Timing in the Garden of God

When I think about Jesus recently, I think about time. I think about what I do with it and how the way I spend it affects His heart. I think about how with the current state of things, time in the present, takes precedence over the past or the future.

I think about society and how unmalleable people are when it comes to dissenting opinions. Entitlement is king and people don’t want their rights infringed upon if it makes things inconvenient now. This attitude is present in the poor and priveleged alike. People who are upper middle class and well off made out really well over the last two years. Sure the current recession might equalize some of that, but people made and saved a lot of money prior to now.

I say this also with the knowledge that people rich and poor also need rest. Somehow we must reserve time for rest and look foward to rest. Even if now, is not the time to rest, somewhere within the now should be the foward looking vision of the hope of rest. Even if I am working hard now, though I have paused to read this, rest is to be on my mind.

Now, in the present, where God can most easily be accessed by those of us who are bound by time is what I also think God cares about when it comes to human creation. He cares about obedience, bearing burdens, loving enemies, preserving life, and does not mind calling His children to risk their comfortability and resources to arrive at salvation and joy to the full. The Christian call to share in suffering with a willingness to offer ourselves as living sacrifices has not changed for the ones that confess Jesus as Lord. We do it because He is worthy, not because it is convenient.

God walked in the garden in the cool of the day by Arthur B. Davies on  artnet

And the moment I must follow is now, if my identity is rooted in love in Christ. Nothing has changed in the now.

A return to the Garden of God, a mind fixed on things above and the Kingdom of God has a full view of rest not restlessness, which is interesting because when I think of Jesus, I think of the Scriptural promise that he now lives to make intercession for us.

There is not a moment, where Jesus is not pleading our case, living as our respresentation within the Trinity as the One who asks for mercy for us from the Father, who further also asks for the Father to give good gifts to His children, to provide for us and for our children. Part of our work and partnership in intercession is also a willingness to find and receive the strength in the now to be a source of rest for those that are weary and without hope in the world. This too is part of our call in the now, until the Kingdom comes in fullness on earth as it is in Heaven.

Practically speaking there are thousand of creative ways of doing this and ways to expend energy in doing this without the rest of the world ever knowing we’re doing it. There are ways to follow Jesus in obscurity that are far more valuable and less time consuming and probably more rest rewarding than crafting a social media image or chasing wealth.

The last thing I feel I should write about the timing in the Garden of God or time spent with and for Jesus is that the idea of wasting time looks way different in the Kingdom than in the world. I believe wasting time in a good way with Jesus involves things like going for an edifying walk, singing a song that no one will ever hear, writing Jesus a poem that no one will ever read, sitting with a grieving friend, or celebrating a friends success or achievement. I think things that the world glorifies as productivity is actually destroying others, busyness, profiteering, even legal ways we do this that have the tertiary affect of exploiting the poor.

When a group of people asked John the Baptist what the fruits of bearing with repentance are in the present, what he chose to address was all the ways the poor are exploited and the ways in which humans with priveleged positions try to get more money out of people. See Luke 3:4-14.

What Jesus never rebukes and rather encourages is the way we spend our time visiting and caring for the poor and oppressed and imprisoned. See Matthew 25:34-40

Where can we begin? In prayer. God may you grant me rest and then strength to bring rest, alleviate burdens so that the labor in love I perform will be like walking with you in the cool of the day. I love you Jesus because you loved me first.

Refining and Ashes

When an entire city is destroyed by fire, it is the resiliency of a people that is left to rebuild. In 64 AD the Great Fire of Rome destroyed more than 2/3 of the city under Emperor Nero. He sought to blame the Christians for the fire because they were easy scapegoats. They were already unpopular among the populace.

3 months after the fire, the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down according to Church tradition and apocryphal texts. Tradition and theory are all we have in relation to the fire and Peter’s martyrdom. Both of these events don’t rest in the realm of truth.

I reflect on Peter often because of his impetuosity, his quickness to react, his overt emotion and his ability/spirit empowered unction to bounce back and be useful.

I reflect on fires now to remind us of what fires do; they destroy, consume, reveal what lasts and in some rare cases of Scripture fire does nothing. People are in it and protected by God. It is used as a metaphor for the spreading of the Spirit in the book of Acts.

And sometimes fire is used to test the life we build on top of our faith:

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Will what we have done in this life survive a testing fire? What interests me is: how in the world do I know the caliber of resources I have built with will remain? What if I don’t have interest in building something with the wrong kind of materials?

I’m fairly certain, Paul is writing about the Christians part in the work of ministry and building up the Church. And I’m also fairly certain that most of what people in the West call ministry will be burned up. A reward will be given for what lasts and loss will be felt for what doesn’t despite us still being saved.

At this stage of life, I am not sure what will be left. I’m not sure if it is the work I have done for the upbuilding of the Church that has burned away or my trust in things working out for my good while trying to do it (Admittedly, I don’t know if I’m trying hard to do it). I can still tacitly believe that God is doing and working good for others, but I have been unable to reconcile my own paralysis, lack of confidence and seeming inability to let go of hurt and rejection over what I perceive is my calling and personhood. I am stuck.

As I was driving in my car on the phone with my mom, I shared my frustration over interviewing at schools, frustration about church life, frustration with the cyclical nature of hurt from the same people and the inability to cope with the fact that I still feel perpetually stuck. And she said, “Could it be God is refining you?”

To switch I swiftly replied, “For 3 years?! I don’t need any more refining. There is soon to be nothing left but ashes.”

To which I heard the Spirit more swiftly reply, “If that is all that is left, I will trade you even that for beauty.”

