Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dear Tito and Lili (a summer 2014 letter)

Dear Tito, Dear Lili,

You are, as I write this, both asleep in your beds. I love naptime. It gives me a chance to pause and take a deep breath, to recover a little bit, and to gather my strength for the hours ahead. Don't get me wrong, they will undoubtedly be delightful hours (especially when we get over the post-nap grumpies), but they will probably stretch out longer than I want; and they will involve tears in one way or another, probably a few fights, some disappointments, some delights, and dinner, which is usually a bit of all of the above, and always a lot of work.

You know what I was thinking about this morning as we went about our day, not doing anything particularly special at all? I was thinking that all of it was special. I was thinking that it is completely impossible to capture the moment-by-moment delights that are our daily reality in a way that could possibly communicate to somebody outside of this time and this place, how life with my two small children was lived moment-to-moment, many of which were filled with a wonder so ordinary it is impossible to record.

When you are older, you will see pictures of yourselves laughing and playing with bubbles. These pictures will make it seem like bubbles were an event, maybe a once-or-twice thing that delighted you. In reality, it is an event, but it's one that happens every few days and yet still never fails to delight. The happy moments in the bathtub that I occasionally catch on camera? Those are a microcosm for every time you take a bath. Every dinner you make each other giggle with new antics while your dad and I sit back and watch. Every bike ride is exciting, every walk is an adventure. You didn't just empty out the cabinet once and laugh hilariously while you popped in and out. We didn't just read the same sweet book once. Lili didn't just shout "Me, ICE" once when ice cream was mentioned.

Our lives are a series of moments; every moment is unique and special, but the uniqueness is lost when everything blurs together into hot summer days and soon-forgotten lunches or treats or crafts, and bedtimes that mean the all-too-soon end of a day for a little heart that wants to experience more than his little body has the capacity for at this age.

I take a lot of pictures, even recognizing the weakness of the medium to capture memories like a little girl's kisses (loud but not sloppy anymore) and a little boy's laugh (free and contagious). I take pictures because I love beauty, and photos are one way that I can both capture and create beauty. I also take pictures because I want to try my best to capture those moments - the ones where you stand at the window waiting for daddy's car to pull into the driveway, or the way you both laid out next to daddy the other night when we did our evening devotions on the grass, or the way Lili drove most of the way home from the cabin with Tito's sunglasses on upside down, or the way Tito invited Callie the dog to sit on his lap for much of that same drive. You will look at those pictures and see moments, but I will look at those pictures and see them strung together into our life. I will do my best to string them together for you, even though I am now grasping some of the mother's secret that was discovered by Mary when she "treasured up all of these things, pondering them in her heart."

Even knowing this, I take these pictures because I want you to look at them some day and see laughter on your faces and smiles in our eyes. I want you to have a tangible reminder that you were happy and that you were loved. I will save these images not just in my ever-fading-memory, but in a book that we will look at together and we will tell stories of the times that we treasured you, not just in the big events, but even more so in the little moments. I may have been so fed up that I put you both down for naps so early this afternoon that it took you hours to fall asleep, but I wouldn't trade anything for the times that you are awake.

Life will not always be easy, and I cannot protect you from pain. But I will try my best to give you a gift of memories of a bright time, one that laid a foundation of joy and more importantly of trust in parents and in God; and I will pray that these moments light a spark in your hearts that will never go out, a deep conviction that you were once filled with joy and no matter how dark the night may feel, "weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning."

We have so much joy in the little moments now, but it will not always last, no matter how many pictures I take. The best news is that joy always comes in the Morning.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bless You!

I hope it's okay to post a devotional thought from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing in its entirety -- it's brief, so I can't really just quote the small bit that I like. I do like this, though, and hope you do, too.

BLESS YOU!

[God said,] "I will surely bless you." Genesis 22:17 (NIV)

People say, "Bless you!" when you sneeze.
"Bless" has turned into a bit of a feeble word.

But in the Bible it's much stronger.
(And it has nothing to do with sneezing!)

When God promises to bless you, he is saying, "I'm going to make you into everything I ever meant for you to be!"

It means God is taking every day and every single thing that happens in it -- good or bad -- to make you stronger, to mend whatever is broken inside, to change you into the person you were always meant to be.

