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Eden's Mirror

Looking into the mirror of God's story

ADVENT

img_3816“Mommy, is it Christmas tomorrow?” The flicker of the tiny tree lights shimmered in my four year old’s eager eyes.

I laughed. “It isn’t even December yet, sweetie!”

But her question took me aback and I pondered before I answered. My four year old does not understand that we celebrate Christmas all month long and I found myself presented with a teaching opportunity I didn’t expect. I told her, “Well, Christmas is all about waiting.”

Now, you try to teach that to a four year old eager for presents! It is like teaching Algebra to a kindergartner. But in all seriousness, the conversation got me reflecting. Christmas is all about waiting. It really doesn’t make sense outside of the story behind the sparkly lights and wrapped presents. And don’t we all need that reminder again year after year as we wait too? That is why many in Christian circles call it “Advent”.

According to Dictionary.com, Advent means “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.” Indeed, then, Advent is the Arrival of the Messiah. So why is Advent celebrated by counting down the days until Christmas?

It is because the world had to wait a very long time for this grand arrival. And because we are still waiting for the 2nd Advent of Christ.

The First Announcement

Angels from the realms of glory

Wing your flight o’re all the earth

Ye who sang creation’s story

Now proclaim Messiah’s birth

So often we think of the Messiah as a fulfillment of prophecies, most famously Isaiah 7:14, “behold a virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son and shall be called Immanuel.” But did you know that Jesus was promised to us at the beginning of the story?

The traditional hymn sings, “Ye who sang creation’s story”. Creation is when it all began, way back in the garden. It was there that God gave the first announcement for the Messiah. But not when the world was pristine and new, for a sinless world needs no Savior.

No, it was three short chapters into the story, when Adam and Eve brought sin and all its consequences into our world by their one choice, a choice we continue to make every day we live this side of heaven.

Listen to Genesis 3:15: “..And the Lord God said to the serpent…’I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.’”

The statement begs the question – who will bruise the head of the serpent? It is answered in the beginning of the prophecy – an offspring of Eve. Some day, an offspring of Eve will come and stomp the head of the serpent dead.

So right there in that garden we hear the end of the story announced: Satan will not have the last word. Some day a Man would come and put an end to him once and for all.

Satan’s Role

It is interesting that the first announcement of the Messiah was given not to Adam and Eve but to the one who incited it all – the serpent. It seems we need to stop and acknowledge the significance of this.

In our modern Christian world, Satan is either blamed for all forms of evil or ignored in silence. In the circles I run in, we mostly don’t know what to do with him, which is understandable. No one really likes to talk about the “bad guy” as my daughter would say.

But if God’s first announcement of the Messiah is directed to Satan, we should stop and consider why.

John Piper has a great summary of Scripture’s characterization of Satan, specifically as he is described in Revelation:

“In Revelation 12:9 he is called “the great dragon, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the world.”… Now what is the point of that image? He crouches at Bethlehem to devour the Son of God. And, failing that, “the dragon became furious . . . and went off to make war . . . on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:17). So this is the monster who sweeps down a third of the stars, wants to eat the Son of God, and, failing that, wants to eat us. And he is marauding through the world for those who bear the testimony of Jesus.”

So Satan is God’s enemy first and then, as the result, the enemy of all who love God. This is significant. We must first see Satan as the enemy of God if we are to understand why God directs this first announcement at him. This is, after all, God’s story, not ours. God is the main character and his main enemy is Satan. So when God’s enemy tempts Eve to sin against God and succeeds, God’s first line of attack is against him. He asserts simply put, “You will not get the final word in this story.” Satan’s power is immediately put into check under God’s greater authority.

What does this have to do with Christmas?

1 John 3:8 answers that: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Jesus had came into the world because Satan messed it up. When Satan introduced sin, he inbred into the world a permanent way of keeping God’s beloved creation, His very-good-image-bearers, from Him. It was, it seemed, a fatal blow. God cannot dwell with sin. What would He do now?

