Water in the Desert

Water in the Desert

Word in Season

School is starting up. The college kids are back in town. New ideas, new hopes, new activities, new friends, new teachers, new schedules. Although it’s not January 1st, it still somewhat feels like a new year and a fresh start.

This time last year I was full of hope for this season that is upon us now. I had just celebrated my birthday with my church home group, took a little hiking trip with my kids, and sent my youngest off to kindergarten. Then, I was thrust into what I can now see was a desert. Hot, dry, stifling. An oppressive heat that is ready to kill all that tries to set up home there. My child got sick. Really, really sick. The type of sickness that sends you to specialty hospitals in a hurry. This time last year I was watching my child sleep in an ICU bed and writing notes so I was prepared for rounds the next day when a dozen or so doctors would flood the room and discuss what to do next. It was just the beginning and I’m not yet sure there will be an official end.

I should be parched, dried up, and left for dead. And yet somehow over this past year, I’ve been nourished. Sustenance where there should be starvation.

There is only one who can bring life from what should be dead. This is what he does. This is what he promises. He brings growth and life from barren and lifeless places. The Lord gives water in the desert. How does he do this? He speaks. His Words bring life.

Psalm 1 says blessed (happy) is the one who finds delight in the law of the Lord and meditates on it. This person is like a “tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3 Delighting in the Word of God waters our souls in such a way it doesn’t matter what is happening around us, we will prosper. I have been blessed to watch him do this in my own life this past year in so many ways. What grace He has showered into my own desert.

A Psalm I had memorized became my sustenance as I found myself sitting in the hospital next to my child. The chaos of sickness, unknowns, and suffering was watered by these sweet words of Psalm 131. I remember reciting over and over again these three verses, thinking and praying: “Lord, I’m not going to think great thoughts right now or really any thoughts. I don’t know what is going on at this moment or the next. I’m not even going to go there Lord. What I will do, however, is to rest in the presence and comfort of the Lord. Like a child who has everything they need, content in the lap of their father.” Nourishment.

There were many believers who helped me bear these burdens yet I felt like I couldn’t adequately describe what I had experienced and was still experiencing. They weren’t there in the hospital or in my house or there after the kids were put to bed when I tried to process another day. I felt alone in the desert, isolated. The Lord spoke again through another Psalm. This time, Psalm 31:7, “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love because you have seen my affliction and you have known the distress of my soul.” My desire for someone to intimately know and be present in this desert was fulfilled, in Him. What a gift it is to be known and seen like this! Sustenance

I felt inadequate and overwhelmed about navigating this new world of insurance, medications, and hospital policies. James reminded me that if I lacked wisdom, that I should ask God who promises to not look down in irritation at this request but delights to give generously and He did just that (James 1:5). Strength.

I needed to find the right people to help me. Advocates on the inside of the insurance companies, hospital organizations, and drug companies to help me do things out of process that were necessary to care for my child. I was comforted that it is the Lord who controls the hearts of men, even the “kings” of the companies I was appealing to (Proverbs 21:1). He was in charge of this and I could ask and trust Him to do it. He provided so many people with hearts soft towards helping me: Megan, Morgan, Brittany, Abby, Stacy, Rachel, Nancy just to name a few. Grace.

My experience is not unique to me. We see many in the Bible in similar situations where they find themselves in the wilderness of life. David went through many wilderness experiences and all throughout the Psalms we see him clinging to God’s Word and trusting in him and in turn the Lord sustaining him. Job was ultimately comforted by God’s Words to him (not necessarily his friends’ words) in the midst of his great suffering. Habakkuk too was comforted by God’s Words (not his own thoughts) even knowing he was on the brink of experiencing great suffering. Jesus entered the wilderness and triumphed over temptation with the Words of God.

Let us also remember and be warned that the wilderness doesn’t guarantee that we will find nourishment in the Lord. The Israelites had 40 years in the wilderness, yet it became a place of great rebellion and death because they decided not to trust or delight in the Words of the Lord.

By God’s grace, I was nourished by His Word because I had been feasting on His Word for years. Day in, day out. Sunday after Sunday. Little by little.

There is little time to feast in the desert. In the desert you live off your reserves.

I had been feasting on God’s Word through my own time with him in the mornings but also through other very important means of God’s grace. Things like church where we go through books of the Bible verse by verse. Sunday school, where we do the same. Bible studies where we open the Word and wrestle to know Christ more. Home group where we discuss and apply the scripture preached on that Sunday morning.