Just as a caterpillar is totally changed into a butterfly, being blessed means being totally transformed.

God is transforming everything - his broken world - and you.

Sally Lloyd-Jones, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, pp 48-49

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Is there a balm?



I went to sleep with tears on my pillow last night.

My children were tucked away in their beds – safe, secure, healthy, happy. But on the other side of the world, 

A voice is heard in Ramah,
    lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
    she refuses to be comforted for her children,
    because they are no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:15)

My mom heart, probably fueled by some pregnancy-hormone imagination, weeps with them. I see the headlines, “ISIS is decapitating children” and can’t click on the article. That’s all I need to know (although I also know that families who flee to the mountains are watching their children wither and die from hunger and thirst); I wouldn’t sleep at all with those images fueling my imagination.

Is there a balm for these kinds of tears? The trauma may fade (it may not – much of Rwanda is still raw), but I cannot imagine such a balm this side of heaven.

Speaking of heaven, I saw a quote on Pinterest a few weeks ago that didn’t interest me enough at the time to save it, but it has stuck in my mind since then (fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be popular enough for me to be able to find it again through searches). It was an old-style picture of the Paris skyline, and had written over it, “What if when you die … they ask you, ‘how was heaven?’” Obviously, the impulse was to encourage the reader to seize the day, make the most of life right now, count your blessings, etc, etc. It was probably created by a white girl who was a college freshman feeling angsty about finals or only having an iPhone 4, so she sat on her fluffy dorm bed and used her Macbook to make a cute reminder that life really isn’t all that bad (sorry, I snark). 

I’m so glad the sentiment isn’t popular, though, because I ultimately find it not just an object for snark, but deeply offensive. Should we speak of blessings and be grateful for God’s gifts? Yes, but to suggest that this world is remotely heavenly belittles human suffering and belittles the glories of heaven. I’m offended on behalf of these weeping moms in Iraq. I’m offended on behalf of entire communities in West Africa that are stricken with an incurable hemorrhaging disease. I’m offended on behalf of trafficked little girls. I’m offended on behalf of American soldiers with PTSD. I’m offended on behalf of moms whose wee ones are battling cancer. I’m offended on behalf of those who have suffered the pain of divorce. I’m offended on behalf of hard-working people around the world who are trapped in poverty. Hell, I’m offended on behalf of myself, not only because I have an achy back and a sin-filled heart and I long for heaven even amidst the genuine joys of this earth, but because I have identified myself with a Savior who experienced hell in order to bring heaven back to us after mankind arrogantly opened pandora’s box and let loose hell on earth.

Every Sunday morning when I eat that little piece of bread and drink that little cup of wine, I am proclaiming that very suffering and death until He comes again. Tomorrow morning, I will eat and drink not only to have my fill of grace for the coming week, but also to proclaim that the Body and the Blood were also broken and shed for tiny broken bodies and gallons of shed blood in Iraq. For moms and dads whose tears may as well as be blood. Oh, that they may somehow taste that grace right now, although it may taste more now like the gall that was offered to Christ on the cross, than the sweet, life-giving wine that will cross my lips.

Miroslav Volf, arguably one of the most theological, articulate and winsome voices on reconciliation of our time, has written that there can be no peace (temporal or eternal) without justice; and in cases like these, it requires a sober and appropriate view of divine justice. Hell is real, God’s wrath is real, and it will come when Christ returns like no disaster that has ever been known to mankind in history.

Excuse the long quote:

