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Eden's Mirror

Looking into the mirror of God's story

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.

A Free Tomato

I don’t recall the day exactly, but you can be assured, it was a day when our golden California sun brilliantly bathed our garden in its life-giving light. I must have been collecting the crop of my recently planted kale plants, or gathering our blue-green, dirt-brown, and crystal-white eggs from our chickens. That was when I saw it: a cluster of baby green growth sprouting up from the soil. Even through the lens of an amateur, I could discern this was no weed.

I think it’s a tomato plant! Excitement mounted in my soul.

closeup photo of sprout

You see, I am the only person in my family who likes tomatoes. That is the mystery of preferences, is it not? How could anyone deny the splendor of the warm shiny red smooth skin and the pop of juicy goodness? Alas, among my husband and children, I remain the only one (at least at the time of writing this reflection – since then, I have won at least one to my side).

And so when I realized that I had not planted this beautiful little blessing, I immediately recognized it as a gift from the hand of the Lord. To this day, I do not know how it got there. Perhaps He sent a little bird to snatch up and drop a tomato seed from another garden. Perhaps some little chubby fingers from the neighbor’s toddler dug into my soil when I wasn’t looking. But let me tell you, that tomato plant is thriving! It burst through its tomato cage and required stronger support to keep it standing upright! It’s branches have stretched high and wide, threatening to consume my entire garden space. I have never possessed such a proliferating plant!

As I harvested my first crimson crop, I could not help but wonder at the simplicity of God’s gifts. If you’ve ever read the children’s story, The Little Red Hen, you know that if you did not “plant the corn”, if you did not “cut the corn”, if you did not “cook the corn”, then you “shall not eat the corn”. It is a work ethic ingrained into us in childhood. And yet here I was, I who did not plant the seed, I who did not till the soil, I who did not cause the growth, sumptuously scouring down a savory gift I had done nothing to earn.

Is this not the nature of all God’s gifts, most especially the gift of communion with Him? From the beginning of time, since the gift of that first garden so long ago, God has never required penance for His blessings. No. It was not His gifts that required wages but our sin. Our God is a generous and gracious God. The difference between the Garden of Communion so long ago and the Communion of the Church today is that the Garden cost God nothing, but our Communion with Him in the present cost Him everything.

If then God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:31.

THIS, not just my tomato plant, is God’s free bounty – the abundant blessing of beholding Him, breathing Him in, in all His beauty. And it is most fully a gift to be received, not earned; a gift that dispels the lies that I could ever earn His favor on my own. A gift that is mine, and that today, I could enjoy just a little more of through the flavor of a free tomato plant.

 

I Met God in the Desert

I woke up that morning feeling somewhat discouraged. I couldn’t place my finger on it exactly until I had the kids dressed and fed, husband sent off to work, and had the space to begin preparing my breakfast. As the bacon sizzled its tantalizing scent throughout the house, it hit my chest like a weight of bricks: I longed to return to the wide open road from which I had come just four weeks earlier.

My mom offered to drive me and my two girls (four and two at the time) out to her house in East Texas. So we had embarked on one of our many adventures together – driving from Los Angeles to Dallas with two kids and a mostly-in-order black Honda Accord. Most of my friends thought I was crazy but knew me better than to say anything.

Out of all our adventures together, this was by far among my top favorites. There was something about being in control of all my stops and starts, not worrying about being on a schedule. Just one goal in mind: to get to Mom’s house.

It was an endless drive. After a while, our minds habituated to the routine of watching the road signs for the next nearest town – did it have a gas station? How many miles until the next rest-stop? One exit didn’t even have a name – it was just Exit 29, 15 miles.

grayscale photo of road

Out there in the desert that stretches for thousands of miles, you begin to wonder why any living creature would settle in these dust bowls at all. But the towns were there.

London, West Texas was so far off the beaten path, there was no cell-service, and the rest room had a sign requesting no toilet paper be thrown in the toilet due to poor plumbing! Another, Alpine, Texas, had one main diner in town, complete with the waist-length gray-haired, mid-50’s waitress who wrote your order on a standard lined note-pad, and talked to you only from behind the bar next to your table. It felt like we were in a movie. But these were no imitations, no one was trying to put on a show to entertain us – they were just making a living, almost annoyed by our interruption in their day, there where they were literally hundreds of miles from the next nearest town or interstate.

Out in these desert towns, there was space to exist and no one to impress. People knew your face and name and favorite diner order almost immediately. No one was in a hurry, there was no place to go.

And it was out there in one of those desert towns that I met God in a silent storm.

Lightning had frequented our journey. We had seen it at night as we were driving over the border from Arizona to New Mexico. It greeted us as we crossed into Texas, where city lights faded, and a consuming darkness prevailed.

