What’s with the sunglasses?

So you’re just minding your business, sunning yourself in Panama City Beach, Florida, when a couple college kids show up and want you to take a survey on spirituality. If you ended up here, you clearly said yes and we wanted to thank you for that! We hope the conversation that followed was thought provoking as well as fun! We here at Cru are available as a spiritual resource for college students such as yourself (and would love to talk to you whether you’re a student or not)! 

If you still have questions about God after the conversation you had or you want to delve into other topics on spirituality, we would love to help with that. Here are some options for you:

1) Want to spend time exploring your questions and learning about Jesus on your own? Check out everystudent.com where you will find articles on most of today’s hottest questions.

2) Want to connect with the Cru movement on your campus? Search here to find their contact information: https://www.cru.org/communities/locations.html

3) Want to try to connect with the Cru Cleveland student who you spoke with on the beach? Email allison.reed@cru.org with the subject Beach Conversation Help and she will try to help you find them! 

We’re so glad we got to meet you and we pray that this conversation has touched your life in a meaningful way. Enjoy those sunglasses!”

The Facade.

My counselor asked me to write down 3 words that I felt described who I was at my core. Immediately the word ‘fake’ came to my mind. No hesitation.

Well, maybe I should back up. You see, I was in counseling because I kind of had a little bit of a mental breakdown.

Ok. Maybe I should back up a little further.

My entire life up to this point I lived for an image. I lived to be liked, to be seen as the put together, funny, athlete with lots and lots of friends. My resume included athletic records, valedictorian, president of social clubs, voted “Most Friendly” by my senior class. I came across as confident, hilarious (or at least mildly amusing), competent, easy to be around.

But when the crowds were gone, when I slowed down long enough to be with myself, I realized that I didn’t feel like any of those things. What I really felt was scared, intimidated, lost, and hollow.

Then social media came into my life. I loved seeing that red notification after I posted a picture. I agonized over the perfect caption (still do, actually). I want to be witty but not try too hard. Be real but in a sarcastic way that makes me funny, and not as “bumbling village idiot” as I feel.

Whether it was at the high school cafeteria table, or behind my phone screen as an adult, my life had become so incredibly filtered: centered around saying the right words, posting the right posts, and when in doubt: cute kid pictures. And yet, the “red notification high” lasted fewer and fewer seconds and left me feeling more and more plastic, more and more desperate for that ‘like’ of approval.

The filters were all a facade: an alternate reality where people thought they knew my life. My Facebook, Insta and Snapchat shouted to the world the person I had crafted to be seen, admired, respected, and even envied. And yet my soul whispered, for fear of being heard, the person that didn’t feel any of those things.

I couldn’t reconcile the image I projected to the world and the real me that was afraid to be seen. Seen as I believed I really was – weak, unsure, and selfish. 

Now we’re back to the mental breakdown-ish and the counseling- a year and a half’s worth. Probably the best money I’ve ever spend outside of my Hershel backpack which I would pull out of a raging fire.

I realized that the fear of people seeing me- the fear of people thinking I was unspectacularly average, passing me off, and being thoroughly unimpressed- led me to hide. Hide behind my phone, my computer screen, my Instagram, my friends, my religion.

Hiding gave me a sense of control. Hiding seemed safe. But hiding isn’t how we are meant to live. Hiding and freedom cannot both inhabit the same reality.

So here’s the end and the part where I give you my sage wisdom.

Step out of hiding. Choose freedom. I know it’s possible.

I found that freedom by choosing to walk towards Jesus. I believe He lived life without pretense, exactly how He was created to live.  I believe He woos me with kindness out of the darkness, out of the hiding. And I believe he wants to do the same for you.

Do you?

Step Into a Bigger Story

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”                                                                                                  Matthew 9:36-38

 

At the heart of Jesus is love and compassion for hurting, sick, lost people. When Jesus looks at the crowd in Matthew 9, He sees harassed and helpless people, like sheep without a shepherd. They are people who are wandering around looking for direction, leadership, purpose, but can’t find it anywhere. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? We all want to have purpose. We all want our lives to have meaning.

