Tag Archives: Jesus

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The Truth Bucket Challenge (Sponsored by Ferguson, Mo.)

EDITOR’S NOTE:

The sad irony is that, by virtue of the many friends and allies I have who are white and who understand the racial injustice involved in the whole Ferguson saga, that this article will probably be shared a lot — but probably not by the people who need to read it most.
But I’m writing anyway, in part because I’ve received valuable confirmation, in the form of several friends and allies confiding that my articles on the subject have helped them to initiate conversations with friends and family members who don’t get what all the controversy is about. To these folks — and you know who you are — I say wholeheartedly: thank you. I write with the same conviction that many tent-revival evangelists had back in the day: if it makes a difference, even for just one, then it’ll be worth it.

 

In the response to the many articles about the travesty that unfolded in Ferguson, I’ve seen certain trends in the comment sections. Particularly in the ones written by and toward evangelicals, like this excellent guest-blog series facilitated by Ed Stetzer on Christianity Today, the sentiments of (presumably white) dissenters usually include one or several of three common responses aimed at African-Americans or other people of color (paraphrased, but only slightly):

  • Regarding the “militarized” police response: with all the rioting and looting, what did they expect would happen?
  • Regarding protest: why don’t they protest the black-on-black violence in Chicago every weekend?
  • Regarding the shooting itself: We shouldn’t pass judgment if we don’t know all the facts.

These ideas are as ubiquitous as they are problematic. And they all stem from three problems that, by and large, are preventing more black and white people from establishing common ground in the wake of this tragedy.

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Black Jesus Modest Proposal: Watch It At Church

(Editor’s Note: If you don’t know the history behind the term “modest proposal,” you won’t understand unless you read the whole thing.)

 

Well, last night happened and, as far as I can tell, the four horsemen of the apocalypse have yet to appear.

Which world-shattering event am I referring to? A new development in the Israel-Palestine conflict? A new executive order signed by President Obama? Another Mark Driscoll scandal? No, no… I’m talking about something important. 

Last night was the premiere of the new Aaron McGruder comedy, “Black Jesus.” For the uninitiated, here’s a trailer:

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Believing Without Seeing

This post is, of course, inspired mostly by the annual celebration of Easter, the day that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ. A small part of it was probably, on a subconscious level, influenced by the ABC freshman drama “Resurrection,” which is either based on or tangentially related to a really confusing number of TV serials and movies, all related to the phenomenon of people returning from the dead.
But mostly it’s me just doing what I do most and best… dwelling on the most trivial and arcane portion of a really important topic, mostly just because I can, and seeing where it leads me creatively.
So without further ado, I give you a brief two-scene play that attempts to partially answer the question, “what might the resurrection have looked like if it happened in our time?”
Sermons

Expectation-Defying Worship

I bring you greetings from believers in the Midwest, both Chicago and the twin cities of Minneapolis / St. Paul. And I gotta say, it feels a little surreal to be saying that, but I’ll tell you about that in a bit.

Two weeks ago, my wife Holly and I spent a week in Chicago catching up with old friends that we hadn’t seen since we moved to Portland five years ago, especially one particular couple that was in our wedding who are now living and serving at Lawndale Community Church on the west side of Chicago, where God is doing some amazing things in the midst of inner city struggle.

Last week, we were on the campus of Bethlehem Baptist Church north of Minneapolis, where we gathered with about 15 or worship leaders who are all pursuing the vision of multiethnic worship. We laughed together, prayed together, and wrote songs together. It was an incredible time of fellowship… it was like worship camp.

It feels funny to say the whole, I-bring-you-greetings thing, because that’s something that my Dad, our founding pastor, would say when he would come back from a ministry trip. And I always felt funny hearing that, because I would think, “well why are they greeting me? I don’t know them, and they don’t know me.”

But now I understand. Because even though you don’t know those people specifically, you need to know, there are saints in Chicago and saints in the Midwest who are praying for our church. They are praying for you, believing in you, trusting that God will continue to do marvelous works in this part of His body. Although you may not realize it on a week by week basis, we are not alone in this work. We are a part, not only of a denomination of like-minded believers, but part of the worldwide church of Jesus Christ, and when we have victories, others rejoice with us. When we struggle, others struggle with us.

So that’s what I mean by, “I give you greetings.” It’s not just a formality. It’s about the love and unity of the gospel.

So anyway, like I said, our first week was spent in Chicago, catching up with old friends. And since it had been such a long time since Holly and I had been back, I asked a friend of ours to gather up some of our old friends and put on a get-together so we wouldn’t have to try to see everybody separately. She sent out a bunch fo Facebook invites weeks before we got there, and Holly and I were excited about coming.

As a matter of fact, Holly was so excited that she wanted to make sure I had the right time for the party in my calendar. When I told her it was at 2pm, she thought that was an odd time to have lunch, so she asked me to double-check. I went back on Facebook to check the event, and there it was – “Picnic with Holly and Jelani – 2:00pm.”

So you can imagine my shock when Saturday at 1pm, as Holly and I are preparing to drive across town, I get a call from the host.

“Hello Jelani, are you coming?”

“Yeah, we’re just leaving… waitaminute, I thought the party was at two.”

“No, we started at noon.”

“What? Really?”

At this point, I’m glancing over at Holly, who is giving me a look that could melt steel. She is NOT happy.

I finished up the conversation, we dashed out the door, and because of crosstown traffic on a Saturday, made it to the party right about two o’clock. By way of explanation, I pulled out my new phone, checked the Facebook application again, and there it showed the time for the event – 2pm.

It was at this point that I realized what happened. When I accepted the invitation on Facebook for the party, I was still in Portland. But after I got to Chicago, my phone, sensing the change of time zone, shifted all of my appointments forward two hours, and my Facebook app did the same thing. According to my Facebook app, I was right on time for a party that started noon Pacific, or 2pm Central time.

And that’s the story of how we ended up being two hours late for a party in our honor.

How embarrassing.

But you know what? That happens a lot in the church.

We get caught up putting on an event for God, or doing a program for God, or running a ministry for Him, and it takes us awhile to realize that… umm… He’s not in it. Yes, God is omnipresent, but I mean His manifest presence that indicates His will or His pleasure, His indwelling. When it comes to that, sometimes it takes us awhile to realize that God is not the house. We’re struggling along, wondering why our work is so difficult, or why the atmosphere is so dry, or whatever, and then we finally hear the still, small voice…

“Did I ask you to do this, or did you decide to do this for Me?”

This happens to all of us, I think, at one time or another. And I think it happens usually when we expect God to work a certain way, and then He defies our expectations and does something completely different.

Today, we’re going to examine two passages of Scripture where this happens, We’ll take a brief stop in 1 Kings 19, and then we’ll sit for awhile in John 4. Take note in each passage of the disconnect between what we expect from God and what He actually does.

