The Unnecessary Search

I’m convinced that Satan’s weapon of mass destruction against humanity is this. “Search for your own identity.” It started in Genesis didn’t it? Adam and Eve were secure in their Imago Dei. They really knew nothing else.  And they were completely immersed in unfettered peace and joy. They were the brightest of all God-created gems. There’s a reason He created them after he created everything else. Everything else, and that includes Everest, the oceans, the Amazon, the mighty and majestic beasts of the field, the universe, the micro-universe, were all created first so that this Diamond known as humanity could discover and cultivate the aforementioned to the glory of the Creator.  Another inference to the magnificence of humanity was that God actually “got down in the dirt” and molded man to His likeness whereas everything prior was “spoken” into existence.  And to create woman, God once again bypassed the spoken Word and with His mighty hand extracted a rib from man and inexplicably formed another human being even more beautiful than the first one.

The fact that God created humanity in this extra-special and personal manner should not be lost on any of us. It was a foreshadowing of a time thousands of years later when He, once again, got “down in the dirt” and by His shed blood rendered Satan’s WMD powerless forever!

Post-Eden, all of Biblical history leading up to and including the now has been a recycling of the same old tired story. It is a human genealogy of men trading their Imago Dei for something infinitely less valuable. Adam’s son Cain searched for his identity in the works of his hands. I can almost hear him proclaiming to anyone who would listen, “I’m Cain the hard-working farmer, see what I grew!”  How about Esau? He actually sold his identity for a bowl of stew! King Saul worked so hard to preserve his, that he went on a manhunt to exterminate the Davidic line. David, a man after God’s heart, managed to credit himself for God’s victories by creating for himself his own identity of a powerful King who could take anything or anyone he so pleased!

It would be easy to travel through the rest of the Bible and cherry pick more examples, but instead let’s look at more contemporary examples. What about the professional athlete who finds his identity in being a star and somehow manages to have no money left when he retires? What about the rock star who buys into the hype of thousands of screaming 12-year-old girls and snorts his way to an early grave? What about the intellectual who has found his identity in Atheism and deduces that the way to ignore your created image is to ignore the Creator?

So, you’re thinking, “What about normal people like me? I’m not a rocker, movie star, or pro quarterback. I’m just plodding through life trying to raise a family and earn a living to support them.

I would beg you to ask yourself the question? Would you be able to stand on firm ground if things were taken away from you? If you lost a child, if your spouse left you, if your company downsized and left you flipping burgers, if you worked with your hands and they were amputated in an accident, if you were an honor student with multiple degrees and you find out you have a brain tumor?

If you answer any of these questions with answers like, “I couldn’t go on, I wouldn’t want to live, I would end up in a mental hospital” then it’s probable that you have made these things, mind you, blessings from God, the identity that you are pursuing at any cost.

Life is a delicate balance. God has blessed us with life, good health, family, talents, skills, intellect, and a whole slew of gifts, but for what purpose? Why did God give Adam and Eve a paradise?

It certainly wasn’t so they would seek their own identities, which essentially meant leaving paradise. That’s the thing; the bowl of stew they chose drove them from paradise! It drove them from the One who made Eden a paradise. God Himself!

I just turned 45 last month, and my journey has not been much different from those in the Bible or those who walk the earth now. I have worked like hell to peddle my identity to the highest bidder. As someone who has played music since age 5, I tried to find my identity in being a musician. I had dreams of being famous, rich, successful, and powerful, and all this, because God blessed me with a gift.

That’s what Satan has done for centuries as he entices you with the very gifts that God bestows. He tries to convince you that God gave them to you for your glory and not his. He tries to convince you that your gifts will make you a god and that God doesn’t like that. There’s always a little bit of truth swirled into his lies. Yes, God doesn’t want us to be “gods”, but it’s not because He’s some petty, jealous human like we are, but it’s because there is only one God and He’s it! God being God IS our identity!  God being God is our paradise!  God is the context where all of our gifts and talents should be cultivated! In effect, God is our Eden.

Here is my mantra for 2012, and while I expect to get off track like I always do, I am really praying to God to rest on this for the coming year.  These words come from Eric Mason, pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He said “Whatever talent or gift has been affirmed as yours, hone it, study it, fuel it with bible and gospel and unleash it for God’s glory!”

If you are a musician like me, don’t let “musician” be your identity. If you are a stay-at-home mom, don’t let that high calling be what defines you. If you are an athlete, teacher, civil servant, minister, CEO, burger-flipper, ditch-digger, whatever, don’t allow the allure of these callings replace your Imago Dei.

All of our good gifts come from above and can be taken away, and in fact will be. The only thing that has a chance to remain standing is our identity, provided we haven’t traded it away for a bowl of stew.

What we don’t know…

I just finished Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs and it was quite a fascinating read. Fortunately, it was an honest take on Jobs’ life and gave readers an extended glimpse into his soul and what made him tick.
Yes, he was a genius in so many ways. He was also a deeply flawed human being, like we all are. Sadly, there is no evidence that Steve Jobs was a follower of Jesus as all the evidence points to the fact that he was not. In fact, besides his Buddhist beliefs and practices, there’s this insight from Jobs in the midst of his fight with cancer. “Sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don’t. I think it’s 50-50 maybe. But ever since I’ve had cancer, I’ve been thinking about it more. And I find myself believing a bit more. I kind of – maybe it’s cause I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear. The wisdom you’ve accumulated. Somehow it lives on.” Then Isaacson quotes Jobs with this tagline, “Yeah, but sometimes I think it’s just like an on-off switch. Click and you’re gone.”

