Seasons & Cycles – A Sunday Meditation

I Corinthians 2:

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written,

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”

It amazes me that in just about 4 short months this:

Side Yard February 16, 2014
Side Yard
February, 2014

will to turn into this:

Side Yard June, 2013
Side Yard
June, 2013

Complete reversal. Brown to green is just a symbol, the move will be from death to life. Well, not entirely true. The Rose of Sharon has buds on the ends of the branches which you can only see upon closer examination, so even though it has the look of death, the death is not entire. And I know that underneath the ground the other plants have healthy root systems pulsing life into parts getting ready to push out new buds. I can’t see the roots, but I know from experience that they are there.

Ironically, from the moment the buds come forth to life, they will begin their journey to another winter, certain death. I’m not sure why this process fascinates me so much. Maybe it’s this life-death-life-death-life cycle that convinces me my inevitable death will not be the end. It’s as if the seasons proclaim this truth year in and year out.

Yesterday a friend shared with me something she had seen on Facebook recently:

She said she hoped that wasn’t true because the idea of doing this all over again – again and again – was horrible. I definitely agree with that! Slogging through another cycle of life to death as a human being trapped in forward linear time doesn’t appeal to me in the least.

But I took the meme a different way. Jesus compared our earthly bodies to seeds which have to die to bear new life; like a seed, our lives on earth carry the promise of a new form of life inside. What if the light we see at the end of our ‘death tunnel’ is the beginning of something entirely new? I have long believed that death is a doorway to something beyond our comprehension.

John 12:

23 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.

Over the years I have often asked the question, “What does the acorn have in common with the oak?” If an acorn were self-aware and you could talk to it, I wonder if it would believe you that its future was the mighty oak tree. I doubt it. I wonder if Jesus had that difficulty as well. Forced to borrow from nature’s pictures, He tried to tell us over and over again that what is coming for us is beyond imagination – certainly He never even hinted at more of the same. What if our bodies here on earth are like seeds carrying a life-force we cannot now imagine – with the promise of breaking forth when the seed is dead and buried?

It’s not so fantastic when I begin to examine my garden closely.

Having lived through a markedly cold winter (for this area), I find myself appreciating spring, the sun, and warmth so much more than I have in the past. The dreary winter and my seeming inability to ever get warm served to heighten my desire for the fresh sunshine of spring and the blazing heat of summer. At the same time, as my body makes its inexorable way towards death (slower than the flowers in my side yard, to be sure, but I’m on my way none-the-less), aging heightens my desire for that something new – a rebirth that exists beyond my imagination.

What do you think is coming after death? Nothing? Everything? Or just another round of the here-and-now? I’d love to hear your thoughts on life after death. What, if anything, does nature tell you?

Back to the Psalms…

It’s funny how life works sometimes. Almost 5 years ago I got “stuck” in the Psalms of Ascent. As time went by I managed to get “unstuck”, but before I could finish the series.

From time to time I revisited the section of the Psalms known as The Ascents, but always came away with, “I got nothin’.” Then life hit me – again. Now I can say, “I got somethin'”; what that something is has yet to be determined.

After a much-needed rest, I’m ready to get climbing again. How about you? Are you ready to go up to worship?

Blessing, They are Blessed – Psalm 128

Goodness or Power

Occasionally I see something on a TV show that makes me think. That happened to me tonight about midway through an episode of Once Upon a Time.

That’s Snow White (Mary Catherine) and Prince Charming (David) up there arguing with Regina (Snow White’s evil stepmother). Mary Catherine is holding the dagger that can control Rumplestilskin (or kill him, giving the murderer his power). Cora, (Regina’s mother, not shown in the photo), supposedly wants nothing more than for her daughter to be queen. The truth is, Cora wants nothing less than ultimate power. She will do anything to get it.

Further along in the scene, Regina holds the heart of one of Mary Catherine’s childhood servants in her hand, threatening to kill her if Snow refuses to give up the knife. David tells her to give them the knife to save her servant (now friend), and that they will find another way to defeat Regina and Cora. Cora mocks Mary Catherine and her determination to choose the good (always choosing to do what is good) at any cost. In the midst of the argument Regina venomously spits at Snow White:

goodness doesn’t win, power does.

Snow White’s goodness won out and she gave up the dagger in order to save her servant/friend, only to watch Cora push her through the clock tower window to her death. In that one small encounter, power won out over goodness, and Mary Catherine knew it. That got Snow White to thinking… it got me to thinking too.

Struggling with what just happened, Mary Catherine tells David that being good has not been worth the cost. She wonders if expecting evil to change to good was naive and that maybe all along she has been the one who needed to change. She is ready for their happy ending to come, even if through evil means. She determines to suffer no more losses at the hands of those who embrace evil. Thus begins her plan to murder Cora.

