The Just Do Justice (the final part)

The Just Do Justice (the final part)

The Response that Leads to Justice

If you look at Jesus’ story, it is in response to a discussion with a man steeped in Old Testament law. This man knew what the Torah said. He could quote it. He could teach Sabbath School about this and many other things!

But, it hadn’t yet affected him at his core. How do I know that? Because “he sought to justify himself.” That’s the response of one who has only heard the truth and not been affected by it.

Jesus makes the point that the greatest commandment is to love God with everything and the second is the overflow of the first: we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Or, to unpack part of what that means: do justice.

But there is another profound message here: we will only do justice from a pure (singularly focused) heart when ours has been affected, struck dumb, wowed, and quieted with the love of a just God.

Awakened to Worship

We don’t do justice because it earns God’s love. No. Not that at all. We do justice as a love response to his love. When we see the injustice Jesus absorbed so that we would not get the justice we deserved from our Just God, and by faith we accept that grace, the natural response of a heart awakened to his love is worship…

…worship that manifests itself in the very same joyful sacrifice of the Samaritan. 

More about Jesus than the Samaritan
As we look deeper into the story of the Samaritan, we can see Jesus is telling us more about himself than the story of the Samaritan. Jesus is the real definition of a neighbor in our lives. Though our sin leaves us destitute and spiritually dead, Jesus came to us. He spent, not his money, but his entire self on us in order to bring us into his life. The Samaritan risked his life in the wild lands between Jericho and Jerusalem in order to save this unnamed man, but Jesus knew that our salvation would cost him both the beatings of men and also the just wrath of his Father. It wasn’t a risk. “Risk” implies that he might not lose. Jesus knew he would lose. He knew he would suffer a just wrath that was on him rather than on we who created the injustice.

The more I understand those truths, the more my heart is broken to joyful worship. Whole hearted. Sometimes that shows in my life as singing. Sometimes, praying. Sometimes, doing justice..

Finally…

It is the ones who have been made just by the Justifier of our souls who do justice. The reality of the cost of justice doesn’t drive them away; it emboldens them to look to God for his resurrection power. And, God willing, both the victims and the perpetrators are transformed to be the next worshippers…who do justice.

The Just Do Justice (part three)

The Just Do Justice (part three)

The Resurrection Power to Do Justice

Many of the churches around us focus their attention on social justice. I am very grateful for those who are willing to spend their prized time, their limited energy, and money they don’t have to get their hands dirty to serve the hurting. We need more and more people who will see that serving the oppressed and marginalized is worth their effort. May it be!

But, how will it be? I need to bring up a question. Knowing my own heart and my tendency to doubt God’s goodness in a painful world and his power among a people who thrive on dominating each other, I need to question whether or not this is all that the Father wants. Is following Jesus merely doing good deeds in Jesus’ name or is there something that defines his people that is deeper, more primal, and more central to his heart?

On its face, that kind of “social justice” Christianity looks like a helpful “Christiany” thing. But what often lies underneath the surface is a system of disbelief- or at least a lost hope in the power of Jesus to transform lives at the core of who we are. It is possible to do justice, using Jesus’ name, and the motivation behind the doing is a belief that social justice is the most meaningful part of what it means to be a Christian. Doing justice (though a beautiful thing) is emphatically NOT the core. 

Doing justice is the fruit of something more profound: just people do justice. Or, to say it another way, “people resurrected to be just” do justice. People who have been transformed by the resurrection power of Jesus are transformed out of the death of radical selfishness (even manifesting in good deeds) and into the life of empowered love and self sacrifice.

The Samaritans’ compassion was a God- fueled compassion. This God-fueled compassion is shown in his both his sacrificial help on the road and the joyful endurance in coming back to the inn the next day to help some more. Is is not mere human willpower; it is the resurrection power of Jesus’ life that indwells every believer. 

This resurrection power is the power of God to change one person’s life. This must come first. This must not be left out. We don’t emphasize “at the root of our soul spiritual conversion” because we want to make people feel “less than” or condemn them. No, we focus our attention on what the gospel can do to transform someone’s life so that they can find the deep, resonant, fulfilling joy in doing justice with the very same heart that Jesus did.

Then we don’t have to guilt people to volunteer; we unleash people to be the change agents in the world they already are.

It is this personal transformation to not just doing justice, but being just that changes the world. But, there is one more part to this…and it might be the most important part of all. (more…)


The Just Do Justice (Part two)

The Just Do Justice (Part two)

The Reality of Doing Justice

Doing justice is often glamorized in our culture.  At least some forms of it are. But, the reality is that the man lying on the side of the road (see Luke 10 again) represents the lives of many people.

It is the Burmese woman who was fleeing her oppressive country and was (almost) captured at the border to be sold into slavery by those who were paid to protect her. If she didn’t have cash on her she might not have been able escape to Austin, Texas where she told me her story while cutting my hair. It is the children who are taken from their homes because they are abused, only to be put in situations where they may be able to be abused again. There are almost as many stories like this as their are people in our world.

To the man lying on the road, the Samaritan’s compassion was necessary. To the Samaritan, his compassion was costly.

