is only through the power of God's Spirit within us that we will survive and find hope. For me, today, this is a trip to the dentist (admittedly small in the grand scheme of things...but it is what it is).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reshaped by Generosity

Lately I have been doing some thinking about what it means to have a healthily, God’s kingdom-orientation towards things like money and stuff. Scripture is clear that there is more to life than wealth, stuff, prestige and even physical comfort.  As people who are Christ followers, our lives are to be oriented differently; we are to shape our lives around God’s priorities rather than what our culture deems as important.  However, acknowledging this in theory is different than living it.  If I am honest, I struggle with wanting to hold tightly to the things that I have and my heart lusts for things that are clearly luxuries. I find security in my comforts, I covet what I do not have and make plans to attain things that I really do not need. It all sounds so shallow and is contrary to what I know about Jesus.

But then the offering plate gets passed on Sunday and something sinks in. Perhaps one of reasons why God asks his people to give a tithe or an offering is because he wants to help his people come to have a different perspective on wealth. Sure, it is a great way to support a church, charity or a person in a tangible way, but perhaps there more to it than fundraising.  In the Old Testament God asked his people to give the first and the best of what they earned/grew/raised. The New Testament isn’t quite as strict about how much someone is supposed to give, but the expectation is still that God’s people give generously.

I think that part of the point is that the act of giving shapes our attitude about what we have. The reality is that when we are generous with what we have, we are acknowledging that there is more to life than hoarding wealth. God’s requirements require that we hold loosely the things that we have and lead us to acknowledge that they came from God in the first place. When we give God the first crack at our pay check (no matter what the size) and not from what is left over, we are taking active steps to allow God to change our priorities from being “us-focused” to “God-focused.” For example, when we are faithful in giving instead of holding back so we can go on vacation, or to even pay down some debt, and instead give it to God, we are giving him priority over our wants and acknowledging that we are relying on him for our needs as well. Indeed, giving is one way that we acknowledge who God is and that we submit our hopes and dreams to him.  

A Christians we are called to be different.  Jesus invites us to make our lives about more than accumulating stuff and to instead enter into a life that is rich with meaning and significance. One of the ways that we can be different and fight off the values of a culture that place priority on self, wealth and success, is to practice being generous with whatever we have. May this define who we are. 

Friday, September 23, 2011


This week I read a stat that suggested that Canadian young people spend 7 hours and 38 minutes a day consuming media. Is this a scary thought to anyone else? I am not sure what the stats are for the rest of us, but I am sure that it is pretty high as well. The truth is that we are steeped in media and are steeped in a culture that is in many ways contrary to God's values and intentions. But perhaps recognition of this is key, as we realize that what we value and even built our lives upon may have little to do with Jesus, God or the Bible and more to do with the 100 hours of Jersey Shore we watched over the summer.

At youth group we have been talking about what it means to find our identity in Jesus. Part of a recent lesson was about being made new and how this means that we are to be different in every aspect of our lives. A key part of this discussion became about what we are consuming (not in a moralistic, you-shouldn't-watch-any-TV way) and that maybe we need to have our minds re-set in order to become who Jesus died for us to be. 

And so we came to Romans 12:2, that emphasizes that as believers that we should not just go along with the common thinking of our culture, but instead " transformed by the renewing of your mind." For Paul, what Jesus does for the believer is a life changing  thing and he is looking for this transformation to take alter the lives of Christians at the deepest level. He is looking for believers to stop conforming to the status-quo of their culture and to be the different people they are called to be. For Paul, the renewing of the mind is part of how this transformation takes place. It is a re-programming of values, morals, attitudes and behaviours. In Ephesians 4:20-24, Paul again uses language that points to the mind as being important for transformation. Here Paul tells his readers that they are not like those who don't know Jesus. Instead they have been changed and that they need to be the new people that Jesus died to make them. The old way of being is to be abandoned and they are to be made new in their minds so they can take on a new way of being. 

I think that here Paul gives us something that we who are Christians need to remember. Our minds are crucial to being new creatures. What we input shapes us, it influences us. Maybe not much at first but over time we become what we consume. Therefore it is important that we dedicate ourselves to guarding our minds from just anything going in, and take active steps to allow God to re-set, and continually influence our thinking. This means spending time purposely consuming things that shape us in Godly ways (i.e. in scripture, at church, in prayer and in the fellowship of other believers). 

