Transformation

We live in a world where achieving dreams or fulfilling maximum potential is a driving force in each of our lives.  Dreams are meant to be chased and fulfilled. This is a wonderful thing: children are taught that the world is their oyster and anything is possible. We hang posters of our heroes on the walls of our bedrooms, we watch movies starring our favorite actors, we watch sporting events displaying the explosive talent of our favorite athletes. Regardless of the particular area of interest that fosters our dreaming, we grow up with an innate belief that we can achieve anything. Unfortunately, this is worldview is entirely flawed.

Growing up role-playing as my favorite sport star of the moment, it seemed perfectly logical to assume that I could naturally develop the skills I pretended to have in my neighborhood games. Of course, all of us boys began to realize our natural limitations as time passed, a sobering reminder that impinged on the “if you can dream it, you can live it” perspective.

This brings us to the main focus of this particular reflection. Most of us lose hope in “dreaming” and “achieving the impossible” because the voices that typically encourage us to do so don’t truly know us and in the end don’t care about us. The more we come to grips with reality, the more we begin to see that the “just do it” slogans that perhaps at one time motivated us are really fake, empty and misleading. We begin to see the wizard behind the curtain and all of his selfish incentive to get on our good side by “encouraging” us to do and be more all the while lining his pockets and laughing all the way to the bank.  We see that the world has no room for the dreamer and has much more respect for the down to earth doer. While this might seem pessimistic, it is often the case. The more time passes, the more we realize that there are many things that we would love to do, but probably very little that will actually get done. Either “life gets in the way,” or we collide headfirst into our own limitations.

This glass-half-empty outlook is based on a steady string of disappointments. Throughout our lives we have come to the realization that life boils down to the hand of cards we have been dealt, and to think otherwise is to a naive, irrational dreamer.

It is no surprise, then, that many are put off by the claims and promises of the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus. Within the pages of the Bible we are repeatedly confronted with a God who tells us that we can do anything, and that nothing is impossible with God. We are told that all things are possible through Christ and with faith in Jesus Christ we can “move mountains.” That leaves most of us responding with an emphatic, “yeah…right!”  So, as one questions the possibility of a mountain being moved on faith alone, you might also be wondering how possible it is to transition from where we are now to where we plan to go.  As proof that miracles do still happen, allow me to introduce our focus of this series, baked good.

There is nothing more satisfying and mood-lifting to me than the smell of a bakery. The aroma that escapes the confines of a bakery is beyond distracting. Reading the Bible, I believe that God shares in my love of baked goods. In the Old Testament, after the Israelites were rescued from Egypt, as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, God provided a miracle “bread from heaven” that the Israelites dubbed “manna.” These were flakes that appeared every morning like that of morning dew atop the grass and, after collected, was then made into dough and baked. This sheds light on two crucial ideas that make me love God all the more. First, I learn that God will always provide for us. Second, God is a bread lover and shares my passion for fresh baked goods!

Yet, as much as I love to indulge in the tastes and smells of freshly baked pastries, I absolutely have no passion for baking. There are several reasons why I have fostered distaste for baking, but a strong taste for the finished results. Baking requires delicate care, attention to detail, and prolonged patience. These are three qualities that I regrettably lack, making me and the art of baking bitter foes, no matter how often I might make the attempt.

Often while looking at dreams or challenges impossible to surpass, we Christians revert more quickly to the logical sense of doubt that society has impressed upon us, than to the firm confidence in a creator God that has expressed his desires to achieve what we deem impossible. Because of my previously mentioned love of pastries, let’s look at this idea of the Creation questioning the Creator like a cake questioning the baker about its promised potential. If using this analogy, we can identify three sources of doubt that might pass through the figurative, albeit delicious, mind of a cake during the baking process. What we see is that the doubt of promised potential arises from:

Doubt in the Ingredients

Doubt in the Process

Doubt in the Baker

 

Doubt in the Ingredients

When I was young, my mother would ask me if I would like to assist her in the kitchen as she baked. Perhaps she invited me to share in some quality time, which I am truly blessed to have shared. Or, perhaps she invited me to instruct me in the dos and don’ts of baking that she, one day, hoped I would use in my own kitchen. If this were the case, she unfortunately failed miserably: my oven and pans were the cleanest parts of my apartment as a bachelor. Sorry mom.

