Category Archives: reconciliation

What Does the Kingdom of God Look Like (in Real Life)? Part 1: It’s a Treasure Worth Giving Up All For

in my last post i shared with you my findings of what the Kingdom of God looks like according to the bible.  i realize that that post title was misleading in that some, including myself, want to know what the Kingdom of God looks like…unfolding in the 21st century, in the here and now…in real life.  my friend A.R. reminded me that those stories would be helpful examples.  with that in mind, i hope to take the 7 aspects of the Kingdom of God i (re)discovered and “flesh them out” with what i have witnessed myself of the Kingdom of God breaking through in our midst.  halfway into drafting the first “story” it dawned on me that this task may be more than 1 post could handle so i plan to publish a total of 7 posts over the course of the next couple months for each principle and its corresponding true story from my experience that illustrates the principle.  

here goes the 1st: so what does the Kingdom of God look like…in real life?  

#1. (of 7) the Kingdom of God is a treasure worth giving up ALL else for

for me discovering the value of the treasure of the Kingdom was a process.  i received the King into my life around 7th grade.  the deeper understanding of the Kingdom and its worth, especially the giving up stuff, came after that.  there have been different things and relationships i’ve had to lay down in order to “seek first the Kingdom” and, i suspect, i will continue to this side of heaven.  

but the most significant thing that comes to mind that God led me to give up, in my journey thus far, was the security of my job.  i was 8 years into my career as a public high school teacher when my wife and i sensed God calling us to move into the inner city for the work of His Kingdom.  it was not a decision we came to easily, but it was confirmed by multiple convictions and events.  we had no idea what this ministry would really look like and what exactly God was calling me into but, one thing was clear, i would have to leave my job and the security my salary represented.  i had to take a step of faith into the unknown because Jesus, my King, was calling me to move out of what was familiar to me.  i put in my resignation at locke high school in the spring of 2011.  i joined an unpaid internship to learn about living amongst the poor that fall.  we found out that my wife was pregnant.  i was unemployed for months and could only find a job as a substitute teacher.  it was a humiliating step down for me who used to be a full time teacher.  

then in the beginning of 2012 i sensed God was calling me to be a pastor of outcasts full-time.  but to be a pastor in the neighborhood i now lived in meant that i would need to fundraise my salary (which at most would only be half of what i was paid as a teacher), not only because our church could barely pay the rent but because anything raised by our church we believe should go to a local leader that is raised up, not a “relocator” like me.  then my father-in-law saw my fundraising letter.   he was furious.  he could not believe what i was doing and what i was about to put his daughter and his grandchild through.  he yelled “are you a beggar?”, “you are a fool to think people would support you in this work!”  needless to say, the Kingdom of God did not feel like a treasure to me at that point.    

so, i prayed, “God, if this is the work you want me to do, please provide the $2000 of monthly support our family needs within the next 6 months.  please vindicate me.”

and He did.  and then some.  

you see, it was not just the money he provided to meet that initial goal  (which God provided within 6 months!) through generous supporters who believed in this work of expanding the Kingdom of God; he was giving me and my family so much more than we had imagined.  what we give up for the Kingdom, we get Kingdom treasure in return.  i had left my locke II community of teachers, one of the most amazing staffs I have EVER had the privilege to work with.  we had left our church community at wlah, who commissioned us with such grace, love, and support (they are still our biggest supporters).  we have now gained spiritual family i never would have gained, if we had clung to our familiar comfort.  spiritual family members that come from different backgrounds, social classes, and races than my family.  spiritual family that prays for us so faithfully and with so much more faith and desperation (with tears) than we have.  spiritual family that God speaks to with things for us that we never even told them.  

you see, we may have thought we were moving into a neighborhood to help those in need but God was moving us into the neighborhood for our growth, for our healing, for our wholeness.  we think we are making a sacrifice to serve others but God uses that process and those in need to turn around and bless us with what no money can buy.  it may not come in the timing or manner that we may expect but, in God’s Kingdom, the blessings go ALL around and are shared with ALL.  

you see, Jesus was telling the truth that what we give up for the Kingdom is not worth comparing to what we gain in the Kingdom.  it is something that rewards “many times more” in this life as well as the life to come…indeed with his Kingdom, we’re still witnessing the treasure unfold.   

nothing that we could ever own nor any intimate human relationship we could ever have surpasses the Kingdom of God in worth.  

