Jul 22, 2016

These Are The Days | JUBILEE

So lift your voice *WOOO* it's the Year of Jubilee
And out of Zion's Hill salvation comes

I don't like to get too political. I tend to lean away from either party and toward the middle. The Libertarian Party appeals to me more than either the donkey or the elephant. I watched bits and pieces of the RNC this week - mostly second hand through late night comedians who help us laugh to keep from crying. I did manage to catch at least some of Trump's speech last night, and it became very clear to me just how strong the shackles of fear have us in their grips.

According to the speakers at the RNC, we have nothing to fear except everything. And "the only one who can fix it" is Donald Trump.

So what Trump is going to do is cancel all debts. All credit cards and student loans will automatically have a zero-balance. Everyone's mortgage is going to be paid for. Those living on food stamps will automatically earn a living wage. Healthcare will be offered free of charge to everyone, including corrective eye surgeries. Schools will become fully funded, especially those in lower class areas. Higher education will become available to all who desire to learn. All prisoners (except for those convicted of violent crimes) will receive a presidential pardon and will be released at the earliest opportunity. Those will mental illnesses will be given the absolute best care available in the world.

Doesn't that sound amazing? A little too good to be true?

Obviously no president (especially NOT Trump) would ever make those sorts of promises. No president would run on the idea of completely reversing all social orders, canceling all debts, and equalling the playing field for every single person. Because those with all the money and power would never go for it.

In Leviticus 25 we read about God's plan for Israel's economy. Every 50 years there would be the "Year of Jubilee." During that year, families could return to their homeland. Property could be redeemed (bought back) by the original owners. And those who had sold themselves as slaves would be released. All debts would be cancelled. All property would return to its original owner. The whole system would get a hard reboot. This would ensure that no one ever got too poor or too rich.
But guess what? There is no historical or biblical record of the Year of Jubilee. As far as we can tell, Israel never honored this 50th year celebration. It's kind of sad, but also kind of understandable.

Who would the Jubilee benefit the most? Those who are poor, displaced, and oppressed. Who would the Jubilee hurt the most? Those with the money, the land, and the power. Who gets the say in what happens in a nation's economy? Those with the money, the land, and the power. So it's not hard to understand why the people of Israel never celebrated Jubilee.

But that doesn't mean God forgot about it and scrapped the whole thing. Quite the opposite in fact. Through the prophet Isaiah God remind the people about "The Year of the Lord's Favor." It's like the Jubilee, only bigger and better than ever.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3
| NIV)
The people of Israel may have forgotten about the Jubilee, but God steps in and tell them that it's going to happen whether they like it or not.

Fast forward a few hundred years to the time of Jesus. For his first sermon of his ministry in his own hometown he opens up the scroll and reads from Isaiah 61. Jesus reads this passage, sits down, and tells them that this ancient prophecy is being fulfilled right here and now (Luke 4:16-30). The Jubilee is happening whether they like it or not. But Jesus takes it even further than Isaiah did. Jesus asserts that not only is the "Year of the Lord's Favor" for the Jews, but it's also for the gentiles. Jubilee is happening, and it's happening for everyone!

And everyone celebrated with cake and streamers and a disco ball, making Jesus the hometown hero. Right?

Not exactly. Instead they tried to throw him off a cliff!

We haven't changed much socially as a species in the two thousand years since Jesus. If any political candidate tried running for office on the platform of Jubilee, they'd be booed off stage in seconds.

We can't just cancel debts!
We can't just give everyone free healthcare!
We can't release prisoners from jail!
We can't provide quality education to those in extreme poverty!
We can't offer free treatment for the mentally ill or victims of abuse!

But what have we seen from the Lord's church throughout the centuries? We've seen God's people fight to end poverty and slavery and human trafficking. We've seen God's people start hospitals and colleges and mentoring programs. We've seen God's people advocate for justice and work to free those wrongly incarcerated. We've seen God's people build orphanages and dig wells and teach marketable skills and trades for people in developing nations. We've seen God's people work to free people from drug addictions and alcoholism.

Everything our politicians say can't be done, God's people HAVE done and ARE doing.

The Jubilee is happening whether you like it or not, whether you see it or not. Jubilee is not, as it turns out, a once-every-fifty-years tradition. It's not just a one time event, or a year-long celebration. Jubilee is a reality in which we, God's people, choose to live. It's a reality we work to bring about a little bit each day.


