Problematic Messengers and King Jesus

Jesus is King

That’s what I’m hoping all my friends and family leave this Earth believing. It’s also what Kanye West wants you to know as of October 25th, 2019 with the release of his album — you guessed it– “Jesus is King”

Yes, this is that Kanye West. The once highly-heralded conscious Chi-town rapper who saw much maintstream and sub-genre success who now is most associated with overpriced clothing and his vocal support of Donald J. Trump. Kanye went from accusing George Bush of not caring about black people during a telethon for Hurricane Katrina to now being cancelled by the same very same black people he wanted the world to recognize.

Much speculation has gone out as to why he is now who he is. His marriage to a Kardashian daughter, the death of his mother, his battle with mental illness; maybe all 3 or something else we can’t see yet. Whatever the catalyst for his behavior, Kanye West is problematic. The degree to which is debatable but the fact stands that Kanye West is more known for controversy than anything else is his decade-plus long music and celebrity career. So what happens when a problematic famous person turns around and thinks He has the right to open his cancelled mouth to talk about our Holy Lord and Savior?

When that happens, we should call it the gospel. No, not the nice cleaned up one that looks like suits and ties and Sunday dresses. No it’s not the one that we try to lock away in the depths of church basements, only allowing those we deem worthy to take hold of its contents. No, it’s not that gospel, if you can even call it that. But it is the gospel that has been preached throughout generations by only problematic messengers.

The Bible is made up of nothing but problematic messengers that should have been “cancelled” for their behavior. And I mean that sincerely: there’s no earthly reason why any author of any text or any leader of God’s people in the word should have been allowed to write such a holy book or lead the people of such a holy God. David was a murderer/adulterer, Solomon had over 600 wives and side-chicks, Paul was a terrorist, Samson couldn’t keep it in his pants, Peter denied knowing the very Son of God, and on and on. And although the Bible does not give us an exhaustive list of the sins of it authors, we know they were messed up because they were human. To be human is to be problematic and in need of a Savior. The message of the gospel can only be given by people who are not, in and of themselves, worthy to give it.

So, I understand why this message is hard to receive from Kanye. We cannot forget his problematic behavior, as if to think nothing ever happened. There is genuine hurt and actual reconciliation needed for his words and actions. And as a new believer he will need to be discipled and walked with as he stumbles and fails forward toward his Savior and attempts to navigate the space of his past actions.

So, yes I understand why you can’t listen to Kanye talk about God. My problem is that I think our reasoning for not listening to Kanye might expose that somehow we think we more worthy to talk about God than Kanye. Somehow we who say we love Jesus have forgotten that we should have been cancelled by way of eternal separation from the Father; yet instead of cancellation, we were offered salvation. And our salvation is a gift from God, not in anyway earned on our part. So the ability to talk about the gospel is also a gift. If you are not worthy on your own of being saved, then how do you think you are now worthy on your own of talking about salvation?

One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is in Luke 7. I’ve blogged about it before because I truly connect with one of the characters. A known prostitute walks in a Pharisee’s house where Jesus is eating and starts anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and wiping them her tears. The Pharisee rejected the idea that such a sinful woman would even think about coming near the presence of such a prophet. Jesus then gives the Pharisee a convicting story about how those who realize their extreme need for forgiveness show it in ways of extreme thankfulness. What Jesus knew that this brave women and this ignorant Pharisee did not know was that she was actually a messenger of the gospel at that moment. She came to the Lord Jesus with all she had, some perfume and a bad reputation, and hoped that Jesus would do something with it. And he did. She was acknowledged, she was forgiven, she was sent away with her existence validated by the Creator of the world, and she became a sign of Jesus’ forgiving power and compassionate mission.

It is easy to compare what we have done then compare it to Kanye and say “Well I least I havent done that“. But the reality is that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And that all of us who call ourselves Christians were once spiritually dead in our sins and we were brought to spiritual life through the intervening work of God. And it is only because He commissioned us to His good works that we get the privilege to speak about Him to others. But make no mistake: we are all still very problematic. The difference between us and God is that only one of us thinks being problematic stops us from being used by God.

