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Rum and Cola for the Soul
18 minutes | Apr 8, 2020
Chapter 9: (Part B) More Hope for a Shame-Filled Judger
If on your journey, you are stuck because you think you don’t deserve anything from God, you are going to love the next story in Luke 7:1-10.The story starts off with Jesus entering Capernaum, a town in Galilee. The Jews in this area were not as strict as those around Jerusalem, because of geography and a lot of complicated history. A centurion, who had been stationed in this “more liberal” region to keep order, sent some elders of the Jews to ask Jesus to heal his servant. When these elders saw Jesus, they begged him to heal the servant. They said, “this man deserves to have you do this because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue”. (Luke 7:4-5 NIV)Let’s take a minute to contemplate how crazy this scene was. Centurions were leaders of groups of a hundred or more soldiers. They got their position by proving themselves in battle. As experienced warriors, they led groups of soldiers and always took a position on the front line. These were tough dudes who had done some serious killing and torturing of people. They were respected and wealthy in the Roman world. This centurion used his power and wealth to show favor to the Jews. He even helped them build their synagogue. This was enough for the Jewish leaders to overlook the normal disdain for soldiers. They believed the centurion deserved help from Jesus.The centurion, on the other hand, saw things very differently. When Jesus was on the way to his house, the centurion sent word to Jesus,“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Luke 7:7-8 NIV)The centurion basically said, “I’m not worthy to have you in my home. I understand how authority works, you can just say the word and my servant will be healed”.Jesus responded to the centurion’s request by telling the crowd that he had not found such great faith in all of Israel.Wait! What? How did the centurion show the greatest faith Jesus had seen in all of Israel?I mean, uhm Jesus? You know the disciples have been walking around soaking in your teaching for quite a while there. Remember, John the Baptist, he’s in prison because of you. Tons of people have been coming to you for healing and a lot of these guys memorized the whole first five books of the Bible. Those Pharisees, they devoted their whole lives to just sitting around reading the scriptures and talking about them. This centurion dude, he’s not even a Jew. How does he have greater faith than any you’ve seen?Ironically, as a kid I got in trouble for asking too many questions about this story. It honestly didn’t seem like the centurion was any different than anyone else. I mean we barely know anything about him. How’d he show great faith? Several poor frustrated teachers told me I just needed to accept the story and “have faith”.I always wanted to scream, “I’m trying to have faith, but y’all can’t tell me what it is.” Their frustration with my many questions led me to believe “having faith” meant “quit asking questions”. Which may work for some people, but I’ve never been able to shut down that part of my brain.Turns out, Jesus never told us to just “shut up and drink the Kool-Aid.” He’s OK with ALL of our exhausting questions. Faith isn’t about not thinking; it’s about knowing the answers are good and worth finding.In the case of the centurion, the answer I found was exactly what Greg and I needed to know when we were struggling with feeling unworthy.Consider how the centurion’s attitude directly contrasts what the Jewish elders said. They said, “He deserves to have you do this because he helped build our synagogue.” The centurion who was a wealthy, generous, powerful leader, said, “I’m not worthy to have you in my home. I understand how power works. If you choose to, you can heal my servant with just a command”.The attitudes of the religious leaders and the attitude of the centurion couldn’t be more different. The leaders were proud and trying to impress. The powerful military commander humbly asked for mercy for a servant.Great faith is understanding Jesus’ power, realizing we don’t deserve anything from him, yet trusting enough to ask anyway. Jesus’ definition of “great faith” as modeled by the centurion might be why survivors seem to have an insider’s advantage when it comes to knowing God. When we have hit rock bottom, it’s a lot easier to see we don’t have anything to offer God. Following Jesus isn’t a religion based on earning our way “in” by impressing him. It’s a relationship built on knowing our need.In those moments, when we realize we don’t deserve anything from Jesus, we are almost there. When we are facing the pain in our world, when someone close to us is suffering, we can find hope when we call out to Jesus like the centurion did. Great faith is saying, “Jesus, I don’t deserve anything from you, but I know you have authority over this situation and you care more than I do.”When we humbly realize we don’t deserve anything from Jesus, somehow our eyes are opened to God’s great work in this world. When we know how much we don’t deserve God’s love and acceptance, we are suddenly freed to live in it. We no longer live in the trap of focusing on our own unworthiness. We are fully aware of our unworthiness and our acceptance anyway.I believe this awareness of our unworthiness and how much God adores us is at the heart of Jesus’ message. My journey to fully embrace this message has felt like a lifelong wrestling match with fear, pride, shame, doubt, tradition, and stubbornness. As the following story from my religious past illustrates:I walked up to the pulpit nervously. “Was I really going to do this? I couldn’t believe I was sharing my story in front of all these people. The small group of young people gathered that evening felt like a stadium to me because I was about to bare my soul to them. It was too much. I hated public speaking in the first place. I got nervous just responding to roll calls in class, how could I stand up and share my story? What if they rejected me?”I took a deep breath. I looked down at my notes. They just looked like blurs. I was about to hyperventilate. I was going to pass out. At least it would get me out of this. I looked around the room in sheer and utter terror. All these faces ready to reject me like I had been rejected so many times before. Passing out would be a relief.Then I looked beside me. There was Jesus. Smiling in approval. Reminding me how he had not only forgiven me but fully accepted me. Reminding me how loved I am. Telling me God the creator of all the universe was looking at me in this moment as a doting Father proud of his little girl who had just come home. Proud that I was going to tell everyone what a mess I had been but he loved me anyway.So, I did it! I like to believe it was an eloquent call to follow Jesus and know the Father’s love, but it was probably a bumbling bunch of over-sharing. Still, I shared my story. I told this daunting group of church people not only about ways I’d been victimized but also, about ways I had hurt people. I told them how God freely forgave me and gave me new hope and joy. I was excited about my life, my ministry, my upcoming marriage, and my education career as I approached them all with Jesus by my side. I finished my speech took a deep breath and felt Jesus giving me an approving hug. We did it! I felt total joy in that moment.But it was just for a moment. Someone interrupted us. The youth pastor rushed to the podium and nudged me to the side. I looked away from Jesus and began to listen to this pastor as I crept off of the stage.I had been a fool. I had been suffering from a delusion. Jesus wasn’t there. He didn’t accept me. This pastor pointed out the fallacy of my crazy beliefs. God is clearly a God of justice and I clearly needed to be punished for my mistakes. I couldn’t just commit all of those sins and have joy. How could that even be possible? The way to please God was through strict adherence to the moral code of the Bible. I was so sure that I had been with Jesus, but as I sat under this cloud of shame, I couldn’t find him anywhere.The pastor looked at me and passed his final condemning judgement on me. “Cindy will never have the kind of marriage she could have had because of the mistakes she has made.”How could I have ever thought God accepted me? What was wrong with me? I didn’t even deserve this pastor’s acceptance. I was misleading all of these young people by flippantly sharing about my past as if it didn’t even affect me anymore. I needed to be remorseful and sullen. I needed to constantly feel guilty for my mistakes. I didn’t deserve joy.Of course, I didn’t literally see Jesus visibly standing beside me or giving me a hug, but I felt his love and acceptance. Unfortunately, I also allowed judgmental church people to keep me from embracing his very real presence in my life.Accepting Jesus’ love after so much shame has been a long journey for me. This morning, I thought about my journey as I read Luke 7: 11-16. This time, something jumped out at me. In six short verses, Luke recounts the story of Jesus raising a young man from the dead. It drives me crazy that Luke only wrote six verses. If I’d been there, I’d have written a book about the boy, his mom, how he died, what her life would have been like without him, what Jesus was wearing, everything he said and a million other details. Because Luke only included the bare bones of this story, we know each detail he included is significant.Then he went up and touched the bier they were car
23 minutes | Apr 8, 2020
Chapter 9: Hope for a Shame-Filled Judger (Part A)
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:37-38 (NIV).My friend Kathy is an amazing Christian, who wants to share God’s love with everyone she meets. A few years ago, she invited me to meet her at a local strip club, so we could tell her friends, who work there, how much God treasures them. Kathy told me, many of these dancers didn’t want anything to do with Christianity because of things church people had done to them. Since I’m also bitter about church culture, she knew I’d fit right in. That night, I was amazed by the beautiful souls of the dancers I met. I was so inspired by these women that I continued to work in strip club ministries for a long time after that first night. Though the ladies who worked in the clubs had very different stories than mine, I loved the community I found with them. I never struggled to talk to them, to see their strength, or to sincerely desire the best possible life for each one of them.On the other hand, it was always a struggle for me to deal with how much I hated the men in the clubs. See, there are often abusive jerks in the clubs, who think having a little money means they can talk to women like they’re garbage. I have seriously sat and prayed, “God help me not punch this guy in the throat.” I hated them. My rage towards these jerks extended to all the men in the clubs, and it blinded me to seeing them as anything else. It took a lot for God to change my heart in this area. Softening my heart took years. I struggled. Not just a little, I intensely struggled with emotionally unhealthy vengeful hate.In the last chapter, I mentioned praying for abusers. My most memorable experience of praying for abusers, took place as I drove to a strip club one night. I vented to God. I was bitter, self-righteous, and full of hatred. I despised the abuse I had seen, but I didn’t want to see the whole picture. I wanted people to blame. I saw my friends only as strong survivors and their customers only as abusive jerks. The messes in this world are seldom so neatly divided. Obviously, I still had a long way to go on my journey towards fully living in the peace and hope Jesus provides.As I drove, I ranted to God about my whole, ugly, hate-filled mess. Finally, the truth about my attitude came out. I said, “OK God, why aren’t you fixing this?” There it was. My real issue: I was still mad at God for the things I’d been through.Honestly, I didn’t struggle so much with the abuse I endured. I was angry about the shame heaped on me by church people. Why didn’t God break through and yell at them? Why didn’t he make it clear how much he cared about me? As I was recovering, I needed to know he still loved me. Unfortunately, people who should have told me how much God still loved me, told me he didn’t let bad things happen to people who love him. They told me I was “forgiven”, but I’d always have to pay for my mistakes. The way they misrepresented God, filled me with bitterness. It tainted everything I did. I desperately wanted to protect my friends, who are dancers, from ever feeling the shame I felt. Deep down, I also didn’t want to deal with the anger I felt towards God. My anger towards God was too raw and painful to face, so I stuffed it. But stuffed emotions never stay stuffed, so mine came out as hatred towards the men.Somehow, when I finally voiced my real frustration, in my car that night, I had a sense of how incredibly beautiful God’s way really is. I knew those church people were wrong. Now, so was I. I was reminded of a truth I didn’t want to believe: “Hate doesn’t change anyone”. Though I knew this was true, in that moment, hate felt better and I wasn’t ready to let go of it. So, while driving, I angrily blurted out, “OK God, I see it, but if you want me to care about these guys you are going to have to do it through me. I can’t do what you’re asking.”I want you to know, this was not a nice eloquent prayer session. I was angry. I was yelling in my car like a crazy woman. I was real about all the pain I saw and how much I hated it. I was arrogant and bold. Little did I know, I was about to be humbled, yet profoundly honored. God was about to show me a glimpse of how he sees the men I hated.As I went into the club, I forgot all about my prayer and began joking around with my friends. I didn’t associate my ranting prayer with anything that could happen that night. Simply because, I did not talk to the men, ever. I was merely going to avoid them, as usual, while hating them a little less. Turns out, God was preparing me to meet Greg, a man who was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, and needed to know how much God still loves him.Greg came up to talk to the dancer I was talking to. I tried to slip away unobtrusively, but my friend said, “This lady is a Christian, you should talk to her.” So, Greg turned to me, not for a conversation, but to tell me how much he hated religion.I listened to Greg’s rant. Amazingly, God was honoring the challenge I had issued earlier: “If you want me to care, you are going to have to do it through me.”As Greg continued his story, I knew God was working on me. Despite my bitterness, I heard the deep hurt behind Greg’s angry complaints about the religion forced on him as a child. He had experienced rejection and shame for not living up to their standards.After a while, Greg finished his beer. He turned to me with a sudden seriousness and said, “I don’t want Jesus to forgive me because I don’t deserve it.”The anger in his voice turned to despair as Greg told me the story of his sophomore year in college. He had pressured his roommate, who had just broken up with his girlfriend, to go to a party with him. His roommate never drank but gave in because he was feeling low. Greg remembered handing his roommate a drink with the promise, “this will fix you.”