Reflections on Labor and Rest

Friends,

As “Labor Day” draws to a close, I encourage you to reflect a bit on ReOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAst and Labor, perhaps beginning simply with the contemplation of this image and Merriam-Webster’s definition of “reflection” as “something that shows the effect, existence, or character of something else” (www.M-W.com). Perhaps you have caught a more spectacular reflection with your own camera, but I want to address not so much a visual reflection as to contemplate the effect, existence, or character of labor in light of rest.

Jesus spoke of the relationship between labor and rest in a place not far from where this picture was taken, when He offered Himself as the source of rest to those who were weary and heavy laden. Although He was speaking there of a spiritual rest, we should not ignore the connection of physical & emotional weariness and labor. For many of us, the end of a three-day weekend finds us more spent than when we began. Our “pace of life” seems, at times, exhausting—we embody the expression “work hard, play hard” but we should add “constantly” (or, “over and over”). We might attribute that pace to “modern times,” but I think that is a mistake. Even Jesus and His disciples experienced unrelenting demands on their time, for we are told that “there were so many people coming and going that they did not even have time to eat.” (Mk. 6:31) Sound familiar? Yet amid that pressing need and opportunity, Jesus—the One sent not to be served but to serve—says “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest up.” I think He makes that same call to us today, but most of us ignore Him!

I know, for a number of you I’ve now “gone from preaching and started meddling.” If you feel that way, you need to hear this more than most!

Our culture does not value rest. In fact, some of us are not only busy, we like to impress people with how busy we are! Think about it: How often, when someone asks how you are, do you reply: “Busy!” (or some equivalent)? Truth be told, some of us have pretty much welcomed conformity to the world’s standard as our “normal”—like the world, we believe busy people are important people. We manifest this when we can’t enjoy a meal out without succumbing to the urge to check our emails, text messages, or make a post to FaceBook or Twitter. We consider ourselves courteous if we ask consent (sort of) of those we are “with” by explaining, “I need to take this.” I don’t mean to imply there is never a situation where that urgency is not true, but for many of us we only wish it were true—and we want the people around to be aware of our importance.

Pressed on every side, unable to pause even to eat, He gets away for a few hours on the water en route to an afternoon of compassionate service to a crowd of perhaps 15,000 (read again Mark 6:30-44). But I think we often miss the point! If rest is important (and it is), if Jesus’ promise of rest is true (and it is), and if the disciples really needed to rest up (and they did), where is that rest in the story? They were exhausted from service and looking forward to some privacy (hadn’t Jesus said “by yourselves”?), only to be swarmed again on the other side of the lake. No wonder the disciples wanted to “send them away!”

Without diminishing for a moment the importance of substantial time away for rest, I suggest that this time Jesus intended them to rest en route. On the water, amid the sunshine and breeze, they were indeed by themselves. They did have opportunity to rest up. But I suspect they missed it because their expectation was that rest awaited them on shore when, in fact, it was offered them in the boat. As much as I would like to encourage you each to “get away by yourselves and rest up,” for most of you the “desolate place” will only become another place of frenetic activity. But most of you, perhaps all of you, have times en route when you could turn off the radio and commune with The Ageless One. I encourage you to do just that: Allow Him to refresh you and give you rest, even as you travel. Indeed, this can be practiced in such short times as a walk from your office to the copier amid an otherwise pressing meeting. I know. He has granted me rest in such times, and what He does for one of His Beloved He is ready to do for each, if we are willing. While reflecting on that you might also talk to Him about what to say the next time someone asks, “How are you?”

May you enjoy His grace in abundance and His peace beyond measure.

John

I’d Rather be a Forest than a Street!

On Tuesday I was talking with a brother about our life in Jesus, and (of course) His OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlife in us. I shared with him that I had recently been reminded that the Jordan River (pictured here near its source) flows into both the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. The water is the same, why are the two Seas so different? I haven’t known this brother for long, so he doesn’t know yet what you know about me—that I often see in nature pictures of the Spiritual.

I was trying to encourage/challenge this brother to move from the place of a river to that of a lake: Allow God to flow through you (share with others what God is showing you), yet seek to take in more from Him than you pass on. “So, you think I should be teaching others?” I responded, “Not necessarily in any formal way, but in some regular, meaningful ways—yes. But let the Sea of Galilee be your model, rather than the Dead Sea. Both have the Jordan River as their primary source. But, while the Jordan River runs into both, the Sea of Galilee also allows the river to flow out of it as well—it both receives and gives—while the Dead Sea only receives.” In the Dead Sea, water which was fresh, free flowing, producing lush vegetation for miles and miles, has stopped moving and become toxic to most life. It can be fun to float in, but even a mouthful can be deadly!