I pray Kanye is truly converted. I pray His soul is in the Father’s hands and that His conversion is true. I also know Kanye is still problematic because I know that after justification comes sanctification. And I know Kanye’s sanctification, like his salvation, will be public too. He will mess up. His album will be used against him the next time he does something crazy. I pray he is protected from the pressure to prove His salvation is real. I pray that “Jesus is King” is used to bring people back to Jesus, or to introduce them to Him for the first time.

I do not know how this saga ends for Kanye. But I do know this: Kanye West is no more problematic than me. But luckily for both of us, Jesus is King.

Running From and To the God Who Hurts and Heals

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God is love.

We love that saying. We love thinking about love and our idolatry of our own personal definition of love often bleeds onto our thoughts of God, often shaping Him into our image of what we think love is. We love the thought of a God who helps, who heals, who gives us what we want and always does what we think is best. We like that God. We think we love that God. And yes, God does heal and give and do all of the warm, fuzzy things we can think of. But this God is more complex than the genie in the sky we make Him out to be.

This God takes. He takes life, He takes away things we think to be good, He takes away things we want and swear we need. This God disciplines. He brings hurt, He allows chaos, He causes destruction if He sees fit. This God ends things we wish never ended. He hurts us, lowers us, presses us, squeezes us. His method of sanctification often comes in the form of suffering. He cares more about our holiness than our comfort.

The reality is that God is both/and. He brings suffering and healing. He gives and He takes. He raises up and lowers down. In His sovereignty, He is in complete control of all things and is working all things according to His plan. This is His world; and He will do with it what He wants.

I struggle with this reality. I struggle with this reality that the same God who allows hurt and suffering is the same God who I must run to for comfort and healing. A lot of us don’t like that idea, either. It is why we try to make sense of bad things in this world without God. We say “God is nowhere in this”; but in fact He is. He allowed it, caused it, and is using it for His plan. We try our best to separate God from anything that is hurtful because how can we trust a God who heals what He hurts? If this was any other person or being, we would call that person psychotic and stay as far away from them as possible.

But this isn’t any other person; this is the God of the universe. This God has ways that aren’t our ways and thoughts that aren’t our thoughts. He is eternal and outside of time, meaning He sees the beginning and the end as the present. He knows how it all ends because He is the one who wrote the ending.

Now, we might be able to accept this big God has big plans and does what He wants. But how do we struggle with this idea and not land on the side of thinking God this cosmic bully who does what He wants with disregard for our feelings? The Psalms speak in multiple places about God being the one who raised up the writer after bringing him down in the first place. Psalms 71: 19-21 is a great example:

Your righteousness, O God,
    reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
    O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my greatness
    and comfort me again.

The Psalmist here starts this section by recognizing God as righteous and being the only One like Him. He acknowledges that God has done great things in his life. Right after this acknowledgement, He boldly admits that God is also the one who has made him see “many troubles and calamities”, but ends the sentence knowing that God will see him through these. The writer describes being so low as being in the depths of the earth, but even here there is a sure hope that God will bring him out. And not only bring him out but comfort him also.

The Psalmist was able to acknowledge that God was both the one who caused him to be low and the one who would both bring him out of his lowliness and comfort him from his experience. It was because the Psalmist remembered the good deeds of God (vs. 17) that he was able to see through — not ignore — his hurt and see the God who was fully involved in His life, from the start of the trial to the end of it.

I run from God often. I find it hard to trust a God who seems to hurt with one hand and heal with the other. It is confusing sometimes to look at God and know not only could He have prevented my suffering but that He is the cause of it. And that He expects me to come to Him to be comforted and healed. How can I trust Him when I know He will allow me to be hurt? What good deeds can I look back to and see that He will bring me through the very trial He led me too?