Let’s start with 1 Kings 19:9b-13…

And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Here we see God confounding His servant by throwing Him a curveball. He tells Elijah, get ready, I’m about to show up… and then He causes three calamitous events to happen, things that are signs of His presence at other times, but it says of the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, that the Lord was not in them.

It seems a little odd that God would do this. But you have to remember who He was talking to. The prophet Elijah had seen and participated in some of the most dramatic manifestations of God on record. This was the same servant who mocked the prophets of Ba’al before calling down fire from God to consume his offering. This man had seen God part the Jordan river and stave off starvation for a widow and her son.

So for Elijah, it would’ve been pretty normal for God to show up in something big and dramatic. I believe God instead showed up in a whisper, just to make sure Elijah wasn’t too enamored with the miracles themselves. He wanted to remind Elijah that He can show up however He wants.

Now, let’s get to the main passage of the day, John 4:19-26.

This is a continuation of a story that we’ve looked at before, where Jesus met a woman at the well. In a nutshell, he asks her to draw him some water from the well, and then engages her in conversation. In the course of the conversation, she reveals that she has no husband, and Jesus reveals His prophetic ability by laying bare her past failed relationships (five husbands), and mentioning that the man she’s with now is not even her husband.

It’s at this point, humbled and yet intrigued, that she continues her conversation with Jesus.

19“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

25The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

It’s clear from this text that this is another example of Jesus confounding someone’s expectations. And if we look closely enough, we can see that this was not just true for the woman in this story, but it’s true for us today.

Today, I want to share with you three important lessons that we can take from this text, lessons that will help us understand the disconnect between our expectations and His sovereign will. Fundamentally, this is a story about worship. If we take lessons to heart, they will change the way we worship, not only on Sundays, but throughout the week.

1. Worship is not just emotion, but also action.

It’s clear from the text that this woman had an Old Testament understanding of worship, because it involved action. In order to understand, we need to establish some background information on what worship is.

Let’s break down the language.

The Hebrew word for “worship,” which appears many, many times in the Old Testament, is “shachah,” which means:

to depress, i.e. prostrate (especially reflexive, in homage to royalty or God):–bow (self) down,

crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance,

do reverence, make to stoop, worship.

The Greek word for “worship” is “proskuneo,”

to kiss, like a  dog licking his master’s hand); to fawn or crouch to, i.e. (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to,

adore):–worship.

English… the word worship is derived from the Old English “worthship” … so the word really means to express or declare the worth of something or someone.

So if you do a search for the word “worship” in the Bible, most of the time you’ll see one of these two words. And when you read about men and women in the Bible worshipping, there is almost always action that is part of it… building an altar, making a sacrifice, singing a song, lifting hands, bowing prostrate, etc.

And this was not only true for them then, but it’s true for us now. Worship is something that we as humans do naturally and regularly. Even nonbelievers worship. It’s just that we don’t usually call it that, we’ll call it something else… being fanatical or devoted.

But you can tell the difference between someone who likes a particular thing, and someone else who is really, really into it. It’s like the difference between praise and worship.

So maybe I could watch a Blazers game and think, “hey, that Brandon Roy, he’s a good player.”

But an adoring fan might say, “Brandon Roy is a former rookie of the year, three-time All-Star and 2nd team all-NBA who scored 21 points a game last year, and he’s the closest thing Portland has had to a superstar since Clyde Drexler in the early 90s.”

Or I could look at a house and say, “that’s a pretty nice house.”

But an excited real estate agent might say, “this is an architectural hybrid of Queen Anne and Dutch colonial styles, with rounded arches, ornamental parapets, and elaborate shutters. It’s the jewel of the neighborhood.”

Or I could look at a car and say, “hey, that’s a pretty cool car,” but someone who is really into cars can see that same car and say:

“This is a limited edition model built from the ZXC concept prototype, with a composite carbon fiber exterior, and an interior of Tibetan suede, except for the high definition LCD projection unit in the windshield.”

Do you see the difference? Worship is fanatical and specific.

And remember, it’s not enough just to know certain things or feel a certain way. True worship always involves action. So we respond by buying tickets to NBA games, or touring lavish homes, or going to car shows. We take actions to demonstrate our devotion.

So remember that the next time you come to church and the worship leader asks you to stand, or wave your hands, or kneel down. They’re not doing it because they’re insecure and need you to participate (at least I hope not), but because thoughts and emotions, on their own, are insufficient vehicles for worship. Worship is not something that comes over you, it’s something that you DO, regardless of, sometimes even in spite of, what you might be thinking or feeling in the moment.

True, authentic, Biblical worship always compels us to respond with an action.

But not just any old action will do, which brings me to our next lesson we can learn from this text.

2. In worship, context matters.

Action is good, but not all actions are the same. The questions of how, when, where and with whom are very important. In the Old Testament, there were lots of rules and regulations for the Israelites and even for the high priests who only encountered God once a year. Yahweh was very particular about the manner in which He was to be worshipped.

And we carry on some of these ideas about worship today. There are times and places to be loud, and other times and places to be quiet. Shouting in triumph, bowing prostrate, and lifting holy hands can be quite acceptable during church, but less so while commuting on the bus in the morning. Even if we as Christians don’t always agree about what should happen when, our ideas of what is appropriate exist in the context of certain cultural norms.

This woman was no different. Being a Samaritan, her cultural background required worship at a temple on Mt. Gerizim, which according to scholars, had been destroyed by a Jewish king centuries prior. So her statement in verse 20 – our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say to worship in Jerusalem —  is an indirect challenge to Jesus’ allegiance. It’s a question of which cultural context is more legitimate. By inquiring about where to worship, she’s really asking, in this ancient ethnic conflict, who is right? She’s expecting Him to take a side.

Jesus flips the script on her.

He answers, not by taking sides, but by taking over. His response changes her paradigm of  context. Pretty soon, he says, the where of worship will be irrelevant. According to Jesus, the proper context for worship will have nothing to do with externalities like geography or ethnicity, and everything to do with being connected to Him.

So what is the proper context?

3. True worship is fully connected to Spirit and truth.

The context that Jesus identifies as ideal for worship is translated as “in spirit and in truth.”

The word translated as spirit is the Greek word pneuma, which is the same word Jesus and others in the New Testament use to refer to The Holy Spirit, the third member of the Godhead Himself.

But Jesus didn’t just refer to Himself as Spirit, but also as truth (John 14:6). So His mention here of truth is particularly aimed at the woman He was talking to, who based on her less-than-honest testimony, had evidently gotten used to playing fast and loose with the facts. His words were a gentle piercing of her pretense.

And so they are for us today.

