The Silence of Saturday

I didn’t write anything for Easter.

It’s not that I wasn’t inspired to share about the grace I’ve experienced because of God’s love. It’s not that I don’t want to tell everyone who’ll listen that once I was blind, but now I see. Once I was lost and in despair and now I’m filled with hope. Once I felt worthless and broken and now I have a reason to go on.

It’s not that.

All weekend I read blogs and articles and posts declaring the love of God. Believers around the world shouted out the good news – that we don’t need to be ashamed because God has freed us from our sin. Our sin and guilt can be washed away!

And I could only think of those without shame, who don’t feel guilty. Those who are fundamentally insulted by the idea that they need a savior. Those who see God as cruel and petty and small.

Like the man who wrote this: “If, for whatever cruel twist of fate, the God of the Bible exists, I want no part of him. I, along with what I hope is the vast majority of humanity, am better than him. I know more than he ever taught. I see beyond horizons that he could never reach. I love more genuinely than He. I help more than He. I understand myself better than He ever could. I see planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies just on the edge of humanity’s perception. I can even sometimes catch a small glimpse of our universe, and all the wonder and beauty it holds. Your God is too small for me.”

I know people like this. I love people like this. And why not? The idea that we have done wrong is uncomfortable. And let’s face it, most of us haven’t done anything we consider sinful. Murder, theft, adultery, these aren’t part of who we are. Any wrongs we’ve done can be explained away – I was young, people do things like that all the time, it didn’t hurt anyone.

Why would I choose a faith that includes the idea that I am fundamentally bad and in need of saving?

There are answers to these questions. I know them. I can rebut the bad theology that says God is vengeful and angry. I can show how the Bible, while not a science book, in no way contradicts modern discoveries. I can point to the undeniable complexities of our existence as proof of intelligent design. I can show by scripture and testimony how God loves more genuinely and selflessly, knows more, sees more, is more than any person. I can apologize and preach until I’ve run out of words but when I look into the faces of those who can’t fathom a God who is bigger than their understanding I am crushed by it. I don’t want to fight it. I don’t want to explain. It feels too hard, and I am well aware that anything I say will be met with derision and scorn.

So, no. My heart hurts so deeply, but I don’t see the point of trying to reach them. Besides, I hate conflict and don’t like being sneered at, so no thank you very much.

Then I remember Barabbas.

He’s the guy in the Easter story who seems a little out of place. He’s thrown in as a plot point, a last-ditch effort for Pilate to get out of being responsible for Jesus’ death. Right? He was just this anonymous guy, even his name means simply, “son of the father”. He’s a guy who apparently hated the Romans, not too unusual, and who made some poor life choices. He may have incited rioting against the Roman government; he certainly was a murderer. He was undoubtedly deserving of his punishment, in fact I assert that Pilate chose him as the alternate to Jesus because of this. I think he really believed the Jewish people would choose for Jesus to be released rather than Barabbas because of his reputation and violent past. But they don’t; he gets out of his death sentence, and no doubt he’s thrilled. The chains are removed and he descends into the cheering crowd and we don’t hear any more about him.

Barabbas gets his freedom, Jesus gets the cross. We can all see the parallels – Barabbas is us. But there’s something more. The chains are removed and he descends into the cheering crowd and we don’t hear any more about him. We have no evidence that he turned his life around, or even that he felt any remorse or gratitude for the fact that an innocent man died in his place. None.

God knew this would be the outcome. He knew Barabbas would walk into his freedom and never glance back. But he did it anyway. He loved the guy who walked away. He loves the people who scorn and sneer and don’t believe and mock him and put him down. All the way to the cross, he stumbles and falls and loves. He prays for the guards dragging him up the hill and the crowds shouting at him, and every fragile, self-made person to ever walk the earth, before or after that day.

………….

Saturday is my favorite day of Easter week. Maybe that seems odd; it’s the day nothing happens. Jesus is in the tomb, everybody is either grieving or freaking out, and uncertainty and despair are the mood of the day. But I love that it’s a day of reflection. A day to remember that conquering death was no easy feat; that it cost something very dear. This last Saturday, Barabbas was on my mind. The original, and me, and all the Barabbases that walk through the world certain of their own superiority.