The answer is the gospel. God sent His only and beloved Son, Jesus, to save us from the condition we put ourselves in. As humans made in the image of God, we were created with souls that are filled only by connection to God. When Adam and Eve sinned, our connection was severed. Our spiritual umbilical cord was cut and we died. And our death was an offense to God and we therefore became His enemies, lusting and longing for things that He did not create us for, attempting to replace Him every chance we got. We were destined for an eternity away from Him and from all the glory His presence brings and our souls crave. But God did not leave us this way. He knew that sin required death because sin causes death. A sacrifice was needed to repay the debt that sin collected. So instead of rightfully giving us to our death, He gave His Son. Jesus the Christ wrapped His God the Son glory in flesh and dwelt in our brokenness. He lived among the spiritually and physically diseased and had compassion on them. He was perfectly obedient to the Father and died in our place, taking the sins of those who believe in Him to the grave with Him. Our sin stayed there, but our Savior didn’t. By the power of God the Spirit He rose from the grave and ascended to Heaven to take His rightful place beside the Father. This God-man, Jesus, is now presently waiting to be sent back to us to reclaim what is and who are His.

That is the good deed I am called to look to.

I am not called to make excuses for God. I am not called to relieve the tension of Him being both the One who hurts and heals, who cuts and calms. I do not ignore the fact that He does indeed allow and cause suffering. But although He has not fully explained why He is both, He has given us plenty to reason to trust His plan. He has done the greatest thing that was ever needed to be done: He gave us access to the Father and joined us with Him so that we will inherit with Him. The greatest need of all humans is not a comfortable, suffering-free life in a temporary world that will one day not exist in the way we see it now. Our greatest need is the reconciliation of our severed relationship with the God who created us out of the overflow of love in Himself. It is for this reason that Paul can say the worst days we have here are “momentary and light afflictions” when we compare them to the glory to come for those who believe in Jesus for salvation.

Our God hurts. Our God heals. Our God causes it and comforts from it. And our God saves.

What’s Wrong With The Church? You and Me…

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“There is no perfect church. If there is a perfect church, it stopped being perfect the moment you and I walked in”

– Idris Elba, “The Gospel”

The church gets a lot of flack; and rightfully so. A people – and not just a place – that Jesus gave His life for and sent His Holy Spirit to build up to glorify Him in the earth is often known for doing the exact opposite. Churches are run amuck with sin. From the pulpit all the the way down to the youngest congregant there isn’t a soul who darkens that doors of any place of worship that brings with them a sinless heart.

And that includes you and me.

So often when I see critiques in the church from other Christians, I don’t disagree with them but I do wonder where the person critiquing fits in the story. It’s not that their critiques aren’t correct; they are just incomplete. Admonishment and correction towards the church is always pointed outward instead of inwards. What’s wrong with the church is almost always them, and never us.

Now I’m not saying every single member is responsible for every single sin that happens in the church. If your pastor is caught in adultery, that’s not your fault. If the deacons are stealing from the collection plate, that’s also not your fault. If your church has decided to take a theological incorrect stand on a solid biblical issue, that, too, isn’t your fault.

So I’m not lumping every sin done in the sanctuary on us. But I’m asking if when we ask ourselves what’s wrong with the church, do we put ourselves into the selection of possible variables? I think a lot of us are looking for a perfect church and don’t realize that any church ceases to be perfect the minute you and me arrive. In fact, if you think you have found a perfect church you’re either in for a harsh awakening or you should leave before you mess everything up.

1 John 1:8 says that anyone who says they have no sin in them is liar. John here is writing to Christians who have professed Jesus as their Lord and Savior; those who have been justified in Christ are still in desperate need of sanctification, the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us more and more into the image of Christ. And where does this process of sanctification happen? In church pews. In staff meetings. In choir rehearsal. At the church picnic. During worship. At small group meetings. Before and after service.

Sanctification, the process where sin is dealt with in real time, happens in the church.

