Most of the time I feel like I am pushing a rock up a hill.
I am never not aware of the rock. I feel its weight. I cannot let go of the rock. I am responsible to make sure it keeps moving up the hill; I can’t let it roll back down. Every other activity must be done while holding the rock. I eat with the rock on my back. I sleep wedged beneath the rock, with rock-moving strategies and hopes for progress squeezing my dreams. Don’t get me wrong; almost all the time I love the rock, and even more I love making the rock move forward. I just know that I have to push the rock. I don’t feel like I have a choice. I just have to push the rock.
Sometimes I leave the rock with capable hands while I go encourage other rock-pushers, and maybe help them push their rocks through a tough spot.
I do have people with me pushing the rock. I love it when people push on the rock. I can use all the help I can get!
Some people help better than others.
Some people come and help me push the rock like it was their own rock. It really feels like it’s “our rock” and “we” are pushing. This really makes rock-pushing fun. Some people have worn grooves in the rock from pushing so well, for so long. I love rock-pushers, because no matter what, I have to push the rock.
Some people who come to help push the rock like to talk about how maybe the rock should be a different color, or maybe the rock could use some sanding here and there, or maybe they don’t like calling it a rock. “Is it possible to change rocks?” Whatever, just push the rock.
Some people will walk beside me, getting really close to me, and almost touching the rock. They’ll quietly tell me how I might make some changes in how I am pushing the rock. They may regale me with tales of rocks they’ve moved (well, at least they touched some cool rocks). They don’t break a sweat, but they occasionally have to take breaks from not pushing the rock. Often, they wander off, shaking their heads over how poorly I seem to pushing the rock. Regardless, I keep pushing the rock.
Some people come and ask to help push the rock. Sure! Push! But they’d prefer a certain spot to push…no, not there. Maybe there…well, not really there. “I’m not really being used very well at pushing the rock.” Really? Just push the rock.
Every once in a while someone will be upset that I am pushing the rock. Yes. That I am pushing the rock. I mean that I don’t know why they’re upset, because I am just pushing this rock. But somehow I’ve let them down, haven’t pushed well enough, or even that I am pushing too much. Maybe I haven’t let them have control of the rock? Control the rock? I don’t own the rock. I am just pushing this rock up a hill. But in response to my rock-pushing, they stop helping push the rock. Sometimes others stop with them. I pause to catch a breath after they stop pushing, get a fresh footing, and then I keep pushing the rock. It’s a little heavier than before. But I keep pushing the rock.
I keep studying rock-pushing. I keep learning. I am inspired by the rock-pushers who have moved rocks before me. I can see the trails left by their rock-pushing. Many have made my way easier. Their example compels me. I want to leave a trail for other rock-pushers to follow. I keep pushing the rock.
I sometimes wonder if I will ever push my rock as well as others. It seems like some rock-pushers sail past me. Others, too many others, I have seen lose traction, focus, or grip and roll back down the hill with their rocks. Rock-pushing can be dangerous. But I just keep pushing the rock.
Because at the end of the day, and at the beginning of the day, and in fact all day long every day, I am pushing a rock up a hill.
Worldly Blessings? Is that a thing?
I am enjoying reading an author. He’s sailing along, stirring me up while informing me. What a great little book (on the importance of church history). Then he uses a tired, worn-out phrase: “worldly blessings like health and wealth…” In one way, seeing a phrase like that in a contemporary text is like seeing an old, faded bumper sticker with a formerly-trendy-slogan clinging in a wrinkled shrivel to the back of an otherwise handsome automobile. It’s just sad. In another way, reading it stimulates my irritance to where I must close the text and murmur exasperated complaints to no one listening.
Worldly blessings? Like health and wealth? I don’t know where to begin complaining. Health and wealth are blessings, but they do not originate from this world.
