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.

Infallible Trustworthiness

trustworthiness

Yesterday, after reading a couple more chapters of the book of Hebrews with our two oldest boys, I was recounting to Jen some of what we had read and discussed. Julia, our seven-year-old was also in the room. From what we are reading, a common theme the author of Hebrews seems to be conveying is the ultimate, unfailing trustworthiness of God, so I used the phrase, “infallible trustworthiness”, and asked Julia if she knew what that meant. She did not, but she did listen when I explained, “It means God can always—always—be trusted.”

He can.

Early in the letter called “Hebrews”, it’s stated that God can not lie. It is impossible for him to lie. Jesus’ supremacy is also well established, and his role as our intermediary—our advocate, High Priest—is outlined in great detail. That God is for us, always, seems to be a main theme of the Hebrews.

We are often encouraged, then, to trust him, based on this. Approach the throne of grace with confidence. Come to him in our time of need.

Through the years, various lines and sections from the book of Hebrews have encouraged me about who God is and my relationship to him. I’ve included many of them in songs I’ve written, and recalled them “in my time(s) of need”. So, I’ve enjoyed reading through this letter again, and discuss it with my boys. I love seeing them process and understand grace and the truths of God’s Kingdom.

Most of all, perhaps, is this recurring theme of God’s infallible trustworthiness.

It’s what’s caused all of the people mentioned in chapter eleven, the “by faith” section, to see far beyond their circumstances to something they believed and hoped for. It wasn’t their belief in something, but someOne who spurred them on.

“By faith… Their weakness was turned to strength…” (11:34)

In the end, the whole of our existence depends upon him. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the fullness of God and man. It’s beyond comprehension, and yet it’s the foundation of all that we are.

The list of people who accomplished great things in full reliance upon God’s infallible trustworthiness is summed up by the following:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge cloud of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. (12:1-2)

We’ve heard that before, but it is the essence of what is most important: keeping our eyes on Jesus.

It’s easy to take our eyes off of him. Circumstances can easily distract us. Financial and employment struggles, relational woes within a family or with close friends, chronic health issues, or even diagnoses of terminal illness and death.

And yet, Jesus is with us through all of that. If we clear away the clutter, be it sin, doubt, worry, fear, or anything else distracting us from him, and keep our eyes on him, we will know joy—life in its fullness.

When we’re crushed by sadness, guilt, hopelessness, it’s hard. It feels impossible to “trust”. I know.

…let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. […] Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise (10:22-23)

God can be trusted to keep his promise.

Wherever you’re doubting today, worrying, fearing, remember those words: “God can be trusted to keep his promise.” He promises us rest, peace, grace, forgiveness, and his love, from which nothing can separate us.

He is with us. He is for us.

What, or who, can ever be against us?

I highly recommend to you a re-read of the book of Hebrews. We’re enjoying it in larger chunks, which to me helps provide context. Some prefer to go slower, meditating on smaller portions.

However you do it, may the words refresh your trust in our God’s infallible trustworthiness!

And let us, together, keep our eyes on Jesus.

Give Us This Day

frenchbread

I know Jesus always meant what he said. In my own life, I really try to “mean what I say, and say what I mean”, and for the most part, I’d say that is generally what is accomplished.

So when Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread” (or however your translation happens to phrase it) I think he wasn’t really just talking about bread—or even just our food.

Too often we are caught up in any moment besides now. Worries about the future, or even just plans and strategies for our future; hurt, pain, doubt, guilt from our past, whether of our own doing, or somehow inflicted upon us—these things can consume us.

We really have no idea what is coming next, nor how our past has prepared us for the now.

All we have is “this day”.

That reality has been so present for me again lately. I have friends who have been thrust into a daily place that I’m sure they don’t want to be (and yet, I know they are seeing and even feeling God’s blessings in the midst of such a hard place) and we are even waging our own daily battles here, too, which seem to have been going on for far too long now.

Maybe someone you love has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Maybe you have. Maybe you lost your job. Maybe you lost someone that you love. Maybe you’re living a life that you never thought would be “like this”, and you don’t know how to change it.

Maybe you doubt your Father’s love, or his goodness… or even his existence.

Give us this day…

I think today, I will drink deeply of the place that God has me. I know the bad. Somehow it is often better at being noticed. (Or maybe I am better at noticing it.) But I also know the good. There is good, now. It’s not some future reality that will be present once I’m through this, or change that, or realize some yet-unattained desire.