God’s response: send a Savior who in “becoming sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21), would crush the head of the instigator of the great separation between God and man. Jesus would deal the final strike on Satan’s one great weapon – sin. Through Jesus, sin would be forgiven. And through Jesus, sin would be destroyed.

So what does this have to do with Christmas and us?

First, do you acknowledge that Satan has an active role to play in our world? Who do you hold responsible for the global-scale evil that exists? Yes, to be sure, man’s choices have a role. We are all held responsible before God for our choices. But Satan has a part to play too. If we ignore that, we neglect a great enemy in our lives. Jesus taught His disciples to pray daily, for deliverance from the evil one. That Satan is also our enemy is clearly a central component of our relationship with God. He is a supernatural being, with power that can only be defeated by Christ Himself.

But secondly, do you acknowledge that Jesus came to destroy sin in your life?

I remember a bedtime prayer my four year old recently uttered: Thank you God that I didn’t sin today. What’s a mother to say to that? Yet so often it is how I live! I live in a way described in 1 John 1:7, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” If I’m honest, I act more like my four year old than I’d like to admit. Why is this the case?

Because the truth is, I sin almost in every breath and thought and it becomes overwhelming to look it all in the face. I remember a sermon I heard a while back with a potent description of how much sin one person committed in one five minute drive in the car, just in their thought-life. When I judge a person for the car they drive, or I look the other way when I drive past the homeless man, I sin. When I quietly think slanderous thoughts of another person, even I do not speak them, I sin. When I can’t walk into a room without thinking first about gratifying myself, I sin. I cannot think one single pure thought, no less keep my patience with my kids. Sin is not just losing my temper with my kids. It is every godless thought, deed, word, and attitude I exhibit. Sin is so pervasive in my life, I can’t face it all.

Ah, but the rich grace of God. I don’t have to. Jesus paid for each and every sin I commit every moment. I don’t have to carry that guilty conscience around with me anymore. I am freed; though I don’t deserve it, I am forgiven. I confess my sins, as He convicts me through His Spirit.  And in that, I live a forgiven life, not a sinless life.

That is the message of Christmas: Announced first in the garden to God’s great enemy, Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil – the sin that seeks to ravage our lives and our world.

But Jesus doesn’t destroy all sin right away, does He? We still sin every day, and sin still reeks havoc on our world.

That is why Christmas is all about waiting – waiting for the final consummation of this great gift from Jesus – a world without sin. That is why we celebrate Advent. That is what we are waiting for.

And so as we begin the slow count down to Christmas this year, let us count also the days until we see Jesus appear on the clouds and fulfill that promise made so long ago, with the final blow to the head of Satan and all the sin he brought into the world. Amen, even so. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

Give Me Life

If you’re just getting started with us here at Eden’s Mirror, we’ve been exploring the idea of finding life in God’s Word. This is part 3 in this Words of Life series. I encourage you to go back to part one and part two first before plunging in here. 

“I wouldn’t put to death what I believed was keeping me alive.” Jackie Hill Perry

Jackie Hill Perry isn’t your typical Bible teacher. Her bold, daring countenance conveys a commitment to work against the status quo. And her life story demonstrates just that.

She recently released a book describing her journey of coming to God, and it isn’t what you’d expect from a book entitled Gay Girl, Good God. With the culture wars surrounding homosexuality, one might have thought she’d be writing a treatise. But instead, it is a poetic testimony of God’s good grace in her life, in her journey of repentance. And true to form, this isn’t just about recovering from sexual brokenness. It is about learning repentance and fighting sin. She recounts how she wouldn’t put to death her old approach to finding life unless she truly believed that the old approach no longer “kept her alive”. It is a simple yet profound insight – what do you think is really keeping you alive in this moment?

Last time we talked, I challenged you to consider how much you believe God’s Word is intended to be a source of life for you. For just like Jackie, you won’t put to death what you believe is keeping you alive. But I don’t want you to take my word for it – I want you to become convinced by God Himself.

