Jesus was not a pansy. Nor was Jesus “a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand, and a commitment to make someone bleed,” as Mark Driscoll has contended. “Fight Club” may have been a good movie, but it makes for really bad theology.
Often as Christians we can shy away from doubts and questions. We can think they are dangerous, unhelpful or we can be worried about what we will find if we continue to think about the issues we are struggling with. I have often found however that the times and issues I have wrestled with have led to me to a place of far deeper understanding and often led me to be more in love with Jesus.
One example of this is in regards to the atonement. About a year ago I started to wrestle with Penal Substitution and the whole “divine child abuse” argument. As I questioned what happened on the cross one option was to shy away from these questions, to accept what I’d been taught and to quiet the voices and doubts. Instead I went with them and started to more deeply explore what happened on the cross, how does Jesus’s death on the cross mean I have salvation?
One year down the line I have such a greater understanding and appreciation for Jesus’s death. Last week I led a study on Hebrews 2 and the final few verses were so much richer and more alive than they would have been before the doubts:
"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them,fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
This isn’t a post about the atonement per se but instead it’s an encouragement; if you’re struggling or wrestling with an issue or doubts don’t be afraid to delve deep, explore and question, God gave you a brain so use it. Lets be confident that the truth will prevail and that it may be more beautiful than you hoped.
God can take it, in fact I think Genesis 32 teaches us he enjoys a good wrestle:
"So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Wrestle with God my friends, he wants our honesty more than we know.
Identifying as a feminist can be a lot like identifying as an evangelical. There’s baggage associated with each term, so it’s easy to give people the wrong idea. My favorite definition of feminism is that it is the “radical notion that women are human.” In this sense, I didn’t learn to be a feminist from Margaret Atwood or Simone de Beavoir. I learned to be a feminist from Jesus: who defended Mary of Bethany as his true disciple, even though women were prohibited from studying under rabbis at the time; who refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery to death; who looked to women for financial and moral support; who bantered with a Syrophoenician woman, talked theology with a Samaritan woman, and healed a bleeding woman; who appeared first before women after his resurrection; and who charged Mary Magdalene with the great responsibility of announcing the inauguration of a New Creation, of becoming the Apostle to the Apostles.
There’s this beautiful bit in Hosea where God is talking about Israel, she has been unfaithful to God and has started to worship other gods. She is even thanking these other gods for all the blessings that He has given her. And then God says something strange yet powerful.
Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,as in the day she came up out of Egypt. (Hosea 2 v14-15)
God sometimes calls us into the wilderness and speaks tenderly to us there. This is so true for me right now. As I apply for job after job and receive rejection after rejection I feel increasingly like I’m walking into the wilderness. But with each rejection I lean a little bit more on God my provider. With each setback I fall a little bit more into his arms.
As I walk into the uncomfortable quiet of the wilderness I hear more clearly the tender voice of God. And I am beginning to respond as in the days of my youth, by proclaiming the truth that God provides, that I am loved with an unfailing love, that He is faithful.
By the grace of God I recently read Jonathan Martin’s superb new book in which there is chapter titled “Obscurity” this is a quote from it.
“Obscurity is where God sends all His favorite sons and daughters. Our society tells us that if and when we get ‘there’—the job or position or degree we’ve always wanted, the notoriety we’ve always dreamed of—that’s when all the important stuff will start happening. Not so. All the good stuff happens in obscurity.”
And so I go to obscurity where more clearly I hear the tender voice of God.
The point is that I don’t think the language matters that much. You can invite Jesus into your heart or invite Him into your liver. Pick a vital organ, any vital organ, really. I’ve known too many people whose first encounter with resurrection life started with a feeble variation of “God, if you’re really there, then…” to believe it matters what specific words we use. I do believe in resurrection and that all of this is real, but I don’t believe it has a great deal to do with getting a doctrinal formulation just right or praying a magic prayer. We take our fears and our doubts and our dreams, and we toss them in the general direction of Jesus to do with as He sees fit. That’s close enough.
—Jonathan Martin- Prototype
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. ‘Blessed are the merciful’ in a courtroom? ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ in the Pentagon?
We are living in exciting times. Stuff is going down in Wales and more recently in Runcorn.I’ve just come back from a great meeting hosted by City Church Leeds where we waited on the Lord and He moved in our midst and healed people (PTL). But sometimes its not like that…
Sometimes people don’t get healed…
Sometimes we doubt…
Sometimes we hurt..,
Sometimes we lose our jobs…
Sometimes life is pants…
There is a line of a Bethel song which says “It’s always like springtime with you. You make all things new”. What this is talking about is the new life we receive in Christ but sometimes we can feel like it should always be springtime in every area of our life.
