Bookends for Life
Bookends for Life
So I originally planned to teach on community today, but it seemed a bit odd to talk about community when we have all been ordered to quarantine.
Today I want to talk about bookends for life. Bookends. If you look on a shelf in your house or in a library you will likely find a bookend. It is a weighted object that goes on the side of a row of books to keep them upright. If you have a set of books in the open you will put a bookend on each side to keep them from moving, or falling over. These bookends keep the books ordered otherwise they will end up all over the place. They are very handy, necessary for displaying books.
Do you know that you need bookends for life or else you will end up all over the place? Your bookends for life are principles that ground you. A basic set of beliefs that frame how you approach life. When events of life start to push down upon you and push you over the edge these beliefs push back. They are active. They are strong. They are true. They support you.
We are in a time that you may need a couple bookends to ground you. You may feel like the sky is falling right now. Everyone is going to die of Corona and next you are going to die of economic collapse. And you don’t know what will come after that but it is not good. Some of you are the total opposite and you are just chillin' through all of this. You are frustrated that people are crazy and you know everything is going to be OK. Key the “Don’t worry be happy music.”
We need to be somewhere between blind optimism and doomsday pessimism. We need faith-filled-realism.
I want to talk about two bookends for life that are also like bookends for the Bible. One truth comes from the very beginning of the Bible and one comes from the very end of the Bible. These bookends for our life are the bookends of what God is doing in the world.
I want you to have true beliefs that are supporting you and lifting you up. We all need strength and support in this time.
The first bookend is Gen 3:15-20. This passage comes after Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They disobeyed and a curse was brought on the world.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." 16 To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." 17 And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:15-19 ESV)
Bookend 1 establishes that life is hard. This answers the question, “God, why is this so painful? Why won’t things go better for me?”
We see here enmity in the closest human relationships. There is strife. Death comes. Life is hard. Pain, toil, thorns and thistles. This is an important truth to know.
I remember the first time I really asked this question. We had just bought our first home. It was a fixer upper. I had just spent the day working on the sprinkler system, and it was supposed to take me about fifteen minutes. But after things repeatedly went wrong, multiple trips to Home Depot for things I didn’t think I would need, I turned the water on and rather than getting a consistent rhythmic puttering of a sprinkler head I had old faithful gushing fifteen feet in the air. I slammed my shovel to the ground and told that sprinkler what I really thought of it. I sat down in the grass with my hands on my head and asked why is it so hard? It wasn’t just the sprinkler system. It was school, finding a job, the fact that I put up a privacy fence and then the first hurricane in 30 years bends it over and takes off my roof.
At that moment it felt like something was wrong. Felt like life is just fine for everyone else but something strange or unusual is happening to me. Like I got the short end of the stick or I went to the wrong line and got stuck with hardship and everyone else got it right and life is fine. Peter told believers enduring persecution, “do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1Pe 4:12 ESV)”.
Look, no one goes through life without hardship. That is how God designed this world after the fall. There are thorns and thistles. We eat by the sweat of our brow. We live and survive but it is hard, painful, and even tearful. Don’t expect anything less!
I think a lot of our struggles today stem from us thinking that life is supposed to be easy. If something is hard we think we can get an app to fix it. A new phone will solve your problems. That is not true.
We are facing a Corona Flu Virus. I firmly believe we will get through it. I do not think it will be easy. There may be economic ramifications to this. We will get through it. It will not be easy. It will not be the way we would choose. But it will be ok.
My family read the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It’s about her family on the frontier of America in the 1800’s. They had a hard life. They had different expectations. The family finally settled in one area, built a house, and planted barley in the field. It is the best barely crop he has ever seen. He is so excited to harvest it. And after years of hard work and little reward on the prairie you are excited for him. Then one day he looks out and sees a cloud coming. It ends up being locust. They devour everything. The crop is completely lost. He rides on horse back over 200 miles to work for another guy for several months to pay the bills. They got through it. At one point crows come and eat the locust and they shoot the crows and eat them and find they are pretty tasty. She says there is never a great loss that does not produce some gain. They had a different mind set, we need some of that now.
This may be hard. Don’t think it won't. But we will get through it. It talks about how hard it is, but it also says you will eat. God provides for us in the midst of the hardship.
