Love: Going All The Way

Artwork by Matt Seymour for a sermon series at Kineo Church (Advent 2012)

After a message about sex earlier that evening at camp, a high school boy begins a conversation with a camp counselor:

“Well, it’s a little late for me to hear that message.” said the boy. The counselor says, “Why’s that?” “Well, Sharon and I have already…you know…” The counselor says, “You know…what?” “We, uh, you know–we went all the way.” “What do you mean, ‘all the way’?” asks the counselor.

The boy thought to himself, how could this counselor be so dense? Then he said: “You know ALL THE WAY!” as he said it with emphasis as if to clarify the meaning. But the counselor didn’t let him off the hook: “No, I don’t know what you mean. What are you talking about?” “We had sex!” the boy blurted out. “Ohhhhh, that’s what you mean when you say ‘Going all the way’ ”, the counselor said with a show of surprise. “And you think that’s going all the way?” And the boy said, “Well, yes…”

“That’s not going all the way AT ALL…” the counselor explained. “I’ll tell you what going all the way is. There’s a guy in my neighborhood who has five kids, and his wife is now in a wheelchair and severely handicapped. He gets the kids off to school each morning, sells insurance all day to make a living, then comes home, greets his children home from school, makes dinner for the family, and at the end of the evening, he looks his wife in her eyes and tells her he loves her. I know he means it, too, because he tells me he’s the luckiest guy in the world to have been blessed with her. That’s what going all the way is.”

Going all the way looks different than most of us know…Any weak, unloving person can “go all the way” and think that’s love! Sexual contact and immature decisions don’t classify love or “going all the way! In our culture today, we have a weak, impotent understanding of what love is. Our cultural definition of love is a fleeting, moody, temperamental, selfish love that does’t stay long enough to experience the fullness of true love.

This advent season, what we need is a renewed vision of love, of a kind of love that is strong and will “go all the way” with the one it’s affections are directed towards. We need a love that can shape us into true lovers of God and people. After all, love is our identity. So allow me to attempt to offer a potential outlines that may be able to help us get to a strong, all the way kn f of love (I am indebted to Dan Allender’s book, Bold Love (1996) in regards to this outline and topic).

1. Lose Your Life: Love Jesus and His kingdom more than yourself. John 12:24-25: 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

To begin to lay a foundation of understanding of what this “strong, going all the way kind of love” looks like, we must go counter culture in our belief here. Modern counsel would tell us that to truly love others, one must learn to love ourselves first. This approach argues that the first priority to love, is yourself, your esteem, acceptance of yourself, your contentment & happiness, then you can esteem, accept & love others.

Although the gospel leads you to accept yourself in Christ, and indeed calls you to love people as you love yourself, this approach to love couldn’t be more opposite of what we read in Scriptures. The “me-first” mentality is destroyed in the gospels where we learn of a radical “others-centeredness”. To be a healthy person who cares for themselves is to be someone who has learned the art of caring for others.

The “take care of yourself” mentality has led many people to justify self-centeredness which definitely does not lead to the “strong, all the way” kind of love, and it has also made a nation of political Christians who love their own needs before the needs of those who are suffering around her. In America, it is common for people to spend more money on themselves during Christmas time than they do for family gifts of others. We are addicted to making ourselves feel better.

The “me-centered” approach actually promotes shallow love in such a way to where one is led to do things out of what’s comfortable for them, or out of fear of what others think, or out of guilt from their conscious of trying to be acceptable to themselves.

The gospel says that you are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus! If that is not enough to move you us out of our self-contempt, poor self-esteem, self-protection mode, or lack of contentment in life, then there are deeper issues that needs to be addressed, not self-acceptance or more work!

Strong, all the way kind of love, as Dan Allender puts it in his book Bold Love, “is courageously setting aside our personal agenda to move humbly into the world of others with their well-being in view, willing to risk further pain in our souls, in order to be an aroma of life to some, and an aroma of death to others.” (19)

2. Courage: A willingness to sacrifice for a better day. Romans 8:18: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. // 2 Corinthians 4:17: For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

Paul is saying that our suffering will be outweighed by future glory, and that our present suffering is preparing for us future glory! So not only is our suffering not compared to what Christ has for us, but it is also apart of achieving the fullness that Christ desires for us. The gospel of Jesus swallows up suffering and uses it as a means to the end!

Again, Allender says in Bold Love: “…we will not be free to love until the cliche ‘this is not our home’ becomes real.” (139). We were created by God to defend that which is most precious to us. If something has value and worth to us, then we will courageously throw ourselves into danger to protect or preserve it.

A mother will heroically save her children from a wild animal, and a husband will fight a man with a gun who broke into his home to protect his family. Whatever your heart treasures, you will have the courage to sacrifice for it.

So the question you have to answer if you want to be a courageous lover is:

“Do you live for heaven?” or “Do you live demanding that life be like heaven?”

The root problem behind our desire to find concrete, manageable steps to live this Christian life often comes right down to the fact that we demand the right to find order, predictability, comfort and consistency in and from a world where there is little to none.

We spend most of our lives trying to change reality; the fact that life is awful and the truth that this world is not our home. “If we do not anticipate the regularity and tragedy of sin, we unavoidably come to believe that this world is our home.” (139)

This belief and understanding will never help us be rid of the lie that says, “This is your home. You deserve life, love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We will never choose the path of courageous, sacrificial love as long as we believe that this life is all there is or is at least as good as the next. I can say this is also true for those who are spiritually stuck in addiction, anger towards God, compulsive habits, unforgiveness & living a justified life because of their strict obedience to all the rules.

We are far too easily satisfied if we truly think that life would be good (better) if I just had this, or if it was just like that, etc…

This is why Jesus says in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” To the degree that this life holds the possibility of “getting something”, we will forever labor and toil and destroy ourselves over things that only heaven can offer (Hebrews 11).

3. Calling: Living out the offense of the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 1:26-27: 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak… to shame the strong;

The calling of every Christian is to courageously live out a disruptive goodness that embraces the foolishness of the Gospel; the foolish confound the wise and the weak confound the strong. God’s kingdom is an upside down kingdom compared to our impotent kingdoms we set up here on earth.

Our mission is to confound (astonish) the world through being the aroma of weakness and foolishness. Try that on for your mission statement. We appear foolish because our weapons are immaterial (Eph. 6:10-19). We appear weak because our strength comes through humility and submission to Jesus (Matt. 11:28-30; James 4:7).

We can live this way because in the Gospel, we believe and understand our utter helplessness without Christ, and we know our complete acceptance because of Christ.

This Gospel of Jesus produces complete humility before others and rids our hearts and lives of self-righteousness…especially in marriage. But it also give us a profound boldness and security knowing that the God of the universe loves us, accepts us and calls us sons and daughters of His. Thanks be to God!

In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Paul is saying that the way of the gospel is death leading to resurrection, weakness resulting in divine strength and power, and humility resulting in a triumphant exaltation, just like Jesus. Paul knows that his death will lead him to a greater life. Life comes out of death. Redemption comes out of devastation. The tomb of Christ became a womb of life. This is the gospel and we are called to live in light of this news. Don’t trade in your suffering and weakness for earthly power. Press into that which brings you low and ask Jesus for eyes to see his kingdom through the lens of foolishness.

4. Conviction: Joining God’s hatred of sin. Romans 8:12-13: 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

We often hear the phrase “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” This sounds good, but the problem is that it is not completely biblically true. The problem comes because sin cannot be removed from the sinner without faith in Jesus.

Go with me here: Without the blood of Christ covering the sin of the sinner (you and I), what is sent to hell; the sin or the sinner? Hell is not a place that houses abstract concepts, sinful desires, and the like. It is a place that was created for Satan and his demons and those who follow suit. God loves shalom, therefore He hates those who willfully and continuously break shalom.

Consider Psalm 5:5-6: 5 “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. 6 You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” Or perhaps consider Proverbs 6:16-19: 16 “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”

As an old Puritan writer once said, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you!” Our hatred of evil in ourselves and others will deepen the wonder of the cross & the depths of his forgiveness of our sinful hearts. It will also help us have strong, all the way kind of love.

5. Craftiness: The wisdom of a snake, the innocence of a dove. Matthew 10:16: Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

1) Losing your life centers everything around Jesus, His Gospel, and His power. 2) Courage prompts us to face the inevitability of the fight; 3) Calling compels us to actually fight the good fight; 4) Conviction shows us the enemy who we should be fighting with passion and intensity; and 5) Craftiness enables us to get close enough to the enemy to destroy his power and offer the opportunity for surrender.

Only Jesus could make the kind of statement He did in Matthew 10. If anyone else said it, their motive would be questioned. But since we know Jesus is God, and He is good, perfect, loving and just, we now have insight into His intentions in saying this.

Frontal attacks are often expected, and easily guarded against, but surprise attacks often find the enemy on his heels, shocked, with his heart broken down by fear, wonder or amazement by which you have exposed him. This is actually spoken of directly and illustrated in Scripture quite a bit:

Proverbs 25:21-22: 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, 22 for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

Romans 12:21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Our craftiness at its core shows itself by choosing to do good to those who have done us harm. This can’t just happen if Jesus is not the center, and we have not courageously entered the battle, accepted our calling and live with conviction.

All this can’t happen until “the cliche ‘this is not our home’ becomes real.” (139). Whatever our heart treasures, we will have the courage to sacrifice for it.

“Do you live for heaven?” or “Do you live demanding that life be like heaven now?”

As the advent season comes to a close this week, may we all be compelled to explore the love of Christ, the fact that he came as a humble and weak baby, a human. That he entrusted himself to be born to an unmarried teen mom who became a refugee in Egypt, only to move back to Nazareth on the wrong side the tracks, and to live in such a way that he lost his life, was crucified outside the gates of the city, on the margins, because Jesus’ love is that way; humble, sacrificial, and accessible to all (on the margins, the weak and the powerful alike have access). Jesus’ coming and his life and death do much more than offer forgiveness of sin, they are our model for life and godliness and serves as a type of resistance to cultural norms that have clouded the true gospel.

This is the story we must enter, this kind of strong, all the way kind of love. This is the story of love that we must explore, and then allow it to shape us. We must look under every rock and cross every river in this story. We may be moved to sacrifice all we have when we find what it is we are to show love towards. We must live within the story of love and let our imaginations create new ways to live love. We must love when faced with grave injustices, indeed this love will be costly. This is where Jesus camps out…where he does his greatest work. This is where we encounter Jesus…it’s how others encounter Jesus. This is how Jesus is displayed, because Jesus is love. Yet this kind of love will cost our lives, our reputations, and will render us foolish.

Merry Christmas!

Joy: A Prophetic Imagination

Artwork by Matt Seymour for a sermon series at Kineo Church (Advent 2012)

“Dashing through the snow, on a one horse open slay, over the fields we go, laughing all the way, “Ha, ha, ha!…” This song filled my heart with joy when I was a young boy. The imagery of being on a Christmas slay going up and down hills like a roller coaster whipping us side to side, laughing and screaming and wanting it to never end; oh, those were the days! The innocent days when joy was so close you could reach out and touch it whenever you would like. Oh, to greatly rejoice so easily and to celebrate without fear of what you looked or sounded like. Maybe the equivalent would be grown, drunk men yelling like children at a football game for their favorite team, all dressed up with foolish make-up on… no shame of how you look (or maybe their should be a little shame in it!).

This type of childlike joy (of dashing through the snow, not being drunk and yelling with a painted face on television) is part of what Advent was meant to bring back into our lives each year. The joy of our imaginations bringing us to the place where the King comes to rescue us and bring us to Neverland with him forever. A rescue that removes the guilt and shame and perversion that the loss of innocence on this side of redemption has created. I’d like to think that this is somewhat close to what the prophet Isaiah was thinking when he wrote this:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. Isaiah 61:10-11

Oh, the joy of our salvation from God! This joy was not yet a reality for Isaiah, but it was his prophetic imagination that led him in this song that bursts out of his lips and onto an ancient manuscript. Isaiah knew something of his need to be clothed. Isaiah says two key things here in the first verse of this passage. First, he says that God has clothed him with the garments of salvation. Second, he says that he has been covered with the robe of righteousness.