God wants our worship to be fully connected. He wants us to be honest… to Him, and to ourselves. God made us in His image, and because of Him, we have a spirit that animates us and allows us to connect with Him (John 3:5-7). When we are dishonest, when we engage in sinful acts and attitudes that cut us off from Him, our worship suffers (Ps 66:18-20, Isa 59:2). No amount of animal sacrifice or physical atonement can substitute for this (1 Sam 15:22).

For those who would rather stick to cultural norms as the basis of our worship, THIS IS BAD NEWS. As long as we worship from a place of cultural superiority (“my worship is better than yours”) or as a way for us to earn righteousness (“because I worship this way, I am forgiven”) our worship is doomed. The best we can hope for is to go through the motions, to have a form without the power.

But for the rest of us… this is GREAT news.

It means that our worship doesn’t have to be constrained by artificial contexts beyond our control. It means that God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35) or partisan toward nations or groups (Gal. 3:28). It means that anyone – ANYONE – who believes in Him can worship Him in confidence (Hebrews 4:16).

And when the Spirit of God connects with our spirit, and we begin to comprehend the truth about ourselves in light of the truth about Him, and it hits us like a ton of bricks, over and over, until we stop caring what we look like to others and eventually become sniveling wrecks incapable of anything but complete and total praise and adoration… that is the kind of worship that the Father seeks.

That’s the kind of worship that changes hearts, transforms lives, and brings restoration to communities.

And isn’t that what we want to be about at ICC? Isn’t that the vision of worship that we all long for, a place where God is glorified week after week in the midst of a diverse people who have nothing in common except the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Of course it is.

I have to be honest here… sometimes when people ask me about the future of worship at ICC, I have a hard time talking about it.

Not because I don’t have a vision, but precisely because I do. It can be very depressing to verbalize things that I feel so strongly about, without a clear sense of how we can get there. Otherwise, it just feels like an elusive dream.

Because at Irvington Covenant, we have tremendous upside potential. I’m serious… we have some very talented people in our midst, and with our strategic location, and much of the necessary leadership and infrastructure in place, we have most, if not all, of the critical pieces in place to build an amazing worship ministry, one that can serve as a light to our community and a catalyst for exponential growth.

I’m talking about worship music of various styles … postmodern Europop, acoustic soul, hyphy rap, Latin rock, southern gospel, folk trios, baroque minuets… you name it. I’m talking about embracing and leveraging artists within our community and training them to raise up the next generation of rappers, dancers, singers, thespians and designers who want to represent Christ and serve Him with their gifts. I’m talking about something so incredible, so beautiful, so ridiculous and provocative and anointed and Good-Lord-did-you-see-that, that you’d have to experience it to even believe it exists.

This is my vision for worship in our multiethnic community.

(See? I’m getting worked up right now even as I talk about it.)

Every time I think about it, though, reality sets in and I see how far we have to go.

Because I deal in the practical world of logistical details, I tend to focus first on what we don’t have. So practically speaking, I’m always thinking in terms of future developments. As soon as we have someone who can manage the sound and tech team, as soon as we have enough skilled, anointed people in the band and in the choir, as soon as people start showing up to church on time… as soon as this or that happens, then our worship will be amazing.

But go back to the beginning of verse 23:

“Yet a time is coming… and has now come…”

In those few words, Jesus has a powerful revelation for me as a worship leader, and for all of us as worshipers. We don’t have to wait for that glorious future to come later, but we can start worshiping Him in spirit and in truth RIGHT NOW,

We don’t have to know the right songs, or play the right chords, or sing with the right inflection, or have enough members of the enough racial groupings to do just the right blend of music that will appeal to a diverse cross-section of people.

All we have to do is worship Him, and God will take care of the rest.

So if you’ve been waiting for us to sing that one song that you like so much, stop waiting and worship. If you’ve been waiting until you see more signs of life and a greater level of musical complexity or diversity, stop waiting and worship.

And especially if you’ve been waiting on me or other people in leadership to get our act together, please… stop waiting and just worship. ‘Cause that last one might take awhile.

The Father is seeking those who will worship in spirit and in truth. Let us not disappoint Him.

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More Links to Keep Making You Think (About the Campaign)


So much goodness, so little time. I tried to let go of this campaign stuff, but I can’t help it. There’s just so much worth reading and discussing. So in no particular order, I give you:

  • Gina Dalfonzo, one of my new favorite bloggers, holds it down at The Point. (And I’m not just saying that because I made her daily roundup.) Of her manifold posts, my current favorite is the one where, in one deft sentence, she refutes a hot mess of vaguely xenophobic misanthropy coming out of the LA Times. Apparently off-the-wall names are not exactly indicators of cultural degeneration… especially when other U.S. presidents have done it (not just VP nominees like Sarah Palin).
  • If you really like to read, and you’re not intimidated by academic publications, you ought to check out this thorough examination of why people tend to vote Republican, by Jonathan Haidt. In a nutshell, this UVa prof of psychology was able to, by spending time as an anthropologist in India, shed his liberal biases and come to a clearer understanding of the underlying girders of middle-American morality. In an offhand sort of way, this is like that old SNL bit when Eddie Murphy puts on white makeup to see what it would be like living as a White person in NYC … only without the dancing ladies serving drinks on the bus.
  • Joe Klein at Time magazine has put together a compelling portrait of the myth of Sarah Palin’s America. And while it examines many of Palin’s strengths, it points out the places where her ideology doesn’t exactly match up with reality. For example, small towns are still full of salt-of-the-earth type folks, but they are no longer our nation’s economic backbone. And the truth is, even in small towns, things are changing rapidly. (Case in point: I traveled a few days ago to Royal City, Wa. (population: 1950) to do an educational presentation for Making It Count at the local high school. What surprised me was that my audience of about 150 kids was mostly brown, and not white like I expected.)

  • Over at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, there has been plenty of lively discussion about both candidates and politics in general. In this thread, Scot lays out his summation of what he would consider an Obama presidency to look like. (A few days prior, he did the same for McCain.) If you want honest, passionate dialogue by and for Christians that doesn’t descend into the usual name-calling flamefest, you should check it out.

  • Also, I don’t know if this was intended to be a joke or not, but apparently John McCain’s Senate oversight was directly responsible for bringing us the BlackBerry.

  • Ryan Quinn at The Root shows his Wasillan pride by explaining all the reasons why people in his hometown are proud of Sarah Palin — and why she would make a terrible VP.

  • Over at Ed Gilbreath’s Reconciliation Blog, there’s some lively discussion surrounding the fallout of the infamous Obama waffles at the Values Voters Summit in Washington (including a healthy number of comments from yours truly). One thing I wonder… if waffle mix seller Bob DeMoss is related to Nancy Leigh DeMoss of “Revive Our Hearts,” and Nancy subscribes to the idea promoted by some of her contemporaries in the Christian life/marriage scene that men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti, does that mean that Obama should be a considered a man’s man now? Or does it mean that Chicagoans, leftists, and Obama supporters should eschew waffles for French toast as an act of solidarity? (And if they do… would they have the stomach to call it “freedom toast“?)

