Bethlehem Transcript

Exile in Babylon exposed a vicious vortex that further fractured the already fragmented relationship between the human and divine. Freedom led to Idolatry, which led to Injustice, which led to Slavery, which led to Remembering, which led to Cries for Liberation….

It was in the hearing of their own cries that the people understood that even in their external freedom, they were enslaved to sin, violence, and death.  It was in Babylon where the people first understood that the chains around their wrists were nothing compared to the deeper, more insidious kind of chains that had warped their heart.

In response, the prophets foretold of a new exodus that would result in a once-and-for-all freedom from powerful chains unseen.  They foretold of a new, better, more holistic kind of return…yes to the land…but more importantly to relationship with the Creator.

In the streets of Babylon, God spoke through the prophets of a new exodus led by a new Moses, a son of David, whose blood would liberate humanity once and for all.

…and then…God was silent for 400 years.

After a generation of exile, 70 years of chains, the community of Israel returned to the land of Promise still under the thumb of Babylon.  Upon their return they immediately rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls and constructed a new Temple.  Only this time, rather than building with the blood equity of slaves, they rebuilt their own walls…they rebuilt their own Temple…but both were mere shadows of what they once were.  Israel was home…but it wasn’t like it once was.

About that time, a new Empire emerged.  The iron fist of Rome came down hard and fast on Israel and gripped them with an oppressive occupation.  This time, rather than being hauled away in chains, the conquerors came to them, marched through their villages, abused power within their homes, and demanded excessive taxes to expand their military might.

A new kind of slavery for a new generation of Israel.

…a new generation of Israel who was quick to resurrect an old religion that looked deceptively like faithfulness.

…a new generation of Israel with a land and a building and a religion that meant they didn’t need God.

…a new generation of Israel who watched the blood of innocent animals be spilt for their sin while they knowingly lived lives characterized by idolatry and injustice.

…a new generation of Israel who couldn’t hear the cries of the powerless because they were preoccupied with their own survival.

…a new generation of Israel who hadn’t heard from God in generations.

…so they continued to recite an old story about a God and His Promise, sealed in Blood.

…they recited the prophecies of Babylon…the ones about a new bigger, better exodus led by a new Moses…a new King David.

…they sang songs about victory and the power of God…songs about one day when all the nations, including the hated Rome, would bend the knee to their God.

…they sang those songs even while Rome dipped their people in tar, crucified them, and lit them on fire to light the streets of their own villages.

It was a new kind of slavery for a new generation of Israel…a people who frequently had to explain to their children what the Romans were doing in their village…a new kind of slavery for a generation who storytold and sang songs about their God while their God remained silent.

Occupation, oppression, shame, and humiliation were the words that described Israel’s experience at the beginning of the first century.

“Why is this happening again?” and  “Why are we still in chains?” were the questions that plagued their consciousness.

During the reign of the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, the harsh national dictatorship of Herod the Great, and the powerless guidance of the first century Jewish Sanhedrin,  the Author inserted Himself into the Story unlike He had ever done so before.  The God of Israel who had been silent for 400 years broke His silence…but He did so unlike anyone could have ever imagined.  Rather than through the voice of the prophets, God’s voice emerged in the form of an infant’s cries.

Which brings us back to the prophet Isaiah who foretold of the Messiah’s birth…God was going to put flesh on and enter into the Story as a helpless, vulnerable child...born of a virgin.  God was going to take an embryonic form within the womb humanity. (Isaiah 7:14)

Which brings us to the prophets Jeremiah and Daniel who foretold of the Davidic lineage of the Messiah.  God’s Savior would be born divine (Son of God), human (Son of Man), but also king (Son of David). (Jeremiah 23:5)

Which brings us to the prophet Micah who, with astonishing specificity, foretold the exact location of the Messiah’s birth: a tiny village just south of Jerusalem named Bethlehem. (Micah 5:1-2)

For those with ears to hear, eyes to see, and minds to understand, The New Moses who was to lead a new, bigger, better exodus, would be God, Himself, with flesh on…born of a virgin, in Bethlehem, the City of David.

For those who heard and believed the Stories of God’s faithfulness passed down through the generations, Bethlehem would be the birthplace of Hope and Salvation personified.  So those who believed kept their eyes on Bethlehem.

Meanwhile, God’s eyes were focused on a young couple in a northern village named Nazareth.

Nazareth was a simple, impoverished village near the Sea of Galilee that consisted primarily of small white-stoned homes, a synagogue, and a marketplace.  100-or-so people lived there, mostly farmers, but some were skilled craftsmen who had shops in the marketplace…a potter, a weaver, a dyer, a blacksmith, a carpenter…

The Nazarene carpenter carried the namesake of the “little-dreamer” who, once upon a time, had been sold by his brothers into the slave trade.  He carried the namesake of the one who found himself resting in God’s favor in an unthinkable scenario in Egypt.  The Nazarene carpenter’s name was Joseph.

Joseph came from a royal line…the bloodline of King David…but he didn’t live like a king.  Rather, he eeked out an existence like his father and his father’s fathers had before him.  Like his forefathers, Joseph’s hands were calloused by years of stone-fitting and wood-working just like his heart was calloused by years of Roman occupation and oppression.  While he made his living building familial additions to the homes of his friends, the Story finds Joseph preparing a place for his young bride…a girl who carried the namesake of Moses’ sister Miriam, the one who celebrated the liberation of Israel from Egyptian captivity.  Mary was her name…and, like her friends, she waited, in the home of her father, for the day when her husband would come and take her as his bride.

It was in the waiting that Mary was found, not by her husband-to-be, though, but by the God who had been looking for her…the same God who had remained silent for so many years.

The presence of the angel Gabriel was horrifying.  In the moment of his arrival, the future became obsolete for Mary…she wasn’t sure that she would live beyond the present moment. To terrified to look at Gabriel, much less speak to him, Mary made herself as invisible as possible, willing herself, a mortal, to disappear from the sight of the immortal.

But when he spoke, rather than hearing the death sentence that she expected, she listened as words of affirmation, favor, and grace poured out.

