Category: gospel

a shocking perplexity

photo by Jennifer Upton
photo by Jennifer Upton

This morning I read a story. It was the one about a rich man wanting to know how to get to heaven so he asked Jesus. Jesus told him to go and sell all his possessions. The man was shocked. When the disciples overheard this interaction they were perplexed. And I started thinking about people’s interactions with Jesus. It seems like everyone, upon meeting him and hearing his words, was shocked and/or perplexed. He didn’t really fit into the social norms at the time. He welcomed people who most shunned and would cross the street to avoid. He praised a widow for giving pennies to God. He let a prostitute touch him. He threw pastors and theologians under the bus. He turned the way people thought about God completely upside down, as well as their understanding of the social hierarchy.

And then I started thinking about my interactions with Jesus. I have never been upset, perplexed or shocked by anything he did or said. I have put him in this neat, tidy box that has clearly defined parameters. I think over the course of thirty years his words and actions have been so watered down that it doesn’t have the same effect on my heart as it did to Mary, Martha, or the woman at the well.

And I mourn that. I wish that I could be so undone by what he did that I’m completely open to him working that same way today. But instead it’s like I “know” what he’s going to do. Based on this small sampling I have figured out the Son of God and how he thinks, feels, and responds to people.

What arrogance.

Because I think that he’s just as unpredictable today as he was then. I think that he turns the world up on it’s head–especially when we think we have all the answers. As I interact with more and more people who claim the name of Christ but look completely different than me, I’m beginning to understand that it’s my worldview that needs to change. I don’t really know who is welcome at Christ’s table–but I guarantee it’s not all filled with people who look like me or believe the things I believe. And I’m finding a lot of messy beauty in that.

And I think that’s why we need his Spirit inside of us and why we need to lean into that and trust that Spirit in us and in others. Because otherwise we’re making rules of behavior and applying them to everyone. And I think our God is so much bigger and works so much more grandly than the small subset of my individual experience. Scripture teaches that love covers a multitude of sins. And I think we need to extend that to each other, loving each other so well that the sins are just covered.

I think so often we have held up our ideas of truth and what that should look like and we’ve bashed people over the head with it. Now it’s time for us to lay down our bludgeons and instead start tending to the wounds that we either inflicted, or were silent when they occurred.

A new day is dawning and I think we need to walk forward extending the grace to others that was so freely given to us, and I think we should trust more in the God who created and saved us and let him work out the details in our brothers’ and sisters’ lives. We need to trust his good work in each other.

I want to be perplexed and shocked by my Jesus and his hands and feet that move and breathe in this world.

(re)learning: love

photo by Jennifer Upton
photo by Jennifer Upton

I think I love Jesus more than the Christians do. I let her words wash over me, listening as she shares her story. I mean, they’re awful. And she tells me about her sister–a Christian–who said hateful, horrible things to her daughter about her recent weight gain. She told me her sister judges and condemns those not like her. These are the kinds of stories over the last few years that have made me hesitant to claim the name Christian. I am one. But I feel more comfortable traveling in the darkness–not making waves. I might say I am a follower of Christ. But usually I just avoid any reference to my faith.

Because I understand her. I understand her disdain and her upset-ness with this sect that isolates and judges. Because I am upset with us too.

But it was not meant to be this way. When we were first given the name Christians, we were known for how we loved the fringes. We took in the ones rejected by society. We were known for our inclusivity. For caring for those who were not ours. Those who were orphaned, widowed, abandoned, abused, and called names. We loved the unlovely because we knew we were unlovely, too. How far we have fallen from our inheritance.

I read this in The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton yesterday, “I’m a good Christian woman, Reverend, I’m in church every Sunday, I do my bit for the fete and the Easter fund-rasier, but I just can’t [adopt my orphaned niece].” It’s a fictional story–but I winced as I read these words because I think this an accurate portrayal of what “Christian” means to many people today. We pay our dues, distance ourselves from the big bad sins (which we define) and then sit in our “holier than thou” seats and condemn this complex, beautiful/ugly world. But there’s so much more than that.

And I am so thankful for the many who are portraying such a different view of Christians. I am slowly becoming braver about identifying with them. The few are making me proud and standing in contrast to the many. There is hope and light.

