I won’t be making it to a Good Friday service this year, but I’m thinking a lot about what this day means. It’s a weird day if you’re a Jesus follower who doesn’t believe in what theologians call “penal substitutionary atonement.” In more normal terms, that’s the belief that the reason Jesus died on the cross is because God was angry at us for being sinners, and someone had to die for it, but instead of killing us and killing us forever, or damning us all to hell, God sent Jesus, God’s only Son, to die in our place as a sort of proxy stand-in recipient of God’s wrath, so that we could be forgiven and live forever with God. I don’t believe in this, because, to paraphrase Brian MacLaren, I believe in reading all of the Bible and in fact approaching God Himself, through the lens of Jesus. And in Jesus I do not come to know an angry God who demanded blood to satisfy his rage. Continue reading “good friday”
Last year was a bad tornado season for those of us who live in Tornado Alley. Bad enough that we spent several nights in our “safe space” waiting for the sirens and the winds to stop. A friend had a tornado knock a tree onto her house. Other friends survived the tornadoes that blew through Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. It freaked me out enough that I finally made a FEMA-recommended tornado kit to keep in my safe space, which is small comfort when I know that if a tornado really does hit my house, no waterproof bag full of food and supplies can save me. Tornadoes are scary. They are unpredictable. They are deadly. And climate change seems to be making them worse.
This year has already seen several tornadoes. People have died. Communities have been destroyed. Others are just now starting to pick up the pieces.
Now, let me say right now that I believe in a powerful God who could cause tornadoes if God wanted to. But I also believe that sending these storms wouldn’t be in keeping with the nature of the God I have come to know and love.
I believe that the best way to learn about the nature of God is through the Person of Jesus Christ (as Brian McLaren called it at a talk I attended, you could say my hermeneutic is Jesus). And the God revealed through the person of Jesus is not someone who capriciously sends tornadoes that pick up babies and carry them for miles and kill them. The God revealed in Jesus is someone who wakes up in a boat in the middle of the storm and calms it. The God revealed in Jesus is someone who raises the dead and heals the sick and comforts the grieving and gets to know the outcast. God isn’t someone who breaks and destroys, but someone on a mission of healing and wholeness and reconciliation and redemption.
In the wake of deadly tornadoes, God is on the side of the folks wiping away tears and giving hugs and listening to the grieving and picking up the pieces. God’s drawing nearer to us through acts of love and healing. At least that’s what I believe.
Yes, we live in a world that does not work the way God designed it to. There were no deadly tornadoes, no death at all in fact, in God’s original plan. But all of creation was given the ability to turn from that design, and we did, and here we are. But God isn’t smiting us. God is working to fix it, and God invites us to be a part of the healing. At least that’s what I believe.
I’m praying for the people in Indiana and Kentucky who are dealing with devastation right now. I want them to know that God is on their side.
I’ve always known that God loves me, but, and this might shock you, it’s a relatively new thing for me to realize that God actually likes me, actually enjoys me, as well. Maybe this is a revelation for you too?
Though I grew up in a wonderful church family, for the past few years, I have struggled to find a community of faith to call my own. In our three years in Charleston, we never really did find a church to belong to. For over a year, we thought we had– we loved the “contemporary” service at an Episcopalian congregation that blended the liturgy I love with the music that touches Jon’s heart. And the people there were friendly enough. But we couldn’t find places to “plug in.” We weren’t interested in leading the youth group, though we’ve both been active in ministry to teens in the past. We were too old for the college kids, but too young for most of the “young marrieds” activities, and we just didn’t fit in with the people who already had kids. We were in church programming limbo. So, after about a year, we realized it was time to try to find a place where we wouldn’t still be treated like “visitors” after a year of attendance. We church hopped ever after.
I also tried to find a community of faith outside the church. I joined a bible study for medical wives, but, as I’ve written, I didn’t exactly fit in there as an outspoken, feminist, liberal, doubter. I always felt like they didn’t really know me, didn’t really like me, and REALLY wouldn’t like me if they knew the real me. Like: if you can’t handle “Sarah on her best behavior,” you’re really not going to do so well with “Sarah in a vulnerable moment.”
And, though I didn’t really realize it until last night, I think that my time in that group (and another community group which Jon and I both belonged to and ultimately left) left me feeling like yes, God loves me, but maybe God, or at the very least God’s people, doesn’t like me very much.