Life is hard. There are ups and downs. But there is also consistency and predictability. The curse does not bring complete disorder. God’s grace restrains it. Remember God’s covenant with Noah. “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." (Gen 8:22 ESV). Seed time. That is when you start doing the hardwork of sowing crops. Harvest: that is the fun time reaping a reward. Summer winter. Day night. They run into each other. We may be down; it may be dark, but the sun will rise in the morning. Just stay calm. Control what you can control. Put one foot in front of the other. It's never easy, but God is good, and he is always faithful.
Are you upset because you are not going to make it or are you upset because it’s not easy?
Bookend 2. What is going to happen?
Why would you follow and trust a God that does these things to people?
We are in a hard season. But it’s not the hardest thing I have seen. How can you trust a God that allows those things to happen. What is the end of the story? If you knew everything is going to be OK you would walk through hardship in a different way.
A teacher of mine used to say, “I can go through anything as long as I know it will end.” Devastating financial crisis. Devastating nuclear disaster. Loss of power. No problem as long as you know it will end.
The unknown is what gets our stomach in knots when we watch a movie or read a book. The mystery, the unknown grips us. Let me read another passage for you, a bookend at the end of the Bible. A bookend that frames your hope of what is to come:
“”And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." (Rev 21:1 ESV)
The story ends well. This is one of the most powerful parts of the Bible and Christianity. It has an incredible ending.
A new city. A new Jerusalem. Beautiful. Peaceful. Lifegiving. Unending. Can I read that one more time? Anyone need to hear that again? Take a deep breath and listen.
The curse is gone. Death is gone. There is no more pain, crying, mourning. Former things have passed away. It's like black and white TV. Landline telephone. What is that? Think about the greatest pains you have in life. They are gone, wiped away.
“And the street of the city was pure gold,” (Rev 21:21 ESV). This city is so wonderful the most precious things of our world are used to line the street where we walk. Would you throw your gold ring out to fill a crack in your driveway? No way! But the abundance of this new earth has no parallel.
He will wipe every tear from their eye. Who has wiped a tear from your eye? God wipes your tears here. Like a parent consoling a child who stumbled. It is intimate, personal, caring. That parent knows you. God knows you. Tears from being sick, tears from lost income, tears from hurting friends, tears from whatever. All wiped away.
God is with his people. He is our refuge and strength, and we experience that by faith now. We have to believe. We work hard to believe, to get truth in our hearts and minds. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom 10). It doesn’t come by watching the Hallmark channel. Read God’s word. But in the new heaven we see him face to face. His presence is clearly apparent.
It's the difference of knowing your parents are for you even though they are a long ways away, and feeling them hold you in their lap. For some of you this is hard because you never experienced that parent-child relationship. God is going to heal that too.
This bookend helps us know that everything is going to be OK. The things that seem devastating to you now will be made OK then. The healing you want to see happen in others and that you struggle to see happen in your kids and others, the things you so want to do but you can't, God is going to bring. It is a complete change of the world and of our place and his place in it. It is a new order. A new way.
Jesus. This is what Jesus is doing. It is what he promises to his followers. He calls us to do hard things, but he has an incredible reward. We have to push on, not shrink back, not sink in fear. We trust him, look to him, follow him.
The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Rev 21:7 ESV)
We combine the realism of life under the curse with the expectation that ultimately everything is going to end well.
Faith-filled realism. Don’t be scared. Don’t be naive. Don’t be bitter.
I was talking to a recent visitor to our church and asked him how we could pray for him in this season. He said He needed wisdom to lead his company, and to be an example of calm that makes people ask the question “why?” Why are you so calm? Why do you have such peace? We can have peace because we know a good God is in control of the world. He sent his son to die for me and he is not going to abandon me now. Not even death can thwart his promise. That means a virus or recession will not either.
Remember that we as Christians follow in the steps of a God who traded his heavenly throne for a manger in a barn, who traded being served for laying down his life, and who knew a crown of thorns was the path to glory.
Let's not melt with fear. We can acknowledge being afraid. Some of you run a small business. You may not have a detailed plan. I'm there with you as we are a small church.
Let's not expect to enter in the heavenly courts of the new Jerusalem without needing some healing.
“Is the celestial glory of so small esteem that he considers it not worth the running the hazards of a few difficulties to obtain it.”
If we know we have a great reward stored up for us in heaven, then we ought not be too concerned that we have to run through some difficulties in this life to obtain it. We may have present challenges. But in Christ we have future glories. Those are two bookends that will give you much strength, support, confidence, peace, and power. I want to encourage you to put your thoughts on these.