The reality is that there are men lying on the side of the roads due to other’s selfishness, and the robbers may be lying in wait for the good Samaritans, also Doing justice is dirty, messy, and costly. It comes with the possibly of compassion fatigue caused by pouring our lives into people who need much more than we could ever give.

Then there is the truth that all opression and injustice is backed and empowered by the principalities and powers bent on destroying anyone who reflects the glory of God to the world. That’s too much to write about now, but chew on it by reading about it here: Ephesians 6:10-20

The reality needs to be looked at for what it is so we don’t live naive. Let’s run from naiveté onto the dangerous dirt road that the Samaritan walked. With that being said, the reality of what it takes do do justice leads us not to be afraid, but to embrace the truth that the very same Jesus who has been raised from the dead empowers his people to do justice.

We don’t walk that dark road alone. And we don’t walk heartless or powerless. More to come…

The Just Do Justice (part one)

The Just Do Justice (part one)

Will you be part of my (Wes’) sermon preparation for this week? I need a sounding board to remind myself of what we talked about 2 weeks ago so I can see where we go next with our text.

But, because I haven’t written in a while, you probably don’t know what the text is.

It is Micah 6:8. And we are spending 4 weeks on it. Yep, its one verse. But it is so worth it.

So, I’m going to go with you are willing to read along. 

The title of our message was “The Root of Justice: The Just Do Justice.” The first part is our series. The second part is the part unique to this sermon. I have to remind myself of this part too.

We focued on the very simple command “do justice.” The command is short but the meaning is profound. What is “justice?” How do we do it? With every person one could ask (and I have asked a few) we will get a different definition of what “justice” is. Then, if we are not careful, we could subtly communicate that this command is merely about action alone, and not the heart behind it.

To deal with these questions we also look at Luke 10 and the story of the Samaritan who stopped to serve a wounded man, left for dead. Stop and read it. Here is a link: click here. It starts in verse 25.

But, here is the point: the gospel of Jesus is the root of all true and full justice. Let me say it again because I need to grab hold of it: the gospel of Jesus is the root of all true and full justice. That may be the most offensive thing I said all week, but I say it, not only because it is true, but because it is necessary and good.

Hold on to that. It brings hope when looking at the reality of injustice. More to come soon…

"An Identity that is Ours in Christ"

"An Identity that is Ours in Christ"

In preparing for our sermon this Sunday evening, I found myself going back to one of my favorite books, “Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community.

I have read a lot of books that have “Church” in the title and, though each is very helpful in its own way, many of them start to sound the same. More about the “how” of doing church stuff than the “who” and the “why.”

Total Church gets to the “who” and the “why” in ways that are both refreshing and challenging to me.

I share the following just because I think it is worth sharing. I will quote at length because I think many who would never purchase this book would be helped by this portion.

Answering the question, “What would it mean to be both gospel-centered and community centered?” Tim Chester and Steve Timmis propose these ideas:

Being both gospel-centered and community-center might mean:

  • seeing church as an identity instead of a responsibility to be juggled alongside other commitments.

  • celebrating ordinary life as the context in which the word of Godis proclaimed with “God-talk” as a normal feature of everyday conversation

  • running fewer evangelistic events, youth clubs, and social projects and spending more time sharing our lives with unbelievers

  • starting new congregations instead of growing existing ones

  • preparing Bible talks with other people instead of just studying alone at a desk

  • adopting a 24-7 approach to mission and pastoral care instead of starting ministry programs

  • switching the emphasis from Bible teaching to Bible learning and action

  • spending more time with people on the margins of society

  • learning to disciple one another-and to be discipled- day by day

  • having churches that are messy instead of churches that pretend

(Total Church, page 18; emphasis mine)

The Full(est) Life

The Full(est) Life

Ephesians 1:22–23: And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (ESV)

I want to spend some time considering what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. When I say that, what I mean is that I feel like I understand the word "disciple," but not the meaning. It is as if the word cannot hold in the fullness of the meaning that Jesus gives it in how he taught and how he lived.

The word "disciple" isn't big enough to hold the meaning, and I am not big enough to take it all in. The reason? Because what it means to be a disciple of Jesus is to become like him in every way- and he is full in every way. Too full to...uh...fully comprehend.

That word "full" sounds strange, but only because so much of our lives is empty that we are not used to full. Yes, we have full (read: busy) lives and most of the time full stomachs, but there is an emptiness to that. Looking for an identity in what we do or how we perform reveals a soul emptiness. Counting down the minutes until it is socially acceptable to drink our anxieties away shows emptiness. The feeling of hopelessness that comes from years of hollow friendships where people are too afraid to be known and accepted fully points to a deep emptiness of relationships.

We are so used to emptiness that our capacity for fullness has shrunk.

I long for people to be full and when I read scripture and I see Jesus' life, I feel his fullness; an internal life that is both rock solid, tender, and bursting out with life.

What it fully means to follow Jesus seems illusive, but I also know that he isn't trying to keep that life from us. On the contrary, he wants us to have his abundant life (see John 10:10) and I want to explore that through my own reading a book of Luke. I may make some notes over the next few weeks as I read through Luke's gospel asking the questions "How is Jesus teaching us to following him?" and "How is Jesus showing us what it means to have a full life?"

An Agreeable God?

An Agreeable God?

After studying Psalm 2 over the last week or so and seeing a very different picture of who God is than the get-a-long with everyone God that I often want him to be, I have been asking questions about what it means to make God in my image. 

Really, to be honest, I am asking question about how I myself make God in my image. When I am scared, I want him to fix my problem immediately. When I want to be in control, I expect him to do exactly what I ask. When I treasure my sin an wallow in it, I want him to smile and wink and say something like "Let's not make a fuss about that." I often expect him to be like I can when other people sin against me: self-righteous and angry to the point of secretly hoping that someone pays for their sin.

But, the God who made us in his image is different than the image I make of him.

He is far less agreeable to me than I want him to be and far more loving than I expect. If God agreed with everything we thought we wouldn't rage, but we wouldn't worship either.

In Psalm 2 verses 1-3 the "nations" and their rulers are described as being enraged. A cold, calculating rage that drives them to be antagonistic to the Lord and his anointed King. (At the time of the writing of the Psalm, it was the king on Israel's throne, but that king always represented and pointed forward to the True and Better King, Jesus.) They saw the Lord as oppressive in his ways and repressive in his standard of life. There was no convincing them that real life, real joy was found in the Lord's way of living. They couldn't and wouldn't believe it. So they wanted to throw off the perceived shackles of his oppression and search for life their way. The best possible life they could find apart from God.

We are not so different. It is too easy to believe that God just wants to be the Cosmic Killjoy trying to take from us what we enjoy in order to make is boring (and bored) people who are quiet and submissive. The lie the enemy of our souls tells us is that God is holding back from us, keeping all the joy and pleasure to himself while we are made to dutifully be good little boys and girls.

The "nations" and the kings of Psalm 2 could not imagine a deeper joy or greater pleasures other than what they knew. They could not imagine that the way they were rejecting was really where they would find their deepest life and the fullness of joy. (see Psalm 16:11; Matthew 11:28-30)

Like me, my friends often make God in their own image saying things like "If he is loving he must be___________" or "I cannot imagine a God who would ____________." We have this thought that God should be in our likeness...agreeable to us.

We want the God we create in our mind to be like us. We want God to be a god who never disagrees with us, but only always gives us a thumbs up.

But what if...track with me for just a few sentences longer...what if it is better that God is more like himself than he is like us? What if there are times when he disagrees with us? What if he desires to reshape us to make us more like Him rather than leave us in the shape we feel good about?

How about last thoughts on this and you can go back to your life: Do we want a God who agrees with us on everything? Or do we want our God who loves us enough to tell us where were wrong?

I am grateful for a God who shows people grace by revealing that he is different than we want him to be. 

Shame City (Part Three: Fully Exposed)

Shame City (Part Three: Fully Exposed)

It is Like “Naked and Not Ashamed”, but Just “Naked”. 

The first two summers we lived here we got “caught” at the Fremont Solstice parade. Both times we were traveling from one place to another and got in the flow of traffic that pushed us towards the event. No, really, it was an accident! I swear!

The event has a very Edenic-quality about it. People sans the burden of clothing, soaking in the sun on their bikes while publicly proclaiming “I am not ashamed!” It is an echo of those pre-fall days that I believe is hard-wired into our soul: we weren’t meant to carry the burden of shame. As uncomfortable as I am with public nudity, especially my own, I do see something both helpful and telling about it: we have a desire to be radically and joyfully unashamed. Even though a culture of shame is normal to us, even though we cannot fully imagine a world without pervasive shame, even though we can’t understand our own lives without shame, we still hold on to hope that we might be free of it.

The parade is a celebration of a lot of things, I’m sure, but it is also a revelation that we still long to be fully exposed-with no reason to hide. 

He [Paradeth] Too Much, Me Thinks

But declaring ourselves unashamed is not enough to rid us of the shame. The reason to hide is still buried deep in us, so deep that the purifying rays of sunlight cannot reach no matter what we are wearing. The same people who will throw off their clothes on Saturday morning will replay their shame-filled memories in the quiet dark of their Saturday night.

It is in those quiet, undistracted moments that the shame reminds us it is there, but that it can be dealt with. Many people are unaware that this kind of “darkness” dwells in them.  Many of those that are aware of their darkness have coping tools to stuff it down further. Because silence and solitude help draw out the poison, we run from both. Better to either run from it or declare it isn’t there.

It takes courage to feel it. It takes courage to look deep into the reality of what God’s Spirit wants us to see in ourselves. It takes courage to feel it honestly. It takes courage to let it affect us so deeply that we are allowed to see that we really do need help. It takes courage to ask for that help.

Adam and Eve sinned against a Father who loved them. It was shocking betrayal. They hid behind leaves, behind trees, and behind the guilt driven belief that it was someone else’s fault, not their own. But, they really couldn’t hide. The same eyes that revealed the fierce love of the Father was also a deep-seeing gaze from the eyes of a Searcher. Their God could see through the leaves and the trees and the blaming into the very root of who they were. He could see the heart they tried to hide.

This is why it takes courage. We are all exposed every minute of our existence. The same God who sees all our actions sees all of the desires, loves, and beliefs that fuel those actions. He sees it all. Every bit of it. The question is: how will he respond? Fierce judgmentalism? Passive aggressive back-turning? Adding more shame?

It takes courage to not run away from him (and ourselves) in terror.