There are wealthy people in the world. The devil promised “wealth” (sort of) to Jesus, in the desert, in exchange for Jesus bowing down to him. But that wasn’t a blessing, it was a bribe. And the desire for wealth – the love of money – is carnal, worldly. It is so because it is the natural expression of an orphan mind-set that fears not having enough, that has no internal mechanism or well-spring for joy, and has no center of gravity in order to be content. Greed is worldly. Wealth is not. Greed is a curse, not a blessing. Greed is no respecter of person or status. In fact, most of the world struggles under the weight and pain of poverty. The world doesn’t give wealth; it steals it. It hordes it. It hides it. Wealth is not a worldly blessing: the world is not predisposed to bless anyone.
And health? Health is a worldly blessing? As if, somehow, in a way that is so upside down that it can only come from someone whose blood has rushed into their brain and can no longer think, being sick is something to be desired above being healthy? Is it worldly to be well? Is it worldly to want to be healthy? Let us be clear; the world is sick. It cannot bless anyone with health. People around the world are sick and find new ways of being sick, along with rediscovering old ways. Disease swaggers about like an embittered bully picking on anyone who gets in its way. Health is not a worldly blessing any more than wealth, because the world cannot bless us with either.
On the other hand, there is One who blesses. The Blessed One who delights to bless, who invites us to seek His blessing. Heaven, not the world, is the source and supply of blessing. The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and He adds no trouble to it (Prov. 10:22). Jesus blessed people with more, not lack: more wine at the wedding, more fish in the nets, more fish and loaves for lunch. There is much bible that celebrates the blessing of the Lord, the abundance that He provides (and is delighted to do so). There is no bible for lack or poverty (except for how to rise up from beneath it without being overcome by greed).
And health? Is there any reasonable, sane question that Jesus preferred anyone within in his reach to be well? Jesus left no one, not one person, who came to him sick or tormented unaided. The word on the street was that, “God anointed Jesus Christ of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and He went about doing good and healing everyone under the tyranny of the devil” (Heb. 10:28). He never once “blessed” anyone by leaving them sick (let alone making them so). In fact, in more than one place, it seems He paid a significant price to bring aid and comfort to those who have suffered under sickness and torment (Isaiah 53, Matt. 8:16-17, I Peter 2:24).
The world does not bless. Health and wealth are not derived from the world, but from the Savior of the World. Heaven blesses. Blessing is Heaven’s idea and good pleasure. At least one feller even got singled out from all his siblings for having the hutzpah to ask God to bless him (1 Chron. 4:10). Health and wealth are not worldly blessings. Please, go to the store and get some Formula 409 (my dad swears by it) and a scrub brush, and clean that old, worn-out and worthless mindset from the back bumper of your mind.
God bless you,
Have you ever been frustrated? Have you ever exerted yourself, did your best, and still came out with results that weren’t just disappointing, but outright embarrassing? Have you ever fished all night and caught nothing? What should we do in those times? I’d like to suggest a principle that may keep you focused and faithful in the less-than thrilling moments and less than extraordinary seasons. Let’s talk about mending our nets.
Start with me in Mark 1:16-20, “As He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, his brother, throwing a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 When He had gone a little farther from there, He saw James the son of Zebedee and John, his brother, who also were in the boat mending their nets. 20 Immediately He called them. And they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed Him.”
It’s easy to extract the first and last parts: Jesus shows up and calls them. They leave everything and follow Jesus. They launch out on a new life, and this new life will be instrumental in changing the world – quite literally. But sandwiched between these glowing parts is a more mundane mention of what they were doing before Jesus called them…before their big moment… before their breakthrough…They were mending their nets.
Mending nets was tedious work. It was routine, likely daily work. Spreading out the nets, sifting through them. Repairing holes. Retying knots. Cleaning out debris. Tedious. Monotonous. This was the “grind” behind the glamour of fishing (if there is glamour in that). You can imagine them saying, “hey –we love the feeling of hauling in a great catch of fish. We really the love the rich profits from the market place. And we don’t mind the esteem of owning and running our own little fishing enterprise.” (James and John were partners with Peter, and apparently they all worked with James/John’s dad Zebedee.) We love the fishing – but the mending we can do without. Ever felt that way? Ever resent the mending of nets that is necessary for the fishing? Ever resent the mundane or routine that is always part of the rewarding and meaningful?