Crowds 

When I read this passage from Matthew I’m immediately struck by the emotion Jesus has when He sees the crowd. It’s not anger or pity or judgment, but compassion. He isn’t mad that they have no direction and isn’t judging them for not knowing their purpose. He has compassion; meaning Jesus doesn’t merely know about their distress, but also has the desire to alleviate it. Jesus sees the crowd and wants to give them meaning. He sees people in need of love and care and He wants His people to move towards them.

 

As Jesus is moved with compassion, He turns to His disciples and says that people are ready to hear why they were created: to know Jesus, the Good Shepherd. In fact, there are so many people ready to hear that there aren’t enough people to tell them. So He tells them to pray earnestly to God for more people to tell others about Him.

 

Friends, you are an answer to that prayer Jesus told His disciples to pray. What is true of the crowd Jesus saw is the same for us now. Just as before someone told me about Jesus, I was harassed and helpless, without purpose or direction, so are the people I rub shoulders with day in and day out. Each of us represents webs of relationships that God has purposefully and loving put us in. In those relationships we are called to not only care for people but to actively give to them the greatest news of all time: that Jesus wants to restore them to right relationship with Him and give them meaning and purpose in life. The God of the universe wants us to know Him personally! It’s amazing news to share.

 

So today I invite you to step into a bigger story. A story God is writing that is restoring the world, as it should be, one person at a time. The people around us are looking for a Shepherd to guide them, to know them. How could we not point them to the One who loves and cares for them so deeply?

Wanna Come With Me to the Weekly Meeting?

“What are you up to tonight?”

“Ehhh… I’m gonna grab some dinner and then head to the Cru meeting… What are you doing? Wanna come?”

——————————–

Maybe you’ve had that interaction. You got over the hump. You put your big kid pants on, moved past your fear, and invited your friend.

It’s what happens next that is the elephant in the room. We’ve all been there. Was there reluctance, or hesitation? An awkward half-smile?  If it’s been an especially good day maybe you get a follow-up question, like, “What goes on there?” But probably, it was just easier to ignore the silence and slip out the door with a shoulder shrug.

Will you ever ask them again? 

Our friends of course have all sorts of ideas running through their heads. And “meeting” sure isn’t a very helpful descriptor. (We’re taking suggestions for a better name!)

But the one factor that is most determinative in this conversation, affecting how we invite and how often we invite, is what we think about the weekly Cru meeting. Do we enjoy it? Is it life-giving? Do we even know why we do it really?

What it’s not

The purpose of the weekly meeting is not to be the best show in town. On any given weekend around town, you’ll likely find better musicians, better entertainment, and better communicators (the local concert scene, TED talks, and even some churches) that have a degree of polish and expertise that our multi-tasking, student-run organizations could only hope to compete with. But competing just isn’t the goal, and we’d all run ourselves ragged trying to do it.

Do we want excellence? Absolutely yes.  Do we want polish? Yes. Like C.S. Lewis alluded to in his Letters to Malcolm, we want our meeting to be free from distraction, like running in a well-fitted, comfortable pair of shoes. If the shoes rub or they get wet, it’s just not a fun run.  So to the degree that the lack of quality causes distraction, like a pebble in your shoe, we want to improve it.

But if getting that right means losing the most important things, we’ll sacrifice polish and “show” every time. Which occasionally means we’ll have some pebbles in our shoes.

The main things

Our promise is that every week we’ll give you Jesus. Jesus is who we need. Jesus. We’ll talk about Him all the time. We’ll never outgrow Jesus here.   So there will be a talk of some kind, and we’ll do our best to answer real questions.

microphone stock photo

Sometimes on a campus, we’ll have the skill among us to have music, and even a band. And sometimes, we won’t. When God provides the people with heart and skill, we’ll have it. We love to sing about Jesus. But we’ll trust God in the seasons when we don’t have those people.

What else do we care about? Well you can expect us to set the table for real, deep, transparent relationships, where Jesus is at the center. We will set the table. And we will do our part to contribute to those relationships, but it’s dependent on all of us to work at it. This kind of loving one another is foreign for all of us.

