“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out—perhaps a little at a time.’

And how long is that going to take?’
I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.’
That could be a long time.’
I will tell you a further mystery,’ he said. ‘It may take longer.

- Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Mar 24

I Can Have As Much of God As I Want

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“A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4; NIV). “With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8; MSG). When I

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“A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4; NIV).

“With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8; MSG).

When I was a child, I frequently lay awake trying to parse the concept of God having no beginning and no end. My 7-year-old brain was frightened by the limitlessness of God. By extension I did not take any comfort in the possibility of my life being lived in ETERNITY!  As I grew older, I understood that humans had built a framework of measured time over the universe to help us organize our lives.

The problem of time often limits our relationship with God. The reality is that God lives outside of time. In the Garden of Eden humans were comfortable with living in the eternal now. Every moment with God was now. As a friend of mine has said, “God was close by and conversation was easy.” Then our ancestors tried to grab control from God and were cast out of the garden. God didn’t change, but our experience of God did. God still lives outside of time; we are now bound by time. Therefore we can only find God in our present moments.

When we say that the Kingdom of God is “available now and is also coming,” we don’t pay enough attention to the fact that “now” means not just during our lifetime on earth, but actually NOW, at this moment, in this instant.  Not 30 minutes ago or next Sunday, but now.

Did you ever stop to think that Jesus’ stories about the kingdom happen in a specific and discrete moment?

  • The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his field (Matt. 13:31).
  • The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour (Matt. 13:33).
  • The kingdom of heaven is like treasure that a man found, and hid again, and then bought the field (Matt 13:44).
  • The kingdom heaven is like a fine pearl which a man found and immediately bought (Matt. 13:45).
  • The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men -and at the third hour and at the sixth hour and at the 11th hour (Matt. 20: 1 – 16).

Jesus described those actions as happening in a distinctive moment of time – now.

So, if God and God’s Kingdom on earth are found only the now, what does that say to us?  If we want to find God, we have to live in the now. We have to stop and look at the burning bushes. We have to collect the manna when it falls. We have to sit at Jesus’ feet when it is inconvenient. We have to commune with God while we are washing dishes or mopping the floor (as did Brother Lawrence). We have to find God each time we open the door (as did Alphonsus Rodriguez, a lay brother who answered the door at the Jesuit College on Majorca and tried to see Christ in each of the persons who came to the door.) We have to find God in the forests and fields (as Francis of Assisi did.)

How do we do this? We fight off our addiction to living in the past and looking toward the future and, instead, dwell in the present where we can have as much of God as we want.

MULLING IT OVER:  Did you ever think about the fact that for us eternity/heaven will mean going “back to the future?”  After death we will return to the eternal now.  Communion with God will be effortless.  Now, however, we need to be intentional about seeking the face, the voice, and the companionship of God.  How do you make that happen?


Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing.  She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

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Mar 13

Cultivating Wonder

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“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”  Psalm 65:8 (NIV) In his book Eyes Remade for Wonder, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner tells the story of a four-year old girl and her grandmother who

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“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.”  Psalm 65:8 (NIV)

In his book Eyes Remade for Wonder, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner tells the story of a four-year old girl and her grandmother who were together on a summer afternoon. The grandmother was reading while the girl played on the floor nearby. Suddenly there was a crack of thunder and a torrential rain.  And then, as quickly as it came, it was gone. The girl got up and looked out the window and spotted the stripes of a rainbow against a patch of blue sky. “Grandma,” she asked, “who made that?”

Do you envy that child? Like most children, her world is still full of awe and wonder. What about you? Do you live in wonder?  Or do you move through your world without really seeing – until a clap of thunder wakes you up?

Are you filled with wonder when a baby smiles back at you?  When a choir and orchestra fill a sanctuary with glorious music? When sunlight slants through a forest? When a perfect sentence ends a mesmerizing book? When birds serenade each other a sunrise? When a dancer gracefully floats across the stage? When children giggle? When aromas of a Thanksgiving meal waft through a warm kitchen? When frost traces delicate filigree across your window pane?

