Thoughts About Justice and the Christian Life…

There is no peace without justice while we are living “east of Eden.” If shalom (universal peace and flourishing ) is the end goal of all of creation (human and non-human), then peaceableness is the top floor of shalom and justice is the bottom floor, the foundation; they are book ends if you will (read my thoughts about peace here).

So what is justice? In the Greek culture, justice most likely referred to the Greek goddess Dike, who would have been the personification of the virtue. This is where the Greek (and biblical) word díkaios would have come from, which means, “to be just, or right.” In the biblical sense, the word justice would imply not only the just execution of the law of goodness, but right living on behalf of those who cry out for justice.

The words “righteous” and “justice” seem to go hand in hand in the biblical narrative, and they actually could be defined by the term justification. In salvation terms, to be justified, is to be declared “right and good” before God and having been justly acquitted of one’s rebellion and brokenness because Jesus paid for what we deserved (justice) with his sacrifice.

So justice, in part, means to be free and forgiven of one’s inner and outer brokenness, and empowered to do what is right based on the freedom one has received. This is the long and difficult way of simply saying: justice is that state in which everyone receives what is rightful and appropriate. Since humans are created with certain rights (food, clothing, work), then a society is just when everyone in the society enjoys the goods that everyone has rights to. But a society is also just when there are consequences for those who have disregarded or kept others from these certain rights as well. A city that is just is a city that respects the dignity of every human, especially within the Christian worldview that believes that every human is created in the image of God.

At the least, in the talk of renewal, justice is absent whenever basic needs go unmet. This means that liberation from in-justice and repairs made because of the wrongs done are at the very core of justice. If one skimmed the Old Testament to search out who were some of the people whom God had special concern for in view of justice, you would see that it is the most vulnerable of society: widows, orphans, aliens, sojourners, the homeless, the naked, the hungry and the afflicted. And this justice was never a nationalistic priority that made one nation or one people group more important than another. Actually, we can see in the narrative of Scripture, when Israel took their nationality too seriously, or saw themselves as more important or elite and selfish, correction swiftly followed. Humans, universally, who are a part of the demographics of God’s special concern are to be an integral part of our every day relationships.

If we followed this theme throughout the Old Testament, it would be hard to ignore the loud and clear message that justice happens when the marginal ones are no longer marginal. And this Old Testament understanding of justice is fully embodied in Jesus, who was very concerned with those who were on the margins of society, those who were vulnerable and exploited by people who had the power, and in many cases, Western Christendom has been more about law and power than justice and service.

This can also be teased out to include all who have ever come to Jesus for salvation (the forgiveness of one’s sin and being declared right before God). We are all marginalized because of our brokenness, cut off from God, but because of God’s mercy and love for us, Jesus became one of us, to once and for all, deal with the rebellion and tyranny that we created, both internally and externally. God brought justice to humanity through the advent, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The righteous demands of the law, or in other words, the legal expression of God’s justice, were satisfied when Christ was put to death and suffered the torment of separation from God, in our place. In simpler terms, it is because the “just” paid for the “unjust,” that we can be granted mercy and grace as people on the margins, and be brought near to God (no longer making our home in the margins).

This is justice, which flies in the face of a Western view of justice, condemns all of us, if we indeed held ourselves to the standard of justice that we hold others to. Justice does not make sense to a world committed to the four P’s: power, progress, profit, and pursuit of happiness, and within this world view, many forms of churches in the West have been engrafted.

When we see injustice happening in our city, it usually means that we will have to miss out on one or all of the four P’s if we’re going to stand against it. There’s no money in it for those who want to plead the case of the widow, feed and clothe the naked, or stand against oppressive systems and structures that abuse and exploit the weak. Actually, downward mobility is to be expected if one is going to give their lives to this kind of justice, and it’s hard to build a church when downward mobility is one of the chief engines of church growth. This new ethos must be present in the renewal of the Western church.

The result of living a life of justice in the biblical sense in our 21st century Western society, most of the time, means that we lose ground on the four P’s of our culture and this is not very attractive, at least not long term. To see renewal happen in churches then, I am convinced that we will need an uprising of men and women who are willing to not be controlled by the P’s within the old institutional church model, and begin courageously living as an alternative community in the midst of our over-indulgences and commitments to the bottom line and financial sustainability of church business.