In this season of new hopes, new plans, and maybe even fresh starts I want to encourage you to make it a priority to delight in the law of the Lord. Make space on your calendar for these things that will encourage and help you do this.

Make attending church a priority.
Commit to a Sunday school class, home group, or a Bible study.
Make his Word your delight and joy now so it will one day water you in your own desert that life inevitably brings.

Click here to see all of the ways you can feast on God’s Word at Ridgeview this fall.

An Open Letter to Parade Organizers

An Open Letter to Parade Organizers

Word in Season

Dear Community Leaders,

First off, I have to say that I love the 4th of July parade that is hosted by the Crawford Chamber of Commerce each year. My children love that parade. My friends love that wonderful parade. It has fast become a tradition for our family to make the short drive over from Chadron and set up folding chairs on a shady corner and watch the fire trucks, horse-drawn buggies, classic cars and those zippety go-carts pass by. When my children were small, they would come home with a bag of candy. Thank you for organizing this first-class parade year after year.

The reason I am writing to you now is because I just learned that the parade this year will be held on Sunday morning at 10AM. As you likely know, that presents an issue for churches, as that is precisely the time when most churches gather for weekly worship. For many – myself included – this is a sacred time, set aside each and every week to worship the Lord.

I love America and I love the 4th of July and I love parades. But if I have to choose between going to a parade and gathering with the church, I will choose the church every time. My point with this letter is that I am saddened that I have to make that choice this coming Sunday. My children are saddened. Many of the members of the church I serve as pastor are saddened.

But alas, there is a solution. You could, as a courtesy to churches and Christian worshippers and deference to this sacred time of worship on the Lord’s Day, reschedule the parade to 1PM on Sunday. That change would allow people like me to both attend worship on Sunday and also make it over to the parade to celebrate our independence as a nation. I’m sure that a change up at this late stage would create some difficulties, but I am just as sure that rescheduling will mean many more spectators for the parade. And I think it will be a welcomed kindness to churches in the surrounding community.

Also, the weather should be mild this coming Sunday, even at 1PM.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and consider this request. May the Lord continue to richly bless America.

Sincerely,

Pastor Mike Johnson
Ridgeview Bible Church

My Writing Leave – Don’t Call Me, but Please Do Pray…

My Writing Leave – Don’t Call Me, but Please Do Pray…

Announcements Word in Season

On Monday, Lord-willing, I will “go away” for two weeks of writing leave. I put scare quotes around “go away” because I’m actually staying in Chadron (shhhh!) for these weeks to make the endeavor less of a burden on my family. For me, the leave will mean being free of church responsibilities for two weeks. I won’t be preaching or counseling or having meetings or handling church matters or being available in general from June 14 to June 27.

I’m grateful to the Ridgeview elders for granting me this leave, and I thought it would be good for me to explain to you what this is all about.

First, it is not a vacation. I do have one of those coming up later this summer, but I won’t be resting during these upcoming two weeks. If anything, I will be more busy; but with a different sort of work.

I have a few specific goals for these two weeks. The really big one is to finish a major writing project that I have been struggling to write for the last two years. A college science professor and I have undertaken a book together countering theistic evolution. He is writing from a scientific standpoint, demonstrating that genuine science does not, in fact, require that informed, intelligent, non-science-denying Christians buy into the claims of those today who are promoting the theory of evolution.

I am writing from a theological standpoint, demonstrating the incompatibility of a truly biblical worldview (and the gospel!) with the views and claims of theistic evolution. Our target audience will be Christian college students, and our hope is that this work will help some students as they encounter professors who are hostile to the biblical understanding of Creation (along with many other of the Bible’s teachings). We want to produce a book that might help college students keep the faith while in college.

The good professor is nearly done with his part (and he should be – they only work about half the year, ya know!). All that is left is for the theologian to take up his pen and finish his part. Please pray that I will finish this project, and that the Lord will make it fruitful.

Another goal of mine is to create a better outline for another book project rolling around in my head. This one is about the first 7 years as a lead pastor. It’s still forming, but my hope is to provide an easy-to-read book aimed at incoming pastors to help them walk through their first season of pastoral ministry. I’d like to share a few of the mistakes that I have made and lessons the Lord has taught me during my first 7 years in a way that might be helpful to new pastors. I am also eager to share the joys of this early season, that make every tear and heartache of a new pastorate totally worth it.

Some other, fairly optimistic goals are in the mix too. 1) I’d like to read a couple of really good books. 2) I’d like spend some time reading and praying about upcoming preaching projects (Habakkuk, the rest of 1 John, where we will go next, etc.). And 3) I plan to spend a lot of time praying for the church, for the ministry in Chadron, and for… you.