. He had no idea how depressed his roommate really was that night. After just a few drinks, his roommate jumped onto a motorcycle; sped up the curvy mountain roads; then drove off of the only overlook with a broken guardrail. Greg never forgot getting the news of his friend’s suicide.As he sat there beside me in a strip club, recounting this trauma from over twenty years ago, I began to actually see Greg. I saw how he was weighed down by guilt. I saw how he blamed himself for all kinds of problems around him. I saw a desperate, hurting soul looking for solace in the company of these dancers. I saw a glimpse of how God sees him. I saw hope for him. I saw how he struggled with the same shame that Jesus had freed me from.When Greg said, “I don’t deserve Jesus’ forgiveness.”, I saw the glaring truth of my hypocrisy. I remembered that I too had said the same thing to God twenty years earlier. As a young overwhelmed mother, I had cried out to God. “I can’t raise these children. I’m too messed up. I don’t deserve them.” Like Greg, I felt I didn’t deserve good things in my life because of what I’d done. My path was different from Greg’s. I dealt with my shame by throwing myself into church work. But, no matter how good I got at following the rules in church, I couldn’t shake my shame. I knew I could never measure up and never deserve God working in my life. Like Greg, I knew how much I didn’t deserve forgiveness.When I finally got to the point of desperation where I cried out: “I can’t do this. I don’t deserve my children.” I came to the end of me. I got quiet and I listened. I felt the calming, peaceful presence of God reminding me of the story of the Apostle Paul. Paul was responsible for the deaths and imprisonment of many early Christians. God completely forgave him and empowered him to be one of the key leaders of the early Christian community. In comparison to Paul, it seemed ridiculous to think God couldn’t work with my mistakes. I didn’t deserve forgiveness. Thankfully, God gave it anyway, and he also empowered me to accept it.Yet, here I was, all these years later, condemning all these men for the sins I saw in them. Why was I so ready to see people like Greg as hopeless, when I knew God didn’t see him that way?After a while, Greg didn’t want to hear any more. He ended our conversation with, “Listen. I know all about your religion. I can’t follow all of those rules. I just think Jesus wants me to care about people.”I told him he was absolutely right on both points and God still loves him. He shushed me and said, “He shouldn’t”I didn’t push anymore. I simply promised Greg I would be praying for him.This morning as I read Luke 6, I remembered exactly how judgmental I can be. I haven’t seen Greg in years. But I still pray for him to know how much God longs to walk through this life with him, to give him the peace, healing and hope he has been seeking.It is crazy miraculous, (like healing the blind kind of stuff!) that I ever talked to Greg. It is proof of how much God wants to reach out to him. Literally, twenty minutes before I went into the club, I would have immediately judged him and refused to talk to him. Graciously, God broke through my judgmental pride to give me a glimpse of how he sees Greg.I thank God for being so patient with me. I thank him for being way more loving and accepting than I can ever comprehend. I thank God for not giving up on the Gregs in this world, who don’t know how loved they are. I also thank God for being patient with the religious Cindys of this world, who get a little bit better, then think they can condemn the rest of the planet for not living up to our messed-up standards.Before you judge me too harshly, remember this not judging thing is hard. If
13 minutes | Apr 8, 2020
Chapter 8: Loving Your Enemies Ain't Easy
My friend Karen is one of the happiest, craziest people I’ve ever met. I’ve never had a discussion with her where I didn’t end up feeling better. She is the most free-spirited person I’ve ever known. If there is any person I’d describe as full of joy, it’s her.The truly crazy part about Karen’s story is what an amazing survivor she is. She has endured unspeakable abuse in her life. She was abandoned by her father and abused by her mother’s boyfriends. She ended up marrying an older man, who she thought would protect her. Just a few months into the marriage, he began abusing her too. It started with him sharing their very private intimate videos with strangers online. This betrayal set her up for further exploitation as he transitioned into selling her online.Karen’s escape from her abuser was straight out of a Madea movie. After a year and a half of being abused, she began praying for the power to get away from her husband. She remembers that the complete loneliness was one of the hardest parts and what drove her to pray. She had no family or friends to turn to, because her husband kept her completely isolated from the world.She smirked a little as she recounted her story to me, “I’m not sure if this was an answer to my prayers or just rage, but one day, when he was stoned out of his mind, he hit me. It felt like every ounce of anger I’d ever felt all came together in that moment. I grabbed the iron skillet I was cooking in and I knocked him out.” At this point in the story, she laughed. “I didn’t think I could hit him that hard.”After knocking out her husband, Karen grabbed her social security card and driver’s license then ran several blocks down the road to a payphone where she called a women’s shelter. She remembers panicking because she thought she had killed her husband but also feeling like he was following her. Turns out, her knock-out punch sent him to the hospital long enough for the women in the shelter to relocate her to another state.It’s been twenty-some years since Karen knocked out her husband that morning. It’s hard to believe such a happy person has endured so much abuse. Her journey to becoming the positive woman she is now, hasn’t been an easy one. She went through many trials and traumas along the way which shaped her into a strong, courageous and compassionate advocate for other survivors.Part of the reason she is so free is because of how she has forgiven her abusers, which was no easy task. It took years of counseling, prayer, tears, growth, and strength from God. As Karen grew in her walk with Jesus, she realized more and more how much she did not deserve his love. The closer she grew to him, the more her love for others grew. Eventually, she was even able to extend this love to the people who had hurt her the most.Karen is quick to point out that feelings and the kind of love Jesus taught don’t always go hand in hand. She says, “Sometimes, you just gotta do what’s kind and best even if you don’t feel it.”Nothing tested her resolve in this, like her relationship with her mother.“It wasn’t easy to forgive anyone, but it helped that I could see they were all messed up from drugs and dealing with their own messed up lives. But my mom, she was jealous of me. I was just a kid and she didn’t protect me. How could she be jealous…”Determined not to focus on past hurts, Karen stopped. She knew she would never fully understand why her mother did what she did. Karen chose to focus on remembering that everyone needs to know God’s love. Even the woman who hurt her most.Karen’s journey to forgiving her mother began with sending Mother’s Day cards and birthday cards to her. It took a lot for her to be willing to do even this. She would always pray, “Lord, you know I don’t want to do this. I don’t like my mom. She hurt me deeply and has shown not an ounce of remorse. But you love her. I would like to want to forgive her, but I’m not there yet. Please heal my heart…”Only, Karen admits, her original prayers weren’t worded that nicely. She remembers them being raw, angry, and real. The version she shared with me all these years later was what she calls the PG-13 version. She always laughs about how the unedited original version had a lot more cussin’ in it. She would then say, “It ain’t like anything I was telling God was anything he didn’t already know. He just wanted me to share it with him.”Through many years of doing this, Karen’s heart softened. She realized all her mom was missing out on. She knew her mom was still a victim of constant abuse. Eventually, Karen found out her mom was in a nursing home. All the men her mom had given her body and soul to, through countless affairs, had left her penniless and alone now that she was aging and frail.When Karen visited her mom, she found out no one was helping her bathe. Karen would go in as often as possible and bathe her. At first, her mom wouldn’t look at her. Karen wasn’t sure her mother even recognized her. Then on one visit, her mother began to cry and just say, “I’m sorry baby, I’m sorry,” and “Thank you” over and over.Karen’s mom died soon after that visit. They never had a deep discussion or the kind of reunion you see on a Hallmark movie, but Karen found peace. Karen no longer saw her mother as purely evil; she saw her as a woman who never knew she was worthy of love.Karen’s story perfectly illustrates the completely different way of thinking Jesus called his followers to in Luke 6. Jesus’ way is so completely hard to do that I’m convinced it’s not possible without God’s help.I have been working on “loving” my biggest enemy, who abused a family member. I’m currently at the point of: Usually, I don’t want to retaliate. I kind of feel sorry for him. I pray he changes. I also sometimes pray he gets struck by lightning which God lets me say and helps me work through.So, if you think this next passage is easy to live out, Karen and I both want you to know we don’t think you are reading it right!As Jesus continued his sermon about what it means to be blessed in God’s kingdom, he said:“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-36 (NIV).The word for love in verse 27 is “agape,” which I’ve mentioned before is a word that isn’t possible for us to fully live out. It is often translated as “love” but sometimes as charity or benevolence. In our humanity, we can’t completely comprehend or live out “agape”. It refers to more than an emotion it is also an act of the will. It is choosing to practice love towards someone.In other words, it is much more than the natural feeling of intensely liking someone who clicks with our personality. Agape has to do with intensely valuing people and seeing their inherent worth. I can choose to imperfectly model “agape” love towards someone even if I don’t feel emotionally attached to them, like in Karen’s story when she wrote cards to her mom. Karen didn’t feel like she loved her mom, but her actions reflected an understanding of God’s “agape” love for her mom.At first, the idea of agape being separate from our feelings may seem like a relief (As in”thank goodness I don’t have to like all the annoying people around me!). But the choice is to something more intense than superficial and transient human feelings. When you think of the person who you resent the most in this world, God doesn’t call you to feel the same kind of love for them that you feel for the person closest to you. He does, however, expect you to see them as a human being with extreme inherent value. He wants you to know that despite all the things you see, God sees more and he still intensely “agapes” them.As a fellow flawed human being, you will never fully live out God’s kind of “agape” love in this world. But the more you understand his intense love for people you don’t like, the more you can grow in choosing to practice this kind of love. This means actively trying to do good things for some people in our lives as we wrestle with not liking them…and yes, hating some of them.Obviously, this takes wisdom too. I don’t believe for a second that “agape” loving other people means you should put yourself back in a situation where you could be abused again. For example, with Karen’s husband, the forgiveness story included praying he would go to prison and never get a chance to abuse another person. It also included praying for God to change him. Karen has forgiven him, but she is never going to reach out to him because she needs to protect herself.Jesus called us to actively seek the best for our enemies, for our sake and theirs. Sometimes, it’s not possible or wise to actively show love to someone who could still abuse us. In those cases, I recommend praying for the person and leaving them in God’s hands. I promise, it’s OK. God can work in people’s lives without our help.Loving ou
13 minutes | Mar 21, 2020
Chapter 7: Better Than #Blessed
7. Better Than #Blessed(Luke 6:17-26)When I lived in North Carolina, I taught English to migrant workers, and I had the privilege of meeting some of the most amazing Christians I’ve ever known. I would often come home from work and find presents left on my doorstep by grateful students. When I went to their church, I was greeted with sincere hospitality like I’ve never experienced anywhere else (and I’m a Southerner y’all!). These students deeply impacted me spiritually and opened my eyes to God’s heart for people living in poverty.As I try to write about how much they meant to me, it is hard to pick a single story to share. I have never been so blessed as I was by these migrant workers who welcomed me into their lives. When they had parties, we celebrated with joy and infectious laughter for hours and hours. If you came to their birthday parties three hours late, they were just getting started. There might be four families living in a single wide trailer, but they always had an abundance of food which they shared generously.Daniel and Luciana were one couple I worked with. I met them when they were living over a shoe store in one room that was their kitchen, bathroom, and everything else. It had a single stove, a toilet and sink. They slept on the floor with no furniture. Both of them worked full time so they could send money back to Nicaragua to support their family. They were survivors of trauma, lonely, hardworking, and living in poverty, but somehow still full of joy.In my mind, I can still see and hear Luciana, telling me, “Teacher, I have much sadness in my heart but much joy as well. God is always with me.”As I got to know Luciana, she shared stories with me of being left in charge of her younger siblings while her parents went to work all day. She remembered the hopelessness of trying to care for her sister when she was struggling with an unknown illness. They had no money for doctors or even medicine. I felt a sense of holiness in the moment as Luci talked about her sister. There was deep pain and peace in her story. Luci remembered making her sister broth to sip on then lying beside her. Sometimes they would giggle and dream about the future. Decades later, Luci still felt the pain of her sister’s death. She looked past me as if she were watching a memory. “teacher, I will always remember her laugh.”As a teenager, while Luci grieved the death of her sister, she was full of doubt, and fear. She worried about caring for her other brothers and sisters. What if she couldn’t save them either? She was much too young to be taking on so much responsibility. I am sure this trauma is why she was willing to make the extreme sacrifices she made in coming to America. She left everything she knew to make sure her children didn’t face the same hopelessness she had known.It was remarkable to me how anyone could have seen all of the things Luci had seen and still have such a positive, joyful spirit about her. In contrast, I’m bitter about so many petty things. I often look at what others have and think life is giving me a raw deal. I have to make lists to remind me to be grateful (which is really disgusting because I have so much stuff and so many blessings.) But Luciana, was grateful. She was one of the toughest survivors I have ever met. She had dealt with overwhelming abuse, neglect, hardships, and poverty.While I was teaching Luci, I was very bitter about how my students were treated. As I learned their stories, I wanted the world to know how wonderful and hard working so many of my students were. One day I shared a story with my class about how outraged I was with a local mechanic who took advantage of one of them. My husband had gotten in an argument with the mechanic who yelled at us for bringing him “foreign jobs”. I was determined to make sure this guy didn’t get any jobs. But when I shared this story with my class, Luci and Daniel burst into laughter.“Oh, teacher. That is not unfair. People with guns taking your house is unfair.” The whole class had a huge belly laugh over my story. They saw a glimpse into what I thought was abusive and it highlighted the extreme differences in our worlds. They saw how spoiled and bitter I was (am) but still loved me. I taught them a little English and they taught me a lot about real joy.In Luke 6, Jesus was preaching a sermon to a large crowd. In this crowd was a group of disciples, not just the 12 but many others who wanted to follow Jesus along with a crowd of others.As Jesus was preaching to all of them, he looked at his followers, drawing their attention to the controversial point he was about to make:“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 (NIV).The Greek word that Luke used for poor meant more than just I-can’t-afford-a-new i-Phone-poor. It was begging on the streets, going hungry, hopeless, unemployable poor. It was the poor of people like Luciana and Daniel.When Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” it was a completely radical statement. It was the literal opposite of what the religious leaders were teaching. The religious leaders were waiting for a day when Israel was collectively good enough to usher in God’s kingdom with Israel at the center. They believed poor people were cursed and unclean because of sin, something they had done to break God’s law. The priests taught that the poor continued to be cursed because they didn’t have the means to follow the oppressive rules which religious leaders had added to the original law. The working poor were trying to survive. They didn’t have time to obsess on tons and tons of rules and rituals about what was unclean and clean.In their culture, what Jesus said was shocking. “You religious folks think your life of ease is a sign of God’s pleasure. You look down on the poor and think they are the problem. Guess what?! I’m giving them the kingdom you’ve been waiting for.”But Jesus didn’t stop there. He continued (verses 21-26):“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (NIV).Jesus said we are blessed when we are hungry, when we weep, and when people hate us for following him.Seriously?! All of those things suck! How can those awful, hard things be blessings? My spoiled American self wants this to be a mistranslation. I want to say, “Uhmm God, someone mixed up the words ‘blessed’ and ‘woe to’ in every English translation of this story.”However, when I reflect on what this passage really means, I can’t contain how truly freaking awesome I think it is! Jesus challenged us to change how we see the struggles of people like Luciana and Daniel. I love that Jesus flat-out condemned the normal religious criteria for judging and condemning people. Turns out, having a life of ease, wealth, and fame are not signs of God’s acceptance at all.On the contrary, people who struggle like my students did may have an insider’s advantage when it comes to knowing God. Psalm 34:18: “God is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (NIV). Somehow, we see God most clearly in our struggles. When our hearts are breaking, God draws near to us.For some reason, suffering is part of this messed up world we live in. Though some have it easier than others, we all suffer in this world. No life is untouched by heartache, death, disappointment, illness, or betrayal. Being part of God’s kingdom doesn’t free us from suffering.Not being freed from suffering, actually feels like awful news at first. I’m not gonna lie, I’d like to be free from suffering. Sometimes, when I focus on those who have more than me, I still whine about God not being fair. However, I don’t want any part of a religion that says I deserve a life of ease and Luci deserved to suffer. I love what Jesus taught. Luci is close to God’s heart. God has walked with her in every trial. She knows him in a way I am jealous of because she has heard his whisper so many times.Jesus said there can be amazing blessings in unfairness and suffering. In those moments when you are overwhelmed with heartache, God teaches you vulnerability, compassion, empathy, and belief in something bigger than yourself. Somehow, our struggles connect us with the heart of God. It is in those moments we know most clearly that we were meant for more.Jesus’ message frees us from the religious shackles which teach us to try to outperform others to earn God’s favor. We don’t have to hide our struggles from him. We don’t have to pretend we are OK when we are beaten down by life. We are free to EXPERIENCE LIFE! Following Jesus isn't about denying our emotions and being freed from the human condition. Following Jesus means experiencing life to its fullest which strangely, frustratingly, and amazingly, includes being honest about our struggles.The deepest connections we can have with others come from sharing our struggles We all need other people. You bond with other people when you are brave enough to be broken, dependent, hungry, grieving, real, vulnerable, and poor.Being real about your struggles in this world is also how you learn to live in the freedom Jesus taught. It’s how you develop a relationship with God. You don't impress God with how awesome you are at obeying his rules and how much you can buck up w
16 minutes | Mar 20, 2020
Chapter 6: If It Doesn't Feel Like Rest, That's Because It's Not Rest
6. IF It doesn’t Feel Like Rest, It’s Not(Luke 6:1-12)Anza was a young Mexican mom who came to my English classes. I invited her to church and she was thrilled to join me. Her first Sunday in the Hispanic church, she watched everything I did and copied me, which was funny ‘cause I’m the worst at fitting in at church! My mind wanders like a toddler at Chuck E Cheese, which inevitably leads to me to do something awkward. It was super cute that she was trying so hard to fit in and endearing that she thought I could teach her how!One day, after a few months, Anza just quit showing up. I went by her house and she hid from me. I assumed it was something I had done, because my wandering mind also blurts out lots of things which I perceive as clever, uplifting sarcasm and others perceive as hurtful, judgmental, old bittiness. So, I was determined to apologize. I went by Anza’s work and caught her as she was leaving.She clearly didn’t want to see me, but I had to blurt out an apology. As I was telling her I was so sorry I had insulted her, she interrupted.“Oh, teacher Cindy, it was not you. I couldn’t pay my bills and I did bad things. I did not want to come to church until I got better.”It turned out my friend had come to the area of the country I was living in at the time to escape a life of abuse and being sold by her ex-husband to pay bills. She had changed her name and gotten a fake I.D. so no one from her old life could find her. Making enough money to support a child is hard for many single moms; it’s extra hard when you don’t speak English well. Anza got desperate.Anza no longer had an abuser pushing her to have sex with strange men to keep from being beaten. Instead, she was driven by shame and desperation. It took a month of me continuing to visit Anza and helping her before she trusted me enough to tell me what was going on.“Oh Anza, why didn’t you let our church know how much you were struggling?” I asked.Anza looked at me like I had just suggested she invite immigration over for supper.As I continued to talk to her over the next few months, I realized she viewed going to church as a way to “give back to God.” She believed that the purpose of being in a church was to give extra money and time to support the “ministry of the church.” She also believed sermons were to “teach her what she was doing wrong.”So, when she found herself caught in a vicious cycle of desperation and shame, sadly, the last place she wanted to turn for help was the church.I wish I could say Anza was just being paranoid, but I knew she had good reasons for feeling the way she did. Even when I wasn’t caught up in my own vicious cycle of messiness, I felt the pressure of “supporting the church.” I wrestled with it for many years. Truthfully, I still have to be on guard against being sucked in. No matter how much I gave, someone was always there telling me it wasn’t enough.For example, when my kids were in middle school and high school, their youth minister confronted us for yet another way we weren’t giving enough. At the time, my hubby and I were both serving in our church as leaders, teachers and generous givers. We served the church to a ridiculous amount that I don’t recommend.How had we “failed”?By letting our kids play sports and occasionally missing church events. In the youth pastor’s words, we were “choosing sports over God.” At the time, I let myself be bullied into feeling guilty. I was working, raising three kids, volunteering, and taxiing kids to practices. It was insane! My kids would go to church all sweaty and gross from practice, but we’d bust our butts to work it all in (and still get accused of putting sports before God). If that’s the condemnation I got, what hope did Anza have?Turns out, Jesus wasn’t about that kind of legalistic judgment. He wanted us to know God and to have support here on earth. He knew life would be tough and following him would be hard. His plan for church was for it to empower us to connect with God and each other.He wanted his followers to offer a place of refuge for people like Anza. A place for them to learn to live their lives with him. He wants to empower all of us to rise above every hardship of this wonderful, beautiful, yet evil and broken world. He wants to give us peace when we face the hardest things we can imagine and to empower us to be the very best version of ourselves.The word used for God’s love for us in the Bible is AGAPE, and it means an unconditional love not based on being deserved or earned through service. Agape earnestly seeks the best for the recipient. This kind of love is actually impossible for us as human beings to completely understand. We cannot fully comprehend a love not based on what we get from it. How do you love someone who doesn’t deserve your love? It’s not natural. But somehow God does it for us.The fact that much of church culture revolves around burdensome service to their mission shows our complete inability to comprehend how much God actually loves and accepts us. God’s kind of love is so beyond our comprehension that we have to constantly reconnect with him in order to live in it. Our drift is always back to religious rules and service.During the time of Luke’s gospel, the religious leaders had also created a culture of burdensome service to the temple. The Jews around Galilee were not able to participate in temple worship as often because of geographical influences. They were also less strict because of their cultural heritage. The criticisms of them by the religious elite roughly parallels the tensions between fundamentalists and liberals in Christianity today. Both sides often miss the point as they argue over rules and strict or lose interpretations. I mean, do you ever hear people from different denominations saying, “What can you teach me about Jesus that I may not see from my vantage point?” They are too concerned with having correct theology to focus on knowing how Jesus is at work in all kinds of different ways in our world.Similarly, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day went crazy over debating how to keep the Sabbath commands. “Sabbath” is the Hebrew word derived from their root word for rest. Sabbath days were given to God’s followers in his most basic instructions: The Ten Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” God gave his followers some pretty simple instructions: Set aside a day of the week, rest from all your hard work and reconnect with him. It was meant to be gift.In Mark 2:27, Jesus says, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (NIV). Taking a break and reconnecting with God one day a week is a completely emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy thing to do. But it is hard for us to believe God gave us this rule (or any rules) for our freedom and benefit.It feels like because he is important and he is God, and we are little nobody peons we should totally do something to impress him. So, we try. We dress up and we put on really elaborate shows on Sunday. We endure all kinds of awkwardness created by humans, thinking somehow serving the big institution puts a gold star by our names on God’s refrigerator chart.There are millions of ways modern Americans have made Sunday mornings an elaborate religious show for God. Very seldom does what happens on Sunday morning seem to be for people to recharge and connect with God. (This is perhaps why tons of modern Jesus followers are abandoning Amercanized church.)The ancient Jews went crazy with their rest day rules in a different way. They were hyper-strict about Sabbath rules. They had rules defining at exactly what point you were working and what was considered rest. Obviously, the rule debating religious elite were out of touch with the working-class people who were mostly farmers and manual laborers. I mean…uhhhm Hey religious dudes, we know when we aren’t working. It’s called sitting down! (Really, has anyone ever needed rules about how to rest?)Throughout the ages, all religions have been performance based. For some reason, human beings can’t seem to accept God loving us and wanting us to rest to connect with him. We can’t believe the connecting would be for our benefit because he already loves us.It can’t be that simple…But when you consider this story from Luke 6, you see Jesus said it really is that simple.One Sabbath while Jesus was passing through fields of standing grain, it happened that His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Luke 6:1-2 NIV).The ancient Jewish laws were so strict about what you could do on the Sabbath that rubbing grain in your hands was considered “harvesting” which was totally work! The rule was “don’t work,” so God must have been displeased with this seemingly insignificant act. (Again, imagine this rule through the eyes of an ancient laborer who had actually harvested wheat by hand. It’s comically ridiculous.)Jesus replied to them, “Have you not even read [in the Scriptures] what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him— how he went into the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to the men who were with him?” Jesus was saying to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” vs. 3-5 (NIV).Jesus reminded them King David had not only broken rules but also, he broke original rules straight from God. God told the Israelites to set aside food for the priests to eat. David went into the temple and took the forbidden holy bread, ate it, and then gave some to his soldiers. David’s need while he was running from King Saul was more important than following the bread rule.Jesus was showing the Pharisees that in all of their effort to keep rules about rules