Jul 15, 2016

These Are The Days | DAVID

These are the days of your servant David rebuilding a temple of praise.

"But David didn't build the Temple!" That was the argument of several people I've known throughout the years who refused to sing the song Days of Elijah. Some would straight up refuse to sing it. Others would attempt to change the wording of the song - These are the days of your servant Solomon rebuilding a temple of praise. OR These are the days of your servant David preparing a temple of praise.

But all of these arguments miss the point. Here's my attempt to explain why.

In 2 Samuel 6 we see an amazing celebration and worship parade led by King David as the Ark of the Covenant is brought into the newly established capital city, Jerusalem. They're sacrificing bulls. They're shouting and singing and blowing horns. David is dancing around wearing a linen ephod (a priestly garment that wraps around the waist), admittedly humiliating himself in worship to God. Then when the party is over, everyone gets dessert and heads home.

BBQ, music, dancing, desserts - that's my kind of worship service!

In the very next chapter, David cannot get over the fact that he is living in his luxurious palace while the Ark of God is living in a tent pitched out back. David gets it in his head that he should begin construction on a beautiful Temple, a house for God the likes of which had never been seen.

But God says no. God tells David through the prophet Nathan that God does not want David to build a temple for him. God doesn't really care that he is "living" in a tent. The account from 1 Chronicles informs us that, the way God sees it, David has too much blood on his hands to build the Temple. So that task would be left to his son Solomon who would reign as king after David. But for the time being (the next 35 years or so), people would come to the Tabernacle to worship, to offer sacrifices, to receive prayers and blessings, and to experience God.

So David didn't build the Temple.

But it's not Solomon's Temple we are trying to get back to.

Check this out. Many years later through the prophet Amos, God gave a promise that inspired this line from the song Days of Elijah:
“On that day I will raise up
The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down,
And repair its damages;
I will raise up its ruins,
And rebuild it as in the days of old;
That they may possess the remnant of Edom,
And all the Gentiles who are called by My name,”
Says the Lord who does this thing.
(Amos 9:11-12 | NKJV)
It's David's tent, not Solomon's Temple, that God promises to restore. But why?

Think of it this way. You probably have between 4 and 7 friends that you are super close with - your gang, your clique, your posse, your squad. You probably love hanging out with these people, and your time together feels natural, fluid, organic. It's never forced or contrived. You share everything with each other. There's no real leader. Everybody is an equal member but through no official channels.

Imagine one day, however, you decided to get organized. You hold elections and appoint a president, a vice president, a secretary, and a treasurer of your clique. You begin to schedule formal meetings where you discuss important squad issues, and someone takes minutes, and those minutes are then voted on for approval. You pay dues. You have an elaborate induction process for new members.

Doesn't that sound just awful?

That's exactly what happened when Solomon's Temple was constructed. David's Tent was a place of open worship. It was free flowing and organic. Sure there were priests, but other people could enter the Tent, too. David himself did on a few different occasions. It was a place where all people of all nations could come and experience God.

But then the Temple went up. And with the Temple came structure and organization and walls signaling where people could and could not go. Gentiles could only get so close. Women could get a little closer. Men could approach closer still. But only the Priests were allowed to enter the actual Temple structure. There was a separation between God and his people that wasn't there before.

The kind of Temple we're trying to get back to looks a lot like this:

This is what the early church father's had in mind, too. In fact, they quoted that passage from Amos in Acts 15 when they were debating what to do with the gentiles. Did the gentiles have to become Jewish? No, because we are getting back to David's Tabernacle, not Solomon's Temple.

Paul would go on to say, "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28 | NLT) All the dividing walls have been broken down, and everyone is allowed to come to the Temple to worship and experience God.

But where is this Temple we are rebuilding? Peter tells us: "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 2:5 | NIV)

We are the Temple. We are the Priests. We are the spiritual house to which the nations may come and worship freely and approach God without hindrance or obstruction.

These are the days of your servant David rebuilding a Temple of Praise.

Jul 14, 2016

These Are the Days | EZEKIEL

I think so far 2016 goes down as one of the weirdest years on record.

I heard it said that the internet right now is either Pokemon or Racism. There is no in between. I think what gets me most is all the heated "debates" rampaging through social media outlets concerning race and gender and fundamental human rights.

I don't think we are living in the darkest days of human history. VERY far from it, in fact. I think this is a pretty good time to be alive. We have amazing medical advancements that can postpone life and increase the quality of life like never before. We see social progress bringing more freedoms to more people than ever before. We've got supercomputers that we carry around in our pockets that we use to catch fictional monsters and share pictures of our food.

A lot of good stuff is happening.

But....it's still not where it could be. I still see astronomical rates of homicides, suicides, abortions, poverty, police brutality, racism, drug abuse, child abuse, abuses of power and authority.

Life in the States isn't terrible, but it's a far cry from "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Enter Ezekiel.

Ezekiel is a Jewish priest/prophet living in exile. Jerusalem has been overthrown, the nation of Judah is no more, and the Temple has been demolished. Ezekiel and thousand of other Jews have been carted off into a foreign land where the worship different gods and speak different languages and enforce different laws and follow different customs. Ezekiel could probably relate quite a bit to the Syrian refugees.

The situation is dire at best. The Jews are all but hopeless. Morale is waining, and people are beginning to give up on God. But God, through the prophets like Micah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, reassures his people that he has not abandoned them, he has not forgotten them, he will deliver them.

So we have the book of the prophet Ezekiel preserved for us in Scripture. But Oh. My. Goodness. is it a weird book. Some things are just plain bizarre, like his visions of angelic beings that would be right at home in a Guillermo Del Toro film. Or when he saw "wheels in the sky" that sound just like that crazy UFO conspiracy theorist on the History Channel. And that's just chapter 1!

I've heard it said that Ezekiel is so strange that many rabbis wouldn't teach their disciples about the book until they were older because they didn't want their faith to be shaken too much.

But then we have this story that is mentioned in the song "Days of Elijah."

These are the days of Ezekiel, the dry bones becoming as flesh.

God takes Ezekiel out to a desert valley full of the bones of a long-dead army. Obviously, these are the bones of the losing side. And then something weird happens. You can read about it in Ezekiel 37:1-14. But here's a video reenactment that I think is really cool:

What's the one thing separating you from a dead person right now?

The human body is an incredible organism, a masterful piece of creation. Our bodies can survive for about 40-45 days without food (not that we want to test that out...). We can survive for about 3 days without water. But we can only survive a matter of minutes without air.

If you don't breathe, you die.

So in the story, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. And amazingly the bones come together, and muscles, tendons, organs, and skin begin to cover the skeletons. But they still aren't alive. They can appear alive, but are still very much so dead.
Then God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the wind. As the air enters their lungs, the formerly deceased soldiers come to life.

This is the power of God on display. Creation our of nothing. Order out of chaos. Light out of darkness. Life out of death. This is what God has been doing from the beginning and continues to do even today.

It's interesting that the Hebrew and Greek languages both have one word that means 1) Wind, 2) Breath, and 3) Spirit. One word, three meanings, used interchangeably throughout Scripture. Where the Spirit/Wind/Breath of God is, there is life.

Ezekiel gets the message. And then he gives the message to the people of Israel. But it's a message we still need to hear today. Those of us who have been baptized have also received the gift of the Holy Spirit - new life, the very breath of God bringing life eternal to our bodies.

And yet I look around and I see a lot of ancient battle fields full of the bones of the innocent. Battles are raging all around us, leaving casualties right and left. Do you see them, too?

I asked out Young Disciples class what they see as our "Valley of Dry Bones" in our communities. Here is what they said:
  • Drug Addiction
  • Alcoholism
  • Low Education
  • Racism
  • Teen Pregnancy
  • Bad Home Life
  • Bad Attitudes/Pessimism
  • Poverty
  • Lack of Respect
  • Don't Know Jesus
What are we going to do about it? We need men and women, young and old, of every color, gender, background, nationality, and social class to prophesy to the bones, prophesy to the wind, and bring life out of the death that's all around us. It starts with us. I see this list and I know that God wants to bring healing and life and hope. But it's not God's modus operandi to work alone.

So let me hear from you. How do you think we could bring life to our "Valley of Dry Bones?" What can we do to help people out of the cycle of poverty, drug abuse, and alcoholism? How can we work with young girls and guys to reduce the number of teen pregnancies and increase the level of education for these at-risk teens? How can we combat racism? What can we do to increase morale, and respect, and optimism? How can we help people to see and to know Jesus?