Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rest Time

We have just finished a week of vacation Bible school. As I write, I am surrounded by boxes of decorations and teaching supplies: bed sheets, shoe organizers, space rugs, cast iron pots with lids, the list goes on.... It seems with any task, there is preparation, execution, and resolution: i.e. collect the stuff, use the stuff, put away the stuff.

Jesus' life may not have been surrounded by stuff (in fact, when he sent out the disciples, they were told to take only a staff--imagine teaching VBS with only a staff (for some of us, that might be a blessing!)), but His life was more full of people and needs than any of our lives. In Mark chapter 6, Jesus sent out His disciples to preach (v. 12), and their return was met with news of John the Baptist's death. It was a heavy load. They were tired physically and spiritually, and now they were no doubt frightened and discouraged. "And He said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.'" (v. 31).

Jesus, of all people, recognized the need for seclusion and rest. He understood the demands his disciples had been shouldering. He knew the press of the people, the pain of John's death, and the prostration of weariness. There was nothing self-indulgent or wrong in separating themselves from the people and their ever-present needs. It was necessary and appropriate for the disciples to get away. It was a gift.

Two things strike me. The first is that it was a command couched in an invitation. He wanted to provide for the disciples and He knew their need. Was it any less important to obey Christ in rest than in work? To obey Christ is to do what He says, regardless of the task. Rest is a task. When He invites (or commands) me to rest, I have a choice--to rest or not to rest, to obey or to disobey--knowing there is always blessing in obedience.

The second thing, then, is the disciples' response. Unlike many of us, they didn't ignore Christ or argue with Him. They readily obeyed. How often, when we hear Christ's faint voice calling us from the busyness of life, do we argue with Him and justify pressing on? Could it be that we are striving to finish the work that He would have us leave behind? Could it be that we are more concerned with our own reputation than with His? Or could it be that we no longer hear Him because we failed to heed long ago and have hearts that are hardened past the point of sensitivity? Perhaps there is too much busyness to listen--or we choose the busyness because we are afraid of the thoughts that plague rest and how God will use the rest itself to transform us.

Rest when He calls. Trust His voice. The needs remain. They are not yours to meet--they belong to the Father. The demands may not lessen, but obedience to rest is the same as obedience to work. It has the same value. It is the same Lord, the same Master, who calls us to both.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Essence of Grace

My husband took early retirement this spring from an international company. The travel had become a point of stress for our family and God provided the means for him to farm full-time. As we have adjusted to a new lifestyle, there have been many points of giving where we had not given before and taking in altered ways.

As I read the account of Ruth and Boaz once again, the pictures were much more vivid. I was more aware of the back-straining work it must have been to glean a wheat field by hand; of the danger Ruth would have subjected herself to as a new, single, foreign woman in a workplace dominated by men. Then, when Boaz extended himself to her that first day he offered himself for her protection and his means for her provision. "...and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left."

The beauty of his generosity was the fullness of another word: grace. Grace is extended from the one who has much to the one who has less. Boaz served Ruth out of his much. She was satisfied, and there was more to spare. I was struck by the not so profound thought that to give grace, one must have more than what he/she needs. In other words, I can only extend grace to others when I have an excess. In this adjustment to a new life and a new routine, I can only extend patience and kindness when I have more than I need. Knowing my limitations, I will not have an excess until I am depending on God to meet my many areas of shortcoming. Only He can provide excessive patience, excessive lovingkindness, excessive thoughtfulness, excessive peace, excessive joy....

Once again I opened the refreshing writing of Angela Thomas Guffey in her book, Tender Mercy for a Mother's Soul. The whole of the book centers on grace, on God's gift of so much more.... Let me leave you with a taste of God's grace from Angela's pen,

"Can you hear this? No matter what your feelings of worth before the Father, He loves you now and forever. Grace is the forgiving, redeeming, and pursuing love of God for us. Grace has nothing to do with the things you do or who you are on this earth. The extravagant gift of God's grace comes to us only because we belong to God.
"That is what makes it so extravagant; we can not earn it, and yet we so desperately need it.
"We cannot make God give us more, because He freely gives us all.
"We cannot fall beyond the reach of God's grace, and we cannot grow past our profound need.
"We cannot understand the mind of God, so we do not completely comprehend a love that is without boundary or limit. We are awed to know that we can turn away or run away, but God is always, and eternally, still in love with us.
"Because of His mercy, we have the privilege of living in this abundance of grace. Some people spend their whole lives striving and searching. others accumulate accolades and things. But we are most blessed, because the divine grace of God has come to us.
"He is here, and by His grace, we can rest.
"He is here, and by His grace, we can live.
"He is here, and by His grace, we are free." (p. 126)

Today, may we flourish in the grace of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, even as we shower those around us with that same grace.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I received an email from a friend requesting a "whack-a-mole." She wanted/needed someone to give her a good "whack."

Most children's food and play courts have a machine that takes tokens in exchange for a violent game that involves a mallet and inanimate moles that randomly pop out of holes in the floor. The more moles the child whacks, the more tickets he receives for worthless, breakable plastic intended to plague parents. Great. So why does my friend want to be whacked?

I shared the illustration with our Bible study group after listening to Pastor James MacDonald explain our need for endurance in difficult circumstances ( Both the English words "endure" and "submit" come from one Greek word, hupotasso, which is translated to put oneself under. In the context of Hebrews 12:2, Jesus endured or put Himself under the humiliation of the cross. In the same way, we are called to "run with endurance (put ourselves under)the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1, emphasis added). Simply put, the Christian life is not about fixing problems, or seeking relief, or choosing convenience. The Christian life is about enduring that which God has chosen for me in this time, at this place.

If endurance is the key to spiritual victory (by the enabling of His Spirit), then we cheat ourselves when we give in, when we choose relief over persistence, when we choose convenience over growth. Just as importantly, we cheat fellow believers when we counsel them to give in, to follow "Plan B," or seek relief over discomfort. Peter discouraged Jesus from pursuing the cross and was sharply rebuked (Matthew 16:23). Jesus would not be tempted to disobey the Father through omission, seeking the easy way out, or refusing to continue down the pathway to certain suffering.

To come alongside another is to direct them to Christ, to pray for the grace to endure, to challenge them to draw near to God, to remind them of truth when all seems uncertain. To come alongside a fellow believer in love is to charge them to stand firm, to see it through to the end. Having studied the importance of endurance, we are learning to ask for help, for encouragement to stay under the temptation or trial until the Lord brings relief.

Whacking a mole in the spiritual sense is never easy. It requires self-examination and submission on the whackee's part. It also takes great humility to be "whacked"--even more to ask for it.

The next time you despair of difficulty, ask God for the grace to endure. Then call a friend. A good friend will apply the Word of God, lovingly and gently "whacking" you into the tunnel God personally designed for you. Suffering in submission is never wasteful. Our good God has a will and purpose to accomplish--and it is the beauty of Christlikeness.

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:
"'For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'
"Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:28-39