The thing is, if they didn’t do this mundane thing, they’d miss out on the marvelous thing. Nets with holes in them can’t catch fish. So, the first thing we can be reminded of from this passage is that we can’t overlook or neglect the things that might seem mundane – because it is the doing well of the little things that makes for the success of the big things.
But there is more: These young fishermen had no idea what was about to happen. They had no warning that Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, was about to step into their lives and change them forever. They had no idea that their names would forever be synonymous with the inauguration of the Church of Jesus Christ. They had no idea that their names would be on the lips of every tribe and nation for millennia to come. Today, the size of their lives measured the boundaries of this seashore and these blasted broken nets. Perhaps they had desire for something more. Perhaps they sensed something inside that said, “there has to be more than this.” Perhaps a praying grandparent had looked them in the eyes and told them Yahweh had great thing for them. Or – perhaps they’d been told that fishing was all they’d ever do, but yearned to make a bigger difference than this.
What were they doing while waiting for something more? What did they do in quiet uncertainty of the not yet? They mended their nets. They stayed prepared. They stayed faithful. They looked after the responsibilities directly in front of them. They did not stare off into the horizon and sigh. They did not say, “Hey – I’ve got bigger plans than this – why mend nets?” They did not neglect the mundane while waiting for the marvelous. So, as the Master of the Cosmos was about to summon them, they faithfully tied knots and repaired holes in fishing nets.
But there is even more to this story: Luke tells us a larger version in chapter 5, verses 1-11. “5 As the people pressed upon Him to hear the word of God, He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret 2 and saw two boats beside the lake. But the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He entered one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to thrust it out a little from the land. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered Him, “Master, we have worked all night and have caught nothing. But at Your word I will let down the net.” 6 When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was tearing. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”
The partnership had been fishing all night. They labored long and gained nothing. And yet there they were – washing (mending) their nets. Many would be tempted to give up and go get drunk. When we face delay, disappointment, set back – one of things that often happens is that the “little” things start to slide. We don’t wash the car or mow the lawn. Vacuuming and dusting slips…. Shaving becomes optional. Why not eat a whole bag of chips…Why even get out of bed? Why mend the nets? Is it worth the trouble?
Because in the very next moment – Jesus said, get back out there, deeper this time, and let out your nets for a catch. Go right back out where you were – and maybe even deeper. Saddle up and get back on the horse. Time to go another round.
But, Lord – we tried. We tried for a long time. We tried over and over …. And over. We got nothing. We hoped for much but had to settle for naught. But. They were willing to go back out. AND – they were ready. The nets were ready. And it’s a good thing they were. Because the next catch was so big that the nets began to burst and they had to call for backup – and so great in fact that the boats began to sink.
Before anyone sells you some idea that this passage – or one like it in John 21 – is about making small changes for big results – which is a great, stand-alone principle, but not at all what these passages teach – just listen to what happened. The disciples had been working hard without result (both passages). Jesus sends them back out into the same waters they were before, with the same nets, and the same boats and the same personnel. In John’s account, Jesus says, “try the other side of the boat.” That is just ridiculous. That isn’t strategy. The boats aren’t even large enough to separate more than a handful of fish. This was, actually, pointing out that there was NO difference in where the net was placed; there is no suggestion that the lesson is that we need to carefully discern what minor (secret) change we need for breakthrough. Sheesh – that just makes us superstitious and afraid of fishing on the wrong side of a boat (or praying at the wrong time, or putting on the wrong pants, or choosing the wrong sentence, or turning down the wrong road, or any other fear-fueled query about the massive consequence of a single decision. Even though yes, sometimes small changes can bring big results – that is not the point of this passage). By saying, “try the other side” – Jesus made it clear that it was NOT a change in location or strategy that would lead to breakthrough. “Go back out into the waters of failure.” “Let your nets out again – just a few insignificant feet away.” But this time, do so with no reliance upon your own ability. This time, do so with a complete confidence in the promise of God, and in the providence of God. Believe that His word and His good will (grace) are more than sufficient for breakthrough. Trust His promise and providence. Don’t waste time in regret. Don’t hover around the memory of failure. Believe. Imagine. Hope. Obey.
