My Earliest Memory

My earliest memory is of me laying in the back seat of a dark red 1978 chevy impala. Looking out the window, I remember gray skies, rain and cold. I remember being alone because my parents left me in the car while they set up a tent in the colorado rain.

Cold, gray, wet and alone. Yet its interesting what I don’t remember. I don’t remember fear.  I also don’t remember any obvious feelings of security, but because no fear existed, I must have felt safe.  Safe, while alone. Safe, while unable to protect myself. Safe, in the midst of the thunderstorm.

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Without a Living Jesus, It’s Meaningless

On October 6, 2007, Phil Wickham wrote the following on his blog:

It’s always a very moving thing to see people singing out, eyes closed, hands raised, in a place like this. I love being a part of a tour that stands for more than simply what is seen. It is very special and I am proud to be a part of it. The song I’ve been ending my set with every night is one off of the new CD called “True Love”. It’s the gospel in a song and every night I can’t wait to get to the bridge. It says the words “Jesus is alive!” over and over again, and I can’t help but smile every time I get to it. If those three words were not true then my whole life, everything I am about and for, would be meaningless. The fact that the grave could not hold Jesus, that He was victorious over death, is proof of who He is and seals everything He came to do. We are redeemed through His life. We are saved by His life. We will live forever in His life. Jesus is alive!

I was introduced to Phil’s music about a year ago and since, I have soaked it up.  Phil’s voice is a glorious testament to the creative wonder of God.  His lyrical style is unlike other Christian artists that I listen to.  It is like Phil is not writing with words, but with yearnings of the human heart.  His lyrics penetrate through the noisy static of our lives to the relational core of Christian theology.  He is profoundly simplistic because each of his songs is really just about bringing harmony to two hearts – God’s and yours’.

Phil has awakened for me a new and deep love and a very emotive thanksgiving.  When I join with Phil in this musical worship, my heart fills up and spills over as I spin with God my lover embracing.  It is joyous and chaotic and removed from all the worries of the day – pure worship.

Phil is right.  If Jesus is not now alive, if He is not the only begotten Son of God, if He is not the living and powerful Word that spoke creation into existence and continues to speak it even now, if Jesus’ story of True Love is not in fact true, then Phil’s life is wasted and the joy I’ve found in the last year because of Phil is nothing more than a meaningless dream.

I’ve learned that seeking to intellectually prove the realities of God is a doomed task (because it requires me to do the work).  Belief in God is not created within me based on my ability to think my way through the problem.  Nevertheless, evidence does exist within my heart.  It is the joy I now know because of Phil’s music and God’s working.  This evidence is something I know to be true not because I have thought my way to that conclusion, but because God has taught me how to feel my way to that conclusion.

Jesus is alive, he is the only begotten Son of God, He is the living and powerful Word, and His True Love story is true.  I know this because the eternity in my heart says it is so.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. – Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)

Paradox is Normal

Paradox is part of the nature of theology.  Not theology as a study of God, although that is included.  Rather theology as the definition of the nature of reality.  Paradox is an element that we cannot understand.  We cannot reconcile it with our logic.  Yet, it is as much a part of reality as grass and trees and love and sadness.  There is one God, yet there are three.  It’s a paradox that we can’t understand.  Our only options are to deny this reality because we can’t reconcile it or accept it, not by logic, but by faith.

Consider eternity.  When God redeems the world in judgment, it is commonly believed that time will cease to exist and eternity will begin (if it can be said to have a beginning).  The redeemed will live with God for all eternity… in timelessness.  Yet, Scripture tells us of the streets of heaven.  It speaks of our reuniting with loved ones and conversations with the Lord.  How can these things occur in a “world” without time?  Will it not take time to walk down heaven’s streets?  Will time not pass as we converse with the Lord?  Time must pass if we are to experience these and other things in heaven.  There can be no “experience” without time as its context.

The fact that we “experience” anything at all is not a concept that conveys a fixed timeless point.  Rather, it conveys a linear and temporal backdrop for the events that take place that allow us to have the experience.  Yet time will not exist in heaven.  This is a paradox.  If the primal purpose of God’s plan is the eternal redemption of humanity so that He and we could spend eternity together, then paradox must be a core element of theological reality.  What other paradoxes are there in God’s reality?  That Jesus could be both fully God and fully man at the same time?  That our works save us, but we are saved by faith alone?  That we are told to have faith, but that faith is a gift from God that we could never conjure by our own will?  The arrival of the Kingdom has not come to pass, yet it is already here?

