Celebrate the unfamous

Happy New Year! May 2017 be kinder to us all than 2016 was. My goodness. How many people passed away in 2016?

David Bowie started it I think, but he was followed very closely by one of my favorite actors of all time: Alan Rickman. And the year only devolved from there. Prince in April. Muhammad Ali and Anton Yelchin (only like 27 years old) in June. Followed by Kenny Baker, best known as the lovable droid R2-D2 in Star Wars, and Gene Wilder in August. In November we lost Florence Henderson of the Brady Bunch and also Ron Glass, who I fell in love with in Joss Whedon’s Firefly. But everyone really seemed to lose hope in December when the world lost Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia herself.

Not going to lie. When my dad hollered down the stairs that Carrie Fisher had passed away, I shouted back, “No!!” Twitter had just reported her stable, and I’d joined the rest of the world in hoping she would recover from the massive heart attack she’d suffered.

We were wrong.

But in the midst of being sad for all the celebrities and artists who passed away in 2016, I just had to marvel. Because while it is sad to lose such talented people, it’s much sadder to lose people who actually made a difference in my life.

See, the same day Carrie Fisher died, a close friend of mine also passed away. And she didn’t get social media accolades. She didn’t get an outpouring of love from strangers. She didn’t get any media attention at all. And, honestly, this woman had a far greater impact on my life than Carrie Fisher did.

Carrie Fisher might have played Princess Leia in possibly the greatest science fiction trilogy of all time. But my friend Roberta fought three rounds of cancer while raising a teenage son alone and working a more-than-full-time job in marketing. I saw her almost every weekday for five years, and not one of those days did she take it easy. She was a fighter, and she fought to the very end of her life.

And I guess it just shook me to see the tidal wave of praise and glory and grief that washed across the nation at the death of a woman none of us really knew personally, while the death of a woman who truly was a hero went mostly unnoticed.

Yes, that’s fame. Maybe that’s part of the allure of being famous—that the world will mourn your passing. And maybe it doesn’t mean as much to have complete strangers crying at your funeral. But it makes me sad that someone who I never touched, never hugged, never had a conversation with can make national headlines when a woman who inspired me to be better only gets a few social media posts from her closest coworkers.

We all die (Ecclesiastes 9:2). Everyone. Nobody escapes it. And while the passing of so many celebrities was very sad, do we really think people live forever? Did we really think the “important” people from film and screen would endure longer than average? (James 4:14)

Don’t get me wrong. I am sad for Carrie Fisher. I’m sad for her family and her friends and her loved ones. I’m sad that we won’t get to see Princess Leia in the flesh on the big screen again.

But we shouldn’t get so caught up in the sensationalized grief of the passing of titans and forget to mourn and celebrate our own loved ones as well, regardless of how “unfamous” they may be. Every soul is equal (Deuteronomy 10:17). Every individual matters. And I guess I just want the world to know that it wasn’t just famous people who left us last year.

My friend Roberta died December 27. My Great Uncle Bud, a veteran of World War II who served as a mechanic on flame-throwing tanks on Okinawa, passed away on December 18. My sister-in-law’s grandmother, Mrs. Jenkins, passed away earlier last year. None of them were famous. None of them made the news. But they left a gaping hole in all our lives, and our worlds won’t be the same without them. And that’s not an exaggeration.

Those of you who mourn Carrie Fisher and Ron Glass and Alan Rickman (and I’m with you, believe me), your everyday life isn’t going to change because they’re no longer with us. Unless your everyday life was somehow connected to them personally, and then that’s a different matter.

The celebrity who died in a hospital shouldn’t matter more than the grandmother who died at home in her bed.

According to the media, they do. And if we watch social media feeds, celebrities get the headlines. And that’s not going to change. And that’s actually okay.

I just want to remind us all that there are famous people, and then there are people who matter (Matthew 19:30). They are rarely the same. Mourn. Grieve. Recognize and acknowledge the hurt of the families who lost one of their own. But don’t mistake fame for morality. Don’t mistake celebrity for wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:24).