I don’t know how to reach them. I understand intellectual superiority – I’m guilty of it and I’m not that smart. I don’t know how I would reach me if I were on the other side. But I know that if I were, I would want someone to try.

So this year, in the silence of Saturday, during the pause, when everything felt like a universal breath-holding waiting for Sunday, I prayed not for the unreached or those seeking, because we all know that everyone who seeks, finds. I prayed for those who don’t want to be reached. I prayed for wisdom and gentleness and words that aren’t derogatory or superior or offensive. I prayed for everyone I know who can’t see because they don’t want to see. I prayed that all the stupid, hurtful things that have been done to them and around them in the name of Jesus would be made right.

And I prayed for myself, for the courage not to hide in my own corner. It’s so much easier and more comfortable to live in my echo chamber where everyone agrees with me. It’s so much nicer in here.

Unfortunately, nice and comfy are not in the Bible.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:9-12 

 “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

 

Becoming Disciples

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.  Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught.  But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” 

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!  There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 NLT

Believe me when I say that I understand busy. I have six children. My oldest goes to a college preparatory middle school, so she has three hours of homework almost every night. Which means I have homework every night. My next four are home-schooled. I don’t think I need to qualify that; suffice to say I do a lot of stuff during the day. And I have an 18 month old, so my house is regularly torn apart by a two-foot tall tyrant.

My husband is a pastor, which means that he only gets one day off per week and we can’t afford to hire help.

For years I envisioned myself becoming a disciple of Jesus. My visions were generally of me, early in the morning, before anyone else was awake, sitting on my couch with a cup of coffee, swaddled in a warm blanket, enjoying the peace and quiet of a clean house, reading my bible and taking notes. Or when everyone was napping or reading, the afternoon sun pouring in through the windows, in a clean, quiet house, with my cup of coffee at the dining room table.

The problem was, I thought the clean, quiet house was the precursor to my time with Jesus. I thought I had to do things in the right order – first get myself organized and calm and then dive in to Jesus. First do the work, then relax with the word. This is backwards! I can have my coffee, thanks to Keurig, but expecting to achieve a Pottery Barn photo shoot in my living room as a predicate to following Christ is ridiculous. I think this comes from a childhood of having ‘work first, play later’ drilled into my brain. What I had forgotten was that studying God’s word is not play. It’s not optional. It’s not the icing. It’s foundational to everything else that will happen in my life.

Expecting to achieve a Pottery Barn photo shoot in my living room as a predicate to following Christ is ridiculous.

The disciples of Jesus’ day didn’t have it all together. They lived on the road, staying with whomever would have them, moving on at a moment’s notice. Jesus would say, “Let’s go across the lake,” or “Today we’re going to Bethlehem,” and off they went. They were dusty and footsore and had no plan for next year, or even next month. (I honestly wonder if this is why His closest disciples were men. All the women I know would go crazy with a lifestyle like that.)

Their chaotic and unpredictable life didn’t stop them from sitting at the feet of Jesus. They drew near to hear His voice in the midst of their busy, crazy lives.

My quiet time may not be Instagram-ready, (you really, really want to click that link) but that’s not the point. The point is time with Jesus. Learning, listening, growing, building toward the future He has for me. Becoming the person He designed me to be. Figuring out what the heck I’m doing by allowing myself to be guided by the Holy Spirit. In the middle of the mess, in the middle of the chaos, in the middle of life. 

So today I’m putting my priorities in order. I’m ignoring the laundry that needs to be folded and the random stuff all over the living room floor and I’m spending some time nourishing myself first. I’m remembering that me and my soul are more important than anything else in this beautiful life. It feels awkward. And a little indulgent, I’m not going to lie. But I’m doing it anyway.

So should you.

Brieana

 

 

 

 

Fighting a Great Battle

This post was written in March, 2014.

I’m on a bit of a kick about bad stuff lately, since that seems to be what I wake up to each morning. It’s interesting how the stuff you’re going through changes the lens through which you see the world.

