Friday, September 16, 2011

Heaven Isn't Too Far Away

I've been thinking a lot about the presence and will of God lately.   Two recent conversations and book I'm reading have combined to bring the idea of God's presence and will to the front of my mind.  I can think of little else. 

How do we relate to God?  What is his level of interaction in our lives?  Where is he?  What we believe about the answers to these questions determines how we make decisions, how we relate to ourselves and others - how we live and what level of joy we find in that living. 

The idea change that's had the most impact are my thoughts on where heaven is.  The prevailing idea is that heaven, where God lives, is a far off unreachable place.  Its in outer space at the closest.  Most assume its beyond our cosmos, outside the expanse of our universe.  I'm starting to disagree.  I think Paradise, like where all the dead Christians are, is probably somewhere like that.  I think its a place - a place we can go but not easily and certainly not a place we can visit and then return.  Its a place for another life.  Can you see how the idea that God lives there is destructive to our spiritual lives here?  It creates in us the mindset that our faith is about another life - a way to ensure our ticket to heaven.  If God lives in heaven and heaven is a place for another life then any real relationship or interaction with God has to be primarily reserved for that life.  It creates a framework by witch to live in this life completely free from any interaction with our God.  It makes God free living seem normal and practical.  The power of God in our day to day is undermined and his influence diminished. 

When you think of God speaking to people in the old testament, where do you imagine that voice to come from?  I've always imagined a booming voice from the sky.  I now think it may have been more like a whisper in the ear or friend across the dinner table.  The Lord called to Abraham out of heaven, called to Hagar out of heaven, spoke to Moses from heaven.  The nation of Israel experienced fire from heaven and ate manna from heaven.  In these stories heaven isn't thought of as far away.  Heaven in right here.  Jacob, while asleep, saw the earth and heaven connected by a passage.  He saw the Lord himself standing beside him.  When he awoke he proclaimed, "God lives here!"  The understanding of God's chosen people was that God is actually here.  He speaks to us and exists in the very air around us.  God inhabits his creation the way we inhabit our bodies. 

I am a spiritual being who currently has a physical body.  I occupy my body
and environs by my consciousness of it and by my capacity to will and to
act with and through it.  I occupy my body and its proximate space, but I am
not localizable in it or around it.  You cannot find me or any of my thoughts,
feelings, or character traits in any part of my body...  Yet I am present as agent
or casual influence with and about my body and its features and movements.  In turn
what my body undergoes and provides influences my life as a personal being.  And
through my body... I can make myself present to others.
-Dallas Willard, The Devine Conspiracy

We think of the air around us as empty space - nothingness.  We think we give it meaning - we fill.  We think what isn't us in our world is nothing - that we have to occupy space for it to have presence.  My job frequently takes me out into that free space.  Up away from our presence and noise.  By that understanding where I am should be lonely - void of any presence expect mine. I can tell you that it isn't.  God doesn't feel far away, he feels very near.  The I hear him best there.  When God calls to me from heaven I experience it very differently then I have imaged Moses did.  He is near, his voice is soft but his presence is not.  God occupies that space and uses it to make himself present to me.  Heaven isn't too far away. 

This has gotten long and I'm tired so I'll save the discussion of how this influences our relationship to God and how we find our place in his will for later.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I was reminded tonight of the power of story. I thought I'd tell one.  This isn't going to be a testimony, at least not specifically, I don't reckon anything I say is completely void of testimony.  I hope it isn't. If you do want to know my testimony you can find it here.

When nothing is owed, deserved or expected
And your life doesn't change by the man that's elected
If you're loved by someone you're never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it.
-Avett Brothers

I grew up around aviation.  My dad was a pilot and I spent a lot of time hanging around airports and riding in small planes as a kid.  My room had models hanging from the ceiling and airplane posters were my wallpaper. All I wanted to do was fly; when I was a kid.  It was Michael Jordan and girls that first pushed aviation to the back of my mind.  

We moved some when I was young so I didn't have any real friends.  It wasn't my favorite thing but I didn't mind it much.  At least I didn't mind it until I noticed girls.  Once girls became an issue I knew one thing, "this not being noticed thing has got to stop." I knew in the fifth grade the fact that I wanted to one day be a pilot wasn't going to get me far.  I needed something now.  I saw Jordan play ball and knew that had to get him chicks.  That was really all it took, that and the only friend I had at the time tried out for the team.  That was it.  I was hooked.  I loved basketball.  I love girls.  Made perfect sense.  I didn't actively decide to not want to be a pilot anymore.  It just happened.  Basketball was what I did, flying was what my dad did.  

