Tag Archives: Eschatology

Quietly Anchored by Advent

Some things you only discover over the long course of years. This frustrates an economy of optimization, hyper-fixated on immediate improvement and benefit. Wisdom can’t be reduced to “insights” gleaned by data, metrics, or analytics though, even if they’re useful from a strategic point of view. The season of Advent stubbornly persists in forcing the door open for the hard-to-quantify long-haul. It even escapes the individual desire to find in it a quick shot of spiritual inspiration, like a swallow of Gatorade to get us back in the game. Advent will quietly hold you in place, arresting your plans, anxieties, and even priorities. Wait, it whispers. Wait. Wait. Don’t pull out your phone, though, to dull the irritation at waiting. No, Advent asks us to sit through the discomfort of waiting until we find ourselves watching.

If you didn’t grow up in an especially liturgical tradition, it may have seemed odd to you as a child – the anticipation of Christmas, the frenzied build up all to one day – the odd, slow deflation afterward. The twelve days of Christmas bridging manger to Magi somehow makes more intuitive sense even to an informal child-calendar. It makes sense that this good news – Jesus born, Word Made Flesh! – is due more a little season of celebration than a single day.

Though I can’t speak to the value of liturgical rhythms in the same way that someone in their eighties or nineties could, I’m now at a point in life where I can meet Advent as a friend. It wasn’t always so, though I always enjoyed popping open the little paper doors of the Advent calendar. There were years I was impatient for Christmas itself – or impatient for the arrival of my own December child. There were other years I wanted to set a match to the whole thing and watch it burn into ash I could smear on my forehead; some years, by mid-December, I wanted only the lament of Lent and could barely stomach the thin, brittle glass of the ornaments on the tree, my soul in curving shards.

Over time, Advent has become an anchor. Whatever the state of the world, whatever the state of me, I run or crawl into the immovable wall of Revelation in the Flesh. It is the fact of it that breaks me. This tender joy tears the mighty from their seats of power. This blast of Light is inescapable and I must sit with it even if it infuriates me or illumines me. How dare this Beauty exist in the realness of time and space; it is unbearable. It’s not fair: not in a world of cancer wards and barefoot refugees and one person bashing the skull of another. Six pounds, nineteen inches of the Infinite. The Word Made Vulnerable – as vulnerable and defenseless as a newborn. “Into the violence,” whispers the Trinity, “defenseless Love will be born.” If God had asked my advice, I would have tried to find a polite way to suggest how irresponsible this move was. Thankfully, God did not.

Joy and grief are such fragile states; such vulnerable places to be. No one wants joyful times to end; and grief carves us hollow and brings us to the manger empty-handed, distracted, exhausted. In all seasons of human experience – whether December arrives to find you cheerfully lighthearted or hollow or more tired than you’ve ever been – in all seasons of experience, Advent will anchor you to God Who Gets Down on the Floor with Us and Learns to Roll Over, to Joseph and Mary’s cheers. It isn’t ever more sophisticated than this. It is always as safe as this. In joyful years and hard years, the belly-laugh or tightened throat, Advent gives your hand something to grip as you wait. And the path always ever only leads to a defenseless newborn. “Here,” Mary says; “would you like to hold Jesus for a moment? I need to get something to drink.” You hesitate and sit in the rocker and uncertainly accept his snug form into the crook of your elbow. “There,” God says; “I didn’t approach Elijah in the wind or fire or earthquake, but in the still small whisper; and I come to humankind now, small enough to wrap my hand around your pinkie finger.”

In the waiting, slowly, watching can begin. In the watching, you will find over the years that the Light shines in the darkness, and the grim boil of darkness cannot overcome a helpless, sleeping newborn, watched over by the animals he sang into existence. Come, all you who are tired and heavyhearted, and he will give you rest.

Featured image courtesy Evelyn Semenyuk via Unsplash.

Connecting in the Cloud of Witnesses

Churches around the world honor the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us – all those people who shaped, challenged, and carried us forward on our spiritual journey. When I contemplate the saints in my own life, I’m reminded of two interrelated ideas. The first is called six degrees of separation; the second, three degrees of influence. In theory, there are just six or fewer degrees of separation, via introduction, from one person to any other person in the world. Essentially, through a chain of a “friend of a friend” connections, any two people in the world can be linked in a maximum of six steps. In our age of social media “influencers,” the theory of three degrees of influence shouldn’t be a surprise. It asserts that social networks have great influence on us, but that influence doesn’t end with whom we have direct ties. We influence our friends, who in turn influence their friends, which means that our actions  influence people we have never met.

What does this have to do with the great cloud of witnesses? For me, the connection is in the metaphorical power of this kind of reflection. These ideas help us visualize the importance of understanding our own place in that cloud.

My own story illustrates this, but first, a small bit of history.

Nelson Mandela was a Methodist, educated in a Methodist boarding school where the chaplain was Rev. Seth Mokitimi. In 1964, Mokitimi became the first Black person elected to lead a major denomination in South Africa, as President of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA). He was a powerful influence on Mandela.

In 1963, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island. Rev. Peter Storey, a young, White, newly ordained pastor in the MCSA became his chaplain. Four years later, Storey became the Superintendent Minister at the District Six Methodist Mission in Cape Town. This mission is now a museum that documents the history of District Six and the work of Peter Storey and fellow Methodists in their fight against Apartheid. As time passed, Storey became a bishop and was also elected president of the denomination.

Keeping that bit of history in mind, consider that my father is also a Methodist minister. When I was growing up, he served as the World Editor of The Upper Room, a devotional magazine distributed in 64 languages. The Upper Room gives an annual award to a worldwide Christian leader in recognition of their work. When I was in high school, it was given to Abel Hendricks, a “colored” (the Apartheid classification meaning not Black and not White) Methodist minister in South Africa who had spent his ministry fighting Apartheid. He stayed in our home when he came to Nashville to receive the award. I remember being fascinated as he talked about his life and struggle. Like Peter Storey and Seth Mokitimi, Abel was elected president of the MCSA. In fact, he was elected twice.

In 1980, I had the opportunity to attend the first International Christian Youth Conference on Evangelism (ICYCE), sponsored by World Methodist Evangelism. It was a life-changing event for me. Peter Storey was one of the keynote speakers.

