Foundations: Faith by Jason Gaboury

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith … (Romans 1:16)

“I don’t have faith.” Justin said. We’d had many long conversations about faith vs. science, faith vs. doubt, and Christian faith vs. other faith traditions. I began to wonder if our conversations were missing the point.

“Justin,” I said, “You seem to think faith is some kind of character trait that allows people to shut off their rationality and jump into a mental abyss of some kind.” He smiled. “What else could it be?”

leap of faith2

Ever since the rise of existentialism, a nineteenth century philosophical movement wrestling with the heightened rationalism of the enlightenment, faith has been understood in this way. Religious, moral, aesthetical categories can’t be ‘proved’ scientifically so the only way to access them (human beings seem to need these things to survive) is to jump outside of our rational cage…to faith.

What else could it be?

Paul uses the word faith (pistis) in the first chapter of Romans four times. Gentiles are called to “the obedience of faith” (v5). Paul rejoices that the faith of the Roman Christians is proclaimed “throughout the world.”(v8). He sees faith as a source of mutual encouragement (12) and as a sign of salvation (16). What can we learn from this?

1. Belief & Behavior – For Paul faith connotes belief in the gospel as well as action consistent with that belief. If Jesus is the messiah of Israel and lord of the world, then we are summoned not just to believe something, but also to reorder our inner life, relationships, and cultural participation in accordance with this truth.

What would it look like to weave together belief and behavior in communities on campus? What impact might it have if our communities were to practice life on campus as though Jesus was king?

2. Public Truth – Paul’s announcement of Jesus as Lord could only mean that Caesar wasn’t. Paul wasn’t announcing a private spirituality that good Roman citizens could try on to improve their lives. Paul was announcing the good news that Jesus, not Caesar, was ultimately in charge.

This rules out the popular (enlightenment) idea that faith is a private thing that should have no bearing on public life. What would it look like for our communities to practice sharing the good news of Jesus as public truth?

3. Gospel, not Faith – Conversations about faith miss the point. As followers of Jesus we do not point at ourselves but at the God revealed in Jesus. It is possible for women and men to look at Jesus’ life, claims, death, and resurrection and conclude that he isn’t messiah or lord. This was true in Paul’s world, and it is true in ours. On the other hand Jesus is globally relevant. His life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension have changed the world and continue to change it. There is plenty of evidence to justify belief and trust.

What would it look like for us to start, build, and multiply communities where the global relevance of Jesus can be seen and experienced?

Question: What’s one experience you’ve had of exercising faith, even when you didn’t “feel” faith-filled. Share your experience in the comments to encourage others.

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Foundations: To Everyone – Jason Gaboury

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone … (Romans 1:16)

By the light of their cell phones, student leaders at one of the Chico State students spray painted t-shirts with the slogan, “IV — ask me”.  The InterVarsity chapter was not permitted by the university to participate in events designed to engage new students, so these leaders devised a way to meet students.

Chico

Chico State is just one of ten chapters in the 23-campus Cal State system that has denied InterVarsity chapters recognition and access. Closer to home, students at SUNY-Buffalo have encountered similar oppostion.  Campuses in New England, Tennessee, Florida, and Maine face similar challenges.

At the heart of the conflict is a cultural and legal conflict about inclusion.  InterVarsity is accused (sometimes virulently) of excluding students because we believe that it’s important for a Christian mission to be led by Christians.  (There is a certain logical inconsistency in being excluded from campus life and told, “You can’t be on campus because you exclude people.” But that is a topic for another day.)

Can Romans 1:16 help us with campus access?

Paul says that his gospel is God’s power… to everyone.  Consider this for a moment.  Paul was a first century Jew raised with the doctrine of election and trained in the Pharisaic hope of national liberation for Israel.  Here he says that his good news is for everyone.  This transformation of Paul’s worldview is so significant that it’s possible to argue from it (and some have) for the resurrection of Jesus.

Our gospel is to (and for) everyone.  No one is excluded from the grace of this good news.  No one is beyond the scope of God’s intended freedom.

We in InterVarsity love the whole campus.  Our chapters are to and for the whole campus.  Our proclamation does not conform to the categories of this cultural moment.  Our proclamation is good news, power, and true freedom for all people in this cultural moment.

Lord have mercy on us if we ever lose sight of this truth.  In the meantime, let’s pray for our sisters and brothers doing ministry on campuses that deny access.  And let’s learn from their courage and creativity.