Where Courage Comes From

Adam and Eve hid, but God did not allow them to stay hidden. He exposed them. He brought them out of the shadows. The light of a Holy God’s scrutiny had to burn. Exposure always does. But it is here that he shows his real character. He does something strange: he takes an animal or two off to the side, kills it, and creates clothing for them. He covers their shame.

He doesn’t use their vulnerability to crush them, but heals them. He covers them. He starts the process of restoring all that was lost. Our courage doesn’t come from our own weakened moral resources, but the experienced understanding that God’s desire is to redeem, not reject. To wipe clean not wound. To come to us in our shame, embrace us like a son who came home after a shameful life, and put his own best clothing on us. (See Luke 15:11-32)

We can be exposed knowing that the one who sees all of us will redeem us.

Taken Outside of the Shame City For Shame City

Jesus came to a shameful city. Everything that happens in our city happened in Jerusalem during his time. People walked the streets with their heads down too far or their heads up too much. Pride was a poor covering then too. The weight we carry on us now they carried on themselves then.  We aren’t all that much different.

Jesus could see shame better than anyone else could. He never sinned so he never had his own shame, but he felt the shame of those who he lived among.

The most shameful thing that could happen to a male in first century Israel was for him to be publicly exposed. He would not have willingly chosen to be naked, but they stripped him down to prepare him for his execution. 

His presence and his words exposed their darkness, all they frilly wanted to hide. The guilt and shame of Shame City compelled them to try to hide one more time by getting rid of the one who exposed them. They tried to hide behind a tree by exposing Jesus on one.

But, when Jesus was most humiliated, most exposed, he revealed more than his nakedness: he revealed the depth of his own desire to free them. As he carried our shame by being publicly shamed he exposed the world to the truth that he is not a God who delights in humiliating people who deserve it, but he heals us. He covers us. He starts the process of restoring all that was lost in us.

The Cross Exposes Jesus for Who He Really Is: a God Who Will be Shamed on our Behalf.

The more we understand that truth, the more we have courage to let him draw our shame out of us. The more we comprehend Jesus' motivation the more we will trust him not to shame us. The more I understand his heart, the more I will let him heal a man that deserves condemnation, but needs grace.

I am not ashamed of the gospel because the gospel is the power of God to steal away my shame.

Shame City (Part Two: The Fig Leaf of Pride)

Shame City (Part Two: The Fig Leaf of Pride)

What an Empty Stomach is Full Of

I was in Beijing a few years ago with a small group of people, seeing the sites in China’s capitol and getting ready to get on a plane back to our American comforts. China, not unlike many other countries, is known for its street vendors  that cook and serve all kinds of- let’s call them “unique”- foods. So, walking around the government district near our hotel, we sought out street food for dinner. There had to be something we would enjoy…or at least meats too interesting to pass up.

That’s when we found it: a part of the sheep I didn’t think it was even legal to eat. It was expensive and we double dog dared the youngest of our group to eat it. (Yep, double dog dared!) We bought it, he “chewed” it, and- after a time of trying- he then gave up on it. Threw it in the trash bin behind him with disgust as the rest of us laughed at how he was a sucker for trying that “part.”

As we turned to leave, I noticed a man and a 2 year old child walking past that same trash bin. What we threw away wasn’t even cool yet. Head down and without any hesitation, he took the chewed meat out of the trash and put it in the cart he was pushing. It was obvious that he was used to picking up what others had thrown away. His demeanor told me everything I needed to know. In the seat of power of a “worker’s paradise” where all should be equal and none should go hungry, he lived cleaning up the scraps of others so that he could feed his child.

I watched him go to the next bin and the next, taking what he could find. His shame was so great he knew nothing else and, as I watched him turn the corner, I felt my own shame in not seeing just how many people are around me that live in a world of shame like he does.

Covered Up

That’s the “underdeveloped” world, right? Oppressive communist policies have a part to play in that, but shame is both much more universal and subtle. Our city’s streets have people like the man I saw in Beijing. Without question he lives unnoticed in Seattle too, but most of our shame is not unnoticed, it is merely covered up.

Unlike the man in China, we have strength and resources to push the shame down and triumphantly step on it saying “This will not define me! I will not let it!” All the while, what we stand on seeps into our system as a poison, slowly weakening us from the inside outward.

Our city (and many like it) has an unofficial motto of: “You have no reason to be ashamed!” But, like we talked about before, we all not only have reason to be ashamed (the sin we enjoy and live in), but we all live with a sense of shame.

[Note here: I know that some shame is ours to own and some of our shame is due to something done to us. We need to repent of the sin we treasure that causes us to be shameful and ask for help for the shame that comes because of what was done to us.

Willfully Unnoticed

Yes, people are called “shameless” and some people are more sensitive to it than others, but shame is a universal emotion… an often unarticulated feeling that lies beneath the surface of our everyday thinking. It is always there, shaping the way we think, causing us to shy away when we shouldn’t and draining us of emotional energy that could be used to love other people affectionately. It’s there, whether we like it or not, notice it or not.

We may not show our shame in public by walking with a heavy head, but we betray it in public by raising our heads too high. Over compensating. Not a clear conscience, but a conflicted “confidence.”

We Mask Our Shame with Pride.