25 minutes | Mar 20, 2020
Chapter 5: Problem Kids, Drunks, Traitors, and Other People Jesus Likes Hanging Out With
5. Problem kids, drunkards, traitors, and other people Jesus likes hanging out with.(Luke 5:12-39)Tears suddenly welled up in Celeste’s eyes. I was shocked. Why was this confident, beautiful business woman crying? I had simply told her I thought she’d look just as beautiful if she let her hair go back to its natural color of red. My mind was racing. I’m the queen of accidentally insulting people, but I couldn’t imagine how this insulted her.After a long awkward silence, Celeste smiled through tears which were now flowing freely. “I’m sorry. You must think I’m a nut!”“No. Honey, you cry if you need to. I’m sorry if I said something…”She wiped her tears and then said, “No. It’s not you at all. It’s just my past.”She went on to tell me about how much trouble her hair had caused her as a child. Her mother had died of a drug overdose when she was eight years old and her abusive dad had abandoned her. Her grandparents took her in for a few months, but her grandmother couldn’t even be in the room with her without crying. While Celeste was grieving the loss of her mother, her grandmother very painfully pointed out how “that red hair is just like your father’s. I can’t even look at it. He stole my baby girl from me.”“What kind of shit is that to put on an 8-year-old girl?” Celeste questioned, the pain still raw and obvious in her voice.Celeste went on to say that her grandfather was a little better. He would smile and give her cookies. Her grandfather told her to keep to herself and maybe her grandmother would come around.But after just eight months, she found herself sitting in front of a social worker and being placed in foster care.“My new foster mom was OK. She tried I guess, but she didn’t know what to do with me. I was so mean to her….and I had this thick mess of red hair that had become the reason I was unloved in this world.”Celeste laughed a little. “You wouldn’t believe the hell I put that poor lady through over trying to get my hair brushed. Finally, I wore her down and she quit trying. So, insecure nine-year old, lily white, freckle-faced me went to school with a red afro that whole year... I didn’t make a lot of friends.”Celeste went on to explain that throughout the rest of her childhood, her red hair was the cause of a lot of pain and insecurity for her. Worse than that, it was her excuse for not even trying to care about anything or anyone. She viewed herself as an ugly, unlovable redhead. She let people abuse her but she also abused plenty of people. People hurt her and she hurt people. It was how her world worked.She stared past me at her daughter playing in the lake. “She’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I didn’t want her and the only reason I didn’t have an abortion was being pregnant felt like a way out of my effed up life.”When Celeste found out she was pregnant, she was 17 years old. Her foster parents had already told her they were going to kick her out when she turned 18. If she was “lucky,” her social worker might be able to work things out for her to stay with them an extra three months so she could graduate.Leaving her foster home early and going to a home for teen moms was when Celeste began to take care of herself for the first time.“It’s funny…My roommate was studying to be a hairdresser. She just looked at me one night and said, ‘You know you don’t have to be a redhead.’ Something in me clicked. I didn’t have to be any of the things I was. I desperately wanted to be different for my baby. I wanted to get off of drugs so my baby would not lose me the way I lost my mom.”And here we were, ten years later, sitting at a picnic table watching our kids splash each other in the lake. I’d been friends with her for a year and I had no idea how much pain she had been hiding.After she shared her story, I felt incredibly honored and she felt incredibly embarrassed.“Oh God!” she groaned. “I can’t believe I shared all that with you. You must think I’m horrible.”Unfortunately, though Celeste was one of the strongest people I’ve ever met, she felt like she was too big of a mess for most religious people. She felt they’d shun her if they really knew what she was like. She recounted stories of being forced to go to Vacation Bible Schools as a child and her foster parents dropping her off at youth group meetings, hoping they’d “fix” her. She heard stories of Jesus and even believed in him, but she didn’t like church.“In church, I still feel like the little girl with the red afro wondering why I don’t fit in. People will be nice enough, but I know if they really saw me, they’d run from me.”The abuse and hurt in Celeste’s life started from situations beyond her control. The rejection she felt from others early in her life shaped everything about her. Even as a great mom, wife, and successful business woman, she was desperately afraid of ever being all of the things that she had been called as a child.Unfortunately, Celeste was probably right about many of the people in my church (and I wish I had been louder about how wrong they were!), but Jesus could totally handle all of her hurt, her mistakes, heartache, fears, and current struggles. As she followed him, she began to find the healing she so desperately wanted. We lost touch with each other and I’m not sure if she ever learned to “fit in” with American church culture, but I know she is completely “in” God’s kingdom.When Luke wrote his gospel, he was writing for ancient Roman Gentiles and others rejected by the strict religious elite. Remember, strict Jews shunned Gentiles so completely that they refused to enter their homes and they would literally walk to other side of the street to avoid contact with anyone they considered unclean.When you think about the extreme animosity between Jews and Gentiles, the fact that Luke, wrote this account of Jesus is crazy awesome. The fact that thousands and thousands of Gentiles followed Jesus is even crazier-awesomer. How in the world would a bunch of ancient Roman “Gentiles” lower their guard enough to follow a Jewish rabbi?Simple. Luke showed them what Jesus was like.If you’ve ever felt like Celeste, knowing you didn’t fit in with the religious crowd, you should absolutely love, the stories of Luke 5:12-39. They are stories of outsiders and survivors who were completely shunned by the religious elite. Yet, completely accepted by Jesus. He shocked the religious elite by openly associating with the people they condemned. Jesus hung out with people on the outside of religion so much that he was constantly criticized for it. Matthew 11: 19 says Jesus was known as a “glutton, drunkard, and friend of sinners” I mean, how often do you think that shows up on a preacher’s resume these days? Imagine: “I’m a pretty good preacher, but I’m mostly known for eating and drinking a lot plus I just love hanging out with sinners.” We can’t even imagine it, because religion is all about not associating with the “out” crowd.The heart of religious attitudes remains the same today as it was back then. For many of the religious people of his day, the people Jesus associated with proved he wasn’t from God. Religion said he wasn’t worth following because of who he hung out with. I think who he hung out with is the very thing that makes him worth following.There weren’t a lot of redheads like my friend Celeste, running around the ancient middle east. There was no foster care system. However, there were tons of people being shunned and abused because of suffering they had already endured.For example, people with skin diseases. The shunning people with skin diseases suffered was much more blatant than what Celeste experienced. But at the heart, the religious rejection of their worth was the same.The ancient Jewish rules for skin diseases encompassed anything from a long-lasting rash, to a severe infection, to leprosy. All of these skin conditions were lumped together and came with a pronouncement by a priest that the sufferer was “unclean.”The common belief that all suffering was the result of sin and therefore deserved was harsh for any survivor of that day, but it was especially harsh for people with skin diseases. They were shunned on every level. They were forced away from their families and had to live with other outcasts outside of their towns. When they walked around, they had to put their hand over their mouth and shout “unclean” so people would know to avoid them. “Clean” people wanted to avoid even breathing the same air as them. They were physically cut off from their community and considered separated from God because of their illness. They were told not even God cared about them.In our modern comfortable lives, it is hard to fully comprehend their world and what people with skin diseases went through. Most of the harsh rules were originally designed to protect the community from the spread of the disease.The problem was, when the rules about physical uncleanness were seen as condemnations of spiritual uncleanness. Rules meant to protect the community from spreading disease became rules used to shun and judge. Fear of skin diseases found an outlet in religious condemnation. “If I’m better than them, I won’t suffer like them”. Blaming others for their suffering leads to all kinds of cruelty. Then and now, fear and blame strip away basic human compassion.Imagine the horror of going through suffering completely out of your control and being told it was your fault because of evil in you. Imagine being made to feel like your suffering was a sign of God rejecting you. That’s how Celeste and people suffering with skin diseases were made to feel by religion.Jesus responded to our suffering differently. In Luke 5:12, “a man came along who was covered with leprosy.” (NIV). It is no surprise that the leper fell before Jesus with his face
14 minutes | Mar 20, 2020
Chapter 4: Freak-out Worthy Acceptance
4. Freak-out-Worthy Acceptance(Luke 4:38- 5:11)I wish I could go back through time and hand-deliver this book to all of the survivors I’ve known through the years. I’d write a personal apology in the front of each book.It would say, “I’m sorry that I tried so hard to change you. I’m sorry I didn’t accept you the way Jesus would have. I apologize for not seeing the beauty and awesomeness of your life. You forever impacted my life with your strength. I’m sorry I didn’t value it more when we knew each other.”See, as much as I rag on religious people in this book, a lot of my disgust is aimed at myself. I’m really good at what I call “following Jesus from a distance.” I like working on all the stuff we see on the surface. I like helping people get better jobs, have better relationships, and better morals. While these are important things to work on, they aren’t the ultimate things. Fixing outward behaviors and circumstances doesn’t get at the heart of our deepest needs. Jesus sees past those surface behaviors; he cares about the pain and mess in our souls.For most of my adult life, I was great at following Jesus from a distance. I liked everything Jesus was saying. I thought I believed it all. I cleaned up my life and it looked really good on the outside. I was doing a lot of great things. God was at work in my life. But I was still carrying shame around. I was still trying to feel worthy of being loved. I still wanted religious people to respect me.What I didn’t understand then, and I can barely grasp now, is how completely Jesus accepts us and how completely none of us deserve his acceptance. I was so busy trying to “clean” everyone else up, because it was a twisted way for me to also “clean” myself up. But Jesus never asked me to do that. He accepted me and all my unclean, messy messiness! Then he said, “Let’s start sorting this out together.” There was no measure of how clean I had to be in order to gain his acceptance; I just had to accept his acceptance!So, I’m sorry if you are one of the people I hurt along the way. I truly didn’t understand how much Jesus accepted both of us as we were! I was keenly aware of how much we didn’t deserve it, but missed the mark on how freely Jesus accepted us anyway!The disciple, Simon Peter, also followed Jesus from a distance for a while. His story starts right after the religious people from Jesus’ hometown tried to throw him off of a cliff. Jesus shrugged off the experience and went to another town and began preaching and healing people. (Which I think is pretty amazing considering how quickly I let an insult set me back). Jesus loved people more than I can comprehend, but he didn’t need their approval. It’s interesting how he wasn’t ever stopped by their hate.In Luke 4: 31-37 we find that all the small towns around the area began talking about how awesome Jesus was. They were amazed at his teaching and all abuzz about the miracles he was doing (which I’m guessing was a real burr in the butt of the people in his hometown!) Verse 31, tells us they were amazed because his “words had authority. This was a big deal because teachers in Israel didn’t just say stuff the way we do. They had to cite their sources. They quoted and referenced important people to give authority to their words. Jesus had no need to do this. He just taught. He was fully God in the flesh and didn’t need validation from other people.In Luke 4:38, the incredible story of Simon Peter begins. As you read his story, try to step back from overly romanticized versions of Peter with a holy glow about him. Imagine a real working-class man with a lot of bravado living out this story. Luke tells us, after Jesus preached in the synagogue, he went to the home of a man named Simon, who later became known by the Greek name, Peter. (It was a confusing, complicated time for names. From now on, I will call him Peter.)Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, who was suffering from a high fever. She immediately got up and began waiting on all of their guests. (Which, kudos to her, ‘cause I would have still been milking the “I was just on my deathbed” thing. Probably instant healing from Jesus gives you a different perspective though.)Verse 40 tells us, that evening, crowds of people came to Peter’s house. Jesus stayed up all night healing the sick among them and casting out demons. Peter must have thought it was extremely cool to have this happening in his home. Hospitality was everything to people back then. Who you ate with and who you stayed with were “your people”. They were the people you identified with. It was a huge honor for a Rabbi to be staying in the home of a working-class man. Religious leaders strove to associate themselves with the most important people they could find. Jesus chose to stay with regular people like Peter. We don’t know how long he stayed or how often, but Peter’s home was a base for Jesus while he continued to preach in the area.In Chapter 5, we learn that Peter was a fisherman. Fishing was really hard work back in the ancient day. Boats were harder to navigate and equipment was bulkier. There were no fish finders, GPS navigation systems, boat motors, or elaborate gear set-up thingys. Just nets, boats, and oars. They threw the nets out, let them sink, then pulled them up to see if they caught anything. It was grueling, repetitive work.One morning, Peter was cleaning his nets after fishing all night with nothing to show for his efforts. I’m sure he was in a rotten mood. All Peter wanted to do was go home and crash in his comfy bed and sleep until it was time to get up and do it again. As Peter was working and dreaming of rest, Jesus walked up with a crowd following him. He got into one of the boats and asked Peter to push out into the water so he could preach to the crowd. Peter showed his tremendous respect for Jesus by immediately doing what he asked.After Jesus finished preaching to the crowd, he told Peter to do something which was probably even harder for him to obey: Jesus said “put, out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”Peter answered “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” Then he said “But because, you say so, I will let down the nets.” Luke 5:5 (NIV)I love that Peter puts a qualifier in there, “because you say so.” Peter was acknowledging how crazy it was to go fishing again, during the day. He probably wanted everyone around to know it wasn’t his idea to go back out again. This was Jesus. They’d seen him do some crazy stuff already. Still, Peter seemed to want everyone to know he thought it wouldn’t work.So, Peter and some of his fellow weary fishermen rowed far out into the deep water. They threw their nets out where Jesus told them to. Then they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. They had to call the other boats to come help them. All the boats were so full of fish that they struggled to row back to shore. For ancient fishermen without sophisticated equipment, this was like winning the fishing lottery. They were astonished.Peter’s reaction to the huge catch of fish is really strange:… when Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken.Jesus said to Peter, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” Luke 5:8 and 11 (NIV).Wait! What? Why did Peter tell Jesus to go away?Think of all the things Peter had already seen from Jesus. He’d seen him heal tons of people, including his mother-in-law. He’d seen Jesus casting demons out of people, which, seems like it would be way more awe-inspiring than telling someone where to catch fish.Peter had already heard Jesus preach. He obviously thought Jesus was a great teacher and a powerful man. Why did he react to this miracle with fear and asking Jesus to go away from him?Because of what this miracle meant. This miracle was specifically for Peter. Sure, it had been cool to see Jesus helping people and listening to him preach. Getting to serve him seemed special. It had been an honor to have a teacher like Jesus in his home and on his boat. Peter was serving Jesus which made him feel special.But the miracle of the huge catch of fish? That was directly for Peter. That was Jesus serving Peter. Jesus looked into Peter’s life and saw his need and cared about it. Before Jesus called Peter to be his disciple, he provided for Peter’s family through a miraculous load of fish.God was showing Peter how much he cares about our needs. Peter dramatically fell in front of Jesus, the way a peasant would fall in front of a king, in fear and recognition of how he knew he didn’t deserve to be fully seen and fully cared for. Peter said, “get away from me. I’m a sinful man” (vs 8). Any pride Peter had, was thrown aside in this moment, because there was no way for him to convince himself he deserved this miracle. This man who seems to have so much bravado, fell on the ground in front of Jesus when he realized how much he cares and saw a glimpse of his power.When we truly understand what Jesus has done for us, we should freak out the way Peter did. This truth of who Jesus is and how much he cares for us is the hardest thing in the world for humans to grasp. Somehow, our pride wants to make it more complicated. But in those moments when we see it, even just a little, we, like Peter, are filled with a sense of how undeserved God’s love really is. It’s a natural response to want to send Jesus away from our messy lives. Like Peter, I’ve often felt I didn’t want Jesus anywhere near the mess I was making of my life. I knew I was a train wreck. I knew I deserved the junk in my life and I knew I didn’t deserve his care. I wanted to follow Jesus. I wanted to be associated with him. I wanted to clean up my li
26 minutes | Mar 20, 2020
Chapter 3: Homeless and Full of Peace and Hope
3. Homeless and Full of Peace and Hope(Luke 3)Jeanette is one of my absolute favorite people on the planet. She is AH-MAZING. Every time I see her, she encourages me more than most anyone I have ever known. When I think of what it means to be a Christian who models a life of peace and hope, Jeanette is the first person who pops into my mind. She is compassionate, generous, full of joy, wise… and homeless.Yup, she’s homeless. She’s not the kind of homeless most people picture when they think of a homeless person. The people you see on the streets with signs are only part of the picture of homelessness in America. Many people are like Jeanette, caught in a cycle of poverty that is really hard to get out of.Jeanette stays with friends and in shelters. She works whenever she can find something to do. But she has trouble maintaining a job because years of drug abuse has left its toll on her memory and her body (and her work history). Honestly, she has no concept of saving any money for the future. When she gets money, it’s for spending and giving away.Jeanette doesn’t ask for handouts. If you give her something, she will find someone to share it with. Whenever I saw her at the shelter where I used to volunteer, she would always give me way more than I could ever give her. She was thrilled with being a Christian and how much Jesus changed her life. So, she spent most of her days praying for people and looking for ways to encourage them. As I was having meltdowns about leaving my teaching career, she was praying for me to find my way. She didn’t always know where her next meals were coming from, but she’d tell me not to worry. She had more peace than me because she knew her peace wasn’t based on something as unreliable as a job. The hope she has for the world is infectious. When she reads her Bible, she writes down Bible verses over and over on pieces of paper and walks around looking for people to share them with.How absolutely AH-MAZING is that?I couldn’t help but think of her story as I read Luke 3 and the lessons John the Baptist preached. He was homeless too, or more accurately, his home was in the woods.It’s so crazy to think about the story of John the Baptist. He was a bold man who had a huge following. Though he was following God faithfully, his life was pretty tough. He preached in the wilderness and ate wild locusts and honey. Many people believe he was used to living on his own because his parents died when he was very young. In Roman occupied Israel, most Jews were poor, so John’s relatives couldn’t provide for him. He knew how to survive in the wilderness so that is where he set up camp to preach.This arrangement worked out really well, since the Romans were extremely strict about gatherings which might lead to riots. The Jews were already known for not being cooperative with Roman leaders. So, it was safer for John to camp out in the woods away from civilization and yell at religious people about how they needed to change their heart and get right with God.It’s hard for me to imagine this working. ‘Cause when I think of yelling preachers, I think of obnoxious religious people cramming their opinion down other people’s throats. Turns out, John was yelling at those people!I love to think about Luke’s Roman readers reacting to John’s sermon. They had grown up around Jewish people. They were used to Jews thinking they were “unclean” and refusing to associate with them lest they become unclean also. Imagine how they felt when they read about John calling those people out:John said to the (Jewish) crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:7-9 (NIV).So, what’s up with calling people a brood of vipers?Well, that might not seem like a big insult to you. But it was a major insult back in the ancient day. It was like the Queen Mother of insults with an F-bomb attached. The Roman dudes reading this were like “Dammmmn!” and somebody yelled “Oh no he didn’t!!!” (or whatever ancient Romans did when somebody “just got burned”).Vipers were considered the vilest creatures on earth to ancient people. They believed when vipers were born, they ate their mothers. (I don’t know why they believed this...I’m guessing no one really wanted to get close enough to intensely study baby vipers…)The viper comment was a terrible insult, like saying you were the worst kind of double-crossing back-stabbing backstabber. It was also a fitting picture for what John’s religious audience was doing. God had given them commandments to follow in order to have a relationship with him. He promised to protect them and provide for them if they would follow him. God would make them a great nation that would bless all other nations. Instead of being grateful and obedient, they tried to use God’s laws to manipulate God and to hurt the people they were supposed to bless.The Jewish religious leaders thought they were special and blessed by God just because of their birth. This is what John the Baptist is referring to when he said, “Do not even begin to think that you can justify yourself by saying that you have Abraham as your father. He basically said, “Geesh people, this is God we are talking about. He could make descendants of Abraham out of these rocks if he wanted to. You can’t possibly think all it takes for you to be in God’s kingdom is to be born into the right family. You have to follow him!Then John used a word which has really been ruined by religious people: repent. When I hear someone talking about repentance, I immediately assume they are judgmental. It makes me think of this obnoxious preacher on my college campus who called me a whore for wearing a mini-skirt. Unfortunately, when religious people these days use the word repent, they are most often condemning other people because of a behavior they disagree with.However, the ancient Greek word which has been translated “repent” was about a much deeper change than just behaviors. The word they used, metanoia, is more like our modern word “mindshift.” It was actually used in contrast to only changing your behaviors or changing so you could get a better outcome. Metanoia was about a complete overhaul in how you think.So, when John said repent, he wasn’t simply saying, “here’s a list of bad behaviors you need to quit doing.” He was saying, “your abusive behaviors show that you need to change your whole way of thinking about God.”It’s crazy, but John’s bold approach worked. The people knew they were messed up, so they said, “What should we do?”John replied, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” Luke 3:11(NIV).Which seems like a Yoda-ish answer. I mean, two shirts aren’t a lot of shirts John. How are we supposed to live that out in America?John was issuing a call to extreme generosity. This isn’t another formula to measure if we are “in” or not. It’s a check for our heart. Are we willing to be so generous with others that we might even give if we aren’t completely sure we will be able to make it without what we gave away?John’s call to extreme generosity was a glaring contrast to what the religious leaders of the day were professing. They lived in luxury and favor with the Roman government. They believed their lives of ease proved they were blessed by God. Meanwhile, most of the working-class people were struggling. They had been conquered by Rome and lost much of their land. They also had to pay heavy taxes to maintain the Empire. In addition, they gave offerings to support the priests. The priests did not respect the common people for their sacrifices or hardship. Instead, they judged them harshly.I believe John was proclaiming that this life is not about how much stuff we can get, but about how much we can help others. Two shirts aren’t a lot of shirts, especially back in the day when you had to make them by hand. Giving from your excess doesn’t require much (and the priests weren’t even doing that). Giving when you have very little reflects the heart of God for all humanity. It’s a gracious, loving act which elevates the person with less.Because of John’s preaching something crazy happened. Verse 12 says, “Even tax collectors came to be baptized.” (NIV).Did you catch that? Is your mind blown? Probably not. But it would be if you were living back in the ancient day and you heard about tax collectors being baptized by a Jewish prophet.See, the Jews believed they were God’s chosen people and God was going to set up an earthly kingdom. This was true, but they were wrong about how God’s kingdom was going to work. All they could imagine was a political kingdom with them at the top ruling over the rest of the world. So, when they were conquered by Rome, they decided Rome was the enemy of God and God’s plan. Tax collectors were therefore seen as Jewish people who made money by collecting money for the enemy of God. Even worse, they took more than was required and kept the extra for themselves.Tax collectors were such hated traitors that when religious teachers of the day wanted to make a point about someone being really, really, obnoxiously bad, they just said, “he was as bad as a tax collector.”And you know who backed up tax collectors? Soldiers. Think of all you know about Roman soldiers. They were tough guys who did a lot of messed-up stuff. I mean, these dudes were BRUTAL. Plus, they were the muscle behind the Roman Empire, God’s supposed enemy.Think about how people viewed tax
26 minutes | Mar 19, 2020
Chapter 2: The Virgin Mary and Hope for Your Not-So-Holy Struggles.