I remember an old song titled “channels only.” Now, I don’t intend to ruin the song for those who love it—and I think there is truth conveyed by it—but at the same time it doesn’t speak to the tendency of channels to run dry. Consider a reservoir instead (even though it’s a poor lyric [Reservoirs only, Blessed Master . . . just doesn’t work]). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA reservoir is designed and formed for both distribution and storing, thereby promoting fullness of life even in the “dry times.” I know many will object, saying we should all be so filled with the Spirit at all times that we have a constant supply—and I would affirm all that. But I also know that in our experience of life, even those living “full of the Spirit,” face times when we have a sense of dryness (I recall the chapter in Tozer’s Root of the Righteous, “What About those Dry Spells?”). It doesn’t mean the Spirit isn’t present and at work, but the reality of His presence and our experience of His presence do not always coincide. Thus, while I proclaim the reality of Christ in us, flowing through us, I remain convinced that He intends for us to be more of a lake (or at least a deep pool) than a fast-flowing river.

I remember an old folk song, familiar to me as rendered by Simon and Garfunkel, with a lyric “I’d rather be a forest than a street! Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would.” How about you? Would you rather be a river or a lake, if you could? Have you talked to Jesus about your desires? Have you expressed to Him your willingness to be formed by Him into all He intends? For what He intends for you is far better than you can imagine—I’d rather be one of the innumerable little springs at the 02.012headwaters of the Jordan (like this one) than anything else, if that is what Christ intends—but I don’t want to cling to my role as a small spring if He intends to form me into a river or a lake. Indeed, these images, along with those of a pond, stream, deep pool, and many more, might be a fitting description of us at any point in time—for God is infinitely creative in the ways He flows to make His life abundant available to all. My situation, your situation, isn’t static—life always involves change—so the images which depict us will likely vary with time. Yet, as we contemplate such images I think we should honestly talk with Jesus about our desires and His plans. I suggest three questions:

“How do I view myself right now?”

“Jesus, how do you see me?”

And, for the brave, “Jesus, what would you have me become?”

Don’t be too surprised if in your own assessment of yourself you are not yet what you hope, but don’t be surprised either if what you hope to be is what Jesus says He would have you become. He is The One Who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine!

Live as one blessed by God, because you are. (Pass it on!)

John

Multifaceted Treasure

MultifacetedWonderOne of the great experiences God has granted me over the past 12 or 13 years is an appreciation for the depth and treasures within the many Christian “traditions.” Because many of these teachings or practices gave rise to some new “branch” on the Church tree, I had too long viewed them as reasons to divide; Christ has helped me see they are, rather, things to savor—particularly those which center on Him. With this—Father God’s Multifaceted Treasury—in view, I share with you some words of a dear friend, brother, and fellow-laborer in Christ’s field, included by him amid his expression of thanks for my last post on the body and blood of our Lord (I share it only with his permission). May God grant us all an appreciation for the richness of His Truth as observed throughout His Eternal Family:

“There was a common theme in my journey of appreciating what was then for me the remembrance, and  is now for me the Eucharist. I remember in seminary learning of Transubstantiation and thinking about John 6 in my Greek class contrary to my peers, and I remember braking those ‘crackers’ as an elder and thinking there is something that I am seeing through a glass darkly here…. Maybe that… they were just crackers… as in, He did not say, this is a symbol of my body, take eat…..

“This hunger continues in the Catholic faith where I met Christ in the Mass and now am nourished by the sacrament of the Eucharist. As He says this is my body, this is my blood, I am able to take in and feast as never before. In this sense it is Impossible to forget as it is impossible to forget to eat, to feed, to live and grow, in the life of faith working through love.  When the ‘remembrance’ was a mere symbol to me it was easier to forget, but my spirit was restless and unsettled that there was some greater purpose.”

As He shines through you, I encourage you to be feasting on Him. Always.

Changing Perspectives

On Thursday I had a great lunch with an eternal brother, and the food was good too! Yeah, Papa granted a couple of hours of fellowship, conversation, and laughter with Ron Ritchie—who taught me several years ago to raise my glass in thankful prayer before a meal (and who spoke the convicting words about eating out, “You don’t still think it’s about the food do you?”). We went to one of his “regular” spots, where he warmly greeted several by name as he showed the love Jesus has for each one we met. Before I dropped him off he asked me to pull over, and he prayed; one of the things he requested was for Papa to grant to me—even as I drove home—a renewed thankfulness. His words reminded me of “Pastor Hutch” out at Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland Washington, who has taught thousands to conclude congregational prayer with “Thank You Jesus!” What a healthy attitude amid our many requests. As I drove home Papa artapprenticeonline.Comanswered Ron’s prayer for me. I was reminded again that God uses thankfulness to put things in perspective.