  • By the way, FRC Action, the people behind the Values Voters Summit, has apologized for allowing the waffle mix to be sold. Whether that’s an act of contrition or damage control is probably in the eye of the beholder, but either way, I’m glad.
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Jesus Was Gangsta, and Other Lessons from John Chapter 2

From time to time, I just like to share my thoughts on certain passages of the Bible.

Consider the gospel of John, chapter 2, the first part of which is the famous passage where Jesus turns water into wine.

(And by “consider” I mean read it. Go ahead and follow that link, and read the passage first. Even if you’ve already read it… read it again. Trust me… the rest of what I have to say will make more sense if you read the text first.)

______________________

There are a few thoughts that strike me here.

Sometimes great things can come out of what looks like inconvenience.

Jesus’ response to his mother in verse four implies that He wasn’t just sitting around, waiting for a need to meet. He seems to bristle at his mother’s loaded statement, “they have no more wine.”

(Doesn’t that sound like a good Jewish mother? You can almost hear a gentle, yet goading, tone of voice. They’re out of wine, my son. I’m sure you can think of something.)

Meanwhile, Jesus is all, look, you’re jumping the gun here. Can’t I just relax and enjoy this wedding feast?

Yet despite his annoyance, Jesus has compassion on the hosts of the party, and does His thing. Which leads me to the next lesson.

When Jesus performs a miracle, he doesn’t always broadcast it.

You’ll notice that Jesus never said: “Fine. I’ll just turn some water to wine, then.” He just told them to fill the water jars. This is part of the story that’s easy to miss.

But think about it for a moment. If the servants were in the wrong frame of mind, they might have completely missed what Jesus was doing. They might have thought that Jesus was just telling them to fill the huge stone water jars because, well, since we’re out of wine then folks oughta be able to drink something.

The text in verse nine says that the servants knew what happened, but it doesn’t tell us whether they found out after the master of the banquet had discovered the jars were full of wine, or whether or not they knew all along what Jesus was up to. We can only speculate.

But I’ll tell you what… if they were anything like me, they probably didn’t see it coming at all. Because many times I pray and ask God for things, but not having enough faith to believe that He’ll answer that prayer, I stop looking for the answer. And often times, it’s right in front of me.

Jesus, I really wish you could just go get some — hey, is this wine???

That moment of discovery, where your frustration disappears and all you can do is stand there dumbfounded… that’s the story of my life. God’s timing doesn’t match our own, but it’s always perfect.

The third lesson from this passage is related to the second:

Jesus never uses miracles to draw attention to Himself.

You’ll notice that the master of the banquet went to the bridegroom and remarked — I’m guessing in a congratulatory note — about how most of the time by this point in a feast, the host brings out the cheap stuff, but this time, he saved the best for last. Obviously he said this not knowing that Jesus had just transformed the water into wine.

Now at this point Jesus could’ve stepped in and taken credit.

I’m reminded of D.L. Hughley’s great line from The Original Kings of Comedy, where he’s imagining Jesus performing this miracle:

“‘You know, I don’t normally do this, but uh … [*blessing the water*] y’all keep the party going.'”

I mean, it’s not like He would’ve marched in, all proud and junk. I transformed this water into wine! I am God! Bow to me! Jesus, in my opinion, was far too cool a dude to do something that obnoxious.

But, he could’ve done that thing some of us do from time to time, where we want to take credit for something without looking like we’re taking credit for it. Like we want people to know what we did, but we don’t want to look like we’re glory-chasing attention hounds.

He could’ve said, “Yeah, I just figured the good people here appreciate good wine, y’know? So I just put a little something together, no big deal. It’s mostly water, anyway.”

A few self-deprecating jokes here, a few strategically-placed business cards there, and Jesus could’ve built a wine distribution network in no-time flat.

But He didn’t.

Instead, He allowed the bridegroom to get the credit.

When Jesus said to His disciples much later that they would do greater things than He did, it wasn’t so they could claim the authority that their reputation as His close associates would bring. Rather, it was so that they could continue to be a blessing to others, and in so doing, show His love to people who needed it.

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Heading into the second part of John 2, we read the account of another famous story, where Jesus clears the temple of merchants. Foreshadowing the exploits of Indiana Jones, Jesus grabs his whip and clears out everybody involved in buying and selling in the temple courts.

One of the most interesting parts of this passage is in verse 17. In this verse, it says the disciples remembered the scripture that says, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

This is an odd thing to read, because it leaves so much out. Like many verses in the Bible, this one is open to quite a bit of interpretation. When did they remember this scripture? Was it, like in verse 22, much later when they made the connection between Jesus’ actions and that particular Davidic psalm?

Because of my own life and my own struggles in ministry, this is what I see.

I see that verse and I see a man on a mission. Driving the moneychangers out by force of whip is not the action of a nice man with a few spiritual directives. That’s the sign of a man burdened with a dogged, unrelenting passion to see evildoers brought to justice. In that moment, Jesus was like the Jason Bourne of Nazareth.

And I think the disciples saw it. I think in that moment, they got a picture of exactly what makes Jesus tick. They saw “a man possessed” — take that, Clay Bennett — by a need to defend His Father’s house and prevent others from cashing in on His glory.

And honestly, I think it might have scared them a little.

Because if you read the whole psalm, it’s not a nice picture. David is lamenting his plight. He’s talking about how he’s up to his neck in trouble. About how those who hate him outnumber the hairs on his head. He’s pleading desperately to God, hoping this his mistakes will not wreck God’s reputation among the people. And the line that is quoted in the second chapter of John, if you read it in its entirety, it reads as follows:

Zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

Many Christians today use the language of God consuming us, referring to God as an all-consuming fire, desiring God to remove our own desires and replace them with His.

But do we really understand what that means?

Maybe we wouldn’t be so casual with that prayer if we substituted the word “consume” with the word “burn.”

Zeal for your house burns me.

Not just burns within me, but burns me. As in, I get so overloaded, I get such intense tunnel vision about God’s glory, that I get burned to a crisp, all smoky and blackened, like a Cajun entrée left on the grill too long.

Yeah, it’s devotion to God, but in the natural sense, it’s not very desirable.

Who wants to live burnt?

And for that matter, who wants to be insulted?

That the insults of God’s enemies can, would, or should fall on us, is a heavy idea, one that I blogged about just over three years ago.

Once you read the whole thing, that whole zeal consuming thing takes on a whole new light, doesn’t it?

This is what was Jesus was referring to at the end of Luke 14, when he talked about the cost of being a disciple.

