Divine Dancers

IMG_3671

I don’t know about you, but in my family, when a good song comes on, we’ve got a team of dancers hitting the living room floor pulling out their best moves, not caring what anyone else is thinking… just going for it! Every now and then, we all look to one person and we join in on their dance, and start dancing like them; a similar dance, but not exactly, because we all have different movements.

This dance party can go on for over an hour sometimes, all of us laughing and enjoying the spirit of joining one another in their favorite dance style. Dancing causes movement. Dancing creates joy and life.

As I’ve been reflecting on this during advent this season, I’ve been stuck reading the passage in Mark 1:9-11, where Jesus is going down to the Jordan River to get baptized by Johnny B (John the Baptist). This is a beautiful intro to Mark’s account of Jesus, as the sinless savior is identifying with sinful man, and in this humble and gracious identification, God’s Spirit (the dove in this narrative) descends upon God’s Son (Jesus) as God the Father speaks words that thrust us into his heart for all humanity:

“This is my son, the beloved. He brings great joy to me.” There it is. A divine dance. God in all of his mysterious nature honors and brags on one another. Jesus being obedient to identify with sinners. The Spirit anointing Jesus as the One who Israel and all of humanity is groaning for. The Father showing love and affection for his child. Could this be a dance, or at least a beautiful song. If God’s love is song as Switchfoot gives imagery to, then a good song demands dancing!

God’s dance, a divine dance if you will, gives humanity a glimpse into the Father’s heart from the beginning. This takes me back to the unknown days before anything was, God was, and if you’d indulge with my imagination for a moment, I would like to retell the story of God briefly through the lens of a “dance party”.

How It All Began

God the Father, before all of creation, dancing to the jam of the Son. The Son, dancing to the jam of the Spirit… and so on. And then out of this beautiful, divine jam dance and jam session, angels were created to dance to the jams of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Then all of a sudden, something shocking happened. The angels who reflected like a mirror, the beauty of this tri-dance jam session, were asked by this mysterious three person dance machine, to pick their favorite jam and this divine Trinity starting dancing with them to their favorite jam.

The joining in of joy and praise bust forth with mighty arrays of lights beaming and bouncing off of each creature, and in the midst of this creative jam session, the Trinity couldn’t contain their beauty and grace, and began sharing their mojo…

  • The universe was created and the dance party got better…
  • God spoke light into existence and the dance party got better…
  • God separated the heavens from the earth and the dance party got better…
  • God gathered all the waters of the earth together and gave them their boundaries and the dance party got better…
  • God brought texture to the land with plant and trees and all kinds of seeds and the dance party got better…
  • God made a sun to govern the day and a moon to govern the night and the dance party got better…
  • God filled the waters with life and wonder and the land with beautiful and crazy creatures and the dance party got better…

But the angles were wondering how crazy this party was gonna get?!

Then, the invitations went out and a whole new people group joined the dance… humans starting joining in, and their dance was goofy and funky, unlike any other dance the angels had ever seen, but they were cool with it! The dance party was a success; it was very good!

How It all Fell Apart

But something terrible happened. The humans started making the dance about themselves and taking credit for the dance moves that they learned from their divine company. The even started to control how others were dancing and were claiming authority over this type of dance and over that type of dance. This broke God the Father’s heart, as his purpose in this dance party was always to give everything he had to humanity… for their joy, not for coercive power.

Spiritual destruction took place, and the rest of God’s story is a glimpse into the the Father’s heart to redeem humanity and their dance. Everything in God’s story after this moment, points to spiritual transformation as the deepest and most profound human need. And as one follows the story of Scripture throughout the Old Testament approaching the New, you would understand why this transformation requires death.

Human effort after human effort; failed attempts after failed attempts, we begin to see that humanity is in desperate need of someone greater than themselves.

Broken promises, false gods, oppressing the poor, raping the earth, objectifying women, mocking the humble, making themselves kings, neglecting to love the immigrants in their land… This is the story of Israel in the Old Testament, and if we’re honest with ourselves, this is our story as well. Humanity needs something much greater then what we have to offer.

How It Is Being Put Back Together

Enter Jesus. Born from a Virgin teen mom and a refugee, coming from a land where nothing good has come from it; you can call it the wrong side of the tracks. He humbly learns as a child, becomes a construction worker, and end up teaching like no other teacher of his day. He stands opposed to the religious system, he casts out demons, he moves into the neighborhood of the marginalized, he touches the filthy ones, he feeds the poor, he heals the sick, and he welcomes the sinner and rejected.

Jesus is utterly different than us, but becomes like us for our sake;

- so our dance doesn’t suck anymore

- so we can begin dancing again with joy

- so our dancing can produce justice and goodness

- so our dances begin to include others who dance slightly differently than us, or even radically different.

- so our dance actually moves us and isn’t centered around us

Jesus redeems our off beat dancing. He realizes he must die in our place to give us his dance moves, because we have utterly lost our step. So he freely and lovingly offers his life for ours. He is tortured for the crimes we have committed. He is rejected for the very things we were too afraid to stand for. He dies a cursed death in the place we were supposed to die.

But there’s something utterly unique about this man. Jesus, the God of all creation, made himself flesh, moved into our neighborhood, took our death upon himself, because he knew that ‘death for him’ was ‘life for us’. Death would destroy us, but this Jesus can destroy death. He puts to death the power of death once and for all in his death for us fallen dancers, and restore our dancing abilities.

How Our Future Is Secure

His resurrection means life after death for his followers too. It also means that the life of his followers dance like his life. They are no longer dancing in their own power, but are now dancing in the power of His Spirit.

You see, this is a new kind of dance the world knows not of, until Jesus’ followers begin busting out in their divine dance and reveal that their dance is not about themselves, but about their King. All of Jesus’ people believe Jesus is who he says he is by faith, and at that moment, something magical happens in their lives. Death produces life.

For a seed to give birth to life, first it must die, then, and that point of death, a dance busts out of the tomb that had become a womb, and gives birth to something beautiful and life changing. All the dancers who become Jesus’ people are now remade in such a way that death no longer is the final blow. Instead, death is entrance into life the way it was always supposed to be, before it all fell apart.

The Mission of Worship

You see, this dance talk is what worship is. It’s very beautiful, but very dangerous as well. For if we begin to worship in the complete sense, the necessary outcome is a life transformed to do justice, offer mercy, and be humble, like Jesus.

Worship is dangerous. It means you may make a fool of yourself dancing, you may even die because of your dance, but you are no longer defined by anything except what Jesus thinks of your dance.

We see this danger in worship throughout the narrative of Scripture we just breezed over. Think about these words and phrases and what they meant to the characters in Scripture:

Build a boat

Leave your land

Sacrifice your wealth

Wilderness

Exodus

Stand before giants

Exile

Lions den

Fiery furnace

A throne high and lifted up

A helpless babe in a manger

Take no provisions with you

Lose your life to gain life

Persecution

Flogging

Crucifixion

Resurrection

Witness

Take up your cross

Martyr

Marginalized

Dispersion

Worship is utterly dangerous. It moves us. It will be what we are about for all eternity. For any of you who have a boring idea of what heaven may be like, let me burst your bubble. It will not be full of short, pudgy, half naked angels sitting on clouds playing harps (unless you really like that kind of thing… in that case, indulge!).

It will be party full of “American Idol” type singers and “So You Think You Can Dance” type dancers… and they will be you and I, cutting it up, always full of fresh new moves, joining in the dance of others, and never taking the glory from the one who makes the sun shine. The eternal dance party that continually creates beauty, joy, life, and laughter.

