Waiting in the Waiting Room

So here I am in the emergency waiting room at Edmond Regional Hospital. I’m experiencing a strange neck pain that came on suddenly three days ago.  The pain started as a soreness on the left side of my neck and has since spread down my left side of my neck, into my ear and my entire head (primarily my left side) is throbbing. I’m a bit dizzy. This is a strange pain. I’ve never experienced it before. So I’m waiting on a CT scan most likely to check the condition of my carotid artery.

In all this, I feel like writing. While in this waiting room, I’m looking at people in pain, people distracted, tired people. One woman is crying and holding her side. Another is laughing and talking far too loudly. People are standing, walking, pacing …all uncertain.
And the thing I keep thinking about is the new body that God will give me. I see the frailty and feel trapped and enslaved to my body. Some people identify themselves with their body. I never have. I’ve always viewed myself inhabiting this shell. Its the reason why I don’t take care of my health – because “my health” is not really mine. It belongs to this body that I just happen to be in.

Honestly, I’m OK with death. I don’t fear it at all. I know that the moments before it happens may include pain and disorientation, but I also know that it will be temporary. The only thing I fear about death is what my absence will do to my family.

This is the real fear and it is a near constant presense for me. It is always lurking in the dark corners of my mind. I have no doubts in the miraculous faithfulness of God to provide, but there are also the practical realities of that they would face. The ever-present nature of this fear is due to the continual war that I wage between what I know I should do and what I actually do.

That needs some explanation. Since I consider myself to be something other than my body, I don’t take care of my body. I know I should because I realize that my temporal experience here with my family exists within the physical world. As long as I exist within space-time, I can have no other experience of my family than that which is grounded in the physical.

Yet, for some reason this intellectual acknowledgment does not provide sufficient motivation for behavoral change. So here I am at the hospital most likely the result of my not taking care well enough. Truth and consequences.

When sin entered the world, so did disease and sickness, injury and pain. Such is the broken world we live in. Yet, even waiting here, in my own pain, writing about my own shortcomings and failings, I see the restoration that is coming. Eden will return. Once again we will be clothed in light and not know our nakedness. And one day, my loved-ones and I will walk with our Father in the cool of the day.

Come quickly Lord Jesus and take us home.

UPDATE: Turns out the neck pain was caused by muscle spasms.  Muscles may not be able to think for themselves, but they can make you think.

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Understanding and Expression

At birth, we awaken to find ourselves placed in a world – untrained, unknowing, unaware and off-balance.  Each of us tries to find orientation and a stable base of understanding upon which we can endeavor to make sense of our existence.  In this context, the universe of God has revealed a mystery of meaning and our life journey is destined to its understanding.  Yet the tools for comprehension that exist within us are so limited.  We start  the journey by looking inward; with self-awareness and self-understanding.  We look deeply within. We dive into the universe of who we are.  We try to sift though the seemingly inexhaustible darkness of thoughts, feelings and experiences in order to form some comprehensible matrix of our personal reality in the attempt to create some firm footing from which we may observe and launch out in other discovery.  We try to receive external information from our environment and harmoniously assimilate it into our personal construct to better make sense of the world setting we exist in.  Through all of this there is movement, flux, history – nothing static, always changing.  The world swirls around us as do our ideas and experiences requiring us to ever adjust our reality construct in order to account for the new information.  Between each breath, we are in a constant state of change and evolution.  And we try to make sense of it all.

In this personal, autonomous experience and in our interactions with other sentient beings, we are significantly and utterly limited by our humanity in two ways.  We are challenged to understand and express using tools that are finite.  We find ourselves given tools that have a limited capacity to remember and recall. Tools that require rest and rejuvenation. Tools that have a limited ability to process information in both scope and complexity.  Tools that are deficient in transforming thoughts, ideas, and emotions into adequate forms of expression and communication to others and even to ourselves.  Even if we are able to make some sense of the swirling maw within ourselves; given the desire to express our ideas to others, we are never able to choose exactly the right words or other mediums to form a complete representation of our ideas to those outside of our minds.  Even as I write this I realize the woeful inadequacy to find the choice combination of words that will express the meaning that exists within the cloud of my conscious mind.  Even the most talented poets manifest the sheer inadequacy of their expression.  Yet, somehow, some form of their meaning comes through in their words.  That some meaning escapes into the consciousness of another who finds and recognizes its value gives me hope and also draws me closer to an understanding of my deficiency in relation to the infinitely expressioned God.

In realizing these limited capacities for understanding and expression, I also conceive that each sentient being, experiencing the same inabilities, is universally bound to each another.  We are a collective of individuals inextricably unique and tied together.  We exist within ourselves, but never apart from one another.  We are together on a common path to make sense of a life that none of us asked for, but find ourselves in.  We find greater degrees of meaning through each other – through our communication across and because of our limited medium and capacity.  And it is only in the chaos of our togetherness, in conjunction with the God of experiences, that we come to a more expressive and fully realized comprehension of the divine mystery.

