home

Learning to Live in This Home Away from Home

pexels-photo-226634.jpeg

If you’re a Christian, you’re a miracle. Your conversion was a restoration of fortunes, a miraculous release from captivity, and a joyful homecoming. With God, there are no “boring” testimonies. But over time, life gets boring. We wonder how we lost that lovin’ feeling. We want the good times back. More than that, we want a future of greater glory.

Israel anticipated the hopeful restoration of Zion. But they didn’t just hope for a prosperous city—they looked forward to a reigning king, their promised Messiah.

They looked forward to the time when, after the anticipation and the hope, after the promises and the prophecies, Jesus comes. He lives and dies and rises again to save his people from their sins.

But that’s not the end of the story. The Bible concludes not with a deep sigh of rest but cries out in desperate anticipation, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). God’s people aren’t home just yet.

Such is the tone of Psalm 126, a psalm of ascent, filled with what was and longing for what will one day be.

LONGING FOR BETTER DAYS

Even without knowing much of the context, it’s easy to see that Psalm 126 speaks of an Israelite restoration so grand that even the surrounding nations remembered it (Ps. 126:2-3). Maybe it was their return from exile in Babylon. Maybe something else.

Whatever it was, it was like a dream (Ps.126:1). It was the happy day from which all others orbited, evoking laughter and joy, like Job after his suffering (Job 42:10). And the psalmist wanted another hopeful and joyous restoration.

Christians recognize this feeling of elation. Like the conversion experience or a season of personal revival, spiritual restoration awakens zeal for the gospel. These brief moments can stick in our memories for a lifetime, and if you’re like me, are ones to which your heart longs to return.

The psalmist understood that longing. The Lord had done great things for the people of God, and they were glad (Ps. 126:3). But that gladness faded, as it tends to do.  We need more than memories of great things done. We need the hope of great things to come.

NOSTALGIA ROAD

An initial reading of this psalm can leave the reader with the impression that nostalgia weighed the psalmist down—like remembering “the good ole days” that are now long gone. But that’s not quite the tone.

Nostalgia takes us half-way home; it takes us back to the place of our former blessing, but it can’t take us to future hope. Like the glory days of old, only God can take us to that blessed shore. Only God can gather us together with lasting joy, like Israel bringing in plenty during the harvest (Ps. 126:5-6).

“Nostalgia” first appeared as a word in the 1770s, springing from the combination of the Greek words nostos, meaning “homecoming,” and algos, meaning “pain.” In the 1800s, encyclopedias of medicine listed nostalgia as a disease: “severe homesickness.”

Isn’t that what we all are, to some degree or another? Homesick.

Israel sure was, even at home. So are we. We’re homesick for God, for what only he can provide. We’re homesick for final freedom, forgiveness, refuge, victory, and peace.

Christians live in a world that looks like home without the satisfaction of home. As C.S. Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Made for another world, indeed. But we’re in this one now, and we must learn to live here.

LEARNING TO LIVE HERE

Far from a disease bringing one down, the memory of Psalm 126 causes the careful reader to swell with hope. Today may not be like yesterday, but God doesn’t intend to take us back to what was. He intends to bring us forward to what will one day be.

The Garden of Eden was a pointer to—not the culmination of—the glory to come. God’s gift of your future is better than the varied gifts of your past. In the end, even all the revivals of history will pale in comparison to the great revival coming on the clouds. Walking with Jesus is a journey of hope!

So Psalm 126 is not a great and longing sigh as much as it is the first verse of a new and hopeful song. Yes, there is a plea for restoration (Ps. 126:4), but it’s not a cry of desperation. It’s a cry of expectation. It’s a cry for God to do it again, grounded in faith that he will.

The lesson is that learning to live here is more than coping with a happy memory, it’s rejoicing in a coming glory. That doesn’t mean homesickness is easier to bear. It means, given to Christ, nostalgia points us homeward to glory rather than backward to the Garden.

Jesus reverses nostalgia’s direction. With him, as good as our past was, the best is yet to come.

THE GARDEN OF GRACE

However, the glory to come doesn't make the present angst disappear. Life is full of disappointments. So God gave us the Psalms—as Tim Keller says[i]—to pray your tears (Ps. 126:5-6).

No single event of blessing is enough to sustain us forever. We forget. We weaken. We falter. We fall.

We need a resurrection hope. That's why God sent his Sower to sow gospel seeds into our lives (Mark 4:1-20). But that seed doesn't grow instantly. Cultivating takes time we don’t often want to spend. It takes watering when we don’t want to. It takes, in a word, maturing.

