Imperfect

The cover design for this book grabbed my attention because it graphically displays the constant struggle in my heart between the idolatrous drive for perfection that I fall prey to again and again, and the humble surrender to our gracious God that allows me to find joy in my imperfection.

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The essence of the book can be summed up in this quote: “Almost anything in life that truly matters will require you to do small, mostly overlooked things, over a long period of time with him.” That certainly is true of pastoring…but is just as true in parenting and marriage and school and work and Christian community. Jesus’ way is not big and fast and glamorous, rather He delights to carry out His will as we walk with Him in the small, slow, and mundane things of our everyday lives.

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Emmanuel

This year I had the privilege of sharing a devotional at my church’s Christmas Eve cantata. The theme of the cantata was “Light and Life to All He Brings” and I shared the following reflection titled “Jesus With Us in the Darkness.”

Emmanuel means “God with us.” Jesus came, not only to reveal our darkness, but that He might be with us in the darkness. And it is in the darkest places that His light shines the brightest. As an old Puritan prayer says, even in daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells, and “the deeper the wells, the brighter thy stars shine.”

So the hope of Christmas is found not in the absence of sin and suffering, but in the very midst of our own darkness and the darkness of the world around us.

God with us. We find comfort in that reality that indeed God IS with us in our times of difficulty and sorrow and suffering. But sometimes we forget that God was with us in an even deeper darkness first. We were enemies of God, opposed to Him, our hearts and our minds set on being little gods ourselves—masters of our own destinies. And in that condition, the condition into which every one of us was born, we were destined for God’s wrath, deserving only to be separated from Him for all eternity. That is what it means to be lost, to be completely unable to make ourselves right with God, incapable of even seeking Him, much less pleasing Him. As the worship song says, we were “lost in darkest night,” self-deceived in thinking we “knew the way,” captivated by “the sin that promised joy and life” but only led us to the grave. Ephesians 2:12 tells us that we were “without hope and without God in the world.” There is nothing darker than that—that is complete darkness.

But it is into that complete darkness that Jesus came to be Emmanuel, God with us. He did not wait for us to mend our ways and clean up our lives and get rid of our sin, and we were helpless to do that even if we had wanted to. No, He did not wait for the light to dawn in this dark world or in the deep darkness of our hearts. He IS the light, and He entered into our darkness in order to bring us out of the darkness and into His light.

God with us in the darkness of our sorrow, and God with us in the darkness of our pain, and God with us in the darkness of our suffering would have no meaning apart from God with us in the deepest darkness of our sinful determination to live life autonomous from Him. But Jesus stepped into that darkness, and took that darkness upon Himself, suffering the wrath of God that we deserved, even to the point of death, death on a cross. Because He initiated, He came to us to deal with that deepest darkness of our sin, we who trust in His salvation now walk in great hope. Because no matter how dark the circumstances are around us, no matter how dark the valley of suffering that we face, we have in Jesus “God with us” and He has vanquished the greatest darkness we could ever face—the darkness of our sinful hearts—therefore we need not fear even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

He is with us—Emmanuel. That is great hope, even in the darkness.

Expecting Weariness

I just completed a 3-month pastoral sabbatical, and probably the most common question I’ve been asked is “Are you rested now?” In one sense I don’t feel at all rested in the present, because I just completed a week of final exams and projects at Talbot, which resulted in a lot of late nights. But in another sense, I feel somewhat rested because I’ve had the opportunity to sit and learn in seminary classes, which I find very refreshing and enjoyable. And in still another sense, I feel like I have never been rested since we brought our adopted daughter home from China 3 years ago, because the care she requires never lets up.

Behind those questions about rest seems to lie an assumption that being rested is a good thing, and not being rested is a bad thing, perhaps even sinful. And while I would agree wholeheartedly that rest is a good and needed thing, I also wonder whether we are right to expect rest rather than some level of weariness. Kevin DeYoung, in his insightful little book called Crazy Busy, has the usual diagnoses of what contributes to our busyness. But his last diagnosis gives me pause to ponder–“You suffer more because you don’t expect to suffer at all.”

We simply don’t think of our busyness as even a possible part of our cross to bear. But what if mothering small children isn’t supposed to be easy? What if pastoring a congregation is supposed to be challenging? What if being a friend, or just being a Christian, is supposed to mean a lot of time-consuming, burden-bearing, gloriously busy, and wildly inefficient work?                     [pg 103]

I know that I can easily fall prey to the exhaustion that comes from my prideful striving for perfection or my sinful bent toward people-pleasing. I know I can lose sight of my calling and get caught up in things that are not priorities. But I also know that relationships require much time, and that God calls me to pour myself out for others, just as Jesus poured Himself out for me. Therefore, while on the one hand I need to live within my limitations as a human being, on the other hand I don’t want to live as if the world revolves around me and owes me a certain measure of rest and ease. I need to expect that weariness is simply a part of life in this broken world.

DeYoung references an article by Ajith Fernando, called “To Serve Is to Suffer.” In it, Fernando rejects the assumption that weariness from overwork is always disobedience to God–it can be wrong if it’s coming out of a drivenness or insecurity, but “we may have to endure tiredness when we, like Paul, are servants of people.” I wish that every time I put serving my wife or engaging with my children as a higher priority than my work, that my work would somehow magically disappear. But that is not how it works–instead, when I spend significant time with my family, it usually means a late night finishing my work. And in that case, the weariness that comes with a late night is not a sinful thing to avoid but something I should expect as part of learning how to love like Christ loves.

DeYoung again: Effective love is rarely efficient. People take time. Relationships are messy. If we love others, how can we not be busy and burdened at least some of the time?                             [pg 105]

So if you ask me how my sabbatical was, and whether I’m rested now, I may tell you that I got rest in some ways but not in others, and that I’m learning to expect weariness at the same time that I’m learning to live within my limits.

Tardy Tadpole Transformation

Transformation takes time. Gulielmus the tadpole (or Guli for short) has been swimming around a clear plastic container on our kitchen counter for a couple months now. His buddy Sylvester haImage 1d an untimely death, but Guli continues to eat and swim and grow slightly larger.

But what we really want to see is for Guli the tadpole to become Guli the frog. And that isn’t happening. According to one internet source, the tadpole stage should only last 6-9 weeks, and Guli is past that, so we are expecting to see some legs popping out anytime now, but it’s taking longer than we thought.

Transformation takes time. Daniel the Christian (or Dan for short) has been walking around on this earth for almost 45 years now. Other Christians come and go, but Dan continues to study and learn and grow slightly deeper.

But what we’d really love to see is for Dan the Christian to become Dan the transformed-to-be-like-Christ Christian. And that doesn’t always appear to be happening. According to one Biblical source, transformation into Christ’s likeness only happens “from one degree of glory to another.” So it’s slow. In fact, it takes not just 6-9 weeks, and not even 45 years, but a whole lifetime.

Transformation takes time. Whether it’s a tadpole becoming a frog or a child of God becoming mature in Christ. It takes time, but it’s worth it!