A Brief Reflection for Easter

On Good Friday, we remembered how deep the depravity of man runs, that we could put to death someone who used his power and influence to heal the sick, rescue captives from demons, free people from poisonous religion, and announce that the kingdom of God was available for any and all who want it.

We put that Man to death.

He did nothing wrong. He did everything right. We couldn’t stand for it and wanted Him gone.

At the Resurrection, God whispered back, “Not so fast.”

This morning, we worship a God who surrendered Himself to death and returned from the grave to save what He loves–all of us.

What God Didn’t Require of Jesus (and Won’t Require of You)

Tonight is Maundy Thursday and tomorrow is Good Friday. There are always a good number of us who might confess the creeds but aren’t sure how well we agree with them. And then there’s always someone who suspects that Jesus may actually be serious and not just a figment of people’s imagination, but they’re not ready to make the leap to whatever it means to have “faith in Jesus.”

I say all this because if Jesus has shown us anything, it’s that you don’t need to have everything lined up and figured out in order to be with him. Jesus didn’t go to the cross with his chest puffed out, talking trash to his enemies. He went weeping. He begged God for another way. He even knew that angels would save him from his enemies, if he asked them to. Jesus was a wreck in the moments before his arrest and execution.

He was the Son of God who was obeying the will of his Father for the sake of the world–and he was falling apart and didn’t have it together at all.
Pay attention to that, because Jesus’ actions and words in Gethsemane teach us something crucial: you don’t have to have everything figured out and together in order to start following Christ. You don’t have to have every question answered. Maybe you feel like you do, but if that’s the case, then you should know that you may be requiring a greater degree of theological certainty than even God Himself requires.
You don’t have to have your doctrinal ducks perfectly lined up in a row before you can actually trust God.

You don’t have to like everything in the Bible before you start to trust the Jesus it talks about. (A bit of advice: following Jesus for years doesn’t guarantee you’re ever going to be fully comfortable with the Bible.)

If Jesus didn’t need to have everything together to do what God wanted him to do, then why would our Lord require anything different from you? Why would He place upon you a burden greater than the one shouldered by Jesus?
Don’t feel like you need to make yourself ready to follow Jesus. Don’t try to clean yourself up. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to understand absolutely everything right now before you learn to trust Him.
If Jesus didn’t have to have it all together, then neither do you.
So take off your shoes, you doubters. You’re standing on holy ground.

Seeds of Grace

“… where sin increased, grace increased all the more …” (Romans 5:20)

For those of us who are struggling with the same evil deeds over and over, let’s not lose heart.

God has already planed the areas in which we sin with the seeds of grace. Someday, those areas are going to bear witness to what Jesus has done for us and what was once a cause for repentance will instead lead to praise.

Because where sin exists, grace always abounds.

A Quick Thought about Fred Phelps’ Passing

Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church hate group, died after making life miserable for countless people.

I don’t know where he stood in relation to Jesus or where he now stands in relation to heaven and hell.

I do, however, think it was probably a terrible thing for him to finally face God only to discover that He loves all the people you spent a lifetime hating.

May God have mercy.

The Most Overlooked Lesson of the Gospels

There’s no one in the Christian world who doesn’t love describing their critics/enemies as Pharisees–implying, of course, that they themselves are the Jesus-es of whatever righteous crusade they’re on. It’s a weakness in all of us, myself included, but I think that we tend to miss a pretty important lesson in the gospels themselves:

The people who always thought they had the biblical worldview were always wrong about God.

I don’t think the Pharisees started out wanting to put their traditions above God. Does anyone? They strike me as people who wanted to obey God’s law because they knew, from Scripture, that that’s what it meant to be a follower of God. And when you’re surrounded by pagans on all sides and are ruled over by people who don’t worship your God, that devotion becomes all the more crucial to maintaining who you are.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because modern evangelicals carry the same weight on their shoulders (although they tend to ignore the fact that they’re the most powerful religious group in the most powerful country in the world). Everyone is convinced that they’re always on God’s side and it’s always someone else who’s at fault.

But doesn’t Jesus warn us against this attitude time and time again?

Isn’t this the very thing we need to take note of in every instance in which Jesus has a fight with the religious leaders of his day?

The Lord’s opponents weren’t pagan. They were trying to maintain a biblical worldview and live in accordance with the Scriptures. That’s what made it so hard for them to see their error, because the more you’re convinced that you’ve got everything right in your interpretation and praxis, the less room you’re going to have for repentance.

There were a lot of reasons the Pharisees missed the point of their own Scriptures, but I think for now, we should take stock of ourselves instead of judging them too harshly.

When it comes to dealing with Jesus, the people who are most convinced they’re on God’s side are often the ones who are most incapable of seeing the danger they’re really in.

Why I Write What I Write

One of the signs that you were born to be a writer is that when someone asks you why you like to write, you don’t have an explanation, only a comparison. I write for the same reason I eat, drink, and sleep; I can’t live if I don’t.

But I write what I write because I know what it’s like to be exhausted, tired, aggravated, even enraged. I know what it’s like to have been a part of Christian culture for so long that there are numerous times where I have trouble finding a reason to stay. I know I’m not the only one.

I’m not the only one who is baffled by the way the church has singled out gay people for attack while maintaining, with an actual straight face, that they don’t think homosexuality is any worse than any other sin.

