What do you do when the whole world turns against you? How do you choose between your body and your soul?
This Sunday, we wrap up our “Holy Uncomfortable” worship series with the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three extraordinary young men who kept their faith in God while living in a foreign land. Yet, in spite of their steadfast faithfulness (actually, because of their steadfast faithfulness), they found themselves condemned to death by fire. Given a final chance by the King to abandon their faith and save their lives, they make the most beautiful and pure declaration of faith in scripture. I imagine Jesus himself remembered their story as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
If you’ve been taught that believing in God means that nothing bad will ever happen to you, this story will break your heart—and then it will show you an even more excellent way.
This week in our worship series “Holy Uncomfortable,” we turn to the book of Judges. And it doesn’t have such a great reputation. People who complain that the “Old Testament” God is violent and angry usually turn to Judges as exhibit A. At first glance, it’s stories of war, rebellion, vengeance, power struggle, and violence seem the antithesis of our series theme—both unholy and completely familiar.
But let’s dig a little deeper, because in the book of Judges we see God’s design for holy community—a structure of power and leadership that is completely unfamiliar to us. No standing military? Leaders who rule only as long as God calls them to? Women and men leading the people collaboratively? We tell ourselves such a thing isn’t possible, but our spiritual ancestors were living this way millennia ago.
And, it’s true—again and again—we see the chosen people turn away from the covenant and conform to the values of the world, always with disastrous consequences. And, also—again and again—we see God turning and rescuing the people. We see God’s faithfulness to unfaithful people. We see that no matter how often we give up on God, God never gives up on us.
We’re wrestling with the unsettling truth that proximity to God is both holy and uncomfortable. Our scripture lesson is one of many perfect examples—the story of the apostle Philip’s encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch. Fair warning: this means we are going to have to have our own uncomfortable conversation about the e-word—that once wide-spread practice that most of us now find embarrassing and borderline barbaric.
I’m talking, of course, about evangelism.
Because, this is a story about a time God called a believer to leave the safety and familiarity of his faith community and embark upon an encounter with a stranger considered foreign, inferior, and ritually unclean. What began with an open-ended prompt by the Holy Spirit ended with an unsanctioned baptism and a clear demonstration of God’s radical desire to reconcile A-L-L people through the salvation of Jesus Christ. That’s a message the church has been burying and domesticating ever since.
We come to church and we come to God because we want to feel good. We seek help, hope, forgiveness, peace, love, and joy. The good news is that Jesus has all of these things for us in limitless abundance. But, that is not all he has for us. Our savior has even more good gifts for us—growth, new life, holiness, wisdom, repentance, and sanctification.
But some of those good gifts don’t feel good.
Every gift that Jesus has for us is good and is for our good, but not all of them feel good to our sin-shaped souls. When we demand God give us nothing but comfort and pleasure—when we automatically reject anything that disturbs or troubles us—we turn away from abundant life.
This Sunday, we start our “Holy Uncomfortable” worship series. For the next month, we’ll explore the not-at-all-hidden truth in scripture that not every encounter with God is pleasant and comfortable. But, here’s the thing—every single one of them isgood. The stories of the saints teach us that being uncomfortable is not always a sign that something is wrong, and that we must learn to recognize and embrace this holy discomfort because it signals the beginning of healing and new life.