Strength Renewed

“‘Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary.  I am the Lord.

“‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands,  I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.

 “‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country.  You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

“‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.  You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you.  I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.  Lev. 26: 2-13

I have to report a most refreshing, refueling, restoring summer.  It has just been great.  We have been on two family beach trips, we’ve been to Colorado, to New York City and up to the lake.  Those changes of scenery have no magical power in themselves as the weary who look to them for hope know too well upon return to “real life”, but God really used them on behalf of my mental health this summer.  What is ever so clear is that the rejuvenating effect of this summer is only credited to God’s timing and purposes rather than some perspective “I got right” or harmonious bliss/perfect obedience/selfless generosity among my children or other circumstantial anomalies.

In fact, among Martha Jane’s few vocabulary acquisitions in her very limited verbal abilities is the catch all “NO, nuh uh!”  Yes, she’s added that nice little extra to “no”, and it doesn’t have to be in response to a yes or no question.  “Acting like a 6 year old” has become the mission of Chad in his final weeks of being a boy that age, from totally ignoring the voices of his parents, an affection for being contrary by arguing at any slight opportunity and increasing melt downs which remind us that the start of school and the return to routine won’t come too soon.  Sweet Ellie thinks the i touch is necessary for survival and her anti-screen parents may have just created that anti-social teenager who is more interested in looking down at a device than interacting with the real people right in front of her.  The crime in our neighborhood has picked up along with other new realms of suffering into which we were brought by being accessible to those willing to ask for help.  Now, are my children monsters and my neighborhood a hell hole?  Of course not, but the point is, God’s restorative rest is His business achieved in His time for His purposes, not guaranteed by a weekend away nor prohibited by sin evident all around (and within) me.

For almost three years I’ve been in a state of survival, not lacking food or water or shelter, but having the familiar stripped from my grasp along with any sense of control, certainty or strength.  This has been exactly where God needed to have me.  It has been from this position of weakness, weariness, at times isolation and even depression that God has deepened my faith, increased my view of Him and grown my compassion for others where I am prone only to want to judge and disdain.  I can only assume that the more I grasp His Good News, the larger He becomes in my sight and the more accurately I see my own humanity, the more I will find myself in this position.  But He also graciously gives us rest, and strength, and fullness of life to get back out on the playing field to bolster the others on our team, relieve some in need of a break, defend our goal and move the ball down the field.

Sabbath rest was forfeited by Adam when he failed to complete the work God had made him to do.  Only perfect imaging of God, perfect obedience to the holiness and righteousness requirements of God’s character, merit that deep rest from labor and punishment and toil.  After Genesis 3, that rest would have to be earned by another, untainted by selfish ambition and vain conceit.  Jesus accomplished just that, and while our final rest is yet to come, very real and good and satisfying tastes of this shalom come through His work on our behalves.  He prepares a table for us in the very presence of our enemies and places His peace, control, shelter, joy, hope, goodness alongside us as we travel through the valley of the shadow of death.  I can trust that my current experience of rest, when at other times it eluded my reach no matter how I ran after it, is not frivolous but designed for His glory just as through suffering.  It feels good to feel strong again and for this moment.  May I learn to walk in strength not as one who immediately becomes self-reliant in health but as one who is only healthy as I rest in Him.  May I believe that even strength is a product of His grace and not be deceived into thinking it is something I have done, earned or achieved, and then be grateful.

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.   He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Is. 40:28-31

We’s Takes Care of Weselves

So, as mentioned previously, we have had an uptick in gang activity in our neighborhood lately.  No shoot outs or anything worthy of a  movie drama scene, just kids with too much time on their hands wanting to participate in “family activities”.  Granted, their family activities are a little more disruptive to other people than most of ours are, and illegal, but part of belonging nonetheless.  This particularly hit home the other day when a friend who lives down the street had to return a neighbor baby into their home because she was playing with a toy in the middle of the road.  The other kids told my friend they had been instructed to stay outside, to which she said the baby needed to be looked after rather than sitting in the middle of the street.  They (children 4-6 years old) let her know that “we’s takes care of weselves.”  It is what we see a lot, not in some dramatic, call DFCS manner, but in general kids essentially raising themselves.  This particular household has a larger number of children than I even know with two moms between all of them (not a couple, just the living arrangements).  It is no wonder then, that by the time they reach 9, 10, 11 or 12 a “gang” would be welcome if for no other reason than to have someone bigger and stronger to look after them, to know where they are, and promise to “take care of them”.  And then, whatever destructive events they are asked to participate in, are easily justified or at least minimized just as we all tend to do with the sins of those we love.

 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  John 14:18

Part of what Jesus did in reversing the curse brought about by Adam and Eve’s demand for independence was to restore His offspring to the family.  While Adam and Eve were momentarily at enmity with God and orphaned, left to survive on their own, God immediately pursued and reinstated them as His own.  The rest of the redemptive story tells of the process required for the full renewal of this relationship, and humanity’s continual pull to be his/her own god and God’s relentless determination to rescue and regenerate.  That same story is being told daily in my own life.

Like those kids, somewhere deep down where I don’t even always know it, I’d really like to just be taken care of…provided for, protected, nurtured and assessed as one of great value.  Like those kids, my gospel amnesia leaves me assuming for these things to occur, I’ve got to look after my own self.  I might look for this provision in a “gang” of others who can validate or promote me, or I may go inward for self-preservation.  It makes me insecure in some seasons, believing peril to be around every corner.  Other times it makes me suspicious, convinced others will take what is mine if I don’t watch my back at all times.  This gospel amnesia persuades me that if I want any good thing, I have to fight for it and work harder or be more clever than all the others.  The cumulative effect is that it makes me the center of each moment I find myself in and my welfare the ultimate goal of my life.  Making a name for myself and establishing my territory consumes my attention.  There isn’t energy or emotion left to sacrifice for the welfare of others, unless of course it might serve the ends of my own success.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  Eph. 5:1-2

Everything about the person and work of Jesus flips my natural tendencies upside down.  It tells me that He already has a name, which is a fortified tower, and that His place extends to the furthest reaches of the earth and into all eternity.  If I am securely in Him and not orphaned and left on my own, I have nothing to lose and nothing of real value that can be taken from me.  If HE is my provider, I can trust that whatever He chooses to provide is exactly what I need for His good purposes.  Therefore, I can sacrifice for others as He did when my inheritance in Him can never spoil, perish or fade.  I don’t need the praises men, who are here today and gone tomorrow, when I have the praise of the Father saying, “Well done my good faithful servant” directly at me as I stand inside Jesus, the only One ever meriting the description “good” or even “faithful”.

To the extent (and it is great) that I am still fiercely protective of my time, my stuff, my career, my reputation and so on, my faith that I belong to Him (with all that His being mine and all that is mine belonging to Him) still has growing to do.  Oh that I may enjoy the freedom and generosity of Spirit of a heart rooted and established in Him that I may love others as selflessly as I have been loved, looking more to the interests of others than of my own self-interest.  And even this beautiful, regenerative process is not something left to my efforts to do, as if orphaned even in Jesus, but He will complete this good work that He has begun.

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.  So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.”(Is. 26:20, Hab. 2:3  And, “But my righteous one will live by faith.  And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” (Hab. 2:4)

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.  Heb. 10:32-39