The Vault of Promise
This post,, written last year, has sat in my drafts box for quite awhile, unfinished.
This Good Friday, this tomb-day, I have completed the thought and would like to share it with you.
It's been a long while since I've put thought-to-pen and it is with reluctance that I post something that I feel to be challenging, and yet, I feel compelled to put the thoughts down, to post some questions, to stir up the faith that has become strained or dormant in so many of us.
We have been in an interesting season, not just my family personally, but so many in the body of Christ. It seems that discouragement, tiredness and uncertainty have, at times, become the doorways to doubt; seeking to erode the bright spark of faith that so many of us carried in our earlier years. The enemy has been working hard up to this point, capitalising on our disappointments and unanswered questions, filling the gaps in our knowledge with doubts regarding the goodness of, the intervention of or even the existence of our Father. There seems to be a hush in the land...a space or a gap between what we once hoped and expected to see come to pass in our lives and the actual fulfillment of those things. It is as though we are in a vault - some transitional space - much like the tomb of Christ...in between death and resurrection; of promise given and fulfillment seen.
Can you relate?
When we inhabit transitional space, such as that day following the crucifixion, as experienced by Jesus' family and followers, heaven can seem silent. How often I have wondered what went through the minds and hearts of those closest to Jesus as they saw his body being unpinned from the cross. It's promise dead, as they witnessed the flesh of the Christ without animation. No breath. No movement. Just a corpse, like so many others before Him.
Did their hopes die as their expectations of how the Christ would deliver them were laid out in the tomb?
What we once knew to be true in broad daylight can easily become a shadowy memory in the vault of a tomb. Those of you who have entered this space will understand what I mean; walking between the worlds of expectation and deliverance can be a dark and dead place indeed. It may be illness, financial or relational breakdown; it may even be an existential crisis as you try to understand your existence; the pain is no less real.
We come to that point where we witness expectation crucified and hope lies wrapped in burial clothes.
Those things that we knew in brighter days are now as unclear and uncertain as a dream: our fears and the things we have learned along the way echo back at us from the tomb walls. We ask ourselves questions, like those asked, I'm sure, by the disciples at the tomb of their buried Messiah: was it
all a dream? A delusion? Were we misguided? Were the promises, the words, the hope in our heart real or are we being unrealistic to hope for something better? Something grand, powerful and meaningful? The temptation is to adjust to our new reality with lowered expectations and move as best as we can from this place.
In the absence of clear direction, in the face of brass heavens, of trial or disappointed expectation, how easy it is to fill the silence with our own answers, to let learning take place, perhaps before all the evidence has been gathered or truly understood.
While we are still in the middle of process, how easy it is to believe it is the end; or to re-eavaluate the beginning.
In these times the words of James, the brother of Jesus, are written on the stone of the wall, but it takes eyes of faith to see them '...let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.'
The implication is clear: some things take time. Faith is recognising God in the process; knowing when to hold them and when to fold them, so to speak, and that is a highly subjective experience. In the face of ambiguity, however, we do have a guiding light:
Paul tells us that '...the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.'
There are times, brothers and sisters, where we
will not be called to use our heads to find our path; we will be called to rely upon our 'spiritual discernment'. This brings many questions.
To follow the Christian faith is to believe that there are two worlds standing side by side; two realities that play out in every give moment. The one is seen and felt and touched. It is logical, progressive, clinical and mechanical; we observe it and we form courses of action and develop certain expectations, plan and contingency actions around what we observe. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with these processes; for many of us, it is all we have been taught to rely on. After all, we can only truly count on ourselves and that which is in our control...would you agree?
The Christian life challenges this notion. In fact, it's very original lies securely upon the foundation of the supernatural or the miraculous; that being, the interception of God into the affairs of man. In fact, His involvement in our lives is the birthplace of hope, because if there is nothing bigger than, greater than and more powerful than our present experience, we have only ourselves to rely on and that which is outside of our reach is open gain. We are vulnerable in the world; truly and utterly without anything solid to lay hold of.
This is a very real existence in which many reside.
So what is the abundant life that Jesus spoke of?
Jesus told Nicodemus, 'you must be born again.'
Nicodemus, an intelligent and well-learned man replied, ‘but how is this possible? Am I to climb back into my mother’s womb?’
