Recently, I began reading the book Christmas is not Your Birthday by Mike Slaughter, lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, as a part of an Advent small group series hosted by Impact Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The five-chapter book explores the idea of shifting the focus of Christmas from a me-me-me experience to one that gives-gives-gives to those who are in need. I could run the list of great points Pastor Slaughter presents about the commercialization of Christmas, but this blog is about something much more important. Continue reading
This week kicks off a brand new year for the students at the Candler School of Theology and I really can’t believe that this time last year, I was a first year student, bright eyed, bushy tailed (read: haired!) and eager to start on a new journey.
I remember posting this status on the first day of orientation:
Then, I didn’t know how all of my experiences had lead me there, but I knew that the pull from God to go that direction was the right thing to do. It didn’t always make sense, but I was sure that I was on the right track.
Throughout the course of the year, my ideology about God and people would change drastically. The embedded theologies that have been with me for decades began to shift as I read and searched the history and context of familiar texts finding new meaning in them.
Ideas I had about “certain people” and varying “ideas” were dropping, shifting, molding, and taking new shape.
Some folks told me I was “losing my Jesus.”
I just laughed. If the only knew that what was happening behind the Tweets, Facebook posts, public worship, and every day life was drawing me closer to Him.
In the last year, I’ve been broken, depressed, lonely, fearful, afraid. I’ve been displaced and, for a moment, I was living out of my car. Months later, that same car was repossessed. Relationships were broken and my pride and ego was crushed to pieces. For a very serious moment, I considered dropping out of school and thought that I had made a horrible mistake trying to pursue God in such a “grandiose” way.
How could a path so certain be filled with so much brokenness and figurative (and literal) death?
The answer was right in front of me: God was desperate for me to experience something much more than a change in theology or continual exercises in critical thinking. He wanted me to experience what it truly meant to be a part of the marginalized.
I am a marginalized person; I am a Black woman and a single mother who uses public assistance to keep things afloat. My position in the margins have always been there. My marginalized seat as a Black single mother who is on public assistance is well worn, but the experiences in the last year have introduced me to what it is like for families to scramble to find emergency housing and what the working poor face as they have limited transportation and must rely on the kindness of others and public transit to travel around the city for work and school.
As I found residence in a new section of “The Margins”, parts of my elitist, privileged views were revealed. They were ugly. I became one of those whom I once turned my nose up at, who I had no patience or compassion for. My degrees didn’t matter, neither did all the blessings that I was afforded over the years. God leveled the playing field. He made me see things the way He sees things.
Once God restored me with a place to call my own and a little cash car I was able to buy with a whole bunch of favor (and unexpected funds), I realized that everything I had experienced, as brief as it had been, was enough for me to have a newfound compassion and understanding of what the heart of God is. It taught me that this life we have, these things we possess are nothing — they have no weight — and they are never to become a place of comfort for us.
God kept me when I wanted to quit — when nothing was making sense but I was still required to keep moving forward.
During the most desperate of times, God ensured that my pride (that I held soooo tightly) wouldn’t hinder me from being able to receive from people He brought to me to help me.
All of the furniture I own, every dish, bed, and pot, was given to me — for free. (Remember this? Yeah, good seeds come back.)
A number of other things have happened that have blown my mind — all kinds of opportunities — that have made the last year’s pain just a distant memory. Weeping may endure for a night… (y’all know the rest!)
There are so many things I could name that has changed in the last year, but the thing that I can say that has changed the most is this:
I treat people differently.
I try not to use my “Christian privilege” to make people feel inadequate or less than. I try not to take scripture out of context to appease my own fears and insecurities about my misunderstandings of others.
What I’ve learned in the first year was simply how to treat people better: the estranged, the outsider, even myself.
I could attribute a shift in theology for that. I really could. But, as we know, there’s no greater teacher than experience, right?
As I begin year two in this journey, I am desperately seeking vocation. I am trying to understand what God wants me to do with my life’s experiences — and show me how to shape them into purpose.
I know things won’t be easy this year and year two will present its own set of problems. But I am thankful for where I am in this moment.
I’m also very thankful to the friends, family, classmates, professors, staff members, and even strangers who kept me moving forward when my feet felt stuck in the cement.
Here’s to year two, y’all!
Keep an eye on this blog for conversations about what I’m learning this year — and tell a friend!