One of the good things about my dad’s cancer diagnosis is that I feel gentler toward people. Every time I get off the phone with my dad or his wife I’ve received bad news. Sometimes it’s really awful (we didn’t get into the clinical trial we were hoping for) and sometimes just bad (he lost another three pounds) but either way I hang up the phone feeling oddly out of place in the world. It’s astonishing to look around and see the world functioning as it always has. It seems like something should be different. There should be some acknowledgment in the world at large that BAD THINGS ARE HAPPENING TO ME.

But there isn’t. And I can’t walk around oozing my angst over everyone so I smile and go through my day as though the edges of my life weren’t falling off and disappearing.

And then I realize that this is happening all around me. Every day, people get the news that they or a loved one are sick. Or dying. Or dead. Every day, people are wounded through divorce or betrayal. Or the more routine hurts – job loss, choices poorly made, words said in anger. All around are people whose worlds just got tilted a little, but you’d never know it. They smile and speak politely and hold the door for you at the library because we are civilized people, darn it.

I wish I could say this has changed my perspective entirely and that I don’t get irritated at other people’s stupidity because maybe they just found out they need a heart transplant, but it hasn’t. It has, however, made me more aware that there might be underlying reasons for people’s rudeness or seemingly unnecessary self awareness.

And that’s a start.

What the Holy Spirit Does

This is the difference between six-years-ago me, and today me.

Tonight was my son’s 12th birthday party. I assumed five nearly-teenaged boys would eat a lot of pizza, so I ordered a lot of pizza, but they didn’t. I can’t stand the way leftover pizza makes my fridge smell so I asked my husband to take it down to the garage fridge. He said he would.

Two hours later we all ate cake and ice cream and soda, and the pizza was still on the counter, so I asked him again. He said he would.

Two hours later he left to take our daughter to a sleepover and the pizza was still on the counter, so I asked him again. He said he would.

A few minutes after he left, I walked into the kitchen to find.. pizzas on the counter. Six-years-ago me would have had a knock-down, drag-out fight in my mind and started nursing a bitterness that would have lasted until next week. I would have taken the pizzas to the fridge myself, but I would have made sure my man knew about it when he got home.

Today me is different. Not only did I not do those things, I had no desire to. I felt nothing but compassion. He’s been working hard; he’s tired. Everyone forgets things sometimes. I genuinely didn’t care.

I put the pizzas in the fridge. NBD.

That’s what the Holy Spirit does.

Praying for Paris

We should continue to pray for Paris, not because we want Parisians to have ‘more religion’, but because humanity is at its best when people come together.

Let me give an example. Suppose you believe in a Great Green Dragon in the sky who is able to bring peace and joy to the world, if only he’s asked. Suppose I’m going through something really sucky, and I could use some peace and joy, so you offer to pray to your Great Green Dragon for peace and joy for me.

I have two options. I can go the hardcore atheist/fundie Christian route (yes, today they’re the same) and rebuke you for your faith in the GGD. I can tell you that, because I don’t believe in this funny story of yours, your prayers will either do no good (atheist side) or damage me because you’re praying to someone other that God (fundie side). Either way, your attempt to intercede for me is offensive, divisive, and disrespectful of my special, special belief system and/or intellect.

Or, I can say, ‘thank you’. Go ahead and pray if you’d like. If there is no Great Green Dragon in the sky, then I nothing will come of it, for good or evil. But there is strength in unity and compassion. I believe that when we lift up our voices and hearts on behalf of one another, our own hearts are changed. Empathy is powerful, action is even more so, and the act of praying for others makes us better people, and more likely to turn sentiment into action.

Besides, if you really believe that this Great Green Dragon has the power to help me, but you don’t or won’t pray for me, what must you think of me?

While there may be some who are praying for more religion in Paris, the majority of prayers being offered up are for healing, peace, wisdom for leadership, and strength for the weary. We’re praying for compassion. We’re praying for the needed resources to be in place. We’re praying for music, kisses and life. We’re praying for people, because people have value, no matter what they believe. Do we hope that more people will come to faith in Christ? Of course we do. But if they don’t, we will love them all the same.