Christ replied, 'That which is born o
f the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
How many of us, friends, are stuck in an ‘unborn-again' Christian experience? Perhaps we see the hope of heaven. But have we learned to use our spiritual rebirth as a lens through which we interpret our everyday experiences? Because God's intention in sending the Spirit to dwell within us was so that we would have 'the mind of Christ' present with us. It is through the Spirit's leading and quickening that the teachings of Christ are brought back to us so that we may learn how to see in this world and how to move in accordance with God's will.
How many of us are living out our days with a foot in each camp? We are grounded and live out our days in this physical world; we learn, we grow, we build, we are hurt, we develop skills to compensate for or overcome the systems that be. We become semi-potent Christians, containing within each of us the seed for great potential, great, supernatural exploits, great works that the Lord has ordained for us to walk in, and yet the beat of the visible world and our necessary involvement in it begin to drive out the very seed of hope that began when we first believed.
So what exactly is it, that Jesus was getting at? What is it to be a Christian? What is it that Christ has promised when He speaks of life abundant? Of supernatural power to overcome the trials of this world? Is He overselling Himself? Speaking of ‘the afterlife’? Or have we, contemporary, culturally soaked Christians lost touch with the power that raised Christ from the dead? The promise of Kingdom that will change the world from the inside out?
What have we forgotten? How has this happened? How has the vital, vibrant, tangible hope of the gospel settled into a mediocre and settled experienced of life as it is?
We have faded, like prints in the sun. Experiences, disappointments and pains have born their mark on our learning and instead of using them as challenges to hold onto the God of hope, we have re-framed our expectation of Him. Decided that He is not what we first thought He was, that we were ideal, inexperienced, emotional and naïve.
Men, you have believed this. You have turned from the promise; the vitality that filled you when you first believed. Your hands have become weary, you’ve resigned yourself to the realities that you see and let your minds be the decoders of the life that you see.
What has He told us, friends?
Trust in Him with ALL our hearts. Lean not on our own understanding.
Can you say that you have done this? Or has your mind, your experiences, your learning filled the gaps between what you thought would be and what has actually happened? Have you taken the mystery to God? The unanswered questions, the experiences that turned out differently than you expected or have you allowed them to shape and limit your understanding and expectation of what it is to be Christian in the world?
How are you, friends? How are you, men? Are you full of vigor? Confident not in the world to provide you justice and profit and outcome but fixed in your dependence of the Lord, understanding that He is the Lord over all? Have you understood the times, the season we are in? That the mockers have grown louder; their broadcasting no longer limited by location but streamed across the globe in a millisecond at the keystroke of a finger on a board?
Have you truly understood the cha
llenge that we are facing? Understood that what Christ Himself faced, we followers will also face. Was He not challenged? Scourged? Would He not have been tempted to re-frame His understanding and lower His expectations of what it was that He was called to do?
Instead, Christ, the perfect man, stood in the garden, beneath the weight of the cross, understanding that He had done all He had been called to do. The works established at the beginning of time.
Can we say the same, or have we become discouraged, or worse still, has our discouragement been twisted into some kind of settled head-space that says, ‘oh yes, but now I have lived and I know what I know. I understand now what I didn’t know then and I realise that God doesn’t break through the veil of human existence.’
This is a dangerous and sad place to dwell.
Where is our hope? Where is our expectation?
We have seen and suffered hardship, disappointment and unanswered questions. Have they re-informed our hope? Are we better for what we’ve learned or have we become shells of what we once were?
Are we growing in faith, rooted in it, living in it? Or are we doing our best, flying under the radar, living an acceptable life with pared back expectations that are reinforced by the pared back experiences of others and the answers that we have not found, or worse still, filled with our own answers.
What has He told us?
To shake the dust of unbelief. To feed on the Daily Bread of His word; not just reading His written Word, but consuming it with hunger and hope that the God who calls us will reward those who seek Him. He will bring it to life, saturate it in His spirit.
Are we alive, brothers and sisters? Are we alive or have we commenced a slow death?
What knowledge has the enemy capitalised on? What has he robbed fr
om you in the form or ‘experience’? Who are you and what do you believe?
Are we ambassadors of hope or dead men walking?
To live by faith is to truly live. And what is faith? Not some limp belief that everything will work out when we get to heaven. Not blabbing and grabbing or an excuse to try and impart our own demands on God.
What is the faith that God speaks of? The faith that overcomes the world? That was attributed as righteousness to the men and women of old? Was it merely the hope of heaven or was it some vital pulse of life that compelled men to move in ways that were often counter-cultural? To set out for lands they didn’t know, to believe promises that made no pragmatic sense? What was the faith that allowed them to be sawed in two, crucified, chained, burned? What vital pulse coursed through Stephen as the stones hit his body and he stared into heaven saying ‘I see the Son of man in the clouds?’ Was it a dream? A delusion? Something that has passed? Or is this the hope, the life, the vigour through which our life in this world becomes not easy, but profitable, fruitful and supernatural?