One final illustration (that I can't take credit for). When I prepare a steak, I usually prepare a marinade for it and let it soak for as long as I can. The longer I let it soak, the more the steak takes on the flavour of the marinade. If I just dip in in and take it out, really nothing happens. But if I let it sit in the juices all night...WOW. Perhaps in some way our minds are like the steak (please don't take this too far), the more we soak in God's influence, the more we a take on his flavour. But the converse can also be true, the more we soak in things that are not of God, the more we take on those flavors. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

True Story

Stories are the best. They engage us in ways that propositions and stated facts just cannot. This is something that we who are Christ-followers need to remember. We need to tell stories (true stories) about how we experience God's goodness and grace in our ordinary lives. These are the stories that our friends and families need to hear. They need to understand the real difference God has made in our lives.

I love the beginning of Psalm 107 where it says "Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story..." The rest of the Psalm is about people who are in dire situations, cry out to God for help and then experience help from God. This dramatic act of God in rescuing those who cry for help, is what the "redeemed of the Lord" are called to testify to. To me this is not unlike what Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 3:15, where his readers are told to, "Always be prepared to answer everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have."  Peter wants his readers to be ready to answer the questions, "So why do you follow Jesus?" and  "What has Jesus ever done for you?"

This call to testify to what God has done in our lives is something that we need to take seriously as Christians. We live in a culture that is drawn to stories and holds experiences in high esteem. This seems to me to be the perfect opportunity to speak about our relationship with Jesus. It does not have to be preachy, but rather it is simply being honest with our experience of God with those who we share our lives with. Our God stories are not just for us but stories to be told that can help others realize that Jesus really can make a difference.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Thought for the Day

"Who, after all, was it who didn't want the dead to be raised? Not simply the intellectually timid or the rationalists. It was, and is, those in power, the social and intellectual tyrants and bullies; the Caesars who would be threatened by a Lord of the world who had defeated the tyrant's last weapon, death itself...Hope is what you get when you suddenly realize that a different worldview is possible, a worldview in which the rich, the powerful, and the unscrupulous do not after all have the last word. The same worldview shift that is demanded by the resurrection of Jesus is the shift that will enable us to transform the world."

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope pg. 75

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Step 2

Usually I like posting my own stuff, but periodically I find something like this that I like a lot and want to pass on. This Rabbi captures something that I believe to be true: we can't fix ourselves and are in need of God's dramatic intervention. Please read and reflect.

~ Josh

Check out --> Was the World Powerless to Stop Amy Winehouse?

Friday, July 15, 2011


A few months ago I (finally) finished reading Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel.  To be absurdly succinct, it is a book about the vastness of God’s grace.  Honestly an amazing read, and I am considering making it a book that I read once a year for the good of my heart. Anyways….in one of the chapters Brennan Manning explores the theme of being free in Christ. This has given me much to ponder.

In a theological sense, we can understand that the Holy Spirit is at work in the cosmic conflict between God and the powers of sin. In the process of conversion, the Spirit frees us from the enslavement of hostile forces. He is the one who gives us the ability to reject sin and turn to God. This theme of freedom is important to the New Testament writers. Jesus himself promises true freedom from sin when he says, “So if the Son sets your free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36). Stanley Grenz (who I am getting most of my theology from these days) points out that the NT writers place this freedom in the context of a cosmic drama. The human predicament, as the NT writers put it, is that we are slaves to sin (see: John 8:34-35 & Romans 6). This bondage has two dimensions to it.  It means that we are spiritually dead now and that in the future we will be eternally separated from God. The good news is that Jesus has been victorious over the forces of sin and death – his resurrection is the great reversal of the power of death (a.k.a sin). Through conversion the Holy Spirit applies Christ’ victory to our lives and continues to live in us to empower us to overcome the enslaving control of sin (check out what Paul says in Romans 8:9-11). The Spirit’s presence brings freedom. As Paul writes “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (1 Corinthians 3:17 TNIV).  

