Fingernails and Jesus

fingernailThis morning as the boys and I were reading through John (our latest morning read) I was struck by a simple line that John (who is known as “The Baptist”) spoke. Regarding Jesus baptizing more people than he was at that moment, he replied, “No one can do anything unless God in heaven allows it.” Anything? Like, murdering, genocide, hatred, war, etc… those came quickly to mind as being part of “anything”. Now, I know that’s not what John was talking about, but it was a strange thing to read, to be sure. He was focusing more on the positive, that Jesus was doing a good thing (that was having some success, I suppose) was an indication that God was OK with it, since, no one can do anything unless God allows it.

I just found that an interesting thought to ponder this morning… as I do stuff, that falls under the “anything” label.

In other news… as I was chopping vegetables for our meal for this afternoon (which would also fall under that ubiquitous “anything” label), the knife slipped off of the veggies and landed firmly on my finger. Thankfully… God invented fingernails. (That’s not my finger in the photo, by the way…)

All is well, and I find myself marveling at God’s forethought once again. I even have a little knick where my finger would have been sliced open, if not off!

Good thing it wasn’t part of the “anything” God allowed me to do!

Making God In Our Own Image

On a few occasions lately, I have come across a story, or a verse from the Bible that doesn’t seem to match what I know of who God is. From my understanding of him from the whole of the Bible, and from living life with him every day, interacting with him, getting to know him… it doesn’t seem to fit. And yet it’s right there in print… in the most well-documented book ever. So I am then faced with a decision. Do I believe what “I know” about God, or what I am seeing from him right now? That’s not an easy question to answer.

I actually believe it might be a bit of both things. Certainly I can not know everything about God, just as I can’t know everything about any other person… even moreso can I not know the fullness of who God is. However, I can also trust what I do know of him as a way to interpret/understand what I am reading that seems to “contradict” that. From there, I figure I need his help to understand the stuff I don’t understand.

Some examples. Recently I was having an IM conversation with a friend and talking about how I don’t see Jesus living out life as though there are two worlds: the Sacred vs the Secular. It seems to me from all the events I see in Jesus’ life that those two worlds that I think we created were quite intermingled in Jesus’ world. He would hang with the “sinner” as well as the ultra-religiously-pious. My friend however pointed out that Jesus would often remind his disciples to not be “like the world”, or, “like the gentiles”. Seems as though Jesus was making a separation, or a distinction there, no? Still, I can not resolve that with the way Jesus treated everyone. Though there may have been a verbal distinction, all were treated equally by Jesus.

Another comes from reading some of the stories Jesus told in the last week before he was killed. My boys and I are reading through the book of Matthew, and there’s some crazy stuff in the 25th chapter. Mostly stories about “the end times” where there appear to be people who do right, and then opposing people who “do wrong” (or, don’t do right). So… it sure sounds like in story after story that either you “do good” in life, or you’ll be “thrown into the dark where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain.” Does that sound like how Jesus lived? Will he just be different when it’s the “end of the world”?

See, what I end up saying most of the time to the boys is, “I really don’t know.” They usually laugh a little, but I hope they learn from that. I don’t want them to think we have all the answers, and that once they learn them and can pass the Jesus test, that they then know God… end of story. Life is certainly not about knowing the answers. But I do want to know him, and sometimes the things I think I know of him do not match some new stuff (or sometimes, old stuff) I am learning about him. That’s when I stop to consider the fact that some of what I know of him might just be stuff I made up about him.

Confusing, I know.

Perhaps this is too much analysis… but it is what I have been thinking. And all of this makes me want to read my Bible more, and learn from everything I see of Jesus, and even his followers, contained in those pages. I want Jesus to unfold the reality of himself – who he really is – in every part of my life. I love that we don’t have a “church life” as we used to know it, and that Jesus is truly part of our entire lives these days. I only want know him more and more… really know him… not continue to create my own ideas of who he is.

That’s the amazing part about living life with Jesus, and his Spirit in us… it’s dynamic. He’s the same, but our understanding of him can change as we learn what is him, and what we have made up. Fascinating. A little scary, but exhilirating.