He was saying, essentially, if you can’t forsake what you hold dear and follow me to the point of willing to be crucified, then just forget about it now. Don’t start out all gung-ho and then punk out later when things gets tough.

That’s what I think the disciples were seeing when they saw Jesus put the smack down on the charlatans in the temple. I think they were seeing Jesus in his rawest, Rasheed Wallace-like form, burning with rage and indignation.

(Valiant rage and indignation looks different to different people, by the way. Some people compare Jesus to William Wallace, but I see him more like Rasheed Wallace. Maybe Denzel’s John Creasy character from Man on Fire would be a nice compromise.)

So anyway, that whole recognition of Jesus in his rawest form had to have provoked both fear and admiration. That’s what I think happened in verse 17.

Which sets up the next part so beautifully. When the Jews come at Him wanting a sign to demonstrate his authority, he tells them that if you destroy this temple, he’ll rebuild it in three days.

And the Bible says that after He had been crucified and raised from the dead, then they understood what Jesus meant. He was referring to his own body, and not the physical temple building.

I always respect when someone can tell me something that doesn’t make sense at the time, but then later on their actions give enough context for me to get what they mean. Because often times they do so intentionally, hoping that your lack of understanding will get you to pay attention.

And I love the end of this chapter, verses 23 and 24:

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.[c] 24But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. 25He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

That’s one of those archetypes that is always glorified in the movies. The loner hero who can look into someone’s eyes and know what they’re up to. Jesus would not allow himself to get too close to everybody who wanted a piece of Him, because He knew their hearts. He knew they would turn on Him in a New York minute.

He didn’t need to hear the stories, He just looked at them, and He knew.

And He refused to be played. When the time came for Him, nobody took His life from Him … He laid it down himself.

______________________

It wasn’t until I finished digesting the whole chapter that the title for this post came to me.

Because seriously… when you imagine the two sides of Jesus on display here, the image begins to coalesce. On one side, Jesus is having a good time, and when the homies run out of wine, he’s right there to make everything legit. On the other side, you see fools encroaching on territory where they don’t belong, and as soon as Jesus rolls up He starts some stuff. Gettin’ all up in their business. Regulatin’ the situation.

And afterwards He sees His influence grow, to the point where everybody wants to be down with Him. Only, He can’t let them get too close, because He can’t let them interfere with His Father’s business.

If that’s not gangsta, I don’t know what is.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.

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“Jesus Walks.” And Now, So Does R. Kelly. Will You?


Pardon me if the headline is a tad too bitter, but I was given a rude awakening today as I walked out of the movie theater.

I was turning my phone ringer back on, and I noticed a text message from a friend of mine:

did u hear about r kelly?

I had to immediately hit the Google news aggregator and find out for myself. Standing right next to the double-door exit at the Lloyd Center cinemas, I was trolling for headlines on my HTC Mogul. I don’t know why, but I just had to know.

Now it’s bad enough that the dude was acquitted. I mean, it’s like the one time where you want the brotha to be found guilty, and somehow, he skates.

(I can hear the Fox News talking heads already: “First O.J., now this! What is this world coming to?!”)

But what I found to be most disconcerting was that buried somewhere in almost every news service carrying the verdict, Kelly is quoted saying “thank you Jesus” over and over.

I know that while He was on the earth, Jesus made a habit of associating himself with the outcasts of society, but how exactly did we end up in a situation where the name of Jesus has become the rallying cry for not only the biggest ego in hip-hop, but an R&B superstar acquitted of child pornography charges?

When exactly did we (and by we I don’t just mean Americans, I mean specifically Black people) reach the point of such low expectations that a child porn accusation not only doesn’t kill the remains of an entertainer’s career, but ostensibly enhances it?

I’m just imagining some storefront church on Chicago’s South Side:

“I got a praise report, y’all!”

*organ swell*

“A lot of folks said that it, huh…. wouldn’t happen, but…”

“Preach!”

“But I come to tell you today, that, huh… R. Kelly was acquitted! THANK ya JEEEZUS!!!”

Okay, maybe that was mean spirited.

As a matter of fact, if a White person had written that, it’s possible that I might have been offended.

But that, in my mind, is part of the problem.

Look, I’m not here to throw stones. I know, as Pastor Pops is known to say, that all of us have our own personal hall of shame, and most of us don’t have to read about it in the papers. Robert Kelly is no more or less worthy of forgiveness and redemption than any of us.

I also know that from a legal standpoint, the jury very good reasons for returning the verdict that it did, just as the Simi Valley jury did with Mark Fuhrman and the L.A. cops who beat Rodney King.

But I can’t shake the feeling that’s been coming on for awhile.

That the pride that I used to have in having roots in African-American culture, that pride is dwindling. That what once felt like my people’s firm commitment to Godliness turned out to be nothing more than religious naivete. And that our stubborn sense of loyalty in defending our pop culture heroes is compromising our ability to see the truth, especially when it relates to music and sexuality.

Lest you think I’m blowing this out of proportion, consider that in the Sun-Times reporter’s blog post that I linked to, there is mention of one of Kelly’s defense attorneys quoting Scripture in an effort to curry favor with certain jurors. When Aaron McGruder predicted this outcome two years ago, it was funny. Now, it’s just sad.

Maybe it’s a good thing that this sense of pride has been eroded. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so proud to be connected to a people with such a rich heritage of church life that engages community and helps to fight the status quo. Maybe these small irritations are God’s way of reminding me that He doesn’t play favorites, that churched Black people are just as needy of redemption as unchurched White people. Like with Peter and Cornelius, God can and often does use unusual circumstances to communicate his desire to see all people come to him.

Maybe I’m just feeling especially embarrassed by the misbehaving African-American youth in my own area, several of whom were arrested for brutalizing a White woman riding the light rail train through my neighborhood.

But either way, I can’t just tsk-tsk and move on with my life.

If you can, and you feel led to, then go right ahead. This is not meant to be a guilt trip. If this whole thing is too overwhelming, or if it honestly doesn’t impact you at all, then just walk on, do your thing, and I won’t be too upset.

But I can’t do that.

I don’t know why, but this acquittal has just affected me in ways that I don’t even completely understand. And I have to do something.

So lacking the PR connections to do anything more grandiose, I offer a few observations that, hopefully, will leave us all a bit wiser and more edified. If you so desire, feel free to quote me. You don’t even have to give attribution. I feel that strongly about this.

  • We should remember R. Kelly the next time our favorite celebrity is accused of something unseemly.

Not because their money and influence can and probably will help them resolve the situation and most likely avoid jail time, but because this is the most obvious example of blind infatuation clouding the collective judgment of a fanbase (in this case, African-Americans between 15 and 32). The irony of this is that Black people are often the best at seeing this pattern among White people, especially White fans of Black celebrities (see: Michael Jackson). I had a similar reaction many years ago when Bill Cosby was being blackmailed over paternity results. Not good old Cliff Huxtable… what would Sandra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa and Rudy think?