This freedom in Christ that is empowered by the Holy Spirit is something that is life changing and can be experience in our lives now. We are freed from feelings of guilt and shame because we have been forgiven. We don’t have to hide our failures because we know that God didn’t accept us because we were perfect but found us while we were still stuck in sin. We need to remember that Jesus speaks about his Kingdom being for those who acknowledge that they don’t have it together spiritually (see Matthew 5:3-4). Suddenly we are no longer outsiders, but can enjoy the God’s presence in our lives. It is safety, peace and rest in the midst of what seems like chaos.  Brennan Manning puts it this way – “Home is not a heavenly mansion in the afterlife but a safe place right in the midst of an anxious world.”  “To those of us in flight, who are afraid…Jesus says, “You have a home. I am your home. Claim me as your home. You will find it to be the intimate place where I have found my home. It is right where you are, in your innermost being. In your heart.” This freedom changes what makes us tick…what drives us. Instead of being shaped by the ever-changing thoughts of others, “Freedom in Christ produces a healthy independence from peer pressure, people pleasing, and the bondage of human respect.” Indeed, as followers of Christ we are called to continually give-in to the Holy Spirit so that he can work inside of us to change us. He will reshape our priorities and gently whisper to us how much God loves us even when others are telling us that we don’t matter. (All quotes from The Ragamuffin Gospel,  chapter 8).

As I have been pondering what it means to find freedom in Christ, it strikes me that we need to proclaim this freedom to those who are searching. The reality of following Jesus is not  that all of our current problems will be suddenly fixed and that life will be made easy, nor is it is just about going to heaven (a topic for another blog perhaps). Rather there is a newness and a freedom that is available for the believer now. I think that this is part of what Jesus was talking about when he said “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 TNIV). 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


It is not often that I find myself reflecting on something that I have written almost a month later. Usually once my thoughts are out of my mind and on paper or posted on this blog, I move on. But over the past few weeks I have found myself thinking about the quotes that I posted in my last blog. These quotes have challenged my understanding of what it means for me to invite students (or anyone really) to follow Jesus.

The New Testament writers often use the terms "repent" and "believe" when they talk about individuals coming to faith in Christ/following Jesus/becoming a Christian, and I think that understanding these two terms are key to what it means to follow Jesus. "Repent" means to feel sorry, self-reproachful, or contrite for past conduct; to regret or conscience-stricken about a past action or attitude. Throughout scripture, people are called to repent of their sin and turn to Christ (see Acts 3:19). In this way repentance is a feeling of sorrow over ones sin that results in change - the following of Christ. Biblical repentance is not simply a feeling but must be accompanied by action. This action is the turning from and old way of life without Christ to one that has Christ at its center. In this way, following Christ is a complete reorientation of ones life. The term "believe" is also much more than an intellectual statement. It is not simply the affirmation that Jesus exists but rather I think that it describes a deep trust that encapsulates all of who we are. Much like repentance, believing in Jesus requires action and is incomplete without it. This "belief" is a way of being that is fully convinced that Jesus is one with God and is God's salvation, which results in a reorientation of ones life to be fully reliant on him. The Gospel of John repeatedly emphasizes the importance of "believing" and invites the reader to believe in Jesus and have life in Jesus' name (John 20:31).

I guess all this has challenged me to realize that our invitations for students to follow Jesus must be more than a one-time intellectual assertions.  Being a follower of Jesus means that we need make daily decisions to orient our lives around him - each day we will need to repent and believe afresh as the Holy Spirit does his thing within us. With this in mind, we must constantly be inviting our students to make decisions to follow Jesus in the day to day things of life and trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work reforming them from the inside out.

One last thought before I conclude. I think that as we invite our students to contemplate what it means to follow Jesus and reorient their lives, we need to be honest  about the cost of being a disciple. Heck, Jesus himself is pretty honest with his followers that following him won't be easy (see: Matthew 8:18-22 & Matthew 10).  Following Jesus is not always easy. It may require giving up something that we hold dear, it means that we stand out because our values are not to be the same as everyone else's, it may mean that people hate us and persecute us. How many times have you heard this in an alter call? But perhaps we should speak about the difficulties of following Christ when it is not popular to do so from the outset.

I guess I lied, I have one more thing to add. In all of our being real with students about what it means to follow Jesus, I believe that we need to also present that following Jesus does not just benefit us in the afterlife (i.e. not going to hell) but that he also blesses us here and now. We need to speak about God's goodness in tough times, about the new life that Jesus gives, about forgiveness and love,about the blessings of the community of faith, about the abundant life that Jesus promised, about the presence of the Holy Spirit and about the hope that we have even when all seems black.

Well I feel like I should end this before I  meander some more. I apologize if these thoughts do not fit together tightly.  Just working through some thoughts and thought I would include others in the process. ~ Josh

Thursday, June 16, 2011

pressure to convert

Last summer I started reading Mike King's Presence-Centered Youth Ministry and never finished it. So today I decided that I would try and finish it. But in refreshing my memory on what Mike is writing about, I came across some interesting quotes on the topic of asking students to make faith decisions via the "sinner's prayer". He notes that this was, and still is, one of the prominent ways that someone "becomes a Christian." On this topic he says the following...

"...the decisions we make being a follower of Jesus are so different than the formulaic nature of the sinner's prayer. We cheapen what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus, when we give kids the idea that praying a sinner's prayer settles things once and for all. We make thousands of decisions as we follow Christ." pg 36.

"Jesus would not have been considered a good youth pastor in most of our evangelical churches. [He] was obviously willing to give followers the time and space to understand....The rush to get kids to make a decision for Jesus takes away the important process of counting the cost of being his follower. pg 36.

"We must move away from premature and manipulated decision-making and instead create environments that allow for time and space, where youth are repeatedly ushered into the presence of God. We must allow transformation by the Holy Spirit instead of by gimmickry, tricks and manipulation." pg 37.

"Allowing youth to belong in our communities without pressuring them results in authentic decisions to follow Jesus." pg 37.

Interesting thoughts as we ponder what it means to make disciples of all ages in our culture today.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Defacing the Image of God

 21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. ~ Matthew 5:21-22

Ever wonder how Jesus can say that murder and hatred deserve the same punishment? Isn’t one so much worse than the other? What Jesus is pointing out is that the attitude of the heart is the same in both actions.

At the point of creation the Bible says that God made man and woman in his image with great value; each of us, whether we are a Christian or not, are valuable because God made us to be like him. When someone makes the decision to kill another person they are placing themselves in the place of God. It is a defacing of the image of God - saying that the other person is not worthy being in the image of God and the value that God has given them.

Jesus’ statement here affirms that murder is indeed wrong but points out that in the attitude of the heart that we can deface the image of God in another person or diminish their God-given value. This is equally as wrong as murder. “Raca” is a term of reproach, a term of disapproval. It pointed out disgrace and was used as a strong insult to demean a person. Jesus pairs up the word “raca” with “you fool” to illustrate a bitter hatred and demeaning of a persons very being. This type of attitude, even if it is not spoken, is just like murder in that it makes a judgement about the value of another person. Where God has given them great value the attitude of hatred takes that away. Where God has made them in his image the attitude of the heart sees them as useless and disposable.

Jesus wants his audience to realize that God has made people with great value and that we are not to deface his creation and value he has give to people. Who are we to take what God has given? But like murder is a physical choice that one person does not matter so the attitude of our hearts can destroy the value God gives to another person.

On the one hand Jesus’ statement is incredibly good news. Jesus is affirming and protecting the value of his creation. Each of us is so valuable as image bearers of God that Jesus is not okay with people being filled with hatred toward one another. On the other hand this statement is very challenging. Jesus points out that this is not what his people are supposed to be about. His people are not supposed to be destroying the God-given value of others, even if it is this is done silently in their hearts. His people are supposed to be nurturing the God-give value of others.

But as believers we have been made new. Galatians 5:13-26 points out that we have been given a new way of life. We used to be people characterized by our sin nature. That is who we were. Being sinful we naturally were full of hatred and other things that took value away from other people.  But because of Jesus we have been made into new people. Remember that God loved you so much, he valued you so highly, that he was not willing to let us stay in sin. Jesus death made it possible for each of us to have a new life and to really live out what it means to be in God’s image – that is living in a relationship with God that is not affected by sin. Being new people we have the Holy Spirit living in us and changing us from people of wrath to people of love. Instead of being characterized by our sin we are characterized by Christ’s love in us. This will result in our loving other people despite their flaws and failures.