Learning to pray our tears is the maturing process by which we prepare for a greater harvest. Psalm 126:5-6 promises “those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” As we weep toward God, he takes our tears and plants them in his garden of grace. They take root and grow. But the harvest comes later—as late as the resurrection.

SHOUTS OF JOY

I imagine Mary Magdalene and the other Mary on their way to the tomb of Jesus, weeping as they walk. What a joy it was to know him, to be by his side as he taught, as he healed, as he filled the world with happiness and hope. But that was yesterday. Today, their tears are with him in the grave, buried in the ground.

As they approach the garden tomb, the earth quakes and the stone rolls away. Someone stands before them. His appearance is like lightning. His clothing is white as snow. He seems to know their tears. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen.”

Could it be? Then behold—he appears and says, “Greetings!”

They fall and worship. Then they rise and go, to tell his disciples that they too will see him. (Matt. 28:1-10).

In other words, they’re coming home with shouts of joy (Ps. 126:6).

NO MORE TEARS

Sally Lloyd-Jones captures this joyful mood in The Jesus Storybook Bible. Mary runs,

And it seemed to her that morning, as she ran, almost as if the whole world had been made anew, almost as if the whole world was singing for joy—the trees, tiny sounds in the grass, the birds . . . her heart.

Was God really making everything sad come untrue? Was he making even death come untrue?

She couldn’t wait to tell Jesus’ friends. ‘They won’t believe it!’ she laughed.

She laughed. Oh, she laughed!

Her mouth was filled with laughter (Ps. 126:2) because the Lord had done great things for her (Ps. 126:3). But not only for her. The Lord had done great things for all his people, for all his friends, for all of us.

Those great things of the resurrection came by way of death. That’s the Christian life: first the cross, then the crown. It's the planting that produces the harvest, the death that produces life. As Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

Jesus is the proof that buried hope grows into glorious reality. The tears of the cross bore the fruit of the resurrection. He went out weeping, bearing his life for sowing; he came home with sheaves (Ps. 126:6), bringing many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10).

COMING HOME TO A BETTER STORY

Israel’s story was a good one, but a better one was yet to come. And there’s a better one coming for us, as well.

One day, the Lord will restore our fortunes—untarnished communion with him, coram deo. The first earth will pass away, and the holy city, the New Jerusalem, will come down out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

We will receive our glorified bodies on the new heaven and new earth. On that great and glorious day, God will say to all his people, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev. 21:1-4). He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more!

No more mourning. No more crying. No more pain.

The former things will have passed away.

We’ll finally be home.


David McLemore is an elder at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons. Read more of David’s writing on his blog, Things of the Sort.

[i] Timothy J. Keller, “Praying Our Tears,” February 27, 2000, City Life Church, Boston, sermon, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive.

Redeeming Our Offices

Today, we’re re-releasing Jeremy Writebol’s everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present via Kindle on Amazon.com. You can buy your digital copy with one click $6.49.

A Bad Day at the Office

Why is it that we so deeply despise going to work? What is it about the office that causes us to prefer calling in sick, staying in bed, or hiding out for months on end rather than be doing the very thing that God called us to do with his good creation in the first place? Maybe going into the office really was the curse of our dislocation. It seems that work really was the result of our crimes.

Scripture makes it plain in Genesis 2 that work was given to humanity and work was right. But instead of work as we know it, work initially was not about providing for our essential needs like food and shelter. For our first parents, work was art. It was labor to design, cultivate, and express dominion over the established place of God. It was an effort to put decorations and details on the first place of God.

Occasionally, there are projects that I get to spend time working on that are sheer pleasure. They do not provide food for my table or pay off the mortgage. Instead they are labors of love. Tonight my daughter interrupted my writing and asked me to assemble her new LEGO stables. Some 2,000 pieces (and many of them very tiny) and two hours later, we were done. It wasn't anything I was paid to do, but it was still work. And I loved it. This is what going to the office was originally about: forming, cultivating, and managing creatively what God had made. It was art.

Then came the dislocating break of our rebellion. We didn't want to be artists painting on God's canvas. We wanted to make our own canvas. With it came the curse that now plagues our work. Instead of having everything we needed for life, we had to labor to stay alive. Where we were once amply supplied by God, now we were forced to have our cake and eat it, too. We wanted to work independently from God and he allowed it. We have to work to stay alive. This is the daily reality of our rebellion and the curse.