“Fear not, sweet child…God approves of you…not because of who you are or what you’ve done…He approves of you…because He wants to.  And because He approves of you, God is going to do something He’s never done before.  He’s going to become both Creator and created…He’s going to enter in to the created order…and He’s going to do it through His design for new life: God is going to be born.”

“He’s chosen you, Mary, to bear Him.  He’s chosen you to become inhabited by Him.  He’s chosen your life, Mary, to be disrupted by His life.  He’s chosen you to carry within you the greatest grace, the Son of the Most High, the eternal King.  (Luke 1:30-33)

How was one so young to understand a message so complicated, so dangerous, so Divine?  How was one who had protected her purity with her life going to find herself pregnant?  What would happen to her when others found out?  Did she have any idea that, in that moment, that God was beginning to make good on a Promise that He had sealed in blood?

“How can this be?” she managed, even though her mouth and throat were as dry as the dirt floor that she found herself lying on. (Luke 1:34)

“Nothing is impossible with the Author…the One who speaks existence into being.  His Presence that gives life to the inanimate will become alive in you.”

And then it was decision time.  Not surprisingly, this young, inadequate, ill-prepared, unqualified heroine responded just like all of the other inadequate, ill-prepared, unqualified heroes of the Story.

“Here am I!” she said.  “Let it be to me just as you say.” (Luke 1:38)

It’s hard to imagine the extent of Joseph’s grief when, after twelve months of hard work in preparation for his bride, he returned for her, only to find her pregnant.  Being merciful, just, and probably in love, Joseph was not about to have her stoned to death, nor was he willing to leave her publically humiliated.  Consequently, he was contemplating a quiet divorce when, he too, was visited by an angel of God Most High who told him to proceed with the marriage.

“Mary hadn’t been unfaithful…on the contrary, God’s favor rested on and within her.”

The angel told Joseph that the Holy Spirit had conceived within Mary the One who was to free humanity from the powerful chains unseen: the chains of sin, violence, and death.  He told Joseph that Mary was to give birth to the new Moses who would lead a new, bigger, better exodus: she was to give birth to the Messiah.  (Matthew 1:21).  As a man who followed the Jewish law, Joseph understood well that blood was the cost of the kind of freedom the angel spoke of…he knew that, in order to save humanity from their sins, this child was destined to bring a sacrifice…or to become one.

Like Mary, Joseph obeyed…together, they trusted God and entered into a marriage that was shrouded in the gossip of conspiracy and scandal.  Joseph lived with her, cared for her, and provider for – possibly for as long as six to eight months – yet refrained from sexual intimacy with her.

In her ninth month, The Emperor, Caesar Augustus, issued a decree that all of the known world should be registered. (Luke 2:1-5).  Since both were from the house and lineage of David and because they had no choice but to obey, Joseph and Mary made the four-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem where they were to be listed for taxation with the Roman Empire.

There, in the privacy of a humble, soot-stained cave, blood was shed that gave way to life.  While Bethlehem slept, profound trauma gave way to profound beauty as God entered through the birth canal into the muck of humanity and, for the first time, looked the mess of the world in the eyes…literally.  For generations, God had been reaching down into creation…but now, God had arms.

With the hills of Bethlehem as the backdrop and with an audience of bewildered parents, inconvenienced animals, and shivering shepherds, the entire world was engaged in a conspiracy of love.  This newborn child was a sign to Israel that God had not forsaken His people but had remembered His own promise marked by a back-and-forth journey through a bloodpath.  This newborn child was a sign that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  In that cave, on that night, the tapestry of heaven and earth were, once again, woven together.

Babylon Transcript

Once upon a time, God began to author an epic narrative about Himself.  Because it pleased Him, he spoke existence into being…His creating crescendo’d all the way to the pinnacle of His work: humanity.  As He painstakingly crafted the shape of the human beings, He included His very image within…and then He exhaled…and the inanimate became animate…they woke up into a Story that was already in process.  A Story that wasn’t about them. In that moment, they knew that everything that they were, and would become, everything that they would ever need would come from the One who had just exhaled into them….but then that didn’t work for them anymore.   They wanted to become the Main Characters so they dropped His plot, and drafted their own fantasy.  They convinced themselves that their fantasy was better than the Creator’s Story…and then they chased it.  As soon as they did, they realized that their Fantasy couldn’t produce what it promised.  Rather than finding themselves as the Main characters, they found themselves isolated, hiding, pointing their fingers and blaming.  They heard themselves fabricating tragic stories about God, themselves, and each other.  All the while, God kept asking “Where are you?”  The relationship between the human and the divine was broken.

And God hated it.  But what He saw didn’t cause Him to put His pencil down.

The story would continue…Grace was marbled into the experience of life as the blood of animals was shed to cover the shame of their sin.

As time went by, the community of humanity became progressively intolerant of the Story being about One other then themselves.  Their intolerance resulted in a calcified resolve to draft and then to chase their own fantasies.  Dissatisfied with the Author and Creator as their God, they crafted gods in their own image…gods that they could control…because it made them feel better.  Idolatry of the carved image gave way to idolatry of the carver…the human being.  They worshipped themselves while God continued to ask, “Where are you?”

Eventually, pluralistic, polytheistic Abraham answered, “Here am I!”…and because He did, the Author decided to establish a blood-covenant with him.

God said: “I’ll give you a land.  I’ll give you a people.  And your people will bless the whole world…IF…you allow Me to be your God… listen well and live what you hear.”

That was it.  A Promise with no road map.  The Author neither specified how nor when He would make good on His Promise.  But that was okay with Abraham.

Three animals, each cut in two…their blood filled a freshly dug trench.  The covenant ritual was set to occur: 2 representatives were to walk the blood path, committing to their promise at the cost of their own life.  “If I break my end of the deal…I die.”

But God did a remarkable, unconventional, unheard of thing: He passed through the blood path twice.

“If I break my end of the deal, I die.”

“If you break your end of the deal, I die.”

God began to make good on His promise.  Abraham had some sons who had some sons who had some sons.  His family, re-named Israel (Wrestles with God) eventually found themselves intertwined with and then enslaved by the Empire: Egypt.  Generation of slavery gave way to generation after generation of slavery…no end was in sight.

