An Ascent Towards Wisdom

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Peaceableness, justice, compassion, hospitality, simplicity, and community. These virtues are part of the soil of renewal, but there’s one last virtue I left for last, as it just may be what makes these other virtues stand out. Wisdom. I am not talking about high IQ’s, scholasticism, or technological know-how. Instead, what I mean by wisdom is the ability to discern when and where peace, justice, compassion, hospitality, simplicity, and community are most needed and how to go about modeling these virtues without a patriarchal, authoritarian, paternalistic, self-righteous mindset.

The proverbs teach us that wisdom is a gift from God (Prov. 2:6), and I do agree with that, but I also believe that it’s learned by those who are humble and teachable. Wisdom is also known in the proverbs as insight, or understanding (Prov. 3:13, 19), and understanding comes when one is willing to listen and learn in a posture of humility, especially when God speaks, for respect and reverence of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). People who revere God will soon understand justice, compassion, etc.

In the book, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh state that “wisdom… is the ability to discern compassionate paths of justice and peace” (222). They conclude this because wisdom comes from God, and through wisdom God has created all things, and even worked out redemption for the brokenness of His creation, which as we learned in an earlier post, Jesus is the ultimate picture of compassion and justice wrapped up into one.

It’s God’s wisdom which is referred to as the master workman of creation (Prov. 8:30), and it was this same craftsman that saw the path towards renewal for creation as sacrificial and costly, something only His wisdom could know and understand. It’s God’s wisdom that was patient enough to listen to and know the deep recesses of the human heart and the fragmented realities of the earth, and it’s His wisdom that offers paths back towards God after we have burned all of our supposed bridges.

It is at this starting point that one can begin to possess the ability to be for all of creation in the fullest sense. Wisdom is needed to live an alternative life in the midst of a culture that rarely considers healthy limits. Wisdom is needed to stand against habits that have been acceptable to society, but destructive to the earth and humans. Wisdom is needed to navigate right living in the midst of competing philosophies and conflicting interests. It will also be wisdom that holds back unhelpful anger for those who are destructive towards universal peace and flourishing.

What wisdom can offer leaders, policy makers, pastors, professors, bosses, and parents, is how to think about and plan for what’s best not just for today or tomorrow, but what’s best for the next seven generations. Considering prosperity for the long-haul, even if we are not going to be immediately benefited by our decisions, is birthed out of wisdom, not folly.

We need more wise stewards of the earth and of people. We need an awakening of wise women and men who critically think through the issues of our day, and live in light of the next seven generations. Wisdom gives us holy imaginations to consider what a city or neighborhood could look like if we took seriously the story we are called to live in; God’s story of redemption and renewal, for humans and for the whole earth. We need mothers and fathers who are wise, who can offer themselves to the fatherless and the motherless and be givers not takers.

Dr. Michael Goheen, a wise and godly professor from Vancouver, Canada, comprised an unpublished list (posted below which I adapted from a personal lecture/powerpoint) of what a community of faith could look like if it took seriously it’s call to live in light of God’s redemptive and renewing narrative. I find this a fitting way to wrap up this series of posts about church renewal with an imagination of what kingdom life could look like on earth, as it is in heaven:

What if the church was known as…
– a community of self-control and marital fidelity in a world saturated by sex.

– a community of generosity and “enough” in world of consumption.

– a community of forgiveness in a world of hatred, competition, grudges, and revenge.

– a community of thankfulness in a world of entitlement.

– a community of God-worship in a world of narcissism.

– a community of sacrificial love in a world of selfishness and self-gratification.

– a community of wisdom in a world of proliferating knowledge and information technology.

– a community of humility in a world of arrogant self-interest.

– a community of patience in a world of immediate gratification.

– a community of compassion in a world numbed by overexposure to violence, tragedy and abuse.

– a community that uses language positively in a world of destructive communication.

– a community of joy in a world dominated by a frantic and hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.
- a community of depth in a culture of superficiality.

– a community of cheerful seriousness in a culture of triviality.

– a community committed to the important issues of our globe in a culture of apathy and indifference.

– a community of selflessness in a culture of self-absorption and entitlement.

