Seasons of (un)Rest

I’m not really sure when it happened, but sometime in the past few years our lives became hectic. It could be the two loud, yet unfathomably awesome, kids running around yelling all the time at home, the several changes to my employment, the juggling of family, church, research, and work, the demands of running a business, travel, etc. Pick something from that list. They all apply. Basically, that’s my version of the story that most of the people I know tell. We have become so busy in our daily lives that we actually find it hard now to spend a day at home and just “be” together as a family. Anytime we have a day off, we feel compelled to set a plan and execute it. We have become adept at approaching our weekends with tactical precision. Simply put, it is hard to go from moving at the speed of a cheetah to the pace of a snail.

We have become so busy that our rest has now become un-rest.

We serve a God who is interested in our well-being. He is not a distant God who creates and them leaves his creation to flounder in his absence. No, he is a God who created human beings that we might enjoy him eternally. He cares about your desires, your joys, your hurts, your needs.

God cares about your rest.

The opening pages of the Bible paint a picture for us of the creative majesty of God, who brought all of creation into being out of nothing. He created humanity, you and me, as the pinnacle of this miraculous work. Scripture tells us that we are created ‘in his image’, and we have been endowed with creativity as part of that image. We see this almost immediately after the creation narrative when God gave the first man, Adam, the tasks of caring for the garden of Eden and naming the creatures of the earth. (http://bible.us/112/gen.2.15,19-20.niv84) But all creative action requires at least two things, a span of time with which to create and a span of time with which to reflect on what one has created. All work is creative to one degree or another. So, in other words, work demands rest.

And so we read in the Bible that God first created and then he rested.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (http://bible.us/112/gen.2.1-3.niv84)

And he commanded his people to do likewise:

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. (http://bible.us/112/exo.20.11.niv84)

We do ourselves a disservice when we do not honor the Sabbath, when we don’t rest. And what is more, we dishonor God and his commandments. God hasn’t handed down arbitrary commands to us because he is bored. He has done so out of a desire for our well-being and for his own glory.

Sabbath wasn’t intended to tie us down, but to set us free from the tyranny of the urgent.

If you struggle as I do with (un)rest, I urge you to begin seeking God in prayer and asking him to show you once again how to rest. There is no better time for this than the current season of Advent, when we are called to wait with anticipation for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Advent is a call to active rest, in the sense that we are actively remembering the Incarnation and anticipating Christ’s return, but it also calls us to a period of quiet expectation where we can do little else but wait upon God to move.

Let’s make this season a season of recalibration. A recovery of sabbath rest.

For a great resource: Sabbath Keeping, It’s About time (Seedbed)

 

Of Hobbits, Mangers, and the Savior of the World

mangerThere was a time when I didn’t look forward to the Christmas season, when I felt I had little to celebrate and felt the chill of the weather far more than the warmth of the holidays. It was a time of great sorrow for me, long before I met my beautiful wife and we had our amazing kids. I was not sorrowful because I was lonely, though that was true at times. I was sorrowful, because I felt like I had lost something dear to me and couldn’t quite place my finger on what it was that was lost. I had become a weary wanderer, slogging through life in the aimless pursuit of something better.

The problem with Christmas was that I had no understanding of Advent. I had no expectation and, therefore, I had no hope.

I have said before on here how thankful I am that God relentlessly pursues people, that he is in the business of saving lives. If not for his great mercy and grace I would still be slogging through life. That thing, that person, that I was looking for was Jesus. I had known him intimately as a youth and then somewhere along the way I had allowed the pressures of life to get a grip on me, distracting and dragging me away to world of hopeless oblivion and loss of memory (http://bible.us/112/mat.13.7.niv84). It wasn’t until I stopped running away from my pursuer that I finally began to see that he was pursuing me so that I might finally live.

I was living in the in-between, unaware that a hero was there to rescue me, unable to hope.

I love to read epic fiction. Like so many others I have enjoyed the story of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and I am eagerly awaiting the movies. What I love most about this sweeping story and other like it isn’t the larger-than-life scenes of battle and the struggle to overcome hardship. It isn’t the fantastic worlds defined and communicated to my imagination. It isn’t the love stories, amazing creatures, or mysteries that appeal to me most. I love all of these things, of course, but what pulls me into a story most is that the hero is never quite who or what I expect. It isn’t the valiant dwarves, powerful wizards, or armies of elves that win the day. It is the small, portly, unassuming hobbit who steps into the light at the critical moment and offers the only thing he really has to offer – himself.

My problem with living in the in-between was that I was looking in the wrong place for a hero. I knew there was a deep longing in my soul for something more, and intellectually I knew that I should be looking to Jesus to supply my need. I was expecting some sort of dramatic rescue from my misery, a sudden event when I would be forcefully removed from the muck and mire I had allowed my life to become. But though I knew Jesus is the Christ, I had forgotten that in God’s grand epic the hero didn’t come as a conqueror leading an army into battle. He didn’t win the war by force. He came as a baby boy born in a manger, the very Son of God enfleshed, who became a man, who suffered a willing humiliation and death on a cross for me, and who was raised again to the right hand of God the Father.