The book also affords details about Jobs’ philosophies and worldview. This blog is not the place to explore them all, but one in particular I find enlightening is his philosophy in the conception and creation of new products. He disavowed market research which seeks to find out what people want in a product, whether that be a computer, music player, or cellphone. Rather, his quest was not to produce a product that people wanted or asked for. His goal was to determine what we, the consumer, wanted before we even knew what we wanted. This idea speaks volumes to his genius as a visionary. But something else struck me. This was a quality that I find very God-like. Although there were dozens of ungodly characteristics that defined Steve Jobs, this one particular quality is one I think brings glory to the Creator of this great inventor.
Jobs’ conviction was that people did not know what they want until he devised a product coupled with intuitive software that would reveal to consumers what they never knew they wanted. Products like the iPod removed the blinding scales from the eyes of future consumers and spawned a new culture as a result.

Often, mainline Christianity paints God as someone who consults market research before He blesses and prospers His children. We hear how God wants to prosper us, in the sense of material luxuries, personal happiness, and fulfillment. So, when life is not going as we hoped, our nature is to blame God and call in to question His unwillingness to grant our desires for a comfortable and painless existence. When our dreams don’t materialize, or we are in the throes of mid-life crisis, we wonder why God didn’t do more to relieve our angst.
But God is not our cosmic butler.  He does not consult Gallup polls to find out what will make us happy. He is not indebted to rain on our famished crops, He is not obliged to cancer-proof our bodies. He does not prosper us according to our definition of prosperity. God is not a mere inventor of human happiness, He is the Visionary of Eternal joy. Foreknowledge is not a crystal ball that equips Him to response, but a ruling scepter by which He sovereignly governs the future. He didn’t merely react to our rebellion, He planned for it from before the foundations of the world. He not only created the Serpent that invaded His holy garden, but He gave him fangs for the expressed purpose of bruising His Son’s heel, the same heel that would crush the Serpent’s head the way God planned.

In a sense, God aims to do the same thing with the Gospel that Steve Jobs did with the iPad. That is to provide something that we could never conceive of, to satisfy a need we were unaware of. Steve Jobs would not allow us to settle for inferior electronics, although most of us would have. Likewise, God will not allow us to settle for inferior glories. He knows that we prefer “making mud-pies in the slums over a holiday at the sea”. (to quote CS Lewis) He knows our heart’s natural desire is to be affirmed, exalted, and appreciated by men. But God’s eternal vision for us has nothing to do with granting us a comfortable life on earth.

He will not let us find satisfaction in His good gifts. He won’t permit us having perfect sex, sports teams that never lose, cars that never malfunction, family members who never die, friends who don’t betray us, or bodies that resist all manners of disease and trauma. He willfully and actively frustrates our good intentions. He regularly thwarts our plans. God is the Visionary that Created us as receptors of His glory. He knows what we ultimately want and will increase our joy for Eternity, even if we don’t know it yet.

Let them fall

The following lyrics (italicized) from Tenth Avenue North’s “Healing Begins” offer a light to help turn back the darkness of the soul.

So let it fall down
There’s freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground

What are the walls you’ve built which limit your freedom? What is the self-imposed obstruction, the dense buffer between your heart and peace?

For me, it’s the need to lead people to believe that I live a regret-free life. In reality, I have many regrets. I have walked a dirt path marked by regrets. But worse, I am one who daily recounts, relives, and returns to them.

So I build walls. Some walls are designed to hide the fact that I’m self-centered. Some exist to hide secret sins– lust, red-hot envy, bitterness, and anger. Still, there are those which serve to conceal my failures as a husband, a father, and a steward.

Even the last paragraph and the way it’s worded is a capable facade. It’s easier to list shortcomings in generalities because everyone deals with them. However, there is a specificity to these daily struggles, ones where new mercies are daily required before my feet even hit the floor beneath the night stand. So the lyricist corroborates:

So you thought you had to keep this up
All the work that you do
So we think that you’re good
And you can’t believe it’s not enough
All the walls you built up
Are just glass on the outside 

There’s a warring opposition, outward but mostly inward. The devil desires to play his sifting melody, but more often than not, settles for a 2nd-chair-blasting horn of daily introspection. More often than not, his predatory role is hyena, perfectly content to devour what the brooding lion has slaughtered.

I sin. Worse than anyone can imagine. Mostly in heart if not deed. So shine the light in the basement, let the walls come down. The lyricist is relentless:

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you’re broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

I’m tired of being the hireling of regret, working overtime for slow death pay.  The lyricist consoles:

Sparks will fly as grace collides
With the dark inside of us
So please don’t fight
This coming light
Let this blood come cover us
His blood can cover us

Bring on Psalm 51:17! Let it sink in, for I have built walls, but not altars. You won’t require I fall on the sword, yet by the Sword I must die. Tonight the Lyricist reminds:

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you’re broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark