[note]WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS EXPLICIT LANGUAGE[/note]

I had an epiphany a while back. Some of the leaders of Ember Church were gathered in our backyard, praying for one another, and it came to me: One of the reasons that Ember Church exists is so that people can learn to find Jesus in the shit of life. While I won’t claim that as a “word from the Lord” (for obvious reasons), it immediately struck me as true. That’s not going to become our mission statement, nor will you see it on any t-shirts, but it has really resonated with me and the leaders of our community.

Life isn’t fair. Sometimes life doesn’t simply hand you lemons, it hands you big, steaming pile of shit and says, in its best Ron Burgundy voice, “Deal with it.” The authors of the Bible, especially of Job, Ecclesiastes, and many of the psalms, understood this reality well.

Of course, it’s human nature to lament the injustice of life. I’m a good person, so why did I wind up with [cancer] [a cheating spouse] [a child with autism]? And there’s never an answer to this question. It’s almost as though the heavens are mocking us, replying in a booming baritone, “Deal with it.”

So we live through these difficult circumstances with a sense of God-forsakenness. We throw up our arms in exasperation and cry out, “God left me! I don’t know what I did to drive him away, but clearly he’s not going to bless me now. He must not want me anymore!” We instinctually believe that God and the shit cannot coexist. We are wrong.

•••••

Ask yourself a question: What is the essence of my prayers? For many of us, myself included, our basic prayer is this: Lord, please take this away. Whether it’s a sickness, a trial, or some other kind of obstacle, our basic message to God is essentially, “Make this stop.” We want our lives to be shit-free, and we look to God to be the one to clean it all up.

If that’s your most common prayer, you shouldn’t feel guilty. You’re not alone. The apostle Paul prayed that same prayer to God. Three times he cried out to God for some affliction (unknown to us now) to be removed. Heck, even Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion, “If it’s possible, let this cup be taken from me.”

Unfortunately, God’s answer to both Paul and his Son was a resounding, “No.” But it was a “No” with a reason. For Paul it was so that God’s power could be made perfect in that man’s weakness. For Jesus it was so that all the world could be saved from sin, death, and the powers of hell.

Now back to our prayers. What if, when we ask God to take our trials away, he is saying back to us, “No, I’m not going to take this away or make it stop, because this is where you’ll find me.” What if what God really wants us to learn in this life is that he can be found in the shit? Where else would we expect to find the God who was homeless, broke, and sentenced to die as a criminal but in the muck and mire – the total shit – of our lives?

You don’t have to get all fixed up to find God; God got completely broken in order to find you. Nobody knows rejection and suffering better than Jesus. Nobody bore the weight of evil, sin, and death more heavily than Jesus. His life was harder than yours. His death was more excruciating than yours will be. Jesus didn’t step out of heaven and into some Roman palace in order to live the most opulent lifestyle available at the time. He came out of a woman’s womb, grew up as a blue-collar handyman in a tiny corner of the world that lived under oppressive, foreign rule. In his hour of greatest need, all his closest friends either betrayed him or abandoned him. And as he died on the cross, he suffered the judgment of God the Father, the one with whom he had had perfect, harmonious communion from eternity past.

Jesus knows what the shit looks like, smells like, and feels like. Jesus is in the shit.

•••••

Your trials and diseases and crappy circumstances are not a sign of your God-forsakenness. Instead, they’re the signal that God is near at hand, that he can be found here, and that he understands. Your circumstances don’t need to change in order for you to draw close to God, just your attitude.

Whatever it is that you’re going through, Jesus is with you. You can turn to him, right now, and he will be by your side. I would even go so far as to say that it’s easier to find him when life sucks than when everything is going great, if only we would humble ourselves enough to speak his name.

God’s not looking down from heaven, arms folded and brow furrowed, watching while you wallow in the crap of life, exclaiming with divine self-satisfaction, “Deal with it!” No, he’s down here with us, feet and clothes covered in shit, his hand on our shoulder and a look of infinite empathy and reassurance on his face, speaking tenderly, “I’m here, too.”

