Wednesday, March 18, 2015

THYME Magazine: Faith and Bright Hope

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume IX, Issue XII

Jesus is Coming, Plant a Tree!

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
   -- 1 Corinthians 15:58

In a wonderful article by N. T. Wright entitled Jesus is Coming, Plant a Tree [click to read], the author writes: "For the early Christians, the resurrection of Jesus launched God’s new creation upon the world, beginning to fulfill the prayer Jesus taught his followers, that God’s kingdom would come “on earth as in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), and anticipating the “new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17, 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1) promised by Isaiah and again in the New Testament. From this point of view, as I have often said (though the phrase is not original to me), Heaven is undoubtedly important, but it’s not the end of the world. The early Christians were not very interested, in the way our world has been interested, in what happens to people immediately after they die. They were extremely interested in a topic many Western Christians in the last few years have forgotten about altogether, namely the final new creation, new heavens and new earth joined together, and the resurrection of the body that will create new human beings to live in that new world."

I have friends who are very much into eschatology, wonderful people, but they are pretty much convinced that this world is pretty rotten and the sooner it passes away the better. I also have friends who are very much into fixing things in the here and now, not thinking about the hereafter at all. Wright makes the case that I very much agree with: Both are missing something! He also struck a chord with me, especially in light of this dedication in my yet to be published novel: "Pontifus, The Bridge Builder's Tale:"

This little book is dedicated to those brave young people, who though I shall not name them here, will likely recognize bits of themselves in the characters I portray. I apologize beforehand for this intrusion into your privacy but feel that the world so desperately needs your story. Your very real dedication and bravery inspired this book and it cannot be written without a foundation of such truth. Most of all it is dedicated to my beautiful wife, of whom the accolade: "Well done, good and faithful servant!" is most fitting. You have stood by me in good times and bad. We have shared in the raising of some incredible young people who inhabited our own home. You have poured your love and wonder into the lives of countless students. I love you with all my being!!!

It is because we both love young people so that I write this. It is but a poor attempt to offer hope and direction to a world so devoid of it. We err, perhaps, in pointing to the hope of the hereafter without providing adequate models and renderings of that Kingdom and those who have labored to bring it into the world we inhabit now. The water that will quench the soul's thirst is dismissed because those who profess to bear it often seem, (to the society around them,) preoccupied with apocalyptic visions and derision for the world as it is now. It is not wrong to love such things, but they are not easily shared with those for whom the flower of life is yet to come. No bride-to-be, having just unwrapped her wedding planner, wants to engage in a lengthy discourse on Eschatology!

Jeremiah of old told those in exile to "Build, Plant, Marry and Have Children, Prosper and Pray!" [1.] Jeremiah 29:4-7 -- and to be sure, there are many who do. They just don't make the headlines very often. The historical references in this work, and there are probably too many, are essential to understanding how men and women have navigated dangerous times before. They are most necessary to show how one can indeed have vision for one's own times and hope in a greater, unseen reality as well."
-- Excerpt from "Pontifus, The Bridge Builder's Tale"  ©Copyright, 2015, The Kirchman Studio

Referencing 1 Corinthians 15:58, Wright presents the important idea that our work here in this world is not wasted. It is incredibly important to the building of the Kingdom to come! Just as human marriage is a picture of Christ and his Church, there is much to do to point the way and give vision to the Unseen Kingdom. Wright continues: "I have no idea precisely what this means. I do not know how the painting an artist paints today in prayer and wisdom will find a place in G-d’s new world. I don’t know what musical instruments we will have to play Bach, though I’m sure Bach’s music will be there. 

I don’t know how my planting a tree today will relate to the wonderful trees that will be in G-d’s recreated world. I don’t know how my work for justice for the poor, for remission of global debts, will reappear in that new world. But I know that G-d’s new world of justice and joy, of hope for the whole earth, was launched when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning: I know he calls me and you to live in him and by the power of his spirit, and so to be new-creation people here and now, giving birth to signs and symbols of the kingdom on earth as in heaven. 

The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring forth real and effective signs of G-d’s renewed creation even in the midst of the present age. Not to do so is at best to put ourselves in the position of those Second Temple Jews who believed they had to wait passively for G-d to act – when G-d has acted in Jesus to inaugurate his kingdom on earth as in heaven. At worst, not to bring forth works and signs of renewal in G-d’s creation is to collude, as gnosticism always does, with the forces of sin and death."

Revelation 19:6-9 speaks of the time when people of all nations are joined in communion with G-d:

And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord G-d omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of G-d."