So...chapter two. We’ve been together for a few pages; it’s time for me to make things really awkward. Let’s talk about sex and religion! I promise, no matter what you have going on in your sex life, there really is hope for you in the story of Mary. (Seriously! I’m not kidding!!!)If you grew up in church culture, you are probably geeking right now about how inappropriate it is for me to talk about the VIRGIN Mary alongside our modern sex struggles in our sex-crazed culture. If you’re geeking, I imagine it’s because most of American church culture has tried to control sexual behaviors through fear. Fear leads to shame and I believe shame has led us to the mess we are currently in.How have we gotten to the place where a gay teenager’s biggest fear is the rejection he will face from church culture? How have we gotten to a place where some churches rally around an abusive pastor while his victims are pushed aside? How have we gotten to the place where Christians still support institutions which repeatedly cover up sexual abuse? I’m no expert, but I know we didn’t get here by doing a great job loving people the way Jesus did!One time, I did a talk about shame and sexuality for a women’s ministry. In my talk, I ranted about victims of child molestation being shamed more than the perpetrators. Afterwards, several people told me they had been molested and were always afraid of people finding out their secret because of how they would be judged! I was shocked by the response. There were less than a hundred people there, and my speech was mostly a venting rant, but it resonated with people.This is absolutely crazy! It makes me literally want to vomit to think about how many people are living with this kind of shame for decades. It’s even more horrendously sickening when the shame is coming from the people who claim to be following Jesus and should be sharing hope for survivors of abuse.Let me just tell you right now, struggles with sexual issues can be more damaging than many other struggles because they are so close, personal and private. Sex gives us powerful ties to people and when those people are evil and abusive, it warps our sense of who we are.But listen closely: what these struggles don’t do is lessen how much God loves and accepts us. God desires the best for you. In his perfect plan, I believe that sex was supposed to help us bond with our spouses (because relationships are tough and he wanted to give us something super awesome and fun to emotionally link us together). But we mess up his ideal all the time. I believe it grieves his heart because he wants better for us. I believe it hurts our ability to know him because shame competes with his voice of hope for us. But, guess what? He loves us anyway!So, crazy as I am, I’m sharing all of this because the second story in the book of Luke is the story of the Virgin Mary.Now, if you are like any other sane, rational person, then right now you are thinking something along the lines of “What the heck does the story of the virgin Mary have to do with shame and struggles surrounding sex?”Well, there are two glaring points from the story of Mary which will fill you with peace and hope when you begin to grasp them.First, the hyper-focus on Mary’s virginity is quite insulting to the incredibly strong woman she was. Her story was meant to be a story to inspire us all. Her story is the story of a young peasant who stood strong through many trials because of the extreme gritty hope she had.The second point we should get from the story of Mary is that, the God who created this entire universe did not use his power or the importance of his plan to redeem humanity as an excuse to use anyone. As you will see when we look at her story, God sent messengers to ask Mary to be part of his plan and he uplifted her. He didn’t use her. He honored her.How can American churches claim to represent him while using people? I do not believe for one second that the sexual abuse and the way it has been mishandled in church culture by the previous two generations is remotely representative of what the Bible teaches us about following God. No religious figure or institution is more important than the dignity of a human being.Mary’s story is amazing, powerful, inspiring and real. It needs to be heard. The sanitized version of the perfect, pale, timid, woman walking around in a bubble of holiness that many churches tell presents little hope for us in our modern world. She is held up as the ideal none of us can ever attain to. This ideal led to a whole tradition of bad teaching about sex and purity. The ideal has been used to shame people into submitting to a controlling church culture which is sickeningly tragic. The worship of Mary’s purity forgets about the prostitutes and “not sexually pure” survivors in Jesus’ family heritage. Worst of all, the sanitized version misses the point of Mary’s story. The virgin birth was never meant to be the emphasis of the birth story of Jesus. It’s just one sign that Jesus was the Messiah, but certainly not the most powerful one. Because let’s be real, there’s no way to prove it. (Thankfully, Jesus fulfilled around 300 other prophecies!)Also, just to be clear, (and more awkward!) ancient religions were filled with stories of gods lusting after women, having sex with them and tossing them to the side. Luke was writing to an ancient Roman audience. His readers grew up believing in Zeus. Remember him? The super lusty god who created half the problems in the universe by sleeping with humans and angering his goddess wife Hera? The Roman Emperors claimed to be “sons of gods” who had sex with whoever they wanted to. So, as uncomfortable as it is for Christians to talk about, God having a son with a woman would not have been shocking to Luke’s original audience.What would have been absolutely 100%, mind-blowingly, core-rockingly shocking to Luke’s ancient Roman audience was the way that God had a son through Mary. First, Mary was a peasant woman. Women had few rights in that day. Women in poverty were disposable playthings for men in power, especially the Roman men Luke was writing to. In striking contrast to the way they used women, God sent a messenger to Mary to get her permission. Just mull that over in your mind for a little while. I don’t think we can ever fully wrap our limited minds around this detail of the story. Many ancient Romans probably responded to Luke’s story by laughing at the idea of a god so highly honoring a peasant woman.We see how much God honored Mary in Luke 1:28, when the angel greeted Mary and called her “highly honored.” The angel revealed God’s plan to bring his son into the world through her. Mary was understandably scared, so the angel reassured her as he explained God’s plan. Mary agreed to the plan and even though she was scared, she said “may all of this be fulfilled” Luke 1:38 (NIV), demonstrating that she wanted to be part of this plan.And then there is the act of conception... I think Luke knew this would bother his ancient audience as much as it bothers us today. As awkward as it must have been, the gospel writers questioned Mary about how it happened. In Luke’s description, he used a Greek word: episkiazo. This word meant “to surround with brilliant light”. Many Bible translations use the word “overshadow” because the idea is hard to translate. The idea was that something was creating such bright light that it caused everything around it to seem shadowy. It’s the word New Testament writers frequently used to describe God’s presence. It referred to an uplifting, holy, empowering, beautiful, experience which edified the person. It was not in any way a creepy instance of God using people the way humans use each other. God elevates people who choose to follow him. He elevated Mary. She was not an object to be used by a petty god. She was a young woman who was being empowered to be a fierce survivor in a harsh world.I need to camp out with this part of the story for another minute. As I write, I feel like I can sense little old judgmental ladies cringing. But I have to write this. This isn’t the closed world my parents grew up in. You and I can’t maintain the delusion that church people used to present. We have seen how cruel and awful this world can be, especially when it comes to sex. As I’ve already mentioned, we all know tons of stories of religious people sexually abusing those they have power over. It’s sadly common. No good person should want to have anything to do with a god who even hints at promoting such things. Sorry. Not sorry if this offends your religious sensibilities, but my religious sensibilities are offended by people covering up abuse and shaming people over sex issues.I absolutely believe that Luke gave us these details about the story of Mary to provide a startling contrast to the gods and the culture of the ancient Roman (and modern American) world. The Creator of the Universe had a plan to save all of humanity and he did not find it more important than the dignity of a peasant woman. He did not use her for his pleasure. He empowered her to be part of his plan. Therefore, if anyone covers up abuse because they think their mission, agenda, or institution is more important than an individual, they are not representing the God of the New Testament! God’s extreme value of people is the point of the virgin birth!Consider all the ways, God valued and empowered Mary. Mary needed to be empowered because her path was not an easy one! She had unbelievable struggles, gut-wrenching fears, doubts, and eventually “had a sword pierce her own soul.” But when it was all over and she was asked to tell her story, she was able to look back on everything she had been through and say, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my heart rejoices in God my Savior.” Luke 1:46 (NIV)Our struggles and traumas are obviously very different fr
25 minutes | Mar 19, 2020
Chapter One: Peace, Hope, and Doubts
I have a good friend, Liz, who grew up going to a Catholic church. She tells me not to talk to her about religion. She says she generally hates Christians, but I’m “OK” with her because in her words, I’m not “weird about my religion.” Usually, this is followed by a laugh, and a comment like, “I mean you are sooooo weird, but not about religious stuff.” Most of her hatred towards religion comes from how her family was treated when her mother committed suicide. And truthfully, I am right there with her hating that about religion.See, when her mother committed suicide, Liz, her father, and brother were disowned by the rest of her family. She remembers leaders from the church coming to her house to discuss whether or not they could have her mother’s funeral at the church. Liz wasn’t in the room; she just remembers it only took a few minutes for her father to start swearing at them and throw them out. In her words,“He pretty much said ‘eff em’ after that and we never went back.”Afterwards, Liz’s dad began drinking a lot more and Liz was left with most of the responsibility of raising herself and her brother. Considering all she went through, (and there is a whole lot more to her story!) it is amazing Liz is the strong confident woman I now know.When I talked to Liz about what Jesus is actually like, she said, “That sounds good, but I don’t think it’s possible to really know the truth about Jesus. Honestly, I wish it were true. I gave up on church, but I never did quit praying.”Liz thinks Jesus sounds awesome, but she HATES religion, especially the condemning judgments from uptight people. She’d like to believe God really, actually loves us, but a lot of what she has seen from his followers is hate. Like Liz, many of us like the idea of Jesus but we have doubts because of things we have seen in religion and the world.The crazy-awesome hope for us is: you, me, and Liz aren’t alone in wrestling with this kind of doubt. Turns out, the entire New Testament book of Luke was written for this very purpose! In his introduction, (found in Luke 1:1-4) Luke explains that he has put together a well-researched account of the life of Jesus so his friend and patron, Theophilus, could know “the certainty of the things he had been taught.” (about Jesus). Luke 1:4 (NIV)In other words, Luke wrote for an audience who had heard the stories of Jesus, but still had doubts.Just to be clear, the gospel of Luke wasn’t meant to be an Americanized, theological defense with scientific proofs for believing Jesus did miracles. Luke wrote a well-researched account of what witnesses said. His proof is, look how different and incredible what Jesus taught really was. Luke simply said, “Here’s what happened guys.” No push, no “if you died tonight, what would happen to your eternal soul?” emotional plea. Just, “here’s what happened”, because what happened stands on its own as worth following.Here’s the freaking awesome thing: There are tons of books out there about logical proof for believing in Jesus. This isn’t one of them. This is a book about looking fully at the condition of the world alongside the book of Luke and finding peace in our messy world and hope with enough grit to stay with us in the tough times. This book is about knowing that what Jesus taught is worth following.The next crazy-awesome thing is Luke’s audience. Theophilus would have helped distribute Luke’s book throughout Rome. Luke was likely a non-Jew (Gentile) though he may have been a Hellenistic Jew, meaning a Jew who was also immersed in Greco-Roman culture. Either way, he was not one of the Jewish religious elite. So, take a minute to reflect on how crazy it is that he