These two things are vitally important for us to understand if we are to experience the kind of joy Christ desires for us during this Advent, and through out our days here on earth. And to fully understand them, we need a little more context from this chapter.

At the very beginning of this chapter, Isaiah 61:1-2, Isaiah says this: 1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 

Then in Luke 4:18-19, we read that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He came to the synagogue in His own hometown, Nazareth, and stood up to read Scriptures as was His custom, and as He stood up, the scroll of Isaiah was handed to him and this is what He read: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

Then Jesus rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the teachers of the Law, sat down and said this: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v. 21). This is one of the places in the NT where we learn of Jesus being the Messiah, the Rescuer that the Israelites have been waiting for. He is the one who would come and clothe them with the garments of salvation, and cover them with the robe of righteousness. Jesus tells the teachers of the Law that the Scripture that Isaiah wrote was about Him! Now, why did they need to be clothed? Why was that kind of wording chosen?

This takes me to Genesis 3. Now, let me remind you, when we pick up in this passage, Adam & Eve are in the garden of Eden, perfect in the sight of God, everything is good, or very good (Gen. 1:25, 31), and they were naked together and there was no shame in their naked exposure (Gen. 2:25). In verses 1-6 we learn that Satan, in the form of a serpent, came to Eve, enticed her with the fruit of the tree that God said was absolutely off limits….after some dialogue with the craftiest beast of the field, Eve gave in and her husband seemingly stood by and didn’t say a word. Eve ate the forbidden fruit, brought it to Adam and said, “This is good try it!”, and so he did, and now let’s read together what happens after that:

7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:7-11).

No one had to tell them that they were naked; this was the reality of their separation from God. They were given knowledge that God did not want them to attain in that manner. They were informed by their sinfulness, that they were naked and it was not acceptable, so in their shame of being completely exposed, they hid foolishly behind fig leaves from an all-knowing, ever-present, good and gracious God.

They are broken and naked because of their rebellion. They are separated from God and thrust into a world of greed, pride, selfishness, and abuse. At this point, they desperately need to be clothed so their shame will not condemn them. Then, as broken people who are separated from God, they had babies, who had babies, who had babies…you get the point. Broken people can’t make whole people. No, but someone who is perfect and whole can redeem broken people.

This is a God-job! He is sending a Rescuer to cover our nakedness not with perishable clothes that will not stand in the fire, but with imperishable clothes that will be received by this great God of justice and mercy. This is what Jesus was going to do, and this is why Isaiah says: I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…

How did Jesus accomplish this? How could He make them (us) whole and perfect before God and clothe us with salvation, and robe of with righteousness? Turn to 2 Corinthians 5:21 with me: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” There it is! That’s how it happened. 

God sent His Son, Jesus, who was perfect, who knew no sin, and had Him become sin (bear the weight and the consequences of our sin and treated by God as if all that sin was His own); so that Jesus’ perfect life and death and resurrection would be transferred to us by faith in Jesus’ work, not man’s work (and we would be treated as if all Jesus’ righteousness was our own). He has covered our shame and nakedness and sin and made us right with God again!

This is means for rejoicing this advent season! I once was lost, separated, broken, and poor… Now I am found, joined with God, redeemed from my brokenness, and rich in Christ! Hallelujah! With this in mind, let’s re-read together Isaiah 61:10-11 together:

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. 

Through faith in Christ, we can be clothed in salvation and robed in the righteousness of Christ so that we will be accepted by the God of the universe! Then in verse 11 Isaiah says that this will surely happen just as surely as the earth brings forth sprouts and a garden causes what is sown to sprout up… those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus will assuredly be clothed with salvation and robed in righteousness.

So this is what I want to do as we close. I want to clarify what this righteousness is and what it looks like. Because depending on the way you view your righteousness in Christ, will depend on whether or not you truly get what Christ has done. And if you don’t get the kind of righteousness that is spoken of here in Scriptures, then you will come up short in the joy factor and will wonder what the big deal about Jesus is.

Practically, to rejoice in God, you rejoice in what you see and know of God in the portrait of Jesus Christ. And this comes to its fullest experience when the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and we are clothed in salvation and robed in righteousness.

So hear this closing advent point. Not only did God purchase our redemption through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, but He also causes us to receive His righteousness through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Look to Jesus this Christmas. Receive the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus. Don’t put this gift on the shelf unopened this Christmas.  And don’t open it and then make it a means to gain other pleasures and powers. Open it and enjoy the gift. Rejoice in God. Make Him your pleasure. Treasure this gift above all others. Let it be a type of resistance to the culture of forgetfulness and lusts that rob our joy in God.

Have faith in Jesus and allow Him to clothe you in salvation and cover up the shame of your nakedness. Then preach the gospel to yourself every day and may God, who is our joy, remind you that you stand perfectly righteous before Him, now, today, because of Jesus’s works, not your own works! Oh, this truly is joy for the world!

Peace: Is This The World You Want?

Artwork by Matt Seymour for a sermon series at Kineo Church (Advent 2012)

Peace. What a tricky word! What is peace? What do people imagine when they speak of world peace? I’m sure much of the desires and imaginations of peace would be for the wars and killing to stop. For there to be no more children abused by pastors, priests, and family members. For the sex trafficking to no longer be a business and the porn industry to dry up financially. For those who are hungry and thirsty to be fed and have clean water. On and on this list could go, and these are all parts of my prayer when I pray for peace.

This advent week of peace, I want to remind us of what we know of peace from the story of God, which is in agreement with our desires listed above, but it’s more. The biblical concept of shalom (the Hebrew word for peace) is much broader and more intimate than the common understanding of peace understood as “the absence of conflict or pain.”

The Old Testament has over 200 occurrences of the word shalom, and it has come to be defined in the broad sense of the definition, as not just peace as “the absence of conflict,” but universal wholeness, well-being, justice, or peace with justice. In other words, as the philosopher Cornelius Plantinga Jr. has articulated, shalom (peace) is “the way things are supposed to be” as created by God (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, 1996).

