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From the 4th – 12th grades I went to a private Christian School called Hawthorne Christian Academy. From there I went on to Nyack College, a Christian College in Nyack, NY where I studied Youth Ministry and Bible. After that I went to Alliance Theological Seminary where I received my Masters in Church Development. Then I went to New Brunswick Theological Seminary where I took a few history and theology courses. And THEN I went back to Alliance Theological Seminary where I took some Greek and Hebrew classes, took a short break, and came back to pursue my docorate in Global Christian Leadership.
(Yes, I like school. HA!)
But why do I start by telling you this?
Because the following thoughts that I’m going to share with you aren’t random and they aren’t off the cuff and they aren’t flippant, but are thoughts and ideas that have been growing and evolving and deepening in my heart for a long, long time … thoughts and ideas that I’ve only recently begun putting words on after they were unearthed one evening while I was reading a bedtime story to my daughter, Jordan, from her children’s Bible.
Thoughts about God.
Thoughts about God the Father.
Thoughts about Jesus.
Thoughts about the Good News.
Thoughts about the Gospel.
Thoughts about salvation.
Thoughts about God’s heart for restoration.
These are basic pieces of the Christian Faith that many of us have been taught about for years and years and years, and I’ve recently begun to realize that the words and the language we use to share these topics and beliefs with others is of utmost importance.
And these ideas SHOULD be evolving. They SHOULD be growing. They SHOULD getting bigger and wider and louder. This is the natural flow of all of life, right?
The world evolves.
People get bigger and older and wiser.
If those things don’t happen then we say something is wrong, right? If a person stops growing at 5 years old, there’s a problem. If Apple stops developing changing technology, they’re going to go out of business. If plants and trees stop growing, humanity is done for.
Our faith is no different – it must grow, it must evolve, it must never stay stagnant.
If your faith isn't growing and changing and evolving and getting bigger, something is wrong. #MorningEncouragementClick To Tweet
I’m getting ahead of myself, though, so let me explain.
A few weeks ago I started a Bible reading plan that is taking me through the New Testament for (probably) the 20th time in my 35 years of life. I love to read the stories of Jesus and the disciples and His many encounters with …
… And the like. Every time I read the New Testament (or any part of the Bible, for that matter) it feels like I come across something that I never saw before.
And so I’m currently about halfway through the book of Mark and the other day while I was reading my daughter, Jordan, a bedtime story from her children’s Bible (a story, interestingly enough, that was a kids version of the very SAME story that I had read earlier that morning in my own devotional time), I was struck with something.
Something that bothered me.
Shook me up.
Like really, really distressed me.
I began to realize that much of the education that I’ve received and many of the books I’ve read and lots of the theologians I’ve studied have (at the very foundation of it all) subconsciously taught me that God the Father is a dangerous, dangerous Divine Being who I need to be deathly afraid of.
Now, hear me out:
My professors didN’T teach me that.
The books didN’T teach me that.
The theologians didN’T teach me that.
The language that has often been used in explaining God and the Gospel and the Good News has subconsciously and maybe even accidentally led me to these kinds of thoughts.
I’ll explain more about all of that in a minute, but as I was sitting on the edge of our bed reading my 4 month old daughter this story, it dawned on me that the wording of the theology that was being presented to us in this very innocent kids story could (very easily) cause my daughter to grow up with the very same fear that I’ve lived with for a good portion of my life.
(And the fear that many other people [ I suspect ] have been living with, as well.)
The language it used, you see, didn’t really portray the Good News of Jesus very clearly.
It’s a theology that we’ve all heard before.
With language that’s used in the church every Sunday.
It’s theology that is preached from many pulpits.
With language that many of us accept without blinking an eye.
It’s theology that I’VE preached and written about many times before.
That very few of us would dare question.
At 35 years old, I AM questioning it.
Now, before you start firing off emails at me, hear me out and let me emphasize that …
I’m NOT questioning the theology.
And I’m NOT questioning the Good News.
But I am questioning the words and the language that we use when we present that theological Good News to others. As someone who has a great admiration for reading and writing and language, I think we have a great, great, great responsibility to steward well the language that we use when we present the heart of God to others.
The theology I’m talking about is typically explained like this:
A long time ago Adam and Eve did what God told them not to do. He said “don’t touch or eat from that tree”, but they did.
As a result of their sin, every human being to ever be born after them was born with what St. Augustine called original sin.
Because of this original sin, every human to ever be born is born hopelessly separated from God and is on the path to eternal judgment and destruction.