I have breath in me. I am here, in this place, now. There are people (whom God loves) around me whom I can share that breath and life with … now.

This day.

None of this is new, I’m sure. It’s not to me. But it sure seems that I need reminders to slow, to breathe, to just… be.

Daily.

May your day be filled with all that he gives. Even if it’s not what you were hoping or looking for.

He is there. This day.

[ThisDay] Sex Sells (Apparently)

One of the posts that has received the most interaction was admittedly expected to attract some attention. I wasn’t just searching for website hits… rather, I was making a point. A fun night out with Emma at the mall turned into conversations about large images of ladies in their underwear—everywhere! That night I posted some thoughts on our much we use sexual imagery in marketing and advertising, and the possible consequences of that. That was certainly a memorable post from January 31st in GregsHead.net history. A close runner up was the story called “My Computer Had a Heart Attack” (a good, lengthy read!). For today though, and the last day in this series: Sex Sells (Apparently). (Thoughts/comments welcomed!)

Sex Sells (Apparently)

January 31st, 2013

Aerie Ad - Girl in lingerieI wouldn’t usually post such photos here. But I guess I’m trying to make a point.

Have we really gotten so used to seeing women in their underwear (or less) that it doesn’t even slightly surprise us?

(My hope is that when you saw the photo for this post on my website, you were surprised, or shocked. It hopefully seemed quite out of place. And it should.)

Last night my four-year-old daughter, Emma, and I walked through nearly the entirety of our local mall, and the volume of near-nudity prominently displayed in store fronts truly overwhelmed me. It was not hidden in the lingerie section near the back of a department store. Rather, right out in front, for every passer by.

I did some research when we got home and found out that there are an inordinate amount of lingerie stores in our mall. It could be that this is the reason that there are so many super-over-sized revealing photos, but still, you can’t walk down nearly any corridor of the mall without being bombarded by boobs.

Aerie storefront display - Girls in lingerie

I know I sound old saying this, but… I don’t remember this when I was a kid!

(Yep. Old.)

Now you can be shopping at the Apple Store for an iPad mini and get an eyeful of what amounts to “soft porn” at the same time. (There’s another “intimate apparel” store across the hall from our Apple Store.)

Am I overreacting here? I’m not sure. I am a guy, of course, and scantily clad, beautiful women do have a certain appeal, but what is that appeal? Certainly it is to my flesh—the part of me that is supposed to be dead. We are all well aware, however, that it still fights for life.

Jesus said that adultery is wrong, but that a man looking at a woman lustfully is just the same (since sin is a heart issue, before it’s a behavior issue) … but, I’m not sure that’s why I feel uncomfortable strolling the halls of the mall. (There wasn’t any lustful looking going on.)

I am more uncomfortable when my boys are with me. Aged 14 and 11 1/2, the internal chemicals are beginning to and have already worked their magic and the appeal of women dressed in little, even posed suggestively many times, well… that’s not something I want to test my boys’ will power on. And all to just find a new favorite well-used video game?

Last night it was Emma, who was certainly taking it all in. Once she said, “More bras! Ha!” (Yes, she’s awesome.) So I’m not really sure what she thinks about it, but she at least finds it somewhat humorous.

spencers

But I think in the end, I just find it sad. Near the end of our mall tour we passed Spencer’s. This particular window display was the most overt of all the stores in their attempt (in my opinion) to use sex to sell. (They might even more be selling sex, not simply lingerie, but…) I actually shook my head at their forwardness, and quickly moved along. Later when I was looking for store displays online to share with you here, I discovered that when you click the above banner—taken from their website, but this was also the current store front display—you have to consent to viewing adult material before going further into their site. So, perhaps they aren’t even trying to hide the soft porn part?

(Note: I actually do remember that my mom would direct us past and cast doubt upon the goodness of Spencer’s stores in our various malls. Though I do think we darkened their door a time or two along the way. I think my sister liked some of the stuff in there? I do not remember such displays in their front windows… but I do have this inner, red warning light regarding their establishment. Perhaps this is not a new development.)

What I think all of this reveals about us (yes, pun intended) is a culture that is certainly progressing more and more towards debauchery. Again, I know that I sound old suggesting that “my generation” wasn’t as perverse as “this generation”, and to an extent, I’m sure I’m wrong. People are people. We’re all dead in sin, none of us can escape that; one generation’s societal moral superiority notwithstanding.

But I really do think this is a symptom of a deeper sickness.

Families are now horribly rent asunder: rampant divorce, children outside marriage, multiple parents (but really no parents), gay marriage, abortion… they are all signs of our inner moral corruption and decay.

So it makes sense that we’d continue to feed our flesh—the part of us that drives this decay—and even progressively think less and less of it, allowing it to have more of a hold on us.

We’re naked under our clothes. (Did you know that?) Nakedness is not the sin. The way it’s used to appeal to our selfish, fleshly, worldly desires can be, and those desires can be. Paul said, “All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial.” Perhaps that applies here.

I don’t think I’m talking about the over-sized posters, though.

It seemed so blatantly obvious last night on our walk through the mall that these are symptoms of a culture-wide decline; gradually slipping more and more toward full worldliness, and farther away from godliness. It makes sense, of course, as culturally we have been removing God from everyday life for several generations now. It’s certainly bound to happen this way.

I know I sound old. (And, I kind of am!) This generation is worse off morally than mine, but maybe not than my parents’ generation? (The sixties, hippies, etc? Could be we improved from that?) And we will continue the downward trend until, as individuals, and families, and then as a society we allow God to resume his rightful position as Father and leader and provider and all that he is and wants to be to us.

Until then, it shouldn’t surprise me what is displayed in the large windows of our public marketplaces. If we continue this way, it wouldn’t be shocking to see actual nudity soon, as well as much more sexual images.

This really is the visible symptoms of a deeper issue.

I want to say, “And I hope for our society’s sake that we turn to Jesus and live full lives as he intended us to!” … but I wonder if that’s my wrong thinking about “life to the full”. Life to the full is messy. We are messy, broken, sinners. We are in a broken world, and though we can experience a taste of true, unbroken life, we are still here, in this mess. And that will never change, until we’re not. So, no matter how much we, as a society, might turn to Jesus … the deeper issue here (not the symptoms) is part of the bigger picture of “full life” that God intended. I think.

That doesn’t mean I have to traverse the mall corridors, though. 🙂

I’ll finish by saying that I hope wherever you are right now, you know the Father, the One True God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent (John 17:3) and that you know his abundant grace and life and are living that fully and free from guilt and condemnation and judgement (John 3:17) … because that is how we’re meant to be.

(Clothed, or not.)


Note: The photos in this post are mostly taken from the retailers’ websites. My iPhone camera was not doing a good job capturing the images I wanted to use for this post. All of these images here were on display in three-times-real-life size in the store windows, as well as dozens more.

OTHER POSTS from JANUARY 30th

[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

[ThisDay] Christianity, or Jesus? (Aren’t They the Same?)

January 22nd in GregsHead history was slightly more difficult to whittle down than some of the other days. It was not due to volume, though—only five posts. Four of the five posts are worth reading (the other is worth it if you are using WordPress for blogging…) but of the six options, I selected the article below for today’s re-reading. Please enjoy this little anecdote from a dinner conversation just last January. Good theological discussion!

Christianity, or Jesus? (Aren’t They the Same?)

January 22nd, 2013

Our family is currently making our way through the book of Luke together. We’re taking our time, but I do enjoy reading in larger chunks, so we will often read what might be the subject of an entire series of sermons in one sitting.

Tonight, we read through the fifteenth chapter: the three stories of lost and found.

Though we’d often read more than that, it’s such a good three-part story—with the most famous, the Prodigal Son story at the end—that I thought it would be nice to stop and discuss.

The kids are reading and learning about “unreached people groups” with Mom during the school days, and both of the older boys picked up on the “lost” theme that Jesus’ stories held.

When I asked what everyone heard in Jesus’ stories, Ian replied first, “I think it shows that God cares about every single person: if even one in a thousand is lost, there’s a celebration when he realizes he’s wrong and returns to God.”

“Yep. So right, Ian.” I affirmed.

Alex chimed in next, “Or, like if one person in the 10 million in Japan who are buddhists or other things turn to Christianity. It’s like that, even.”

I smiled and affirmed Alex’s insightful answer, too. But something didn’t sit right with me, the way he had phrased that answer.

Ian and Mom both explained what they had been studying—unreached people groups—and I realized what it was that bothered me: the lost returning home story is not about conversions to Christianity, it’s about the Good News that Jesus is life and nothing else.

I tried to lovingly expand on that thought to Alex, but I guess maybe it didn’t come out quite right. Jen didn’t think I was saying it correctly, and by offering further instruction at that time, kinda squashed Alex.

jesus-christ-in-stained-glassAnd, honestly, she doesn’t really agree with my instruction, that Christianity is not the same as Jesus.

I told Alex that the somewhat subtle distinction between someone “turning to Christianity” and someone meeting Jesus (The One true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent) are often, even usually very different things.

One is a religion. Plain and simple, Christianity is not in the Bible. (Really! It’s true!) In this sense, Christianity is no different than Islam, Buddhism, Hindu, and so on. Jesus never talked about establishing a religion (though he did mention building the Church) and I can’t think of anywhere that the word “Christianity” or “Christendom” can be found on the pages of Scripture. (Though other people called the Church, “Christians”—Acts 11, and Acts 26—the only other occurrence of the word is in 1 Peter 4:16.)

Returning to a loving Father is a different story. Realizing our need to be connected to the Vine; understanding the limitless, boundless love that God has for us, wanting from before the foundation of the world to adopt us as his own children; understanding how the cross restores our friendship with God by destroying sin and death and shame once and for all…

That’s a different story. (And doesn’t “sign you up” for anything.)

Now, I’m certainly painting with too broad a brush right now. Firstly, only a chapter or two before, Jesus addressed his disciples and the crowds following him, making sure they understood the cost of being his disciple. The cost is… everything. He said we need to be willing to give up everything (even family, wealth/possessions, a home), even our own life.

But the key is, nothing else matters outside of his Life. Nothing.

And that’s the point. Converting to a religion often satisfies our own accomplishable goals and benchmarks. There are “measurables” with Christianity. You can check things off like, reading your Bible, or having quiet time, joining a prayer group, or some other “small group”, going to services, volunteering for a ministry… or five ministries. All of those things can become “feathers” in our caps.

Jesus asks us to volunteer to be last, though. To not be noticed. To give up our dreams, turn the other cheek… all of that. And all because there is nothing we need or could ever want more than to know him.

Paul knew that, and wrote:

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ. —Phil 3:8

Honestly, I could be convinced that I’m straining out gnats here. OR, I could be convinced that this is the pivotal, most important, fundamental part of the Gospel: Jesus matters.

It’s him. And nothing else. Not a religion (Christianity), not a building or an organization (First Christian Church of Wherever), and not even a set of benchmarks that you set up for yourself to take your spiritual temperature.

Do you trust him? Then you’re in. And your life will never be the same. If you believe that Jesus is Immanuel, God made flesh, the Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life… buckle up!

That might be the same to you as “Christianity”, and if that’s the case, I’m really glad. My experience has been different. We people are good at maintaining control, and I think Jesus wants—longs for—us to relinquish that. Most often systems with fancy names—Christianity—don’t allow any room for that to happen, and even worse, they keep us in the “performance” mindset, where we’re always trying to “do better… for God, of course…

But Jesus’ words were always simply, “Follow me.”

I think it might really be that simple.

OTHER POSTS from JANUARY 22nd

  1. I’d really recommend reading this post, too, if you’ve got the time. It was a very close second!

Hope

Hope1

Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.

Hebrews 6:19

There are days. There are weeks, months and long years where … boy, it just feels like nothing is worth it. Am I right? I’m guessing, unless you have not lived long enough to experience a full enough breadth of human experience, that you most certainly know what I’m talking about.

I think this is what I was getting at in my recent post, What Motivates You? Hope. When there is hope, there is “motivation”. And love gives hope. “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13)

Unless we have hope—that good is coming, that any effort we’re about to put forth is at all worthwhile, that things can change—there really is no point at all. We are hope—less.

How we arrive at such a place is more than understandable. Did you see yesterday’s post? There is a great darkness pervading our entire world—and it’s us. We are dark from the inside. A correlating “side effect” of the free ability to choose what is good and right and excellent, given to us by our Creator, is the ability to not choose those things, and even (much) worse things.

Much worse.

And yet, there remains a light in this world. The Light. Certainly Jesus, the God Man, is the Light of the World (he said that he is) … and so, too, are his people, The Church. Not always. And definitely not everyone who bears the name “church”. (See this post from earlier this summer…) But in every kindness shown, mercy given, forgiveness offered, selfless sacrifice made … he is there, and he is Light.