I’m convinced that life with Jesus, that following Jesus, allows us to experience glimpses and foretastes of some of that here and now! Jesus does not allow his people stand with him without being moved by him. And Jesus’s movements are dance moves that aren’t controlling or oppressive, but humble and giving. Jesus doesn’t take; He gives.

Jesus also give his people the freedom to join in with others who are dancing differently than them and not judge them or curse them, but dance with them, not to their tune, but to Jesus’ tune. Jesus’ people are free to break out of any dance circle to reveal to everyone that Jesus isn’t part of any dance circle. This dance was meant to be for all, to give life, not to hoard life or brag about having the “right” life, but to display the only way to life with joy and gladness, through humility and suffering, in friendship and community.

Jesus, move us. Change us. Make us legit dancers. Give us courage to act. Grant us grace to rest and listen. Offer your presence to us in fresh new ways. Shape our thoughts. Direct our passions. Create new life. And we will promise to give you all the glory and fame!

An Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere

IMG_3034

 

This artwork is on the backyard wall of a home facing Roosevelt St. near my home. I drive or walk by it most days, and lately it has spoken much louder to me, of the urgent need for all of humanity to begin looking inward at the injustices that go on everyday, right in front of us, by us, and against us.

It has made me realize that what is going on in Ferguson is a microcosm of what is at war within our hearts and minds. Whatever your analysis of Ferguson is, it would be negligent of all of us to assume that “our” understanding is the “just” view, without taking into consideration all the injustices that take place within injustice. Our story isn;t the only point of view, and we could all spin most stories in certain ways to see the rationale of why people do what they do. But we don’t want to “spin” stories, which means we must be humble enough to step out of our stories and believe that there is truth and reason from the other person’s point of view.

Injustice breeds injustice. Hurt people, hurt people. To say that Ferguson is only a race issue is to ignore all the other injustices. To deny that what’s going on in Ferguson isn’t a race issue is to be ignorant of reality. To step into someones else’s story without a preconceived idea of what to expect is almost impossible, but it’s something we must work towards as neighbors and family members who share this beautiful world.

Maybe we have been guilty of having “single” stories of people and events. Maybe our single story of someone or a people group has become so dominant that we have become part of the injustice against that certain group just by the very nature of not being able to get into their shoes. Maybe our single story has been shaped by news reels and stories of other people from our “tribe”. Maybe our story has been shaped in concrete from snapshots of the worst days of those in the other “tribe”.

I long to get rid of my snapshot judgments and to step into the story of love that allows me to journey in the shoes of those who are different from me, to be a lover of diversity, even if that diversity is offensive to me, or even causes me to rethink the way I view or live within this world.

To be an agent of change, is to be one who accepts responsibility of our thoughts and actions, and I believe if we all begin there, inflammatory moments in our world would at least have more sane people on every side looking inward before arrows are shot outward. Division is dangerous and has ravaged humanity. Looking inward first can give us a clue of the cause of certain divisions and can give us the tools we need to begin rebuilding and reconciling from injustices that go unnoticed day after day.

This is what Jesus gives us the freedom to do. He doesn’t join anyone’s tribe or circle. He doesn’t have to defend any ideology or way of living. He is the way, and his way does not ignore injustice, nor does it exclude people. His way is full of love that pierces through lies and short-sighted worldviews. His way is peace and reconciliation that happens through broken people being accepted by him and freed up to deal with their own junk. Injustice anywhere is a threat to the way of Jesus.

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Incomplete

Johnny Gosch was the first kid to appear on the side of a milk carton.

Have you ever seen a “missing person” report on an old milk carton or hung up in the front of a local grocery store? I have all kinds of emotions that pop up when I see them, and think of that child or adult, who’s missing… lost, and I wonder:

What are they thinking? What’s happened to them since they’ve been lost? Are they alive and happy somewhere, or alive and suffering? Are they even alive? Is there family at home grieving over the loss of their presence, their smile? Are they still looking for them, or have they given up?

