learning to rest in a restless world

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:9-11

I have wondered, and still do, over all the passages in the Old Testament which mandate Sabbath keeping for God’s people Israel, and really come across as harsh, at least to me, and probably to most of us. There were no ands, ifs, or buts about it. You did keep the Sabbath, period. Or you were at least regarded as an outcast. Of course then it meant resting one day in seven, confining work to the other six days.

In the New Testament in Jesus, Sabbath keeping seems to have taken on a different meaning. It’s really not about a day, but more about one’s attitude in life coming from one’s faith in Jesus. That’s not to say that it’s not good to rest one day in seven. And in Christian circles, various churches and denominations, there used to be pretty strict standards and rules for Sunday, what you could and could not do. That seems now at least mostly a bygone era.

Sabbath rest in the New Testament, and we do well to say, in the new covenant, is about something else entirely, rather mystical in its source, but down to earth in its outworking. It’s about learning to rest in Jesus in what amounts to a restless world. And it’s not a matter of just a nice thing to do. Sabbath keeping in that way ends up being a matter of life and death. Note the passage above, as well as what we noted about Sabbath keeping in the Bible. It is not a recommendation, or suggestion. It is a command, and it really ends up being part and parcel of the faith.

Yes, I know, it can simply mean I put my trust alone in Jesus for my salvation. That I’m not trusting in my works or in myself to get that done. And that is at the heart of this. But it includes our attitude toward all of life, including our work. The work by which we’re not saved is the kind of work we’re to avoid altogether. It is not work which is accepted by God. Only God’s works are accepted by him. So that we need to enter into that work, so that our works are actually a part of his. You read glimmers of this even in the Old Testament. It was a reality back then. How much more so now in Christ?

We could misread the above passage to suggest that regularly we need to rest from our works, like one day in seven. But that’s not what it’s saying. It seems more like suggesting that we leave our own works behind entirely. That they’re not part of the equation. So that it’s not the old Ted who is present with all the good things he used to do of the old creation. But instead it’s the new Ted, with the good works God gives which are part of the new creation in Jesus.

The world won’t accept this, and it won’t be easy for most any of us to accept. We’re to be restless, working hard, trying to outdo others, or at least keep up a certain pace needed, and indeed often required to achieve worldly success. And one might get comfortable in that mode and even seem to be at rest. That attitude can carry over right into the church, and into Christian service and work.

Instead we need the new way in Jesus. Which is of Jesus, certainly like him. So that we become more and more the person we’re meant to be in him. That people might sense him in us, even as they come to know the new self that is emerging. Through the sabbath rest given to us by God in and through Jesus.

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Jesus’s resurrection: the beginning of the new creation

The nuts and bolts of scripture are so important, and where we live, but we also need to step back and take a look at the whole. And get a breathtaking sweep of what’s going on. Or try to get some sense of that. If we don’t, we may too easily miss the point of it all. Yet it’s something that we need to keep working at. Which is why we need to be in all of scripture, as well as in each part of it, especially noting some of the places of beauty and grandeur such as Romans 8, Isaiah 40 and 53, etc., along with many beautiful scenes along the way. Not to mention a good number of difficult ones as well. Such is life. And we need to pay attention to life. And know that God will show up in unusual, unexpected ways in some of its most difficult, and to us, unlikely places.

But having just celebrated Easter yesterday, remembering Jesus’s resurrection day, we now enter into, what’s called on the Christian calendar, Eastertide, or Easter season. Since we’re no longer a part of a church which observes the Christian calendar, except for the big holy days such as Christmas and Easter, I won’t dwell much on tradition. Just to say that those practices can help us center on the gospel, which in the case of the resurrection is about a new life which begins now through faith in Christ (and baptism, see the New Testament; although it’s symbolic, it seems to be a symbolism which helps us appreciate and perhaps enter more fully into the reality: note Romans 6 and elsewhere).

As C. S. Lewis indicated in his classic, The Great Divorce, “Heaven”, as we call it, is not going to be something more mystical, but actually more material and solid than what we know now, so that if we were to step into the new heaven and new earth without the change to come in the resurrection, we wouldn’t be able to endure it. Heaven coming down to earth and becoming one, is central to the new creation in Jesus which begins at his resurrection (N. T. Wright), so that the new creation in Jesus begins there, he being the firstfruits of those to be raised from the dead, who have fallen asleep in death (1 Corinthians 15).

