I was uploading a few pictures from a couple of my hiking adventures the other day, and I realized that after a year of living in Seattle, I haven’t uploaded any pictures of my adventures. I have encountered some of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen on some of my hikes here in the Pacific Northwest.
Like the enemy soldiers in WWI who stopped fighting on Christmas to celebrate and yearn for “peace on earth” together, we celebrate things that don’t seem to exist in real life. In our hopes and dreams at Christmastime, there is a yearning to return to Eden, a place where there is no hunger, shame, war, or loneliness. With shootings, terrorism, hunger, and greed everywhere we look, it can seem hypocritical to celebrate something like “peace” and “unity”. But for the Christian, this is not too unreal or escapist to celebrate richly and fully. The themes of Christmas are not merely sentimental. In fact, they are truer than the world we are living in. Our current broken world is passing away. The ice will thaw, the trees will bud, and the long summer days will return. The door to Eden has been reopened, and because of the blood of the Lamb, the door will never be closed. The bits of peace that we have will continue while all sad divisions will one day cease. Because these things are truth, then Christmas should put all other things into perspective, and we should not allow cynicism to eat away at our joy. We must take a break from our daily existence to joyfully remember together that the weight and pain of this life is not all there is. Something greater is coming, and the one who came on Christmas to open the door of Eden will return to rule as a king of peace and make all things new. Spring is coming, and summer light will return
“Whoa, man, are you okay?” Asked the man I had just smugly passed on the stairs because he was moving too slow for my athletic and agile, nothing-can-bring-me-down-it’s-Friday two step leaps up the concrete stairs in the transit station.
“Do you need me to call someone?” Asked the same too-slow-for-me man who undoubtedly watched me eat it on the stairs several feet ahead as one of my two-step-per-leap hops tragically and anomalously became a one-and-a-half-step-per-leap. After that, it all happened so fast that I don’t really know what happened completely, but I did think about pockets.
Pockets are cool. Really, really cool. You can put stuff in ‘em like coins, gum, chapstick, and little pieces of trash. They’re really helpful when you don’t know which of the 34 established categories of Seattle trash your gum wrapper should fall into. So, instead of humiliating yourself around all the green Seattle-ites and (God-forbid) throwing compost into the landfill bin, you think, “I’ll throw it away at home,” and wad it up and stuff it down with all the other shame-inducing waste. Pockets are also good for hands, particularly ugly hands. My hands aren’t ugly, but they were cold and pockets are good for cold hands too.
I was thinking about pockets as my face hurled toward that oversized concrete brick.
Do you know what pockets are not good for? Falling. Pockets are terrible for falling down on concrete stairs when they are full of your hands. Do you know what’s terrible for breaking your fall? Concrete. Do you know what is wonderful and effective for breaking your spirit? The tragic combination of concrete, stairs, and elbows. And guess what. All three of these things broke my fall and my spirit along with it. Pockets full of hands, anomalous one-and-a-half-step leaps, and concrete, and elbows, and stairs. That big slab of concrete didn’t shatter my knee cap or my elbow, but I definitely wanted to shatter some knee caps right about then. Of course I couldn’t because movement was so painful that I’m pretty sure the growth of my fingernails hurt.
Anyway, back to too-slow-for-me (but-more-coordinated) guy’s question about wanting him to call someone.
No, no, no.
Seriously, no one needs to know about this. NO ONE.
“Hey! Do you need me to call someone?!” This time from balcony guy farther away.
That guy was from way up on the balcony overhead. Balcony-guy came running down the stairs. I don’t know where too-slow-for-me guy was. Beat me to the top of the stairs, no doubt… Anyway, balcony-guy was bounding down the stairs (which is a bad idea, trust me), and so-quiet-I-could-barely-hear-her girl pointed out that my ORCA card was on the ground. That was obviously what I was thinking about, not my shattered bones that had just been hurled against massive rock slabs. I directed so-quiet-I-could-barely-hear-her girl to slip it into my bag. She didn’t really have to slip it in because my bag was wide open and all the items were ripe for the taking. She could have tossed it if she wanted.
That was about the time balcony-guy came down the stairs.
He was nice and thoughtful enough. He helped me up, asked me if I needed him “to call anyone.” (Seriously, what’s up with that question?) Balcony guy would have been much more likeable if I wasn’t so mad. My anger at Friday morning was probably balcony guy’s biggest flaw.
And what is it with this question, “Do you need me to call anyone?” Quiet girl asked me the same thing. I would have never thought to ask that. If I needed to call 911 for someone, it wouldn’t be at a time when I could actually ask that question because, I don’t know, IT WOULD BE AN EMERGENCY.
