How Big Is God’s Paintbrush?

The other day I took a stroll to the docks–the wharf, as the elegant call it. Elegant it seemed: the demographic was older, refined, with each–usually a couple–getting in their leisurely exercise like we youth should be doing.

Perhaps the locals were on their way to a semi-casual dinner at a crab-serving restaurant (I can’t recall the name, and I’m too cheap to buy a plate there).

I found it serene, almost; but the experience was also strangely speckled with sorrow. Not of other-sorrow, but my own.

I saw….

  • Families being active and gregarious, like paddling kayaks with each other.
  • A man endeared by the sun as he lay shoe-less on the grass abutting the pier.
  • One couple with a handicapped son in a wheelchair next to them, who flashed their thankful smiles as I passed.
  • The grooviest of vans, adorned by chromatic rocks glued everywhere. I believe he was a time-traveling evangelist.

All of these sights tugged at my heart, each with its own force, its own associative memory-box. Each triggered a nostalgic moment that lives only in my head.

As I was walking back to my car around the circuit of paths surrounding the bay, I saw a sight more sightly than ever.

I saw the clouds.

The clouds looked both opaque and translucent, as if a magician’s hand had graced them, leaving fingerprints of majesty that couldn’t be erased.

Like the friend’s arm around your shoulder in a time of fragile emotion, so this sky was warming to my heart.

It drew me to deep wonder…

How big is God’s paintbrush?

The kid in me–the person who will never be a mature adult so long as my eyes dilate at the size of our unfathomable universe, laughed.

What kind of heresy is that, Jordan? That’s personifying God.

God doesn’t have hands to paint the skies. He just did it with his voice.

But I don’t think so.

I believe there’s a deep, insatiable curiosity within us each time we look at mystery–each time we remember that our frame, our desires, our intellect, and our compassion is mirrored by a person.

It has to be, for our hearts are wells that have to be filled by another heart.

How long did it take to paint?

Time is as bizarre to us as it must be to God. It doesn’t make sense.

There’s A-theory and B-theory in time, depending on how linear you believe time is.

Metaphysics aside, I’m sure God “spent his time” moving his paintbrush with a grin wider than our oceans.

Kind of like me–go figure, as my pangs of writer’s block are alleviated with each successful line typed. It’s a type of caressing of the soul to spend your time doing what God created in you to do.

I can imagine a burly, soft, iridescent hand at sunset before the sun set stage:

  • Left to right.
  • An upstroke, an oblique stroke.
  • A pause. An oddly beguiling smile.
  • A divine satisfaction of what is and is to come.

We can only imagine the time, care, and joy spent in each stroke, each brush of creative power.

In our eyes it is magic. In his eyes, a work of art.

See, we are the work of art–except instead of being painted upon a blue, expansive canvas, we are painted by the [blood red] love of Christ.

In each of us lives a speckle of divinity: this ability to create art with our lives.

And I’m not talking about paint, brushes, pencils, and paper.

It is the very ongoing of our lives that paints this world, with colors of ancient, wildly-mutating love.

When God said “It is finished,” I believe he was talking about his paintbrush, not us.

We, you see… We are just beginning.

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?


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.

An Orbital Perspective of the Church

If you’re into physics at all, or if you have learned a bit about our solar system, you may have run into two terms: centrifugal and centripetal. These are antonyms, with centrifugal meaning “moving away from the center” and centripetal “toward the center.”

You may also relate these terms to what you learned in biology about nerves: there’s afferent nerves (moving toward an organ) and efferent nerves (moving away from an organ). Regardless of their direction, they’re still nerves, and they are a vital, life-giving part of the body.

The term “centripetal force” was first used by Christiaan Huygens in the 17th century describing the motion and range toward the center of a circular path. Isaac Newton then used this to describe gravity: with gravity providing this force responsible for astronomical orbits.

But more than orbits and nerves, the church can be described by these terms too. Either it’s centrifugal and is intended to “go out,” or it’s centripetal and is intended to “bring in.”

Old Testament: An Inward Community

From the very beginning when God called us to himself (always), there has been a “God’s people.” But in the narrative of God bringing salvation to us, it began with a special set of people: Israel.