But generation after generation after generation, a story was passed down.  A story about the God who had chosen and named their people.  A story about that God’s promise to father Abraham…A story about a God who heard the cries of His people and who entered in to creation to make wrong things right…A story about a God and His Promise that meant that an exodus was coming…A story about a God who sealed His Promise in Blood.

And then, the moment of exodus came.  God had heard their cry and had come down to do something about it.  Israel was already dressed for a journey, their stomachs were full, their imaginations were piqued from hearing the story of the Promise again…and there was blood on their doorposts…blood of an innocent lamb.  That night, whoever was covered in the blood of the lamb would live.  Israel lived and tasted freedom for the first time in 400 years

Generations of slavery meant that the people lived an oppression narrative: no one knew what it meant to live free.  Pain, suffering, oppression, and despair had been their constant companions as, day after day after week after month after year after decade after generation they suffered at the hands of the powerful.

God was going to have to teach His people how to live.  He began by identifying Himself by what He had just done: “I am God the Liberator, Redeemer, Freedom-giver…understand this, and you understand everything…miss this and you miss everything.”  Their humanity was directly linked to their ability to remember their liberation.  If they forgot God, they would forget their own story.  If they forgot their story, they would forget that they were once slaves.  If they forgot that they were slaves, they would find themselves once again enslaved.

Living free, therefore, depended on Israel’s understanding of whom the Author was and whom the Story was about.  If they lived as faithful, free participants in His Story, then the whole world would discover the truth about who He is.

Living as faithful, free participants meant that they were to live lives of worship of the One true God by loving others, practicing justice, mercy, and compassion, especially for the widow and orphan, and by forgiving the other.  They were to remember their oppression so that they would never become the oppressor.  They were to have faith that the God who had redeemed them would finish the work He had started.  And when they lost their way by chasing foreign fantasies…when relationship was fractured by sin…they were to shed the blood of an innocent animal.  The dripping blood would remind them that sin deserves death.  The sight and sound of dripping blood not their own was the sight and sound of grace.

Very quickly, His Way didn’t work for His people anymore.  Just as in Eden, they wanted to become the Main Characters so they dropped His plot, and drafted their own fantasy...and chased it.  They insisted on a king that looked like them, a king who would become a tyrant.  They built large armies to provide the safety that God had previously promised and provided.  They built cities with towering walls…walls that were built with the blood equity of slaves.  The oppressed had become the oppressor…they convinced themselves that they didn’t need God anymore.

…and God hated it.

…but they built a really nice house for Him, a house that He neither wanted nor needed.  As soon as the house was built, the God it intended to house was forgotten.  God was replaced by a land, a building, and a religion.  He was replaced by the accomplishments of the people.    Idolatry of the self with its practices of self-sufficiency, individualism, consumerism, injustice, and oppression stained the people with the blood of others.  They had turned their back on God and had become the embodiment of everything God was against.  God got a bad name because His people had become indifferent to the work of blessing the world… therefore, the blood of the sacrifices that was intended to wash them clean didn’t work anymore.

Catastrophe was on its way…and thus, the warnings of the prophets began.

The role of the prophet was truth telling…they were to bring an unsparing message of judgment and a call to repentance to Israel.  Like master physicians, they were to expose the wounds of corruption that characterized the people so that they could be cleansed, bound up, and healed.  They had powerful voices that both called Israel to embrace her destiny as a blessing to the world and that warned of the inevitable consequences of Israel’s infidelity.

Amos exposed Israel’s economic injustice: some people were being neglected while others stockpiled resources in their reserves (Amos 3:1, 9-10).  He called people who oppressed the poor and crushed the needy “cows of Bashan”: likening them to a specific set of cows who grazed gluttonously while others starved.  In so doing, he exposed the sin of selfish mismanagement of resources: when eating, drinking, and owning came at the expense of other’s having their basic needs met.

“If it doesn’t change,” cried Amos, “Jerusalem will be destroyed!” (Amos 3:15)

Isaiah exposed Israel’s military-industrial complex: God saw their military bases, chariots, and warhorses for what they were—unacceptable costs of empire.  “We have blood on our hands!” cried Isaiah (Isaiah 1:15).  “And because we do, God hides his eyes from us.”

But Isaiah reserved his harshest critique for Israel’s idolatry of a religious system that looked deceptively like faithfulness.  To the shock of the prideful pious, Isaiah exposed that God hated their religion with all of His being. (Isaiah 1:13-14)

Why?  Because it was nothing more than a religion that enabled self-sufficiency, legitimized indifference, tolerated injustice, and inspired indulgence.

The most passionate rants of Amos were also focused at Israel’s religion.  “God hates it! Your songs are noise-pollution to Him.  Stop the music and start the justice!”  (Amos 5:23; 8:4, 6)

But Israel didn’t listen.  So, out of pity, God kept sending them the prophets (2 Chronicles 36:15).  He wanted to dance the divine dance with them again.  He wanted to liberate the entire world through them…but they weren’t interested.

And so Amos, a simple shepherd turned prophet, stood in front of the king and offered this crushing blow: “You will be among the first to go into exile.  Your days of lounging and feasting will end.  The empire is over.” (Amos 6:7)  But the king mocked Amos…and kicked him out of the palace.  The people ignored Isaiah, laughed at Hosea, and beat up Jeremiah.  They didn’t repent.  They didn’t remember.  In their comfort, abundance, and privilege, they had forgotten their God, their story, and their slavery.  They no longer heard the cries of the oppressed…so the oppressed, again, they became.

Just like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos had said, the Babylonians came to town.  And when they did, they massacred everyone they saw, looted Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and crumbled the city walls.  Those who survived were chained together, death-marched to the north, and enslaved in Babylon for 70 years (2 Chronicles 36:17-20)…

They used to be on top.  Now, they found themselves in chains…again.  They had it all going for them, wealth, influence, peace, blessing, but they forgot their God, their story, and their slavery.  They neglected the widow, orphan, and refugee, and everything fell apart.

Their Freedom led to Idolatry…that led to Injustice…that led to Slavery…they were in chains again.

And in slavery, they cried out…just like they had in Egypt.  They cried out to the God Who had redeemed them once to redeem them again.  In exile, they remembered who the Author and Main Character was.  In exile, they remembered that the Story was not about them.  In exile, they remembered the story about a Promise of a God who walked the blood path twice.

