In Jesus Completeness is Restored

Life_in_Tension_web“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Our tension with God, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, arises out of our incompleteness. We are created in God’s image, but only as a complement with our spouse, or future spouse, and then only incompletely. We remain separated from God by our unholiness and by our finitude. We yearn to complete our incompleteness; we yearn to be whole. We remain creatures of God’s creation. Yet, gardeners thrown out of the garden.

So we have reminders.

We are reminded by mere physical things: an empty stomach hungers; a dry mouth thirsts; our loneliness.

We are reminded by our limitations. We fail to keep our promises and to realize our potential.

We are reminded also by spiritual deficits. Our sin cuts us off both from our neighbors and from God. We fall short of the mark; we transgress boundaries; we fail to do the things that we should.

So we are thrown out of the garden.

Out of the garden, we feel shame and guilt.

Out of the garden, we cannot realize our destiny.

Out of the garden, completeness and holiness and fellowship with God are out of our reach.

So Jesus offers us a path back back to wholeness.

Back to restoration and healing.

Back to the garden and our destiny.

Back to our completeness and holiness and fellowship with our maker.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6 ESV)

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Fools for Christ

Life_in_Tension_web“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure” (1 Cor. 4:10-12 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Where is your identity?

The Apostle Paul talked about being a fool for Christ. Why? Paul lived the life of an itinerant evangelist, much like Jesus himself. He traveled from place to place preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As far as we know it, he was never married or had any children. Being highly educated, Paul gave up a priestly or academic life to pursue his calling as an evangelist to the Gentiles.

Can you image attending your 30th anniversary of receiving your doctorate [1] and telling your fellow graduates:

“I am talking like a madman– with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11:23-28)

Doubtlessly, Paul’s classmates were synagogue leaders, high priests, government officials, and college professors. Do you suppose that he hungered and thirsted for righteousness sake? Paul treated his hunger and thirst like his resume as an evangelist—he even refused a salary from the Corinthian church to maintain his integrity as an evangelist [2].

Yet, Paul’s life of service no doubt also put him in tension with God. Paul talked about his thorn in the flesh and struggling with God in prayer (2 Cor. 12:7-8). And he must have anguished over God’s answer to his prayer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Who brags about weaknesses? Paul did (2 Cor. 12:9). Still, you can bet that Paul struggled and anguished over God’s object lesson!

If our identity is in Christ, then we are reminded of our identity through the sacraments which both focus on objects of hunger (bread) and thirst (water/wine). Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine (John 2:1-10). Another important miracle involved multiplying bread and fish (John 6:11). Yet, after Jesus’ longest recorded discourse with the Samaritan women about living water, Jesus refers to the word of God as food (John 4:32) [3].  Clearly, our identity is in Christ and not in the sacraments or in the physical objects of hunger and thirst. When tempted by Satan to turn a stone into bread, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” (Luke 4:4)

Out of our identity, we act.

The New Testament provides numerous examples of ministering out of our identity in Christ with food and water, including:

  • “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” (Matt. 25:37)
  • “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Rom. 12:20)
  • “And he said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:6)

If the first sin of the bible was to lust after an apple (Gen 6), then it is only fitting that the mark of the disciple would be the sharing of food and drink (Matt 25:37)—modeling after the behavior of Christ himself (Rev 21:6).

 

[1] My 30th anniversary is December 13, 2015.

[2] “Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge?” (2 Cor. 11:7)  Also: “Do we not have the right to eat and drink?” (1 Cor. 9:4)

[3] “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isa. 40:28-31)

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Hunger and Thirst for God

Life_in_Tension_web“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, Where is your God?” (Ps. 42:1-3 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The great irony of faith is that we approach God out of our poverty, not riches. Babylon and Egypt were among the riches of nations in the Ancient Near East because of the benefits of irrigation, while Palestine was mostly poor and best known for its deserts. Yet, it is in the wilderness that we get to know God (Card 2005, 16).

What do the law and the prophets say about satisfying the hunger and thirst for righteousness?

The Law. Hunger and thirst were unknown in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis we read:

“And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.” (Gen. 2:8-10 ESV)

In the Garden of Eden was an abundance of food and water. Righteousness consisted of living in direct communion with God. Hunger and thirst arose when God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden on account of sin (Gen 3:23). Consequently, hungering and thirsting for righteousness can be seen as mourning over the sin that separates us from God.

