The God Who Wants to Be Found – Pt. 1

barley-field-1684052_1920.jpg

Is God truly loving? And if He is, then how can He condemn millions of people to hell? If God is really good, then what about all the people in the world who have lived and died without ever hearing the gospel?

How can people be responsible for their sin if they never knew anything different? What if they were sincerely following their religion? Shouldn’t that count?

If God condemns people to hell who aren’t responsible, then He can’t be good and loving. He must be angry and horrible. Who wants to believe in that kind of God anyway?

“The space between doubting God’s goodness and doubting His existence is not as wide as you might think.” Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard those questions from people who have grown up in church. But reading them again was sobering. They are legitimate questions asked by people searching for real answers. Too often all they get in return is Christianese.

If you’ve been following my last few posts you will know that I have been on a journey of discovery, reading books that I thought I disagreed with. The first couple were a pleasant surpriseFaith Unraveled was a little more difficult. Written as a memoir, it explains how Rachel Held Evans left a staunchly right, evangelical worldview in search of answers to her many questions. I was left conflicted.

Often Rachel and I would be on the exact same page, using the same Scriptures for the same arguments. Then without warning we’d each take an abrupt 90 degree turn and end up with completely different conclusions. Ultimately though, I didn’t hate the book as much as I anticipated. And I appreciate the questions Rachel forced me to wrestle with as I read.

“There are millions of people, past and present, who have had no exposure to Christianity at all. Are we supposed to believe that seconds after Jesus rose from the dead, everyone on earth was responsible for that information?”

Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled.

Again, legitimate question. Let’s tackle it.

This isn’t going to be a theology lesson. I just want to share my heart with you about the God Who Wants to Be Found.

It’s okay to ask scary questions. I really is! They are good. But as we ask, let’s not suppose too many things about the God of the Universe.

  • We can’t suppose that our understanding of the gospel is the only way. That people must pray a specific prayer, or “walk down the Roman’s road”, or “repent and make Jesus Lord”, or whatever pet phrase you want to use. What if it’s easier than that
  • We can’t suppose that God is either loving and let’s everyone into heaven, or angry and happy to condemn people to hell. What if His wrath has already been satisfied and everyone has an opportunity for eternal life? What if it’s our own choice that condemns us?
  • We can’t suppose that God is hiding up in heaven, aloof and withdrawn. That the only way to find Him is through the Bible or the American version of the gospel. What if He is closer than we can imagine?

These questions sound almost heretical, don’t they? 😉

I’m not a Calvinist, or an Arminian. And if you want to debate theology with me, I’ll have to disappoint you. I’m just a girl who thinks that God is always bigger than we can imagine, always more powerful, more wonderful, more mind boggling. If we think we have Him in a theological box, we are sadly mistaken. He will never fit!

It’s okay to step outside and wonder. How do these questions make you feel? What have you been wondering about? It’s easy as people to become black and white in our thinking. But I think life might actually be a lot more gray.

I’m going to finish these thoughts tomorrow. Share some stories and verses from the Bible. Keep talking about the God Who Wants to be Found. Stay tuned!

spring rain

 

But Jesus isn’t White…and Why it Matters

PicMonkey CollageBack when my husband was a youth pastor, one of his favorite object lessons was to print a bunch of images of Jesus and lay them on the floor. He would ask the teens to choose a picture that they resonated with and stand by it. He found some really crazy Jesus’s as well as more traditional ones.

Sweet Jesus in white robes, surrounded by children.

Tough Jesus, arm wrestling Satan.

Gentle Jesus, holding a lamb.

Powerful Jesus, calming the storm with one outstretched hand.

Bad Ass Jesus, with his sleeve rolled up showing a “love” tattoo on his muscular arm.

Hot Jesus, tall and handsome with a confident stride.

There were some similarities in the Jesus pictures, most noticeably His apparent ethnicity. In almost every image, Jesus had fair to medium skin tones, long hair, and light eyes. He appeared to be tall, thin, and good looking with definite European features.

But here’s the problem. Jesus isn’t White.

swirl-2780178_1280

Why do I love that so much? I think it’s because I can trash my mental image of Jesus along with my churchy, Christianese ideas of who He was. I’m super excited about starting from scratch!

While the Bible doesn’t give us a clear snapshot of what Jesus looked like, we definitely get some clues from Scripture as well as from history.