Fast forward a few decades to 2011, when I began working more closely with Dr. Ivan Abrahams, the General Secretary of the World Methodist Council. As a young Methodist minister in South Africa, Ivan was mentored by both Abel Hendricks and Peter Storey. I now hold Ivan as one of my mentors. In his time as a Methodist bishop and then as president of the denomination, he came to know Mandela well; when Mandela died, it was Ivan who was called upon to deliver the sermon at the memorial service.

The idea of six degrees of separation illustrates how small our world really is and how connected we actually are to one another. The notion of three degrees of influence suggests that we have an impact on others in ways we may never realize. My experience attests to the connections illustrated in both these ideas. Who knew I would be connected to Nelson Mandela through a friend of a friend of a friend?

As interesting as I may find it, that’s not the whole story. The real story is about the spiritual inheritance we receive from the great cloud of witnesses – and the importance of finding our own place in that “cloud.”

Abel Hendricks is in my cloud of witnesses; and yet as he sat at our dinner table describing what it felt like to be “colored” in South Africa, he likely was not aware of the impact he was having on the shy 17-year-old girl sitting across from him.

Peter Story is in my cloud of witnesses; and yet as he preached and taught day after day at ICYCE, he likely didn’t notice the skinny 20-year-old whose head was spinning with the magnitude of what she was hearing.

Do you think about spiritual inheritance? We receive it from others, but we must also be willing to leave it for those who follow behind. Do you take seriously your own place in the great cloud of witnesses? If we are connected to everyone else by no more than six degrees, there is great potential for lasting influence. Who knows what kind of impact you may have on the 17-year-old, or 20-year-old, or 45-year-old, or 67-year-old who happens to be the friend of a friend of a friend…

Featured image courtesy Ben Stern on Unsplash.

Jackson Lashier ~ Seeing God’s Glory at a Feast

According to John’s Gospel, the first miracle Jesus performs in his public ministry is to turn water into wine at a wedding. John’s Gospel calls the miracles “signs” because through them we see the glory of God, a theme John introduces in the first chapter (John 1:14, 18) and carries through to the end (John 20:29). This sign meant seeing God’s glory at a feast – a wedding banquet. We have to admit, however, that this seems like a strange way for Jesus to start his ministry – and not only because we are currently in Lent, a season of fasting. This miracle seems to lack the drama and compassion of his other acts with which we are so familiar; no suffering person is healed, no demon exorcised, no tables overturned, no water walked on. Indeed, it seems the only result of this miracle is that a bunch of partiers get to keep drinking, not exactly something that immediately suggests God’s glory. John writes,

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ ‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’ They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’ What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:1-11)

When we read this account in the context of the entire story of scripture, which John has urged his readers to do by starting his Gospel “in the beginning” at the creation of the world (John 1:1), we begin to see the significance of the sign. Of all the metaphors used to describe Israel’s relationship with God in the Old Testament, none is more significant than the wedding metaphor. This metaphor starts in the Old Testament when God calls Israel’s ancestor Abraham into a covenant—this is marriage imagery. The scriptures continue to describe God’s love of his people as a jealous love like that of a spouse. And in the ideal picture, the people say of their God, in the words of the Song of Songs, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” (Song of Songs 2:16). The nuptial metaphor is also used to explain sin; when the nation of Israel strays from the law it is described as unfaithful. When the people of Israel worship other gods they are said to be committing adultery.

From this perspective, Israel’s exile from God’s presence near the end of their story can be understood as a divorce, the sundering of that covenantal relationship, the ending of the happy marriage feast – instead of seeing God’s glory at a feast, everything has gone wrong. Isaiah draws on this image when he prophesies,

“The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth. . .the new wine dries up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers groan. The joyful timbrels are stilled, the noise of the revelers has stopped, the joyful harp is silent. No longer do they drink wine with a song.” (Isaiah 24:5-9)

Likewise, the prophesied restoration or return from exile often takes the image of a new wedding and new feasting. So the prophet Jeremiah says:

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them.’” (Jeremiah 31:31-32)

This new covenant will be marked, Isaiah prophesies, with “a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.” (Isaiah 25:6)

The setting of Jesus’s first miracle as a wedding is not, therefore, insignificant to its meaning. It brings to the reader’s mind this familiar ancient metaphor. And what springs Jesus to action in this story is specifically the occasion of the wine running out, the wedding feast ending prematurely. If we understand that image as a reference to exile, then Jesus’ miracle of bringing new wine for the new feast signals in his ministry, beginning in this moment, the inauguration of the new wedding covenant that occurs through him. That this marital union is new and, in the words of Jeremiah, not like the old one, is suggested by the words of the host to the groom: “you have saved the best till now.”

But how is this union new? How is it not like the old one? Put another way, why will this new marriage not fail as the old one had? Again, the imagery in this story provides insight. Jesus made new wine not out of just any water, but specifically out of the water in the stone jars that Jews used to purify themselves in preparation for, among other things, offering the sacrifice in the Temple. The water in these jars is symbolic of the old Jewish religion focused on the cult of animal sacrifice, a religion predicated to some degree on our actions and our sacrifices, which could never fully deliver us from our sin. In turning this purifying water into new wine, Jesus demonstrates that the marriage between God and his people in Christ puts an end to the old way of doing things. No longer will our relationship with God be based on the things we do or the sacrifices we make. But now, the marriage relationship between God and his people in Christ is based not on our actions but on what Christ, who is God himself, has done.

The image of the new wine points forward to a second time that wine will be the center of the Gospel story: that moment on the night before his crucifixion, that Jesus will take a cup of wine and say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20) It is through the sacrifice of Jesus, then, that the new marriage with God will be inaugurated.

But the story of the first miracle also reminds us that the death of Christ, necessary for our salvation, is not the last word, but rather is ultimately defeated in resurrection. The image of the wine at last points to the wedding feast, the celebration that is eternal life in the presence of the risen bridegroom. It is the feast of reconciliation which Jesus taught about in various parables. It is the feast the Father throws when his prodigal son returns home, the feasting the angels experience in heaven when a lost sinner is found, the feast of the banquet where the host throws the doors open and invites everyone in, with the host himself providing the appropriate garments. Perhaps a feast can reveal God’s glory after all.

Jesus, like the prophets of old, refers to this feast of restoration at the Last Supper when he says, “I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) When we celebrate communion, then, we are not only remembering what Christ did for us on the cross in the past, we are eating and drinking in anticipation of the great heavenly feast that awaits us. And God’s glory will be manifest at the heavenly banquet in our midst, just as it was seen in the wedding in Cana where Jesus’s ministry of reconciliation began.

