Thursday, March 21, 2013

On the Death of My Tomato Plants (chop wood, carry water)

I planted them less than three weeks ago and it looks like they won't make it. It was foolish to try to use an area which receives such little sun to try to grow tomatoes, but it was the only spot available. Now, their leaves which were green when planted are beginning to whither and droop. I couldn't have been more faithful in my watering and care for them, I just wish there was more I could have done.

Gardening is therapeutic, but risky. There's no guarantee of growth in the real world. Picking up tomatoes year-round at the grocery store robs you of the knowledge, the understanding, of how those tomatoes came to be there.

Useless disciplines and rituals are useful. Getting up everyday, watering the garden, and turning the soil is useful to my soul. Do I need these plants to grow? No, I live in America and have access to strawberries and tomatoes whenever I want. Do I need to work the garden? Yes.

Lent is a season of self-denial. We practice deprivation in hopes of a closer relationship with God and a closer understanding of Christ's sacrifice for us. We don't do this because God asked us to--He didn't. Hebrews 7 says the law of works-righteousness is useless for bringing about perfection. With that in mind, it would seem weird to practice "useless" rituals and follow "useless" self-imposed rules in order to get close to a God who set us free from laws and rituals.

You don't buy someone a gift because they asked for it. That's not love. A man doesn't buy a woman a ring because she demands a ring, that's an unhealthy relationship. However, a man will buy a woman a ring because he loves her and because she hasn't asked for it. GK Chesterton says it better:
Men will ask what selfish sort of woman it must have been who ruthlessly exacted tribute in the form of flowers, or what an avaricious creature she can have been to demand solid gold in the form of a ring; just as they ask what cruel kind of God can have demanded sacrifice and self denial. They will have lost the clue to all that lovers have meant by love; and will not understand that it was because the thing was not demanded that it was done.
The Master Himself said those who have been forgiven little love little (Luke 7:47) and I've been forgiven a whole heap. It's the one who knows he can't repay his debt who forever is paying it. These disciplines, including gardening, are roads to enlightenment. The mundane, when done repeatedly, has the mark of God on it.
Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
This Zen proverb is truth. The mundane tasks are roads to enlightenment for the enlightened. If you see God in every tomato plant, planting them brings enlightenment. If you find God in a walk outside, each step--right then left--brings enlightenment. To live is Christ. Life is in Christ. Look for Him in your morning commute, in your workout, in your meals, and you'll find Him. Eventually, you will sound to your friends like you're singing the old Christmas song, "Do you see what I see?" as you experience the reality which is waiting to be revealed to you, a reality of two worlds collided in one beautiful event. A daily Easter. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What is more important?

There's a terrible trend in modern Christianity. Actually, to call this trend "modern" is misleading, because its roots are as old as Aristotle. Western philosophy would have you believe in two worlds: heaven and earth. God and the angels and all the faithful departed are in heaven, while we are far, far away toiling on earth in our mortal flesh.

This wasn't the philosophy of Jesus. First century Palestine wasn't a place concerned with the future. Jesus was talking to people trying to survive. Jesus spoke of heaven and hell briefly, but He spent the bulk of His time here on earth teaching people how to survive and thrive. Life to the fullest--Jesus' self-proclaimed reason for coming, doesn't start after death.

Focusing on the future, especially the afterlife, robs you of the most precious thing in the world: this moment. No breath is more important than the one you are currently taking. No world is more perfectly suited to you than the one in which you already live. Besides, if we are to take Ephesians 1:10 seriously, Jesus has already united heaven and earth anyway. As citizens of heaven, each breath brings you closer to God. You can't breathe tomorrow's air yet.

Living in the moment, what I call "momentous living," solves a lot of life's problems. Jesus rebuked worrying by asking if worriers if they can add a single hour to their life (Luke 12:25). They can't. Worrying is a waste of time you cant get back. Jesus' masterful example of contentment is on display here. There's no reason to worry about anything in this life, unless you want to make a habit out of doubting God's provision.

Easy for me to say, right? I have enough money to eat every day, and my light bill stays paid. I really don't have any major problems, so it's easy for me to not worry about the future, right?

I have a hard time being content in what I find myself doing. I am constantly wanting new places, new things, new experiences, I am constantly daydreaming about made-up future events. Daydreaming and worrying look different, but have the same problem. Both are vandals to the present. Both despise your contentment and joy and will stop at nothing to see your eyes darkened with dissatisfaction.

You're in heaven! Right now! It may not feel that way, but it is. God's presence is yours for the asking. You have access to worlds of joy in this moment if you decide to take it captive for the loving gaze of the Father. An hour spent in silent contemplation of God's beauty is worth more than a day spent planning for the future. A content life is the garden in which joy digs deep roots.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wall-Buster

In Ephesians 1:10, Paul summarizes the reason behind Christ’s coming to earth as to bring all things together, both heavenly things and earthly things, in Him. Christ has brought all things together, creating a new Kingdom for us to walk through in our daily lives. The Kingdom of heaven, the eternal Kingdom of our Father, is here on this earth now for us. We are to live lives which spread the word and works of this Kingdom.

In Ephesians 2, we see another dividing wall breaking down. Paul talks to the Gentiles in Ephesus, reminding them they were cut off from the covenant of promise. This covenant was given in Genesis 12 to Abraham. God promised Abraham He would bless all people through him—that promise is being fulfilled now in us. Christ brought near those who were far away and gave peace to the Jews who were already near.

An important point here is Paul makes it clear the Jews needed Jesus as well. They had forgotten to become a blessing to the world and were instead becoming focused on man-made laws and traditions. Their religion was getting in the way of what God wanted to do through them. Jesus is bigger than traditions, He is bigger than religion, and just like the veil in the Temple was torn in two, the dividing wall between man-made groups is torn down by the resurrected Savior. His love overflows the walls we create. He also took away the need to be at-odds or antagonistic towards one another because Christ makes peace. He is always our example and is showing us a better, more peaceful way to live.

Too often we settle in to our cliques and forget to continue to reach out to new people. When we make new friends, our life is blessed by them. When we add new people to our groups, our groups are made better, more diverse, and more unique. Life isn’t meant to be lived in a bubble, in a clique, or in exclusivity. Instead, we need to be modeling Christ’s wall-busting love in our daily activity.

Coffee is a passion of mine. When you add the perfect amount of ground coffee to the right amount of hot water, magic happens. Ground coffee by itself isn’t very good. It is bitter and basically useless. Hot water can make you gag. It isn’t refreshing and no one drinks it by itself. However, these two elements joined together make a new thing which blesses my morning.

In the same way, God took the Israelites, a group which had become stagnant and unwilling to move beyond man-made legalism and brought in the Gentiles, a group cut off from the covenants and without any knowledge of God, and made them into something new. For too long the "people of God" thought their status was an exclusive right. They thought they had punched their ticket to escape this life into a new status in the next. God is concerned with this life, and with blessing all people. This new creation--the Church-- is God’s poem, as Ephesians 2:10 says in the Greek, it exists to bless the world in the ways God had planned from the beginning.

Be a blessing. Live a life focused on your status as on mission for an eternal Kingdom which you can experience here and now. Break down walls because of the walls that have been broken down for you. Most importantly, be filled with love that can’t be contained by rules or restrictions or religion.

About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.