Love and Light in the Dark

Back in the late 1990s, a group of high school students would serve dinner at the Nashville Union Mission one night per week. The ringleader of our little group was a guy named Eric. He and his sister organized our volunteer work for the Mission and made sure we made it downtown on time each week no matter how late Coach kept us in the pool. Always wet, sometimes smelling of chlorine, and usually having forgotten our coats, we would pile into Mariah’s red Jeep and drive north for 30 minutes. There we would dish food, hand out day-past-date milk cartons, and then clean the kitchen and dining room.

The first time I volunteered, few of the people in line would look at me; but after I returned the following week, they started to acknowledge me. I started to learn faces and a handful of names. This was some of the first regular, sustained community service in which I ever participated, and it taught me the importance of building relationships with those whom you serve.

As I get older and take on more responsibilities with work and family, it has become harder to build personal relationships in my community. David and I try to keep quarters available for anyone walking by who needs bus fare, and we do service projects for the homeless and hungry through our church. Excepting one lady “of the night”–whose favorite part of the day was greeting Copper every morning–I do not know the people we are hoping to help. I worry that I am not doing enough, so I too often overload my calendar with Meal Trains and sewing projects in what are probably attempts to tamp down my guilt over not knowing my “neighbors” well enough to love them.

I’ve long supposed that the only people who don’t struggle with such feelings of inadequacy are professional servants–pastors, doctors, social workers, etc. Take Eric, for example. He and his wife are missionary doctors in Africa, raising a lovely family while saving lives and training future doctors. But in his new book, Promises in the Dark: Walking with Those in Need without Losing Heart, he reveals many of the same worries and doubts that I have:

I believe much of my tendency to overwork is a manifestation of seeking control and a lack of trust that, in the end, God–not I–will bring about real transformation in this broken world (79).

Eric tells stories of healing and death, frustration and inadequacy, joy and unimaginable sorrow:

The blinding reality is that suffering is everywhere. The world is filled with trouble, disease, and loss….Since moving to Africa, there’s probably no single theme that has felt so urgent to me. No other problem has felt so pressing: if I can’t find some way to at least think about all the suffering around me, then I won’t last long here (109).

In his stories of language barriers, infrastructure failures, cultural conflicts, and human suffering, I see parallels to many of our Western struggles. At the root of all suffering is evil, and that is what humans struggle against every day. We cannot do enough or love enough to get rid of the evil–that’s God’s job.

CoverI am encouraged that on the other side of the world, Christians who have devoted their lives and livelihoods to serving God and loving His people share many of my own frustrations. Eric reminds me that God wants to use all of us to reconcile His people to Himself from wherever we are, be it a hospital in Africa, a sidewalk in Chattanooga, or even the parking lot of Bridgestone Arena (where our beloved Union Mission once stood).

Happy-Crazy-Busy

This morning David pulled the honey bear out for his coffee and grinned. “My honey fairy didn’t come!” Yesterday he had used the last of the honey and had left the bottle out for me to refill. For 15-or-so years that had been our habit, not just for honey refills but for everything. When something was running low, I’d tell David to “put it on the list” and his so-called magical fairy would meet his needs so long as she wasn’t under an editing deadline.

The arrangement worked for us both because I have always worked from home. Laundry could be running, dinner could be cooking, and paint could be drying all while I was editing Word documents. I was happy to do most-things domestic so that when David got home from his long hours at work or many days away on business he could just relax and pay attention to me. He had less stress, and I got to do everything to my own type-A standards.

Then came 2019 and a seismic shift in my work schedule. No longer would I being doing freelance writing, editing, and reviewing only when it was convenient for us; now I was committed to writing 3 books in 3 years and all the research, travel, publicity, and bonus-content development (i.e., blogging and podcasting) that goes along with publishing books these days. I may still work from home, but I no longer have time to fill his honey bear. Clean laundry waits days to be folded, dinner is more often bought than made, and I haven’t done a house restoration project in at least a year. (Gasp!)

I have adopted a new motto for myself: Happy-Crazy-Busy. If I’m not working, then I’m thinking about working. It’s crazy, but I am so happy knowing I’m exactly where God wants me to be at this moment.

Naturally, we have struggled a bit with the changes. David is doing a lot more around the house, and I am learning to be thankful when I can’t find my colander–because that means he unloaded the dishwasher! There have been arguments and anger, but we are learning how to work together differently now that circumstances have changed.