I turned 49 yesterday and perhaps staring 50 hard in the face is making me do a bit of thinking about life and death. Some questions have been wandering through my brain as a result. Why does a serial killer escape while a friend’s 9-yr. old daughter is having surgery on a brain tumor? Why do gang leaders ensnare a hurting, lonely youth while a mother of 6 is killed in a highway collision? Why do the stars of Hollywood bask in their imagined fame while a sinkhole steals away a man’s brother as he climbs into bed at the end of a long day? Why does a mother lose 2 sons and a husband while a woman in her 20’s finds out she has breast cancer? Why does one evil leader get called to task while another nation performs ethnic cleansing unchallenged? The list goes on and on and on.

My conclusion in the face of these quandaries? A resounding, “I DON’T GET IT.” Yeah, that was my answer: no clue. It just doesn’t make any sense. Some of you may be thinking that this sounds like Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People? or some such question of why evil exists. But that’s not really it. I get that we live in a fallen world, I get that sin has touched everything from nature to our genetic code. I guess my problem is the lack of rhyme or reason to it all. It just doesn’t make any sense. Kind of like Snow White wanting her pursuit of goodness to produce the happy ending she expects; that evil continues to thrive and wantonly take the ‘good’ (not ‘good’ in the sense of moral uprightness, but ‘good’ in the sense of life, love, and justice) out of the world isn’t making any sense to her right now. Me either.

Power should not win over goodness.

Yet more often than not, it does. Having been steeped in 30+ years of Evangelical thought, it’s difficult for me to think about ‘good’ and ‘evil’, power and weakness without some reference to the Christian God. And I cannot think of God without thinking of the church. I begin to hear whispered memories of Christian friends of mine supporting America’s assertion of power around the globe, as if God sanctions war when America wages it (against the ‘lost’ or the Muslim or the evil dictator). I can hear preachers talking about God torturing the wicked in a never-ending fire … warnings (or encouragement) to parents that what they teach (or fail to teach) their children will come to fruition ‘one day’ … gloom and doom prophecies of a coming apocalypse through a world power called ‘Antichrist’ … a painting of Jesus riding a white horse through storm clouds while a flaming sword of death and judgment issues from his mouth.

But, is that how God wins over evil … through ultimate power? Does God win because His power trumps everything? Really? Apparently that is what one preacher I heard recently believes. To him it all boiled down to God’s holiness – defined as the perfection of God that destroys (or at least severely punishes) imperfection. He would tell you to fear God because He’s holy and His holiness makes Him more powerful than anything else, somehow giving Him the right to punish those of His children who fail Him in some way. In that paradigm, fear gives you the ability to obey, and thus avoid the otherwise inevitable consequences of your sins.

Huh. Really? I don’t know. I don’t think Regina and Cora are right. I don’t think that power wins. Something deep inside me and something fundamentally communicated through Jesus’ death have convinced me that it’s not about raw power. At least not power as we understand it. Not the power to conquer through fear and torment. Not the power to rule over others by the strong trumping the weak. Not the power resulting from one’s ability to take life. That is the power of the tormentor, the abuser, truly the power of evil itself.

In many ways isn’t this the image of God the Christian church has painted for us for millennia: a conquering King who is going to force everyone who has ever lived to bow the knee to Him through fear and torment? Oh, sure, He offers pardon through some sort of belief in His Son, but even that is coercion borne of fear. Sounds more like a ‘benevolent’ dictator to me than a Creator-God of love.

The same pastor who believed the only pertinent part of God’s character we need consider was His holiness (moral perfection) also stated, and I quote:

Love doesn’t win, God wins.

Wow. Sounds an awful lot like Regina telling Mary Catherine that good doesn’t win, power does. Hm. It’s a good thing I was listening to this man over the internet instead of in person. I would have been carried out by the church leaders when I stood up and shouted:

GOD IS LOVE!!

I fear the church has forgotten what real power, Biblical power looks like. So focused on recognition, visibility, numbers in attendance, financial prosperity, moral agendas, self-protection and even vengeance … I find it hard to tell the church from any run-of-the-mill modern-day corporation. Where are the characteristics of humility and meekness Jesus spoke about in Matthew 5? Who is issuing the corporate call to lay down our lives in love for those around us? Who is reminding anyone in the churches today that the Kingdom we are building is not of this world, and neither are the weapons we use?

You know, I hear the argument a lot that Jesus came the first time to save, He will come the second time to judge. Really? Last I checked God does not change. Throughout history God the Father has been dismantling man’s idea of power and success. He continually chose the marginalized, the outcast, the weak of the world to carry out His plan and purpose. His Son submitted to death at the hand of His very creation to live out His example to us of what true power looks like. If you think He’s going to suddenly change into that mean-spirited, angry, judgmental, punishing God you’ve heard about all your life, you are sadly mistaken.

I hope Snow White comes to her senses. I hope she listens to Prince Charming again and realizes that good always trumps evil. It’s hard to see it in the midst of the struggle, but that’s what the message of resurrection is all about. Just when we think it’s really the end, just when we think evil has won, just when we decide the body has started to decay … that’s when Love says, “arise!” Evil cannot win against a God who IS love. Not on your life. Not on HIS life.