Philip Tallon ~ Make Buildings that Won’t Be Burnt Up

A wise art teacher used to say, “Make art that won’t be burnt up.” He meant, make art that will outlast the last judgment. Make art that will count as one of the “glories of the nations” brought into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:26).

Like most people, I watched in horror as one of the glories of the nation of France was nearly burnt up last week. Someone put it well in Twitter, “Had to turn the tv off. Can’t take it anymore. Like watching someone in real time smashing everything in the Louvre with a sledgehammer.”

The world mourned in real time, only to discover in the following days that much of value survived. An early echo of Easter’s surprising good news, the medieval vaulting protected the sanctuary from much of the fire. If it were not for the much later addition of the spire, the damage to the inside would have been even less. My children will get to see Notre Dame’s sanctuary in much the same state as I have.

The news made much of the response of the French people. The French are marginally church-going and the country ranks as one of the least religious in the world. It is easy to imagine that France will be, in the near future, more meaningfully Muslim than Christian. Yet the world, and the French people, love this cathedral. In many ways it is the heart of Paris.

As the burning was happening I, of course, noticed the occasional dunking on church-obsession by Christians and secularists, for opposite reasons. The Christians looked to score piety points by signaling that “the church is people, not buildings.” The secularists signaled superiority by (often mistakenly) noting that such churches were built on the scaffolding of injustice, superstition, and colonialism. There wasn’t much of this, though. It was mostly a unifying moment.

My thoughts turned to my own town. I wondered what sites here in Houston would warrant such an outcry with their bloodless destruction. The answer was easy: none. Few such places exist in the world. Few buildings are as grand or as famous as Notre Dame. The closest Houston comes to a landmark is its sad, abandoned Astrodome, which the city can’t bring itself to get rid of, but also has no use for. Our dome will never compare to “Our Dame.” We could try awfully hard and still fail to create such a work of beauty. There is, of course, the additional problem that we aren’t trying.

This week it so happened that I had the pleasure to lead a discussion on Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. As anyone familiar with the work will recall, much of what Burke bemoans is the way that the French revolution cut out the heart of civil life: the nobility and the church. Left with denuded rationality, Burke foresaw the likely result. Reason unaided by sentiment will quickly degrade into cruelty. And Burke was right. The reign of terror followed soon after the book’s publication. Despite its coincidental bearing on France, the part of the book that touched most directly on the burning of Notre Dame was a point that Burke made with reference to manners: “There ought to be a system of manners in every nation which a well-formed mind would be disposed to relish. To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” The connection here between beauty and loyalty is apparent. Beauty attracts us, even when our reasons are unconvinced. When our nation’s politicians act in ugly ways, it helps that our nation’s capital is still beautiful.

The connection to Notre Dame is obvious. This troubled world still hungers for beauty, even as it has become confused about truth. On cloudy days it seems like the church only cares about truth and goodness (and sometimes not even those), but has left the beautiful to fend for itself. Our love of “Our Lady” reminds us of a truth that the builders knew: to help us love God the church ought to be lovely.

Jeff Rudy ~ Third Day Dimension

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. – I Corinthians 15:12-20

My friend Kevin is a professor of New Testament at my alma mater. He told me about the time several years ago when his father died. He recalled vividly people coming up to him to tell him not to cry, not to grieve because, “That’s not really your father. That’s just a shell.” They were well-intended words, but it was frustrating for Kevin and it came to the point he challenged their words in a most poignant way when he said in reply, “What do you mean, that’s not my father? Those are the hands that cared for me. Those are the arms that took me up and hugged me. Those are the lips that spoke to me; the eyes that searched for me; the chest on which I fell asleep, knowing I was safe in his care. Everything I have ever known of my father was through this body. Don’t tell me that’s not him.”

Now what I’m about to say might sound a little jarring at first, but hear this, and hear me out:

Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead just so you could go to heaven when you die.

That’s not the end game. The goal is something greater than just going to heaven when you die. Because if it was just about that, then what the ancient pagans and Gnostics believed about the body must be true – that our bodies are prisons, that they are merely shells for some sort of immaterial soul within that ultimately longs to be free. To be clear, that sort of picture can be a picture of salvation and of hope, but it is not the picture of Christian salvation and hope that we have in the New Testament. The picture of salvation and hope in the New Testament is very clearly based on an event that took place 2,000 years ago – the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth who had been crucified and died, was buried, and on the third day rose again.

In both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, there are two statements about the resurrection – (1) that Jesus was resurrected on the third day; and (2) the belief “in the resurrection of the body” or “resurrection of the dead” which is about the resurrection that we still await – what we call the “general resurrection.” These doctrines are not euphemisms or merely metaphors to talk about an ethereal reality or our need to “escape” our earthly tents, so to speak. No, Jesus’ body departed the tomb with its scars, though they had healed, and apparently with some new abilities that they had not yet seen. (More on that in a moment.)

In this section of 1 Corinthians, Paul is in the midst of his theological discourse about the content of Christian hope. He’s already established that there are over 500 eyewitnesses to Jesus’ bodily resurrection (verses 1-11). And he now turns to address what appears to be a faction of the Corinthians who weren’t necessarily denying that Jesus was raised (though some were perhaps teaching that), but who were at least denying that a future resurrection was still in store for the people of God.

Most of the world in the first century didn’t believe in an eternity that was based upon the idea of the resurrection of the body. By the time Jesus was around, there was a sect within Judaism called the Sadducees who did not believe in a future resurrection. It was the Pharisees who believed that the resurrection would one day happen as the final reckoning of God’s judgment, when God would right the wrongs and vindicate the faithful by raising them from the dead to enjoy eternity in the presence of God. But the Sadducees and others like them focused their message of salvation in the “now,” which is one reason why the Sadducees frequently are seen in the Gospels in cahoots with the powers that be…to get as much power and prestige in this life as possible.