What does the Kingdom of God look like?

child king

if Jesus laid down his life to preach not just a gospel of the King but a “gospel of the Kingdom”, what then does this Kingdom look like?  and how is this Kingdom actually good news, and not just another man-made kingdom that will come and go?

at best, the “Kingdom of God” for me was a “christianese” notion that was a vague echo in my head from passages i’ve heard in the bible (and told myself that someday i’d get around to studying) and at worst it’s a phrase whose interpretation i just blindly accept from the people who use it.  the following is my attempt to study the phrase as it is found throughout scripture, trying not to rely on commentaries for the work i ought to first do myself (and please don’t just take my word for it either, but look into it for yourselves.  i realize we all bring our own perspective to the reading of scripture but i don’t want us to use that as an excuse not to allow it to speak to us.)   with these clues i hope to piece together what the bible reveals of what the Kingdom of God looks like, a Kingdom that Jesus says is already breaking through in our midst if we care to recognize it.   

 

so what does the Kingdom of God look like?  

1. it is a treasure worth giving up ALL else for

Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God is so valuable that, when it is found, it is worth giving up all THINGS (Matt 13:44-46) and even all PEOPLE (Luke 18:29-30) to have.  According to Luke 18:29 it is something that rewards not just in the life to come but “many times more” in this time as well.  Nothing that we could ever own nor any intimate human relationship we could ever have surpasses the Kingdom of God in worth.  

 

2. it is eternal

the Kingdom of God endures throughout all generations and lasts forever (Psalm 145:13).  daniel prophesied that it would end all other kingdoms (Daniel 2:44) and it is indestructible (Daniel 6:26).

 

3. it is accompanied by supernatural power

this was probably the most surprising discovery to me.  with 10 verses connecting the Kingdom of God to supernatural power, no other descriptor of the kingdom comes up more frequently.  there are some outrageous claims about the Kingdom of God, that can easily be dismissed as a “pie in the sky” worldview, if it were not substantiated by power.  i’m not talking about human power consisting of simply the means and authority to exert force (thanks, mark charles) but supernatural power which, by it’s very demonstration, substantiates its source as being “above” that which humans can claim.  

God’s kingdom is not just about talk but it comes with power (Mark 9:1, 1 Corinthians 4:20).  the gospel of the Kingdom is not just a proclamation but a demonstration of power, power over sickness (Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, Luke 9:2, Luke 9:6, Luke 9:11, Luke 10:9) and power over darkness to drive out demons (Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20).  any discussion of the kingdom that does not address supernatural power is just playing at the Kingdom of God.  

 

4. it is good

unlike most, if not all, other kingdoms, it is good.  not good in the sense that it makes everyone feel nice but good in the sense that it does right.  what good is good if it’s only good for those who oppress others?  rather the foundation of this Kingdom is built upon “righteousness and justice” (Psalm 89:14).  the Kingdom of God is not merely outward behaviors but a matter of springing from the deep internal reality of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17)

 

5. it starts small but becomes great

like a tiny seed of the mustard plant, Jesus says the Kingdom of God starts small (Matthew 13:31-33, Mark 4:26-32, Luke 13:18-21).  so small it may be easy to miss.  so small it seems insignificant.  so small it feels like it’ll take too long to wait for it to become more.  but grow it will. and it will grow so greatly that it could provide comfort to so many others than just oneself.  so great that the universe itself will show visible signs of its fulfillment (Luke 21:25-31).  the Kingdom of God is great but it won’t always look that way at first; it requires patience and is a process.  those who skip over this may find themselves chasing something else entirely.  

