Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What is Worship?


Holy, Holy, Holy, / Is the Lord God Almighty / Who was and is, and is to come.
With all creation I sing / Praise to the King of Kings / You are my everything
And I will adore You


Today, we come together to worship, so let’s ask- What is worship?


Christians typically think of worship like this, gathering together with a community, singing songs, and reflecting on the meaning of the lyrics. Worship is also expressed through our feelings- you may be happy, exuberant, overwhelmed, moved, sad, or all of them at once.


Some of you here worship God, and maybe some of you aren’t sure if you consider yourself a person who worships.


But actually, we all worship!


We all dedicate ourselves to something. We all spend our time and our money in some focused way. We all honor whatever it is that we consider to be valuable. 

How do we worship?

  • Money
  • Time 
  • Focus 
  • Rejoicing 
  • Mourning 
  • Energy 
  • Art
  • Songs
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Prayer
  • Movement (dance, exercise, prayer postures)
  • Love/devotion/adoration
  • Trust, Obedience/submission
  • Protecting/defending
  • Taking action
  • Refraining from action
Some of this worship is personal, and some of it is communal. Today we’re worshipping communally- everyone together. We worship because our family or our community said we should, or sometimes we worship something we’ve chosen for ourselves.


Either way, we worship because we’ve decided that something is worthy of worship. In fact, “worth” is the root of the word worship.



Worship = Worth-ship



We worship what has value. We worship what we think is deserving.


In the book of Revelation, we see many scenes of worship. This may surprise you because the book is more famous for stories of destruction and death- but that’s not the point of Revelation. In contrast to despair, we witness this scene alongside our narrator John. 

Revelation 4:6b-11, 5:1-6b, 9-12

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
I know this is an overwhelming vision, and we don’t have time to break down every part of it right now.


But it is overwhelming on purpose. Imagine standing in front of this heavenly throne with this cast of characters: four creatures with wings and strange faces, twenty-four elders, and 100 million angels. This contrasts the destruction elsewhere in the story. John was writing this as a letter to a persecuted people- those who were dying for their faith in a time when Rome had conquered most of the known world.  They worshiped a goddess of victory and built statues and altars to her. Roman kings also demanded worship. They said, “I’m worthy of worship, because I’m the strongest and the smartest, and I have the biggest army.”


Many of the things Rome worshipped, we still worship today. Maybe we don’t build a statue to them, but we spend our time, money and energy focused on these things.

What We Worship

  • Athletes, sports teams, movie stars
  • Politicians or policies
  • Church and religious leaders
  • Success and accomplishments
  • Independence and self-reliance
  • Grades, degrees, titles, prestige
  • Coolness or uniqueness
  • Sex and sexual attractiveness
  • Dating, romance, romantic partners
  • Marriage and family
  • Western beauty standards (certain skin tones, face shapes, body shapes)
  • Thinness
  • Good health and able bodies
  • Strength and security
  • Patriotism and nationalism
  • Money and materialism
  • Authority figures
  • Winning/victory
  • Comfort, convenience
These things aren’t all inherently bad: but are they worthy of worship? I mentioned things like marriage and family because they can be good and life-giving, but worshipping them can also mess up our priorities and cause harm. I see that in dating too- many think they are incomplete without a significant other, that their life isn’t worthwhile unless a boyfriend or girlfriend affirms them.


For me, grades and achievements were a major focus when I was a student. I built my identity around my report card. Jesus was important to me too, but there was a wall around part of my heart where Jesus had no place. When I was 18, for the first time I decided to give my whole heart to Jesus, instead of just the places where it was easy and convenient. It’s still hard to keep giving up that part of myself. I don’t get grades anymore, thankfully, but I tend to worship being right, winning arguments, or being perceived as being right. It can be hard to let go of these things, and it’s still a long journey with Jesus for me.


The next hard step in my journey again started with expanding my heart. I hadn’t noticed how my faith was exclusively personal. I thought, as long as I have a personal relationship with Jesus, it doesn’t matter if my family, my church, my people group, or my country have a broken relationship with God. But in Revelation, we see that it matters to God when our communities worship things which aren’t worthy. Most of the stuff on this worship list are things our culture ingrains in us- how many times do you see media for thinness and certain beauty standards? How often do we see leaders escape consequences for their wicked actions because we worship their power?