And remember, the best way to prepare for net-breaking, boat-sinking breakthrough is to…. mend the nets.
I remember when we were trying to rent our house some years ago. We tried everything we could. It was getting really frustrating. After weeks and weeks – nothing. No success. So, I decided I’d better just start mending the nets. I went to Home Depot and bought some paint and repainted my fence. I remember saying to myself, “here I am Lord, mending my nets.” And I don’t even think I can trace the series of events – but within weeks we were in a new house.
When you’ve fished all night and caught nothing – keep mending your nets. When you’ve experienced set back or disappointment – don’t give up and go away. When the night was long and you’re worn out, don’t leave holes and debris in your nets. Bear down. Be faithful with the little things.
I think of the single parent who doesn’t know how rent is going to get covered – but still stays up after the kids go to bed making lunch for their backpacks the next day. I think of the out of work former executive who spends time ironing a shirt or shining his shoes. I think of the athlete who missed the big shot or a team that lost the big game – back in the gym, on the court, or on the field the next day. I think of the saint that seeks the salvation of their household but faces rejection over and over – and returns to the place of prayer and practice of love. I think of the pastor who longs for landscape-shifting revival and isn’t yet seeing all he longs for – yet he prays without ceasing. That’s the thing about net-mending. It is the quiet refusal to give up.
For me: people have disappointed – even betrayed me. Opportunities have escaped my reach. I’ve had grand plans and great ideas that just seemed to come to nothing. And the only thing I can do is go back to mending nets. Keep reading stories of those who’ve overcome, who have broken through. Keep studying scripture. Parse the Greek and Hebrew. Exegete the passage. Get back on my knees and pray in tongues for another hour. Read another biography. Read another testimony. I see a miraculous healing from cancer or long-term pain, and then turn around and lay may hand on Ben – again. That’s the thing about mending nets – faithfully attending the routine and mundane tasks of life.
Because: We can’t overlook or neglect the things that might seem mundane – because it is the doing well of the little things that makes for the success of the big things. The best way to prepare for net-breaking, boat-sinking breakthrough is to…. Mend the nets. And when disappointment, delay or set-back hits us, the best way to hit back is to keep mending the nets. And stay ready for deep water.
Hope you’ve been encouraged; thanks for reading!
For anyone interested – I’d love to share this book with you. If you like it, please leave a good review. And maybe recommend to a friend!
God Hates Suffering: His Compassion is Our Commission
Please click here to find it.
“Come ,Holy Spirit!”
What does this mean?
When I pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” I offer no erroneous assertion. I recognize He is already present – I could never go somewhere where He isn’t. Nor am I capable of summoning the Sovereign of the Cosmos.
For me to pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” is to ask that He manifest His presence and influence in my life – in my person and circumstances. There is little question that there is a difference between the acquiescent (omnipresent) presence of the Spirit and the dynamic, manifest presence. Even if that difference is often (or mostly) only realized by faith (and not necessarily the senses), it is in fact faith that I exercise with the words, “come, Holy Spirit.” By faith I embrace and make myself aware of His presence. Often this results in some form of sensory awareness, ranging from a mild, personal, subjective sensation to a shared, powerful experience with others.
For me to say, “Come, Holy Spirit” is an expression of my own submission to Him. I consciously yield my cognitions, my affections and my actions to His immediate influence and infilling. With gratitude I patiently reflect on my circumstances, surroundings, and concerns and visualize all things surrendered to Him.
For me to say, “Come, Holy Spirit” is to honor Him, to reverence Him, and to welcome Him. I am expressing a sacred awareness of the Presence of the Holy One in my heart and life. I am deeply humbled and pristinely happy to host His Presence.
For me to say, “Come, Holy Spirit” is to value Him above the pressing matters and urgent concerns of the moment. It is to give my attention to Him first and most. It is to magnify Him in my perspective so that He eclipses all other things. Only in this light do I see clearly.
So I quite often, throughout the day, quiet myself and focus with joy uttering the phrase, “Come, Holy Spirit.” And to my immense awe and wonder, He always does; He always “is.”
Blessed Holy Spirit, Come!
*Come, O Creator Spirit, blest, and in our souls take up Thy rest;
Come, with Thy grace and heavenly aid, to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.
Great Paraclete, to Thee we cry: O highest gift of God Most High; O Fount of life! O Fire of love!
The sweet Anointing from above!
The sacred sevenfold grace is Thine, Dread Finger of the hand Divine: The promise of the Father Thou, Who dost the tongue with power endow.
Our senses touch with light and fire; our hearts with charity inspire; And with endurance from on high the weakness of our flesh supply.
Far back our enemy repel, and let Thy peace within us dwell; so may we, having Thee for Guide, Turn from each hurtful thing aside.
O may Thy grace on us bestow The Father and the Son to know, and ever more to hold confessed Thyself of each the Spirit blest.
*The Hymnal: Published by the authority of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1895
We decided the old church building needed a paint job. For whatever reason, I can’t remember, I found myself up on a ladder “helping” the veteran painters tackle the street-facing portion of the church. It was, of course, where the cross hung pristinely in view for passers-by. It was my duty-by-default to repaint the cross.
Up on the ladder I climbed, bucket and brush in hand(s), and began to give a fresh look to an old cross (fascinating, ironic, meditative… but not the point of this article). Not an experienced painter, not even a painter, I dipped the brush in the bucket and sought to impress my more-experienced-observers with my focus, skill and stewardship of the paint. I brushed further and further, spreading the paint as well and as far as I could (clearly it was more economical to spread it out, really get all the paint out of the brush, good stewardship, maximize potential… look how much territory I was covering!) When I noticed there was nearly no paint left on the brush, I (begrudgingly) went back for more paint. And then started painting… somewhere where I’d left off… not exactly sure where… but started covering more territory.
The patient painter behind me could bear no more. He quietly said to me, “you have to keep a wet edge. Don’t dry your brush out or you’ll just have to repaint it.” He went on to explain how and why what I was doing was wrong. But I gently said, “Stop. You just said something that probably I should never forget. Keep a wet edge.” I am not sure how long I continued painting, I’d like to think I finished re-presenting the cross… I’d like to think that one day I will truly finish re-presenting the cross. But for today, what I need to remember is this: Keep a wet edge.
Leaders need to keep a wet edge. Parents do. Pastors do. Anyone whose hope or duty it is to spread the influence of good, of grace, of wisdom, of counsel, of kindness upon the canvas of this world – needs to keep a wet edge.
Never let your brush run dry. Don’t deceive yourself into believing that you are just working harder or maximizing your potential. You’re just painting like a novice. You may be covering more ground, but your impact will be thin and influence short.
Never let your brush run dry. Stay close to the Source. Immerse yourself often. Stay conscious of “why” you are doing and “Who” are you doing it for. Don’t get too far away from the bucket. Read the bible for pleasure and reflection. Often. Take a moment of private devotion and worship and gratitude – without it being part of a formality or corporate responsibility. Pray in the Spirit. Spend a little extra time with people who make you laugh and who encourage you. Spend a little more time alone. It may look a little different for you than for me, but neither of us can afford too much time away from the bucket. Keep a wet edge.
