Sampling the Rest That is to Come

I’m sitting on a second level screened porch, in a rocking chair, overlooking the ocean and Little Tybee and hearing a bird sing an actual melody somewhere in a tree up above me.  I  have absolutely no responsibilities other than making sure everyone is sufficiently covered in sunscreen.  It is a week with permission not to return e-mail, not to have plans or schedules or fulfill duties related to any group, committee, organization or institution.  It is a week off intended solely for relaxation, play, feasting and family togetherness.  Comfort is king, smiles abound and conflict is out of place.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.  Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.  Gen. 2:2-3

God completed the work He had set out to do and so entered into rest.  Man was forbidden to enter into that rest because his work was not completed but in fact was compromised.  A second Adam would have to complete the work given to the first Adam so that all in his line could in fact one day enter into that rest.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  Ex. 20:9-11

For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.  Ex. 23:10-12

Rest is a sign of completion.  Sabbath rest redirects our gaze toward a final rest that is to come while at the same time reminding our hearts of the completed work of Jesus in which we find our rest, even in our labors.  Rest, for now, is also a gift intended to refresh, restore and strengthen us for the work that follows.

And here is the rub, I think, for me as an American coming from an upper middle class culture…somewhere deep down I have come to believe that this day of rest, this week of rest, this promise of future rest is my entitled right 365 days a year.  When those other six days of the week require labor, demands and responsibilities, I feel robbed, put upon, unjustly asked to forfeit my right to permanent vacation.  Like Adam and Eve, I’m not as interested in cultivating the earth or subduing it or myself in order to reflect God’s image as much as I am interested in just getting on to that rest bit. I like being served as happens more on vacation a lot more than I like serving.  I like to receive a whole lot more than I like to give.  I like for life to be about me and my delights and minimized burdens and I’m not super interested in bearing someone else’s burden, saying yes to meeting someone else’s need, saying no to what I want in order to say yes to cultivating life for others.

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—  the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.  To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.   He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.  To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.  Col. 1:24-29

The difference now is that rest from the toil is certain, is guaranteed.  The second difference is that the strenuous labor God has commissioned is executed by the energy Jesus so powerfully works in me.  The dignity and honor of being made in the image of God to image Him begins and ends with His work, earning my rest.  Where Adam and Eve went wrong, trying to grab for themselves what only God could provide, I too am easily drawn into pursuing…thinking that I was made to serve myself and my appetites and then wondering why they’re never satisfied.

 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Phil. 4:12-13

Bruised to Bring Life

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  Is. 53:5

He suffered so that we might live.  He entered into conflict so that we might enter into peace.  And, He invites me to “go and do likewise”.  The letters throughout the New Testament invite believers to share in His sufferings, to know Him in His death that might we might share in His resurrection.  Old 80’s Christian music inspired believers to “count the cost” and “carry your cross”.  I am invited to know Jesus more, see Him more clearly by sharing in His suffering.

This past week, almost in sitcom length, we tasted this beautiful Gospel and saw that it is indeed Good.

In God’s providence, it was during a cook-out in our backyard of the Mercy Team (deacons and members from our church focused upon acts of service and help to our community) that my daughter’s iPhone was stolen off her bed in her bedroom in our house by a boy in our neighborhood who is as much like family as anyone.  When Ellie realized it was missing, we immediately sought to track it through Find My iPhone.  It was offline, which it hadn’t been on her bed where she had left it full of battery and very much online.  This pointed to a theft rather than a misplacement.  We didn’t want to falsely accuse our friend who we refer to as Ellie, Chad and Martha Jane’s big brother, but circumstantial evidence pointed to it.  All the next morning it remained off8line and undetectable.  We assumed it was long gone and knew we needed to speak to him, but he remained out of sight that day.  The next morning, Terrell tried one more time and it showed up at the pawn shop down the street from us.  Indeed, it had been stolen and by the only person who had been at our house that would be going there.

Last time we suspected our friend of stealing, he adamantly denied it leaving us feeling like skunks for accusing him but also conflicted about how to have an honest and healthy relationship.  Terrell went to the pawn shop where miraculously the phone was as well as the name and address of the older kid who brought it in.  Our friend was MIA, having skipped out on a date with a neighbor to work in her yard, a job he never missed.  His guilt seemed to be increasingly confirmed.