– a community of joyful purpose in a culture “amusing ourselves to death.”

– a community of ecological and economic stewardship in a world that has been raped ecologically and economically.

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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.

Eugene Peterson’s Isaiah 58: A Necessary Word for Western Christendom

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’
“Well, here’s why:
“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’
“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.
“If you watch your step on the Sabbath
and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
God’s holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’
making money, running here and there—
Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!
Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all.
I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.”
Yes! God says so!

An Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Slavery to Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The great exodus and the crushing of the mightiest nation in the ancient days (Egypt) is a depiction and a promissory note to all of us who are longing for justice, that there will be a day, with no more tears, no more pain, where evil will no longer be at work, and we will be at home with the Ancient of Days.

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

Israel went from slavery to worship as justice rolled down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. This day is fully coming, but it has also already come in Christ. Jesus took what we deserved and gave us what he deserved. Today, justice in the courts of heaven can be a reality for you if you have eyes to see it, as we wait for and fight for complete justice on earth.

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

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

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

Praise Jesus.

Sing with tambourines.

Tell stories of our rescue.

Sing and dance over evils head.

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

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

A Path Towards Urban Renewal: Justice

Renewal. This is a loaded word. It’s a word that could be debated as to what it means for a city or neighborhood. I’m aware that attempting to define what renewal looks like is subjective and will certainly lack many elements that others think should be a part of renewal, especially renewal of the urban core. This is exactly why I am writing a series of posts not on what urban renewal looks like, but on what kind of people we must look like for urban renewal to have a chance to be a reality. This is an argument from virtues (areteology), rather than an argument from duty (deontology) or consequences (teleology).

The last post focused on being peaceable people, which in and of itself, cannot encompass the fullness of shalom (the way things are supposed to be). There is no peace without justice. What is happening in Ferguson, MO is all over the airwaves as well as the ISIS crisis that is killing and and displacing thousands of Christians in Iraq and Syria. There is no peace in these situations because there is no justice. If shalom is the end goal of all of creation (human and non-human creation), peaceableness is the top end and justice is the bottom floor, the foundation; they are book ends if you will.

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.

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 righteous before God and having been justly acquitted of one’s sin because Jesus paid for what we deserved (justice).

So justice, in part, means to be free and forgiven of one’s sin, and empowered to do what is right based on the freedom one has received. This is the long and difficult way of saying that justice is that state in which everyone receives what is rightful and appropriate. Since humans are created with certain rights (food, clothing, and opportunities to 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, the righteous and the wicked.

At the least, in the talk of urban renewal, justice is absent whenever basic needs go unmet. This means that liberation from in-justice and deliverance from oppression 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, the homeless and hungry, the hungry and afflicted, etc.

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.

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 sin, cut off from God, but because of God’s mercy and love for us, Jesus became one of us, to once and for deal with the rebellion and tyranny that we created. God brought justice to humanity through Jesus’ bloody and ugly death on a cross.

The one who turns to Jesus for salvation, now stands before a just and holy God only on the merits of Christ’s righteousness that has now been assigned to us through what Jesus did to deal with the injustice of our sin against God. The righteous demands of the law—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 injustice of the “unjust”, that we can be granted mercy and grace as people on the margins, and be brought near to God (no longer in the margins).

This is justice, which flies in the face of a Western view of justice, which would condemn all of us, if we indeed held ourselves to the standard of justice that we hold others to. Justice doesn’t make sense to a world committed to the three P’s: progress, profit, and pursuit of happiness. When we see injustice happening in our city, it usually means that we will have to miss out on one or all of the three 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.

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 three P’s of our culture and this is not very attractive, at least not long term. To see renewal happen in cities then, I am convinced that we will need an uprising of men and women who are willing to not be controlled by the three P’s, courageously living as an alternative community in the midst of our over-indulgences and commitments to the bottom line and financial sustainability.

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. What are you willing to give up to live a life of justice in your city? Is the promise of comfort too seductive for you to make radical changes? Ultimately, justice will always prevail, with or without us, but we do have a choice to be on the “just” side, but it’s not attractive nor easy these days.

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!