  • Concerned parents, mentors and citizens must do everything possible to invest a sense of worth in our young girls, particularly our young Black girls, because society will not do it for them.

I hope this point will not get lost amidst plaintive cries from the political right for personal accountability. Because obviously both parties, R. Kelly and the underage girl, bear some level of personal responsibility for their actions. I do not wish to obfuscate this point. Nevertheless, the identity of the girl on the tape is, for the most part, irrelevant, because obviously R. Kelly had underage sex with some underage girl. And it’s likely that he did it more than once, considering how many times he settled out of court in response to previous accusations. What this says to me is that little girls need the love of a father in their life, and if they don’t get it at home from their real fathers, they’ll get it any way they can, even if that “love” ends up being immoral, grotesque, embarrassing, and illegal.

  • Loyalists to any particular cause need to be careful about who they choose to rally around, lest they lose credibility in the eyes of the broader public.

Nowhere is this more clear than with R. Kelly, the man who was honored with an NCAAP Image award two years after being indicted on child porn charges. If nothing else, I hope this will help my people to avoid the temptation to cry wolf when it comes to racism in America.

Because R. Kelly, of all people, got off.

And it’s not like you can use the excuse that a lot of us used for O.J. or M.J., which was, “well of course he got off… he’s a sell-out!” By just about any racial or cultural definition, R. Kelly is not a sell-out. R. Kelly is not beloved by White people in the same way that, say, Michael Jackson was (and in some cases, still is). Robert Kelly is not Barack Obama. He’s R-freaking-Kelly. The man who immortalized the phrase “you remind me of my Jeep” — and guess what, he wasn’t talking about superior craftsmanship, either.

However, he had the best legal team money can buy, and they did their jobs. For him, this is obviously a good thing. But when Black people blindly rush to Kelly’s defense, there is a hidden cost, a trickle down effect, an erosion of public confidence. Eventually, people lose their ability to understand or recognize actual racism. Eventually, complex situations rife with real injustice that is connected to racialized behavior, get shrugged off as just the ramblings a few Blacks with an ax to grind, “playing the race card” again.

This, to me, was the real tragedy of the Don Imus /Rutgers women’s basketball team furor. The lesson that many White people walked out of that situation with was that Black rappers can call Black women hoes all day long, but a White man will lose his job over it.

This, friends, should not be.

Now that Kelly has been exonerated, Slick Rick has been pardoned, and Tookie Williams is gone, maybe my people will stop looking to celebrities for causes to champion. Because no matter how much we think we’re doing our part to support justice, there is always a backlash of opposition. The less credible the celebrity, the louder the backlash. And if you think I’m barking in the wind, check out this website, which purports to refute certain facts concerning the legacy of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter.

(For the record, I don’t know if Carter is guilty or not, and I don’t so much care, but the fact that there are those devoted to upholding the idea of his guilt speaks volumes.)

In the end it will be Kelly, like the rest of us, who will have to live with the consequences of his actions. And say what you will about R. Kelly, but at least his conduct has proven that he doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk, too. Maybe that’s the one shred of positivity we can glean from his public persona.

So if you want to find a good example of White people using fear and guilt to engineer a wholesale character assassination and bring a Black man down, there are numerous examples of that very thing happening to Senator Barack Obama. (His campaign just introduced fightthesmears.com to counter the rumors that he’s a Muslim and other untruths.) By all means, speak up about it. Be passionate. Stand firm in your convictions.

But leave R. Kelly out of it. Because the last thing Robert Kelly needs is the enabling of more adoring fans.

Since he’s walking, let him walk.

Maybe after his walk, he can take a nice cold shower.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.

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Here’s a Secret for you: Jesus ain’t no password.

Apparently, times are a-changin’. Or at least time-shares are, anyway. No longer are they just good for one place for one week per year. The latest is that most time-share companies invest in many properties and give you the flexibility to pick and choose which units and which times make the most sense.

At least, that’s the company line that I got from the lovely woman at the time-share sales presentation I sat through last night. I was impressed… the film they showed was tightly edited, with a catchy pop-rock theme, full of excited people extolling the virtues of having invested in a lifetime of family vacations.

And you know what? I was right there with them. I like being able to get away from it all. And I like the flexibility. And sure, I want to be able to share a lifetime of vacation memories with those who are closest to me.

But that doesn’t mean that I have enough income to support such a purchase right now. And I’m also perceptive enough to see through and defuse all of their high-pressure sales tactics.

To tell you the truth, I felt bad for the lady.

Most of her marks clients are probably genuinely not sure if they can afford the product, but with enough helpful nudges they can be persuaded to jump in and spend ten large on a purchase that has such an emotional connotation to it. In this way, it’s sort of like car sales. (By the way, for a great little insider look at car sales read this expose from Edmunds.com)

Holly and I, on the other hand, were quite sure going into this presentation that we definitely cannot afford this. At least not right now. In two years, probably. And yeah, we owe them our time and attention because by giving us this gift, they’re purchasing the right to try to persuade us to jump in and buy their product. I do not begrudge them this opportunity.

However, I have to draw the line when they try to use my faith as some kind of insider shibboleth. I told the lady I worked for a church and was in the process of starting my own business, and she started laying it on thick:

As someone of deep faith, I believe that with the help of our heavenly father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, you’ll be able to afford these payments and it won’t stop you from purchasing a house.

That’s not an exact quote, but it’s pretty close.

But wait, it gets better… she pulled an Oprah on me.

Have you read The Secret? It’s the power of speaking things into existence. I say my fifteen daily affirmations every day and it’s worked wonders for me and my whole family.

Because I didn’t want to be rude, I didn’t cut her off and tell her that whatever infinitesimal chance of getting me to sign she might have had coming in, she just wasted by equating my faith in Christ with the latest self-help fad. But you better believe I was thinking it.

So let me just throw a bone to anyone out there who might be in the unenviable position of doing sales for a living. I know that pressure is a part of the job, and you’ve got to do what you’ve gotta do. I know that folks gotta eat, and I’m not trynna hate on anybody’s hustle.

But still … you gotta know when the horse is dead. Sometimes you just gotta walk away.

And one more thing for you:

Either try the evangelical-I’m-a-believer-too-lets-help-each-other-out angle, or the new-age-self-help-think-positive angle.

But don’t do both. It just gives you away more easily.


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Mentors, Mentees, & Mentos … All Full of Surprises

So I’m smack in the middle of a mentorship triangle, and it’s starting to get downright unpredictable. I guess it serves me right for thinking that life would go down neat and tidy.