But this lightning was distinct. The clouds enveloped a hillside, rolling over it like a blanket, putting the dust to bed. When it lit up the sky, it exposed the fading pink from the setting sun still lining the clouds. Purple, pink, navy blue dark, the lightning grasped a moment for the eyes to behold before burying it back in the darkness. You couldn’t capture this beauty. I tried, though deep down I knew my attempts would be in vain no matter how many times I clicked my camera.

As I witnessed this sight, it struck me that it would have happened, whether had I been there to see it or not. God was not showcasing His glory just for me. He was doing what He always did – watering the desert with rain, feeding the soil and the desert life that depended on it, giving much-needed water to the creatures that called that particular hillside their home. He was very much alive and living and active, engaged in His world – for it was His creation to nurture. It was a privilege to be there – to witness this demonstration of His handiwork. And He would have done it even without me there to see it.

It put me in my place, seeing that lightning storm in that desert. I am small; He is not. All the worries on my heart just fell to pieces as I beheld this small glimpse of His greatness and goodness.

I worshipped.

A worship that transformed me.

I feared Him and yet had to keep beholding Him.

These are heart-postures I throw all my energies to attain to during my normal life, and yet, there I was, in that desert-town, encountering a taste of God’s glory, when all I had been doing was walking back from dinner at the diner to my bed in our hotel. I hadn’t been looking for Him, but He was there all the same, whether I cared to stop and behold or not.

This is a taste of Eden and the promise she yet holds for us: to behold God without effort. To see Him for who He is, without striving. To fear Him and yet desire Him because of His beauty and glory.

This is what Adam and Eve lost us when they betrayed Him in the garden so very long ago. The sweet ease of communion with God, not belabored by distance, time, misunderstanding and lack of faith, nor the clutter of sin that so utterly clouds our vision.

Scripture says that some day, when Jesus returns, we will see Him as He is – and what is more, we will become like Him.

Oh how my heart yearns to be heavenward. To the leave the dust of this earth behind and behold Him always and forever.

But linger though I may beneath that darkened sky, I must soon return to my bedside for a night’s sleep before the sun rises again on another day. And what lingers on in my heart instead is that fragrance of heaven I caught in the glimpse of the skies, the night I met God in the desert.

Edens Mirror

I currently reside in a white-washed concrete three bedroom apartment, crowded into a narrow inlet of land surrounded by sidewalks and a noisy thoroughfare. That roadway is packed into a puzzle of streets which stretch their concrete vines around every possible structure in its path. The city is like a weed, a ground-cover of pale hard cement, suffocating the life beneath the ground.

Now, not everyone feels this way about the city, to be sure. There is a grand display of life and glory here too – but that is another story. Today, my stale home, surrounded by a gray platter of discolored houses and apartments, strangles the life out of me, and I pant for want of life-giving beauty for my eyes to behold. I long for the garden of Eden.

beautiful calm clouds cloudy

I tasted of it today in my garden. We’ve been growing peppers and tomatoes and kale for months now, and have only recently reaped a rich harvest. We sat in the hammock, with a yellow and red pepper in hand, and consumed it almost in an instant. This is how food was made to be eaten, I think, as I watch my children beg for more from my hand. There is no arguing about eating one more bite, no “eat your vegetables if you want to have dessert”. It doesn’t matter how hungry or filled you are – when that sweet, sun-kissed pepper hits your lips, you want more.

Wasn’t this what it was like in Eden? Where you picked your food from trees and plants grown by the hand of the Lord through your tilling of the soil and watered by His loving care and goodness?

I swallow my last bite, this sweet foretaste of Home, and take my children’s hand to walk back across the hardened concrete drive, through the cold stale gate, and into the crowded space of our darkened living room, and think to myself, Yes, I was made for Eden.

And so are you

But perhaps you have forgotten that, as I so easily do. I go about my day, consumed with chores, children, commitments, and the days can feel as colorless as my concrete walls. Yes, Eden is lost to us now.

We don’t know what our lives would have been had Adam and Eve not taken that first bite of forbidden fruit. In so many ways, all we know is what we have lost: a life without grief, sorrow, disappointment, suffering; life in perfect communion with the very One who spoke the universe into existence. What our eternity then would have been we will never know.

We only know what we can see of Eden’s reflections, like a mirror, beckoning us to recall what we lost, if only to move toward the One whose communion with us has become so dimmed and marred by our own tainted hearts.

Eden’s Mirror is our looking glass – our place of remembrance, our place of sorrow and joy, of stumbling and repentance. She tells the tale so often woven throughout all of God’s breathed-word in Scripture: creation, fall, redemption, hope. She points us ever forward to the promise made so long ago of the One who would come and rescue us and take us at long last home…with Him.

I invite you to come on a journey with me of learning to see Eden’s Mirror, to better hear His voice, to return home to Him in the present circumstances of your lives and in the life of the age to come.

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