God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

When I find myself closing our curtains and demanding, in a yelling whisper, that my children stay in the back of the house where nobody will hear us because I am hiding from knocks at the door, it is a sure indication that there is a problem and it isn’t with my sweet neighbors who I love.  My lack of love, or more specifically, my sudden commitment to self-preservation, reveals yet a new place where the person and work of Jesus has life to offer me that I am not yet grabbing hold of or even believing exists.

As a parent, my days are remarkably full of negotiations between children, debates over eating food or not being given more sugar, battling the intense pull to be entertained all the time and desiring to work never, being needed just enough throughout the day that I feel the need to hide away for a moment off or else feel intensely guilty for neglecting duties when I do steal away, and so on.  I do not yet know rest in this role.

As a neighbor, I really want to have genuine relationships with those who physically live within a stone’s throw of my front door.  I want to experience on earth as it is in heaven deep affections for those who otherwise I may never know or be aware of commonalities.  It turns out, though, that people really are people, and there is often more in common than not.  Even so, because of my own selfishness, opening the door has begun to feel draining.  I do not yet know rest in these relationships.

My friendships are crucial to me and I need them.  Unfortunately, they are not able to offer the parenting of my soul that I have found myself increasingly needing lately.  Instead of deep connectedness, I feel the sting of disconnect and the chasm of distance.  And this is where I begin to see what it is that my faith is lacking…

The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God…Deut. 1:30-32

The Lord carries as a father carries his son…I am drained because I have somehow made myself the ultimate parent not only of my children, but of my neighbors, family, friends and even myself.  I have taken on a responsibility to shape and meet needs and love and serve and instruct that was never mine to begin with…and never within my ability or gift set to begin with.  I also have presumed on others to meet my deepest need for belonging, nourishment and rest that only the role of a parent ever provides.  That is the thing about presumption…it makes an ass of me even more than the word “assume” does.  After all, it is not like I have actually effected the kind of change or deep loving service that I fancy.  But thinking that the future well being of the world (and even more so, my soul) is resting upon my perfections should exhaust anyone.

for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.  Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky…Phil. 2:13-15 

Because it is God doing the work, I have less reason to grumble and complain.  He has taken the laboriousness on His own shoulders as well as the weight of responsibility for the outcome.  This should start to give my soul rest.  This reality is also deeply connected to His Fathering of me and my status as a child.  I can stomp my feet, complain about the food I don’t want to eat, be angry that I didn’t get my way, be greedy for more stuff even as I am opening the very present I have been begging to get for months and other things that I as a parent have no compassion for in my own children.  He has compassion, patience, understanding and confidence that I will not always be sinfully childish, but ultimately a blameless and pure child because of the cloak of the person and work of Jesus which consumes me.

I will never shine like a bright star in a dark sky with a white knuckled smile and obligatory “love” for those around me.  And as long as I fail to run to my Father with my truest longings, most honest hurt feelings, most genuine disappointments, and acknowledgment of loneliness and weariness, I am going to try to fill that role myself, failing to be see myself as the child in need of affectionate parenting and therefore treating others as inferior children rather than brothers and sisters.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matt. 6:20

Adam and Eve forfeited the rest promised at the end of the days of labor because they chose to be their own gods, trying to do what was never possible for them.  I forfeit my rest just the same way.  My children, neighbors, friends and family are not stealing my rest, I have only come to view people that way in my assumption that rest comes in either their filling God’s role for me or in their absence rather than in the presence of my loving Father.  He is my rest and will rest my soul.  As I have the faith to be parented by Him, I will better love my children with whom I share all the same the heart demands and needs, and with whom I share a Redeemer who meets, smothers and covers those needs and demands.  What is impossible with man is possible with God.

Joy to the World

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30

We just saw the new Muppet Movie late yesterday afternoon and it was all you could hope for, especially entering into this nostalgic time of year.  There are a few songs that sounded just like Flight of the Concords and turns out, the same guy from that show wrote the ones in the Muppet Movie.  Point is, it was funny and clever like always, filled with believing in the good and beautiful while fighting against the angst and cynicism of our current era.  I give it a thumbs up.  But, this is not a movie review blog, so of course there is more.

I need to be quicker to sing and dance.  I need to have wider eyes, taking in the wonder of lights all over the place for Christmas or stars and fireflies in the summer.  I need to be more romantic.  I need to frolic (and to use the word “frolic”) more often. I need to meander.  And back to the singing and dancing…with a bit more effort than those very talented and funny guys on Flight of the Concords, I could surely make up my own musical numbers to describe the ordinary moments and thoughts throughout my days.  And that comes back around to laughing more, because those dramatic musical numbers for ordinary moments can’t help but make you laugh.  Like Gonzo, I need to rip off my “very successful plumbing business” dark suit and expose a pink sequined leotard and cape to be SuperGonzo again.  OK, maybe not that part, but you get the imagery.