A nonindignant God would be an accomplice in injustice, deception, and violence … Without an eschatological dimension, the talk of God’s wrath degenerates into a naïve and woefully inadequate ideology about the self-cancellation of evil. Outside the world of wishful thinking, evildoers all too often thrive, and when they are overthrown, the victors are not much better than the defeated. God’s eschatological anger is the obverse of the impotence of God’s love in the face of the self-immunization of evildoers caught in the self-generating mechanism of evil. A ‘nice’ God is a figment of liberal imagination, a projection onto the sky of the inability to give up cherished illusions about goodness, freedom, and the rationality of social actors.
…There is no trace of this nonindignant God in the biblical texts, be it Old Testament  or New Testament, be it Jesus of Nazareth or John of Patmos. The evildoers who ‘eat up my people as they eat bread,’ says the Psalmist in God’s name, will be put ‘in great terror’ (Psalm 14:5). Why terror? Why not simply reproach? Even better, why not reasoning together? Why not just display suffering love? Because evildoers ‘are corrupt’ and ‘they do abominable deeds’ (v. 1); they have ‘gone astray,’ they are ‘perverse’ (v. 3). God will judge, not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God’s terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah.
…Should not a loving God be patient and keep luring the perpetrator into goodness? This is exactly what God does: God suffers the evildoers through history as God has suffered them on the cross. But how patient should God be? The day of reckoning must come, not because God is too eager to pull the trigger, but because every day of patience in a world of violence means more violence and every postponement of vindication means letting insult accompany injury. ‘How long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood,’ cry out the souls under the altar to the Sovereign Lord (Revelation 6:10). We are uncomfortable with the response which calls the souls to ‘rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed’ (v. 11). But the response underlines that God’s patience is costly, not simply for God, but for the innocent. Waiting for the evildoers to reform means letting suffering continue.      (Exclusion and Embrace, pp 297-300)

There are two sides to every coin. When I sing “Jesus Loves Me” to my children every night, I sing a comforting promise of forgiveness for sins, no matter how great (even for mass murderers). Peace be upon those moms who can understand so much better than I; but the promise of God’s love also includes a promise of his wrath.

Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so (bank on his promises, dear Iraqi moms; they may not feel true right now, but they are. This is your only comfort and hope.).

Little ones to Him belong (in heaven now, even as they did on earth),

They were weak (beneath guns and swords),

But HE is strong (“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. – Rev 22:12)

Yes, Jesus loves me (“O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
         blessed shall he be who repays you
         with what you have done to us!
      Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
         and dashes them against the rock!” – Psalm 137:8-9)

Yes, Jesus loves me (“He who sits in the heavens laughs;
         the Lord holds them in derision.
      Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
         and terrify them in his fury.” Psalm 2:4-5)

Yes, Jesus loves me (“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. – Rev 6:9-11)

The Bible tells me so (He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! – Rev 22:20)

Is this hope of balm?  It comes not from Gilead but from heaven, and it is red as blood. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Crunchy Mom Stuff (warning: inane mom post)

I've got a bit of crunchy mom inside of me; here's how some of that is working out right now (I spend a frightening amount of my time thinking about things like this when I'm not keeping children happy, clean(ish), fed or not fighting).

