Where God Meets Heroin Addicts

I usually post satirical posts on Friday, but this one couldn’t wait.

I’m on a road trip with my parents and my sweet girlfriend yesterday. We were returning from a week in Destin, Florida. The ocean was wonderful, the sun was wonderful, the food was plentiful. It was a blast. My sister and her family were driving separately, but they were there when the crazy stuff below went down.

I am always the one who has to go to the bathroom. This time, though, I waited like 12 miles before I said a word. I would rather suffer than inconvenience a whole car of people who just want to get home and into their own beds. Finally I say something, and finally we stop at a gas station.

Everyone piled out, and everyone went inside to the bathroom. On my way out, I passed a guy who was singing to himself. He was a Latino guy in his mid-twenties. He was with a long, curly-haired white girl of about the same age who was having a discussion with the cashier about the soda selection. She had on a slightly risque outfit, and I remember noting that she looked oddly confident, or content, or some elated feeling I couldn’t put my finger on.

We all came back outside and decide that, to save us stopping for a big dinner, we should just eat a sandwich at the car. So we opened the trunks, and were standing around in this gas station parking lot making sandwiches. I sat on the curb next to my nephew and we ate our Doritos. My dad snapped a picture.

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Suddenly, I look up and see a guy laying on the ground about 20 yards away. It is the same guy who was singing to himself no more than 4 or 5 minutes earlier. His back is on the ground, and his arms are spread out. He is obviously unconscious, but his left hand clung tightly to a 32 oz soda that rested oddly on the ground. His girlfriend was knelt down on top of him, silent but obviously sobbing. I stood up from the curb and my family turned to see what was happening. The woman was dead silent, and her head was on the man’s chest. Her shoulders were shaking up and down. Her long, curly hair covered both of their faces. A few people shuffled cautiously around her, attempting to help. None of us approached.

A black guy walking slowly away from the scene, looked at my family and said with genuine sadness, “He pissed himself, too, man. Another OD.” I looked at the woman. I couldn’t see her face. She wasn’t crying to anyone for help. She just knelt on top of this man that she loved, sobbing as he grew colder. She was strung out, I’m certain, but I’m also certain that the gravity of death was pulling her rapidly back to earth.

The elated look that I noticed earlier had disappeared. She was completely broken.

People tried to pull her off from on top of the man. I am not sure why they did this. I think from where they were standing, they could see the hopelessness of the situation much clearer. She was fighting away from them. I had an impulse to stop people from grabbing her so that she could lay beside the man. I stood twenty yards away, along with my family, frozen.

Finally, maybe seven or eight minutes later, the firetruck arrived. We watched the firemen forcefully remove her from kneeling and sobbing on top of the man. She wouldn’t show her face, and she still didn’t make a noise as she fought them off. Finally, she slipped from their grasp and fell down, reaching out to her unconscious lover.

The EMTs did not seem hopeful from where we were standing. I saw them feel for a pulse, then slowly move towards their bags. They seemed to be glancing at each other and going through the motions, while two of them tried to hold the woman back so they could work.

We left. We are pretty sure the singing man at the gas station in Alabama didn’t make it.

I’ve had two high school friends overdose. I wasn’t close to either of them when they overdosed, but I had been close to them. I don’t know what made them do it.

I know that life is incredibly difficult, and that drugs and addiction make a false promise that they will take us out of our suffering. They don’t. They bring us deeper into it. Drugs won’t help anyone escape life.

But I think the sobbing woman knows that now. At least I’m certain she will hear it in the next few days, as news trickles back to her family about what happened to the boy they met last Christmas. The one they thought was clean and would help their daughter kick her awful habit. The one hope they had after their daughter’s multiple failed rehab attempts. I’m, of course, speculating.

I don’t want to sermonize this. I don’t understand it well enough to begin to make a fine theological point. But I must say that part of me was dying for Jesus to come right to her in that moment and say what he said to the woman caught in her adultery: Your sins are forgiven you, go and sin no more.

I wish someone would have held her and cried with her. I hope someone does. I hope a pastor out there convinces her that she is not too far gone, will never be too far gone, to be welcomed into God’s restful arms.