 

 

6. it is a mystery revealed  

the Kingdom of God is a mystery to most but to some it is a gift revealed (Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10).  In a way, the Kingdom of God is hidden in plain sight in that Jesus gave all who would hear access to it.  but he told of the Kingdom through “parables”, stories that could be taken at face value but that pointed to a deeper reality for those who would care to look further.  why not reveal the Kingdom of God more plainly?  maybe such a form would serve to weed out those who were not truly hungry for spiritual things.  there is hope in that even the disciples of Jesus didn’t get what the parables were always about, but they did stick around with Jesus to find out.  the Kingdom of God is going to grow.  we can do our part but at the end of the day, like a growing seed, it will grow whether we fully know how God does it or not (Mark 4:26-29).  

 

7. it is a reversal of worldly status 

probably the most distinctive aspect of the Kingdom of God, that sets it apart from all other kingdoms, is the radical (and often unsettling) worldview of privileging those at “the bottom” of the earth’s social status.  this aspect of our King’s heart is not some side-note in His scripture.  next to point #3 above, these associations of the Kingdom of God with “the least of these” are the most reiterated.  

in the economy of the Kingdom of God “the least” are the “greatest” (Luke 7:28, Luke 9:46-49).  the Kingdom of God belongs to children (Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16) and the poor (Luke 6:20, James 2:5) whom society tries to push aside.  the Kingdom of God will go first to the “sinners” we don’t expect to be a part of it (Matthew 21:31).  

can you imagine such a Kingdom?  where the people that the world tells us are “losers” are the ones who are held in most high esteem?  where children and the poor are our models of faith and how to relate with God?  where those we look down upon are actually the ones we will be looking up to?  these very notions go against how the kingdoms of our world operate (and it’s not a very good track record i might add).  maybe this gives us a sign that it’s origin is not of this world.   maybe this is why we have so much difficulty in seeing the Kingdom of God.  we’re not even looking in the right places.  our lenses are totally broken.  then maybe, after all, this is the good news that we’ve been looking for all our lives.  

 

in conclusion, what does the Kingdom of God look like and what makes it so good?

the Kingdom of God is the most valuable, eternal, powerful, good, growing, mysterious, and upside-down thing you can give yourself to.  

Every Tribe and Tongue…

This past month each of our discipleship school students stepped out of fear and into taking risks with and for the Lord to love others.  

There was so much that our Lord showed us on our week long mission trip last week but, for me, there is one lesson that sticks out: EVERY person in Jesus has something to contribute in reaching out to others.  

Our first outreach in Santiago, Dominican Republic was at Leon Jimenez Park.  The outreach small group that I was made in was made up of me, Obadiah* (son of the lead pastor at New Life Church in Lincoln Heights), Anita* from Hope Church (in East LA), Enrique’s (son of the lead pastor at Hope Church) 6 year old son Isais*, and Jonas* a Haitian brother in the Lord from Iglesia Comunidad Multicultural (the host church that led us during our week stay in the DR).

At the park, we came across this young couple that seemed to be having a date.  The woman was a Venezuelan and the man was Dominican and French.  We asked about the young woman about the crisis happening in Venezuela and could tell she was sad with her family still there. Jonas preached and prayed for her to find the hope of God to be lifted up as well as to lift up her town and country.  I got a sense from God for the man that God wanted to fill him up with God’s oil so his light would not go out.  Up to this point the man didn’t really seem that interested but he perked up as Josiah translated some of the words of the image I got into Spanish and asked “How do I get this oil?”  Anitia jumped in to share her story of how she learned that she needed her own personal relationship with Jesus instead of just going to church with her mom.  Isais shared that in prayer he saw a tree made out of the number 3.  The man shared that his favorite number was 3.  This young couple was touched to know that God saw them and knew them.  

But for this moment of the Kingdom of God to break through, it took everyone to contribute: a Japanese-American man, a half-Caucasian half-Chinese teenage boy, a Salvadorian woman, and a half-Caucasian half-Mexican 6-year-old, and a young Haitian man living in the DR to all work together in Jesus.

It was a beautiful glimpse of heaven, where every tongue and tribe will be lifting up Jesus together.  So you see, EVERY person in Jesus has something to contribute.  

We don’t need to wait till we get there…may we practice that good of eternity today.  