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide.   But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.  Psalm 55:12-14

Perhaps more than Ellie, Terrell and I were in such dismay as how to process, handle and move forward in this situation.  We were mad, obviously.  We were also sad.  We were confused.  And then, there is the looming question, what does the Gospel look like in this?  We knew it included honestly (rather than acting like nothing had happened or pretending it was no big deal).  We also knew it included greater concern for the relationship and the for the heart of our friend than for the violation of our trust, good will and material possessions.  But he had violated our trust, generosity and stolen from inside our home where we include him in many family meals, dance parties, afternoons of play and trips to the pool.  Restoration would be an important part of forgiveness, if he would be open and desirous of either.

For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.  Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.   I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;  I will glorify your name forever.  Psalm 86:10-12

God displayed His faithfulness like fireworks exploding in an unclouded, dark sky…and perhaps the likes of which only Gandalf could create to wow not only the hobbits but any of us, should we be so fortunate.  We were packing to leave for the beach, later because of the trip to the pawn shop for the phone, but eager to hit the road.  I didn’t want to leave town with this unresolved relational business, but I obviously couldn’t force him out of his house.  I walked down the street toward another neighbor’s house and there he was, sitting on the wall in front of her house.  He initially tried to deny having taken the phone, but I skipped right past that part of the discussion to the broken relationship and the wound he had inflicted on the ones who loved him.  He stared at the ground and a tear actually leaked out of his eye.

Some mostly one sided conversation followed where I talked and he answered with head nods or shakes, and it was decided that our relationship did in fact matter more than stuff and he would like to work to restore it and our trust.  We stood there, on the sidewalk, and hugged and both let out audible sobs as we cried and hugged.  He agreed, as a first condition towards restoration, to speak to Ellie immediately.  Later he would work to earn money to repay her.  Moments later, we sat on our front porch in silence for a long time as it occurred to me he might not be able to admit it out loud, or verbally process what he was feeling, or even articulate his behavioral patterns and motivations and so on.  Finally he stood up, wiped his eyes, walked toward Ellie, fell on her in a hug and through tears said, “I love you and I’m sorry I stole your phone.”  She gently told him that she forgave him.  He just stood there hugging her and then walked back to sit by me and she went back inside.

I asked if he felt relieved for having talked to Ellie or terrible, and he said, “terrible”.  That was ok.  The tears and his awful feeling were signs of life in his heart that we already knew was beautiful by the way he protects and cares for Martha Jane, has told us he loves us spontaneously when he departs for home in the evening and genuinely seems to delight in time with our family.  He is a young, black boy with strong pulls on him like the shoulder sitting angel and devil.  But God is stronger and is clearly acting as the hound of heaven in his life.  Like all of His children, from Adam and Eve onward, He pursues us even as we run and hide behind the tree.  And He draws us out of hiding, clothes us in His righteousness, and sends us out to clothe others in His righteousness, with His mercy and His aim, always, of restoration.

As I drove him to meet the friend whose knock he hadn’t answered that morning, I let him know that we weren’t going anywhere, that we loved him deeply, and that he better not disappear on us.  He held my hand, had more tears sneak out of his eyes, and said, “I know.  I love y’all too.”

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  1 Cor. 13:3-7

Throwing Off the Sin That So Easily Entangles

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 1:6-7

I think this is a marvelous verse to hold up when there isn’t any actual pain in your life.  The minute any form of conflict, disconnect or disappointment comes, however, rejoicing isn’t really what comes to mind.  Hurt feelings, grief, anger, dismay…now these make sense.  But rejoicing?  It almost sounds like denial, doesn’t it?  It seems to minimize the injustice or at least the pain of even reasonable wounds.  When things don’t happen as I want them to or when something happens that I don’t want to have happen, it makes me feel alone, unloved, disrespected, rejected, attacked, despised, invisible, meaningless, irrelevant and insignificant.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.  As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God…Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice  inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  1 Peter 4:1-2, 12-13

The difference, it would seem then, between what the person and work of Jesus is proposing and naive optimism is that the latter must deny the depths of suffering in order to smile and be happy while the former connects suffering of all degrees to the reversal of man’s rejection of God.  Sin, the nature that became master over Adam and all his offspring, commands and constrains me to live for my human desires.  My human desires are comfort, fame, power, authority, respect and honor, and generally for all things to work out according to my will.  I’m looking to my will being done or “getting my way” for affirmation of my significance, love, respect, acceptance, meaning, purpose, value and dignity.  I’m looking for the fulfillment of all things in myself.  When things do not go in such a way as pleases me, I am forced to identify whose will is being accomplished.  When my will is thwarted, His isn’t.  I can rejoice in suffering is because in all things God’s will is in fact ultimately being accomplished.