Plantinga says this as he speaks about what Old Testament prophets/authors would have dreamed of when thinking about peace:

“They dreamed of a new age in which human crookedness would straighten out. The foolish would be made wise, and the wise made humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would bloom, the mountains would run with wine, people would stop weeping and be able to sleep without a weapon under their pillow. People would work in peace and work to fruitful effect. A lamb could lie down with a wolf because the wolf had lost its appetite. All nature would be fruitful, benign, and filled with wonder upon wonder. All humans would be knit together in brotherhood and sisterhood; and all nature and all humans would look to God, lean toward God, and delight in God. Shouts of joy and recognition would well up from women in streets and from men at sea.”  (taken from an online article by Plantinga; http://tgc-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/cci/Pantinga.pdf)

If this is true, then for there to be shalom (or at least more glimpses of it) there must be a confrontation with ourselves and the world views that we live by that need to be challenged, or that challenge the imagination which Plantinga articulates above. We all want the world to look a certain way, and we all have our opinions and judgements, but few of us live our lives in line with our opinions and do not want to be judged with the same standards of judgements by which we judge others. It’s the degree of separation between what we believe and how we live.

So really, peace begins with us, by asking ourselves, “What kind of people do we need to be in order to resist the destruction that our prejudices and judgements create? What are the virtues of true peace? Am I starving to be peaceable with peace and to be peaceable with God, ourselves, and the non-human creation?”

In the New Testament, James the letter of James) speaks of peaceableness as a key ingredient to the wisdom from above: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18, NASB)

To be peaceful is to be full of good fruit and to be absent of hypocrisy. This is a tall order. I admit, I’m a terrible peacemaker, but maybe it’s the admission of our hypocrisy that creates the beginning of peace.

Listen to the words of Jesus in Mark 9:50: “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” To be at peace with others, true peace, is to be salty and useful, to inspect ourselves, and to admit where we are not useful or have become twisted in our thinking/views.

Later on in the gospel of Luke, Jesus says something that stirs the pot and moves us into more questions: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51) What’s Jesus doing here? Is he contradicting himself? I thought one of His names was “Prince of Peace”?

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who says often, “Peace be with you”, knows that for true peace to be made, there must be a stirring, a realization that we are not alright and all right. Peaceableness then, must entail bringing to light that which we ourselves want to corruptly keep hidden… this will cause division and anger within ourselves, but peace will prevail… eventually.

This is where shalom breaks beautifully into this discussion. Shalom is one of those words that we learn what it means the more we see/realize the absence of it, like we do today when looking at all the headlines. The world is longing for shalom and we are all saying “Enough!”, but we are all saying “Enough!” to different ideologies. Where shalom is absent, we begin to grieve the way things are supposed to be and then, if we are able to critique even our own beliefs, we will receive a new set of lenses with which to view and interpret life because of our newly interpreted experiences.

To be peaceable is to be shalomic, displaying the way things were supposed to be when God created the heavens and the earth and all of the life that inhabits planet earth. Where shalom is absent, we are called to move into those places to display and model it, to be peaceable, not quarrelsome. To learn the discipline of living in the tension of disagreements and bringing light to those who are not at peace. To be able to navigate difficult friendships, networks, differing political parties and beliefs, even how to behave in the midst of eminent danger. However, being a presence of peace will often disturb first. It’s like turning on really bright lights in a dark room when people are sleeping or just waking up; angry shouts are hurled at the one who turned the lights on.

But here’s the thing, we all have different cries of “Enough!” which means we are going to rally around something that pisses off another person or group of people. What do we do then? Well, if our cry of “Enough!” is really because of the loss of shalom, then compassion and humility towards those we differ from will (ought) to be present. The problem is, many of our “Enoughs!” are because our personal narrative of how things are supposed to be, and they have taken over. Social scientists would label this as a “self-serving bias.”

A self-serving bias could be explained as our tendency was humans to have a superior view of our social desires. We tend to view ourselves as more humble, or ethical, or skilled and tolerant than others. In short, we are really good at justifying our thoughts and behaviors because they are better, or more superior than others. This helps us “mis-remember” our pasts and interpret them through more of a rose colored lens, as we numb ourselves from all the memories of our failures and self-centered behaviors.

To use a Christianese term, this is called “self-righteousness,” or “pride,” which is the root of all sin and the most deadly of the seven sins. This is why it’s easy for the Pharisee to say, “Lord, thank you that I am not as bad as that sinner over there!”, and then you and I say to ourselves (quietly of course), “Lord thank you I am not like that arrogant Pharisee. Darn self-serving biases… this corrupts our relationships with one another.

Our cries of “Enough!”, if they are really for peace, would not be rooted in our self-serving biases, but in humility and driven by compassion and a desire to listen, which doesn’t mean you have to change your conviction. What it does mean is that you’ll be more open to celebrating diversity and will understand that if Jesus were among us today, he wouldn’t champion everything you champion, he wouldn’t vote Republican or  Democrat, etc.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, most of our lack of shalom is not because of most of the headlines on the news, but because of our unwillingness to step outside of our own world views, humble ourselves, and admit that we are part of the problem, that we are actually shalom breakers. What a thought!? Most of us can’t resolve marital conflict or conflict at work with a mean boss or annoying coworker. Our desire to see wars end and gun violence disappear and terrorism be eradicated is good, but we need to look inward and take care of business at home, within our own hearts and minds, and commit to release that which is opposite of peace in us; contentiousness.

In the book Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger say this about contentiousness: “Like a parasite living on a host, contentiousness feeds on rage and rancor, antipathy and animosity, to fan the fire of discord and accelerate the spiral of violence.” (214)

Peace happens when we wage war on that which is evil inside of us, and this can only happen when we realize how we’ve neglected the parts of our lives that have waged war on shalom. This includes our relationships with God, people, ourselves, food (and how we grow and consume it), what we buy and how much of it we buy, who we’re friends with, and who we neglect. If you’re up for the challenge, add to the list what you’ve been courageous enough to observe in your own life.

Peaceable people look for non-violent ways to address conflict, although I do not believe this means that there is never violent ways to deal with evil. Peaceable people don’t deal with others in stereotypes or labels, rather they seek to know people beyond hot topic issues. Peaceable people expose false world views of consumerism and materialism not by loud arguments but by their lives of simplicity and contentment. Peaceable people know when to say enough. Peaceable people are essential oils to the soul of humanity and culture. Peaceable people seek peace with God, themselves, people and the non-human creation with equal fervor.

