Incremental

A week ago, years of procrastination came to a head as I finally gave in (or caved in) to the advice of 3 dentists over a 25 year period who assured me that it would be best to have my wisdom teeth extracted.

According to the experts, it was in my best interest to have a man with sharp instruments invade the soft tissue of my gums and cut through bone that had grown over impacted molars in order to avert “problems” in the future. What was described to me as a procedure on friday and back to work on monday routine, became a week long (and counting) relentless pain that has resulted in sleepless nights, multiple missed days at work, and round the clock medicating which itself seems to fall short in its design to numb the throbbing effectively. In spite of having a Florence Nightingale of a wife who was there at every turn, I have not been a beacon of joy this week. I have pushed the boundaries of anyone’s patience for sure.

Healing is coming incrementally but sure. In fact, I hate the word incremental when I come to think of it,because it implies slow and plodding. In fact, It’s hard to imagine  a scenario where incremental is a positive adjective. Positives like pay increases, weight loss, Disney trip countdowns are incremental, while layoffs, car wrecks, and general bad news seem to occur in an unexpected instant. Do you know what else is incremental? Learning and sanctification, which I would make a case are two words almost identical in meaning. What I’ve learned at age 48, where I have endured little pain compared to someone who was born with a debilitating disease from birth, is a difference of infinite increments. And though I’ve been down for the count this week, there are others I know who have been down for years and decades from a physical standpoint.

There is much to be learned with the advent of extended pain, and it’s not just about Dick Van Dyke show binge-watching. Pain has taught me much in a short time. Here are a few things.

1. I’m unsympathetic. – Too often, there is pain all around me with friends and family that has left me unfazed. I haven’t in the words of Bill Clinton, “felt their pain”.

2. My stomach is my god – When you have oral surgery, you miss out on the foods you love and your diet becomes a steady stream of soup, oatmeal, and pudding. Paul wrote in Phillipians 3:19 “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” But in the verse preceding, he classifies these belly worshipers as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” The cross of Christ is all about suffering and pain, and when I set my mind on earthly things, like Tex-mex, I devalue the cross and everything it has accomplished for me.

3. I don’t know much. – Yeah, I can quote scripture I learned when I was five, and I can discuss deep theological subjects, and yet as I learned this week, I don’t know anything really. My throbbing gums are miniscule compared to one lash of a whip across the Lord’s back. I really don’t know the Lord I profess to serve all that much because of the next thing I’ve learned.

4. I’m entitled –  This week I’ve tried to blame everything for my pain including the entire dental industry which deems it best to disturb the peaceful rest of impacted molars. I’ve blamed the pharmaceutical industry for not creating a suitable alternative to ibuprofen (which I’m allergic to). I’ve yet to blame myself for not having the procedure done when i was in my early twenties where by most accounts, the recovery would be much sooner (not to mention I wasn’t allergic to anti-inflammatories back then). The blame game only serves to reveal the entitlement of the heart. And if you believe that God is sovereign over all as I do, then I essentially shake my fist at Him and blame him. “Who are you Oh Sovereign, that I should suffer like this for 6 days!?”

5. I haven’t seen glory –  Paul described his present sufferings, which were far greater and longer than a controlled oral surgery, as nothing to be compared to the glory which will be revealed. God gave Paul enough glimpse of His glory, that he was able to endure great pain, suffering, and persecution for the cause of Christ. His life’s anthem was “to live is Christ, to die is gain”. Me? I have either never seen this great glory, or I haven’t been awakened to it at the level of Paul.

6. To truly follow Christ is to share in his sufferings.- Paul went on to say

“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.”

 

It’s simple really. To get to Christ, we are going to have to follow him which means the path he has forged. His path was suffering and death. Sure, it doesnt mean our suffering and death will be as great, but the only way to truly know the power of the resurrection, truly know it, is to die. And the  mile markers that lead to death are the increments of pain and suffering.

One day, those of us who are in Christ, will truly say that none of this compares to the Glory that we will see and experience when we finally get to Christ, when we finally get Christ.

As Paul reminds us, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Every pain from stubbing your toe to dying from cancer, whether physical or emotional

is an incremental removal of the veil that blinds us to His Glory. It is but a loose thread in the fabric of santification that he has woven according to His great counsel. A loose thread he mercifully pulls, one increment at a time.

 

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2 Old Shoes (part 2)

I don’t think words in a blog post can properly convey how much I longed to be a worship leader. It was the year 2000 when i realized for the first time that this could be a job that I loved. We had been part of the same church for 11 years and the worship leader at the time left and I felt like this was something I would pursue. Alas, the timing wasn’t right, and the church moved on with someone else. For another 4 years, I burned with a passion to lead worship and actually sent my resume (sparse as it was) to some churches to no avail. Then my opportunity came when the worship leader at the time unexpectedly resigned. My time had come! On my first day of the job, I hit the ground running and I threw myself into the job. I loved going in to work every morning and I honestly didn’t want to leave. I was finally getting the chance to really use my musical gifts and get paid to do it.  It wasn’t a job that made you rich financially, but I didn’t care. I absolutely loved what I got to do everyday, planning worship services, talking theology with the other guys on staff, mentoring young musicians, just everything about it.  