The office lost all of its delight. We found productivity flittered away by thorns and thistles. The soil we needed to survive was dry, hard, and unyielding. Making an existence from day-to-day, paycheck-to-paycheck became our work, and that was where work lost all its art.

Maybe this is why no one feels like going to work in the morning. Mondays are synonymous with the death of our freedom, independence, and life. Work is death and no one likes it. We spend our youth preparing to work, our best years working away, and then end up dying from our work. As the preacher of Ecclesiastes wonders, "What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?" (Ecc. 1:3). This is the blatant effect of our sin and the curse. The office is a den of death.

This is why my friends Bonnie and Brandon don't see the progress of patients recovering to complete health. It's the reason why the hours and hours Eric spends designing aircraft feel fruitless. It's why Andy works a job he doesn’t really desire so that he can put food on the table. It is why, although we seem to see developments in technology, science, politics, economics and the like, nothing seems to be getting better.

Work as Role or Identity?

Is there redemption for our offices? Although we believe in a gospel that saves our souls, could we imagine Christ redeeming our workplaces as well? Could there be salvation for the office too? Yes, but only if we look to the work of Christ. For so many, our work has transitioned itself from a role we were given to an identity we possess. Work became who we are instead of something we do.

Partner—GCD—450x300The proof of this is found when you meet someone new. Introduce yourself to someone you don't know and the likelihood of you identifying yourself by what you do is very high. Usually we start with our name (“I'm Jeremy”) followed by what we do (“I'm a pastor”). We weigh the value of our lives by our work. The important people are the ones with the great jobs, the large incomes, the high-yield, high-capacity productions. Those who achieve their vocational dreams are the great ones. Those who fail at attaining those degrees are just "working for the man." We live and die by our jobs and their perceived successes and failures.

That's why we need a relocation. Our identity must be shifted away from what we do to who we are. We must be redeemed from perverting our role as workers into our identity as workers.

I find it wonderful that Jesus didn't come with an identity-issue about his work. He knew who he was, the Son of God. He knew what his job was, to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45). He didn't have the two confused. And so he came, reminded of his identity by his Father (1:11) to do the work he was sent to do (1:15). He came to do the work we could not do. In substituting himself for us, he worked to fulfilled the Law at every point and win perfect righteousness for us. By standing in our place, he did the work of satisfying God's wrath and removing our sin by dying on the cross for us. In such, he glorified his father and accomplished the work he was sent to do (Jn. 17:5).

Jesus didn't take work away from us. He redeemed us from a life of finding our identity in our work. He didn't live, die, and rise to life again so that we could skip out on the office or marketplace. He lived, died, and arose to life again so that we would glorify him at our office, not worship our office. Instead of living to fulfill the identities we find in our work, Jesus gives us a new identity, his brothers and sisters, so that we can go to work, not to earn an identity but to rest from identity seeking. We go into the office as kingdom citizens to create, cultivate, develop, and design all that the King owns for the King's glory.

Who Are You Working For?

One of the most frustrating aspects of work, beyond the inefficiencies and futility of fruitless work, is the people we work for. Just as we struggle with deep authority issues in relationship with God, we continue to struggle with the authority issues we have with our employers and supervisors. Our bosses can be tyrants, ogres, and despots all in one eight-hour shift. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have a decent boss, we still buckle, from time to time, under the difficulty of not always seeing eye-to-eye. We all have bad days with our superiors.

For Kingdom citizens, the presence of the King in our workplaces deeply alters the way we see our bosses. Paul calls Kingdom citizens to see their work in this light by calling servants to be obedient and submissive to their superiors as if they were serving the King himself (Col. 3:22-24). The renovated heart goes beyond just obedience as a people-pleaser, or giving appearance as such, and calls the citizens of the Kingdom to obey with sincerity while fearing the Lord.

My fighter-jet-engineering friend Randy told me one day of a meeting with his superiors. In the meeting over the design of the jet, his boss became rather irate and excessively direct about a particular portion of the jet's design. Randy was given clear directions that the design of the jet should in every way be "from scratch." It was as if his company wanted to be the Wright brothers all over again and invent flight, this time on the scale of a fighter jet. As Randy debated for particular design similarities, his boss became more and more indignant about the uniqueness of the design. As Randy listened and considered, he knew that he had a responsibility to obey his boss and honor Christ. It didn't make sense, but it was right. It was only later that he discovered his boss’s reasons and Randy ended up benefiting his company and business by his obedience.