And this is why Jesus came. This is why advent is necessary every year, to remind us of the call to be the change we want in our own lives by first embracing Jesus as the only means to truly eradicate evil and bring about shalom. Jesus, who is himself peace, came to undo our messes and wars and to grant freedom for the captives, forgiveness for the sinners, and peace to the broken and contrite in heart. His presence brought and brings peace because he is the Prince of Peace. 

Advent for those who truly love the advent season, is birthed from a cry of “Enough!” and a longing for the Prince of Peace to have mercy on them, and in turn, create in them a heart to be peaceable people in the world, as agents of reconciliation and peace. No, this is not a euphoric view of peace, this is peace rooted in the story of God, which has the power to make new life from death, to make the tomb become a womb.

As I close out this post, I am reminded of a newer song by the band Switchfoot entitled “The World You Want.” The bridge of the song reminds us that our lives are always saying something and they have a great impact on life as we know it:

You start to look like what you believe

You float through time like a stream

If the waters of time are made up by you and I

If you change the world for you, you change it for me

What you say is your religion

How you say it’s your religion

Who you love is your religion

How you love is your religion

All your science, your religion

All your hatred, your religion

All your wars are your religion

Every breath is your religion yea

Is this the world you want?

You’re making it

Every day you’re alive

Why We Need Prophets Today

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Much has been written over the years in regards to prophetic ministries and the role of the prophet. Many today view the role of the prophet as outdated or unhelpful. There’s also an ongoing debate among various “Christians” as to what Paul was referring to when he mentions the roles of “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers” found in Ephesians 4:11. For those who embrace the ‘five-fold ministry’, these ministries can be seen as different offices or callings that God has gifted men and women with. The purposes of these offices, in my opinion and understanding of Ephesians 4, is to equip the church to be fruitful and effective in raising up workers and leaders, as well as to build unity among the body of Christ.

I want to spend a little bit of time talking about the ‘prophetic’ role because I think at the heart of every believer is someone who filled with God’s spirit, is able to hear from God, receive wisdom in difficult situations, and as a maturing, loving, compassionate human, will be able to speak and act accordingly, regardless of cultural or relational pushback. I will consider that type of person a “prophetic” type.

Where we find ourselves today, in modern/postmodern era, there has been an erosion of any desire to look back in time, since those in the past lacked not only the scientific method and modern technology, but also the profits that both yield. The past is critical for us to rightly understand and to learn from. Consumerism was easily preserved from modernism to postmodernism and has been an enemy to history as well. The reasoning behind this is simple. Consuming something means living in the now, and to keep the consumption rate going, we must keep looking ahead. No one has time for the past anymore, that’s for the “losers” of today, or may I say the “have-nots.” A prophet lives with wisdom from the past, humility in the present, and hope of the future.

Consumerism in a postmodern world has provided an interesting collide with church and culture. One could say that the church has embraced modernism and consumerism more than the rest of the world. This is mostly because it has allowed the leaders of the majority (in the case of Western Christianity, the majority has been Protestants/Evangelicals) to control the way church was formed and operated. Not to mention the ability to buy land, build big enterprises, and set the pace for every other “believer” who wanted to be a part of the “church”, or a pastor of a church, irregardless of its size.

In many ways, the Western church has, in a very sophisticated way, recreated their own feudal-type system. For those who aren’t familiar, “feudal system” or “feudalism” essentially describes the social and political order that originated in Europe during medieval times (roughly 800-1400 CE). In it’s simplest form, the system consisted of unarmed peasants who mostly remained moderately poor to very poor by the dominant power’s design. These peasants would have also been subservient to noblemen and soldiers who worked for the king in some way. The noblemen were the ones who held ownership, ‘lording’ their power over the peasants by essentially refusing them the right to provide for themselves. In other words, they created co-dependent relationships with the peasants, and differentiation was shunned. The feudal system worked as noblemen grew in power and prestige. The chief way noblemen grew more powerful was by acquiring more peasants and making those peasants work the land so they could pay more taxes, and possibly “rent” more land. For a visual, Les Miserables gives sad imagery to this type of system.

You may now be wondering, “How in the world is the modern Western church anything like a feudal-type-system?” It’s very common to hear the chants of people leaving churches because “they aren’t being fed well enough.” These chants are much like those of the peasants during times of famine and war, except, instead of loyalty to “feudal lords”, peasants aren’t showing any loyalty anymore. They are freely running to the next best “lord” who can offer the best amenities, the most safety, and comfort for their family, so that they can continue to consume in comfort. When the church stops offering what the peasant thinks is best for them or their family (when what they bargained for stops being a good bargain), they leave, and in this new feudal-type system, “lords” are competing for the hearts of the peasants. In all of this, one thing is clear, the system is still governed by the power and ethos of the feudal lords.

For example, it’s common in the Western church, particularly at pastors conferences and network gatherings, for conversations to go something like this: “How many people you got coming on Sunday’s?” With the follow up questions either being, “How many giving units (or potential giving units) are in your church?” or “What’s the average amount of each unit?” At larger church networks (and this question has seeped into leaders of small churches as well) it’s not uncommon to ask, “How big is your gathering space?” or “How many seats does your venue hold?” Apparently, these metrics are important for the ‘sustainability’ and ‘success’ of churches these days.

Butts, budgets, and buildings. These tend to be the “Big 3” of church success. Get enough butts in the seats, and your budget will grow. As your budget grows and seats start disappearing, you’ve got leverage now to lobby for a bigger space and a building fundraising program. You’ve arrived (at least according to the metrics of the feudal-type-system of Western church)! Acquire more peasants, raise the amount of taxes paid, purchase more land, and up the ladder you go. Seems to me that the same measure of success in the feudal system is among us in our churches today; butts, budgets, and buildings. It’s no wonder many postmodern young adults are leaving this form of church in droves, and it is clear that we need prophetic types who can learn from the past, address the issues of today in humility, and offer hope for the future.

It is at this point that I must acknowledge the amount of work Walter Brueggemann has committed to this topic of the “prophetic imagination” as well as the impact his writing has had in my life as well. Brueggemann speaks of the prophet being one who critiques the “royal consciousness” and energize those marginalized by that consciousness, the critique here would be to point out the “church as business” or “church as building” theory that has permeated Western thinking about church.