Better yet, learn to recognize the gift of the relationships in your life right now before the time comes when they are gone. And that way, when those people leave your life, you can remember them with no regrets. And you can share their stories with the world honestly, as someone who lived life alongside them, rather than vicariously through them on the big screen.

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This world isn’t supposed to work

Most days, living is a privilege. Being alive is a gift. But I’m fully aware how blessed I am, and that not everyone can agree on whether life is a blessing or a curse. At least, as far as this life is concerned. A lot of it depends on your perspective.

But something I’ve learned through the years of following Christ is that we shouldn’t get too comfortable here. Whether life is fun or not, whether it’s joyous or not, life here isn’t permanent. None of us are staying. I’m not home yet, and neither are you.

dawn-landscape-sky-sunset_1540x1004Today’s verses are Hebrews 11:13-18.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

How many millions and billions of people have died before us? How many people went into eternity before we were even born? The world may have 6 or 7 billion people living on it now, but other people pre-dated us. And the Bible says none of them have ceased to exist. They’ve continued to “live” but their mailing address has changed to one of two places.

The whole chapter of Hebrews 11 is a beautiful tribute to many of the Bible legends we’ve grown up with. It’s a fast, awesome read, and I highly recommend it. And it points out a number of really important facts about the Christ-followers who preceded us.

None of them got to see the answer to God’s promises while they were alive on Earth. They lived their lives for Him, and He took care of them. He guided them. He was their friend. But in this life, they didn’t get to experience what God has promised.

Hebrews 11 is a tribute to Old Testament heroes. We could write a similar tribute to the heroes of the New Testament, and their story would be the same. They followed God with everything they had. Some gave their lives. But they didn’t get to experience all that God promised while they were walking on the Earth.

The same is true for heroes in other time periods too. And if the Lord continues to be patient with our world, it’s the story others will tell about Christ-followers of my generation. We followed Christ, but we didn’t get to see all of His promises fulfilled.

So here’s the question: Do you only do something right because you’ll be reward for it? Do you only maintain a relationship for what you can get out of it? Or is it enough to know what what you’re doing is right and that you get to play a role in a bigger story?

Don’t be frustrated when life doesn’t work out the way you want. Things in this world aren’t supposed to work. It’s broken, remember? And don’t even be frustrated when God’s plan doesn’t go the way you expect. He knows what He’s doing.

God has made promises. And, make no mistake, He’ll keep them all. But as a Christ-follower, we have to willing to accept that we may not see them while we’re alive on Earth. What’s great, though, is that we will see them. We just need to remember that this life isn’t about us and what we want. This life is about Jesus. Sort of like how eternity is about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. So make your life about Him and watch what happens.

Photo by Kryziz Bonny, some rights reserved, creative commons

That I might not be silent

 

Life is one big balancing act sometimes, where you have to figure out how to take the good and the bad. And sometimes you run into situations where you’re powerless to help. There are some things in life that you can’t fix. Eventually, we all have to face the reality that life is more than we can handle alone.

And that’s where God comes in. With God, we can face any challenge, conquer any enemy, and win any battle. Maybe some days it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s the truth. And when we know we have God on our side, we can stand up to the troubles of the world with our head held high, and we can laugh–genuinely laugh and honestly rejoice–in the face of darkness. Because we have faith that God will bring us through.

So throw off that robe of mourning. Yes, there’s a time for it, but that time will eventually pass. Abandon that hiding place where you’ve taken refuge to recover from your wounds. There’s a time to rest, but that time passes too.

It’s time to get back to what we were made for. Forget the quiet. Let’s get loud. Let’s remind the world who Jesus is and what He’s done for us–and what He will do.

Psalm 30

Photo by Kryziz Bonny, some rights reserved, creative commonsI will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me.
You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you restored my health.

You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.
You kept me from falling into the pit of death.
Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!
Praise his holy name.

For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

When I was prosperous, I said,
“Nothing can stop me now!”
Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain.
Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered.

I cried out to you, O Lord.
I begged the Lord for mercy, saying,
“What will you gain if I die,
if I sink into the grave?
Can my dust praise you?
Can it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.
Help me, O Lord.”