So I want to share with you the Jesus I know.

The Jesus I know loved first. After God created the world and all it contains, he made man in his image. He wanted us. But in our creature-ness we thought we knew better than the Creator–we refused him. Like a child running through a busy intersection without a care in the world, God watched us fulfill our own destruction. He wept over it. He knew we desired to know first so he let us reach for and grasp that knowledge. BUT because he loves us, he intervened across time and space. First, he showed us how much we needed him. In the Old Testament he walks us through how clean, holy and pure he is. How separate and entirely other he is from us. He shows us our complete lack of making ourselves, now stained, clean again. Our human-ness separates us from him and we can’t overcome that.

And because he loves us, he doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t just teach us about our condition–he acts to change it. To change us into something other. One of my favorite verses in Scripture is when Paul teaches about how God did not expect us to grasp him so he came to us in our form. He wrapped himself in flesh, he touched us with his hands. He spoke, taught, ate, drank and loved us in very tangible ways. He broke bread with us in our fallen state and called us lovely. And then he made us lovely. He took upon himself our uncleanness, our human-ness, our sin. And he did what we couldn’t–he died without blemish but carried the full wrath of God so that we could be set free from our bodies of sin and death.

And then he left the grave, unlocking death so that it lost its power over us. He gave us the promise that if we cling to him, if we call on his name, then we, too, will live with him. He will abide in us and we will abide in him. He will be our comforter, counselor and friend. He will make the old things new. The wrong things right. Starting now.

I don’t believe people go to hell because of their sexual orientation (or whatever the hot topic sin issue of the day is) because all over Scripture there are a million things that Paul, the Old Testament prophets, James, and Peter all say separate us from God–insurmountable obstacles. And the only one who can change us from flesh and blood creatures is the Creator and Savior of the world when he gives us new hearts, when we believe that he can and will do that.

We stand on a precipice. We get to make a choice. And that choice affects our lives as we walk from here to eternity. We can choose to respond to unfamiliarity and the unknown with love. Or we can respond with hate.

This is what I believe. I believe that I struggle with drunkenness. I really like drinking alcohol. Especially in social settings. I get really stressed when I’m around a lot of people. I over think and over analyze and get really nervous. I don’t know how to just be me. So I like drinking a little too much, getting a good buzz going, so that my inhibitions are lowered. It’s easy not to conform when you have “liquid courage” (such an accurate description). But Scripture speaks against drunkenness of any kind. It’s usually listed alongside sexual promiscuity and other things NOT to do, under any circumstances.

So there’s conviction here–not to lose self-control.  I believe Jesus is teaching me in these moments to be brave without aid. To work through my insecurities instead of just bypassing them. So there’s repentance and a (re)learning how to be me. But I don’t think or believe that my drunkenness means that I am kicked out of the kingdom of God. He is so good and kind that as we walk this journey together he is teaching me to find comfort in him, to find strength in him, and how to live outside of the cage that I have spent years hiding in. He is gently growing me up into the new identity he claimed for me. He is making me new. And I believe this process is true for anyone who loves God and is seeking him. Jesus says that all who seek him will find him. And I believe he picks each one of us up where we’re at and moves us gently closer and closer to himself–until we become a unique image-bearer of his love. This, friends, is a life-long process and looks different for each of us.

I think when we’re open to questions and willing to ponder and wrestle through the “what ifs” with others, amazing things can happen. I think we start to see a really diverse kingdom–a table set like the one where Jesus sat when he walked the earth. And the awesome thing? Because he’s living in us, he’s kind of still here, walking the earth. He’s breaking bread with people through us. He’s touching people through us–we get to declare the unlovely things lovely because he does.

Yes, we were called to “make disciples” but we were taught to do it by invitation and love, with compassion and empathy, with hearts and hands that go to the dark scary places and are willing to walk the path others have walked, meeting them where they are right now. Because that is what Jesus did for us. And I’m so sorry some of the people I associate with have done such a pathetic job of showing this world first and foremost how people–you–were created FOR loving.