Which leads me to the big burden of this post. I would like to ask that you pray for me during these two weeks. Pray for focus and productivity and a clear head and few interruptions. Pray that from these two weeks, the Lord bring genuine fruit for his glory and the good of others. And pray for those who are taking up the slack with preaching and church ministry, etc..

Do pray. Please and thank you!

A Good Steward of God’s Grace

A Good Steward of God’s Grace

Word in Season

Some time ago I had the privilege of observing the beauty of God’s grace at my dinner table. As I was cutting up cucumbers and strawberries for salad, shredding meat for sandwiches, I admired the color and the fragrance of his provision and had no idea of another degree of grace I was about to witness. That evening there were two ladies at our dinner – one, with a broken heart, pouring her story out in tumbling words, grotesque images. God’s grace was already at work at her, pulling her to God’s people, shedding light on her darkness, reviving her through God’s
word, working repentance into her soul, breathing hope into her whole being. The other – with a heart broken and healed by that same grace. The same grace has made her firm in the hope, sanctified her, and made her whole and fruitful. The same grace was now in her words of truth, spoken with sincere joy and tenderness: “This doesn’t define you.” “Christ is enough for this.” “There is hope.”

And there I was, with my breath taken away by this beautiful display of God’s glorious grace. Peter’s words: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10) – took on flesh and color.

What is this varied grace? What does it mean to be a good steward of this grace? And what does it have to do with how we relate to each other in the church? I wanted to explore this theme and here is what I came up with from looking in the Word.

God in his pursuit of glory, lavishes his grace on his people by redeeming it for himself through his Son. But Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished far more than just a ticket to heaven! His work continues being the source of “varied” grace of which Peter speaks in his letter. Here are some other facets of grace that we experience daily: This grace sustains believers in their hardships. As they are called to live righteously in this sin-cursed world, they have God’s Spirit’s help in their weakness:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. -1 Peter 5:10

There is an enabling grace that empowers believers to serve in the Body of Christ through spiritual gifts: “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift”. When God predestines certain good works for his people to accomplish (Eph. 2:10), he provides everything needed for those works, along with strength to do them (1 Peter 4:10)! There is a sanctifying grace that is at work in believers:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. -Titus 2:10

Believers are free from their old slave master, Sin, and now live under the reign of the new one, Grace (Romans 5:21, 6:1-14).

The key component of all these facets of grace is that it’s available through Christ alone, through faith and dependence alone. All grace is bestowed on us freely, based not on our merit and performance, but on what Christ has done. In other words, there is never a point in my service, sanctification, or suffering, at which I can say: I did this.

Putting it all together, we may say that God lavished upon us the immeasurable riches of his grace in saving us for himself and continues to do so in sustaining us, sanctifying, and enabling us to glorify him with good works. We can say that grace is his kind face and his merciful heart when I turn to him, a helpless sinner; it is his helpful hand when I am serving him; it is his shears as he prunes me for more fruit-bearing; it is his embrace and nearness when I am hurting, and his steady feet that carry me to heaven.

In the light of this, Peter’s words: “Be good stewards of God’s various grace… in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:10,11) mean that as we receive his gracious gifts of saving and sustaining us, we are called, amid suffering and pressures of the world, to a very specific way of living – to steward, manage, administer his varied, multifaceted grace well. We are called to join God in his gracious activity towards his people in saving, enabling, sustaining and sanctifying it.

As good stewards of God’s saving grace, we are to proclaim and defend the Gospel, “the word of grace that is able to build up and give inheritance among the saints” (Acts 20:31, Philippians 3:1-3). We are to forgive and accept one another as God in Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).

As good stewards of God’s sustaining grace, we can offer our hands and feet, our listening ear and compassionate presence to those who are suffering. We rejoice with those who rejoice when God bestows his grace on them – and weep with those who weep, offering the grace of this kind God, who is near the brokenhearted. We are urged by Paul “to encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14b), and carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

As good stewards of God’s enabling grace, we can, first, seek to exercise whatever gift we received in serving the needs of the church, so that it grows and matures in love. Various gifts of the Holy Spirit were given with a purpose – to build up the church, so that God may “fill all things with himself” (Ephesians 4:10), and to him would be glory in his church (Ephesians 3:21). And to be a good steward of this enabling grace will also mean teaching and equipping others to use their gifts and live a life of servanthood (Ephesians 4:11,12).