So we are going to take some time together exploring what He has to say about His Word. This post is going to be packed full of Scripture and I challenge you to be intentional to slow down, to really read what He says, and read it until it becomes His Words and not my own.

brown book page

A Cry For Help

We’ve probably all seen it in the movies – the stranded survivor’s desperate cry for help. And while we may not have physically experienced that kind of desperation in every-day circumstances in our civilized Western society, we certainly have uttered a similar prayer in the quiet of our own homes as our hearts whirl under the day-to-day griefs and pressures that threaten to undo us. Each of us knows, deep down, what its like to feel like our soul is coming apart, even if its not something we talk about every day.

It is no different than the human authors of Scripture. Listen to the Psalmist in these excerpts from Psalm 119:

My soul clings to the dust…

I call to you; save me…

My eyes long for your promise; I ask, ‘When will you comfort me?’

How long must I endure?

I am severely afflicted…

Plead my cause and redeem me;

Let my cry come before you; let my plea come before you; Let your hand be ready to help me.

These snippets from this glorious poem that we know is set apart to exalt God’s Word reveal a desperation we deep down are all too familiar with. And yet to whom do we turn in our most desperate moments? I know for me the answer is far too often something other than God and His Word. But that’s okay, because even this very Psalmist ends the entire Psalm with this prayer: I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant.

The author of this Psalm is clearly familiar with suffering, familiar with longing for relief and for life. His word for it is generally “affliction”, and the central message for us could be summed up in this verse: My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word.

Eleven times the Psalmist says, “give me life” (vs. 25, 37, 40, 50, 88, 93, 107, 149, 154, 156, 159). Eleven times the Psalmist cries out in desperation for life and expects it to come not according to his standards, but according to God’s Word. Eleven times the Psalmist acknowledges that life doesn’t come from inside himself, or in his friends, or in his circumstances, but in God, and in accordance with what God says. There is an expectation for this man, that if he wants to have life, he must have it in association with the Words of God.

A Comfort

But in what way does the Psalmist expect God’s Word to give him life?

In verse 50, the Psalmist says, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” He says later, in verse 81, My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. So God’s Word has promises that give the Psalmist comfort and hope.

This is the essence of the description of God’s Word in Psalm 19:7-8:

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;

The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;

The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes…

God’s Word gives hope, revives the soul, rejoices the heart, enlightens our perspective.

That is also why Paul says in Romans 12:2 that in order to not be conformed to this world, we must “renew our minds”. A change in perspective can give us strength to endure our circumstances.

What might this look like? I remember hearing a story as a child living in the White Mountains of New Hampshire of a hiker attempting to summit the tallest mountain in the region, Mt. Washington. It’s not a particularly high mountain – just topping over 6,000 feet (nothing compared to the 14,000 feet summits I conquered in Colorado as a college student!). Nevertheless, it is notorious for hosting some of the most unpredictable weather in the region. Rain, snow, or hail will daily surprise the hiker on a sunny day.

In this case, a woman had been attempting to reach the top in the midst of a dreadful storm. Deep fog hugged the summit, hiding it from view for miles around. The woman perished, just a few hundred feet from shelter at the top.

The tragedy is unspeakable. Had she only known how little distance she had to reach safety, would she have given up? Likely not. Perspective has the power to give life!

…But Now I Keep Your Word

But Psalm 119 shows us another way that God’s Word gives us life.

Listen to Psalm 119:67 and 71, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep your word…It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statues.”

At the center of the Psalmist’s dependence on God’s Word is not just an understanding but a doing, a “keeping of God’s Words”. He says in verse 88, In your steadfast love, give me life, that I might keep the testimonies of your mouth.

It reminds me of the warning of James, in James 1:22-25: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Now I’m going to be honest, when I hear this verse, its easy for me to land on the “doing part” and think, I just need to memorize all the commandments of Scripture and do them. While there is some truth to that, Scripture is not just a long list of commandments. God’s imperatives always come out of indicatives.

