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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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)

Being Faithful in the Darkness

Darkness is a weird thing. In our Christian worldview, it never seems to be used positively, but it seems I’ve been in darkness (or fog or some kind of unknowing) for a while and I don’t believe it’s because of my unbelief or anything like that. My tendency in life is to assume that if life is dark and dreary, there must be sin in my life, or the evil one must be causing this darkness.

This certainly can be true of darkness at times, but is it always the case. Can darkness be good? Could God be the one leading me into the dark? After all, it was Jesus who led his disciples at an hour of darkness, to boat across to the other side of the the great sea.

So as I ponder this darkness, the ways of God, and the position of my heart and mind, it must be dark because there’s something in the dark that I can only learn here, where the lights are off, or really dim, and clarity is not a close friend. 

On a positive note, I can see stars at night only because the dark sky and the moon looks much more extravagant with a dark back drop. I sleep (and rest) better in the dark; I usually don’t labor physically when it’s dark either. I love the coolness of the dark in the spring and fall in Phx. 
The darkness is refreshing after 115 degrees heat all day in the summer, even if it’s still 105 degrees at midnight. Darkness gives plants and animals rest from the scorching sun all day. Fires and fireworks are much more enjoyable in the dark. The darkness humbles me as it exposes who I really am–all my fears, insecurities, and–and it also gives me a sense of comfort, knowing that the day of toiling is over and rest is coming. 
Those are some things I’m realizing that are better in the dark, so maybe this season of darkness that isn’t lifting (for over 2 years) is more purposeful than I believe it to be. I hope it is, but I have to admit that I hate it at times. I’m tired of being in this place of unknowing that only offers a visibility of 24 hours or less. I long for something new and fresh, something to come in and sweep me off my feet, something that is more intimate and deeper than ever before. 

And even as I write this, I’m reminded that deeper almost always means darker before it can be translated into something good. The deeper you dive into the ocean, the darker it gets, but then again, some of the most precious pearls are forged in the pressures of deep, dark waters. But those places are scary and not desirable, unless there’s a guide, a trained professional to lead me down there. 

This is where God’s role comes into play, as well as a community of friends and family who are courageous enough to walk with you and sit with you on the bottom of the ocean. God will make his bed in Sheol for his children. 

I hate the pain and fear of the dark and God’s seeming silence is horrible. It’s as if I’ve had years of tender care as an infant and toddler and now God, as a good parent, re-fathering me if you will, is putting me up on my two feet and telling me to walk, trust, to remember that I’m done nursing and I need to trust that he’s always near me even when it’s dark and he’s silent and I can’t see his face, or even see what tomorrow holds. I hear him saying, “I’ve got this Jeff. Trust who you’ve become. Be patient and faithful in the darkness. I will not disappoint you.” And my heart’s response is “Ok, I don’t want to refuse you anything you ask God, but I have to be honest, I have fear and doubt and need you to meet me at those places.” 

So for now, darkness is a companion, one I don’t want to scorn or make to be an enemy of light, nor do I want to wrongly celebrate. But I think maybe it’s only through being in the dark for long periods of time where we can actually long for the true light. Or maybe it’s in the dark where we learn that the true light is in us and we can be okay when darkness comes and stays for a while. Maybe darkness wasn’t meant to be a bad place. After all, it was darkness that arrived first in the Genesis narrative, and all that God had made was good. Who knows? 

St. John of the Cross likens darkness in the life of someone pursuing Christ as moments of mysterious and divine closeness. He likens it to the sun, if it were to be stared into with our eyes, it would make our senses go dark, but that wouldn’t mean the sun stopped shining; it just means that our senses are limited and can only take in so much light until God graciously clouds his presence, so as to not overwhelm or destroy us. 

I trust this graciousness today and hold onto the hope that light is always shining, and my senses are being refined more and more to take in this beautiful, life-giving light.

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Edge of My Seat

Track four on the Legend of Chin album is entitled, “Edge of My Seat”. Are you sitting on the edge of yours? If not, sit down, get on the edge, and read on:

Nothing more
That there’s nothing more
Nothing more
That there’s nothing more

Nothing here’s the same, it’s all a dream
Life on the movie screen
And I’m sitting on the edge of my seat

I can’t tell what happens next,
Just what I’ve seen
I don’t know what it means
But I’m holding on the edge of my seat

‘Cause I can’t forget your name,
Forget your name
Yeah I can’t forget you now
I know I can’t forget you, girl

I promise
Sit back buckle in and hold on tight
A roller coaster ride
And I’m holding on the edge of my seat

And I can’t know for sure
‘Cause I just landed on your shore
But I think you got nothing but another thing coming
If you think there’s nothing more
That there’s nothing more

At first glance, this seems to be an aimless song about being in love with a girl, and being excited about what happens next. And indeed, it may be, but we have to read (and listen) to the song in the context it was written (Jon was 20ish and dropping out of first year of college or so…). In this stage of life, there’s always much excitement mixed with other intense feelings and questions about life.