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:  “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.  I will build you up again, and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.  Again you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with the joyful.  Jer. 31:3-4

Yes, life in a broken world is filled with brokenness and very complicated mess.  But it is not void of God’s image either, nor is it absent of evidence of His beauty, power and restoration.  The horrors of the crucifixion were swallowed up in the victory of the resurrection, ascension and current, permanent reign.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”  Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).  John 20:15-16

Jesus is often closer than I realize.  His resurrection is often the more immediate reality than the death I am grieving.  His invitation to celebrate will always be the final scene in the story He is writing.  Where I am inclined, oddly, to carry my burdens and sort of collect them like trophies, He is offering to swap those for a dance in the street (better yet, a choreographed one with all the people around) or an evening lying in the grass taking in the lights of nighttime.  He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.  Joy to the world, the savior reigns!

 

Work or Worship?

With a small group of friends in my home last night, we were sharing “shalom stories” to look at our creation.  In other words, moments in life where we felt full of life and that, as much as possible, all was right with the world.  I recycled what has always been at the top of my list of shalom stories – the image of myself on the soccer field, driving the ball down the field past defenders and toward the goal.  I love, as I’ve mentioned before, the image of Braveheart fighting for Scotland or the teacher in the inner city school pushing against the low expectations and resignation of the surrounding culture determined to unleash the beautiful.  But something struck me last night as I reflected on our time after everyone had gone home: I have been living that aspect of my creation in the past year and there is something more I am missing – rest.

At the conclusion of this past weekend, a weekend that began with Martha Jane’s adoption being finalized in a judge’s chambers and her baptism taking place to conclude the weekend, I felt a little down.  We had crossed the finish line of one great story and begun the journey of the next (her new life in a covenant community of family and our church family), but there had been no swelling music in the background or scene where all stood still taking in the grandeur of the moment.  Perhaps it is the way one feels after a deep personal tragedy occurs and while his or her world has been changed forever, the rest of the world seems to go on as if nothing happened.  Rather than tragedy, this mile marker was celebratory, yet still felt more commonplace than my distant imaginings had envisioned.  This disappointment indicated something was awry in both my expectations and motivations, and it has made me reexamine my drive to fight for Scotland. (Braveheart reference there, in case you haven’t seen it.)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Col. 3:15-17

As so happens with corrupt motivations, they creep in quietly through a back window and surprise you.  Rather than in response to all that the person and work of Jesus has done and is doing for me, it would seem my driving motivator has drifted into the desire to conquer brokenness, to right wrongs or to go where no man has gone before me as if the climax of the story is supposed to be me lifted on the shoulders of my cheering teammates in front of a wildly cheering crowd as if I am Rudy.  And bam!  Look at that…I have replaced Jesus as the hero of my story.  My drive to be the hero has crept in and hijacked the role that belongs only one Person.  How could that demand not end in disappointment?

for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Phil. 2:13

Even my good works are His works, done in and through me as if wearing me like a garden glove.  It is His hand holding the shovel, digging the dirt, scattering the seeds, watering the seeds and weeding the assailants to the fruit that He is growing.  He is the creator, redeemer and sustainer of all life.  He is bringing His rule and reign to bear on all of creation and He will bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Now in fairness, He does invite us to share in the celebration of His work being accomplished, to mark evidences of His mighty hand and tender mercies with feasts, stones of remembrance and times of praise, thanksgiving and celebration. I do this far too seldom as my eyes grow dim to His grace at work around me all the time in all things.  But the swell of music in the background is to highlight and celebrate the glory of the Redeemer, to lift Him on my shoulders and raise raucous applause for His heroism, not for me to try to shove Him out of the way and claim it as my own.  And, His extraordinary work is no less valid if celebrated clearly by all in sight than if missed entirely.

I was not created merely to be a workhorse for Jesus nor left on earth to do His work for Him, as if the burden of redemption sits upon my shoulders.  He does not need for me to prove to the world that He is great and does great things.  There is more to my creation than a warrior tearing down the field, fighting the opponent and pushing toward victory.  He has also made me for rest and wonder and sitting with His creation to enjoy it, them and Him.  These are my shalom stories that I need to start to examine and be stirred by as further evidence of His image in me.  He is not only a working God but He is deeply at rest as well.  This is a facet of His image that I do not currently reflect to the world around me and am now stirred to see Him bring to light.  Perhaps the warrior aspect of my creation will reflect Him more accurately when my heart is content to be at rest in His accomplishments so that mine are merely a response to His work rather than my own working attempt to validate Him.  He does not need my validation but rather, compels my worship.

I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you. Sing for joy, you heavens, for the LORD has done this;  shout aloud, you earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains,  you forests and all your trees, for the LORD has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel. Is. 44:22-23

Achieved

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.  This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:  If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 1 John 3:18-20

I have grown up with what is often categorized as an “achiever mentality” or in an “achievement culture”.  It begins early with competition over who is walking when, talking at what age and “using the potty” earliest.  Then, the achievement goals are raised with attendance at the best preschool to allow for entrance into the best elementary school to prepare for the most comprehensive high school education so that admittance into the most elite university will be possible.  The reason for attending the most elite university is to open up the opportunity to get the best job possible and be at the top of one’s field at a record setting pace.  To be at the top of one’s field, outstanding accomplishments and innovations are required.  My last paying job before Ellie was born was at a large church where I was required to submit a weekly “Ministry Report”, listing each person I met with and all projects I had worked on that week.  The report became a measure of my worth to the company, so to speak.  Was I earning my pay?  I tend to live by that report.  One’s value, then, rather than measured in afternoon coffee spoons is constantly evaluated based upon achievement.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

