Entering Into His Rest

I find myself thinking on and writing about rest on Saturdays. The following post is adapted from a blog post I wrote for my website

Have you ever read these well known words from Hebrews 4:12-13?

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Because these verses are plucked from their context, the fuller impact of what they are saying is lost. The prior discussion is about . . . rest of all things. The writer speaks of those who do not enter rest and those who do. Two conditions are specifically mentioned which characterize those who do not enter God’s rest: disobedience springing from disbelief. The writer exhorts the reader to make every effort to enter His rest.

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.

The writer indicates that those who did not enter into God’s rest saw the works, the miracles that He did in the wilderness and yet they longed to return to Egypt where, though their labor was heavy, there were leeks and onions in every pot. They trusted in their Egyptian slave masters more than they trusted in the Almighty, who had delivered them from the Egyptian army, who had fed them manna and quail, who had given them water from a rock. His tabernacle was in the midst of this people. They could physically see his presence and discern his leading. There was no ambiguity and yet the did not believe He would deliver them to the place of Promise. They hardened their hearts against Him and they fell in the wilderness. They did not enter the Promised Land, though their children did. They did not enter into the promised rest.

We walk in the wilderness today. Though we have the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures in our heart language, and perhaps the most advanced technology of any time or place, we are tempted to follow the world system to a falsely promised land of security and peace. We hear these promises at every turn. Yet, as believers, our inheritance, our security, our protector, our deliverer is not in Washington D.C., 10 Downing Street, the Kremlin, or Beijing. Our Deliverer calls us forth with Word and Spirit.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

What was it the Psalmist sang?

I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.The sun will not strike you by day nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.  Psalm 121

Oh, that Israel would have sang this song in the desert. Their disbelief did not allow them. What was it that sprouted such disbelief?

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Hence we come to verses twelve and thirteen. The writer rightly points out that striving to enter rest is inextricably linked to allowing the word of God to do spiritual surgery in your life, by the Spirit, so that when our hearts will not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The word of God roots out the deepest, most deceitfully hidden sin in our lives and exposes it. If we are not deceived by sin, by the word we are able to recognize it for what it is and to confess, repent, and lay it all down at the feet of him who is Lord of our hearts. Sin has no opportunity to harden if the Spirit of God and the word of God are continually tenderizing our hearts.

The importance of God’s word in faith and life, even in the ability to enter God’s rest, cannot be denied. Is it not vitally important, then, to insure that those lacking the word of God in their heart language gain access to it? Visit my website to discover how you may get involved in the process of getting the word out to those who currently don’t have access.

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Welcome to the 21st Century, 13 years on?

I’ve been working with my sons the last few weeks giving our website www.shakethegates.org a makeover, switching over to Linux-based servers, using WordPress to publish our site. I have to tell you, friends, I’m feeling my age when I stare my 19-year old son in the eyes, not comprehending what in the world he is talking about. “Dad, you just have to . . . invert the switchamagizmo and align the tetric whizzabangs with the googleplexic anaphalactic schnozalators. What? Exactly.

You know that blue streak your father always talked about? It’s been floating in a haze just over my head. Maybe that’s what’s been causing all the headaches.

We were sitting with some friends on Sunday and discussing the morning sermon. Pretty quickly the discussion turned to humility. As we tossed around subject, my mind slid sideways into a dozen episodes of my temper rising to the surface, frustration showing the uglier side of its face right there in front of God and my boys. Like clock work, when my sane faculties returned, I had to look my boys in the eyes and ‘fess up. “Now you know what ugliness looks like. Don’t s’pose you’ll forget it anytime too soon. Sorry boys. I love you for who you are and what God put between your ears. Just remember when your 19 year old is talking to you about the whizzabangs of 2030, don’t knock him in the head with  . . . I don’t know what will be close at hand in 2030. . . Just don’t do it.”

humility2

It stinks that more often than not one must be humiliated to earn his humility spurs. Comes with the territory I guess. If it didn’t hurt a little, I don’t suppose we’d ever get around on our own to acquiring it. Then again, how could we have any ability at all to be like God if we didn’t find it? What do we have that He hasn’t handed to us? Seriously, brains? Money? Physique? Genes? Comfort? Resources? Salvation?