In the ripe young age of 20, the idealistic life (for most Westerners) seems promising and exciting. The chance to make of yourself what you’ve always longed to be, whether it be totally opposite of the way you were raised. The chance to establish you’re own values, pursue your own dreams and not some other adults dreams. The adventure of figuring out what it’s like to love and live. It’s a season of living on the edge of your seat. What’s next? Will it be like “life on the movie screen”? Will it be better, or worse?

I take from this song, especially at the end of it when it says, “And I can’t know for sure, ‘Cause I just landed on your shore, But I think you got nothing but another thing coming, If you think there’s nothing more, That there’s nothing more”, that there’s a cry out to those who think, at a young age, that there’s nothing more; not much to live for. To me, it’s a plea for the young apathetic guy/gal to hang in there, to realize that no matter what their story has been up to this point, that they just arrived on the shore of life, and there’s much more to be found in life.

So I say to the one who’s giving up, or is on the verge of giving up, “Keep hope alive, don’t give up, I promise, there’s more to this life. Stay on the edge of your seat!”

God’s Not Dead

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Jesus is alive, therefore the church is alive! If Jesus is dead, then the church is dead. The Apostle Paul speaks to this in 1 Cor. 15:17, 19: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile (literally, incapable of producing any useful results) and you are still in your sins… If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

But Christ has risen!

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)

Paul’s “therefore” comes on the heels of talking about the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, the resurrection of the body, and the great mystery of our work here on earth not being in vain. If our work is not in vain, then it is actually accomplishing something for God’s kingdom.

When Jesus comes onto the scene at the beginning of Mark’s account of the gospel (MarK 1:14:15), He said “…the kingdom of God is at hand”, which basically means, “Good news, the King is here and so is peace!” Imagine for a moment with me, the reality of the Kingdom of God being at hand: shalom (peace with justice, new life, goodness, beauty, redemption, reconciliation, etc…). And then after this announcement, Jesus did justly among the poor and marginalize, he corrected the religious leader who thought they had the corner on doctrine, he healed and touched the untouchables and the dark horses, then he proceeded to move towards the cross to pay for (literally, to take on himself) our sins and the consequences we deserve for thinking we can play the role of God, so that God’s Kingdom could be realized (seen) in and through our lives.

But Jesus was not only satisfying the payment for sin… He was at that moment while dying on the cross, preparing and displaying for us a new way to be human. the weak become strong. The foolish confound the wise. The last become first. The powerless become powerful. And through the resurrection, Jesus began creating a new people who will be mediators of God’s redeeming power for other people, cultures, and creation itself. He’s building an army, not just laying out a plan of salvation.

“Atonement, redemption and salvation are what happen on the way (of God launching His kingdom, the cross) because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they can in turn be rescuers.” N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 204.

Those who stop trusting in themselves and other futile things, and begin trusting in Jesus, they are being made into an army that fights not through force and persuasion, but through selflessness, death, weakness, and sacrifice.

We are redeemed not just to receive what God has for us (although we desire what He has for us), but so that others may as well be delivered from the clutches of Satan, sin and death. We, having been called into God’s kingdom, are now summoned to advance this public truth about God’s kingdom (Matt. 11:12), his good and gracious rule, and partake with Him in the gathering of His church (present and eternal).

So… therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58).

God is using His army of redeemed people, not only to display His kingdom, but also to create and build the new heaven and new earth, through every righteous deed done in the name of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, this is not our doing because we have died in Christ and live by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ Jesus, through the Spirit, has been working on the new heaven for over 2000 years through redeemed lives here on earth (us!), sowing seeds of righteousness that will produce a thousandfold return!

Oh how this has the ability to change our view of the resurrection and Christian mission. Every act of love, gratitude and kindness, proclamation of truth in love, every act of justice done in the name of Jesus, is us partnering with God in storing up treasures in heaven that will never pass away and will be for all of the redeemed to enjoy! This is our mission in light of the resurrection!

But here’s the sad part of this story. Many people say with their lips that God is not dead, but then live most of their lives as if He is dead. This is not the kind of witnessing army that Jesus dies to give life. The life God gives through faith in Christ is life that moves in rhythm with God’s kingdom: mercy, justice, forgiveness, confession of sin, standing up for dark horses, sharing, trusting, loving. We are called to live as if God is not dead. May we be a people who live as if God’s alive before we dare proclaim it.