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Foundations: Salvation = Freedom by Jason Gaboury

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith… (Romans 1:16)

I’d just witnessed a miracle. I’d shared the gospel story and asked Jane if she wanted to become a follower of Jesus. The confusion and angst that had hung on her face relaxed.  She looked up. “Yes,” she said. freedom

What had happened?  One minute Jane was peppering me with questions, wrestling with the gospel story.  The next minute she believed.  Over time she would come to be baptized, join the community, and share her story with others.

The power that brings freedom

Paul says that the gospel is the power of God for salvation.  The word literally means deliverance, release, or preservation.  The faith that began to rise up in Jane as she heard the gospel story and believed is a sign of salvation.  The gospel we proclaim is the power for salvation.  What is salvation anyway, and why do we need it?

Paul describes the problem in Romans 1:18 – 32. We do not live in truth and harmony with the world and one another because of our idolatry.  When we put ourselves, or any other created thing, in the place of God the result is personal, social, and spiritual disintegration.  Despite the fact that we all experience the deception, destruction, and disintegration that stems from our idolatry, we’re trapped in a closed system.  Even knowing it’s wrong… we’re stuck. “They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die – yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.”

Salvation describes God breaking into this closed system and setting people free.  Those who hear and respond to the call of the gospel become free from the prison of idolatry, deception, spiritual, and moral disintegration.  Those who hear and respond to the gospel are set free for the liberating and humanizing purposes of God in the world.  God’s good news sets people free, restores right worship, and sends them to work for the liberation of others.

What does freedom look like?

Freedom is a big deal on campus.  And yet, the truth is that most people on campus aren’t free.  Students are under tremendous pressure to succeed socially and academically.  Celebrating freedom looks at first like the big freshman (or frat) party, but quickly disintegrates into the hangover of isolation, anxiety, dislocation, and despair.  Faculty promotes free thought and study, but are themselves subject to huge pressure to perform, publish, and gain popularity.  Our mission field has placed all kinds of things in the place of God and is locked in a rapidly disintegrating web.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation…”

What if communities of truly free people started growing all over campus?  What if the distinguishing characteristic of our witness was freedom?  What if our passion for proclaiming the message about Jesus was rooted in the true freedom we experienced and longed to pass on to others?

God’s gospel is the power for salvation for your campus.  Will you celebrate it and share it?  When we do, we witness miracles.

Question: What kinds of freedom do you long to see people experience on campus? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Foundations: Where does the power come from? — Jason Gaboury

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith… (Romans 1:16)

Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission, established a daily ½ hour prayer meeting for his organization.  Every day at 11:00 the whole office stops work, gathers in the conference room, and prays.  When asked about this Gary responds, “We had to ask ourselves a question, ‘What power do we really believe is going to set people free?’”

on buttonOn campus, what power do we really believe is going to set people free?  Is it our great proxe stations, or our winning personalities?  Is it our campus strategy, or our excellent program?  Or is it something else?

Paul says that the gospel is the power of God.  Paul’s expectation for fruitful ministry (that I may reap some harvest among you…v14) is not ultimately tied to his skill as a messenger, but the message itself.  What is this message?  Paul’s gospel is the announcement that Jesus the messiah is risen from the dead and is lord of the world.  (v1-4)  As Paul is faithful to announce this gospel, he knows and expects that God will act through him to, “bring about the obedience of faith… (v5)”

What implications does this have for us on campus?

1.    Center our Hope
I love and value the work we’re doing to improve our outreach.  We need to be constantly improving our strategies, plans, and programs.  We can’t just dust off last year’s NSO and hope for a better result.  And yet, our hope must not be centered in our activities but in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  What do we really believe is going to set people free on campus?  If we really believe it is the gospel, what implications would that have?  What would we change? 

2.    Clarify our Message
Too often I hear students sharing the gospel in ways that are unclear.  If the gospel is the power of God for salvation, then we need to get crystal clear about this message.  How do we teach students to share this message?  How do we coach them so that they can share it clearly, concisely, and compellingly? 

3.    Call People to Faith
“Would you like to become a follower of Jesus today?”  This is a powerful question that is under-utilized.  In Romans 1 Paul describes his ministry to call the Gentiles to the obedience of faith, and then immediately adds, “including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”  Paul does not simply communicate the gospel he calls for a response.  What would it look like if every time we shared the good news of the gospel we called people to faith? 

Question: When have you experienced power & boldness in your witness? What was its source?

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Foundations: Unashamed Witness (a follow up) – Jason Gaboury

When we believe in the power and goodness of the Gospel, miracles happen. We’re celebrating two conversions within New York/New Jersey this week.