We see this idea prominently displayed in the blessings associated with the Mosaic covenant. Seeking a renewed relationship with God is caste in terms of obeying the laws of the covenant. Moses writes:

“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full.” (Deut. 11:13-15 ESV)

If one obeys the law, God will send rain and you gather a full harvest and have plenty to eat—be satisfied. Likewise, if one reluctantly obeys the law or disobeys the law out of disrespect for God, then hunger and thirst follow:

“Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.” (Deut. 28:47-48 ESV) [1].

Consequently, it is fair to conclude that under the law one reaps what one sows in respect to one’s relationship with God! In fact, hungering and thirsting for mere physical things, not God, is subject to judgment (Exod 17:3) [2].

The Prophets. In the law, one reaps what one sows. In the prophets, the wise are clever and the foolish are ignorant of the ways of the world. For example, we read in Proverbs:

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Prov. 25:21-22 ESV)

Because God rules over both heaven and earth, understanding the ways of the world is an aspect of wisdom that God grants to the faithful. In this case, the wise feed their enemies and offer them drink because they will feel an obligation—will they perhaps become friends?

In the prophets, we also see hunger and thirst used in a more metaphorical way. For example, Jeremiah prophesies a new, more enlightened form of leadership:

“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15 ESV)

The good shepherd is, of course, Jesus himself (John 10:11-16) but here we see hunger relieved through “knowledge and understanding” rather than through physical consumption. This metaphorical view of hunger and thirst clearly shows the influence of the creation accounts and pictures heaven as a return to Eden. In Isaiah, for example, we read:

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isa. 55:1-2 ESV)

Eden is, of course, a place where water and food are abundant. And when we hunger and thirst for God’s fellowship, heaven is not far off (Rev. 22:17).

[1] This theme is repeated over and over (e.g. Deut. 8:11-16).

[2] This is, in fact, the basis for the curse for not accepting the new covenant in Christ.  Paul writes:  “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom. 1:28 ESV)  To be given over to one’s passions is a curse and it leads to self-destruction because both the mind and the heart are corrupted by sin.

REFERENCES

Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

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Jesus: Passionately Pursue the Kingdom of Heaven

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

With the fourth beatitude we move from tension with ourselves to tension with God. Beatitudes four, five, and six speak of God’s righteousness, mercy, and purity—which we can never fully attain. Our tension emanates from our finitude compared with an infinite God and our sinfulness compared with God’s holiness. Yet, we go on knowing that we are created in the image of God (Gen 1:28) and redeemed by His Son, Jesus Christ, because we hunger for God’s righteousness—a precious thing in a fallen world.

The fourth beatitude taps into deep physical and spiritual needs outlined in the words: “hunger and thirst for righteousness”.  Hunger in the Greek, πεινάω, means both “to feel the pangs of lack of food, hunger, be hungry” and “desire something. strongly, hunger for something” (BDAG 5758) which bridges both physical and spiritual needs (Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21).  Likewise, thirst, διψάω, in the Greek means both “to have a desire for liquid, be thirsty, suffer from thirst” and “to have a strong desire to attain some goal, thirst, i.e. long for something” (BDAG 2051). Righteousness, δικαιοσύνη, means the: “quality or state of juridical correctness with focus on redemptive action, righteousness” (BDAG 2004(2))

The  Gospel of John expresses this symbolism best.  Jesus says:

  • “Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV)
  • On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  (John 7:37-39 ESV)

The theme of need runs deep in John’s Gospel.  Jesus first reveals himself to a couple of newlyweds in danger of being stigmatized for their poverty (not having enough wine; John 2:1-11). Our need is then contrasted with God’s super-abundant provision—of wine (John 2:1-11), bread (John 6:5-14), and fish (John 21:3-13).

Still, to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” speaks of extreme suffering:   the most basic of human needs have gone unmet. The laments in the Book of Psalms provide the backstory of this beatitude [1].  There we read: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1 ESV) And “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” (Ps. 89:46 ESV)  [2]. It is ironic that we are able to experience God best when we wander in the desert.  As God tells Moses:  “And you shall say to him [Pharaoh], The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” (Exod. 7:16 ESV)  In other words, God was inviting the Israelite people to rediscover the God of their fathers through adversity—this idea must have blown Pharaoh’s mind! (Card 2005, 16)

The second beatitude affirms that the expectations of human needs will be met and exceeded.  Jesus reassures the disciples later in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:31-33 ESV)

Amidst our suffering and need, Jesus gives the disciples permission to pray for the simplest needs in life: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11 ESV). Jesus’ God is one  who cares deeply about his people. Even in judgment God cares for his people: the righteous are separated from the wicked by their attitude about and care for those in need (Matt 25:31-46).

