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Sweden is one of the most secular countries in the world, and I’m a person of faith who is happy to talk about what my faith means. This usually leads to some form of the question, So, you’re religious? My default answer is something along the lines of, Well, I don’t really believe in religion, but I believe in relationship, so what’s most important to me is my relationship with Jesus, which I imagine sounds a bit like, I have this friend.. I have this boyfriend.. It sounds false, unclear and very 21st Century postmodern-like of me.

What I’m trying to say is that life with Jesus is a new way of seeing.

I see my condition, broken, lost, a mess, but I also feel in me the weight of something else, beauty, glory, redemption. But there is absolutely no way I am able to bridge the gap between the two without soul-killing striving and trying and pushing and pulling. 

I see who God is: love, love, love, love. Love that pours out power, love that pours out grace, love that is able to do all things, love that knows all things, love that is full of goodness, love that is truth and so many other things, but at the centre of who he is, it’s a beating heart of love. 

When I talk about a relationship with God, it’s the recognition of these two parts, Jesus holding my hand and taking me from one to the other.

Jesus who sees my brokenness and says I am a healer, do you want to be well? 

Jesus who sees me lost and says, I am the way, do you believe that I am who I say I am, I set before you life and death, will you choose life that you may live and walk in my path? 

Jesus who sees my messes and says, I have power of sin, will you confess your mistakes to me, let me take it all away and fill you so that you can have power to change? 

jesus

My growing up years were full of the mechanisms of faith, and I was surrounded by faith-filled people. We attended church every Sunday (and often more), almost all of my education from primary school to university was in faith-based institutions, I read the Bible, prayed everyday, I did everything you were supposed to do, and yet.

And yet.

God was still far away. God was still the one holding a checklist, and my life, my behavior, me – who I was – somehow didn’t check the boxes. God was the one with displeasure on his face when he looked at me, and I was the one running, hiding, disappearing every chance I got.

I didn’t know then that what I battled against was only religious structures in my mind because this is what religion must do to keep people inside of it. Religion only survives where there are no real answers in a place where there is no real freedom. Religion only works if you take out Jesus as a mediator, and replace him with someone or something else.

You can only be in the presence of God in this building. 

You can only talk to God if you first talk to this person. 

You can only know God if you first give this amount of money. 

You are only part of God’s family if you first join this church. 

No.  No. No.

This is why God put on human clothes, came down to us, gave up himself into the body of a young woman in a way we can’t comprehend, coming down to us when we couldn’t reach up to him. He reached down to us, to me, he became like us, like me, like you, lived like us and died for us, and came back to life.

So that we would not have to try anymore. So that all we would have to do is reach out our hand to the hand he offers, to say, Yes, to his invitation of new life, to turn our back on the systems that promised security but gave slavery.

No one imposed religion on me – I willingly submitted myself to it because it gave me something to do, it gave me a sense of power and control. I could command my own destiny. I could reach God, it was so simple, if I could only do this and this and this and be a bit more that way and this way, then, then it could be final. Then I would be there. Known. Loved. Safe. Secure.

Except there was no intimacy, love, safety or security in religious ways, only fear, insecurity, and an unending exhaustion. Even after the years when I found freedom, times of the year like Advent or Lent still filled me with old feelings, What more could I be doing? I’m not where I want to be. 

This is one of the many ways in which Lent this year led me away from introspection and instead toward a radical posture of receiving from God and then pouring out what I receive.

Jesus gave me everything I could ever want or need when he gave me his life. Lent is for giving.

Jesus took everything wrong and bad and sinful away from my life, so I could walk forward into new life with him whole and free. Lent is forgiving.

When you think about God are the words fear, insecurity and exhaustion part of your thoughts and feelings? Friend, could it be that you’re talking about a religion, a system that keeps channeling you toward what more you could be doing and who else you could be pleasing?

Jesus offers something different. He offers himself, his hand, to take you and walk with you to a new place. He’s there the whole way, never leaving, never forsaking, always faithful. He came to meet you where you are and he will take you where you need to go. 

lent 2014

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