Take chances. Abandon all the rules. Ditch the recipe. Color outside the lines.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Junk in the Trunk

Recently I’ve been dealing with some junk.  Some human junk.  Because I’m human and we humans
have quite a bit of junk, don’t we?  We have quite a bit of junk and we bump into one another and get each other’s junk on us and then we have more junk between each other because of the other’s junk! Confused yet? 

So I have some junk.  Some of it is my own junk and some of it is junk that got tossed on me from junky people that strolled through my life at some point.  Recently in my counseling sessions I’ve had to dig up and deal with some especially gross junk.  This is junk that I had buried so deep and had ignored for so long that it seriously stank up my world when I dragged it out.  Now, this particular junk is some that I have because someone hurt me.  Someone I loved and trusted hurt me deeply.

This junk is especially cumbersome and the longer I hang on to it the more it seems to spread and create mold and infection in other otherwise junk free parts of my life.  Now, I could easily get rid of this junk.  I’d just have to, you know, forgive the person that has hurt me the most in my life, no big deal, right?  Wrong.  There’s this war inside me where on one side of the battlefield is this desperate desire for freedom and release from the hurt of the memory and on the other side is this deep need for justice and punishment for the hurter.  And so I hold tightly to my hatred and anger thinking that it somehow gives me control over the junk. 

Forgiveness is hard.  I think it’s the single hardest thing for us as humans to do.  Why?  Because it requires us to relinquish our control.  Not only that but quite honestly some part of me believes that if I were to forgive that person for that thing I would be saying that what they did was ok, that what they did is free from punishment.  This is a lie that I have subconsciously and subtly bought into and while I grasp tightly to my control I am held captive by it.

This week I was reading once again the account of Jesus’s crucifixion in the gospels (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke, 23, and John 19).  Crucifixion is still to this day considered one of the most gruesome and torturous forms of execution and that’s just how He died.  Before Jesus even made it to the cross he was extensively beaten to the edge of death, kept up for hours, dehydrated and starved, mocked and stripped naked, and crowned with thorns (and not little rose thorns either, big ole boys) that were beaten into His skull with a rod.  I mean no wonder they had to have someone carry His cross for Him it’s amazing that He was even standing by that point!  Then after all that, that’s when He faced the most excruciating form of death known to mankind. 

One of my favorite verses is Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  I have often been overwhelmed by the implications of this verse for me personally.  That my screw ups, my sin, my failures, every time I wasn’t enough to measure up to God’s perfect standard, were nailed to that cross with Christ and that His perfection was credited to me—it’s incredulous.  When I think about that verse this way I find myself heartbroken that Christ had to endure such suffering on my behalf.  That on its own is an unfathomable love.  But… this week I had a new revelation. 

As I read the verse again this week I found my mind wandering back to my junk.  Inside me surged anger and hatred and bitterness and I began to think of all the things that junky person deserved to have happen to them, including but not limited to: being tortured, beaten, and having their reputation ruined.  And then… I had a breakdown.  I had a breakdown because a thought sneaked through my mind and I’m sure it was God. 

You mean like Christ was tortured, beaten, and mocked?

It was then that I became truly aware, maybe for the first time, that not only have I been crucified with Christ but so have the people who have hurt me.  I pictured that person, that evil awful person who deserved punishment, there on that cross dripping with blood limp and lifeless, and I wept.  I wept not because I was sorry, but because this was the first time I was happy to see Jesus hanging there on that cross.  My God… oh, my God, loved me so much that He not only cleansed me of MY sin, but endured unimaginable pain so that those who hurt me deeply would not go unpunished. 

It doesn’t make sense.  I know.  Then again, God’s never really been One to do things how we would do them so I’m not surprised much.  So what does this mean for us?  Well, it means we are free to forgive.  It means that we can let go of that hurt.  It means that forgiving them doesn’t mean they get away with it and Jesus has the scars to prove it.  It means that God loves us more than people hurt us and He’s willing to put it all on the line to prove that.  It means that, once again, His grace is more dangerous and extravagant than religion can contain. 

