by Rev. Doug Gray
Our world is experiencing some challenging, even dark times these days. Perhaps we are worried about our world—with so much violence and hatred, as our leaders struggle to work together. Perhaps we have lost jobs, have someone who is sick or are worried about family who might lose theirs. Perhaps the financial pressures are starting to impact our marriage or family life. Perhaps we are so busy that we find it hard to have time to take a deep breath. It seems like there ought to be a way through these tough times, but how do we find it? Is there really a path God has in mind for us? How do we keep dancing through tough times?
The first sign of God’s way through is that it plays. Have you noticed how focused we are on work these days? We want everything to work—our cars, our jobs, our lives, our kids. We are told we have to work at our marriages and at parenting. It’s all too much work! It’s too serious. For marriage to work it has to play. When marriage is hard is when we need to make sure that we inject some play or a playful spirit. Playing is effort, but it has an element of fun and joy that draws us in and motivates us. We don’t work an instrument, we play it. We don’t work basketball, we play it. One thing I love about this fellowship is we approach worship and work with a playful, joyful spirit—we are determined to help each other enjoy our time together. Paul says, “…make my joy complete,” because the first sign of God’s way is that it brings the joy and freedom we have when we play.
The second sign of God’s way through is paradox. In the last passage for today, Paul writes of Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Jesus is God…and human? Yes! How can that be? It’s a paradox. At first we think that’s ridiculous! How can that be? And then we look around and discover how much paradox there is. We live in a physical world of atoms and forces we can touch and measure, and yet our physical world is full of mysteries—the beauty of clouds, and the touch of a small, trusting hand. How can light make things grow in sunlight and cut through steel as a laser? How can a daughter be a grandmother and a mom at the same time? How can we be aware of the history and the future, can remember years and decades, and yet we can only live our lives going forward? Amazingly, paradoxically, the same God who made heaven and earth, is the same God born as a baby in a stable, the same God who has given each of us life and the same God who desires for us to know Him intimately. We can give up our either/or, black-and-white thinking, and embrace the mysterious paradox that tough times provide the path to being stronger, more loving, more whole.
The final sign of God’s way through is servanthood. That’s the genius of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, at the heart of the church at its best—this church at its best. Ann Weems, the great Christian poet, writes this story:
A group of believers gathered in a church. They believed in one God, God Almighty, who made the world and everything in it. They believed in God the Creator. And they believed that God the Creator sent the Son, Jesus Christ. They believed these things and they said them every Sunday. They were very busy and did the things most churches do. They had church dinners and they inquired about each other’s families. And at Thanksgiving they collected canned goods for the poor. And on Sunday mornings they were done decently and in order. They were good church people. But one Sunday morning during the service of worship, a little boy came running in the church door, ran right down the center aisle, and stood under the cross screaming, “Help me!” He was a thin child with dark, sunken eyes. The clothes he wore were no more than rags. His feet were bare and he shivered and then, with a cry, fell—under the cross. Everything was quiet—and then a voice yelled, “Get him out of here!” And another said, “We don’t want to get involved with his kind.” And a third said, “Get someone else.” But the rest of the congregation arose quietly, in unison, and walked as if they were in step until they, too, stood under the cross. They bent and lifted the child gently and ministered unto him. And then, as if for the first time, they noticed each other. They smiled and reached out to one another and began to dance. Some people laughed, and said, “They’re drunk!” But others asked, “What does this mean?” And the people answered, “The Lord’s spirit has poured out upon us. The Lord has anointed us to care for God’s children everywhere who are crying, “Help me!” And now this church is decorated in the bright colors of joy. The people wear robes of caring and commitment. The call to worship is, “Help them!” and the entire congregation dances together.
Of course, the world thinks people like us are crazy. The world rewards people who work and make things work. The world often shrugs its shoulders when we begin to talk about mystery, meaning and purpose. The world often scratches its head as we give up power to love and trade authority for servanthood. But we are people of the promise—when we walk in God’s way, we know there is a way through. Whether in playing or paradox, we know God will give us the strength and wisdom we need to find that way, the way Jesus showed us. And when that way shows us a path where servanthood will lead to sacrifice of ourselves and our lives, we face it not with fear, but with anticipation and trust. We are people of the promise—that when we offer our lives to Christ, even the toughest times show forth God’s glory, and will bring new life. No matter how hard the road, when the world huddles up or hunkers down, God’s way through tough times finds us dancing with the Lord who never lets us go.
“Never worry alone. When anxiety grabs my mind, it is self-perpetuating. Worrisome thoughts reproduce faster than rabbits, so one of the most powerful ways to stop the spiral of worry is simply to disclose my worry to a friend... The simple act of reassurance from another human being [becomes] a tool of the Spirit to cast out fear -- because peace and fear are both contagious.”
― John Ortberg Jr., The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God's Best Version of You
“You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love "in the bank" to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.”
― Timothy J. Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God
“Will God ever ask you to do something you are not able to do? The answer is yes--all the time! It must be that way, for God's glory and kingdom. If we function according to our ability alone, we get the glory; if we function according to the power of the Spirit within us, God gets the glory. He wants to reveal Himself to a watching world.”
― Henry T. Blackaby, Experiencing the Spirit: The Power of Pentecost Every Day
“When you strip it of everything else, Pentecost stands for power and life. That's what came into the church when the Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost.”
― David Wilkerson, The Cross and the Switchblade
What made Jesus so irresistible to people in the Roman Empire? Sociology Rodney Stark writes,
To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. 1
Ann Weems, the great Christian poet, writes this story:
A group of believers gathered in a church.
They believed in one God, God Almighty, who made the world and everything in it. They believed in God the Creator. And they believed that God the Creator sent the Son, Jesus Christ.
They believed these things and they said them every Sunday.
 Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 161. Quoted in Leonard Sweet’s Learning to Dance the Soul Salsa: 17 Surprising Steps for Godly Living in the 21st Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), p. 114.