The big idea of Honor Season
Here is the big idea, the Honor Rhythm we focus on during Honor Season:
God is on a campaign to turn his campaign team members into honorable people, and the center of his campaign strategy is Jesus carrying his cross. He inspires us to carry our cross, to honorably endure the world's shame for the sake of his campaign.
The Bible is one long coherent story. The sad pattern repeated through most of this story is that we humans keep disgracing ourselves. Adam and Eve did it, Moses did it, David did it, Israel did it as a nation, even Jesus's followers did it when he was arrested.
Jesus broke that pattern. He was an honorable finisher, faithful to the death. He showed us how it is done by locking onto his God-given mission and refusing to let human shame and violence influence him.
By itself, his courageous example does not guarantee we will have what it takes to copy him. But he gives us more. He promises to be with us continuously as we go about our risky, painful mission (Matthew 28.20). He moves into our lives by putting his Spirit into us, connecting us to him constantly. His presence is the source of our courage.
Here is the other half of the big idea of Honor Season:
God's campaign strategy for our era is to impress the world with the courage that Jesus puts into his campaign team so they can rise above ridicule and opposition from the campaign's enemies. It is impressive that Jesus could do that himself, but if he can empower other people to do it too, that takes amazing to a whole new level.
It is easy to think that Jesus had the courage and faith to carry his cross because he was the Son of God, but we don't have that courage because we are not God. So we point people to Jesus carrying his cross and deflect attention from ourselves. His courage is admirable whether ours is or not.
But if we think this way, we are out of SYNC with God's strategy. He already showed the world how much loyalty and courage Jesus had. Now he wants to show the world what ordinary people can do when they hit opposition as his campaign team members. Their loyalty and courage show that Jesus is still alive, still empowering people to do things they could not do on their own. It's not just his ancient example but his spiritual power today.
This reassures us, but it also puts an uncomfortable responsibility on us. Our level of courage matters. Of course, our courage is never tested if we bail out on our mission in the first place. This is a woefully common practice, even among people who go to church every week. What is their sense of being on a God-given campaign to heal, bless, and connect the world? What are they doing this week as their campaign assignment? You can get a lot of blank stares if you ask questions like that.
Some people do have a sense of mission but their strategy is to do it all by proxy. This is a very safe way to be sort of involved, since people shoot the messenger not the donors who bought the ticket for the messenger. But the donors are not displaying any courage because they are not drawing any fire themselves.
In fact, so many Christians experience so little opposition that we have redefined what it means to "bear our cross." People consider their "cross" to be their general pains in life--arthritis, an unruly child, financial struggles, etc.
The Big Idea of Honor Season is that our "cross" is only the portion of our pain that comes because we are carrying out our assignments in God's campaign. If we don't have any of that kind of pain at all, we have to ask whether we are just watching the campaign, not participating in it. It's time to go back to Square One and say to the Spearhead and Director of the campaign, "SYNC me!"
Bottom line of the big idea of Honor Season:
We see ourselves in Christ as honorable finishers, showing the world that no shame or violence will break our loyalty to the campaign that Christ died for. He was raised to keep leading the campaign team, and we live in SYNC with the personal instructions that he still gives us one day at a time.
Our campaign message is that Jesus the Messiah deserves more honor than anyone else who ever lived. He is the key to healing, blessing, and uniting the world. He is seated on the throne of the universe! (Hebrews 12.2)
But on his way to the throne, he out-suffered us all. He took more physical, legal, and personal abuse than we will ever know. And through it all, he never wavered in his commitment to his excruciating assignment as the campaign Spearhead. That is heroic, and God honored it.
Jesus defended his honor by not defending it, that is, he showed true honorability not by using violence against those who shamed him but by disregarding their shame, not reacting to it at all. He was so focused on God the Father's opinion of him that human opinions did not matter.
When you SYNC, when you See Yourself iN Christ as an "honorable" finisher, it means honorable in God's eyes. People around you may not honor you, but you don't have to defend your honor by force or even take their opinion into consideration. Don't let it get to you. Accept it as your cross, carry it quietly, and let them think you are a loser. Jesus did, and he is with you by his Spirit, giving you whatever it takes to get through whatever you have to get through.
And that is why we stay focused on Jesus, "the champion who initiates and perfects our faith." (Hebrews 12.1) Our faith or trust comes from him and leads us to him. This is the trust that "overcomes the world." (1 John 5.4) When we look at Jesus carrying the cross, we know what it looks like, but we also know that things are not what they seem. The hopeless loser is on his God-appointed way to his destiny as the ultimate winner.
Our role as honorable finishers, staying loyal under fire
Here is the big picture, the flow of the story that leads up to Jesus carrying his cross:
Everyone expected that the Messiah would come with God's glory and power, demanding the respect the world owed him
Jesus built a massive popular following by healing many people and by sending seventy followers out across the country with his proclamation that God's reign on earth was about to begin
He was hailed by crowds as the nation's deliverer when he entered Jerusalem for the annual "Freedom Festival" (Passover, celebrating the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt)
He walked into the national Temple in Jerusalem and started giving orders like he was in charge, clearing out the people who were profiteering on their monopoly of sacrificial animals and foreign exchange
To the delight of the crowds, he won several verbal duels with the religious establishment, showing them that they would have to resort to violence to stop his campaign
He saw his suffering and death coming, prayed for escape, but ended by saying to his Father, "Not my will, but yours be done."
The establishment plotted to arrest him after dark, try him at night (which was against their own law!), and get him executed by 9 the next morning, before the crowds could organize to try to stop it.
When we realize that he, the King of the universe and the Spearhead of God's campaign, carried that cross under those conditions, any cross we have to carry looks a lot smaller. He has won our respect and our loyalty to the death.
The King has sent us to continue his mission of mercy, which was the focus of the previous season of the SYNC annual cycle. During Honor Season we put our bodies where our mouths are. We accept shame, pain, whatever, and show the world how far we are willing to go for the sake of that mercy mission. It is all that matters to us.
As honorable finishers, we love to repeat the Honor Declaration. It SYNCs us with the intentions Jesus had when he as our example carried his cross. The Declaration connects us with him, the Spearhead and Director of God's campaign. We honor him by carrying our crosses, accepting any disgrace we suffer for the campaign.
The Big Idea vs the Big Lie
If we get the Big Idea of Honor Season, it protects us from the Big Lie, which is,
"The more you serve God, the better life gets for you. He blesses you and protects you more, and he punishes you less."
This lie has some truth to it. God does punish evil and reward good. However, if that is God's basic strategy for improving the world, we are stuck with three nasty tendencies:
We tend to get stressed by the thought that everything depends on us, which means we always having to try a little harder.
We get ungrateful to God for blessings since they are wages not gifts; if we don't get the wages we think we earned, we accuse him of cheating us.
We get less compassionate toward people who are suffering, since we assume they must have done something to deserve it.
If trying to serve God makes people stressed, ungrateful, and hard-hearted, who needs that? It sounds dangerous to get too focused on trying to serve him. Let's be moderate, think about God once in a while and thank him we get some extra special blessing. That approach to life is perfectly sensible if the Big Lie is the truth.
But what if the Big Lie is a big lie? What if there is a massive disconnect between serving God and having an easy, blessed life? And what if the disconnect is there because God deliberately put it there, not because he isn't paying attention to the welfare of people who serve him?
Why would God allow any "massive disconnect," much less create one?
Because God's basic strategy for healing and blessing the world is more sophisticated than "quid pro quo" ("this for that"). He is developing a global campaign team, a network of people who are willing to accept suffering in order to achieve their mission, and their mission is to connect the world to the King who accepted the most suffering of all, Jesus the Messiah.
Campaign team members have to demonstrate that they are not serving God in order to get more of his blessings right away. They are out to finish honorably, to complete their risky mission at any price. They are doing what Jesus did, walking the path he walked, "carrying their crosses," trusting God to honor their loyalty in the end even if they endure human shame or lose their lives in the meantime.
If we belong to this network, it does not necessarily mean we will feel courageous as we carry our cross. The Honor Declaration does not say, "This is a day to carry our cross, and we feel full of courage." It says we will keep going. We will act courageously whether we feel like it or not because Christ will make it possible.
That is why he will get all the credit. We never get arrogant about our courage, as if we can say, "Bring on the difficulties! We will show you that we can handle anything." On the contrary, Jesus teaches us to pray, "Lead us not into times of testing [that will require a lot of courage], but deliver us from evil." But when the evil does come, he gives us what it takes to get through it.
Holidays and the Big idea
The "Roughing it" Festival (Sukkot, or Feast of Booths/Huts) September 21-27, 2021
The Jewish festival of Sukkot, September 21-27 this year, involves a week of roughing it, living in makeshift booths, huts, or shelters as reminders of the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. The roofs have to be made from branches cut from trees, and the sky has to be visible through the roof somewhere.
The point of a flimsy shelter is clear. “We should not have survived that journey under those awful conditions, but by the grace of God we did! And we are still here! Praise God!” The God of Israel wants to be remembered and honored as the God who takes his people places and who gets them there even if the journey seems impossible.
In spite of the hardship, there is nothing glum about the "Roughing it" Festival. In fact, to this day Jews celebrate it as a feast of unbelievable joy. Their focus is not on how uncomfortable life is in a makeshift shelter. It is on how reliable God is to help us survive and how much he blesses us once the journey is over.
A prayer of welcome for the "Roughing it" Festival
Lord Jesus, you are the Messiah worth dying for. We will welcome you here every day until you welcome us there in the land you have promised.
An affirmation for the "Roughing it" Festival
The cross of Jesus the Messiah can get us through any difficulty it gets us into.
Halloween and All Saints Day, a.k.a. All Martyrs Day, October 31-November 1, 2021
Halloween, the evening before All Saints Day, is one of the two ancient Christian festivals that has become twisted and corrupted beyond all recognition. The other is Mardi Gras, the day before Lent begins.
To restore Halloween to its rightful place in our annual calendar of worship, a short history lesson is needed--the story behind "All Saints Day."
In the earliest centuries the church celebrated a memorial day on each anniversary of the martyrdom of a prominent church leader such as Stephen (Acts 7, celebrated on December 26th). As martyrdom increased, the calendar got too full. Not wanting all these newer, lesser martyrs to be totally forgotten, the Church added a new holy day for all of them together. In English we know this as All Saints Day but the label, “All Martyrs Day,” would give us a clearer picture of the original meaning. It is the spiritual equivalent of holidays that remember soldiers who have died fighting for their countries.
The eve before such a day would naturally be a holy time (Hallow-eve), a somber time of remembrance and reflection on the courage and sacrifice of so many. Instead it has become demon, ghost, and zombie night. Even if the scary costumes are replaced by Disney princess outfits and superhero costumes, the memory of the martyrs is still totally forgotten.
Halloween and All Saints Day are great times to refocus on people who carried their crosses, people who were loyal to their mission and gave their lives for it. Hebrews 11.35-40 reminds us of many ancient heroes of the faith. Web sites like Voice of the Martyrs and IDOP (International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church) remind us of modern ones.