Psalm 65: 8 says that God has filled the world with wonder to invite our joyful praises.  Eugene Peterson puts it this way in The Message: “Dawn and dusk take turns calling, ‘Come and worship.’” We are called to live in wonder because wonder trains our souls for worship. A sense of awe and reverence for everything around us prompts us to reverence the Creator of it all.  Wonder makes us humble. It takes us outside of our petty existences and puts us in touch with presence of God.

In their book Awaken Your Senses, J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram describe how using our “whole” brain nurtures our experience of life, including our sense of wonder:  “Our left brain, which is the logical and concrete center of our thinking, uses words to understand and interpret experiences.  However, the left brain cannot experience – God or anything else.  The left brain takes meaning from our experiences; the right brain does the experiencing.  The right brain, the creative and intuitive center of our thinking communicates through images, not words. By image, we mean anything you envision through one or more of your senses.”

 They go on to say that our “senses are involved in faith development.” Most of us know this intuitively: sunrise and sunsets, bubbling creeks or waves lapping on the shore, the aroma of pine trees – these move us into spiritual experiences – without words. In a world of word after word after word (texting, e-mailing, newspapers, blogs, instant messaging, even phone calls and voicemails – which are, after all words), we long for these sensual (as in using our senses) experiences without even understanding why.

In the 21st century, if we seek to experience God in the present moment, we need to foster awareness of the experiences our senses can give us. Perhaps we can do that by offering our senses to the Holy Spirit. We need to intentionally cultivate an attitude of wonder and awe. Perhaps we can do that by slowing down, creating margin, creating a different rhythm to our lives. We need to seek the sacramental nature of every moment.  Perhaps we can do that by digging deep for our long-lost childlike response to the universe. Perhaps then, when we see a rainbow, our first reaction will be to fall on our knees (metaphorically or even literally) and shout “God made that!”

MULLING IT OVER:  Read Eugene Peterson’s poetic and joy-filled vision of Psalm 65 below. Is this the way you see the world? How can you turn everything you see into an object of wonder?

Far and wide they’ll come to a stop,
they’ll stare in awe, in wonder.
Dawn and dusk take turns
calling, “Come and worship.”

Oh, visit the earth; ask her to join the dance!
Deck her out in spring showers,
fill the God-River with living water.
Paint the wheat fields golden.
Creation was made for this!
Drench the plowed fields,
soak the dirt clods
with rainfall as harrow and rake
bring her to blossom and fruit.
Snow-crown the peaks with splendor,
scatter rose petals down your paths,
All through the wild meadows, rose petals.

Set the hills to dancing,
Dress the canyon walls with live sheep,
a drape of flax across the valleys.
Let them shout, and shout, and shout!
Oh, oh, let them sing!

Psalm 65:8-13 (MSG)

 


Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired, she now spends her time writing.  She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

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Mar 10

IS STUDYING THE OLD TESTAMENT WORTH THE TIME AND EFFORT? (Part Three)

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Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here and second blog here) The previous two posts have given us a reason to look

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Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here and second blog here)

The previous two posts have given us a reason to look to the Old Testament as a place that shaped Jesus’ own perspective and one that could help us ground our own narratives on the character of God. Now we look at how the Old Testament can help us to identify–and join Jesus in living according to–God’s plan and purpose, thus bringing glory to “God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds)

God’s Purpose

One of the crucial elements of Jesus’ teaching is His proclamation of the Kingdom of God/Heaven. In the Kingdom of God the purpose of God is fully expressed and fully achieved. Jesus begins and ends the Beatitudes in Matthew mentioned with statements regarding the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, 10, NAS95)

Jesus’ reshaping narratives in this initial element of the Sermon on the Mount serve as a focal point for the many kingdom of heaven parables found within this Gospel. The words, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, are familiar to many as the announcement of Jesus in Matthew 4:17. Many don’t realize they are also the words of John the Baptist and Jesus’ command for his disciples’ proclamation (3:2, 10:7). Where does Jesus’ idea of the kingdom of heaven originate if not in His Scripture? The Old Testament is replete with descriptions of what God’s kingdom is to be like and how those within it are to live.