Articulated right after the Shema, God appropriates Israel as his own.

For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. (Deut. 7:6, NKJV)

Israel was called to be holy and set apart, a special treasure on the earth. This people, destined to be christened as a “church” as we now know it, were to be a mirror of God’s character to the world. (We are later called God’s ambassadors in the New Testament.)

The structure of Israel was always the same: God had a special body of people, and they were to remain holy; all others on the fringe were invited, but Israel was not necessarily tasked to go out and bring them in.

There’s a common refrain in the Old Testament that captures this:

They shall know that I am the Lord.

This verse is, yes, quite tinted with authority. Knowing the Lord in ancient context at some point involved surrendering, admitting there is no other god, demoting their local ‘god’, etc. (Kings and rulers were often apotheosized, or made gods, back then.) It was said to show communities surrounding Israel that there is no other.

Unfortunately, the Jews didn’t heed their call, and they were disgusted at Gentiles–those who were not of their kin.

A community of oneness

I spoke about the way we can interpret the Shema in another post, how we ought not think of ‘God as one’ as merely numerical, but as holistic, complete, and unified. This same God was treating his children of Israel the same. Israel was to be one: unified together.

Israel was to be a community of peoples–that he would dwell among them and be their God.

This is a centripetal structure of the church, and this is also when Israel failed to be the church. Instead of receiving the Promised Land and reaping the benefits of being the cherished people of God, the tables were turned. The Messiah was coming and had to come, and he had an entirely fuller vision for the people of God.

All would be invited into Israel; all of Israel would be saved, and the ungodliness of Jacob would be turned away.

New Testament: A Radical Shift

The coming of the Messiah, Jesus, catalyzed the shift from centripetal to centrifugal. Israel, no longer able to meet the criteria, needed its requirements met. Israel needed someone to be godly for them–to be God, truly–to represent the church.

Jesus instituted the church by culling all communities into the body of Christ.

-insert Gospel story-

Stephen, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, gives a mighty speech in Acts 7–so mighty that it leads to his abrupt martyrdom. In that speech, he chronicles the work of God in Moses, and recounts Israel’s history.

He speaks of the prophecy that God gave to Moses, that a prophet would be raised. He then, in commentary, says that Moses was “with the church” in the wilderness.

This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai… (Acts 7:38)

The word congregation in Greek is ekklesia, “an assembly,” or literally “[called] out from and to.” This word is what we billions on earth use to describe the global body of Christians today and since the resurrection.

What’s incredible about Stephen’s comment here is that he is calling Israel “the church,” back when they were in the wilderness. All of Israel is subsumed into the church in his eyes. While in the scope of Dispensationalism one might bat an eye or two at this wild claim, it’s telling us something important.

Regardless of the dispensation, there has always been the church… but it’s been different.

Jesus and the Church

There’s a very poignant part toward the end of Matthew, book-ended by talk of the kingdom of heaven and the end times, where Jesus chastises the Pharisees for being hypocrites, calling them white-washed tombs.

But at the end, Jesus speaks to Jerusalem (in effect, Israel) as he does to the whole church, the bride of Christ.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (23: 37)

Israel was intended to be the church, the assembly of peoples that brought all into the fold of God: it was to be centripetal. But sin wrested our winsomeness from us and we needed rescue and righteousness.

When Jesus comes into the picture incarnate in the New Testament, the focus is clearly centrifugal: the Gospel is to be preached, to any and to all. The veil between the Jews and Gentles was torn, that all might be saved.

The Church and its Hands

In recap, the narrative of God’s salvation through Jesus took a body of people (Israel) who were supposed to be holy and set apart. But they failed. With the advent of the Messiah, the failure was filled by perfect righteousness and sinlessness. The task, now, was the dissemination of the Gospel, the good news for salvation of the world.

We as a church, while the shift has changed chiefly from centripetal (inward) to centrifugal (outward), have a heavy task of both.

God calls us to be his ambassadors and bring others into the church by the persuasion of our lives. But he also calls us to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations.

It’s a paradox, but a beautiful one founded in love: that we might both bring in and send out as a church–being all things to all people, that we might by all means save some.


What do you think? Is the church today called to be centripetal, centrifugal, or both?

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—through 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.