That is why the church is so messy. That’s why it is such a hotbed for scandal, drama, and trauma. Because church is nothing more than a bunch of sinful, stinky, messed up people coming together asking God to make them better, to restore them, to make them more like Jesus. Church is for the screwed up. Church is for the sinner. Church is for the one who will mess everything up, often .

Now, the fact that sinner darken church doors weekly doesn’t excuse the sin. We call sin out. We protect the flock from wolves. The Holy Spirit purifies the church of Jesus. The Savior protects His bride. We exercise discipline, we call our siblings to repentance, and we remove them from the body if need be. We do not allow sin to run unchecked;  but we are not shocked when it happens. We do not excuse church hurt, on any level from anyone; but we shouldn’t be caught off guard if it happens. We leave that body if we need to, but we do not leave the Body forever.

The thing about critiquing the church without including ourselves is that it shows we do not see ourselves rightly. No, we may not be directly affecting the current state of church affairs, but we all bring our own baggage that our brothers and sisters in the body will have to sort out with us. We bring our own set of problems that, although might not elevate to public acknowledgement, still require addressing and correcting. We must never forget that our sin put Christ on the cross. Your sin and my sin.

And our sin affects the church. But God, in His infinite grace, mercy, and wisdom, did not leave as sinful orphans left to fend for themselves. He has sent us His Holy Spirit, who is shaping, pruning, and purifying every faithful body around the world, even in ways we cannot see. God sees the corruption. He sees the scandals and the crimes. He sees, hears and knows the hurting and the pain. He is not blind to the tears we cry over church hurt. He is not deaf to our pleas for reconciliation. He is not oblivious to how far from the plan our church might be. And yet, even still, He commands us to be in His body; to bring our tired and poor selves every week to other tired and poor selves.

We are the problem with the church. And we always will be until Jesus comes back. No matter what church you attend, no matter what body you choose to fellowship with, you and everyone else around brings a plethora of issues that, if left unchecked by the power of the Spirit, will ruin the very building and body we call our home. The church is the place where Jesus has sent His Spirit to grow us as believers. And He did that knowing full well how messy, not they, but we are.

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I’m done

Done is an understatement, a word too typical and overly overused to apply

I’m underwater, beneath, low, abyss and chasms

I’m going fast with my head out the window, blown away and unable to breath

I can breath; yet and cannot catch my breath

And what I am forced, commanded, chastened to believe tastes horrible

I am healing; I am broken and unrepairable

I am capable of happiness and only capable of walking away from it

I am a fool. A fool who chooses trusts and chooses distrust.

I am trusting of the distrustful and believing in the beguiling

I’m no fool. I see behind the curtain and stare at its operator and ask

“Is there more?”

I walk beaten paths and mossy walkways

I climb forbidden trees and stare at their fruit

I bite into its produce and I never swallow

And nothing, nothing, ever taste as sweet after that

I can’t; I can’t, I won’t, I shall not

I am incapable of happiness. I am logic and emotion. I am wisdom and feelings

I am attracted to the tangible and attached to the intangible

I am not God. I am not god.

I give and I take away. Myself. By, myself. For someone else.

I shall not want. And I have not found. And I will not see.

I am rock and hard place. I am left and right. I am lost and found.

I am the fork in the road. I don’t choose. I just sit. Both paths are circles

I am circular. I am obtuse and acute. I’m a square. I’m out of shape.

What the hell am I…

I am depression and sadness, weariness and longing, tired and confused

I am life and light, I am truth and reality, I am existence and actuality

I am long and stretched, tense rope pulled with thread shown, loose and brittle

Easily broken yet not allowed to break. Porcelain by choice, iron by command

Forged against my wishes, forged for my good, forged as a gift, ready for good works

I make no choices, I make no decisions, I make nothing.

I am nothing. I am not. I am without. I am lacking.

I am made, I am created, I am supposed to and expected to

I am allowed to look. I shouldn’t look. I am not supposed to.