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

I don’t know if there is a poetic, prophetic text in Scripture that is more filled with hope. Jesus reads this passage in the Temple and says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

At the same time, I read this passage and wonder: when? How in the midst of being stuck, held captive, strung along, grieved, in despair do we just get out? Does this only come in the resurrection? Does it actually happen now? Is there actually a sense of communion and love and safety in the assembling of the faithful?

Maybe. Jesus thought there would be.

Maybe, when I’m sufficiently refined, we can trade up for beauty.

My Father, the Hero

About 6 years ago, at Pennington Assembly of God, members of the staff recorded videos of our fathers listening to us answering questions about what it was like to be raised and loved by our dads and the instances in which we as sons did things that were unbecoming of the fearfully wonderful men we would become. We showed it on Father’s Day. Here’s the link

I think about that season of ministry and feeling energy and creativity flowing in ways that felt lighter and funny. I think somewhere deep in the heart of God is the comedy of the Father. And I think the Church has not yet fully realized the God that has plenty of Dad jokes at His disposal.

I recognize after working this past year in education in an underprivileged school how many students lives in single family homes, most of which without fathers in the household. I recognize further how rare it is for a student to live in a single family household solely raised by their father.

The national statistics suggest that only 16% of children raised in single parent homes live in a household with a single father. Of all total household arrangements less than 5% of households contain a single dad. In my classroom of roughly 15 students, I only know of one was raised by a single-father. These statistics and my experience has made me more aware of how rare my own experience is of spending a large portion of my childhood raised by my dad.

In 4th grade my dad got an apartment in the same community as my grandmother. Our third floor two bedroom apartment was in a different school zone, but my dad requested permission for me to continue to attend the elementary school I was enrolled in. He also got permission for me to attend a Middle School where the majority of my elementary age friends would attend. I still have the letter he wrote to the school board as a reminder of his diligence to make sure there would be conistency in my life.

My dad modeled consistency well in his diligence at work and playing softball. He allowed me to play sports and trusted me to carry out my own schoolwork. My dad trusted me with a sense of independence and creativity and always supported me. He paid me and my brother’s way through college and always made sure we had everything we needed to be given the best chance to succeed.

In adulthood, I have appreciated my relationship with my dad more over the last decade. I don’t necessarily feel any sense of a cats in the cradle situation even though I did move away and move back to New Jersey several times. My fondest memories include my dad attending professional wrestling events in Wrightstown and our standing games of pool in the basement while listening to classic rock on CD or as of more recently his jukebox. In some ways fatherhood and sonship gives me the sense that it can get easier as you get older. That could just be because I have been single and have not been preoccupied with a family of my own.

I’ve also learned new things about my dads character, his resilience and optimism in the face of difficulty and illness. I have often wondered over the past 3-4 years how he has demonstrated hope and joy in spite of the suffering in his body. His demonstration has given me courage and hope and has required me to trust more in the hope that God sees me and guides me in my own times of suffering and disappointment.

Fortunately, today is also a cause for celebration, to celebrate my dad for being here, for being a great father and loving me and my brother well. And while there is more to write and more to praise, for now I’ll simply say:

Happy Father’s Day Dad!

A Few Tender Words to You, as if You were Me

Hello friend, I don’t know what you might be carrying lately. I also don’t know if what you are carrying is much heavier or signicantly lighter than you are imagining. I don’t know even know if your indecision is the product of you not actually knowing or if you feel so trapped where you are that it is hard to imagine a joy filled future.

I don’t necessarily see all you are dealing with nor do I know it. I don’t know the extent of your illness, your weakness, what the cause is of you being less present or barely awake. I can’t really imagine the toll it has taken on your mind but I do know the toll things have taken on my own heart and my own mind. I also know that the times when I am overwhelmed by the feeling of an unmet expectation, that I should have known or should have been better, I know that comparison hurts and that condemnation further kills or isolates the hope inside me.

Beloved, you need that hope inside you. You cannot under any circumstance surrender hope; now the direction of our hope might change, but you cannot discard it. You must remain faithful to hope. It is the anchor.

Also, you must lean into love. I imagine you have felt like the things or the people you expected love from have let you down, maybe often and maybe seemingly beyond recovery. You might sense that the love that once came from a certain place or someone has grown cold or despondent to your needs. I am sorry for that. I don’t know why love grows cold. I don’t know why it can be so hard to conjure, why our hearts can feel love sick or that our very love is somehow sick or ill and unable to give with the generosity we desire it to give. I think we always suspect that love will be transformative and sustaining.

Perfect love does this, the kind that drives out all of our fears. That kind only comes from God. A love like that must be divine, otherworldly, beyond human comprehension. But that is the love we need friend, probably in this moment, a love that has no desire to abandon, a love that does not waiver in its intensity, a love that does not suddenly come to a halt or push you aside or forget you exist. A love that keeps you in the center of its imagination. That love requires a perfect person in order to be a perfect love.

Yet we also must have a love for the imperfect. Somehow you are trying to maintain a strength to be able to love those who have hurt you, to love even your enemy. You have engaged in a seemingly impossible endeavor. It has tired you out. It feels like you cannot force forgiveness, you cannot force holiness and it seems easier to return to the dark comforts of addiction or slow death rather than deal with the disappointment of feeling alive in love just to have it sucked out of you, just to have it go unreciprocated or for it to feel like it no longer has the power to change you, revive you, keep you.

I cannot assure you of the timing in which it all gets better or in which it all makes sense or when the stories converge to have a continuation that is filled with purpose. I think somehow it does, that in the deep mystery of God and of our own lives that we can be contented to know that we are not trapped in an unhappy accident of existence. Rather, the love by whom and for whom and through whom you were created has made you to be a source of wonder in the world. I hope today you know that you are the reward.