Freedom led to Idolatry that led to Injustice that led to Slavery that led to Remembering that led to Cries.  And their cries kick-started redemption.

Again, the prophets rose up in the midst of captive Israel’s despair: their message proclaimed the beginning of something new…

A new exodus was coming.  It had to because the first exodus wasn’t big enough.   “Look at us!” the people cried… “we’re in chains again!”

It was in the hearing of their own cries that the people understood, for, perhaps the first time, the link to what went wrong in Eden.  Even in their external freedom, they were enslaved to sin, violence, and death.  It was in Babylon where the people first understood that the chains around their wrists were nothing compared to the deeper, more insidious kind of chains that had warped their heart.

A new exodus was necessary…a new, once-and-for all freedom from powerful chains unseen…a new freedom that would allow them to embrace their vocation as God’s ambassadors to the whole world. (Isaiah 66:18).  The new exodus would have to be about something more than the people returning to Israel; it would have to be a holistic return of all humanity to the way things were created to be.  The new exodus would be a return to the divine dance of Eden.

But a new exodus would require a new Moses.  Isaiah prophesied that the new Moses would be born shrouded in scandal and obscurity.  This new Moses would use power to bless and empower the poor and oppressed.  He would reject violence…He would reject palace-building with slaves…He would be called “The Prince of Peace” and would reign on King David’s throne forever (Isaiah 9:6-7).  He would be a powerful leader who Isaiah paradoxically called a “servant” (Isaiah 42).  The spirit of God would be on Him and He would “break the chains of prisoners” and “proclaim good news to the poor” (Isaiah 61:1).

In the streets of Babylon, the prophets spoke of a new exodus led by this new Moses, a son of David, whose blood would liberate humanity once and for all.

And as they did, the exiles remembered a Story about a God and a Promise with no road map.  They remembered a Story about a God who walked the blood-path twice…and they began to envision a grace so big that it would repair the fractured relationship between the human and divine.


Jerusalem Transcripts

In Luke, Jesus pulls up alongside two travelers lamenting over his death, not knowing that the resurrected stands in their midst. He starts at the beginning and walks them through God’s story and points out everything that has lead to His arrival, all the indications of His identity.

I imagine He tells them about a perfect garden, fabricated stories smaller than God and sin. He tells them about the blood shed to craft animal skins to cover their nakedness.

He tells them about two brothers, one stricken by jealousy who chooses to strike down the other brother and flee to the east.

He tells them about a promise, a covenant between God and humanity. One unbreakable and cast in blood.

Jesus tells the story of a people trapped in slavery and an unlikely mouthpiece for God, named Moses. After miracles, signs, wonders and plagues, God is forced to prove His love through a tenth and final plague; one inhabited by death.

This plague passes over the Israelites because they have spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. In anguish, the Pharaoh pursues them out of the country.

With the blood still wet on their doorposts, the Israelites leave the home their people have known for 400 years for a dry and dangerous desert. This is a land far from their experience. In order to survive, God has to teach them what it means to be free.

He offers ten instructions, but they begin with a reminder that the Story is His. He says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1) He informs them that His nature is Liberator, Freedom-giver. This is a people that has crafted stories about God in their discontent and He must remind them of who He is. He has set them free, and in order for Israel to remain free, He offers them structure and teaches them how to live.

These are the people who will manifest God for the watching world; in His love and desire to be known, He gives His people the Law.

The Law told the story of a God who valued relationship with each other and with Him, freedom from oppression, love for one another, justice for the enslaved and joy in His provision.

His Law taught them about forgiveness and restoration of shalom.

Because His people knew the pain of forced servitude, He guarded them against becoming tyrant over others.

He crafted a plan for them to be renewed.

God understood that His people were prone to wander, so the Law He gave included grace for that. It included a way to deal with sin. Just like in the Garden, something had to die so that the shame of their sin could be covered. Just like in Egypt, the covering of sin costs life.

Instead of doorposts, now blood would be spread on an altar for the benefit of the people.

Just as Abel’s blood cried out from the ground to inform God of the truth, the blood of goats and lambs would now cry out on behalf of the people.

This is what salvation would look like; God seeing us through a lens of red.

But as the Israelites physically walked east into the desert, they discovered that their spirits too were east of Eden.

They groaned and complained; they lied to themselves about their previous life and their new reality, claiming that slavery in Egypt was better than the presence of God in cloud and fire there in the desert. They desired to become a settled people, pretending that the homes they knew in Egypt were better than the tents belonging to wanderers. How quickly they forgot the God who saved them and crafted smaller gods out of gold…

In spite of their grumbling, God sent water to drink and bread to eat and taught His people how to live. He desired that they grow closer to Him and discover what it means to be His people.

That lesson included patience, as they wandered 40 years as a consequence for their work of fabricating stories and idols. God offered this both as a result of their actions, as well as an opportunity to learn. God knew that His people are quick to become comfortable and deceive themselves; He wanted Israel to be a people who understood hardship and learned thankfulness for provision. He wanted them to be a people acquainted with wandering, so that they would always be aware of their need for Him.

Even in this time of wandering, God called them to be His redeemed people. His work of liberation had begun in Egypt and was not yet finished. In that time of waiting, He wanted them to walk as a body that personifies the presence of God. He wanted others to look at His people and see Him there among them.

He granted them victory over seven nations stronger than them in order to give them a land they could call their home. His provision was lavish, and more than the Israelites had any right to expect.

And yet, they forgot God.

More sin, and more blood.

When the people forgot God, He would allow them to wander and the people quickly rediscovered their need. They would cry out for mercy, and God would take pity on them. He sent a deliverer to rescue and rule the people and Israel remembered God the Liberator, the Freedom-giver.

And then they forgot.

More sin, and more blood.

This vicious cycle of memory and amnesia continued with God’s patience and the people’s rebellion until they made a request that slapped God in the face.

They asked for a king.

God said to his servant Samuel, “They have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods. Warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” (1 Samuel 8:7-9)

God warned them that their king would be a tyrant. This dictator will take their sons and make them soldiers; he will start wars and destroy your land. He will form armies, like Egypt, and he will have slaves, like Egypt. He will turn you from the oppressed into the oppressors.

