Why is it Called GOOD Friday?

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Growing up, I was always confused about why the Christian church called this day Good Friday– the day that Jesus Christ was put to death. I knew the story: the blood, the nails, death on a cross, the method used for criminals. I had learned about crucifixion in gory detail, and how the one crucified would struggle to breathe in such a position, how Christ would have needed to lift his body weight just to get a breath– his body weight pressing against the spikes nailed through his feet. I knew about the hours of darkness, the quaking earth and breaking rocks. About the curtain of the temple being torn in half, top to bottom.

My family would go to a Good Friday service, the front of the sanctuary bearing a cross adorned with a drape of purple fabric. Sometimes we would hold a railroad spike in our hands. We would always take communion: a small tab of bread to represent Christ’s broken body, a small sip of grape juice to represent his blood.

And I would wonder: why is this good?

I remember as a passionate, deep-thinking, sensitive child thinking, I wish I could have stopped this nightmare.

My God had been ridiculed, beaten, and killed. Why was this good?

……………………………………

Friday is good because of Sunday.

Because Friday was not God losing the battle– it was part of the battle plan all along. It was a well-conceived, strategic move before the checkmate.

Because, as I said above, the curtain of the temple was torn in two— this represents our direct access to God, where before we needed a priestly intercessor.

No matter what it looked like on Friday– the end of the world, I’m sure many of Christ’s followers thought, and certainly the end of hope— Sunday was just around the corner. Sunday, the resurrection, the culmination, the checkmate, the victory. It was all part of a master plan, one that we– nearly 2000 years later– can see in full, even if our brothers and sisters at the time could not. We can see the rescue waiting just around the corner. We can say, This is good.

……………………………………

Years ago, I attended a conference where I heard a sermon by Louie Giglio that I will never forget. It profoundly moved me and helped to shape my worldview. The bottom line of it is this: when the bottom drops out of life, we can still have hope — because of the cross.

If you will do just one this for me this entire year, would you please watch 1 minute and 38 seconds of this sermon? I’d love to have you watch the entire thing, but please at least watch from 24:45 to 26:23.

From the foot of the cross, the cross appeared to be the worst thing– from the perspective of history, we Christians see it as the best.

And we can trust that God is at work even in the times that are hardest. This is why I have hope.

……………………………………

This is so core to my identity that I put it into my book in the form of a parable.

Silas tells West that he believes that God is in control, even over the bad things, and she asks him why.

“Writers know that the climax comes before the resolution.” He was quiet for a second, then said, “Not just in fiction, either, West, but in real life too. How many times has the worst thing turned out to be necessary? Or even the best? Rescue wears masks, you know. It’s why people say it’s darkest before the dawn. Sometimes things take a long time to make sense. Could be years and years—or only a weekend. Or they might never make sense. But that doesn’t mean you stop trusting that the world is being rescued.”

Or only a weekend.

Good Friday, everyone. I’m looking forward to Sunday.

Messy: a Consolation

A new friend of mine admitted, “My faith is messy; it’s not a not cookie cutter story.”

Same.

But the gospel is messy. The story of the cross is not a cookie cutter one. Blood and betrayal; beauty and victory; agony, intention, determination. And for the believers, being gobsmacked with uncertainty, terror, heartache– but then the resurrection, the joy of it, the mind-blowing triumph.

This is my faith. Messy, unexpected, and everything I want.

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Staying with God

A long time ago, I got this question from a blog reader: How did you make the decision to ‘stay’ with God when your struggles came from that relationship?

I think I’m ready to write about that now.

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So … for those of you who are newer to the blog, a bit of backstory: I battled with OCD– mostly of a spiritual nature– for about twenty years before I finally underwent treatment. While OCD has told me countless lies, the hardest one was that I was not loved and accepted by God and that I was going to hell. Nearly all of my battles with OCD had their root in this lie. It was– and remains– my worst thing imaginable (which, of course, is what OCD goes after).

I know that some people who have battled with OCD of a scrupulous or spiritual nature have eventually walked away from the faith. My understanding (though I could be wrong) is that the guilt and fear and, oh, lifestyle guidelines are too severe, so they end up having to distance themselves from it all in order to maintain some semblance of sanity and freedom.

As I said, I could be describing that wrong. The truth is that I’ve never understood it. My OCD centered around the idea that God was the most important person in my life and my fear was that I did not have him … or could not … or that he would refuse to have me. When that was my most intense terror, where would the relief have come from by choosing to walk away myself? I would have been willfully walking into that which was my darkest fear.

So, for me, clinging to Christ was my only hope in the midst of such darkness. Had I let go, I’d have been choosing the terror I was desperately trying to avoid.

Praise God that– while I was clinging to him, so afraid of falling– I was safe in his hands. I just didn’t know it. There is a difference between fearing that a chair will not hold you and a chair that will really not hold you. A huge difference. That said, the fear alone may keep you from enjoying the chair. But for those of us with OCD, our fears and our reality might be miles apart, but we’ve lost the ability to see that gaping chasm between them.