For Lent I felt an invitation. An invitation to set aside alcohol for a season to press into Jesus a little deeper. To ask questions about my relationship with alcohol. Not to turn from one pendulum swing to the other, but to explore a little deeper Jesus’s heart for me. Because he’s already unlocked the door–I have been set free. I can press into him for that release and courage. And I want to step towards him. I can respond to this invitation to walk out of the cage–because of his great love for me. And I can be brave because of who he is and what he already did.

what Hosea taught me

A good beginning gone awry. Hosea married a woman God commanded him to marry. Francine Rivers turns this tragic story into a beautiful love story. So every time I approach it, I have this romanticized view. Plus, it’s in the Bible. An old dead guy wrote it. Not super relateable to my life. Not old. Not dead. Definitely not Jewish. But today, somehow, I understood this. God TOLD Hosea to marry Gomer. So he did. She was not a wife of noble character from Proverbs 31 like God suggests men marry. The commentary I read speculated that some of the children were not his own. This does not sound like a happy marriage.

And then that piercing of marrow. That tearing and ripping.

Because I thought that is what God wanted for me. At least as far as my personal life, doesn’t he want me to be happy?

But here, in Scripture passed down from father to son, that God-breathed, inspired word, I found God essentially orchestrating Hosea’s UN-happiness. Why? To what purpose? Hosea was hand-picked by God to write a book inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Doesn’t God love him?

But then, what if God’s favor and Hosea’s happiness aren’t a sign of God’s love? What if, God cared more about the gospel? So here He allows an unhappy marriage to fall onto one of His beloved, so that He could paint a beautiful picture of God’s complete faithfulness and man’s complete unfaithfulness. All this, so God could reveal His own pursuit of His beloved and the eventual redemption and restoration.

And my heart jumped, twisting within my chest. A layer of self-love and preservation slowly dying as the gospel truth penetrated even deeper.

My comfort and my happiness are not a sign of God’s love. What He wants from my life, is for me to live and breathe and share the gospel. He wants to show the world how much He loves it through my very sweat, blood and tears. Through these hands and feet. And because the world is messy/beautiful sometimes that means my life will be messy/beautiful. Because the story that echoes across the universe is a story of a God who pursues, redeems and restores his people–not my story of comfort and happiness. He COMMANDED Hosea to marry a woman who would be unfaithful. He leads my sister to life in South Sudan. He led us to care for the orphan–meeting her where she is at. These things are not always pretty, lovely, or comfortable. They stretch, rip and tear. And in that ripping the gospel is revealed across the earth. As our flesh is stripped away, Jesus shines through.

a pitiful pray-er

I don’t trust you to save the people I need you to save. Years of disappointment, dreams crushed, and hopes obliterated have caused a jadedness to overwhelm me. My first reaction when I fall to my knees is to doubt. To question. To keep myself emotionally stunted so that when the inevitable happens, I am not damaged beyond repair. So that I can dust my knees off, get up and put one foot in front of the other. My goal is to protect my heart, because no one else will do it for me. I don’t know that anything I have ever asked for arrived exactly as I expected it too. So my adult brain, and even my adult faith, rationalize and explain, forsaking child-like faith as weak and damaged. So my prayers are weak. If I am honest, the only thing I think you are capable of altering in this world is turning my heart of stone into a heart of flesh, changing me from the inside out. I’ve seen it happen–an amazing feat for sure. So it’s good. But praying for miracles? Praying for life instead of death? Interceding when the outcome is unknown…that’s where it gets dicey. How do I believe for healing and miracles, when I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of a cliff and will fall off if I give over too much of myself?

I have to protect my faith at all costs. I have to be strong enough so my house of cards doesn’t get knocked over by a single breath.

The absurdity. The hubris. The arrogance. And so here I am, writing at 6 in the morning, baffled because while a fluttering, weak thing, my faith does not require my strength. It requires yours. If it were faith born of me it would collapse at the first puff of resistant air. But it’s not. It’s birthed in heaven. And so disappointment after disappointment, and heartache after heartache, the one constant is that I end up here, again, on my knees. Broken. Needing your strength. Your arms to lift me up. Your voice to make my pitiful weak prayer echo with the strength of a thousand angels. So I fall to my knees again, interceding weakly, and trusting that you will do what you have promised: In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…(Romans 8:26)

And the truth is, you have already saved him. This is but a reprieve. His body still has to die. But his soul. His soul is secure. No matter the outcome, I can rest in that. So there is hope.

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