Jesus was a Jewish man in the 1st century. So, He looked Middle Eastern, with dark hair and eyes, and a medium to dark skin tone. Historians agree that 2000 years ago, the average human was significantly shorter than we are today. It’s likely that Jesus was just over five feet tall! And, don’t freak out, but there is absolutely no evidence that He had long hair or even a beard.

Jesus grew up in Roman occupied Israel where the cultural norm for men was short hair. I think people confuse the fact that He was a Nazarene (meaning He grew up in Nazareth) with being a Nazirite (someone who took a specific vow that included not cutting your hair). Jesus was not a Nazirite, so He probably had shortish hair….definitely not the long feathered locks we see in many traditional images.

As far as beards go, the only Biblical reference to a beard is a prophecy about the Messiah in Isaiah 50:6 “I gave my back to those who strike me, and my cheeks to those who pluck out the beard…” The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John mention soldiers slapping Jesus in the face before they crucified Him, but that is all. No beard pulling.

Does your mind feel boggled yet? 

autumn-2815427_1920

It gets better. We know that Jesus was a carpenter before He started His 3+ years of ministry…or we think we do. “Carpenter” in our language means someone who makes things out of wood or potentially builds houses. I’ve seen many movie scenes with a tall, slender, European Jesus making wood shavings. But there is a problem with this picture. Israel doesn’t really have trees and they don’t build with a lot of wood.

When we were visiting Israel in 2015, I noticed this fact almost immediately. Historic and modern buildings are built from stone (along with things like chairs and mangers).

It is more likely that the real Jesus was some kind of stone mason. There goes slender, wimpy looking Jesus. If the real Jesus hauled around stones for a living, he probably had some decent muscles…which explains him easily flipping tables in the temple. 🙂 (Matthew 21:12-13.)

A prophecy in Isaiah 53:2 says that “…he had no form nor majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

Jesus was just an average looking Jewish man. He blended in well. So well in fact, that he was able to slip into the crowd and disappear on more than one occasion. (Luke 4:30, John 6:15, and John 10:39 for example.) Jesus was so ordinary looking that sometimes people didn’t even know who it was who healed them (John 5).

Why does this matter?

It matters because Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and everything about Him points us to the Father. The truth is that the All-Powerful God of the Universe chose to come to earth as an ordinary man, a very ordinary man. His humility blows my mind and makes me catch my breath.

amazing-736881_1280

It matters because if our mental image of Jesus is totally wrong, maybe other things that we believe are wrong too. Maybe there is a lot of tradition mixed up with our truth.

It matters because too often we modern Western Christians seem to think we have a special insight into Christianity, and we need to remember that we are just Gentiles. We don’t have a full grasp of the Bible because we don’t have a full grasp of the Jewish culture. (Wow, did I feel that when I visited Israel! It was so good for me!!)

I want you to throw out every image of Jesus you have ever seen, and instead picture a short, stocky Middle Eastern man with dark hair wearing neutral colored robes and sandals on his dusty feet. His looks might be average, but the things He says and does are radical! And that beautiful, ordinary, incredible, unremarkable man is also God in the flesh. He came to show us the invisible God, die for the sins of the world, and restore our relationship with our Creator. And that’s amazing news!!

Why does an accurate picture of Jesus matter to you?

 

 

Learning from People I Thought I Disagreed with…

About a month ago, I set out on a journey of learning and discovery through reading. You know what I’ve discovered so far? I’m kind of a jerk. Good to know, huh? 😉

When I first started my book proposal a couple of years ago, there were three books somewhat contemporary to mine that totally irritated me. Not that I’d ever read them, mind you. But I knew (or thought I knew) the conclusions the authors came to and I disagreed with them. These women had all become disillusioned with evangelical Christianity and were looking for something different. They had significant followings. It irritated me. Prideful much?

In my last post, I talked about how I bought those books and was looking forward to reading them. Here is what has happened so far!

img_7517.jpg

I started with Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire and was immediately hooked. Addie writes with shockingly brutal honesty. I could hear the subtle cynicism in her voice as she shared about her emotionally charged years in youth group, her disillusionment in Christian college, and her struggle with depression as a young adult. The Church People had Christianese answers that sounded good…but nothing touched the pain or satisfied the searching questions of her heart.

Surprisingly, I didn’t hate Addie’s book. Instead, I loved her. I was captivated by her story, and I needed to know if she ever found the real Jesus. So I immediately bought her second book, Night Driving, and devoured it in a matter of days.