And this new creation in Jesus does not just include the resurrection of our bodies, but the resurrection and renewal of all things, actually a brand new creation, making all things new. The God who created all things, can make a brand new creation, one not subject to the physics and destiny of this old creation. Just as Jesus’s body was not subject to the limitations our bodies have now, or for that matter his body had before his resurrection, so the material world will then be different. I think there will be those who carry on the work of science during that time. They will be just as astounded as now, probably all the more. There will be an endless amount of worlds to explore, discoveries to be made.

But what does all of that matter for us now? At the end of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul nails it down with the point that since the resurrection of Christ and all that follows is true, then we’re to give ourselves fully to his work, knowing that’s it’s not in vain.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

As N. T. Wright suggests, the tie is surely to what preceded it, the point of the resurrection. Otherwise, as the same passage says, we might as well eat and drink and be merry, live it up now, because tomorrow we die, so that there’s no point in thinking what we do now matters beyond this life. But beside the point that it can actually matter greatly for better or for worse in this life, we need to remember and hold on to the truth that somehow in Jesus what happens in this old creation impacts what will be true in the new creation. The subtleties of that, how it will be worked out remain to be seen. We just have to believe it to be the case, so that on the basis of Christ’s resurrection we know that what we do now in him does matter. Not only for this life, but also for the life to come. In and through Jesus.

when not knowing what to do

There are times when we want to do something, but are at a loss to know just what to do. We can be afraid that we might do more harm than good by speaking up, or just as likely, we may wonder if speaking into a current situation might not be the wisest course, or could possibly get in the way of what can help the person grow. We want to fix the problem, or help them along. There surely are times for that, but other times when for whatever reason, surely usually unbeknownst to us, we’re better off to step back, and keep our hands off.

But one thing for sure: there’s nothing better we can do than pray, and pray again, and keep on praying. Prayer is never a substitute for something we need to do, but often enough, it’s really the only thing we should do for a time at least. Then it may dawn on us that there’s something we ought to do. That can all be a matter of timing, being the right time to act whereas before was not. And God can be answering our prayer by getting us somehow involved. But perhaps at least just as often as not, we’ll be limited to prayer. And yet while it may seem trite, it is still well spoken: There’s nothing better we can do than pray, and when we are to do something, continue in prayer.

For me, I often have to pray, even when I feel nothing at all, and it seems that it is nothing more than just something I am doing. Other times, when I do sense what I believe to be the Holy Spirit, or any urge to pray, I want to do so all the more. I realize my prayers are weak, and the only strength in them comes from God’s grace and the Spirit’s working in Jesus.

And so I will pray, and pray some more, and hopefully keep on praying. Knowing that God is at work and has us somehow involved in that work. And that somehow our prayers actually matter and make a difference in that, in and through Jesus.

the beauty and brokenness of life

We see everywhere both the wonder and brokenness of life. There is something wonderful about our world, even about us. And yet there’s something broken as well, that needs fixed. Beauty and brokenness all around us, yes, even in our midst, and within us.

We can get so used to it, that we live in it without much complaint, but bearing its weight. This reminds me of Jesus’s healing of a woman:

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Luke 13:10-17

And it also reminds me of the prayer the Lord taught us to pray, this part:

Our Father in heaven…
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:9-10

So we live in a beautiful, yet broken world. And the promise in Jesus is both for the present and the future: this present existence, and the life to come. So that we want to pray and work against the brokenness present now, especially the worst of it. I think of slave trade, ongoing injustice against African Americans and against other people in other places, abortion, etc., etc. There are hands on practical ways in which we can help. And of course the ultimate answer is in Jesus, and God’s good news in him.

May God help us see where this healing can take take place now and what place we can have in that, and may we hold on to the hope of the ultimate healing to come, when heaven and earth become one at Jesus’s return, in and through Jesus.

Christians do those kinds of things

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

The idea that Christians do those kinds of things can actually be a two-edged sword. Professing-I say- Christians did evil in the Crusades and against Jews as well. Those who have named the name of Christ have not always lived up to that name. Not that we can match Christ, but we are to be a community as well as individuals who are Christ-like, strikingly different than society around us.

The difference was stark as well as more subtle, definitely pronounced when Christianity first came on the scene: a fulfillment of Judaism, and yet in a way that no Jews anticipated, so that what Christians did, Jews would never do. And in sharp contrast, indeed opposition to the rest of humanity, the other group of people than Jews being called Gentiles, in this case the Romans. Christians actively protected babies from abortion, were to be faithful to only one spouse, considered humility a virtue, and I’m sure on and on it goes. Old hat now, since the knowledge of the story, and of Christianity played out in churches for centuries throughout the world has given at least many a kind of image of what that means, oftentimes by this familiarity breeding contempt, at least losing sight of the revolutionary character of what it means to follow Christ, to be a Christian.

