Friday, September 25, 2015

While We Are in This Tent

I love camping. And I don’t mean in cabins or RV trailers or campsites with full facilities. That’s all fine if that’s your thing, but what I mean is bare bones tent camping in the middle of nowhere with nothing but what you can carry with you. There is just something about getting down to the very basics, facing the brunt of the elements, going to difficult and alien places far outside my normal comfort zone, and then coming home to tell about it. But I have to admit, that last part is key. Coming home. While with the rising costs of rent and utilities, I often joke with my wife about just moving to a campsite full time, the truth is that even I don’t want camping to be my permanent living arrangement. Tents are fantastic temporary shelters and are great, even necessary, if you’re on the move. When it comes time to build a permanent residence, however, and settle in one place long term to really live, we tend to want something a bit more secure. Temporary residents have different priorities than permanent settlers. This basic reality is a crucial picture of the Christian life.

The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

This life is like life in a tent. Tents are fragile. They lack sufficient insulation. They provide no protection at all against an attacker or large animal, and stand no chance against a truly strong wind or torrential deluge. They do well enough to provide shade, block the breeze, limit insects, and shelter from most rains, but when push comes to shove we know the tent can’t really protect us. It’s not meant to. It’s meant to get us by for a time and pack up easily when we move on.

A poor man clad in rags doesn’t despise his rags because they cover his naked body, he despises them because they don’t cover it enough. Likewise, the traveler doesn’t look forward to home because his tent keeps him from sleeping outside, unguarded, in the open air. He looks forward to his home because his house keeps him far more guarded than his tent! In this life, we are traveling in a tent, our mortal and sin cursed bodies. It is right, indeed it is a glorious good, for us to realize this and to long for our final home in the future bodily resurrection, in heavenly bodies that will never grow sick and die. We don’t long for death, but for more life! We want additional layers of life! Life more secure and unshakable. As our Lord put it, life more abundant!

Paul wrote the church at Philippi:

They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.” (Philippians 3:19b-21)

We are longing for home, and we should be! Right now we are a camp of traveler’s eeking out a life in tents as we journey the often beautiful but harsh and demanding terrain that is this mortal life. But when we arrive home? When our Lord returns and sets this world right and calls us out of our graves? Oh glorious day!

Now, we should not picture this as being a mere huddled mass of refugees. We may be dwelling in tents as strangers in a foreign land, but we are citizens of heaven! Friends and beloved servants of the king! Adopted sons and daughters of almighty God! We are more like the children of Israel after the exodus. Christ has delivered us from the slavery of our sin in the great Passover at Calvary and the in the parting and breaking open of the sea of death itself in His victorious resurrection! But we have not yet arrived at the Promised Land. God is with us, and his promise is sure, but for now we often find ourselves hungry and thirsty and tired and oppressed by enemies in the wilderness. We wander on foot and sleep in tents, but through this difficult journey home we learn to rely on our deliverer, and to walk in eager anticipation of our arrival while enduring whatever may come in the meantime knowing that He will be faithful to His word and bring us home! As we read in the letter to the Hebrews:

Let us then go to Him outside the camp, bearing His disgrace. For we do not have an enduring city here; instead, we seek the one to come.” (Hebrews 13:13-14)

We must, therefore, live as those outside the camp. We mustn’t try to live comfortably like residents and settlers when we are only travelers in tents. As Peter also warned:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

We are traveling in enemy territory, and need to remain ever on our guard! We need, also, to draw close to one another as believers. We have been made one people, one nation, one family, one new humanity, indeed one body! We must depend on each other, help each other, and bear one another’s burdens as we travel this road. As Peter elsewhere wrote:

 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;  for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:22-25

Brothers and sisters, let this biblical truth be a guiding principle in your life. A people traveling through a hostile, foreign land on their way home live very differently than people who are quite at home where they are. We do not live for comfort, or safety, or pleasure here in this mortal life. We lay those things aside and focus on the hard realities of the long hike, and know that our joy is in resurrection life to come, when our bodies will die no more, in security and safety of the consummation of the kingdom of God. Like those who set aside worldly things and often even suffered violently for Christ before us, we count it a joy. We’re going home!

“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.” Hebrews 11:13

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.

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