And the more I think about missing people, I think about the season of my life when I’ve been a missing person, right here in my normal, everyday self, when the only person who’s been kidnapped is my identity. Then I ask myself those same questions:

What am I thinking right now? What’s happened to me since I’ve been lost? Is this what living really is like? Is this happiness? Am I even really alive in the truest sense? Does anybody care that I’ve been missing? And does anybody care if I’m found, or will they even recognize me when I show up again?

Over the last 15(+) years I’ve built relationships with people in such a way as to be a friend to people who are longing to have/find a voice, to be heard, to vent, and to offer freedom to those trying to figure life out. I can say that I’ve really learned a lot over the years, and have heard lots of longings and doubts, fears and confusion, loss and pain.

Every single person, in their own way, are incomplete, just like me, trying to find out who we really are what life’s really all about… and in this journey of life, there’s a lot of relational wreckage in my life, and in those of my friends’ lives as well.

Missing person. Incomplete. Where will I find myself? But as Switchfoot poetically puts it, the real question we should be asking ourselves is: “Where will I lose myself?”. Check out their song “Incomplete”:

He’s washing face to start his day

He’s lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely

Nothing in the mirror ever shows him what’s within

Now he’s checking out the faces

On the back of the milk

He’s sour under all this pressure

He thinks the missing person looks an awful lot like him

And he starts his engine

But he knows he’s missing gears

Incomplete!

Where will you find yourself?

Incomplete!

Where will you find yourself?

Where will you lose yourself?

‘Cause you’re the missing person now

Step outside your doubt

And let yourself be found!

He’s sick of the race just to save face

He’s tied and tried, he’s sick and tired

He’s tired of the holes that are keeping him incomplete

He’ll push the pedal to the floor

Like the day before

He’s trying to be always trying

Try to find an end to justify his means

We all long to be complete. To be found and feel safe and sound. The problem is, we often try to feel complete within a system that has us running off fumes. The rat race. “The pace of life is full, busy, and hopefully, one of these days,” we say to ourselves, “I will find my purpose or be noticed during one of my busy activities, then I’ll feel complete and the burn out of life will be worth it.”

We don’t have to keep saving face. We can step out of the race, out of the system that tells us what it looks like to “succeed”. We don’t have to keep pushing till we drop, and lose or miss all that we already have. As missing people who try to find themselves in what they do, we will miss the people who truly love us now. We will miss our kids, maybe lose our spouse, and hurt those we love most. It’s not worth it. Take your foot off the pedal, slow down, and smell the flowers that are closest by you.

There’s freedom when we take our eyes off the systems and place them on the person, Jesus. The luggage-free savior who isn’t owned or managed by anyone. The problem is, this system, or the systems we’ve created, have squeezed out the very person who helps us find ourselves by losing ourselves.

Losing, or cutting off the baggage that comes with whatever it is we’re trying to protect. It could be Christianity or your faith (or lack there of) of choice, it could be your lifestyle, your job, your “significant other”, or your faith community. Jesus isn’t owned by any of those things or people.

Jesus doesn’t come with the baggage of their history. Jesus rises above the entities, circles, and teams, and clearly makes known, there’s no team that can contain him. He’s complete, and our incompleteness melts away to the degree that we walk in his direction.

Where will you find yourself? It’s where and when you’re willing to lose yourself, to cut out all the lines you’ve drawn and the circles you’ve joined, and realize, Jesus isn’t following you. Crazy thought, huh? Jesus isn’t following us. He’s inviting us to follow him. This is where life is found, not in right belief, or in a well-ordered life, but in a life pursuing Jesus. This is where we really find ourselves and can offer ourselves to people in a ways that give life.

Jesus is the beginning of all that is good, and he cares about missing people, and longs for them to be found.