IMG_7589

Addie is incredibly genuine in sharing her doubts, vulnerable about her brokenness. She asks questions for all of us. Points out the flaws in our Christianese…in our formulaic religion. Ironically formulaic for people who claim “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

I gave myself a few days off, and then I picked up Elizabeth Esther’s, Girl at the End of the World. I knew going in that we had similarities in our childhood, growing up in performance based, legalistic, fundamental, patriarchal Christianity. But I didn’t realize how abused she had been, that her grandparents were the founders of the Christian cult, or that she didn’t escape until she was a married mother of three. Grace, I needed to give Elizabeth grace. Seriously, it was amazing that she was even seeking to know God after all the craziness and abuse!

IMG_7729

The fact that Elizabeth and her husband converted to Catholicism kind of threw me for a loop. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more it makes sense. Isn’t GOD big enough to use anything? She was trying to seek the real God, but kept running into her grandfather’s voice and interpretations of Scripture. She needed something strikingly different…and what is more different than the church she’d been taught was the “whore of Babylon” growing up?

They changed me…these books that I thought I hated. They changed the way I want to write.

I feel like I have a new understanding of my intended audience. If I’m going to reach the broken and searching, it needs to be with hope in an outstretched hand…with grace, and love, and questions instead of answers.

I’m realizing that we are all on our own journey as we try to find God. Thankfully, He’s happy to be found. God knows what we need, knows how to reach us, and how to speak to us individually…how to meet us where we are at. We’ve got to let Him out of our box. And I need to stop judging people before I read their books!

I have one book left, Rachel Held Evan’s, Faith Unraveled. I’ll be honest, I saved it for last because she scares me the most. I know that Rachel is pretty progressive and pretty vocal. But I’m willing to listen to her story, feel her hurt and frustrations, and try to understand where she is coming from. It’s good for me! And who knows, I’ve been wrong twice now…LOL.

IMG_7730

A Peek Inside My Heart

Welcome to a peek inside my heart… A random collection of my current thoughts and experiences. 

zion-park-139012_1920

A year ago I was in the middle of the darkest season I’ve ever gone through. It was bitter, and painful, and long. It felt like the Valley of the Shadow of Death that David talks about in Psalm 23. There were times that I just wanted to die. It completely broke me.

I’ll be honest, healing takes time. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing good, and sometimes it still hurts. Last week, memories were coming back in a flood. I stood there in church during worship fighting back tears…just one person among hundreds…feeling so alone.

“Your brokenness was a gift.”

I heard the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper…five words in the core of my heart. And as I recognized the truth, the feelings of pain, loss, and despair slowly melted away…

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” Psalm 23:4.

Jesus WAS with me! I feel like I walked through fire but didn’t get burned. Instead, I got melted. Which is a good thing! 🙂

Good gifts came from my melted brokenness.

I had six sessions with a fabulous therapist who is also a Jesus follower. After our first day, where I just poured out my heart, she spoke these words. “You have been hurt.” Sometimes we just need people who will acknowledge our pain. God used her to start my healing journey.

IMG_7461

I found a book called, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen. Seriously, every Christian should read this book! It put my experiences as a teen and young adult with Bill Gothard and IBLP into perspective while opening my eyes to more prevalent issues. Any of us are capable of abusing others when we lose sight of (or never experience) a life of grace in Christ.

I am less sure of myself and more willing to listen to others. Which brings me to my next step of learning and discovery…

When I first started the (lengthly) process of writing Impostor Jesus, there were three popular memoirs that irritated me. These authors all came from conservative evangelical Christian backgrounds but became disillusioned and left. They have large followings. I was frustrated because I went through “more extreme” circumstances and I still believed in an evangelical version of Jesus. How dare they lead people astray?! Prideful much?

Then I got melted and things changed. I’m realizing that there is a huge number of people who are angry and disillusioned with the evangelical church, and they have legitimate reasons. Their stories have value. Their hurts need to be validated.

I bought those three memoirs on Amazon and I’m looking forward to reading them. Not as someone trying to pick apart theology or judge beliefs, but as someone feeling their pain.

IMG_7517

Which brings me to my book.