Many individuals who read through the Old Testament are often attracted to the stories of terror and horror inflicted by the Israelites on their surrounding nations. Other readers focus narrowly on the David and Bathsheba story or that of Jephthah and his daughter in Judges 11. But such a focus misses the point of the Old Testament, to recount the activity of Yahweh, God of creation among humanity. The more important passages often seem to be less frequently proclaimed than the scandalous many, but remain more important nonetheless.

There are several key passages of the Old Testament that encapsulate the timeless purpose of God.

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31, NAS95)

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Genesis 50:20)

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)

“[T]hey will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

It would appear that the purpose of God is for humanity rather than against it. It would also appear that the purpose of God encompasses blessing for others through the very ones who are in relationship with God.

Two narratives intertwine throughout the Old Testament regarding God’s purpose. The first informs us of God’s relationship with humanity and the creation. Despite attempts to narrowly limit the use of Genesis 1 to scientific debate, it serves a larger purpose, especially when cast against other stories of creation. One element of the creation is that the world; the land, the seas, the birds of the sky and the animals of land and even male and female, are viewed through God’s perspective as “very good.” The later scandalous stories of disobedience and discontent accounted in the Old Testament are unable to mask the reality that God looks upon all that he has done with great delight and pleasure. This attitude of God is not solely toward humanity. When we attempt to live like Jesus in our relationship to creation we must take God’s perspective into complete consideration.

The second narrative relates to God’s intended consequences for humanity. From Adam through Noah and vocalized clearly with Abram, God seeks to bless the nations of this created world, who one may recall are separated by discord at Babel. God is not looking for reasons to destroy but to preserve, not to keep in poverty but to distribute bountiful blessings. The sin that separates humanity from God is being addressed by God so as to tear down the walls of separation. Selfishness rears its ugly head in our lives as often as the dandelions of spring, summer, and fall appear. The Old Testament consistently reminds the people of God that they do not own or possess God, but that God possesses them. He is not for their use, but they for His.

In 539 B.C. the covenant people of God were permitted to return to their land from exile. Not all returned, but those who did reflected many false narratives. When 17 years had passed in the land, God spoke another message of reminder through the prophet Haggai.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “ Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. “ You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the LORD of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.” (Haggai 1:7-11, NAS95)

These people of God looked for God’s blessings in life while ignoring God’s purpose. The Old Testament continues to communicate clearly that God is to be glorified among his creation. When we remember and our lives reflect that narrative as a driving purpose, then God works through creation to multiply our efforts and provide bountifully for our needs. When we forget and seek to glorify the work of our hands, then those same provisions can wither and disappear.

No one reflects the purpose of living to bring glory to God the Father better than Jesus the Son. His life activities are reflected best in the prayer recorded before his arrest.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. (John 17:1-4, NAS95)

Jesus understood His purpose because his narratives were formed and shaped by study of His Scripture, our Old Testament. He understood God’s character and taught God’s character to those following Him. He kept God’s purpose central in His own life, understanding the folly and failures of past generations who departed from this path. If we are to be apprentices of Jesus, we would do well to reshape our narratives concerning God’s character and purpose until they rested on solid foundations and could not be shaken, despite the storms of life.

For the apprentice of Jesus the Old Testament is a rich depository of narrative changing accounts. Many of these narratives teach positive lessons while others teach using negative example. An apprentice of Jesus ignores these teachings to his or her own peril. The normal result of minimizing the writings shared by Jew and Christian is to somehow perceive God in this world through a warped lens. If I truly wish to live like Jesus I must think like Jesus, who “emptied Himself” and “humbled Himself” so that “God highly exalted Him” above all those “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” and in so doing all Jesus does is “to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11).

