I Became a Dad

Three weeks ago today I became a dad, and everything has changed.

All of my life I had dreamt of becoming a dad—particularly to a daughter.

I’m not sure why I’ve had that desire. I’m convinced parenthood is over-dramatized in movies as some new, idyllic stage in life.

Hallmark lied.

When the shrill, tender cries of a baby arouses you at 2:37 AM for her seventh ration of food that night, love feels different.

In movies, love is this ineffable feeling that, against your control, enraptures you day and night. You have no defense. You are an emotional wave tossed to and fro.

But when that love is toward someone who is utterly dependent on you, the adage “Love is a choice” becomes real.

You become part of that new life, and it’s a whirlwind.


My dad always said, “Just wait until you become a dad.”

You’ll start to get a glimpse of how much God truly loves you.

Wow, God is more tenacious then I thought, because the love of a parent requires the most enduring, patient love possible.

The night Sophie was born, I didn’t have that.

The moment she was born, she was alien to me. Not only did she look strange (though I’m convinced most newborns do), she didn’t feel like mine.

It was as if that crowd of nurses who surrounded us at delivery each took a slice of ownership with them.

Somehow, they were more enamored with my flesh and blood than I was. I was disheartened.

Why didn’t I love my child?

But the more time I spent with her alone, the more I saw the love of God in her smile.

Her occasional smirks—perhaps caused by an upset stomach—reveal her debonair personality. Those fleeting moments are winks from God.

In this was manifested the love of God toward us.

Though the love of God in Christ dying on the cross is insurmountable… I get a glimpse of it each time Sophie smiles.

It also means I can shamelessly rock a dad bod.

Back to the Garden of 2017

There’s a sweet ballad that has visited me often these past few weeks, one packed full with nostalgia and longing like that of creation’s in Romans 8. It’s Crowder’s “Back to the Garden,” in which he talks about our godly genes.

I was born to be royal. I was made to be free.

The place we’re in today, where depression is rising; dissatisfaction, too, among more than just teens. Everyone feels like the earth isn’t enough: that something is missing, and whatever is here on this molten sphere is not sating us. You can understand the hearty plea to “be taken back to the garden of Eden,” much like when we were children and bliss occasioned us at every stage.

No responsibility. No heartache. No existential awareness.

The world doesn’t feel like a garden anymore. It’s bereft of water and spore, when the sunlight turns its rays away and sends unsolicited frost. But it wasn’t intended to be.

Tenderly tend

An indeterminable and irrelevant time ago, God made man and placed him in the Garden of Eden for a purpose: that he would tend it and take care of it.

“Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” (Gen. 2:15, NKJV)

Interestingly, the word “tend” in Hebrew is not how we usually think of tending a garden. We may think of using a hoe or spade–tooling and tilling the garden, as it were. The word actually used was abad, which means “to serve.” While contextually it means “to cultivate,” the root serve conveys a vital meaning we mustn’t miss.

It was Adam’s task to procure the garden for all of his progeny as a servant. What a concept of servitude: physical labor for others. We’re not talking about serving in church here, folks. This is straight to the dust and dirt.


So we take this concept of going back to the garden–perhaps the thought of us flittering to and fro, weightless and ethereal? And to do what? What in God’s green garden will you do once there? Lie in the lea amongst the animals and ferns, idle? Perhaps there’s physical word to do–may it be agrarian at best?

No.

Going back to the garden isn’t about rest. Fleeing from the world isn’t about finding respite from the chaos, not having to go into work, or being able to do nothing and absolutely nothing to eternity on. That’s a waste of a garden.

There’s life in the garden

There’s this one passage in Scripture that always captures my intention. In fact it rose to the surface more prominently while I was reading The Shack.

It comes in the context of early John, when Jesus is described as “the Word.”

In him was life, and the life was the light of the men.

Life, the fleeting essence within us, is perceived so wrongly in this culture. “You have a lot of activities?” You must have a life. “You did nothing this weekend?” You have no life. A definition that circumvents the source of life for one based on physical activities is rending youths’ images of how they see their own life. They are taught to parse good or lame lives based their stuff and their itinerary.

When it comes to stuff, you’ll never be satisfied; and I don’t say this purely in a spiritual way–only to say that “in Jesus is life, so stop searching.” I mean that anything we do, anything I do, always results in a nostalgia and a surging desire to return to the garden where true life is.

When you’re asking God to “take me back to the garden,” it doesn’t start once you die. You can lie in the lea today.

Be Still and Know the Lord of Hosts

One of the most iconic pieces of consolation in the Old Testament is Psalm 46.

Be still, and know that I am God. (v. 10a, NKJV)

This verse usually enters a mind, heart, or conversation in the midst of an emotional maelstrom. If you are frightened, vexed, anxious, sad, etc., you are called to be still.

Don’t move–for he is the Lord above all.