There is hope.

Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true.

Hebrews 6:11

This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers.

1 Timothy 4:10

As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 1:3

It is clear to me that our one primary motive must be hope. Even if it is hope to satisfy some temporal, carnal nature in us—there still must be some promise of future fulfillment. Some reason for what we do.

There are SO many more references in scripture to “hope”. Please do read through as many as you have time for. Come back to it later, even.

And hope. Hold on to the hope we have in Jesus. Not just for a future kingdom—which will be beyond anything we can even dream right now—but in his kingdom now, the Kingdom of God that is near. Even in this present age of darkness.

He is here. With us. Forever.

And so we hope.

  1. “hope” © 2009 Evonne, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Darkness

You know, this world is ugly. Really ugly. I don’t know if my heightened awareness of this is due to my reading The Screwtape Letters again, or maybe just the mood I’m in, or the correlated ongoing state of frequently feeling so depleted…

Or maybe this is just how it is.

The hatred spewed from mouths of many, directed at their perceived enemies; the gorging of gluttony, the never-satisfied, ever-increasing pursuit of fulfilling lusts; rampant, uncontrolled greed, at the uncaring expense of a neighbor, no, all neighbors; and just the general devaluing of ourselves and everyone around us that can lead to all kinds of abuses, including sexual abuse of young girls.

I have young girls. Some stories I have read lately simultaneously turn my stomach, and anger me greatly. It’s really awful how disgustingly we can treat each other. My words here are not strong enough.

I deeply wish—often—that my kids did not have to grow up in and be part of this world. But they are. They do.

So it’s true then, what Paul said about us, while quoting some Old Testament scriptures:

“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.”
“Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
    Their tongues are filled with lies.”
“Snake venom drips from their lips.”
    “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“They rush to commit murder.
    Destruction and misery always follow them.
They don’t know where to find peace.”
    “They have no fear of God at all.”

There’s a whole bunch more from the first chapter of Romans. Listen to this paragraph:

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.

But I love what Paul follows that with, saying directly after that:

You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things.

It’s awful dangerous when we notice the darkness of other people, but forget to acknowledge our own.

The world is ugly, because we are ugly.

I have not been personal witness to some of the ugliest things that one might encounter in this world. (Like murder, sexual abuse, and similar horrible, awful things we do to each other.) I think this helps me to maintain a false distance from the grotesque darkness of us. Of me. Thankfully, and so graciously, Jesus continues to build in me the desires that match his, and my inner light shines brighter with his resident spirit inside me—but I am far from perfect. I know darkness inside me, too.

But thanks be to God, our savior, through Jesus Christ our lord.

Yes. And we do have the victory, we’re “more than conquerors” … that just seems so far off sometimes.

Sounds like I need a good read through the book of Romans. What a great overview of the world as it is, through God’s eyes, and how it will be redeemed.

Boy do we need it.

Remember that Jesus is the light. Stick close to him, through whatever darkness you are in, or may find yourself in. He will walk through it with you.

Philippians 2:13
For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

2 Peter 1:2-7
May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

Forward

sun

Forward never stops. The next moment forces itself upon you whether or not you’re ready to leave the current one behind. And then again, without asking, there is another moment stepping in to replace its predecessor.

The sun rises, travels across our sky, and sets every day. The seasons advance relentlessly, reliably.

There is comfort in this unceasing cycle. Comfort, awe, helplessness, and a perspective-inducing, throw-up-your-hands sense of irrelevance.

Time marches relentlessly forward. We hold to the past… and we try to flee it. But it really doesn’t matter. We are compelled to move forward. I would posit that we might do better when we move with the natural rhythm of life, but then the realization that whether or not we comply, forward we go.

Thus, whenever we do hold on to our past, we are really ignoring reality.

If our past mistakes—be they small, numerous, or large, injurious—render us incapable of living now, free, able to experience life, and even joy…

If our past victories—again, large and well-known, or small, frequent, even unknown to others—are constant reminders of where we’d rather be, or even who we’d rather be…

If hurt—even deep, scarring, wounding, killing hurts—in our past fill our hearts, minds, bodies with life-drawing sadness, yearning for what was, and could have been…

We are trapped in an existence that time has simply altered, and continues, relentlessly, to further alter.

