Tag Archives: What God Made

Speaking Of Death The difference between not fearing death, and not really living.

cemetery

A good friend remarked recently that death or dying came up frequently in our family’s conversations. His comment was more a good-natured jab, I think, as we were all enjoying funny thoughts and stories, joking around.

But I have thought about that since. I wondered if we perhaps give death—one of God’s enemies, defeated by Jesus on the cross1—too much air-time in our daily conversations and thoughts?

I do not imagine us to be morbid, by any definition. But neither do we fear or avoid the biological fact that each of us will expire at some point in the unknown future. The passing of our good friends, family, and friends of friends is, of course, a constant reminder of that fact of life, just as it is for you.

One reason we can so confidently discuss our own deaths without fear is that we are confident in what lies beyond. When we die we are with him in paradise2; to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord3; this world is not our home4. All of those truths (and more) assure our hearts that death is nothing to be feared, rather it will be a welcome door to our true, eternal home.

On the other hand, while it is right to so fully trust God with our souls that we do not too tightly grasp this life, a point can be made that too much focus on the next life will cause us to miss where we are right now. Where God has placed you, and is with you, right now.

We just released a new song last month. (My wife and I are musicians, working on a new album.) The song is called This Journey. I sometimes wonder if people will interpret the lyric of this song incorrectly.

“All along this path of life is where the real treasures are”

I know that our true home—that goal toward which Paul reminded us we press forward, our whole lives—is heaven, eternity with God and his people. I know that. That is the “real treasure”. What I hope to inspire with the words (and music) of that song is a renewed joy in sensing, seeing where God is right now, right here, right where we are. In the beauty of the things he has made, in the people whom he has surrounded us with, in the very fact that we are breathing, our hearts beating.

There are two extremes. One focuses entirely on the eternal and misses the present, while the other focuses entirely on the present (which will pass away, just as we will) and misses the eternal. I think there is a balance found between the two, where God is with us all along our journey.

A quick, related aside:

There is a man we know from our college days at Cincinnati Bible College (now Cincinnati Christian University) who has battled physical ailments for quite a while now. His name is Rod. Rod is always smiling, always loving other people (like, beyond-your-imagination loving), that’s just who he is. I happened to catch a Facebook post of his (actually posted by another on his behalf) that was essentially a good-bye to all his friends. It seemed his body was most likely ready to give out, and he would be home with Jesus soon. He wrote that he was not afraid, but would also be glad to stay, much like Paul in his letter to the Philippian church.

The short version of the rest of Rod’s story—which, as far as I can understand, is amazing—is that God has brought him through that! For now, he has much (or all?) of his health back. He is grateful to God for more time to serve him here, with the people he loves.

And this is my point. While we can be fully, confidently, supremely unafraid of death because Jesus has overcome that, and death is not our end… there is still an amazing joy (even in hard times) of waking up to a new day God has given us here, now.

I’m sure that when I die, whenever, however that will come to me, there are seven people in this home who will miss me. (They seem to be rather fond of me.) There are others, too, I know. (Hi Mom and Dad!) But my hope is that I can, do, and will live my life in such a way that it is fully known that I will be where I am made to be, and any sadness will only last for a short time. And, mostly, that all would know I lived my life to its full, with and in Jesus.5

It may be after I pass a hundred years in this body, or it may be next week. We can’t know, and I understand that is what can cause us to fear. But if our trust, our hope, our life is in Jesus, we have nothing to fear.

And we will also truly live here. And forever.

Volatile, Historic Times and the Spider Who Doesn’t Care

Righteous indignation on each side; blustery public diatribes backed by legal or biblical authority; verbal wars among foes and friends and family which take no idealogical prisoners—this seems to be the state of current events.

But this tiny spider doesn’t seem to know, or care. She’s not angry, or justified, or changing the color of her web to the rainbow.1 She doesn’t notice at all. The sun came up, she made her web, she’ll eat if bugs show up, and the sun will go down again when the day is through.

spider

Yet we struggle, we fight, we vehemently beat back opposing views.

Views. That’s what we’re fighting. Views. Opinions. Beliefs.

