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