Happy May Day!

Happy May Day! Do I say that with any particular celebratory delight?  Not at all. But it’s still fun because spring is here and that means people are much happier than they were three months ago.

According to the most reliable source online, Wikipedia, the earliest May Day celebrations “appeared in pre-Christian times, with the festival of Flora, the Roman Goddess of flowers, and the Walpurgis Night celebrations of the Germanic countries.”  The day also has roots in celebrating fertility (ancient Egypt), remembering political/social victories (U.S. and U.K.), engaging in sexual activity (Germany), warding against witchcraft (Germany), and commemorating the beginning of spring (England).  If people in the U.S. celebrate today, they normally give a May Basket to a loved one.

Back in medieval times, during the festival in England, at the break of dawn on May 1, villagers would go out into the forest and gather flowers and wood for the day’s celebration.  The largest piece of wood brought back would be used as the Maypole.  This gathering of flowers and wood is calling “bringing in the may.”

The poem The Court of Love (c. 1346), written by Geoffrey Chaucer (died c. 1400), was probably an inspiration to the poem which contains this excerpt, dated around 1541. It gives us a glance into the practice of “bringing in the may”:

And furth goth all the Court, both most and lest,
To feche the floures fressh, and braunche and blome;
And namly, hawthorn brought both page and grome.
With fressh garlandes, partie blewe and whyte,
And thaim rejoysen in their greet delyt.

Villagers & Morris-men dancing beside the Maypole on Ickwell Green, Bedfordshire; Dawn on 1st May 2005.

The Maypole, in England, in all its glory.


Robben Island Prison

Part 5 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.


God is a Strong Tower

When I was younger and heard or read, “God is a strong tower,” my mind immediately went to an image like the one above.  What you are looking at is your run-of-the-mill state park viewing tower.  It’s actually not very strong.  It’s not very powerful.  It can’t actually protect you.  And it’s not very threatening, unless you fall on the steps and get cut by those nasty steel holes.

Psalm 61:3 says, “For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”  When Scripture says that God is a “strong tower” it means that he is more like a fort during wartime with 6-foot thick cement walls and razor wire on top, a treacherous moat surrounding, snipers ready at lookout points, and mines leading up to the gate.

I’m not trying to be severely violent, but I need to visualize what David mans when he says God is a strong tower against his enemy. We live in the midst of a war — not against Al Qaeda or the Taliban or North Korea.  Those are real enemies in the real world, but ultimately we battle against sin, the world, and the devil.  And when any one or all three seem to be bearing down on our souls, we have a refuge, a Strong Tower, who is actually able to defend, protect, and provide.


Jesus is the Blazing Center of Social Justice

Last night here in Pretoria, I went to a showing of the newest Invisible Children movie.  Before the movie was played, I was in the main building where there were dozens of Christian ministries and non-profits represented.  I didn’t know everything would be so “Christian” because I knew that Invisible Children has never made any kind of profession to be religious.  So, I was hopeful that this night would be about Jesus.

The program started out with an Afrikaans girl who prayed.  Her first word was “Jesus…”  She prayed that God would open our hearts to the injustice in the world.  She prayed that we would be empowered to do something.  She prayed, “In your Name, Amen.”

That was the last time I heard Jesus’ name.

There were other people who spoke after the film.  They talked about how South Africa could help.  They said they “had meetings…and thought and prayed about” how to be involved.   They said this is an “interdenominational” movement.  They said that we “cannot turn a blind eye toward this.”

And you know what?  I would be all for it — if it had to do with Jesus.

By my guess, I’d say there were about 3,000 people at the program, and as always in a group that size, most probably do not follow Jesus.  As I sat there, I said to my friend Rylan, “They missed a huge opportunity to share the gospel tonight.”

Then you might say, “Well, James, this isn’t about the gospel.  It’s social justice.  It’s a non-religious movement.  It’s about people working together to make a difference.”

And I would reply that if that’s all it is, it’s a problem.  It’s a problem because there are thousands of people who may be fooled into believing that if you give a couple bucks, write a few letters, spend a night on the streets, and buy some merchandise you will have done your duty.  Even greater than that, it’s a problem because there are possibly thousands of people who will not understand the greatest injustice ever committed: we have sinned, and continue to sin, against Almighty God.

We will not properly understand injustice in our world until we understand the injustice of sin that lives in our hearts.   We have highly offended God.  We have trampled upon his glory.  We have committed awful crimes against the Creator.  We deserve to die because of our evils.

But God sent Jesus to earth.  The God-man came down to live and work and teach and bring us back to God.  He lived without any injustice in his heart, because he was God.  Even so, we couldn’t overcome our own injustice.  In fact, we are so unjust that we did the unthinkable.

We killed God.

But it wasn’t for nothing.  God used his own death to justify all those who come to him.  No one understands injustice more than God does.  Jesus was innocent, and he was murdered.  No one has been sinned against more than he has.    Because of this, we will not be rightly passionate about social justice until we understand the justice that God satisfied when Jesus’ died on the cross.  Therefore, if any social cause is not grounded in Christ, it is meaningless.

Invisible Children is neither a good nor a bad thing.  It depends on who you are in it for.  If the blazing center is Jesus, then it is good.  If it is for any other reason — noble as it may be — it’s bad.

The sad fact is that anything not done for Jesus — for the glory of God — is a sin.  As great as it seems for someone to rescue children from being slaves of a crazed terrorist, it doesn’t justify anyone before God.  If anything doesn’t bring glory to Jesus and  lead people to him so they might be rescued from bondage — physically and spiritually — it simply draws attention away from Christ and toward something else.

The prophet Isaiah puts it this way.  “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (64:6).  The phrase “polluted garment” in Hebrew means “bloodied rag.”  I know this is gross, but in our day, this is akin to a bloodied tampon.  You say that’s disgusting.  You say that’s vile.  It’s in your Bible.  Disgusting is the point Isaiah is making.  Anything “righteous” that is not done to the glory of God is like a bloodied tampon.  That’s how disgusting social justice is to God if it is void of Jesus.

Know that I’m not bashing Invisible Children. I don’t hate social justice campaigns.  This blog isn’t about that.  It’s about you and me.  It’s about our wrongs.  It’s about our injustices.  It’s about our hatred, resentment, bitterness, greed, envy, jealously, lust, malice, harshness, lying, cheating, stealing, mocking, jeering, and a thousand other sins that we commit daily.

It’s all injustice.  Against God.   Against his glory.  Against his perfection.  And it’s ugly.  So ugly that God had to die to forgive us.

My plea is that you examine yourself and repent so you don’t stand before God and show him a bloody towel and say, “Look at my good deeds.”  I pray that you stand before God and point to Jesus and say, “There’s my righteousness.  There’s my goodness.  There’s my justice.”