Since March, God has seen fit to speak into our marriage through one of my chore-disrupting book projects. I have had the privilege of collaborating with Jeremy and Adrienne Camp to write a book about marriage. It will release March 3, 2020, in tandem with the film, I Still Believe, which is based on Jeremy’s spiritual journey in the wake of his first wife’s death. In Unison: The Unfinished Story of Jeremy and Adrienne Camp uses anecdotes from their personal life to explore topics such as tragedy, stress, finances, and parenting that can strain a marriage, and it offers Godly perspectives on how such challenges can strengthen and not separate husband and wife.

This project and these new friends entered my life at just the right time. From the floor of their living room with my laptop in my lap, I witnessed the fruits of a marriage lived in right-relationship with God. This family–who is separated by the demands of two successful careers by far greater distances and for much longer periods of time than those David and I complain of–exudes the love they espouse. Their home is a place of peace and cooperation (where, incidentally, screens are tools for work and school, not sources of mindless entertainment!).

Jeremy and Adrienne have inspired David and me not just with the words they have written but with the lives they live. They, too, are happy-crazy-busy, and all of that comes from being obedient to God and how He wishes to use them in service of His will. No tiny fairies make their marriage work; one big God does.

After Easter

Scholars tell us that Jesus was born in 4 BC. Assuming–and this is an admittedly HUGE assumption–they and all post-AD calendars are correct, yesterday was the 1,990th anniversary of Easter.

Today we all await the fulfillment of the last big prophecy—the end of the world.

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins wrote an entertaining and popular fictional series about the biblical apocalypse. I read all twelve books of the Left Behind series as they were published, and I enjoyed most of them. They begin with the Rapture, a doctrine that states the last generation of Christians on Earth will be “beamed up” to heaven before the Tribulation. The rest of the series details the authors’ interpretations of the Tribulation and ends with the Second Coming of the Christ. When I read the novels I believed this tradition of Rapture, so the books made me think I had a solid grasp of Scripture and understood what the Apocalypse will look like.

The danger of highly entertaining books with biblical inspirations such as the Left Behind series and The DaVinci Code is that they seem to be more fact than fiction. The characters are all made up, sure, but it is easy to believe that the books’ settings and events are based in reality. My favorite genre of escapist literature is historical fiction, so this is a tempting trap I know very well.

Once the idea of the Rapture came up in a conversation, and others were surprised to hear that I don’t wholly accept this doctrine. I realized pretty quickly that they (and a lot of other people, it turns out) associated the Rapture with the Second Coming of Christ. The two should not be conflated. Rapture is a tradition (the word never appears in the Bible); the Second Coming, or Parousia, is Scripture. I absolutely believe Jesus will return.

The Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine is a relatively new one. It was developed in the late 1800s by British theologian John Nelson Darby and then popularized in America in 1907 when C. I. Scofield’s Reference Bible was printed. It takes disparate verses of the New Testament and combines them to form the doctrine. The doctrine isn’t exactly a product of proof-texting, but it is close.

The theory begins with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, where Paul is answering the questions of church members who are wondering what will happen to their Christian friends and family who have died prior to Jesus’ Second Coming:

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep [in death], lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

The Thessalonians were part of the Greek culture that believed there was no returning from death. Greek Christians were, at that time, unique in their beliefs in the completed resurrection of the Christ, and they were trusting in Jesus’ words (Matthew 24) that they would be resurrected as well. It seems their faiths were eroding as they lived among the Greek pagans, watched Jesus-following church members die, and waited for His return. Paul is setting their minds at ease here by reminding them of what they already know. At the Second Coming of Christ—not before—the dead will rise and the living will follow them. According to Paul, Jesus returns before anyone living or dead rises.

I always assumed the Rapture was detailed in Revelation. It is not. The only people who ascend to heaven in that book are John of Patmos (to see this vision), the two witnesses (11:12), and the “Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron” (12:5). To connect John’s vision of Revelation to Jesus’ description of the Tribulation and Paul’s assurance that the dead and living will rise when He returns, you have to get pretty creative.

Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.

If you read Revelation 3:10 outside of its context as I have it here, then you might guess that Christians will be kept “from the hour of trial” by way of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, but that certainly is not stated and nothing else in Revelation would support that idea. Also, this promise was made only to the Church in Philadelphia, so most of us better pack up and move!

All of this to say, Christians need to read the rest of what Paul says about the end times:

But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10).

We don’t need to try to predict the end of the world or worry that we might suffer prior to His return. We are here, as children of God, to be used by God to reconcile all of humanity to Him. After Easter, may we focus on His present will and not the world’s future end.