The first conversion happened at Buff State last week.  Student leaders on a prayer walk chose to share the gospel with a residence assistant they met as they were walking and praying.  In an uncharacteristically bold move, one of the Buff State students said to the RA, “Do you want to become a follower of Jesus?”

The RA said, “Yes.”

The second conversion happened yesterday at NYU.  A new freshman Ruth introduced her friend Joari to InterVarsity.  As Ruth and Joari spent time with our chapter leaders and staff, Trevor Agatsuma, the InterVarsity staffworker, sensed an opportunity to share the gospel.  He asked her Joari if she wanted to become a follower of Jesus. She said, ‘Yeah, I really want this.’  God met them powerfully as they prayed together.

Joari said, “When Ruth was praying for me I felt like the room became brighter, but not from the window, from behind me.”

Joari and Ruth intend to plant a small group witnessing community among their fellow Counseling Psychology students.

Praise God for these steps of witnessing unashamed!

 

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Foundations: What makes you ashamed? – Jason Gaboury

John looked at me puzzled, “I never would have guessed that you were a Christian.” I smiled, assuming that was a good thing. He paused. “I’m not sure that’s a good thing. If you really believe that stuff aren’t you supposed to tell heathens like me?”

I’d been ashamed of the gospel, and my friend John could tell.

timid

Shame isn’t always bad. A sense of shame is a necessary restraint against negative or destructive behaviors. A healthy sense of shame can strengthen the will to do what’s right in the face of temptation.

But on campus shame is used in unhealthy ways. The social cues send a clear message: “Keep your Christian faith to yourself.” Do a quick word association of evangelical Christian on campus and you find some interesting associations: close-minded, homophobic, judgmental, repressed, backwards, dumb.

We have to come to grips with shame if we are going to be serious about witness on campus. What can we learn from Paul in Romans 1 to help us to not be ashamed?

Reflections on Romans

Paul mentions the gospel of Jesus Christ 3 times in the first 16 verses of Romans 1. Here are some observations of Paul’s presentation of the gospel.

Good News, not Good Advice: Paul does not present the gospel as a private spirituality for people who are into that sort of thing.  He describes the gospel as an event that happened. “Jesus Christ… descended from David… risen from the dead.” (1-4) There are, of course, personal implications that follow from this announcement, but it is an announcement of an event that happened not of a personal or private experience.

No one is ashamed to talk about the news. Perhaps we need to be reminded that the gospel we proclaim on campus is good news about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (and his call to repentance and faith) — not good advice fitting awkwardly into the smorgasbord of campus life.

Announcing gospel as worship/service: Is worship simply singing songs?  Is service simply being kind or doing good deeds? Paul sees his announcement of the resurrection of Jesus as the primary means of his worship and service to God (v. 9).

What would it look like if our communities saw the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection as the primary means of our worship and service to God? How would it change our witness if we saw evangelism as the primary vehicle of our worship?

Word, Deed, & Power: Paul longs to share the gospel in Rome so that he might see a harvest. (v13) He doesn’t hope to see a harvest. He expects one.  Paul is not ashamed of the gospel because he knows that this good news is spoken in words, modeled with deeds, and demonstrated in power.

What are we expecting?  How are we praying?  Are we moving onto campus with expectant hope?  Do we have faith to pray for healings, for powerful signs to accompany our witness?  Do we expect the gospel to go forward through our words, in our deeds, and by the power of the spirit? Rome was decidedly more hostile to Paul’s announcement than the campus is to ours, but he expected a harvest nevertheless.

Unashamed

“I am not ashamed of the gospel…” Paul says. Are we? Paul isn’t ashamed because he recognizes the gospel as good news. Our campus needs good news.  It longs for wholeness even as it further fragments itself.  We have hope and wholeness because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel…” Paul says. Are we?  We can’t stop our witness to the university without stopping our worship to God.  If we are willing to see our witness as our worshipm, and our worship as a witness, it would change our ministry. Paul saw his life and ministry that way.  So can we.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel…” Paul says.  Are we? The announcement of the gospel in the New Testament comes with signs of God’s power.  (People coming to faith, healing, signs of repentance, etc.)  Years ago we used to talk about sharing the gospel in word and deed.  We’ve changed that to say, we share the gospel in word, deed, and power.  Yes, train students to articulate the good news in words.  Yes, develop students as women and men of integrity who say ‘yes’ to Jesus in every sphere of their lives.  Yes, expect God to move powerfully as we faithfully to proclaim his good news.

Question: How could you model bold confidence in the Gospel’s power today? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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