And still, they asked for a king.

So God gave them one, and God hated it.

He hated their rebellion, but He was crazy about them.

God chose a man named Saul to serve as king. Saul was humble and desperate to serve God…until he began to believe in his own power more than the Creator’s. Saul tried to do God’s work himself, believing that his own capabilities were sufficient. (1 Samuel 13:11-14)

And so God chose another, a man after His own heart. In a rage, Saul tried to purge this new man David from the land. But God proved more powerful than Saul. David rose in the eyes of God’s people and became the kind of king that people wanted to follow. (1 Samuel 13:14, 2 Samuel 2) He was far from perfect, for David was just a man, full of flaws. But he pursued God and God responded, because the Creator is concerned with redemption and not perfection. So the people loved David and followed him.

And yet, the true King was ignored.

David had a son, Solomon, to whom God gave wisdom. (1 Kings 3:5-14) Solomon saw fit to craft a temple for God; a permanent place for worship in the form of blood. God never asked for this dwelling, but Solomon wanted to honor Him and create a place for the nations to witness the Author of the Story. Solomon designed the temple in the Name of the Lord God and began work on the temple, his own palace and the walls of Jerusalem.

And he made slaves lift the stones. (1 Kings 5:3-13)

The oppressed became the oppressors…they’ve forgotten God and replaced Him with a building.

This building, this city, became the center of the Israelites’ world. The temple was intended to be the meeting point of heaven and earth, the doorway for broken humanity to enter into the presence of the holy. In the temple, they tied a rope around the high priest who entered the Holy of Holies, for fear that he might die merely by entering the presence of the Almighty. This was to be their holiest place. Jerusalem becomes a place of rest for the wanderers, a home unlike any they’ve known before.

Except for Eden.

They thought they’d built a place like the garden, a place to interact with God. But in reality, the city they’ve crafted to make them content is just like the desert; they’re still spiritually east of Eden. It’s here that they learn how to truly offer their sacrifices.

Instead of living an alternative story, one inhabited by God, liberation and freedom, they choose one that idolizes the system.

They follow the letter of the Law rather than its spirit and become dependent on their ability to shed blood in order to cover their sins. God offered the Law so that it could master them, but instead they believed they could tame the Law. They chose to perfect it, argue about it and believe it intellectually but not be mastered by it. Rather than using sacrifice to restore right relationship with God, they applied it to declare themselves justified, all the while pursuing their own kingdoms and their own stories.

Their worship was about self sufficiency instead of divine provision.

The pursuit of God has transformed into the pursuit of power, position, authority and notoriety. The wanderers have become settlers and are quite comfortable with the system. They've arrived and no longer see themselves as lost; they have no need for God, just the system.

But like the golden sculpture in the desert, this too is idolatry. They've discovered a new kind of sin, one that looks deceptively like faithfulness. This sin is worshipping their own holiness rather than the God who offers it.

More sin, and more blood.

Countless animals are offered in the name of restoration, all the while cementing Israel into a life that has no need for God or His ability to restore the world. They no longer recall that the blood flowing SHOULD be theirs. The sound of it dripping is the sound of grace...but they've lost that plot.

Israel has stopped reading God's story and is reciting their own.

In His story, they are beloved. In their own story, they are accomplished. In His story, they are carefully crafted. In their own story, they are self made and self sufficient. In His story, the temple is the place where the nations come to see where heaven and earth intersect. In their story, the temple is the place they put themselves on a pedestal higher than all others.

They need something to save them from themselves.

They have developed religion, and it has lead them astray. It’s time for the settled to relearn how to wander so that they recall dependence on God instead of they system. The system has taken over as their god to the point that they can't see through the blood to recognize their own brokenness. They follow other gods and become the oppressors. Their sacrifices don't please God, and they can't cover up their injustices. God has stopped hearing them and the blood doesn't work anymore.

A new kind of sacrifice must be found, one that is stronger than their idolatry. A divine kind of sacrifice is necessary.

Egypt Transcript

In Eden, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man were one and the same.  Heaven and Earth were woven together such that they were indistinguishable.  God and humanity walked together in the garden.  And it was very good. But sin and death were invited into the story by man’s disobedience, tearing heaven and earth apart and leaving man east of Eden.  East, and moving further east.

Graciously, God chose not to end the story.  God allowed the story to spin forward, granting man our freedom to choose death over life, lies over the truth, and ourselves over Him.  Often, man does choose these things.  And God hates it.

But still, mankind was allowed to breathe the air God had given them.  Still, mankind was granted the freedom and the capability to tend to God’s good creation.

And it wasn’t long before God’s love led Him to begin inviting those broken, rebellious beings, who still bare His image, to join with Him in the work of redemption.  God began a scandalous and costly rescue effort, seemingly determined to see heaven and earth reunited in love and unity and peace.

God started His rescue with a man named Abraham.

Abraham was invited by God to leave the comfort of his home and to start a family in a new land.  God promised to multiply this family out into a great nation.

This nation was going to be blessed by God – a picture of what it looks like when heaven meets earth again.  And then, this nation was meant to turn around and bless all other nations, that one day all people might once again walk with God.

Abraham was unsure.  He was old and had no children.  So God gave him a sign of the promise, or covenant, that He had in mind.

In accordance with the customs of the day, Abraham was instructed to split three animals in two, creating a bloody pathway between the halves of the animals for each party to walk between.  By walking between the animals, both parties committed to a covenant with one another, with the understanding that their own blood would be spilled if their end of the covenant wasn’t maintained.

But God did a startling thing.  As Abraham sat and watched, God appeared as a smoking oven and a burning torch, and he walked back and forth between the animals Himself.    God invited Abraham and the nation that would emerge from Him into a covenant… and then He signed it unilaterally. God was obviously confident in His own ability to live up to the agreement, and then put His own blood on the line on behalf of Abraham and his descendents.

And God said to Abraham, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.”

Abraham took God at His word, and God lived up to His.  Abraham had sons, who had sons of their own… and the nation of Israel was born.

