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
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