This will not be an easy lot for the pioneers of renewal, but justice has never been an easy virtue to live by. After all, justice on God’s part was very costly. The promise of comfort is very seductive, especially when faced with needed changes in lifestyle to begin standing against injustice. Ultimately, justice will always prevail, with or without us, but we do have a choice to get in on the fight for “justice.” It’s not attractive nor easy these days to stand for what is just and right, nor is it always clear what we should be fighting for.

I hope in this short article I gave you the beginnings of a blueprint with which to pray and meditate about what justice looks life in your life and among those around you. We are living within a contemporary Christian culture that has lost much of the ancient orthodox faith that has painstakingly been passed down to us and made Christian worship more about events, projects, and business, but not justice. I believe this “norm” must be renewed to have not just a biblical view of justice, but a biblical life of lived justice.

The Tension

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Life is full of irony. Sometimes it’s a light-hearted, funny irony, and at others times it’s an irony that causes you to enter the tension. We want to be successful in business, but for many it comes at the cost of a healthy family life. We long and fight for justice, yet many products we buy are unjustly produced. We long to eat healthy, yet most of the “good” tasting food is full of sugar, fat, and grease (at least for my taste buds!). We want to be unified, yet we have this pull to label, box in, and identity on a certain side. We want to serve the poor, but when we do, we often realize it’s we who are being served. We pray for answers, but when the answers come, they aren’t what we’re looking for, so we miss it. We hate racism, but when we truly address it we can’t deny the small (or large) seeds of racism in ourselves. Our children are living in relative comfort, while other children are rocked by a bomb, sitting alone and bloody, scared, confused (I guess this isn’t irony as much as tragic disparity). As Christians we brag about being servants of Christ, but when we’re treated like a servant, we become angry and feel entitled to better treatment (again, this is at least true with me…) Irony, yes. Irony that produces tension.
Tension: the state of being stretched tight. These issues, when exposed to us, seem to stretch us tight, create discomfort, and the tension sets in. “What do we do with this?” Most of the time, the easiest answer is to find a way to relieve the tension, so we run to one side of the issue and neglect the other side. Problem solved. Until the next issue arises, and if we’re honest with ourselves, these tense issues rear their ugly heads every day. We can’t run from the tension, but we can deny it, numb ourselves from it, remain ignorant. We can… but could it be that these are the very things that destroy our souls. 
This is why Jesus constantly drove people into the tension. Time and time again when asked questions like, “What’s the greatest commandment?” “Who’s my neighbor?” “Do we pay taxes or not?” “How do you inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answers created tension. He didn’t give a pass to those looking for a quick way out or a quick answer through a doctrinal loophole. He pressed them to be honest, to live in to the tension of honesty, self-reflection, humility, sacrifice; to die to the habits that were killing them, and oppressing others. 
Most of the answers we are looking for in life, aren’t easy ones, or else we would’ve found answers already. And most of the time, the partial answer is mysterious and left open ended. It’s in this place of tension, where we can’t fall back on programmed responses. It’s here that we are thrown into the depths of our desires, our beliefs, and we are left to wrestle with who we truly are. Are we going to live in to the mystery, the tension, and trust that we aren’t the ones holding all things/all beliefs together? Are we going to allow the process of unknowing to shape us into a people who truly know the one who does hold it all together, at the cost (or risk) of being labeled by your own tribe as “going off the deep end,” according to your tribe’s standard, or are we going to settle, run to one side of the camp, and stake our flag on the “right” side. 
It’s in the tension where we have the opportunity to become properly tuned. Jon Foreman gives a great metaphor for tension, likening it to guitar strings that are strung tight enough to hold a tune. It’s in the tension where we play on tune. Strung too tight, we bust. Not strung tight enough, we make awful noises. If you have honest friends around you who aren’t just a fan of yours, they’ll tell you when you’re  about to bust, or if you sound horrible. When you are offended by a friend or acquaintance, you are then offered the gift of tension. Who are you going to choose to be? Are you going to run to one side and stake your flag, or will you live in to the tension of teachableness, humility? This is all too convicting for me, even as I write this. 
Right now, in this season, we have a great opportunity to live in to the tension of life without running to one side or the other, claiming the other side as demons, or wrong, or lost. I confess, I’ve done plenty of flag staking, and I am not proud of it, and neither has it produced any beautiful lovely sounding music. It won’t, because it’s not tuned. Today, we have opportunities to embrace the beauty of mystery and unknowing. To admit we’re not the ones holding it all together (or to admit that our country or tribe isn’t the one holding all things together). 
Jesus constantly broke the mold of what was right, and I’m convinced followers of Jesus are called to live in to the same ethos, to passionately stand in the middle, confidently living in mystery and certainty. Embracing the tension in our own lives first, then embracing others who are struggling to find the confidence to stand where it hurts as well.
The glory of God is revealed through a broken man. Tension. 
The cross, the greatest act of love. Tension. 
The tomb becomes a womb. Tension. 
Beauty is found in death. Tension. 
Ashes produce life. Tension. 
The way up is down. Tension. 
The way to access power is to give up power. Tension. 
To become the greatest, you must become a servant of all. Tension. 
Gain life by losing your life. Tension. 
“With that in mind, I feel like dying to myself is a daily task necessary for true abundant life.” Jon Foreman