Agape love is a topic I write and talk about often. One of the most formative sermons I’ve ever preached (formative for me, at least) was on agape love. Agape is one of Ember Church’s core values. I blog about it frequently. We’re talking about it at Ember Outdoors this summer.

Agape love is a major theme of the New Testament, especially the writings of John. In John 13, the apostle writes:

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Of course, every instance of the word “love” in that passage is a translation of the Greek word agape. So you might as well write it like this: A new command I give you: Agape one another. As I have agaped you, so you must agape one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you agape one another.

Jesus said this before he went to the cross, but he referred to his demonstration of agape love in the past tense. What was he talking about? He was talking about how he had just washed his disciples’ feet. That was an act of agape love, one that resonated deeply within their own souls, and should be paradigmatic for the way in which they ought to relate to one another.

But washing their feet wasn’t the only act of agape love Jesus would commit that week. It was the very next day that he was brutally tortured and killed on a roman cross, dying as the final sacrifice for the sins of all humanity.

The sweet spot of agape love is between the washbasin and the cross. In the washbasin, Jesus set aside his rights, privilege, and honor as the world’s true king to perform the duties of the lowliest household servant–washing the filthy feet of 12 nomads, one who would, just hours later, betray him. At the cross he laid down his life and forgave the sins of humanity.

Jesus didn’t just talk about agape love, he defined it. He demonstrated it. He lived, and yes, died, it. The agape love of Jesus encompasses the washbasin and the cross, and this is the same agape love which he demands of us.

“A new command”, he said. Like the first two: “Love YHWH your God…”, and “Love your neighbor.” Now a third. “Love one another.” Agape one another. Agape one another with a washbasin, and with a cross. The love of Jesus was no sentimental affection; it was both dirty and bloody. And that’s the kind of love he expects from us: agape love.

Whenever you’re not sure how to love somebody, just remember how Jesus loved us, and that the sweet spot of agape love is between the washbasin and the cross.

Sam left a comment in the previous post about a discussion he was having with friends about 2 Timothy 2:22-24. He asked for my thoughts, particularly as they regarded our conversation a while back about David Platt, reformed theology, and whether or not God hates sinners. That conversation began with this post, in which I criticized David Platt’s exegesis of the psalms. It then continued in the comments and into several other posts, including:

Biblical Hatred
How I Read the Bible
Why I Criticized David Platt on My Blog
Questions for Calvinists
A Response to a Response

That was a long and involved series of posts that had a lot of theological debate. The passage that Sam refers to from 2 Timothy says this:

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

So I think the first question is this: Is the discussion about Calvinism v. Arminianism, predestination v. free will, etc. a “foolish and stupid argument”? I’ve heard a lot of folks, exasperated from the same late-night conversation playing itself out over and over again, decry this conversation as one of those stupid arguments that Christians should avoid. I’m certainly sympathetic to that position; this conversation can be exasperating.

But I don’t consider it a foolish and stupid argument because I believe that it pertains to the nature of God. Calvinists and Arminians understand God in fundamentally different ways. If you believe in, for example, double predestination, then you perceive God in a radically different way than someone who believes in free-will. Roger Olson, an Arminian biblical scholar, would even go so far as to say you believe in a different God altogether.

Where it breaks down, though, is when you are more concerned about being right than having godly character. Not only can our drive to be right, or to win an argument, obscure our perception of the truth, it can also reflect deep character flaws that need to be redeemed. When your aim is to win the argument rather than discover the truth, you have become quarrelsome. That might sound like a petty sin, but quarrels lead to broken relationships within the body of Christ. In fact, doctrinal quarrels have led to the fractured and splintered state the Church is in right now. Being quarrelsome is a serious issue that reflects deep character shortcomings.

While some conversations are important to have, and some disagreements are going to result from those conversations, it’s important to not be foolish or stupid, or do anything that would turn those conversations into an argument or a quarrel. We must strive, as the Scripture says, to be kind to everyone. We must be able to teach, which is definitely not the same as shouting or arguing.

