Better Than This (or, manifesto destiny)

“The difference between me and my parent’s generation, the culture warriors, is that I actually know people on the other side, and I like them.” -Russell Moore

I write this not to clarify my positions or to postulate some new and radical philosophy of political engagement. I don’t write this to endorse anyone or convince you to change your mind about whoever you have decided is best to lead this country. In fact, I really don’t care.

US politics this go around has been a three ring circus of epic proportions, with less actual discussion of policy and enough vitriol and libel slung across enemy lines to level a nation, which is what I fear.

I was born into a very specific sect of Christianity , which shapes and informs my (many) opinions on everything from abortion to same-sex marriage to the refugee crisis. And as a minister of a Gospel which I believe gives life to all who receive it, I am horrified at the trends I’ve seen rock our nation to its core the last several months.

My politics would probably be categorized as center-right if you’re one of those people who desires tidy boxes with which to organize all the things that you couldn’t possibly wrap your head around without such a system. But I identify myself as an Independent, because I believe party lines in a post Reagan world are more divisive and ugly than helpful. I want to learn who the candidates are up and down the ticket, as to make wise and informed decisions.

Now, I hope that doesn’t make me sound too engaged in the political system, because I also consider myself, if such a term exists, politically agnostic, in that I don’t know if these partisan political circuses are even remotely the way things ought to be (and I have a sneaking suspicion that they are not.)

Hillary and Donald are human beings, deeply flawed human beings with whom I am so disgusted with. I don’t believe either of them are honest and I don’t believe either of them are what we need. But they are, apparently, what America wants right now. And as much as the conservative and liberal media would want you to believe otherwise, they are human beings created in the image of God.

I hear echoes of Israel crying out for a King to lead them into a new age of peace and prosperity. Whispers of God’s people crying for a messiah, and not recognizing him when he appeared.

I have friends who I love deeply, believers and non believers alike across the spectrum of republican and democrat and everything else. To the politicians, they are a voting block. But to me, they are friends and family members, who are human beings created in the image of God. They all have lots of opinions, lots of data and theories to justify that one of these candidates is the obviously better choice.

I don’t write this to exalt the merits of either of them or change your opinions about which one of them is Adolph Hitler in disguise. I don’t even write this to slander either of them. This is less a discussion of politics and more one of basic humanity.

Because one of the most heartbreaking things I see in this time are all of those people whom I love and are created in the image of God at each other’s throats.

I am blessed to have all different kinds of friends. My Facebook page isn’t an echo chamber resounding with opinions that resemble my own. And I think that keeps me honest. It reaffirms my calling as an evangelist, not to win people over to my side of an argument but to proclaim God’s goodness across the massive scope of humanity. I believe that his kindness draws us to repentance. It is my job to love you no matter how we differ. And I don’t apologize for that belief.

But I urge you, my friends and neighbors and strangers who read this blog: do not let the mean spiritedness of our current political climate let you hate those with whom you disagree. Don’t fling fiery darts across your news feed or tweetstorm the ignorant into oblivion.

To my Christian brothers and sisters, specifically: remember the life to which you have been called. Remember that your identity rests not in a politician or platform, but in a person named Jesus Christ. Do not sully your witness by being the very agitator you cry out against.

Ideological divides are no excuse for ugliness. If our presidential candidates will not act like adults, the responsibility falls into our hands. It is my hope that I and those I love will treat one another with dignity. Love as Christ loves. We are better than this.

Words are a Weight (On Loving the Church When it Hurts.)

“The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.”

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Several years ago while I was in college, I wrote those words on my Facebook page under the “Religious Views” section. The quote is often attributed to Augustine, but is rumored to have been said by Martin Luther and a host of other church fathers. I was a frustrated young millennial, seeing the overwhelming hypocrisy of the body that nurtured me and raised me into the man I was. I saw political jargon shouted from pulpits, taken as Gospel by racists and adulterers, one and all. I saw small huddles of men in the parking lots, filling their bodies with smoke and decrying those who spent their weekends at the bar, claiming that the world was going to hell in a handbasket and there was nothing we could do about it but curse the filthy sinners that filled it.  I heard the women gossiping in their Sunday School rooms about why so-and-so wasn’t here this week and did you hear that Pam was cheating on Jim with Ron Swanson?