See, one of the principles that my Pops likes to espouse is the idea of “one-up, one-over, one-down.” This, aside from marriage, is the relational cornerstone that lays the foundation of any healthy man’s success. What is it? It’s mentorship and friendship. One up is someone you look up to as a role model and source of wisdom and guidance. One over is a peer relationship, someone who’s walking down the same path you are, generally speaking. And one down is someone who you are choosing to mentor, who is (if you’re doing it right) looking up to you.

And recently I added my last missing piece… a mentor for me. I have a father, and I have several uncles, but because of my fields of work (church ministry, music production, etc.) my relationships with them are a bit more complicated than usual. Plus it’s always nice to have someone outside the family dynamic to give you perspective.

Well I just met with this guy (who we’ll call Becker) for the first time on Saturday. And Becker is somebody that I’ve known for a little while, but mostly in passing. And I was shocked — SHOCKED — that he was able to so quickly and precisely point out what was missing in my life. I guess it was just good ol’ fashioned Holy Spirit discernment, because this cat was practically reading my mail, nah mean? I’m grateful for his presence in my life, but at the same time I thought that it would take longer for us to get into a rhythm and understanding of each other. I guess God must have really known what I needed because this dude didn’t waste any time. Yeah, I was surprised by that.

Surprised mostly because it puts pressure on me to get my ish together. Becker challenged me to begin to work on one or two things that I can immediately put into practice, things that will bless my wife and bring peace and order into my life. I’ve decided that those things will be exercise and avoiding procrastination. This is why I must be done with this post in the next 15 minutes, ’cause I got stuff to do around the house. And this wisdom was exactly why I sought Becker out in the first place, because sometimes I just need a foot in my behind in order to get moving. But when it comes… it’s still kinda surprising. I don’t know why, it just is.

Equally surprising (and more troubling) is my one-down, I guy I’ll refer to as Dave. This is someone that I got connected to through church, and he seems to be a good kid. I don’t think his dad is in the picture so he’s mostly raised by his mom and older brother, who’s a little closer to my age but still a little younger. I know both of them actually, but Dave has expressed a lot of interest in the some of the same things that I’m interested in, and so we kinda struck up a relationship. To tell you the truth, I tend to be pretty selective about who I spend my time with, but from the beginning I saw so much potential in Dave I thought for sure that he was someone that God had put in my path for me to mentor. Like I said before, he’s a good kid.

But now I can’t get a hold of him. He doesn’t seem to want to return my calls or emails. I finally just now got a hold of his mom, and she’s promised to have him call me. The thing is, I don’t have much money but I do have some important relational connections, and because of that I have several opportunities in mind for Dave that would really be great for him. But I can’t make him want them. I can’t make him follow through. And right now, I can’t hardly talk to him long enough to tell him about ’em. I don’t want to use his mom to get to him. I want to treat him like a man and deal with him directly. But it’s frustrating.

But it’s also forcing me to examine my motives. Am I trying to save this guy? Do I have some do-gooder complex I need to work out? Am I doing the right thing for the right reason? Or am I doing it because I’m subconsciously acting out the predefined role that I’m supposed to walk in (guy-in-his 30s taking time out to mentor fatherless teenager)? These are all important questions that I must answer if I’m going to be honest with myself.

The thing is, I need these kinds of snags to help conquer my perfectionism. Because people are messy and complicated and they don’t always do what you think they’re supposed to. Even when you have good reason to think they should go one way, they’ll just as quickly go the other way. They’re slow to understand sometimes. And slow to follow through sometimes. And to paraphrase a great Bill Cosby routine, if it was this way for God with Adam and Eve, what makes us think we’ll do it any better?

It’s not just in the Genesis story, either. You can also see it in the New Testament.

In Mark 8:14-26, Jesus is having a conversation with his disciples, and he can clearly see that they just … don’t … get it. He makes a comment about the Pharisees and their critical spirit, but uses the metaphor of yeast. His point is, avoid these cats [The Pharisees] because a little bit of them can change the whole mix. But all they hear is the word yeast and they’re like, he must be mad that we ran out of bread.

At which point you can just imagine Jesus, smacking his forehead in disgust. The whole scene is kinda comical, really. Like a mashup between Godspell and Dumb and Dumber.

And then the comedy continues.

Jesus goes to heal a blind man, and after he touches the man’s eyes, he asks him, do you see anything?

And the guy is all, yeah… I see people walking around… they look like trees.

Trees, the man says. He’s looking at people and seeing trees. He’s Haley Joel Osment, talkin’ about, “I see tree people!”

And Jesus is like uhhh… lets try this again. And he touches his eyes again, obviously looking for a better result. This time, it finally works. The guy is seeing Regular People this time. So Jesus sends him on his way… but just to be safe, he tells the guy:

You know what? Don’t tell anybody in the village about this. Lets just keep this between me and you.

I’m not a trained theologian, but I’m fairly sure that wasn’t the interaction Jesus had in mind when he first approached the blind man. But hey, that’s life… full of surprises.

Oh, and if you’re looking for deep profound reasons for the Mentos reference, I just like ’em. And if you go to their global front page, I’m sure you’ll be surprised.


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A Splinter Cell Agent Finds Jesus (Sort of)

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

1 John 1:5-7 (NIV)

I want you to close your eyes, and imagine with me.

Imagine… that YOU … are a spy.

Not one of those chumps you see in the movies. You’re not James Bond in a tuxedo. You’re the real deal.

You’re part of a classified, top secret division of the NSA called Third Echelon. And for years, you have worked as a field agent, collaborating with another remote support unit. As a team, you are known as a splinter cell. You are sharp, silent, and nearly invisible. With the information that you’re provided, the years of military training under your belt, and the top-of-the-line weapons and surveillance equipment you have with you at all times, you are paid by the U.S. government to infiltrate the most heavily-guarded, secure locations known to man.

The average person has no idea you even exist, and that’s how you like it. Because your biggest asset on the job is darkness. You thrive in darkness. Staying in the shadows, moving quickly and silently, is the easiest way to go about your business undetected. And your mission is always the same: to get in, fulfill your objective, and get out, without anyone having a clue.

You do this on a regular basis. This is your job. You’re good at it, and you love it.

Now I want you to imagine embarking on the most important mission of your career. The U.S. is teetering on the brink of nuclear war, and Third Echelon needs to obtain some sensitive information to avert triggering a national crisis. Your mission is to infiltrate the heavily-guarded fortress that contains the documents in question, and of course, get out — without being caught.

Now your support unit is talking to you through a special ear-piece, giving you the lowdown. He’s got a blueprint map of the fortress, so with his help you know exactly where to locate your access point to the building. The only problem, he tells you, is that to get to your access point, you must walk through a huge courtyard. And this courtyard is bad news. In it there are armed guards walking around, and a spotlight with a sniper overhead. If that spotlight hits you, the sniper will take you out. And if by some miracle the sniper misses, the myriad of guards, now alerted to your position… won’t.