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

Death is just a doorway between life and Life

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that God is good. I mean, you know He’s good in that distant disconnected way like the elected official is good or the popular spiritual leader is good or the hero you admire is good. He’s good, but He doesn’t really get you. There’s a big difference between knowing that God is good and truly understanding His goodness.

There’s so much sorrow in the world. There’s so much hurt. People hurt each other physically and emotionally. We say things to each other intended to cut and demean. Some are the brunt of general meanness. Others are not even involved in the evil that’s happening, and they still get hurt. And even in the innocent passing of time, we lose people we love. Sometimes we expect it, due to sickness or age. Other times we don’t. Either way, it still hurts.

And that’s the world we live in. That’s life here. Sure, there are joyful moments. But then “real life” rears its ugly head and reminds us that life isn’t going to get better down here.

If that’s our future, if that’s all there is, why do people keep living? I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have the hope of salvation, the peace of knowing that God really is going to work everything out. Because the truth is that God really is good–and not just in some distant, disconnected way. He’s here, in our lives, seeing what we feel and hurting with us when we hit those dark times of sorrow and sadness. And there’s something really important that we need to remember about this crazy, screwed-up, hot mess of a world we live in: It’s not all there is.

doorwayToday’s verse is John 16:33.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

Jesus wanted His followers to understand that even though the world was broken, they could still have peace with God through Him. He’s the one who made the way to be saved. He’s the one who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we would have the power to overcome the world.

Do you know what that means? To overcome the world? It sounds awfully dramatic, and maybe it is. But in a practical sense it means that the world has no power over those who believe in Christ. The world can be identified as a lot of different things. The influences that pressure you to disobey God. The powers of the enemy. Just the brokenness around us that threatens us with a hopeless, meaningless existence. However you define it, the world is powerless against a Christ-follower.

Even death itself has no power over a Christ-follower. We don’t have to fear it. We don’t have to run from it. We don’t even have to hate it. Because of what Jesus did for us, death is just a doorway between this life on Earth and our eternal welcome in Heaven with God.

It’s important to know that we will have trials and sorrows. Multiple trials and sorrows. And it’s important to know that it’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to grieve the loss of people you love, the destruction of relationships and families, the consequences people have to face for the choices they’ve made. When you’re sad, you need to grieve. Don’t bottle it up and put on a cheery face to make people feel better. Be sad, but know that you don’t have to stay sad.

The world is still under the control of death, the control of the enemy, the result of our sin. As long as that brokenness endures, we will live with pain and death and sadness. Oh, but we don’t have to stay here. There’s a day coming when we’ll get to go home, where nobody hurts each other, where nobody dies, and where we’ll never have to say goodbye again.

The world is full of death and sadness, but Jesus is stronger than the world. He overcame it. And because He overcame, we can too.

Do your loved ones know how much they matter?

I usually avoid a lot of current events when I’m putting a devotional together in the mornings before work. Mostly, news I hear about is so depressing it’s just not worth bringing up, but something happened this week that I just couldn’t stop thinking about.

Robin Williams died.

I know of many actors who have passed away. Many comedians who graced the stage and made people laugh, dramatists who made people cry, artists who brought the fantastic to life. But I really think this is the first time an actor who I really liked has died–not of old age, not of natural causes, but apparently by taking his own life.

I can’t even tell you how many Robin Williams movies I’ve seen. I own lots of them. The man just made me laugh. And it’s heartbreaking to think that someone who brought so many people so much joy couldn’t find enough meaning in his own life to keep living it.

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:14-16.

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

I know it’s probably understood. I know it’s probably something that everyone has already thought of. But when was the last time you went out of your way to tell someone important to you what they mean to you?

I’m not talking about strangers on the street. I’m talking about people in your family. People in your home. People you go to church with. People you live life with.

Do they know what you feel?

Don’t just assume they know. Obviously, I can’t speak for Robin Williams or for anyone else who has taken his or her life. But I can speak from experience when it comes to feeling alone and isolated, like I can’t do anything right, like I’ve failed. I know what depression feels like.

