Sunday, December 8, 2013

Purpose


As much as I want to believe in a God who would only give me extraordinary flawless health and overflowing comforts, I don’t know He exists. Before you think I have abandoned my faith, hear me out. The God who only desires His people to be wealthy and healthy is a God of one’s na├»ve blinded imagination. Does God desire good things for those who follow Him? Absolutely, He is the giver of all good things, but at times I believe God knows we must go through suffering and hardships in order to walk in His will. In His infinite wisdom, through His ways which our not our ways, He knows we must endure to know Him.  He desires His glory to be known and the best for those who love Him. But the best He has for us and His greatest glory does not always appear as a white picket fence, early retirement, or perfect health. It could for some, but often times it does not. Sometimes His plan isn’t as we first imagined it. We pray for certain things such as “God, grow my faith,” “Lord, give me patience,” “Father, make me strong,” but we don’t expect to go through anything which would produce those requests. We want to be like a pitcher of water into which God pours more patience. Instead of painful circumstances producing strength, a law the athlete knows well, we wish for supernatural granted strength for which we traded nothing. I see Him looking at us in confusion saying, “Don’t know you know you are walking through this trial for the purpose of me answering your very prayers.” For me, when I realize He is answering my prayers through trial and actually growing my faith, I think, this isn’t really what I had in mind.

I know Jesus suffered. I know Jesus suffered. He had to. He chose to. But do you ever wonder was the only price paid by the God of the universe a few hours on a cross? Was it all over then? Was it just a series of physically painful events that sealed my life for eternity? All my sins gone because a man allowed himself to be bloodied on a cross? How does that work? With great reverence I gaze at the cross eternally thankful, but my heart yearns there must be more. More to this sacrifice. Jesus didn’t only go through physical trials in order to pay my price. My debt was high, unforgiven by merely the physical. Since many men have been crucified, it wasn’t just the style of execution that counted me righteous, was it? Do we realize the sacrifice our Savior went through? We cannot fathom all that took place. The sacrifice was much more significant than our minds can conceive. Do we understand that Son had to bear the wrath of the Father of which we deserved? But isn’t He one with the Father? Was there complete separation in the only holy perfect person in relationship, the Trinity? I can’t emphasize enough that our minds can’t wrap around this, but the following excerpt from a book brings me a little closer to understanding the magnitude of sacrifice it took to pay my price. It also helps me trust a God who sometimes calls me to suffer for the greater good.


He had created humans to mirror him, not be miniatures of Lucifer. Something was needed to cut through the stench and salvage of this pathetic race. Some medicine more potent than anyone knew of. Some procedure. Some life-giving surgery.
The king became the Great Physician. Summoning his compassion and his plumbless wisdom he conceived of a surgery. How to save the patients without trivializing their guilt? (They had knowingly spread the fatal sickness among them.) How to cure them without letting the horror of the disease ever be forgotten? How to mingle mercy with justice? How to slice the cancer from their souls and leave no scar?
            He prepared for the procedure by donning not gloves and a lab coat but a mortal body. Did it feel a few sizes too small? He stretched himself upon the operating table.
            His hand reaching for a saw…

Now, the Son of God dropped to the dirt in an olive grove and vomited in his soul at the prospect before him. Eleven men who would later change world history – some, accustomed to working all night in their fishing boats – could not keep awake for the scene. Yet sixty feet away their eternal destinies were being fought over. Except for the heaving of those shoulders who bore the weight of the world, nothing could be seen in the shadowy spot where the Son of God groaned. But the bleachers of heaven filled to capacity that night – all hell strained its neck to see how the spectacle in that lonely acre would end. The Father gazed down and gave his sober nod. The Son stared back, and bowed his acceptance. A line of men and torches snaked down from the city, through the blackness, towards the garden. God in the flesh saw them coming through tear-blurred eyes that refused to blink.
            “It’s time to get up,” he quietly told the eleven.
            The torches arrived. The sheep fled. The shepherd stood. The hurricane struck…

