Creator, Your Creature Groans

Gentle Reader,

In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in Him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience.

– Romans 8:18-25 (Phillips, emphasis mine)

John Bertram Phillips, a minister in southeast London, noticed that the young people in his congregation had difficulty understanding the Authorized Version (commonly referred to as the King James Version today). Thus, he began translating the book of Colossians into colloquial English – while huddled inside a bomb shelter. The Nazi assault on London, the Blitz, raged on outside, demolishing buildings and bringing many lives to far too soon an end. But this pastor, who had every reason to be just as terrified as everyone else (and probably was), turned to Scripture in the darkest of hours, desiring to bring its light to others.

There are a whole lot of points to be made here. Persistence, joy, looking to God in the midst of sorrow and struggle. All valid. Not where I’m going, though.

…all created life groans in a sort of universal travail.

Benny came into my life over a decade ago. We locked eyes as the animal shelter and it was all over. The first day at home, he wouldn’t leave my side, even laying on the bathroom rug while I took a shower. This was to be his habit throughout our years together. Never was he ever very far from me, unless it was on the rare occasion that he felt the need to go on an adventure, in which case I was chasing him up the street or through a parking lot.

He was not a morning dog, just as I am not a morning person. Oh, sure, he wanted breakfast around five o’clock each day, but after that he was content to crawl back under the blankets. Always under the blankets. No matter how many times anyone fought with him, or placed him at the foot of the bed, or told him “no,” he found his way in there, curling up next to my legs when he was cold and kicking me when he wanted more room.

Warm brown eyes and happy panting greeted me whenever I came home from work. He was content to listen to me rant about the bad days, so long as I scratched his ears. He came and visited the library a few times, but received a lifetime ban after peeing on a shelf.

Benny was so gentle. I can only recall a handful of times when he nipped at anyone, and it was always toddlers who didn’t yet understand that dogs don’t like to have their eyes poked or their whiskers pulled. He never, ever full-on bit them. Just a warning. Really, he liked kids. Once, on a walk, we crossed paths with a special needs boy and his dad. The boy squealed when he saw Benny. And so Benny yanked the leash out of my hand, ran up to the boy and stood there, lovingly accepting a good petting.

And, oh, did he love babies. Any who came to visit found themselves with a nice, cozy fur barrier, protecting them from all the dangers of the world. Because a Pomeranian-Chihuahua is very fierce and intimidating, you know.

Last Sunday, Benny went to sleep and didn’t wake up. He was warm and safe, on a heatpad and blanket. It was exactly the way I wanted his time to come to a close – yet I can’t help but wish he was still here with me. This is the first piece I’ve written without his warm body pressed against my hip. These are the first words I’ve published without the sound of his snoring filling my ears.

I have no significant life memory that a dog is not present in. From my first dog, the mutt Petey, who could hear cheese being sliced from 50 yards away; to Murphy, the dainty-looking Paipillon who loved the dirt; to Shih Tzu Bugsy, who danced for treats; to Blue the wiener dog who’s napping in the recliner right now. And so I know that dogs are physical evidence of God’s love. They come into this world with the desire to be our friends. That’s it. “Bad” dogs only exist because people treat them badly. These creatures have brightened my days. Their fur has soaked up my tears. They have been faithful companions, true to the very end.

And how I hate it when the end comes.

People like to argue about whether or not animals go to Paradise now and if they will be part of the new creation when Christ returns and all is set to rights. Me, I think that’s a dumb, time-wasting argument. The more I study the Bible, the more I see that salvation is truly cosmic in scope. (No, I’m not preaching universalism. Calm down). Plants and rivers and sunsets and animals were all part of the original design. They were subjected to brokenness and malfunctioning because of us. So, tell me, why wouldn’t God be about the business of renewing and restoring all of what He created?

It’s dumber still when someone says, “Animals don’t have souls!” As if that’s a settling statement. Animals do not bear the imago dei, but the truth is that we haven’t the faintest idea as to whether or not they have something immaterial about them. And frankly, it doesn’t matter. Because, again, why would God, who took the time to make the duck-billed platypus, who looked upon all that He had fashioned and said, “It is good,” not today and tomorrow and into all of eternity still find it good?

I believe I will see Benny again one day. He’s probably laying under the shade of a beautiful tree right now, sniffing some flowers. He liked to do that, and only occasionally tried to eat them. I can see him becoming buddies with the Apostle John, because John was all about the love and that was the essence of Benny. I believe that Jesus, who made that silly little dog, was there to greet him when he passed into real life. I believe He rubbed his soft ears and said, “Well done, good boy. Well done.”

