Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Already / Not yet

If you are a Jesus-follower, you've probably figured out that this Jesus-following life can be pretty frustrating. Sometimes we talk about the already / not yet nature of this life ... how there is so much that we have been given (read the first chapter of Ephesians, for example, and see how many of the great spiritual things Paul writes about us are in the present tense -- not someday you will be, but you already are!) and we live now with forgiveness, limitless love, and a God-given identity as sons and daughters of God and co-heirs with Jesus Christ. Park on that stuff, and it's pretty amazing!

But there's a frustrating "not yet" to this life as well. In so many ways, we are like those old Israelites -- already freed from Egypt, but still wandering around the wilderness, dreaming of how great the Promised Land is going to be. If you know those stories (from Exodus and Numbers, mostly) you know that God provided a way for the people to experience a foretaste of the Promised Land when the spies went into the land and brought back fruit for the people to taste. But the people were afraid, and weren't ready to trust God for all of what he'd promised just yet. So they grumbled and rebelled, and God said, "Okay, this generation has to die off -- so you'll all spend 40 years in this wilderness and your children will go into the land." What happened? Of course, the people were chagrined and ran up to take possession of the land. And they got thoroughly trounced by the people, because God had said they had to wander a while longer.

It's a frustrating place to live, this already / not yet life.

A couple days ago I finished reading through Deuteronomy, which is basically Moses' last sermon to those Israelites just before he dies and they cross over into the land and begin to take delivery on all God has promised. I have to admit, there was a lot in the book of Deuteronomy that was uncomfortable to read. Many, many times I thought, "I'm guilty." I've broken God's law. I've gone off after my own ways, refusing to listen to his word. I've wounded my neighbors and justified my own sin. I've cowered when I should have been bold. I've been bold when I should have waited. There's plenty in that book to weigh on your heart if you're honest. And yet there is a promise there that God is good, and loving, and wants the very best for us. He's not simply waiting to punish, but he is working out his good will.

This morning I was debating where to go next in my morning reading. I spent the last couple days reading my other resources -- Oswald Chambers and the Daily Texts and John Piper's "Solid Joys" devotional -- but I was hungering to get back into the Bible itself. I thought maybe I'd read the book of Acts, but that's more of a work assignment for some of the stuff we have coming up at my church in the near future, and some of the specific projects I'll be chasing. Good stuff, but not where I want to park for my morning devotions right now. I felt a nudge to get into Matthew's gospel, so I started reading the first chapter.

And God used it to just break me open. Coming off that sense of my own sin and inadequacy in the book of Deuteronomy -- all true -- it was so life giving to read this list of sin-sick people and how God used them. As I started to read the genealogy -- the part we often blip over -- I sensed that I should consider each name and whatever stories I knew about them from the point of view of the local gossips who were talking about them over coffee at the local cafe. Oh, my. Judah and Tamar. Salmon and Rahab. Boaz and Ruth. David and the wife of Uriah. And all the rest! Then I got past the genealogy and, still listening in one ear to the hushed cackles of those gossips at breakfast, I started reading how Mary was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit, and how Joseph planned to divorce her quietly because that was the most righteous thing he could think to do. How the local chatterers must have loved dissecting all that!

Fact is, each and every one of those sinners was stuck in the wilderness, stuck in that already / not yet. And so am I. Pondering all this as I read this morning, I went back to a devotional I remembered from Oswald Chambers for July 6. (Don't ask me why I remember that date, but I do.) He says in that devotional that when we are given a vision from God of what he wants to do in and through us -- a vision of the Promised Land, in a sense -- he takes us down from the mountain into the valley and then he begins to beat us into shape to receive the vision. Fact is, when we first glimpse these things, we're not ready to receive them, so God in his grace begins to prepare us to receive his promises. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we have to endure some reshaping, some purifying, some preparation. It's a painful process, but God is doing it in love to prepare us for the glory he wants to pour into our lives.

So I suppose the question in that already / not yet time is, do I trust him? Can I recognize that God is doing good things in this waiting, and inviting me to grow into all he is preparing? Can I bring my frustration to him in the meantime without losing sight of his promises? And can I delight in him, not just in the promises, here and now?

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