I’m still planning on writing Impostor Jesus, but it’s changing. I’m realizing that my extreme experience in legalism is simply part of a larger problem. The modern Christian church is too often just a religious system instead of a group of people who love and follow Christ. We’ve lost sight of the real Jesus. If He showed up, I’m afraid we’d miss Him. Instead of being disciples, we would be the Pharisees…upset because God doesn’t fit our idea of who He is supposed to be.

It’s time for another revival, for another awakening. The church has been overhauled multiple times in the course of history. Let’s do it again!

Christian Religion is Not Enough

23517460_1930154350638006_7202778407811339848_n

I just finished a book called, Unveiling Grace, by Lynn K. Wilder. It’s the true story of a family finding their way out of Mormonism and into a relationship with the real Jesus. Amazingly, Lynn and her husband were converts to Mormonism as adults even though they were exposed to Christianity as children. Their story proves the burden on my heart.

Christian religion is not enough. Attending church or Sunday school is not enough. Living a “good life” is not enough.

I’m afraid the corporate American church is horribly broken.

I’ve met a lot of people lately that agree with me. People who have left, and people who have stayed. Frustrated, bitter, cynical, hurting people. It’s not okay that so many people have been damaged by an institution that is supposed to be the body of Christ!

The world, is lost…broken…dying. Have you listened to the news lately? It’s terrifying. And we, people Jesus asked to be salt and light, don’t seem to have the real answers.

salt-1073252_1920 (1)

The answer isn’t in bigger, fancier, more awesome mega churches with hip pastors, talented worship bands, fog machines, relcaimed wood stages, or trendy coffee bars.

The solution will never be found in sticking to the “old time religion,” the KJV Bible version, and whatever other standards and rules we want to impose on people.

The answer is not to focus on social justice issues. People can have equality, clean water, and physical freedom, but still spend their eternity separated from God.

The solution is not moralism. Yelling about abortion, the LGBTQ+ movement, or pornography does not show God’s love and grace. There are many very moral people who have never met Jesus.

The answer is not to become culturally relevant by discarding passages of the Bible that don’t fit with our ideology. Human reasoning and intellect is not the ultimate source of truth.

So, what is the answer? What is the solution to the brokenness within the church and within our own hearts?

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” Matthew 7:13-14.

Growing up, I thought this verse was talking about worldly, sinful people waltzing down the wide road of death. While good, moral, spiritual people stuck to the hard, narrow road of life. But who was Jesus talking to here? Very spiritual people who had been given the word of God. An ethnic group called “God’s chosen ones.”  Men who had memorized the first five books of the Bible by the time they were twelve. Yeah…

So, what is this narrow gate? This hard way? Maybe it’s not a what…maybe it’s a WHO.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me‘” John 14:6.

It’s Jesus, you guys. It’s always been Jesus, and it will always be Jesus.

Jesus is the only solution to the brokenness in the church. Have you met Him? Do you know Him?

True Christianity is not a moral code, or a Sunday service, or an ideology.

  • It’s an encounter with a man who is also God.
  • It’s a door into healing and restoration of our most broken parts.
  • It’s a lifestyle because we have been changed from the inside out.

I’m afraid that there are a lot of people who sit in church on Sunday, and do their “good Christian” things, but have never met Jesus.

We can slap on some spiritual paint, add some emotional glitter, and think we are good. But, without the real Jesus, we have NOTHING.

Jesus isn’t just part of Christianity. Jesus IS Christianity.

Do you really KNOW Jesus? Do you believe that you can?

rain-20242_1920

If your version of Jesus is boring and mundane…if thinking about him makes you say, “meh,” then you haven’t met the real Jesus. If the grace of salvation seems unimpressive and dull…if you “already know everything” about it, then maybe you need to question if you really understand.

Where do you start? Have an honest look into your own heart. What does Christianity mean to you? And then seek to know Jesus. Read the gospels with childlike curiosity. Who was/is He? The answer will transform your life.

 

Name

Love Beyond Words

heart-1693304_1920

I probably should have been scared. He was very noticeable, standing at the Starbucks counter. Not only was he was dressed all in black, with tall black combat boots, he also had this amazing hair. It might have been fake, but it was really long, black, almost woolly, and kind of jagged. As I got closer, I saw the black gauges in his ears, and not one but two rings through the center of his nose. I smiled.

Standing behind him as he ordered, I was close enough to see his chains, tattoos, and black, zippered, leather jacket. My smile got bigger.