And so I appreciate Phillips’ translation of this passage. My heart squeezes and the tears fall again. I can almost hear the groaning of creation. I know in my bones that this is not how things should be. I feel a deep ache, knowing that my choices, and the choices of so many before me, have brought destruction to this world, and the creatures upon it who did nothing to deserve the pain.

Then I remember:

But I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the end He will stand on the dust.
Even after my skin has been destroyed,
yet I will see God in my flesh.
I will see Him myself;
my eyes will look at Him, and not as a stranger.
My heart longs within me.

– Job 19:25-27 (CSB)

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Five Minute Friday: Five

along-the-way-mlsgregg-com

Gentle Reader,

Tonight for the five lead by Kate, we write on: five.

Go.

Sometimes the crap hits the fan, and there’s no disguising the mess. Or smell.

Car.

Dishwasher.

Dog.

My faithful buddy, the fat and neurotic Benny, has congestive heart failure. He’s somewhere around 12-13 years old, so it’s not entirely surprising. But so hard. So very hard. The kind emergency vet lady gave him lasix pills, which seem to be helping, yet I know that the end of his life is nearer than the beginning. I can’t even start to think about what it will be like without him pressed up against my hip as I sit, curled up in the couch corner, tapping away at the keys.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.

– Matthew 5:4 (NKJV)

This stage of existence is one of steady trouble punctuated by moments, tastes, glimpses of glory. Not one of us has an “easy life,” despite appearances. There is always something. Always tears lurking just beneath the surface, no matter how wide the smile. All it takes is one event or well-timed word to bring them crashing, rolling, down our cheeks.

Christ extends His hands, the ones still bearing the holes. Five fingers on each, wrapping around the back of our heads and pulling us to His chest. His heart and our sobs come together in an silent symphony, a song heard only by the orchestra of two. The lyrics are meaningless to outsiders. The clash of sacred and profane strikes a disturbingly dissonant chord.

Somehow, it is right.

Somehow, there is peace.

We’re trying to set aside just a little more money before we go car shopping, but that’s probably about to fly out the window and into the greedy mouth of a noisy new dishwasher. I can’t stop time’s ravaging effect on the soft, warm little body I see just out of the corner of my eye. I lay my hand on his soft fur, feel the rise and fall of his somewhat-labored breathing that continues only for now. My face is wet. I lean back and imagine myself the Beloved Disciple, reclining on the Savior’s chest that night, in that pause during the dinner, before the horror. He must have known, in that place buried deep in the back of each person’s mind, that the clock was set to shift to a new hour. An unsure hour.

As I know now.

And yet the promise stands,

I will not leave you orphans…

– John 14:18a (NKJV)

I have no solution for this problem, this thing called Pain, that has puzzled the wise down through the ages. I don’t know why things happen when and as they do.

I know only that He has not left me.

Nor has He left you.

Stop.

Signature

Five Minute Friday: Protect

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Long days. Little energy.

I press the heat pad against my abdomen. Here, on the couch, battle rages. My head hangs low. Beads of sweat run down my neck. Sleep beckons.

Kate says: protect.

Go.

The good Lord knew what He was doing when He made dogs.

Petey, the mutt, was the first. All of my earliest memories include him. To this day I remember the feel of his curly, black-and-white fur beneath my fingers. He could hear cheese being grated. He slept on an old quilt, in a corner, wedged between two couches. During the night he would get up to check on us.

Murphy, the Papillon, loved to shove her blue rubber bone underneath a big pillow and dig at it. She was beautiful, with her long flowing fur. Except for her rear. That always had to be cut into what we called “turkey butt” to avoid…issues. She loved to sit with me while I read, munching on sunflower seeds. One for me, one for her.

Bugsy, the Shih Tzu, did a dance whenever he wanted a treat. His paws slapped the ground in a beat only he could hear, ending in a little bow. He had a wide smile. My brother would blow in his face and Bugsy would snap at the air, defeating his foe every time.

Blue, the Dachshund, obsessed with playing fetch. From dawn til dusk. His long body snakes around corners, a little bit of belly dragging the ground. Sturdy legs carry him here and there. Sometimes he jumps, suddenly, into my lap, full of happy licks and wiggles.

Benny, the PomChi, all round softness. He is by my side at all times. He grows old and slows down. He doesn’t mind that I have to rest so often. He’s happy to keep my feet warm. His sigh of contentment makes me feel safe.

Other dogs – Patches the puppy who died too soon, Tramp who was a girl so her name never made sense, Bella the super-crank, Rags the nut, Pippa the terror and Fuzzy the handsome Pomeranian who just needed more room to run. Each one has loved me, loved my family, well. (Except maybe for Pippa, who really only loves my mom).