Whenever I was in the kitchen with my mother at the initial stages of the baking process, it always seemed unlikely that the unappetizing mixture of egg yolks, milk, sugar and flour could amount to anything more than the sludge that stared back at me from the mixing bowl. “This is going to be the cake?” I would ask myself. But, to my surprise, each and every time, what eventually emerged from the oven was a beautiful and always delicious product that I wasted no time in enjoying. The reason behind my doubt was that what I saw in the mixing bowl did not share any resemblance to the cake I had concocted in my own imagination. The cake in my imagination was a picture of the finished cake on the cake-mix box, with absolutely no likeness to the cake-mix in the bowl. These two things were completely different in my mind. Placing them side-by-side it would seem illogical to assume otherwise. What I saw in the bowl was unformed and unrealized cake. What I saw on the picture was formed and completely realized. The mixing bowl seemed to me less than desirable, while the image of the cake, whether in my mind or on the box, taunted me with sweet delight. One I had no interest in. The other had my undivided attention.

This line of thought is not much different from the way we tend to view ourselves. One look at our personal traits or characteristics and the “hand that we have been dealt,” what we tend to see is something undesirable or unrealized. Perhaps we see some growth and some potential but, in the end, we come away disappointed by the all-too-real “cake-mix” and no sense of a “cake.”

Successfully, confidently approaching the impossible is like seeing the finished cake that everyone wants to try first. However, what we see reflecting back to us in the mirror is not so much the cake everyone wants, which is the dream fulfilled or the impossible made possible, but rather the cake mix that no one takes a second look at.

While it is possible to find joy without succeeding in all of our dreams, and it is equally possible to find happiness while not achieving every goal, we try desperately our entire lives to improve ourselves or our situations. We always want more and we always want to be something different. Yet, we are consistently, and quite abruptly, brought back down to earth by the reality that there are some things that we can do and many things we cannot. At some point we take a look at the ingredients intermingling in the mixing bowl and say to ourselves, “This just doesn’t look good. This just doesn’t look like cake.”

Now let’s allow our imaginations to run wild a bit and imagine that the ingredients in the mixing bowl had lives all of their own and the presence of mind to assess their respective states. If an egg or a grain of sugar were shown the picture of the finished cake on the box and were told that soon they would become that picture, there would naturally be suspicion racing through their minds that becoming “the cake” was unlikely or even impossible. At this point, we are fortunate to have access to the foresight of the baker with the entire baking process in mind. For example, when I doubted my mother and the sight I saw in the mixing bowl, she reassured me that what I saw was simply the first step of the process and, with delicate care and patience, we would ultimately come to realize the fruits of this labor with a delicious cake. The question for us is, “How can we know that what we see in the mirror every morning has any potential to become something that we might not have the ability to envision?” One possible answer to this question is in the perspective of God toward his creation.

God is a creator God who, after each of the seven days of creation in the Genesis creation account, always uttered the same words: “it was good,” and ultimately, on the seventh day, “it was very good.” What we read in the Bible is the story of a God that desires more than anything to see his creation reach the full potential for which it was originally designed, According to the Bible, the motivating factor behind God’s creation of the world was to share the love and unity experienced in the triune relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit with a creation of willful participation. The attainment of the seemingly impossible exists entirely with God. The desire and the ability to do more than we think we can began with God. We were built for more, and therefore, in us is always a longing for more.

The Bible expresses throughout scripture that in order to share in this “creator power,” one must willingly participate in the relationship with God that requires the element of trust or, faith. However, perhaps we, like the cake, might doubt the state of things as we see them, or doubt the direction in which God is leading us.