But God also knew what He was talking about when He predicted four hundred years of slavery.  Abraham’s grandson Jacob, who received the name “Israel” after wrestling with God and demanding a blessing, eventually had 12 sons of his own.  Out of jealousy, 11 of them turned on Jacob’s favorite son Joseph, selling him to Egyptian slave traders and returning to their father with a blood stained coat and a lie about their brother’s untimely death.

And so, even among God’s chosen people, the story of Cain, Abel and fallen humanity continued to wreck havoc, through jealousy, betrayal and death.

Although God was gracious to Joseph, even allowing him to rise to power and influence in Egypt, God’s people and the Egyptian empire were now entwined with one another.  Eventually, out of fear of Israel’s growing numbers, the Egyptians enslaved God’s people.

And so, generation after generation after generation… nothing changed.  Generation after generation after generation, God’s people were strangers in a country not their own.  They were enslaved and mistreated.

Every day was like the day before.  Soon, there was no one left who could remember life before slavery.  Then, there was no one left who could remember a descendent who knew life before slavery.  Lives began and ended in the same place under the same circumstances, knowing nothing but the despair of days that were always the same as the day before, every day after day after day until their days ran out.

But generation after generation after generation, a story was passed down.  One of a forefather named Abraham, and a promise.  A promise that offered hope and courage - that God would not wait forever to stand up for His people Israel.  Generation after generation after generation, parents would whisper it to children, over paltry meals and under the harsh desert sun.  With backs stinging from the whips of their captors, they would tell the story of a God that would one day show up for his people.  Through beads of sweat dripping into the mud as cracked hands went about the endless work of brick making, they would tell the story.  Through the tears of grieving mothers and families sold apart, they would tell the story.

One day, God will stand up.  One day, He will say “No more!”  One day, we will come out of this hardship with great possessions.

Just wait.

Just hold on.

Because the day is coming when heaven will touch earth again, and the furious judgment of the God of Abraham will set this all of this right.

And then, after hundreds of years, a change finally came.  But it got worse before it got better.

Seeing that the Jews continued increasing in number, Egypt’s Pharaoh began to worry that they might revolt and overthrow their captors.  So, he decreed that a generation of Jewish baby boys were to be put to death.

During this time of anguish for God’s people, a Jewish woman had a son named Moses.  Desperate that her son not fall into the hands of the Egyptians, she placed him in a basket and floated him down the river.  Ironically, he was discovered by an Egyptian – in fact by Pharaoh’s own daughter – who saved him and raised him into the royal family.  Like Joseph, Moses found himself rising improbably into Egyptian royalty.

One day, when he was grown up, Moses decided to go out and see the condition of his people.  And he saw one of his own, one of God’s chosen, being beaten by an Egyptian slave-driver.

Moses was enraged at the sight.  He was overcome by the injustice of it.  By a stroke of luck, he had lived a free life… but how long before God’s justice would come for all Jews, for his fellow countrymen?

Seeing no one around, Moses decided to take justice into his own hands. 

He knocked the Egyptian to the ground and struck him, and then struck again.  Knuckles exploded into hard bone, and soon the flesh between split and gave way to warm blood.  Moses felt the man weakening, and he struck harder still, an animalistic grunt rising from his gut and cutting through the air each time his fist landed.

He didn’t relent until lifeless eyes stared back at him.  The man stopped resisting, and his body slumped into the warm, red puddle beneath him.

Moses buried the man in the sand, and wiped the blood from his hands.

Soon, word of Moses’ attack spread among the Jews, and eventually made its way to Pharaoh’s ears.  Moses rightly feared for his life, and fled to Midian to escape retribution.

There, Moses spent many years as a fugitive in a foreign land.  He started a family there, and tried to start a new life.  A Jewish man with a royal Egyptian upbringing, now a fugitive in Midian… Moses had much to think about as he sat in the fields tending his father in law’s sheep.

Meanwhile, back in Egypt, another generation of Jewish children was being taught the hopeful, defiant story of Abraham and the blood covenant of their God…  Because another generation of God’s chosen people were still groaning under the weight of their slavery.  Another generation was crying out toward the heavens, desperate for God to finally remember His promise.

And then, God showed up.

Surprisingly, the new chapter of God’s story didn’t start where God’s people were, in Egypt.  Rather, God’s first appearance occurred in Midian.

While tending sheep, Moses saw a bush burning in the distance.  But he was puzzled when he noticed that the bush was not burning up.  When Moses went to investigate the fire and the smoke, God spoke from within the bush.

“Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am,” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

God told Moses that He had heard the cries of His people.  The time had come to fulfill His promise to Abraham; to rescue His people and to give them the land they had been promised, through which God would bless them, and then through them bless all others.

And then, another surprising twist.  God said to Moses, “So, now go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”

Moses, the Jew born Egyptian royalty currently a fugitive in Midian, was unsure.

God was not.

So Moses pleaded for more.

“What if they ask who sent me?” Moses asked, terrified.  “What if they want to know your name?”

God replied, “Tell them, I AM WHO I AM.”

Then, God went on, “Say to the Israelites, that I am the God of your fathers – of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And I’m here to fulfill my promise, because I am faithful to my word.”

Moses was still unsure.  So God gave Him signs to perform.  A staff that could turn to a snake, and the power to turn his hand leprous and back again.

And Moses was still unsure.

“I don’t speak well,” Moses said.  “Who am I to serve as a spokesperson for the nation?

To which God replied, “Who do you think gave you your mouth?”

Finally, God even compromised with Moses, agreeing to send his brother Aaron with him.

Moses was out of excuses.

So Moses returned to Egypt, armed with the words of God and the works he was able to perform.

When the Israelites heard Moses and saw the signs he performed, they believed and worshipped God.  They agreed that he should go to Pharaoh.

Breathlessly they wondered to one another if their waiting might finally come to an end.  Might Moses and Aaron and the words and the signs be enough?  Might they finally be free people again?

Moses went to Pharaoh, and said, “The I AM WHO I AM, the God of Israel, has sent me, and the Lord has declared that you let His people go.”

But Pharaoh did not believe.  He did not let Israel go.  Rather, he responded by punishing Israel, making their work more difficult but insisting on the same output.