A Prayer For Soldiers

God give grace in the time of battle for our soldiers. Offer your presence to those in need. Grant your peace where ever it is possible. Endow the leaders with wisdom. Give mercy to those who stand against justice. And for those who will not surrender to peace, bring your justice. To the righteous and courageous soldiers who valiantly and justly fight for peace, May your presence rest upon them and may they find comfort in times of need and in fear. Thank you for all those who have gone before us. Comfort their families and provide for their children and may the blood of the righteous cry out from the battlefield for the day justice when all things will be made right. Amen.

Love Me

IMG_0371

New York City, alone on a crowded street. Everyone’s watching. Nobody’s connecting. To be left alone is a friendly gesture. To be asked about life is to be rejected. The silence is haunting as if we are losing touch with the purpose of life. To know and to be known. Connection. To be kind to strangers, rather than act like they don’t even exist. To smile at parents with children, rather than be annoyed and inconvenienced by the unsophistication of a child. What have we become? Lost? Lonely? Longing… for more, but we’re too scared, fearful, to admit it or reach out for help from those who are willing. Guards are up. Judgements in check. The gift of vulnerability is now a curse, it’s weakness. Living against the tide of the Creators design. Shame is abounding. We’re all coy, bound up by feelings of unworthiness, holding back. Living before the face of God becomes impossible because with a society of smoke and mirrors dominating every corner. We lose our voices and frustration ensues, not sure why we’re depressed or can’t shake the feeling of loneliness, so we stay quiet and put on the smile and the look, the cold hard layer of numbness that it takes to stay up in the paper and plastic world. Maybe New York is just a view into the hearts of humanity. We’re a long way from home, and we see no street signs. Where will we end up? Where do we go from here? This can’t be home, but there’s got to be more before we die alone. Tell me there’s more. Tell me there’s a place called home, because there’s no home like place, you know, that place where you belong. Yes, that place. That’s home. Please, somebody, love me.

From Slavery to Worship

The exodus of the Israelites is the great defining display of God’s (YaHWeH’s) power, love, and faithfulness. In the exodus, we learn more about God’s character and present and future plans than most stories throughout Scripture.

The song (or poem) found in Exodus 15, immediately after God delivered the Israelites from being crushed by Pharaoh’s army at the edge of the great sea, is acknowledged by most scholars to be one of the earliest poetic texts in the Old Testament. It celebrates YHWH bringing his people out of slavery and freeing them through the waters of the sea (a form of baptism if you will). This Song of Moses, and Miriam’s song at the end, show us YHWH’s character and mission that speak to the actual realities of the exodus, and foretell in a cryptic kind of way, the justice of YHWH in the end:

YHWH’s character and mission revealed through worship (Ex. 15:1-21):
YHWH is a warrior God (1-10; 14-16a) He exacts justice. He does not let the wicked go without punishment. He fights for the oppressed. He makes a mockery of world powers. He’s fierce towards his enemies, and gentle towards his people.

YHWH is an incomparable God (11-12) He keeps his promises. He has supreme power and wisdom. He leads the heavenly assemblies. He rules over the nations. He forgives sin and sets free sinners. There are no gods who oppose him.

YHWH is a redeeming God (13, 16b-17) His love (hesed) sacrificially buys his people back. YHWH is a redeemer: go’el; a Hb. word that refers to any member within a wider family who had the responsibility to protect the interests of the family or a specific member of the family who was in particular need. What’s unique about YHWH being referred at the go’el of his people, was that the go’el had the role to: 1) Avenge shed blood of family members (Numbers 35:12), 2) Buy back any land or slaves to keep them in the family (Leviticus 25), and 3) Provide an heir to preserve each family’s name (Story of Ruth and Boaz). Notice that YHWH as go’el is concerned with a home for his people.

v. 13b: you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
v. 17: You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.

The holy abode (sanctuary) and the mountain. The tabernacle and the promised land. The temple and Jerusalem. Jesus and the holy city. This is the progressive importance of the holy abode and the mountain. YHWH makes a home for his people where he is present with them, and he is preparing a home that will one day get rid of all that opposes him.

