More Than An Ocean

There is something I learned when navigating through the vast wasteland of car-sized boulders at 12,750 feet while making my way up the final ascent to Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

People are less than microscopic.

As we climbed upward toward The Keyhole and then turned back to survey the boulder field, now just 1000-feet below us, our tents had become colored dots in a broken sea of browns.

And the people below, were lost in that sea.

Only moments later, after hitting the summit, we looked down again to take in the magnitude of the boulder field. Our tents were now submerged. And the people had drown in its vastness. The car-sized boulders had become bits of sand washed by the enormity of the figurative waves.

From less than a few miles away, boulders had become granules of sand, tents were visibly imperceptible, and people were nonexistent. One could never tell that there were a couple hundred people walking through the boulder field as we stood there taking it in from above.

That’s about as descriptive as I can get in conveying how relatively miniscule and microscopic a person is on a scale that we can even somewhat understand. Because if you can somewhat begin to understand how insignificantly tiny we are from such a short distance on Earth, then you can really begin to appreciate our relative nothingness on a cosmic scale.

Think about this for a second.

If a human being is basically imperceptible from a few miles away, what about our size from the moon, which is about 250,000 miles away? I know that is a huge leap, but seriously contemplate that for a second. If you are microscopic from a few miles, what are you from moon?

Virtually nonexistent. And that is just from the moon.

But let’s take another step.

What about our size from Mars, which is 34 million miles away? Or, our size from Saturn, which is 750 million miles away? Or, our size from the edge of our solar system, which is nine billion miles away?

To put this distance in perspective, the Earth is theoretically no longer visible to the naked eye from the edge of the solar system. The Earth, itself, has become virtually nonexistent.

So what about the size of a human being from the closest star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, which is 25 trillion miles away? To put that distance in perspective, it would take 81,000 years traveling at 35,000 miles per hour from Earth to get there. And lastly, what about the size of a human being from the edge of our expanding universe, which is estimated to be 46 billion times 5.8 trillion miles away?

Can you even put your humanity into that kind of perspective? If you are microscopic from less than a few of miles away and next to nothing from the moon, what are you in the universe that is 46 billion times 5.8 trillion miles to its outer edge?

I hate to say it this way, but from a size perspective, we are nothing.

But think about this.

If God created this universe, then is God not larger and even more pervasive than the entire universe? And if God’s very essence, God’s very composition, God’s very DNA is love, then is this love not even more immense and more unbounded than the utter vastness and expansiveness of this universe? Even more, if God’s love is that immeasurable, that unfathomable, that exhaustively immersive, then how do you, as a nearly nonexistent human being, measure up within that love?

If we are nearly nothing in relation to a love that is more expansive, more immeasurable, more unfathomable, more exhaustingly immersive than the universe that it created, then how can we really be that big of an offense to God? How can we really be such vile offenders? Such horrible wretches? Such loathsome reprobates? Such horrible sinners? How can we really be that despised and worthy of scorn? How can we really be that wayward and shameful? How can we really be that deserving of an eternity burning in hell?

To this love, we are none of those things.

We are beloved.
We are worthy.
We are valuable.

And this love continues to pursue every one of us.

The truth is that there is no distance we can travel, no depth to which we can sink, no barrier behind which we can hide where that love is not still with us, is not still holding us, is still not inviting us into its full embrace.

If you think I have gone too far in describing where we stand in relation to this unbounded, immersive, and universal love of God, all you have to do is look at that this love embodied. Because once you see the full weight and measure of this cosmically-sized love poured into a human body, you will finally begin to understand what true love looks like, and how radically different it is from our limited, conditional love.

This is the love of God in Jesus.

And the love we see in Jesus was never repulsed, shocked, or offended by another human being. It is a love that was never fearful of eating a meal with the so-called wicked. It is a love that was never afraid of hanging with prostitutes and whores. It is a love that was never fearful of elevating people who were deemed by the religious as “unclean” or “dogs.” It is a love that was always willing to see great faith in people of different religious persuasions or no religious persuasion at all. It is a love that never took a stand, or needed a platform, or needed to be acknowledged or recognized. It is a defiant love that always did the complete opposite of the religiously-minded when they said, “Don’t embrace them! Don’t befriend them! Don’t serve them! Don’t eat with them! Don’t invite them!”