  • After 14 weeks of morning sickness (started getting sick at 4.5 weeks, just passed the 18 week mark last week), I've decided that I've got the gaggies enough under control that I'm going back into cloth diapering, starting today. The first cloth diaper I had to change this morning was a doozy -- almost made me change my mind ... permanently!  But I survived with no gagging!
  • I've been doing the super frugal water-vinegar cleaning thing for almost every part of my house, but I bit the bullet and bought a tub of Seventh Generation essential oil disinfecting wipes for the express purpose of teaching Tito how to clean his own bathroom. It's awesome. Now every few days, T wipes down his own toilet and sink ... a very important skill for him to be learning now since he is a boy and boys are, um, messy in the bathroom.
  • Since I'm doing the mostly-natural house cleaning route, I have a lot of vinegar and baking soda on hand, which also turns out to be great for science experiments for kids. Last week, we made exploding ice chalk, which they loved. This week, we're going to put drops of vinegar in trays of vinegar and watch it fizz and explode. It's too hot for this pregnant lady to go outside for most of the day, so I'm having to get creative with ways to keep two energetic kids busy inside.
  • I was disappointed to realize yesterday that the Method hand soap that I have next to every sink in my house has Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) as its second ingredient. Here, I've been working so hard to avoid that ingredient in other body care products in our house, and the item we use the most is full of it! (SLS is a skin irritant, generally avoided now in the "natural skin care" community, and particularly of interest to me because I have a few charges with sensitive skin in my house). I'm thinking of checking out The Honest Company's soap, but I'm wondering if there's a cheaper option available. I like The Honest Company's marketing (hello, ADORABLE diapers!), but it's not exactly cheap.
  • I take a lot of baths in epsom salts: it's supposed to be detoxifying, and the magnesium that your skin absorbs is supposedly a mineral that many people are deficient in, purportedly -- according to some people -- a contributor to morning sickness, which is why I started it in the first place. A side benefit is that the salt stays in my hair after I rinse it, and if I have it braided while it dries (or I sleep on it), it creates that "beach hair" look that's so coveted on Pinterest right now. That's me: fashion forward.
  • This isn't really a crunchy thing, but I made this Bobby Flay citrus grilled halibut recipe for dinner last week, and it was really good. I'm going to try it next week using salmon (we have a freezer full of fish due to a recent spousal fishing trip to Alaska). The citrus-butter-thyme sauce was also delicious over some carrots that I grilled in a foil packet (with butter) alongside the halibut.
  • More on the food front: JR and T are going camping for two nights next weekend, and I'm trying to come up with frugal, healthy, easy meals to send with them. I think I'm going to make a lot of use of foil packets that they can just throw on the grill -- sausages with veggies, breakfast burritos wrapped in foil, and maybe even a variation of grilled cheese sandwiches (literally grilled over the campfire) for lunch? I'm also going to make banana bread cookies for breakfast and snacks -- I haven't found a recipe for that specifically that appeals to me, so I'll probably use my regular recipe for banana bread and drop the batter in balls on a cookie sheet and see how it comes out. Seems like a more camp-friendly way to consume your banana bread, plus, the kid will be super excited to be eating cookies for breakfast.
  • One more food item: have you guys ever had grilled onions in foil packets? You can either peel and core a whole onion and fill it with butter and salt and pepper, wrap it in foil and grill it for a long time, or you can cut it into quarters and do the same thing, maybe over medium heat. Wrap it tightly enough that you can flip it a few times, leave it on long enough for the outside layers to get nice and brown (use lots of butter!), and it turns out to be melty soft and sweet and caramelized and delicious. We (the adults) each ate a whole onion cooked like this the other night.  Mmmm... I love not being sick any more so I can cook and enjoy my food!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Whenever you eat or drink...

Even though he hasn't aged out of the nursery yet (that comes in December), T has started asking to sit through church with us. We make him pay attention for the singing, the Bible reading and the prayers, but then he pretty much does his own thing for the sermon. He knows the service is coming to an end when we begin to celebrate communion (we do it every week at my church), and though he hasn't asked, I've started to contemplate how to give him a simple, clear explanation for what's going on with those little pieces of bread and those little cups of wine.

Leave it to Sally Lloyd-Jones!

We read this tonight in the Jesus Storybook Bible (emphasis mine):

Then Jesus picked up some bread and broke it. He gave it to his friends. He picked up a cup of wine and thanked God for it. He poured it out and shared it.
"My body is like this bread. It will break," Jesus told them. "This cup of wine is like my blood. It will pour out."
"But this is how God will rescue the whole world. My life will break and God's broken world will mend. My heart will tear apart - and your hearts will heal. Just as the passover lamb died, so now I will die instead of you. My blood will wash away all your sins. And you'll be clean on the inside - in your hearts."
"So whenever you eat and drink, remember," Jesus said, "I've rescued you!"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

1 Corinthians 13: A Mother’s Meditation, Confession, and Plea



This is a meditation that I offered at a baby shower tonight; for some understanding of my interpretation of various parts of this passage, please check out my last post, "...And the Greatest of these is Love."

1 Corinthians 13: A Mother’s Meditation, Confession, and Plea

If I speak perfect toddler-ease (even with a calm voice all day)
but have not love, I may as well have just put the kids in front of the TV all day.

If I can communicate the gospel perfectly and eloquently, and I always understand what’s going on in my little peoples’ hearts, and if I miraculously keep a perfect home in perfect order and my kids on a perfect schedule (that’s the mountain-moving part)
 but have not love, I am nothing.

If I give and give and give of myself to my family and my church,
and if I serve until the point of total burnout
but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient,
even after the fourth water spill and a toddler who still refuses to let me put a lid on that cup.

Love is kind,
 responding gently to the endless toy battles and showing mercy instead of “I told you so’s.”