I’m not going to lie to you and say that after this realization all my junk is gone and I’ve completely forgiven the junk bringer and life is all rainbows and unicorns now because that’s ridiculous.  I’ve still got hurt to work through, but I’m getting better at learning to rest and let Jesus do the work.  A few weeks ago a friend of mine said to me, “People talk about healing like it doesn’t leave scars.”  Healing leaves scars.  (Just ask doubting Thomas I hear he’s seen some doosies).  It’s ok to hurt.  It’s ok to struggle.  YOU ARE FREE TO STRUGGLE.  But you are also free to have healing and wholeness and Jesus has all that you could ever want or need.  I know because I have a lot of junk and I have a lot of Jesus and you know what?  Jesus is pretty great at junk clean up. 

So may you hurt.  May you drag your junk out of that dark corner and be stunned by it’s stink.  May you cry and breakdown and be empty.  From that emptiness may you be overwhelmed by Christ’s infinite fullness.  May you experience the audacity of Christ’s extreme forgiveness and love for you.  And from it may you find the strength to forgive those who have hurt you and find that it sets free in you more than you thought was held captive.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Counter Culture

My best friend is pretty wonderful.  She really is.  And she’s the best of all the best friends out there.  You might be thinking well my best friend is pretty great too... and that may be true but I can promise you that they are not nearly as great as MY best friend.  One of the innumerably cool things about her is that she is from Brazil.  I’m super lucky because that means, through our friendship, I get to share in and experience a different culture (and also eat lots of desserts made with sweetened condensed milk). 

Recently, over the July 4th holiday, her cousin came to visit America for the very first time.  We all went together to Kaboom Town in Addison so that he could get the full experience of an Independence Day extravaganza.  It was so interesting hearing him talk about all the differences between American culture and Brazilian culture.  One thing he said that really stuck out to me was how amazed he was at our patriotism.  He said that in Brazil, even on their independence day, people don’t wear shirts with their flag on it or have their national colors on dishes and wall art and baseball caps.  It was so difficult for me to try and picture what it would look like if we did that here in America because my way of life is the only one I have ever known.

Just like we have different cultures from country to country there is also a different culture between heaven and humanity.   What I mean is that the way God does things and the way we do things are very very different.  Humanity operates in a do to get culture.  We work 40 hours a week and we get a paycheck.  We respect our peers and we expect to be respected.  We break the law and we get punishment.  This is how humanity relates to one another.

The culture of heaven is contrary.  The thing about God is that He gives without expectation and without demand for return.  He comes and He gives and He speaks to us, us who are undeserving, us who are insignificant, us who are failures.  He says to us—“Expect of me.  Demand of me.  Require of me.”  We who are unfit to even wipe the dust from his feet are given the audacious ability to boldly demand of Him with the promise that He will give abundantly.  What a scandalous culture.

Some would shout, “HERESY!” 
And they would be right.
It is heretical to our culture because it is contrary to everything we have ever known.  It is in opposition to our very being.  It is divergent from our civilization.  And… isn’t that kind of the point?  Should our God not be different from this world? 

I am thankful that God operates differently than we do.  I’m thankful because I am painfully aware of what an unhappy and selfish god that I make.  I’m thankful because I know full well that serving a god like me leads to a life of drunkenness and depression and destruction and devastation.  I am thankful because my God is satisfied when I am gluttonous.  I am thankful because my God is patient when I am petulant.  I am thankful because my God is extravagant when I am stingy.  And most of all I am thankful because sets He free what I have bound up.

So may you discover a new culture.  May you find that God relates differently than you do.  May you be overwhelmed by a one-way love that breaks down walls and sets captives free.  And may you be fearless enough to let heaven overtake your humanity.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sinning Saints

Brace yourselves for a shocking and mind blowing announcement.

Are you ready?

Are you sitting down?

I, Jess Hays, was wrong about something. 

I know, I know, I’m as shocked as you are about this but hopefully we can get through this difficult time together.