 

unity-hands1

*names changed for privacy 

Our sister church that hosted us in the Dominican Republic is doing such amazing work in their community.  One of which is their building of community center (we got to pray at the site of the foundation that is already being built) which will provide a place for a school for the many Haitian children who are not allowed in public schools in the DR!  Please consider investing in the Kingdom of God in this way!  

I pray that we all follow Jesus into putting ourselves out there this day with His love.

The Good News of the King AND the Kingdom (or “Why Do We Need Kingdom Theology?”)

kingdom

breaking news. fake news.  lots of bad news.  we are bombarded with news so much that we’ve almost become desensitized to it and are unable to let it sink in.  in the midst of all the news where is the good news?  i mean, really good news that gives us hope and really lasts?   

i believe there is good news for us that is eternal: good news of a King AND a Kingdom that does real good in our lives, even now…not just in some distant future.  

this good news is the news that the God of all life saw our situation and stepped into our world as a human named Jesus Christ, not only to save us but to unite himself to us in order to show us how to truly live and transform the world around us.    

but wait a minute, this sounds like christianity.  aren’t these the hypocritical folks who are just like the world, sometimes worse? aren’t these the folks that are so “heavenly minded they aren’t any earthly good”?  

first off, sadly, i confess, we deserve much of that scorn.  i am sorry on behalf of the american christian church (of which i am a part).  this is not people pleasing.  i think christians (or at least those who call themselves such) have actually done some real bad (most recently in turning a blind eye or even supporting politicians and policies that take from the least, the last, and the lost in our society in order to privilege the prosperous, the powerful, and the prideful).  i think there’s a reason why christians have gotten to this place of such a bad reputation.  i think at least one reason is incomplete theology (literally the study of God).  

let me explain.

our american theology has focused on Christ for our personal salvation and sexuality but at the expense of the effect Christ should have in and beyond our own lives.  in other words, paraphrasing from james chong, a theology of the good news that is focused merely on decision, individuals, and an afterlife as opposed to transformation, community, and kingdom life.  to put it most simply we’ve focused on the King (the identity of Jesus who saves individuals) at the expense of the Kingdom (the reign and impact of Jesus upon the world).   

the american church (or at least in circles i’m connected to) loves the word “gospel” (good news).  it’s good.  it’s rich.  but it has developed some blind spots.        

namely, on how the Kingdom of God informs the good news.  the Kingdom of God is not a term that some folks just happened to pick up as a fad.  it is found all throughout scripture from OT (“Kingdom” and “God” are used together at least 27x) to NT (“Kingdom” and God are used together at least 67x….and yes, even in the epistles).  

and there is an intimate relationship between the word gospel (euaggelion/euaggelizo in the original greek) and the Kingdom (basileia in the original greek).  they are used together at least 9x in the NT.    

  • Jesus proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom” or preached the “good news of the kingdom” throughout His ministry here on earth (Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, Mark 1:14, Luke 8:1, Luke 16:16).  in fact Jesus says “I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43), and that the end will not come until “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Matthew 24:14).  
  • when Jesus, sends out his 12 disciples on their first mission trip guess what he sends them out to do?  “[H]e sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:2).  a couple verses later it says they obeyed Jesus and “they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” (Luke 9:6).  this is a particularly interesting passage because we see that the “kingdom of God” and the “gospel” are paralleled in v. 2 and v. 6, and used interchangeably.  
  • Acts 8:12 fleshes out the key components of the gospel most explicitly when it reports a disciple beyond the 12 disciples (read beyond those holy gurus to everyday servants) reaching out to people beyond the jewish nation (read beyond just american citizens of the dominant in-group): But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God AND* the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (*emphasis added)

alright, so what’s your point?

my point is any scripturally honest discussion of the gospel or good news of Jesus CANNOT be separated from the Kingdom of God.  

this is so significant because if we don’t hold both together there can be grave consequences.  