What have you learned? What have you heard that has shaped your understanding of life with God? Take a moment to take stock of it. Let His spirt bring it to your mind. Those points along the way where your expectations were altered. Did they glorify God or did they cause you to settle?
We are in a vault, brothers and sisters.
We stand at the grave, at the tomb of Christ; the place between hope and promise fulfilled. We see the body of Christ in the tomb. How do we perceive it? Do we see a crucified Messiah? A good man beaten down by the persistent systems of an impenetrable world? He was mocked and broken and what was the footprint of his life in the world? What was it that He did?
I would urge you to stand at the tomb and ask, ‘Where am I? What do I believe?
Do I see a dead man wrapped in grave clothes or do I understand that I am in the holding place; the place between defeat and promise?’
If nothing else, we have been given a living faith. His spirit intercedes within us for we don’t even know how to pray! Should it come to any surprise to us that our minds have become tired, logical, settled, discouraged? Have we brought each question to the throne room? Using our vital faith to hold fast in hope? If not, I ask, then what is it that we believe? What is this faith that is supposed to change the world? Is it a secret? A mindset? A misunderstanding?
Or is it God-in-man? Good works established before time. Promise of victory over darkness (and not the absence of darkness).
We were made to step on serpents' heads. The time of justice hasn’t yet arrived on earth; it is by grace that He has subjected the universe to futility in hope. Hope. The hopelessness that exists within the earth, the brokenness in its bones and the depths of its fall are not proofs of His absence, His distraction, His apathy. The world is broken so that hope may be reborn. Hope in the one who can deliver it from the hand of man; hope that resides in these clay vessels; the same spirit that brought Christ back to life and can deliver our minds, our hearts and brokenness back to the Father of hope.
Where are you, brother? Sister? Who is your God?
In a society that is searching for reality, our Christian beliefs are becoming increasingly illogical and potentially shallow and unrooted. We need to ask of ourselves the questions that others are asking of us. What do we believe and why?
How would the resurrection stack up in times such as these? Is the miraculous relegated to the medieval world only; or to remote parts of the globe or does God genuinely 'break-in' on human experience? Shaping and reshaping according to His will to those who would navigate their existence with Him as their filter?
For instance, does God heal the sick? Does He provide financially? Or are we 'on our own', so to speak? Perhaps He is a notion or a guideline rather than a genuine force...Perhaps a principal or an ideal for which we ought to reach, but not something real, practical and tangible as we navigate the man-made issues of the world. Does God move within the system? Or does He remain above it? Or better yet, does He elevate us above so that we may navigate our way with correct perspective?
What are the results of such beliefs, friends? Because Christ has told us that the truth sets us free.
Do the questions strengthen our resolve, put flesh and courage on our bones or do they dry us out, cause us to step out of the process? Are they truth, seeking to liberate us from our earlier idealism or are they the final strike of a dying enemy who saves his sharpest venom for the last strike.
Brothers and sisters we are in a catalytic time; a time in history ripe for change. We are not in a dream, in a bubble in a blind space. We have been given eyes to see!
And yet the very foundation of the Christian belief depends upon the miraculous; the miraculous being the interception of God in human affairs...It is within the framework of 'miracle' or 'intervention' that we find our hope.
More about this later.
But for now, we sit in the tomb. In the place of promise-yet-to-be-filled, of uncertainty, of questions and perhaps, even defeat.
Jesus spoke to his disciples before His death: ''But now I go away to Him who sent Me and none of you asks Me, 'where are you going? But because I have said these things, sorrow has filled your heart?' John 16:5
His friends, his dear earth-bound ones could only see Jes
us' upcoming death from the position of what they already new and believed.
They did not understand that what to them, was the greatest tragedy of mankind, would soon enough (3 days in fact) become that greatest hope of history.
They saw the tomb.
Jesus asked them to look past the tomb. He wasn't exiting the world.
He was going to the heavens and the depths of hell. He was preparing a place for them. For us.
He was preparing to send His spirit to be with them forever.
We are that generation, friends.
We are on the realised-hope side of history.
Where His spirit moves freely and makes His home in those of us who ask.
Because of the tomb, there is a way.
And that way has come to us.
'But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.'
This tomb-day, remember.