Some would argue that I’m not being fair, or am hurting the church in my assessment of metrics that I stated above, and I can understand that. I assure you, I’m not seeking to hurt the bride of Christ. No, this is where I believe the prophetic types for today comes in to play. Much of the work of the prophets of the Old Testament was to critique. As the prophets spoke up against various forms of abuses within Israel and Judah, kings would get angry and seek to silence the prophets. Some wise kings gave ear to the prophets, though it was ultimately not enough to form a ‘revolution’ among the Israelites.

Many leaders would like to silence these type of critiques. I’ve read many social media posts and blogs telling critics that they’re hurting the reputation of the church by speaking out, but what the silencing voice fails to see is that the form of church being critiqued is already hurting, her reputation is already suffering, and sadly, getting worse. The critics have already gone public with their complaints. I believe it’s time the church gives ear to the prophetic voice of critique, before we come to tragically realize we’ve been married to a form of ‘doing’ church, but not Jesus.

Prophets call kings and peasants alike to wake up and open their eyes to see the grief of the land and to begin to lament the lostness of the nation. Kings would be called to lament the fact that their rule has marginalized many, their reign will not last forever, and to begin mourning the end of their reign. Many times, the only way kings can begin to see their own end is through the critique of the prophet, but this critique could soon move on to hope. New, regenerated life comes only after death, but a king must first have ears to hear this. “For a seed to give birth to life, first it must die.” For the peasant, the call is to lament the reality that they’ve been duped, taken advantage of. There’s been grave injustices done at their expense and that needs to be acknowledged so they can properly lament. The hope of this message comes when their eyes are open to a new reality of a life of freedom, when new songs and dirges break forth in the streets of the commoner.

These prophetic messages are not desirable to the ears of the dominant culture, because this message has unavoidably upset a status quo that lends itself to the benefit of the powerful. There’s no place in the royal public domain where failure can be faced. Kings don’t want imaginations of the peasants to run wild and begin imagining the good life, that would be the roots of a revolution. This is why oppression occurs and people are silenced. Even if it’s done passive aggressively with a tone of “love,” to mask a hidden motive of control, leaders will silence talks of systemic change.

The feudal lords promoted numbness to the problems of the state; the prophets promoted a renewed imagination through critique. These critiques ultimately acted as the birth of a new reality of hope for the oppressed. When the systems of power are critiqued, those on the margins almost always see it as good news because the ability to imagine an alternative community can soon become a reality. Critique and grief combat numbness. Hope and imagination combat despair.

The prophetic peacemaker in the 21st century has the difficult task of evoking and displaying a new way to be human, to nurture alternative forms of living, and to expose the dominant powers of the day as fraudulent. It is at this point, where kings and rulers die (metaphorically and literally), where new life and new eyes emerge. After all, wasn’t it the prophet Isaiah who received new life and new eyes in the year the king had died (Isaiah 6:1)? When false kings die, the true King can be seen. This is what prophetic peacemakers long to see happen.

There’s much more that can be said here, but for now, the prophetic language of grief is meant to critique the numbness of the kingdom so that lament can happen and imaginations can be birthed again; hope. For without voicing the pains of oppression, lament and grief will never truly happen, and if lament and grief never happen, true healing and hope will never be realized. A false reality will prevail and the “royal consciousness” will continue to silence. We need prophetic imaginations to have the freedom to spread throughout the land.

This is the way of the true kingdom where alternative communities reside, where the status quo is flipped on it’s head, where forgiveness comes from confession; power from weakness; life from death; glory from humility; beauty from ashes; sanctification from suffering; joy from obedience; healing from grief; fullness from being emptied.

At the point of re-gained imaginations, hope can rise and the true King can be seen and known, and the peasants (marginalized and traumatized) can realize their true destiny. The language of hope from the prophet cuts through the despairing, dead imaginations of the peasants, and allows the feudal system to be exposed for what it is. At this point, once again, the peasants can sing and dance and celebrate the hope of the good life. The Not My People of Babylon can be a part of a homecoming where the poor, the grieving, the humble, and the hungry receive their freedom in midst of the celebration. This is precisely where and when the freedom of God is realized.

It is in the place of the dominant culture where freedom often begins to be experienced, but only among the powerful and privileged. Even in a country like America, where we were established on the freedom and the right to pursue happiness, the freedom that was dreamed of only became a reality for those who had access. For those without access, alternative social communities must be formed to give voice to the voiceless and powerless, to fight for the rights and freedoms that are experienced by the dominant culture, of which are usually the ones creating more boundaries around their freedom, in fear of losing power, prestige, or possessions. Brueggemann calls this the “religion of static triumphalism and the politics of oppression and exploitation” The Prophetic Imagination, 17.

The king doesn’t want a free god, but a god he can control, because if god would ever disagree with his rule, he could persuade and manipulate him to do as he wishes. The result is a god who is not free in the sense of being accessible to all. Rather, the god of the “royal consciousness” is absent to the minority or the marginalized, and in many ways isn’t even desired by them. The God of the Bible is always moving towards the margins, exploiting those who oppress the margins, and bringing alternative ways of living for those on the margins. Indeed, it is from the margins that the thrones of false kings are overturned, and where the true King arises. As well, it is on the margins where the prophetic types makes his/her home, and where they spend the bulk of their energy, because it is in the margins where access is available to all, for God is always accessible.

Hope: The Beginning of Advent

Hope: a feeling of anxious expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Webster’s definition of hope is: a wish… Now I “hope” your definition of hope is not just a wish. I “hope” your understanding of hope actually moves you to be hopeful in all circumstances. I “hope” that today, at the advent of Advent, you will be able to taste a freshness of hope like never before, the kind of hope that moves you towards greater love and compassion.

The Apostle Paul says this about hope: but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, (Rom. 5:3-5) 

The author of Hebrews says this: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, (Heb. 10:23)

The Apostle Peter says that we have been “born again to a living hope.” (1 Peter 1:3c)

But what is this hope? What are you hoping for? What do you put your hope in? What kind of hope will never disappoint you? These are questions worth answering, and answer we must if we desire to get to the root of our hopelessness here on earth, as humans.