I and anger and hatred. Frustration and vengeance. Shaken and closed fist

I am holding on. I have to let go. I’m not supposed to let go. Letting go is selfish

Holding on is wrong. Holding on is sinful. Dont hold on. Hold on.

I am night and day, sun and moon, stars and planets

I am rambling. I am screaming. I am asking. I am yelling. I am listening.

Are you…

Predominately White Churches Should Start Talking About Race Too Much

Any black person who has had at least more than one conversation on race in a predominately white church space has heard this phrase before or a variety of the sort:

“Why do you make everything about race?”

Hearing this phrase is triggering for a host of reasons. One main reason is because it is used often as a conversation stopper. It is lobbed carelessly into dialogue to show the speaker that they have crossed some imaginary line into a territory that makes the “listener” uncomfortable. Whenever I personally hear that phrase I know that I have just encountered someone who is not ready to truly dive into the realities of race and addressing the complexities that come with it.

Sadly this phrase is used far too often, especially in predominately white church spaces. As a member of a predominately white church who has had the blessing of having many white brothers and sisters in Christ, I still have heard this phrase either directed at me or at someone else. The heart of the phrase stems from a frustration of having to do the hard work of addressing this “race thing” again. Then, without fail, the conversation shifts to the go-to deflection of the uncomfortable:

“Why can’t we just talk about the gospel?”

And although I love my white brothers and sisters dearly, it is saddening seeing the lack of tolerance some of them have with regards to talking through racial issues.

My church is not any more or less broken than any other church. Most black congregants and staff members who faithfully attend and work in predominately white worship spaces encounter these issues frequently. The interesting thing about these spaces is that sometimes these same churches and its members confusingly seem to be able to boast in being proponents of racial reconciliation while still finding a way to avoid having to actually do the work required to be justified in their boasting. Some write seemingly self-righteous Facebook statuses and blogs to showcase how “woke” they are for finally admitting that we might just have a race problem (although this revelation generally is mainly aimed at America as a whole and not generally the church, specifically). Sometimes these same churches might even send pastors and ministers to conferences surrounding racial reconciliation to further propagate the idea that they are indeed going to be found on the right side of history when it comes to race. They preach sermons and even invite guest speakers to prove how truly concerned they are with getting this “race thing” right.

And yes, some churches and their members truly are burdened and willing to dig and stay in the trenches as long as it takes to see reconciliation manifest. There are predominately white churches with pastors, laymen and women who are committed to walking along side the oppressed in regards to race, hoping to see the kingdom come in a small way even now. And yet, for some – dare I wonder most? – white church spaces, despite the conferences, blogs, podcasts, sermons, guest speakers, etc., when race is brought up in conversation, it automatically comes with a unspoken but frequently met quota. The topic of race seems to come with an inherent ceiling that caps just how often it can be discussed, how deep it can be addressed, and how uncomfortable it’s allowed to make us feel. Despite all the talk that some predominately church spaces do when it comes to racial reconciliation, there seems to always be a limit to their love.

Why does this limit exist? It is my belief that predominately white church spaces will do some work with regards to race while still avoiding the feeling of being as uncomfortable as they need to be when it comes to discussing all the complexities of race. Promoting reconciliation is an ok thing to do, as long is isn’t too promoted. Yes, we should fight to see racial oppression cease to exist, but it shouldn’t mean having to give up certain ways of life and the luxuries afforded, right? And of course, racism is a gospel issue, but because we are so afraid of accidentally making it more than the gospel (which is indeed an error to care about), let’s make sure we don’t talk about it so much that people think about it too much and possibly forget about Jesus. Predominately white spaces are sadly so blindly drenched in cultural privilege and comfort that they are unable to see that their capping of conversations on race is also their capping of the level of reconciliation possible. They are essentially, as they might be unconsciously used to, allowing their privilege and place of power to be used to only allow the level of reconciliation that they are personally comfortable with.