I am a person. I have my own views. I do not think it’s wise to equate the marriage between a man and woman with one between two people of the same gender. I do not think it needs to be illegal, but to me—my belief, my opinion, how I would choose—it would be wiser to proceed as God designed us to be.

(Please note: in this post, I’m not going to address any “how we are made” thoughts other than the obvious reproductive gender differences which I am referencing above. Of course there are so many other mental/emotional/chemical/physical factors.)

Since God has said that it is unnatural for a man to have sex with a man, or a woman to have sex with a woman;2 well, I believe him. He also said he hates divorce; so I plan to never choose that, no matter how much “sense” it might seem to make at some future time, or how much I might want it (to be clear, I do not want it now). He also said adultery is wrong, no matter how much it might seem like a good idea, or we might want it. Sex is for marriage, between one woman and one man—that is God’s best design. (And nothing else.)

It is not our place to condemn sin. (As Romans 2 says, then you’re just condemning yourself, too.) Sin is anything which takes the place of our reliance upon our Father. It’s often a counterfeit of the good he wants to give us. Sex is great, of course, in the context above. But every other form will harm us, or somehow harm our relationship with God, who is our Life.

It is not just homosexual sex, nor any other “great sin” our friends on the conservative right rail against which is sin. Nor is it neglect of the poor, or greed, or religious bigotry against which our more liberal friends crusade. There is so much sin. None of us is free from it, or immune from it. None of us has never sinned.

(Sidebar: if you have never read John 8, please take a moment to read it now. So enlightening.)

Now that I’ve shared my opinion on the matter, do you think I hate anyone wanting to marry someone of their own gender? Do you hate me for thinking that is not what God intended for them?

Of course I do not.

I do not hate anyone. Really. I don’t. I think I might be labeled as hating, though, because I believe some things (behaviors) are harmful, and wrong. (I think drinking pop is harmful and wrong… so maybe I’m not a good test case?)3

Difference of beliefs is not hate. It’s really, really not.

But let’s wrap this up with a return to my new friend, the spider.

As I ate my lunch, thoughts of all the discord and self-righteous banter, Facebook photos and links swirled through my mind. In that mental maelstrom, I felt noticeable peace. (Despite the noise of the traffic which passes our house most hours of the days.) I saw that very tiny spider, quiet and still on her web, swaying with the gentle breeze. I could imagine her saying, had she the voice, “What’s all the fuss about?”

I’m not saying these things aren’t important, but they are not worth a war of words. Certainly they do not justify hate in return for perceived hate. If someone thinks differently than you (so long as they are not actually harming another) then just let them. Just let them.

The world will go on. Until Jesus returns, there will be harm and good, pain and joy. Both coexist together.

I think the spider would say that we should, too.

  1. It is ironic, though, is it not, that there are rainbow-colored pinwheels in the background. 🙂
  2. Read Romans 1-2, especially Romans 2 if you are a Christian reading this.
  3. One more sidebar: I am currently reading a very interesting history of the Confederacy. The Story of the Confederacy was written in 1931 by Robert Selph Henry. Should I burn this literary work? It is not condemning the Confederate flag, nor its people. Rather, the author is hoping to present both sides of the story in our country’s history. It’s important. Does my interest in this mean I hate black people?

Underneath The inside is what matters

Beyond our bodies, we’re all the same.

Lately I have had an interesting experience when seeing photos of people, current or historical. Somehow in my mind, I am seeing (thinking of?) the person beneath the exterior. Wondering at what unknown depths there are to that particular individual; wondering how we might be similar.

Not that we are not unique—we are marvelously unique. God’s immense creativity (beyond our imagination) is evidenced just in how different each of us is from another. Incredible diversity!

And yet, we are also the same.

On the outside we are different. One has dark skin, another’s epidermis could not be more light. One has long, curly hair, another has none at all. One is woman, with soft curves; the other is man, flexing firm muscles. Big and tall, short and small; seasoned with age, or fresh and youthful; healthy and vibrant, or broken down and hurting.

faces

All this is what we see first. Our impressions begin with what matters less. Because, when we allow ourselves to see (and also, when we allow ourselves to be seen), we are all so much the same.

We hurt, we laugh, we despair, we love, we fail, and we thrive.

