Part of what we are up against in living full and faithful Christian lives is trying to hold what often feel like opposite extremes together. This is what Christianity has been all about since the beginning. It was always the heretics that were trying to cut us slack. The Bible clearly taught that Jesus was a true man and yet also fully God, and therefore with the Father and the Spirit, these three persons were the one, true, eternal God. The heretics wanted to soften this, alleviate this theological twister move and make the claim a little more respectable, at least stay within known philosophical categories. But the faithful refused to budge from the Word of God, and Athanasius stood against the world. Likewise, down through the centuries, whether it was the depravity of man, the substitutionary atonement, the sovereignty of God and free will of man, creation ex nihilo – the invitations always come rolling in to repackage this religion, tone down the extremes, sand off the sharp edges. Every generation faces this temptation, the Devil offers amazing deals to us all. Just go the easy route: turn these stones into bread, cast yourself off of here, worship me — all with proof texts from the Bible — and generation after generation, the faithful refuse, the faithful wait on their God, and the unfaithful stumble, the unfaithful capitulate and make deals.
There are any number of doctrinal, cultural, or political deals on offer in our day: Pipe down about what God says about human sexuality. Ease up on that deep theology stuff. Cool your jets on all those hot button cultural issues. Why you gotta always be worked up and stressed out? Is that really winsome? Is that really a good testimony? But perhaps one of the fundamental tensions that Jesus is calling this generation to embrace is the tension between joy and outrage. How can you do both? How can you be simultaneously full of the joy of the Lord, at peace with God and man, and be indignant about the slaughter of millions of babies, the unjust wars, the insane financial dealings, the oppressive welfare system, the sexual perversions and promiscuity, and Christian impotence? How can you do both? Seems like you need to go full bore outrage machine so we can all block you on Twitter and Facebook or else you need to take a deep breath, calm down, take a couple of shots of whiskey, and take up a new hobby. Look, we aren’t saying you shouldn’t care about stuff, but dude, that kind of stressing is kind of obnoxious.
But here’s the deal: the peace of God was announced by an army of angels that came down and woke up a field full of shepherds at night. The peace of God filled an old man in a temple with a song and a prophecy about a sword that would divide and pierce. The peace of God calmed a fierce storm on the Sea of Galilee and then drove several thousand pigs into the same sea to drown and rot, while a man with self-inflicted cuts all over his body sat for the first time, clothed and in his right mind. The peace of God comes like this. The joy of God comes like this. Jesus’ own family thought He was out of His mind, thought He was insane. He was accused of drunkenness, being demon possessed, and He made rulers nervous and mad. But everywhere He went, He brought peace and healing and joy.
So this is my Fourth of July charge to you. Embrace this tension. Embrace this cross. Let your arms be stretched out like this, like the arms of your Savior. Sing a psalm louder than ever before. Laugh longer, have one more helping of potato salad, and give one more toast. Tickle your children, kiss your wife, invite another neighbor to the party, say an extra blessing of gratitude over it all, and send fifteen more fireworks into the sky tonight. Do it all with a profound and certain and unshakeable joy in your heart. Our Jesus reigns and all will be well.
And nevertheless and at the very same time, lift this joy up with a clenched fist. Lift up your heart with a glad defiance because the days are growing dark. Wicked men rule over us, and we in the Church have been unfaithful. We have forgotten our God, and He has given us over to our sins, to oppressors and tyrants and fools. This calls for outrage. This calls for indignation. This calls for sorrow over our sins. The wicked grind the faces of the poor, the unborn and the elderly are forgotten and crushed, men cheat on their wives and abandon their children, and we sell our souls for whatever the latest pleasure on demand happens to be.
So we rejoice with trembling. We kiss the Son and bow in reverent fear. We fly our flags at half mast. We laugh with tears in our eyes. We cannot comprehend it all, but faith in the crucified and risen Jesus clings to the One who does. We stand still waiting for the salvation of our God. We are sorrowful but always rejoicing; dying and yet behold, we live; crushed but not killed; poor yet making many rich; having nothing and yet possessing all things.
We do not lose heart. We standfast.