God’s love is always with those whom the religious believe are undeserving of being embraced, befriended, served, eaten with, or invited in. It is not limited by human barriers or rules of engagement. It is with every person of every race, every ethnicity, every culture, every religion, every lifestyle, every gender, and every “sin group.”

And if this kind of love makes you angry or indignant, then you are more like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day than Jesus himself.

If this kind of love terrifies you for what others will think of you when hanging out with “terrible sinners,” then you have become more religious than a follower of Jesus.

If this kind of love worries you that you are condoning “sinful lives” when you hang out with and serve others, then you do not know the love of God in Christ.

The love of God is radically offensive to those who do not understand it.

The unbounded, immersive, universal love of God is for all people, for all-time and will never be constrained or limited by small-minded, hard-hearted, Spirit-less, microscopic religion that tries to divide it and apportion it by whom they believe deserve it.

God’s love is so much more than a tiny, little ocean washing over us and submerging our limited, finite, and feeble attempts at understanding it. It is beyond universal and we are nothing but lost in it. And when you experience a love like that, you can do nothing but let it consume you. You can do nothing but become that love and share it with everyone without discrimination.

Forever in that love…

Brandon

Christ is Christmas (So There’s That)

The following is from a sermon I gave, which I subsequently blogged, in December 2011. I recently updated it in December 2013.

Have you ever had an ache in your heart? You know…an ache that just weighs you down and hurts so badly that you can’t do anything but wish it would go away? Maybe it was a close friend talking behind your back and it just killed you on the inside. Maybe it was watching a loved one battle an agonizing fight with cancer or another disease until it took his or her life. Maybe it was a friend or family member who misread something you said or did and have held a grunge against you ever since. It could even be watching your child suffer from a disability, or getting made fun, or struggling through school. Or maybe it is the ache of being addicted, strung out, losing all control of your life… and feeling like there is no way out. Maybe you are under the crushing weight of debt or unemployment. You don’t know how you are going to pay your bills or make ends meet. Maybe on the other side you are a person who has a job but the stress of the job is taking its toll on you and you are suffering from anxiety and physical problems. Maybe you feel trapped in life- like you exist each day to satisfy the expectations of other people or you exist with no purpose at all.

Is this the best life has to offer? Will things ever change? Is there any reason to have hope?

Do you read the paper or watch the news? Kids killing their parents. Parents killing their kids. Kids killing other kids. Adults killing adults. Innocent people becoming the targets in a sad and tragic game called Knock Out. Shoppers killing each other on Black Friday for the newest gadget. People breaking into homes and businesses to steal Christmas presents. Cities offering the homeless one-way tickets to get out of town. A mayor bashing the possessions of a homeless man with a baseball bat.

And that is just in one week…in one country…at one time in history. The things we do to each other are so tragic and sad. The love of many continues to grow colder and colder.

And around the world we continue to war. Nation threatens nation and kingdom threatens kingdom. People protest around the globe because the system is messed up- the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Many hard-working men and women work endlessly to have the money taken out of their pockets by politicians, bankers, and corporations who, many times, operate by power and greed. People rise up and the establishment fights back…it’s an endless, endless cycle that isn’t unique to our day and age. Money makes the world go round. And it limits and categorizes and oppresses and weighs down on people.

And don’t you just get tired of it?

Is life only about accumulation and dividends and profits and commercialism?

And we treat people like objects. Around the world people are still enslaved- working at 10 years of age, working 16-hour days, working harder labor than we will ever know or understand. Right now another young girl is being exploited by a pimp who only cares about making another buck while she is emotionally, physically, and spiritually devastated. My God, help us.

Does your heart ache? Do you long for things to be better? Do you hope for a day when all will be set right?

Yes…in this world there is immeasurable glory…and yet there is immeasurable pain and suffering.

We long for something else…for a better world. We long for peace…but we never can seem to attain it. We long for justice…but the system seems wildly out of control and completely unjust. We have hope. But hope in what exactly?

Is this the way life will always be? Will things ever be set right? Will there ever be peace? Will there ever be justice?

Will the aching ever go away? Will the oppressed ever be set free? Will we ever quit hoarding and finally share?

Will we ever find joy in this life? Will love ever prevail instead of hate and violence and pain? Will the longings of hope that we have deep in our souls ever be realized into something?

Will the tears ever be wiped away?