You Are Never Ready

My wife and I had always had a vague plan that we would wait to have our first child until we had been married five years. As we got closer to that mark, we’d talk about whether or not we’d be ready for a child. From these discussions, I could tell Tara was more easily able to reconcile herself to having a child. I was not. I told her I wasn’t ready yet. Not only were there things I wanted to do with my career – I wanted to hit my target salary mark achieving a level of security and safety before committing to the responsibility of a child. But greater in my mind was that I had to work out a few things in my head before making such a commitment. I was unsure of my ability to make a dependable living and provide for my family. I was unsure of my own abilities to be a father. I felt I needed to be certain that I was capable before committing to a child.

Well, all these considerations ended up being for nothing because in our fourth year of marriage, my wife announced she was pregnant. That first night after hearing the news I was a basket case. I felt very unprepared. Yet over the course of that night, I began to accept that my carefully planned life was not going to happen the way I expected it to.

Of course, now four years later I am grateful that everything happened as it did. We have a beautiful boy who is glorious to be around (most of the time).

About a year ago, Tara and I began talking about having a second child. This time I was much more certain in my ability to provide and care for my family. Yet I still didn’t feel ready. Tara was sure she wanted another baby. I admitted I’d never be truly ready, but agreed we should go forward. Now we have our second son and again I am very grateful.

I’ve just read a book called This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley. It has been harder for me to get through this book than any other I’ve read (and I read a lot). It’s not that the grammar was difficult (it’s an easy read in that sense) or that it was very long (only 180 pages). Rather this book describes what living life in Jesus’ kingdom can look like from a practical perspective – not in a far away heaven, but right here and now.

The book has opened a new perspective for me and described my responsibility to a hurting world in such a way that frightens me.  It makes me shudder to think of what living this way might do to my life. I am afraid of giving up what I consider to be mine – my money, my belongings, my time, my plans, my privacy and safe seclusion from the world.

This book paints a picture of the gospel that calls me into to world where injustice happens, people are hurting, and many are without hope. I am seeing that my sitting on the sidelines in my comfortable suburban home, or at my plush corporate desk is not what I am here to do because those settings, by their nature, separate me from the world Jesus came to redeem and reclaim.

I don’t believe that Jesus is calling me to explicitly sell my house or quit my job (someday he may), but I am certain he is calling me to get unselfishly involved in people’s lives – forming real relationships full of the beautiful and the ugly, listening to and meeting their needs. This scares the pants off me and I am not ready for it.

I’m not ready because it requires that I view my possessions in a truer light – that they are not mine at all. Each dollar I spend is not mine. Each moment I spend can be used to either serve this calling or to serve self. I’m not ready because this is a call for total and complete surrender of every part of myself.

When I think back on the story of my children I think that God was using those times to tell me that I will never be ready, but that I should just dive in head first anyway. In fact I picture God saying that it is His purpose that I never be ready.  If ever I was ready to serve, perhaps in my human arrogance I might claim my readiness for myself and strip God of that glory.  God, in his infinite wisdom, was teaching me an important lesson – that the way I order events in life is wrong. I don’t have to first be fully prepared and ready before committing. Rather, I should be fully committed in spite of not being ready or prepared.  Doing life in this way honors God and brings glory to him because it becomes clear that He makes the successes happen not me.

This is the natural order.  God acts and we respond. My action is a responsibility in that I have an obligation to respond to God.  What carries more weight with me is not the obligation.  Rather, I am awed by the image of my potential future evolution – being  entrenched in the mess of this world, forming authentic relationships in order to meet needs and show what living in the present kingdom of Christ can be like.  This image of this possible future feels natural, like the way it was meant to be.  Yet, it is also so counter-cultural that it scares me to think of myself living this way.

I’ve thought it through and understand it.  My heart feels drawn in this direction.  Now what? Does this picture of me serving the world motivate me enough to walk out the door and work, or do I stay in my Lazy-boy?

We Were Created… to Create

C.S. Lewis stated the following in his book, Christian Reflections,

“In the New Testament the art of life itself is an art of imitation: can we, believing this, believe that literature [or art] which must derive from real life, is to aim at being “creative”, “original”, and “spontaneous.”  “Originality” in the New Testament is quite plainly the prerogative of God alone. If I have read the New Testament aright, it leaves no room for “creativeness” even in a modified or metaphysical sense. Our whole destiny seems to lie in the opposite direction, in being as little as possible ourselves, in acquiring a fragrance that is not our own but borrowed, in becoming clean mirrors filled with the image of a face that is not ours.”

This last sentence is a reference to 2 Corinthians 3:18.

“We with unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the glory of the Lord.”