God’s expressed desire is that we have faith in his ability to control any situation from beginning to end. This notion of trust, although quite shallow in comparison to the actual trust in and proficient ability of our creator God, reminds me of a show that my family used to watch when I was younger living in Singapore. Living overseas has many benefits but, unfortunately for a small child, certain entertainment sacrifices have to be made. First and foremost, TV will inevitably be different. Your favorite shows from back home out of reach in your new home, and the shows you are able to enjoy are typically third-tier entertainment back where you came from. However, this presents one with the opportunity to stumble upon TV shows that, at home, you would not have given a second glance. One of these shows my family began to enjoy was called “Sledgehammer.”

The story revolved around a police detective, nicknamed “Sledgehammer” who, for most of 30 minutes each week, went around making a mess of a situation. But, come the end of each episode, Sledgehammer found a way to be the hero. As a result of his constant bonehead antics, there was little trust on the part of his colleagues or friends that he would ever amount to anything or achieve his objective. However, before heading off into each mission, Sledgehammer always left the audience with his tagline of choice: “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”  While Sledgehammer clearly did not deserve the trust of those around him, God has left us with a 3,000-page autobiography that provides us with reason upon reason why we can, with all confidence, trust him. So, trust him, he does actually know what he is doing.

When it comes to our ability to foresee our potential or purpose, our position is not all that different from the ingredients in a recipe.  As ingredients, we lack the proper perspective to know who we truly are in God’s design of us and why we were created in God’s design for us.  To acknowledge these simple truths is the beginning of true life as we were created to live.  To deny them is to remain under-developed and hopelessly incomplete.

Doubt in the Process

“Patience” is an uncommon thing in this day and age. In a world of one minute microwave dinners and six minute abs we all seem to be raising our voices crying “NOW!” It is amazing how impatient we are.

I remember when my family first gained access to the “Internet.” I could not believe what the Internet promised me. I could not believe that from a corner in our apartment I could communicate with others around the globe within seconds, and gain access to information that would take hours for me to find in books adorning dusty shelves. My mind struggled to grasp the vastness of the claims and promises that the “World Wide Web” was making. However, one fateful day in the Pagaard home it happened. We had the Internet.

Immediately we all huddled around the computer as we double-clicked the “Compuserve” icon and waited in anxious anticipation for this “World Wide Web” to be unveiled before our eyes. There we waited…and waited…and continued to wait. After several minutes of “dial-up suspense” serenaded by dial tones, pings, static and more pings, we were connected. We were on the web. The funny thing about that memory is that, once we were connected, we never thought twice about what it took for us to become connected, and how long the process was. We had no expectation other than being connected to the “web.” There was not even the slightest presumption that the process was supposed to be fast. The only thing we desired was what the “web” offered, and how amazing gaining access to it would be. However, nowadays, it seems to be that we tend to be more bothered by the wait than what awaits us. Speed is everything: without the speed, nothing is worth anything. We are people that want things right away, and being told to wait means we lose interest. Many people focus on power and speed in their connecting to God, with the result that the actual “quality” relationship with God is easily overlooked, under-appreciated and overshadowed. As is all too often the case, many people seek God as a means to a particular end and not the end itself.

As my mother finished preparing the cake mix that she continued to defend despite its unpromising appearance, we entered into the “baking” stage of the process. This is the point to which I can best trace the dissolution of my interest in baking. The “baking” stage meant that my job now was to wait as the mix from the bowl was miraculously transformed into the promised final product of cake. With each passing minute my interest in the cake itself began to wane.  In the boredom, I typically found something else to occupy my time and mind. Reassuring that I would be back to help my mom finish the process, off I went, heading off into some new, and likely trivial, activity. My mom always seemed to respond to my promise to return with hesitation and doubt, but I confidently reassured her with three hopeful words, “I’ll be back.”