God’s reality is full of paradox.  This is one reason it is called a “mystery” and why it confounds those who are not humble enough to dismiss their logic.  For we have only two options: deny this reality because we can’t comprehend it or accept it in faith even in the midst of incomprehension.  Such a faith itself is a paradox for how can one believe in something he cannot understand?  Yet faith we have because it is a gift of God.  And we cannot claim any credit for it.  Look for and enjoy the paradox.  Revel in the mystery of God.

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.

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.

Deliverance from Legalism

The Hebrews in Egypt were enslaved for hundreds of years.  They cried out for a deliverer.   Generations later, the Israelites in Babylonian captivity prayed for a deliverer.  Years after that, the Jews under Roman occupation hoped for a deliverer.  Today, legalists are enslaved by fear, ignorance and conceit.  Yet they do not cry out for a deliverer.  The Jews before them knew they were enslaved and needed a deliverer.  Yet the legalist doesn’t know or understand his need.  Should deliverance be brought to the legalist even though he does not ask for it?

My first instinct (and the instinct of many others I’ve talked to) says No!  Deliverance must be desired.  There is truth in this.  Yet, there is also truth in the fact that before I could accept Christ as my deliverer, He had to first show me that I was enslaved to sin.  I did not know it.  I was ignorant.  Jesus shone his light on my life and revealed my darkness.  Only because of this revelation was I aware of my slavery.  Adding another dimension… when Jesus initially cast his light on me revealing my sin, was that light complete?  Did it display the entirety of  my corruption once and for all?  Or did the light, like the creeping rays of the sun, only illuminate the first aspects of my guilt – those that I was ready to see at that time – not revealing all on my life’s depravity, but only the portion needed to germinate my infant desire for Him?

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and imbalance with God, not in one great sweeping revelation, but in degrees and moments of revelation.  We’ve often heard people say life is a journey.  Our initial conversion is the first step of that journey – the beginning of God’s working within us to reveal, through his ever-increasing light, the dark spots on our souls.  Throughout our lives, God engages us in a process of renewal and reclamation, encouraging and convicting us to increasingly surrender more and more of ourselves to him.  He continually shows us that we continually need a deliverer.  God did not intend for our initial deliverance through the new birth to be the goal, the end, the destination.  Our first trusting of God resulted in our being born again, but for the rest of our lives God spends his energy building greater and deeper trust of himself in us so that we increasingly rely on him.  With great patience and love, God casts more light on us revealing our need.  With this light, he also whispers his promises and works his wonders to continuously assure us throughout this process that we have our deliverer.

If we consider God to be acting mercifully toward us as he walks with us through this process, should we not also show the same mercy to our legalistic brothers (as they walk on their own journey)?  Or should we, unlike God, abandon them to their slavery?  In spite of the people who say there is no hope or that it is a waste of time to approach the legalist, I simply cannot reconcile the idea of abandoning my brothers who are trapped in legalism with the gospel message of Jesus.  Jesus came to set men free.  Consider these scriptures:

John 8:31-36

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Rom. 6:6-7

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Gal. 5:1-10

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

2 Cor. 3:17-18

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Perhaps rather than abandon our legalistic brothers because we view their plight as an insurmountable obstacle, we should recognize their situation for what it is – enslavement.  Perhaps our response should be one of holy discontent.  Rather than be apathetic, perhaps we should grow angry at their imprisonment.  Perhaps we should commit ourselves to their rescue – finding ways to scale the walls of their prison and deliver them from bondage.

What was Jesus’ response to the Jews screaming for his blood, “crucify him, crucify him!”  He showed them mercy – rescuing and delivering them.  He laid down his life for them.

* All scripture quotations from the NIV


Books I’ve Been Reading

2009

  • The Gunslinger: Book 1 of The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King
  • Leaving the Faith of My Fathers: A Spiritual Journey by Joe E. Lewis
  • The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
  • Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession by Anne Rice
  • Christ The Lord: The Road to Cana by Anne Rice
  • The Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley
  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • The God Who Smokes by Timothy Stoner
  • Crazy Love by Francis Chan
  • Set Free! Stay Free!: The Fallacy and Failure of Legalism by Larry Deason
  • Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
  • New Moon by Stephanie Meyer
  • Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer
  • Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer
  • Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zhan
  • Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zhan
  • The Last Command by Timothy Zhan