The alternative is, without exception, that you will find yourself leaning over a ladder, arms stretched as far as possible, with maximum exertion, but spreading the least amount of paint. Then you, or someone else, will just have to paint again. Dry brushes make for wasted energy. Stay close to the bucket. Never let your brush run dry. Keep a wet edge.
Lightening is powerful. It cannot be predicted, but can be anticipated. Lightning is a meteorological phenomenon that essentially (really over simplified summary coming) is a result of the conditions above meeting appropriate, coordinating conditions below (equal electric charges of opposite polarity). When that happens, the result is a powerful flash of lightning. Other than the heat, light and energy released – lighting also oxidizes nitrogen in the air into nitrates which are deposited by rain and can fertilize plant growth. So lightning, a result of coordinating conditions above and below, is powerful AND contributes to conditions for growth. Interesting.
Revival is similar to lightning. Revival is a result of coordinating, conducive conditions above and beneath. But there is a significant, encouraging, and I believe challenging difference. To an almost total extent, the conditions “above” are always right. By that I mean that God is never not in the mood for powerful expressions, manifestations of His Spirit’s person and work that lead to greater conditions for growth. The contingency is with the conditions below.
Heaven is poised and longs to influence earth. From the beginning of the Gospel the message has been that the Kingdom is here – and to respond correctly by repentance and faith (Mark 1:15). And the concurrent imperative has been to pray for and proclaim the interests and influence of heaven on earth (Matt. 6:10, 16:19, 18:18). God has already declared and demonstrated His intent and activity: “in the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” (Acts 2:17ff). Heaven is open and committed. The Spirit has been paid for and poured out (John 14:16-18).
The conditions below must change. Jesus implied as much with the statement, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). The implication being that the variable is not on the side of heaven, but earth. Jesus is looking for faith on earth. The conditions above are looking for coordinating, conducive conditions below.
The Holy Spirit can initiate activity without asking anyone’s permission – He is God. But it must be acknowledged that God has always operated through the faith and obedience of someone. He has rarely “shown up” or “moved in” without partnering with a person. In the most influential revivals of history – and their contemporary counterparts – even when it has seemed or been said that “this is a sovereign move of God” – the truth is closer to a divine partnership between heaven and earth.: somewhere, someone prayed and obeyed. Every time. The reformation. The great awakenings. Azusa. Brownsville. Topeka. Lakeland. Toronto. Redding. Every strike of lightning has resulted from coordinating, conducive conditions.
The excitement, enthusiasm and hunger that result from initial “strikes” usually foster even greater conditions for more. Testimony increased faith and hunger and expectation. Expectation creates enthusiasm. Enthusiasm generates more interest and more crowds with more of all the above. Since the days of Jesus, people have moved in mass to where the lighting of heaven is striking.
Often the question is asked as to why certain “moves of God” lift or cease. I do not believe that Heaven lost interest. I sincerely believe that earth loses hunger, anticipation, expectation… that real, humble, yielded faith wanes… and the conditions below are no longer conducive the conditions above. Lightning cannot be faked or forced. The conditions below must change.
I recognize that heaven responds to the prayers and petitions of the church. In some measure, though God’s preference never eases or ebbs, His apparent willingness to act is directly affected by the actions of His church. The idea of “waiting on the Lord” is not so much waiting for God to stir Himself from slumber, or to pay attention. Waiting on the Lord has much greater impact on me – it readies me for what God is already ready for. I also recognize there appears to matters of timing and design from heaven. He does know the plans He has for us (they are good). But sovereignty is His arena, not mine. I am responsible for what I know, and I know that for the most part, I am not waiting on God as much He is waiting on me. If He’s looking for faith, I want Him to find it in me.
This brings me to why I am both encouraged and challenged.