In the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament, we hear from the prophet Jeremiah, who is seemingly hopeless, as Israel has completely disobeyed God, they have forgotten who/what there hope is, and have placed their hope in things that have been created by the God, but have lost their hope in the one who created those things. and in the midst of that, have lost so much, and great suffering has come upon them.

It you pick up reading in Lamentations 3, you will pick up at the point where God is giving Israel what He said He would give them, if indeed they turn to themselves or other false gods for their hope:

Lamentations 3:1-20: 1 I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; 2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; 3 surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. 4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; 5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; 6 he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. 7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; 8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; 9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked. 10 He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; 11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate; 12 he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. 13 He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; 14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. 15 He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. 16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; 17 my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; 18 so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” 19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! 20 My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.

Now if you are a human, you can relate to Jeremiah on one level or at many levels. Some of you this morning told yourself, or you told God, “You keep jacking with me” or “You are tormenting me and won’t let me out of the fog” or “I’ve been crying for help and you are not answering” or “You are blocking all that I want to do” or “You just want to destroy me and find joy in doing it” or “I have forgotten what happiness is”. Whatever it is, we have all been there and have all felt the pressure of life choking us out, causing us grief, caving in on us, and our hopelessness is relentless at times.

We know what it feels like to have our desire and expectation shattered, left with no hope. For this reason, we are in great need of a rescuer. This is the very reason why the Israelites of that day were anticipating the advent (the coming) of the Messiah, their rescuer. The cry of the Israelites and the cry of Israel is no different than the cry of the rich, the discontented, the over-indulgent, the selfish, the greedy, and the consuming, materialistic culture we live in today.

We, if we’re honest with ourselves, have all been led at different times, to eat in fields that are making us sick, and we are in desperate need of a great rescuer, for we all have experienced to some degree, the result of God neglect. This is why when we speak of the advent (coming) of the Messiah (the anointed one), it is good news. The condition we are in is deadly, and left to our own devices, we are without hope, and will not make it. All the scientific advances in medicine, technology and our understanding of human development/behavior has not made us more loving, compassionate people. We have not cared for the needy better, nor have we learned the secret of contentment and true happiness. Rather we have become more powerful and full of ourselves and our ideas. We have made our pursuit of happiness our main goal and have become disillusioned by greed and lust. We have learned to self-protect better and to numb ourselves from realities that make us sick when we think about them, but this does not mean those realities are not true this morning.

Awww, the advent of a rescuer! That is good news! Just who is this rescuer though. What is he going to do? What will he offer? The hope of mankind kind rests in who the rescuer is and what he is going to do. Jeremiah doesn’t stop where we left off in Lamentations, he keeps going. He is about to share with us the hope he is holding on to because God has told him of himself, and what he (God) is going to do based on his own goodness. Listen to the words of Jeremiah:

Lamentations 3:21-26: 21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. 26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

He recalls to mind the stedfast love of God that never relents. He remembers that the mercies of this great and glorious God will never be exhausted. They are new every morning. He is faithful and he himself, the Lord, is his portion….Since God himself is his portion, and God has steadfast (passionate and unending) love (‘hesed’) towards him, and he never lies and he is all powerful, then it is clear to Jeremiah that the only reasonable hope that he has been given is to hope in God. Why? Because God’s steadfast love will bring what he promised to bring; hope of relief, of peace, of love and joy that will not disappoint.

This is what I’ve been longing for this past season of life. Coming off of a dark season where life and God seemed fuzzy, clouded, and distant, I am ready for this advent season like never before, full of expectation, not of life becoming perfect, but of God becoming more real in the midst of reality. The hope that I can experience God’s glory regardless of the circumstances of life. The hope that there could be a recovery of the supernatural in the everyday natural life. The hope that I could actually interact with heavenly stimuli Monday through Friday, and not have to wait for a service to help me enter into divine places with God.

This is the hope of advent, the longing and waiting and anticipating of the coming of God. In the biblical story, the God of the universe came in the form of a man who was fully divine, the God-man many scholars call Jesus. But what’s unique about God’s coming to humanity in the form of Jesus, was that when Jesus left, he came again in the presence of his spirit, to be with man, to never leave us, to convict us of misguided living and thinking, and to bring us into the fullness of who we were created to be.

And yet, as God is with us, indeed he is living in us, we still await for his final return when there will no longer be the hungry and thirsty among us. When faith will be by sight, and the children will no longer be fatherless, the homeless will have homes, the farmers will eat the harvest of their own labor and not lose it to the more powerful, and mothers will no longer grieve over their lost children, and on and on I could go. To speak of what is to come brings great hope, indeed a hope that motivates right living today, a corrective hope that confronts our way of living that has numbed us from what ought to be done among those who have been given so much, living in the midst of others who have been given so little, or have had much taken.

The life of God’s people on this side of redemption was always meant to be a foretaste of what it’s going to be like when God comes to make things right, knowing that it’s not our labors that will bring the fullness to come, but it will be our labor that allows others to catch a glimpse of the heart of God and his plans for the future. A future that has partially come into the present with the advent of Christ, and the offer of forgiveness that he gives to all who can be honest with their desperate need for renewal, for a new mind, for new desires to care for others more than self-protection, for a new hope that doesn’t give up when life is caving in and the world is wrapping tightly around your neck. This is the hope of advent. Hold on, rescue is coming.

Artwork by Matt Seymour for a sermon series at Kineo Church (Advent 2012)

Design by Matt Seymour for a sermon series at Kineo Church (Advent 2012)

The Birthing of Thankfulness

On the day of a predominantly American tradition, I love to look back and remember the heart of a day like today. For centuries there have been celebrations during a year of bountiful harvests. Giving thanks to the one who gives rain and sun had always been a part of ancient and native living, especially when times are good. Thankfulness has always been the main reason for celebrations like our modern day Turkey day.

In 1621, however, there was an amazing harvest on the heels of one of the worst years of sickness that brought death to both Pilgrims and Natives alike. It was the companionship of sorrow and suffering that gave birth to celebration that we know of in the West called Thanksgiving. When the ground finally produced a plethora of crops again, along with the hard work of the newcomers and the Natives, they rewarded themselves with a unity meal of thanksgiving.

