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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Burn Up the Memories

Gentle Reader,

When someone’s home is destroyed by a fire or flood or some other catastrophe, we hear that they are most devastated by the loss of cherished items like photographs and other mementos of special occasions. A television can be replaced. So can clothes, shoes, books. That picture of Auntie Sylvia and Uncle Ernie on their seventieth wedding anniversary? Gone.

A unique kind of pain.

One I realize I’ve inflicted on myself.

No, my house hasn’t burned down. Four walls and a roof, still here.

But my social media, that cloudy place that brings out the best and worst in all of us, that I’ve burned to the ground more than once. Deliberately lit the match. Watched years of thoughts and memories crumble into ash. Gone are the photos of an impromptu summer dance party in my dear friend’s backyard. Lost are the silly, pain-soaked words I shared from the hospital bed. Thoughtful discussions, memes, moments of growth and sharing – vanished.

There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love.

– 1 John 4:18 (CSB)

The Beloved Apostle wrote these words to encourage Christians. We are not meant to quake in fear at the thought of meeting our Lord.

Absence of fear (boldness) derives not from a sense of self-sufficiency but from the relation of child to Father. Love and fear of punishment are incompatible. This does not imply flawless behavior on the part of the child; any claim to perfection at this level can result only in bigotry. Rather it is God’s full and free acceptance and the believer’s trust in His love that elicits a full confidence that excludes fear and uncertainty.

Asbury Bible Commentary (emphasis mine)

Love. Fear. Incompatible.

As I seek to dwell in truth this year, I see just how bound up in fear I’ve been. Perhaps a, “Well, yeah,” moment for someone who doesn’t know what it is to live without anxiety due to her misfiring brain, but because God is good and promises to complete His good work in us, there’s always a new layer waiting to be revealed, a new space in which He desires to move. And I can’t stop the tears from stinging as I realize just how deep the fear of people goes.

Fear of their anger. Of their rejection.

You see, when I walk into a room, I don’t assume that I’ll be embraced. There’s always this wall. This wariness. This wondering. The last few years have done little to move me to a new perspective. I’ll own what I need to own here; I haven’t always spoken in love, used the best words or chosen my moment wisely. And the reaction to that – lack of grace, lack of love, lack of seeking to understand…

Burn up the memories.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you’ve always had to be. Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know… (Thanks, Elsa).

It’s deeper than that, though. Because I’m human and, smart as we can be, we are profoundly stupid at times. I know that God is nothing like people. I know that He is love. I know that I am chosen, redeemed and accepted in Him.

But…

The unholy torture of the “but.”

What if God is like them? What if He isn’t that loving? What if I’ve gone too far this time?

Just goes to show how muddled our thinking can get. Fearing people, fearing God, full of doubt and shame. So, hit the “delete.” How I wish I hadn’t. Hadn’t given in to that fear. Hadn’t erased all those posts. Hadn’t been…frankly, a coward. We do that, you know. Justify acts of cowardice, frame them as self-preservation.

I have more to say, but, for now, I invite you to sit in this discomfort with me. Maybe you haven’t gone so far as to erase the online evidence of entire sections of your life. Maybe it’s something smaller than that. Something closer, that eats away at your joy. Whatever the source of your fear and doubt, I know it’s there, because, you and me, we’re the same. Different faces, different backgrounds, same drive for safety and acceptance. Where it counts, our minds spin in sync.

So park it next to me. Sigh as I do, amazed anew at both how quickly lost you can get and how much more quickly the Father comes running. Lay your head against His chest with me, allowing your hands to release their white-knuckled grip. Fear has no place here. We are loved.

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Today, Tomorrow and the Next Day

Trust

Gentle Reader,

Over the last month, there have been scores of articles written, stressing the importance of voting. This midterm election has taken on a weight, an importance, that I don’t recall seeing before. We are all Chicken Little, but instead of the sky falling, we fear, and even believe, that our country is coming to pieces.

I look out my front window. We have new neighbors. They’ve been here since early September. I’ve yet to get up the courage to go and introduce myself. They’ve been busy getting settled, anyway, running loads to here from whence they came. When I do cross the street and extend my hand, my first question will not be, “Who did you vote for in 2016? 2018?”

Because who wants to start off a relationship like that?

Politicians have sold us a great lie: The neighbor is the enemy. This simply isn’t true. Unless you live near a Neo-Nazi, chances are pretty good that those in the homes within shouting distance want the same things you do. A job, good schools, safe neighborhoods. Chances are also pretty good that everyone up and down your street disagrees on how to achieve those things, and just what role the government should play in the achievement, but down at the base level, where it really matters, people are just people.

We forget that. All of us, so tuned into what our leaders have to say, find our sinful, baser natures rising to the forefront. Fears of “the other” and “the different” and “the invader” have been stoked, and blatantly. It behooves those in power to stir us up and create suspicion. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, the house that is divided shall not stand. He uttered these words in 1858, on the eve of civil war, when brother took up arms against brother.

Do we want to repeat this history?

Yes, I believe that if we do not check ourselves, we will wreck ourselves. Violence is the natural, logical conclusion when people feed on fear and hate. Perhaps not tomorrow. Maybe not even next year. But eventually.

I won’t tell you who to vote for. I won’t even tell you to vote. As I write this, the polls open in less than 24 hours and I have yet to decide if I will be among those waiting for a ballot. Not because I think voting is pointless – I don’t. It matters a great deal. A couple of weeks ago I was sure; now, I feel a heaviness knowing that, once again, it will come down to choosing the “lesser of two evils.”