One of my friends on staff used to always talk about this book by John Piper called “Don’t waste your life” and I was mildly interested at the time.  I was reading an author by the name of Dallas Willard, a Christian philosopher, which I know sounds like an oxymoron, but it was in reading his works that I started to develop ways of thinking beyond the box of evangelical cliches that I had grown up around.  Reading Willard spurred me on to think deeply about what biblical Christianity was. He passed away about a year ago, and I thank God for him.  Meanwhile, my friend kept bringing up Piper and this other guy he listened to via podcast, which was a new technological phenomena at the time. This other guy was Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Highland Village. You remember from my last post that we are members there, but it’s an interesting journey how we got there. I remember listening to Chandler at my friend’s bequest and actually finding him sort of obnoxious and over the top. The depth of his vocal tone was like Howard Stern, and he seemed to be equally shocking in his content.  This guy was preaching, I mean preaching!  Looking back, I realize how far removed I was from hearing this kind of bold presentation, especially the last few years I worked in the church. I gave him a few listens and just basically wrote it off and went back to reading Willard. 

Around the same time, I was starting to podcast John Piper. I was too busy swimming in the philosophical waters of Willard that I didn’t have time to read Piper. So I listened to his sermons. I was a little put off by his style which reminded me of “old timey” preachers, but in spite of that, I couldn’t dismiss the weightiness of the Word he was preaching, especially when it came to the Sovereignty of God. While all this is going on, I began reading a blog written by an old school friend. This friend was actually the son of a teacher I had in high school who I was basically in awe of and had the deepest respect and admiration for. It seems he was the only one who could ever get me to study and in turn aim to please the teacher.  As a high schooler, I knew this teacher was a Calvinist and I was fascinated to hear him talk about it.  My earliest exposure to Calvinism was a younger child when my parents told me about it. But all I really knew about it was pre-destination, which is pretty much the extent of what every non-calvinist a.k.a Arminian knows about it.  So I began to comment on his blog (my teacher’s son) who was a Calvinist himself and it’s during this period of time that I began to learn of Reformed Theology. I was being bombarded from all sides, blogs, sermons, books, and let me tell you, I argued with him constantly through the comments I made on his posts. But there was something always gnawing at my soul in the debates with him. I was fighting a losing battle because I was trying to argue against something I knew was true. The truth that God is totally Sovereign over everything and does as pleases, and that what ever pleases him is just, right, and true. I began to see that Calvinism or Reformed Theology was not as minimalistic as the TULIP acronym it’s known for, and that there was more at stake than the doctrine of predestination. It was much bigger. We’re talking the Glory of God kind of big.

A friend of mine chided me the other day about being too theological and said that a theologian is something one becomes after he’s saved and the implication was we don’t need theology to become a Christian. As I replied to him, “everyone’s a theologian” in the strictest meaning of the word, and your theology is a determining factor to you becoming saved in the first place, outside of God’s sovereign grace of course. 

Becoming Reformed in my theology wasn’t instantaneous for me.  It was actually the blooming of a seed that was planted in my heart decades earlier. It was no longer synonymous with fancy theological terms like depravity and perseverance of the saints. No, for the first time, I began connecting this theological system to something more familiar to my brain.  The Gospel. 

 

By the light

IMG_0082I love sunrises and sunsets. It does not matter if they provide the backdrop for an ocean view or a shopping mall. They are magnificent and stir something inside of me. They are the most photographed natural phenomena and I can not help but to pull out my camera anytime I see them, stop on the shoulder of the road to snap a picture usually falling short of fully capturing the beauty that my eye has witnessed. There isn’t much time to snap the photo as the combination of golden sunlight and countless colors will only last a few seconds. We often forget the speed that we are moving through the galaxy and take for granted the sunrise and sunsets. We often forget the vast expanse of the sun. Often, we only really reflect on it’s beauty as it makes its daily entrance and exit. In fact, the sun is always there whether or not we notice it. Throughout the day it’s directly overhead lighting our world, nurturing the landscape, and providing nutrients to the food we will eat. Even in storms with clouds that attempt to cover it, the sun is still there. It has not left us. In fact, if it weren’t for the sun, I can only imagine the complete darkness that would engulf during a light spring mist. Even in the dead of night, the sun is still there. Our world is seemingly moving, spinning away from it, yet its light relentlessly bends around the sphere and reflects off the moon. It is not as if it left us, it’s just that we forget it’s there. It seems the only time we remember the sun overhead is during the hot Texas summers and we can only complain about the heat. But thankfully the daily sunrises and sunsets faithfully wake us up to its glory. Yet, as glorious as this distant life-giving ball of gas is, it is still mere creation. It is but a pin-light beaming from the fingertips of its Creator. By the Word of His mouth, he placed it out there 93 million miles away to constantly remind us that He alone is the beginning and end of every day. He put it there to remind us all that even when we forget he’s over head sustaining us, that He is there even when our visibility is muted by the filter of creation. Today is Sunday, and millions of souls will be stirred by the magnificent glory of their Creator. Soon after, the majority of us will forget the glory as quickly as the fading brushstrokes of sunlight, and we will complain about the sanctifying heat; we will balk at the daily manna. Still there are some who will miss the beauty altogether to focus on the shopping mall in the foreground. We will fix our gaze on the creation which we see only by the light of the Creator, and we will make the fatal exchange. How can we be so blind when we’ve been given so many signs? How can we miss the sunrise for the shopping mall? How can we bask in the light, but not the Light? How can we lose our way when the Way is right in our path everyday? How can we believe a lie perpetuated in western culture by tragic celebrity examples when the Truth is there resounding like an eternal echo from the cosmos? Honestly, we can’t see, bask, believe, or find our way at all. Not without the Light.