Next time that you see that woman, please cry with her. I hope that I will. Jesus loves her very much.

I don’t know what else to say. I’m so saddened by life under the sun. I’m so thankful that God loves sinners like that strung out woman and like me.

 

Why Church is So Exhausting

“You can become like me if you listen to my sermons and do everything that I say. If you like me and think I’ve got it together, then you will want to be like me. Put your hope in my words, and do what I say. My yoke isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t light, but the pay-off will be worth it.”

Most preachers are, whether they know it or not, projecting an image of the ideal Christian for you to strive towards. That image, like the paragraph above, usually points back to themselves. It’s never quite so explicit, and in the preacher’s mind, they are giving you the best gift they have to offer: their experiences. You, the hearer, are left to buy into that projected image by heeding their advice and living accordingly.Terrible Preachers

This is why so many non-Christians have no interest in ever becoming a Christian. They hear the image that we are projecting at our churches and say: I don’t really care to be like your preacher, thanks anyway. “But don’t you want to have a nice little family like he has! Did you see how faithful and confident he seemed! And did you see how he beat himself up in front of all of us, to show how devoted he was to God? Don’t you want that?” Not really, they think, but then they go off and cast their hope in their favorite movie star, or the CEO of their company, or their spiritual guru – hoping to become more like that person. We are all casting our hope on trying to become like somebody else. And it’s exhausting us!

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Unless we are explicitly told about God’s promise (that everything we need we already have in Christ), we will instead hear the law (masquerading as a promise) from the preacher that says, “If you heed my words, you will become like me.” But, if we are thinking clearly, we realize that isn’t a “promise” at all, it’s a new law. In order for us to benefit from the words of the preacher, we must assert ourselves and do what we are told. It is a transaction (do this and you get this in return) that cannot reach down to us where  we currently are – in our constantly-failing, un-idealistic self. In order to be taken seriously, we realize, we must work to become something better.

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Most of what we do is driven by a desire to become a better version of ourselves. We hear a preacher and the first thing we think is: “Should I do what he says? Well, do I want to be more like him? Is he nice? Does he have a good-looking family? Does he have a steady job?”

See how we are looking for promises? We want a good-looking family. We want a steady job. We think by becoming like him we will get what he has as a reward for our efforts. Our brain does the math all by itself before the preacher even opens his mouth.

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But, isn’t this good? Isn’t it good to preach that people become like us? As good, upstanding Christians, don’t we want that? If we have it together, why not? If this is the question that comes into our heads, it should convict us that we are believing our own press: we think we have it together. We think we are healthy. “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus said that. This doesn’t mean that some people are actually righteous, it means that you are sick or you are delusional.

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This is why I find it so dangerous to preach “advice” from the pulpit. Because people are already so desperate to heed your advice before you ever say a word. They will take your advice even when you don’t give it – by dressing like you and talking like you (and you say, “But I never told them to do that!” You didn’t have to, they made you into a new law without your help – we humans are addicted to law-making).

I keep tossing the word “law” around. What do I mean? What the law says is “Do this and you will live.” The gospel answers that voice that is perpetually ringing in our heads and says, “Christ did this, now you are free to go live in his grace. The law has been fulfilled. You are free, indeed.”

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We need to shut out that condemning voice in our head that is always looking for promises in things other than Christ. Find a preacher that casts his hope solely on Christ and him Crucified instead of Man and him Reformed.