Like Rome, we have leaders who say - “I’m the strongest and the smartest. I have the power. I’m worthy of your devotion and obedience.” We live in a world where we are encouraged to worship leaders and power, or seek the victories of our group at the expense of others.


So when John says that God alone is worthy of worship, he’s promoting a revolutionary act. In the midst of wicked rulers, he tells us to disobey their commands and give allegiance to God instead.


John is writing this from prison, and others who follow this act of allegiance could end up there too, or die as martyrs.


This worship is not fun or casual. These early Christians took worship seriously. They were serious because it was worthwhile. So why is God worthy of worship?
Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Holy means to be complete, whole. There's nothing incomplete about God. God was, is, and is to come because God is eternal and lives forever. God is the creator- what power could be greater?


We can see why God is worthy- someone so big and so powerful must be greater than any conquering King, right?


But there’s another aspect to this worthiness. In chapter 5 verse 2,  we meet a mighty angel. We have a cultural view of angels looking sweet and human, but this being probably looks as terrifying as the four living creatures by the throne. And it is mighty: maybe it’s the biggest of all the angels, it has forearms this big around- it could lift John up like a dumbbell (lift weights motion). But for some reason, even this mighty angel can’t open this scroll.


Scrolls aren’t usually hard to open- it's just paper sealed with wax.


Strength isn’t enough- power isn’t enough. What is needed to open this scroll? An elder says: Don’t worry, we have someone who can do it. Look- it’s the Lion! (point)


John looks. But he doesn’t see a lion- he sees a lamb.



What is this? A lamb isn’t a lion. It isn’t strong or powerful. It’s a baby, vulnerable.
Why would a lamb be worthy? How could a lamb have triumphed?
We hear why this lamb is worthy in a new song.
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
We saw before that the lamb looked like it had been killed. Many ancient cultures sacrificed lambs and other animals for forgiveness or for seeking favor. It’s a strange image for God to become the sacrifice rather than the one receiving the sacrifice.


Surprise: worthiness comes through sacrifice, not strength. Worthy is the one who loves, not the one with power. Worthy is he who made a Kingdom, not he who conquered kingdoms. Worthy is he who makes people priests and rulers, not he who makes people slaves and martyrs.


The name of the lamb who was slain is Jesus. Jesus sacrificed himself and died out of love. His enemies though they’d won, but his sacrifice was the victory. Because of Jesus’ love, we get to gather here today- this campus represents people from many tribes and languages and peoples and nations- we get to be part of God’s Kingdom. We get to serve and we get to reign.


What would our world look like if we valued sacrifice over strength? Maybe we wouldn’t treat the poor and the refugee and the disabled and the sick as a burden, but as beloved brothers and sisters who have something good to contribute. How would we treat people if we believed that love was greater than power? Maybe we wouldn’t care about saying that our country was #1 and stop trying to put ourselves first. And what would our campus look like if we were a kingdom of people from every nation serving God? College students could model love and sacrifice for the whole world to see.

Do you want that? Do you want to be part of that?
Jesus is worth learning about- let Jesus show you why he is worthy.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain / Holy Holy is He
Sing a new song / To Him who sits on / Heaven’s mercy seat
Holy, Holy, Holy, / Is the Lord God Almighty / Who was and is, and is to come.

Wedding of the Lamb: Cake Color Symbolism

Wedding of the Lamb - Revelation Potluck party! You can have a slice of you tell me what the colors represent

1. Purple: represents royalty (purple dye is historically expensive- only the rich could afford it. In the time Revelation was written, the known world was under the control of Rome. The kings of Rome worshipped victory and conquering; they lavishly spent their wealth and oppressed the poor. They called themselves gods and killed anyone who wouldn’t worship them. The wicked “Babylon” wears purple and is covered in jewels, but she falls in the end. When Jesus arrives, it’s clear that he is the only true royalty, only he is worthy. Love wins over Power! 

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True… On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords.” -Revelation 11a, 16

2. Red: represents blood and sacrifice. Babylon drinks red wine that is the blood of the martyrs- those who died because their allegiance was to Jesus rather than to the evil kings. The Lamb bleeds from a cut throat, and Jesus’ robe is dipped in blood, representing his death and sacrifice for us. 

