I am a visual guy. I think in pictures; and there is a picture that is helping me during this bizarre season of my life. But before I share it with you, here are a few thoughts that will help you understand it better.
John 5 is the story about Jesus healing a man at the pool of Bethesda. After healing him, he told him to take his mat and go home. On the way, some religious knuckleheads stopped the man and asked, “Dude, why are you carrying your mat? Don’t you know it’s Sabbath! That’s illegal.” The guy responded by telling them that the guy who healed him told him to. But he didn’t know who healed him, because Jesus slipped through the crowd right after. Later, Jesus stalked the guy and found him in the temple. He tells him, “Stop sinning or worse things might happen to you.” (a warning, not a threat) So the guy runs to the religious leaders and rats Jesus out. The religious guys then found and confronted Jesus, “Did you heal this guy on Sabbath?”
Jesus responded something like this: “Of course I did. My Father is working on Sabbath, and I work when he works. He takes me to work every day. He shows me what he does, and we do it together. I always go to work with Dad. It is what I do. And it is going to get even better, because he has promised to show me even greater stuff!”
I love to garden. In our old house I had an awesome garden. It took me years to build it and grow it, and I was really proud of it. I like gardening because God has met me there so many times, and has used gardening to teach me stuff about caring for people and leadership. It is how he discipled Adam and prepared him for marriage and to fulfil his purpose to care for creation. One summer I mentioned to Victoria that I wish our son would want to help me in the yard. She must have said something to him, because a few days later I came home to find him reluctantly cutting and edging the yard. I got excited, ran in and changed clothes, and came out to help. As I started to suggest a technique that I had learned, he shut off the edger and walked off, feeling like he would never be good enough to do things like that for me. I’m sure that I handled that situation really badly.
A few weeks later I was in the yard and talking to God. I complained to Him that it hurt me that my son didn’t want to be with me. I really just wanted my son to spend time with me in the garden, to have an opportunity to share with him things God had shown me, to learn to love what I love, and to have his life shaped by the things that have shaped my life. I just wanted him to want to do stuff with me instead of for me. God replied, “Tell me about it!”
I have walked with God for 46 years. Most of those years I saw God as Lord, King, General. I come to Him in the morning, get my marching orders, and then go do stuff for Him. The next day I report (usually how I screwed stuff up), ask for forgiveness, help and counsel, and then go back out and do stuff for Him again. This past year the revelation hit me that God wants me to do stuff WITH Him, not FOR Him. He doesn’t need me. He wants me. That is liberating. He calls me to do things, in large part, to get to know Him in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to in another context. Every task, every path is meant for me to become more acquainted with Him, to understand His mind and heart, to become more intimate with Him.
The concept of “calling” is a beautiful one. If I asked you to go into another room, I would be sending you there. But if you were in another room and I asked you to come to me, that would be calling. The church sends where it is not. God calls us into spaces where He is already. He calls me to love my wife because He loves my wife and He wants to show me how He loves her. It not only helps me love her well, but it shows me a lot about God. I go to the office where God is already. I need to be more astute to recognize what He is doing and do that. Doctors enter exam rooms, where God is already. At their best they discern what God is doing in that patient’s life and do that with Father. God is a “Take-Your-Kid-To-Work” Dad every day. He never sends us where He is not. We are followers, not emissaries.
So here is the picture I have: I am standing in a well-lit, bright, open room where I feel safe and comfortable. But there is a door that is open, and a dark space on the other side of that door. Pitch black. I don’t know that space, and I don’t know what is there. But there is just enough light from where I am standing that I can make out the profile of my Father. And He is calling me. When I recognize that he is there, I have no fear of that space. I would rather be in a dark, unfamiliar place with Father than to remain in a safe, comfortable place.
I am walking into a space where cancer is my reality. But it is a space where God is already. He bore not only my sin but my sickness and sorrows. He had my cancer before I did. That may sound weird, but I believe that is true. I have 46 years of history with Him. I trust Him. I am actually excited about the intimacy – the new depths of knowing His goodness and compassion – that will come from this time and place. I hate cancer. I want to live and I want to live cancer-free. But I am willing to walk into the dark to be with my Father in a way that I could not if I were not going through this. And so this season is a gift to me. “This is life, to know the only true God…” Bring it on!
For 46 years I have seen God’s faithfulness. This past year I finally came to the unshakable conviction that He loves me and is pleased with me - not because I am so great. I am, as Don Chaffer says, “king of the strobe – flashing, unfaithful, hardly light at all”. Yet He is still pleased with me! I knew this in my mind, but for most of 45 years it was no more than the right answer to put on a test if I ever needed. It has only been in the last year that I have come to really enjoy God in this way. I am a knucklehead! But His love has finally broken through.
Jesus’ disciples were having a debate about which ones were most qualified to have great places in Christ’s kingdom. Jesus heard them, and walked into the middle of their conversation. He called to a little boy, and that boy came over to Him and stood in the middle of them…a group of tough blue-collar men – fishermen who were rugged and who even after 3 years of following Jesus could embarrass your mother with foul language. A couple were well-educated men. One was an ex-terrorist. They had nicknames like “Rock” and “Sons of Thunder”. It was an intimating group. But the boy came because he trusted Jesus. He had confidence that Jesus meant him no harm. He was eager to be with him. Jesus said to his disciples, “Unless you change and become like this little child, you will not enter the kingdom of God.”
And so I enter the dark room…with my Father.