Trees, Forest and Eternity

Tree_forestI am fascinated by the both/and nature of Jesus. So often we are tempted to put Him into a box; even pastors from the pulpit put Him into a box of theologically constructed rules and regulations. But Jesus has none of that.

 For instance, in John 14:2-3 Jesus is teaching to both the disciples present and to you and I today. “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

Trees

In the foreground in the picture above is a single tree. It is an alpine tree so it is not as full as trees at lower elevations. This tree represents the person to whom Jesus is teaching. That person is the disciple in the upper room sitting at His feet in rapt attention and it is also the reader of Scripture in 2014 riding the subway to work. It is a timeless message to each individual that has accepted Jesus into their lives. It is a promise that has not yet run its course. It is an equal promise to all that have eyes to see and ears to hear. It is a promise of an eternal destiny with Jesus for evermore.

Forest

In the background is the forest—a whole bunch of individual trees gathered together in an evergreen community, withstanding all that the elements of climate can throw at them. The trees are the community of Christ-followers. This community is both local and global. It is both then and now. It is past, present and future. This is the Kingdom of Christ being built throughout the centuries one tree at a time.

The Mountain and Eternity

The mountain sits in the very back of the picture. The mountain is immoveable, ever-present, majestic and beautiful. That is our destiny, the mountaintop of forever existence with Jesus.

Yes, it is true, that we can’t really see the final destiny with our eyeballs; we can, however, sense it in our inner being by way of the Holy Spirit. And yes, many of us, myself included, suffer pain of some sort every day this side of our Eternal Destiny. Yet we know that one day when we do finally arrive at that Eternal Destiny that all pain will cease, we will be completely redeemed, restored and made new (see Rev. 21 & 22 and 1 Cor. 15).

 Endurance

But like the bike ride it took to get to place to take this picture or to climb the mountain in the background we need endurance. Marathoners need endurance as do backpackers and parents. Those that suffer chronic pain or unspeakable persecution need endurance. Jesus needed endurance. We get our endurance with proper care of our bodies through nutrition, training and rest; but we also need to prepare for spiritual endurance by absorbing Scripture, spending time in prayer—which is really communion with the Father, and by being connected to our local forest whether it be a church, home group or a huddle of refugees.

 But to all of us, both then and now, the promise still holds true, that Jesus is preparing a place for us and one day we will all be with Him for ever more, amen.

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Cycling to Sisters and: The Why

Miller_tour_1

Climbing up Tombstone pass, portions of which pitch to a ten percent grade, causes one to ask the question: why am I doing this? My lungs weren’t exploding but my quads were. Even though I had already put in nearly 1,000 base miles, I had not trained for hills this big, especially in the altitude we were moving into. Again, the question, why?

 I don’t know.

 The day before Tombstone, we had ridden from Keizer to Sweet Home, about 58 miles and change. And of course, there were hills, big hills; but nothing like Tombstone. In fact, it was uphill for 40 miles from Sweet Home to the top of Tombstone, 11 miles of it between six and 10 percent in grade. What am I trying to prove?

I don’t know.

Maybe it was the thrill of the adventure, the challenge of pushing my body beyond anything I’ve done in 25 years, or maybe it was the fellowship with friends or the scenery, or wanting to see how far I could push my triple-fusion neck. Maybe it was a combination of all the above. Maybe I need to see a doctor.

 Before the trip even began I thought maybe I’d get some nice quality prayer time while spending hours in the saddle. But that didn’t happen. I was suffering too much to truly pray other than pleading for help up this massive mountain that seemed to head straight up into space. I prayed I wouldn’t get hit by the many cars speeding by. I prayed my dizziness wouldn’t all of the sudden cause me to veer into the speeding traffic or off the side of the gravelly canyon. Oh yes, I prayed, it just wasn’t the prayer of solitude, but more the prayer of panic. Why?

 I don’t know.

 But I made it. Granted, I didn’t turn a pedal on every mile but I rose to the primary challenges while also being humbled—humbled by the hills, humbled by my slowness, and humbled by the loss of former physical abilities. I am not 28 anymore and I do have a compromised spine. I also have a loving God that allows me to participate in such endeavors.

And perhaps this is the answer to the why, deepening humility while also, as ironic as it sounds, deepening my gratefulness to God. I did draw closer to Jesus if only in recognizing that, yes, He was with my in the terrifying descent down the Santiam Pass and into Sisters. He was with me on the last arduous climb the day after Sisters where I swore I’d quite riding (although I was riding less than 24 hours later after we got home). He was with me as I was so dizzy I could hardly keep my bike in a straight line. And He is still with me now, even after such a quest; a quest I didn’t need to do other than verifying to my own soul that, yes, even now, I am alive, I am well, but even more, I am alive and I am living life, not letting life live me.