(In other words, Adam and Eve’s sin separated them from God and since they are our “parents”, we inherited their sin AND their separation from God.)
God, however, couldn’t stand the thought of being without us in heaven one day and so He sent His Son, Jesus, to earth in order to carry all of our sins upon His shoulders and nail them to the cross so that if we put our faith in Him and His great work on the cross, then we will escape …
… And one day (when we die) will enter through the gates of heaven and spend eternity with God as opposed to eternity in hell, separated from God.
Now, some pastors or denominations might say it a little bit different, but at the heart of it that’s how we typically explain the Gospel Message of Jesus.
Some version of that story has been drilled into my head through …
20 years of Christian education.
Hundreds of books.
Hundreds of sermons.
Hundreds of class sessions.
Hundreds of essays.
Hundreds of conversations with classmates and professors.
… It’s been drilled down so deep that I no longer really think about it – it’s a natural belief, a natural understanding of God and Jesus and the Bible and this thing that we call Christianity.
But the other day as I was reading a Bible story to my 4 month old daughter something in me erupted with questions and dissatisfaction. I was reading her a story from book of Mark when I came across an innocent line that said this:
“Jesus came to earth and took our sin upon His shoulders to save us from God’s anger.”
And then it dawned on me that the words chosen to explain that piece of the Gospel Message (words that I’ve heard and have said over and over and over and over again for the last 30 years of my life) are kind of dangerous because they subconsciously teach us that Jesus came to earth to save us from God the Father.
In other words, it teaches me that the God who I worship and love is a dangerous Divine Being who is strolling the streets of heaven like a loose cannon waiting for people to close their eyes and die before they make the decision to say “YES” to Jesus, thus sending them to hell where they will burn for billions and billions and billions of years with no hope of ever escaping, no matter how sorry or repentant of whatever they may be.
I closed Jordan’s Bible, looked at the innocence in her big blue eyes, and said something out loud that will forever change the way I think about God:
“That’s a terrible way to explain the Gospel”.
Again, it’s not that I don’t “believe” in original sin.
It’s not that I don’t believe that sin needs to be punished.
It’s not that I don’t believe that sin makes God angry.
It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
I do. 100%. All of it. (So, again, don’t send me hate-email.)
What I’m taking issue with, though, is that the language we use to explain those things is sometimes chosen carelessly and without much thought to what it says about God – the God, mind you, that the Bible says “is love”.
You don't need to be afraid of God, He's not out to get you. #MorningEncouragementClick To Tweet
And so then I proceeded to explain to Jordan that Jesus is God and is an exact representation of His Father. When we see Jesus living life in the Gospels, we see the Father who has been working … forever.
(We see this in Colossians 1:15 – “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”)
I told her that Jesus didn’t come to earth to save us from His Father, but (rather) came to earth as God (as the exact representation of His Father) so that He (Himself) could lift the weight of our original and inherited sin off of our shoulders, place it onto His, and nail it to the cross where once and for all it would be punished and remain dead for all of eternity.
(This is in 1 John 3:5 – “But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And so in Him is no sin.”)
It’s faith in what Jesus did, I told Jordan, that doesn’t save us from the loose cannon crazy-eyed God in the sky or give us the prize of a golden ticket to heaven, but create an incredible amount of space in our lives for the life of Jesus to enter into ours and to live in us and through us so that we can be a partner with Him in His great project and mission to restore the world and all that has been lost through sin and darkness and evil back to Himself.
(John 17:21 [ Jesus praying to the Father ] – “I pray for those who will believe in Me, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”)
… The world. The world is ALWAYS God’s concern. His mission is to restore it and to renew it and to bring it back to a place of glory and He has always been searching for partners to help Him in that great endeavor.
The prophet Isaiah referred to “that day”, the day when all would be restored and said things like …
People would “walk in the Light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60:3)
“They will neither harm no destroy.” (Isaiah 11:9)
“The earth will be filled with a knowledge of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:9)
“A feast of rich food there will be for all people.” (Isaiah 25:6)
“God will destroy the shroud that covers all people, the sheet that covers the nations.” (Isaiah 25:7)
“God will swallow up death forever.” (Isaiah 25:8)
“God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25:8)
Amos talked about how everything will be repaired and restored and rebuilt. (Amos 9:14)
Ezekiel said that people will be given grain and fruit and crops and new hearts and new spirits. (Ezekiel 36:26)
Again, God is always concerned with the world – the prophets spoke of ALL nations, ALL peoples, and the EARTH as we know it being different and recreated and renewed and restored.