I’m not the only one who is tired of evangelicals refusing to consider that the scientific discoveries of the past couple of hundred years may actually be true because, heaven forbid, they’d actually have to rethink their interpretation of a Bible verse.

I’m not the only one questioning why I should continue to belong to a culture in which both conservative and progressive leaders equate their political beliefs with biblical values, who engage in fights not to love or to change minds but to reinforce the tribal barriers that keep us from fulfilling Jesus’ prayer for our unity, who in spite of their incredible political strength are convinced that they’re the ones being persecuted because a store clerk didn’t say “Merry Christmas” to them.

Despite all of this, I’ve stayed because Jesus is beautiful and I’ve seen what happens when he gives grace to people who are as miserable as I am.

I’ve stayed because when I’m not so busy pointing the finger at other people, I know deep in my heart that I’ve been a nightmare to other people, too, and there’s not much difference between me and the people I like to criticize.

I’ve stayed not because I overcame my doubts with perfect answers but because I’ve started to realize that Love, not answers, is what I was made for and what I should be seeking.

There are plenty of people who think it’s time to leave.

I hope that when I write, I remind them of reasons to stay.

Sharing in the Beloved’s Doubts

“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him.”
There was a satanic edge to their accusations.

Jesus didn’t have much longer to live, and the precious minutes he had left was spent in humiliation. His enemies had gotten the better of him, his followers were powerless to do anything about it. The crucifixion would turn out to be all part of the plan, but no one could see that in the middle of it.

It was the greatest few minutes that Jesus’ opponents ever had. They taunted him. Insulted him. Used his execution as proof that he’d been a liar all along.

“If you were the Son of God, then God would save you.”

It was a direct assault upon Jesus’ own identity–and it wasn’t the first time he’d heard it.

Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is baptized by John and hears this message from heaven: “You are my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Following this momentous encounter, Jesus entered the wilderness, where he went through a series of trials that were all designed to test what he’d just heard.

“If you were the Son of God … then you’d turn these rocks into food.”

“If you were the Son of God … then you could throw yourself in danger and God would save you.”

Satan’s lies were more powerful than we often acknowledge. They have a hint of biblical truth to them, even if they were being distorted. Didn’t God promise His people that He would save them from danger? Hadn’t He fed His people in the wilderness and described abundance as a sign of his blessing? (Plus, what was so wrong with having a meal?)

But they weren’t divine promises. They were devilish arrows, aimed at Jesus’ own heart. “If you were the Son of God,” they all seemed to say, “then why is your life like this?” It’s the same lie Jesus heard from the cross, this time from people who had supported his execution because they thought they were upholding biblical values by doing so.

If you were the Son of God, they yelled, then why are you on a cross?

Jesus had come dangerously close to this line of thinking in the garden of Gethsemane, not long before his execution. Having left his disciples to pray, Jesus refocused himself to fulfilling the divine command but also begged God for this “cup” to be taken from him.
He is the Son of God. Is there no other way?

Christians have long seen the crucifixion not as a tragedy but as a victory. It is in this moment that Jesus disarmed the spiritual forces of evil. It’s in this moment that he using his own blood to make a new agreement between God and mankind: not only would they be forgiven of their evil deeds but they would also be transformed into new people. (The prophet Jeremiah put it this way: “the law would be written in their hearts.”)

When Jesus suffered for our sins, he also went through a crisis of identity.

The devil never gets tired of throwing that stone.

The Beloved had to struggle with the possibility that he wasn’t. The Son of God had to continue to trust in his God in spite of every circumstance, through every agonizing moment.

And he demanded that his followers pick up a cross and do the same.

There are several things Jesus could have–and likely did mean–when he told us to deny ourselves and take up a cross and follow him. It would mean losing one’s life for the Gospel. It would mean being an enemy of the empire. It would mean being ridiculed and derided by the popular religious leaders of the day.

It would also mean going through our own crisis of identity and questioning our faith.

Carrying a cross means there’s going to come a moment when you question everything about yourself and your faith. This may be part of what the apostle meant when he wrote that we share in Christ’s sufferings as well as his life.

I’m a son of God, you think. Why is this happening to me?

I’m a daughter of God, you reason. Why isn’t He showing up like He used to?

This crisis manifests itself in varying degrees to different people. For some, it’s a medical or financial crisis. For others, it’s a loss of dear relationships. For others, it’s unemployment. For many of us, it’s the eventual crisis of faith that every saint has to face.

I used to have more doubts than I do, and I don’t mean the small type. I mean the type of doubts that get you to question where God even exists and if the Resurrection happened. These are the type of doubts in which you start to hate Him a little bit because there are passages in Scripture in which a literal interpretation makes Him out to be a monster. How could the enemy-loving Jesus worship the same God who ordered the slaughter of Canaanite babies?

I used to think these doubts could either lead to stronger faith or atheism.

I didn’t realize that they are what carrying a cross means.

I didn’t realize that when people shared their darkest questions about the faith, they were showing me what it looks like to be a saint.

Jesus died on a cross to end humanity’s war with God. He died so we could made into something new. He died to show us the divine love of which we are all recipients, in spite of the fact that we’ve done nothing to earn or keep it.And when he died, he showed us that one of the ways to know you’re beloved by God is when people are constantly telling you the opposite.