Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Gospel in the Greatest Showman: "This Is Me"

“I am not a stranger to the dark. Hide away, they say, we don’t want your broken parts. I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars. Run away, they say, no one will love you as you are.”

I know you are seeing the bearded lady right now. But I want you to imagine another woman for a minute. She lives in a hot climate with no access to running water, so she and all the other women she knows walk to fill up their jars with water and carry them home. Here, like in other places where the sun beats relentlessly in the middle of the day, most people plan their hardest work in the early morning or late evening. This woman can choose to avoid the scorching heat or choose to avoid the scoffing crowds. She chooses to avoid the crowds. She has acquired a bit of a reputation as she has moved from man to man. In her culture once a woman has been with a man, she either stays with him or is considered a second-class citizen. Maybe even an untouchable. So here she is at noon, in the heat of the day but with no crowds in sight, walking the several miles to the water well with her jars. A man walks over to her and wants her to give him a drink of water. She’s stunned. Why is he talking with her? On top of the fact that she’s disreputable, he’s from the south. His people look down their noses at her people. Isn’t he afraid of someone seeing him talk with her?

The story goes on. While the man may have been thirsty, it turns out he was making an elaborate point about water. The water he gives is living water; it never dries up. It flows up to eternal life. The man is Jesus. And the woman didn’t offend him. It’s not that he was naive. In fact, he told her everything she’s ever done. He saw her broken parts. He saw her scars, visible and invisible. And he didn’t condemn her. But he did change her. Instead of remaining in hiding, only going out when the crowds were at their thinnest, she went to the biggest crowd she could find and told people about Jesus. “Come! See a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah of God?” Jesus told her he was this Messiah, this promised deliverer.

“This is Me” is a top hit because everyone is looking for an answer for shame. Sometimes we feel shame in our own lives and long to see it covered. Or we rejoice when we see other people come out of hiding because they finally feel they don’t need to be ashamed of who they are. Whether it’s our own shame or someone else’s, we are burdened when we feel it and rejoice when it’s gone.

Jesus has an answer for shame. In Isaiah chapter 54, the prophet says that when God restores His people they will not be ashamed or disgraced. They will even forget the shame they have been living in. They will forget this shame because God, who made them and knows everything about them, will set them free and make them his own people again.

The thing about shame is that we have to be fully seen in order for shame to be fully gone. Otherwise the lingering doubt remains.. “But if they knew about this issue or that habit, they wouldn’t love me.” No one would be crying happy tears for the bearded lady if she sang behind a curtain the whole show. It’s because we see her in the spotlight - in all her bizarre freakiness -  that we love her for her braveness, for her voice, and for refusing to stay hidden.

Who can more fully see everything shameful about us than our Maker? We can show our best face to the world, but our God cannot be fooled. He sees anything that’s ugly in our hearts or in our minds. He sees anything - and everything.

But amazing grace is this: He sees it all, and he took it all. Took it all to the cross for us. Paul writes in a letter to the Colossians that Jesus cancelled the debt we owed, nailing it to the cross.  He died a criminal’s death for the public to see and mock. He died this death, so that when God looks at us, instead of shaming us for our weaknesses and ugliness, He can instead see the perfection of His son, Jesus.

We don’t need to be ashamed of who we are. But Jesus won’t leave us as we are. He makes us glorious. Not because he sees the ugliness and calls it beauty. But because He sees the ugliness, took the ugliness, and gives us beauty. He gives us a new heart and a new spirit. A new freedom to be who God, our Maker, created us to be. I am not who I was. God has given me a new heart with freedom to walk according to His perfect design. Please understand, I am also not who I will be. But the things in me that are ugly have been forgiven and are being changed. And the things that are beautiful are because of His Spirit living inside me.

What amazes us about the story of the Samaritan woman is not that Jesus was kind to a perfect stranger. It’s that He welcomed a perfect sinner. He knew everything she had ever done, welcomed her near, and offered her life that was worth living.

New heart, new spirit, new hope, new joy, new life. This is Me.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

What The Greatest Showman shows us about ourselves... and our intelligent designer

In the song "Come Alive," PJ Barnum is talking to his motley crew of “unique persons and curiosities."

“You stumble through your days, got your head hung low, your skies a shade of grays. Like a zombie in a maze, who is asleep inside, but you can shake awake. ‘Cuz your just a dead man walking, thinking that’s your only option.”

In The Greatest Showman, Barnum beckons his crew to “come alive, go and light your light, let it burn so bright.” This song marks a turning point in the movie and begins to capture the audience. Why? We see people coming out of hiding. People like General Tom Thumb. The bearded lady. When you see them appear in the movie, I bet most of you don't feel they belong behind closed doors. PJ Barnum pulls them out of the shadows and shows them, and the world, that they belong on a stage. We see them coming to life, and this new life springing forth makes our hearts sing. I think this song makes our heart sing because it stirs the deep longing in our souls to have life that is truly LIFE. God, the great designer, wired our hearts this way - to celebrate others coming alive and to desire full life for ourselves.

PJ Barnum has inspired America to find the stage-worthy in everyone and to celebrate what makes us unique. We are captivated with the life he brings out in his circus crew, and we long to see ourselves and those around us truly come alive in the same way. We find PJ Barnum captivating because we see in him a shadow of someone even greater than himself. I know someone who truly offers new life. This someone spoke and made something out of nothing. He breathed life into flesh and bones to make a living, moving being. He walked on the earth Himself. This someone is Jesus. And Jesus said He came that we may have life, and have life ABUNDANTLY.

Paul wrote many letters to newly formed churches that are part of the Bible we have today. He could have sung "Come Alive" to the Ephesians. In his letter named after them, he reminds them who they were and who they are now. “You were dead,” he says, “living in your sin and lawlessness, walking in the way of the world, just as we all were when we were controlled by the desires of our body and mind. But God gave us so much we didn’t deserve. He loved us with an incredible love we didn’t deserve. Even when we were dead, unable to make ourselves alive, God made us ALIVE together with his Son, Jesus. Jesus was dead - really and truly dead - when God made Him alive. And in the same way He made us alive, giving us life that is truly life.”*

This life that Paul talks about is the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven. This life is eternal life. It comes through Jesus and is available to us, in part, on earth. This eternal life will come in full when Jesus returns. And He will return. The book of Hebrews in the Bible tell us that Jesus came once to take on the sins of the world. And that He will come again to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. This second coming is something we can only begin to imagine. No tears, no pain, no sickness, no death. 100% freedom to be in the presence of God: happy, whole, without guilt or shame. If The Greatest Showman makes your heart sing like it does mine, it does so because it is whetting your appetite for the abundant life that Jesus has brought in part and will bring in full. As CS Lewis said, “If you find yourself with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that you were made for another world.”

Do you listen to this song and feel hope budding in your heart? Do you see the General and the bearded lady come alive and crave that same freedom for yourself? This craving is God stirring in you a desire for abundant life. He created you to have the desire, and He made a way to satisfy it. If you hear this song and your soul wonders “does God really want this kind of free, abundant life for me on earth?”... the answer is “Yes! God wants it for you and for me. For anyone who will come to Him believing He is the designer of life and the answer for everything our souls crave.” And, as PJ Barnum says, “once you see it, oh, you’ll never, ever be the same.”

*I'm paraphrasing Ephesians chapter 2, verses 1-6