Siren Songs or the Shepherd’s Voice?

In Homer’s Odyssey we trace the epic return journey of Odysseus from Troy to his home in Ithaca. It is a long and arduous journey of ten years filled with many adventures and terrors. At one point along the journey, Odysseus is warned of a coming trial: the Sirens whose song is so irresistible that none can hear it and escape. Many sailors have been lured into destruction by the apparent beauty of the song. As Odysseus and his men approach the Siren’s isle, he orders his sailor to plug up their ears with beeswax until they are out of range of this beautiful, devastating song. Because he wants to hear the song himself, his sailors tie him tightly to the mast.

Today our world reverberates with many siren songs that sound beautiful but lead only to destruction. They are the songs that promise life, joy, and happiness with all the delicacy and delight the world can offer. The counter melody of the siren song, however, drones out hollow and gaunt like death. The siren song leads many lives to shipwreck and devastation. “No wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

Penetrating the echo of siren songs, there is another voice speaking with plain simplicity that gives us abundant life. It is the voice of the good shepherd who knows His sheep. “His sheep follow Him because they know His voice” (John 10:4). “He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3). He speaks with heavenly wisdom that is “pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). Jesus is that good shepherd who breaks through the devastating siren songs with God-saturated life.

What voices do we choose to familiarize ourselves with? To what extremes must we go in order to not be lured by the siren songs? Like the sailors, we may need to stop up our ears so we do not follow those songs into death. Like Odysseus, we may need companions who will strap us down to prevent our own ruin.

May the voice of the Good Shepherd resonate through our hearts and minds in order to bring us enduring life.

Keep Watch: the call to attentiveness in Advent

“Day after day, my Lord, I stand on the watchtower; every night I stay at my post.” (Isaiah 21:8)

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42)

To keep watch is a gospel command. We watch because it takes focus and intentionality to see our Lord in these bustling and busy days.

To watch means we are attentive. We have learned to see, notice, and understand meaning. We have trained our senses and our spirits to attend to the Lord.

We have become aware of His character, discerning what is Him and not Him. We have learned to look in the right places for where He chooses to dwell and what He chooses to do.

We have attuned our awareness to find unexpected signs of His presence, not missing Him anywhere. We have turned away from what is not Him, letting go of false signs, false ways, and false Messiahs with their misdirected promises.

We keep watch day and night, like a night watchman looking for any sign of anyone or anything. Because we know our limitations, we are constantly vigilant for Him.

Lord, give us grace to look for You.
Keep us watchful and attentive to You.

What are 5 things you’re thankful for this year?

We all have reasons to be thankful. Throughout Scripture, we are encouraged to remember and rehearse together the reasons we have to give thanks to God. The Psalms reverberate with this charge:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. (Psalm 106:1)

The Apostle Paul encourages believers in local churches to do this together:

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

He also reminds us that our ultimate reason for giving thanks is found in Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and rose in victory over sin and death for us:

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Even though we should give thanks at any time, it helps to have a season of year where we give special attention to remembering and rehearsing with others the reasons we are thankful.

One of our practices as a family is to give thanks for five things everyday together. So, what are five things you are thankful for today or this year? You can share them here in the comments of the blog, or simply reach out to share them with family or friends.

Living for God in Our Bodies: notes on embodied discipleship

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

This past weekend at Eastbrook I preached about our belief in the resurrection of the body (“I believe in the resurrection of the body”), emphasizing different implications of that belief, from the historical resurrection of Jesus to our future resurrection at Christ’s return. However, the last phrase of Galatians 2:20—”The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”—highlights the resurrection impact on our lives now.

If we have been crucified with Christ and transformed by the resurrection life of Christ, then our daily, bodily living should reflect that change. Although Jesus came to bring God’s truth, Christianity it is not an abstract philosophy, but rather an embodied approach to living. We cannot walk toward heaven while living like hell. Instead, our life in the body must increasingly display the present, dynamic life of Christ.

While calling the Corinthian believers to repentance from sin and idolatry, the Apostle Paul declares the human body of the Christian to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s exclamation at the end of this challenge is a moving description of our embodied discipleship: “you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:20). What does honoring God in our bodies mean other than letting God’s presence pervade our bodies and God’s ways be preeminent ins how we daily live in our bodies? Our physical life—eating and drinking, work and rest, affection and sexuality, speaking and acting—must all honor God.

“Faith in Christ” is the theme of Galatians, permeating the entire letter. The word ‘faith’ or derivations of it appear over 20 times in this brief letter. In a sense, the entire letter is an exposition by the Apostle Paul of the prophet Habakkuk’s words: “the righteous shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11). But this faith is not an abstracted faith but a faith rooted in the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, who saved us through His body given and His blood poured out for us. Because of His sufficient work, our faith is now lived out in the body. Our spirituality as Christians is embodied.

Portions of Western Christianity have developed a fundamental divorce between body and spirit. The easiest thing to blame is the Enlightenment, but it seems like this challenge runs all the way back to the early church. The Apostle John wrote his epistles in part to combat an early form of gnosticism that claimed Jesus did not really come in a body. These early gnostics appear to have downplayed the body and creation in favor of an abstracted spirituality. Today a sort of neo-gnosticism has arisen within Western Christianity, where the body is either devalued through a skewed asceticism or overvalued with a materialistic hedonism.