  • if we only hold onto the identity of Jesus but neglect the rule of Jesus on and through our lives, the faith of Christians can just become easy “believism” of mental assent to some truths but no actionable change in our lives or the world around us.  in this kind of view it is easy for Jesus to just be about me and my own but not for my neighbor and “the other”.  this leads to the deadly poison of tribalism and comfortable cultural christianity.  this makes a person’s faith even less than demons who know who Jesus is, often better than us, but do not live lives of obedience to him and his work in the world.  this is Jesus as Savior but not as Lord.  
  • on the other hand, if we only hold onto the teachings of Jesus (which we are notoriously near-sighted with) but do not continue to hold onto the person of Jesus, the faith of Christians becomes rather a faith in ourselves and setting ourselves up to be God, often putting ourselves in the place of arbiter of what teachings of Jesus we want to hold onto and which we will conveniently move aside.  in this kind of view we more readily come to believe the ends justify the means and so what we think is our righteous indignation may end up just being indignation.  this makes it easier for us to write people off as “ignorant bigots” or “coddled snowflakes” rather than as people made in the image of God.  this leaves no room for the grace of Jesus that empowers our lives and enfolds others in but is rather a recipe for legalism, judgmentalism, and burnout.  we need Jesus just as much as anyone else.  this is Jesus as Lord but not as Savior.    

the result of these gaps in our theology is what i believe we are now seeing playing out in america amongst so many who claim to be christian.  

and it’s a terrible witness to the world.    

by no means am i exempting myself from this warning and so i need Jesus and all of you Jesus followers to help keep me in check that i don’t let go of either Jesus as our Savior or Lord.

the good news is not just about the person of Jesus but what the reign of Jesus looks like breaking into our real world (for more on that stay tuned).   

the good news is that the King AND His Kingdom are here.  let’s join in!    

5 Reasons We Should Defend Undocumented Immigrants as Christians

First off, what I am NOT saying is that a complete open border policy is necessarily the best way to go nor that we should blindly defend those that intend harm (as it regards immigrants, actually, the opposite is true in comparison to native born folks).  Let us consider that if a stranger came to our home most of us would first want to make sure they are not there to harm anyone.  

But what I AM saying is that once we know their intent is not harm, if we are to be good neighbors, we ought to welcome them as we would want to be welcomed (as we work toward immigration and policy reform that reflects this spirit).  i would like to submit to you 5 reasons why we should seek to defend undocumented immigrants, especially if we call ourselves followers of Jesus. :

1) Jesus challenges us to welcome the stranger as we would welcome Him (Matthew 25:35)

There is a wealth of scriptures (from the law, from the narratives, from the writings, from the prophets, from the gospels, and even from the epistles) regarding the foreigner/immigrant that would make us think we ought to err on mercy over judgement.  Jesus’ very identity is intimately tied up with the foreigner that to reject the foreigner is to reject him.  the biggest, irony is that we ourselves were foreigners (unless you’re a Jew, which i’m assuming you’re not), enemies even, to God’s chosen people but were given the grace of being included in the family of God.  To be unmerciful to the foreigner is a deep hypocrisy we must keep in check as believers in Jesus (let alone as citizens of the U.S. with it’s troubling origins. R.C.W., W.H.*).  

2) Yes, we ought to submit to the government for they have been put in place by God. However, there is ONE case that trumps that verse, which is when the law of the land goes against the law of God who is the ultimate law giver.

In the case of our 45th president and his administration, they are going against God’s commands to defend the most vulnerable of our neighbors (Deuteronomy 24:14, Zechariah 7:10, Matthew 25:31-46) and instead are insulting them and enacting laws against them.

Please understand that by dissent, I do not mean violent resistance but rather civil protest.  The early church was not a stranger to civil disobedience, when it went against God’s conscience, as many were willingly arrested and even killed for their stances.  Let us not forget, the person who wrote that verse about submitting to the government, Paul the Apostle, was in PRISON when he wrote that very verse because he would not submit to the governing authorities to be silent about his faith.  Jesus himself confronted even the establishment of the temple (read church) authorities, over their corruption with money at the expense of making a way for the marginalized to worship, and he made quite a scene about it too (one of the few times in scripture where we see Jesus ANGRY is quite telling).  

3) Yes, people ought not cut in “line” to get in to the country but this is based on the assumption there is a “line” for those who are poor.

It seems from our current immigration policy (even before no. 45) this is not the case.  As of right now, the only ways you can enter the country to become a legal permanent resident (i.e. get a green card) are:

A) employment (i.e. You are invited in by an employer, most often does not apply to “unskilled” work of those who are poor.)

B) family (You have an immediate blood relative that is a citizen or permanent resident.  However, the sponsoring family member must demonstrate that they have the financial resources above the poverty line to support these family members coming in for which there is already a limit.  And even if this is approved the process can literally take decades, especially if you are from a poor country in which case waiting is particularly a luxury you cannot afford when your survival is on the line.  For more detail on what B might look like see this article by an immigration lawyer. S.W.P.*)

C) diversity lottery (Only applies if you are from a country that does not have very many immigrants in the U.S.  This leaves out many of our poor neighbors.)

D) refugee of persecution (Under the current administration these are being pushed to be more rarely granted and even before this administration there has been a HEAVY 20 step vetting procedure ALREADY in place.  Often refugee status is dependent on the type of relationship and interest the U.S. has with a given country and does not include fleeing from home country due to famine, natural disasters, or dire economic circumstances.)

For further and more comprehensive discussion on immigration policy I have found the book Welcoming the Stranger to be immensely helpful (written by two authors: Jenny Hwang, a director of advocacy and policy of the Refugee and Immigration Program of World Relief, AND Matthew Sorens, a Board of Immigration Appeals – accredited Immigration and Citizenship Legal Counselor at World Relief).   

4) The hands of the U.S are not clean regarding their role in these very countries, crisis, and conditions that gave rise to the need to emigrate.

Specifically regarding many of our neighboring Latin American brothers and sisters, the U.S. has been involved in the violence of supporting military juntas in civil wars to drug trafficking in these countries fueled by the U.S. demand for illegal drugs to the U.S. war on drugs that went into these countries (without supporting reconstruction efforts)  to exporting gang members into these countries ill equipped to handle them (K.C.*).  

Certainly, individual responsibility is important and even in terms of governmental responsibility the U.S. is not the only ones to bear that burden. But it is morally irresponsible of the U.S. to shift blame solely on the immigrant, especially onto the children and families fleeing the violence, when the U.S. has been complicit in contributing to these issues.  It is sobering to consider that one of the few clear instances in scripture of the case for a greater weight of sin is how it is heavier upon those in leadership.  It’s not going to be easy but if we have made such a bed we must work together to sleep in it.  

 

5) The unjustified and inhumane way the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are going after folks with NO criminal records.

According to a recent Washington post article covering raids that happened this past week, “The raids, which officials said targeted known criminals, also netted some immigrants who did not have criminal records, an apparent departure from similar enforcement waves during the Obama administration that aimed to just corral and deport those who had committed crimes.”  However, with some fact checking (thanks to Dr. Ji Son) it turns out that the actions of ICE were worse than we thought.  An analysis by the New York Times in 2014 revealed that since Obama became president, “two-thirds of the nearly two million deportation cases involve people who had committed minor infractions, including traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all.”  Although the intent of the previous administration may have been better, the devil was in the details of the local execution of these policies, with devastating (S.C.*) results.  

There is little to no due process (precisely because their status makes them vulnerable to exploitation, S.C.*) or concern for tearing them away from family to a different country (something we don’t even do to our worst criminal offenders).  Let alone, that what counts as “criminal” can change depending on jurisdiction area (S.C.*) and as such can include violations and misdemeanors (including traffic violations), and broad definitions of “aggravated felony” (which includes even “filing a false tax return”).

Let us examine any prejudice within our hearts toward the immigrant and rid ourselves of the unfounded fears and lies concerning the immigrant who contribute to our communities. We as Christians have a responsibility to stand up for the most vulnerable coming from the most vulnerable situations.  In addition to deep 2 Chronicles 7:14 prayers, here is one more way to defend the undocumented immigrant.  Jesus advocated for us when we were defenseless.  Let us be merciful as Christ has been merciful to us.  