But you’ve got something they don’t have — infrared goggles. These goggles help you see in the dark. So you can see them, but they can’t see you. These goggles enable you to, carefully and quietly, anticipate their movements, elude the guards, and make your way into the building.

Twenty minutes later, you’ve secured the documents, and you’re ready to go. As far as you know, the hardest part is over with.
But suddenly your support unit gives you some REALLY bad news.
A silent alarm was triggered inside the building, and all of the guards outside have been alerted to your presence, including the sniper with the spotlight. Not only that, but now ALL OF THEM are wearing infrared goggles. And you’re faced with the impossible task of trying to sneak by a group of guards who can all see in the dark just like you.

So now what you are gonna do? What do you do when your cover is blown? What do you do when your biggest strength becomes your biggest weakness? How can you make it without walking in darkness, when walking in darkness is all you’ve ever known?
That’s the real question.

* * *

Okay now, open your eyes.

I’m not asking you to imagine anymore, because some of us have faced that very question already. We may not work as highly-trained super spies, but we have our own covert operations goin’ on. All of us, at one time or another, have been involved with something that we didn’t want other folks to know about. I don’t need to know you personally to know that’s true, because we were all born into sin. So when you live like that, when you feel the need to keep secrets and withhold the truth, you are, by virtue of your actions, living in darkness. That’s essentially what 1 John 1:6 says.

I should know, because I had to face that question, too. When I was in college, I would never admit publicly that I was living in darkness… no one ever does. I just had certain habits that I didn’t want other folks to know about. Yeah, I could sing and write and I was talented and outgoing, but there were a few situations I just had to keep on the down low. I wasn’t trying to spill all that, you kna’m sayin? I mean, not everybody needs to know everything, but certain people need to know certain things. And yet somehow I decided that I couldn’t trust the believers around me not to put my business out in the street, so most of the time, I kept those things to myself.

And I liked to tell people that I was honest, because if someone asked me what I thought about some issue, I’d usually give an honest answer. But true honesty was scary to me. It was messy, and complicated, and real. I didn’t want other people to see my flaws, see my ugly behavior, and judge me because of it. Yet at the same time, I really wanted to tell somebody because it was killing me just keeping it inside all the time. Like David said in Psalm 51, my sin was ever before me. I wanted to walk in the light, but I was scared of what would happen to me if I did.

And you know why I was scared? Because I was surrounded by a LOT of judgmental Christians. Folks that were really nice to your face, and talked about you like a dog behind your back. Their translation of 1 John 1:7 went like this:

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have target practice with each other, and the blood of heathens is required for their sins.

I mean, with these folks, holiness was less of a lifestyle and more of a battle plan. They were always leading some Bible study, always involved in some “Christian” activity, and always ready to tell somebody else why what they were doing was wrong. I should know, because I was one too. I used to love to debate ethics and theology and eschatology, just so that I could get the intellectual upper hand, and nobody could challenge me on things that really mattered, like what kind of movies I would watch, and how much time was I spending alone with my girlfriend… you know, stuff like that.

But that’s not really what 1 John 1:7 says. What it really says is this:

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins” (NIV, emphasis mine).

See the difference there?

That’s why I thank God for Troy, Sahaan, Scott, and David. These are the guys in my Tuesday night accountability group. We are five guys that are committed to living a Christ-centered life. And what we have is by no means perfect, but it’s fellowship. We talk. We listen. We empathize. We get in each other’s faces. Sometimes it’s really deep, and sometimes it’s not. But there’s a common thread of grace and acceptance that abounds. We all know what it’s like to struggle, and we all know what it’s like to rejoice. And this, in my experience, is part of what it means to walk in the light.

Is it easy? Of course not. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s inconvenient. Sometimes it’s downright scary. But at this point in my life, I have no other choice. Because the alternative is continuing to walk in darkness, and like Neo in the Matrix, I’ve been down that road. I know exactly where it ends. It may not be death by gunshot, but nonetheless… it’s still death.

Ironically, I kept choosing darkness because I wanted to avoid being judged, but it’s only walking in the light that helps free me from that judgment. By walking in the light, not only do we have fellowship with one another, but the blood of Jesus cleanses us from our sins.

The Greek word translated for “cleanses” is katharizo, which is related to our English word “catharsis.” Catharsis is what happens when you someone else goes through something meaningful, but somehow you get the benefit from it. It’s sort of like the same way that my wife Holly loves to watch romantic movies that make her cry. She experiences the same emotions that the main characters experience. She goes through what they go through.

So the usage of the word katharizo in 1 John 1:7 means that when Jesus was crucified, He bore the weight of our sins, and when He resurrected, the curse of sin was removed from us. He did it once himself, but it worked for everybody. So there’s no more judgment. No outstanding record of guilt. No awkward plea bargains or community service. We sin, we repent, and we’re forgiven. Just like that.

Plus… and this is the really good part… even if there was some sort of record of our sin being kept, it wouldn’t matter anyway. Because the people that I’m walking in fellowship with, if we’re all walking in the light together, confessing our sins and witnessing each other’s restoration process, being privy to all the highs and lows of life, and generally walking through all of it together… all they can see is God moving. All they can see is how good God is. They don’t have the time or energy to focus on trying to judge me for my sin, and even if they did… God is too good. His light is just too bright. It’s like staring into the sun; once you do it, you can’t see anything else.

* * *

Which brings us back to our heralded splinter cell field agent. If you didn’t already know, the scenario I outlined is taken from a real story about a splinter cell field agent named Sam Fisher. And when Fisher’s enemies had donned infrared goggles, suddenly his cover of darkness was removed. With no other way to make it through his mission alive, he made a choice. It ran counter to all of his training and life experiences, and it probably felt like a foolish, suicidal move. But he did it anyway.

He walked directly into the spotlight.

See, if you’re wearing infrared goggles, darkness looks like daytime. So bright light looks REALLY BRIGHT. As long as Sam Fisher stood directly in the spotlight, stopped when it stopped, and moved wherever it moved, all his enemies could see was the light. They couldn’t see him. Fisher followed the spotlight all the way to freedom, and that’s how he made it out alive.

You and I may not be highly-classified counter-terrorist spies, but we’ve got a choice to make. We can walk in darkness, or we can walk in the light. And just like Sam Fisher, we have the benefit of someone who can talk to us and give us guidance about how to proceed. He’s the Holy Spirit, and he doesn’t need an ear-piece to speak. He just needs us to listen.

So take a leap of faith, and step right into the spotlight.

It might feel foolish. It might mean risking your unblemished reputation.

But it might just save your life one day.

I’m Jelani Greenidge, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.