I grew up, got married, got a job, had a kid.  I had a great life - a good job.  A job that made sense.  I would probably still be doing if if I hadn't started going to small group at church with a pilot.  This is one of the things I think God did intentionally.  Group was at this pilot's house so I spent a lot of time playing with his son's models.  The look of the their house, the language he speaks, the schedule he keeps, all very familiar.  It started doing something to me.  I thought at first it just made me miss my dad, which it did, it also made me miss aviation.  Two things happened that really awakened a passion for aviation and an appreciation for the freedom it can provide.  I'm not sure what order they happened in, but I know they were both powerful experiences.  

First, my buddy let me fly with him.  He flies corporate jets (I know its hard to detect sarcasm is writing.  Can you detect jealousy?  There may be a hint of it there).  I don't think anybody can ride in the cockpit of a corporate jet and not want to be a pilot.  I wanted to fly, I knew it as soon as the wheels left the ground.  

My job at the time happened to be across the street from his son's daycare.  Again, I suspect God's involvement.  One Tuesday I was walking to my car for a sales call and my buddy pulled in with his son.  He had just picked the kid up early from school and was gong to take him to feed the ducks.  In the middle of the day on a Tuesday.  When they told me their plans I apparently didn't get excited enough for his son's liking.  He leaned over to look me in the face and said, "hey, its fun for kids."  You know what isn't fun for kids?  Sitting at school while dad sales ads.  Neither is watching dad sit in his chair and drink beer because his day sucked so bad he "just needs a minute." I'm not knocking an 8-5.  There are a lot of things I liked and miss about it (I have a lot of respect for people who do the best they can to provide for their families).  I just knew that if I had to do it much longer I would need a beer and I would need way more than a minute for the day's suck to wear off.  I wanted to be a pilot.  I wanted the life, not the money.  I knew it would be financially tough - I knew it would be difficult - I knew I wanted it.    

I wanted it, I just didn't do anything about it.  I'm not sure why.  I just didn't.

Shortly after my daughter was born I got up in the night to feed her.  I didn't do that a lot, but I did that night.  I wanted to have the TV on for the noise and light, but I couldn't find the remote.  I turned it on and sat down to feed her.  Once she finished eating she was wide awake so I decided we should talk a few minutes before I put her back in bed.  (I try not to talk politics on here, but I can't tell the next part without disclosing some political feelings.  Sorry.  I hope you don't stop reading).  We talked for a while and then, like you do when talking to an infant, I ran out of things to say.  I looked up and watched TV for the first time.  President Obama was on.  Not sure if it was a commercial of a news story, but he was on.  I told her he would probably be the next president.  I told her what a president was.  I told her daddy didn't care for him much.  That I didn't agree with him on a lot of things.  Then I told her that the great thing about America was that we avenues to change to the things we don't like.  I told her that I didn't like having to wait four years, but that I was glad to live in a country where I had some say.  I told her that America is the greatest country ever.  I told her that great people had done great things to make that true.  I said, "The beautiful thing about America is that even though daddy doesn't like Mr. Obama, even his story proves that America is great. His story is proof that in America you can be anything."  I looked my little girl in her beautiful wide brown eyes and told her, "this is America and you can be anything you want to be. You can do anything you want to do."  I knew as soon as it left my mouth that if I kept doing what I was doing she would never believe it.  How could she believe that she could be whatever she wanted to be if I wasn't?  I had for some time that I wanted to be a pilot. I knew then that she needed me to be one.  That I had a responsibility to her to at least try.  

The above picture isn't anything incredible, I took it today because today is 9/11.  I flew an airplane today.  This picture is a reminder that this is America.  In America you can be anything you want to be.  A lot has changed in the last ten years, but America is still great.  A reminder that there are some things no one can take away from us - that great men and women have done great things and made great sacrifices to ensure it remains that way.  A reminder that we serve a God that is both good and in complete control.  