The Body of Christ

In the book of Ephesians, the word body in the Greek language is sṓma, which means “an organized whole made up of parts and members; a body, a collective mass.” In other words, the whole body of Christians collectively, of which Christ is the head. This word shows up in the book of Ephesians many times (1:22-23; 2:15-16; 3:6; 4:4, 11-12, 16, 25; 5:23, 30) (see also Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13, 27; Col. 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15).

There is a very striking illustration in 1 Corinthians 6:15 regarding the body of Christ (the Church), where Paul says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” If you are a disciple of Christ, then you are a “member”, joined as a part of the body (family) of Christ, and the parts of your body are parts of Christ’s body. And this body feels what the other parts of the body feel. It also hold the body accountable to take care of itself when it’s hurting, neglecting itself, hurting others, etc.

We’re not Christians, we’re ‘family members’ joined by and with Christ, with a mission to make His beauty and worth known over every earthly treasure. Jesus Christ has a body here on earth. It is called the Church. She has legs to go to the places that Jesus would go. She has arms to do the work that Jesus would do. She has mouths to say the things that Jesus would say. She has backs to carry the burdens that Jesus would carry.

Paul said that his aim in life was that “the life of Jesus might be made known to others in his mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). In other words, his aim is that his body might make Christ’s body real to the world. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you follow me, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). Love, not self-centered interest, or nationalistic commitment over the good of your neighbor.

Since this is not alway the case, Jesus calls out religious short-sightedness in Matthew 23:23c: “…you neglect the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.” It’s this kind of neglect from among those who identify themselves under the term Christian, that misrepresents Jesus’ body.

It seems we as a church in all our forms and commitments, have often neglected the weightier matters of God:

– We’ve been far too focused on success…

– We’ve been far too concerned with entertainment and comfort…

– We’ve been far too consumed with material goods…

– We’ve been far too obsessed with being the best…

– We’ve been far too competitive with our neighbors…

– We’ve been far too promiscuous with others…

– We’ve been far too neglectful to the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner

– We’ve been far too quick to conform to the patterns of this world…

– We’ve both far too blind to injustice and the imbalance of powers…

– We’ve been far too committed to the American dream

God’s people are willing to humble themselves, receive the correction, and let God’s spirit change them from the inside out. We’ve all blown it. We’re all among those who are far too something… Christianity isn’t about perfection, it’s about death. God’s people are willing to die, to admit when they’re wrong or have blown it.

They are people who embrace brokenness, who boast in their weakness, and look for ways to serve the least, the last, the lost. Again, this is not a perfection competition, but a death sentence. A death sentence that places the Jesus follower into a tomb that becomes womb. The new birth that takes place after the death, is like ashes on forest floor, oil on dry skin, water in a dry desert, forgiveness from an enemy. A new life is willing to be poured out and consumed like the elements of communion, so that others might have access to God, or be refreshed, included,  The bride will not always look like this, but she also will not blatantly ignore these corrections either. Her heart will be soft and teachable, eventually.

The late Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, writes this in 1967 with her message being addressed to the church: “As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.”  “In Peace Is My Bitterness Most Bitter”, The Catholic Worker, January 1967, 1, 2.

