Tag Archives: Wonder

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.

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

There Is No Sin In Him

Buckle up, pardners… this may get a little heretical. (Just warnin’ ya!)

jesus-writing-in-the-sandIn many places within the pages of the Bible we read that Jesus was without sin. He who had no sin became sin for us… He is the spotless lamb… He faced all the same temptations we do, but he did not sin.

And on the one hand, that makes sense: Jesus is God. So… duh! Of course he can’t sin!

But, on the other hand—the hand that is WAY beyond our limited understanding—Jesus also emptied himself of all his divine nature (Philippians 2), and lived fully as a man. This makes the strength of the words in the book of Hebrews even more meaningful (Jesus was tempted in every way, yet was without sin) because James reminds us that “God can not be tempted to do wrong” (1:13), and so Jesus faced temptations fully as a man, but he somehow succeeded in remaining sinless.

I’ve been wondering what that means.

Did Jesus just keep all the rules? How? If he was fully human, doesn’t that mean he would fall under the “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” proclamation by Paul in Romans, which leads to death as a result? Well, Jesus did in fact pay that penalty—and he did for all of us, defeating death in the process! But he did not die for his own sin, according to scripture, but for the sins of all of us.

Many times in the accounts of Jesus life we read accusations of wrongdoing. The religious leaders, the teachers of religious law, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and any who thought that keeping the rules was paramount to a godly life, these people would accuse Jesus and his followers of all sorts of rule-breaking. Jesus generally turned it back on them by saying things like, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath,” and:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” 1

The more important things. Hmm…

What I’ve been wondering is, what did Jesus’ sinlessness look like? Does it mean that as a boy he never disobeyed his parents? Does it mean that he always did the right thing every time, always? Maybe. But does it have to? In a religious sense, it probably does. But what did Jesus tell us were “the more important things”?

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” 2

My two oldest sons and I just finished reading through 1 John together, and the resounding themes John clearly wanted to share with the church to whom he wrote were: trust God (and his love), and love each other. There was a third theme of confessing (admitting) your sin, and by abiding in Jesus, whose spirit lives within us, moving past sin that leads to death. (For another day, John also mentioned “sins that do not lead to death”, which I found fascinating. Again… for another day.)

Love. Be loved, and love.

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us. We love each other because he loved us first. 3

Could it be that Jesus’ sinless life looks a lot different than just doing all the right things, and especially NOT doing the wrong things?

John said in his letter, “[we must] believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded.” Love is never wrong. But it might break the rules, no? At least, in this broken, sinful, glass-darkly kind of world.

I’m not saying Jesus was a ‘filthy sinner’. Of course not. But I am considering again what “sin” looks like, and so, what his sinlessness looked like.

What do you think? Is Jesus a halo-wearing, robed, sandaled guy who is distant, and sort of meaningless? Or is he the most caring, wise, discerning, honest, truthful, loving person who ever lived? (And, Easter Sunday reminds us—he still does!)

Many times we Christians focus so much on the rule-keeping, and rule-not-breaking, that we miss the “more important things”. Let’s remember this weekend, as we commemorate the cross on Good Friday, and Jesus’ victory over death on Resurrection Sunday, that all we are called to do is to know we are loved, and trust that love (confirmed by Jesus’ spirit living in us), which empowers us to love the ones God has placed us near.

Be loved, trust, and—in God’s power—love.

Perhaps that is what sinless looks like?


Please note… I do not in any way intend to diminish Jesus, nor elevate me nor any other fellow follower, nor anyone really, by any of my thoughts presented in this post. Perhaps the words caused you to ponder, as they have done for me, or, even better, stirred you to remember and live “the more important things” in this day, and every day. Grace and peace to you.

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.