Humility is the recognition that I am the repository of what He has given me–nothing more and nothing less. Humility is bearing the weight of responsibility bearing His image, carrying His glory . . .

I’ll say it here, if you promise not to tell my boys: I’m glad to have had to lean on the fruit of my loins just to understand the most basic things about all things electrosocialmediaizical. Humility is not such a bad thing after all!

Mid-life Joyride

texting and driving

What happens when our attention wanders from the important to the trivial? When I’m driving, it’s important to be plugged in to what is going on around me: checking the mirrors, watching the tail lights, habits, and lane changes of cars ahead. Who might turn in front of me? What unexpected thing might the other drivers around me do? If I don’t pay attention,  a joy ride might turn into a final ride to the morgue. Look at the picture, allegedly the driver of one of these cars was texting while driving–typing on a phone instead of driving attentively.

What happens when my spirit’s attention wanders from what is important to what is trivial? The outcome is not necessarily all that different than the picture above. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:1-12, ESV.

I’ve written about, preached, and taught this passage probably a hundred times over the years. Yet, this week, I discovered a new appreciation for Jesus’ words. What grabbed my attention differently this time around was the fuller meaning of the word translated “abide”. It’s a very churchy sounding word in some respects. It is cliche these days. “He doesn’t abide fools,” one might say. In this passage, though, it takes on more of the sense of “lingering” or “tarrying”.

I once had a friend at the edge of the world, whom I only saw a few times a year. I once had tea with this friend, which turned to supper, which turned to protracted conversation over coffee which became animated discussion. Ten o’clock turned in. Then came eleven. Midnight. At one we started moving toward the back door. At two we left the back door, inching toward my four-wheel drive. At two-thirty I cranked the motor to life and headed home.The relaxed lingering was pleasant and the moments treasured. There are just never enough such moments to satisfy the heaven-sent desire for fellowship in the Spirit.

The Father longs for us to linger in his presence, aching to stay, groaning for just one more minute. “Just a little longer, Daddy.” Groan, ache, beg, plead, “Just a little longer. Do I have to go?” The duties of this life may feel like a tearing away when we are in this state of Spiritual communion. It is here that we sip the life-giving sap flowing from the Vine to the branches. It is these moments that we bear fruit and bring glory to the Father. These moments birth other moments when the world must respond to the fact of God’s presence, existence, and preeminence over all creation.

I think when I was younger I looked at these succinct sentences as the kind of commands that forced the reader to choose between compliance or punishment. It was how I related to Him, I guess, for lack of a better idea. There was a paucity of emotional and spiritual maturity. I failed to see the joy– just the duty. At forty-three years old, I’m able to experience the joy that flows from him as it is nourished in the environment of loving fellowship, fertilized  by mature love, and born of promise. Promise? Yes.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be disciples.

A great enemy of living the promise is the busyness of distraction. Paying attention to triviality takes our eyes off of the important. Distracted driving sometimes produces a fatality. The distracted believer can stray far from the precious, life-giving flow of the branch. Dry, withered branches are burned by the Vinedresser.

I’m learning to linger with my Father in heaven. I’m learning to look to Him for joy, fulfillment, and  life. The longer I linger the less distracted I am by the vagaries of life. Oh yeah. One more thing–a missionary thing. Language learning requires a person to linger around the edges of groups just listening, learning, and putting all that language in its new place in the mind and heart. It is imperative. If this life is at least in part about being made fit for heaven, then it is imperative that I learn to linger, listening to the language of heaven, putting it in its proper place in my heart, learning the words, poems, and songs of the Vinedresser as he moves deliberately to and fro, pruning, singing of His trees, and looking for fruit. “Just a little longer, Daddy?”