I’d seen the faces of disgruntled youth, trying to fit into the world of religion like a kid’s piece into an adult’s special edition Thomas Kinkade puzzle, larger than life and filled with loud primary colors clashing with the tiny diminished hues of a portrait where they didn’t belong. Begrudgingly nodding, but not convinced that the Gospel could be summed up in these words: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?”

My understanding of the mercy and goodness of God was skewered by the inconsistencies I saw all around me, and I was pissed. So, when my mother called me in my dorm room and said we needed to talk, my heart momentarily stopped. Had someone died? Had I been caught in some elaborate lie? All of my sins were called up before my swirling head. What could it be?

“The preacher and one of the deacons showed up at our house today to talk about you.”

Oh, God. This is it. I’m going to be excommunicated. Can Baptists even excommunicate people?

Apparently, someone had seen that section of my Facebook. They went so far as to print it out and hand deliver it to the pastor with feigned concern. The concern, you ask? That i’d used the word whore.

Not that they wondered if I was losing my faith.

Not that I came across as angry or missed the point.

That I had used a word.

I saw red.

My blood boiled at the thought of all that work done to expose me as a pottymouth. Forget context, forget the state of the thing I loved with all of my heart. But I said a dirty word.

And far be it from them, adults, to come to me, an adult, to talk about this indiscretion. They brought it to my parents, because obviously I wasn’t old enough to answer their fears or questions. Maybe my mind had been polluted by the big, bad Christian university I was attending.

For the first time in my life, whether real or perceived, I felt like an apostate.


I sat across from a room full of students, all of them looking to me for answers. What did I know? I was just a volunteer chaperone at summer camp.

The church gives us no respect, they don’t see us as people.

How can we carry on the work of the church when we are adults if we’re never allowed to have a say now? Where do we fit in?

Why do they treat us like we’re little kids?

I listened to their fears and their desire to be part of the Body, to really take part and contribute. To some, it would no doubt sound like blind idealism of youth. But as they spoke, I felt that weight pressing on me as well. The adults may have many excuses: they are too broken, too sinful, too young, they don’t understand doctrine or the Baptist Faith and Message. They don’t get it.

But did they themselves even understand the particulars?

Do I? Do any of us really have what it takes to live beyond reproach and advance the Gospel? (How glorious a gift God gave us, entrusting us with a task for which he makes us able to carry out!)

I encouraged those students. I prayed with them. I cried with them. And I held out hope that someday, things would change. Someday, they would feel valued. And maybe so would I.


Apostasy.

The word rang in my ears. As the quiet hum grew deafening, I pondered the implications. What would happen if I just left it all behind? Is it worth it? If there is no place for me in the community in which I was raised, is there any place for me at all?

I spoke to my pastor later that day over the phone. It was a strange conversation, full of awkward silences and unruly dissonance. I tried to explain to him the manner in which I used the quote, tried to outline my frustrations, but overall hope that I held. The church is a whore in every sense of the word. She has sold herself to politicians and to the world. She has shouted in outrage at the sins of a broken world while waiting for night to fall, so she can join the debauchery. She has traded gossip for prayer, and has been the Pharisee, blind to the log bursting from her eye while trying to excise the splinter from another’s.

But she is my mother. She birthed me, raised me, loved me, taught me who Jesus is and baptized me in his name. I am grateful for her witness, stained though it may be. I love her with all of my heart though she vexes me so.

The conversation stalled, but picked back up as he continually brought up that word. I had committed what seemed to be an unpardonable sin. These were the dregs of legalism if I’d ever saw them. To dismiss the words of a church father because you don’t understand them? In my soul, my frustration raged. I tried to remain calm, but as a college freshman, I was full of knowledge but wisdom and a healthy temperament had yet to show up on my course list.

We ended our conversation, still on opposing sides. This man was my pastor. I felt bad because I felt I owed him respect, but didn’t feel like the best way to show it was to give in and apologize. At that point in my life, I didn’t understand the value in picking your battles and if my time in the religion department had taught me anything, it’s that any topic could be a hill to die on.


In hindsight, I forgave those who didn’t understand and learned to be a little more discerning in the words I choose to say. I realized that in choosing love over bitterness, the quote I had been so adamant about was playing itself out in my life.

Sometimes the Church will choose legalism, even if you know better.

Sometimes the Church will misunderstand, even if you have the best intentions.

Sometimes she will harbor secret (or not so secret) sins and run after idols that vie for her affections, even as you call for her to repent.