I hope the church comes to her senses. I hope she starts listening to Jesus and realizes that God is good, God is love, and His love never fails. Unbeknownst to us, love is the greatest power in the universe. And I’m here to tell you (over and over again if I have to) …

Evil doesn’t win, Love does!

Living Someone Else’s Life

One morning last week around 4:00 a.m., groggy-eyed and avoiding the treadmill, I spent a little time reading through my FB news feed and ran across the following:

I came to the realization yesterday that I am living somebody else’s life, not my own. At least that’s how I feel. I need to change some things.

My first thought was, “We’re all living ‘somebody else’s’ life!” I think John would agree.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are … Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
1 John 3:1-3

I’ve been saying it this way for awhile now: “I don’t belong here.” Apparently, I’m not the only one …

Sometimes it feels like I’m watching from the outside
Sometimes it feels like I’m breathing but am I alive
I won’t keep searching for answers that aren’t here to find

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I’m lost in the current of a raging sea
I have this blessed assurance holding me.

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

When the earth shakes I wanna be found in You
When the lights fade I wanna be found in You

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong
[x2]

Where I belong, where I belong
Where I belong, where I belong

Well, it’s not just that we aren’t ‘home’ yet, we aren’t ‘me’ yet. C.S. Lewis wrote:

It is a serious thing, to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…

But it has not yet become apparent – visible, known – who I am becoming. I read another post on FB today by a dear friend who commented that a particular photo of her was ‘terrible.’ I thought to myself that if we understood what Lewis is talking about -really understood and believed – we would not be concerned in the least by what we see here, now, on the outside. This shell of a body will be left behind, and although we will one day be reunited with it, it will not be what we see and know now. I think Lewis is right in this sense: We are being changed into something that for us right now would be entirely unrecognizable.

Think about it this way, what does an acorn have in common with an oak tree? Can you by looking at an acorn even come close to perceiving what it will become (had you not seen the tree, of course)? No. In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul put it this way:

1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, 3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. 4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.

The tent Paul is referring to is the body we are ‘trapped’ in (although I think it’s even more than that – we are trapped in forward, linear time, our memories can trap us, even our sins trap us and in that way we are bound by our very selves to something we often hate – a habit, a pattern, an addiction, so much that can keep us bound up). But like my friend, Paul experienced this groaning, this deep desire to become, to experience who and what he really is in Christ. I have felt this – seriously felt it, and more so as I grow older.

And yet, just the fact that I feel this disconnectedness with my true self – the mere fact that I so often hear “I don’t belong here” coming out of my mouth – assures me that there really is something out there, something so much more, something completely beyond my imagination! Else I would create it right here and now! It is out of my reach. And out of yours. But never out of God’s. In fact, this very thought often takes me past whatever is bothering me in the moment to the wonder of knowing the hope beyond hope we have waiting for us.

My friend, don’t change a thing, don’t try to change a thing! He is at work. The fact that you feel like you are living someone else’s life is proof that He is making you into something magnificent, spectacular, amazing beyond anything you can imagine or even desire! We think we know ourselves, but we couldn’t be more wrong. We have no clue.

The worst movie I’ve seen in the past 5 years had one of the best lines in it I could imagine. It was a movie about vampires who were seeking a cure. In the midst of one of the conversations, one of the characters remarked,

Life’s a bitch, and then you don’t die.

I literally laughed out loud! I thought how true that was – my worst nightmare would be if this life is all there is.

Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’ – therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 3:22-24

Lest you have fallen for the lie that God kicked man from the Garden of Eden as punishment, I am here to tell you the Truth: Sending man from the Garden was the ultimate GRACE – protection against being stuck in our sin for all of eternity. Mercy, God-style. 🙂 If you aren’t tired of yourself and the constant battle in your mind and life, you won’t understand anything I am talking about. But if you are like me, sick to death of your body of death, then you are looking forward with joyful anticipation to seeing what you will become! John went so far as to say that the hope itself purifies us – makes us like Him.

Hope in the Bible does not have the meaning we use today. When we say ‘hope’ in our day, we could easily substitute the word ‘wish.’ But when the writers of the Bible wrote the word ‘hope’ they were talking about something secure to stand on, something you could actually hold on to, something very real and not a wish at all. But holding on to hope requires discipline. Serious mental discipline. It would be so much easier to let go of hope and sink into the mire of our present ‘reality.’ After all, what does an acorn know of becoming an oak? Absolutely nothing. Wait, maybe the acorn does know something about becoming an oak: it hurts like hell.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

There’s only one thing the acorn has to do to become an oak: fall to the ground and die. In our case too, death is required. So the next time you are frustrated with your situation, the next time you feel like your life is slipping through your fingers out of your control, the next time you cry out in frustration because that thing you used to do just showed up again – turn to your hope and hang on for dear life: It has not yet become apparent who we will become…

… but just as it is written, “ THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” 1 Corinthians 2:9