But this is not what we find in Scripture, which instead points to a fundamental continuity between body and spirit. The Jewish concept of nephesh, which is sometimes translated soul, refers to the totality of the person: body, mind, heart, and spirit. The early Gospel writers made it absolutely clear that when Jesus rose from the dead, He did so physically. He was alive in a resurrection body not as some disembodied spirit. John even goes so far as to show Jesus eating fish with His disciples after the resurrection. Paul elaborates on this when writing about Christians’ future experience of resurrection bodies. He says that just as Christ is the “first fruits” of the resurrection, so we will be raised anew with resurrection bodies when He returns (1 Corinthians 15:20). In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul’s letters are often structured around divine truth (first half) and application to real, embodied living (second half).

Thus, if Christian spiritual is fundamentally embodied, then the way we steward our bodies and physical resources, such as generosity versus hoarding and our physical care of our bodies, is spiritual. If Christian spirituality is embodied, then the food and drink we take in has spiritual significance, not only for communion, but also in relation to nutrition (see Paul’s discussion of food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 10). If we truly want to live our faith out in our bodies, then the physical actions of worship and devotion, such as kneeling, raising hands, fasting, and even the physicality of the space for worship, hold spiritual significance. If our bodies and creation are important for the kingdom, then the way we care for the created world has spiritual meaning. If the life we live in the body is for the glory of God, then the physical needs of the sick, the poor, and the needy have spiritual meaning beyond just keeping someone alive to share the gospel with them. If our discipleship is implicitly embodied, then we are not simply trying to save people for heaven, but equipping people to live embodied on earth for God’s glory until the dawning of the new heaven and new earth.

So, let me ask us a few questions for reflection:

  • Do we believe in the value and spiritual significance of your body?
  • Do our lives of faith reflect that bodily spiritual significance or a disembodied spiritualism?
  • How do you think we can live a life of worship of the true Creator God in our physical bodies?

Lord, thank you for buying me at a price.
May my bodily life reflect my relationship with You.
Thank You, Jesus, for Your faithfulness to the Father that gives me new birth.
Help me to live each day full of faith in You, my living Savior.

Learning the Dance of Forgiveness: Wise Words from Célestin Musekura and L. Gregory Jones

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued exploring the Apostles’ Creed, “Living the Creed,” with a message focused on forgiveness entitled, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness is one of the most freeing and challenging practices we encounter in life. We all know we need it from others and should give it to others, yet learning the way of forgiveness can feel unnatural and confusing. This feeling may grow stronger when we read these bracing words from the Apostle Paul:

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

forgiving-as-weve-been-forgiven

In the book Forgiving as We’ve Been ForgivenCélestin Musekura and L. Gregory Jones reflect at length on what it means to forgive. At one point, Musekura reflects on the Cross of Christ in this way:

Because of this divine act, the Christian model of forgiveness stresses the granting of unconditional forgiveness to those who cause injury, pain and suffering in this life.

In the book, Musekura shares his own journey through the pain of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and beyond. Reading his words thrust me back into the trauma-filled stories I had heard from other survivors in Rwanda when visiting in 1999 and 2000 as a staff member of World Relief. Musekura’s own journey into forgiveness and the work he has done with African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) brought him to this powerful realization:

If forgiveness is the heart of the gospel, it is the center of the church’s mission as well.

Comparing the way of forgiveness to learning how to dance, Jones builds upon this by offering six steps of forgiveness that I have found incredibly helpful. I wanted to share them here as we reflect on our own lives and the divided society around us:

Step 1: Truth Telling: We become willing to speak the truthfully and patiently about the conflicts that have arisen. “We need not only honesty but also patience…[to] discern more clearly what is going on….We must, rather, take the time to talk to one another about the things that divide us” (46-47).

Step 2: Acknowledging Anger: We acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them. “Whether these emotions are our own or belong to others who are mad at us, it does no good to deny them….We learn to overcome bitterness as we begin to live differently through practices that transform hatred into love” (48-49).

Step 3: Concern for the Other: We summon up a concern for the well-being of the other as a child of God. “Seeing as children of God the ones on whom our bitterness focuses challenges our tendency to perceive them simply as enemies, rivals or threats. Now they are potential friends of God” (49-50).

Step 4: Recognizing, Remembering, RepentingWe recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance. “People need to be held accountable for their actions…we also need to recognize and resist our temptation to blame others while exonerating ourselves….Repentance breaks the cycle of violence and creates space for God to do something new” (51).

Step 5: Commitment to ChangeWe make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts. “Forgiveness out to usher in repentance and change. It ought to inspire prophetic protest wherever people’s lives are being diminished and destroyed. Forgiveness and justice are closely related” (53).

Step 6: Hope for the FutureWe confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation. “Continuing to maintain reconciliation as the goal – even if this is ‘hoping against hope’ for reconciliation in this life – is important because it reminds us that God promises to make all things new….Every concrete act – every prayer prayed, every apology offered, every meal shared across dividing lines – is a sign that our history and habits of sin have been definitively interrupted by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (55).

Reflecting on Jones’ dance steps of forgiveness, I couldn’t help but reflect on numerous situations I’ve experienced in my own life or in walking with others as a pastor. Some of these steps come naturally, while others take great selflessness and humility. Still, I see them as helpful guides into the pathways of forgiveness.

If, as Célestin Musekura writes, “forgiveness is the heart of the gospel” and “the center of the church’s mission,” then perhaps it is time that you and I enroll in dance lessons under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit!