Friday, December 14, 2012

Grief and the Gospel


What a complex word. I am at odds with myself on how to describe how I am feeling right now; writing, deleting, rewriting to try and express what is welling up in me right now.

 I do know one thing though; evil showed up this morning. It showed up in a classroom in Newtown, CT, it showed up on the front page of my newsfeed as tears streamed down my face, and it showed up in the heart of a young man who, for reasons unbeknownst to us, decided he needed to take the lives of nearly 30 people today, mostly young children.

Now I know that many you experienced the same thing: brokenness, tears, unquenchable grief, and a sense of lostness and confusion rarely felt. As I scrolled through the story this morning, stopping every few lines to weep, I realized something; Everything I am feeling is a gift. It is no accident that I am feeling unbelievably crushed, even for a group of people I have never met, for it pulls me out of my self-centered world and forces me to deal with ultimate reality. Many people will baulk in coming days, "I can't believe in God when there is evil like this in the world", and yet it is precisely because of this kind of evil that I have to believe in God. The only explanation for the weight I feel over this story, the utter sadness that sweeps over me, is that I am made in the image of a God who weeps, a God who feels, and a God who is by no means a stranger to grief. We can point fingers and make deriding comments towards a deity we may or may not believe in, but the fact is, deep down, there is a well of emotion that no scientist or philosopher can explain. As tragedy and horror strikes, we drink deep of the well of God's emotions, just as he weeps and mourns along with us.

God is not immune. Not only does He grieve with us, he has suffered for us. God is intimately familiar with the lost of a child, just as many parents in Newtown are experiencing today. God lost a Son, not in the chaos of gunfire, but in the horror of Roman execution. The shooting today only brought hurt and mourning, but the crucifixion brought peace to all. God wept so that we could not weep hopelessly. Jesus suffered so that we do not suffer in vain.

God may not explain evil, but he experienced it, and He holds out the hope that one day, He will destroy everything that sets itself up against his heart, and when that day comes, evil will be only a distant and fading memory.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Blue Like Jazz, The Gospel, and Heart-softening Stories

Yesterday I went and saw the motion picture rendition of Donald Miller's spiritual autobiography Blue Like Jazz. Needless to say, I had been anticipating this for some time now. Blue Like Jazz was the first spiritual book, besides the Bible I had ever read, and it quickly became my favorite read for a number of years. Now while Don, Ben and Steve Taylor did a tremendous job at creating a compelling story out of a set of memoirs on Christian faith, which I heartily encourage everyone to go and see, this is going to be less of a movie review and more of a reflection on how to share God's story in a post-Christian world.

The film has been critisized by some, including a few of my friends for "not having a clear Gospel message", to which I replied, "Maybe, but that was not its job; that's your job."

You see, we always want to outsource evangelism to something or someone other than ourselves. Now, whether that be a movie, Christian television, or God forbid, a brochure featuring cartoons of people burning in hell, we secretly hope that these things will do the hard work of gospel proclamation for us The problem is, these things cannot and will not talk back. They can't ask questions, can't know what someone needs to hear, and they certainly can't offer up prayer. With all the good things movies like Blue Like Jazz can do, they can never replace a real person in sharing God's story with those who don't know it.

Blue Like Jazz did magnificently at answering common objections to Christian faith, and I think that is, in some sense, what it was meant to do. My hope is that Christians see that, and when they invite their friends to see it with them, they would use Don's story to share God's story as well.

Find Blue Like Jazz at a theater near you.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Afraid of grace.

I was going to see Explosions In The Sky tonight.

God had other plans.

The band had to cancel due to adverse weather conditions coming down I-5. Benjamin and I were sorely disappointed, defeated even. So obviously the only things to comfort us were coffee and wings. As we chatted over a few capps from The Hub and some wings from Slice, I shared about a situation in my life where God had begun to bless me, and could continue to bless my socks off in the future, and I begun to confess that I was scared about this. I was scared of being a disappointment, scared of not living up to the moment, scared of not being good enough. My wise and faithful brother then pointed out, "Jordan, you're scared of God's grace." He continued, "You feel that it's safer to not believe that God wants to bless you because then you can be in control."

That wrecked me.

It wrecked me because I know the Gospel, and that is most certainly NOT the Gospel. There was a schism between what I knew and what I actually believed. Does this happen to you? I think it happens to everybody. We are all unbelievers in some aspect. Our Christian vernacular makes this dichotomy between "believers" and "unbelievers", like there is ANYBODY out there who believes completely and perfectly all that the Scriptures say to us. We all have areas of our life where the good news of Jesus has not touched, areas we hide from God's grace. I say, "ok God, you can have all theses things, just don't touch this. Move along God, nothing to see here...

Here is where I am an unbeliever. I don't believe God really wants to bless me. I actually believe that God is impressed with my suffering and misery, and that somehow my ability to take a punch makes me more holy in His sight.

Isn't that a bunch of hogwash? It sounds ridiculous when you actually say it out loud, but that is how I think ALL THE TIME. Many of us can see the dangers of so-called "prosperity theology", where as one pastor put it, "God is like a piƱata, and faith is like a stick, and if you whack Him hard enough, money, candy, and a Bentley with rims will magically fall out." Every discerning Christian can see how absurd that is, and yet no one ever talks about the other side of the pendulum. There is another end of the spectrum, where if you are poor, suffering and sick, then God will really be impressed with you and might let you into heaven. Here's the problem; our right standing before God has nothing to do with us. For those that believe in Jesus, God only sees Him. You take on the very quality that Jesus has, and because of the cross, all that Jesus is before the Father is imputed to you. You are as secure as Jesus is.



That can't be true, can it? It can't be that good. It just can't.

And there is my unbelief. I am an unbeliever. I want to shirk off God's grace because I don't think He is that good, and I don't want to be disappointed in the end. What I have done is because I don't believe in grace, I become the disappointment that I so fear. I always will. I can never achieve what I want. I can never accomplish what I really want to happen, and because I cannot do it, I think it can't be done (or more specifically, I must not deserve it).

This is where the Gospel comes in.

Benjamin sat across from me, picking meat off of a gnarly chicken wing, and he begins to gospel me. What I mean is that he begins to shine light on the dark areas of my unbelieving heart. He begins to tell me, "Of course you can't make things happen, YOU'RE NOT GOD. God is way better than you Jordan. You make a terrible God, so let Jesus do His job, and you do yours. I ask him, "and what is my Job"? "Receive", he said, "Just receive." He continues, "You are afraid to receive Jordan. You're scared because receiving puts you in the passenger seat, and you want to be the driver. The problem is, you're a terrible driver. You're blind, with no arms and one leg. Now tell me, do you want someone like that driving?" He was right. I am afraid of receiving God's grace. I can't imagine it being as good as it is, so I ignore it and try to do it myself. I suppose that is the difference between my religious, unbelieving heart, and God's gospel heart. My heart says "DO". the Gospel says "DONE". My heart says "try harder". God's heart says "receive".

I am not writing this because I have this all worked out or I have fixed this problem. I am still afraid of grace. But somehow, I am beginning to see that there is grace for that too.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Parable of Emergence.

A man goes out to fix his car.

In his frustration he takes out the engine, transmission, and brakes because the engine requires fuel, the transmission is complicated and the brakes are a pain in the butt to fix. Then he giddily puts the keys in the ignition and turns them to find he no longer has a car, but a very nice portable movie theater...