I don’t understand. Maybe they could call and order a large pizza for me because I was sad, hurting, and didn’t feel like moving. Isn’t that what sad, hurting people who don’t feel like moving do? Order large pizzas all for themselves so they can have another part of their lives to not share with anyone? No, I’m kidding, that’s terrible!
After balcony guy helped me up and made sure he didn’t need to call anyone, I hobbled to the elevator and continued out into the mean world of Friday.
While on the elevator to street level, two things happened. I kicked the side of the elevator and then followed it up with snapping out of my pride and realizing that I’m very weak and frail compared to life. I realized that in a split second, I went from thinking I was pretty awesome to realizing that I was nothing more than a moist, spongy, pink blob of organic matter that can’t walk properly or handle falling more than a foot and half. As I took the elevator to street level, let’s just say I was put back in my place.
God spared the son of Abraham, and God provided a ram. God spared the Hebrews in captivity because of the blood of lambs.
But he did not spare his own Son. His Son was the ultimate Ram in the thicket; Jesus was the true and final Passover Lamb. He was slaughtered, and his blood was spilled. In Communion, we remember that when we prayed for the cup of God’s wrath to be removed from us, He removed it. God removed it because he did not answer the same prayer which Christ prayed in Gethsemane when he prayed, “Father, remove this cup from me.”
We drink the cup of Christ’s atoning, redeeming, grace-filled blood because God’s cup, full of wrath, was poured out completely on his Son, and Christ’s atoning blood is poured out on us so that the wrath of God would pass over us.
When we eat the bread and it is pierced by our teeth, we remember the flesh of Christ pierced for our transgressions. Christ bore on his brow the curse of the thorn that had cursed the earth since Adam. The thorns which were pressed into his temples became a crown of victory that signified the uprooting and destruction of all thornbushes. So, instead of thornbushes, there will be fruit trees, and instead of thistles, a vineyard. We will no longer be trampled underfoot by our enemy. Instead, we will be firmly rooted by streams of living water that never run dry.
In his tender, protective care, the vinedresser will prune us and clean us so we will bear fruit. Because of the Passover lamb, we will live and thrive forever with no fear because our enemy has been defeated once and for all.
I arrived at my new home in Seattle yesterday, May 1, at about 8 pm. It still doesn’t feel real. I keep feeling like I’m going to be going home at the end of the week. Then I realize that I am home. There is no return trip to plan. There are no suitcases to pack. I have no flight to catch. I have no hotels to book. I’m here, and it’s strange. But it’s incredibly exciting.
I am incredibly thankful for so many things. I’m thankful for my ugly yet incredibly reliable ’01 Corolla. I’m thankful for everyone who encouraged and supported me in all of my decisions leading up to this move. I’m thankful to my friends, Garrett and Bryan, who made my trip fulfilling and memorable. I’m thankful to be blessed with loving and supportive parents. I’m thankful to live in a country full of so much beauty.
And I’m thankful for God’s grace in giving me opportunities I do not deserve.
I’ll share more about the details of the trip later, but right now, I am only sharing some photos from my trip. Enjoy!
An idol is an idea. The danger of an idol originates in the heart of the worshiper, not the stone. A stone is not dangerous, but desiring something to the extent that you are willing to sacrifice something so you will get what it promises is dangerous. We may not have stone and wooden figures, but we still have the same dangerous devotions and fears.
Throughout Isaiah, there is a constant reminder that salvation belongs to the Lord alone. However, Israel continued to look elsewhere for its salvation. They took salvation into their own hands quite literally. They created and worshiped gods that could not see, and they became blind. They created gods that could not hear, and they became deaf. They created gods made of stone and their hearts turned to stone. They created gods that had no heartbeat and the Israelites died. Their gods had no knowledge, and they were worthless. All who worshiped them became foolish and worthless.
But God, in his great love, continued to pursue his people saying:
Wait! I am sending a savior with eyes, and by him you will see!
Wait! I am sending a savior with ears, and by him you will hear!
Wait! I am sending a savior of flesh who will replace your heart of stone with a heart of flesh!
Wait! I am sending a savior who bleeds, and he will atone for your sins!
Wait! Wait on him, and you will see, you will hear, you will love, and you will be forgiven!
Wait. Wait on the Lord, and you will live.
And by God’s grace toward us, the people of God have the great privilege of living under the shelter of this savior. Our Savior is not created, instead he is the source of all created. And he is an endless well, and a never-ending, rich feast that both satisfies and leaves us wanting more, knowing that this is what we were meant for.