Is there anyone who can help us?

Is there anyone who can save us from ourselves?

Every person we look to fails us and hurts us and manipulates us and leaves us in an even worse situation.

Is God just out there and distant and removed from our pain? Does God even know what this life is like and how hard it is? Does God know how unjust this world can be toward people? Does God know how people close their doors in your face when you are in desperate need? Does God know what it is like to be pushed to the edges of society without a place to lay your head? Does God know what it is like to ache and be in so much pain?

The surprising answer is yes, because that same God came down and lived a life in full flesh as a human being and understands our pain, our emotions, and our longings for all things to be made right.

Christmas…the Incarnation (God becoming Man)…the Word becoming Flesh…the Christ-child being born is the focal point of history. It is the moment in which God lowered himself and came to us…to love, to serve, to demonstrate life. He did not come down to force, coerce, or lord over people from the top like an oppressive King. He did not say, “You guys have really screwed this up so now you are going to do it my way.” He came down born in a simple, humble birth in a lowly manger on the edges of society. And it was in this unexpected that God demonstrated his character to each one of us who have fallen short of the way he created us to be. He came down to teach us the highest and most honorable way to live.

As we have gone our own way, worked for our own purposes and our own desires, and rebelled against God in every way imaginable…it was God through Jesus who came down in humility, in grace, in all his gentleness and subverted all of our hatred by his love.

In Jesus, God’s Kingdom, God’s Reign broke into this world…and initiated a completely new way of doing life that looks nothing like anything this world has ever seen (or ever will see). It was in Jesus that Heaven and Earth came together as one. And it was in Jesus that Heaven and Earth are continuing to come together…until all things are brought together in their full measure at the renewal of all things.

The Scriptures say:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God’s plan of redemption and restoration started on Christmas Day through the birth of his son. But we only celebrate his birth for the victory over death through resurrection. For without rising from the dead, his birth is utterly meaningless. That is why we celebrate this light coming into the darkness. That is why we live by faith and have hope that the forces of evil are being extinguished, exhausted, and taking their very last breath. That is why we live and celebrate victoriously on Christmas Day, because we have hope that our sufferings are only temporary. It is on this day, in light of his resurrection, that we celebrate his birth in one accord and look forward to a day when:

Pain will be no more.

Hatred will finally and completely be defeated by love.

Heartache will give way to complete healing.

Killing will cease and life will abound forever.

Peace will reign throughout the cosmos.

The scars and wounds that we wear will be healed by his hands.

The hungry will be fed.

The lame will walk.

The blind will see.

And all things will be set right: heaven and earth will finally be one.

It is in Jesus that we know that God acted decisively in history by coming down to a people desperately needing life, hope, and rescue. The meager, tiny baby in the manger that drew the attention of all creation: the angels, the wise men, the shepherds in the field, the kings of the land, people all throughout the world, and every man, woman, and child throughout history…is celebrated, praised, and lifted high…because he won the greatest victory in history.

For once we were separated from God and without hope… but now we have the honor of participating presently in all God is making new through Christ.

We celebrate Christmas only because Christ is Christmas.

peace…

brandon

Rediscovering the Word Evangelical

There is a beautiful word… an elegant descriptor… that has been maligned, tarnished, lampooned, distorted, and completely misunderstood. It is a name many have abandoned for all of it’s negative connotations and ugly stereotypes. But this bruised and battered identifier… this lowly mark tossed carelessly to the side by a cynical generation… is finally being rediscovered, reclaimed, renewed, and washed clean by those hungry to wear it and hold it high for the world to see clearly.

The word is Evangelical.

And it is beautiful because at it’s very heart, it’s very core, it simply describes anyone who proclaims the Good News. But it seems that many have skewed the Good News and given the name Evangelical a bad rap by proclaiming messages that don’t seem so good… that make people feel worse on the inside and not so hopeful that there is an alternative to this confusing, messed up world.

As an Evangelical, as a proud proclaimer of the Good News, I want to share with you the Good News of the Kingdom of God… and the reason why I will continue to wear the name and preach the message until the day I die.

The Good News is that there is an alternative. This is another way. There is a reason to have hope.