The good news here is that with this irrepressible forward motion, there is always new, always hope. I believe this is the “gospel” message. No matter what you’ve done, or who you’ve been (“good” or “bad”) we move forward. You are accepted, loved, even cherished, sought after. Time moves us forward. No grudges, no lists of wrongs… forward.

There are always consequences for actions (and inactions) in the Forward. That is part of its nature, too. Something done, or left undone, in this moment comes to fruition in the next—consequence.

But grace is in the next moment Forward.

“And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” —Jeremiah 31:34

We can not change anything that has already happened. We usually can’t repeat it, either.

Certainly there is value in cherishing the good from our past, and learning from the bad, but forward we must go. There is no other option, really.

Forward never stops.


As a point of curiosity from me, what did you first see in the photo above? Is it a beautiful sunset? Or a sunrise? I am regularly fascinated by how our mindset shapes the world we perceive. Not that a sunset is any less forward than a sunrise, but one is generally considered a “closing” and the other a “beginning” … hope, versus a lack of hope? Again… just curious. And maybe incorrect. 🙂

Factors

Julian Beever street art - julianbeever.net

Things are definitely not always what they appear to be.

You’ve heard the maxim, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and “Things aren’t always what they seem”. Also, Jesus said, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.”

And don’t forget, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”

(Wait. Scratch that last one…)

I am often rash to judge. Are you? Maybe it’s part of my personality. I quickly assess situations and make judgments based on those assessments. I’m a very fast decision maker. This is obviously a good thing when I’m ordering a meal at a restaurant, or when I am leading a group of people (like our tribe of eight) in any organized activity. Quick judgment and decision making can be helpful.

But it’s not always helpful when we are quick to judge.

The other day I was walking out of a store, my mind on seven other things, and I was rather oblivious of my surroundings. I failed to hold the door for people behind me, and though no one was injured by the lack of awareness, I was dismayed by my inconsiderate action. (Or rather, inaction.)

I wondered if they were angry at my rude treatment. I can’t believe he just ignored us! He could have waited one more second! Probably not. They likely did not even notice. (Sadly, it’s not commonplace to show such courtesies to others these days.) But if they did think these things, they were not entirely correct. I was not only distracted by busyness… as I recall, there were some heavy things on my heart. Had anyone who quickly judged my actions as rude, thoughtless, uncaring been privy to the reason for my actions, they likely would have judged much differently.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? We can’t know everything. We simply can not.

There is SO much going on around you. Why did that driver just cut me off? Where is that payment that was promised? Why is that job not finished? Why did she say that!? Why is he looking at me like that? I can’t believe they didn’t call!

Often we quickly pronounce judgement upon people—especially those closest to us—without a fair trial; without any trial! We unconsciously become prosecutor, jury, and judge, with no defense attorney, nor any sort of case presented at all!

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” —Matthew 7:1-3

There are always factors. Sometimes we are informed after the fact and that assuages previous (wrongly held) anger, based on incorrect judgment. Other times we don’t learn more. That doesn’t mean that we are right to judge.

We can not ever know all the factors behind another’s decisions or actions. Not any one of us.

Another slightly humorous example of things not always being what they appear occurred this past weekend, while I was cooling off after a run. I was reading from the book of Mark on our iPhone as I cooled down, and I was walking around the driveway as I did because I wanted to keep my muscles moving. I realized that it must look pretty silly, me being so engrossed in my phone that I can’t even look up to see where I am walking. Someone passing by, with only a few seconds to make a judgment, might perceive me much as I did those people in line at Starbucks, no?

Hmm. Perhaps I should heed my own, “don’t-rush-to-judgement” advice?

To me, the moral of this story is:

JUST DON’T JUDGE. STOP IT! DON’T DO IT!!!!!

Obviously, we need to use our brains to discern right and wrong, and even quickly, or under duress. This is a good thing, judgement.

But maybe the lesson is that we don’t need to judge what other people are doing, so long as it does not involve us at all. And if it does somehow touch upon our lives, maybe we can err on the side of grace seventy times seven times?

There is one judge, and he’s not me. I think I like it that way.

God help me to live peacefully by my own words here, and remember that there are always, always more factors than I can possibly perceive.

And may these things be true of us, as much as we are able:

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! —Romans 12:10-16


That photo at the top of this post is from julianbeever.net. Lots of really cool 3D street art there. Amazing!