God Loves Sinners: A Dialogue

A: Yes. But only after they have stopped sinning, or at least vowed to try their hardest to stop sinning, right?
B: No. It’s not conditional.
A: Well, yes, it’s not “conditional.” But, I mean, they will want to stop sinning, right?
B: Maybe, but that is totally different from the first thing that you said.
A: Yes, but listen, we can’t really be saying this to people all by itself. They will think they can just do whatever they want and God will keep on loving them.
B: They can’t?
A: Well, no. Of course not. They can’t just take grace for granted, that would be cheap grace.
B: So you prefer expensive grace?
A: No, I just mean, can we really expect God to do all the work that saves us? We have to contribute something, right?
B: What exactly should we contribute?
A: Our obedience! Of course.
B: Actual obedience?
A: Is there any other kind?
B: Well, do you mean “trying hard” obedience? Or like, rigid, “you are actually following the law in word and deed”-type obedience? Because Jesus himself made it clear that white-washed outward obedience isn’t the kind of obedience in which God is interested. So, what exactly is it that we have to add to our salvation?
A: What?! I didn’t say we have to add anything to our salvation! See, you are trying to trap me into saying something I’m not! That’s not very Christian of you.
B: Okay. I’m sorry. Tell me again what kind of obedience you think God is interested in: the kind that just looks on the surface like God-honoring obedience but on the inside is lusting and envying and raging and rebelling; or the kind that is actual obedience?
A: Well, okay, maybe sometimes it is the first kind. But that doesn’t mean all obedience is bad. We should at least aim to be actually obedient to God.
B: So we should obediently aim to be obedient to God.
A: Umm. [Mumbles to self: "....obediently aim to be obedient..."]. Yes. Definitely. Yes. We should, right?
B: And you think that is foolproof? There is no way that could go wrong?
A: I mean, I guess no, not really. Aiming to be obedient can’t really go wrong. But even if it could, should we really worry about it? I mean, it’s good to try to be obedient, right?
B: There is no way anybody could ever become self-righteous if the aim is to just try our hardest to be obedient?
A: I suppose it is pos-
B: So you still think we should preach that? Even if we know most people will take it and turn it into a method of projecting their skin-deep holiness to the world and to God, leaving them basking in a lonely, toxic pit of pride and despair?
A: I don’t know about “most” people. Do you really think people are that bad?
B: I think we are programmed to jostle control of our salvation out of the hands of another. I think we are sickened by the idea that God could actually be responsible for our entire salvation. I think we don’t like low-stakes, child-like, joyful obedience that comes from weakness and humility. Obedience that is rooted in our certainty that God loves us more than we could ever imagine. I think we spit that out perpetually in favor of begrudging, self-absorbed, self-evaluative, begrudging (did I say that already?), self-congratulatory faux-obedience because it looks much more glorious than beggars receiving bread. I think we love a trajectory that sends us towards high-stakes, salvation-on-the-line-at-every-turn self-righteousness. So, yes. We are that bad.
A: My goodness, man! Okay. But. I mean. What?
B: You okay, buddy? Your face is turning a bit green? Should I call a doctor?
A: I’m fine.
B: You don’t look fine. Are you dry-heaving?
A: I said I’m fine. Listen, what you just said leaves me with nothing. What am I supposed to say to my non-Christian friends? Or my Christian friends? Or anyone! Who am I?
B: Let’s talk about something else, you really don’t look so good.
A: No. Tell me. Where do I go? You are leaving me with nothing! You just ripped everything away and now there is nothing left. Why are you doing this?
B: Really, listen, I think I should go. The cappuccino was outstanding. Do I pay you or up at the counter?
A: Tell . . . [gasps] . . . me.
B: [sighs]. God loves sinners.

Why Tullian’s theology is not only good for America.

There was a Greek guy who once said our purpose on earth is to be excellently rational and to use this function to bring every emotion, desire, appetite and behavioural disposition and their corresponding moral virtues and vices in line to cultivate the good while abandoning the bad through activity and habitation and all that makes me think is bloody hell, that sounds like a lot of effort. I wonder then, why is that guy from down the road giving me a dirty look? Which moral characteristic is letting me down? What’s interesting is that it is here my brain will take me down one of two extraordinary roads (or country lanes as it were, because I’m English).

Pottering down the first country lane a little voice will say in my ear: ‘no, no, no, that dirty look had nothing to do with you. He probably just got fired last week’. “Oh no wait, there he goes, he’s driving off to work …” ‘It’s ok! Still nothing to do with you. His wife left him. Yes that’s it!’ “Oh no there goes his child on his bike and who is that behind him? Oh yes, it’s his wife….” ‘It’s all fine! She’s going off to spend all his money again after she’s dropped the kid off Your heard them shouting the other day, didn’t you?’ ‘Yes, yes I definitely did!’. And that’s it! I walk away!  Everything is in-line with me, no deliberation about me is needed. My safety nets of delusion save me once again. Thinking about it more:

