Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Victor's Crown (When the Game is Over Before the Last Whistle)

I haven't posted for a while.  Multiple reasons (not excuses) could be proffered as to why I have written so scantly, but at its core, writing is a discipline.  That said, this post has been steeping for a while.  My mother is dying of cancer.  I have shared my heart on this with those who are closest to me, especially my brothers and sisters at Sojourn Community Church, my church family who has loved me in a way that deserves its own post. However, I feel that I need to write some things in this forum for you, whoever you are, to read.

My personal athletic career has been brief and casual, rec league stuff.  I'm something of a rabid fan, though, cheering on primarily Arizona teams (plus Manchester United).  As a fan of Arizona professional sports, my second-hand athletic sorrow has been most profound, culminating in the Cardinal's late-fourth quarter loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.  I mention sports (and losing at sports) because they're an excellent example of the feeling in your gut when you know you've lost before its officially over.  Maybe there's time on the clock, maybe you even have the ball, but nevertheless, the lead is insurmountable.  It's over.

This is where I find myself. The punch-in-the-gut feeling I felt that night in February 2009, watching time run out on the Cardinals is but a microcosm, and a tiny one, at that, of the pain of watching time run out on my mom.  It doesn't matter that there's still time on the clock. The lead is insurmountable. Cancer has ravaged her body, reducing her almost to a skeleton.  She is barely able to stand with assistance; she barely wants to eat or drink the smallest portions of the most meager foods.  She has almost no strength to speak.

I'm gutted and numbed right now.  It's a surreal thing to see my mom slip away like this.  Some of you might wonder about God in all this.  Some of you might wonder why this suffering exists and why my mom is going through this at all.  Some might even scoff and say "If there is a God," why then this suffering?

I'm thankful because in the story of the Bible, I find my story, my mom's story. In it, you (whoever you are) will also find your story (whether you like it or not).  The story starts with God.  God creates the world, the universe.  He creates it good, perfect even; he creates humanity in his own image and brings them into relationship with himself. Humanity, however, rebels against good, choosing themselves as gods instead.  This is called the Fall, and all that was once good and perfect is now horrifically marred, devastated.  But rather than destroying these rebels, these ones who knowingly rebelled against all that was good, this God who created everything promises to recreate everything. He promises that he will provide atonement for sin.  Atonement is a word that was created by Bible-translator and martyr William Tyndale to express what he called at-one-ment.  To atone for something is to do what it takes to make it one again.  God provided this atonement by giving himself, by giving his son Jesus to pay the price for sin.  God took on the flesh of creation.  He lived the life I and everyone should have lived -  a perfect, holy one.  He then died the death I (and you!) should have died, a death of punishment for sin.  However, Redemption was not just accomplished by an act of martyrdom.  Jesus was raised for our justification, that I (and you!) might be made right with God.  We now live between Redemption and Glorification.  God's recreation of everything will be completed when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead, ushering in a new Heaven and a new Earth.

I have hope because this is my story!  This world we live in is passing away.  I see that in my mom.  She is in pain and dying.  I have hope because I know that her story doesn't end her, in the devastated world of the Fall.  It ends in eternal joy.

In the big story of the Bible, one can find many stories with which to identify.  I identify a lot with the Apostle Paul.  Once an adamant hater of Christianity, he was radically changed by Jesus and preached the faith he once tried to destroy. A life of extreme hardship would follow, including numerous stints in Roman prisons.  After a long stint of this, he knew that his head would soon be laid on a chopping block.  He wrote to his protege Timothy, exhorting him to hold on and persevere in the faith he had received. He wrote the following to him:

"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." - 2 Timothy 4:6-8

I can't help but think of my mom.  She has fought through so much hardship in her life, including this ten-year battle with cancer.  She has fought well, she has finished well, she has held on to Jesus.  She will die soon and soon she will be with Jesus himself.  The crown of righteousness (other translations: the victor's crown) will soon be on her head.

I have many tears yet to cry.  But while I hurt, I hope.  Hope is not a vague feeling, a "oh boy! things are  a gonna get better, yes sir!" type of delusional sentiment.  Hope is anchored in reality; it empowers us to trust in what's real, not just what we feel.  Your prayers are appreciated.  Grace and peace to you all in Jesus Christ.

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