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” -Revelation 12:11

 3. White: represent purity, being washed/cleansed. The martyrs were given a white robe because they persevered to the end. Jesus and the heavenly army wear white, and Jesus rides a white horse. Finally, the Bride (the church) wears white for her wedding day! “ I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” -Revelation 21:2-4

4. Leaves: represent healing. The curse is broken and we can eat from the Tree of Life again. Our broken world is restored, both on a personal level and a community or systemic level as all the nations come together, bringing their glory and honor into the City. 

“On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” -Revelation 22:2b

Monday, April 10, 2017

Systemic Sin

What's the difference between personal sin and systemic sin? Does systemic sin even matter, or should be all only worry about our own personal sin? Sometimes systems are hard to see, and we'd rather pretend they weren't there. Here's some examples to start thinking about it:

Individual Sin -- Systemic Sin

a teen thinks sexual thoughts about a classmate  -- women are objectified in movies and advertising

a cop commits a murder -- the cop is rewarded rather than penalized

a woman is raped -- the rapist goes free, media says she "asked for it"

a pastor has an affair -- church covers it up and sends family away

a business person cheats -- cheating is encouraged in the whole company

a prison guard abuses an inmate --the prison doesn't investigate

a school bully threatens a child -- both children are punished; teacher says "I don't care who started it."

a man sexually harasses a coworker -- victim is told to find a job somewhere else if she can't handle it

a slum lord evicts a poor person -- no one else will rent to her now

a college student says a racial slur -- his fraternity sings a song full of slurs about how they won't let minorities into their frat

an administrator tosses a resume with a "black name" -- she was told to do so by her superior

an grandmother makes a joke about another ethnic group -- everyone chuckles and doesn't speak up

a famous athlete commits domestic violence -- the sports team says his personal life is "none of our business"

a young woman is tricked into prostitution -- her religious upbringing tells her she no longer has value

a man is given an excessive prison sentence for drug use -- he never gets help for his addiction and is labeled a convict forever

a doctor insults a person's weight/size -- person doesn't get treatment for her actual illness or injury- her weight gets blamed for everything

a politician sleeps with prostitutes -- his voters justify it because they like his policies

a man emotionally abuses his wife -- her church tells her to submit and obey him

an elected official wants more power -- voting restrictions stop a citizen from voting

I tell you my story of being hurt and you don’t believe me -- and you teach others not to believe me either


Thoughts on words:

Systemic: root word is system. Although a system can't sin, sinful people create systems which propagate sin. 

Communal: root word also gives us community. Same concept as system, but could have a more personal feel. Systems can be better at hiding sin, like boxing up many people into prison. Perhaps communal sin should be easier to see. Family sins also are a very personal form of communal sin.

Sin: These are all sins related to Injustice, and can be explained as Systemic Injustice for a less religious take on the issue. 

Required reading: "My sin is not just my own"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Shalom

I want to share two pictures of Shalom with you. The world doesn't always clearly reflect a God of Justice, but the Bible teaches about perfect justice in shalom.

Shalom means peace, but it's not just the peace of a cease fire. Author Nicholas Wolterstorff says Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight, inner and outer harmony, whole and abundant life, humans doing what we were created to do, in right relationship with God, ourselves, others, and the environment.

The first story in the Bible is about the Garden of Eden. We meet a loving God who has carefully and creatively crafted a garden. God works as a gardener, taking care of the earth and the animals. God makes people, and walks with them and talks with them like a good parents. God teaches the people how to take care of the earth and how to build a family together. (Genesis 2:8,15)

I hope you have had some relationships in your life that aren full of shalom. Maybe a family member, a friend, or a partner. You know when you have a good relationship with someone- You listen to each other. You emphasize, celebrate happiness and mourn sufferings together. Your relationship makes you stronger.

We see much of the world with broken relationships right now. Some of these are on an individual level, like having a hurtful relationship with a parent or an ex. Some of that brokenness is on a systemic level, when two people are treated in radically different ways by their society or government. Systems of authority can be used to help people flourish, or to hold them back.

Sometimes churches hurt people. If that has been your experience, I want to apologize on the church's behalf. I'm so sorry for every time a church or a person who represented Jesus acted without love. Churches and Christians have often sought power rather than serving others, or sought to exclude rather than share. That is not what shalom is about.