The great alternative to this world, that Jesus preached about and was preoccupied with establishing, operated by a new set of values, a new way of thinking, a new way of being human. The Good News that Jesus announced was like nothing the world had ever known or seen before. As such, Jesus was not preoccupied with fighting violently against the kingdoms of the world, or the prevailing governmental or political order. Jesus wasn’t even preoccupied with trying to reform them or preoccupied with trying to establish a new or different political system or governmental system. And, he was certainly not trying to build up a bricks and mortar palace where he would rule from the top-down.

The Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim would be established much differently than those of the world, and it would not look like anything the world had ever seen, because the people in this Kingdom would do everything opposite from the ways and workings of the world. It would be a grassroots, organic movement that changes the world from the bottom-up and from the inside-out, defying every bit of worldly wisdom in the process.

When the world hits you, do not retaliate, but give the other cheek. When the world is weighing you down with heavy requests, don’t just go one mile with the request but go two miles. When the world takes everything you have, even the coat off of your back, don’t just give your coat but go even further by offering your shirt. When the way of the world harbors anger and holds grudges, be one who forgives your friends and your enemies alike. And, don’t just forgive once, but forgive and forgive and forgive.

When the world is quick to respond and rip a person to shreds, be one who controls your anger and the words that come from your mouth. When the world devalues relationships and marriages, be one who looks to the interest of others, honors commitments, and always remains selfless. When the world looks out for and protects its own pursuits and interests to the detriment of others, be one who treats others as you would want to be treated yourself. When the world is ready to cast the stone of judgment at the sinner, be one who loves and stands beside every single person without judgment. When the world shuns the outcast and pushes him to the edges of society, be one who befriends the outcast and welcomes him back into loving community.

When the world lords over you with mighty power and authority, be one who is humble and comes from the bottom-up to serve everyone. When the world takes the seat of honor so it can be seen and noticed by everyone, be one who takes the seat of low-position in the back of the room. When the world puts on a show of being pure and good but is corrupt at the very core, be one who is pure from the inside and let it work out through your life. When the world continues in the ways of injustice and is merciless to the least in society, be one who stands for the least and for those who cannot defend themselves by demanding justice and mercy.

When the world fights and wars, be one who always stands on the side of peace no matter the situation and no matter the circumstance. When the world insults, ridicules, and curses you, be one who blesses in return. When the evil of the world assaults you, be the one who does not resist the evil. And when the world beats you, spits upon you, and is preparing to crucify you, continue on the way of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love.

That is the Good News of the Kingdom of God! That is what it means to be a true, genuine, authentic Evangelical. That is the treasure of great riches that the world so desperately needs to discover. That is the pearl of great value that we sell everything we have in order to attain it. That is what will spread like an infection, a mustard seed, yeast in the dough if the world would ever hear it and see it put into practice by a transformed people. That is the in-breaking of heaven into the house that has been held hostage for far too long. That is the occupation, proclamation, task, and obsession of the follower of Christ… of every Evangelical… in the vineyard of the world!

The Kingdom of God is the full-on reign of God in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, who have died to the old, tired, and worn-out ways of the world, and who have been made new by the working and empowering of the Spirit of God in order to bring heaven on earth, while awaiting and anticipating the return of Christ as Lord at the renewal of all things!!! It is what a life looks like when God reigns in and through a person here on earth in every single thought, action, attitude, situation, or scenario. The Kingdom of God looks like an invasion from heaven into the strongholds of a person’s life, a cleaning out of the house, a light breaking through into the darkness, and a constant and continual in-breaking of heaven through one’s life into the world. It is a Kingdom that reigns in the hearts and minds of people, not through the political, governmental, bureaucratic, religious, institutional brick and mortar systems of the world. The Kingdom of God will never come through those systems, because they will all pass away one day.

That is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be seen or observed. It is not visible with the eye for anyone to see or to visibly discover. In fact, people will not be able to say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is within the hearts and minds of those who follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. In this way, the Kingdom of God can not be conquered, destroyed, or defeated, but it continues to grow larger and continues to spread from person to person all throughout the world like a mustard seed in a field or yeast in dough. It breaks into our world like an infection to displace the kingdoms of the world and to establish the reign of God, through and through, in the hearts, minds, and lives of people who are like Jesus in everything we do.

That is what it means to be an Evangelical. That is why I wear the name with honor and will hold the banner high. It is to Jesus Christ and the Good News of his Kingdom that I pledge my allegiance and give my life.