But our journey is not over, so let’s not forget our Savior while we wait patiently for his return. Let’s not fear the created over the creator. Let’s live like a people who see and hear with living hearts that beat in joyful expectation of the return of our Messiah.
Cultural Engagement (or variations of this phrase) is a popular phrase in the circles I run in. In For the Beauty of the Church, Andy Crouch says that culture is what we make of the world in both senses of the phrase. It is both what we believe the world to be about as well as the physical things we make from the materials of the world. The term engagement carries with it the idea of things being bound together through a mutual interest. If we are in an engaging conversation, we are in an interesting conversation that keeps us hanging on. The meaning of engaging can range from entering into battle to committing to marry someone. So, to culturally engage someone is to strike up a conversation with someone (literally or metaphorically) in a way that is meaningful to both the speaker and the listener. Knowing this, it’s really kind of a silly thing to tell Christians that they need to engage culture because it’s kind of impossible to not do it. It’s just that sometimes Christians do it well, and then sometimes we go about it in a horribly wrong way.
It seems that many Christians go about cultural engagement with an attitude of cultural infiltration rather that cultural creation. I believe that this is one of the answers to why many Christians would spend a thousand dollars on a flat screen for their church lobbies and would never in a million years spend even a measly $100 on a painting to hang in their churches because that money would be better spent on something like missions or feeding the hungry. This is how the thinking goes: “A large TV is culturally relevant therefore people will come to our churches and think we are up to date and modern. Then they’ll listen to our pastor talk about the gospel and they will convert and be baptized.” That’s ultimately why investing in trendy, soon-to-be-obsolete things is seen as a good investment.
Cultural infiltration, or the Trojan horse approach, is to take something that others in the surrounding culture like and stuff it full of pithy, gospel-y things. Then, when they take a bite, they will probably spit it out because it isn’t what the packaging advertised, but a select few will keep chewing and kind of like it. Cultural creation, on the other hand, is not the repackaging of Jesus to be culturally palatable. Cultural creation is the creation of an arts culture of hope and substance. It’s the joyful telling of the big story over and over again. It is about creating beauty to the glory of God.
But it seems we have sadly forgotten how to glorify God outside of evangelism workshops and rehearsed “gospel presentations”. We think that if some kind of spoken, rehearsed gospel presentation is not present, then whatever we are doing is useless. Everything we do in the Sunday morning service seems to only serve the verbal presentation of the gospel. And let me tell you, the happy greeters I’ve never seen before, the chrome stage decor, the lights, all the things that feel and look cool but are devoid of any meaning: they don’t fool me. I know the intentions are good, but should the rich feast of the gospel be so streamlined? It’s like watching one of those movies of the future where they take pills instead of eating. How boring! But all that matters is that our nutritional needs are met, right? Of course not! There is no “Come and see! Come and taste! Come and hear! Come and eat with us!” in a pill. There is something incredibly human about creatively cooking and communally eating. The gospel is a feast, and it is rich and free. But we have narrowed it to a few catch phrases that ultimately only say, “Give me your logical assent.”
We act like people are dogs and the gospel is a pill that we have to bury in cheese to get people to swallow. We’ve learned how to turn “got milk?” into “got jesus?” and “Coca-Cola” into “Jesus-Christ” thinking this will strike up a gospel conversation. Did that make your eyes roll? If so, is it really that much different than what we do on a larger scale? How often do we look at what culture has created around us and tweak it to use it with the hopes of attracting more people? This is cultural infiltration, and it isn’t fooling anyone. Like I said, it’s like a Trojan horse except we lose. It is not creative; it is incredibly derivative, and it is not engaging. This is why I want to advocate not for the kind of engagement that infiltrates, but I want to advocate for cultural creation.
God did not send down an efficient systematic theology book with an excel spreadsheet for recording baptisms and church membership; He sent us the unfolding narrative of scripture. He didn’t give us a formulaic sinner’s prayer; he invited us to be a part of the grand story and the people of God. It’s a story of beauty, hope, meaning, and redemption. It’s bloody, raw, and real; yet it’s tender, loving, and sweet. It acknowledges the depths of human wickedness, pain, death, and misery; and it acknowledges the source of goodness, life, and hope. It leaves us in awe of profound mysteries that make us worship God in all of his greatness. Good Christian cultural creation should do this as well as it attempts to understand where we fit in to the larger story. God created people to love creative beauty and creative stories. Do we not have the best story to tell? If so, why not tell it in a thousand different ways? Why not paint it in a thousand ways? Why not sing it in a thousand ways? Why not inspire mysterious awe of the ultimate artist?