the tension is unbearably thick

So much about the love of Christ in our lives seems to be a bad fit with the way this world works. The stuff we say and do in the surreal comfort of a church sanctuary, the high and lofty ideals of Christianity with stained glass and multimedia, the convenient ways to serve in the nursery or the coffee shop or on the communion preparation team, seem so distant from the calamities of our lives.

We have to work on Monday, and deal with those children and those in-laws and those bills. How exactly does that love and service stuff work itself out? Didn’t Jesus know that we would have families to tend and bills to pay and emotional wives to comfort and movies to watch and games to play? Didn’t Jesus know that we would need time for ourselves? Didn’t Jesus know, and the pastors and the church staff and the people at the homeless shelter? Didn’t they understand that our lives would be so full and busy? If they had, or if they did, then surely they didn’t expect us to ignore all of those things and just spend our time serving the needy, and visiting the widows and orphans.

The reality is that the commandments of Jesus and the direction of the Holy Spirit seem severely overbearing at times – quite frequently, actually. It really doesn’t make logical sense, all of this stuff that contends for our space and time. I’m overwhelmed by the conflict of the inspiration to do and the inability to do. I can’t make all of this work. The demands are too much, and the pressure, well, it’s too much, too.

Really, what does Jesus expect from us? Here, in my schedule, in my 24-hour days, in conflict with 30 hours of daily demands, where does Jesus fit? Although I earnestly desire to serve Him with all of my heart, and I really do love Him, my humanity, my humanness, gets in the way.

Right here, where heaven meets earth, is where we are in a perpetual conundrum, as Paul wrote so eloquently in Romans 7:18: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good, I do not find.”

Therein is the issue, the circular reference of being and not being, of living and not really living. This is where the tension of heaven and earth tugs the strongest upon us. At times, I’m certain that gravity would suck me to the center of the earth if it wasn’t for the ground holding me up. At times, as I dangle from the ever-weakening thread above the fires, as the flames lick at my flesh with urgency, it seems that a baptism by fire, the redemptive sort rather than the condemning, may be just the answer to what ails.

The tension is unbearably thick. I’m certain that Jesus knew this would be the case and in some comforting yet frustrating way, I’m somehow certain he finds this tense condition perfectly acceptable, at least for the time being. He must, because here in the thick of it is right where we all reside.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Do we dumb it down and live in the synthetic, earthly world, ignoring the heavenly pull, making up a world without such concerns in which we can raise our kids and grow our retirement funds and golf on Saturdays and ignore the call of Christ to take up our crosses, to lay down our lives, to give, to feed, to meet, to minister, to commune with the lover of our souls? Do we ignore the heavenly, or at least stiffen it up enough in stained glass and church language to keep it sterile and unaffecting?

Of course not. Of course there’s a way, beyond all rational thinking, for the earthly and the heavenly to be compatible, at least temporarily, at least here in me, at least in this dirty, vermin-infested, weed-covered field wherein a treasure is buried and for which a rich man sold all that he had. Here, somewhere in me, is the capacity to walk in two worlds and be true to both, so long as I live in both.

Paul goes on, in that seventh chapter of Romans, to bring us to the right conclusion, first by asking the ultimate question in verse 24: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And then in the very next verse, thankfully not leaving us long to squirm in that burdensome question, Paul answers his own question with the assurance of a man who knows the answer from the certainty of experience: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Christ is our deliverer, not the cause of the trouble. Listening to his call, rather than denying it or covering it up with some synthetic version of life, is what brings real salvation and meaning to our lives. Christ our deliverer; Christ our redeemer; Christ our Lord; Christ our answer. He alone resolves the conflict. We’re His field, bought with a price. What is His answer? “Go! Feed! Serve! Love! And, occupy until I come! Come, and I will give you rest! Go and make disciples.”

In Christ, and in Him alone, are both sides of the equation resolved to satisfaction. Come and go. Die and live. Lay down your life and take it up.

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