You understand the basic idea of perspective—or, perhaps I should say, the way your point of view affects what things seem big or small. We sometimes express it differently, like when we say: “Well, from where I sit . . ..” God tells us plainly through Paul that we are not to be anxious (worried, “up-tight,” “stressed”) about anything. We might think of it with the tune and re-phased the line from a song popular a few years back, “Don’t worry. Be praying.” But . . . that isn’t the whole picture. When we try to reduce truth to a slogan, truth often suffers. If you look at Philippians 4 (starting around verse 6) you will see that the real encouragement is to be both praying and thankful. God doesn’t here call on us to be thankful for all our circumstances; but He does call on us to be thankful in the midst of our praying about our circumstance—tell Papa what you’re bothered about, tell Him what you’d like, and do so with thankfulness.

I don’t know what your circumstances are today, or how long you’ve been in them. My circumstance is that I’ve been thinking I need more income and a place to live (other than with our family here). In the midst of your circumstance, think about Paul’s instruction: “. . . with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” What are your requests in your circumstances?

Maybe it would help you to think of Jesus and Bartimaeus.  I like the way Luke tells it (chapter 18). He says, “a blind man was sitting by the road begging.” When this blind man learned Jesus was passing by he started shouting, “Have mercy! Son of David, have mercy!” Jesus has them call him over. Can you picture the scene? A blind man now standing in front of Jesus. Are you at all surprised that Jesus asks: “What would you have me do for you?” Can you hear Him asking you that question? What do you say? Bartimaeus wasn’t timid—he declared, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!” . . . Done! That was Bartimaeus, but I think Jesus is asking each of us the same question. How do we answer, you and me? Do you make your request known? Do I? . . . That’s pretty convicting, but I’m not finished—I’ll go on to meddling! Combining the account from Luke with the instruction of Paul, I also ask: Do we express our requests with thankfulness? Are we acknowledging the greatness of the offer implied by Jesus’ question? Are we mindful of the greatness of God—with Whom all things are possible? Are we asking for too little?

Paul’s next statement provides an amazing assurance. He tells us that when we pray, expressing thankfulness amid our requests, God gives us . . . peace. He doesn’t say we need to ask for peace (although that may have been part of our request). He doesn’t tell us we necessarily get what we requested, even if it was coupled with thankfulness. This isn’t magic. God can’t be manipulated. Yet, He tells us that when thankfulness frames our requests, peace will be given to us. I experienced that on Thursday afternoon.

Papa, thanks that we can talk with You; thanks that You care about us and our circumstances; thanks that You—the God who created and sustains the universe—invite us to bring our requests to You. Thank you that through Jesus You have birthed us into Your family and sent Your Spirit to live in us always. Today, I ask that You would continue to increase our thankfulness. You are so good.  

 And all God’s people said . . .

 Thank You Jesus!

John 

What in the World?

I awoke early Friday morning. As some of you know, this is not necessarily uncommon for me. I have believed for some time that Isaiah 50:4 has application to us—including that part of the verse that asserts “You awaken me morning by morning.” So when I wake up in the early hours (or the middle of the night) I commonly ask: “Lord, is that you? Do you have something I need to hear? . . . If not, can I go back to sleep?” (just being honest there). On Friday morning something came to me, perhaps based in my recent re-read of some words from Eugene Peterson on “The Jesus Way vs. the American way” or a sermon excerpt I heard a few days ago about Christians retreating from the culture. What I “heard” in those early morning hours was a composite of some simple, but often confused, statements of Jesus. What I heard was, In it, not of it. What does that mean?

Before I get too far down this road I want to acknowledge that “In it, not of it” are nowhere recorded as the precise words of Jesus. Oh, He definitely says “You are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” And He also prays specifically for the Apostles and “those who will believe on me because of their word” (that includes us—me and you), that we will be “kept in the world” and “not that [we] be taken out of the world,” but protected from the evil one (read in John 15:19 & 17:14-19). Hence my characterization of “In it, not of it” as a composite of some statements of Jesus. But, again I ask, what do the words mean? Perhaps more pointedly, what does “In it, not of it” mean to you?

 As I pondered what these words mean for me, some of my thoughts went to some ways of the world I want to avoid. For example, how do I regard power, fame, and position? What about materialism and consumerism? But Papa repeatedly redirected my thoughts. If I’m hearing Him corrembrandtRETURNrectly, He wants me to think of “In it, not of it” as not primarily avoiding things, but rather as a reality to be lived—a reality I too easily forget (especially if I fall into comparison [an approach definitely “of” the world]). “In it” speaks to the place I am to inhabit (or maybe infiltrate)—in, among, with—be a true friend to other people. Yet “not of,” not with the same motives, methods, or means common to the world. This is how Jesus lived. He was “a friend [and frequent companion] of [notorious] sinners,” expressed anger at self-righteous religious folk, and “was no respecter of persons”—He got His approval and sense of worth from His Father, not from people. To live “In it, not of it” we need Him to make our new birth and Papa’s love reality in our experience. It is already true, for He says that we “are not of this world just as I am not of this world.” But we need Jesus to make this real to us.