None of those things are exclusive to one type of person; that’s because we’re all the same. We are spiritual beings, made in the image of our Creator, Father. In Christ, says Paul, there is no male or female, Jew nor gentile, slave nor free1. We are all one. Brother, sister, family. Wealth, position, race… none of these truly matter to who we are.

James reminded Christians to not show favoritism to the wealthier people among them. It’s so easy to do. On the outside, such a one seems to be more important. But when we can see past the outside, looking into another’s eyes, hearing their story, their hearts, their thoughts—this is where we are reminded that we are so much more alike than we are different.

Battles rage these days about these things. A young man in South Carolina, killed nine people, simply because of their skin color. Also, earlier this year, riots in Baltimore were caused by conflicts (real or perceived) due to our different bodies.

Concurrently, the story of Bruce Jenner demonstrates, in a way, how our bodies do not make us who we are. I do not fully understand his story, nor necessarily agree with the measures he has taken, but on one level, it illustrates that we are certainly more than just what we see on our outsides.

This is not easy. We trust our eyes first, and most. That’s why we need the reminder to “walk by faith, not by sight“—it’s in our nature.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

And, also, from Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.

I think we know that we are more than our skin, or our gender, or our social, economic, and political standings would seem to present. I think we know it. But so much conflict comes from our perceived differences. (Which differences are certainly present, but would be better to celebrate than used to separate.)

If only we could see others as we are seen; with God’s eyes to see that which does not age, that which he has made, his masterpiece. The part of us that can spend eternity with him, no matter what happens to us in this life, in this world.

In that we are the same. (John 3:16)

As one individual, I know I can’t really do anything to stop racism, or any other ism. But we can each try to remember to look deeper, see deeper, and focus on our great many similarities, rather than our apparent differences.

After all, those differences are only skin deep.

  1. In context, Paul is specifically speaking to Christians, who, when identified with Christ in his death and resurrection, living as “Christ in me”, with the old now gone, we no longer think of the differences on the outside. Galatians 3:26-28

New Beginnings

sunrise

Do you notice that sometimes there are themes around you? I do. Every once in a while, many things around me (or even in me) will work in apparent concert toward some consistent message, idea, or theme.

Lately, I am being pretty often reminded that life is full of new beginnings.

And also that it is not.

For example, each day is a new start, each year—happy new year to you, reader!—and many other instances on the calendar or the clock provide us with a fresh beginning.

Today I marveled at sleep. Each night (for most) we shut down to regenerate. Our energy (and even our heart and mind) is replenished by an end of one day, and a preparation for the beginning of the next. Even within sleep there are cycles that our bodies go through, giving us the most effective, helpful rest to replenish us. Incredible.

A new home, a new business, even paying off debt and gaining new financial freedom—even in our own creations we find the recurring theme of a fresh start.

Some new beginnings are thrust upon us, contrary to anything we may have chosen, by accident, illness, or the will of others. Life can change in a moment—and never go back to how it was.

There are so many new beginnings, it seems to me that it is an essential part of God’s design.

Certainly not the suffering, or any evil, or the pain and brokenness of a fallen world, of the fallen us. But with so many examples around us of cycles of fresh starts and new beginnings, it must be a truth our Designer wants us to see.

Recently I have been noticing that I am no longer young. I don’t feel old, and I realize that compared to many, I do not qualify as aged. (I just spent time with my nearly-nonagenarian grandparents. They probably think I’m silly to talk about “not being young”.)

One recurring scene that reminds me that time has passed is young families. At the store, in photos of friends on social networking sites, at the public library—everywhere I see what I once was. I was them. My young wife and I, along with our younger (and fewer) children. We were those confident-yet-bewildered brand-new adults, feeling our way into what would become our life.

Sometimes—more often than you might think—I wish we could go back. I don’t want to really go back; who would? But I do wonder what it would be like to enjoy that newness again while keeping all the wisdom life has taught me through the experiences we’ve had since.

That is not the way of things.

Life always moves forward. We can’t—and shouldn’t—go back. And so God gives us new beginnings. Each day, each month, each year. And sometimes the new beginning happens at a moment of our choosing. When we choose to accept his new mercy this morning.