We waited for our coffee together, although he never looked up from his phone. From the front, I could see the Satanic goat head on his black ball cap, and catch a glimpse of the death metal t-shirt under his jacket. By this point, I was almost in tears…I could hardly contain the love I felt for this boy-man I’d never even met.

He didn’t acknowledged me. But I do have to wonder if he noticed the overly-happy woman watching him with a stupid grin on her face.

***

I sat in my car for a minute, sipping my coffee, tears trickling down my face, praying for this stranger that I now loved. The Holy Spirit began to whisper.

“I see you just like that, Christy…every bit of hurt and brokenness and mess, and I love you even more than you can imagine. I see you, and I think, ‘How beautiful! What a beautiful, broken mess. I want her.'”

birch-1593725_1920

It’s one thing to read the Bible and believe that God loves us. But, friends, this is how I KNOW that God loves us…adores us. I know, because sometimes He lets me feel a little bit of His heart. God’s love is passionate and ridiculous, intense and crazy. We don’t even have a WORD to describe the power of the love He feels for us. There was no reason for me to love that tall, skinny, potentially satanic, black-clad, young man that I’d never met before. But I did…because the God of the Universe loves him beyond words. And He loves you too!!

Do you believe that? God loves you. And, He likes you! 🙂 SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!

We are all broken. That’s the truth.

I think this is one of the reasons I love “alternative type” people so much…they are brave enough to wear their brokenness openly. The rest of us scramble around, pretending we have it all together. We fake it, hoping to be believable. Trying to fool other people, and ourselves, and God. We find more socially acceptable ways to be screwed up.

There is no shame in being broken…not in the arms of Jesus. No condemnation. He already knows our deepest, darkest secrets, and He doesn’t care. They do nothing to affect His love for us. If anything, maybe our brokenness makes Him love us even more.

Think about it…what takes more love? Loving someone who is good, and wonderful, and perfect, and easy to love? Or loving someone who could care less about you, who is your enemy, who hurts you, and runs away? Yeah…

Being broken is part of being human thanks to our sin nature. Accept it. It’s okay. And then bring those broken pieces to the foot of the cross and be healed. It’s not by our own efforts…that would be like trying reconstruct a broken piece of china with Scotch Tape. We are healed by the blood of Jesus. His grace, His forgiveness, His death and resurrection.

When Jesus fixes us, it’s like Kintsugi.

ncPMbsOJ3HSes0Xn9kE6_1065306615

Photo: Wikipedia

Not familiar with this word? I found this great definition online at mymodernmet.com

Kintsugi is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Beautiful seams of gold glint in the cracks of ceramic ware, giving a unique appearance to the piece. This repair method celebrates each artifact’s unique history by emphasizing its fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing it with new life.”

Jesus wants to gather our broken pieces into His arms and love us just the way we are. Then He wants to put us back together. We tend to think God is looking for perfection and we feel our inadequacy. But, Jesus has already given us His perfection…God sees us as perfect because of Jesus’ death! We are broken, but we are whole.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” 2 Corinthians 4:7.

In the same way that Kintsugi emphasizes the gold lines fixing the cracked pottery, when people look at us, they will see Jesus.

Please hear me. I want you to begin to believe this.

  • Every single one of us is broken. Some of us just hide it better than others.
  • Jesus looks right through our masks, sees our reality, and loves us beyond words.
  • There is no shame in being broken, not at the cross.
  • We cannot begin to be healed until we face our mess and give it to Jesus.
  • Jesus cares more about our broken heart than our outward actions.

Will you let Him love you?

 

 

 

Fireflies, Chili, and Hope

diwali-2890605_1920 (1)

“You are the light of the world…No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket…” Matthew 5:14-15.

How strange would it be…if you sat on your porch one summer evening and watched as one firefly after another flew into an open container. Instead of floating free, blinking their lights in the summer dusk, the fireflies huddled together. Willing captives in a jar.

And yet, I think many Christians do the same thing. Somehow, protection and safety have become more important than being the light of the world. They huddle together around common ideology and values. Protecting good things like marriage, family, the sanctity of life, and moral absolutes, but refusing to engage the culture and the people in it.

If this life really is a vapor and just the beginning of the adventure, what have we got to lose? Do you believe that?

salt-1884166_1920

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor?” Matthew 5:14.