Our new church is small, but I’ll take quality over quantity any day. We meet in a converted house near our neighborhood every Sunday night, and, like the very first Christian churches, share a common meal and enjoy each other’s company. We try to keep to a flattened style of leadership, so we take turns leading in a conversation about Jesus, trying to get to know Him very well so that we can live like He did. And we have a great time.
Perhaps the biggest revelation for me lately isn’t just that we found a group of people who don’t make us feel like heretics, though that’s a big plus. It’s that we really LIKE these people. We want to hang out with them, have cook-outs with them, go on random weekday bike rides with them, share our lives with them. And with that revelation comes the realization that they like us too!
Last night, during our “talk time,” the leader was talking about Matthew 25 and what we do for the “least of these.” We had some conversation about dealing with “the least of these,” and the fact that sometimes, the least of these are downright annoying, ungrateful, and unpleasant. He pointed out that so often, when we deal with “the least of these” we have a super secret agenda, be it that they will leave things that hold them in bondage, or that they will accept Christ, or that they will say “thank you.” He noted that “the least of these” know we have this agenda, and that this hurts them– it hurts people to feel like we’re only tolerating them because we see them as a project. He said that perhaps the “least of these” in these situations are really being the better friend, because they’re putting up with us, despite our not-so-secret agendas. And, even more mind-blowingly, he said that WE are “the least of these” to God. We’re annoying, and unpleasant, and ungrateful, and yet God doesn’t just love us, God LIKES us. God wants to spend time with us, delights in us, and, in the form of Jesus, reclines at the table with us, sharing a meal, drinking some wine, and just enjoying a conversation.
Does that maybe blow your mind a little bit? It does mine! After a few years in which I felt like Christians I knew didn’t really like me, and in which I’d begun to get the idea that maybe God didn’t either, this message is downright liberating. It makes me want to pull a Sally Field and scream “You like me! You really like me!” And it also reminds me that I have a lot of work to do toward becoming more like Jesus. In our society, we seem to think that loving someone doesn’t mean we have to like them. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “I love you, but I just don’t like you very much right now.” I’ve definitely felt that. But “loving” someone without enjoying them is not the way of Jesus. And that’s a lesson I need to learn with humility, thankful for God’s grace, and love, and LIKE.
This week, my latest issue of Relevant Magazine came in the mail. I took it out to the beach on Saturday, and when I turned to the Deeper Walk column written by Jason Boyett, I felt I could have written his piece word for word. It was called “O Me of Little Faith” (that’s a link to the piece in the digital edition of the magazine, just zoom in and read!), and in the very first line, Boyett confesses:
I am a Christian. I have been a Christian for most of my life. But there are times when I’m not sure I believe in God.
In many ways, the same things that drive me toward a life of faith often also pull me in the opposite direction, particularly my curiosity and my questioning nature. I’ve been known to practically give myself panic attacks thinking too hard about whether or not what I say I believe is really true. I’m prone to many dark nights of the soul. I’m prone to praying, “Lord, I believe, please help my unbelief.” And yet, something always pulls me back to God. You could probably say God always pulls me back to God. No matter how deep my doubts, it’s always to God that I pray, begging God to please just give me my faith back.
And yet, I’m often jealous of those for whom faith seems to come easily, even as I’m frustrated that what so often seems obvious and unshakable to them comes so hard to me. Continue reading “we of little faith”
When I was a teen, had you asked me my favorite Bible verse, I would have rattled it off for you immediately. Jeremiah 29:11-13. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will come to me and you will pray to me and you will find me. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'” (That’s a paraphrase based on what I remember.)
As I’ve grown older, my understanding of that verse has seriously changed. For one thing, I’ve learned the danger of pulling a Bible verse out of its context and attempting to apply it to my life as if it was written to me as an individual in the modern world. In the case of this verse, I have to remember that this is from a piece of prophesy to the Israelites, and the “yous” in it are all plural. It’s about a plan for a nation, a people, who at the time were in exile and suffering, letting them know that even though they, themselves, might not live to see it, one day their people would be back in their land, back into the relationship with God that they craved. It’s not a promise about my individual prosperity, but a promise that even in the darkest times, we can trust that God wants good things for and a right relationship with God’s people, and is always at work to bring them, as a group, back where they were created to be. You can read more about understanding this verse in context in this piece, The Most Misused Verse in the Bible, over at Relevant. Continue reading “for i know the plans i have for you?”