Love does not envy
another mom’s gifts or social position or husband or child’s developmental milestones,
and does not boast
(even inwardly) of her own gifts, achievements or family.

It is not arrogant or rude
to the husband who is inexplicably delayed in coming home from work and seems blissfully ignorant of how horrible the children have been all day and what that extra 20 minutes is costing me.

It does not insist on its own way,
even though I am (of course) right.

It is not irritable,
even after barely sleeping the night before

Or resentful
that I seriously can’t get a moment’s peace and instead am being force-fed fake jalapenos and cheese while two kids and a 100-pound dog crush around me on the toilet (true story).

It does not gloat or feel better about myself when other people’s kids melt down in public,
but rejoices when my kids or anyone shows even the slightest inclination toward repentance or loving the truth.

Love presses on, even when I’m so, so tired;
strives for consistency and joy, even when I don’t feel like it;
trusts that seeds sown now will reap a harvest;
reads Curious George Makes Pancakes for the umpteenth time in a row, with enthusiasm.

Love keeps doing all this not just because I’m a mom and that’s what moms do,
but also because my children are a precious gift to be stewarded for a short time, and so I press on through tears of laughter and tears of pain and tears of sheer exhaustion.

As cliché as it sounds, this time of intense work will fade away.
The little achievements that seem to define my sense of well-being or self-worth, they will cease.
As for the all-consuming schooling decisions and parenting what-if’s, they will pass away.

For we only see a small glimmer of who God created our kids to be, and we often only see the hard work of each day, but when Christ returns, the true value of our efforts (or not) will be revealed.

Everything that I do here on earth is temporary, and yet how I do it is eternal. When Christ returns, it won’t matter how early my kids knew the catechism, how clean my kitchen and bathrooms were, or how well-behaved my kids were at restaurants. These things are important, but only if I see them as the training ground for eternity. When Christ returns, he will make plain to us what is really important and valuable, and in the meanwhile …

Oh, Lord!

Paul intended this passage to be a mirror, held up before the Corinthians to see how, even at their best, they were rotten through-and-through, pursuing their own glory at the expense of their community.

As a mirror to my own life, 1 Corinthians 13 shows me a lot of rottenness, too. I see so many deficiencies in how I love my family and my community. But I do not do justice to the cross if I stop there. The cross tells me that it is impossible for me to ever love like this, but that love like this is possible, and that it is within reach.

Above all, God, I pray that you would pour your love into my children’s hearts, that they would know, deep inside, with unshakeable conviction, that you have loved them like this … to the death.

As a mom, I want so badly to control my kids’ lives, for my own comfort and glory, and for theirs. In your infinite love and wisdom, you teach me through this parenting journey that my kids are not my own, that I cannot control them, and that I cannot control or bargain with you where they are concerned.

My job is to be faithful where you have called me,
to sow with hope,
and to love those entrusted to me.

“And so these three remain: faith, hope, and love…”

Give me faith, Lord, in all that you are and all that you have promised.
Give me hope, Lord, that the seeds I sow will bear fruit in your time and plan.
Above all, Lord, give me love, love for you. Love that spills over into my family, my friends, and my community in joyful worship and service. So much that when my children one day reflect on their upbringing, they will do so with gratitude, not for my love, but because my love pointed them to this promise:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"...And the Greatest of these is Love"

I've been enjoying some extended time meditating on and studying 1 Corinthians 13, for reasons that I will make clear in a subsequent post. In the meantime, I want to share with you some of the general things I've learned about the chapter that I honestly had never thought about before.

It's amazing to me that I can have known a passage almost entirely by memory for most of my life, and yet when I actually sit down and think about it, I really don't know what a lot of it means. For example, why does the Apostle Paul choose to open a beautiful chapter praising the merits of love by talking about speaking in tongues and prophecy? And what on earth is he talking about when he says "when I was a child, I thought like a child ... but when I became a man, I put childish things behind me?" He doesn't even mention love there! And, why do "faith, hope and love" remain, but why is love the greatest?

If you know all these answers, skip this post; but if you're like me and you've never really given it a second thought when this passage is read at a wedding, read on!