So how will we do it? We’ll remember Jesus. We’ll remember what He’s done for us and who we are because of Him; that will give us confidence to be ourselves – loved right where we are and loved to become the people God is in the process of re-making. Because our security and identity is in Jesus, and we’re believing that more every day, we don’t need to hide from one another or pretend to be people we’re not. Our masks can come off.

When Cru looks and feels and operates like this, we can also expect to see our lives and others’ changed. The stories that are being written will be stories of transformation.

Is there a place for your friend at this kind of meeting? Of course there is – like a seat at our dinner table.  Pastor Tim Keller has termed it evangelistic worship. (Follow that link to read a great article!) It’s precisely in seeing us in worship and loving one another that Jesus and His love are best seen. And we’ll best love them by inviting them in and making what they hear and observe intelligible so that they might understand it.

So when you’re roommate asks, “What’s it like” or “What do you do there,” you can simply reply, “We talk about Jesus… and I’m more me there than anywhere else. It’s cool. My masks come off. And it’s like I’m with family.”

Because you are.

Welcome Back Students!

It’s the start of another year of school! Time to buy new textbooks, meet new roommates, and make new memories (as well as go to new classes and learn new things, of course)! We here at Cru Cleveland and Northeast Ohio are so excited to meet some new faces and reconnect with the ones we already know. As you are being ushered into this busy time of the year, we hope that you are taking the time to consider how you can be an influence for Christ on your campus and how you can seek to walk well with the Lord this year while at school. Imagine how committing to honor Christ with your year will affect not only your own life, but the lives of those who surround you!

Cru is an awesome resource for students on campus who wish to explore more deeply what it means to be a follower of Christ. We hope that you will join us at our weekly meetings, Community Groups, and other special events on your campus to join with us in Christ’s community! After all, as David said in Psalm 133, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

You know you want this year to be one to remember. Why not start it off right by getting plugged into a community where you can build friendships, learn more about your faith, and become an influence on your campus? We want to see Cleveland redeemed this year, in more ways than just hopefulness in sports. We want to see Cleveland redeemed by the spread of the Gospel throughout Cleveland’s colleges and universities, bringing hope and joy to the students of Northeast Ohio. Learn more about how you can be a part of the mission to reach your campus with the Good News of Christ’s salvation by clicking on your campus on the sidebar of this blog. There you will find information about meeting and Community Group times on your campus, as well as links to our Facebook pages and who you can contact for more information.

Hope to see you soon!

Mangy Dog. Smoke and Mirrors. And the Love of God.

When we preach the gospel to ourselves, what we say is important.  What we think about what we say might be even more important.

When you’re reminded again of your sin – big or small, public or private – what “talk” goes through your head? What is the gospel message that you rehearse?

This might be the same question, but it might not be… When God looks at you, what do you imagine Him seeing?

Often when we hear the gospel or the “good news” explained, it goes something like this: I’m a sinner, rebellious and wicked through and through – my heart is evil and defiled – but because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, instead of me receiving the just penalty for my sin – death and separation from God, Jesus Himself endured that on my behalf. He received the wrath of God, so I could spend eternity with God.

The gospel songs we sing reinforce this message. 

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…”

“For God, the Just, is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me.”

Indeed, this is the message of Scripture.

Maybe. It’s possible to have the words right and the associations wrong. 

When you repeat that “good news” to yourself, what do you really hear? How do you interpret those words? And again, when God looks at you, what does He see? There’s a way of understanding this “good news” that misses much of its goodness and beauty.

When God looks at you, what do you think He sees, really?

smokey stage lights

Imagine the ugliest, mangy dog you can. Yellowed teeth. Flees. Matted hair, soiled with dirt and feces. Flaking, raw, irritated skin where the dog has gnawed and scratched away patches of its coat. Sunken eyes. Malnourished. Either cowering in fear, or fiercely resisting your approach with all of its remaining strength. Chained. 

That’s an ugly picture, and honestly, one that’s not far from the vivid Bible descriptions of the sinful condition of the human heart. That mangy dog is an apt metaphor. And if it elicits a sense of retreat and withdraw, of being repelling, I’ve hit the mark. 