Diligently Listen

In Exodus 15:26, the Lord gives a rule to His people Israel, after they failed their first test of faith in the wilderness, when the water they drank was bitter: “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statues, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD your healer.” If I could summarize this rule, it would be that God wants His people to listen, and then do. If we were to follow this story through to the end, we would see that God’s expectation is that it is in the hearing of His word, that His people should be empowered to do it.

But this isn’t just a “hearing” with their ears. For if you are at all familiar with Israel’s story in the Old Testament, then you know that more times than not, they are condemned as having “heard but not understood” (see Isaiah 6:9).

No, truly listening to God’s Word has to do with believing that what He says is true. That is why in Hebrews 4:2, the author explains that God’s people, Israel, heard the good news too, but it “did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”

Just like Jackie Hill Perry, we will not put a sin to death if we do not believe that sin actually kills us. But how will we believe this if we do not hear it first? “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Romans 10:14).

Your Word is a Light

That is why the Psalmist says, in Psalm 119: 9, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your Word.” And later in verse 11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

It is why he floods Psalm 119 with the request that God “teach me your statutes…teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes…graciously teach me your law….teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments….teach me your statues.” It is why he says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”

He learns God’s Ways through God’s Words, and he finds life when he does God’s Word but he cannot obey God’s Words without hearing God’s Word and being first convinced that there is another way to live life.

Easier Said Than Done

Yes, yes it is easier said than done. That’s why this isn’t all I have to say on the subject. Sometimes we need help figuring out how to actually put something into practice. And I intend to do just that in the posts to follow.

But before we can do that, we must ask ourselves once more: Am I convinced yet that God wants me to find life by His Words? That His Words intend to give comfort, to revive, to enlighten me, strengthen me, empower me, fulfill and satisfy me?

Much ink has been spilled on this subject, and to be sure, I’ve only begun to scratch the surface here. But if God hasn’t started to convince you yet through what I’ve shared here, I encourage you to explore the following passages for yourself, and then come back and check in here when next time we explore how to find life in God’s Word.

Just A Few Passages For Further Exploration on God’s Word:

Job 23:12

Psalm 18:30

Psalm 33:4

Psalm 130:5

Isaiah 40:8

Isaiah 55:11

Jeremiah 15:16

Matthew 4:4

Matthew 7:24

Matthew 13:1-23

Matthew 24:35

Luke 11:28

John 8:31-32

Philippians 2:14-16

2 Timothy 3:16-17

1 Peter 2:2

Hebrews 4:12

James 1:21

A Few Great Articles on God’s Word As Life:

1) Psalm 119: The Life-Giving Power of the Word.

2) The Infinite Worth of the Word of God:

3) You Have The Words of Life:

4) If You Love God, Listen to Him:

5) The Word of God: How Does It Work in My Life:

A Couple Books on the Subject:

Women of the Word, by Jen Wilkin

Words of Life, by Timothy Ward

 

 

What Now?

Today, October 15, is pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.  And this Sunday, October 21 is the one year anniversary of our fourth baby leaving us to be with Jesus. I find it fitting to break from my current blog series to speak to this for a moment.

We had that October 2017 baby for 6 precious weeks. We do not know the baby’s gender, we never felt we could name it. Two consecutive losses in one awful year. It seems fitting to me to take a moment to reflect on all God has done in me since He gently led me through a season where my world got turned upside down.

I can’t believe a whole year has gone by. It really does feel like yesterday. I remember the dress I wore when we went to the ER to see if there was any chance this wasn’t what we deep down knew it was. I remember penning words of shock, sorrow, and grief, on this very recliner I am sitting in now. I remember it like it all happened yesterday.

But it didn’t happen yesterday, and I am a different person now because of 2017’s sorrows. And isn’t that always true of the Lord? If we lean into Him when bad things happen, we see the truth – that He was always working, before, during, and after the bad things took place. And the bad things are just part of the story, but never the end of it.