My second picture of Shalom is the opposite of an selfish church. At the end of time, the world is restored and redeemed. Instead of a garden, we see a city in the book of Revelation.

Rev 21:3-4, 22-26, 22:2
God is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
I did not see a [church] in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its [church]. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
A river runs down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

We see a restored relationship with God, a God who lives with the people and takes away our tears. There are no church buildings to facilitate a relationship- it's as personal as family.

We see a world united in love- nations are healed, people of every race and color come together sharing their unique cultures, art, food, music, everything!

Revelation ends with a invitation- Come, let all who are thirsty come and drink from the water of life. I'm so thirsty for this- are you?

We don't live in a world that looks like Revelation yet, but we can start living in the Kingdom of God now. When Jesus began his ministry, he explained what he came to do.

Luke 4:16-21
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Shalom can be a mission, the actions of bringing justice, helping feed the hungry, making homes for refugee families, listening to and praying for your friend going through a hard time, educating people about mental illness through art, treating everyone fairly, pursuing careers in education, law, or politics to make the world a better place.

I share these pictures of encouragement for what can be, but I also believe it starts today. I'm not waiting for God's Kingdom after I die, we are working to build it now. Do you want to be part of that? Let's do it together.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mourn, Worship, Prophesy, Hope

Step one: mourning.

"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?"

-Psalm 42:2-3, 43:1-2

It's ok to be sad. It's ok to be mad. It's ok to yell at God.


I am a Christian.

There have been times in my life when I thought that meant that I should always be happy, always be at peace, and focus on spiritual realities to the exclusion of physical realities. 

But that is not the definition of Christ-follower I see in scripture now.

I can mourn (Jesus wept)
I can be angry (Jesus flipped tables)
I can care about injustice and marginalized people (Jesus healed and included, and criticized the powerful)

I can, I should, and I will.


I'm afraid.

I don't want to live in fear. Actually, fearful propaganda is one of my least favorite parts of politics. I mourn how fear makes us afraid of The Other, afraid of change, afraid of losing power and privilege. People make bad decisions out of fear- preemptively harming each other rather than risking any kind of loss.

Yet, I can't ignore fears.

Like most woman, I have been sexually harassed.

I was once walking down the street, in the middle of the day, with a group, and a man walking in the opposite direction grabbed me sexually.

I didn't react. I was too shocked to respond, and no one else saw it happen. I felt so guilty for not yelling at him, for not letting him know it was unacceptable behavior. He continued on, thinking he was entitled to women's bodies, that he could get away with whatever he wanted.

I'm scared when my country says it doesn't matter. I'm scared when churches says to forgive and move on. I mourn because these are real fears and they matter.

Step two: worship

Worship is a revolutionary act.

In the book of Revelation, amidst persecution and rulers who call themselves god, worship of God keeps breaking through. Angels and saints declare their allegiance to God, not the Roman Empire.

"Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.'

"Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

'“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
'
-Revelation 4:8b-12

Many of us (including me) get tempted to worship our political parties or our heroes. But I must declare that God is King.

I want to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth, not wait for it after I die.


We worship what is worthy. Jesus, the lamb who was slain, is worthy because love wins over power. Sacrifice wins over war and violence. Mercy wins over hatred.


"Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

“'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!'

"Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!'”

-Revelation 5:11-13

Step three: prophesy

Prophecy is not mainly about predicting the future.

I don't know what our future holds. I hope that the worst things we fear won't come true. I hope Muslims and other religious minorities won't have to register. I hope people in power won't be able to sue journalists and comedians for criticizing them. I hope my friends with chronic diseases, with special needs children, won't lose their access to affordable health care. I hope my poor friends and their kids won't lose their food assistance.

Prophecy mainly calls out the wrongs of the present. In our world now, a minor drug offender can get a longer prison term than a rapist. Refugees are turned away to die. Families are separated by deportation. Unarmed black men are considered more scary than armed white white men.

Prophecy says, this is NOT God's will. This is not the world as it should be. Prophecy challenges the status quo, your comfort, and acceptance of wrong. Let's keep challenging.


