The Dance 1: The Invitation

For most of my adult life, I had my income tax prepared by an accountant, but a few years ago, I began preparing and filing my and my family’s income taxes. For about 2 or 3 years, there were no issues. But then I received a letter from the Canada Revenue Agency asking for copies of charitable donation receipts to support the claims that had been made. Back then, just the sight of a letter from CRA would fill me with dread. But what I learned from that experience is, if you give the Canada Revenue Agency what they ask for and you do it in a timely manner, things tend to go well. And then, my family and I were able to carry on living our lives without much interference from or involvement with the CRA.

              This message is based on Matthew 11:25-30. It was shared on Sep 16/18 at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC. For the podcast, click here.

Some people think that God is like the Canada Revenue Agency. This line of reasoning says that, if you simply give Him what He asks for, and you do it in a timely manner, then things will tend to go well and He will leave you alone. Then we get to live our lives without much interference from or involvement with God. When we think this way, we believe that our true life is the life that we live on our own, and that God’s job is to make sure that our lives run smoothly.

But here are some of the problems with thinking about God in that way. First of all, it is an unrealistic fantasy because it doesn’t take into account what really happens in real life. In real life, the life that human beings actually live in this world, bad things happen to good people, people die in the prime of life because of accident or disease, loved ones disappoint us, friends betray us, and work is not always fun.

For example, recently in the news were three young people who were living a life that many of us would aspire to: traveling around the world and engaging in one grand adventure after another, and making a good living at the same time by posting about those adventures. But that dream came to an end on July 3 of this year when they fell near the top of Shannon Falls and died.

Whatever outlook we adopt in life needs to be resilient enough to take into account aspects of real life like tragedy, suffering and death. We cannot go through life trying to live in a dream world.

The second reason why thinking that God is like the CRA is a problem is because this way of thinking about God cuts us off from the help that God wants to give us to carry us through all the trials and tribulations of our real life. With this view of things, we actually do not want God to help us. The goal of this worldview is to keep God out of our lives.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, thinking of God as a remote and distant being whom we must appease so we can live our true life without him will prevent us from living the rich, full, abundant life that God the Father wants to give us through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Come With Me by Jakob Owens-704050-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

As I have thought about life what God and what it looks like, it seems to me to be very much like dancing. Dancing is two people moving together in a way that is coordinated, intentional, pleasing to the participants and beautiful to behold. Ideally, that is what our life with God would be like. We would be engaged with God in a close, personal relationship, where our movement through time and space is guided by God and synchronized with him, and the result would be a deep, profound joy that endures through all the ups and downs that life throws at us.

And as we dance with God, this life becomes a time of growing into the life that is to come, for one day Jesus is going to make us and all things right and the result will be a new heaven and earth. All of creation will be restored to its original soundness and beauty. And for all who danced with God in this life, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away. Now we see our dancing partner through the eyes of faith, but then we will see God face-to-face and he will wipe every tear from our eyes.

This is the first in a series of blog posts called The Dance and during this series I invite you to reflect with me on life with God as a dance, so that we can more fully engage with God in this dance, and so we can invite others to enjoy dancing with God too.

As we think about different aspects of dancing, there are a couple of things that come to mind. The first thing that we may think of when we think of dancing is that dancing usually happens in a certain context. Often dancing happens in a special building, like a hall or a club and there may be a certain area set aside in that building for people to dance. Usually, when you go dancing, there are other couples dancing around you.

So it is in our dance with God. It happens in a certain context and that context is life.  This is where our dance with God was meant to happen, not for a certain hour on a Sunday morning, but throughout our everyday, ordinary, real life. As we dance with God through our everyday life, we are surrounded by many other people who are also dancing. All the people dancing around us has a dance partner. We can say that everyone has a close, personal attachment to a higher power of some kind or a set of philosophical ideas or values. And each person hopes and believes that their dance partner will support and sustain them through life.

So the first thing that all of us need to realize is that everyone who is going to dance with God is going to have to change, including us. Some of us are going to have to change dance partners because the dance partner we have will not be able to save us in the face of real life challenges like sin, death and estrangement from God. Others of us are going to have to change how we dance, for we are already dancing with God, but we are keeping him at such a great distance from us that we rarely, if ever, touch. Our eyes are constantly scanning our surroundings and the other dancers, so we have no real connection with God, even though we are dancing with him.

All of us need to take a chance and move forward into a closer dance with God. But here is the thing about change: It is hard, risky, and painful. This means that it is important for us to have compassion on others as they confront the challenge of change because this is not an easy thing to do. And we also need to have compassion on ourselves as we face the challenge of change in our own lives.

But let’s remember what motivates us: love. We want to be loving people, we want the total amount of love in the world to increase, and we want God’s love to flow through us into the lives of others. Let’s begin by identifying what is not love. It is not love when you or I avoid an uncomfortable conversation with someone by not telling them the truth. It is not loving ourselves when we let our fears stop us from making the changes that we need to make to live a rich, full, abundant life with Jesus. It is not loving others when we choke off God’s flow of love through us to them because our pride and stubbornness is preventing us from following God in a direction that we don’t want to go. And yet it is because of love that we are willing to try something new with God.

A second thing that we might notice about dancing is that it usually begins with an invitation, as one person comes to another and invites them to dance. And so it is in our dance with God. God is always inviting us to start dancing with him, if we have not done so before, or if we did dance with God for a time and then stopped. And God is always inviting us into a closer dance with him. We see one of many biblical examples of God inviting in Matthew 11:25-30.

Here is some background to this passage. In the previous, chapter 10, the writer of this biography, Matthew, tells us that Jesus instructed and then sent his disciples out to the Jewish villages and towns to teach and heal the people. Then, in the beginning of chapter 11, Jesus went, without his disciples, to preach and teach in the towns of Galilee, which is a region in the northern part of the Holy Land around the Sea of Galilee. While Jesus is doing that, some followers of John the Baptist come to Jesus and ask him if he is the Messiah or not. John knows who Jesus is, after all, they are cousins. But John has been put in prison by King Herod, and jails in that time were not places of punishment. There were only places to hold prisoners until the punishment could be carried out, and often that punishment was capital. So John likely knew that his life could end in a moment at the whim of Herod. It is possible that John wanted to know if his life’s work of preparing the way for the Messiah had been in vain or not. So he sent his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Mt. 11:3)

Jesus told John’s disciples: “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor” (vv. 4-5). Jesus knew that, with these ancient words from the prophet Isaiah, John would have the comfort of knowing that Jesus was the Messiah because now, through him, signs of God’s coming kingdom were happening.

Jesus then turned to the crowd and challenged their assumptions about how life with God works, assumptions that revealed themselves in the way that these same people had received John the Baptist and Jesus. One could paraphrase what Jesus said in this way:

You think that you know what life with God is like. But you are very seriously wrong!

You think that life with God is about having control. You are like children that want to determine the game that everyone plays, and then you condemn those that don’t want to play the game you chose. Striving for control will blind you and you will miss what God is doing in the world and in your life.

You think that life with God is about seeing amazing things happen. Many people saw the amazing miracles that I did in Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, and yet it never made a lasting impact in their lives.

You think that life with God is about having the right social or religious status. You are the “good people” whom our society and our religion accepts, and yet you refuse to enter into the close, personal relationship with God the Father that I am offering to you. At the very same time, social outcasts like prostitutes and tax collectors are rushing, almost violently, into the kingdom of God.

Jesus is telling us that an important part of dancing with God is examining our assumptions about life with God and turning away from those assumptions that Jesus tells us are false.

As we turn our attention to the invitation that we find in Matthew 11:

Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Mt. 11:27-30 MSG)

The first thing that Jesus tells us here is that if you want to know what God the Father is like, look at Jesus, what He says and what He does.

Jesus continues by inviting us to come to him with all of our weariness and burdens, lay those down before him and He will give us rest. No longer do you need to strive to try to please God. God unconditionally accepts you just as you are. No longer do you need to worry about the future. God holds the future in his hands and, while there is going to be suffering and struggling for a while, in the end, all things will all be good, and it will be well worth the wait.

No longer do you need to struggle to try to elevate yourself in the eyes of others. God does not work like the world. God does not care a wit about what other people in the world or in the church think of you. God’s love for you is unconditional, and the only thing that He cares about is your direction and your distance with respect to Him. There is more joy in God’s heart over a dying beggar resting peacefully in the arms of Jesus than over a king in his counting house surrounded by countless sacks of gold. So who are you trying to be as you live your life? A dying beggar or a wealthy king?

Dear friend, Jesus is giving you an invitation. You may have heard that invitation countless times before: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Those words are a great comfort, especially when we are weary and burdened. But if you are like me, as soon as you are feeling rested again, you may forget all about Jesus and His invitation.

Today, I am inviting you to hear Jesus’ invitation in a new way. Jesus is telling us that He will meet us in our areas of greatest weakness and brokenness, and the rest that He offers to give us is genuine rest. But it is not a rest given so that we can escape our weakness and brokenness. The rest that Jesus gives allows us to stay in the middle of our greatest weakness and brokenness, because Jesus loves you infinitely, even in your most weak and broken state. Because of Jesus and His unconditional love for us, you and I can live in and even lead from our areas of weakness and brokenness because that is how God’s love, power and goodness is most clearly revealed in us.

So the challenge that I lay before you today is two-fold:

  • The first part of the challenge is to spend quiet time with Jesus and ask him to reveal to you your greatest area of weakness. When he does, own it as part of who you are.
  • The second part of the challenge is to continually remind yourself again and again, that even in your area of greatest weakness, you are infinitely and unconditionally loved by Jesus.

Over the past week, Jesus has helped me to see that much of my life has been focused on avoiding or anesthetizing my inadequacies. And this pattern of avoiding or anesthetizing my inadequacies has led me into much sin. But when I realized that I am both totally inadequate and unconditionally loved then some new ways of living, some new ways of dancing with Jesus, have begun to open up before me.

This past summer, Susan and I were very privileged to have the first one of our children get married. And as Logan and Divya danced their first dance together, I was struck by the look of adoration they had in their eyes for each other. I think that if everyone else in the hall would have left during that dance, they might not have noticed because their eyes, their faces and their entire being was totally focused on the other. This is what dancing while in love looks like.

And I think that is the ideal way to dance with Jesus: our eyes focused on Him, following wherever He leads, resting in the adoring gaze of the One we love the most, the One who loves us the most. Amen.



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