Upon murmuring this verse in the quiet of your heart, the expectation is that all worries will be assuaged, for we believe God, in his prescience, said and had written this verse for us today, for us while we’re in that event which is corralling us into a sordid pen of worry.

This is not a heretical line of reasoning. I wouldn’t plainly call it a “high view of Scripture,” for that can mean different things. It is rather a more literal or narrowed understanding of Scripture. We should still believe and rightly so that all of Scripture is God-breathed and intended to communicate to all people at all times and places throughout all history, today, and to eternity.

However, God’s word is not in a vacuum… except that sometimes it is.


In and Out of Context

Sometimes we think that any piece of Scripture can be extracted and used–played with like dough–safe to be put back to its original place with no harm done. This is kind of what we do with the phrase, “Only God can judge me.”

I mean, that’s phrase is true in a particular sense.

The judgment often talked about in Scripture is not the type of judgment we’re well acquainted with. We think of shallow criticism we throw at someone before we abscond from the scene in fear of being attacked back.

That’s superficial. In God’s kingdom, judgment means something far more serious: the due recompense for our sins; in other words, we get what we deserve. Thankfully, because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we get mercy instead of the just payment for our sins.

But Jesus actually says,

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

He’s telling¬†us not to judge, because

  1. We swiftly become hypocrites; and
  2. We as sinners are in no place to judge,

when in reality, we deserve it and know it–we just don’t want other people to acknowledge it in us.

The “judging” we sinners do is often so far removed from the meaning of judgment God talks about that it’s no wonder he tells us, essentially, “Don’t even try. That’s my thing.”

This example quickly illustrates that not only are we familiar with taking Scripture out of context and marring it, but we’re also quite good at it, and it has become accepted behavior in the Christian sphere.


Psalm 46: The Layout

Don’t even try. That’s my thing,” is exactly what is happening in Psalm 46, rather than a casual invitation to an oasis of peace amidst a desert of worry.

Through a series of declarations in the psalm [of the sons of Korah], the author establishes that God is…

  • strength and refuge in trouble (vv. 1-2),

which leads him not to fear regardless of the circumstance (v. 3);

  • inhabiting the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle (v. 4),

which demonstrates that God dwells in the midst of their city, so they are safe  from their enemies (v.5);

  • a conqueror over enemies when the nations around them rage (v. 6);
  • with them, as both a refuge and Lord of Hosts (or¬†“armies,” in a military sense) (v. 7).

 

At this point in the psalm, the tone shifts from adoration, comfort, and surety to an invocation by all those in Israel to note, declare, and be emboldened by the ascriptions made to God.

“Come, behold the works of the Lord” (v. 8)

who…

  • has made desolation on the earth,
  • ceases wars,
  • breaks bows and cleaves spears in two,
  • and burns the chariot in fire.

In this context, God interrupts:

Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (v. 10)

There is a reason why the psalmist, specifically in this psalm, uses the refrain “Lord of Hosts” twice. He actually couches our main verse in two of these.

The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (v. 7)

(When you see two similar phrases in one verse like this in the Old Testament, it’s called synthetic parallelism: the expression of one idea with two phrases or sentences. A perfect example of this is Zechariah 9:9 when the Messiah is pictured as riding “on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Obviously Zechariah means the Messiah is riding one animal, but Matthew funnily messes it up in verse 7 by misunderstanding synthetic parallelism common to Hebrew writing, which evokes this awkward scene where Jesus is positioned riding on two animals at once.)

The psalmist is communicating that God is a God of armies, able to conqueror any army that comes up against Israel. (Notice above the words about “wars,” “bows,” “spears,” “chariots,” etc.)

Psalm 46: The Hebrew

The operative word in our verse is the verb harpu, which is an imperative of the root rapha (not to be confused with rapha, to heal, which has a different “a” vowel).

While we translate harpu as “be still,” it rarely means that per its word usage. Some of its more frequent meanings are lazy, fail, sink, relax, and slack.

A few verse examples may be to “sink down in a hay of flame,” letting hands go from work in fear, or ceasing from anger.

While the meaning of harpu can still connote relaxing or being still in the psalm’s context of war, it makes little sense when Israel has no power in the first place–not just as humans, but also as an inferior nation militarily. God, when ascribed the “Lord of Hosts” refrain twice, is saying, essentially, “your efforts are futile.” No bows, spears, guns, or any human contraption can usurp my role on the throne.

No amount of warmongering by any side can beat the God of Jacob. God will win; the people against Israel will lose. The earth will tremble, melt, and fold, and he alone will be exalted.

Notably, Rapha (the root of harpu) does not have a negative connotation, as if “being still” or relaxing is a bad thing. I don’t want to make it sound like the peaceful words of God telling us to “be still” when life is tough is a bad thing.

But when the context of this phrase is war and is conveying the unassailable sovereignty of God, the vast polysemy of words come into play: harpu here means something far bolder than “have tranquility, my child.” There’s power in it, as a mighty king would say to his vassal nations.