 

Feature Image Photo Credit: Rachel Titriga


 

harstine

An educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.

 

 

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Mar 03

Heavenly Reverie – Cultivating the Mind of Christ Jesus

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Part Two – Sacred Worth  (Read Jim’s first “Heavenly Reverie” blog here) Heavenly Reverie A State of Being Pleasantly Lost in the Noetic Environment of Jesus “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). I want to see reality the way Jesus

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Part Two – Sacred Worth  (Read Jim’s first “Heavenly Reverie” blog here)

Heavenly Reverie

A State of Being Pleasantly Lost in

the Noetic Environment of Jesus

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

I want to see reality the way Jesus did.  I want to have the mind of Christ, as Paul urges us in the verse above. These blogs are my reflections on what I am coming to understand about the noetic environment of Jesus.  Noetic environment means reality as Jesus understood it, or, what was going on in his mind. In this installment I want to talk about how Jesus understood the human person and their sacred worth.

We live in a world where people are identified and labeled by externals.  We lump people into ethnic, religious and national groups.  Or we see people as a part of a consumer group, and we label people by economic status.  Finally, we are trained to see people as either good or bad, holy or sinful, based on their behavior:  “Stay away from her, she is a bad person.” In doing so we reduce people to commodities and consumers.  As a result, it becomes difficult to see people as persons of sacred worth.

However, Jesus refused to treat people as their external labels, box them in, and treat them according to their ethnic or religious group, social status or class, or their piety or sinfulness.  One provocative moment in the life of Jesus concerns his interaction with a woman in Matthew 15:21-28.  It is a passage that troubled me for years, but now brings me joy.[i]

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”  But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Without knowing the background—and the foreground—to this story, it appears that Jesus is not only unkind, he is an elitist, perhaps even a racist.  We are going to have to take a closer look to understand this odd story.

Matthew describes the woman as a “Canaanite.”  This was a word that no one in Jesus’ day used to describe the Gentiles.  It was the name used in the Old Testament to describe the people who occupied the promised land of Canaan, the people that Joshua was charged with totally annihilating.  Calling someone a Canaanite in Jesus’ day would be like calling a British person a Saxon, or a Swedish person a Viking.  So we know something is up when Matthew uses this name (the one and only time it occurs in the New Testament).

The woman is following Jesus and his disciples, shouting at him to heal her daughter.  His disciples tell Jesus to tell the woman to bug off.  Jesus instead says to the woman, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  This may sound rude, but in fact, in light of the recent events this was more of a sigh of despair.  John the Baptist has recently been murdered, Jesus’ ministry is failing, and the Pharisees are plotting his murder at that very moment.  Jesus’ reply was essentially, “I am on a difficult mission.  My own people are lost, and I must attend to them.”

The mother then kneels before Jesus, an act of complete submission, and says, “Lord, help me.”  One would expect a little compassion, but his next line sounds worse than the first:  “It is not fair to throw the children’s food to the dogs.”  Ouch.  She persists with a clever reply: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus seems delighted in this response, praises her faith, and tells her that her request has been granted, and her daughter is healed.  What just happened?

Perhaps she awakened Jesus’ memory of the original call of Abraham that “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (Gen. 18:18), because in essence she is saying, “I know your mission is to save your people first, but your ultimate mission is also for the rest of us.  Go ahead and feed your kids, but could you let my daughter have a scrap?”  Jesus says. “Great is your faith.” I believe he intentionally went into this region (Tyre and Sidon, Gentile territory) to have this kind of interaction, so that he could proclaim that his mission now included the Gentiles.  Her persistent pleading demonstrated her faith that Jesus could, in fact, heal her daughter—even though she had no rights to it—gave Jesus the chance to show how he is making all things new.  By granting her request, Jesus’ mission to the Gentiles has now begun.  He had healed Gentiles before, but never in Gentile territory.  Something radical has just happened.  But it gets even better.