[ThisDay] God Saved Our Bacon

January 25th may not have the most posts from which to select, but it was interestingly challenging to pick the “winner” for this day. First, on this day ten years prior, I wrote about how special Jen is to me. That’s worth sharing again! But also on this 25th day of January I wrote about our Backyard Ice Rink escapades—a great family memory. AND, BEST of ALL… please read the highlighted post in the list of other posts on January 25th at the bottom of this story. It’s kind of amazing! (Remember the point of these repostings was to see if indeed life (or at least, my head) is cyclical? Well… just click that link! For now, though, please enjoy this great story of God—quite literally—saving our bacon!

bacon

God Saved Our Bacon

January 25th, 2009

It’s been a full week. Fuller than usual for some reason. (I’m not sure “fuller” is a word, but, in this case it seems to fit.)

Each day has ended very late, and been full of either lots of one thing, or many different things. But whatever the landscape of the day, each has ended with a very tired Greg’s head.

Yesterday was no exception. Perhaps only in that it was the day this week that I actually felt the most tired. (Tireder?) I got home from a long day of training people at the Apple store, tired, hungry, and ready to eat a (quiet?) dinner with my family.

Oh right… I have five kids ages ten and under… 🙂

So, it wasn’t quiet. It wasn’t even particularly pleasant. (Though the meal was fantastic. Nice job, Jen!) 🙂 I kept feeling more and more tired, more and more badder…

And that’s when God decided to save our bacon.

After finishing my dinner, and as the kids were still complaining, fighting, whining, and pretty much exhibiting every bad behavior known to mankind, a peculiar thought entered my mind: “I should make the kids some really special ice cream sundaes.” (Yep, you read that right.)

I remembered that we had a bucket of vanilla ice cream left over from Ian’s birthday party about a month ago, and even some cool toppings from that day. The kids had been horrible, Jen & I were fried – and not letting the nicest things come out of our mouths – and for some reason, the idea I had was to be ridiculously generous to our little hooligans.

Well, I acted on my strange impulse and got up and lined up four bowls on the table (for the oldest four) and began bringing out all the awesome toppings. Chocolate and strawberry syrups. Maraschino cherries, peanuts, and even coconut flakes. The kids were getting pretty excited!

Finally I grabbed the 5-quart bucket of ice cream and popped off the lid. And that’s where it got interesting.

I dipped the scoop into the bucket with a decent amount of force, as the ice cream promised to be pretty hard having just been removed from the freezer. What met my decent amount of force was a very unexpected, squishy, super-soft blob of almost completely melted ice cream!!! What??! I tested a few other areas, and indeed, the whole thing seemed like it was room temperature!

This was very disturbing, and NOT what I wanted at my then current energy level. But, with a freezer full of meats, veggies, and a few fruits (thanks to the generosity of friends and family, actually) … I knew I had to try and do something to save it.

I am no refigerator repairman, so I really had no idea where to begin. But I poked around, and did notice the fan was not blowing. That has meant in the past that it was frozen over. I pulled out all the contents of the freezer, with “Plan B” being to store them in a giant Rubbermaid container outside that night. When I got the panel off in the back of the freezer, I discovered that it had frozen over. I got out the hairdryer and melted away the ice… and the fan came back on!

After cleaning it out – what better opportunity would I have to do that?? – I put all the food back in, moved the fridge back in place, and in just a couple hours, all was back to normal. (The water dispenser had frozen up as well, but as I type this, the ice maker is back in full swing.)

That night – and again this morning – I was super thankful that God had (I believe) prompted me to first, bring peace and joy to our dinner table and our home with a special treat on an especially bad night, and as a very cool side-effect… he quite literally may have saved our bacon! Who knows when I would have checked the freezer again? Probably not till I saw a pool of water outside of it the next morning.

See, the that’s the cool part of the story. In the middle of an otherwise forgettable evening, God took a very simple (yet strangely generous) idea, and turned it into a rescue effort. And it worked. And he definitely gets the credit.

God really did save our bacon. 🙂

OTHER POSTS from JANUARY 25th

What Motivates You?

Lacking motivation?

I currently feel very unmotivated. I am banging my head against so many metaphorical walls … and I’m not even making a dent. I’m juggling too many things, being pulled in too many directions, and not feeling any level of success in anything that I am setting out to do. Only failure, or what feels like failure.