However, the teaching of the Pharisees and most other Jews was that the resurrection of the dead would mark the final day of God’s judgment: the picture of hope for God’s faithful. It’s what Jesus held to, what Paul held to, what Jesus’ friends and followers believed as well. In John 11, right before Jesus raised Lazarus, he told Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” She replied, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And what Jesus did next for Martha, Mary and all of Lazarus’ friends was to give them a glimpse of that in resuscitating Lazarus. I say “resuscitate” rather than “resurrect” because Lazarus was raised by Jesus but would one day die again. However, the resurrection would be to life for eternity. And here, my friends, is where the resurrection of Jesus was so surprising: not because they didn’t believe it wouldn’t one day happen, but that it happened on the third day. When Jesus was raised, it wasn’t just a resuscitation, it was something more: he was raised to never die again. That’s resurrection.

And Paul’s point here, as he says elsewhere in his letters, is that what is true of Jesus the Messiah is true of us. What happened to Jesus will one day happen to us. If it won’t happen to us – if we deny that the resurrection of the body will happen – then what is the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection? Paul goes further and says that if we won’t be raised then it must be that Christ was not raised. And if that is the case, then we are still in our sins, because sin and death are intertwined in Paul’s worldview. We would still be in our sins and death would remain the victor.

But, Paul, says, Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the “first fruits” of those who have died. The language of “first fruits” is why we affirm that what happened to Jesus on the third day will happen to us on the final day: that will be the harvest from when we have been buried, planted, interred, or returned to the earth or laid to rest.

So, I say again, Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead just so you could go to heaven when you die. He was raised so that one day we, too, will be raised. God will do more than resuscitate our mortal bodies…but restore, redeem, and endow our bodies, this creation, with amazing new possibilities that will leave us eternally in awe of God’s ability to make all things new.

The resurrection is part of why we ought not treat our world like trash. The resurrection is why my family recycles. The resurrection is why we should be good stewards of our bodies. The resurrection is why we should strive to fight for the dignity and well-being of all humans on the face of the planet. The resurrection is why we seek to be Christ’s hands, feet, and voice now, getting to experience the beauty of salvation now, living for the kingdom of God in Christ now, even while we wait for the later when God will give life to these mortal bodies. And at the end of the day and the end of life, the resurrection is why we do grieve even to the point of breaking down and weeping, because of how much we love and will miss the person who has died. And the resurrection is why we don’t believe these bodies are prisons or shells but when we die, await a glorious time when God will do with our bodies what he did with Jesus’ on the third day. And what do we see Jesus doing after the third day? Well, the same sort of things we do even now: eating fish, breaking bread, walking and talking, showing the scars of our past. Only now, he could do more! As if given a new dimension, he was able to show up behind a closed, locked door; travel to Galilee in no time; and so on.

A new dimension. In geometry, a line is one-dimensional – length; when lines form to make a shape, it’s two-dimensional – length and width. But it remains two-dimensional until you add depth or height. Is that third dimension separate from the other dimensions? No. It is made up of them but adds more.

That’s one way to see the resurrection: it’s something mysterious and amazing and beyond the world as we currently know it. And yet while it is beyond and more than it, it is not so “other” that it is less than whatever truth and goodness and beauty we currently know. Believing this means that we are not to be pitied but that we live in hope.

Note from the Editor: The featured artwork is titled “Harbingers of the Resurrection” by Nikolai Ge, 1867.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Reveal

Note from the Editor: Enjoy this reflection on the Incarnation from our archives.


Not of the contents of a carefully wrapped box in your childhood home, hidden from view until enterprising siblings helped you spy out the contents (or were you one of the professional tape-peelers who could lift a flap of wrapping paper without leaving a trace?).

Not of a painful holiday discovery, realizing your daughter has an eating disorder or your sister has cancer or Uncle Joe isn’t who everyone thought he is.

Not of the extravagant new church cantata, rehearsed over months and performed under spotlights in matching robes to an audience in green and red.

Christmas is a revelation, one that trumps even North American preoccupation with the Book of Revelation and end times, because Christmas is Word-Made-Flesh and in him was life and light. And what we know about Christ’s second coming is always framed in what we know of Christ’s first coming, of who Christ is revealed to be through the incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us. We have seen the careful braiding of a whip in the temple, we have seen the mud smeared on a blind man’s eyes, we have seen the gentle drawing in the dirt as a woman shivers and shakes while her accusers drop their rocks, we have seen friends’ gush of tears as they demand, “if you had been here, our brother would not have died,” we have seen the crazed man stumbling naked among the tombs and sitting dressed and in his right mind, we have seen a piercing glance towards Simon’s eyes across a courtyard, we have seen the stumble and fall in blood and sweat and the Cyrene who carried Christ’s instrument of torture and death (what a strange brotherhood).

Who is God? Emmanuel, Word-Made-Flesh, Jesus Christ the fully divine, fully mortal. And the Book of Revelation is understood through Emmanuel, God with us, who makes all things new – new, say, as a newborn, fists tight, eyes blinking, with that delicious newborn smell and tiny tufts of hair.

Our world needs to be new again: reborn, pressed against the chest of its Creator. Do galaxies have a newborn smell? Do subatomic particles dance with the hard-to-predict movements of a newborn’s kicking legs? In the youth of the world, did the trees yawn the contented sigh of a just-nursed newborn?

The earth needs swaddling cloths. How can we be young again? Innocent like a newborn baby? How can we go back, before terrorism or Rwandan genocide or Vietnam or the Holocaust or Hiroshima or the Spanish flu or mustard gas or humans bought and sold or the plague or Mongolian war chiefs or the crusades or martyrs or Hebrew slaves in Egypt or Cain and Abel…how old and jaded the human race feels sometimes.

All things new: our world needs to be new again, but not by going back. We can’t be young again, returning to childhood, peeling tape away from the edge of Rudolph wrapping paper, Citizen Kane whispering, “Rosebud…” How can a man be born again? Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time? “See, I am making all things new:”

See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”                                                               And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

What do we want for Christmas? A set of swaddling cloths for the world, newborn and blinking. Mercifully, we’ve gotten a peek at the cosmic birth narrative through the birth of Jesus Christ and the unveiling of the new birth of the cosmos in the Book of Revelation.

Meanwhile, enjoy your set of tiny jams or a crisp new pair of flannel pajamas with relished contentment, and let hope be born in your heart today.

