A Collect for Pentecost Sunday

“O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Rest for Our Souls

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28–30

For the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said: “You will be delivered by returning and resting; your strength will lie in quiet confidence. But you are not willing.”

Isaiah 30:15

The minimum bar to be enfolded into the embrace of Jesus is simply: open yourself up to him. It is all he needs. Indeed, it is the only thing he works with. Verse 28 of our passage in Matthew 11 tells us explicitly who qualifies for fellowship with Jesus: “all who labor and are heavy laden.” You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come. No payment is required; he says, “I will give you rest.” His rest is gift, not transaction. Whether you are actively working hard to crowbar your life into smoothness (“labor”) or passively finding yourself weighed down by something outside your control (“heavy laden”), Jesus Christ’s desire that you find rest, that you come in out of the storm, outstrips even your own.

Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (2020)

My wife gave me a gift this week. You see, she is a teacher who, because of the current COVID lockdown in our province, has to prepare online lessons. She goes to her school to do this. And so our twin sons and daughter have all been doing school online from home. Most weeks she takes the boys with her on a couple of days.

But one day this week, when normally both boys would go with her, one of them wasn’t feeling well. So he stayed home.

So on another day this week, she took our sons with her one morning so I could have time to myself and get some of my work done. I needed it.

And you know what? For a part of that time I sat in our living room rocking chair, did the Daily Office, prayed, read my Bible, and just sat in God’s presence. Quiet. Still. Restful.

What is rest?

If I have a very busy day or week, perhaps busier than usual, chances are I’ll need physical rest. After a hard day’s work, most of us look forward to crawling into bed. A good night’s sleep is a cure for many things.

But we need more than physical rest.

I can also find myself emotionally drained. Maybe I’ve had to deal with a difficult relationship. We all know what it’s like to have a conversation that leaves us feeling wiped. Afterwards, all we want is to rest.

And Jesus invites us to rest. More specifically, he invites us to find rest for our souls in him. And our souls are the heart of who we are. You and I are embodied souls.

While I’m sure it means much more, sometimes receiving rest for our souls means being able to rest from ourselves: our cares, worries, burdens, fears, anxieties, hopes, expectations, disappointments, and failures.

What burdens are you carrying?

What cares are you shouldering?

What’s weighing you down? What’s weighing on you?

Jesus invites you to come to him. To let him unburden you, take the weight off your shoulders, to give you rest for your soul.

But it’s an invitation. Jesus never forces or coerces.

To the church at Laodicea, (Revelation 3:20) believers who had become lukewarm in their relationship to Jesus, he says, See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

But according to the prophet Isaiah, the Israelites—God’s very own covenant people—refused this rest. Refused him.

We do too.

So often we think life, wholeness, contentment, and peace are up to us. That it’s our effort, our strength, our capabilities that will save us.

You see, Jesus gives us rest by giving us himself. His invitation is a gospel invitation. To come in and dine with us—to share table fellowship—is a sign of intimacy and relationship.

In other words, it’s Jesus’ presence that gives us rest. Him. The rest he offers is not separate from him. He is that rest.

This current COVID lockdown seems especially tiring for some reason. Perhaps it’s the cumulative effect. It’s been a long year for many of us.

Yet the rest Jesus offers—indeed, is—is available no matter what else is going on. Circumstances can’t dictate what Jesus can do—who he is, what he offers, what he provides. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Jesus is knocking on my door. He’s also knocking on yours. Rest is possible. We only have to open the door and let the author of rest in.

The Spiritual Journey Part 3: Reconstruction (Playing LEGO with Your Faith)

My 12 year old son Eli loves LEGO.

Indeed, for the last couple of years we’ve gotten him a large LEGO set either for Christmas or his birthday. He’s got a 12-inch LEGO Yoda, the Avengers quinjet, and the Batman batcave. When he opens a new set, gets out the rather large manual, he patiently and meticulously assembles all the pieces into an impressive whole. And when it comes to the big LEGO sets, once finished he puts them on display.

That’s what we call construction.

Now, there’s one thing we all know about LEGO. It doesn’t take long before a prized creation gets dissembled, its manual misplaced (or ignored), and the pieces mixed in with all the other miscellaneous LEGO pieces you have.

Thus, deconstruction.

Then the fun begins. You get to use those very same pieces to build something new. You take what you’ve been given and make it your own.

In other words, reconstruction.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it gets us going in the right direction.

During the construction stage, we receive the building blocks of faith. Others we know and trust implicitly pass on their beliefs. Because we trust them, we assume the beliefs they’ve handed on to us are true—that they are trustworthy and reliable.

When we find ourselves going through deconstruction, questions and doubts lead us to rearrange and even get rid of some of these building blocks. While this is happening, we’re not sure what will be left or what it will look like. It can be difficult and disorienting.

But like I said previously, this is a normal process that a lot of people go through.

For some, however, it leads to the abandoning of the Christian faith altogether. All the building blocks of faith end up in the trash can or packed away in a box never to be reopened. Believing nothing from their upbringing is salvageable, they post on Facebook or Instagram that they no longer believe. Sometimes along with a serene image of themselves sitting on a lakeshore under calm blue skies. Shades of Psalm 23’s lead me beside still waters, except without the Good Shepherd anywhere in sight.