This is America, if you want to honor her, decide what to be and go be it.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tin Man

You can't be like me
but be happy that you can't
I see pain but I don't feel it
I am like the old tin man

I'm as worn as a stone
I keep it steady as I can
I see pain but I don't feel it
I am like the old tin man

I used to fill the sky around
with happiness and joy
I had news to give the wind
to keep my sails and heart employed

I felt people move around me
I felt loneliness and shame
back then everyday was different
now each moment is the same

Baby bring me life or something else

So it goes a man grows cold
some would say a man grows strong
they say life only grows short
I say the road only grows long

As long as there's a road
my feet will never touch the ground
if you won't give my heart back
I've no need to stick around
-The Avett Brothers; Tin Man

The real Son of God is at your side. He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as Himself. He is beginning, so to speak, to ‘inject’ His kind of life and thought, His Zoe, into you; beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin.
-C.S. Lewis; Mere Christianity

I am becoming a real live man.  Its been a long and difficult process and I'm sure there is great work left to be done.

I'm afraid that it has taken so long because I had gotten to the point where I was looking for the something else.  I was aware I was tin and didn't like it.  I hated it so much I was willing to try the something else. The song is powerful because its the way most people live.  At the first hurt or disappointment so many of us "go tin."  We don't like the loneliness and shame so we harden, its only then that we realize we have lost the happiness and joy along with the pain.  Its difficult to come to the place where you welcome the pain if it means breaking the apathy and monotony that has begun to consume you.  Jon McLaughlin has a song where he says, "No one's intended to die with their heart still intact."  I believe that - for the most part - this side of Eden I think its true.  If we are not broken by our sin there is no repentance and no redemption.  We never know the life (Zoe) of Christ. 

I'm aware part of me hates this conversion.  Fortunately its less than it used to be.  The taste of life that has come is addicting - I'm becoming alive and I don't want to stop.  Part of me still wars against it.  The rest has seen enough to know it is good. I want the change. I need the wind.  This road is difficult but each step brings breath.  The tin in me is pushing back hard, but the man has tasted enough to know its worth the fight.    

Sunday, September 4, 2011

In the Den

I got all emotional in the car this morning.  I guess indirectly I blame my friend Lindsay.  She suggest I read Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel.  I wasn’t going to because, well, the title sounds stupid.  Anyway, I’m about halfway through it and I’d say its decent.  There are some places where I think Manning is brilliant and the writing is beautiful.  There are others where it feels like a chore to read it seems like an exercise in the obvious.  On the surface, I’d say the book is average at best.  The only problem with that review would be that I feel different.  I’m not sure how to describe it, something about it is working on me.  Its slow and subtle, but its working.  Something is changing.  
I’m more aware of my brokenness - constantly aware of how full of shit I am, and somehow I’m more comfortable.  I think I’m, for the first time in a real long time, able to live - at least for brief moments - in the truth of who I am in Christ.  Able to accept that he really does love and accept me for who I am - with all my shit.  I’ll write more on this when I finish the book, for now its enough to know I’m softening.  
In the car on the way to church today the daughter and I were listening to a CD my mom just got her.  It was a silly little song about Daniel in the Lions den that got me.  I’ve been in the lions den.  In a place so black and terrifying you don’t how you’ll survive.  In the dark - alone with lions.  Today God asked me to tell him when I was hurt and in what way.  How was I ever in any real danger?  The den is dark and terrifying, the kind of darkness and fear that hurts.  Anger and fear and hopeless hurt a person - they change you.  I felt harmed - I felt devoured.  I was not.  God had shut the lions’ mouths tight.  The fear and hopelessness that controlled and damaged me for so long was a function of my faith - or lack thereof.  The den was never dangerous, I just couldn’t believe it wasn’t.  God was there in the blackness whispering, “trust me, find me, I am shelter, I am protection.”  I was too afraid to move, like Peter sinking in the sea, I took my eyes off Jesus.  Thankfully, in my faithlessness Jesus remained faithful.  I was a afraid I rejected to truth he gave us in his word, I wouldn’t believe he is big enough to save me from anything.  A den of lions - like stormy seas and fiery furnaces - is overwhelming.  I go back to the question from my last blog, “How big do you think God is?”
He can save from lions, calm raging seas, and walk you through fire unburned.  He is in the business of saving.  Giants and floods - invasion and slavery God saves.  He pursues and rescues. Unemployment - Addiction - Divorce - Depression, God is bigger than your circumstance.  He went to the cross and defeated death itself.  I know it feels like you’re chin deep in your own shit.  I know you feel unlovable and afraid.  I do too.  God is not motivated by our filth.  He is motivated by his love.  Love that is unconditional.  Love that rescues.  Love that will not stop.  Love that has already washed you clean.