Revelation 21 People in a Genesis 3 World

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might,
He increases strength.

– Isaiah 40:29 (NKJV)

Life rarely, if ever, makes sense or goes as planned. So much is out of our hands. Beyond our control. We can do all the right things, follow God as closely as we know how, and yet find ourselves smack in the middle of a great storm. The waters rise and the winds rage. We bow our heads in confusion, sorrow, even anger.

It is difficult to read the promises of Scripture during these times. We know we should feel comforted. Encouraged. Strengthened. We know our faith should grow and words of praise should fall from our lips. After all, we know that joy is not dependent upon circumstances. We know that God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

But when the diagnosis comes or the relationship ends or the job changes or we suffer for no apparent reason at all – how can the promises of God be true?

Isaiah recorded these words, spoken to him by the Lord, within the context of warnings about oncoming destruction. God’s people had turned away from Him and they would suffer the consequences of so doing. They could not claim surprise. Deuteronomy 28 outlines exactly what would happen if they chose to follow Him and what would happen if they didn’t.

Still, He did not abandon them.

Seven decades of exile would pass, but they would come home. The city and Temple would be rebuilt. God would even be with them during that exile, as shown in the book of Ezekiel, though not in the way they were accustomed. Not in the way they expected.

Though God was faithful to His people, He removed His glory, the tangible manifestation of His presence, from the Temple. There would be four centuries of silence. Not until a young woman pushed one last time and the cry of a baby pierced the air would the voice of God be heard again.

Not at all what they expected.

That’s all well and good, we think. People get punished when they do something wrong. But what about when they don’t do anything wrong? How come they suffer? How can God be good and true when bad things happen?

These are questions that humanity has wrestled with for so long. We forget that, right now, today, in this moment, we live in a Genesis 3 world. So while it is true that,

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

– Colossians 1:13-14 (NKJV)

It is also true that,

Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”

– Genesis 3:17b-19 (NKJV)

Or, as Jesus put it,

In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.

– John 16:33 (MSG)

Submitting to the Lord does not guarantee health, wealth or a trouble-free life. Anyone who teaches thus is nothing more than a snake-oil salesman, a deceiver. The death and resurrection of Christ destroyed the power of sin and darkness, so that anyone who receives the awesome gift of salvation through Him can be restored to right relationship with God. We are released from the terrible yoke of slavery that was pulling us toward death and Hell.

But we continue live in a world that is not fully set to rights.

In John 9, the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned and therefore caused a man to be born blind. This is one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels, and I always wonder if Jesus shook His head a little when He answered, “Nobody did.” Just as a life of bliss is not the result of obedience, so a life of suffering is not automatically the result of disobedience.

In this Genesis 3 world, every atom, and all the crazy little pieces tucked inside those atoms, is distorted. Warped. Not functioning properly. Nothing that we can see, feel, hear, taste or touch, including our own bodies, escaped the Curse. There is no horizon upon which you can cast your gaze and think, “Yes, that place is perfect and I shall go there to be free.”

Suffering happens because, despite life-jackets being securely in place and every nerve ready to jump, we remain on a sinking ship. We can see the shore, safe and pleasant. We know we’ll end up on the shore. But we’re not there just yet.

How do we live in that tension? How can we cling to the promises of God, even when unspeakable agony strikes?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].

Just consider and meditate on Him who endured from sinners such bitter hostility against Himself [consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

– Hebrews 12:2-3 (AMP)

Brothers and sisters, Jesus knows our pain. He knows exactly what it is to be struck down, abandoned, wrecked – for no reason at all. He never sinned. He never put a foot wrong. Yet He took that beating and hung on that cross.

The anguish you feel – He felt it.

Ours is not an aloof God, removed from humanity, judging us with coldness. He entered in. He continues to enter in through the loving activity of the Holy Spirit, drawing the lost and comforting the found. When you face difficulties, He will give you power. We you must endure, He will give you strength. These things may not come in the way you expect or desire, but they are sure promises, straight from the heart of the Lord who never fails.

In the mystery, the questioning, of being among the rescued who nevertheless find themselves going down with the ship – hold tight to the hand of the One who slipped that life-jacket over your head.

He will see you safe to shore.

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Photo credit: Nikko Macaspac

Linking up with God-Sized Dreams and Barbie Swihart today.

Two Entirely Unreleated Things

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Gentle Reader,

This is the last post from the sick chair.

I’m heading back to work tomorrow.

Part of me looks forward to getting back into a routine, part of me wonders if I’ll make it through a whole day and another part just wants to sleep. The biggest part of me just wants to sleep. And I want someone to invent a shirt that doesn’t feel awful when it touches my incision.

Get on that, science.

I’ve already dipped back into real life. Yesterday I went to church for the first time in a month, squishy pillow in tow. I ran an errand with my husband. I got a pedicure with my mom. It was exhausting. My abdominal muscles protested at being upright for so long. But it was nice to be out and about.