Wouldn’t it be odd…if you had a pot of homemade chili simmering on the stove, but despite adding multiple teaspoons of salt, it never became seasoned? Finally in frustration, you shook some of the salt into your hand, licked your finger, pressed it into the salt, and put it in your mouth. The salt was tasteless.

The same thing has happened to the church. Christianity is often something that just happens on Sundays. A religion separate from the rest of life. It is protection from hell, if we even believe in hell, but it doesn’t really mean anything.

If God really exists, and if the Bible really is the history of His interaction with humanity, and if this life is just a vapor and the beginning of the adventure…well, that changes everything. Do you believe this?

There are things on my heart that I need to tell you. This might be the strangest and most disjointed blog post I’ve ever written, but that’s okay. It’s real. 🙂

The darkness is very dark. This world is a mess and getting crazier by the day. It’s scary, I get that. But it’s not about safety and huddling, or about just getting by.

We were made for more. You were. And you know it. There is a restlessness that’s growing. A longing that can’t be satisfied. Because we were made in God’s image…made to be magnificent…made for a relationship and an adventure.

It can’t be about someone else telling you what to believe, or where to go, and what to do. It has to be about you and Jesus!

It can’t be about what people say, what the intellectuals think, or what is popular to agree with. It must be about you and Jesus!

It’s real, guys. Jesus is real…everything we see on this earth is just a shadow compared to Him and the adventure that is coming.

And because of that truth, we can do it. We can live the life that He has given us. It might not be easy, or safe, or comfortable, or fun, but that’s okay.

We all long for significance. We want to make a difference, to be important. But Jesus’ Kingdom is strange. It’s backwards, inside out, and upside down. The first are last, the last are first, and the Most High God became the servant of all. Think you are weak and powerless? You are the perfect candidate for adventure. Think you have gifts and abilities? Jesus might pick you to clean toilets. 😉 But either way, it’s okay because it’s about Jesus’ Kingdom and His plans.

Take heart, my friends, believe the truth, seek the Lord, and hold on to hope. Jesus wins! It’s not over yet! ❤

flower-887443_1920

The Elusive Knowledge of Good and Evil

tree-207584_1920 (1)

“You won’t really die,” the serpent hissed. “God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God. You will know about good and evil.”

What the serpent said made sense…maybe Eve was just confused. Maybe she had misunderstood God’s original instructions. The fruit was lovely to look at, and it would make them more like God. Why would God keep this knowledge from them? Surely, eating the fruit was the right thing to do…

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil offered an elusive promise.

Forgetting she was already made in God’s image, and thinking she was becoming more like God, Eve listened to the serpent’s words. Deceived, Eve believed she was making the good choice. Ironically, choosing to disobey God and eat from the tree immediately perverted the knowledge Adam and Eve gained.

As humans, we now have the capacity to know good and evil, but can we really differentiate between the two? I’m honestly not sure we can.

Think about these examples.

Growing up in an ultra-conservative version of Christianity, many normal behaviors were considered evil. Listening to rock music, dating, going to college, women wearing pants, men growing beards, being friends with the opposite gender, women working outside the home… All of these things were bad, not to mention going to movie theaters, drinking alcohol, getting tattoos, multiple piercings, etc. It was a long list.

If you don’t come from a conservative background, this list of “evil things” seems ridiculous. But, look at extreme versions of any religion and you will find the same scenario. In a frenzied desire for holiness, normal, good things become evil.

The opposite is also true. People call plenty of hurtful, damaging, truly evil things good. I don’t need to make a list of the behaviors and attitudes we see in our world, because just reading that sentence brought them to your mind…

fog-240075_1920

We know that there is such a thing as good and evil, but our ability to distinguish the two has been perverted.

It gets worse.

In our brokenness, we not only want to classify behaviors as good and evil, we also want to classify people. This is where we really screw things up!

Differences can be scary and uncomfortable. We don’t like that feeling. If you are different than me (in your beliefs, your actions, your looks, etc) you must be wrong…you must be bad. It is true that sin has broken people and some of them are unfortunately controlled by evil. But, different isn’t the same as evil. Different isn’t wrong; it’s just different. And that’s okay!

Then there’s motives.

Motives can make good behavior evil. Prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, Scripture memorization, giving, serving…all of these things are good, right? Not when they are done to gain something, or to prove something, or to pridefully show off spirituality. When our motives are evil, then our good actions are no longer good.

