Rest

“Come to me, you who are weary and laden with heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” -Jesus

Snowflakes – the huge, fluffy kind – drifted slowly to the ground on the plains of Laramie yesterday. I stood by the window, watching them, feeling a sense of wonder mixed with peace, knowing this was an eternal moment.

I was at work, but I was also at rest. It was time out taken from the last week at my old job – and not far away on my desk stood all the projects I was expected to wrap up before I left. But in the midst of them, I got up and stood at the window.

That quote above, about coming and resting, contains familiar words from Jesus, yes? But I wonder if we take him at his word. If I take him at his word.

Because a lot of the time, I expect Jesus to offer me ways to fix things. I expect him to tell me how to improve things. I expect him to give me marching orders or instructions or tell me what I’m doing wrong and not doing that’s right.

Instead, this is his offer: “rest.”

Not, “Come to me, you who are laden with heavy burdens, and I’ll teach you how to juggle it better.” Not, “I’ll show you how to distribute the weight more easily.” Not, “I will give you pointers or steps or principles.”

Just: “I will give you rest.”

What makes this all the more powerful for me, however, is the context into which Jesus spoke these words. It’s in the eleventh chapter of Matthew’s Jesus Story, and we treat it as a moment detached from time — but it came at a very raw moment in Jesus’ ministry.

First, John’s disciples run up to Jesus and ask him, essentially, “Hey, so… ummm, are you really it? Or should we be looking for someone else?” Jesus responds by reminding them of everything they had seen him do and sends them away. Then he goes on a diatribe against the religious folks who are following him. “Look,” he says, “John came and wouldn’t eat or drink with folks and you said he had a demon. Then I came and I do eat and drink with folks and you say I’m a glutton and a drunkard.” Then he excoriates them, and goes on to excoriate the towns who had just rejected him as well.

In other words, we reach a point in the narrative where Jesus is, dare we say, exasperated. Here, you can almost picture him letting out a deep sigh, slumping down on a rock, and holding his head in his hands. After a few moments of silence that feel like an eternity, Jesus finally looks up and prays a prayer of thanks. This prayer is incredibly telling: he thanks God that what has been hidden from the “wise” and the “learned” has been revealed by children.

In other words, stop trying to make this so damn complicated.

That is the pretext to Jesus uttering his now famous words: “Come to me and rest.” It’s not complex. It’s not difficult. Kids get it. We don’t.

So just stop, come, and rest.

You don’t need systematic theologies. You don’t need complicated understandings of God.

Just stop, come, and rest.

You don’t need big words and heady theories. You don’t need to know what propitiation or annihilationism or immutability or sanctification means.

Just stop, come, and rest.

You don’t need to understand everything, to know everything, to have an answer for everything. And you don’t get to judge others for doing something you don’t even understand.

Just stop, come, and rest.

—–

We don’t get it, of course. We don’t get it as it applies to our own lives because we want All the Answers and we want All the Knowledge. We don’t get it in the lives of others because we want All the Piety so we can judge right from wrong (which, by the way, is pretty darn close to what the “original sin” has been all along, isn’t it?).

We don’t get it, and the folks back then didn’t get it either. In fact, right after Jesus said those words, he took his disciples on a walk by a wheat field on the Sabbath. When they began picking heads of grain, the religious leaders jumped on them: “Look! They’re doing what is against the Law!”

It’s like Jesus’ words went right. over. their. heads.

Stop making this so complicated. Jesus left one command under this New Covenant, this New Way of doing life with him: love. That’s it. No need to complicate things beyond that. And in that love, Jesus’ invitation stands: watch the snowflakes for awhile. Come and rest.

Enemies at the Table

You had to know it would happen.

After every major natural disaster, someone in the Christian community makes an insensitive post about how the disaster and the subsequent loss of life was the mighty hand of God’s judgment against sin (usually gays or abortion doctors), or about how we all deserve death anyway and so really it’s not that bad.

And I get it. I really do. I get the desire to explain away the hard things. I get the yearning to tuck away the destruction of an elementary school and a daycare center into a neat theological file folder so it doesn’t shake your faith too badly. I get the temptation to take the horrendously misused doctrine of total depravity and push it to its logical (and heartless) ends.

I get it. I used to be there, I used to do the same things. If the internet had birthed the world of blogging ten or fifteen years ago, I would have been right there, passionately writing those same themes and ideas — and powerfully alienating the hurting and grieving communities who most needed to see the mercy and compassion of God.

I would have been right there, alongside John Piper who has made headlines again after a ludicrously callous tweet, quoting a Bible verse about a house collapsing and sons and daughters dying (made in a weak effort to point people to God’s sovereignty). I would have been right there, alongside Pat Robertson who has made headlines again after saying if the people in Oklahoma had just been praying more, then God would have intervened and stopped the tornado. I would have been right there in the thick of it all, defending God… rather than having compassion on broken people.