Jackson Lashier ~ Advent, Esther, & the Absence of God

These texts for a Sunday of Advent, taken from the Narrative Lectionary, seem like odd choices for the season of Advent (Esther 4:1-17, Matthew 5:13-16). They contain no prophecies about the coming king that we have come to expect during this time of waiting. Rather, the book of Esther is a narrative set in the period of the Jewish exile, where God’s chosen people are subjects of a foreign king. This king, Ahasuerus of Persia, is described in the first chapter as a typical Ancient Near Eastern king, displaying the “great wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and pomp of his majesty” (1:4). He views his wife, Vashti, as part of this great wealth, a thing for him to enjoy. So when she refuses to obey his misogynist commands to be paraded before his friends, he dismisses her, and orders all the virgins of the land to come before him so he could handpick her replacement, a sort of ancient version of The Bachelor.

One of these virgins is a Jewish exile named Esther, a young woman who was raised by her cousin Mordecai. The text says that “the king loved Esther more than all the other women; of all the virgins she won his favor and devotion, so that he made her queen” (2:17). Her Jewish identity, however, is unknown to the king for certainly he would not have knowingly made a Jew his queen. After all, the Persians looked down on the Jews; they felt that they were dirty and no better than slaves. Indeed, as the narrative continues, we learn that one of the king’s advisors, Haman, wants to kill all the Jews in the land simply because Mordecai had refused to bow down to him. King Ahasuerus agreed to this plan.

This leads to today’s text, where Mordecai informs Esther of Haman’s plot and begs her to do something about it:

Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law– all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter,but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (4:10-14).         

At first, Esther is hesitant to act. Who wouldn’t be? This is clearly a volatile king. He dismissed his former queen because she disobeyed him. He agreed to mass genocide because his servant Haman was offended with one Jew. And apparently, he kills anyone who comes to him without being summoned. This is a man you treaded lightly around, that is, if you wanted to save your life. But Mordecai’s words ring in her head: “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” As the story continues, Esther somehow gets the courage to act, and goes before the king, winning his favor. At a banquets he prepares for him and Haman, Ahasuerus is so pleased with Esther that he grants her any request she wants. She asks that her people be spared and when the king learns she is Jewish and that Haman is the one plotting to kill them, he hangs him on the gallows that had been prepared for Jews. Esther’s faithful act saves her people, an act still celebrated every year by Jews at the festival of Purim.

 As good as the story of Esther is, however, it presents us with a problem: God is absent. Unlike other Old Testament stories, where we read of God appearing to Abraham or working behind the scenes to foil the plans of the Pharaoh, the story of Esther never mentions God. There is no account of God’s efforts to stop Haman’s plans of genocide. There is no description of God appearing to Esther to strengthen her for her ordeal. Rather, the characters in Esther appear to be acting on their own. God, it seems, is absent.

And here, then, lies the key to understanding Esther as an Advent story. For God’s absence is a reality that faced those in exile, and it is a reality that faces us today. For although Christ came and set all things right through his life, death, and resurrection, we find ourselves waiting again for his return with the fullness of the kingdom.

And if we are honest, this waiting period is not all candles and lights. More often it means we still experience the harsh realities of this life: injustice, struggles with sin, the gut wrenching experience of death. When we pray, we often wonder whether God hears. When we try to follow God’s will, we often feel left in the dark as to what God’s will is. We’re like Mordecai, whose famous line, “perhaps you have come to royal dignity for such a time as this” is qualified by the somewhat lesser known question,“Who knows?”

Though our everyday experience is probably not too dissimilar from these Jewish exiles, however, there is an important difference to the quality of our waiting, namely, the victory has already been won, the contest is no longer in doubt. Our Gospel tells us that Jesus defeated sin and evil with his life and death on the cross, and that in his resurrection, Jesus even defeated death. This means, then, that we wait not as those who do not know what is going to happen. We wait with the confidence of the children of God. And the great sign of this hope, that which sustains us in the meantime, is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

This leads us to our second text of the day, Matthew 5:13-16, where Jesus tells the people, “You are the light of the world.” He is talking about the Church, the community of people that would be set up in the meantime, in the waiting period between the advents of Jesus. “The light of the world” is a startling title for this group of disciples. In his ministry, Jesus uses that phrase of only one other person, himself (John 8:12). This means that the presence of God, during this period of waiting, exists in the Church.

Practically speaking, this means that we need to be the presence of God for one another. This works every time an injustice occurs and the Church rises to make it right. And it happens every time a person experiences tragedy or death and is surrounded by the community of faith. So that in the times where God might seem most absent, he becomes present through his people, the Body of Christ.

Ultimately, then, the knowledge we have of God’s victory helps us to think differently about those times where we thought God was absent. In the midst of suffering, it can certainly feel God is absent. But when we look back at those times from a later point in life, we often see where God actually was present, where he was moving, even though we did not feel him.

And so it is with the story of Esther. God is not mentioned in the story, but when we read it from the standpoint of the cross and resurrection, we see the hand of God everywhere; how else would a Jewish exile come to be queen? Mordecai didn’t feel it at the time; the best he could say was, “who knows?” But from our stand point, we know. We know that God was never absent, even in exile. As the Psalmist writes, “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (Psalm 139:7-8).

So in our time of waiting this Advent Season, let us remember with the confidence of the children of God, that the victory has already been won, that we do not hope for something of which we are not sure will happen. Rather, let us wait expectantly on our Lord and in the meantime, let us shine his light to one another and to the world, so that God’s abiding presence will always be known. Amen.

Featured image courtesy Laura Nyhuis via Unsplash.

Suzanne Nicholson ~ Suffering through Thanksgiving

This is the time of year when advertisements inundate us with images of happy families gloriously celebrating the holidays. Women in velvet dresses clink champagne glasses with men in suits and plaid bowties. Their beautifully decorated homes overflow with relatives who eat turkey and all the fixings from holly-themed china plates. You can almost smell the cinnamon and nutmeg wafting through the air.

Thankfulness comes easily under those circumstances. It is effortless to live in the moment, to seize the day, when all is sparkly and beautiful. But when the current moment is rife with injustice, living in the moment is nothing short of cruel. A loved one murdered, and the killer avoids prison. A child trafficked for sex, with no one to protect her. A pension fund plundered, leaving retirees penniless.

How does one rejoice in the midst of injustice?

Scripture is full of stories of injustice. After Joseph saved Egypt from famine and brought his family under the protection of Pharaoh, time passed. The new pharaoh failed to remember that a Hebrew had saved the land; instead, he suspected the Hebrews of planning sedition (Exod. 1:8-10). The Egyptians enslaved those who had saved them.