But, people can also do bad actions with good motives. If the bad things they do are motivated by a desire for justice, or because of intense hurt, are they really bad? Does it make them bad people?

Are you confused yet?

This is kind of a depressing blog post, Christy. The world, and the people in it, are really messed up!

They are. It is. It’s a mess. A dark, confusing, depressing mess. But into that darkness came a Light.

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:9-11.

Jesus lived as the only perfect person to walk our little planet. He defied human laws, norms, and expectations. He loved people no one else would look at. Everything he did was right and good, even though sometimes it looked wrong. He was God in a human body, but the religious leaders said he was possessed by the devil. They missed the Messiah because he didn’t fit their ideas of good and evil.

These religious leaders murdered an innocent man, convincing the Roman’s to crucify him even though they couldn’t find fault. And yet, that horrific act of evil was the best thing that ever happened. Because, as Jesus drew his last breath, as his blood dripped down, He provided forgiveness for the world. He became our Savior.

It’s broken, you guys. We are broken. The sooner we realize that, the better off we are. We desperately need Jesus. He is the only hope. The good news is, we can have Him! He offers Himself as a free gift for the taking. 🙂

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:11.

It gets better!

Jesus didn’t leave us alone. The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ very Presence, comes to dwell within everyone who believes! Not only does the Spirit convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgement (John 16:8), He also gives us the power to live (Romans 8:10).

But, how should we live? How do we know what is right and wrong? Does it really matter? When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, ultimate list of right and wrong, what did Jesus say?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” Matthew 22:36-40.

heart-700141_1920

“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” Romans 8:2.

Since we are terrible at truly discerning good from evil, and our fixation on correct behaviors only brings death, maybe we should focus instead on love. How can I love God with everything I am? And, how can I truly love my neighbor? If we are genuinely seeking to love God and others by the power of the Holy Spirit, I don’t think we can go wrong. 🙂

How do you think focusing on love instead of behavior would change you?

 

 

 

Rediscovering Jesus – On a Mountain

western-tatras-2661497_1920

Slowly the old man trudged up the trail, his feet weighed down more by dread than age. One hand clutched his staff, the other stroked a piece of flint he carried in his pocket. He could feel the knife on his belt bump against him with every step. Behind him strode a boy just stepping into manhood. Lean and agile, he hardly seemed to notice the weight of the wood strapped to his back. With eager eyes and sure feet, the hike up Mount Moriah was more adventure than effort for him. Suddenly, the boy stopped.

“Father! I am carrying the wood for the sacrifice, and you have the knife and flint. But, where is the lamb?”

The old man sighed, and a tear trickled down his leathery face. Little did his boy know what was about to happen. His heart threatened to break within him. Yet, the father held on to hope. It had been a long and sometimes difficult journey becoming a friend of the Most High God. There had been many failures along the way, but Abraham had learned one thing. El Elyon could be trusted; His promises were true. And so, the old man drew a deep breath and spoke from a heart of faith.

“God will provide the lamb for the offering, my son.”

And He did! Just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his beloved only son, God stepped in and provided a substitution.

“So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided'” Genesis 22:14.

I have heard this beautiful story used over and over again in moralistic or formulaic ways, and maybe you have too.

“What are you holding back from God?”

“What is your Isaac that God wants you to sacrifice?”

“When you give things to God, He will give them back.”

Blah! I agree that we can learn things from the life of Abraham and that we can indeed apply this account to our own lives. However, I think we often miss the main point of this story.

The New Testament has this to say about Abraham.

“and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ – and he was called a friend of God” James 2:23.

“Abraham believed God.” The funny thing is that he didn’t. At least not all the time. Abraham is listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, but if you read his story in Genesis 12-22, you will see more instances of doubt than of faith. Twice Abraham pretended that his wife was his sister and allowed her to be taken into a harem. He fathered a child with his servant because he doubted God’s promise, and then abandoned them both in the desert. Abraham wasn’t some super spiritual giant of the faith. He was just a guy who became friends with God…and that’s the point.

clouds-1837129_1920

Years before the Law, before the sacrifices, before the temple, before Jesus died on the cross, there was a man who became friends with God. It wasn’t because of the rules he followed, or disciplines he undertook, or any of his outward actions. Abraham had a relationship with God through faith.

He talked with God, followed God, questioned God, doubted God, and saw God do miracles. Eventually, after a lifetime of this relationship, Abraham was at a place where he knew the Most High so well, and his faith was so strong, that he was willing to do the unthinkable.