Some time later,  my mother would call that the cake was finished. To my shock, and shame for leaving my mom to finish the cake by herself, the process I began with intentions to complete was finished without me. Not only was the cake finished baking, but my mom had proceeded to step three alone, icing and applying the finishing touches. The looming reality of my decision to give into boredom and abandon my mom and the baking process left me with the conviction of failure and betrayal. “How could I eat and enjoy the cake now?” I asked myself.  I was not prepared to endure the patience required in baking.  I was in it from the beginning to simply eat the cake and enjoy the fruits of the labor, not to do what was required in order to bring about the finished product.

This natural aversion to patience is always present in our walk with God but, in some instances, can downright control our walk with God. In the Bible, God is often referred to as a gardener who takes his time growing the plants and pruning for progress when necessary. We, as Christians, are compared to branches that grow slowly, or plants that arise from planted seeds that grow at a gradual pace. All of these words like “slowly” and “gradual” have little in common with words like “now” and “right now.” Yet, this slow, gradual, yet productive, characteristic of God is the only one described in the Bible. This slow, gradual, yet effective process is the only one concerning our growth as Christians. Therefore, to grow as a Christian under the will of God often means two things: the process will be gradual, and the process will be slow. However, the process promises to be real and absolutely worth it and transformative.

The baking process not just require patience. The other necessary element needed to transform the mix into a cake is heat. And this heat is extreme.

I am a self-professed “know-nothing” when it comes to baking and all of its molecular intricacies; however, I have been able to wrap my head around the basics.  I know that baking requires an oven, and this oven needs to be able to produce extreme temperatures. Regarding the nature of chemical reactions and molecular transformation I have no clue, however, I do know that when you take the mix from the mixing bowl and place it into the oven at high temperatures over a period of time, something tends to emerge in some sort of baked form.  Required in the process is heat, and the endurance of heat. It is these elements that I believe are most directly related to our continual growth as Christians.

Heat is necessary in order to bake something. And when the heat is being applied to something other than ourselves, when we are protected from that heat by a barrier, we can all agree that this heat is not only important, but necessary. No one would stop someone from baking a cake out of compassion for the mix in the pan, in regards to the intense heat it will soon face. On the contrary, we tend to encourage the more immediate loading of the mix into the oven out of some inherent primal desire to feast. We want the mix in the scalding hot oven without delay because we want to eat. However, with us in the place of the cake-mix, extreme heat tests our faith in the process that promises we will not only survive the heat, but that, in the end, we will be made even more beautiful as a result.

The truth is, we do not like to experience heat. In other words, we do not like to experience challenges or times of trouble. If there is any hope in averting such things we try with all of our might to do so. It is easy to dream of the end results in things, but when faced with the realities that lie ahead on the journey, we often seem paralyzed by the impossibilities and difficulties confronting us. We like the easy road. Any hint of setback is translated as a sign directing us to turn around, rather than to press onward. In moments of trial, it is difficult to trust in the process. It seems much easier for us to question the necessity for such a stage than for us to see the irreplaceable value in the state. While praying to God regarding a particular new venture, we often pray for three things: safety, health and success.

The other step of the “baking” stage where we find common ground with cake mix concerns the element of endurance. While we might be troubled by the nature of our personal “ovens,” we become beside ourselves when we are informed of how long we might be expected to remain in the heat. Feeling a quick burn on the stove is one thing, but slowly cooking in extreme heat is another. No one desires this. No one welcomes this. When we find trouble or challenge in our lives, apart from the prayer for general deliverance from our time of difficulty, we most likely emphasize our desire for a “quick” or “rapid” rescue. When we are sinking, the last thing we want is for the lifeguard on duty to take their time addressing our very real emergency. We need help and we need help right away.  When we find ourselves facing the “heated oven” qualities of life, it is no surprise that we want out fast. Perhaps we have come to the spiritual maturity that agrees on the necessity of challenge, however, this maturity becomes increasingly tested as we find that our rescue is nowhere in sight.