As good stewards of God’s sanctifying grace, we are called to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:1) and watch that there is no bitter root sprouting in the church (Hebrews 3:12, 12:15). We are to warn those who are idle and disruptive (1 Thessalonians 5:14a). I watched this grace manifested before me, in the food on the table and in the words of my friend, a good steward of God’s grace, and my heart overflowed with praises of this glorious grace – just the way it was meant to be (Ephesians 1:6).

Where have you seen this grace at work in your life? Are you stewarding God’s varied grace well?

While You Were Waiting

While You Were Waiting

Word in Season

In the mid 90’s a movie came out called, “While You Were Sleeping.” It is a classic romantic comedy in which Sandra Bullock saves her secret crush from a train accident.  While he is in a coma, she is mistaken as his fiancé, goes along with it, meets and befriends his family, falls in love with his brother, and so on. The point being, as this man lies in a coma, incapacitated, at a time where his life should be at a stand still, he wakes up to find that everything has changed. Everything changed while he was sleeping.

The Christian life is one of waiting. We wait for answers to prayers, we wait for this season of suffering to end, we wait for our newborn to sleep through the night, we wait for that family member to come to Christ, we wait as we are being sanctified, we wait for an acceptance letter to college, we wait for a job offer, we wait for a spouse, we wait for relationships to reconcile, we wait for grief to lessen, we wait to see the fruit of our labor, we wait for a pandemic to end. Most importantly, we wait for Christ’s return when we will be free of this broken world and at home with the Lord!  We wait.

Certainly, all of this is by the Lord’s design, but why? Why has God designed things this way and what is he doing while we are waiting? 

The Israelites and their 40 years of waiting to enter the promised land provides great insight into some of God’s purposes in our own waiting. What was God doing while they were waiting? Deuteronomy 8:2-3 tells us. 

  • Squashing Pride (Deut 8:2): The Israelites needed to wait because they were a hard hearted prideful people. God tried to reveal this to them as he purposely ordained this period of waiting. Waiting exposes the self-sufficiency that resides in our hearts. As we wait, we have an opportunity to search our hearts to see where pride and self-sufficiency has taken root. The squashing of our pride develops the sweet aroma of those who are poor in spirit. Waiting reminds us we are solely dependent on the all-sufficient Lord. 
  • Testing Faith (Deut 8:2): It was in these 40 years of waiting the Lord was testing the faith of the Israelites. Were they going to obey him even when he was asking them to wander in circles in the wilderness, year after year? It is easy to obey and trust God when everything is going our way, in the timeline we want, with the answers we want and when we want them. Faith by definition is the conviction of things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). Will we obey when we aren’t getting the answer we want? God is working to grow our faith in him when he asks us to wait. Do you ever wonder how that godly man or woman has so much faith? Ask them, and I’m certain you will find that the Lord has built that faith in them over years of waiting. Waiting provides our faith an opportunity to strengthen its roots and it can steady our foundation. 
  • Revealing God’s Character (Deut 8:3): God wanted the Israelites to learn something very specific about him as they were waiting. He was trying to show them that he was what they needed more than anything else. You find life in me, look to me, listen to me, trust me. As we wait we have an opportunity to ponder the God we wait on. We wait on a God who never sleeps, who is purposely working, who is good, loving, faithful, just, and abounding in steadfast love towards his children. Maybe in your waiting God is trying to teach you something about who he is, an aspect of his character that your heart needs to learn. Waiting draws our eyes to the one we are waiting on. As we are forced to turn to him, we come to know him more.
  • Deepens Worship: I’m not sure we see the Israelites in the wilderness learn this valuable lesson, but I have seen it in my own life. There is something sweet about worshipping God when he has taken us into the wilderness of waiting. We are singing not because all is right in our life, but we are singing because God is God and he deserves all of our worship. It’s unclouded, pure, almost childlike. It is a delightful paradox that God uses this waiting to grow our hearts in worship of him. 

Everything can change while we are waiting, but quite often we are in a coma, missing all the Lord is doing. We don’t naturally have eyes that see and hearts that are teachable. Help us Lord! It is only in turning to him that we start to see what God is trying to do while we are waiting. Turn to him, seek him out in prayer, through his word, and ask a trusted Christian friend to help you seek God in the waiting. God can change so much in our lives while we are waiting.

Poem for the Suffering

Poem for the Suffering

Word in Season

Author’s Note: The thoughts below come from the struggle we face when we watch someone we love suffer. This poem is meant to explore the tension between wanting to take the suffering away yet at the same time recognizing that the Lord loves them too. In his love, he works for their good and his glory in the midst of the very sufferings we long to take away.