It wasn’t until God showed me that Jesus came as the most unexpected of heroes that I realized my rescue couldn’t begin with an incursion. It had to begin with an Incarnation.

By the blood of Jesus Christ I have been saved, and by his resurrection I have gained a sure trust and hope in his promises. This hope has transformed Christmas for me, from a season of dreaded slogging into a season of expectation. The season of Advent helps us to live into this expectation as we both remember the coming of our Savior and Lord in the Incarnation and look forward with anticipation to his return. It is a season of active waiting. It is a season where my soul whispers ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come…’. And I can hardly wait.

Are you ready?

Abundant Life

This morning our Internet connection went down at home. Fifteen years ago, this phrase wouldn’t have even made sense. Today, it spells catastrophe for someone like myself, who works remotely and “needs” the Internet to get things done and get paid. So, like many other freelance web developers in the U.S., I packed up my laptop and other gear, hopped in the car, and began my morning commute to the local Starbucks for a refreshing cup (or 3) of my favorite coffee and access to their free WiFi connection.

As I was leaving our tiny town, I heard a sudden cacophony of sirens blasting through the crisp morning air. I then watched as (at least) two ambulances, a fire truck, and three police cars came screaming past me with their lights flashing, and headed straight for the center of town.

Over the years, Sarah and I have developed the habit of praying every time we see emergency workers with their lights on. We never know where they are headed to or from, but we know that the work they do is vital and dangerous. Since we can do nothing to help them physically, we pray. We pray for safety for the workers and whomever they have been sent to help. We pray that those involved who don’t know the Lord will have a chance to meet and respond with faith to Jesus’ offer of forgiveness from sin.

And lately, I have begun to pray a simple benediction: “Heavenly Father, preserve life.” I’m not sure why I started adding this little phrase to the end of my prayer for emergency workers. In fact, I haven’t really given it a great deal of thought, until this morning.

As I was praying for the host of police, EMTs, and firemen headed to the scene in Wilmore today, and breathed those final words and an “Amen”, I was suddenly flooded with emotion at the thought that followed. Hear these words…

God is not in the business of preserving temporal life, He is in the business of creating new, abundant, eternal life.

Now hear me correctly when I say this. I am not saying that God does not care about our physical well-being. He most certainly does. How do I know this? Two reasons come immediately to mind.

First, Genesis tells us that God created humanity in his image and likeness. He created us to rule over the earth and its creatures. And when he was finished creating us, God blessed humanity and saw that what he had made was “very good” (Genesis 1:26-31). We are created in the very image of God, which makes us of inestimable worth, not just as souls, but as whole people, body and soul.

Second, Jesus’ earthly ministry was a two-fold ministry of healing and restoration. He miraculously healed physical illnesses and demon possessions, restoring physical and mental well-being, as well as restoring relationships between those who were afflicted and their families and communities. In the second part of his ministry, his death and resurrection, Jesus healed humanity from the effects of sin and restored our relationships with one another and with God.

So, when I say that God is not in the business of preserving temporal life, I don’t mean that he doesn’t care about our physical lives. What I mean is that His business is far grander. He came to give life abundantly . . .

“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. he will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:7-10)

The Son of God became a man, Jesus of Nazareth, in order to fulfill a life-giving mission. As we saw in Genesis, God is the creator of all life. What we learn in the New Testament is that the work of creation was mediated through the Son.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God int he beginning. 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 men.” (John 1:1-4)

The Word is the Third Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, who became Jesus. With the Incarnation the very creator of life became a man; the source of life, life himself became human.

But why would God do this? Surely he wouldn’t go to such lengths in order to simply “preserve” life as we have known it since the garden of Eden. I mean, he is God, right? If he wants to save a person’s life, he just has to will it.

Remember when I said that God’s plans were far grander than this? Jesus Christ didn’t just come to heal the sick and drive out demons, but also to heal humanity from the effects of sin and give us New Life. Only he could do this, because “in him was life”. Through his willing death on the cross, Jesus bridged the gap between God and people that was caused by sin. He laid down his life for ours (John 10:15).

Now, this seems like a pretty crummy trade from my point of view. Why would God himself give up his life, the source of all life, for dead and dying people in a dead and dying world?

Because death doesn’t have the last word.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25) You see, Jesus conquered death through death, and breathed his life, life itself, into dead and dying humanity, so that we too might have that life in us. And we know this is true, because God raised Jesus from the dead. If he is alive, then we can be alive through him. Really ALIVE!!!

Where sin reigns, death follows. Christ has overcome death through the Cross, so that we newly minted humans can experience abundant life, freed from the power of sin and death, for all eternity.