If this, at first, sounds like a condemnation of a particular community, please know that it isn’t. This is a description of every community. We all do this. We all live with shame that we don’t know what to do with. We scramble for fig leaves and hide behind trees. In western culture, the most common way to deal with shame is not to courageously look at the root of it to kill it, but to turn our back on it and defiantly say we have triumphed over it.

We celebrate what is evil and harmful in order to deny the shame. We work hard to be “good people” (or at least better than someone else) in order to tell ourselves that we are really not what we honestly believe ourselves to be. We try to exercise it away or meditate it out, but it lingers. 

The “right” position at the company can try to mask the shame. The “right” way to parent can try to hide the feeling. Volunteering to help those less fortunate can be a smokescreen in our own souls, concealing shame for a time. Each of those things on their own can be a good thing, but they are also fig leaves that dry up eventually and never really cover what we want to hide. It is a lot of hard work NOT dealing with the real issue.

The Question that Haunts When We Are Honest

I woke up this morning, fearful of being ashamed. I mean, deeply fearful. Desperate to not be seen as foolish or a fraud. Even as I type these words, I know what it means to carry shame. And, I know what it means to want it all to go away.

If living with the shame is not healthy and burying it with self-righteous pride is destructive, then what can we do?!!

Shame City (Part One: The Hard Part)

Shame City (Part One: The Hard Part)

Its that dream that everyone seem to share. You know the one. The dream where we remembered everything for the big presentation at work except our clothes. Yep, we have all had a dream like that. The feeling of being, not only exposed, but ashamed of being exposed. 

There there are things that happed while awake that we wish we could wake up from. Things from which the shame doesn’t dissipate as the alarm goes off. Those thing we never want exposed. Things that we would like to bury and never see again.

Ugh, if I never feel that feeling again, I will be alright. But, the reality is that shame is a common experience for all of us. As a matter of fact, we often live in shame in such a way that we do not notice it. A constant fear of being exposed to the world, to ourselves, and (if we are honest) to a God who sees it all.

Sitting at a coffee shop with a couple of friends from out of town recently, we discussed what I see in our city- the deep needs, the things we celebrate. We discussed the things that make Seattle unique compared with other cities; not just the industry, geography, and demographics, but what motivates us and what are our assumptions about life that flavor the way we think.

What I told them is that I believe that Seattle (among other things) is a city of Shame. It is hard to explain that without being among the crowds of people and hearing what they have to say, but I believe it to be true.

We Shame Because We Are Ashamed

Sometimes it is overt shaming. It is one homeowner taking another homeowner’s plastic cup out of their trash (should be in recycling, you know!) and not putting it where it should go, but pinning it up on a common wall to display it.  If that wasn’t enough, the “righteous recycler” pinned a note that stated the offending party (their name and address were found in the same bag of trash) and their recycling “sin.”

Yep, that really happened.

Sometimes it is subtle. It is the look in someone’s eyes as they walk down the street either with their head held low or their head held too high. One expresses shame by studying every crack of the sidewalk and never making eye contact with another person. The other doesn’t make eye contact either, but holds his head up so high that he portrays a look of “I don’t care what you think!”  The man protesteth too much, me thinks.

Our Mantra is Myopic

I see a lot of heads held way too high. Uncomfortably too high. And that often comes from a slogan our city lives by... even if we don't use the words: “You have no reason to be ashamed!”

I understand that to some degree. There are many different types of Scarlet Letters that we give each other to wear and those letters weigh us down. A man with his head hung low is obviously carrying the weight of the Letter. He is burdened by either what he has done or what has been done to him. The man with his head held too high (both literally and metaphorically) still carries the weight of his Letter of shame, but he carries a greater burden with it: the burden of hiding its existence.

The truth is that we have reason to be ashamed. We all have reason, because we have all sinned. That is an inescapable truth, even if we desperately want to escape it. There is very real shame that was forced upon us that is not our fault. We are, in a sense, all victims of someone else’s sin. But it is just as true that we are all perpetrators too. It is the perpetrator's shame that we will focus on here.

The Source of Shame

This is primal knowledge. We all know it, feel it, live it, even if we don’t understand it. It goes back further than we can remember. There is a sense that we were born with it and with our first breaths of air we breathed it in. It came from our first parents and we have followed their lead.

In Genesis chapter 3, we see the first acts of rebellion against God. Before they ate of the fruit, Adam and Eve were naked and…NOT ashamed! There is something pure about that time. Something we long for because they were completely exposed with nothing to hide. No stain or blemish on their record. Then, they were allured by forbidden fruit that seemed more delightful than the God they enjoyed fellowship with. Their eyes were opened to their foolishness and betrayal. They saw darkness in themselves. They saw ugliness whereas there had only been beauty and holiness before. 

So, rather than owning up to it and letting the light of God’s holiness cleanse them, they retreated to the shadows of the trees. They hid themselves in shame. They experienced the weight of emotion they were never meant to carry. Light hearted joy devolved into heavy hearted shame. They pasted together some fig leaves to cover themselves, but they still needed the trees to hide them from each other and the God they betrayed.