--- Read these next lines slow. Understand every word---

The Savior was now thrown to men quite different from the eleven. The face that Moses had begged to see – was forbidden to see – was slapped bloody. The thorns that God had sent to curse the earth’s rebellion now twisted around his own brow. His back, buttocks, and the rear of his legs felt the whip – soon they looked like plowed Judean fields outside the city. “On with the blindfold!” someone shouts. “That’s it – now spin him. Who hit you?” By the time the spitting is through, more saliva is on him than in him. No longer can he be recognized. “Cut him down from the post! Send him toting his crossbar to the playground.” Up Skull Hill to the welcome of the other poorly paid legionaries enjoying themselves.
            “On your back with you!” One raises a mallet to sink in the spike. But the soldier’s heart must continue pumping as he readies the prisoner’s wrist. Someone must sustain the soldier’s life minute by minute, for no man has this power on his own. Who supplies the breath to his lungs? Who gives energy to his cells? Who holds his molecules together? Only by the Son do “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). The victim wills that the soldier live on – he grants the warrior’s continued existence. The man swings.
            As the man swings, the Son recalls how he and the Father first designed the medial nerve of the human forearm – the sensations it would be capable of. The design proves flawless – the nerve performs exquisitely. “Up you go!” They lift the cross. God is on display and can scarcely breathe.
            But these pains are a mere warm-up to his other and growing dread. He begins to feel a foreign sensation. Somewhere during this day an unearthly foul odor began to waft, not around his nose, but his heart. He feels dirty. Human wickedness starts to crawl upon his spotless being – the living excrement from our souls. The apple of his Father’s eye turns brown with rot.
            His Father! He must face His Father like this!
            From heave the Father now rouses himself like a lion disturbed, shakes his main, and roars against the shriveling remnant of a man hanging on a cross. Never has the Son seen the Father look at him so, never felt even the least of his hot breath. But the roar shakes the unseen world and darkens the visible sky. The Son does not recognize these eyes.
            “Son of Man! Why have you behaved so? You have cheated, lusted, stolen, gossiped – murdered, envied, hated, lied. You have cursed, robbed, overspent, overeaten – fornicated, disobeyed, embezzled, and blasphemed. Oh, the duties you have shirked, the children you have abandoned! Who has ever ignored the poor, so played the coward, so belittled my name? Have you ever held your razor tongue? What a self-righteous, pitiful drunk – you, who molest you boys, peddle killer drugs, travel in cliques, and mock your parents. Who gave you the boldness to rig elections, foment revolutions, torture animals, and worship demons? Does the list never end! Splitting families, raping virgins, acting smugly, buying politicians, practicing extortion, filming pornography, accepting bribes. You have burned down buildings, perfected terrorist tactics, founded false religions, traded in slaves – relishing each morsel and bragging about it all. I hate, I loathe these things in you! Disgust for everything about you consumes me! Can you not feel my wrath?”
            Of course the Son is innocent. He is blamelessness itself. The Father knows this. But the divine pair have an agreement, and the unthinkable must now take place. Jesus will be treated as if personally responsible for every sin ever committed.
            The Father watches as his heart’s treasure, the mirror-image of himself, sinks drowning into raw, liquid sin. Jehovah’s stored rage against humankind from every century explodes in a single direction.
            “Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me!?”
            But heaven stops its ears. The Son stares up at the One who cannot, who will not, reach down or reply.
            The Trinity had planned it. The Son had endured it. The Spirit enabled him. The Father rejected the Son who he loved. Jesus, the God-man from Nazareth, perished. The Father accepted his sacrifice for sin and was satisfied. The Rescue was accomplished.
            God set down his saw.
            This is who asks us to trust him when he calls on us to suffer.[1]




After retyping those words from this book… I don’t even want to continue. Who am I to claim I have suffered? I don’t know the meaning of the word! Suffering for me is having someone dislike me, not crucify me!

I hesitate to claim suffering, but suffering is how the last season has felt. The word “cancer” placed a weight on me that Jesus alone could lift. It has impacted my thoughts and relationships, attacking them both. Two weeks out from surgery, I am regaining my strength and beginning to see the other side, but even through surgery my suffering was miniscule next to what those around me have experienced. It is certainly trivial next to the cross where my sin was paid. But, I am seeing purpose in it. Glimpses at first, then brighter lights, but I know they are only foreshadowing what is to come. The doctor said that my cancer was young, caught early, and extracted quickly. It was slow to grow and yet to invade my body. It was a snake killed young, before it was able to harm. The surgeon’s trained hands prayerfully removed it all. Tomorrow I have a body scan to confirm the hopes. Prayers have flooded heaven on my behalf and I have never felt so loved. I don’t know future surfacing outcomes, but I am seeing glimpses of God’s love through those around me. Compassionate, loyal, patient, and gentle. Those closest to me would sweat blood in prayer on my behalf. I see Jesus in them praying, kneeling in the garden, petitioning for my health. Every prayer is finished with the same I am learning to pray, “Let you will, not my own, be done.”
           
I praise God, literally praise God, that cancer has not damaged me as I have seen it do to loved ones around me. My life is spared and the disease is fleeting. My battle was hard, but short. What about the others? What about the lives it claims? Was God less faithful to them? By no means! One truth I learned through a pastor I trust, the term “cancer survivor” has little to do with life and death, but more the overcoming of trial through trust in Jesus. The greatest warriors, who lost battles to cancer, survived valiantly as they clinged to Jesus. Their lives shined spotlights on His faithfulness. I may be exhausted, but I only know a teardrop of suffering in an ocean of pain. Just as Job’s life is recounted timelessly, those who suffer greatly will more know the Savior who suffered ultimately on their behalf.