Have you experienced this newness of life for yourself? Do you know that you are made in the very image of God? Do you know that you are of inestimable worth? Do you recognize that you are no longer under the power of sin and death?

Hear the words of Paul to the Romans, and to us: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness…now you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:13-14; 22-23)

God is not primarily in the business of preserving life, he is in the business of creating new life. Jesus offers this gift of abundant and eternal life to each of us.

Will you receive it?

Advent 2007

As we enter into the season of Advent, we have much to be thankful for and much to anticipate. As my pastor said in Sunday service, the people of God have a duty to pradoxically remember the future as we reflect and wait upon the second coming of our Lord.

J.D. Walt, over at FarmStrong often presents us with wonderful meditations. This season is no different. If you will, please join with me and reflect on his words and those of Scripture.

A Prayer as Advent Opens

May God grant you peace in this busy season to reflect upon the greatest gift ever given in the history of the world.

Is God Self-Glorifying or Other-Oriented? How About Both?

There is an interesting pseudo-dialogue going on between the blogs of Ben Witherington and John Piper right now concerning the nature of God as it is represented in the Incarnation. You can read it here:

Witherington’s Original Post

DesiringGod.org Response / Slam

I call it pseudo-dialogical, because it is clear that the initial response from the DesiringGod website was primarily a knee-jerk reaction, that did not give due attention to the heart of what Dr. Witherington was saying. That is, of course, my opinion and you must judge for yourself. However, I hold the thought of both Piper and Witherington in high regard, so I am more interested in promoting healthy dialog. To this end, I posted the following comment on the DesireingGod.org blog, and I am awaiting a response:

I understand the knee-jerk reaction to anything that implies (on the
surface) that God created man for any reason other than his own
glorification. However, the argument that Dr. Witherington seems to be
setting up is not saying this at all. Instead, what he seems to be
suggesting is that the Incarnation itself is not primarily a matter of further
glorification, but rather an act of other-oriented love. This does not in
any way deny the first statement, for only redeemed humanity, empowered by the
Spirit, can ever offer sufficient glory to the Creator, and then only after the
fullness of the Kingdom has come. But that doesn’t necessitate that the
Incarnation itself is merely a means to that end.

I’d be interested in hearing a dialogue on this, rather than a
knee-jerk smearing of Dr. Witherington’s character.

Dr. Witherington’s response to the claims of his critics, though not directly noted as such, is a good step in the right direction, but I am very interested to see further response from Piper’s camp. You can read this second post at:

http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/12/did-christ-come-to-please-himself.html

Enjoy!

The Beauty of the Incarnation

As part of an assignment for my theology class this week, we were asked to reflect on our studies of Christology in the form of a Christmas meditation entitled “Why All The Fuss About Christmas?” This excercise has reminded me of the incredible beauty and grace of Christ as incarnate Son of God. So, I’d like to share it here with you.

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John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (ESV)
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Christmas is a time to thankfully reflect upon the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, and our Redeemer. It is a time when we remember his humble beginnings; born in a manger, of a virgin, of the small town of Bethlehem, and a political refugee. And we remember that it is from these humble beginnings that salvation has come to humanity. For this was no ordinary birth. This birth was spoken of by prophets and heralded by angels. It was in this birth that God the Son entered intimately into the history of humanity for the purpose of offering himself, without blemish, as a holy blood offering for the atonement of all sin.

But what does this really mean? Is this some abstract concept for theologians to discuss, without any real meaning for the lives of believers? And why, really, is there all this fuss about Christmas anyway?

John 1:14 begins with this simple phrase; and the word became flesh, and dwelt among us. In this phrase resides the mystery of Christ. The Word, God the Son, through whom all things were created, took on the form of a man at a single point in history. He did this in order to become the one mediator capable of reconciling humanity to God. He freely chose to “take on flesh”, with all of its limitations, and became both fully God and fully man.

In this union of God and humanity, Christ was born of a virgin, grew to manhood, and with his Baptism was ordained for his mission to suffer unto death, even death on a cross, that the world might be saved through him. And so it was that he not only dwelt on earth, but he also dwelt among us, as one of us, but set apart as atonement for sin.

And now, as John writes, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” In Christ we have seen the light of the glory of God, for this glory was his from even before the world was created. In prayer Christ asked, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” It was not that this glory was ever taken from him by force, but rather for our sake he lowered himself, forsaking his divine power for a time, and reclaiming it once again with his victory over death. Yet even as a servant, Christ radiated the glory of God. As Jesus himself said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”. But the story does not end here. For through his sacrifice, Christ has invited us to become glorified with him:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…”

So, why all this fuss about Christmas? It is a time for recognizing that the goodness of God is so great, that he was willing to communicate his love for us on personal terms, though we are undeserving. It is a reminder that through Christ’s birth, hope came to the world. And above all, it is a reminder that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.