So what now? Last year, I grieved a dream for my future. I let that dream die. Now what? Its been the question rolling around in my heart since the loss began a year ago.

Here is just a window into some of the things the Lord has so graciously taught my heart in the last year:

  • He is enough for me. No matter what other losses I might accrue in my lifetime, He is enough for me. If I have Him, I will never be alone.
  • Faith: I have always deep down tried to see God’s truth with my heart right now. But I am learning that I can rest on God’s truth even when my heart can’t see it. So when the bad comes, when the hard happens, I am a little bit better at trusting what I know to be true of God no matter how much the Hard screams the very opposite to me.
  • God is big. Don’t gloss over that word-choice, “big”. It may sound like preschool Sunday School, but its not. In learning to trust God’s Word as true even when my heart can’t see it, I am learning to see that God is so much bigger than just my life, just these few years on earth that I see. I am learning to see that God’s story is the one that counts, and learning that I need to align my life to His story if I want my life to count too. I can’t say this enough. God is SO much bigger than our little lives, and there is SO much comfort in that. It is that which allows me to trust Him when I don’t understand what I can see in my current line of sight.
  • My purpose in life is to make much of God, join Him in His work of expanding His Kingdom, and while I wait for Jesus to return, I “stay in Him”.

It is this last point I want to elaborate on. Because this is my new future, my new dream or goal that I am pursuing. And this is at the heart of how God has used my losses to change me for the better. He has helped me understand something that I’ve never really understood before. And it is something I long for others around me to understand too. For perhaps it won’t take a life-changing loss to help you learn this truth!

As I let go of my dream of a big family, the mini-van, that Instragram mom who homeschools her six kids on a farm, I had to begin asking what God wanted for me instead. And He took me all the way to the high Rocky Mountains of Colorado to teach me.

You see, I went on vacation this summer with my parents to see Rocky Mountain National Park. Stayed in Granby, CO, at an old ski resort. And the third day we were there, we went to church. We weren’t sure if we were even going to try to go, because what decent church could there be this far away from civilization? But I looked up Granby, CO on the The Gospel Coalition’s church-finder, and lo and behold, there was a TGC-registered tiny church not 15 minutes away from our resort.

IMG_1695

It was about 50 people, if even that. My parents and my little family took up a whole row in the tiny sanctuary. But this church was of genuine faith. You could tell the moment you walked in and people actually greeted you, asked where you were from, and were happy you were there.

And the pastor stood up and began to preach. He was taking a break from his expositional preaching to preach a sermon series from all he learned about Heaven from Randy Alcorn’s book called Heaven. While it wasn’t my typical preference for a sermon series, it was clear to me this pastor was so moved by Alcorn’s book, he was convinced that we needed to be thinking more about heaven, and it was worth taking a whole sermon series to do it.

It was a great message – exposing our misperceptions and incorrect associations we have with the idea of heaven that have been formed in us from our culture. His sermon paved the way for his future messages to fill in the gaps in our understanding, and to point us to put all our hope for our future there.

The next morning, I woke early as usual to read the Word and it all suddenly came together for me as I was praying. It was one of those moments you never forget: the perspective I’d been waiting on from the Lord: I didn’t need a “new dream” for my future – a new career, an extended education, etc. I didn’t need a new goal to work towards. I have a future already – a future that is guaranteed, a future I don’t have to worry about not coming true. If I need a future to hope for, heaven is that future.

This was a game-changer for me. I am such a goal-oriented person. I need a future I can work towards. Its what motivates me through the mundane of life! But God has given me a guaranteed future already – eternity with Him. This is my future, fixed and promised, and all I have to do to get it is to wait for Him.

So what do I do while I wait for that future? How does my right-now align with my future with Him?

My what-now is to stay in Him while I wait, so that I might live to make Him known. He created me to bear His image and the only way to do that is to know Him, love Him, and not forget who He is. I need to stay in Him.