The people lamented to Moses.  “What have you done?!” they cried.

And so Moses returned to God.  “Did I not do as I was told?  Why did you send me only so that we could suffer further at Pharaoh’s hand?”

Again, Moses wondered aloud to God why He would send a stutterer to be His spokesperson.  But God insisted that He was not done showing His power to Pharaoh, and that He would yet use Moses and Aaron as His spokespeople to set His people free.

And so, God sent Moses back to Pharaoh with a warning, in the form of a plague.

Moses warned Pharaoh that if he did not let the people of God go, I AM WHO I AM would turn the water of the Nile into blood.

Pharaoh dismissed Moses from his presence.

So, Moses and Aaron raised their staffs as they were instructed - over the Nile, over ponds, and even over water stored in containers.  Each time they did, Egypt’s water turned to blood.

Still, Pharaoh’s heart remained hard, and he did not let the Israelites go.

And so, God offered Pharaoh more warnings, and more chances to repent.  To repent away from faith in an empire built on chariots and horses of war.  To repent away from faith in an economy built on the backs of slaves.  To repent away from the false gods, those other than the One True God of Israel.

Eight more plagues followed, each one coming with a warning and a chance for Pharaoh to repent.  Frogs covered the land, and the dust of the ground became lice.  These plagues were followed with swarms of insects, the death all of the Egyptian’s cattle, and the plague of painful boils and sores.  And finally came a horrible hail, swarms of locusts, and the plague of darkness which covered the land for three days.

And still, Pharaoh did not let God’s people go.

So, God foretold of a tenth plague against Egypt, one that would leave no doubt as to the sovereignty and power of The God of Israel over all other gods.

At God’s prompting, Moses warned Pharaoh that the firstborn son of every home and every livestock would be struck down by the I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  With that, Moses left Pharaoh’s presence for the last time.

God instructed the Jewish people that from this day forward, they were to make this month as the first of their year, for a new era of history was now beginning.  On the tenth night of the month, every Jewish family was to select a lamb without defect and care for it, until the fourteenth day of the month when it was to be slaughtered.  The Jewish people were to take some of the blood and spread it on their doorposts, on the top and the sides of the door.  That night, they were to cook the lamb over fire and eat all of it, dressed like people who are ready to move at a moment’s notice.

Then God said, “That very night, I will sweep through Egypt and strike down the firstborn of every home and every livestock, and I will bring judgment on the gods of Egypt.”

The firstborn son was a sign of blessing to the Egyptians.  A healthy firstborn son meant that the gods were in control and that they were pleased with your home.

On the fourteenth day of the month, in the still of the night, God announced once and for all that there is no god greater than the God of Eden; the God of Heaven and Earth; the God of Adam and Eve; the God of Cain and Abel; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; The God of Israel; THE I AM WHO I AM.

As the angel of death visited the homes of the enemies of God, and passed over those covered with the blood of an innocent lamb, God declared to all people in all times that though He is slow to anger, He will not wait forever.  The things He promises will come true.  He has come to declare freedom for His people from those who oppress, those who benefit from injustice, and those who put their faith in power and wealth and false gods.

Though He waited for the right time, God insisted that nothing will stop Him from restoring the tapestry of heaven and earth woven together again.

So here we are, at the break of the new day; the people of God walking out through doors still covered in drying blood, past a wailing in Egypt unlike that which has ever been heard.  For the I AM WHO I AM, the God of Abraham, has brought His people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.

God’s people are now free from the yoke of slavery.  We are bound for the Promised Land.


Eden Transcript

In the beginning, God was.  God was perfectly content in the Divine Community, but because it pleased Him, He began to author an epic narrative: a Story about Himself.  The Author began speaking existence into being: things like light, dark, water, land, fruits, vegetables, animals.  Creator God created because it pleased Him to do so.  Everything He created was perfect and the Divine Community delighted in it. Creation crescendoed all the way to God's Best work: humanity.

Artisan God wanted to create something that He could exist in a reciprocal relationship with so He did something unlike He had ever done before: God got on His hands and knees and started to play in the dirt.  As He played, the dirt took the form of a human being: there was the Creator and there was the dirt-man.  The Creator exhaled His breath into the dirt-manthe exhale of God inhabited the dirt-man and it changed everything about him.  The exhale of God brought life and the dirt-man became a human being.

The human woke up to God and in that first awakening, the human being knew that everything that he was, everything that he was to become, and everything that He needed would come from the One who had just exhaled into Him. He knew that he had been created to be in relationship with the Creator. As he looked around, he also knew that he was waking up into a Story that was already in progress: a Story that wasn't about him.

Created in the image of the Creator, the human being was invited to steward, name, and co-create.  This he did for sometime until God put him to sleep.  When he woke up the second time, he woke up to the pinnacle of God's creative work: woman.  Together, they ruled, stewarded, and co-created as participants in a Story that included them but that wasn't about them.  Their existence was defined by The One who had created them, chose them, and danced with them. Intimacy defined their relationship.  The community of God and the community of humanity danced together in a garden called Eden. It was the way it was supposed to be and it was very good.

Over time, dancing to the rhythms of the Creator didn't work for the humans anymore.  They developed a fantasy for living that they convinced themselves was better than the Way of the Creator.  They chased their fantasy and broke through the only boundary God had established for them: they took and ate from an off-limits tree.

Why, when things were so good, did we chase a faulty fantasy?

Because rather than seeing a boundary as an act of love, it caused us to perceive God as holding back from us. We made God tragic.

We grew progressively dissatisfied with the Story not being about us: we were no longer content in our support roles.  The best way forward, we thought, was the way of independence, self-sufficiency, disobedience.  The best way forward, we thought, was to replace God with ourselves. We deceived ourselves into believing that sin would make the Story about us.

As the created chose themselves over the Creator, Shalom between God and humanity was shattered.  The humans knew the Creator to abhor sin and, therefore, expected cataclysmic destruction - the end of a short story - so they hid, awaiting their sure-to-come extinction.  They hid from themselves.  They hid from each other.  And they hid from the One whom they had rejected.