What keeps you going? Why do you get out of bed in the mornings?

Or do you not?

I’m still moving. Pressing on. (Maybe running on the treadmill—or the hamster wheel—is a better analogy, but I am still moving.)

But I’m having to really stop and think about why. What is my motivation.

To be honest, partly it’s money. I need to earn money to buy the things our family needs. I need to pay off debts. I would love to make money to save for things we want, or want to do. That is certainly part of my daily motivation.

But that, in itself, is hollow, empty.

I love my family. I love to do things with and for them. That motivates me, but much of my day is spent doing things to earn money for our family, so I don’t get to spend as much time with my family as I’d like. (That’s certainly not my own private lament—I’d say most parents who work feel that lacking in their lives.) My love for them is certainly one of my motivations in life.

And definitely obligation, or a sense of duty will push me through when I’d just rather not. When I know my kids are counting on me, or my wife, or maybe even someone else, I will eke out the physical or emotional will power needed to accomplish whatever needs to be done.

Those are some of the things that can move me when I need moving. There are certainly a few more.

Personal comfort is a big one for me. I am VERY motivated to get those air conditioners cleaned up and locked in place when the first hot weather begins to roll in on us. I do not do well in heat and humidity! And… let me tell you, if there’s an offensive odor somewhere nearby, it doesn’t matter how tired I am, I will eliminate it!

Speaking of eliminating… what about when you really, really have to “go”, and there’s not a bathroom within 10 miles? When “nature calls” we can be pretty good at finding our motivation!

Jen knows a kind of personal comfort motivation, too. She doesn’t like pain; any physical discomfort will cause her to seek any way possible to remedy her situation. This includes hunger. She knows that the well-being of everyone around her depends on her not being hungry! Our physical appetites can certainly motivate us—food, drink, sex, even our pride, and desire for acceptance. These motivations can grow so strong that they become addictions.

Personal comfort is certainly a strong motivator.

Another one for me, somewhat related to personal comfort—in an oxymoronic, paradoxical kind of way—is healthiness. I have been walking most of this calendar year, and eating fresh, good food (and less of it) as many meals as I am able. It was something I really wanted to do for my body, and for my family (so I could be more “here”). There is some part that is “duty”-oriented to this motivation, but also, I do enjoy the quiet time alone, and I feel lighter, more alert—less heavy—and just much better, overall.

And of course, the law is another powerful motivation. Not sure if I’d wear seat belts, or restrain myself from using the cell phone while driving, or give the government-funded school system a detailed report of what we are teaching our kids unless I was compelled to by the laws and codes of our various governments.

But the apostle Paul said:

“For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us…”—2 Cor. 5:14 (AMP)

And also:

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.”—Colossians 3:17

So then, love is our motivator. God’s love for us, and for everyone. And being a representative of Jesus—always, gratefully.

I think King Solomon, wisest man to ever live, asked these same questions, pondered these same thoughts. You may already be familiar with his conclusion, even if you don’t attribute it to him:

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” —Ecclesiastes 1:2

Really. Read Ecclesiastes when you’re feeling aimless, directionless, lacking motivation—it’ll pick ya right up!

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.

(The entire book is this repeating theme of the meaninglessness of everything in life, good and bad. Truly a fascinating read!)

I have no answers. I still feel mostly unmotivated in life. It’s like much of my effort is not worth the effort—it will not have its desired effect, if I am even sure of what that is. I hope God will illuminate me, personally, in that regard. But perhaps he won’t. I know my ultimate motivation—reason for moving—is him. That’s it. Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. Stay connected to him, the Vine.

That, I know.

But what motivates you? Where do you find reason for your efforts? Impetus for your actions? Why try when our world is so, SO messed up? What does it matter?

Everything is meaningless.

I’d so love to hear your response. Please comment below and let’s do encourage one another with the things that move each of us—great or small—to get out of bed, and carry out a day… and even to do things that move the planet.

What motivates you?