As my mom and I chatted over tubs of hot water and rainbow polish colors, I told her that one of the things I’ll miss about being home each day is catching the articles that people post on social media. I really don’t have time when I’m at work to scroll through Facebook or Twitter (and I’m not supposed to, anyway). After being on the computer for eight hours at a stretch, I often don’t possess a great desire to open my laptop in the evening. So a lot of interesting things fly right past me.

Being able to jump online at will for four weeks, I’ve been exposed to a wide assortment of thoughts on just about every subject. Some left me pondering. Others I shrugged off. Two got under my skin.

First: God Does Not Support Vaccines,” written by Megan Heimer at Living Whole. I usually stay away from the battle over vaccines because it’s vicious and I can’t believe the insults I see people fling at each other. For what it’s worth, however: While I believe that some people do have adverse reactions to vaccines, and I realize that it is possible to catch the very illness one has been vaccinated against, I don’t believe that there is some vast medical community/government conspiracy to make people ill. It is entirely presumptuous to think that any and all people who develop vaccines do so out of greed and that they lie about the effectiveness. I don’t believe that vaccines can be blamed for every instance of sickness, and I certainly don’t point a finger at my immunization record as the cause of my struggles.

In short, vaccines are a good thing. They are safe. They are effective.

My stance on vaccination has more to do with history and less with science. It’s not that I don’t understand the science; I just understand the history better. It is not honest to cast a glance back a century or two and claim that disease was eradicated or controlled simply through better sanitation and better hygiene. Certainly such improvements were important (and continue to be today) but the rise of germ theory under the efforts of scientists like Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur, a huge contributing factor to sanitation and hygiene initiatives, also led to the development of vaccines. Essentially, the same era that saw a push toward cleanliness saw a push toward vaccination. Cleanliness and vaccination rose from the same foundation, twins in fighting disease. For example, Jonas Salk’s search for a polio vaccine in the late 1940s-early 1950s came about precisely because the disease was not being eradicated or controlled through environment (or diet, for that matter).

I could go on, but Heimer’s anti-vaccination stance isn’t actually what bothered me about the piece, although I heartily disagree with it. No, what truly bothered me about this piece is how the author turned vaccination into a moral, even a salvation issue. Let me be quite clear: Vaccination is neither a moral nor a salvation issue. Jesus did not come here, die, rise again and then command that, in order to be saved, we must trust in Him and never get a shot.

Heimer hones in on cells/tissue from aborted children being used in vaccines to drive her point home. Here’s the thing: That’s a gray area. Is abortion wrong? Yes. Is using the bodies of those children for research wrong? Stone me if you will, but I don’t know. I honestly don’t. Is it wrong to take the organs from an adult who has been murdered? What about taking them from a school-aged child? Is it wrong to take tissue from a death row inmate who has been executed? What about people who die in war? Someone who commits suicide? What is the answer?

To draw a link between vaccination and following Christ is wrong. Such a thing cherry-picks and twists Scripture. It also drips both ignorance and arrogance; anything that we can point to that is not explicitly commanded by God as evidence for being saved is legalism, pure and simple.

Second (and entirely unrelated): Dear Church, Here’s Why People are REALLY Leaving You by John Pavlovitz, posted at Church Leaders. I am the last person on earth who will say that the church is perfect. I’ve been hurt by the church. I’ve experienced spiritual abuse. There are definitely times when it is essential to leave a congregation; it can be as awful as toxicity and as wonderful as God calling someone to another place. So I don’t in any way believe that once you set foot in a specific church that’s automatically where you’ll be for the rest of your life.

But I’m so tired of articles like this. Yes, let’s hammer away at the church. Let’s point out every single flaw in the Body and then do nothing to help. Let’s just up and leave and never get over anything. Let’s get high-and-mighty in our criticism. Let’s confuse “she’s being judgmental” with being confronted by truth.

Seriously. If you have to leave a congregation because it’s abusive, do it. If God is calling you to be somewhere else, go. Find a place that is healthy and get plugged in. Go where God leads. But there is no place in Scripture, not a single one, that says we can do this faith thing on our own. It’s not “just me and Jesus.” We need each other. Our weaknesses and struggles are met by the strengths and understanding of another. God wants His people to be together and work together. He designed us to flourish in community.

Frankly, I’m disgusted with my generation when it comes to church. We wanted “relevance” in our teens and early 20s. We beckoned leaders to pursue us. Well, they did. They bent over backwards to get us through the doors. Now, in our early 30s, we’re whining about the very things we wanted. They shouldn’t have pursued us. They shouldn’t have gone “seeker-friendly” or worked to put on a great rock worship concert. We are entirely too fickle and self-centered a generation for the focus to be on us in any way. Leaders in the church? Stop chasing us. Chase Christ instead. That’s the kick in the seat of the pants that we need.

Now I’m left with 1200 words and no sure way to wrap this thing up.

Perhaps I should have picked “controversy” for my word this year.

My journey to faith. (15)