This is the kind of renovating work the King does. He transforms his people from rebellious people-pleasers to sincere Kingdom-servants. Work is transformed by the way we work for the ones set in authority over us (1 Pt. 2:13-25).

Working Hard, Working Well

While obedience to our superiors is a kingdom value, is this all that a renovation of our work places brings about? Are we to just be dutiful drones at the jobs in which we take no delight? Does the gospel speak to what we spend our working lives doing? Is there a Kingdom renovation to be done with regard to occupations and vocations? Can a kingdom citizen find the art in their work once again?

Like the false dichotomy of the material and spiritual, bad religion created another dichotomy with regard to our work; sacred and secular. Those that worked jobs in the sacred realms of the church were the ones who worked within a higher calling. They had the blessing of God, treasure in heaven, and a trophy of accomplishing something that lasts for eternity to put on their mantle. For the bankers, butchers, and builders (also known as secular workers), there was the glib promise that one day they could go to heaven and maybe be a worship leader and really please God. However, their vocations and their work were sub-eternal and a less than great calling. What does God need with someone who can carve meat anyway? To this day, it's not too hard to find churches and Christians who still practically affirm this position.

But the Scriptures never affirm a sacred/secular vocational divide. Rather, the word of the King is that "whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord" (Col 3:23). Those three words, "whatever you do," are a major blow to any scared/secular mentality. In those words, the King affirms the unique occupations of Kingdom citizens. Whether it's banking, broadcasting, auto sales, brewing coffee, serving tables, or working at homemaking, the King authorizes his citizens to work well in what they do. He affirms the value of every occupation that cultivates, develops, and advances his authority in his Kingdom. This includes building bridges, teaching children, accounting financial assets, diagnosing physical diseases, and baking pies.

How is this so? How does the bakery become a Kingdom place? First, by the way in which we work. Paul says "whatever you do, do it heartily." There is a way in which Kingdom citizens work for the King. They, by their presence at their work, demonstrate God's nature. They reveal the God who worked hard at the creating of all things; a God who put his full wisdom and glory and creativity into play as he made all things. By the way they work, they show an industrious, productive, intelligent God. They show a God who didn't take short-cuts, who didn't get lazy on the job, and who didn't "phone it in" in his work of creation and redemption.

Second, they also show a Kingdom value in the trajectory of their work. They work "as for the Lord." Their work is aimed at pleasing the King himself. How does an aerospace engineer design planes for the Lord? By making the best planes he can. By using the wisdom and understanding and knowledge the King has gifted him with to understand the laws of nature and develop means by which the creation can be advanced to serve people. How does a baker make pies for the Lord? By baking in such a way that the King himself would enjoy her pies. By baking with a mind to serve her fellow humanity as they delight in the excellent tastes of the pie. They both please the Lord by being creative, honest, diligent, and excellent in their various occupations.

There is a further implication of the resurrection of Jesus here for us in our work. The resurrection of Jesus was his coronation and enthronement as King over all kings. Everything is being brought under subjection to him as King (Ps. 8:6, 1 Cor. 15:27). Our work, done in the name of the King and for the King is participating with him in bringing all things under his authority. The way we develop technology, or manage resources, or develop business strategies, or cook meals, or build houses, or any innumerable sorts of occupations are bringing all things under subjection to Christ. The computer programmer who develops software to advance communication can see himself as utilizing technology for the sake of the King and the advancement of his Kingdom. The doctor who develops wise and resourceful medical practices is bringing the field of medicine under the realm of the King when she does so to keep, preserve and enhance life. The teacher who works with fourth graders is bringing a classroom of students under the dominion of Christ, but educating her class about the physical and moral laws that govern the world in which we live in. All things are brought to rest under the Lordship of Christ as the resurrected King.

As such, the renovating work of the King brings us to our offices (or classrooms or kitchens or laboratories, or whatever we call the space we work in) to work hard and to work for him. He calls us into every sphere of life and vocation to develop and deploy our gifts to show His authority and dominion over all things. He must have workers in every vocation to demonstrate all things are for his glory, even the offices that we spend our days working in. By our work we display an ever-present King in every place.

Jeremy Writebol(@jwritebol) has been training leaders in the church for over thirteen years. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present (GCD Books, 2014) and writes at jwritebol.net. He lives and works in Plymouth, MI as the Campus Pastor of Woodside Bible Church.