Tag Archives: Scripture

The Old, Old Story (revisited)

Yesterday I posted something that I had been asked to write in one of my classes (the Old, Old Story). We were given two pieces of paper and ten minutes to write our retelling of the narrative of Scripture. While colored beads and the Roman Road crossed my mind, I ended up telling the story that I posted on Wednesday night – the story of the Bible as the story of love, as I’ve experienced it. I posted that first because it’s what I wrote first, what moved my heart first. But the significance of the assignment didn’t end there; the next week, to our surprise, the professor handed out two more pieces of paper and slowly, methodically, and gut-wrenchingly took us through the narrative of Scripture again. This time, it was through the lens of suffering. Story after story left a bitter and painful taste in my mouth. “Why does no one ever tell the story this way?” I wondered. And now that I had begun wrestling with it, in conviction and distress, I found myself crying out like the Israelites: “where the heck were you in all of this, God?” As he finished his presentation and left us in a room with our blank papers, I wrote the story again. I told it a little differently this time:

In the beginning God created

. . . everything.

He created beauty, nature, time, and space. It was so very good.

Then God created man and woman. He loved them; He loved them so very much. He loved them so much that He walked with them and talked with them, in perfect, unbroken communion. That was good too.

Then sin was introduced to the story and the Enemy of God, this fallen angel, convinced the man and woman to doubt their God. As this relationship with God is ripped apart, as God in His perfection can’t live among their sin. The world fell under a blanket of darkness. The story continues, however, it is full of much pain.

Man and woman worked the land with toil, while siblings began murdering one another. Languages are confused and the earth is flooded. There is death around every corner. The people of God wander in the desert, now dying because of famine, and the ones that live are sold into slavery. It is generation after generation of hardship and of suffering. It is the cries and tears of a people who wonder where their God is and why it seems as if He’s abandoned them.

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Yet, God allows it. He cries along, as the story continues to challenge, oppress, and hurt the ones He loves. The thing is, there is no easy answer for why He allows it. It’s not the kind of story you put in a children’s book because, for all the moments that God is faithful and pours out His love on people who continually reject Him, there are an equal number of moments where it’s just hard.

However, for all the suffering, God’s sovereignty is present in it all. He mourns, laments, and cares for His people, until, in His perfect timing, He physically enters into the scene. God – the triune, relational, omnipotent, omniscient God – takes on the form of a servant, takes on flesh, and walks as one of us.

He walks as one acquainted with all suffering. He feels for us, with us, and as one of us. He grieves the loss of loved ones, lives in poverty, flees his home, faces abandonment, rejection, and false accusations. Until ultimately, His love for us brings Him to the uttermost suffering. Physical torture, emotional strife, as the weight of every sin is placed upon Him. Bearing every punishment that we, the sinful, broken, unfaithful people deserved. He suffers not only with us, but for us. For the sake of repairing what we broke, what we deny, and what we could not atone for.

He doesn’t stay defeated, however, but rises from the dead. His power breaks death and hell. He ascends to the place of perfection – where there are no tears, pains, or suffering. He repairs the relationship so that we can enter into holistic communion with our all-loving, all-holy God. . .

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. . .and that’s where we are going to end the story for now.

It feels trivial and almost sacrilegious or inappropriate to move onto some glorious explanation of heaven, Jesus’s second coming, and the eternal hope of the world in God’s ultimate victory. Because, while that is a very important part of the story – a beautiful, integral, necessary part – it doesn’t feel fair to move on just yet. Because the whole beginning isn’t fair and there’s no way to overlook that now (although, I didn’t seem to have a problem often doing it up until this point). It’s not fair that David lived as a King while the Israelites were enslaved for 400 years. It’s not fair that everything, except Noah and the animals, were destroyed in a flood or that Abraham and Sarah couldn’t conceive a baby for 100 years. It’s not fair that Job lost everything or that Naomi’s husband and sons all died. It’s not fair that today there are 6.3 million people who have fled everything and often everyone they know. It’s not fair that Allie’s dad died of cancer or that Ezra had a brain tumor that took his little seven year old life. None of it is fair.