But we do not exist as islands, we are not some distant relative of the beaten and beraggled Bride of Christ. We are her. We exist as one Church to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. We exist as deeply flawed, inexcusable sinners who do so much damage to the name of Jesus with our various failures and broken intentions.

But we choose to forgive the inexcusable in others because Christ forgave the inexcusable in us, as Lewis says.

Because though the Bride sometimes feels like she is barely hanging on, torn apart and stitched together again and again, she is loved by a Groom who will do anything, who paid everything to buy her back from the idols that have wrapped their tendrils around her heart. And as she gasps for breath amid the broken reality she chose, she finally sighs in freedom because her lover has rescued her and made her whole.

I love the Church, I am the Church.

And if you claim the name and mission of Jesus, so are you.

Today, I don’t have anything original to share, but this quote by Brennan Manning made me deeply thankful for the overwhelming grace of God and I want to share it with you:

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask.

Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There *we* are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”
― Brennan Manning

Pursuit and Faithlessness (or, Holy Week and where I find myself.)

“Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.” (John 19:15-16)

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Since I was a child, I was always as fascinated as I was terrified by the events of what those in my tradition of faith have come to call “Holy Week.”

How could people who revered Jesus at the beginning of the week, even so far as to throw palm branches and their coats on the ground to make way for him and call him Rescuer, their Hosanna, join the chorus for his demise by Friday? And what is so good about Friday, anyway? How could the disciples, who dedicated everything and vowed allegiance to him and walked and talked and lived with him for three years just abandon him in his darkest hour? What kind of disciple would do that?

These were the thoughts that crossed by mind as I was a boy. But as I grew up, those questions gave way to more powerful questions, questions that came from experience and from the fear that comes from having your faith tested. Questions like, if I were in their position would I do the same? Surely I would. Surely I have.

How many times have I abandoned Christ for something much less fulfilling? How many times have I praised him in one breath only to curse him in the next? How many times have I accepted the title of disciple in the light but abandoned it in the dark, or when it demanded too much of me?

What is loyalty to Christ, and do I myself have it?  Do you? Do any of us, for that matter?

As we reflect on Easter, on the glorious resurrection of Jesus, who paid for all of our sin and shame on the cross, it is my prayer that we would not lose sight of the fact that it was our transgressions that put him there.

The story isn’t simply one we read of characters in a book. No, the story of Scripture is more revealing and powerful than that. We are invited into the story, recalling that though our sins and betrayal are great, a debt we can never pay, what held Jesus on the cross was his love for all of us.

Though our sins are as scarlet, he has washed them white as snow.

And though we are forgiven, we can’t forget what it cost. We cannot withold forgiveness from those who don’t deserve it, because that isn’t what our Hosanna did.

We cannot cling to past sins that try to chain us to shame.

We can’t cling to present sins that keep our world shrouded in dark.

We can’t forget that our identities are tethered not to who we have been, or who we have been believed to be, but to whom we belong.

That the Cross is as relevant today as it ever was.

As a kid, I always wanted to blame people trapped in a book, because Jesus was the hero, and the people who betrayed him, who denied him, whipped him, and killed him were the bad guys and I was angry at them for what they did.

But that was before I realized that their story is my story, I am just as capable for that treachery and just as culpable for it.

When asked by Pilate if Jesus was their king, the chief priests answered that they had no king but Caesar, but maybe even that was a lie.

In my own experience, I have lived as king of my own heart and life, and I suspect the same was true of them.

I have lived in pursuit of holiness, grasping and rules and regulations to handcuff my heart to something that slightly resembled God, but left me wanting.

I have lived in pursuit of everything but holiness, indulging in everything I could to fill the emptiness inside me, but all it did was leave me broken and handcuffed to pain.

And I have, in those elusive moments of honest clarity, pursued Jesus, the crucified and risen Savior. He rescues me time and time again. And I deny him like Peter. And I sell him like Judas. And I just run away like the others.
Abandoment. In the face of such a wondrous love, I spat.

What God is this who loves me still?
Who seeks my heart and my devotion,
even when I am blithe to his pursuit, going about my merry way and pretending the lover of my soul doesn’t exist?

Friends, as we think about Easter, I pray we remember what it cost. I pray we share the life giving Gospel again and again. I pray we never turn it into a self help manual, but as a key to unlock doors and let the light pour in.

God is faithful, even when we are faithless.

Happy Easter week.
Honor Christ.
Keep it holy.

