Advent: The Hope of a Voice

Today marks the first day of Advent, the season of anticipation, longing, waiting, before the celebration of Christmas begins. Advent, it refers to “the arrival of a notable person.” In the Christian tradition, the first Sunday of Advent focuses on “hope.” Hope is one of the big three that Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 13, “faith, hope and love.” It’s an essential element to the life of those who don’t have all that they long for in this life. Hope keeps us feeling when we want to go numb. Hope offers us another day of breath when the walls of our lungs are caving in. Hope compels us to not give up, but to carry on to keep heading towards that which you believe in.

I want to speak of what hope could look like through the eyes of a Medieval peasant who has been told by the Lords, the Freemen, the Knights, the Church leaders, and the King, that they actually have it good in life. The peasants were the lowest on the totem pole. 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 (lords) and soldiers (knights) who worked for the king in some way. The lords 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. The feudal system worked as lords grew in power and prestige. The chief way lords 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.

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Lords competed in this economic system to get more peasants to rent their land, to gain more profit, to tithe more than their neighbor so they can be recognized by the church leaders, and hopefully to King would find favor with them. This corrupt system kept people in their place, and allowed the powerful to become more powerful. Oppressive living was celebrated, and hope for a peasant was not a desirable topic for lords and kings. They liked it when no talk of hope for the future was going on. But every now and then, a voice of hope would arise among the peasants, or for the peasants, and a stirring of hope would arise. This voice of hope, this prophet/prophetess would see the abuse and injustice and could not be silent anymore. That’s the beginning of hope, when their is a voice for the once voiceless.

The voice of these prophets would call lords, kings and other 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 and it’s rulers. Kings would be called to lament the fact that their rule has marginalized many, and left the oppressed majority in sickness and poverty, that has become a hatred for the king and for all that he stands for. This prophetic voice will loudly declare that the reign of the king will not last forever. The prophetess will call all who have ears to hear to begin mourning their pain and turmoil, and will call kings to mourn 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 do not be fooled by this critique. This critique serves a purpose, because as the critique is broadcast and spread throughout the land, the wrestling of those who once lived in apathy begins to mix together something very strong and unstoppable in some ways. Critique soon moves on to hope. A sad reality in many cultures is that the one who begins to critique the dominant culture is almost always seen as (or made to look like) a trouble-maker, a law-breaker, untrustworthy, a liar, or a lunatic. It’s funny how the voice of hope is always attacked by those who fear to lose most from hope arising.

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 hope, of a revolution. This is why oppression occurs and people are silenced. When prophetesses arise among peasants, lords and king come down on the peasants even more harshly than before, and “hope” that the peasants themselves will turn on the prophet, and even blame them for their suffering. Even if it’s done passive aggressively with a tone of “love,” to mask a hidden motive of control, corrupt leaders will silence talks of systemic change. Kings and lords have a lot to lose.

The feudal lords promote 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.

Not much has changed today, except the amount of wealth there is to go around of people. The system says it’s more free than before, but there’s still a pecking order. The rich and powerful can use their money and power to get out from under the law, thus proving that there really is no law, order, or justice, at least for them. The law and order is still for the commoner, the peasant, the ones who are lower on the totem pole. Nelson Mandela once said that “in prison, illusions can offer comfort,” but if you’re not in a literal prison, these illusions become the prison.

All around us, if you’re paying attention, are illusion. The dominant culture wants those on the bottom to see life a certain way, through numb-filled-glasses. So many of the concerns of the peasants arise from planted impulses to become someone or something that we are not. We have been indoctrinated into this authoritarian-political-consumer culture that dominates the weak. We are told in many different ways by many different people that certain realities of our culture/nation are untouchable truths, and that particular ways of being and behaving are not only preferred, but expected.

The prophetic hope-builder 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 prophets/prophetesses 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.

This is what Jesus not only offered, but made happen. His life for ours, the kings and the peasants alike. Jesus is the great equalizer. He brought the valleys up and the mountains low. He was not a respecter of man. He displayed true power, sacrificial love, and the willingness to die so that all could live, even lords and kings. This Advent, today, we long for Jesus to not just be known cognitively, but to be experienced and embraced intimately. Facts about Jesus can only take us so long, until we need Jesus among us, tangibly, prophetesses who stand with the weak so that the powerful (kings) and the weak (peasants) both have an opportunity to live.

Here’s to hopeful, active waiting. Your voice matters!

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Love: Going All The Way

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

“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?

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

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)

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!