Sometimes His good, pleasing and perfect will includes my getting my way in the matter.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  But the pain that occurs when I don’t get what I want, or when I get what I don’t want, isn’t because something strange is happening or because I am being punished as if that small act could restore my self-serving heart to perfect righteousness.  Rather, the disorientation of experiencing brokenness is to reorient my self-focused, self-reliant heart to its just, holy, good and healing Maker, Ruler, Lord and doting Father.  I can rely on Him, depend on Him and trust Him because He is good, holy and just while at the same time unreasonably caring and compassionate.  He cares for me.

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3

Throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles sounds like great freedom, if only it were that easy.  But this offers even more reason for rejoicing in suffering because it is “for the joy set before Him” and therefore us that we can endure these light and momentary burdens that feel heavy and seem to take too long in the moment.  In light of where the suffering is taking us and how it is not wasted but being used as part of making all things new, I can take heart.  Were it merely a judgment and declaration of my weakness, insignificance, powerlessness or corruption, I could not endure.  But the judgment fully rests on Jesus and is not mine to bear.  I am now free to fix my eyes on Him and take them off of myself because all of life can be bigger and fuller and richer than merely serving my ego and human desires.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died —more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:  “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  Romans 8:31-37

There is Life

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:5-6

I’ve been looking for the way for months now.  I’ve been searching, praying, grieving, mourning, dreaming, trying and in all things searching out the truth about my life – why it was necessary, in God’s economy, to add me to the parts of His Body.  Feeling more like an appendix which apparently can be removed from a body without any consequence, I’ve wanted instead a clearly defined function which would determine to which things I answered “yes” and which things I answer “no”.  Basically, I’d like a guiding mission statement identifying my necessary purpose in God’s Kingdom and at the same time wanting it to be a purpose that keeps my energy flowing, my courage bubbling, my humor high and my joy complete.

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We write this to make our joy complete.  1 John 1:2-4

It doesn’t take a theologian to observe the reality that more Jesus is more life and less Jesus is less life.  Worrying about dying computers, broken printers, washing machines on their last legs, new shoes needed, tuition payments due not to mention landscaping dreams, interior decorating desires, personal space and rest and generally fighting for self-preservation all take up space better filled with Jesus.  But the Gospel doesn’t actually preach Gnosticism but instead did make us human, flesh, material in a material world.  I have been called to dwell with God in my physical state,  a condition that includes fatigue, hunger, nerve endings and the limitations of my not being omniscient.

In Uganda, God was near.  People were smaller and He was bigger.  Was it simply the lack of material comforts that made it so?  Was it the common experience of powerlessness?  I thought I would go there to find beautiful simplicity, but the poverty wasn’t beautiful at all, the unjust way those in power lived in the midst of those without power was as dehumanizing as our own culture of “Wall Street to the Hamptons” worship.  Life was really hard over there, but Keens didn’t seem to matter so much and a broken printer was more than most schools over there even have.  A washing machine?  Those are called hands.  I suppose each culture has its own tastes of freedom and experiences of oppression and each need fellowship with Jesus to live in complete joy.

Do you know why I get agitated so easily?  Its because my children have sin that I have to deal with all day and because I have neighbors who don’t know about social boundaries and there are people making decisions at our church and in my children’s schools and extra curricular programs that I don’t agree with and don’t like and can’t do anything about and…

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?  When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”    “Twelve,” they replied.  Mark 8:17-19

I have been looking to myself as the way, the truth and the life.  I have been trying to white knuckle and clench jaw my way into more Life.  The way isn’t through our budget, more income (to be honest, my chest tightens as I write that truth that my heart does not yet embrace) or a definable personal mission statement.  Life is found in Jesus and where He is, it exists in undiminishable abundance.  This is why it is said that Life is found on our knees…not through the computer screen or cocktail glass or on the other side  of a particular career’s glass ceiling.  That Life is not in a particular place but in a particular person.  Where He is, there is Life.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,  and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  John 1:3-5