I am encouraged because I know that Heaven is more ready than I am for revival. I don’t put very much stock into predictions about “what God is about to do” as if He’s been holding back and waiting for the right calendar year to line up metaphorically with an ancient timeline. Nor do I believe He overly concerned with current events or politicians. Not in a way that would make more or less persuaded to be manifestly present in power and life. No one thing, not a person or event or the passing of time or the appearance of the moon can leverage Heaven’s interests on earth more than the shed blood of Jesus and His glorious ascension. Jesus has been exalted and has poured out the Spirit (Acts 2:32-33). Nothing greater than this can ever occur. No greater reason could ever exist for the manifest presence of the Outpoured Spirit. I do posit that the Spirit perceives when someone has started affecting the conditions below, and will let folks know that He’s “found a spot.” As such, I think the Holy Spirit forecasts manifestations of His work – not based on His own whim, but because the Son of Man has found faith on the earth.
Therefore, revival is always a possibility. If Heaven is ready now – then any delay or diminishing is not on Heaven’s side but ours. If the Son of Man is looking for faith, I want to be found with it. I want to be the conducive, coordinating “spot” below where lightning of God may strike again and again. And, by faith, I can hear the peals of thunder in the distance even now.
The words to the carol begin, “God rest you merry, gentlemen.” The comma goes after merry. The word “rest” is a verb and in the oldest use it means “make.” It is saying, “God make you merry, gentlemen (the general audience). God make you joyful, and let nothing you dismay – let nothing frighten or trouble you.
And then the narrator explains how God has had provided for their merriment and quieted their anxious souls. Remember, says the caroler, that Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day. To save us all from Satan’s power while we were gone astray. So, Christ has saved us from a fierce enemy, and from the fruit of our own folly. The oldest versions then say, “this brings” or “which brings tidings of comfort of Joy.” Remembering what Christ has done for us brings news of comfort and joy.
The actual origins of this song are not known, and I can’t find anywhere that says if the writer developed it from scripture. But the main refrain of the song is extracted directly from Jeremiah 31:13, “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” Young women (same word in Hebrew as virgins) will dance and be glad. Why this? It is a symbol of hope – it’s why the “young” dance – because they represent anticipation of the future – anticipation dances when there is hope. Why hope? Because of what the Lord has done and promises to do. God says, “I will turn their mourning into gladness.” I will turn their sad song into a happy song. HOW? I will give them comfort and joy.
The first thing he gives is comfort. This is not just a hug and a “there, there.” The word carries the connotations of deep empathy – it sounds like the low-toned sigh of a caring adult quieting a troubled child. God says, “I will comfort you.” How? Immanuel. God with us. God saving us. Earlier, in v. 11, the prophet says the Lord will deliver Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. God will comfort us by being bigger and truer and stronger than the things that trouble us, even and especially the things that are stronger than we are. He will be present: bringing down the noise, quieting the alarms, the voices, the pressures, the threats, the fears, anxieties, and un-ending expectations. He comforts us by confronting these things. Christ comforts us by His own victory over them.
The term Christus Victor refers to a Christian understanding of the atonement which views Christ’s death as the means by which the powers of evil, which held humankind under their dominion, were defeated. The idea is this: Christ is victor. Christ in his death and resurrection overcame the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection, those powers variously understood as the devil, sin, the law and its condemnation, and fear and anxiety and even death.”
Christus Victor is rooted in the Incarnation and how Christ entered into human misery and wickedness and thus redeemed it. The Christus Victor view of the Atonement is a drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the powers of darkness and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin. He redeems us from everything that was stronger than we were. He comforts us by His victory over all our fears.
His comfort precedes and produces joy. Comfort comes first because it is the voice of truth. It displaces lie and shadow and threat. Comfort settles the soul. It prepares the way for joy. Joy cannot long abide in the troubled soul. Without comfort, joy is temporary, elusive – crowded out. So, He comforts us – that He may cause us to have joy.
He would comfort your soul – that he may cause your joy. Where are you troubled? “Benign” things: Life? Work, family, finances? Or does fear, unrest, regret, or pain trouble your soul? Christ has overcome. He is truth. He is love. He is power and grace. He is stronger. He Is Immanuel. God rest you merry, dear friend. Let nothing you dismay. He wants you to dance again. Tidings of comfort and joy indeed.