So, to my atheist friends, I hope you aren’t offended, but I’m going to keep praying. I’m praying because the people of Paris, and around the world, need us to grab them by the hand and pull them up in whatever way we can. #prayerisaboutlife

Brieana

P.S. Yes, I still believe in God and miracles and Jesus. I believe that prayer works. The above is also true.

Why We Celebrate Halloween

This post originally ran on October 24, 2013. Apparently, I am currently a one-post-per-quarter kind of blogger. I don’t mean it to be this way, but it happens. I have many, many ideas and thoughts I’d love to share with you, so if you’re the patient type, stick with me. And if you’re working on a mind-to-blog app, could you speed it up a little? 

Love, Brieana

Don’t mess with Halloween Jesus.

Around this time of year there are always questions about whether or not Christians should participate in Halloween activities, due to their pagan roots. It’s true that Halloween has a rather sordid past, with pagan-practicing communities performing rites to ward off evil spirits. Here’s a quote from history.com:

It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating.

Many Christians feel it’s not okay to participate in Halloween festivities because they were, originally, decidedly un-Christian. Before we start in on Halloween, let’s look around our culture at some other customs that have pagans roots.

Let’s clarify – I’m not saying we should now spend the weekend Googling to find the pagan roots of common things in our lives and then purge ourselves. My point is simply to give perspective. There are many things in modern American culture that were at one time part of pagan worship, but the spiritual aspect of those acts has long since died away.

I found a fantastic article from Grace Communion International outlining some Biblical perspective on dealing with paganism. A few excerpts:

In Deuteronomy 12, God, through Moses, tells us: “Be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, `How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.’ You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”

Do these verses mean that we cannot do anything pagans did in worship? Of course not, for pagans prayed, sang hymns, played musical instruments, and some baptized by immersion. They also had priesthoods, special garments, temples, altars and sacrifices. They had annual festivals in conjunction with the agricultural seasons. None of these practices are wrong. Some are even part of Christianity.

Pagans also had many funeral customs, such as embalming, ceremonies and giving of flowers. Even though these common customs were shaped by non-Christian ideas about the afterlife, and these customs continue to be used by non-Christians, we may, and do, use them in Christian ceremonies without indicating any agreement with the originating beliefs.

In the United States, no one would think it odd for a Christian to have a small ornamental figurine of a bird or animal. In Moses’ day, however, such statues would have been inappropriate. Whether something has pagan connotations is often cultural. What is acceptable in one nation or century may be frowned upon in another. But we do not have to be restricted by erroneous concepts of the past.

We can make decisions about embalming, burial, caskets, crypts, cremation and flowers without having to investigate which of these customs originated in paganism. It is even possible to use these things in religious ceremonies without fear of contamination or compromise.

Of course, some people are uncomfortable with customs such as wedding rings and cremation. Others are not. Different people draw their “lines” in different places, but they need to respect each other’s beliefs. The advice of Romans 14:6-13 applies to such matters: “He who participates does so to the Lord. He who abstains does so to the Lord. So then, why do you judge your brother? Each of us has to give our own account to God. Therefore, do not pass judgment on one another, and do not put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.”

Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Halloween. I have a deep dislike for scary, gory stuff. Last year I offered to buy each of my kids a bag of candy and pay them $10 to skip it. Sadly, they passed.

For us, Halloween is a great chance to get to know our neighbors and build relationships in the community. Here’s the line our family has drawn – we let our kids dress up, but we don’t allow frightening costumes or those that appear evil (demons, witches, etc.) We usually carve pumpkins. I’m not worried that by dressing up and carving pumpkins we will be worshiping the devil because you can’t accidentally worship something. Carving pumpkins doesn’t make me a pagan any more than sitting in church makes me a Christian. Now if all our neighbors were carving pumpkins as an act of worship to something demonic, we wouldn’t do it. But in our culture the act is purely traditional.