wrote a defense of the teachings of a Jewish Rabbi for a non-Jew who helped him share it with a whole lot of their very un-Jewish Roman peers.To begin to wrap your mind around just how crazy this is, think back on studying ancient Rome in middle-school. Remember those stories about ancient Greek and Roman gods who were petty and caused half of the problems with humanity because of their soap opera worthy drama? That’s the culture Luke grew up in. Those are the people he was writing to. Only the culture was way more scandalous than your middle-school teachers told you. The Roman army was incredibly brutal and their religion was not PG-13. For example, some temples included orgies as part of their worship. Even worse, Roman citizens were allowed to discard servants and children who they no longer found useful. The ancient world was all about power and had no place for valuing people without it.So, if you are like Liz and have felt the brunt of a religious system which was also all about its own power and didn’t value you in your weakness, it should excite you to know that Luke’s audience saw the same kinds of things. It should excite all of us to realize how incredibly radical what Luke was telling them was. As you read Luke, think about how completely different the message of Jesus was from the Roman religion and culture. Of course, Luke’s audience wrestled with doubt!Why was the message of Jesus worth working through all of that doubt? What did Jesus teach that offered Luke’s audience so much peace and hope? As you read this book, think about how every story presents a radical contrast to the culture Luke was writing to. Imagine an ancient Roman walking past a temple where discarded servants were dying on the steps while remembering the stories of God in the flesh empowering those same kinds of people.Finally, think about the religious separation between Luke’s ancient Roman audience and some of the Jews. Luke and his audience were super familiar with religious judgment and legalism, only more extreme than anything we’ve ever known. In ancient Rome, strict religious leaders around Jerusalem separated themselves so much from Gentiles that they would not even enter their homes. Contact with a Gentile sent strict Jews running for some water to do some serious ritual cleansing. Priests and religious leaders would cross to the other side of the street to keep from even the slightest contact with a Gentile (which was seriously messed up)! Of course, in an ancient society full of farmers and manual laborers, strict observance of these rules was not possible for many Jews. For example, the Galilean Jews who were mostly fishermen and traders, were considered more liberal (and unclean) mostly because of their occupations and the region they lived in. I mean, it’s kind of hard to avoid contact with Gentiles when you are selling them the fish you caught. For them and many other Jews, the life they were born into made it impossible to strictly observe all of the rules.This messed up religious separation is one of the things that makes the story about Jesus so freaking AH-Mazing and gives it validity. Jesus started a movement to value all people in the most unlikely of places, a religious society that refused to accept anyone not born with the ability to keep all of their rules. Jesus confronted the whole idea of religion being about rules for judging who is in and who is out. Nothing says this more powerfully than the book of Luke.Luke was saying, “Hey guys. You know how the Jews can’t even eat with us or come into our houses ‘cause they think we are so far from God that they can’t associate with us without hurting their own relationship with God? Well, crazy thing: The Messiah their Scriptures prophesied about for hundreds of years came and fulfilled those prophecies, only for all of us, not just them. We all get to be in, y’all!”I just gotta say: Wow!!! I love this so much! What a kick in the pants to religious elitism!So, as we look at Luke’s defense alongside stories of survivors I’ve met through the years, think about your doubts. Ask yourself, how did this story help people overcome their doubts? How is what Jesus taught different from the religious cultures of ancient Rome, ancient Israel, and much of modern America?In Rum and Cola for the Soul, I share stories of modern survivors of abuse and trauma along with Luke’s stories of Jesus. As we look at what Jesus taught and the way he empowered the marginalized people of his time, you will see a beautiful picture of peace and hope for this world. Peace which can look fully at the pain in this world and see the beauty of the people caught in its grasp. Hope which knows what you see isn’t all there is. There is purpose, meaning, and power to make things better for every person wrestling with the pain of this world.Nothing in this book is going to turn off all of your doubts and questions (cause that would be a cult). What I hope this book will do, is show you how the message of Jesus is a truth worth pursuing. I hope you will see the freedom from legalistic religion his message offers. Following Jesus isn’t a simple truth to agree or disagree with. It’s a whole new way of seeing the world. A way which puts us on a better path to finding peace and hope. The longer you walk on this path, the more you will see that ultimately there are good answers for all of your questions. Ultimately, you’ll probably have more questions the more you follow Jesus. That’s OK. Relationships are built on growing in our understanding.As a matter of fact, this whole book is about my story of growing in my understanding of who Jesus really was and what he taught. The stories I share are reflections of me sorting through my bitter baggage as I reflect on all I’ve seen in twenty years of working with survivors like Liz while wrestling with American church culture.So, if you are like me, Liz, and Theophilus, and you are also wondering how the message of Jesus applies to your world, you are going to love going through the book of Luke.The Voice of Hope in Our Struggles(Luke 1:5-25)The first thing you are going to love about the book of Luke is what it says about our struggles. In my 2
17 minutes | Apr 25, 2019
Fighting Frustration With American "church" Culture
It is no secret that I am wrestling with frustration over problems in American church culture. I see a lot of hurt in the world and a lot of broken systems that are supposed to be addressing those hurts but are instead causing hurt. What do I do with all that I know? How do I rise above it? This is my journey as I study the book of John.
32 minutes | Apr 17, 2019
Rising Above Shame Culture after Divorce
In this interview, my friend Elaina shares her struggle with shame after getting a divorce, how she learned to rise above it, and how the experience has taught her to shed the shame in other areas of her life and empower others to do so as well. Special Thanks The EXCELLENT intro and outro blues music on my podcast is from Raging Grace. Check them out at raginggrace.com
16 minutes | Apr 10, 2019
How Context Freed Me From a Comically Ridiculous Trap
My Ridiculous Run In With LegalismI once actually sat in a Bible study where we focused on learning to have the mind of Christ. Well, we were supposed to focus on that…I’m sure I wasn’t focused on any one thing for long, and that was the least imposing challenge of trying to change my mind to think like Jesus. Yeah…never going to happen on my own…. I have a friend who is a bartender. One night we were talking about God on the patio and she said, “You know what is so fucked up about Christians?”I laughed and said, “Well, I know some stuff but what specifically are you referring to?”She pointed to a tree and said, “You think that there is a God who created trees and that stuff you do impresses him.” In my romanticized memory of this exchange, I beautifully explained to my friend that I don’t think that at all. I told her that I believe something crazier than that. I believe that God loves me and not just a little, he freaking adores me and her too.I think that I can never possibly earn this love but because I accept it and follow him, he is constantly making me a better person.But I know exactly where my friend was coming from. I didn’t always have such a freeing view of following Jesus. At one point in my life, I believed that God loved me but I needed to be good to stay in favor with him. I read everything in the Bible through a religious lens and because I was doing that, I also read everything out of context. I was always looking for a new rule to apply to my life and more things I could do to be better. I was taking everything out of context and it was making me crazy. But it is so much work trying to impress the Creator of trees and the entire universe. I didn’t have time to read all of that stuff. I just wanted to find hope to get over my anxiety and help to be better.If you have any interest in following Jesus, I bet you have been misled at some point by verses taken out of context. You may not have even realized that this is what you were frustrated by. But I bet you have been annoyed when you were going through something and church people tried to give you an answer that was a little too neat and tidy. Or maybe you have clung to a verse like “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” or “I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you.” and then when things didn’t work out the way you wanted, you wondered where you went wrong. You tried to cling to the promises of God. You believed that verse you were clinging to, why didn’t things work out the way you hoped?Well my friends, that’s why we are here. That’s why this program is called Rum and Cola for the Soul. It’s about the hard stuff that’s not neat and tidy, not always positive, but always full of hope if you make the effort. See,if we want to find what we were missing, in those times when we thought we were clinging to what the Bible taught and life threw us for a loop, the key is digging deeper. The key is reading those verses in the whole context. I promise, the amazing things you will find are completely worth the effort.To illustrate this, I want to share with you the absolute worst, most ridiculous, time I took a section of scripture out of context…(well, it’s up there) When I was a new mom, trying desperately to nail this parenting thing, I read Philippians 2:5-11 in a Bible study, the whole study took one section of a letter to the Philippian church out of context. It created a crazy, unattainable demand on my life where I was going to start imitating the mind of Christ. Let’s just all take a few moments to savor the hilarious, ridiculousness of this. I believed that there is a creator who made trees and not only was I going to impress him, I was going to imitate his way of thinking and have his attitude.I mean, if you had ever spent a few minutes walking around in my mind, you’d be rolling on the floor laughing at the thought of me, somehow transforming my mind to start thinking like God… Let’s just start with the fact that I have ADD and years of high level training in self absorbed sarcasm and bitterness that somehow manages to be both arrogant and insecure at the same time. I’m not just being self-deprecating here. I bet your mind is pretty messed up too, if you are honest… So, let’s just suffice it to say, Changing my mind to think like Jesus was not happening… imitating...pretending… while having panic attacks: that I could pull off. Having the mindset of Christ, uhm not so much! But I sat in a Bible study for a few months where that was the intended goal...Let me just share the passage with you and you will see what I mean:Philippians 2:5-11 starts out, In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: So yeah, this should have alerted me right here that this was going to be a no-go. Uhm...in my relationships, I need constant validation, so… 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; Ugh... so Jesus has the position of ruler of the universe and didn’t use that to his advantage. I don’t even want people to cut in front of me in line. I mean, I was there first that’s my position, you better respect it… 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, So uhmmm not feeling the servant thing, I just got to tell you. Not about making myself nothing... being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, So, this one, I actually could do but I’m not really into cross-dressing, but for you Jesus, I will, I love you that much. he humbled himself I’m so good at being humble. I rock. I mean you should see how many people I hang out with that I’m actually too good to be around. Oh wait...yeah, I hear it...I’m so not humble! by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Uhm...yeah, not feeling obedience to death. How about I give some money or something?9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Oh yeah, I’m feeling this part...So if I could nail having this right attitude thing, God would raise me up so I could shove it in the face of all those people who looked down on me. Yeah… I am so close to having the exact same attitude as Jesus it’s scary. And as absolutely, insane as it is, to think I could do this on my own, this is the kind of trap we all fall into when we just pick things out of the Bible and read them out of context. I lived in that trap for years. When I finally read those verses within the context of the entire letter to the Philippians,I found a different message. It wasn’t at all about being consumed with trying to live