In Isaiah 60 [4.] and in Revelation 21 Believers look to a New Heaven and a New Earth where a Heavenly Jerusalem descends to join the Earth. Here is a Kingdom that needs no temple, needs no sun to light it, for G-d Himself is the force that illuminates it! [5.]

And I saw a new Heaven and a new earth: for the first Heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from G-d out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of G-d is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and G-d himself shall be with them, and be their G-d." -- Revelation 21:1-3

West_web East_web
Journey to Jesus, a mural depicting the nations coming to Jesus in the New Heaven and New Earth described in Revelation 21. Mural by Kristina Elaine Greer and Bob Kirchman

Journey to Jesus [click to view larger images].

Our Christian hope is that we're going to live with Christ in a new Earth, where there is not only no more death, but where life is what it was always meant to be." -- Timothy Keller.

The hope of Heaven and New Earth.

A Lesson from the Missionaries

Wes Stafford, founder of Compassion International, remembers with great joy the times he and his missionary father dug wells together. He happily recalls the tired, sweaty, muddy process of ensuring clean water for the villages in Africa that they served. Father and son came home tired and filthy and the people saw a beautiful illustration of the love of G-d! Clean wells, fenced off so that cattle could not foul them, meant healthy children instead of sickly ones. Lives were saved and the people, through that expression of love, were moved to trust in Christ!

The Staffords excitedly sent photographs of the whole operation, dirty faces and all. They surely would be an exciting part of the mission's newsletter. To their dismay, when the newsletter arrived, there were no pictures of the well digging. It wasn't about 'salvation' in the eyes of the mission board. Yet it had resulted in real salvation (earthly as well as Heavenly) to the villagers! Years later, as head of Compassion International, Wes Stafford still presides over the digging of a lot of wells!

Tragically, the board's earthward myopia extended to the boarding school for missionary kids that Wes and his sister attended. Those who washed out as missionaries were assigned to teach at the school. Not seeing the school as an important work of G-d, the children were poorly cared for, sometimes even abused, and the faith of many was destroyed. In his book: Too Small to Ignore, [2.] Stafford makes the case that the work of teaching and caring for children is paramount in the work of the Kingdom of G-d.

Passing the Torch

Perhaps the greatest lesson Stafford's father ever taught was in the digging of the wells. Wes grew up with practical experience in participating in the building of the Kingdom. That lesson would stick with him as he grew to head Compassion International. There is a poem by Gary Snyder: Axe Handles [click to read] which captures the Sacred process quite nicely:

I am an axe And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on."

How are we doing as teachers. Not very well, I fear. As we are all too eager to see this world pass away, our young adults busy themselves with apocalyptic video games. The sad truth is that both generations have lost the mandate to build the Kingdom. A little child, it turns out, will teach me a "more excellent way." We are outside her house together... initially we set out to dig in the snow. Perhaps we'll build a snowman.

But we notice the chaos of snow and ice on the path to the trash cans. I chip, she digs. We create a beautiful clear walk for the neighbors. Then we clear off some sidewalk. The young child is clearly enjoying the whole process. But my adult mind soon grows restless that we have not built the snowman! Funny, how the adult mind can be distracted so easily!

It is only later that I realize that the child has been the teacher that day. We created a small patch of beauty (and safety) for her neighbors. She indeed saw that such labor was a good thing. No pontification, just a simple model, simply followed. We were making something together! Didn't Jesus say that: "the kingdom of God belongs to such as these!" -- Luke 18:16

The Fragrance of Eden
Wisdom from an Old Rebbe

AT on Hazeltop
In the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Here is a Beautiful Story [click to read] of an old Rebbe who's devotion to G-d's work of redemption shaped the way he lived his own life. The wise man was told one day that the Messiah had come and was in the steet outside. The man opened the window, sniffed the air outside and declared the so-called 'Messiah' a fraud. His instincts told him the coming Messiah would bring with him the sweet fragrance of Eden, the fragrence of the divine presence in the tabernacle and the temple, that was lost when the Glory departed.

Years later, the Rebbe's son wondered why his father had to go to the window to sniff the air. Surely the sweet smell of redemption would come into the house. His son then realized that the father had lived his life in devotion to torah study and the expectancy of Messiah's coming. His life, so lived, gave his own dwelling place the fragrance of what he hoped for. Thus it was necessary for him to smell the air outside his house to know if what he hoped for had truly appeared.

May our faith and devotion create such an aroma in our own dwelling places!

Spring Crocus
Spring Crocus

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