I see it all over Scripture, this idea of “staying in Him”. But it is most pronounced in the Gospel of John, and 1 John, when John urges believers to “abide”. In 1 John 2:18-29, the concept of abiding is introduced in the context of not being deceived by false teachers. To not get led astray, followers of Jesus need to abide in Him – and they are helped along by the Holy Spirit, who leads them into all truth, reminds them of what Jesus said, and teaches them all things (John 16:13 and 1 John 2:18-29). We are so prone to forget, aren’t we? We desperately need that daily reminder of who He is. We cannot bear His image if we don’t know what that image is.

What does this mean practically? It means I need to constantly remind myself of what is true over and over and over again, because I am so quick to forget. I need to be immersed in the Word of God, for that is what is true.

This concept seems so basic to the Christian life but I find it is easily overlooked, misunderstood, or ignored. Our job while we wait for Jesus to return is to be saturated in the Word of God, so that we might abide in Him. It is the only way. There is no way around it. I feel like I can’t say it enough, or give enough justification for it. And yet so many around me have such a dry relationship with God’s Word. How I long for my fellow brothers and sisters to taste of the sweetness and goodness of God’s Word. How I long for them to understand what has taken me all this time in my life to truly understand too.

In order to best make Him known, in order to best reflect Him back to the world around us, we must know Him, and in order to know Him, we must have our lives permeated with the Word of God. There is no other way.

So that is my “what-now”. I want to spend my life showing off how amazing and wonderful God is, and in order to do that, I must be steeped in the truth so that I myself don’t forget how wonderful He is. This is my future on earth while I wait for all eternity to come.

In honor of all the babies lost to us but held by Jesus. October 15, 2018

2. What Do We Love Most?

The sticky, musty smell of sweat greets our senses every Thursday afternoon. My five year old is taking gymnastics. The class meets in a massive warehouse re-furbished into a one-room gym, with no air conditioning, a mass of watching parents, and dozens upon dozens of flipping, twirling, whirling small bodies soaring and waltzing through the air. It certainly was not what I expected of an Olympic training center.

Most of these children, like my own, aren’t in pursuit of Olympic dreams, but still have the time of their life learning to turn their bodies in ways I never thought imaginable in real life! However, you definitely can’t help wondering, watching these girls flit about the gym, if you are in the midst of future Olympians!

girl wearing pink and blue floral one piece bikini suit

Recently, I met the parent of a gymnast who has already earned an Olympic medal in my book – a medal for courage.

You see, she is the only ten year old girl there who is not fit, thin, and muscular. She is round, and chubby, and heavy. In fact, her mother shared with me that they enrolled her in the class solely with the intention of helping her lose weight! Yet there she was, twirling and flipping her body, just like the rest of them, with a commitment and joy equal if not surpassing those around her.

As I talked with her mom, I came to understand what led her here.

First, it was Taekwondo, then softball, but no sport seemed to stick, and her mother was genuinely concerned about her daughter’s poor health and lack of exercise. And then they tried their hand at gymnastics. And the girl fell in love with it. Yes, it was harder for her because of her weight. Yes, the other girls made fun of her almost every day for being overweight. But this little gymnast knew what she liked, and she evidenced great courage: in coming week after week, withstanding teasing jests and sour glances from her teammates; in striving and pushing her body to do things she might not have otherwise attempted; in flipping and twisting her body as good as any of the rest of them.

What was it that empowered her with the courage to learn a sport that anyone could have considered unsuitable for her?

Her mother’s words were insightful: she loved gymnastics. Enough to not care what other people said or thought; enough to fearlessly engage in the sweaty, uncomfortable, even at times painful process of learning gymnastics; enough to get up and try again every time she fell, even knowing she fell more often because she was bigger than the rest of them.

She wasn’t there to show off; she wasn’t there to win a prize. She was there for the pure joy of the sport, and I admire her deeply for it.

What do I love?

Her story got me thinking: what do I love that much?