ΑΩ

Unity in Diversity (thoughts on the Church, what it is, and what it can be)

I am in awe of God’s goodness lately.

This has certainly been a crazy week. Our church has been having interdenominational revival services since Sunday night, where we have joined together with about 4 other churches from all across the theological spectrum–Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of God/Pentecostal, and AME Zion—and boy, has it been incredible.

It all started about 18 years ago. A few churches across the city would have a one-day event called the pulpit exchange, where the Pastors would switch places and preach to a different congregation.

And so it went for years, taking one form or another. But this year, my Pastor and several others got together and talked and prayed and sought the Lord. And what God orchestrated was something none of them could’ve anticipated.

Spanning from Sunday to Wednesday, we are taking part in an event called Crossover Kannapolis, which has become, in this iteration, a revival service where these churches come together and meet in one another’s sanctuaries and worship together, pray together, and reflect on our calling to be God’s Church together.

It’s only Tuesday, and the Holy Spirit is definitely up to something.

A little background, I was raised in a church that was not so diverse. Theologically, socio-economically, racially, everyone seemed to be cut from the same cloth.

And sadly, this is a similar story for so many churchgoers in America.

Not even taking into account theological diversity, this info-graphic from Lifeway research gives a rather grim picture of racial diversity among protestants:

diversity

The numbers are disheartening, especially with racial tension in America in the wake of events like Ferguson heightened. And if we added the theological variances, we would be looking at even more division.

I’m not saying that there aren’t reasons why different Christian denominations exist. And I realize that the differences in theology and praxis would present issues, however I do not believe that the issues these differences would present are irreconcilable.

As the Church of God Pastor said last night during the revival, “It’s all about Christ. HE is the way, the truth, the life.It’s not about the differences in how we praise God or how we look.”

And what I have observed in the past few nights is this: We are all distinctly different. From the color of our skin, to the style of our worship, even to the way we articulate different aspects of our faith.

But as I looked out across the crowd of people last night, I saw the beautiful diversity of God’s Kingdom. I saw people who looked differently, thought differently, spoke differently, some who danced and some who didn’t, some who ran up and down the pews shouting and screaming, and those who sat quietly in their seats. I saw men and women, old and young, who loved Jesus first and foremost. And that was all that mattered.

I saw these people from all walks of life proclaiming that Christ is King.

Standing in solidarity with believers across the aisle, across the street, and across the world proclaiming that whatever divides us is null and void at the foot of the Cross.

I looked out at all these people, some familiar friends and some new friends, and thought to myself: This is what the Kingdom looks like. I am grateful to be part of a Church that is so much bigger than one denomination or one building, made up of different people who don’t let their differences divide them. Whose collective cry is that Jesus is King. People from all walks of life, all over our city, who are seeking unity and have a burning desire to see Christ bring the dead to life. This is my Church. These are my people. And God is so very present. God, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

It is not God’s will that we continue to divide ourselves. If a lost and dying world sees a floundering and dying Church that cannot even embrace each other, what is there to make them believe it will embrace them? 

It is in the beautiful diversity of God’s kingdom that we show the world how to be united unifiers, how to love one another and love Christ, regardless of the plethora of reasons that keep up safe and warm inside our own prison cells we built with our hands and call churches.

So it is not longer the Presbyterian Church,

or the Baptist Church,

or the Church of God,

or the AME Zion Church.

It is the Christian Church.

Those who, against all odds, stand united in diversity. Those men, women, teens, children, who maybe aren’t so different, after all. We are not many churches, regardless of where we all meet. We are one Church. We serve one God. And it is time to stop hiding behind our pews and show a broken world a God who pulls all of our scattered pieces together and makes us all look like Jesus.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28)

Advent: Light, Word, Flesh

Recently, I was asked to preach for my pastor while he was on vacation. I never take that responsibility lightly, so when I was offered that opportunity, I prayed about it for a few days and decided that this would be a beautiful opportunity to speak the words God has been laying on my heart for a while now.

So, this past Sunday, I took to the pulpit and talked about an issue that I never really heard much about in Baptist circles until I went to the University: Advent.

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I remember growing up in a Southern Baptist tradition very similar to the one in which I am now a Student Ministries Director, so Advent was something that was virtually never talked about in my church. I knew it existed, because my Grandparents and Mother came from a catholic tradition. I remember the fancy wreath with pink and purple and white candles, I remember the Jesus-less manger scene that sat on her cabinet (we all knew that baby Jesus was just hiding underneath a wooden panel until Christmas eve, where he would be born and all would be right with the world.) I remember the advent calendars with chocolate inside each of the days.

