From Tent to Palace

I love to go backpacking. I love the whole process of packing my backpack, getting the dogs and food, hiking into the woods and setting the campsite up. I tend to go overkill and make a nice spot with hammock and a comfy tent (and I even bring 2 pillows because I’m like my comfort, even when camping). Yup, camping is sweet. But it’s not where I live, thank the Lord! For me, when I’m out in the wilderness, it’s a mixture between enjoyment and longing. I really enjoy being out there because it is so peaceful, fun and simple. But it’s also fun because it’s short term. If I had to live out in the forest, it wouldn’t really be much fun.

This is the illustration Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 5 when talking about this world and the next:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

Our current “tent” (our physical bodies and this current form of creation) is brokenly beautiful. And utterly temporary. Yet we all spend the vast majority of our resources making our tent comfy, with extra pillows and hammocks. We spend our time, money, obsessions etc etc on that which simply cannot last. On the one hand we ought to enjoy and dance in this “tent” we’ve been gifted, while also not worshiping it and acting like it’s the end-all, be-all. We have a greater tent God is preparing in advance for us. A “realer” tent that will swallow up this tent. What we have here won’t just vanish, it will be ingested into the REAL creation when God re-creates this broken beauty (our bodies, forests, relationships, animals etc). One day the clock will stop ticking and LIFE will overwhelm, overcome and overtake the fallen world. We saw this in it’s initial phase on the cross when Jesus, who was/is LIFE in the flesh, allowed darkness and death to overcome him so that, when he rose again, his LIFE would reverse the curse of sin and bring hope to our otherwise futile world.

So on the one hand…enjoy! This “camping trip” we are on can be beautifully bitter sweet. But what makes it even more enjoyable is knowing that it is temporary. I can give my entire self away because before the blink of an eye, it will be transformed into something more “real” that will reveal our current world as a fleeting shadow that is being transformed into glory .

See C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce for an amazing little short story that illuminates this concept.


Advent 3: Joy – Nostalgic Anticipation

Luke 2:10-11 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Peace on Earth? Joy to the World?

It’s easy (and natural) to be overwhelmed by life and all the craziness that swamps our time, heart and relationships. It’s  easy for fear to sneak up on us and joy to elude us. To be honest, even knowing what Peace and Joy even are is the real issue. We typically (even inadvertently) allow our current circumstances to determine the quantity and quality of peace and joy we have. But the truth behind the facade is that peace and joy are not circumstantial but relational; not in flux but permanently acquired on our behalf; not an emotion but a faith-perspective. Peace at it’s root means being whole and complete, the way we’ve been Designed (in Eden) and the way we are Destined (in Heaven) to one day be again. Joy at it’s root is the perspective to see this peace that Jesus has purchased on our behalf on the cross as he fully paid for God’s righteous anger, and to live it out regardless of the ebb and flow of circumstantial emotions that often dictate our perspectives. But this is so far beyond our abilities. We cannot just tighten our faith-belt and believe better. We need, like the shepherds in this passage, need to have heavenly voices sing over us and remind us of the True Gospel; that God himself came to heal all that is broken; bring life into all that is dead; to draw near all those who are far off. Jesus is God himself as a baby, come to be our Ultimate King to lead us back (even through stormy seas) to our Home of Peace. Joy is NOSTALGIC ANTICIPATION: the ability to live in the present while looking backwards with nostalgia at who we were in Eden and simultaneously looking forward with anticipation our Life to come (which C.S. Lewis calls an “insatiable longing”)…like when you see Christmas presents under the tree and think about what that was like when you were a kid as well as what it might be like this upcoming Christmas morning when everybody is together enjoying the celebration.

This is actually more natural for us than we think. Do you remember a time you unexpectedly were overwhelmed by a specific nostalgic scent? Maybe a perfume or a food that instantly brought you back to a glorious time in life? I was sitting downstairs this past week when Amy (my wife) was surprising me by making some toffee. The scent wound it’s way down the stairs and into my heart. I was immediately transported to a time when I was a kid in the grandmother’s kitchen during Christmas. It also transported me to the time when I would feast on the toffee currently being made. That is Joy! It wasn’t the scent itself as much as it was the nostalgia of what it meant to me and the anticipation of what it would soon be. That is the life Jesus has for us that is based on how we were originally designed and destined to one day fully be.

Advent 2 – Peacelessness

Peace, man.

The world would be such a better place, if only ____.
If that person would just _____, then things would be ok.
If ____ gets elected, the world would be a better place.
We all desperately search for and attempt to bring about “peace,” as defined by us individually. Some of your answers to the above little pop quiz might in fact make life and the world a better place, but that’s not the point. The reality is that there are endless opinions on those answers, and many of them are the opposite of yours (to which you say “well, if that person would just see things my way, then the world would be a better place”.) And the reason is that we all want peace, harmony and love. We are designed for that from the very beginning and spend our whole lives trying to make it back to Eden. But we do it by trying to rebuild Eden here, in this broken world among broken people. It is absolutely true that we are called to be agents of love and peace in this world, fighting for the oppressed and against darkness. But we do this not in an attempt to make heaven here and now but as an act of love spilling over from the just righteousness of our God who cares for His creation. And though we are called to be agents of peace, every worldly step forward will be temporary (though we are still called to do it).
And this is why Jesus came as the Immanuel, God With Us. He came to bring actual, perfect, eternal peace to all of creation firstly by bringing peace between us and God. Sin is our treasonous attempt to overthrow our King as we declare ourselves Lord of All. So Jesus came as a Child King from Nazareth so that, in his death, all the just-judgement that stems from our Peacelessness has been paid. How ironic that the sign that hung above Jesus’ head on the cross (“INRI”) said “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”…which mimics Luke’s account of Jesus birth:
Luke 1:26-27
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.
Jesus came full circle, from Heaven to Nazareth as the Ultimate King in the line of David to bring his people back home into perfect Eden-Shalom, into peace and rest, which motivates us and even empowers us to Live-Eden now.
Clearly this doesn’t mean that life in the here and now is easy and “feels” peaceful. Life can be really hard, but the Great War is OVER. Jesus has made a peace-treaty on our behalf. In this world we will have trouble, but Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33)!
Dig Deeper: The Bible Project is an excellent resource for young and seasoned people to engage and learn about Scripture and it’s application to real life. This link will take you to 4 Advent videos that unpack the Hebrew and/or Greek words for Peace, Hope, Joy and Love…the 4 Sundays of Advent.

Advent 1 – Eucatastrophe

I know this is awkward, and I hope you aren’t too squeamish, but this is my shoulder after my third surgery. I have the problem of being built with gymnast joints (flexible) but an obsession for competitive (and contact) sports. When you combine those two traits, the result is a myriad of bone dislocations. This scan shows the result of shoulder surgery #4 with some glorious screws holding my bones together. The thing with dislocations is that, when that bone is out of socket, you (pretty much) look normal from the outside, but the inner stuff is totally out of wack and causes horrific pain. After too many dislocation episodes I have now figured out how to get the bone back in, even if I am by myself (though that one was pretty tough, and the words that were uttered may have made some animals on the bike trail blush). But…once that bone goes in, I can’t begin to tell you the instant relief that courses through your body. It’s almost like your whole body gets put back into socket. And this is the Gospel. In our sin we are “out of socket” from the “image of God” in which we are made. We may look “normal” but we are disconnected and causing horrific pain. So Jesus became dislocated from the Father so that we could be “re-located” into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

This idea came from a letter (#89) of J.R.R.Tolkei: “I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary ‘truth’ on the second plane (….) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection (and BKL would also say about Advent) was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.”