Well, you could start with my kids: there’s the sleepless nights, the days of cleaning up vomit and other foul human body waste of unimaginable proportions; then there is the constant battle of wills, the incessant “no’s” and anger continually directed toward my basic requests of “put your shoes on” and “brush your teeth”. And that’s just parenting two little ones! Oh, definitely, my love for my kids runs deeper than my love for my comfort!

Then there’s my husband, who holds the place of greatest love in my heart of all my human relationships, whose very personality is opposite to mine in nearly every way. The resulting conflicts of interest, and the effort it takes to make decisions we both feel are valuable require great striving and commitment.   No marriage enjoys relational intimacy without conflict.

You could add to my list my friends, my church, my community. I undergo much discomfort and suffering for the sake of preserving my relationship with these precious people in my life.

But there are other things too that hold my affections: my pride and reputation; my pursuit of “perfection” (otherwise known as perfectionism); my need to be right all the time, no matter what (did I mention pride?!); my achievements. The list could go on.

These deeper motivations push me to do things I otherwise would avoid; to suffer physical, emotional, and relational discomforts for the sake of achieving something I truly believe will bring me to that place of rest and satisfaction I so desperately crave.

I know better theologically speaking, but on a practical level, when it comes down to it, my love for myself and what I believe will make me happy drives me forward through much discomfort, frustration, and pain in most areas of my life.

I have to ask myself: why don’t I love God this way? Why don’t I pursue Him more in spite of all the difficulties that come my way? Why does He always get the short end of the stick?

And, at the end of the day, I have to be honest with myself: I don’t love God this way most of the time, because, despite my correct theology, in the pure integrity of my heart, I do not always believe He will satisfy me.

Divine Rest

Last time we talked, we considered that God has a rest for us that will satisfy our souls. That rest is found in part through obedience and submission to His Words of Life. (See Words of Life, Part 1).

If we are to begin to understand that, we first must dissolve the fog that clouds our judgment.

So often, our reason for neglecting God’s Word has less to do with being too tired, too busy, or whatever other excuse we justify ourselves with, and much more to do with a lack of love for God. If our gymnast can ignore the misgivings of others, if she can endure the discomfort of a physically-draining experience, then perhaps we too must be willing to make some sacrifices, and endure some discomfort, and dispel some lies, in order to rediscover truths such as this:

“How sweet are your Words to my taste; sweeter than honey to my mouth.” Psalm 119:103

and, “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10.

Is that how you relate with God’s Words? If not, perhaps you need to consider that the real issue behind our neglect of God’s Word is our disbelief, our lack of faith in the truth that God intends to satisfy us through His Words.

Our champion gymnast loved the sport enough to endure the naysayers barraging and the naysayers did not diminish her enjoyment.

What are the naysayers plaguing you with right now as you consider what is keeping you from listening to His Word? I know, every day, internally I hear:

“God doesn’t care.”

“The Bible is too confusing.”

“I’m too tired.”

“God’s Word doesn’t really help me.”

I have to make the choice every day – to let the naysayers get to me, to start believing their words, and stop putting myself in the position to receive life from God through His Words. Or I can endure, like the gymnast, out of love for God, out of faith and trust in His ways of sustaining me, and choose instead to listen to His Words.

Join me next time for an opportunity to deepen your belief that God intends for you to find life in His Words as we explore how Scripture as a whole discusses this.

 

1. Words of Life

summer countryside grass outdoor

July. Our apartment complex was on the summer tide – a constant ebb and flow of suitcases rolling up and down the concrete as families temporarily vacated for respite from the school years consuming rhythm of life. Nostalgia and expectation rode on the wheels of the worn baggage as parents and children reached for reprieve and retreat in whatever places their transport landed them.

More often than not, these destinations beckon rest from a place beyond their daily routines: a cozy cottage nestled up against a mountainside; a bright, broad beach resort; a lengthened drive across the country roads. It is as if a voice from the created world outside our cities seeps into our hearts and calls us past the gates into the wildness of forests, oceans, deserts, and mountains. We must step away, pack a bag, take a ride, make an effort – for it seems true respite is not within our daily reach.