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My wife is currently re-reading a book to our children called Hinds Feet On High Places. The story of the Natives and the Pilgrims and their year of great tragedy that gave birth to a thankful celebration reminded me of the two companions that the “Shepherd” in the story of Hinds Feet On High Places gave to “Much Afraid:” “Sorrow” and “Suffering.” It was “Sorrow” and “Suffering” that she was to grasp hands with so that she would be able to get to where she needed to go. This isn’t something that we like to talk about because of the tragic nature of suffering and loss, and it’s definitely not something we ask for. But none the less, sorrow and suffering cannot be ignored, as they are ever before us.

It seems that it’s the embracing of (not the numbing from) sorrow and suffering that actually produces celebrations of the heart. To focus on the abundance with a neglect of the loss and sorrow that came before the harvest would be to cheat ourselves of the depth of celebration that we were meant to experience. It is precisely the pain and death in various ways that gives birth to something new and fresh, but never disconnected from the loss. I believe it to be this way only because it was the Creator who became the one to lay his life on the line, to embrace sorrow and suffering for the abundance of everyone else, so that with him and through him, the tomb would become a womb, in which new life would come. It would be on the heels of defeat and death that a celebration of such great magnitude would erupt and bring for great joy and new life.

Today, I want to remember the heart of Thanksgiving, and to grieve that what happened on that day in 1621 did not continue and much more grief and loss was brought upon the Natives of this American land. I want to be intentionally connected to the pain and loss in my life and the lives of others throughout our world today, so that my thanksgiving would be rooted in the fabric of the sorrow and suffering of Christ, the one who gives purpose to our losses and gives life from death. In a day when suffering covers the globe and widows and orphans will go unfed with no homes, I want to stand in solidarity (even if it’s only through remembrance and acknowledgement of their pain and loss), that there will be a day of celebration for them and for their suffering and sorrow to make way for new life, that their tomb today would create a womb that gives birth to thanksgiving.

Until that day comes, I will always fight to hold the tension of all my celebrations in light of those who having nothing to celebrate at the moment, and eat with a heart of gratitude and remembrance of my savior who gave suffering and sorrow meaning and purpose, something that I don’t have to be afraid of, nor pretend aren’t happening on such a fun day of feasting. This scripture passage below has meant so much to me through the years, and continues to help me hold the tensions of suffering and celebration:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts usin all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (NIV)

Happy Thanksgiving!

A Community of Beings

Much ink has been used in trying to better understand relationships and beauty and meaning. I am using more digital ink as well, and by no means am I claiming to have anything that is totally different nor better than what I’ve already read. But I do want to add to what I’ve gleaned from others and possibly help others begin to reframe what it means to experience the beauty of relationships, something that I long to experience more myself in this journey of life’s ups and downs relationally.

Over the last few years I keep coming back to this Greek word “perichoresis” (perikhōrēsis). This is a term that many theologians have used to describe the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (the Trinity). From a psychological understanding, one could define this relationship as differentiated-selves, yet one; or in other words, unified, yet unique. Differentiation for humans is the process of becoming free from your family’s (or any other social group’s) definition of yourself, whether positive or negative. This means you are able to have different opinions and values than your family members (or social groups), without feeling shame or losing a sense of worth; and at the same time you are also able to stay emotionally connected to them.

A healthy view of a differentiated self is found in the relationship of the Godhead, where each person is separate from the other with distinct roles, yet are in a beautiful unity, a “dance of love” as many writers have put it, that honors and respects the other (mutual submission). Perichoresis comes from two separate Greek words, “peri” which means “around,” and “chorein” which means “to make way/space”. It could be translated as “rotation” or “a going around.” I likened it to professional dancers filling the floor yet each have made space for the others to fill the floor with them in symmetry and uniqueness.

Alister McGrath writes this about what the word perichoresis which has some of the same overtones of a healthy, differentiated human: “[Perichoresis] allows the individuality of the persons to be maintained, while insisting that each person shares in the life of the other two. An image often used to express this idea is that of a ‘community of being,’ in which each person, while maintaining its distinctive identity, penetrates the others and is penetrated by them.” Christian Theology: An Introduction, 325

In the New Testament it is clear that God glorifies himself which to some may sound weird. If it does, bear with me for a moment. In Scripture, the book of John’s is important in understanding how Jesus and the Father connect with one another. An important passage in John is John 17:1, where Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” When this passage is put next to John 16:14, where Jesus says that the Holy Spirit “will glorify me”, we begin to see a perichoretic (big word that I made up!) understanding of God’s glory. In other words, we are seeing the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) reciprocating love and glory and intimacy.

Perichoresis is the fellowship of three co-equal beings (a unique unity) perfectly embraced in a symphony of love and harmony, expressing an intimacy that is beyond human comprehension. The Father sent the Son (John 3:16), the Spirit came from the Father as the Son submitted to the Father’s wishes to leave earth and sit next to him until the final hour comes (John 15:26; John 16:5-7; Rev. 3:10)—another example of perichoresis, with the result that God’s people are blessed and are able to be caught up into this dance of love, by God creating ‘generous space’ (grace) for us to join him, and to be formed into a ‘community of beings’.

This perichoretic (differentiated) relationship can be imagined as a Venn diagram as others have stated, showing three circles intersecting in the center with each circle intersecting the others perfectly and multi-dimensionally, as they go around and around, like beautiful dancer moving harmoniously across a dance floor, not stepping on each other’s toes and moving to be beat of the music, a yin and yang of sorts. Such an understanding of glory (which also means ‘beauty’) displays the love expressed within the Godhead by Father, Son and Spirit as they display the beauty and worth of one another.

So on the journey of a study of beauty (which I have personally been on) I believe this is a great place to start. This perichoresis, being differentiated humans, unified and unique, is at the heart of us, as a community of beings, knowing who we are and in time, being consumed by true beauty, and not getting caught up into all the other false displays of beauty. There are many false (fraudulent) beauties that steal and twist our desires and affections, making us impotent and unable to reflect the beauty and worth of Jesus to a humanity in desperate need of finding and experiencing beauty again without consuming it. These fraudulent beauties are displayed to us in ways that teach us to consume them, and any beauty this is being consumed has in that moment, become tainted or twisted. This is the beginning of my attempt at a type of resistance to that which is destroying life.

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