Prophecy often describes the future in terms of consequences. If you pursue justice and obedience to God, everyone blesses each other, building up the community of heaven. If you pursue selfish gain and personal privilege, inequality breaks down the community- it becomes less like heaven.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah:

Day after day Christians seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if America were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we gone to church,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on Sundays, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your actions in God's name ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot pray as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of church I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves? ...

“Is not this the kind of church I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.


-Isaiah 58:2-10 (my contemporary modified version, see the original full passage at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/…)


Step four: hope.

We have hope that all bad rulers, all wicked kingdoms come to an end.

Oppressed people talk in code because they lack freedom of speech to criticize their wicked rulers. They don't say, "Rome is wicked!" They say, "Remember Babylon? Babylon fell..." and Rome will too.

Revelation describes the fall of Rome and likewise all earthly Kingdoms with dramatic metaphor, saying that the very injustice and luxurious self-focus will be turned against it.

With a mighty voice the angel shouted:
“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’
...
For all the nations have drunk
the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”
...
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
and God has remembered her crimes.

Give back to her as she has given;
pay her back double for what she has done.
Pour her a double portion from her own cup.

Give her as much torment and grief
as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
‘I sit enthroned as queen. I am not a widow; I will never mourn.’

Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.


-Revelation 18:2-8 excerpts



The Bible has pictures of hope, pictures of the world as it should be in God's kingdom.

Living in the Kingdom of Heaven means that we start living this way now; we live knowing these things are good and true. We may not get to see the full picture yet, but we see glimpses of the Kingdom.

We hope for a better future, we endure with patience, and we commit to the hope that our home can look more like Heaven.

"Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.'
"He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'
"He said to me: 'It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.'

"I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.

"The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let the one who hears say, 'Come! Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.'"

-Revelation 21:1-6, 22-26, 22:17

Friday, July 29, 2016

Terrible Memes about Black Lives Matter

It's hard to narrow down all the terrible memes on social media, but these stood out.

Meme 1: Doesn't understand the justice system or police

The first was shared by a supposed supporter of Blue Lives, a young women without military or law enforcement background. I would like to think that the average police officer would be horrified by this meme's implications.

[image description: a greyed-out meme says, "hateful memes #1." There's a picture of a person in camouflage with their face cut out. They are holding an assault rifle. The text says- "Before you decide that amusing a cop might be a good idea, remember this, There is no shortage of armed American patriots that will gladly put firing pin to primer to put down some thug that tries to kill a cop."]
I would like to think that's an empty threat, but it goes a long way to explaining the mentality of anti-Black Lives Matter activists. First, there is a fixation with violence. It's a terrible cycle of violence begeting more violence. If the recent cop-killer based his actions on revenge for police brutality, then this meme is simply advocating for more of the same. It's wrong. It doesn't solve any problems. It does explain why this poster believes that all BLM supporters are violent- she is simply projecting the violence in her own heart. What this cop-killer did makes sense to her, and she's eager to continue the murder cycle. I wish I could say others didn't agree with her, but here's another example

The other aspect of this meme demonstrates a rejection of the American justice system. No arrest, no trial. Since police are a part of the justice system, they should be concerned about people who feel this way. It seems like a rejection of them and their hard work. However, in the way that police brutality has been exposed the last few years, it's hard to be surprised. Many police also have rejected the Justice system and prefer to be executioners.

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. -1 Thessalonians 5:15

Black Lives Matter isn't trying to "get revenge" on police for the bad things they have done. We are trying to change the system and make it better. In the long run, no one benefits from a broken, violent, vengeful system.

Meme 2: Doesn't understand freedom


[image description: a greyed-out meme says, "hateful memes #2." A photo of a large green combine harvester with large spikes pointing forward. Text: "Introducing John Deere's new multi-lane protester digester."]
How can this meme be seeking anything other than the death of American citizens exercising their rights? Protesting is part of freedom of speech- that first amendment to the constitution that conservatives claim to love.

I keep my mouth shut most of the time- I know that I can't change people's minds and there are times when arguments are profitless. But to not speak up at all- or to have my right to speak up and protest taken away- is terrifying and un-American.

But if I say, "I will not mention God's word or speak anymore in God's name," God's word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. -Jeremiah 20:9

Meme 3: Doesn't understand Jesus

The next meme changes tone dramatically and focuses on that hopeless "All Lives Matter" argument, this time with a religious overtones.