In her book “On Reading Well”, Karen Swallow Prior defines patience as the willingness to endure suffering. When this definition is applied to white church spaces and its dealings with race, it is evident that this church space often lacks patience when it comes to actualizing racial reconciliation. The reason we as an entire body of Christ might never fully reconcile between races is simply because there is a lack of desire to endure the suffering that comes with reconciliation. Although no Christian is a perfect sufferer, in my experience most of the black congregants that faithfully attend and labor in predominantly white church spaces seem to learn this specific lesson of patience daily. And it is high time that our white brothers and sisters join us.

The willingness to endure suffering is a foundational Christian trait. We as Christians are bought and purchased by our Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ, who endured our deserved punishment to bring forth our undeserved salvation. We are also called, by our Savior Jesus Christ, to pick up our cross daily and follow Him. I have never held a cross the size of one used in a crucifixion, but we know a little about them from history and reading the Bible. It’s safe to say that crosses are heavy. Being as they are made of wood, they probably have splinters. They probably stink from the sweat of those carrying them. And people seem to be not strong enough to carry them forever so instead they ask for help. But crosses are how we enter into the presence of the Father, for a cross is what was needed to save our lives. And a cross is what keeps our lives saved.

If predominately white churches and its members are not willing to endure the suffering that comes with pursuing true actualized racial reconciliation, to carry the cross of hard conversations, uncomfortable situations, and the relinquishing of privilege and power where applicable, we the global church as Jesus’ Bride will never see the joy that is set before us. If black members of predominantly white bodies and communities don’t feel the total freedom to be completely unburdened with their issues regarding race, the church will never see the dividing wall completely torn down. If we as the bride of Christ don’t see how capping this conversation brings division to a body that should be unified, we lack the ability to glorify Christ rightly.

Friends, there is no such thing as talking too much about race. As believers in the gospel and as fully formed human beings, we can both keep Christ at the center of everything while choosing to focus on how His centrality has, or hasn’t, affected cultural issues. We can both keep ourselves unstained from the world and care for widows and orphans. At least, God says we can.

I plead with my white brothers and sisters to make room for tough conversations on race. To not only make room, but to seek them out. To be uncomfortable, to be fragile, to misstep and misspeak. I beg predominately white church spaces to take an honest inventory on how they are pursuing racial reconciliation and how they can do better. As a church, the whole church, we are broken people. Churches will never be perfect, nor act perfectly, as long as they keep letting broken human beings – who the church was founded by and founded for – darken their doors. But I am not asking for perfection; I’m asking for actual concern. Racial issues will take slow, deliberate, intentional, persevering, and patient spirits to be addressed. But, we have to start talking about them. In fact, it is probably about time that we start talking about them too much.

Advent is for the Broken-hearted

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The season is here. Sleigh bells are ringing for those who are listening. Chestnuts are roasting on an open fire (which doesn’t sound dangerous at all). And the anticipation of walking in a possible winter wonderland is pounding. The holiday season is upon us once again, and once again it came without warning or alert.

There is a lot of preparation that goes into the holiday season. We prepare for family members and loved ones to stay at our place, or we prepare to travel to see them. We begin to prepare our budgets for buying Christmas presents and ingredients for our favorite holiday dishes to cook. We prepare our houses, inside and out, to reflect the jovial brightness of the season. We prepare ourselves for church services and plays that our children are performing in. There is a lot of anticipation and preparation that goes into making the Christmas and holiday season exactly what we believe should be.

But there’s another group of people out there every year who are also preparing. Their preparation looks and feels a lot different than the one described above, though. They aren’t preparing to receive loved ones in, but rather they are preparing to spend their 1st, or their 20th, Christmas without them. Instead of buying presents for their children or spouses, they buy other things, like alcohol or drugs, to help get them through the day. Instead of looking forward to walking in a winter wonderland, they only have IV’s and hospital walls as their backdrop for the holidays. Their houses are not decorated with lights and reindeer, but with reminders of what they lost or are about to lose. They won’t be darkening the doors of a church this Christmas. No, they will attempt to spend their entire day indoors, hoping somehow to go sleep on the 24th and wake up on the 26th. These people are the broken-hearted. They are the ones for whom the holiday season is not a festive reason to be merry and bright, but instead just a season to power through. A time period to push past and somehow make it over.