And when somebody is so deep in depression that they would consider taking their own life, they need to know they matter. It’s not just love. It’s not just respect. It’s purpose.

We can have all the love and respect and success in the world, but it won’t give us purpose. God is the only one who can accomplish that. Sometimes God communicates purpose through Scripture. Sometimes He does it through the Holy Spirit. Other times, He does it through His children–us–who are called to love others.

So how are we doing on that one? Not with strangers on the street even. I mean in our own families.

Do you think someone you love is depressed? Do you suspect someone you care about is on the edge? Don’t assume they know how you feel.

When you’ve convinced yourself that you’re alone and isolated, you don’t know anything for sure. When you’ve talked yourself into believing that you can’t do anything right, a pat on the back isn’t enough.

Maybe you think it’s overkill. Maybe you don’t think they need it.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather annoy them than take the chance that they convince themselves the world would be better off without them.

It’s their choice. That decision is up to them. It’s between them and God, just like the condition of their heart is between them and God. But don’t leave it like that. Don’t just leave them alone to sort things out by themselves. People lost in depression think they want to be alone, but they don’t really. They don’t really know what they want.

It’s my experience that people lost in depression just need to know that they matter. And they need to hear more than just words. They need to remember that they’ve made a difference, and they need to see that the world really is a brighter place because they’re in it.

And I don’t know how to accomplish that. I think it’s different for every person. But it has to start somewhere. It has to start with someone. And it might as well be us, Christ-followers.

God didn’t give us His Light so we could use it to beat people up. He gave it to us so we could push back the darkness and the lies of our enemy and help the world see how much God treasures us and what God gave up so that we could have a purpose.

Wherever you go, wherever you are, whatever you do, keep your eyes open and recognize that our broken world is full of broken, hurting people who just need to know they aren’t alone. And remember that without Christ, we’d be right there with them.

Painted plaster rocking horse ornament, Haven, KS

Where Christmas lasts forever

I heard a song on the radio yesterday that bothered me. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it got me thinking about what our perspective and our attitudes should be about Christmas as followers of Christ. Before I really start into this, though, I want to preface this post by saying I’m sure the song stemmed from the best of intentions. And I’m sure it probably is even a blessing to a lot of people. I honestly hope it is.

The song is called “One Last Christmas” by Matthew West (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ye39mgcHC3E). I love Matthew West songs. I love his ministry, and I read up on the events that inspired this song. And it truly is touching. Basically, a family with a 13-month-old child was told that he wouldn’t live to see his next Christmas, and they set about helping him make it that long. In the song, the family and really the whole community celebrates early so that the boy can enjoy Christmas before he dies.

From what I understand, the music video is being used as a means to help raise funds to run St. Jude’s Research Hospital for an entire day in memory of the little boy who was sick. It’s sweet and honorable and admirable, and I can’t say enough good about the song’s intentions. But I feel like the heart of the song misses the point.

Why push and focus all our energy on having one last Christmas when what’s waiting on the other side of eternity is so much better?

Painted plaster rocking horse ornament, Haven, KS

Painted plaster rocking horse ornament, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Revelation 21:1-6.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

I don’t have children. So I can’t tell you what it’s like to hold a child in my arms and know that he or she won’t live another year. I don’t know what that’s like. And on the opposite side of the coin, I’m certainly not advocating a defeatist mentality. If someone is sick and there’s something that can be done to treat it, for heaven’s sake, treat it! I’m a firm believer in using the knowledge and technology God has given us to treat illness.

But I fear that in all of our comfort and our conveniences, Christians have lost sight of what truly matters.

I love Christmas. It’s my favorite time of the year. I love being with my family. I love giving gifts to people. And something is different for me this Christmas that I’ve never had before, something new to experience. A baby girl. Little Baby Hoo gets to have her first Christmas this year, and I’m absolutely giddy to be able to be a part of it. And even though she’s not “mine” per se, I still get to be in her life, and with just that barest amount of empathy I can begin to grasp the utter hopelessness of a parent with a terminally ill child. I think it would tear my heart out.