[image description: a greyed-out meme says, "hateful memes #3." Image of Jesus carrying the cross. Text: "I did this because All Lives Matter." below picture text read, "fwd: fwd: Jesus died for ALL LIVES! NOT JUST BLACK LIVES!]
Aside from the usual basic arguments against All Lives Matter (no one is saying only Black Lives Matter), the religious aspect of this meme needs to be uncovered. This isn't the sort of thing Jesus said.

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” -Mark 2:17

In that time, a ruling religious class called the Pharisees held power. They weren't willing to listen to Jesus, and they didn't care about the poor or anyone they considered "sinners."

Jesus says, "Okay, you guys aren't 'sinners.' You've got it all together and obviously don't need me. So I'm going to spend time with the people who need me- the people who admit they are imperfect and can't do it on their own."

This made the Pharisees mad. #PhariseeLivesMatter. They thought Jesus should spend his time telling them how great they are, and telling the 'sinners' how they were to blame for everything wrong in their lives.

But that's not a good way to build a kingdom community. Jesus flips our world upside down. He valued the powerless and criticized the people in power. The Kingdom of Heaven is a community where the lowest are raised up.

Share more stories of Jesus valuing the marginalized and the oppressed in the comments!


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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Racism 101: Racism Exists

I want to share my story about why I came to care about racism. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have any special qualifications. A lot of white people don’t see racism and like to debate whether or not something was racist. They may have a similar background to me, so I hope this will be insightful on how and why my perspective has changed. None of the answers I suggest here are a comprehensive solution. They are each just one step.

When I was a kid, I thought racism was over

I hope no adults were trying to teach me this, but it was often implied. Martin Luther King Jr. solved racism and that everyone was equal now. Racism stories were always set in the past. From a kid’s perspective, the far distant past. Nothing in those stories seemed similar to life today.

Along with this false knowledge, I was poorly prepared to see or understand racism in my life. 

The first problem was the definition of racism. I knew three examples: Slavery is racist. Segregation is racist. Saying racial slurs is racist. End of list. This was a very pleasant definition, because it meant that I could never be racist. 

The main tool I was given for dealing with racism was colorblindness.  Don’t notice race. Don’t talk about race. Focus on common ground. 

While I grew up in my very nice, small Wyoming town, I believed in a post-racial world. I was unable to see any racism around me. The first thing that helped open my eyes was relocating.

I went to college in Texas, and I saw something new. Almost every student and teacher was white, but everyone who served me food was black, and everyone who cleaned up after me was Latino.  

I had a conflict. Colorblindness told me I shouldn’t see it. But my definition of racism said it was segregation. I knew that no one was forcing others into those jobs or forbidding them from attending school. Yet, equal opportunity could not yield such color-coded results. I knew something was unfair, but I was too uncomfortable to ask about it.

My next challenge came from an inability to speak up. When I heard people say racist things, I didn’t argue. The words would be too subtle, maybe I misunderstood, or maybe I was being too sensitive. If someone said, “It makes me so mad seeing Spanish on all the billboards in town.” I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t have a conversation about it.

When my campus ministry tried to teach me about racial reconciliation, I resisted. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship often has separate campus chapters for black, Latino, Asian,  Native, or International students. I thought that was horrible. Segregation! It seemed wrong to use labels. My old color-blindness training from childhood kicked in. .Isn’t it better to pretend that everyone is the same, and have everyone get along? 

When our new staff had a heart for Latino students,” subtlykept trying to hide it. I was in charge of the club webpage, and I couldn’t bear to advertise that we’d started a Latino Bible Study. The only way I could justify the existence of such a thing was to say that it was a Bible study “in Spanish and English.” 

But then our all-white Christian Club started to have Latino students involved. In fact, that year our chapter grew more diverse across several ethnicities. The simplest explanation from my staff worker that I could half-way understand was this: 

Some Latino students would actually like to hang out with other Latino students, someone who understood their culture, family dynamics, and way of approaching faith. They’re surrounded by white culture all day long; having some time away can be nice. White people have a problem that when we invite a minority person to a group, we don’t invite them to bring their culture along. We just expect them to join white culture. We think white culture is “normal.” 