 That I do know.

Freedom in Christ and Hot Air Balloons

Hot air ballon 

As I was praying this morning in my den chair next to the window, I heard a familiar whooshing noise. Looking out the window I was not surprised to see the multi-colored hot air balloon barely rising above the rooftops one street over. This same balloon flies on most calm summer mornings. Ever-so-slowly it sinks toward the homes, then a stream of fire shoots up into the opening at the bottom of the balloon and then the whooshing sound hits my ears. Now the balloon is gaining altitude, catching a soft southerly breeze and keeps on moving.

How ironic to see such a sight as I was struggling in prayer. Jesus said that if we abide in His word we “shall know the truth and shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Except I wasn’t feeling so free. I felt like the balloon heading for the pointy rooftops. But just as the balloon, I needed to fuel my sagging soul with the fire of God via his Scripture.

Suddenly I started realizing that being free as Jesus described didn’t just happen. He clearly said that if we abide in His word then we will be made free. ‘Abide’ means dwell, or become at home in or even to endure. As the balloon pilot shoots a jet of fire into the bowels of the balloon, so do I need a similar jet of fire shot into the bowels of my being. Such a fiery shot comes via Scripture. Prayer is good, journaling is good, but the essence of the freedom is in the Scripture. How much do I know? How much of what I know do I actually live out? If I only know Scripture, that is, I’ve memorized, but I don’t live it out in my daily life, I am not abiding; I have not made myself at home in God’s Word. I am merely a passing visitor.

However, if I intentionally strive to understand the Scripture and live it out daily to the best of my ability and in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, then I am abiding. I may only be abiding in a small room in the overall dwelling of God because my knowledge is limited, I am still abiding. Jesus wasn’t talking quantity, He was talking quality. So the more time we spend abiding in Scripture to then live out in our daily lives, the freer we will become.

Rest for the Soul While in the Saddle

Trek Bike“All I wanted to do was ride my bike.”
–Chris Froome, Tour de France winner from his book, Climb

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
–Jesus, Matthew 11:29

These two quotes, while seemingly unrelated, were pounding in my head with each laborious pedal stroke. I was climbing a hill, more like a mountain, something like a 90% grade, and … okay, it wasn’t that steep but it felt like it should have been! I was attacking the hill at a blisteringly slothful pace, in fact, my cyclometer was mocking me by registering only 1 mph. But I didn’t care, it was Saturday, grad school was done for the semester so I had no homework and I was on the road with sun, shade, wind and hills. I was alone and loving every painful second of it.

I was panting hard and resting in my soul.

The word ‘rest’ in the quote from Jesus can mean an inner quieting, a calming of the internal seas of thought and motion; or as Strong’s Concordance states it is an intermission or cessation from motion. For me, on that hill and most of the time on my bike it is an inner quieting. I often pray as I ride, not just that I won’t get killed by a car or wipe out on the descent, but I also pray thankfulness and worship because I am blessed to be doing something I love. In fact, I even invite Jesus to accompany me on my rides; this may sound silly but it is an intentional action on my part to acknowledge the Lord’s ever-presence. This brings a quietness to my soul.

Part of the quietness is steeped in contentment. I am content on my bike. Even as my friends have nicer bikes and are stronger riders, I am still content doing my best. My bike serves me well and it is the nicest I’ve ever owned (it’s a Trek 1.5). I’ve improved a little bit from last year and my fitness level is pretty high. There’s no reason not to be content, even on the big hills or in unrelenting headwinds; eventually I crest the hills to then enjoy the speed down the other side and strong headwinds often become strong tailwinds, allowing me to cruise at a much faster pace than normal. It’s awesome to be speeding along with little to no effort, it’s like sailing on asphalt!

The word ‘soul’ is really the inner core of our being, the ‘seat’ of all of our thoughts and feelings, it’s also caller our ‘heart.’ So Jesus is saying that in Him the inner core of our being, the very nature of our existence can rest, have intermission, can quiet down as we take His yoke onto our lives. The word ‘yoke’ will be explored at another time, but it has nothing to do with fulfilling works or with eggs!

On the bike I concentrate on the road directly in front of me, or on my breathing or on my pedal strokes amidst my prayers. I don’t have time nor inclination to worry about my future; besides, I need to make sure I am not riding through broken glass or jagged little rocks that litter the shoulders (when there are shoulders). For a brief time I am living in the now, I am actually present with the moment rather than worrying about the future or lamenting about the past. All that is is now, there is nothing else, that is, of course, until I arrive back in in my driveway and see my youngest son playing with the sprinkler in the mud patch that used to have a hedge on it!