Still More Fig Leaves

So, we continue to find fig leaves and trees to hide behind. Nudists try to bring Eden back by fighting for a society that can be naked in public, but it is not clothing that is the issue. It is that the part of us that we want to cover cannot be covered by clothes because the most shame-filled part of us is the heart of greed, and lust, and self-absorption, and “I-will-show-you-how-good-I-really-am-ness” that flows out of that heart in all we do. We cannot hide that.

Worst of all, we shame other people in order to say to ourselves “At least I am not as bad as the guy who throws away plastic cups in the regular garbage!” That may be true, but it misses the point.

We tell each other “You have no reason to be ashamed!” but that sentiment (though good intentioned, I hope) is nothing but a fig leaf. My city lives in shame. It is the air we breathe. It is the weight we carry.

Thankfully, this is not the whole story…more to come.

God's Movement in the Unspectacular

God's Movement in the Unspectacular

The people of God (his Church) is the visible expression of his movement in the world. We are what he is doing to make his world right again, beautiful again.

Along those lines, Mark Sayers says this: 

"Slowly spilling out, across the [Roman] empire, one life at a time, a rumbling, rolling revolution was breaking out. It did not happen in the spotlight, it was not thrilling or spectacular- at least in the way that the pagan mind understood it. It seemed to exist in the dark, underground places; in the quietness of rooms, catacombs, and the ordinariness of life. Yet there was nothing ordinary about it."

Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm, pg 20

Father in heaven, bring your kingdom. All you want, here.

 

"You Will Be My Witnesses"

"You Will Be My Witnesses"

The Witness

In his book, Facing Leviathan, Mark Sayers tells a story of walking into the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne, Australia and pondering the photos on the wall of a everyday Jewish family in prewar Poland. He then goes on to remark “The story of the young man’s life accompanies the photos. The initial persecution of the Jews, the transportation to the camps, then the death of his entire family.” 

Then he hears a voice behind behind him that startles him. The voice has a face and that face is remarkably like the face of a boy in the pictures in front of him. The old man was the boy in the picture and the survivor asks “Would you like to ask me anything?”

Sayers wants to ask this man the right question and, in his head, goes through a list of questions that might be appropriate for this sacred moment with a man who has seen so much. Sayers describes his inward struggle in what to ask and then realizes something simple, but profound. To use his words:”I realize I am not talking to a professor, an expert, an author, or a commentator. I am speaking to a witness.”

That last sentence grabbed me, so I grabbed my computer to start writing this.

Being a “witness” is not just being on the scene, but experiencing the scene, being immersed in the scene in a way that it changes us. This man in the museum was not just a history buff, but he is history. He didn’t just observe the atrocities, the atrocities affected him. He is an insider, one who the holocaust happened to and not merely one who has researched it.

You Had to Be There

“You will be my witnesses..” seems to be to be much more than being a clever storyteller. (see Acts 1:8) There was a sense of gravitas, a sense of reality in the man who lived in the concentration camp and could winsomely tell the story about the reality of it. When talking about marriage generally, I can speak about the beauty of the institution. When I talk about my wife, I can passionately talk about the meaning of the institution…because she gives meaning to it for me. Both are beautiful, but talking about my marriage to Adrienne has meaning to it that is indescribable. A man who lost so much in concentration camps in Nazi occupied Europe has more to share than a mere interesting tale.

Can They Get a Witness?

As I type, I see dozens of people pass me to go down the road to wherever they are spending today. I look at them and wonder who they are. Statistically, more than nine out of ten of the people who pass me are unaware of the powerful reality around them that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is everywhere around them, filling the universe and the details in it, but invisible to both their eyes and the eyes of their hearts.

I don’t know them, but I would imagine that they are like so many people I meet. There are those who live lives shaped by the latest fad that gives them some feeling of being part of the ”in crowd.” There are some who spend much of their life trying to get by, making money to survive this week and wondering where next week’s meals will come from. There are those whose lives are dominated by fear, pride, questions, and the next emotional or chemical “fix.” Then there are those who have the time and resources to examine “life” and find that their world is deeply complicated, if not chaotic.

These are the people to which Jesus sent his “witnesses.”

Those first men and women Jesus sent out saw something. No, not just “saw something”, but were immersed by the reality of being part of Jesus’ life. I always thought that the power Jesus promised was the power to accomplish a task. As true as that may be, that’s not all. I believe the power of the Spirit on them was the power to continue to be immersed in the reality of Jesus’ life and to be a window into the reality of the greatness of the person of Jesus. This is transforming.

Witnesses are More than Storytellers

The life and words of the witnesses are an experience for the hearer. They bring a sacred moment with them wherever they go. But to bring the sacred with them, the witness must first experience the reality of Jesus deeply. If he is merely a character in an interesting story, that story will never change a life. The witness must be invited into the story of Jesus. There is a big difference between reading about how Jesus calmed a storm someone else was in and seeing him come through in the storm I am in. One gives warm feelings that fade away through the day. The other creates a sense of overwhelming awe and humility that will not wear of. The reality of the greatness of this Man is imprinted on us.

Maybe we don't have witnesses because we don't want Jesus to bring us into his story, with all of the thunder, lightning, wetness and wonder.

Face to Face

This is too long already, but here is the point: those friends that I love dearly who so easily dismiss the story of Jesus need a powerful experience of his reality. Not mere reasoning, preaching, and storytelling, but a powerful witness that breaks through years of questioning and fearful rebellion.