Job’s only flaw was being so faithful to God that Satan took notice (Job 1:9-11). In the testing that followed, Job lost his business, his family, and his health. Despite his faithfulness, disaster ensued.

Sometimes even justified suffering seemed to come through unjust means. God punished Israel and Judah for their great sinfulness by means of the exile. But the prophet Habakkuk questioned how God could use the wicked Babylonians to discipline the people of God. He cried out to God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you are unable to look at disaster. Why would you look at the treacherous or keep silent when the wicked swallows one who is more righteous?” (Hab. 1:13).

Habakkuk’s outburst reflects common themes in the lament psalms. Psalm 22, which Jesus began to recite on the cross, starts with “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest” (Ps. 22:1-2).

Even after the resurrection of Jesus, unjust suffering continues. In 2 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul recounts the numerous times he has been flogged, beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked, and subjected to other horrors as a result of preaching the Gospel.

These injustices point to the “already/not-yet tension” in the New Testament. Jesus has already inaugurated the Kingdom by dealing with sin and defeating death. The fullness of the Kingdom, however, has not yet been realized. The Holy Spirit is at work in believers, transforming our lives and empowering us to be salt and light in a dark, decaying world. But until Christ returns to complete the process he started, we will continue to experience injustice in this life.

But the truth of Christ’s impending return is what keeps faithful men and women going. When we take a long view of history, our current injustices take on a different meaning. We look back at what Christ accomplished on the cross—a fact of history that can never be changed or reversed—and we understand that sin and death have met their match. We look forward to the fullness of the Kingdom and recognize that greater blessings are yet to come.

This is why Paul can write to the Philippians—while chained to a Roman guard!—that we should rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). Earlier in the letter he told the church that he focuses on what lies ahead, pressing onward to win the goal of the prize for which God has called him (3:13-14). Paul’s reality is centered not on his chains, but on the promise of eternal life with God.

This does not mean that Paul somehow ignores his present pain or pretends it did not happen. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 he tells us that he had a thorn in his flesh that tormented him. Scholars have speculated on what this thorn might have been, based on hints in his letters—an eye problem? Arthritis? Some other physical deformity? Paul prayed three times for this thorn to be removed, and each time he was told no. Paul—who had healed the sick and raised the dead—was not given the power to heal himself. In Paul’s case, he needed to learn that God’s grace was sufficient to carry him through all weakness. His response: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9b-10). Paul defines his present and future by the power of God. In the current moment of pain, Paul takes a long view of history and rejoices in the ultimate victory of the God who overcomes.

This perspective is woven through the biblical narrative. The Hebrews experiencing years of slavery in Egypt cried out to God, who called Moses to deliver them. Job’s health and business were restored, and he was blessed with more sons and daughters. God promised Habakkuk that he would bring justice to the wicked Babylonians. And Psalm 22 reassures us that Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross is not the last word: the lament psalm remembers God’s past faithfulness and proclaims that God will triumph and all nations will praise him.

For those who are suffering injustice, the biblical narrative brings reassurance that God is at work in this world. While restoration may occur here and now, some injustices cannot be adequately addressed in this lifetime. For those who suffer in this way, Scripture proclaims that their story does not end here. Rejoice! The God of justice is coming.

Justin Gentry ~ A Fiction of Hope

“One of the biggest roles of science fiction is to prepare people to accept the future without pain and to encourage a flexibility of mind.” – Arthur C. Clarke 

This month Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 30. (I know, this fact made me feel old too.) I can still remember as a kid watching Star Trek with my dad. I had no idea it was nerdy; it was just something we did. Much has changed in the last 30 years but science fiction of all kinds has been a constant thread in my life. 

Science fiction is good for us. It gets us thinking creatively about the future and what could be. Star Trek specifically has influenced real life in fascinating ways: anyone who has opened a flip phone or experienced a needleless injection has Gene Roddenberry to thank. 

Star Trek’s influence doesn’t stop with gadgets, either. The original Star Trek aired in 1966 with a multiracial and multiethnic cast. It was the first television show to feature a multiracial kiss.  One of the main characters was portrayed by a Japanese American man who, at the age of five, was caught up in the Japanese internment during World War II. The USS Enterprise also featured a Russian on the bridge – right at the start of the Cold War. 

Star Trek was bleeding edge social commentary at the time. It imagined a day where humanity made peace and came together for the common good. It might seem campy or cheesy now, but at its heart these stories are sincere. 

I believe being optimistic and sincere is godly work.  

There is, of course, the gibbering tentacle monster in the room. In the last few decades, popular tastes have shifted from the optimism of Star Trek and its relatives to the pessimism of the dystopia and the post-apocalypse. In these worlds, humanity has failed some great challenge and as a result, we have a scorched earth, a totalitarian regime, or zombies – sometimes all three. 

Right now, dystopias are a box office smash. While the new Star Trek movies struggle to make their money back, movies like The Hunger Games and shows like The Walking Dead are incredibly popular. The new Star Trek show isn’t even on broadcast television – it’s available only on CBS’ paid membership website. 

Somewhere along the line, the future went from fascinating to fearful. Audiences more readily buy a future where humanity is broken and messed up. Our future is no longer bright. In these stories, we cannot reach the stars. 

Recently at a conference, science fiction writer Neal Stephenson discussed an essay he has written entitled, “Innovation Starvation.” In it, he laments that the world we live in was built on an infrastructure made in the 50s and 60s. We don’t dream big anymore 

Stephenson was confronted by a university professor who essentially said we stopped getting the big stuff done because writers like Stephenson stopped telling us we could. Creatives, artists, and dreamers were the ones slacking off.  

Stephenson took this to heart and created Project Hieroglyph, a group whose purpose is to create science fiction that will spur innovation in science and technology. 

So how can we look at this from a Christian perspective? 

We certainly have our own pessimistic speculative fiction. We have an entire cottage industry that celebrates a persecution complex and predicts a violent end to the world. In this, we are no different than the larger culture. We are so drawn to pessimism because pessimism at the end of the day is easier. It is easier to look down than it is to look up. 

Yet Christ calls us to be something different in the world, and I think it starts with how we feed our imaginations.  

What we dream of has power. When we only imagine fears about tomorrow, tomorrow looks like something to be afraid of. Many of us don’t fear the future for any rational reason: we fear the future because we have been told that it is scary.  

What if it doesn’t have to be? 