But listen: I don’t blame John Piper and Pat Robertson and others for their comments. Those sorts of comments are born out of a particular philosophy, a certain perspective, an understanding and approach to the world that I once shared. It’s an approach that says to be a leader you have to have all the answers. You have to be able to explain everything. You have to know or else people won’t follow.

They are comments made in response to an incredulous world asking, “Why would God send a tornado like this?” or alternatively, “Why would God allow a tornado like this?”

Once upon a time I thought the most important thing was to be able to answer that question.

Now, I am finding the best response is perhaps the most honest one: I don’t know. I don’t have any idea why God would send or allow something like this. God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts. Maybe it’s because of sin, or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s because he’s angry, or maybe it’s not.

Maybe the answer to that question isn’t as important as just loving the people who are directly affected.

Whether that be through financial donations, or traveling to do disaster relief, or praying for the victims, or sending cards and letters, or whatever… acts of love speak infinitely more loudly than any sort of jumbled mess of an answer we can stitch together.

So I don’t blame the folks making those comments, because I understand where they’re coming from. I don’t agree with them, but I don’t blame them. I also don’t blame them because they are part of my family. They are part of my spiritual, jacked up, messed up, eclectic family and they are adopted children of God just as I am.

But it’s become sport in the world of Christianity to hurl insults at our family members. Back in February, I wrote about what happens when our fellow Christians make public displays of ridiculousness:

What happens is we distance ourselves as far as possible from the offending party… We are quick to announce to the world, “We are not like them.”

[I]t becomes a race to see who can denounce the others in the harshest, most public manner possible. “Open letters” are posted, interviews are given, sermons full of warnings and labels and epithets are delivered, websites are launched… But here’s my plea: can we please stop distancing ourselves from one another, and instead band together to help one another?

…I understand you want people to see you are not like Mark Driscoll. I understand you want people to see you are not like Rob Bell. I understand you want people to see you are not like Ted Haggard or Eddie Long or Catholic priests. So rather than rant and condemn, show them.

And love those whom you are not like. Maybe in that process, you’ll realize you are more like them than you care to admit. And you’ll realize we all need help and are all in this together. As one big jacked up family.

This debate is heating up again with Rachel Held Evans taking Piper to task for his latest comments. And I don’t blame Rachel for her passion and her blog post, either, because I understand where she’s coming from, too. She has a heart to see people fall in love with Jesus and experience freedom in the Kingdom of God, and it pains her to see things like Piper’s comments that hinder that journey for folks. Believe me, I get that.

And I get that for some people out there, this is a cause that forces one to take sides – to choose Rachel or John – and respond with tribalistic passion in defending your choice.

I get that, but I hope and pray that we all get something else: division is not healthy. Unity is God’s desire. We are called to love, not to tear apart.

Look: for pastoral care and wisdom and shepherding, I would take Rachel Held Evans over John Piper any day. But in the Kingdom of God, I do not have to choose. There is room at the table for both of them.

If this were truly a family reunion, I think John Piper would be our crazy uncle who stands in the corner saying embarrassing things that everyone shakes their head at. And I know some of you disagree with me and feel that way about Rachel Held Evans. But John is still family, and we still love him. Rachel is still family, and we still love her. I have seen cruel, mean things said about them on Facebook and Twitter and blogs that nobody would say to their faces. That kind of division has got to stop. John and Rachel are beloved by God. Valued. Cherished. And in the Kingdom of God, they share a seat at the same table — the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Whether you agree or disagree with whatever you think they’re trying to say, they both have hearts to see people know God. They both belong to us. We, in our narrowly defined personal versions of orthodoxy, are quick to speak and slow to listen. We are quick to pounce and prove and point… and slow to love. It seems to me we ought to practice loving one another now — otherwise that wedding feast is going to be a mighty awkward event.

Jesus is God – So What?

I got into a really cool conversation with a coworker last week about Jesus being God. I believe he was; she believes he wasn’t. And as we talked and dialogued, I began to wonder something:

What difference does it make really, for all practical purposes, whether or not Jesus was God?

At one point in the conversation, I said, “So you and I both believe Jesus came to earth, that he was sinless, that he died for our sins, that he was buried and rose again three days later, and that he ascended to heaven.” She said yes.

Then why does it matter whether or not Jesus was God?

At one point, my coworker asked me to explain the Trinity to her – and specifically how Jesus could be his own Father and sit at his own right hand in Heaven.

Talk about stuttering like Porky Pig trying to find an answer to that one.

I told her I believe Jesus was God because the earliest Christians decided that was correct doctrine and has been for 1,900 and some years ever since in the Protestant and Catholic traditions. That over that time, there had been many attempts to explain the Trinity, but mostly we just chalked it up to mystery.

Which isn’t a bad thing.

But the question still lingers: so what if Jesus was God? Does that make me live any differently or any better if that is true than if it isn’t? How does that affect me? How does it affect how I treat those around me? How does it affect anything?

I have a few fledgling ideas of how to answer those questions, but I want to hear from you.

Jesus is God. So what?