The great surprise, however, was that He didn't end the Story with the apple.  The surprise is that God allowed sin to enter the world and it wasn't the end.  Rather, grace saturated creation, as the Creator made His way through Eden, calling out, "Where are you?"  While God hated their rebellion, He was crazy about them - The Story would continue.

"Where are you?" It's an odd question for the Creator to ask of creation.  It was a rhetorical question with a specific intent: to enable the humans to identify that their fantasy chasing meant that things were no longer as they were intended to be.  Rather than finding themselves in the warmth of His embrace, they found themselves isolated, ashamed, hiding, and afraid.

and God hated it.

Where once, the exhale of God and the rhythmic sound of His heart moved them in His Way, now, Shame, Fear & Isolation, never before in the experience or vocabulary of creation, fueled their motion.

and God hated it.

God asked, "Where are you?" and the human answered, "Neither where I'm supposed to be nor where I could be. We're east of You.  We're east of Your best for us."

"How did you get there?" God asked.

The man answered with a two-fingered blame: "this woman that YOU gave me!"

And blame became marbled in to the experience of being human.

and God hated it.

As the man sought his own preservation at the expense of the woman, their interpersonal relationship went terminal.  As he lived for himself, individualism was born - community began to die.

and God hated it.

God turned to the woman asked, "Is this true?"  To which the woman pointed her finger at the snake and says, "The devil made me do it!"

Once upon a time, the community of God and the community of humanity danced a divine dance that was set to the rhythms of God.  Once upon a time, we weren't but now, we're ashamed, afraid, isolated & pointing our fingers at each saying "It's your fault!"

In a place called Eden, a place where everything was in its right place and where the favor and peace of God rested, one conversation and one decision fractured everything.  In one moment, humanity went from intimate unity expressed in nudity to fig-leaf wearing, isolated, blaming individuals fabricating tragic stories about God and each other.

and God hated it.

but sin didn't cause the Author to put His pencil down.

Grace, not destruction, would be His Way forward.

The Creator did 2 things:

First (Gen. 3:21), He made garments of skin for the humans. The Master Tailor tailored clothes of animal skin and leather for what was still the pinnacle of His creative work.

Naturally, before garments of leather could be made, animals had to die.  Sin meant that Blood had to be spilt.  Something had to die so that the shame of their sin could be covered.

and God hated that too.

Second (Gen. 3:23-24), He drove them east of Eden - east of where they were created to be - east of where things were as they were meant to be - east of the divine dance. He drove them east to work in the very stuff that they were made from: the dirt.

It was east of Eden where the human beings conceived and gave birth.  Two sons were born: the older was a farmer and the younger was a shepherd.

To survive, the farmer chose the best plot of land and, over time, cultivated it such that crops emerged.  The farmer's survival required being settled.

The shepherd's existence was nomadic: he went wherever he could find food for his flocks.  He was a wanderer with no real sense of boundaries but with an eye for potential.

The Story continues with two brothers, living east of Eden.  One settled and the other wandered.  The Settler knew and protected what was his.  The Wanderer saw it all is his and, therefore, had no need to protect anything.  The lives of these two brothers were certain to collide, and when they collided, the blood of the Wanderer was spilt: the Settler killed the Wanderer (Gen. 4:8).  The self-preservation that began with the parents accelerated until the first co-created human being killed the second.

Brokenness, Anger, Self-Serving defensiveness, oppressive power relations and petty jealousy meant that the Settler had the blood of his brother on his hands.

The God who chose not to end The Story with the apple knew that It would get worse before it got better.

It did and God hated it.

But sin didn't cause the Author to put His pencil down.

Grace and not destruction would be His Way forward.

God asked a question, a second rhetorical one: "Where's your little brother?" (Gen. 4:9)

Rather than the blame-game of his father, the Settler lied and shirked any kind of responsibility for the other. I don't know." he said. "I'm not his keeper! (Gen. 4:9)

That's when God asked a question, however, this one wasn't rhetorical: "What have you done?  The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground." (Gen 4:10)

What? The Wanderer's blood has a voice and that voice cries out to God?  God can hear the voice of the Wanderer's blood?

God cursed the Settler. Now, you will be the wanderer. (Gen. 4:16) And his wandering took him east of East of Eden.

As our story pauses here for the night, we find ourselves east of Eden.  We are east of where we were created to be.  We are east of the divine dance.  Something is not right.  We are hiding, isolated, blaming, lying, and fabricating tragic stories about God, ourselves and each other.  We're driven by independence and self-sufficiency.  To the death, we protect what we think is our own.  In so doing, we've become efficient at shirking responsibility for the other.  We have no peace.  Our Blood is on our hands and we're powerless to do anything about it.  A divine kind of washing is necessary.

Tracing the Bloodline through the Story of God

Advent is a season of desperate waiting...of preparation...for God to make good on His covenant promise to make right that which was wrong.  Through Advent, we are reminded that we are a part of an ancient tradition of people whose lives have been characterized by faith in the Creator and hope that, one day, God would do what God said He was going to do: make all things new. Advent is unique experience for 21st Century you and I because we live in the in-between...we live this side of God making good in His promise in the most unlikely of ways: by putting flesh on and pitching His tent in our neighborhood.  We live this side of His life down here, His teachings, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His empowering of us to continue His restorative reach down here.  We live this side of the greatest grace to be the greatest grace in the world around us.

So what does Advent mean to us?  What are we in desperate waiting for?

We wait for Jesus to come again and make all things new once and for all.  And as we wait, we get the unspeakable privilege of participating in His Story of redemption.

From November 20 through January 1, the beautiful & messy Unfolding Story of God will be retold in a fresh, narrative way.  Through the Hebrew Scriptures, we're going imagine how Jesus may have told His own Story from Eden through Egypt, Jerusalem, Babylon, Bethlehem, and Beyond.  Throughout the changing scenery, we're going to pay attention to where blood shows up and how, when it does,  it points to God's greatest moment: His life for ours.

Through Bloodline, we're going to discover our God who looks the mess of the world in the eyes...literally.  The first part of our prayer is that we would become captivated by a God who enters into the muck of our humanity because redemption is requires blood.  The second part of our prayer is that, becoming captivated by the Story and its Author, we would respond in a costly way by giving everything that we are in redemptive participation with Him.