*thank you to my friends over at the Progressive Asian American Christian group.  Although I may not agree with everything that is said in the group (as is hard to say with anyone in a group that large), you’ve provided significant insight and perspective into this issue that has been helpful.  

Jesus and you too (an explication of “new year’s day” by u2)

originally posted on August 10th, 2010.

SHORT INTERPRETATION :
a person longing for a loved one of course…OR the return of THE MAN (i.e. Christ):
“under a blood red sky” see Revelations 6:14-17
“a crowd is gathered black and white…the chosen few” see Rev. 14:1
“I, I will begin again” see Rev. 21:5
“oh, maybe tonight” see Matt. 24:42-44
“I will be with you again” see John 14:3

 

LINE BY LINE INTERPRETATION:

Yeah
– ahh yes, the characteristic operatic yelling of bono

All is quiet on New Year’s day
A world in white gets underway
– this could just be the breaking of an actual new year’s morning where snow covers everything…or could it be something more? (these are rhetorical questions by the way…haha)

I want to be with you, be with you, night and day
– ok, yeah, you’re prolly thinking this is a typical song about longing to be with a loved one…blah blah blah

Nothing changes on New Year’s day
On New Year’s day
– yeah, true nothing really does change and make this day different from any other day

I will be with you again
I will be with you again
– alright what’s with this repetitive longing that’s sounds so familiar? (wait for it)

Under a blood red sky
– what’s with this imagery? where else do we find this? it brings to mind the end times (a.k.a. The apocalypse) and passages such as the one found in Rev. 6: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place“.

A crowd has gathered, black and white*
Arms entwined, the chosen few
– this is an interesting image of people across usual barriers (“black and white”) being united. This would make sense in the context of the end times where John saw in his vision a crowd of thousands set apart with God. The line “the chosen few” seems to indicate this special group even more (at first 144,000 in Rev. 14)
*oddly, this lyric has been slightly changed on many lyric websites to “in black and white” which would change the meaning.  however, if you listen to the lyric in u2’s original “war” album we do not hear the word “in.”

The newspapers says, says
Say it’s true, it’s true
And we can break through
Though torn in two
We can be one
– this could mean a host of things. It could be speaking to a more current event of the time it was written (“The lyrics refer to the movement for solidarity lead by Lech Walesa in Poland. After this was recorded, Poland announced they would abolish martial law, coincidentally, on New Year’s Day, 1983” from songfacts.com) or with His return in mind…in either case it is a clear longing of the speaker to see what is broken united – reconciled.

I, I will begin again
I, I will begin again
– so then who is this “I” here? this could be read as the speaker starting anew with a new year OR it could be read as something much bigger…as in the beginning of a new world (Rev. 21) as in God speaking “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everthing new!'” a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Yeah, ohhh
– o yes bono. yes world.

Ah-ah, ah-ah, ah-ah
Ah-ah, ah-ah, ah-ah
– uh huh

Ah, maybe the time is right
Oh, maybe tonight
– that’s right “you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him, (Matthew 24)” like a “thief in the night.”

I will be with you again
I will be with you again
– these lines are repeated from before. now once again this could be read as a simple lover’s longing but with all that has been alluded to by this point it is reasonable to believe that this could in fact recall the words of Christ concerning his emminent return…as the Groom…THE REAL LOVER “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:3)”

And so we’re told this is the golden age
And gold is the reason for the wars we wage
– the speaker’s disillusionment with the present is clear…where the apparent “golden age” we live in is in fact the source of so much bloodshed. he, and possibly, we as well hope for something better…a true golden age…streets paved with gold even.

