There has been a strange quiet ever since I returned from Japan, and it is unsettling. Every time I travel, whether locally or abroad, I return from great adventures to a life that feels quite ordinary. One day I am eating caught-that-morning scallops and exploring Shinto shrines, the next I am stuck in a cubicle and staring at a computer screen, eating a pb&j. Life has felt the same for a while now, and suddenly eight years have passed since I first moved to Los Angeles.
I am restless.
I went to church twice today. After knowing Jesus for so many years, I am less surprised and more delighted at how his truth for me finds me no matter where I am. (Sometimes, it is less delightful and more “Okay, God, I get it!” There were many times in college when what was shared in chapel was the same topic we’d discuss in my life-changing New Testament class [taught by the wonderful Dr. John Wright] which would then be the same message preached by the pastor in church that weekend.)
This morning at Hope Christian Fellowship, Pastor Mike spoke about generational bondage and strongholds, and how sin has a ripple effect through generations. In Matthew 23:29-39, the Pharisees (those hypocrites) tried to make the excuse that they would not have done as their ancestors did, but Jesus called them out and said that they have done exactly as their ancestors did, murdering prophets and sages and teachers. The Pharisees were exactly the same as their ancestors, and deceiving themselves and others by claiming they were different. But then we heard testimony how with Christ we can break free from these strongholds, that we do not have continue the family line and be who our ancestors were.
Stronghold: a place dominated by a particular group or marked by a particular characteristic; a place of security or survival.
I have two strongholds in my family: divorce and broken families, and God’s enduring faithfulness. I will break free from one, and cling to the other.
Jesus says to the Pharisees “look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'” (Matthew 23:38-39). The fourth commandment reminds us that God is a jealous God and that he punishes “the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Deuteronomy 5:9b). This is almost too much to comprehend. It’s overwhelming to think that Sin has such an effect not only on my life but on the lives of so many others. And then there is anger and bitterness that my life is affected by the sins of my ancestors.
But the very next verse holds a great promise, one that my family has experienced personally for nearly 400 years. Deuteronomy 5:10 says that God, though he be a jealous one, shows “love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” My ancestor John Robinson was the pastor of the “Pilgrim Fathers,” and even though he sent his congregation to the New World in 1619, my family is still only 16 generations in to the thousand that God promised. Whew, how exciting! I feel the blessing of this promise, and the privilege to be a part of continuing that promise to future generations.
This evening at Fellowship Monrovia, Pastor Becky spoke about faith in action, citing Hebrews 11 as examples of people who lived their life in faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah. The list could go on. These were not just people who lived faith in action, but they lived in the hope and promises of what God had yet to do. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth,” (vs. 13). They all lived not for the promises on earth, but for the promises of God’s heavenly kingdom.
It is so easy, especially as a sinner in a fallen world, to remember the failures and forget the faithfulness. And this sinful, human flesh of mine wants to see promises delivered here on earth: the perfect job, the perfect husband, the perfect family, the perfect retirement plan (complete with a little bookshop in England with a flat above where my perfect husband and I can spend the last of our days, cozy in front of a fire, drinking tea, and reading to our hearts’ content). “Well done, good and faithful servant,” but I want my reward here on earth, too.
Becky challenged me tonight. I don’t serve Jesus for my reward here on earth. (That actually sounds gross, writing “reward.” I think I have claim to a reward??) Living for the heavenly kingdom means letting go of the earthly one. How, then, does my faith change? How does the way I hope for things change, if God’s promises to me extend beyond my earthly life? Is living for God’s promises truly enough?
There are things I need to stop; there are things I need to start. I feel I am on the cusp of a new season, and I am restless. After hearing from God today, I feel that restlessness turning into renewed hope and excitement. I long for a better a heavenly kingdom, one God has prepared for us.
“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.” – C.S. Lewis