It’s also not fair that Jesus died on the cross for the sins that we deserved to pay an eternal price for. It’s not fair that Jesus repaired the relationship that we broke – that we continually break. It’s not fair that God Himself would be acquainted with suffering, suffering that He didn’t deserve. He didn’t owe us anything and yet He felt for us, with us, and because of us. It may not be fair, but it’s just, and His sovereignty overarches it all – whether it makes sense to us or not. It’s not fair, but it’s love. And love seldom makes sense.

This is a story of incomprehensible love and suffering. Both love and suffering contain some level of meaning and philosophical reasoning (the class I’m taking this semester on Suffering proves that). But it doesn’t mean that we need to move on from the affective just yet. Because when I look into the eyes of a refugee who has just lost their home, family, and freedom, I can’t just jump to the glory. The narrative of Scripture itself doesn’t just jump to the glory. The point is that glory has come at an incredible price – sometimes the price of our sin, the sins of others, or the price of a world that groans because this is not the way it was created to be. We need to be okay with sitting in that, lamenting in that, for a minute. That was the whole point of what I learned at the Home of Hope and wrote about in “because I’m with you.

It’s okay that we can’t move on to, “but glory!” just yet.  It’s actually necessary. Not only would that diminish painful experiences, but it also neglects a view of the Gospel that highlights the empathy and embodiment of Jesus. The incarnation was not simply about Christ becoming Love and redeeming our sins unto Himself; it was also about walking as one of us, suffering and being tempted as we are (Hebrews 2:18, Philippians 2:8).

It is a sad reality, one that I have clearly, albeit non-consciously, fallen into. The reality that we only see the Gospel via the lens of beauty. While it is a true and necessary lens, it is incomplete if it ignores the pain of millions of people (if I allow it to ignore my own pain), including our Lord, past, present, and future. There is a necessity in lament that we, as American evangelicals, or perhaps as humans, are often uncomfortable with. It is why we prefer movies that have resolution, move on quickly from news articles that end in depression, or get squirmy when people cry in front of us. This narrative, this old old story, has the most glorious, pervasive, incredible ending and victory that we would imagine. However, that does not mean we need to jump there just yet. To overlook or brush past suffering is to discredit and delegitimize so much of our human experience, including the experience of our Lord. Lament is heavy, but it’s beautiful and it’s an important lens that we need to look through. It allows us to see ourselves and the world with a heartbreaking reality, to cry out for God with the same kind of gut-wrenching cries He used, and it ultimately frames hope in its magnificent, brilliant, eternal light.

The Old, Old Story

In the beginning, God created . . .

. . . and He created everything.

Every star, every blade of grass, every rock that has eroded into the sea. Night and day, every animal, every insect, every wave, He created. It was all beautiful and very good. Then, He created man and woman. He loved them and He was in relationship with them. God walked with them, talked with them. He loved them so very, very much.

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But, then sin is introduced to the story, as the Enemy of God, this former fallen angel, distracts man and woman away from their First Love. God, in his perfection, can’t tolerate this sin. Yet He loves His people, so thousands of years pass as He constantly draws His people back to Himself. It makes Him sad and angry, but He loves these people so much. Sin keeps getting in the way, but story after story God faithfully and relentlessly draws near to the ones that He created, sustains, and loves.

Then we reach the climax of that love – God the Father, in His mysterious, triune, relational nature, sends His Son, and extension of Himself, to walk among us. To be like us. To serve us. To be tempted in every way. To model the heart of God for us. Ultimately this Son gives up His own life and perfection to die a humiliating, horrific death, as the blameless sacrifice, as we could never atone, to repair the relationship. He brings us into the fullness of God’s infinite love for us. Jesus took the punishment we deserved, because of His great love for us.