We are called to plant “kingdom-signposts”, to display the beauty and worth of Jesus, to walk in freedom, love, humility, shalom, and in the grace of God’s good and coming kingdom. Demonstrate it. Embody it. Then announce it. Include the poor & marginalized. Pray. Embrace suffering. Rejoice in weakness. Gather together in community. And remember, that God’s kingdom comes by the Spirit of God moving in response to prayer!

From Addiction to Absolution

At the core, the drug addict isn’t running to drugs because he made a series of bad decisions. He runs to them because they have become the one thing that can provide relief from pain, pleasure, and an escape. At the core, the porn addict doesn’t run to the computer screen or the bookstore because he has let his mind go too far. He runs to it because it is giving him something that relieves him from the lack of intimacy, acceptance, and pleasure. At the core, the workaholic doesn’t work all the time because he is so in love with what he does. He works all the time because it gives him a sense of significance, acceptance, or the right kind of living. The same can be said about the shopaholic, the Facebook addict, and the one who controls their eating. At the heart of all of these addictions is a deep idol that drives us to satisfy it, a desire that has convinced us that “this” is the one thing that can fill our deep, empty well.

For instance, a woman who has become promiscuous with men and has not cared for her own protection or body, is not in love with the thought of being with men. Rather, her deep idol of being wanted, accepted, or worth something (even if for a moment), drives her to do whatever she can to fulfill that need or to get a temporary relief for the night. She doesn’t care for her body because the deep idol of wanting to be loved is controlling her. She will labor to serve this deep idol and make it happy at any cost. The sad thing is, many of us (men especially) don’t see this inner struggle and think that many of these women really want us to take advantage of their physical beauty and please ourselves by using them. That is a different blog for a different day.

To counsel this woman to stop her destructive behavior would be useless. The deep idol knows that even if she stops this behavior for a while, it is still in control  because it has become the ultimate thing in her life. She will just move on to another behavior (that may or may not be as outwardly destructive), but she will be mastered by her deep idol that is driving her to be loved.

So here’s the deal, it is not wrong to want to be loved. We were made with this desire. The desire to want to be loved is God given and is a longing of everyone’s heart. But when we sell ourselves to any and everything so that we can attain “being loved”, we become slaves to “being loved” and will never be satisfied. This is why worship of anything other than God is so destructive, because everything except God can be taken from us. Idols fail 100% of the time. This is why God hates idolatry, not because He’s some angry deity who is always looking to smite the disobedient, but because He knows He is the only “slave master” who can deliver exactly what His slaves need. He’s the only”idol” who will never fail and cannot be taken from us. So when He sees His kids running to things that only bring a moment of satisfaction and ultimate destruction, He hates it!

We see His hatred for it in Deuteronomy 29:16-19 when Moses speaks to the Israelites about their time in the wilderness, just before they enter the promised land: “You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’

Detestable. Beware. Poisonous. Bitter. Stubborn. These are just a few words that stuck out to me when reading this passage. When we serve created things over the Creator, it is detestable to God. We must beware of letting our hearts be drawn to temporary relief, because if we want relief over God Himself, the words poisonous and bitter become words that describe us, and this isn’t what we want. We are just wanting to be loved, accepted, worth something; we just want some pleasure and joy. So behavior change is “out” (not an viable option at this point) because what’s driving our behavior is not God. Affection change is “in” (the only viable option at this point) because God must be our new and first affection so that our behavior can change for good, which is what will actually give us what we want; joy, pleasure, acceptance, love. How? Because when our affections are changed and we desire God, we get God.

This is called absolution or redemption. Not the redemption of our souls, but the kind of absolution I’m talking about is the rehab that needs to take place because of our lives of temporary and selfish pleasures and our misplaced longings of acceptance from created things. Our misplaced affections which has led us to all kinds of addictions has brought alongside of us a trail of pain, destruction, habits, wounds, friends, family and thoughts that all need to redeemed. Remade. Redone. Reprioritized. Redefined.

This work is slow and painful and not for the faint of heart, but it is for everyone. This work is not instant, so if you’re still wanting a quick fix, you’re still serving your deep idol, not Jesus. This work is the kind of work that is done by those who know they need Jesus more than oxygen. This work leads to a life of fruitfulness for God’s kingdom. This work leads to a life that is truly free, and freed to be loved and receive love. This work leads to God looking beautiful, magnificent, powerful and awesome in the life of those who trust Him. Make Jesus look good. Do the work, but don’t go at it alone.