As we approach 2019, the year when the original Blade Runner is set, I hope we realize that the world is not as bleak as we feared it would be. It has its problems – we still don’t have our flying cars – but there is still so much good – so much grace – in the world.  

What do you believe about the arch of human history? Some Christians believe that the world is inevitably getting worse. Essentially, they believe that scarcity is our future. Ultimately, we won’t figure out our problems and we will fall so badly that God himself will have to save us again. 

Other Christians believe that we have some agency in this. They believe that we have the God-given power, and therefore the responsibility, to make this world better, to bear the grace of God into it. Essentially, they believe that God has already saved us and that a more whole world can be made from the tragedies all around us.     

I don’t know which side will ultimately be proven right. I do know which side I choose to be on. I know which one I am called to.  

I want to spend my life imagining a better world for myself, my children, and the future of our species. I think regardless of how this ends, that is the sacred work Jesus is drawing us into. 

Whatever happens, I look into the future wide-eyed and eager to see what unfolds. Will you join me? 


Kelcy Steele ~ A Divine Eviction Notice

Revelations 12:7-9

Note from the Editor: This sermon was originally preached at the 2017 New England Annual Conference of the AME Zion Church, Bishop Dennis V. Proctor, Presiding Bishop. 

I don’t have time to dabble into the complexity of eschatology. But I will say that many people have thought that this war has already been fought. Others suggest that it hasn’t taken place yet. Nevertheless, whether it’s already fought or will happen in the near future, all of us can testify that the devil is real, the fight is ongoing, but the victory is already won. 

This text reminds me of my middle school days. I was picked on because I was a big kid with a gentle spirit. And I always wondered why my adversaries always traveled in cliques, and packs, and gangs. Now that I’m older and have been a pastor for 15 years I’ve discovered that hell raisers never travel by themselves!

The Bible says that Satan had one-third of the angels of heaven in his clique. He sowed discord among the angels and one out of three were deceived by Satan. Satan here is a prime example of what Roger Patterson declared in his book Leading from the Second Chair: that if those who follow you cannot see ample evidence of spiritual depth, and if you are not putting the kingdom first in your life, then those who follow you will never achieve their full potential. 

My problem with this text is that this is a prime example of what happens when the church loses its focus! The 21st century church has become more personality-driven than Pentecost-fueled! The Bible says in Acts 2, “When the day of Pentecost came, the believers were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting…”

When personality overshadows Pentecost you are cultivating a divided church with demonic leakages that leads to the jockeying of position, prestige, and politics that diminishes your power to do ministry. 

Whatever happened to: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor”?

Whatever happened to: “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind”?

Whatever happened to: “to let the oppressed go free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come”?

If the devil could raise hell in heaven what makes you think he won’t raise some hell in your life? If the devil could raise hell in heaven what makes you think he won’t raise some hell on your job, at your school, and even at your church?

And don’t you get mad at the devil because he’s doing his job because it’s the devils job to raise hell. But it’s the saints’ job: 

*to pray and keep on moving because you can slay more devils on your knees then you can with your mouth.

*To praise and keep on progressing and lifting up holy hands even when hell is all around you.

*To prosper and keep on giving God the glory.

I shouldn’t be here and you shouldn’t be here, but by the grace of God, here we are.

And I believe I have a few people tonight who are sick and tired of the schemes, plots, and tricks of the devil? Because it’s only after you have become sick and tired that you will grow a backbone and stop being jelly-back! And stop allowing the devil to occupy what you know God has blessed you with!

Can I help somebody?

The devil has no place in your house: it’s your place of security. The devil has no place in your church: it’s your sacred space. And the devil has no place in your life: it’s sanctified and set apart for God’s use.

Somebody tonight needs to serve the devil his papers and let him know that as of tonight he has officially been evicted out of your life!

And can I speak to a few of you who came with faith tonight?

As of today, your finances have to get better. Your haters will become motivators. And your drama-makers will become drama-eliminators. As of today, the devil owes you back pay for trespassing on your property without a lease, contract, or your consent!

Because the Bible does declare, Proverbs 13:22, that the wealth of the wicked is laid up for the just.

Because it’s time to kick the devil out!

I tell you it’s not until you try to get yourself together that something comes along and makes you fall back apart. When it looks like the storm is over and you decide to step out on the porch, the lightning starts back flashing, the thunder starts back rolling. The devil knows how to jump back on you because somebody can testify that 1 Peter 5:8 never lied: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

We use to sing stuff like, “the devil is under my feet,” but after you have stepped on his head, it’s time to put him in his place and send him back to hell from whence he came. Somebody got bold and started singing, “don’t let him ride, he might want to drive,” but some of us need to run him over and let him know that I’m not going to let anything get in my way!

I have dreams to fulfill, I have goals to accomplish, I have doors to walk through, I have a right to move forward, and whatever is in my way, I have a right to run it over.

I know somebody is sitting in the pews tonight wanting to know what in the world is “a divine eviction notice.”

A divine eviction notice is when you let the devil know that it’s time for him to go and he has to go right now! 

A divine eviction notice is when you let the devil know, “your tricks won’t work here”! 

“You might have tricked me once, but you ain’t going to trick me twice. I refuse to go down this same road, I refuse to relive my past.”

You refuse to trip again because the last time you almost died, but God saved you.

A divine eviction notice is when you let the devil know that you have taken out a “hands-off policy” and he “can’t touch this”! 

The only thing the devil is able to do in your life is hold up progress. The last time I checked, the devil is already defeated. That’s why I don’t know why you are worrying about a war that’s already fixed.

I don’t know why you are losing sleep over a loser that won’t accept his defeat. I don’t know why you’re suffering from a migraine dealing with mess from the demonic, when you know that destiny is on your side and when you know that all the devil is doing is making a whole lot of noise and just roaring because Jesus snatched his teeth out on Calvary.

The devil can’t bite you, all he can do is roar, and the louder he roarthe louder I’m going to give God the glory! The more he tries to bind my hands, I’m going to lift them in worship. The more he tries to put shackles on my feet, the more I’m going to dance. The more he tries to strain my voice, the more I’m going to preach, sing, and pray. 

I believe I have some saints tonight who are even getting irritated with his roaring and like Michael in our text there will come a time where you have to take some action.

The angel Michael, according to the Word, was the Commander of the Army of the Lord. He was a warring angel and his job was to protect the perimeter of heaven so that God got all the worship.