Lessons from a Second Adolescence

Mid-life can be a confusing time for guys. Christian men are no different. It may be even more so for us. Right at the end of our first adolescence, known as the teen years, we plunge into God’s call with gusto. For those of us who studied in a Bible college or seminary environment, we are filled with objective truth (the black-and-white kind), inspiration to do great feats, fine examples of brilliant minds, deep hearts, and far-reaching vision. We then mix it with an indisputable sense of indestructibility, that is, bullet-proof-ness. We are cast out to the four corners of the earth to win the lost, to do great deeds of faith, to turn the world upside down, all hopefully before the age of thirty.

A few garner widespread attention, preach to thousands, and live the adolescent dream of fame within the Kingdom. Most of us don’t. Most of us go to a rural town in the Midwest and love, live and fight with a few hundred brothers and sisters. Others, like me, go to a village on the side of a mountain, learn a language no one’s ever heard of, and disappear into relative obscurity. Many of us nurture a quiet, nagging sense that there was something more meant for us, but the question we can never answer is, “More what?”

A second adolescence ensues in the late thirties to mid-forties. There is a restlessness that manifests in a lot of ways. Some of us feel a sense of failure flowing just under the surface. Others feel that now is the time to take this bull by the horns and wrestle this beast to the ground. Some feel both.

Do you remember when you were 18 and you felt like you had your whole life ahead of you and that really there was no limit to the possibilities? That was the natural end to the first adolescence. What does it look like when you come to the end of a second one?

For me, it looks like laying aside the trivial pursuits of pseudo-maturity and holding up God’s holiness before the eyes of a watching church; even a watching world. It looks like unquenchable fires of passion for God’s name. It looks like a prophetic vision filled with God’s effulgent glory. It is filled with indescribable anticipation of His manifest presence. As I wrestle with God through this fifth decade, I see the mercy and kindness of my Father in heaven. When he allows my strength to begin to wane (I’m not 17 anymore), he gives me wisdom and experience in its place. When he allows my beard to gray and my hair to go on permanent vacation somewhere in the Bahamas, he places me in a culture that sees gray hair as a blessing, a mark of maturity and respect. He takes my vision and my passion and equips them with the maturity to really use them wisely. O the depth of the riches of his grace!

I’m not out of the woods yet, not by a long shot. But I’m living a life of anticipation that Jesus will bring to completion that which I have entrusted to him for that day. I’m living with the reasonable expectation that for as many days He gives me to walk this earth, He will give me words to write or speak, thoughts to share, experience to build the lives and ministries of those coming behind where I have been. I wake in the morning and lie down at night never knowing whether or not this will be the day Jesus comes on the clouds, riding on a white horse, with his holy ones and angelic host in trail. What a hope! I wake everyday praying a simple prayer: “Father, allow me to use every gift, talent, resource, or opportunity you’ve given me to make your name known and honored in this generation—and in the one to come!”

kneeling at the cross

Daily I come to him for forgiveness when I fail in this pursuit. I come to him for strength when mine fails. I come to him for tenderness when life is harsh. I come to him not like a forty-something, a teen, or a grandpa. I come to him like a little boy needing my Daddy to take care of me. I’m mid-life and on mission. What an adventure!

I come him moments after praying the previous prayer, trembling, tentative, and pray, “Lord, help me to lay even these pursuits at your feet as a gift. Give me the grace to be still, to call on your name, and to trust in your words: ‘I am God. I will be exalted in the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.’ It is your dream and purpose to be exalted in all people.”

My deepest encouragement is not to linger in lament for a youth that is long gone. If you must linger, linger at the foot of the throne of Jesus. Linger longer in prayer. Bask in his glory. Drink in His life. Pour it out to others. Allow the real dreams He gave to you to bubble to the surface. Live the next 25 years with more gusto, more confidence, more intensity, and more wisdom than you have the previous 25. Use all the amazing gifts God has granted to do what Jesus did. Love and disciple one person at a time, or three, or 12 or 500. Pour out all that He’s poured into you, that this generation might behold the glory of the One and Only, sent from God.