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Yet it wasn’t merely His death that is significant, for three days later He rose from the dead, defeating both death and sin, repairing the breech, and drawing us into communion with God. He left His very Spirit, His Holy Spirit, to indwell us, that we might know and remain in fellowship with God, even on earth. The perfection of this fellowship that we will ultimately come into, as we step across eternity and live in eternal relationship with God in Heaven (or when Jesus returns to completely heal the earth).

It is the grandest story of love – of a God who created everything in love, who drew an unfaithful people to Himself in love, who chose to walk as one of us in love, who paid the price for the sin that we deserved, in love.

Love who rose again, defeating death and sin, who sent His Spirit to testify to our souls of that love.

This is our God, who daily, minute by minute, is displaying, speaking, and proclaiming His great love for us.

We confess that we are sinners in need of a Savior. We repent of the ways in which we reject Him and His love. We believe in who He says He is and all that He’s done for us. We go out and continue to tell people of this great love of our great God!

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Reflections on Car Church

“Time for car church!” The four boys in the front seats pulled out their Bibles, while the three of us girls, crammed in the backseat of a friend’s SUV, wiggled to grab our backpacks. We were a solid 10 hours into a 22 hour road trip for Spring Break. And it was time for car church.

Being in a car full of Wheaton students, the Bible major of the group read a passage for us in Greek. Our text for the morning was Matthew 14:22-33. A familiar passage. Yet as a car full of personalities, academic disciplines, and individual relationships with the Lord began talking through these verses, the Holy Spirit began to move in our hearts and reveal new truths about this story.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, why did you doubt?And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

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at some gas station in Nebraska

As we began discussing, the first thing that came up about the passage was the context. This was Jesus’ third attempt at being alone in the chapter. The crowds are being a little more than demanding, to say the least. Yet Christ, in His perfect wisdom, cares for them without sacrificing His intimacy with the Father.

A little twinge of guilt was replaced by a wave of grace as I realized it had been days since I was alone with the Father. How often do I fight for time alone with my heavenly Daddy? Do I see my time with the discernment of Jesus, knowing when to love the people around me and knowing my limits when I need solitude and rest? Am I able to love people out of a place of fulfillment and refreshment from my communion with the Trinity?

•      •      •

As car church continued and we went on in the passage, we reached a Greek phrase that struck us all:

Ego eimai. 

Ego eimai is Greek for “it is I.” It is the same word used in the Septuagint when God names Himself as I AM to Moses. Jesus isn’t just reminding them that He’s still there, He’s reminding them who He is. He is is the Great I AM. The omnipotent, omniscient, Creator of the universe, sustainer of the world, Trinitarian God. The same I AM that parted the Red Sea was walking on the stormy waves of the lake. This the God who loves us. This is the God who knows, redeems, and upholds us. This the God who reaches out His hand and tells us to walk towards Him, in faith and in trust. The Great I Am of the universe, who silences waves and governs scientific principles, also calls us by name and tenderly carries our hearts.

As live in places of fear, looking at the circumstances and unknowns of my life, I hear Him graciously calling out to my heart: ego eimai. It is I. I Am.

•      •      •

With the clear presence of the Holy Spirit and excited to read on, we reached the phrase where Jesus chides Peter for his faith and asks why he doubted. However, the question Jesus asks, in the Greek, is a little different than we think of it. The question Jesus asks Peter, literally translated, isn’t merely “why do you doubt?,” but “in what are you doubting?”

Again washed in the weight of conviction, I realized this is the question that Jesus asks me as my heart wanders away from trusting Him. When my eyes see the waves beneath my feet and the wind beating at my back a little too clearly, He addresses my heart: Maddie, in what are you doubting? Am I doubting his goodness? His trustworthiness? His timing? His love for me?