Because you do know that all glory belongs to God

I believe I have some saints tonight with the “The Spirit of Michael” in our text: saints who refuse to allow the devil to disturb their peace, saints who are ready to fight for their future, saints who are on fire and refuse to allow imps, demons, and crazy people to manipulate, dominate, and discriminate on the favor of God that’s on your life, saints who don’t come to church to be cute and to be seen, but saints who are serious about giving God some glory.

Because prophetically speaking, in this season, God is getting ready to release his glory upon your housethings are not going to be the same. God is getting ready to release his glory upon his church: lives won’t be the same. And God is getting ready to release his glory upon your children: restoring them into right relationship with him and stirring up a zeal to return back to the church and stand up and take their rightful place.

Hell has dispatched some deceivers who are on the loose in your life! And their primary objective is to sow discord in your life in order to prevent you from discovering your purpose, to slow down your progress and to sabotage the gifts, talents, and abilities that God has placed in you.

That’s why just this week, some of you had to disconnect from some folk; you had to turn off your phone, because they was trying to deposit garbage into your spirit, only to find out that they were on assignment from the pits of hell to stir up drama in your life in order to keep you from developing.

That’s why just this week, somebody on your job tried to steal your joy, hijack your happiness, and terrorize your sanity, trying their best to make you act outside of your character. But they don’t know you have grown from that and you have found out that giving it to God is much better then cussing and fussing!

Even as I speak the same ditch that they are digging for you will end up being for them. Because sometimes you have to remind the devil of 1 Chronicles 16:22, saying touch not my anointed and do my prophets no harm.”And somebody needs to catch that tonight, you are not average, but you are anointed!

God will protect, provide for and prosper the anointing on your life. Everyday there is a war going on and we are caught right in the middle. And this war has nothing to do with you and it has nothing to do with me, but this war is between God and the devil.

Can I preach just a little while?

The devil is mad because God fired him and then God kicked him out of heaven because it’s God’s way or no way. Because God hired him to do one thing and that was to lead worship and direct the angelical choir but he ended up doing something else. God hired him to play one note and that was accord! But he decided to change up and to play another note and that was called discord. Accord is when everybody sings together to bring glory to God, but discord is when everybody is off pitch and out of harmony.

And that’s what the devil does in our lives. He tries to change the key, and instead of us being happy and in one accord, he tries to cause discord. That’s why you ought not lose sleep over folk who don’t understand you and always want to judge you : they are just in another key and they want to make your life a living hell. Some people are stuck in the past and we have to be careful to bring from the past the flame and not the ashes.

In our attempts to offer meaningful worship for these days and times, we have to re-focus how to defer to the movement of the Spirit in matters of style across generational lines. That’s why I’m so glad that God is my musician and the Holy Spirit is my drummer and I’m marching to a new beat!

The Bible says that the devil got the big head and instead of directing the angels to worship God he hoodwinked them into worshiping him. And that old Lucifer instructed the choir not to move until he said move and he dictated to them what to sing and when to sing. But the devil is a liar.

And God noticed that the music wasn’t changing because whenever God does something new in your life, you ought to sing a new song because music, singing, and songs are reflections of what God is doing in your life. The danger of singing the same song over and over again is like saying, “God hasn’t done anything new in my life.”

God saw that the glory wasn’t coming in like it used to and what was holy was now contaminated. What was sacred was now scandalousGod called for Michael and said, “Michael, I want you to go down to choir rehearsal and check out what’s going on.”

The Glory isn’t coming in like it used to. Some of the angels have lost their zeal  They are not clapping like they used to. They are not rocking like they used to. Michael  went  to choir  rehearsal  and  got  upset with the devil and Revelations 12:7 is the minutes of the meeting: “And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated.”

Tell your neighbor “The devil is already defeated!” And there was no longer any place for them in heaven.Tell your neighbor, “You have to kick the devil out of your space and put the devil in his place!”

The great dragon was thrown down, the ancient serpent who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world- he was thrown down to the earth and his angels were thrown down with him.

I’m so glad that I don’t worship “a man.” When the man gets mad you get mad and the next thing you know you have removed yourself from God and another storefront pops up.

I’m so glad that my worship is not predicated on a man.  If the preacher isn’t bringing glory to God, he needs to shut up. If the choir isn’t bring glory to God, they need to shape up. If the musicians aren’t bringing glory to God, they need to change up. Because my worship is for real. If the preacher can’t preach, I still can worship. If the choir can’t sing, I still can worship. If the musician can’t play,  I’m still going to worship. Because when I was in my mess, it wasn’t a preacher that saved me, it wasn’t a choir that delivered me, it wasn’t a musician that converted me.

When I look back over my life and I think things over I can truly say that I’ve been blessed. I’ve got a testimony, it was nobody but Jesus.

My worship is for real. It’s dangerous when you follow a leader who is stagnated. You will die. It’s dangerous when you follow a leader who is paralyzed: you won’t move. It’s dangerous when you follow a leader who set in his way. God can’t do anything new. It’s dangerous when you follow a leader who is insecure: nobody will grow. It’s dangerous when you follow a leader who dictates instead of directs, complains instead of compromise, sits down when it’s time to stand up.

God is looking for somebody who made up in their minds, “All I want to do is give him some glory.” Give glory to God saints, he’s worthy of the praise, saints! Give glory to God, lift those hands, saints, give glory to God. Shout “Hallelujah” saints, give glory to God.

You don’t know my story, all the things that I’ve been through. You can’t feel my pain, what I had to go through to get here. You’ll never understand my praise, don’t try to figure it out. Because my worship – my worship is for real.

Beams of heaven as I go,

through the wilderness below,

guide my feet in peaceful ways,

turn my midnights into days.

When in the darkness I would grope,

faith always sees a star of hope,

and soon from all life’s grief and danger

I shall be free someday.

I do not know how long ’twill be,

nor what the future holds for me,

but this I know: if Jesus leads me,

I shall get home someday.

Harder yet may be the fight;

right may often yield to might;

wickedness a while may reign;

Satan’s cause may seem to gain.

There is a God that rules above,

with hand of power and heart of love;

if I am right, he’ll fight my battle,

I shall have peace someday.

Burdens now may crush me down,

disappointments all around;

troubles speak in mournful sigh,

sorrow through a tear-stained eye.

There is a world where pleasure reigns,

no mourning soul shall roam its plains,

and to that land of peace and glory

I shall want to go someday.