Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Clichés, Beauty, and the Gospel

                I looked out over the sparkling water. The sun shone brightly, but with the exception of the daytime moon, I found myself rather unimpressed despite the knowledge that I should love this beauty. Countless people on my college campus would probably be commenting on the sunny day, but there is nothing mysterious about a sunny day. It’s like the volcano out my front window growing up. It was a snow top mountain, somewhat isolated, and everyone thought it was pretty. So what? I used to ask. It was big, it had its pretty moments, but it looked nothing like the ridges. The ridges held mystery for I could not know if what lay behind them. Sunny days, sunny days ask very few questions. They are the cliché-beautiful. And I realized, in all my ability to find beauty in the ugly: a cloudy day, rain, a hall way with very few pictures, I have lost the specialness of beauty. Yes, there is a bounce in my step as I walk around the pond, watching ducks dunk their heads into the water. Yes, there are smiles on the people around me. Yes, the sky is vast—but it’s almost too bright for me to look up. Now don’t get me wrong, it was incredibly nice to walk outside and not be so cold my head hurt. It was incredibly nice to feel a warm breeze and have a bounce in my step. But it was still too easy.
The assignment in class earlier was simple, in fifteen minutes go out and ask people how they would share the gospel. I asked two poor people who were recruiting on our camps (It’s not just any day someone walks up and says, “if you were sharing the gospel what would you say?”) The Gospel. Words that are about fifteen years cliché for me: “Jesus died for your sins.” Even when I taught it as a young Sunday school teacher I realized the five year olds had eyes glazing. 
What is wrong with them? It always sickened me that I could watch movies, read books, and listen to Adventures in Odyssey countless times over, but the gospel fell dead on my ears. Was not the gospel the most important thing in my life? But even as my brother commented that “All I have is Christ” is a good song, and I agreed with him, I still had a love/hate relationship with it. It was the same words over again. Except, that Jonathan was right. The words are complete. Almost. Countless times we don’t start with the right picture.
So where do we start? At the beginning. In the beginning God. I think it might be good to start there. Do you know God? How do you see Him? Do you know that He is both wrath and grace? Justice and mercy? How? Well let me tell you a story...
Once upon a time, God was the perfect good King. He decided He wanted to make the world. So He made one. He spoke everything into being. The sun and stars, the earth, water, fishes and giraffes, elephants and ostriches.  Everything. Similar Cinderella’s godmother only nothing existed before.  God said “this is good.” And then He decided that He wanted someone to care for these animals of His—so He created images of His. These creatures were different than the others because of the image bearing. And He gave them a few jobs. Adam named the animals. Adam and Eve were supposed to take care of the earth, do things (maybe invent some stuff), and have kids. There was one other thing: they weren’t supposed to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But then, someone asked them why they shouldn’t and eventually they did. Enter problem. They got kicked out of the garden, to protect them from another tree. When they ate the fruit, they started the process of death. Sin , anything that isn’t good and obedient to God, was passed from person to person. No one was born without it.
Over and over again, God reached out to people in a new way and offered them ways to be close to Him. He gave them sacrifices, but finally, He took another step.  He came Himself. (Enter Trinity Explanation: God is one divine essence in three persons, in other words, God is one and three at the same time. And no, I don’t get it. They are distinct, and the same at the exact same time and it makes no sense in my mind and any more explanation will lead me to heresy.) So, Jesus, the second person of the God-head, came to earth and became a man. He was even born. He lived the perfect life—like perfect, without any sin at all. He loved God first. He was righteous, and loving, and just.
Then He died. For God to be just, someone had to pay the death penalty. Sin was still in the middle of us and God. He had set up a system of killing animals, but it was an over and over again process for each thing that is lost. So Jesus paid the death penalty and God infused all his wrath on what we did wrong (all the inability not to sin we inherited from Satan). End of story right? My sins are paid for. Wrong!
Time passed slowly. Friday night. Saturday. Imagine the memories running through people’s minds. Imagine the tears His mom cried. Did the man who authorized His execution approve of his actiosn still?  Sunday morning. A friend and follower of the God-man went to do traditional burial practices. His tomb was empty. An angel appeared and told her that Jesus was alive. Alive! Jesus had died. No recitation, people had made sure of that. And then He was alive. This has been something I heard so much it sounds cliché. But really, how many people have died completely and come back to life. And how many of these people have already been buried. His disciples saw it. He appeared to a lot of people. Sin is NOW concurred. It was paid for, and it’s control was taken away.
Here’s the really strange thing: when we come to Him and commit to submitting to God as king like we are supposed to, repent (change our mind about doing things that are wrong), we also inherit His righteousness and justice and love. God sees us like that. We become alive at some point in that process. And then, when Jesus left, He sent the third person of the God-head, the Holy Spirit, to come into us and seal us. Now we are in the process of becoming in nature what we are in name. And even while the process is in progress, what Jesus did, and the acceptance of those who choose to recognize that God is well, God, and King, both over the world and individual lives, we get the privilege of being family. And as we are God’s family, we are also each other’s family and we need to love each other, because that’s what Jesus does: we are his followers.
There’s an ending too. And ending that hasn’t happened yet. Jesus is coming back. To reign like He is supposed to. And the world will be remade. All the people who committed to being re-imaged will get rewarded, all the people who didn’t and thus still lived with the guilt of sin on their heads will be punished—forever. How can a loving God do this, you ask? Simple. He’s just. And not He has justice, He is justice. He can’t not be just and punish the wrong things we do. The problem is not God, but our fallen view of sin. Because we do have a messed up view of it: even when we are being re-imaged. God did love them. He let the Trinity be separated and the Son bore the worst punishment in History.
So what does this mean? How is this less cliché to me?
                Sometimes it’s not. But... that might be because it is indeed beautiful. Even with all its brokenness involved, God’s story is perfect. God is perfect, how can He made anything less? It is clear, like sunny day. We’re talking  awesome King, terrible problem, and a hero who dies to save those He loves, climaxed with him coming back to life—only unlike the rest of the stories, it’s not that He didn’t really die.
There is mystery—how can there be trinity—how can a person both fully choose to follow Christ and God choose and elect them at the same time—why in the world would God try again when His perfect humans fell, again and again. What in the world would instill Him with the notion of re-imaging at such a high cost? People die for this around the world. 