YHWH sees the homelessness of his people. Their ecological homelessness. Their social homelessness. Their physical homelessness. Their spiritual homelessness. He sees all the forms of homelessness, and through the exodus is shouting out loud to us, I’m bringing you HOME!!!

YHWH is the king (18) His throne, his kingdom, his home, will be the only ones that last forever. YHWH is king, and his rule will never end, which means what he builds will never end either.

YHWH is to be worshipped (21) The glory and beauty of his acts of redemption demand worship to him alone. He is the only one who can bear the glorious weight of worship. This is why man or other created things are not to be worshipped… they weren’t created to bear the weight of glory that comes with worship. We fold under the pressure of worship, YHWH shines!

As we have seen, the unique element about this story of the exodus is that it shows us God’s mission through his righteous character. Our mission as followers of Jesus is first God’s mission that he has invited us into, and the exodus depicts God’s mission in a way that makes our gospel much bigger and comprehensive than we could ever imagine.

But something else this song portrays is the justice that is to come. The question that rings in my ears and many other people’s ears as we read this is, “Does this kind of justice really exist? And if it did, maybe I should be the one who is drowned.”

This justice is real and at the cross, Jesus drowned all that opposes him, so that all who believe in him would stop opposing him and be freed from the waters of chaos and destruction. But not all will call on Jesus and be delivered, so there will be a day when all of Babylon (a metaphor in the book of Revelations for all that opposes God) will also be thrown into the sea and be destroyed forever (Revelation 18:1-21).

The great exodus and the crushing of the mightiest nation in the ancient days (Egypt) is a depiction and a promissory note to all of us who are longing for justice, that there will be a day, with no more tears, no more pain, where evil gets what it deserves, and we are delivered once and for all, safe and sound, HOME, with Jesus as our King and with bodies that will no longer sin or perish.

This great baptism in Exodus is a promise to you and I that evil and injustice never gets the last word. Take heart today in the midst of injustices everywhere, that your fight for justice today is not in vain, and is never going to go unnoticed, ultimately. In a day where systems are protected over people, governments oppress the masses, and terrorists threaten peace and safety, don’t forget that love alone is worth the fight.

Israel went from slavery to worship as justice rolled down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. This day is fully coming, but it has also already, but not yet fully, come in Christ. Jesus took what we deserved and gave us what he deserved. Today, justice in the courts of heaven can be a reality for you, as we wait for and fight for complete justice on earth.

So what does it mean for us today? It may mean something different to each of us, but I want to close with an excerpt from two friends who I am in fellowship with and do life with. I emailed them and asked them to give me their insight into the Song of Moses in Exodus 15, and here’s what they said this text means to them (us) today:

Philip: “I think it is a picture of how we should praise Jesus for his sacrifice. For his winning the fight for us, it means we no longer need to battle, if we lean on Jesus and put our faith in him the battle has already been won. The only thing left for us to do is to take out our tambourines and sing his praise and do this in a manner that everybody will join us. This seems so simple, too simple, but if we show our joy it will become infectious and others will want to know what is so awesome. This gives us the chance to share the good news.”

Annette: “We are to tell stories where we’ve doubted God and where we know He has rescued us.  We are to sing songs and dance all over the head of evil as we sing of God’s loving, victorious salvation.  We are to tell the stories we so often avoid telling because they are bloody and ugly and because there is no victory without loss.  War leaves behind causalities which breaks the heart of God and too ought to break our hearts.  We have to wear clothes of sorrow and desire for justice as we put on our dancing shoes and play our tambourines as we sing songs that tell the stories where even though we deserved death we have been given the gift of life.”

Praise Jesus.

Sing with tambourines.

Tell stories of our rescue.

Sing and dance over evils head.

Wear clothes of sorrow (don’t brush over our pain and loss in the midst of the battle)

Desire and fight for justice, because it’s coming, it will not delay.