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This is all well and good but at some odd points in the week arrogance sets in and I’ll take a wander down the second lane. In a quiet moment another, a much louder shout of a voice will suddenly proclaim that actually there is much point to examining myself, ‘come on, what about that Greek guy! Go you! You can handle it all and fix everything!’ However, every bloody time, this voice quickly loses its niceness and turns into mercilessly telling me that yes, it is ENTIRELY my fault and that I have a horrendous amount of work to do if it’s ever going to be not my fault. (Why on earth do I continue to listen to it?) ‘You didn’t smile at him and say good morning the other day, remember that you malevolent fool?’ It will say. ‘You know he watched and saw your face as you crushed that 50 year old man in that 10k you ran last week, right? Do you remember how happy you were about it because you beat him fairly? Do you even grasp that you are the type of person that would have happily tripped him up if no one was watching? Do you get that?’

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‘You have so much to work on. You better get down to it! Don’t mess it up now!’ it continue’s to say. And so it goes, on and on down the rabbit hole, circling around and around what’s wrong with me and how to fix it until I am sitting and crying in the corner slowly rocking myself back and forth.

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(Not literally, I’m far too weak to let it get that far, but you get the point).

You’re feeling it too but in the corner just to distract myself from my own voice, I’ll flick over to Twitter and I’ll see some posts by, as already mentioned before, a far-too-overly-tanned, beanie-wearing, no-one-can-pronounce-his-ridiculous-last-name American pastor in Florida giving some insight with links to some articles and stuff. Go look and come back! If you do, like me, you’ll discover a theology. And one that not only exposes what is going on inside my head but at the same time allows me to call it for what it is: A rat-race. And that it is completely not merely English at all. It’s universal. (Good Job you looked).

For me it quickly becomes apparent the first road is just irrelevant self-protection and the second is actually endless. Plus my ‘methodology’ of fixing anything along the second is but mere ‘performancism’ (see below). If it works for a week then all I can think about is how much better I am than that guy who does the things I used to do, and then I crash and burn and do what I was doing before again. But here is where it just gets fascinating for me. On top of all this he says that all the above effort I put into myself (my perpetual discovery and ‘fix-it’ mode) I now have to do that perfectly above and beyond anything that Greek guy was saying AND perfectly love God and my neighbour as well. That is actually what is required of me. ‘And not just your neighbour the ‘friend’ either, it’s your neighbour the ‘rapist’ and your neighbour the ‘persecutor’ as well!’ WHAT!? I don’t know about you but I’m already sitting and crying in the corner rocking back and forth because of myself! Now there’s God and other people! You’ve got to be kidding me.

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‘Well at least if I put some effort into other people, I’m sure they’ll reward me’, I’ll say to myself. ‘Isn’t it the same with God as well? Good gets good, bad gets bad? I’m not that bad’. And so the safety nets of delusion come up again. That is until this pastor guy starts writing about a carpenter back in the day who lived the perfect life so I don’t have to.

Good does not get good, bad does not get bad, you are worse than you think and you have no control over other people. Even in this, Jesus’ actual perfection exposes the sinner that you are and that exchange of his perfection for your rat-race happened without you even realising that the only thing you contributed to it is the sin that made it necessary. Even in this, you are perfectly loved by God without you even realising that you could never perfectly love God back and you manipulate your neighbour into getting things you think you need. Even is this, you are proclaimed as justified for Jesus’ sake without you even realising that God does so regardless of what you do. Let that sink in. Your rat-race is crushed by the Golden commandments and is washed clean by the  death and resurrection of Christ.

Thank you, Tullian. Your message at church every Sunday frees my soul. (And teaches me that Aristotle is a burdening son-of-a-gun.)

I am Not a Legalist: A Testimony

Our Church’s Outreach Ministry: Eagle’s Faith Fellowship → Inspirational Teachings (EFF-IT) has been collecting testimonies over the last month. This one was particularly moving, and I wanted to share it with the self-assured non-legalist readers. You pathetic sinners probably won’t get it.
The testifier is a former Sunday school teacher, who has since had a falling out with EFF over our lax stance on women’s head-coverings. He is now a contributing blogger at The Gospel™ Corp (@thegospelcorp).

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Many people talk as if the basic Christian message is meant to save people from legalism. Whether or not these people are right, I am not a legalist.

What is legalism? One pastor, kind of a spray-tanned jokester in my opinion, has gone so far as to re-define legalism to mean “performancism.” First of all, don’t trust a guy who makes up words. Secondly, this way of thinking would basically condemn all of our works – even those works that are definitely good and holy. Do we really want a “faith” that leaves us without anything of our own to cling to? I didn’t think so. Jesus paid it all, yes, but I have made some pretty wise investments that better not be overlooked.

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These grace guys are saying that everyone is basically a slave to their own system of justification. They claim that all of us, good guys and bad guys alike, are attempting to anchor our sense of worth and meaning in our law-keeping (legalism) or performance (performancism). To them I say: so what? Maybe if your performance wasn’t so awfully embarrassing you wouldn’t be so fussy.

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If, indeed, everyone is a legalist, and legalism is “bad,” that would mean that going to a church that talks only about self-improvement plans (most of them) might only feed the problem by pointing us more and more to our own conduct and away from Christ’s finished work on the cross. So, are you going to stand there and tell me, Mr. “Grace Preacher”, that going to church can be bad? Didn’t think so.

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See, to me, God is a relationship, not a religion. There, I said it. See, I’m not a legalist, am I? A legalist wouldn’t have said the bit about a relationship. Right? And a relationship has never had a scent of legalism. It might be transactional, yes (if I buy someone a birthday gift, I do expect them to buy me one of equal or greater value). And you might be thinking to yourself: transactionalism and legalism seem to be pretty similar, at least in spirit. My response to you would be this: you are making up words like Tullian now, you jerk.

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Go ask someone on the street if they are going to heaven. I have done this many times, and the answer is almost always a variation of: “I think so, because i haven’t really done anything that bad.” So, maybe they are a legalist, but that’s only because they know nothing of the Christian faith. Once you are in, legalism is not really a thing anymore. If it is, it’s at least not a bad  thing.

(Dogs aren't Legalists. That's why they are so fun to be around.)

(Dogs aren’t Legalists. That’s why they are so fun to be around.)

I know that God loves me. Jesus is my co-pilot. I know that he loves me more if I do my job as co-pilot and jerk the controls away from him constantly to showcase my superior ability at nailing loop-de-loops in our fighter jet, firing at Nazis [on his behalf] (neverminding the overspray of machine gun fire on unsuspecting citizens and nearby friendlys) until we are a flaming ball of death and shrapnel, plummeting to the ground and decimating a city block. Welcome to my discipleship.

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Does any of that sound like legalism? Psh. Didn’t think so.

This Is a Story About a Billboard

The first time I saw it, I was 17 years old. I was skipping my junior prom to attend a two day music festival at a university with a friend. Yes, I know, I was quite the rebel. I had not really thought much about college prior to this, but the clock was beginning to tick and I would need to start sending out applications in the fall. I was in the passenger seat of a Nissan Xterra as we were heading west on desolate Missouri highway 32, and then I saw it: the billboard. I don’t know if I had been blind to them previously, if I was subconsciously dreading where to apply in the near future, or if there was something larger at play in that moment, because it was not a particularly unique or exciting highway sign. It was like any other advertisement for a university. There was a young man slightly off center, standing confidently in the middle of the quad, staring into the camera with a grin. He was handsome and well-dressed with his backpack slung coolly over one shoulder (as was still cool then, I can’t speak to current backpack wearing trends). There was a young woman to his right (my left) who was also attractive and well-dressed holding a single book to her chest. I couldn’t say which subject she was studying, but clearly she had a light course load to only need to carry this lone book around without a backpack (no matter how trendily) and minus even a pencil or notebook. She did not gaze into the camera, but rather, her attention was directed at the young man with whom she seemed fascinated by. She was smiling adoringly at him, as if he had just told the funniest joke or said the most witty thing and she couldn’t hardly stand it. There was a third person in the background of the picture, on the far right (his left) sitting beneath an ancient oak tree, reading a book and enjoying the sunshine.

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Teenagers are quite silly, I was especially, but seeing that image even for an instant as we zoomed by, it spoke to me. I wanted to be that young man. I wanted to go to a school filled with bright, young, attractive, well-dressed individuals. I wanted to go somewhere where the academics were important, but not overbearing; where my backpack could only be worn on one should without causing me back pains because it wasn’t loaded down with books, or where some days I could get by just carrying a solitary textbook in my hand. I wanted to experience budding romance amongst the old trees and green grass of a university quad. I wanted to lay under those trees and think deep thoughts. On my way home from that weekend, I had made up my mind that this particular school was the one for me.

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A year later, for the second time, I saw the fated billboard. On this trip, I was riding with my parents in our family station wagon and we were on our way to enroll me in classes there. I remember seeing it and leaning into the front glass to give the ever-smiling couple a thumbs up, or something stupid like that. I was coming to join them. I was going to become them. They smiled back their pleasure at my decision… except for the girl in the background who continued to stare off in deep thought. It didn’t matter, I wouldn’t want to interrupt her anyway. She knew what was up.

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Fast forward another year. I had finished my first two semesters at university. It had gone well enough: I had made some good friends, was dating a pretty girl, and had passed all of my courses. My classmates, on the whole, were not as attractive as advertised. The school work was a bit more challenging than I might have hoped. I learned quickly that I needed both straps on my backpack because it was heavy enough to create some alignment issues. At one point the bottom ripped out of aforementioned backpack and I carried all of my books in grocery bags for a portion of the year. There were several “all-nighters” and entire 24-hour days spent in the library throughout the year, but that was all part of the experience? The cafeteria food gave me terrible diarrhea, so I mostly subsided on noodles that came in block form. I knew that was something college kids did, I did not realize it was out of digestive necessity. I had seen and been part of some drama, and not the fascinating television kind. I had forgotten to pack a winter coat when I left home my first semester, which meant I walked to all of my classes in the snow wrapped in my comforter. I had slept in my car a few nights so that I could get some sleep apart from my roommates shenanigans. Basically, I had learned to live more and more like a homeless person. I had driven past the billboard many times that year, but never given it any thought. My reality was not the billboard’s.

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More years passed and finally, I was graduating. I don’t want to give off the impression that I was laser-focused on this billboard, I had only really noticed it twice in all the years I had made the trip from home back to campus, but now I noticed it a third time and I remembered my previous thoughts and feelings towards it. I laughed at myself, I swore a bit, and then I became quite angry. In another post I’ve laid out several of the things I’ve seen go wrong in my life, but many of them happened during my time at college. In the span of those short years, I’d gone from an optimistic idealist to someone very calloused and cynical. The things I had been sheltered and shielded from my whole life had come knocking at my door while at university. I had been lured to this place by an Edenic image of perfection. That my life would become imminently better once I entered these hallowed halls. The opposite was true. I had a degree and some amazing lasting friendships, but I was also a very bitter person and I was lucky because many of my classmates had left without even that. Some lives were destroyed in this place. Some lives had ended in this place.

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My faith was stretched and tested during those years, even more so in the years to come. I hung on to it, or I should say, it hung on to me, but just barely. Here’s why I got so angry that day: the billboard represented Law in my life. It was a standard, an expectation, a goal. I went into it thinking I could do it, achieve it, perfectly obey it. The reality of the impossible expectation and my own inability had been whitewashed out in the haze of glory. The whitewash had faded, peeled, cracked and the ugly truth was now staring me in the face. It paralleled my experience with Christianity.

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But something interesting happened a few years after that experience. I was working part-time at a bakery/coffee shop, making minimum wage and living off tips. I was a nobody, a failure, trying desperately to find my purpose. One day, the smartly dressed lady who owned the upscale building our shop was located in came and told me she would need me to drop by her office after work. I was unsure of what that meant, but it seemed important, so after work I took off my apron and entered the nice main lobby of our building, stinking of sweat and frosting, and pushed the elevator button for the top floor. When I got there, I recognized a few other faces of similar minimum wage struggling-to-make-it clerks from the various shops in the building. We were informed that we would be part of an advertising campaign for the area. They were going to dress us in fancy clothes from a shop downstairs and put us in magazines, brochures, and … a billboard. The next day, the group of us showed up, went through an awkward time where the lady picked out clothes for each of us that none of us would ever have worn, and makeup was applied liberally. A professional photographer posed us and took several shots. The whole thing lasted a couple hours and at the end we were each given a $25 gift certificate to a restaurant the smartly dressed lady also owned for our trouble.

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So there it was. My face, alongside the faces of peers who similarly hated their jobs and lives, plastered all over the city. I wondered if anyone would look at it and say, “I wish I could have that life…” It was ridiculous. The billboard that had caused me this existential crisis was probably filled out with poor students who had had the same experiences I had, were dressed and posed by someone else, and given a $25 gift card which they gladly took so that they could finally skip a diarrhea inducing meal in the cafeteria. Perfection, at least in this life, is a lie. Don Draper is a genius. A rich genius who knows how our brains work. Give us a Law, and we’ll kill ourselves trying to achieve it.

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Theologizing Away Freedom

The life of the Christian is rooted in God’s promise for them, not their own works to impress God. Our joy is built on the security we have in the knowledge of God’s promise. Inasmuch as we know that God makes us a promise, and that God doesn’t break his promises, we have “practical” comfort in his will for us.

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But what if most Christian teaching is actually stripping away security? Would it be better to be less comforted as Christians so that we can get more done – achieve more for Christ? Or does that mentality not only strip away comfort, but ultimately strip away our love for God and our faith in Christ’s work for us, achieving nothing more than pathetic rags of human glory?

git r done

Theology wasn’t created for the sake of nuance itself; it is for the Proclamation of God’s Promise. We say words about God to needy beggars, and those words point to God’s promises. In fact, those words are the verbal transmission of that promise. “God’s love is yours, in Christ. Jesus died for you. Your life is hidden in his life, death, and resurrection. It is secure. God says so.”

Words about God are best used to create an intricate picture that points more and more clearly to God’s promise, not an impossible maze that forces Christians to begrudgingly trust spiritual gurus pointing in all directions. That will only leave us exhausted. Incredibly exhausted. It’s probably why you feel like giving up right now.

exhausted

(“And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” – Jesus)

Sometimes things are complicated. But sometimes the purpose of introducing or highlighting complications is really just to communicate to people how little they understand. Sometimes we get nervous that they are so excited about grace, and we think to ourselves, “Wait, they are more enthusiastic than me, I’ve got to bring them down to my level. Ahem, that grace thing I was talking about, that comes with some conditions. Yep, I’m for real. Get out a pad of paper, this is gonna take a while.

Calm It Down

Comfort and rest in Christ is spiritual, and a profound testimony to a world addicted to self-justifying, anxiety-inducing, busy-ness. We are programmed to think that nervous effort is somehow more spiritual than simple, childlike love that sometimes doesn’t have a clear application beyond smiling at your neighbor with a no-strings-attached, “you don’t have to smile back if you don’t want to” kind of attitude.

gif-terminator-smile-392394But is your love RadicalCrazy, Game-Changing? Are you Manning up, Standing Firm, On Fire? We distrust simple acts of love, the acts that can’t be romanticized into a sensational testimony to the power of the human will. (Which makes me wonder, if radical hard work is truly the Christian’s goal, why does Paul call the Thessalonians to “make it your ambition to lead quiet lives.” Wait, what? You mean we don’t have to broadcast our radical effort to all of our friends? There’s goes the only motive for social media, and – for that matter – socializing.)

Flanders Rules

Nuance can’t be crammed down people’s throats. A good theologian can nuance you into a deeper love for Christ, which should feel more like you are being wooed/ pursued/ saved/ risen/ loved and less like you are being cut down to size. But finding out that something we once thought was for our good actually has strings attached often makes us say curse words.

ralphie

Christ’s love is for you. He has set you free from the exhausting pursuit of securing love by the sweat of your own brow. Stand firm in that freedom, and don’t submit yourselves to any yoke of slavery, including the slavery of those who want you to take a second look at Christ’s blood shed for you and cause worry that it isn’t “of the Spirit”, or “taking into account all aspects of your life.” Paul was okay with reductionism: Christ and him crucified for you.

It’s yours. You are free. Enjoy.