But where does this process lead? Where can we expect or hope to end up? That brings us to reconstruction. In his book After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith Without Losing it, A.J. Swoboda describes reconstruction this way: “Having asked, challenged, and prodded, we return a second time to the same faith we were handed . . . after doing the complex and exhausting work of putting it through the fire.”

When it comes to reconstruction, I need to point out that this part of the spiritual journey is only possible when we go through deconstruction honestly. Only if we are asking our questions sincerely and seeking genuine answers will we arrive again where we once began, this time with the roots of our beliefs having penetrated that much more deeply into the soil of our hearts and minds.

The truth is, some jettison their faith not for theological, spiritual, intellectual, or ethical reasons. Instead, they do so because they simply want to live how they want to live, sleep with whomever they want to sleep with, make choices which make them happy, without worrying about what God, the Bible, or the church has to say. This is not healthy deconstruction. This is the rejection of the Christian faith. And they are most decidedly not the same.

All those years ago, when I first began wrestling with what I believed, there were a few things that really helped me. For starters, I began reading the Bible. I took university classes on the Bible. I actually bought my first Bible! Thankfully, my professor was actually a Christian even though I was attending a secular university (Mount Allison). I learned about the history of the Bible, the different literary genres of the Bible, and of course the actual content of the different books of the Bible.

So don’t let your questions about the Bible keep you from reading it. Perhaps you need a fresh way to engage the text of Scripture. Purchase a new study Bible, like the ESV or CSB study Bible. Or pick up a “Reader’s Bible.” This is the kind of Bible that removes all the chapter and verse divisions which are not part of the original manuscripts, allowing you to read it without dissecting it into disconnected bits. Many different translations offer Reader’s Bibles. You can also subscribe to Bible Gateway and you will get access to all kinds of Bible dictionaries, commentaries, devotionals, and atlases. Buy Gordon Fee’s How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. It’s a classic book that is accessible and helpful.

In other words, make use of resources that can help you understand the cultural, literary, and historical aspects of the Bible.

On the one hand, the Bible’s basic, foundational story about God and salvation are easy enough for a young child to grasp. On the other hand, how each story, character, and book of the Bible fits into this foundational story isn’t always simple to grasp. We all need help to understand.

Something else that was key for me was community. While going through this process I still went to church. I got involved with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. I spent time with other believers, including people my own age from a variety of church backgrounds. I had other people of faith encouraging me. I didn’t isolate myself or reject the church. Even during the season when I didn’t know what church I could be a part of anymore. This meant that as I was wrestling with my questions, I wasn’t alone.

For some, it might feel strange to go to church when you’re struggling with what you believe. Perhaps seeing other people who don’t have your questions makes you feel awkward. Could be you think that you wouldn’t be welcome if people were aware of your doubts. But while I can understand and imagine some situations when a person might stop going to church for a time, cutting yourself off from your family of faith will leave you spiritually vulnerable. We always need people in our lives who are there to listen to our doubts, ask us tough questions, and to encourage us. Maybe you’ll discover someone else in your church who not only has asked the same questions, but has thought through their answers too. I’m guessing they’d be glad to share.

I’ll also say this. If you find yourself in a period of doubt and wrestling, identify the questions you have. Write them down. Be specific. Try to capture in words as best as you can what is making you uneasy about your faith and what you were taught to believe. Do the work of going after answers to those questions. Is your struggle with the reliability of the Bible? Find resources to help you with that. Is it a particular doctrine? Find out what the Bible and the Christian tradition has historically said on the matter. Is it how Christians deal with certain social and cultural issues, like human sexuality? I can help if you don’t know how to find such resources.

And remember, like Pastor and author Timothy Keller once said, “Doubt your doubts.” In fact, go read this article Keller wrote a few years back. In it he discusses five doubts you can doubt. His books, The Reason for God and Making Sense of God are both fantastic, though the first is much more accessible than the latter.

Know this: God can handle your doubts and questions. They don’t surprise or anger him. In Jude 1:22 it says to have mercy on those who doubt. Surely, if Scripture tells us to have mercy on those who doubt, God’s mercy for those who struggle with doubt and questions must be infinitely vast. Keeping this in mind throughout the process is also very important. You can bring your hard questions to God. You can still pray, even when you’re wrestling with your faith and not entirely sure of everything you believe.

One final thought. Even if you’re not someone who has doubts and questions assaulting your heart and mind, it’s still a good idea to build up your faith and to increase your understanding of the Bible and Christian theology. Don’t wait until you begin struggling with your faith.

Romans 12:2 says Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says we are to destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

1 Peter 3:15 says in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

When we learn to do this well and in the midst of Christian community, then we will discover that on the other side of deconstruction not only is our faith intact but stronger and deeper than before.

A Prayer Before You Close Your Eyes

“Come, O Spirit of God, and make within us your dwelling place and home. May our darkness be dispelled by your light, and our troubles calmed by your peace; may all evil be redeemed by your love, all pain transformed through the suffering of Christ, and all dying glorified in his risen life. Amen.”