[1] Christian songwriter Michael Card (2005, 19 ) writes at length about lament.  A lament has two parts.  The first part is cathartic–we pour out our hearts to God emptying ourselves of the anger, fear, hatred, and other vile emotions that we harbor.  Once this catharsis is complete, then in part two are hearts are open to remember God grace and mercy to us in the past and we are able to praise God from the bottom of our hearts.

[2] Modern atheism feeds from this painful stream. Modern atheists question God’s provision and care: if God is all powerful and all good, then the existence of suffering and evil suggests that God is either not all powerful or not good or not both—he does not exist. In contrast, Jesus testifies that those who passionately seek righteousness will be satisfied. The Greek word here for satisfy, χορτάζω, means “to experience inward satisfaction in something be satisfied” (BDAG 7954). Far from deserting us, in life Jesus suffered alongside of us, on the cross paid our penalty for sin, and in resurrection became our guarantor.  “While some continue to argue that Auschwitz disproves the existence of God, many more would argue that it demonstrates the depths to which humanity, unrestrained by any thought or fear of God, will sink.” (McGrath 2004, 184).

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide:  Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

McGrath, Alister. 2004. The Twilight of Atheism. New York: DoubleDay.

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Jesus: Lead Out of Meekness

Life_in_Tension_web“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:17 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Meekness is an aspirational character trait and the mark of a natural leader. Tension arises within us because perfection in meekness is not within our grasp. Tension arises between us because leadership involves care and defense of the weaker among us. Tension arises with God because God pushes us to grow pushing our limits while our meekness forces us to live with the pain that growth entails.

Leadership Temptations. The unique thing about meekness is that it is invisible until tested. After his baptism, Jesus: “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2 ESV) The devil posed 3 tests:

1. Turn a stone into bread;

2.  Become my vassal; and

3.  Throw yourself down (Luke 4:4,7,9).

What is surprising about this story is that Jesus does not remain silent. He has been fasting and wandering the desert. Still, his answers are descriptive, not hauty. Jesus responds to the devil by citing 3 verses taken from the Book of Deuteronomy [1]. Nouwen (1989, 7-8) sees these tests as common leadership temptations. Namely, the temptation to be relevant, powerful, and spectacular [2]. He (82) observes that: “Christian leadership…is not leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the sufferign servant of Good, Jesus Christ, is made manifest.” In a word, Nouwen sees the Christian leader as meek, like the one who sent him.

Tension Within. The Apostle Paul talks about pursuing “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Tim. 6:11 ESV) He does not claim to have succeeded in obtaining them. Instead, he talks about inner tension:

“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom. 7:18-19 ESV)

If Paul as an apostle of Jesus Christ cannot in his own power attain all the gifts of the spirit, including meekness, then we also must recognize that the journey of faith will have its ups and downs, and not dispair when we cannot attain perfection in Christ.

Tension With Others. A common complaint among pastors is that their job is 24-7. They are always on duty and called to be a good example. It is like living in a transparent tent in the middle of a parking lot. I always feel compelled, for example, to drive the speed limit when I am wearing a clerical collar—a heavy cross to bear living in the Washington Metro area! People are watching. Pastor, are you really meek?

A friend of mine asked: Isn’t meekness a personal attribute? How can you be meek when you are responsible for other people? One response is that Christian leadership is sacrificial. During his time in prison, for example, Bonhoeffer continued to function as a pastor being allowed to counsel other immates, even the guards (Metaxas 2010, 448). Sacrificial leadership can be painful and, yet, may never be appreciated. Several levels of meekness may be required.

Tension With God. Sacrificial leadership can also lead to suffering, which is never fun. Jesus was meek. But on the cross he also had a moment of dispair crying: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV) Yet, in this moment of dispair he cites Psalm 22 which later ends in praise: “You who fear the LORD, praise him!” (Ps. 22:23 ESV)

We can be meek in the face of suffering, in part, because we know that the future is in Christ—we know that suffering is not the end of the story. The implication of the resurrection of Christ is that we too will share in his victory. As the Apostle Paul writes: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55 ESV)

[1] “…man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut. 8:3 ESV) “It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” (Deut. 6:13 ESV) “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test…” (Deut. 6:16 ESV)

[2] Scazzero (2006, 75-78) phrases these temptations more personally as the temptation to perform, to possess, and to be popular.

REFERENCES

Metaxas, Eric. 2012. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1989. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Scazzero, Peter. 2006. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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