Though I want to be with you
Be with you night and day
Nothing changes on New Year’s day
On New Year’s day
On New Year’s day
– now New Year’s day can take on a whole new meaning. These last lines could now be of the person longing for Christ’s return or even the longing of Christ to be with his bride, longing for us to come to our senses…one day.

why was Jesus born into SUCH difficult circumstances (or when we’ve become too used to the Christmas story)?

i grew up in the church and have heard the Christmas story countless times.  i’ve seen plays and movies of it, heard retellings of it, read it, studied it, meditated on it.  as with many things we’re repeatedly exposed to, Jesus of the Christmas story can easily become someone we can feel familiar with and touch over without him getting to our heart.  on top of this, with the commercialization of Christmas there has been a sanitizing of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth that can be easy to miss.

given that, as the gospel accounts make clear, Jesus was the God of the universe in human flesh, here are just some of the elements in the accounts of the arrival of Jesus into our world that seem peculiar at best and, at times, downright troubling:

1. the era of his birth – Jesus is estimated to have been born around 6 to 4 AD.

why was he born in such a “backwards” time?  why not when there would be better medical innovation and technology for health care and life expectancy?  why not when there would be the internet to make wider announcement of his arrival?  why not a time when Israel was in a better place politically, not under roman control and occupation?

2. the mother he was born to – Jesus was born to a poor dark-skinned palestinian-jewish teenage girl.

why wasn’t Jesus born to a mom with more experience, education, credentials, and financial/social status?

3. the father that would raise him: Jesus’ earthly father was not his biological father and was a poor worker in construction.

especially, if men at this time were the main financial breadwinners of the home, why was Jesus born into such a poor family? why into a home where the family business was manual labor (maybe in our modern times carpenters make more money but we know the family was most likely poor because when these young parents take Jesus to the temple all they could offer were pigeons for sacrifice, an offering reserved for those who were too poor to offer a lamb. we also know that by the time of Jesus’ death his father has most likely already passed away as the care of his mother mary was given to the apostle john.  if this was the case, that means joseph had probably already passed by the age of 50…this was not an easy life.).

4. the timing of his birth: Jesus was conceived by Mary BEFORE she was married to the person she was engaged to…and impregnated by a different Father.

yes, the virgin birth was what was supposed to happen according to the prophecy but why couldn’t God have sent an angel to Joseph to explain the circumstance while they were getting married and Jesus have been conceived AFTER they were married? at the very least, if the timing of the virgin birth were pushed back a little later this could have saved all of them them A LOT of shame of such scandalous talk and rumors, especially in such traditional times and a deeply religious culture.  what would it have been like for mary whose child’s origins were continually second-guessed and her explanation sounded incredulous and awfully self-congratulating?  what would it have been like for joseph to see his firstborn son and raise him knowing that he wasn’t the true father?  what would it have been like for Jesus to grow up being ridiculed as a bastard child?

5. the place he was born – he was born in a food trough in a stable that was most likely a cave.

why was Jesus, literally, born in such a disgusting place?  ok, so his parents couldn’t afford better accommodations on their trip to Bethlehem, but seriously, why wasn’t the savior of the world born where humans lived instead of being born where animals lived?

6. the announcement of his birth to shepherds – shepherds worked with animals so they were unclean and unable to participate in the religious activities of the temple.

out of the all the groups of people the “heavenly host” of angels could have arrived to why did they arrive to uncouth, stinky, and solitary shepherds?  why make a religious announcement to religiously unclean folks?  unclean folks who worked with animals and not just any animals but probably some of the stupidest and most easily frightened animals?

the circumstance of his most critical early years – king herod, in his paranoia of rumors of another king being born, ordered the massacre of all jewish babies to the age of two, forcing Jesus family to flee to egypt then back to nazareth after the king had died.

why was Jesus born during the reign of such a notoriously jealous and violent king?  couldn’t Jesus birth been delayed until king herod died?  why were he and his parents forced to become refugees to another country?  then move back into a no good ghetto like nazareth to be raised?  why all this transition in the most critical years of a child’s development?

 

why was Jesus born into such difficult life circumstances?  certainly not circumstances befitting any king of this world.  i have some thoughts and potential answers to these questions for which there isn’t enough time.  however, at least one things has become clear to me – Jesus is not afraid to identify with and live in our suffering.  the God of the universe came into our most scandalous, disgusting, and unpresentable places.  he chose to be raised and be identified with the most marginalized of people.  when we are broken by the suffering in our world and in our very lives, let the nature of his arrival be a light of hope to us.  could it be that the manner of his arrival was this intentional in order to know our suffering?

this is our Jesus.  this is our God who is with us.

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