I agree with Lewis in that our motivation for our art (our lives) should not be to glorify ourselves and that we should not think that we possess any sort of creative power that is unique and distinctive to ourselves. However, I believe we do have creative power within us and that such power is one of the gifts God endowed us with when He created us “in His image”.

Lewis uses the term “image bearers” referring to mankind as not only containing the image or signature of God as a part of our inherent properties as creations of God, but also as call to duty. Being an image bearer means that our purpose and our obligation is to act in such a way that God is glorified by our lives – that God’s goodness is manifested by our choices.

I believe that God endowed His own creative power within us and that we each have a choice to exercise that power in a way that points to God or in a way that points only horizontally to and about the world.  Taken as a whole, our lives can be distilled down to our choice to either fight against our created purpose – to struggle against the current that is trying to pull us to God – or our choice to surrender to that spiritual current and allow God to take us safely to the place He has prepared for us.

When we choose to exercise our creative power in such a way that points to God, projecting and reflecting to goodness of God, we act as partners with God in His on-going creative process. God finished His initial creation at the end of the sixth day, but by no means was God finished creating. The whole of history manifests God’s continuous process of creation – to make what was dark and sinful into something radiant, pure, a redeemed reflection of Himself for His glory.

When we exercise our creative power vertically we yield to the stream that carries us and reveal to the world “pictures of God” that point to His goodness, mercy and grace. We add new beauty to the world casting forth a light that brings joy and awareness.  As such, our creations are balanced with the divine creations God made and thus, reflect the same holy and sacramental quality that God’s does.

Our awareness of the endowment of creative power God gives us should put us in awe of His grace. To think that God would give us the same ability, like Him, to bring something into existence out of nothing should give us pause and be amazed at his generosity and faith in us. God past to us this spiritual genetic marker and this power connects us directly to Him as His offspring.

When we exercise our creative power vertically glorifying God, we do so not as ourselves, but as those who are redeemed and being ever transformed into the image of our Creator. What honor God gives us.  What great responsibility as well.

God is an Alien

“The God with whom I had become familiar while growing up fundamentalist, then evangelical, in a Baptist college and seminary was a God very much like us. The God I thought I knew made sense. He played by the rule – ours. I had to do some serious unlearning.”

– Timothy Stoner from his book “The God Who Smokes”

We humans have a tendency to create for ourselves an image of God that is likable. A God who always forgives – suggests, but never demands. A God who is always patient with us and supports us like a good therapist.  However, though this may be the God we want it is not the God we got.

The God we have is likable and kind and patient. He is soft and comforting like a lamb. However, he is also a lion and is anything but safe. We do not get to make God into our image. Rather, God has purposed that we be made into his. While God may give us comfort, we should not become comfortable with our image of Him. He is ever unpredictable. The moment we think we understand Him he will turn the tables and show us a different side of Himself. He will not allow Himself to be contained within a box of our design.

A few years ago, when God was guiding me through my own unlearning process (which will always continue), I was very confused. I didn’t know what or how to think about God. The image I inherited of Him growing up no longer made sense. I was distraught and in turmoil because I felt that if I didn’t have an image of God that I could wrap my brain around, then I didn’t know how to live. For a long while I was depressed by this thought.

When I was a kid, I loved sci-fi movies. Some of the aliens in them resembled me, while others were completely “other” and unrelatable. I began to consider what God would look like if I considered him an alien. Thus began my re-imagining of God. I began to see that while God displayed kindness, compassion, patience and all the other traits I was comfortable with, I also began to realize that God was also very unrelatable and unpredictable.

Strangely, thinking of God as an alien was comforting to me. I began to accept that God was so much bigger than I could understand. I realized that the emotions and traits I valued were definitely a part of God because he created them as a part of the universe. However, I also understood that the Creator would, of necessity, be a being “beyond” and greater than his creation. A created being has no ability to understand his creator unless his creator imbues him with that ability. And the God we have has chosen to remain a mystery.

All of this left me with a strong comfort knowing that God as creator could have done anything he wishes with his creation, but chose to setup a system whereby we can live joyfully with him forever. Yet, my understanding also created in me a greater respect and even fear of God because I now know that God, being sovereign can still choose to do whatever he wants and be justified in that decision.

God has chosen to bring me and the rest of the world to himself by refining us in his image. This refining process can be slow and gentle, but it can also be shocking and brutal. In either case, it is God’s will and we have no control over it.

Knowing this, I welcome God’s refining in my life, but with hesitation. For I fear what he has in store for me. Therefore, my challenge and the challenge for everyone else is one of submission. In order to be refined into God’s image, in order for his will to be done (with positive consequences for ourselves) we must continually surrender pieces of ourselves to God when He makes it known to us that they are obstructing his purpose for us. We must incrementally surrender our will and trust that the One who promises our salvation and life will be faithful and handle our lives with the love and gentleness (and sometimes harshness) that we need.