That’s where treatment comes in. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy saved my life and gave me new eyes to see the difference between my fears and the truth. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but 5000% worth it. Today I get to enjoy my relationship with Christ in ways my OCD prevented me from in the past.

If you want to learn more about my faith, click here.
If you want to learn more about OCD and ERP, click here.

Identity

As many of you know, I’m a college admission counselor. I recruit students to my university, attend college fairs, and read a LOT of applications. It’s very common for these seventeen-year-olds to talk about their faith in terms of actions and activities.

unsplash5I go to youth group.
I teach Sunday school.
I went on a mission trip.

I also see a lot about behavior.

I don’t drink or swear.
I don’t go to parties.
I’m committed to sexual purity.

It’s really interesting to me to think back to myself as a seventeen-year-old. At that point, I’d committed my life to Christ for about three years. I was riddled with OCD and mired down in legalism, partially due to the intense black-and-white thinking that OCD forced me into. I probably would have talked about my faith in much the same way.

Now I’m nearly 34; Christ has been my companion for many years– 20 since I made the choice to give my life to him. I’ve been through ERP therapy and set free from so many things, and I think of my faith in such different terms now.

Were someone to ask me to define my faith, I’d have to talk about my identity: I belong to Jesus. I’m a sinful, selfish, prideful, broken person who makes bad decisions and is constantly learning, but I belong to Jesus, and that is what my faith is about. I walk with Christ. He walks with me. I never tackle anything alone– not my novel writing, my persistent issues with anxiety, my career, my relationships. I have a faithful friend, guide, rescuer, and love. I cling desperately to the cross.

Don’t mishear me. I think it’s fantastic for teens to go to youth group and commit to sexual purity. I think our actions (hopefully) flow out of our love for Christ. I just can’t use my actions to define my faith anymore.

My coworkers and I were talking about this and wondering about this shift in mindset that many of us have gone through in our late-twenties and early-thirties. When you are a child, you are taught black and white. It is good to share. It is bad to hit your brother. How could a young mind even begin to fathom gray? I’m not a parent, and sometimes I’m so glad for that. I would have zero idea of how to raise a child.

This blog post isn’t a lesson or a sermon, just an observation that I wanted to share and process via writing. It’s exciting to know that my faith looks different at 34 than it did half a lifetime ago at 17, and I can’t wait to see what it looks like at 51.

The Truth About Rule-Keeping: It Doesn’t Bring Life.

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I was an obsessive-compulsive in bondage to rule-keeping– but freedom came through Christ.  People get this wrong all the time.  Christianity is not about what you do or don’t do– it’s about what Christ did.

Also from Galatians 3, emphasis mine:

And that means that anyone who tries to live by his own effort, independent of God, is doomed to failure. Scripture backs this up: “Utterly cursed is every person who fails to carry out every detail written in the Book of the law.”

The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. Habakkuk had it right: “The person who believes God, is set right by God—and that’s the real life.” Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: “The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them.”

And from Galatians 5:

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.

I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision* or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.

Rule-keeping is impossible, and so many obsessive-compulsives know that– but can’t seem to quit trying.  Grace is the name of the game now, not laws.

*For those of you unfamiliar with the way the author is using this, he is referring to it as a rule-keeping, religious obligation.

more than you can handle

You know that well-intentioned phrase that people say all the time, the one that goes God will never give you more than you can handle?

I hate it.  I think it is such a load of utter crap.

I can’t handle my sin nature and depravity.  I can’t handle death and devastation.  I can’t handle pain and letdowns and rejection and broken relationships and the monstrosities of this current age.

Praise God for the cross of Jesus Christ.  He can handle it all for me.

If God never gave us more than we could handle, then why would we ever turn to Him?

His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection proved He can handle anything and everything.  So I don’t dare say any ridiculous, silly phrase like He will never give you more than you can handle because I know that I am weak but He is strong.  Amen and amen.

Christianity is weird.

And I love that.

C.S. Lewis once described it as “a religion you could not guess.”  I love that too.

How bizarre: a 3-in-1 God who speaks things into existence.  A God who wraps himself in human flesh.  A savior whose method of victory is death.

Fascinating.  I am proud to be a Christian, eager to plumb these mysteries as long as I live.

Why Christians Should Write

Jesus Christ is a believer’s gravity; he infuses meaning and purpose into our lives and tethers us to reality through the Body and the Blood.  There is no story more fascinating, mysterious, devastating, resplendent, and sanguine than the gospel, and this is the reason we need more Christian writers in the United States to write and be published.  Believers have an incredible capacity for story—true story—which is our duty and privilege to share.  When we weave gospel truths into our stories—even when we whisper or our voices shake—those stories assume deeper meaning, exactly what the world craves, whether knowingly or not.  Tales with no hint of the divine, no rumor of a Savior, may often be a poor investment, a squandering of what might have been.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”  Books written by Christians are just such miracles, stories that are able to be held, while the Great Story, instead, holds us.