Behold His Glory

I was sitting on the ground on a mountain along the coast of New Guinea the first time I felt an earthquake. It wiggled up my spine like a sidewinder snake. It was unexpected and a little odd.

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I got interested in how earthquakes work at that point. What fascinated me about them is that they start deep in the earth. All their energy and power are generated at depths that are hard to comprehend. A “shallow” one (that is, its focal depth) begins between the surface and about 43.5 miles (!); a deep one all the way to about 4,000 miles deep. That’s deep! I’m awed that something that happens so deep within the earth have such a huge impact on the surface.

I’ve felt gentle tremors over the years; events that shake and shudder and reorder bits of life. These last several months, though, have registered 7.9 on the Richter scale of life. The glory of this shaking is in that it has not brought destruction, but life and joy. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, this shaking “. . . indicates the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12:27, NIV84) What has been re-ordered, then?

While I’ve always held to the belief that God answers prayer, I haven’t always understood the extent to which faith pleases God. Trust in God’s promises and involvement in our lives builds an intimacy with him that causes him to call faith-filled people, “Friend”. This shaking has produced a boldness to take Him at his word and to pray boldly, confidently, and with abandon.

This shaking has reordered my worldview. It has brought me to a willingness to risk all, before the eyes of the church and the world, to live in such a way that “that the people may see and know . . .that the hand of God has done this” (Isaiah 41:20).

Would you join me in this risky venture of faith? Would you pray with me that God’s glory will shine forth in this generation in such a way that it is unmistakable that God’s hand has done this? It is His glory that counts in all of this, not ours. We must decrease, He must increase. Would you boldly go to the place of prayer and start an earthquake in the heavenly places that shakes all that can be shaken and leaves only that which cannot be shaken? Would you shake the gates of Hell through impassioned, committed prayer?

Whispers Where He Walks

I lived for many years in a city on the equator. Close your eyes and listen, even for a moment, and there was always the whirl of ceiling fans trying to stir the moist air like a blender full of water. Sometimes in the evening we’d have a wall-unit air conditioner howling, blowing, and pumping the humidity back out into the yard where it belonged. My ears became finely attuned to the gruesome and unwelcome sound of the power grid going down, with its complete cessation of comfort providing appliances.

Only then could we hear the insects singing their songs, competing with the bats, frogs, creeping things, and of course neighbors talking in their houses or yards.

The longer I live in the U.S., the more concerned I become that the pace of life and sheer volume of nonsense whirls, howls, buzzes, groans, and screams at us so continually and persistently that we become unaware of any of the other (important) voices of life. Concerned is a total understatement. I fear for our souls.

John peels back the veil that hangs between heaven and earth affording us a glimpse of the unseen permanence beyond the reach of our ears and eyes. In Revelation 2:1 he writes: “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.” The imagery is of Jesus quietly walking among the lampstands, trimming their wicks and filling them with oil. Perhaps he polishes the stands themselves, which are made of pure gold.

lampstand

These lampstands represent congregations. The light is their light-giving presence in their communities. The oil is the Spirit, the wicks that which ignites the Spirit and makes him visible to those who receive his light. Jesus himself walks among the congregations, filling these lamps and trimming them so that their flames will burn brightly, providing illumination.

In my imagination, I see Jesus walking among the lampstands, whispering prayers as he ministers among the congregations, breathing life into them, pouring his precious Spirit into their vessels, trimming the wicks which draw the spirit into fire to give light in dark places.

To the church in Ephesus he gives a dire warning: “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love.Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” Some congregations have become so accustomed to the “white noise” of our culture that they have lost the ability or desire to hear the whispers of Him who walks among the lampstands.

Can I hear Him whisper when He walks here? Are my ears finely attuned to the swishes of his syllables, the terse plosives bursting forth?

