The baptism of my imagination

“For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:11)

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

If you Googled it, I’m sure you’d find no end of entries about the biblical attitude the church should have towards its pastors, ministers, elders, overseers and whoever else your church may include in that broad category but under a name I left out.

And for their part, leaders regularly remind their flock of their duties and responsibilities towards them. They should, and don’t need to apologize for bringing it up. “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17).

Nevertheless, there are Elis, Ahabs, Jezebels, Jeroboams and assorted unnamed and unknown others from New Testament times down through church history right up to the present that shouldn’t be honored. Paul wrote to Timothy, “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13). I know. I don’t think the future tense of that verb has expired. I’ve met some of them.

Therefore, when I sit down to post here I have a very pragmatic approach about the authority, such as it is, that I have. I’m a teacher. I regard that as a calling, not a hobby, a role that I put on and take off as I would different jackets according to the occasion, and certainly not as a lark.

But (1) I’m not anyone’s pastor; (2) you don’t know me from Adam (he’s the one wearing fig leaves; that’s me in the Timberland sweatshirt); and (3) you don’t have the slightest idea what I believe. For starters, I don’t have a Statement of Faith posted here, though I could draft one.

I don’t have links to Declarations on various topics (Christianity’s standing in a pluralistic world, the respective roles and responsibilities of men and women, biblical inerrancy, etc.). I could do that, too. On an earlier blog, I did. To be honest, they now seem like virtual bumper stickers to me. So you “Support World Peace”? Good for you. Then why did you cut in front of me to take that parking space?

For lack of a more elegant way to describe my approach, I use Forrest Gump’s mother’s rule: Stupid is as stupid does. Which, translated for my purposes, means you’ll find out what I believe, how I’ve lived and how I’ve turned out as a result by reading it here. You’ll probably never meet me and your life won’t skip a beat for not doing so. I am words on a page. For that matter, not even something you drop in a file folder unless you print it. Just an image, really.

This is not a click-bait gimmick. (You don’t see any ads do you?) You’re always welcome to visit. You can get up and leave anytime you want. I won’t hear the click when you hover over the Back button or the link to The Shopping Channel.

But as I wrote in the last post, The messenger and the message must be the same. I have a verse in the header photo that declares that “whoever loses his life for [Jesus’] sake will find it.” If I can’t produce evidence of that in my life and describe it for you, then why should you bother? You’re probably missing a good movie on AMC (e.g., The Godfather, which hasn’t been on since, uh, last Thursday. Why do we need DVRs when the same movies are like a hotel lobby revolving door?)

So here goes. Here are some of the things, in the past 44 years, that come under the heading of “the life I lost”:

My journalistic career. I was offered a good entry-level bureau reporter’s position about a year after completing my MS in journalism from Boston University. I did so to obey the Spirit of God just as Paul and his companions didn’t proceed to Bithynia for the same reason (Acts 16:7). And with the same lack of explanation.

Providing a good, comfortable life for my family. Obviously a consequence of the above, but there were plenty of other reasons over a period of 20+ years. We were middling to poor until my wife divorced me.

Being in the family photo at graduations and birthday parties. A consequence of the last entry also. I missed 3 high school graduations and 1 college graduation because I was not invited. I don’t have phone numbers or addresses for any of my children, and it’s been about ten years since my last contact.

The love and support of my natural, birth family. My father’s last words to me before dying of a brain tumor were to bar me from his house. When he died, I learned of his death from reading about it online two weeks after it happened. No one bothered to call me.

My health, which could have been better maintained if I could have afforded health care. My diabetes could have been detected years earlier if I had had regular physicals, checkups and lab work. I could never afford it. The diabetes has led to peripheral neuropathy.

Remember Martha’s statement to Jesus when he arrived after Lazarus died? “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:32). I have health insurance now. If Jesus “had been here” in line with the conventional (and facile) evangelical notion of “God provides,” I wouldn’t be in pain.

At this point, I’ll stop. You get the idea. (I’ve written about other “lost life,” if you’re interested.)

But for goodness’ sake, why did you make the choices you did? It could have been different.

The truth is, I never really had meaningful choices pertaining to all of the above. Circumstances hemmed me in the same way Joseph went from one confinement to the next: thrown in a pit, sold into slavery, slandered by Potiphar’s wife and imprisoned as a result, left to languish when the chief cupbearer forgot to put in a good word for him with Pharaoh.

And since you put it that way, for goodness’ sake is a kind of weak-tea explanation of why I did these things. I did them because I love Jesus Christ more than anything else in my entire perplexing life and he is deserving of my unstinting obedience and devotion (and has received it, with plenty of lapses). And his church is his creation, not the product of slick advertising, clever marketing or even gifted men (because they fail, too), a church that still needs teachers (maybe more than ever).

As God is my witness, I can say, just as Joseph told his formerly treacherous brothers, ”God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance,” and, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen 45:7-8).

Where did Joseph get the idea to describe his ordeal this way? (Hint: not from his imagination). I stopped trying to figure out what was happening in my life decades ago. It was too much for me to process, but not too much to continue to find, hear and obey the voice of God in my life.

I was a smart kid in school, always a good student. I was the high school class valedictorian. I graduated from a very good university. I took pride in my intellectual capacity. And God took my imagination and immersed it in a life that killed it. Not that I didn’t put up a struggle along the way.

“No human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor 2:9-10). Revealed, uncovered. Until then, my “light” was often like darkness to me.

My imagination was buried because it was dead to comprehending the profound, paradoxical ways of God in transforming my life. It was always inadequate to the task.  But the Spirit of God gave me something back that was immeasurably better—the light of life.

What I am doing right at this moment sitting at the keyboard is the fulfillment of a promise of God from 30+ years ago. “I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago” (Is 25:1). Imagine that. I never did. I never could have.

More about the blog and the blogger:

The name, the photo and the reason I do this

We should talk

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