Back in November of 2013 I wrote a blog entitled “The SinnerSaint.”  In it I presented the idea that we are at all times simultaneously sinner and saint.  I went on to discuss the argument that we are holy spirits occupying a broken body and at war with a sinful soul.  In essence I was saying, “We’re pretty screwed up but God still loves us anyway.” 

At the time this was a compelling argument, radical even compared to what I had believed for such a long time.  As I dissect it now, I realize that it was really my attempt to reconcile the destruction and devastation that I am so often bent towards and the far more radical reality that God relates to me as a holy being. 

As I think about it now I realize that I fell for a false but common way of thinking, the belief that my behavior is my identity.  I think we all believe this in some way or another, that what we do is who we are.  I mean think about it, if I lie am I not a liar?  If I cheat, a cheater?  If I murder, a murderer?  If I sin, well then doesn’t that make me a sinner?  This is how humanity labels one another—by our actions.   Even Batman says, “It’s not what’s underneath but what you do that defines you.” 

As devastating as it is to admit, Batman and God sometimes disagree and this is one such case.  As soon as we take in Christ’s perfect sacrifice we are immediately and completely made righteous, holy, perfect, and beautiful in the eyes of the Father.  This makes complete sense since because from what I’ve read about God He’s an all or nothing kind of guy, I mean, you don’t really ever see Him doing things halfway.  Oneness with Christ means all of Him in all of me, no half way, no sorta kinda, but ALL.  There are SOOOOOOOOOO many verses in the Bible (I’ll add some to the end of this post) that talk about us being righteous and perfect I just can’t see how we can call ourselves sinners anymore.

See, because divinity works differently than we do.  In Christ, our identity is not rooted in what we do but rather what has been done for us.  Who we are then becomes founded in who He is.  He doesn’t just pitch a tent in the corner of your identity; He is intimately and eternally fused with every part of who you are. 

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re reading this and thinking, “Yeah that sounds really cool and all but I still do sinful things, like a lot, and how can I be completely perfect if I sin all the time?” 

First of all, join the club! Secondly, to that doubt I say this—our belief always affects our behavior.  Here is how sly Satan is, he convinces us that our behavior determines our identity thus causing us to BELIEVE that we are sinners which in turn causes us to BEHAVE like sinners.   Talk about a vicious cycle! I recently used the analogy of a girl who is anorexic.  Every day she looks in the mirror and she sees herself as fat.  The true reflection may be skin and bones but in her eyes she is bulges and cellulose.  Because she sees herself this way she will continue to starve herself.  This is how it is with us and sin.  Though we are in fact saints as long as we look in the mirror and see a sinner we will continue to behave like one.  Satan’s goal is not to make us sin; his goal is to convince us that Jesus hasn’t already paid for it.

A friend of mine said once that he thinks as Christians we worship sin.  That’s a pretty harsh statement but I can’t disagree.  We preach countless messages on it, we pray about it, we read books on how to stop it, we get mad when other people are doing it, we lead protests and campaigns against it, it sure seems to be our biggest focus.  Has sin not become our god?

The bottom line is this we are not sinner saints.  We are saints who, more often than not, forget who we are and then behave sinfully.  Our identity is not defined by what we do but by what Christ did.   May we all take our eyes off of our sin (and everyone else’s) and fix them firmly on the God who makes all things new.  May we find new freedom to rest from our efforts to be good people as we become aware of our complete righteousness.  May we be liberated to love the people around us based on their identity and not on their actions.  And may our minds be renewed each and every day to enlighten us with a deeper understanding of the greatness of His grace. 

Galatians 2:20 (NET)
I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Phillipians 3:15 (NET)
Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways.

 Romans 4:4-5 (NET)
Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation. But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.

 Romans 8:1-2 (NET)
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.

 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NET)
God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.

 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NET)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

 Colossians 1:21-22 (NET)
And you were at one time strangers and enemies in your minds as expressed through your evil deeds, but now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before him