I would take this from you if I could, I’ve often told you the same.
I’d gladly swap you places and this would be finished as quickly as it came.
No more tear stained pillows or wondering when it all will end.
That would all be gone in an instant if I could take this from you sweet friend.

I’d take this from you if I could, the heartache, isolation, and hard days to come.
That distant look in your eyes as you know this season is far from done.
The why’s, how can this make sense, and what does this all mean?
That would all be gone in an instant if I could just intervene.

I’d take this from you if I could but you know I really can’t.
I’m not even sure this is a prayer I want the Lord to grant.
You see his ways are higher and even in this suffering he is good,
You would miss all that in an instant if I took it away so I really don’t think I should.

I wouldn’t take this from you because the Lord works mightily when you are weak.
To build your faith, draw you to him, and reveal places in your heart he wants to tweak.
If we are happy and able to do it on our own we have no need for him,
And this is what I want most for you, to cling to Jesus with life and limb.

How can I wish to take from you what may be a great means of his grace?
You may not know the why or how but you’ll know deeper the one who took our place.
He’s been through every suffering and warns we must follow him there,
To know him more and grow in love, in his sufferings we must share.

I wouldn’t take this from you if I could, but I will stay by your side.
I’ll bear these burdens with you that you must walk, you’ll have a friend who won’t hide.
I’ll sit in silence without a word just so you know someone is present,
Other days I’ll be sure to read you the Word to remind you of the one who is omnipresent.

I won’t take this from you if I could because the Lord uses these things for his glory.
But I’ll pray and pray you trust when he says that your sufferings are part of his story.
May this darkness release your tight grip on this world and point your eyes to our true home.
Someday this will all end and we will spend eternity in a place where we will no longer groan.

I want this to end, yes of course I do and I pray the Lord will bring relief.
May you emerge to find that because of this he has greatly increased your belief.
Yes, I’ll pray for him to take it away AND for him to refine you through this fire.
Ultimately, may his will be done and his kingdom come however he may purpose and desire.

On Miscarriage

On Miscarriage

Word in Season

Miscarriage. I could not dislike a word more. It speaks of the senselessness of death: something was carried and it was a mistake, and it was cast out for its mistakenness. There was a life, little fingers were formed and a heart was beating, and for no apparent reason, it is no more. 

My fourth pregnancy was a happy surprise for us. As we dreamed of holding her and recognizing our features in our child, we also longed to see God’s own image imprinted in her. But on the 13th week we were facing a new reality. Life was swallowed by death. Physical pain now accompanied the ache in our hearts and sorrowful questions: why Lord? How could this be?

The subsequent days were filled with the chaos of talking to family and caring for our toddlers, whose needs could not be pushed aside, grief or no grief. I was surprised by the different ways my husband and I mourned. He cried unashamedly. He wanted to sit in the dark and hold hands. 

I, on the other hand, would start cleaning the bathroom late at night, had several sewing projects going, and furiously moved furniture. I could not sit still in fear that tears would come and flood my whole life. 

But at some point, I started listening to my husband, whose worldview is steeped in the Gospel more deeply than mine. I realized that my fretful activity functionally showed that I was minimizing the heavy reality of this death. I was acting as if this death was just like a wrinkle in the carpet: we tripped and kept moving. 

I turned to the Lord then and this is what he taught me. 

I learned not to push against grief, but instead, accept it. 

Death is the awful curse for sin upon this world and has brought so much chaos with it. Ecclesiastes speaks of it: all our aspirations and toil end up being vapor because death hangs over us all like a heavy cloud. It catches us like birds into its nets and sucks the meaning out of everything that our hands touch (Ecclesiastes 2:17-22, 9:11,12). Yet we shrug our shoulders, numb the pain, speak flippantly about God having a plan, and push the tears down  – and with that we minimize the reality of death and God’s work to overcome it. 

But God calls us to live, walk, rejoice, weep in the light of his glorious Gospel. He calls us to name things as they are. He calls us to assess reality honestly, so that in the thorny paths of life this pain – acknowledged and accepted – could bring us closer to him. 

And God invites us to mourn before him. He inspired David to record his laments for us in psalms. These words that we are ashamed to say out loud are pleasing to him: “How long of Lord, Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). In these psalms we can pour out our pain, bewilderment, disappointment: there is something deeply wrong with this world. This should not be. How can it be that a life is swallowed by death? The silence around miscarriage only makes the void created by death palpable. My body knows, and my heart knows: there was a life, and it is no more. Death came and swallowed it and I feel the emptiness. 