As I mentioned, what happens immediately after this story is also important in understanding what Jesus is ultimately doing.  The next thing Jesus does is heal hundreds of people—all Gentiles (nee Canaanites).  We can infer they are Gentiles because it says they all “praised the God of Israel” (code for:  “they were Gentiles”).  Then something even more profound follows.  The crowd of Gentiles grows to 4,000 (second only to the 5,000 he fed with the loaves and fishes, in the previous chapter).  As in that story, Jesus has compassion on this crowd, and performs the same miracle of feeding this huge crowd with only a small amount of food (the abundance narrative I wrote about in the previous blog).  But the end of the story is where it gets good.

In the feeding of the 5,000 (Jews) there were twelve baskets of leftovers.  This signified the twelve tribes of Israel.  When he feeds the 4,000 (Gentiles) there are seven baskets left over.   As I always tell my students, pay attention to the details in the Bible because there are no wasted words.  Seven signifies the seven tribes of the Canaanites, the very ones that Moses told Joshua to destroy totally (Deut. 7:1-5), ordering them to show no mercy, because any mingling with these godless people might lead the Israelites astray.

Let me re-cap what has happened.  Jesus has shown mercy and compassion on the very people that Moses said were godless.  Brian McLaren writes, “Jesus seizes the old narrative, shakes it, turns it inside out, and offers a new story that reframes a future radically different from the past.”[ii]

At the Apprentice Institute we talk, and speak, and write a lot about narratives.  Our narratives shape who we are and inform what we do.  Our narratives are crucial.  If they are false, limited, or toxic, they can damage our souls, and lead to apathy and even violence.  Jesus is, in this story, isolating an ancient narrative, showing that it is false, and offering us a new one, one that is true, namely, all people are of sacred worth.  He demonstrated this constantly in his actions, speaking to and blessing an adulterous Samaritan woman, dining with tax collectors and prostitutes, healing the loved ones of the hated Roman soldiers.

Some may react to this story by saying, “Jesus is fickle.  He didn’t want to help the Gentile lady, then he caved, then he went crazy and started healing—and feeding—a ton of Gentiles.  He seems unstable.”  I do not read the story this way.  I believe that Jesus knew what he was doing all along.  He knew how deeply entrenched the narrative was in Israel—and among the Romans who occupied Israel.  It goes like this:  “Destroy your enemies, for blessed are the violent victors.”  That is what the Israelites lived with every day under Roman occupation.  Each day they saw their own people pinned up like bugs to die on crosses, a sign of Roman domination.  Jesus reverses the violence narrative, a narrative held by his own people.  It was in the air they breathed.  Jesus was calling it out.

In Jesus’ noetic environment, all people are sacred.  Therefore, we do not kill our enemies, we love them.  We do not curse our enemies, we pray for and bless them.  The violence narrative—one that is upheld only when we see people as things—is alive and well today.  It is in the newspapers every morning.  But I am called by Jesus not to judge others.  However, I see the narrative in my own heart when I judge the person who smokes, or is obese.  I see it in my own heart when I feel greater sadness for the American soldiers who die than the Iraqi soldiers who share the same fate.  I see it in my own heart when I see a homeless person holding a sign at the stoplight and my first response is to wonder if his plight is legitimate.  I am longing for the day when my first thought is, “How sacred that person is . . . wow.”

Transformation into Christlikeness is not easy.  But it is freeing.  I find my own false narratives—while comfortable and safe—are not conducive to joy.  I want to continue to get lost in the reverie of Jesus’ noetic environment.  It hurts at first, but abiding in his mind is healing to my soul.  I love the line from the Christmas hymn, O Holy Night:  “and He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”  Wouldn’t it be great if that was said of each of us:  “Wherever we go, people feel their sacred worth.”  For that to happen, we are going to have to see them as Jesus did.

 

 

[i]   This understanding of the passage comes from Grant LeMarquand, and stated in Brian McLaren’s book, Everything Must Change, pp. 154 ff.