Repeated may not always be cliché. God loves you, can be some very cliché words. Jesus died for you probably are too. But  His death and resurrection were anything but. Just like Michigan’s sun, it’s a very abnormal idea. Who do you know who made the world, died in it, came alive again and is gonna come back and rule over the entire world? And you, IF you have or do accept Christ, you get to know this King, personally. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

To Matter...

I have always had a very deep longing. It has shaped how I interacted with people, the choices I made, what I decided to become, how I reacted to anything in life. I have wanted to matter. I have longed to know what it is to be valuable and I have sought it: in thousands of unhealthy methods I have sought to be noticed, to be seen, to be needed...all so that I would matter.
Give me attention, I ask. But it is not attention I seek, it is to know that I am important to you. That I matter to you.
And that is the extravert in me, the person who deep down believed my value must be people-based and not based on accomplishments. Because people matter. People are valuable.
Over Spring Break, someone showed me I mattered to her. In the midst of a world that was already fallen, it spiraled further. That love touched the ache deep in my heart, love from one who might be a little too high on the list of people I want to matter to, love that came offered freely even though in my mind I was messing up. Or it was just because of the pain. It could not have been me.
I believed the need to matter was wrong after so many fallen habits that sprung out of that longing... from keeping long hair to overdependence, from writing because it was unique and no one else had tried it to jealousy, the need to “matter” has practically guided my life. The fear that someday I would wake up and discover that the world would be better without me. And then the day I believed it.
After it hurt people for too long, I crushed the need. I can be accepted by my friends, but it is selfish of me to need to matter. I wrote blogposts and heard no response. I realized there are thousands of books and I said to myself that I write not because it matters, but because I love it.
 But when I tried to crush the longing, I tried to crush myself. Unlike my sister and Emily Dickenson, the idea of being nobody sickens me.. I do not need to stand out at the crowded party anymore, but I do need to know that if I leave it makes a difference to someone in the room. I do need to know that without my story someone’s imagination would be a little bit less rich. I want to be as influential to someone as Gail Carson Levine and Laura Ingles Wilder were to my life. I do need to know that as I withdraw to my room to disappear, or I leave you alone because it is best, that I will still matter to you, that my value won’t simply disappear.

It is not necessarily that you see me, I have been seen by too many people. It is that I matter to you. That me gone would make a difference. That me here makes a difference. This is a longing of my heart. A longing I have tried to suppress. A longing that refuses to be silent.