Sometimes we might pinch ourselves and ask why in the world we’re doing what we’re doing, and not doing other things. Christians have been criticized for doing what they do out of a religious motive in comparison to nonreligious people who do the same thing, it is said not out of a religious motive, but out of a heart of love. There is no question that church and Christianity can be an empty ritual and religion which might even cause more harm than good. Of that I sadly have no doubt.

But at the heart of what Christianity really means as to its goal is the actual fulfillment of what it means to be human. And at the heart of that is love played out in good works. Faith in Jesus is restorative to the humanity that God created in the first place through the new creation in Jesus. A Christian should epitomize what it means to be human. What that involves might be debated, but scripture gives a clear picture of what it is. There’s some overlap with society at large, because humans are made in the image of God. Therefore people everywhere believe that loving others is important. But that love, just like all else in creation can be distorted so that it’s twisted, often to a self-love which “loves” for its own use and pleasure at the expense of another. And often in marked contrast to Jesus’s teaching about loving one’s enemies.

So why do I do the things I do? And part of that frankly is putting up with myself, being patient with myself, and my own unhelpful foibles, repentant yes, but still patient. At the heart of that is the cross, and in Jesus’s death seeing God’s love for us, and forgiveness and new life extended to us in Jesus. So that we want to follow on that basis. And live and do as Jesus did. With ongoing forgiveness needed for both omissions and commissions which deviate from that. But nonetheless that trajectory being our goal and passion in life from day to day.

All of this by the grace (gift) of God in and through Jesus.

 

seeking the Lord

He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.

2 Chronicles 12

In the First/Old Testament, we read repeatedly about the importance of seeking God. Perhaps this is the classic or most remembered passage:

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Isaiah 55

We in Jesus have been brought near the most holy place, near to God through Jesus’s blood, his death for us. Probably the closest New/Final Testament passage in calling us to seek the Lord, other than Jesus’s words to ask, seek, and knock, are found in James in the context of the need for repentance.

I believe seeking God is still very appropriate for us today, because all scripture is written for us, as Paul makes clear, certainly including the First Testament, which is what Paul had in mind. And we are often said to not be naturally inclined to wander, rather than to seek God. I would like to challenge that, but within the complexity of life as it is, and we as we are.

Based on especially one book I’ve read lately, and I think on another book I want to soon read, and on what teaching I have received from the church, as well as my take of it, I would say that we in Jesus are inclined towards God. We want to come near to him, and remain close. We do have the world, the flesh, and the devil to contend with in this life, so that it’s not always easy. And yet because of Jesus and the work of the Spirit, we can be close to God in the sense of communing, or being in God’s presence.

We often see, for example in a book like Ephesians, how this or that is said to be true of God’s people, and therefore God’s people are not to do certain things, but rather do other things, or live in a way that corresponds with what is said to be true. This has been called our position in Christ from which our practice and new life comes.

So I want to seek the Lord anew and afresh at this time. And I realize that in Christ, that is natural for me to want to do so, and by God’s grace and the help of the Spirit, I can and therefore should. The challenge comes in not letting other things crowd out such good intentions. And realizing that it is still ours in faith to do.

All of this possible for us in and through Jesus.

reward in the life to come

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Luke 14

It seems to be stressed most often that our faith in and obedience to Christ is rewarded in this life, or I could say, makes a difference for us now. There is no question that the Bible is full of promises which would agree with that. One such, here:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

Isaiah 58

Reward in the next life, I think is underrated in many Christian circles, and has been by me, too. In a desire to emphasize the difference following Christ makes in this life, we can fail to see an emphasis in scripture that makes no such promise. I also think of the promise at the end of Romans 8 that nothing at all in all creation, in this world, including famine and death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

This can help us in faith carry on, even when it seems like we are not being helped at all in doing so. It’s not like we do things to receive back; love gives regardless of the response, or outcome. It’s simply that we live in a hope which in scripture means an anticipation of God’s future glory and goodness within that. Much in this life, we might really say everything, is broken, and will be completely healed only at the resurrection in the life to come.

That doesn’t mean God doesn’t help us now. God helps us as we press on in faith and obedience, doing good works for others. It does mean that the final award awaits us in the life to come, all the blessings of this present life pointing toward, and we could say completed in that.

I find this helpful and liberating to continue on, regardless of what happens in this life. In the faith, hope and love that are in Christ Jesus.