First of all, 1 Corinthians 13 is a passage in context; it comes right between 1 Cor 12 and 1 Cor 14. Duh, right? But, what is Paul talking about in these passages? Spiritual gifts and, specifically, the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy. (Oh! "If I speak in the tongues of men and angels ... if I have the gift of prophecy..." See also, "But where there are tongues, they will cease.") In 1 Cor12, Paul has been correcting the Corinthians about the way they've been using these gifts, which are meant for the benefit of the entire church body, for their own glory. 1 Cor 12 gives guidelines for the proper way to use these gifts for the community, and Paul ends that discussion with this promise, which also serves as an introduction to the "love chapter:" "And now I will show you a better way."

"The better way" actually turns out to be a devastating critique of the puffed-up Corinthian church when you read it in light of the controversy at Corinth. Peppered throughout this love passage are comments that amount to telling the Corinthians that all their gifts (and hence, their self-worth) are nothing if they are using them out of pride and self-seeking. Using your gifts in love is not just a better way, it is the only way.

And Paul isn't just telling them this to bring them down a notch (by the way "tongues of angels" likely refers to Paul himself and his heavenly vision, so if anybody has reason to boast in tongues, it's Paul; but he includes himself in the critique of doing it all without love: "then I am nothing."); he gives them the theological/eschatological rationale for the superiority of love.

Tongues and prophecy are gifts meant for the church in this "in between time," before Christ's return and the consummation of his kingdom. We won't need people to be mediating a message between us and God when we are worshiping him face-to-face. When Christ returns, tongues and prophecy will cease. This is where Paul uses the "when I was a child" bit: childhood is while we are waiting for Christ; when he returns, we'll be all grown up and will have no use for childish things (no matter how good they were for us as children).

As it turns out, faith and hope are also "here and now" gifts, even though they rank far above the specific gifts like prophecy and tongues that have been so divisive in the Corinthian church, because they are essential to each person's daily survival in the Lord. Faith, as the book of Hebrews tells us, is confidence in things that we have not seen. Paul tells us in the love chapter that we see dimly now, but then we will see face to face. There's no need for faith when you're looking your Savior in the eye and can touch his nail-scarred hands. Likewise hope: "who hopes for what he sees?" (Rom 8:24). We wait for God's promises to come true, and we trust that they will, and that is hope. No need to hope anymore when the promises have been realized.

And so what remains and is, therefore, the greatest? Love. God is love, and this love will be surging joyfully through our worshipful throng for eternity.

****



After making these discoveries (again, amazing how I can have most of a passage memorized and have heard it for all of my life but really not have any idea what it meant), I started wondering if it is, after all, appropriate to personalize and individualize this chapter back into my own life (as is so often done at weddings). But then I realized that Paul is addressing pride and the tendency to use things that I have been given or that I do in order to glorify myself, to find my sense of identity or well-being with regard to God and my community (i.e. my justification), at the expense of my primary community, my family, not to mention my broader communities like church family and other circles. So, this passage isn’t just pointed at the heart of people who speak in tongues; it’s also pointed right at my own heart. And, I hope, at the hearts of others of you who, like me, find yourselves constantly stumbling and having our own desires get in the way of true, Christlike, cross-shaped love.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Extravagant Grace - a review (part 4)



(Just joining us? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Finally, on Matthew 11:28-30, a lengthy excerpt, but I think I need to quote all of it: 

For as long as you remain in your body of flesh, living on earth, you are called to do two things, neither of which you can do in your own strength. You are called to run the race like a champion athlete (1 Cor 9:24), and you are called to rest in Christ (Matt 11:28-30). These are not two separate but equal callings, as if we must constantly try to strive and rest at the same time. On that approach, all our striving will consume our resting and we will live our lives in a swirl of ceaseless activity, perpetual service to God, and countless self-salvation strategies. Rather, resting must be primary, for according to the author of Hebrews it is the goal of our striving.

He says, "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." (Heb 4:9-11)

In Matthew 11 Jesus said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Rest must be the primary paradigm, for even if we strive with all our might for obedience we will always need the righteousness of Christ to stand in our place. No goodness of our own will ever be good enough; even in our best moments our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isa 64:6). If we are to stand before God we must be constantly hidden in the royal robes of his goodness.