Those may sound like “just words” to you. When life thrusts a new beginning upon us, unwelcome, and unchangeable… we don’t want words. We want what we’ve lost. We want to undo the change.

I think God has reminders placed all around us—really, everywhere—that we would know that life moves forward, and he moves with us.

Maybe each time we remember that (and believe it), that is another new beginning. Which means we are perfectly, exactly where we’re meant to be.

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends![a]
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Lamentations 3:22-23

Untended Strawberries

strawberry-plants

It turns out, nearly every year we plan, work, plant, tend, and harvest a garden of edible treasures, there is inevitably some deeper truth mined from the soil and its produce.

We’ve just begun this summer’s work, and already our strawberries have reminded me of a truth I often forget.

strawberries-1

See, we didn’t actually do anything for these strawberries this year. Last year, because we all love eating strawberries, we decided to buy several plants (maybe twelve) to “try it out” in our garden. The plants seemed to thrive, producing many of the small, white flowers. Anticipation grew as we expected the sweet, juicy strawberries to begin appearing in the dozens!

But they didn’t. They really didn’t. By the end of the summer, the flowers that did appear and disappear only managed to produce less than half of a dozen berries. And really, we didn’t get to eat any of them, because the bugs got to them before we did.

Disheartened by the obvious failure—but only slightly so—we thought we’d give it one more try next year, and so, we left the strawberry plants in the ground, over winter. (Though I can not recall exactly why we did this, since we removed all the other used-up plants.)

After the long, hard, very cold winter, spring once again sprung. As everything came to life again, the strawberry plants followed the same pattern of rejuvenation. The leaves broadened, the plants stood taller on their thin stems, and after a very short time, the white flowers appeared again!

This time, there were more. Many more. And we saw bees buzzing, doing their handiwork.

And then we saw berries. LOTS of berries! Some of them already much larger than anything we saw last year.

What has occurred to me several times as we watch this bountiful future harvest take shape before our eyes is this: We did not do this.

Last year we bought the plants and brought them home. We carefully planted, tended, weeded, watered, and watched. And we reaped next to nothing. (You could accurately just call it “nothing”.)

But this season, we didn’t do any of that. We did weed out a bit of the unwanted extra plants around the strawberries, but we also left quite a few in amongst them. We did not till the soil. We didn’t really take any care whatsoever of these plants in this process.

And yet they bloom, and bring forth fruit. In abundance!

Perhaps things go better when we leave them alone?

I have clearly applied this thought to parenting our children. As our oldest quickly approaches adulthood, I am constantly finding myself questioning how much (if any) I should involve myself in his decision-making. I’ve tended toward less or no involvement (though my own self struggles against that, too) and I think he is and will be the better for that.

It’s hard to not do anything.

But the strawberries from our untended plants will exceed last year’s tended produce times relative infinity.

It’s hard to not interfere. But it would appear that some things in life are better when we just let them happen.

strawberries-2

Fading Away

fading-flower

Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world. And this world is fading away, along with everything it craves. But if you do the will of God, you will live forever.

I read those lines from 1 John again this morning with my two oldest sons. When we finished, I went back and read them aloud again. Then we discussed.

“This is important,” I said.

It wasn’t about keeping them from sinful behavior, though. Of course, I hope that they can avoid as much hurt caused by sin as possible—unless God allows that for their own greater benefit. I can not know or understand such things.

What is important is what I made bold above: And this world is fading away, along with everything it craves.

Everything is fading away. I see reminders of that everywhere. Everywhere.

Jim Kelly, the icon of toughness for the Buffalo Bills and the entire western half of New York State is in a very weakened state, in a hospital in NYC, hoping to battle back cancer… again. Our friend, Scott Shimp continues to fight his stage four cancer, which doctors say is incurable, but he (knowing the Great Healer) says otherwise. My Mom is recovering from painful surgery that revealed more damage than they had anticipated. She’s OK, but in much pain. (She often is.)

Other friends are dealing with cancers (new and recurring), death of spouses, and we also know of a little four-year-old boy who is fighting a disease far too early in his life on this earth.

