Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sulk and feel sorry

by John D Ramsey

My girls are away from home this week. Claire is at summer camp, and Lisa went with to help in the kitchen. Gabby is at her grandparents’ home not too far away, but this is her special vacation, too. This is not the first time that I have spent time home alone. Lisa and the little girls visited Cara a few weeks ago leaving me at home. I cannot say that I enjoy being alone, but I have learned a couple things that seem to help alleviate the stress.

First of all, before Lisa left, I made myself a to-do list. This was a great reassurance to Lisa because it demonstrated that I acknowledged that the week would be different and that it would require effort from me to make it successful. I had hopes for the to-do list myself, but to-do lists are somewhat like New Year resolutions: the only fun part is making them. At the time of this writing, I do not know where I left the list. I remember some things that are on the list, but most of all I remember what I forgot to put on the list. Next time Lisa and the girls leave me home alone I am going to make a to-do list, but next time I am going to have a new item bolded at the top of the list: Sulk and feel sorry for myself.

This idea came as a sublime revelation. When Lisa and the girls go away for a few days, I sulk and feel sorry for myself. To say otherwise would be lying. Nevertheless, sulking kills all other potential productivity – and here is the genius of the plan – if I add, “sulk and feel sorry” to the list, then when I sulk, I will actually be accomplishing something that I planned to do! Sulking can be an iterative process as well. Just because it is at the top of my list does not mean that I cannot return to do it again as necessary.

Actually, this week has been productive. I have remembered to look after Clover, the lop-eared bunny from Minnesota. I prepared questions for our Kingdom in Context Bible study. I also wrote a blog post based upon some of those questions. I made it to Bible study on time Tuesday morning. I washed my own dishes Tuesday night. I mowed the yard on Wednesday. Thursday is laundry day.

In the evenings, I have sat outside and enjoyed the moonrise. I started a small fire in the fire bowl, and I lit the citronella torches to scare off the mosquitoes. I slept for a while on top of the picnic table with the fire low to my left and the full moon high to my right. Above me was a canopy of oak, hackberry, and river birch. I woke periodically to glimpses of fire or moonlight and then drifted to sleep again. D. H. Lawrence wrote, “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself,” and at the risk of losing my capacity to sulk, I was beginning to feel untamed.

The lights around me, the moon and flame, painted me in blues and orange. The outer boundaries of my vision were foliage and darkness. The scene could have been a clearing in any forest. Around midnight I awoke to some shuffling in the bushes and I figured that my presence must have been interrupting some creature’s nocturnal routine. I extinguished the torches and came inside. At the end of the evening, I chose creature comfort above creeping creatures. Still it was refreshing to have slept under the moon and stars. I realized that although I am alone this week, I am not lonely. I am richly blessed to share my life with those who are away this week. I look forward to the joy of their return.

In the autumn of each year, at the time we call the harvest moon, God commanded Israel to sleep outside for seven nights. Actually, they slept in wooden booths that had leafy canopies. English Bible translations refer to the festival as the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths. The festival commemorates Israel’s exodus from Egypt and their sojourn in the wilderness. I shall have to write more about it in season.

For the Christian, the memory of this feast also commemorates Christ’s coming to earth. John writes, “The Word became flesh and [tabernacled] among us.”[1] Some translations say he “dwelt among us,” but the word John chose to use means literally to pitch a tent. It comes from the same root as the Septuagint uses to describe the Feast of Tabernacles.

In modern Christendom, the word tabernacle has come to mean something of grand architectural scale, but it was not so originally. A tabernacle is a temporary dwelling, a humble place. When John says that Jesus tabernacled among us, he illustrates Jesus’ amazing humility.

Some believe that Jesus was born at the time of this feast. This is more likely than a December 25 birth date; nevertheless, if Jesus were born in late September, then December would have been the time of Mary’s Annunciation. If so, Christmas remains an appropriate time of year to celebrate Christ’s coming. Jesus was born in a manger. Some people believe the manger was actually a wooden booth that the innkeeper had prepared for the feast; perhaps, the original language of the New Testament does not confirm it.

Still, whether he was born in a booth or a barn, Jesus came to earth in all humility. Jesus was familiar with sleeping outside. He said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”[2] Occasionally our family goes camping, although it has been few years since we have gone. When we camp, we do not “rough it.” We go to campgrounds with modern facilities. We do not drive an RV, but we do have a nice tent. We usually take along a camp stove, and Lisa fixes wonderful meals. They taste as good as at home, but with greater effort on Lisa’s part. Our last episode was in St. Croix State Park in Minnesota. It is a beautiful place, but it belongs to the mosquitoes. If it were very comfortable, it would not be camping.

When Jesus pitched his tent among us, he came into a hostile world. John says, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”[3] Eventually man’s wrath toward him, nailed the Creator’s hands to a wooden cross. Jesus bore all of man’s hostility toward God in his body hanging on a tree. Since Jesus bore our sin and the penalty of our sin, we can be reconciled to the Father through the sprinkling of Jesus’ blood.

The world was hostile toward the Christ, yet when Jesus said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head,” he was not sulking and feeling sorry for himself. He was telling a would-be follower the cost of discipleship. We generally frame Jesus response in the immediate context; we rationalize that a man in that day could not follow Jesus without abandoning human comfort. Do we not suppose that Jesus was talking to us as well? Yet Peter understood what Jesus meant. In fact, Peter refers to his human body as a tabernacle. He wrote to his flock,

I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly [tabernacle], to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly [tabernacle] is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.[4]

Not only does the tabernacle remind us that Jesus pitched his tent among us, it reminds us that we, too, are sojourners here. Before Peter left his temporary dwelling, his tent in the wilderness, he kept reminding believers to practice what they had received by grace. Of what did Peter continually remind them? He wrote:

. . . applying all diligence,
in your faith supply moral excellence,
and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
and in your knowledge, self-control,
and in your self-control, perseverance,
and in your perseverance, godliness,
and in your godliness, brotherly kindness,
and in your brotherly kindness, love.[5]

Knowing that his time, and their time, was short, Peter encouraged believers to walk through this life even as Jesus did. We are to walk this way because our life on earth is temporary. We are to walk this way because we have left behind the bondage of Egypt and we press on toward the Promised Land. We walk this way because we are living in tents in a hostile wilderness. We walk this way because we follow Jesus, the Son of Man who had “nowhere to lay his head.”

Everything we do should flow from our faith in Jesus Christ. If faith is not the root of our actions and attitudes then they are meaningless. Our faith provides us not with the creature comforts for this world, but rather light for our current journey and the hope of a future. Peter closes his thought saying, “for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”[6]

When I lose my comforts for a few days, I sulk and feel sorry for myself. I know to do better, but I sulk. Yet when my thoughts are drawn to him who tabernacled among us in this hostile world, I am reminded that everything surrounding me is as temporary as a camping trip. If it is very comfortable, it is not camping. We will all soon lay aside our earthly tabernacle — our tent in the hostile wilderness. Are we preparing to enter into the Promised Land — the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? That is the hope of our calling.

[1] John 1:14 (NASB)
[2] Matthew 8:20 (NASB)
[3] John 1:10, 11 (NASB)
[4] 2 Peter 1:13-14 (NASB)
[5] 2 Peter 1:5-7 (NASB)
[6] 2 Peter 1:12 (NASB)

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