We know this for sure because, although we will be busy in heaven, it is portrayed for us as the Sabbath rest that never ends. Our chief theme for all eternity will be rest and delight in our Savior, so as we seek to enjoy a foretaste of heaven on earth now our primary goal should be to understand what it means to rest and delight in the finished work of Christ. What better way to get the courage and strength to keep running the difficult race than to rest supremely in Christ even as we set about the serious work of obedience? (225-6)

As I read and re-read this passage, I’ve finally come to this question: how does Duguid believe that Jesus would define “rest” in Matthew 11? Based on the comment that “on that approach [viewing striving and resting as equal callings], all our striving will consume our resting and we will live our lives in a swirl of ceaseless activity, perpetual service to God, and countless self-salvation strategies,” it seems that she views “rest” as antithetical to “striving.” I find this curious given that her “rest” passage, Matthew 11, combines the notion of rest with taking Christ’s yoke upon us. It is precisely in the work of being yoked to Christ (we don’t need to argue that this is “striving” language, do we?) that we will find rest for weary souls. Obedience apart from Christ’s rest produces “a swirl of ceaseless activity, perpetual service to God, and countless self-salvation strategies.” As Duguid says, these are “not two separate but equal callings.” In the totally unexpected way that Christ’s brings his grace to us, obedience and rest are the same calling, and this is how Christ can say that we will only find rest for our weary souls by taking his yoke upon us.

I’ll be very honest here: it disturbs me that this book has gotten such resounding endorsements given that Duguid seems to misunderstand the relationship between obedience and rest in Christ’s economy. I spent the last several years studying the book of Romans, and so when I started finding this bifurcation throughout the book, the phrase “the obedience of faith” kept coming to mind. Paul uses this same phrase in Romans 1:5 and in Romans 16:26 (verse 27 is a doxology that closes the book). So in his greatest of theological treatises, the apostle Paul uses the phrase “the obedience of faith” as bookends, drawing together 11 chapters of indicative and five chapters of imperative into one inseparable phrase. True obedience only comes from faith, and truth faith always and inevitably produces obedience. Duguid’s separation of “striving” and “resting” seems to indicate that we alternate obedience and faith, and even though she returns at the end of this quoted passage to refer to “[resting] supremely in Christ even as we set about the serious work of obedience,” the fact remains that she has fundamentally separated the two from the outset.

As an aside, I think one big danger in this bifurcation is that Duguid’s core audience, those who are weary and heavy laden by guilt and by seemingly fruitless efforts at obedience, will seize upon the encouragement to rest from their striving toward holiness and let down their guard. “I’ve been working so hard to be holy, I’m now going to take my Sabbath rest and quit trying so hard for a bit.” This is when we the weary will be at our most vulnerable, because it is then that our “rest” idolatries that can be the most seductive (sloth, gluttony, addictions). I believe that a truly Gospel-centered approach to sanctification must seamlessly bring together the finished work of Christ and his ongoing work in our hearts, beginning at the deepest levels where we aren’t even aware of the depth of our sin, and showing us not only Christ’s sufficiency but also his incomparable beauty in such a way that we want for nothing else, and our behavior can’t help but follow our heart’s desires. This, my friends, is what it means to be transformed (and transfixed) by God’s extravagant grace.

Here’s the thing: I desperately need the message that is the purpose of this book, that when I am at my worst (not to mention what I perceive to be my best), God is at his best. By “at his best,” I mean the character traits that make our Yahweh God unique, above anything mankind could possibly invent, and as he revealed himself to Moses after the golden calf fiasco: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Ex 34:6-7). As I write this, I’ve just totally lost it on my husband and kids, so much that he invented an excuse to get them out of the house so that I could cool off a bit. I am in constant, desperate need of a Savior who will save me from the flames of hell, as well as the way that hell still grasps for control of my angry, selfish, self-sufficient heart. “Oh, wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7)

The heart cry of this book echoes that “Thanks be to God!” I’d love to see a re-written version in a couple of years that maintains Duguid’s trademark vulnerability, compassion and insight into life in this body of death, but with the pendulum swings modulated into a theologically balanced as well as deeply encouraging work.