But sometimes its not. Sometimes it rains and sometimes it snows.
The church must be a place where we can come and be brutally honest with one another, there should be no walls put up in our family. It’s not always springtime. And if we can’t admit that in the church then where can we admit it?
There is a twofold danger I think when we put on happy, smiley faces because we’re Christian’s so life can’t possibly go wrong. The first danger is that we bottle up our emotions, don’t deal with them and they fester. The doubts we are too scared to express eat away at us. The pain hurts but we hide it away till it consumes us. The second danger is for those outside our community, they look in and see a group of people who seem to have it all together. They then look at their own lives and don’t see it match up. They are afraid to join this “perfect” group of people because they don’t want to mess it up. When we are honest, when we express our emotions, when we admit that life is sometimes pants we help both ourselves and those outside.
And the beautiful thing is we worship a God who knows exactly what its like. Sometimes life was a slog for Jesus and sometimes it was downright pants. Do you think when his mate Lazarus died he just shrugged it off? No, he wept. Do you think when his best friends betrayed him he told everyone life was great? I doubt it.
And then on the cross as he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” he experiences the worst feeling that humanity knows; that of “God-forsakenness” the feeling that we have been abandoned by God. The question “Where is God when I’m hurting?” that we have all asked at some point was asked by our Lord and King on the cross. As Greg Boyd says:
"The authenticity of the Jesus’ abandonment on the cross means that God is a God who is entering into and embracing our hell. And its only because of this that we can be confident that God has poured himself out completely in working to redeem us from our hell.”
This is why we can be honest when life is pants. Because in the incarnation we have a God who enters into our pain and is with us in it.
Just read a post by Rachel Held Evans who has become one of favourite bloggers over the last year. It was called "Why I dont witness to people on airplanes" and describes some of my thoughts on mission and evangelism over recent times.
As the title suggests this is kinda a third blog over a year period as I wrestle with this idea of sharing our faith (Part one, Part 2.) Over the course of this year I have started to be much more vocal in sharing my faith and have become the person that does now chat to people on airplanes, the guy who approaches strangers and ask them if they have some time to talk about God.
For some of you reading this both Christian and non-Christian your heart might sink a little at this confession. “Surely Theo you haven’t become one of those?” For others you may be rejoicing at my new found zeal.
If I’m honest I feel both of these emotions.
I guess I question the value of “cold calling” evangelism but at the same time know the dangers (all too well) of saying I prefer “friendship evangelism” when really I just want an excuse never to share my faith cause I’m scared.
Some of you will encourage me that I am “planting seeds” and fulfilling the Great Commission. And yes I believe this is the case. As I was reminded by a friend when I shared these thoughts the other day at the very least I’m obeying Jesus’s command to go and tell.
However, I also agree with R.H.E that
"At the end of the day, the gospel doesn’t really fit on a billboard or a Facebook status or an elevator pitch; it has to be experienced, in community, through the day-in-and-day-out work of following Jesus. That’s what makes it different from just another product; that’s what makes it better than follicular unit extraction "
As people see the gospel lived out in community and experience the love of Jesus I am convinced that we will make disciples. I think the gospel is much more effectively shared when it is experienced rather than taught. The recent baptisms at my home church testify to this as three broken people experienced the love of God through the faithful lives and witness of a godly couple.
I’m just trying to be honest and admit the dilemma within me. However, until I resolve it I will continue to be committed to sharing a reason for the hope that I have. The joy, peace and love that I have experienced compels me to share even when I’m not sure how to do it.
People need to figure out how to be human again. So many parts of our lives have been turned into commodities have been turned into markets, have been turned into things. There are whole industries created to install desires within us and tell us how to fulfil them. We never to get to ask the question is the way we arrange ourselves something even something that produces something beautiful and human? We don’t ask those questions.
If one form of violence is ineffective-say, a machine gun up against a tank- few people would argue that violence itself is ineffective. Rather, they argue that a new, more improved form of violence needs to be discovered and employed against the tank. However, and contary to that notion, if a form of nonviolence-say a boycott- fails to achieve its goals, the entire idea of nonviolent resistance is indicated as ineffective and, hence, the entire notion of nonviolent resistance is discarded.
—Michael J. Nojeim