If Only

The whole world is mad enough to chew nails and spit rivets at each other.  The wildfire of anxiety already fueled by a viral pandemic and financial hardships has roared into an inferno fanned by outrage over racial injustice.  Add all of this to an overly politicized, deeply divided, radically idealized, and seemingly diabolicaly opposed Left and Right presidential election year and, voila, here we are.  McCarthyism (“The practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigate techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.” – Dictionary.com) turned into Cancel Culture (“The popular practice of withdrawing support for public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” Dictionary.com).  Unsurprisingly, we (collectively as humans) have learned absolutely nothing from God or history on how to get along with each other.  Like sheep, we’ve all gone astray.  The only difference between us and sheep is that we like to point and call out the wrong courses everyone else has taken, but never look back at our own errors.

As a result, I’ve been rationing my news intake and limiting my time on social media platforms.  I can’t take all the lava-hot words and vitriol spewing out of the mouths on all sides of the world’s current, self-inflicted problems.  I don’t know how to heal or even understand the differences of opinion and the vast chasms that seem to lie between the logic and thinking of some of us.  So, with that admission, what can I do?  I have been and will continue to lay them down at my Father’s feet.  He is the answer to everything, always. God excels in doing what everyone says is impossible. 

I’m doing the same on a personal level.  While the huge fires of the world keep burning, so too do the little flames within my life.  I’m sure you understand because we’re all the same.  My personal fire is called MS but yours might be named such things as Furloughed, Job, Money, Stress, Anger, Divorce, Death, Parent, Child, Spouse, Cancer, Diabetes, Aging… just about anything, really.  For me, MS is constantly melting away tiny pieces of my own sovereignty.  It’s very difficult to let go of the things in life that make you feel like you have some control, such as driving, shopping, cooking, and walking. 

In much the same way that I realize I can’t put out the MS fire in my own life and deal with the destruction it leaves in it’s wake on my own, we, as a nation and even world, must understand we will have to work collectively to bring the flames of our society back under control.  The solution will not be conceived in fear of an unseen germ, worry over the next great depression, or riots that break our neighbors’ windows and loot their livelihoods because of injustice.  No, if it could then we would already have the answer.   The fix is to be found in love.  The kind of love the apostle Paul described in I Corinthians 13:4-7, the sort God has for us.  His love is patient, kind, happy for others instead of envious, lifts others up instead of boasting about self, is well mannered instead of rude, seeks the good of others instead of self, is slow to anger, keeps no records of wrongs, delights in holiness instead of evil, rejoices in the truth instead of sensationalism, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. 

I realize what I am about to say is very Pollyannish of me, but…  If every person would recognize the truthfulness and wisdom of this type of love and make it their own personal goal to practice it, without policing others and how they are doing as they attempt to do the same, all the infernos of the world would simply burn themselves out.  If only.

Changing Seasons

A chill in the air, pumpkins, bales of hay, colorful leaves, small town festivals and fairs, costumes and candy, long sleeves, and warm bowls of chili.  Autumn is my favorite season and I am not alone. More poems have been written extolling Autumn’s winsome ways than any other season. One of my favorite childhood memories is playing with my younger sister for hours in the leaves.  I would rake “roads” out of the leaves in the backyard and she would “drive” her Tonka Truck through them all with Ken and Barbie dressed up in their warmest outfits in the driver and passenger seats.  

It wasn’t until I was older that I understood how the changing seasons reflect the stages of our lives.  I am now in the early autumn of my life as the big 50 lies in wait to spring upon me in six months time. I miss the never ending energy and gusto of the spring of my youth.  I fondly remember the excitement and first-time experiences of living through the summer season, too. All the “adult” things like the first job in my chosen profession, buying my first house and my first car, being entirely responsible for budgeting my first paycheck…and so on were exciting times.  During the first two seasons of life the sun hardly ever seemed to set and youth had enough vitality to live the long days to their fullest measure.