But it didn’t happen, because the angel of the LORD stepped in.

“But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven… “Do not lay your hand on the boy…” Genesis 22:11-12.

The angel of the LORD is the one who shows up all throughout Abraham’s life. He is the one Abraham meets, feeds, talks to, argues with, and the one who stops his sacrifice. So, who is this angel of the LORD?

Are you ready for this? Most theologians believe that the angel of the LORD is pre-incarnate Jesus. Jesus!!! I love this! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this!!

It get’s better. 🙂

Roughly two thousand years later, Mount Moriah, the mountain where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, had been developed into a city. Jerusalem. One spring, on the outskirts of that city, a controversial rabbi was crucified.

“On the Mount of the LORD, it shall be provided.”

And it was.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.

Whoever believe in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in condemned already, because he has not believed in the same of the only Son of God” John 3:16-18.

plant-2435790_1920

Jesus has always been Jesus. 🙂 The God whose name is I AM does not change. The Jesus that we shake our heads at, and yet adore, in the New Testament, is the same in the Old. If you look closely, you will recognize Him: the God who pursues, forgives, loves, gives grace, and sacrifices Himself for the sins of the world. He is powerful, amazing, crazy, confusing, addicting, and beautiful. Will you seek Him with me? Let’s keep rediscovering!

For more info on the angle of the LORD, check out this link.

 

Rediscovering Jesus – In the Garden

sky-2586577_1920.jpg

We were made to be magnificent.

Human beings were the culmination of His creation. God lovingly, personally fashioned us from dust. Intentionally sculpted and gave us life. Beautiful…powerful…creative…intelligent…capable…we were built in the very image of God. We were especially designed for relationships: able to intimately know others, and able to walk with God.

Until it all fell apart.

Christy, you said you were going to do a series on rediscovering Jesus. What are you doing in the Garden of Eden?

This is where Jesus starts, friends. This is where the gospel begins!

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” John 1:1-4.

Eden is where we first discover the nature of God and the nature of ourselves. It’s where we first experience grace. I’d go so far as to say that without the Garden, there is no Gospel. (And yes, I’m one of those foolish people who believe that Genesis 1-3 is a poetic retelling of actual events. 🙂 )

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” Genesis 3:1, 4-5.

tree-tomato-2435826_1920The problem wasn’t just that Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate the fruit. It’s never just about our outward actions. No. They doubted God’s character. Wondered if He was really good…if He was holding out on them. They believed the Enemy’s lie and chose to do it their own way.

The knowledge of good and evil consumed Adam and Eve. They realized they were naked. Tried to fix the problem with fig leaves. And ultimately hid from their Creator and Friend.

Does this sound familiar? We humans have been living like this ever since.

We still believe lies about God all the time. We still doubt His character. We still choose to go our own way. We continue to try and fix the brokenness ourselves. And we often hide ourselves from the Presence of God.

I hear people talk about how our “true self” is a wretched sinner. That brokenness is our real identity. I also hear other people violently react to that teaching.

I believe that our “true self” is the magnificent creation we were made to be. Remnants of our magnificence remain even now, but it is mangled and perverted because of the sin that is also a part of us. This is the nature of our humanity. We glimpse the potential, and we come face to face with the perversion every day.

But God…

If He was really the God of anger and punishment that some people make Him out to be, God would have killed Adam and Eve and started over. He had every right to do so. They broke the rule and destroyed His perfect creation. He had promised death if they chose to disobey.

Instead, God sought them. He called to them. He drew them out of hiding and to Himself.

“But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9.

God reached out to His broken, magnificent creations with questions He already knew the answer to. In gentleness and love He gave consequences for their disobedience. There had to be consequences. But amid the curse, there was also a promise. A man who would someday destroy the power of the serpent. And instead of guaranteed death falling on Adam and Eve, it fell on the animals God used to make clothing for them. A picture of a Savior who would one day substitute His life for ours.

tree-2581426_1920 (1)

So here is the question…who is this God in the Garden? A God who has feet to walk with the people He created and footsteps that they can hear? A God who seeks the broken? Does He sound familiar to you?

 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” Luke 19:10.

Think on this for a minute. Let it soak in. What does this mean for you?

It makes me love Jesus even more…through tears. 🙂 What an amazing, powerful, loving God we have the privilege to know!