What my friends need is to hear the story, but also come face to face with the One who was there…and become a witness themselves.

Powerfully Lowly

Powerfully Lowly

There is always more that I want to draw out from a text than I do during our Sunday evening gatherings and last night was not an exception to that.

There is a line in verse one of Joshua 1 that has so much weight to it that I could not deal with it along with everything else we talked about, though it might be the most important: "Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD..."

Leader, but More than Leader

If we know anything at all about Moses, it is that he was a leader. He was the one who went into the Tent of Meeting, heard the voice of God from the center of his overwhelming glory, and then went to shepherd a messy, stubborn group of people, following his command. There was no question that he led. But the Lord did not call him "My leader."

The title given to Moses was "my servant." And it was an honored title.

Long days in the wilderness first shepherding sheep, then shepherding people created something in the heart of Moses: lowliness. This was not his time to further his career or to make a name for himself, but a calling into a bigger picture. The only one who was qualified to fulfill Moses' role was one who was a servant by heart, shaped by trials and encouraged by Good's greatness. 

The Servant They Looked For

Moses dies then Joshua (the servant's servant) takes over. After Joshua they look for other leaders. Some were in the mold of Moses, but most were proud, self confident, and lived God-lessly even while proclaiming God's greatness.

The people of Israel always wanted strength in their leader, but often didn't realize where it came from. Over and over they desired this strength but didn't see that the real source of strength was not in stature or oratory ability, but in a contented lowliness that knew (KNEW!) that no one could rival God's glory...and delighted in having a lesser place than His.

In multiple chapters in Isaiah, a "servant" is spoken of, one who would be humble, yet effective. One who would be beautiful, but despise by many. One who would live out the strength of the Almighty to transform his world, but do it as a servant, not a despot. One who was so affected by the greatness of character of God than he would joyfully become nothing for God's sake. This servant would be like Moses, but (somehow) greater than Moses.

Not From the Outside...

Power is longed for, fought for, purchased and hoarded. Power is often the downfall of many who started off with a somewhat honestly desire to do some sort of good. Lord Acton said something like "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely," and that is true for all who would grasp for it.

But, real power does not come from grasping for it feverishly...even with "good" intentions. Real power cannot be fought for or won from someone else. A bizzaro power that subtlety destroys from the inside out can be grabbed, but real power comes from a very different source.

...But from the Servant Himself

When Jesus took off his disciple's sandals to wash their feet (see John 13:1-5) his disciples saw his power in a way that grasped them. The same man who spoke truth to powerful rulers and who called for "peace" from raging waters was joyfully and authentically doing something that only the most powerless persons in their time should do: serve. They could see (in part) in that moment that the real power wasn't bent on ruling, lording, and controlling others, but loving them with no thought of their own upward mobility.

But he wasn't done yet. No, the depth of his powerful lowliness was not yet expressed. Hours later, instead of using his infinite power to coerce and control, he gave himself to selfish power. Selfish power saw weakness where Jesus was teaching them strength. Selfish power saw poetry of power in Jesus while his real power displayed his humility. 

Jesus emptied himself. Jesus took on the form of a slave. Jesus became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Selfish power tried to destroy the source of his power, but only displayed it  beautifully in a way that the world could see. (see Philippians 2: 5-11)

Israel was looking for a servant like Moses, but more than Moses. Moses was lowly because he saw Glory and could not compare himself to the Glorious One.

Truer and Better

Jesus, though, is the truer and better servant. He is not true and better because he was looking outward to a greater glory- there is no greater glory. 

His servant heartedness is his glory. His lowliness displays his power. Our hearts long for a servant, who is powerfully lowly.

 

 

The Abiding Leader

The Abiding Leader

Mark Sayers is a follower of Jesus, a pastor, and a cultural commentator. In his book, Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm he studies Western culture's drive [addiction?] for entertainment and how that has shaped the way we view what leadership should be.

With skill and thoughtfulness, Mr. Sayers looks at the state of our cultural climate and, with a prophetic gentleness, compares our current leadership values with the values of Jesus. There is so much that is helpful to me, but this quote in particular both challeneged me and encouraged me:

"When we withdraw [from worldly ideals of entertaining and showmanship to an abiding relationship with Jesus], we learn new movements. We move from striving to abiding, from competing to communing, from broadcasting to being. We make a break with the anxiety that drives so much of modern life and, sadly, so much of contemporary leadership." (Page 132)

Let's Just Be Realistic...

Let's Just Be Realistic...

After the China Inland Mission was beginning to be rooted in what God was doing in China and more and more people in England were hearing about it, Hudson Taylor began to get men and women who inquired of his request for eighteen more people to go into the unengaged provinces of China.

These were people who were not only believers, but also men and women who had some sort of desire to love and serve the people of China as well as share the good news of Jesus with Chinese friends.

Mr. Taylor, knowing the cost (and JOY!) of what it would mean for these people to follow Jesus into unevangelized parts of China, wrote to each of the inquirers these words:

"If you want hard work, and little appreciation of it; value God's approbation [approval] more than you fear man's disapprobation; are prepared, if need be, to seal your testimony with your blood, and perhaps oftentimes to take joyfully the spoiling of your goods [see Hebrews 10:34]... you may count on a harvest of souls here, and a crown of glory that fadeth not away, and the Master's 'well done.'"