Now, in the early autumn of my life, my energy wanes like the shortening days, with fewer productive hours to get things done.  There are not nearly as many firsts to experience, either. However, what has been lost from the previous seasons has been made up for in privileges only afforded to those blessed with long years.  I have lived long enough to have naturally accrued some wisdom along the way.  

I’ve learned how to tell the difference between what is important and what is not, and the truth from a lie.  People are more important than things. I can look back and see how God has led me through the fires and floods to safer, higher ground.  And I have learned having fun is different than living a life of joy, the latter being so much more important and meaningful. Chasing after experiences does not equate experiencing life to the fullest.  The fullest life is one that surrenders self in order to experience the indwelling of the living God, Christ living in me and me living in Him.

As the trees change to autumnal colors and I find myself purposefully traveling roads with hilltops that afford me a larger breadth of view so I can soak in all the beauty, I look back over my life to see the distance I have travelled.  Not all the views are beautiful, I’ve not lived perfectly, just humanly. However, I can see and feel the hand of God lifting me higher and higher until the dead and barren patches are covered over with His forgiveness, mercy, grace, and loving-kindness.  He calls us all to live, move, and have our being in Him (Acts 17:28). He really does make all things beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11)!

God’s blessings,

Alive, Though We Sleep

I lost my Mom 3 ½ years ago.  The combination of Mother’s Day and Memorial Day makes May a particularly tough month for me.  Sadly, the last few months have been full of loss for several of the people I love. Some have lost spouses, others children, as well as parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and cousins.  A few have in quick succession lost combinations of special people from this list.

Grief is strong.  It can make us feel like we have been imprisoned within its walls with no window for light and no hope of escape.  Regardless of whether you believe in God or not, we all live our lives knowing we and our loved ones will one day die.  For those of us who believe in Christ and His promises, we pray our daily prayers in anticipation of death, and we sing songs of joy about how wonderful the moment will be when our faith becomes sight.  

Even so, when death comes to our loved ones it rocks our world right down to its very foundations.  All those songs of joy and all those prayers offered in hope suddenly mingle with the sting of pain, sorrow, anger, fear, regret, denial, or despair. We’re lonely.  Death seems so final.

How do we go on?  How do we ever feel happiness again?

Christ speaks of death as “sleep”, something you will wake up from, not an everlasting state.  Remember before He raised a young Roman ruler’s daughter from the dead, He told all those who had gathered to grieve the family’s loss, “The girl is not dead but asleep.” (Matthew 9:24)?  Again, about Lazarus, he told His apostles, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (Jn 11:11).

Christ was about to perform a miracle that not only proved He was sent from the Father (vs 42), but also demonstrated in a physical reality the spiritual lesson that we live beyond death.  Four days after Lazarus died, He went to the town where Lazarus and his sisters lived. He then revealed a truth to Lazarus’ sister, Martha, that continues to this day to fill the heart of every Christian with hope.  John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” As both a demonstration and a confirmation that He had the power over resurrection and life, “Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’.  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.” Of course, Jesus went on to manifest His ultimate power over death and the ability to give spiritual life when He rose from the dead of His own accord (Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-14; Luke 24:1-32; John 20:1-18).

Every book of the New Testament has this truth as its cornerstone.  Paul in particular expounded more deeply upon this idea of death as “sleep”.  In I Corinthians 15:20-22 he wrote, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  Again, in I Thessalonians 4:13-18, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Christ as saying that God’s children “are children of the resurrection” and “In the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’  He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.” (Luke 20:35-38). We also know the apostles Peter, John, and James saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus during His transfiguration, as again recorded in the three gospels indicated above. Moses and Elijah were not dead, but recognizably alive!

In Romans 14:7-9 Paul beautifully summarizes why we as Christians do not need to be afraid of death, feel sorry for those who have died in the Lord, or as quoted from I Thessalonians above, “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope”.  He wrote, “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”  Alive or dead, it just doesn’t matter.  Despite the fact we humans can’t see beyond death God does.  He sees His children both here on earth and those in heaven as the same thing – alive!      

I keep these wonderful promises tucked away in my heart.  I hope they bring as much comfort and joy through sorrow to you as they do to me.

To the praise of His glory!