I will lament before the Lord. He knows and hears and sees. 

I learned to mourn wisely. 

The feeling of emptiness lingered and made what seemed stable to be shaky and uncertain. Troubled, bewildering questions ran in circles. Grief often takes our thoughts in so many directions, not asking us permission on what to leave untouched. 

Grieving wisely means being patient with it all. It takes time to sort through the lies, face our fears, get used to the new reality. It means not boarding the train of emotions; but instead, waiting on the Lord to comfort me and strengthen me.     

I was learning to mourn as a child of God.

Grieving meant not only honest mourning, but also a deeper appreciation of things that are just as real as death. God conquered this enemy, and this victory will one day swallow death forever (1 Corinthians 15:54). The perishable will one day be clothed in the imperishable, and the mortal will put on immortality. There will be a day when we will see our baby clothed in glory that far surpasses the glory of angels and the glory of our best intentions (1 Corinthians 6:3;15:43,44). 

This resurrection has meaning not just for my future: it is also hope and power for my dark days now. As I was groping for something stable in the shaky places, his Spirit guided me into his truth that has not changed since the day there were two hearts inside my body. 

These are the truths that my feet found as a strong foundation:

  • Who is God?

He is the God who sees, the Shepherd who became a Lamb and passed through the valley of the shadow of death to defeat this enemy; whose resurrection means a living hope for now and for eternity (Psalm 23, Genesis 16:13, John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:3). He has not changed. I can trust him even if I do not understand why he let hope take root in our hearts and took it away with no apparent reason. I can trust him because his words tell me I can, no matter how strong my emotions rage. Together with Spurgeon, I will learn to say: “His sovereign will is the pillow on which I can rest my head amid suffering”. 

  • Who am I? 

A redeemed child of God, called into the fellowship of the Father and the Son (1 Corinthians 1:9). A sheep that was lost but now found, always seeing the rod and staff before her (Psalm 23). I am loved with the same love that the Father loves his own Son (John 17:24). 

In this grace, there is true power for my days. Life will flow on, and my pain will continue reminding me of how broken this world is. But gradually this pain will become clothed with a hope – a living, steadfast hope that is founded – not on what is seen and tangible, and thus, corruptible – but on his word, and on God himself (1 Peter 1:23-25, Hebrews 6:13). 

I learned to grieve in community

Many conversations after the miscarriage revealed that we were not alone. People gathered around us and shared their past experiences – their helpless feelings before the death of their children. My eyes started noticing a layer in the biblical narrative of a multitude of women who suffered a loss. In this community our hope took on flesh and became more real: our child is not dead, and death does not have the final say. 

We were very comforted by the prayers, food, and offers to watch our kids. The Lord taught us to be patient with the awkwardness of those who did not know what to say or offered simple, even if often untrue, platitudes. We accepted the grace offered to us and tried not to allow grief to isolate us: we saw the Lord himself stretching his arms out to us through his church. 

This creation, in which we are called to live and be transformed from glory to glory, is subjected to curse and futility (Romans 8:20) – and miscarriage is one of the terrible manifestations of that curse. Sorrows like this one will always be part of our life here, but we can be confident in this: the one who walked on this earth and who tasted the curse to the fullest, will finish what he started in us and this world (Philippians 1:6). His Spirit within me is truth and life, leading me into his glory so that one day I can say with all that is within me: “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” (Revelation 16:7). 

Rest for the People of God, Part 3

Rest for the People of God, Part 3

Word in Season

This is part 3 of a series of posts on biblical rest. See part 1 here and part 2 here.

After two posts on sorting through how the Bible presents rest, we are ready to respond. Side note: Theology is important because you cannot rightly apply the Bible if you don’t know what it says. That is another blog post for another time. Back to application. The rest for our soul, our eternal redemption that is secure in the unchangeable hands of our Savior, must enter into our work and our rest. More specifically, Christ himself must enter our work and our rest.

Christ enters into our work. Christ has redeemed us and enters into our work, telling us that all of our labors can be used to bring him glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). He brings purpose to our work because these are works he prepared for us to do, for him (Ephesians 2:10). Our work doesn’t provide our value, identity, or salvation. All of this is secure in Christ. We aren’t saved on our ability to climb the corporate ladder, maintain a certain GPA, our athletic prowess, homemaking abilities, or how great our kids turn out.  