How incredible that he wants that relationship with us! We are friends of God! (That’s from Romans 5…) As puzzling as he may be sometimes, I know that I can count on that being true… and so we press on to know the God we could never create.

What a trip!

I Want To Be God

After some harsh words spoken in anger to my son last night, and the regret I was feeling afterwards, and the thoughts that whirled through my head on how to fix it, I realized what my ultimate goal in life is.

I want to be God.

I want to always respond in kindness and with gracious words of wisdom for my children.

I want to always be available for my wife, listening to her as if she were the most important person in the world to me (because she is) and never responding to her in selfish impatience or anger.

I want to respond to everyone in my life, friends, family, even strangers as though they were the crown-jewel of creation. A person made in God’s image, no matter what my eyes might see. I even wish I could see them completely as who they are, by-passing entirely the outward appearance and seeing the depths of the unique being they were created to be. I want to listen and respond and always show love and grace even by just listening, but also in my response and or by my own initiation.

I want to never sleep or grow weary, it would be very handy.

I want to have all the answers, so that I can help people along the journey with the perfect answer for every situation.

I want to be perfect in every choice I make, word I say, thought I have, action I take, interaction with people – I hate making mistakes… I just want to always do the right thing.

There’s probably more, but… I think I have made my point. The point was made to me last night. I am still under the illusion that I could somehow attain most all of those things. I am trying to be God.

But there’s only one of Him, and I’m not Him. He is. And for that I am thankful. I guess I need to learn to be OK with who I am (that sounds like modern psycho-babble, so I am sorta laughing as I say this, but bear with me…) and find the joy of being who the Perfect One created me to be.

I am fallible. I make many mistakes. I am not always gracious, loving, compassionate, forgiving, patient, kind or gentle even to the people I love the most. I am most definitely not God.

I will still, I think, strive for such things. I so want to be like my Father. He is all of that to me. I think what he continues to show me is it’s not something I can do, he must work those things in me. I can point myself in his direction, and focus on his kingdom and his righteousness, and he does the rest. And I think he is showing me that I can’t achieve perfection in all of those areas. If I did, I suppose I would be God.

And I most definitely am NOT.


“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be stripped of everything when I die.
The LORD gave me everything I had,
and the LORD has taken it away.
Praise the name of the LORD!”

Those were the first words – words of worship – immediately following Job’s hearing the news that his children had been killed in a horrible accident. And just before that he had lost much of the wealth that God had blessed him with. An amazing reaction to an extraordinary circumstance. His first thought was to worship the God who had given him life, even in the midst of the demise of the life he had known.

There is a song by songwriter Matt Redman called Blessed Be Your Name. It echoes those lines Job spoke so many years ago,

“You give and take away, you give and take away,
my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name!”

Those words reverberated loudly – even confidently – through my head as we learned that the child we had been eagerly preparing a space for in our family, had stopped developing inside mom’s womb.

“You give and take away… You give and take away…
My heart will choose to say… Lord, blessed be Your name.”

The first moments were just hard. Shocking. Deep sadness. Life hoped for, now lost. And this was not the first time we faced this.

About one week into our tour, there was such a shocking occurence that we thought we had lost the baby. That was on our anniversary. Not the way we wanted to end the day. The drive to the hospital was a little over an hour. Of silence. Of doubting. Of wondering. Of self-pummeling. I felt completely culpable for the loss of this baby’s life. Our lifestyle, my missed chances at reminding Jen to rest, my busyness keeping me from helping Jen with the three kids on the outside. All things were pointing to me being the reason we had lost the baby.

But God was beyond gracious.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were greeted by a friendly nurse who was fairly convinced that the baby was doing just fine. The doctor who followed happened to be at the church we had led in worship the morning prior, and he echoed those sentiments, but they needed to do an ultrasound to make sure.

My heart skipped a beat or two in astonished joy. My soul gasped for air! I can’t describe the feeling of life from death. How the Father must have felt when his son was given breath again! Even knowing the plan ahead of time, his heart must have exploded with joy knowing that not only his son, but all of us who trust in him were given back to him that day!

We went from that place, with images of a dancing baby in our head, and the hope that through a rough 6 or 7 months ahead we would emerge with a miracle baby from God.