Okay, so now what?

Does it mean that God won’t calm the storms in our life? Na.

This contextual take on Psalm 46, rather than removing the personalness of God by reinforcing his sovereignty, actually helps us realize that we are more fragile, more incapable of calming those storms in our life than ever before.

We can’t beat the war on our own. We can’t even beat the petty battles with sin.


God, in his sovereignty, didn’t just choose to rule. All rulers do that.

He actually chose to gave us his Son as a sacrifice for us. Rulers don’t do that. Rulers don’t love like that.

When God says he will be exalted above all nations, above all the earth, he is speaking to us too. When we let him be exalted above our will, we become able to deny ourselves, to deny sin, and to turn to the one in whose hands are lives are.

If there is an army heading straight for us in life, we can be still, but we can also know there’s a mighty God behind us who is fighting our battles… as we await the true hero, Jesus, to return and judge the living and the dead. Amen.

Fragile Waves

We are a lot like waves.

I sat at the edge of the half-natural jetty, a few feet from the rocky cliff. It was by no means vertiginous, for I was only seven or so boulder layers up from the crashing of the waves on the shore. I think what was more dizzying was the high-pitched alert of a couple blokes at the beginning of the rock who screamed out, “Dude! Fire ants!”

Oh, what a lovely welcome, beloved fire ants.

Despite their shrieks, the continual crashing of the waves captivated me tenfold. They were, ultimately, far dizzying to a naive human mind than any ant could ever be.

I noticed that, with all these distracting thoughts ricocheting in my head, the waves kept doing the same thing.

Ebb. Flow. Crash. Ebb. Flow. Converge. Crash.

We seem to do that… a lot. And I don’t particularly mean the crash part: In life we’re caught in an inescapable ebb and flow.

I tried to spot myself in the waves. “Which one am I?” Oh, that one… the one that underwent the wave merge from the larger neighboring waves. But I was also that colossal wave… only sometimes, and maybe not so large; maybe just more self-aggrandizing.

Each of the waves seemed to be direct kin of the great ocean behind them. Well, of course they were.

But some of the waves were clearly set apart from the others: nobler, stronger, fuller; more calloused, more encompassing, more intractable; less gentle, less coy, less agreeable.

Apart from the misfits, all the waves featured that familiar behavior we all know and love: lack of change. They did the same thing over and over and over every day. That behavior reminded me of what Paul talked about in Romans 7 (yes, the New Testament on Tabernacler!), when he struggles internally about the warfare within him between law and grace–or rather, between flesh and spirit:

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?¬†I thank God‚ÄĒthrough Jesus Christ our Lord! (vv. 24-25, NKJV)

Paul could tell that, despite all his efforts, he was a wretched man in need of saving, the same one who boasted of his conscience before God. More importantly, Paul saw that it was a daily struggle, as if there were never respite from the tedium of life and the weight of sin that tear our years away.

There is a deep struggle between the will to do good and the tendency to do evil; when we will to do good, but do evil which we will not to do (It’s a tongue twister, I know). In the same way, we struggle against the tendency in us to be conformed to patterns and rote living versus the capricious, adventurous life we think we want to live–like those Instagram blogs that taunt you with pictures of people upon mountain peaks and selfie sticks soaring an arm’s length over a breath-taking canyon.


So yes, waves.

Each of them is unique, made in the image of the ocean beneath them, of whom they are part. Also, all of them were the same. They would ebb, flow, and crash ad infinitum.

There was something else to the waves, though. They all had an undercurrent, an undertow, a riptide.

The waves beneath the waves, in a sense, were very much dissimilar. It’s as if the waves, a composite of different forms and breadths and strengths, had a driving force beneath each one that was a derivative of the ocean itself, not each wave. In other words, regardless of the waves’ appearance on the surface, they shared the same current beneath them.

(Okay, scientifically that’s not true, as a tsunami has a much stronger riptide than a beach wave over which moms can dandle their babies’ feet in the light surf. Just track with me!)

Each of the waves carried with it the potent force beneath them that pulled toward a destination, like a desire so deep within you that there is no power to hold you from being drawn to it. It’s a bit like love, but so much deeper.

It’s the human riptide in us that drives us to the shore, away from the mystery that is out there: whatever it is, the waves continue to drive us back to reality, though we long to become undone.

The shore doesn’t–yea, it never satisfies. The world never satisfies.


We are so inexorably shipwrecked on the shores–tossed to and fro in this maelstrom we call the human condition. But these waves are part of a mechanism, and I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we stopped flowing to the shore, where technology abounds, people isolate, and we insulate.

 

What if we ebbed back into the source, back into the deep?

No more flowing; no more crashing. No more monotony. No more work or toil.

This is the yearning for Eden at its core–back to the ocean, the wellspring; back to the deep over which the Spirit of God hovered, for there the waves had no schedule.