If you live in relative solitude, on a farm or in the country, it’s easy enough to ignore Halloween altogether. But in a neighborhood like ours, it’s impossible. There are pumpkins on every doorstep and skeletons in some of the trees. I don’t know a single family that won’t be out trick or treating. We have a choice to make, and it comes down to that 90’s anthem: What Would Jesus Do? He told us to be in the world, but not of it. This is a very important line to draw. If we’re going to say we’re set apart by God we can’t rush in to do everything the world does. But remaining ‘not of’ the world doesn’t mean shunning the people around us. There are plenty of examples in scripture of Christians setting aside their objections in order to love their communities.  Would Jesus hide in His house with the lights off and ignore all the little children knocking for candy? Even if you don’t participate by following the usual customs, buy a bag of candy, turn on the porch light and meet your neighbors! If you are worried about exposing your little ones to demonic-looking costumes, put a sign in the drive way that says, “Small children at home, no scary costumes, please.” Will a few teenagers defy your sign? Maybe. But rather than being seen as the ‘odd family who goes to church’ you can be seen as the ‘really nice and friendly family that goes to church’.

Let’s be clear, if you feel strongly that your family shouldn’t celebrate Halloween – don’t. If your church community or family would be offended by your participating, don’t put a stumbling block in their way. In the end, none of this is about our personal feelings and desires – it’s about behaving toward others in a way that points them to Jesus.

Happy Halloween,

Brieana

Easter’s Not for Sissies

So… this post was supposed to come out yesterday, you know, on Easter. But my mouse ran out of batteries. Seriously. So here’s some post-resurrection reading for you. 

It’s Easter, and Easter at church means salvations. Every year hundreds of non or semi-Christians visit our churches and hear the message of salvation and redemption and come to the altar to receive Christ. We rejoice in this, because we love sharing our faith with others. We love adding new family members. We love the joy that comes from receiving the redemptive work of Christ and we rejoice with those who rejoice.

But there are plenty of people on Easter who are skeptical about all these salvations. They wonder if an ‘altar call’ is a genuine experience. They doubt the sincerity of those who feel a need for Christ when they’ve never felt that need themselves.

Coming to faith in Christ is like having a child. Before I became a parent I had an intellectual understanding of why people loved their kids. I knew that their love for their children was real, and I thought it was nice for them. I recognized that they felt so strongly they would lay down their lives for their children, but I had never experienced that feeling myself.

Then I had a child of my own. Suddenly the entire world was new. I experienced joys and sorrows of which I had been wholly unaware. I was seized with a passion for my child. Suddenly I could easily see myself laying down my life for her. I wouldn’t even hesitate; the pain of losing my child would so far outweigh the pain of death that thought wouldn’t be necessary, putting myself in harm’s way would be effortless. I now understood what real terror was – it was the thought of being separated from my child. Everything I did was for her benefit and when I failed her I felt ashamed – not because she, a tiny infant, made me feel ashamed, but because of my deep desire to do only what was good and right by her.

This is what happens to us when we come into relationship with God. He changes our very souls. We experience things that we had no idea existed. Our priorities and motives change. We are made new.

And the change is irrevocable. Much like having a child, we never go back to the way we were. If my children were all to pass away I wouldn’t go back to being a childless woman, I would always be their mother. I can’t undo the soul change that happened when each of them was born anymore than I can regain the 20 year old body I had before it housed them. I’m wrecked.

Which means that, like parenthood, Christianity isn’t something we can try on for size. Childless people might babysit for their friends as a way to see if they’re ready for children, and they’ll gain some understanding of the practical elements of caring for a child. But they’ll never experience the true nature of parenthood until they have fully committed; until they’ve conceived and carried and borne a child of their own. And by that time it’s too late to go back.

So it is with God. We can visit churches and read books to ‘try on’ Christianity to see if it fits, but we’ll never experience the immensity and power of newness in Christ until we are fully committed. And by that time it’s too late to go back. We will have been wrecked.

Simcha Fisher makes this observation about God’s mercy.

“The mercy of God comes in like a flood. Not a warm bath: a flood.”

“You can go back and salvage some of your stuff, but you will not be living in that house again.”

Today, on Good Friday, I find myself meditating on the old house of mine that God flooded. Because, again like childbirth, the entry into God’s family is sometimes painful. Certainly it was painful for Him. Dear God. And for us as well there will be things that are left behind. There will be things that we are required to surrender and things that we willingly and joyfully surrender. We place ourselves into a new category of people, with new priorities and requirements.

It is not a small thing, this conversion. It isn’t small at all.