In this harsh world, God gave us a loyal, loving creature. One who supports and accepts us at all times. Dogs are evidences of His constant care.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Matthew Wiebe

From Stillness to Shambles

IMG_20140628_214416Poor hurt, stoned dog. 

Gentle Reader,

Chris went off to be a court monitor at Hoopfest today, so I had the house all to myself for a solid 10 hours. For an introvert (or a “Very High Contemplator,” according to the KLLP), the prospect left me feeling near-giddy. I love my husband. He’s my favorite person to hang out with.

But girl needs her alone time.

I started the day with a bath and this debate between Matthew Vines and Dr. Michael Brown, which tackled the hot topic of our day: Can you be gay and Christian? Honestly, it was kind of disappointing. I didn’t think that either man got to clearly articulate his points. However, this was done on a radio show and so there wasn’t the traditional debate format of opening remarks, rebuttals, responses, questions and closing statements. Soooo…you listen. Decide for yourself.

Painted my toenails. Surfed the web for a bit. Ate a little lunch.

I found myself growing irritated as I began to think about something that happened a couple of days ago and so knew that I needed to spend some time reading Scripture. Chris and I just began studying Ezekiel together this week and I didn’t want to get ahead of him, so I turned to Revelation. This is not usually my book of choice, but I heard a sermon recently that pointed out that there’s no need to get freaked out about Revelation; the point of the book isn’t signs and symbols, it’s God Himself.

So, I read. Out loud. Nobody else was around, so why not?

Highly recommend doing this. GOD WINS. Satan is a totally defeated foe. You don’t have to be afraid of him! Read and be encouraged.

Certain parts of the book did give me pause, though. This section from Chapter 9 especially:

…the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. – vs. 21-21

The outright stupidity of that just stuns me. There are many ideas as to how to interpret Revelation, but one thing that is relatively clear is the fact that the people know that they are rejecting God. There isn’t any ambiguity about their choice. Why, why, would you not repent after going through all the things talked about up through that point?

I don’t get it.

Midway through my reading, my brother stopped by and we chatted for awhile. By the time he left, it was late afternoon and time for my medically-mandated cup of almost-coffee. (Baby steps, people. Baby steps). I made my way through the rest of the book while the dogs snored on. Heaved a great sigh of relief and anticipation at the closing words:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”

Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. – 22:20-21

Made myself some dinner and then thought, “It’s a beautiful evening. We should go for a walk.” Got the dogs all hitched up and had the worship music playing on my phone. We trotted out for our usual route, all three of us happy to get out a stretch our legs. Made it just about to the corner and the turning point of the trail when BAM! Out of nowhere comes this huge, white-and-gray dog. He completely bowled Benny and Blue over. (He came up on my blind side, which meant that I simply couldn’t have gotten them out of the way).

There was blood everywhere, Benny was yelping, Blue was panicking and the big dog circled around, teeth bared. He didn’t accidentally knock my dogs over. He was out to attack them. I was shoving at the interloper, screaming at him and trying to get him to go away. He finally went across the street and the boys and I ran home as fast as we could. What really gets me about all this is that not a single person even peeked out a window. I know for a fact that the guy out tinkering on his car heard the whole thing.

When did people get so cold?

It was clear that Benny was the one who was hurt, so I put him in the tub to try and rinse some of the blood off. Blue ran and hid in his kennel, which he always does when he’s upset. I called my brother and asked him to go with me to the emergency vet since Chris wasn’t due home for another couple of hours. We got Benny down there and, after a long wait, the vet took him in for sedation and to get him cleaned up. Thankfully, he didn’t need stitches.

The vet had us return home until Benny was ready to leave, about an hour and a half later. (By this time, Chris, tired and sore from a long day of basketball, had connected with me). When we returned to the emergency vet, there was an old man sitting in the waiting area, cradling a Papillon in his arms. I asked him about his little friend; my family had owned a Papillon, Murphy, for 14 years. He said that his dog was 14 and not feeling good. He’d had a seizure.

And then he started to cry.

“He’s such a good dog.”

Well, folks, that just broke my heart. I asked the gentleman if I could pray for him and he let me. I wrapped one arm around his shoulders and patted the dog with my other hand. I asked the Lord to comfort them both and to remind them of His love for them. The man buried his face in the dog’s fur and the tears flowed freely. We parted ways as he moved up to the counter to see about treatment. He ended up taking his dog home for the night.

I really, really hope that he knows Jesus.

And now Benny and I sit here on the couch. He’s doped up and his left ear is wrapped in a bandage so that it looks like he’s got a stump sticking out of the side of his head. I am thinking about how the day went from peace to chaos in an instant. And I long for the day when:

The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed way.

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

…there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face… – Revelation 21:3-5a, 22:3-4a

Come, Lord Jesus.

My journey to faith. (15)