Our God is a God who does want the best for His children. He also desires to use us for His glory. We are His instruments with a purpose. We exist to make Him known! At times, in order for both of those to happen, we must suffer. When I use the word suffer in the sense of a believer suffering, it is hard for me to get out of my head the gruesome persecution global Christians endure daily. I don’t know the taste of the word suffer. Nonetheless, we suffer in different forms. It can come to us in a job loss, broken relationship, crushed hope, dangerous disease, or the constant feeling of failure. It may not be lashes in our back, but the produced emotion can ring similar. It is suffering. I had a good friend recently tell me, through suffering we can better identify with Christ on the cross.


Paul writes, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Regardless of what lies ahead, I am learning. Slowly and painfully at times, the God who weaved together every tendon in my body is teaching me what it means to know Him and trust Him. Although my suffering is small and short, it is real, and as I learn more of the truth of Jesus on the cross, my sufferings make more sense. Just as Jesus' suffering saved a perishing race, I pray in some small way mine are His same light into a dark world. Jesus alone, who gives rest to the weary and comfort to the suffering, can make that true. There is purpose in the pain. 


[1] Eareckson Tada, Joni; When God Weeps, pg. 52-54

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Simply Writing

“Write?”
Yes, write.
“But, I don’t even know what to write about.”
You don’t have to know, just write.
“Who would read it Lord?”
Don’t write for the reader, just write.

This was a little how my conversation with God went about three months ago when I sat in a hospital room. Time in the hospital really gives you opportunities to think. I have learned I think too much. For some reason, I feel like I am supposed to start writing again. It used to be a passion of mine which I let fall dormant, but God keeps nudging me, write, write, write. My problem has proven persistent since over the past three months these are the first words I have written. I have been searching for a topic to write, but I’m beginning to think it is simply a justified procrastination. It’s as if I am looking for a solution before walking through a problem. I am trying to see the final picture before I will paint the first stroke. Promised words are pretty worthless without followed action.

But for whom should I write? Me. I write countless emails and letters, isn’t that enough? Do I have to write for people to read? No. Do I have to write for someone? No. Then for what? Because I asked you to write, write anything.

I have realized that using gifts and passions God has given you isn’t about the audience to whom they are directed. It isn’t only for the end of who is served. Serving isn’t always solely about the orphan. You don’t serve for only the orphan’s sake. Giving isn’t simply for the sake of the poor or the generosity of the giver. Building isn’t just for the beauty of structure built or the family sheltered. It is about the God who gave the resources, hearts, and talents to those who build. You teach because God has gifted you to teach. If God gives you a voice, you sing, and if He gives you a pen, you write. I don’t profess to be a writer, but if God has asked me to write and given me a desire to write, then my writing should be for God alone. I so often want to make it for the purpose of a reputation or the benefit of another’s mind, but what if it isn’t about either? It is simply being a good steward of an implanted desire.

So, I am writing. The only why I have answered is that it is for God alone, regardless if this page is ever read by another. For the sake of my pride, it may be better if eyes never skim this page.

Either I am a slow learner or Jesus wants to teach me decades worth of teachings in minutes worth of time, but the past month’s trials have seemed eternal. When the storms stops for a moment of calm, I can’t stop bracing myself expectant for the next gust to knock me down. Every chance I get I seem to be scrambling to pick up the pieces in order to remain who I was. The edges of life seem to be unraveling. I certainly know this picture is shot from a mindset extremely narrow, not yet seeing the end of the process. I relate with the frantic disciples on the boat in the storm. Panicked facing death and disaster they yell to their friend they are still trying to figure out, "Jesus, don't you see we are all dying here!?" He sits up, wipes the sleep from his eye, and calms the storm. Calmly but firmly He said, "How much longer must I be with you before you believe?" He controls the storm. Keep reading. The boat reaches the other side. 

I never thought my name would be used in the same sentence as “cancer.” When the doctor began to solemnly speak, my mind numbed. Was he serious? I thought to myself, I just finished healing from knee surgery in September, there is no way I would be having health issues again. His words became clouded murmurs as my mind raced into the uncertainties the next days would hold. What if this… what if that… Long story short, he was serious.

Why would a good God allow His children to suffer? What a popular question. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Pain in suffering, whether physical, mental, or a twisted combination of each, can be used as an instrument of God. I have realized God does not delight in drawing His children through pain, but at times pain is all that will bring us into His will. Some would never know Jesus if it were not for a situation that required them to cling to His side.

It has been over a week now since the surgery to remove the cancer. A promised report is most likely sitting on a desk collecting dust as I await the results. I thought I would be more anxious, but I’ve never felt prayers in my life like I do today. I can literally sense them. I have peace that Paul describes as “beyond understanding.” I don’t profess to have this all figured out or fearless in the least, but I have been given courage, which is strength amidst a fearful situation.

These few paragraphs are more ramble than purposeful, but as rambled they may be at least I am writing. But this time it is for the Reader who knew the words before I wrote them.