Thanks for reading; Merry Christmas,
Change can be a lot of things: exciting, curious, uncomfortable, comforting, and a little scary. More often than not, change is hard. So then, why change? In our case, as Heritage Church, why should we change from meeting in our current facility and embark on the journey toward a new facility?
There are a handful of pretty good reasons to stay put. Plenty of people have been meeting together in this location for many years. The Lord has done some really wonderful things in and through the lives of folks that have gathered here. The building isn’t broken, and we’ve remodeled it 5 times in 7 years. It’s paid for. Those are all good reasons to consider NOT changing. So, why should we?
If our shared passion were to preserve the present – then we might be able to accomplish that goal by staying where we are. It’s possible that we could maintain our current attendance and ministry programs. It’s almost certain that we would continue to enjoy God’s presence and power (all He’s looking for is our continued faith and yieldedness). We could continue to work to make our presence known and convince folks to find us on Hazel Dell Avenue. We could consider investing serious money in renovating and improving the facility. All this is possible. If, that is, we fixed our focus on preserving the present.
However, if we lift our eyes and allow faith to fuel a fresh dream for Heritage; if we asked the Holy Spirit to help us paint a fresh picture of a preferred future for Heritage – would it look like what “is”? Is “this” all there is, or all there should be? Or, is there more?
Right now, in two services, we are able to accommodate a couple hundred adults at a time. I am thankful for each person in each padded seat. But what if we could accommodate even two or three times as many? What could we accomplish? While it is not difficult to maintain a minimum budget in a small, paid-off building, it also isn’t possible to accomplish much of anything else.
Sure, moving will cost us. We’ll have a mortgage. We’ll spend money on renovations and improvements. But let us not be like the 10 spies who looked at the challenges beyond the Jordan and retreated in fear. Let us be like those of faith. We are well-able. We don’t have a huge slush-fund or giant surplus currently. But we do have solid, consistent income. And we can adjust spending to accommodate increased expenses as we need to, if we need to. I believe that where God guides, He provides. I am willing to believe that the same God who calls us to dream big will supply all we need for those dreams.
A larger capacity, with more people working, serving, praying, and giving together would allow us to accomplish so much more locally and around the world. We would be able to provide family-raising-wages for our staff. We would be able to fund larger missions and relief projects. Further, we could host regional conferences and events – inviting more people and impacting a great deal more people. The benefits of increasing our capacity are many.
What if we had the kind of building and location that could facilitate better, weekly ministry to young families? What if we had indoor recreation and outdoor play areas for kids? What if we could run a Faith-Filled, Christ-Honoring, Family-Affirming Preschool? What if we had a place, during the week, where mommies with little ones could come and connect over coffee while their kiddos had a fun and safe place to play?
What if we had the kind of building and location that could better facilitate teaching, training and development? What if we had different sizes of meeting spaces that allowed us to host smaller seminars and workshops? What if we had space and location to develop and offer a Certificate in Bible / Ministry Leadership program?
What if we had meeting space that allowed for more growth in elementary, middle-school, and high-school ministry? What if we had the space to host regular, week-day morning devotional services for our more “seasoned saints” who enjoy potlucks and hymn-sings?
What if we had a facility that made better use of contemporary technology in order to serve and communicate with congregants and the community?
What if we grow large and strong enough to begin to see past just filling up and using one church building, and instead set our sights on planting many churches? What if we had the resources, personnel and plan (I have the last part already) to plant a new church every two years?
In the end, a facility is not just about current or future capacity, but about current and future calling. What are we called to be and do in our city? In our region? In our world? As Heritage Church, what legacy will we leave?
As we stand and banks of the Jordan and consider the cost of crossing over, I invite you to remember why. We move forward because we have concluded, after years of prayer and preparation, that there is more for us to be, and more for us to do. We must keep our eyes on the picture of our preferred future and say, “that is why.”
Yours for “more,”