The good news is that when God took on flesh in the person of Jesus and bore our sins on the cross, God in Jesus identified with us.  He took that ugliness and sin upon Himself. In effect, He picked up that mangy dog into His arms and got mucked up by it. To say He got dirty is an understatement, but in so doing, He began the process of actually making that dog what He alone could see – what that dog was supposed to be, what that dog could be, what the dog was incapable of doing for itself.

When God looks on you, He sees you in Jesus. 

Compare that to this different telling: God the Father looks at the mangy dog, and then by an elaborate setup of smoke and mirrors, in a giant cosmic illusion [drumroll], He looks away and sees His perfect Son, Jesus (all the while the mangy dog, remains hidden behind the mirrors)…Tada! [cymbal crash]

We tell ourselves something like that all the time. There’s truth in there. But it’s fundamentally different.

No gospel ‘presentation’ can possibly tell the full depth of the story every time, but it’s possible to so mis-tell the gospel story that it’s not gospel at all.

There are no mirrors. And no sleight of hand.

Jesus has picked you up. He embraces you. He has done this because He loves you. God the Father doesn’t look away from you to Jesus. He turned away from Jesus to look on you. He sees Jesus carrying you, Jesus clothing you, Jesus indwelling you, Jesus changing you, Jesus making you beautiful. That’s not a self-help message. That’s not a denial of your previous manginess, or any remaining manginess. [Manginess = the stench of sin, for those who would accuse me of soft-selling the gospel.] 

Jesus, in making you beautiful, is both making much of you, and displaying how gloriously good He is. And the display of His glory is inextricably tied up with His love for you. He will not have them torn asunder. 

You will never again be viewed apart from Christ. Where Christ is, there you are. Not God viewing Christ instead of you, but God viewing Christ with you enveloped in His life. You have not disappeared. Nor are God’s eyes merely diverted. You’ve been changed (and are being changed) and made beautiful (and being made beautiful) in Him. And that most definitely is to His praise and glory.

This is a life-changing truth that is so much better than a mere optical diversion tactic between Jesus and the Father. 

Hear the good news again (Ephesians 2:4-7, ESV):

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

. . .

It’s been said that the gospel is the announcement of God’s plan and means to take us back to Eden. 

In the garden, the transcendent God condescended… He is Creator and we are created, after all; there would be no way to interact without Him condescending; He is infinite and we are but clay in His hands. But He condescended in pleasure and love, to engage with and be known by His creation. It wasn’t a moral or legal condescension. There was purity and innocence in this interaction, similar to a stooping parent, who delights in his child. He liked this and it was good.

In love God created us. In love He interacted with us. In love He gave us purpose and calling. Why would God condescend lower still, infinitely lower, after our rebellion? Still love. And this faithful love is His glory. In the muck of the prodigal’s pig sty, in the Psalmist’s miry clay, or attached by nails to a Roman cross, there we find our God and Savior, with us in the most profound sense, thoroughly embracing us – taking us into Himself, onto Himself, becoming one of us and all of us.

But while our curse, our sin, our alienation – our manginess – made Him all those things, He didn’t remain those things. He bore them. He was cursed. But He is no longer. All past tense. It is finished. Done. 

He still bears the scars, but His scars have been transformed to beauty, and the cross has been transformed to victory.  And you are in Him. 

God now condescends to you as He did in Eden. As Creator with His loved ones. Without moral overtone. In Jesus. He likes you. And it is good, again. Restored. See yourself. Not cowering behind the mirror, but with Jesus gladly, pleased even, to be by your side. 

There’s no less glory to Jesus in this gospel, but more.  The pendulum swing against the so-called man-centered gospel has become a straw man and is in danger of distorting the gospel altogether. If we’re not careful, it’s merely an abstract cosmic transaction, between God and God, with a monergism that goes far beyond man’s incapacity and ultimately leads to manlessness. Who is the receiver of this good news? The Subject is Jesus – no contest. But who is the object? This is news and love for us. And in that news and love, we become. And we are becoming.

Hallelujah, what a Savior.