Restlessness, anxiety, anger, needing to control outcomes, incessant busyness are indicators that we, instead of Christ, are at the center of our work. When we labor like this, we are saying that Christ’s work isn’t enough, there is more to do. We must cease from striving, cease from our works, sit at the foot of the cross, and rest with our eyes on Christ. We labor from a place of rest. One type of work brings slavery and the other brings freedom. 

Here are some helpful questions to ponder as we think about our labor:

  • Are my emotions controlled by how my “work” went that day? What is it I’m seeking for from my work that is controlling me and my emotions? Joy, pleasure, success, identity? 
  • Whose standard am I trying to achieve? My own, my peers, my children? Who do I need to accept me and tell me, “well done”?
  • What am I trying to accomplish and what happens to my world if I don’t accomplish it? Who’s performance matters?

Christ enters into our rest. The Lord knows we need rest. There was a practical point to the Sabbath as well. We aren’t God and we need rest. Christ enters into our rest just as he enters into our labor. We can rest for the glory of God. We don’t hide from him in our rest, we bring him into those times of rest. When we neglect to bring Christ into our times of rest, this is when we find ourselves not rested at all. It is funny how much work it is to rest well. Self-indulgent rest leaves us exhausted. 

What are some signs we aren’t resting well? 

  • Feeling guilty for resting or feeling like we need to sneak rest
  • When rest seems separate from your life as a Christian. We don’t think about Christ when we rest, it is an escape from Christ and his work. 
  • Feeling like you have to hide from God when you are resting
  • Rest that is primarily self-indulgent

Bringing Christ into our rest in the here and now is practice for the coming eternal rest where we will dwell with Christ forever. 

What small steps will you take this week to rest in Christ as you labor and as you rest? 

  • Ask. Ask God to show you where you are striving apart from him. Seeing where we aren’t trusting Christ is good and necessary. We can’t fight what we don’t see. 
  • Repent. Repentance helps us to rest. Turning from our sin to Christ in and of itself is restful. 
  • Trust. Trust that Jesus died for sinners like you and me. He forgives and provides the grace to help us grow in this area. Seeking refuge in the forgiveness, mercy, and grace from our gentle Savior is the foundation of all true rest. 
  • Act. Is there a small change that can help you rest better in Christ? I write this from a place of great neediness and desire to grow in this area. I’m slowly learning to bring Christ into my labor and times of physical rest in small, simple ways. 
    • Saturday mornings I try to sleep in. I now thank the Lord for the opportunity to sleep a little extra and it helps me not only enjoy that refreshment with Christ but also recognize that it is a gift from him. I am aware of my tendency to hide from Christ in my rest. 
    • I am learning to recognize signs of anxious toil in myself. Acknowledging before the Lord that this is placing trust in myself instead of Christ has been a huge step forward in freeing me to rest in Christ as I work. This freedom has even had a positive impact on my physical energy levels. 

I’m thankful we have a Savior who says his yoke is light. I’m thankful the cross penetrates into all areas of our lives. I’m thankful our salvation is complete in Jesus. Lord, help us rest. 

Note: These series of posts were greatly influenced by a podcast from CCEF on Rest. I encourage you to take a listen here: https://www.ccef.org/podcast/rest/

See part 1 here and part 2 here.

Rest for the People of God, Part 2

Rest for the People of God, Part 2

Word in Season

This is part 2 of a series of posts on biblical rest. See part 1 here and part 3 here.

Biblical rest is about finding refuge, satisfaction, and actively trusting in the finished work of God’s son, Jesus Christ. Putting our faith in his work on the cross as final for our salvation is where we find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29). Before we dive into application, I think it is helpful to look at the opposite of rest in the Bible. 

Rest and Restlessness: The opposite of rest in the Bible is restlessness. This means we can labor without resting and we can rest without resting. The key to biblical rest is not necessarily to stop laboring and physically rest. 

Psalm 127 is about three areas of human activity: The home, the city, and the family. What does the Psalmist point out about these places of labor? He reflects on the significance of our labor and God’s work. 

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved sleep. – Psalm 127:1-2

It isn’t the work that is bad, it is the heart behind the work. There is a vanity to laboring in any of these areas of life when that labor comes with anxious toil or restlessness.  Why is it in vain? Because this is God’s work to complete. It is he who is taking the work and using it for his purposes. He is in charge. It is a gift from him to have a family, a home, and a safe city. We are not in control of the outcome and our anxious toil is a complete giveaway that we are resting on our works instead of in his. God is pushed out of the picture entirely. That is why the Psalmist stresses that we can lay down that restlessness labor and sleep as an act of faith. 