In this achievement driven life, peace is promised “once”…Once I get the piles of papers organized and out of sight, once I reorganize the playroom, once I have all the laundry put away, once I get through this busy weekend, once my children have mastery of this particular skill, once my kitchen backsplash and bathtubs finally get tiled, once we finally get trim installed around our doors, windows and floors…then I can be at rest, then I can be at peace, then I can feel satisfied.  This is how the world doles out rest and peace.  It is given only once certain demands are met.  The tricky thing is, however, that the new demands come more rapidly than it is possible to complete the prior ones.  It begins to remind me of the Law, which it has also become.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  Matt. 5:17-19

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”  Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”  Luke 18:26-27

I will feel peace with God when I go through just one day thinking of others more than myself, serving the needs of others more than my own desires, looking to the best interests of my neighbors and family before my own self-interest.  Of course, peace with God will never ever come that way because such a day is impossible.  I can think otherwise only when I underestimate the power and exhaustive corruption of sin.  Peace is not at the other end of my accomplishments, but it is at the other end of His.

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?  Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain?  So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?  So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Gal. 3:2-6

Do I believe that it is well with my soul only if I provide the most measurably enriching educational environmental for my children, only if my house is praiseworthy in the sight of any visitor, only if by the end of the day I can list out all that I have completed successfully?  Or, might I enjoy the fruit of the Spirit, particularly peace and joy, even now?  Better than personal peace for an isolated existence, His work also brings about the Spirit’s fruit of love for others that is minimal at best in my days so preoccupied with personal achievement.  The people on my ministry report, for example, stopped being lives I was interested in and valuing as much as names I needed to fill that page and show how busy I was for the church.  My achievement obsession draws my full attention onto me and makes others either useful tools to complete my goals or major inconveniences to what I am really treasuring.  His achievement treasures His creation and sends His people outside of themselves to love others within a messy house, in the midst of messy interpersonal dynamics and through the course of a day that may end without anything measurable for the report.  Such a peace is impossible with man, but the very thing He achieved through his law fulfilling life, sin and rebellion paying death and accomplishment proving resurrection.

Perhaps my heart can be less troubled when at 4:30 each day I look around see an environment that seems more chaotic than I anticipated in the morning hours, when interruptions steal the mental time I thought I so needed, when tasks are mounting rather than subsiding and when rest will not come by my achievements or my children’s accomplishments.  the total rest that Adam forfeited by his rebellion, Jesus achieved.  May I begin to look to His achievement rather than my own that my heart may be at rest.

The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” Ex. 33:14

 

Every Hour I Need Thee

On Saturday, I ended the day absolutely defeated.  I felt utterly condemned by children’s sin, my sinful response to their sin, and my own sinful heart which I bring into those interactions in the first place.  It was one of those times when God let me feel the gravity of my problem, the blackness of my heart and the impossibility of my being able to do anything about it.  The thing about condemnation is that it is permanent.  When the gavel raps on the judge’s desk, it is tantamount to the jail cell being slammed shut and locked.  It feels like the coffin being shut and nailed tight.  Guilty.  There is no going back and this is the end of the road.

For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.  Acts 8:23

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. Romans 3:19-20

Sin takes me captive.  It is a captivity from which I cannot escape.  No clever plan will work, no adrenaline overload can give me the power necessary to break free, no new determination or positive thinking or routine or schedule or environment will get me out of its dark, maze-like cave prison.  It is not until I give up trying to chip away at the rock wall which surrounds me that I begin to realize I need to be rescued.

but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Romans 7:23-24

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,…Gal. 1:3-4

Day in and out, I forget that my redemption is not in my own resources.  I daily forget that God has not offered me a plan of redemption but a Redeemer.  I have not been left alone to get it right, get better, fix it, restore it, do or die.  He offers me Himself even in the moment that He brings me to the end of myself.

Why do I despair over my children’s selfishness, greediness, laziness?  Why do I despair over my exhaustion, hatred, wounding tongue, impatience and so on?  Why do I despair over the “present evil age”?  I despair and am discouraged because hourly I come to believe that I am the one who must make things right.  Hourly I come to believe that I am alone to get it right.  Hourly I assume that I must figure out how to help myself.   And in this Gospel amnesia, I need His grace.  I need His grace to cover my deep shame and I need His grace to move me from hiding behind the Garden tree back into His intimate embrace.  I need His grace to climb into my heart and clean out the thorns and plant His Spirit from which life giving fruit can grow.  I need His work to be at work in me and then through me.  I need a Person, not another new plan.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.   1 Peter 1:3-7

It is good news that He takes me into those dark, dead end cave prisons to show me that no rock wall is too thick for Him to break through.  I have struggled in the past with “wanting to want Him”, but increasingly, He is giving me something better.  He is showing me that I need Him.

Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 1 John 2:8