Being called to give up so much, isn’t it reassuring that God spent several thousand years enacting the stories of the Bible to convince us of His faithfulness? For He is faithful and true and will deliver on His promises.

Blessed be the name of the Lord
He gives and takes away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Limited Expression

I often think that no matter how hard I try to accurately express my thoughts, the words I choose always come short of the meaning I intend to convey. As a human, I don’t have the ability to fully communicate or express what ideas are going on in my head. In my mind, the ideas swirl around and are not logically organized. Rather, each idea “lives” independently of all the other ideas. Yet, within my mind I am able to coalesce or string together these independent ideas into a coherent pattern of thought. But when I try to translate these thought patterns into transferable words, I always fall short. Some of the meaning gets lost and some of the thoughts that do escape my mind get framed with an incorrect emphasis that skews the intended meaning I am trying to communicate. And this describes only the process of me crafting and sending my thoughts to someone else. An equal or greater complexity exists for the person receiving my thoughts who is trying to interpret them.

When reading the book of Romans, the thought occured to me that seemed to support the theory that the writers of the Bible were inspired in the sense that they wanted to write about their experience and understanding of God, but were not given the exact words to use in order to communicate a clear, comprehensible, accurate and complete concept of God. Rather, they suffered the same human limitation that I suffer – the inability to fully form their understanding in human vocabulary.

If this theory is true, then it would contradict those who claim that the Bible’s meaning is clear and easily understandable. Rather, the theory would support the notion that the Bible is anything but simple. Instead, it is full of confounding and ambiguous statements and difficult to understand concepts just like the rest of human literature because it was written by men having the same limitations as secular authors.

This conclusion has the ring of truth to me because my own experience supports it. But this conclusion doesn’t pass judgement at all on the nature of God and our ability to understand his nature. Rather, it supports the belief that in all things God moves by grace to make his work complete in us. We can make our very best effort to add to our understanding of God by meditating on Scripture, but in the end, it is God who “gifts” us with the understanding of his nature and will.

The last Adam’s blood

As the first Adam’s sweat embraces my face may the last Adam’s blood race through me with grace.

These are song lyrics that I heard on Air 1, Christian radio.

I am amazed by the brevity of this statement. It encompasses so much of the story of redemption. It expresses the arch of God’s story. Because of Adam’s sin in the garden, sin entered the world. I recently re-read the first chapters of Genesis and realized that God’s response to Adam and Eve’s sin was not one of anger and vengeance. When God spoke to them about the consequences of their sin, he was not threatening or pronouncing judgment upon them. He was lamenting the fact that their actions had changed the very nature of the world. They had introduced corruption. And God lamented. They had brought pain into existence. And God lamented. They had ushered in death. And God lamented.

Then the Lord God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!” So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. – Genesis 3:22-24

God had given man free will and as a result, he knew they possessed the power to take from the tree of life and live forever. This would have violated the nature of the universe. For if they had done this, they would have been like God, yet harboring darkness and corruption within them. Sadly, God could not allow this to happen. He was forced to banish them, thereby removing their opportunity to live forever. Had they not eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve would have lived forever. The fruit of the tree of life had not been banned from them. Only the fruit of the other tree. But darkness cannot abide with light. Therefore, they could no longer be allowed to eat the good fruit. This was their separation from God – their separation from the life of God.

Being a father, I know that God regretted having to banish them. But there was no other choice in order to maintain their free will. The amazing thing was that God foreknew that all of this would happen. It purposefully arranged events and the created environment so that it would happen. It was the only way. So what must it have been like for God before their sin, to anticipate it all the while being in happy fellowship with his innocent children? Even though God is not a temporal being, it his joy still must have been bittersweet. Yet, also through his ability to be outside of time, God also must have been experiencing the lasting joy of his permanently redeemed children through Christ.

I pity God in this moment and I praise him for his plan of reconciliation. For he knew that even in the moment when sin began it corruptive work on Adam, tainting him throughout his being, he had already begun the cleansing process. It’s almost as if God had left a remnant of himself inside Adam – untouchable by sin. This being a dormant property of life-giving power that would only be activated when Jesus uttered his last words, “It is finished.” And this is, in fact what he did. God left the back door open a crack. Open just enough to whisper through, to communicate his love and thus allow all men everywhere a chance to hear his voice and see glimpses of his divinity.

To me, this remnant seems like dormant cells in our bodies. No, more like DNA at the atomic level. Every fiber of our being possesses these remnant atoms. They wait within us. They course through our blood. They do no harm to the surrounding tissue. But at the new birth, they come alive. In fact they are much like Chi – undetectable energy. When they are quickened, they cleanse us and give us balance. This life-giving Chi re-connects us with God and it races through us with grace.