Why do we go to all this trouble? Because, in so many ways, our lives depend upon it. It is as much a human need as eating and sleeping – to retreat, to revive, to reform. And we have learned that on the other side of the effort it takes to achieve such rest is a source of renewal that sustains us through the next season of daily work and routine. So we work, and we play, and this swing between the two becomes a part of our annual rhythms of life.

Divine Rest

On the seventh day of the first week the world existed, God rested.

It is perhaps among the most confusing words in the Bible, if gazed upon from solely a human understanding. How can a God divine, omnipotent, rest? He whose work did not drain Him, rested. What did He rest from?

This ought to move us to recalibrate our understanding of rest. We rest because our work depletes us. He rested because His work was done. We rest because our own bodies demand it. He rested out of choice, a choice that was in and of itself a final act of creation: setting apart as holy an entire day dedicated to rest. Clearly there is something more He intended for us.

Rest is Life

Indeed, Hebrews 4:9 suggests as such: So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. And later, the author of Hebrews says, Let us therefore strive to enter that rest.

What is the rest being spoken of here? A rest we must strive to enter? We must scale back to the bigger picture of the epistle of Hebrews.

If we were to explore the entire context of these verses, we would see that God is not describing a vacation from work. Laden in these verses is the theme of disobedience, disbelief, and hardness of heart towards the promises of God. Listen to these verses from the chapter leading up to Hebrew’s exhortation to enter into God’s rest:

…but the message they heard did not benefit them because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest… (Hebrews 4:2-3)

…Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again He appoints a certain day, saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.’ (Hebrews 4:6-7)

…So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:9-11)

What rest is this author speaking of so mysteriously? It seems centrally related to belief and obedience. Let’s briefly explore this passage more deeply together.

Hebrews 4 Rest

It seems the key to understanding rest according to Hebrews 4 is in gazing upon the rest offered, yet unattained previously by the people of God.

For good news came to us just as to them…

Good news. They heard a message – and then they responded. What was the message? A promise of sustenance.

Hebrews 3:7-19 points us back to this key moment in Israel’s history – when God’s people received a promise that God would preserve their lives during their wilderness wandering: bread from heaven (manna), water from the rock, and the ability to meander through the dry barren desert for 40 years without their shoes wearing thin: sustaining of their lives in every way; rest.

Moses later suggests that this experience of miraculous provision is also imagery for the spiritual soul-sustenance God wants to provide for all His people. Deuteronomy 8:3 says, [God] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

The entire point of God’s provision in the wilderness was to teach them that life comes from the mouth of God.

Which is why the author of Hebrews says that God’s people did not enter into God’s rest – because they rebelled against the words of life offered to them. They did not act in faith in what God had promised them.

They heard and yet rebelled (3:16). For good news came to us just as to them but the message they heard did not benefit them because they were not united by faith with those who listened (4:2).

How is it any different for us today? The author of Hebrews says as much – we too have good news given to us, and we must respond differently than God’s people so long ago. He urges us to strive to enter into that rest that comes from heeding the Words of Life that proceed from the mouth of God.

God’s rest is belief and obedience to His Words of Life.

An Exhortation For Us

Does this seem as foreign to you as it feels to me at times? We can interpret that foreignness in one of two ways: either we assume that the foreign feeling means it really isn’t true for us today. Or we assume that our own sinful selves have in their fallen state lost sight of the reality of God’s intent for us to find true rest and life in His Words.

I invite you to consider that the latter is true. If that is the case, its going to take some time to get past our initial response, and dig deep, to really plant this truth more deeply in our hears. Will you consider continuing to explore with me in this new series of posts, God’s life-shaking reality: that our greatest rest and life-giving sustenance comes from faith-filled heeding of God’s Words, His Words of Life.

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