I fear that many haven’t even noticed that He no longer walks among them, that the oil is dried up, the wicks burnt up, the lampstands tarnished, the light extinguished. Business as usual.

May it never be! We must repent, tear our robes, throw ashes upon our heads and cry out for His presence, his oil, his ministry, his light and life! Jesus, walk among us! Open our ears to hear what the Spirit speaks to the churches! Open our eyes that we may see you! Grant us the spirit of wisdom and revelation that we might know you better! Come Lord Jesus! Come!

The Road to Glory

A Long Journey

It’s been a long journey for me, friends. The journey has been filled with wrong turns, missteps, and a certain amount of idiocy, frankly. Yet I think that perhaps now in my forties, I’m beginning to get the slightest glimpse of what might be considered “glory”.

 

.winding road

 

I remember as a boy just wanting to be accepted. Alongside this desire was this unmovable commitment to God that did not allow me to go overboard trying to find acceptance from others. As I wrestled with these longings, I tried to decipher the secret to living rightly and being accepted: a vain hope. In our society good, clean living is often considered despicable and intolerant, while “anything goes” is held as the ultimate freedom—which of course is ultimate foolishness.

The Holy Spirit was working in my young heart. He dealt with sin, disciplined me, and pointed me to my Father. As I tried to walk a road to glory, I unwittingly followed one that led to self rather than to Christ. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, I imagined doing things that would garner the attention of others; things that at the time I thought would garner attention for God.

Walking with Nacissus

Now I understand more clearly the forces that were driving my young heart, forces driving me to look for glory for me—as if that kind of glory would make me count for something in this world.

The road to that kind of glory is strewn with disappointment, discouragement and pain. It is the kind of pursuit that expects God to make me look good rather than me modeling a true picture of Him to a broken and deceived world. On this road, prayer slides toward asking for things that will impress man rather than accomplishing the good works that God prepared in advance, that I should walk in them.

The road to that kind of glory is reminiscent of the myth of Narcissus, the Roman teen-ager god (seriously!) that Ovid wrote about in 8 A.D. In short, he was so self-absorbed that he alienated everyone around him. Nemesis (another mythical being) was so fed up with it that he lead Narcissus to a pool, where Narcissus caught a glimpse of himself, becoming so enamored with his image that he never left—ultimately dying there.

A Worthy Journey

Paul the Apostle fortunately knew the vast difference between the pursuit of self (vis-à-vis American culture, 2012 A.D.) and the road to true glory. Paul writes to the church at Philippi:

“This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11, NIV 1984)

In his prayer for them, Paul addresses the quality of their love. Their agape love is to abound in complete knowledge acquired through experience and depth of insight or perception. This selfless love of theirs, tempered by true understanding forged in the fires of the crucible, is to abound more and more for the purpose of discerning the best over the good. This discernment is to be put into practice in their lives not so that they can be mere eggheads, but that they may be pure and blameless, to the very end. The quality of their love is enduring and righteous.

This kind of love is not acquired at markets on the road to self-realization. They are acquired directly from Jesus himself.

We come right down to it then. The road to glory never, ever leads to self. The road to glory winds through the experiences of life, paved with the ongoing experience of granting and receiving selfless love, learning from those love-in-the-crucible experiences. The road to glory is the fruit of Jesus living within you. The road to glory leads us to a solemn act: praise of God the Father.

A Journey with Jesus

Jesus himself, after fasting for forty days, was tempted by Satan to gain glory for himself. “Worship, me,” he tempted, “and I will give all the kingdoms of the world to you.” Jesus responded simply, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”

In my forties, I’ve stopped imagining vain things, hoping for “atta-boys” and somehow swallowing the lie that if I can just do something remarkable enough someone (or Someone) will take notice. There is no glory there, only a vain, death-dealing, empty stare into a pool. The road to glory is found in Jesus and results in praise and honor for God alone.