up to an unattainable standard. It is actually the complete opposite of that. It is an encouraging challenge to grow in my knowledge of Jesus. I promise, if you read any part of Philippians, and are discouraged, then you are reading it wrong. It was meant to be a letter of thanks and encouragement to a group of believers who had helped Paul and were very sad that he was imprisoned. Also, they were worried about the opposition they were beginning to face. In his letter of encouragement to these Christians, Paul wrote about imitating the mindset of Christ, but he never meant for it to be a checklist of behaviors to impress the creator of treesAs a matter of fact, in this same letter, right after the section I obsessed on and beat myself up over, Paul calls out how messed up the exact kind of thinking I had and was being taught. See, In the early church, some of the Jewish Christians were telling Gentiles that in order to follow Jesus, they had to convert to Judaism and follow all those rules too. Paul addresses this in chapter 3 of his letter,He says, “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.”And just to be super clear here, Paul was talking about how the Jews were telling Gentiles, that they had to be circumcised in order to become a Christian. I gotta think that was a hindrance to the Gentile men…And Paul angrily calls people who demand this from converts evil doers and mutilators of the flesh. That was harsh language back in the day. Like people would have been saying, “Geesh Paul calm down we get it, no need to be dropping the e-bomb!”And yes, you can laugh at how awkward this is. But for Jews, nothing was a bigger sign for them that they were set apart than circumcision. Because it is for sure that no one in the ancient world cut their foreskin off except Jews. It was a physical sign that they were special to God. And kinda the epitome of religious legalism to expect adult Gentile believers to this before the days of local anesthetics! Paul then says, 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, Paul was saying, we who have put our trust in Jesus, we are what it means to be set apart. He continues, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the fleshAnd guys if you don’t hear anything else, catch this, “putting no confidence in the flesh” means not getting our confidence from our personal ability to follow the rules. if I had read this and understood it, when I was in that Bible study taking that one section out of context, I would have been freed. I would have seen that I was called to serve God by his Spirit at work in me and that nothing I do physically is what gives me right standing with God.The rest of this chapter continues driving this message home. Because it is really, really hard for all of us to get that we can’t impress the crea
15 minutes | Apr 3, 2019
The Freaking Awesomeness of Understanding Cultural Context
In this episode, I talk about my struggle with trying to live up to religious ideals that I was never good at, especially all of those conferences on the Proverbs 31 woman, ugh! When I studied the culture of the stories of Jesus, I found a much more freeing picture of grace in the middle of real life struggles.
15 minutes | Mar 26, 2019
The Powerful Difference Between Religion and Faith
Transcript I once sat at my kitchen table with a young lady who had visited our church youth group for a while and then left because of an argument with our youth leader. She had visited another church but had been bullied out of it as well, because of her ongoing battle with depression and drug use. She sat at my table and said, “I don’t know Mrs. F, you say there is hope for me, but you seem to be reading a different Bible than them. How are the things you are telling me so different from what they say?”You may have felt like my young friend at some point or other. You have probably seen the good and bad behaviors in Christians. You may have experienced the beauty of God’s love and wondered how to reconcile it with the power grabbing, abuse, and arrogant celebrity pastors. You have probably heard extremely different opinions of what the Bible means, defended violently. You’ve probably wondered how there can be so many different views. How can any of us know what is correct?Well, The two words we need to clearly define and thoroughly understand are: religion and faith. Though we often use them interchangeably, they are actually two very different things. First, let’s look at religion:There are two different Greek words which have been translated as religion in our modern English Bible translations. One word meant “dread of the gods” and referred to things the pagans did to appease their gods out of fear, and the other word simply meant “ceremonies and rituals”. And guess what? These two words only show up in the entire NT, in three different passages. So, after intensely studying all three of those passages, I read Skye Jethani’s book With and Bertrand Rusell’s book Why I’m not a Christian Bertrand Russell was an extremely influential leader in modern criticism of Religion. In his book, he says that “Religion is based . . . primarily and mainly upon fear . . . fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore, it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand.” Bertrand Russell and Skye Jethani both say that fear is the basis of all religions. Skye goes on to say that Jesus taught another way. Bertrand, not so much...there’s a reason his book is called, Why I’m Not a ChristianI put all of this information together into the following definition: Religion is any set of beliefs or practices that a person follows in order to gain control, influence, or special favor with their version of God or to gain control over uncontrollable, uncertain, fearful things in our world. The key to this definition is that it is about using things to gain control over what is uncontrollable. Ceremonies, rituals, and spiritual disciplines can be very good things if they are used to help you know God more but they can become evil if they are used as an attempt to gain a sense of control.Which leads us to the other important word that we need to be clear on our definition of: Faith. Quite simply, faith is trust. It is knowing God and trusting him. To quote my good friend Andy Mineo “The opposite of faith ain’t doubt, It’s when you got it all figured out.” In other words, it isn’t about being rewarded for having all of our beliefs perfect, it’s trusting God.And, guess what? Faith is mentioned over 450 times in the Bible. It’s really what the Bible is all about.In a lot of ways, I think faith is the opposite of religion. Religion is seeking control. Faith is learning to trust the one who is in control. It’s letting go of control. Faith is about pursuing a relationship. It’s about knowing God and learning to trust in his goodness and love. It’s looking for that goodness and love when your world is filled with evil and hate. Understanding the difference between these two words changes everything. It is our faith that saves us. It is through faith that God sees us as righteous. We are never taught that religion pleases God. As a matter of fact, one of the places that mentions religion, James 1: 26-27 says that if you consider yourself religious and aren’t careful about how you talk about people, you are deceiving yourself. The only ceremonies and rituals that God really cares about are looking after widows and orphans. Here is where it gets really crazy though. Deep down, I think we all want to be religious. I mean honestly, don’t you want to be in control? Don’t you want a guarantee that your life is going to go the way you want it to? If you are a parent, you most assuredly want a way to guarantee your kids safety. And that desire for control can take just about any good thing and make it religious. We can start out praying because we really want to seek God and we really want to ask him to work in someone’s life and it can quickly shift to “if I pray enough God has to do this thing for me.” He owes me because I prayed every day for 6 months. The good news is that this is not a new struggle and Jesus had a lot to say about it. As a matter of fact, it seems like the gospels are pretty much mostly stories of Jesus restoring people to a relationship with him and confronting religious judgmentalism.One cut and dry example is that there are several places in the gospels where Jesus told his disciples to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Which doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to us, but back in the ancient day, the Pharisees and Sadducees were the respected religious leaders in Israel. We don’t actually have any leaders that would compare to the power and respect that these guys had. We are Americans. We question everyone. Jesus’ disciples grew up being taught to revere these guys. Yeast was a common symbol for evil that spreads. It was completely shocking for Jesus to say “watch out for the yeast of your revered religious leaders.”Matthew 16:5-12, actually gives us a rather humorous look at how difficult it was for the disciples to accept that Jesus was warning them against the the religion of their leaders.In this story, the disciples and Jesus are all going across the lake together. The disciples forgot to take any bread. As Jesus is teaching them, he says, “be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The disciples reaction is really funny if you think about it. They thought Jesus was saying this to them because they forgot bread.As if Jesus was literally saying, “Guys, I know you don’t have any bread. When we get to the other side of the lake, don’t go borrowing any from the religious leaders. They got a bad batch going around.”Matthew 16:7 actually says: “They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”But that is just how hard it was for the disciples to see that Jesus was telling them to break free from religion and lean into faith.The story continues: Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.In defense of the disciples, it’s really hard to comprehend just how evil religion can be. I’m not going to lie, I had a hard time typing “evil” as I prepared my notes. I kept changing the word because that feels so harsh. But here is where it gets real for me:If you want to know what your honest, deep down religion is, look at how you respond to things in your life that you care deeply about but have no control over. I hope you want to read the Bible to know God. I hope you want to guard yourself against the yeast of religion and lean into faith.Can you imagine how differently the world would view Christians if we all let go of our religion and focused on pursuing faith?Different interpretations wouldn’t lead to hate-filled attacks, they’d lead to thought filled discussions where people left feeling valued and supported even if agreement was never reached. How differently would the world see us, if faith was our focus? How differently would those who have been wounded by American church culture be treated in communities based on faith rather than religion. I hope you are excited about this! I hope this sparks your attention and gives you some new insight on how to read the Bible. I hope it gives you clarity and focus. My challenge for you this week is to start making a list of religious things you do. Then when you start becoming aware of areas where you are religious, start praying to see how those areas impact how you read the Bible. I’d love for you to share some things off of your list with us. I have already shared some of my religious practices that I’m fighting. You can find those on my FB page. Guys, I know, this is a tough one. I’m praying for you all. It’s really hard to be this self-reflective. It can bring up a lot of insecurities. But it is absolutely freeing and I promise it is worth the effort.As always, I’d love to hear from you. All my contact info and the transcript of today’s episode is on my website rumandcolaforthesoul.comThanks for listening.I hope you feel both energized and calmed like your soul just had some rum and cola. Blessings guys.
1 minutes | Mar 24, 2019
A Listener's Ad for Rum and Cola for the Soul
A devoted listener wrote this spoof ad for my podcast and blog perhaps inspired by some actual rum and cola. We had a lot of fun producing it. I love that she thought of me!
18 minutes | Mar 19, 2019
Jesus Isn't Like That! Why I am Still a Christian
A look at the hurt American church culture has caused and how I believe that Jesus taught us a better way.
33 minutes | Jan 1, 2019
Freedom From Addiction: An Interview With a Friend Celebrating 5000 days of Sobriety.
Charity began her recovery process at His Mansion Ministries and continues to grow through Celebrate Recovery Intro and outro music by Claudius Cooper
37 minutes | Dec 5, 2018
Freedom from Shame
In this interview, I talk to a survivor of sexual abuse and her journey as a Christian to find complete freedom from shame and regret.Intro music is by Claudius Cooper
35 minutes | Nov 16, 2018
Reading the Bible for Yourself...How It Changes Everything!
In this episode, I mention the Blue Letter Bible app which is a helpful free app available for free. There is also a Kindle download of the Bible from the same makers. They keep it free by promoting a lot of religious products, but the app is great. My really cool intro and outro features the music of a Reggae group I just found, Goymamba, the song is titled “Reggae Life” and it is available on Free Music Archive.com
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