While both “heat” and “endurance” are two things that cake-mix should expect when becoming a cake, they are also two things that we must prepare for as we make our way down the road of discipleship. Jesus was always open to his disciples that this world was not going to be easy. His most profound and moving example of his expectations of discipleship came in his personal sacrifice in the passion narrative. Jesus is upfront with his disciples that the ones in this world who enjoy the comforts of worldly wealth, health and success are not the ones who will inherit the Kingdom of God. Rather, in the Beatitudes, the “blessed” ones are the ones that not only experience the “heat of the oven” but those who endure it. Only by doing both can we fully come to an understanding of why we suffered in the first place. Only by doing so can we come to trust God that the fire is not

 

Doubt in the Baker

there to destroy us. but to reveal the brilliance of our creation in the eyes of our Creator.

The news that my mother was preparing to bake something was always met with exuberant support and joy in our house. My mother is known for her delicious baked goods, so it stands to reason that all members of the household would unanimously support her plans to bake. Now, let’s contrast the reactions when I made such an announcement. When I announced an intention to bake, imagine dramatic orchestral music accompanied by a slow motion montage of all members of my family frantically lunging to prevent me from entering into the kitchen, in hopes of stopping me from proceeding with this catastrophic plan. Where my mother’s plans were met with joy, support and excitement, mine invoked doubt, suspicion and fear. The guarantee of something heavenly emerging from the oven as a result of my mother baking no longer dominated the thoughts of those unfortunate few that heard my announcement. Now the only guarantee is that something was definitely going to go wrong. The question was no longer, “How long will we have to wait?” spoken in anxious anticipation. The now unspoken question was, “How long will we have to wait?” in fearful expectation of disaster.

Why were the responses so different? The answer comes again to “trust.” My family had all the trust in the world in my mom’s baking abilities, and little to no trust in mine. And this trust, although to me clearly biased and one-sided, was not misguided. In fact, it was absolutely justified. My mom possessed a long and illustrious record of producing wonderful creations from the oven. I did not. My mom had proven herself a wonderful baker. I had proven that I had no right to be baking in the first place. Therefore, the fear of what might happen when I began to bake was a judgment call made on nothing except my record. My record of mistakes spoke louder than my record of success.

With each passing year we all hope to be one step closer to our goals, whatever they may be. Regardless of which direction you are heading, everyone is heading somewhere. Regardless of what destination you are striving toward, everyone is striving to attain something. While we can all accept this observation as mere common sense, what we tend to forget is how much we are investing every day of our lives in promises that perhaps do not deserve such committed sacrifice and devotion. To invest so much of ourselves into certain things that make such bold promises and encourage us with such hopeful guarantees, we would be unwise to neglect a look at “the record.” Human beings are amazing creatures that are capable of incredible levels of thought and analysis that not even science can fully account for. We are incredible beings with incredible minds. Our ability to think is what elevates us above the animal Kingdom and gives us an advantage over every other living thing in this world. Yet it is shocking how often we make seemingly blind investments in unsure things. We forget to “use our minds,” constantly unwilling to analyze “the record” of those unfulfilling things in which we invest, repeatedly left astonished by the outcome when perhaps the outcome is not all that surprising.

Perhaps a person takes the guarantees of a job at face value: that to accept a new position will ultimately bring about happiness. While the job may produce forms of happiness, there are typically caveats in the promise, where happiness will ultimately evolve into promises unfulfilled. Perhaps you or your family might begin to enjoy certain perks of the new job, like luxurious vacations provided by a competitive salary, fulfilling the promise of happiness. While these vacations most certainly bring about happiness, enjoying these relatively short-lived experiences of bliss tends come at the cost of long working hours and decreased family time. While this might not always be the case, it is widespread and tragically common. With such a predictable outcome, why do we continue to fall for the trick? Perhaps buying the latest and greatest merchandise keeps you going to work every day, putting forth the effort that you do. Perhaps it is the promise of acceptance and value that you will feel once you purchase said merchandise that keeps you working so hard. After months of working and saving, perhaps you finally buy the thing which you have striven to attain for so many months. This feeling is noticeably satisfying, and the joy of possessing your new “precious” gives you a feeling of such joy and delight that, at that moment, all of the toil was worthwhile, and the promise was fulfilled. Unfortunately, what you find, time and time again, is that as your “precious” begins to age, and a new “precious” becomes known to you, the journey to attain “precious 2.0” begins all over again. Day after day, month after month and year after year we chase the uncatchable and grasping for the unattainable.