It was, like many other things I’d experienced in the catholic church, steeped in tradition, which explains why the non-liturgical denominations avoided such displays (though we had our own traditions we clung to without thought.)

So I never expected for such an idea to permeate my own holiday traditions, until I really took the time to understand its significance.

Advent is the four weeks before Christmas where Christians prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus by remembering the longing of the Jews for a Messiah. In Advent, we’re reminded of how much we need a Savior, we are reminded that our lives are meaningless without Christ and we look forward to his birth, while understanding it in the past tense, and looking forward to the future, where he will return again.

Advent deals with themes like expectation, longing, and repentance. It is the cry of a heart for the most true and beautiful thing that human history has ever offered us: Christ. And it’s in his fulness that our emptiness is satiated.

I thought a lot before preaching the sermon about scripture to use. There was always the obvious, the birth narrative in Luke, but I wanted to talk about more than just the story, to speak beyond the story and highlight the themes of repentance, of expectation, of the hope we find in our longing for God in the flesh.

So after much prayer and deliberation and external processing to whoever would listen, I landed on the first chapter of John. An unconventional way of viewing it, but John’s Gospel presents a theological view of the deity of Christ and that is what I wanted to bring out.

Here are some adapted notes from my sermon:

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 any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

(John 1:1-5)

 Our words are how we explain our thoughts, which spills over into our actions. In a way, our words are how we reveal ourselves to others. Without words, it is extremely hard to be known. In the same way, calling Jesus the “Word that was from the beginning” is like saying that Jesus is God’s revealing of his mind, of himself, of his love for the world. He is the Word that existed before, the Divine Logos. God’s revelation of his heart.

John then uses an image of Christ being the light, something that makes the darkness disappear (how appropriate that Jesus is portrayed as being born at night.)  A single light born in a world of dark that didn’t understand him. This brings to mind our sin, our brokenness, the fact that what was coming into the world at Christ’s birth was God, revealing his own thoughts on our brokenness, showing that he came to earth wrapped in skin to bring light into our darkness and save us from our sin.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

(John 1:12-13)

There is an invitation here, to know Christ and his fullness, to see what God had in mind from the world from the beginning, before we chose to disobey. God was here to walk with his people and talk with his people and adopt them as Children.

I love the phraseology here, “he gave [them] the right to become children of God.” This implies something beautiful, that we have been adopted into God’s family. That he is our Father, and as such, we inherit everything that he possesses. His righteousness trumps our vain attempts to “be good.” It’s not about trying to keep all the rules anymore, but accepted what our Father has given us. The rest of the world may not understand the Light, but we do because we are Children of the Light. By God’s grace, we are not cursed to carry the full weight of the Law on our shoulders.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John 1:14)

John drops his use of metaphor at this final point. Before, he called Jesus things like “word” and “light” which are beautiful images of his nature, but here, the gloves are off. Jesus is no longer an abstract thought, but flesh. Living and breathing. A baby who the world had no room for sleeping in a place full of stinky animals and laying in a trough they ate from. There is blood, sweat, loud noises. The imagery is powerful, and the truth of it really cuts to the heart: God is here and he is wrapped in skin. The answer to the ugly, bloody, messy, broken system of the world, the darkness that covers up the light, is contained in this one baby who would grow up and die on a cross for our sins, so we could be free and receive “grace upon grace.”

God in skin. All of his majesty, prestige, and fame, reduced to our level. He stepped into a messed up world, and what a messed up world it is. Turn on the news and you see it. Be involved in any real relationship and you see it. Something is broken, but in Christ, God came to make it right by becoming one of us and taking on all of our sin and bearing it away.

This is the hope of Advent, this is the reason for celebrating, this is where celebration turns solemn, and praise God that it is. Whether you’re Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, Non Denom, or whatever. Advent doesn’t have to be dressed up with calendars and wreaths and whatnot to be relevant. It is the anticipation that all that is wrong in this world will one day be made right at the feet of Jesus.

If the entire Bible were a piece of music, the Gospel is it’s crescendo, the point at which the volume gradually increases. In the Old Testament, His acts of creation, punishment, and redemption showed the character of God, his patience on Israel declares his grace, the prophets pointed to the coming of a time when God would uninhibitedly show the world who he was. And in this moment, Christ’s birth, the beginning, where we go from a soft hum to a loud blast that comes to a startling stop when Jesus shouts “IT IS FINISHED” from the cross, and swells again as he rises again, in these moments, he reveals himself in all of his splendor.

So when we celebrate Advent, we are preparing ourselves for God to unleash the Gospel on us in full force. We come repentant, we come expecting God to do something great. We know that it has happened in the past, but we wait expectantly and celebrate God’s lovingkindness in our hearts and eagerly wait, expectant, for Jesus to come again.

And so Advent, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, bears significance in the life of the Christian, because the things that mark these holidays don’t end.

Open Doors to Both Heaven And Earth

“The finality of God’s revelation must surely, therefore, be found in Jesus, whom, through his redemptive act, provides the means for the liberation of humans. We are not left – as humanists would have it – to save ourselves. Through Christ we are given a key that opens the doors to both heaven and earth.”-Gary Garner

We are not left to save ourselves. This is the startling core truth of the gospel, the truth that everything Christians believe is built upon and the truth that we so often completely miss. I am doing a study with my teenagers at church based on J.D. Greear’s book, Gospel: Recovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary.

youth group

The thesis of the whole study is based on a simple prayer:

“In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less. Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy. As You have been to me, so I will be to others. As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”

It is so simple. Everything I need, I already have in Christ. There is nothing that I can do to make him stop loving me in the same way that there is nothing that I can do to make my parents just stop loving me. Oh, sure, I can infuriate them and turn my life into a trainwreck, and it would break their hearts. I could be the kid no parent wants and be riddled with bad decisions and unhealthy relationships and it would kill them, but I have been blessed with a mom and dad that I know, no matter what, would never stop loving me.

And when I think about God and Christ as revealed in the Gospel, I multiply that love and acceptance by a million. I know that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Yet, this is an idea that Christians so often quote as a platitude, or something that gives them the moral high ground or permission to live like they want, yet never actually believe when it comes down to it. I can say that Christ is enough until I’m blue in the face, but eventually, if I am honest with myself, I think of all my sin, and all of the promises I made to God that I trampled to the ground and I don’t believe it.

It’s as if Christ’s death on the cross, and subsequent defeat of death in the resurrection, was some cosmic solid God did for me with the expectation that I would (or could) repay him for it. So I spend my life trying so hard to earn what I can never earn, to pay God back in some substantial way that I don’t have the capacity to even grasp mentally.

This…this is not the Gospel. The truth of our redemption is simple, yet complicated idea because we as humans percieve God in the same way we operate  by the world’s standards. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. You do something for me, I do something for you.

And yes, we say things like “we owe God our lives” and on some level that is true. However, God sent his son to die for us so that we could have eternal life with him. Where we deserved punishment, he poured out grace. Where we deserved hell, he made a way for us. But Jesus paid a price that we could never come close to satisfying. And he did it out of love.

“But, Stephen!” you might say, “It can’t be that easy? Why would God do that if I’m just going to fail him time and  time again?”

I’m gonna go back to my illustration with my parents. I fully understand that not everyone has a supportive family and the amount of people with bad Fathers is especially astronomical in today’s society, but there is a reason (outside of the patriarchal society in which Jesus came) that God is called Father, there is a reason that Jesus refers to him as Abba (which roughly translates to “Daddy.”) There is an affection from a Fatherly love that is like nothing else. A love that accepts, a love that will hold you in his arms no matter where you are, where you have been, or where you are going. One of the sweetest things I’ve ever experienced happens every time I sit at the table and eat with my parents: I hear them pray for my sister and I.

The love they have shown us is unconditional. And there’s a lot to be said about how God’s love is reflected in mothers as well, but that is a blog post for another day.

The love of God is real, it is strong, it is persistent. If you are in Christ, your past is erased with every step, your present is secure, and your future is more beautiful than anything you could ever imagine.

The Gospel is simple: God came to earth wrapped in skin, he lived a life without sin, died a death we deserved and took on all of humanity’s brokenness and iniquity and rose again after three days, defeating death and overcoming the grave with the power of a love that only the God of the universe could show.

Our job in all of that is significantly less than we have convinced ourselves. We are to confess that we are sinners and accept what has already been done for us. No excuses, no trying to buy back our freedom, no bargaining with God. Everything that you need, you already have in Christ. That is the Gospel.  That is the freedom of the Christian life.

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