To say “forgive them” to Papa as they pounded in the nails was certainly an “In it, not of it” act. In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey says (after 70 pages) that he is ready to “attempt something like a definition of grace in relation to God. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder.”

Think about that. Wrestle with it. Talk with Papa about it!

You might need to pause here to listen, but don’t stop here! For we are also told to be “gracing one-another just as God in Christ has graced us.” Consider one further statement from Yancey and hear it in the context of “In it, not of it.”

“The world runs by ungrace. . . .”

Think on “Father, forgive them.” Read Yancey’s attempt at “something like a definition” again. Think about people in your life, how you act toward them.

Papa, we open ourselves, our hearts, minds, and spirits to you.
Have Your Way in me.

 Allow the Spirit of Jesus, Who lives in you, to move you to live just as Jesus lived.  . . .  In it, not of it.

John 

Make Time for Wonder

    On this Christmas Eve, I offer you a few thoughts from my heart to yours. Sharing heart to heart is itself so . . .  central to life and so much this time of year brings forth deep emotion.  At this time of year in particular God brings to life for me certain memories, much as He makes new again the realization that He came and “pitched His tent among us.” Because I hope to prompt wonder in you, I’ll try to keep my words brief.

One memory that comes to me is of the insightful and pleasant prose of Ken Gire in his Moments with the Savior, like this excerpt from a prayer which follows his contemplation of the wise men’s search (and discovery) of the promised King:

Thank you for the stars and the dreams and the Scriptures and the many ways you reveal yourself. Give me eyes to see you in the circumstances of my life, ears to hear you in the Scriptures, feet to find you in the Bethlehems of this world, hands to bring you my gifts, knees to bow before you, and a heart flowing with worship.

I suggest that wonder is an essential for worship—but the press of time and the Season make wonder even more scarce at Christmas. Maybe that is part of the Enemy’s plan. I think the wise men had to make time for their search—while even Israel’s spiritual leaders were busy about the things of YHWH, those who made time to seek Him were richly rewarded. Again, I encourage you even now to make time for wonder. Perhaps you should take a deep breath through your nose, pause, then allow it to flow out your mouth—Jesus, quiet my heart—then re-read the quote, a bit more slowly and as from you to Him.

One fairly common memory for me at this time of year is a new realization of being tired . . . perhaps exhausted or drained would be more accurate. Perhaps you can relate. Several years ago this feeling resulted in my use of a photo of a used tea bag as the image representative of a line (What then can I bring Him, empty as I am) from James Taylor’s In the Bleak Mid-Winter. It came to me again, with tears, a couple of weeks ago as I listened to some children singing songs about Jesus’ birth—longing to give Him something of real worth, but sensing I have nothing left to give.

Part of why I like James’ version of this old poem is his use of instrumentals to introduce the song and its movements; God uses those chords to take me to a place of peace. In that peaceful place I am able to think on the Creator-Sustainer God who loves you without limits, and came in a helpless infant Jesus to show you how much! The empty as I am line opens the final thoughts of the poem, and through them Papa ministers to my heart.

What then can I bring Him, empty as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I could bring a lamb.
If I were a Wise Man, I would know my part.
What then can I bring Him?
I must give my heart.

Our heart is what it’s all about. Amid the rush of the Season, does He have yours? I won’t dwell this time on the reality of a pure heart within every child of God (although perhaps you should, perhaps that is the point He has for you in this today, maybe His gift to you of a pure heart is how He would catch you up in wonder, love, and praise. If so, go there [now]! You’re excused.). I am reminded of the expansive significance in Scripture of the word heart—Papa uses heart to speak of “the center of the inner life—feelings, emotions, desires, passions, understanding, thought, reflection, will, resolve, . . . the heart determines conduct.”

If I were a Wise Man, I would know my part.
What then can I bring Him?
I must give my heart.

If you haven’t already, please pause with Him; ask Him to bring new life to some of your memories of Him. And then make time for Him to do what you ask: Think on Him. Wonder. And if you have a Facebook account and He leads you to spend a few minutes with me and James, check out this (4 minute) photo montage for In the Bleak Midwinter I put together a couple of years ago (http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1819086875790&saved#!/video/video.php?v=1819086875790 )

May your Christmas be wonder-filled. 

John