So I say, let the conversations continue, but let them continue in the spirit outlined by Paul in this passage.

Last night I had the holy privilege of preparing three people for baptism. I heard amazing testimonies of God’s power from Mary, Ian, and Dustin. I was truly overwhelmed by the goodness and power of God, and I am so excited to baptize these three this Sunday at Ember.

Baptizing is one of the greatest honors I have as a pastor. I get to be the participating witness to their public confession of faith and full identification with Jesus, his death, and resurrection.

I’ll be honest. Planting this church has been hard in many ways. It has not turned out like I had hoped or expected. And yet, as I consider those who have been impacted by our church, such that they would take the step of obedient faith and be baptized here, I am on the verge of tears. These beautiful and courageous souls have given me and Ember a great honor, something I will never forget.

Easter is the celebration of new life, of the power of God to conquer death, and of our own hope of resurrection and life forever with Jesus. Baptism is a symbol of all of that. If you want to be baptized this week at Ember, let me know. I would love to make that happen.

Yesterday I posted about how Jesus brilliantly refuted a trap question from a group called the Pharisees. Today I want to look at how he refutes the Pharisees’ rival group, known as the Sadducees.

18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children.21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

The Sadducees were a different group from the Pharisees. The two groups often engaged in sharp debate, and the resurrection was one of those flashpoints of conflict between the two. The Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection; that’s why they were sad, you see. (Whaa-whaaaa)

They came to Jesus because they had heard that he believed in the resurrection, and they wanted to pose a question to him that they had probably posed to many Pharisees. It was a dishonest question, meant to make resurrection look like a ridiculous, and even unbiblical, idea. I imagine that no Pharisee had been able to give them a satisfactory reply, so they thought they could trap Jesus with this one.

One woman. Seven brothers. Each man obeyed the biblical law by marrying his older brother’s widow and trying to produce an heir for him. This was how a family was able to continue it’s line. Should the oldest brother die without an heir, the next brother in line was responsible for marrying his brother’s widow and producing a male child for his dead brother. It was a sort of surrogacy.

So the woman and the seven brothers die without producing an heir. When the resurrection happens, and here the Sadducees are probably snickering to themselves, whose wife will she be? She couldn’t possibly be married to all of them; that would be adultery! How can there be adultery in the resurrection? How can obedience to the biblical law in this life lead to disobedience to the biblical law in the resurrection? That’s exactly the situation we have in this scenario. Obviously, the Sadducees conclude, the resurrection cannot exist.

But Jesus refuted them, and quite easily actually. But he did it by dropping the bomb that destroys the hopes and dreams of every young, evangelical Christian. “When the dead rise,” he said, “they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” There will be no marriage in heaven. Or, to put it more accurately, romantic, sexual love, and the unique bond between two people that goes along with it, will not exist in the resurrection.

Now let me say this. If you find that thought so depressing, so repugnant, so distasteful, so disappointing that you don’t even want to participate in the resurrection anymore, then you have made marriage and romantic love into an idol. In fact, I believe one of the most powerful idols that afflicts young people, and especially young people today, especially Christian young people, is the idol of romantic love.

We put a lot of hope into romantic love. We think of it as normal. We think it’s our right to be loved, and to experience this romantic love, for all of our lives. But there’s a greater love, a better love than this, and too many of us are missing out on it because we’ve made romantic love an idol in our hearts.

The greater love is the agape love that we will experience with Jesus for eternity. At the end of the Bible there’s a wedding; the groom is Jesus, and the bride is the Church. But they’re not getting married under the compulsion of romantic love, but rather in the promise of agape love.

Agape love is the love of the cross. It’s the love that lays down its life, that forgives sins, and refuses to demand its rights. This is the love that Jesus made a reality for us when he died for our sins on the cross.

There won’t be marriage in the resurrection, because in the resurrection, agape love will replace romantic love. Romantic love is a shadow, a wonderful, exciting shadow, but still a shadow of the deep self-sacrificing love of God that we will all experience together, with God, for all eternity. We are invited to fully participate in divine love of the Trinity.