With the knowledge of such repeated dissatisfaction it is shocking that so many of us continue to fall for this scam. These motivations to strive and pursue certain things, whether a career or material desires, are based upon the same assumption: that if we seek these “pots of gold” with our greatest passion and ability, we will ultimately be satisfied when we find them. Yet, something rather illogical and inconsistent is observed when we view the pursuit of these things with the same rationale that my family used when questioning my baking ability. My family was not judging me because they had anything personally against me. My family loves me deeply, but they judged my record as Nathan, the infamous cake buster and cookie burner. Their hesitation to trust was based on my past failures.

Why do we continue to live for things that are proven to disappoint us? When we consider what sin is at the center of the human heart, the answer is clear. At the heart of sin is a belief that we know best what will truly satisfy us. However, what sin ultimately produces in us is an addiction to a counterfeit satisfaction. In an attempt to satisfy our cravings, we are eventually consumed by them, left with little that truly satisfies. While jobs and “things” might tend to take more than they give, in the process of chasing them we see that even slight or temporary gratification provides us with such a “high” that we continue to chase. When asked to choose between low, yet prolonged, levels of excitement versus high, yet fleeting, validation of worth, most people would choose the latter.

All of us deeply desire or even need to be something bigger than we are, to be in a better situation than what we now find ourselves in. We spend our lives seeking to satisfy these inner desires, yet without complete success or satisfaction. We throw ourselves at the feet of those who promise to deliver us this sought-after satisfaction but are repeatedly confronted with the realities that the promises were simply words and the desires remain unfulfilled. At the mere utterance of a newer and more successful plan to deliver our deepest dreams, our ears perk up like a dog hearing the clinking of the food bowl. We are so quick to say, “Yes, Yes, Yes!” without stopping to ask, “Why, Why, Why?”

For many years, I saw the Bible as a legal textbook, an unnecessarily long document of laws, regulations and standards that loomed ominously over my head in judgmental condemnation. I viewed the writer of this book to be someone so perfect that to expect such a standard of living out of a regular person like myself was clear evidence that this “God” was too perfect for me to have anything in common with, or too clueless to realize my limited potential. However, this view changed as I read through the Bible in its entirety for the first time. To my surprise, what I found was not what I initially assumed I would. I found was a heart-breaking love story of a father that knows that his children can do so much more if they would only trust his voice and follow. What I found were children, people, who think they can do things on their own but tend to find themselves making long and painful detours which often lead them back to where they originally began, scarred, broken and more hopeless than before. What I found was a father who, over thousands of years, has proven his promises to be true. What I found was a God telling me that I have the potential to become something more than I am now, and in a place more satisfying that I now find myself. This God I found had been trying to prove to me that I can trust his promises, and that all he wanted to do was bring me into the true fulfillment of my heart, satisfying in the way that he intentionally designed.

My new reaction to God’s word was not unlike my family’s reaction to my mother announcing that she would soon be baking a cake. My mom has proven herself time after time to be a competent baker so, naturally, we all looked forward to the finished product.

On a much larger scale, God is no different. He has a long history of making good on his promises. Not one of them has been left unfulfilled. He promises to create something in us that is bigger than we hoped for, and better than we could have ever expected. The question is, have you looked at His record to deliver on such promises? And if you have, what is stopping you from trusting in him and eating his cake?

 

Bigger Better Baked Goods