(as recounted in Hudson Taylor: A Man In Christ by Roger Steer)

Luke 9:23–25: And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 

Everyday Wonders

Everyday Wonders

The word "hospitality" is a strange word to me. For most of my life I have not really understood or desired it. It sounded antiquated and far out of reach. That's what old people did before they had fun things like the intarwebs.

To think of having people in my home- sometimes coming too early and sometimes staying too late- is a little bit intimidating. "What will I have to say?" or "Will they feel comfortable?" or maybe even "Who ARE these people?" are questions that come to mind and make me want to draw back from opening our doors.

Guilty as Perceived

Then, there is the other side of it. Today, I met someone at an event who is a friend of a friend who invited my family over for dinner soon. The invitation felt awkward to me. What does he want from me to invite me before knowing my name? What would I be getting myself into? Maybe he is one of those strange religious-types who wants to force me to believe something.

Ugh. Now, I know how I may come across sometimes.

Embracing the Awkward

But, even though that awkwardness is there, there is still something compelling to me about letting people in, whether that is at our home or someone's home or a park in the neighborhood. As awkward as that can be (!!!), this is where real life is. No room for faux friendships when we are cramped and huddled around a table sharing a meal. At least not for long.

Communities Saturated in the Heart of God

My heart's desire is to see the Spirit create communities of the gospel around our area that live real hospitality. Not merely because it is a command put on us, but because it is a joy to us. The gospel can be shared over a meal or it can be a night of hilarious laughter watching someone go all in at Guesstures. Or Both. But, one way or another, God's Spirit is creating something beautifully counter-cultural.

It may be counter our own personal culture first...just as a side note.

Worth Your Next Sixish Minutes

In light of all that, I want to point you to a video I watched while I ate leftovers this afternoon. She will tell you some of her story, but Rosaria Butterfield saw what it means to be loved in biblical community though a family who sincerely just wanted to be her friend and neighbor- not a project. There is power in sincerely loving our neighbors. The Spirit worked everyday wonders.

Please take 6 minutes to watch the video. It is worth your time. Click here to watch it.

Also, dig into Mrs. Butterfield's story a little more. Look here for it. It will encourage you to hear how the Lord worked in her life through the messy simplicity of gospel infused friendship. 

 

New Life Pushes Out

New Life Pushes Out

"I didn't drop gambling because anybody preached against it. That kind of push never really works over the long haul. True Christian change works more like an old oak tree in the spring, when the new life inside pushes off the old dead leaves that still hang on."

Dr. John M. Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down, page 72 

(see also Galatians 2:20)

What's the Big Deal?!

What's the Big Deal?!

There was a little stream down a little hill from the apartment that my mom and I lived in around the 410 loop. It was a strange little stream. The concrete that was the stream bed told me that it was at least partially there because someone wanted it to be there and not all natural, but that didn't matter much to a curious two year old.

We only lived in San Antonio for a few months and I don't remember much of that time, but I do remember that stream, though, because I have always loved to play in the water. 

(Every time that I hike over a running stream these days I want to immerse myself in it, feel the water surround me, be immersed in its purity and coldness. I guess I have always been drawn to it.)

I think that our apartment windows faced outward and down towards the stream. I was intrigued by the water and was drawn to it. In the heat of a San Antonio summer, few things are as attracting as cool, running water (even if it was just a trickle because the sun lapped most of it up) and I remember heading down the hill intent on getting drenched. That's exactly what I did...and I loved it!

While I was splashing and playing in my little south Texas oasis, my mom called out from up the hill. You know how it is, selective hearing and all, so I didn't hear her at first. Then she came closer and called out again, this time in a way I had to catch on: "Wes, get out of that water and come here now!" So, obediently, I did, but inwardly I was grumbling to myself, "What is the big deal?!"

Really, what was the big deal?

Years later, I was driving with a friend through San Antonio and decided to drive by that old apartment off of the 410 loop. We didn't stop and explore the area, but as we drove by I noticed something I hadn't noticed before: the stream wasn't what I had imagined.

Water was flowing just like I remembered, but it wasn't the water I remembered. It wasn't a concrete-lined stream that was built for precocious little boys to enjoy and create treasured summer memories. It was a drainage ditch that carried away rain water (and anything the rain water gathered) that the city wanted to direct to the sewer system. The water started off clean enough, but as it traveled to where I used to play it gathered all kinds of muck and sewage and trash and...who knows what else. 

It wasn't meant for me. What looked like pleasure to me would only make me sick. I just couldn't see that before. It made me glad my mom called me out of the stream because I didn't know what I was doing...or better yet...I didn't know what it was doing to me.

Jeremiah 2:12–13: "Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
        be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD,
     for my people have committed two evils:
    they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters,
    and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
        broken cisterns that can hold no water."


“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

 

Celebrating Grace in "the Ordinary Junctures"

Celebrating Grace in "the Ordinary Junctures"

"We need to understand that God does at times give us an infusion of joy even in our bitterness and hard-heartedness. [see psalm 73:21-26] God's normal means of bringing his joy is by redeeming and sanctifying the ordinary junctures of human life.

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 193