This was both confusing and enlightening. There’s a white culture? There’s a white way of doing things? I had always thought the way I did things was normal. Other races have “culture.” Culture means dressing up in special outfits, eating strange food, speaking a different language. Again, my education had failed me. I could not look at my own culture from an outside view. 

Still, this ministry encouraged me to displace myself and my heart, and within a year of that insight, I was leading a Bible study for international students. It was a good first step for me.

Next, I moved to Rhode Island. It was a good time to think about culture, because New England and Texas have many differences. Plus, we were losing college for career culture. A lot of changes challenged what I saw as normal. We joined a multi-ethnic church and got a taste of black culture. (This church did not have a vision for verbally educating us about racial issues, but I deeply appreciate them for including us and giving us opportunities for cross-cultural interaction.) 

I worked for a few years as a substitute teacher in a low socio-economic school district. It had a large minority population. I’d never realized how lucky I’d been to have the education I did with advanced classes, enthusiastic teachers, and after school clubs.

Teachers at this school were burned out, frustrated, and spent their lunch breaks complaining about the students and the parents. Many of the students were rude, noisy, and talked back over every detail. They weren’t excited about school or planning for college. No one attending this school could have anything like an “equal opportunity” compared to what I had. 

I joined InterVarsity again, this time as staff. It was the only place in my life where people talked about race, rather than viewing it as a hopeless and taboo subject. I was challenged, like when a black InterVarsity staff ask us, “Have you ever been inside a black person’s house?” I hadn’t. It wasn’t intentional. But it was a blind spot in my life.

On campus, I tried to seek out minority students for the first time. The chapter there was already diverse and had some good intentions about including all people. What helped the most wasto bring minority students into leadership positions. They couldreach other minority students better than I could, and could help change the culture of the whole group. A church body looks different when all ethnicities are a part of it. Not just in a photograph, but it worship, in conversation, and revelation. The white church is missing something when it stands alone. 

We studied diversity in scripture, and I began to appreciate other cultures by design. Why should everyone be the same? Differences are wonderful, beautiful, and a source of strength. A team where everyone has the same background and perspective is limited. A diverse team sees beyond the status quo. This broke apart another bad piece of my education, the idea that everything can be earned by “merit” or good test scores

This helped interpret another piece of racism from my youth, the objection to affirmative action. Three of my high school friends had made a humorous video listing their grievances with affirmative action. Although their logic made sense to me at the time, I was confused about their passion for the subject, considering that all three were accepted at their first choice universities. Now, I saw greater merit in a college that was trying to correct its monochrome history. Affirmative action didn’t hurt any of my friends. Instead, I hope it helped them, that they were later grateful to study alongside students from other races and cultures, and that diversity enriched their college experience.

During those years, I read Living in Color. It was difficult to read in some ways, because it brought up a people group whose oppression I had long ignored: American Indians. The author, Randy Woodley is a Keetowah Cherokee. His book was the first time I read about the “Kill the Indian, Save the Child” policy by which native children were stolen from their parents to be raised in boarding schools or with white families. The people in power saw no value in Indian culture. The goal of colonization was to replace it. In my education, the wounds of this and many other assaults on native people are glossed over. I was told it was far in the past. Indians should get over it. Move on. Become normal

Today, Native people in my home state endure the same stereotyping as minorities in the larger American public sphere. Lazy. Addicted to drugs. Hopeless. And past violence against them was washed away by saying, “Indians massacred people too!” My friend who works in retail in Montana is skeptical that black people are treated differently in stores. Yet she admits, “When someone comes in from the Reservation, the staff keep an eye on them.” 

What did I learn? What challenged me?
• Racism is more than segregation, slavery and slurs
• Colorblindness hinders rather than helps
• It’s good to have space for people of color to celebrate their culture
• It’s good to displace yourself to learn about other’s culture
• Diversity is a strength
• White culture isn’t “normal” or standard

I still didn’t have a good definition for racism, or a good understanding of how it was still influencing my country. All this gave me some preparation for Fall 2014, when Ferguson brought racism back into the national spotlight. Stay tuned for Racism 102: Systemic Racism.

Final thought: Being unaware of racism is a privilege many people don’t have. If white people want, we can ignore racism, and it will probably have no impact on our lives. But many other people are hurt by racism every day. They don’t have the option to ignore it or go on an entertaining journey of “discovering” racism like I did.