On the Chase,
If you read my book Pieces: Finding the Missing Piece is Easier Than You Think, you know that my relationship with my father has always been estranged. Though he lived in the same house with us until I was 13, it was as if he wasn’t there. The emotional detachment proved to be just as detrimental as him not being there at all.
As the years have gone by, I’ve learned to cope and forgive — eventually, I stopped using his absence as an excuse for my poor ability to make sound decisions about men and took responsibility for my part. I even took the advice of a good friend and decided to reach out to him regularly (read: sporadically) just to say “Hi.” Looking back, it paled in comparison to what I would eventually do in a time that truly mattered. Continue reading
Then Peter said to him, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”
I rocks with Peter. He was a hot head, cursed regularly, a passionate fellow. He was overly confident in himself and impulsive. And in Matthew 19:27, Peter asks the Messiah, King of Kings, Jesus Christ of Nazareth the one who was, is, and is to come “what’s in it for me?” Brazen, isn’t he?
In chapter 19, Jesus is talking to the people about divorce, blesses the children to come to him, and challenges a rich man to give away all of his possessions and follow Him. After seeing the man refuse to give up his stuff and follow Jesus, and after hearing Jesus tell them that a rich person cannot enter the Kingdom of God, Peter asks the question that I think we all want to know: what’s in it for those of us who have given up all we possess for Christ?
Have you ever wondered that? You’ve probably left jobs or relationships or downsized your home or brought in a roommate to become better situated to do God’s work. You may have found yourself penniless, distraught, abandoned by friends or family in your pursuit of God’s perfect will for your life. You may have been faced with a debilitating disease that showed its destructive head at the very moment you thought you were on your way to fulfilling God’s call for your life.
Sometimes these things happen and we have to wonder if what we’re doing for His sake is worth it all. Sometimes we want to be as bold as Peter and just ask God, “what’s in it for me?”
Jesus answers Peter: “…and everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)
Look at what Jesus points out: houses and property (our material possessions: money, clothes, homes, cars, comfort) family (those closest to us sometimes are the first to get “lost” in our pursuit of God) — property and relationships, two of the most essential components to our lives today! Jesus says that those who are called to give up these temporal things will be rewarded a hundred fold! This puts me in the mind of our brother Job who lost everything he owned — houses, land, cattle, money, family, and even his health (Job chapters 1-2) — only to have it restored in a greater portion than before (Job 42)!
There is a greater reason for the sacrifices you’re making in your walk of faith. It’s not for “no reason” and no matter how many folks say, “it don’t take all that”, know that everything you “lose” in this walk will be restored to you IN THIS LIFE TIME. Jesus told us so! He’s not going to let you lose anything for His sake and not restore it back to you — He’s better than the stock market! Give your investor a$100, you might get some back or you might lose it all! Jesus promises us a 100 fold return on any and everything we give up for Him. No one can offer a better deal, trust me!
Don’t get consumed with these temporal things that society says is essential to have. It’s just stuff — and what we give up for Him pales in comparison to what He gave up… and is still giving up for us!
So, what’s in it for you? For me? Everything. Everything to gain and nothing to lose.
On the Chase,
Real quick post!
Ya’ll know I’m ALL ABOUT fusing faith and culture, and while many of us haven’t heard anything from the rapper Cassidy in a minute, he brought that F I R E on New York City’s top rated morning show, The Breakfast Club with host Charlamagne tha God.
Not only did Cassidy repesent Christ for millions of listeners, he was quoting scripture pretty accurately too! Great clip for all my youth pastors, ministers, religious education folks, etc.
I have to warn you: Charlamagne goes straight ratchet at the end (@*&!%^ AMEN!) but the entire freestyle is worth taking a listen. I tell you, if I didn’t Believe before, I’d consider coming on over after these bars.
On the rap game gone biblical case,
Since entering Seminary, the scope and breadth of how I view and understand God has changed a bit. Well, a lot.
I sat in my room teary eyed and wholly upset at God after learning that He regretted making us in Genesis 6:6: “…and the LORD was sorry that He made humankind on the earth and it grieved Him to His heart.” (NSRV)
I knew He destroyed the earth because we (humankind) couldn’t get our lives right, but daaaaang. Regret? Sorrowful? We grieved You?