BUT, here’s the thing:
For there to be NEW wine, someone has to crush NEW grapes.
And for there to be a NEW city, someone has to chop down the trees to make buildings.
And for there to be NO MORE war, someone has to burn the swords.
And that’s where WE come in as followers of Jesus and His Great Gospel Message. Jesus and prophets like Isaiah and Amos and Ezekiel and others teach us that God has been looking for partners from the beginning, people who will take seriously their responsibility to care for the earth and to care for each other … people who will join Him in His Great Restoration Project to make all things new.
The Nation of Israel!
… And so, so, so many more.
His great Restoration Project – the same one that He announced to Abraham all those years ago when He swore on Himself to make him into a Great Nation that would be a blessing to people – to ALL people, everywhere.
(Genesis 22:18 – “And through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me.”)
Now, the salvation we receive into this amazing relationship IS personal – VERY personal.
(John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”)
It’s not meant to be ONLY personal. It’s not just for you and just for me for just as God did with Abraham, He also does with us – He tells us that we have been blessed so that we can bless others.
He loves the WORLD and wants to bless the WORLD.
He wants us to do the same.
(Also John 3:16 – “For God so loved THE WORLD that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
2 Corinthians 1:3 – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Matthew 28:19 – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”)
Again, God’s concern is not just for us as individuals, but for us – the world. This loving God reached out and saved us individuals because He wants ALL PEOPLE and all the world to be saved.
(1 Timothy 2:3 – “This is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the Truth.”)
And so He saved us so that He can live His life in us and through us, reaching out to save others with the same hope that He has instilled in us.
God wants all people to be saved, and you should too. #MorningEncouragementClick To Tweet
(Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ so it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”)
There are consequences, though, for choosing not to believe in what Jesus did and not allowing Jesus to live His life through us.
(John 3:18 – “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the Name of God’s One and Only Son.”
John 3:36 – “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”)
Lots of people will tell you lots of different things about what those consequences are and what God’s wrath entails and they’ll speak about such things like they know everything about them, but the reality is that God has the final say on what all of that means (not them). In fact, all you need to know is that without Jesus living in us and through us, our lives will be forever darker than they would be if we would choose to open ourselves to Him, to partner with Him to restore the world back to glory and fullness.
Mommy has partnered with Jesus.
Daddy has too.
We have both put our faith in what He did for us on the cross.
And one day we pray that you do that too, that you will choose to partner with Him to restore the world back to Himself, to be a Light to your friends, to your school … to everyone you come into contact with.
“Jordan”, I said, “You don’t ever have to be afraid of God. He has loved you since long before you were in mommy’s belly and one day you will be able to understand that and just as He’s hugging you right now, you’ll be able to decide to hug Him back for yourself. Until then, know that God the Father – the One who created you and dreamt you up and molded you and made you – He’s here and He’s crazy about you. And He will always and forever pursue you like the great princess that you are.”
(Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”)
Now, obviously there is more to the Gospel Message than that. Obviously there are many more details that we could go into, there are some pieces that I didn’t emphasize.
That’s the main storyline and I think it does God (who, again, the Bible says “is love”) a whole lot more justice than the beforementioned version of “Jesus came to save us from an angry God who will send you to hell if you die before putting your faith in Jesus.”
I guess I’m telling you all of this because that night on the bed while I was reading Jordan her Bible story really opened up my eyes and reminded me that the Father’s heart towards you and me and everyone else in the universe is good. Like the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son, it’s never too late to return home.
He doesn’t slam the door in your face.
He doesn’t tell you that you missed the boat.
He doesn’t shrug His shoulders and say, “Oh well. You should have come back sooner.”
Rather, He stands on His front porch and searches the horizon for the footsteps of His children that are inching their way back home. And when He sees you off in the distance, He doesn’t sit in His rocking chair and wait for you to pull yourself up onto His front porch and grovel at His feet, “Please let me in. I’m a terrible person. I’ve been a horrible son. I’ve been the worst daughter.”
The Good News is that this loving Father lifts up the ends of His robe, throws on His sandals, and runs down the road to meet you and to embrace you, to welcome you home, and to walk with you the rest of the way!
To the love that was always there.
To the love that has always been yours.
To the love that will never leave you or forsake you.
… Yes, the Father loves you.
My point in all of this? For those of us who have placed our faith in the great work of Jesus on the cross, we have an incredible responsibility to share with others what has been shared with us and the language we choose in describing the Gospel, the Good News, the storyline of the Bible and our faith … it’s so incredibly important.
Choose your words wisely.
Much love to you.
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