This striving on the basis of our own works is mentioned in Hebrews chapter 4. 

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.  So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. – Hebrews 4:9-11

We strive, but we strive to enter the rest provided in Jesus Christ. We rest from our works, our striving, our insatiable need to prove or earn something. We are redirected to strive towards the rest found in Christ. We lay down our anxious toil, our restlessness, and surrender our work and our rest to our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

When the Israelites neglected to keep the Sabbath it was a sign of their declining spiritual state. When we find ourselves full of restless striving in the work God has given us to do or unable to physically rest, it too is a sign of spiritual self dependence and a lack of faith. Striving apart from Christ never brings rest. 

In the next post we will make our way towards application.

See part 1 here and part 3 here.

Rest for the People of God, Part 1

Rest for the People of God, Part 1

Word in Season

This is part 1 of a series of posts on biblical rest. See part 2 here and part 3 here.

Here is what I’ve been pondering lately: Rest. Not just any rest, biblical rest. The rest the Bible talks about and teaches.  A rest that any number of vacations won’t quench. A rest better than the best night of sleep you have ever had. A rest that can be enjoyed even during the hardest seasons of life. The rest that Jesus talks about giving. A rest that reaches all the way down to your soul (Matthew 11:29). A rest that permeates into every facet of your life. But before we get there, we need to go back to the beginning and see how rest develops in the Bible. We need the full picture because the Bible is one book, all about Jesus Christ, and all of it matters. 

God Rested (Genesis 1:31-2:3): Although the Lord doesn’t need to rest (Psalm 121:3-4), we see him resting on the seventh day of creation. What’s notable is the context around his resting: God rests after his “very good” work is completed. He rests in satisfaction at his completed work. God rested with satisfaction from the very good work he alone had finished. Remember this because it is important. 

God’s People Rest (Exodus 16:16-24): God redeems Israel (his people) from slavery and now he graciously gives them a day to rest. Will the people obey and trust God to make provision for them on this day of rest or will they trust in their own work and go out to gather food on the seventh day? This rest is a gift, however, in order to take this rest, they must trust in the work of God to provide for them. Eventually, God establishes the Sabbath rest as part of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:9-11) and anyone who fails to take the Sabbath rest will die (Exodus 35:1-3). 

Sabbath and Redemption (Deuteronomy 5:15): The death penalty if you don’t rest? I never understood why such a harsh penalty was necessary. Deuteronomy connects this rest to redemption which helps us understand how the LORD sees this rest. 

Moses says, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15). 

God saved you, therefore you rest in his work. This rest wasn’t a mindless pattern. The Sabbath has to do with freedom and redemption. It was a day for the Israelites to remember that God saved them in his great act of redemption. They were to rest with complete satisfaction in the redemptive work of God (Does this remind you of Genesis 2, it should!) A neglecting of this rest was rejecting the redemptive work of God. When you reject the redemptive work of God, there is death. Not keeping the Sabbath was a key indicator throughout the Old Testament in the declining spiritual state of the people (see Jeremiah 17:21-27 and Nehemiah 13:15-18). 

Lord of the Sabbath, Lord of Rest It is in Christ’s work on the cross where God’s people find their ultimate rest. Jesus invites people to come to him to find rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28-30). The Sabbath rest, where God’s people stopped to recognize and be satisfied in God’s work of redemption, was a shadow pointing to the work of Christ that offers redemption and thus true rest to all who believe (Colossians 2:15-16).

Jesus claims he is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28). Not only is Jesus claiming he is God with this statement, but he is also stating that he is the one who the Sabbath was all about. Jesus is the substance of the Sabbath rest for the people of God. The Pharisees were trusting in their own works (ironically this doesn’t lead to rest, it leads to slavery) and lost the heart of the Sabbath which was to rest in the work of God. This Sabbath rest pointed forward to the salvation that is found only in Christ. There is no rest, no salvation apart from Christ. 

Biblical rest is about finding refuge, satisfaction, and actively trusting in the finished work of God’s son, Jesus Christ. When you reject this, there is death. 

Now What? If you are still reading, I’m glad for that. Theology is important because we can’t correctly apply God’s word unless we know what it says. However, I hope you are wondering what this all means for you now, today, in this moment. Run to Jesus as your Savior if you have not done that. Put your faith in his work on the cross as final for your salvation. If you have already done that and are wondering how this rest in Christ actually works itself out in our every day to day lives, stay tuned for the second part of this post where we will try to flesh that out.

See part 2 here and part 3 here.