This world is fading away along with all that it craves (1 John)

There is good news in that, especially for all who are fighting, clawing, battling against the brokenness of this temporary, fading reality. We know it is temporary. We are pilgrims, passing through. But it is also all too real. The hurt, pain, distress, fear

We know that he casts out fear. There are dozens and dozens (hundreds?) of reminders of this in the words of scripture. Do not fear. Trust. Rest.

But while we traverse this temporary, fading existence… the darkness can feel too great, too overwhelming. Too often.

When our hearts are affixed to that which fades, our hearts will fade with it.

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

Jesus reminded us of this. He knew we needed to remember it. This is important.

Fix our eyes on Jesus. Treasure that which lasts. This world, the physical pleasures—even those that are good, wholesome, godly—and even our own bodies are only temporary. Fading. But Jesus is not. He is eternal life. And to know him, is how we taste and experience that Life. (John 17:3)

This is important.

I don’t know what you are facing, but I am sure it’s something. Whether you’re feeling at peace with it, or raging against the injustice of whatever it may be, or the feeling of loneliness as you wage weary war against this enemy mostly unknown to even your closest friends…

Remember what is important. If you’re reading this, you have been given life today. For right now. We can not hold on to anything here. Nothing!

Only his kingdom, and his righteousness (not ours!) and only abiding in and enjoying fellowship with the Son.

And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.

Remember what is important. Please. And by God’s glorious grace, let’s walk in his brilliant light, with joy, each day he gives us in this fading world, with great, eager hope of the world that is to come.

ralph-c-wilson-jr

Footnote: I began this post early today, and wrote out bits and pieces throughout my work day. Around 3:00 pm, my Twitter app exploded with the news of the death of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., founder and only owner of the Buffalo Bills. (Whom you likely know I avidly follow.) It was a sort of confirmation of the certainty of the fade of this world, everything being temporary. We know death is the period at the end of our sentence, and we are constantly reminded of its reality. And yet, we have hope. Jesus defeated death. I’m so glad he did.

Content Creator

content-creator

So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27 (AMP)

In my life so far, I’ve always enjoyed creating. Whether it was a song, or a blog post here, or a book of those posts, or even a meal. All the way back to some of my earliest memories of making little books at my Grandma & Grandpa’s house with my craft-loving grandma—I’ve always been a creator.

Lots of times that reminds me of God, the Creator. I know, as the quote from Genesis reminds us above, that we are made in God’s image; we are like him. That probably includes the ability (and desire) to create. We are mini creators.

This can take all sorts of forms. Some create buildings, some create art, some create works of literature, some create new technologies. We are likely all wired, on some level, to create.

I’m guessing there is a hole in this very sweeping premise somewhere, but it does seem like a piece of the core of our being: we are made to create.

Which might be why I feel so restless recently.

For a long while, much of what I’ve been doing with my time is managing the creations of others. Sometimes I do this in my work, managing software and technology created by others, as well as maintaining business accounts and data. Other times it is the current stage of being the father of six incredible mini-creators, which requires much time and energy to sustain them as well as cheering on their creations. And, truthfully, often I find myself managing the dissemination of products that I created at some time in the past. In all of this, I am often neglecting time for my own creating.

(I do still find time for some pretty tasty culinary creations, though.) 🙂

Knowing this is good, and knowing that it’s likely only a season is also helpful, but I do think that there is a serious deficiency for me as a “content creator”. A deficiency that I am hoping to find ways to fill.

One is this blog. I love to write out thoughts. It may be that it inspires thinking in others, or hope, or faith, or action, but even if no one reads it, it does help me to write (create) it.

Another is music. I know that music is a part of my being. Intentionally sitting down at the piano or grabbing my guitar and spending time “creating” music is life-giving to my soul.

I’m also trying to be very intentional in writing a book I am working on (actually, a couple books, but I am focusing on one primarily).

However the opportunities present themselves, I really do believe that I need to be creating. I am made to create.

Are you? What is it you’re made to do? Are you doing it?

If you’re not, I’d recommend—from my current personal experience—to pursue it. Intentionally. Fervently.

I believe it’s important to be in the place you were made to be. May your week be full of chances to be who you were made to be and what you were made to do!