[ii]  Ibid., p. 158


 

Dr. JaView More: http://jillnicole.pass.us/apprentice-teammes Bryan Smith (M.Div., Yale University Divinity School; DMin Fuller Seminary) is the Executive Director of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith is currently a theology professor at Friends University, in Wichita, Kansas, and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He is the author of eight books, most notably The Apprentice Series (InterVarsity Press), which continue to shape the work of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith’s other titles include Devotional Classics (with Richard J. Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Room of Marvels, and Hidden in Christ.

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Feb 27

A WORLD OF BOTH/AND

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railroad tracks

Most of us want a world of either/or. But in the real world we live with brokenness and healing, grief and hope, fear and faith.  We cannot live in the world of either/or.  It doesn’t exist. Sometimes I find texts in Scripture that just stick with

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railroad tracks

Most of us want a world of either/or.

But in the real world we live with brokenness and healing, grief and hope, fear and faith.  We cannot live in the world of either/or.  It doesn’t exist.

Sometimes I find texts in Scripture that just stick with me. They usually aren’t the well-traveled passages, and they are seldom used as tattoos or on people’s vanity plates.  One such passage comes from the less-travelled book of Ezra.  It is a book that has a bewitching (can I say that about Scripture?) effect on me.

In Ezra, a foreign king (Cyrus of Persia) has commissioned and funded the Southern Kingdom – called Judah most often – to return from Babylon to Jerusalem and rebuild what was taken from them. The city. The temple. The covenant dream.

The two tribes of the tiny Kingdom come back to the city, and they lay the foundation for the Temple. This is a big step – the temple is where God lives with His people. In exile, to a first temple Jew, God became homeless.

And then…my favorite weird passage:

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. (3:11-13, NIV)

Grieving and joy, melded together into one great cry. The grieving of what was and has now passed, the celebrating of what is new and yet to come.

Not either/or. It’s both/and.

The older priests and Levites saw Solomon’s original temple. Beauty. Tradition. Goodness. They smelled the smells and walked the stones of the original article. Then it was lost. Grief.

The others hadn’t seen it. They didn’t know it. Maybe they were a generation removed, maybe they weren’t as close as the priests or Levites. All they knew was that the foundation had been laid and it was full speed ahead. Joy.

This is our life in the grit of our incarnation, our “already but not yet” situation where we are seeing God in simple ways and grieving the places where we are blinded by reality and grieving for losses and pains beyond comprehension.

This is how it must be. It can’t be either/or. It must be both/and.

To have the future, sometimes we grieve the past. The joy of a new marriage bears the grief of the failures and foibles of the first. The joy of a new job bears the grief of the “farewell conversations” to those we have worked alongside and have grown to love.

To even have prayers answered, often we must grieve something and leave it behind to have the joy of what we’re designed for and desire to move towards.

The place of greatest spiritual health, the place where we are formed into Christlikeness is where we stand in the middle of the grief and the joy. To die, to weep, to cry out but also to celebrate, imbibe, and share hope of the future. We grow in that tension. We grow through that tension. This is the tension of Jesus. This is our tension. Both/and.

Today, think on these two questions:

  1. What is God calling you to grieve today? Something good you must leave behind? Something long strapped to your shoulders that needs to be released?
  2. What is God calling you to rejoice in today? A promise, a possibility, a simple treasure of the everyday that shows you that God is not far but instead is near?

When you find yourself living in a place where you are holding these two opposing strands at the same time, do not be surprised if you get an unfiltered and unedited view of the great goodness of the God who brings exiles back home, who rebuilds temples, and who is audience to BOTH our grieving AND our joy.

God is a God of both/and. Not either/or. That is His Kingdom.

 


 

Casey TygrettCasey Tygrett is a the spiritual formation pastor at Parkview Christian Church (Illinois) as well as a professor, spiritual director, and blogger at caseytygrett.com

Posted in Blog, Narrative | Tags: / / /

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