“You give and take away…”

Yesterday, following the weekend of God giving wildly to us through his people, we experienced the pain of loss again.

Jen had been experiencing signs of trouble again (we thought) and so we went to the doctor, who put the monitor on Jen’s belly to listen for the heart beat. After about 10 awkward seconds, she said, “Sometimes it’s difficult to find the heartbeat with that machine.”

That had not been our experience, and so we were already thinking the worst.

She turned on the ultrasound equipment, and we began looking at the baby inside. It had grown since the first time, but it was lifeless. No movement. No heartbeat. No life.

No words were said for a time, until the doctor broke the silence, “I’m afraid I have some very bad news…”

My heart sank. It was quite final. The baby was gone. Again.

But this time, the words to that song kept replaying in my head. “You give and take away… my heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name…”

And I meant it. Though I was not necessarily comforted by it just yet.

We discussed the next steps and headed out to the van to go home. The song continued in my head.

When we got to the van, we just sat there in silence. We were both attempting to understand what was happening. To process it. Why would God want to give us a baby for 12 weeks, and then take it home?

There were tears. There was silence. We prayed together. We talked. But the most amazing thing was happening inside my head and heart.

Instead of sadness, there was supreme confidence in God’s love for me. More than just confidence, there was palpable reality. Almost like his hands on my shoulders.

And the song would not leave.

I knew the scripture was from Job, so I looked it up on the computer we had brought with us.

The first thing that stuck out to me was in the NIV translation: “Job got up, tore his robe and shaved his head, then he fell to the group in worship.” His first response was a brief moment of agony and mourning, and then he worshipped. Instead of blaming God for letting this happen, he was compelled to worship him.

That’s where I lost it.

I was too! That’s what I had been feeling the whole time in silence. Strong images and feelings of God’s love and provision for me, for us, were present in my head. I was not conciously thinking of them… they were just there. I was not dwelling on the loss, but rather on things gained from the Giver of all good things.

And that’s exactly what Job experienced.

God’s bigness, his caring, his inividual attention to my life, his unfathomable love — all of that had never been so near to me, so palpable, so REAL.

Words do not do the experience justice, but I really wanted to try. I was astounded by the love God has for, and was showing to ME. I was crying, not out of sadness at our loss as much as out of overwhelming joy and gladness at my Father who loves me.

In a moment, literally less than a second, God also gave me a strong series of images that reminded me of his goodness.

There were three sets of two images. First was the hopsital back in Arkansas. Image one was the deep sadness of losing the baby, and image two was the unspeakable joy of getting that life back! Second was from the weekend just past, where image one was the empty bank account and actually having zero cash being 3000 miles from home with many big bills to pay, and me asking God in a parking lot, “God, what are you going to do??”. The second image connected to that was of the generosity of our Father through his people this weekend, we were given nearly $2000 by people and places that wouldn’t normally be a source of such abundance. The third image was our present circumstance, the final loss of our baby, and attached to that image was a future provision from God that would blow us away with greatness as much as this loss had brought us low.

I had a very specific image, but as I am not claiming to be a prophet, I will guard that image in my heart and will let you know if that does indeed come to fruition. I don’t think God gave me those images for you… but I KNOW he gave them for me.

In less than a second, all of that imagery of God’s attention to our lives came into focus, and I was full-on reminded of his incredible provision and love.

And again, I was brought to tears… not of sadness, but pure, unthinkable joy!

Our God is so good. So, so good.

We are sad, and still dealing with loss. Loss costs us. We won’t know this member of our family until heaven. I see images of families with kids, or even our kids, and I miss the face of the baby we lost. We are definitely hurting.

But there is over all of that, a far greater peace and hope. God made me SO aware of his presence and love in my life today, right now. He is so good that way. And I am not alone in that experience. Which makes it even cooler. Friends today have shared a similar experience, and I believe the reason Job reacted when he did was that God was as overwhelmingly present for him that day as he was for me. And Jobs loss exceeds mine by such a volume as I can’t imagine.

He is so good. Today, yesterday, forever.

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Praise the name of the Lord.