Last year was a weird holiday season for me. I’m generally the guy who blasts Christmas music from October all the way to New Year’s Day – and sometimes a few days after. But last year, I wasn’t in the Christmas spirit or mood. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was filled with sadness and darkness. I was depressed and down. I was heartbroken. Some of it was over the sin I had given over to; some of it was just dealing with the effects of a broken world. It all added up, though, to equal a holiday season that was anything but merry in the way that I was accustomed to.

But it was in this dark season where light seemed unable to penetrate that I found out that I was not alone. Slowly I became aware of the people around me who also had a rough time during the holidays. I was aware of friends who had no family to go home to. I knew of friends who mourned their losses. I became aware of friends who were going through a rough time in their marriages and families. The holiday season culturally promises us that everything should be filled with good feelings, good food and overall good goodness. But for most of my friends, it just became a time where they were forced to reflect on all the things they had lost, were losing, or never had. Their hearts were not ornamented with pretty light bulbs or shiny decorations. No, instead their hearts were filled with heaviness, sadness, and darkness. Their hearts were broken; and so was mine. And it was in this state, not in the previous joyful ones, that I found out what Advent was really about.

Advent comes from a Latin word meaning “coming”. Celebrating Advent is celebrating the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. But Jesus did not come into a world filled with hope and joy. He stepped down into a world filled with chaos and confusion, wrapped in darkness and oppression with no way of escape or rescue. He was born into a world where the Israelites had been waiting 400 plus years for their Messiah. They had not heard a Word from God in centuries, and I can imagine some of them had probably began to give up hope. And it is this season of history that the Father decided to send His Son. Jesus, the Light of the World, was born into darkness; our darkness. He was born in a manger, next to earthly filth. And walked among our brokenness, touching it, hugging it, loving us and healing us. Jesus hung with sinners, not the self-proclaimed righteous. He called broken people out of darkness and gave them living water and the bread of Life. And most of all, He lived a life that resulted in Him dying, on our behalf. Our biggest source of oppression was our sin that kept us from the Father. The rituals for ridding of sin weren’t enough anymore, and they never truly were to being with. But Jesus was enough. And is still is enough. And He always will be.

This is why Advent is for the broken-hearted. This is why Advent is for the hurt, the lost, the confused, the angry, the broken and weak. Because that is who Jesus is for. Jesus didn’t come for the healthy or righteous. No, he came for the weak and the sinful. He came for the prodigal son, for the infertile couple, for the bickering parents, for the divorcee, for the widow and widower, for the estranged family member, for the sick and dying, for the addict and the loser. His Word tells us He is near to the broken-hearted. And Advent was the physical manifestation of that declaration. God showed us that He is near by physically being near, through Jesus Christ. And even now, for the believer, He is near by way of the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. And when it is all said and done, He will be forever near to us in the New Heaven and New Earth. The Bible is the story of God pursuing His people and creation. It is a long story of God’s love for us and His desire to rid anything that stops us from knowing Him. The Advent of Jesus Christ will forever be his soldier’s welcome home event, where the one we thought was far away from us comes to where we are to take us home and be with us.

I don’t know where you are this season. Maybe things are as they should be. Maybe you have the family and you have the joy and peace that so many lack. Do not feel bad about that. Instead, look for ways to be light to someone without any. Or maybe you are in need of that light. Maybe this is as dark, or darker, than I described. Know this, please: God is near to you. He is so much nearer to you now than He might have ever been. Look for Him. Search for Him. He does not hide. He is there. Advent is for you, oh lowly and broken-hearted. Jesus came for you. And He will never stop.