The body is the bride. She is messy. She is adulterous. She does not act like a bride of a king at many times. She has members, and those who claim to be members, and they both shall remain together for now. She is often entangled in affairs that makes the groom cringe. She is in many ways lost. She needs to run back to her first love. She needs a conversion of the heart, not a reform of methods or a GOP who can give her the freedoms she wants. It will take humility and love to move forward, and I know God’s people will rise up to the challenge.

The Cost of the Life You’ve Always Wanted

This summer my wife and I decided that we wanted to make the most of each weekend, and for us, making the most of it was camping as much as we could. Yes, we voluntarily signed up for packing for 6, setting up camp, putting out fights and complaints from our kiddos, and sleeping on hard, stoney ground (which used to be easier when we were younger). Crazy, not really. It’s the Phoenix heat we’re escaping. We’ll do anything to get out of the heat come summer time. It’s been a great summer, and now our kids start school in a couple weeks and routine will soon set in.

One of the reasons we wanted to get out was to ditch the heat, but something that motivated us even more was to leave the frantic pace of the city, slow dow, and learn to listen and see and smell and taste things that we would normally look past in the every day life of the big city. I have thousands of stories I could share about our summer, but one very small moment this past weekend near Williams, AZ has stood out to me. We were camping off of a forest road near White Horse Lake. We decide to take a walk and explore the forest. I’d like to say it was a great walk, but the family was divided, some of the kids were bored and one child was angry with me and all the awkward family dynamics were in full swing.

We were determined to push through it though, so we kept walking. As we did, we passed a tree that at one point in it’s life had died, or was burned at the top, as you can see in the pic. My wife stopped us and drew our attention to the tree. She has a canny eye for seeing things behind what you see at first glance. Notice the trunk, and how it just stopped growing at some point. All the glory that it promised to display has ended. The thick trunk no longer growing. I’m not sure what was going on when this tree’s life took a turn, but if you continue looking at the photo, you will notice a few more things.

There are about 4-5 shoots that have sprouted off the side of the trunk, and are reaching for the sun, now taking the water that the main trunk originally gulped for itself in years past. Water is dispersed now to younger, smaller shoots keeping alive the once promising tree. And they’re healthy shoots, with green leaves, working hard to provide a canopy in the midst of an ocean of other trees. Something else that is beautiful about this photo is all the new trees that were given birth by this once promising tree that lost the glory it once sought after. Dozens of new trees, growing, seemingly thriving, contributing to the earth what they were meant to contribute: oxygen, life, beauty, commitment to struggle through the elements.

There’s so much to say regarding this photo, and I would love to hear what others see and experience as they look at it. Some things that stands out to me as I look at this and think of the message it was speaking to me on that slow day up in the woods are:

Death gives life. Moving out the way give others a chance to get in on the action. Luxuries must be sacrificed to some degree for others to have the chance to participate. Glory doesn’t always look pretty. Beauty is diverse and mysterious. Death isn’t the last word. Sacrifice will rob you of luxuries. Inclusion means we won’t have the whole pie to ourselves. Sharing sounds nice when we’re teaching our kids to share, until the cost of sharing means we lose what was once “promised” to us. 

We live in a culture that gives lip service to kindness and sacrifice, but when the very cost of being kind and sacrificing is the cost of our own comfort, then we say, of course not orally with our words, “To hell with kindness and sacrifice.” We say this with our lives, our actions, by the way we treat others and neglect many evils right in front of our eyes. We protect our own privilege at the cost of others not having the same privilege, and we make up really great sounding ideas as to why we choose to live this way, vote that way, neglect those things, etc.

We love the Christian idea of God dying so we can live, but when the call to die comes to us directly, we say, “To hell with the Christian idea of dying.” Now again, we do not dare say that outrightly, because that would sound too harsh and make us feel like we’re bad people or we don’t believe in God or something. But our lives are lived harshly. We preach resurrection, but try to get the resurrected life before the cross. We keep broken people at arms length saying they’re not healthy for us to be around, and then turn around and say to the broken, dirty ones, “God bless you, be at peace” while the heavens weep!

We want the good life without the sacrifice. We want change, but not at the cost of our comforts and luxuries. We want glory that looks good to the eye, and loathe the brokenness that brought about glory to the Son. We want to be the large, glorious tree towering in the forest proving to be a work of beauty and strength, and look down upon those who don’t have it together like we do.