Once I got over feeling some kind of way (honestly, that really hurt my feelings!), I began to see that nearly every encounter God had with man in the Old Testament was fueled by His insatiable desire to have a relationship with us. This anthropomorphic God (one with human-like characteristics, feelings, thoughts, interactions) was desperate to have us as His own, be thankful to Him for creating us, and, in whatever way possible, live our lives as He said we should.
He, like all “parents” do, had a plan for His kids. Our disobedience, however, brought about some of the most discussed, disparaging, and body-of-Christ splitting occurrences in the bible. We see a God who passes judgment on Hebrews and enemies alike for disobedience; God attempts to kill Moses for his disobedience (Exodus 4:18-31) despite God giving him the charge of delivering the Hebrews out of Egypt (clearly, obeying His ordinances was more important than some God-given assignment, eh?) We see God obliterate the Egyptians and their first-born sons for refusing to let His chosen people worship Yahweh as they wanted to — even going so far to intentionally hardening Pharoah’s heart to up the ante and make the punishments for disobedience grow and grow by the day. “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain the glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD. And they did so.” (Exodus 14:4)
In the new dispensation of our faith, grace and mercy rules the coop. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the foundation of everything we believe, and in many ways, we have forgotten the vengeance and judgment of God.
Jesus makes us feel good. His sermons and parables of fish and salt and lights on a hill are so applicable and practical — it’s like a Publix commercial during the holidays: just makes you want to hug somebody, cook some food, and share it (and the gospel) with good people.
But we’ve forgotten the vengeance and judgment of God.
We’ve forgotten that He’s serious about us — and serious with those who come against us. He desperately wants us, and after millenniums of trying to get us to do right on our own, He sent Jesus to stand in the gap. When God looks at us, He sees us through the blood stained garments of Jesus. He doesn’t do what He should to us because Jesus keeps playing “keep away” with God!
Lest we have forgotten, God is no punk. He’s not here to play games on Sunday (or Saturday, if that’s your practice). He is cut throat, vengeful, angry, wrathful, and passes judgment at His discretion. Why? Because He’s holy and wants us to be holy as well. He wants to have a well-balanced relationship with us that brings pleasure to both parties. He’s not down for a one-sided venture to eternity; He wants us to walk with Him.
Now wait, does this mean we walk around in all white, sacrificing goats or living like the Old Testament law says? Absolutely not. However, there is something to be said about honoring Him in the most sacred place of all: our hearts.
A friend mentioned that he was growing tired of so many preachers presenting no balance to the grace message, sending folks on their way with rose-tinted glasses that God is pleased with our mediocrity and that how we feel rules over God’s expectations. Forget yo’ feelings: God wants your heart!
In light of the monstrous storm battering the northeast, many have said that the storm is a “sign of judgment” from God. We need to “get right!”, they say.
I love what Stephen Prothero from CNN’s Religion Blog had to say about this “judgment”:
“As for me, I am less sure about what God wills for our storms (political or otherwise). In my view, any God worth worshiping isn’t going to be so predictable, or so capricious… When it comes to storms like Sandy, I just don’t believe in a God who drowns black babies in Haiti yet refuses to drown out the voices of cranky white men who claim so irreverently to speak in His name.”
God isn’t some faux wizard behind the smoke and mirrors of the “Great and Powerful Oz” using switch levers and buttons controlling this earth… at least I don’t think so. We can’t say one way or the other if the things that occur in the earth that bring destruction and death are “God’s doing.”
What we can say is that He’s still desperately seeking for our hearts to turn back to Him and will go at any lengths to get them back.
Yes, God passes judgment on us. Yes, He allows the enemy to come in and wreak havoc until we get our minds back on track. Sometimes we recover, sometimes we don’t. I am reminded as I go through this Seminary experience, though: It’s dangerous to teach grace without teaching judgment. Have you ever met a kid that was never punished for anything? They’re brats. And the absolute worst.
I’m at the place where I’m seeing and learning that God is really desperate for us. He’s revealed Himself to us in ways that we can’t fathom, given to us in ways we don’t deserve. Building relationship with Him is something He wants. His desperation for us exudes from every crevice of this earth.
Grace and judgment: what a dynamic duo.
On the “don’t-cast-your-judgment-on-me, I’m-working-on-my-relationship-with-you” Chase,