Stuck Between Multiple Sorrows and the Valley of the Shadow of Death

The title says it all. It’s a longer way to allude to the phrase “between a rock and a hard place”. But those a very vague places. Rocks come in all sizes and a hard place could be anything. I needed something more specific — and biblical — to help me define where I feel I’ve been the past few months.

Let me explain.

The phrase “multiple sorrows” comes from Psalm 16:4a,

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; (ESV)

Running after other gods is exactly where I’ve been lately. I’m Jonah right after God told him to go to Nineveh. I’m the people Jeremiah is preaching too who have forsaken their God and drawn cisterns that cannot hold water. I’m the Israelites who, as Moses is up on the mountain receiving the commandments of God, decide to make a golden calf that is here and now, instead of then and coming. None of those stories ended well. Big fishes, national captivity, corporate death. Multiple sorrows.

And yet, on the other side of conundrum is the very real Valley of the Shadow of Death, from Psalm 23:4,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. (ESV)

The rest of verse is beautiful. David, the psalmist, says that even though he is being led into this horrid and terrifying valley, that he doesn’t fear. Not because the Valley isn’t worthy of his or anyone’s fear, but because He knows His God is with Him. He is comforted by the very presence of His God with him.

So what’s my problem? Unlike David, I don’t look at how big my God is; instead I look at how scary this Valley is. I see its cobwebs, I see the scary eyes staring back at me, I see the creatures baring their razor-sharp teeth in my direction, waiting to chew me alive. I see these images, then I stare back up at God. Not to see His all-sufficiency, not to marvel at His ability to protect me regardless of the threat, not to lean heavily on all His numerous promises to never leave me nor forsake me. No, I look up at God to ask Him, “Why?” I look up at God to question Him, not trust Him; to argue with Him, not believe in Him and His Word. I know He told me His ways are not my ways, and that His thoughts aren’t my thoughts. I understand that His knowledge is not only higher but eternal. I (say I) believe that He truly loves me and only gives good gifts. And yet, here I stand at the entrance to this Valley, looking, searching, frantically trying to find how this could be a good gift.

But I don’t see it. And so, in my own knowledge, in my own way that seems right to me that ultimately leads to death, I run. I run hard. But where and what do I run to? Running towards multiple sorrows sounds really horrible. But running through a Valley known for being the shadow of Death doesn’t sound too appealing either. So here I am. Stuck.

Stuck between the promises of the Almighty and the promises of the world. Stuck between wondering which pain is really worth it. Stuck at wanting to not move at all, hoping I can stay this way till eternity. Stuck between crippling anxiety and oppressive depression. Stuck between grace and condemnation. Stuck between truth and lies.

Either way, I’m stuck. I would love to end this with some really good biblical truth. And I could do that. I could show you that Jesus promised we would have trouble in this world but that we should take heart because He overcame the world (John 16:33). I could show you that Paul told us that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). I could point out that God was with David even in the Valley, as He was with the Israelites in the wilderness, as He would also be with Jonah on his way to Nineveh. I could point out that all of God’s promises are yes though Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 1:20). All of these points are true. All these points are valid. All these points are biblical and scriptural. And yet, I’m still stuck.

Voluntarily stuck, I’m sure. I know God’s grace reaches this deep. If it didn’t, His grace wouldn’t be that impressive. And that’s my one and only hope right now. Not a hope like a big, blinding light that overpowers everything dark. No, this hope is more like a little night-light in a big room. But even a small light is seen in the darkness. And even mustard seed faith can move mountains. So, maybe even the smallest of grace can help me become unstuck. And He’s known for giving greater grace. I could use some greater grace right now.

I wrote this for the stuck. I wrote this for those who try to run to the world and to God, sometimes in the same day. I wrote this for those who feel internally stretched beyond their max point. I wrote this for you. Because if we are stuck, at least we aren’t alone.