We want change. We need change. And for things to change, we must die to what we think is the good life, the glorious life. We must take responsibility for the injustices we’ve ignored or perpetuated (individually and corporately). We must allow the seeds of humility and death to be scattered all over the forest floor with new life, life that will take a portion of the pie away from us.

We’ll have to learn to share again. We’ll have to be willing to be re-ordered. We’ll have to allow the time and space and place for corrupt systems to be re-storied and re-constituted to include the ones that have been cut off in the past at the cost of the luxuries of the dominant culture. We’ll have to be willing to hear differing opinion without lashing out in anger. We’ll have to be confronted with our own privilege and not be so fragile. We’ll have to learn a new way to be human.

It will take a million deaths, but the life that will be re-born will be much more beautiful and intoxicating than anything we have seen in the past. This is what the life and death and resurrection of Jesus preaches and promises. This is the way forward. This is the life you’ve always wanted, but are still deciding if it’s worth it or not.

Holy Week Observations

Thursday: Power laid down. The master who has more power than any other human would know what to do with, shows us what it looks like to lead. Instead of using power to have others serve him, he wraps a towel around his waist and becomes lower than the lowest servant. He breaks bread with his betrayer, showing us what it looks like to observe communion. He sets a new standard for neighborliness and elevates love above all else. The greatest farewell speech ever is given in a small room with only a handful of attendees. Something is radically different about this Passover feast.

Friday: Betrayal. Abandonment. Confusion. Fear. Anxiety. Anger. Resentment. Greed. It all took place throughout the tnight. Today, the earth goes dark, the way things are will continue to get terribly exposed, and we can’t deny that something with humanity is terribly wrong. Today, the ugly and brutal cross will serve as the means and the sign, of radical love, forgiveness, peace, and a path towards the renewal of humanity. All because of a God who gets us, who understands our frame, our hidden scars, who is passionate about us being with him as a reunited family, and was not afraid of our mess, absorbing it all into himself and offered us keys to remove the shackles that have kept us locked up, numb, vulnerable. Today we learn of the tension of the “good” Friday.

Saturday: If we’re truthful with ourselves, our longings, our desires, all the letdowns in life, today is the day of embracing the tension. The tension of what’s been lost, of what’s yet to come, or of what’s been promised but you haven’t seen it yet. It’s the tween time, it’s the time that’s hard to explain and it seems foolish to keep hoping. It’s the day many of us give up and give in. Let that emotion sink in today. Feel it, ponder it, share it with others, but know the story isn’t over. There’s green pastures coming, but it’s going to come in a way that’s totally unexpected, wait for it, ask for the eyes to see it today, in the midst of the tension. This is where beauty is born. Midnight is coming, and in the darkness, salvation will come.

Sunday: Early this morning, when it was still dark, in the quietness of the midnight, the world shook. A body that should’ve been decaying acted in such a way that is so utterly otherworldly. The most vile wickedness this world had to offer, the God-man absorbed, killing his body, setting in motion the first death among many, that would turn wickedness into goodness, ugliness into beauty, death into renaissance, a tomb into a womb. Angels were there to witness it, the women were the first to believe it, and the religious were the first to deny it. This is the day which has been forever debated, but regardless of the debate the celebration will always go on.  

An Honest Conversation 

“I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom… Is there no virtue among us?… If there be not, no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical (highly unrealistic) idea.” James Madison, late 18th century, via Habits of the Heart, 254.

This is indeed a powerful statement from a man who was the chief architect of our infamous Constitution that has helped shape a great nation. The power was always meant to be in the hands of the collective people, people with virtue and wisdom, people who are able to see goodness and honor, and to elect only those who displayed such characteristics. Is this not what we long for in America? Is this not why many people are outraged over the amount of support Trump has won over? The disregard of virtue and character disgusts us and confuses many in our country today. It also reveals how many of us have things we love more than goodness, truthfulness, and human dignity.

I would be neglectful however, if I focused only on Trump’s (or any other candidate’s) virtues and wisdom (or lack thereof) and did not take the time reflect on the virtue and wisdom of our founding fathers as well. The tension of this powerful statement comes from a man (James Madison) who did not count blacks as part of “We the people.” They didn’t even see them as fully human. To be exact, they saw them as 3/5 human. The “We the people” didn’t even fully include women, as they were void of many rights as well, including the ability to vote. This was a founding group of white men who forcefully took land, lives, and dignity from the natives, and to this day, has never fully been acknowledged and dealt with. It seems so easy to overlook this reality and romanticized the goodness of our founding fathers because of all the other good they stood for and the amazing Constitution they created, but to overlook this seems like a grave injustice and inhumane.

This is a generational narrative that has set an infinite amount of implicit rules that most white people are not able to see nor admit. Our nation was founded by white men who set up a nation to cater to people with the same color of skin as theirs. Within all this, implicit rules were established, rules that put white mans needs above everyone else. These unspoken implicit rules have set a culture that has so utterly permeated today’s culture, that to deny there is not equality or equity for people who have darker skin than the average Englishman is ignorant. There are forces at work that people in the dominant culture are not able to see unless they’re able to humbly get out of their privilege and see through the lenses of sub-dominant cultures perspectives.

I say this not to discount the goodness of what America has stood for in many other ways through out all the years, but to seek honest reflection about a nation that has become my heritage, my home. I do believe we live in a very great nation that has fought for justice and peace in many ways. But any good historian (and I am no where close to an historian) would never recount only the good and forsake the ugly of the past. Yet, we as Americans seem to easily neglect the mess as a way to anesthetize our senses to the dysfunction of our heritage, leaving cancer in our souls, slowly growing and hurting and killing us, like a frog boiling in water, and we wonder how we are in the place we are today.

So what is virtue and wisdom? How should we define those words? Does our founding father’s neglect of human dignity towards Women, Blacks, and Indians matter to any of us, or is it easy for us to overlook it and spin the truth of what it was like back then? Was our country founded with “integrous” virtue and wisdom? Does anyone care about our heritage? Do we even care that we’ve never fully acknowledged the atrocious acts of our beginnings? Are we willing to be honest about them, or is it too much for us to take in? Are white people scared to speak out and say that the race issue is the dominant cultures problem? Will white people read this and miss the point I’m trying to make, and become angry with what I’m saying? Where’s our virtue, our wisdom, our courage?

At this moment in history, we’ve been offered another gift. A gift that has exposed, once again, where we are at as a nation, where we are morally, where our allegiances lay, what we truly love and value, and our individual concern that has neglected the common good of the “whole.”

Many of us today are disgusted at what we see? The question is, what are we going to do with our disgust? Are we going to numb ourselves from it and say it really is not a big deal? Are we going to keep on spinning our heritage and twisting historical facts? Are we going to be selective listeners? Are we going to allow our disgust to move us to hate certain people and groups and create more division? Are we going to let the oppressive culture dictate how we treat people? Or are we going to let it move us to compassion that seeks alternative ways to live and honor each other’s diversity? Is it crazy to think that we would allow our disgust to radically change the way we live and love both privately and publicly?

The future holds the mysterious and unknown answers to these questions, and we will soon see what’s next for this people group called Americans. We are all responsible to act and change according to our convictions, and do so in a way that restores human dignity, with a virtue of humility and the wisdom of the divine. May we all be willing to not only take an honest loom at our heritage, but also an honest look at our own lives, our loyalties. We truly are what we love, and what our fore fathers loved, has shaped what we believe and how we behave more than we’re willing to admit.

What do you love, really? Be honest. It’s brutal at first, then you’ll realize you’re human, you’re flawed, and so is everyone else around you. Maybe then we’ll be able to offer more grace to others who are different than us, and will be able to see with a new set of lenses, our country, our families, our personal and public lives, and our need for one another.

Is this the world you want? You’re making it everyday you breathe the air of this world. What is your life song singing? Are you playing on tune? Are you playing in harmony with others or do you prefer solos, or should I say silos? We need each other more than we know, but we need to admit it first. Freedom is at hand, and it’s not the kind of freedom most of us think of. It’s a freedom to be exposed, to be wrong, and to admit it. It’s a freedom to not be in control, and to give up power, and to offer life to those who have had life robbed from them. The freedom we’ve been given, at whatever level we actually have freedom, has been given so that we are able to offer it to others as well.

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!