•      •      •

How many times have I read this story? How many messages have I heard preached from this text? And yet, that afternoon in the backseat of a car, speeding through the cow populated fields of Nebraska, I met my God in a new way.

I pray it is the same for you, wherever you are, this Tuesday afternoon.

A Prayer Journal Entry

Brace yourselves. I’m about to get real, real over here.

When I was praying the other night, I had to have some Maddie and Jesus honesty time. And while normally Maddie and Jesus talks stay between Maddie and Jesus, I felt like I needed to share these. First, I want to let you know where I’ve been spiritually. I should only be sharing highlights if I’m not afraid to be real about the less than ideal stuff too. Second, I want to let you know if you have been in/are in/will ever be in a weird, confused, and kind of upset but also still in love with Jesus place that doesn’t totally make sense, you aren’t alone. I’m pretty sure it’s just part of the journey. And finally, I wanted to let you read how I write when I pray, since I’ve found writing things down often helps me sort through what I’m thinking or what I feel like the Holy Spirit is speaking. I love learning how other people connect with Jesus or use their journals, so maybe you care about that kind of thing too.

This is a genuine, recent entry out of my prayer journal (excluding some personal details). Welcome to the heart of a girl whose life isn’t always on-my-knees-first-thing-in-the-morning and praying-for-the-cashier-because-the-Holy-Spirit-said-to kind of love for Jesus. Sometimes my love for Jesus, in a very non-glamourous way, means I have to tell Him I’ve had some expectations that He hasn’t met. And we have to deal with that. So this entry actually has a lot of uncomfortable vulnerability and bad theology. Yeah, I know. Don’t say I didn’t (…say I didn’t) warn you.

• • •

Where’s my first love, Lord?

Where’s the love and zeal I used to have for you?

It’s not that I stopped loving You. Or stopped pursuing You. Or stopped believing in You. But I’m lying to myself if I say that we are okay. That everything is like it used to be.

I’ve doubted Your power. I’ve questioned Your love. I’ve believed that You aren’t wholly trustworthy. I’ve relied on my own strength. I’ve dismissed the ways You’ve moved and spoken in my past. I’ve ignored Your voice. I’ve accepted some easy, powerless rhythm with You as normal and comfortable. I’ve stopped clinging to the truth that You are as good as You say You are. Because, why?

I used to run to You. To prayer. To listening. To community. To worship. To deep places and deep things. To just being with You. 

It’s like my Spirit was all dried up by questions and confusion and unmet expectations. 

I think I’m angrier with you than I want to believe. I’ve followed you so wholeheartedly. My family has followed you so wholeheartedly. I could go down the list Lord. I just don’t understand. . .

And I know. I know what You’ll say. Maybe that’s why I’ve let the fire fade, or something. Because I don’t want to hear, “You aren’t supposed to understand. You have to just trust me.” Again. 

I can hear the bad theology reverberating in my head. I know what lies sound like. But I can’t help but feel like You’ve broken promises to me. I feel like You’ve let me down.

I hate that because I know it’s not true. I hate that because my life isn’t dramatically or catastrophically falling apart. And maybe, even more, I hate that because I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know how to get back to the old us.

It’s not that I don’t love You. It’s not that I don’t want to love You. I want to want You again. I want my first love. I want pictures and discernment and just being with You. I want to believe in the power of prayer and the weight and glory of everything You can do. I want hours in your presence that feel like just a few minutes. I want You to the be the first and last thing I think about everyday. I want to pray for people and encourage people and see Your heart for people again. I want to remember what it’s like to be overwhelmed with all the finite love I’m capable of for You. I want to be overwhelmed by Your infinite love for me. I want to be reminded. I need You to remind me.

Wanting it is enough, right? It has to be enough. I feel like it’s all I have.

I don’t know when my Spirit dried up or died down. I don’t know when one of our wheels slipped off the track. I don’t know when I started building up cynicism or anger or hurt towards You. But I need you to teach me how to seek Your face again. Because I really do love You.

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