Is that a choice that a Christian can or should make?

Wrong is still wrong, isn’t it, even if varied by degrees?

You’ve read here of my love of politics. Long have I been fascinated by the history, the personalities and the processes. Today, I am sickened instead. Waves of nausea wash over me as I ponder what lies before us. Nobody knows exactly what tomorrow holds, but it is not too far a stretch to make an educated guess. More anger, more division, more trouble.

Unless we choose differently.

We legislate morality. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Murder, robbery, abuse – all sinful, all penalized. What we cannot do, and must stop attempting to do, is legislate Christianity. This marriage of faith and politics, this reckless and futile attempt to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, right now, in the United States, as a distinct physical and political entity (read this as a jumping off point), must stop. There will be no utopia before the return of Christ. And His return certainly isn’t going to be forced by us.

Before you go to sleep tonight, examine yourself. Take a good, long, hard inventory of your heart and mind. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal both cherished and hidden sins. Ask Him to grant you the strength to repent. If you choose to vote tomorrow, be sure that you do so with His agenda squarely in focus.

Because that’s what we are to be about. Today, tomorrow and the next day.

Let us choose differently. Vote, don’t vote – that’s not an answer I have. What I can tell you is that, whatever the results are, we have to learn that sanctification is a process meant to change all parts of our lives. Nothing is to be held back from the refining fire of the Spirit’s touch. For some of us that might mean choosing to listen to the stories of an immigrant family (legal or otherwise). For others that might look like turning off the obnoxious cable news and reading the Bible a little longer than usual. I don’t know what God is asking of you, but I know it’s something, because that’s what He does.

Listen. Oh, please, let’s listen. Let’s choose Him, over and above all else. Like Hannaniah, Azariah and Mishael. Let’s not go with the flow. Let’s not allow ourselves to be manipulated. Let’s not give into fear and hate.

Today, tomorrow and the next day.

Mediate on these words:

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.

– Psalm 20:7 (NKJV)

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Just Don’t Write About It

Trust

Gentle Reader,

I suppose this has become a series. Should probably think of a title for it.

How does “Everyone is Crazy” sound? Ah, I can hear the protests. Stop using that word! It’s ableist! Everyone thinks differently, obviously, but as someone who takes a pill every night in the attempt to keep her mind functioning properly, I don’t use “crazy” as an insult. I use it as a shorthand for “let’s put some Prozac in the water supply so maybe everyone can chill out a little, okay?”

Anyway.

It’s popular to publish “listicles,” those sometimes-annoying pop-up articles that proclaim to reveal “10 Secrets to Younger Looking Skin!” or “5 Steps to Becoming a Master Underwater Basket Weaver!” The exact opposite of popular is publishing articles discussing the intersection of theology and politics, or, as I like to think of it, pavement doctrine. You know, the way in which we walk out this thing called “faith” on a day-to-day basis. Actually, as I read these sentences, I realize that it’s okay to write about pavement doctrine, as long as you, the author, choose to stay in a specific lane on the road. “Conservatives” have their favorites, as do “progressives.”

When you go hop-scotching around, discussing the flaws on all sides…well, you lose subscribers. Occasionally get roasted on social media, but that’s kind of a badge of honor, right? My skin is certainly thicker than it used to be.

So why put yourself through that?, people ask. Just don’t write about it.

Would that I could. Can’t so I won’t.

Do you know that Christianity is an intellectual faith? Certainly relationship with God is not only about the mind, but nor is it about closing the mind. This is so obvious, so essential to the truth-claims that we make, that I cannot understand how so many operate from a place of…not stupidity (I don’t believe that anyone is actually stupid, meaning incapable of thought), but willful ignorance. Anything outside of the tidy little boxes we prefer is nothing about which we wish to know or understand.

Consider the issue of abortion. I am a pacifist, so I am as pro-life as you can get. The ending of human life by other humans is abhorrent in all its forms. Do you know that this, oddly, puts me outside of the pro-life movement much of the time?

Think about it. The Republican Party has positioned itself as being anti-abortion, correct? The rallying cry is “overturn Roe v. Wade!” Never mind the fact that overturning simply kicks the issue back to the states, who will make their own laws, rather than making abortion illegal. And if abortion were made illegal, would the GOP then legislate things like equal access to contraceptives (men can buy condoms at the store no problem; women need to visit the doctor for a prescription) which would mean shaking free of the insurance lobbyists and actually reforming the healthcare system?

The Democrats are no better. The party fights amongst itself right now, attempting to determine if abortion-on-demand will become a litmus test for membership. Loud voices begin to make it quite clear that pro-life people are not welcome. Never mind that pro-life people would likely help pass things like true healthcare reform and sensible environmental protections, planks on the Democratic platform. This makes it seem as though there is no place for people of faith.

That’s the problem with both party loyalty and single issue voting. Neither allows for nuance.

Our faith should enable us to think critically. We should be comfortable with nuance. That might sound strange, because the truth of salvation is so starkly black-and-white. It is. Jesus, and Jesus alone, saves. And what happens after that? I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: We live as Revelation 21 people in a Genesis 3 world. This means that we should clearly see that all systems are made by humans, who are fundamentally warped, and as such, no philosophical stance regarding the role of government is going to have every answer. No political party is going to get it right every time. No president is going to usher in a golden age.

Because golden ages, no matter what the history books say, don’t exist.

Mediate on these words:

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.

– Psalm 20:7 (NKJV)

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