But, Christians, hear me out. When did this world become so important? When did this life become so wonderful that we yearn for one more experience down here as opposed to looking forward to the life to come? I remember worrying as a child that Jesus would come back before I learned to drive. I remember being concerned that I wouldn’t get to experience all the things people get to experience as they’re growing up. And then one day I heard a message my awesome pastor gave about what Heaven is about.

It’s not just sitting around twanging on harps and singing hymns all day long. It’s bigger and better than the best existence any of us can imagine. This life is easy to hold on to because it’s all we know, and it can be hard to long for something that we’ve never seen. Sometimes that’s where I get caught because I get so deep in this life and what’s happening here that I forget I should be living for heaven. But as Christ-followers, we need to understand that we aren’t meant for this world. We’re just visiting, just passing through, and what God has prepared for us after we leave this life is so much better than what we have here.

So instead of yearning for one last Christmas, why can’t we look forward to all the Christmases in eternity that will be so much better? Unless you don’t think we’ll celebrate Christmas in heaven? I think we will. It will look different, but the reason will be the same. Christmas is still marked in heaven as the day Christ came to Earth to save us, and I see no reason why we won’t celebrate it in eternity. I want to. I always want to remember what He’s done for me.

I don’t want people to misunderstand. I have the greatest love and admiration for families who are struggling with health issues, especially this time of year. But I’m afraid that we are all just glossing over the most important aspect of Christmas, and that is to look forward to what’s coming rather than cling to the temporary lives we’re living now.

Would you be disappointed if Christ came back today? Would you be disappointed if God called you home tomorrow? What are you holding on to in this life that you would choose over eternity?

Check your focus, because your focus will determine a lot about how you live your life. If you’re living for this life, you will rely on temporary solutions and things that don’t last to get you through the challenges you’re facing today. If you’re living for eternity, it’s a lot easier to realize that the troubles we have today are merely stepping stones for our real life after this one, where Christmas lasts forever.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Live fearless in the face of bad news

This isn’t what I planned to post today. I had a completely different thought in mind, but after the events of yesterday, I don’t think I could post anything else. How often do you wake up and expect that the day is going to be normal? You go to work or school or you stay home and do household chores. Whatever is normal for you. And then life T-bones you. It hits you so hard you can’t stop spinning. And the bad news keeps coming.

That was my Monday. I can’t go into detail. It’s all still awfully fresh. But I needed a strong reminder today to help me face the day with confident hope, and I hope if anyone else reads this, they find it too.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 112:7-8.

They do not fear bad news;
    they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.
They are confident and fearless
    and can face their foes triumphantly.

I’ve posted on this before. Probably more than once, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt it as strongly as I feel it right now. Our world is full of bad news. You can’t turn on the television or the radio or even read a newspaper or a Tweet without realizing how incredibly screwed up our world is. And as much as I wish Christ-followers could be immune, we’re not. We’re floundering in the midst of it with everyone else.

But do we have to flounder? Does the bad news we get have to shake us to the core of who we are?

No. As much as I don’t feel it today, I still believe that bad news doesn’t have to scare us. The news we don’t want to hear doesn’t have to destroy our lives or our families or our futures.

This Psalm is referencing people who revere or worship the Lord. That’s the they in the Psalm. Notice it doesn’t say that people who fear the Lord won’t ever get bad news. No, we all get bad news, no matter what we believe. But those of us who know God through Christ don’t have to see bad news as an end, because we know God has it under control.

It doesn’t mean we don’t mourn. It doesn’t mean we don’t cry. It doesn’t mean we don’t ache inside for the people who are hurting and the families that are facing such enormous heartache. There’s a time for that. And a time to grieve is good and healthy.

Just realize that you don’t have to be afraid of it. We can all trust that God is going to take care of it all, and we can face the challenges in our lives with confidence, fearlessly. Because the worst news we get on Earth can’t even touch the best news we’ve already gotten, and that is hope through Christ. No matter what we face here, no matter the heartache and the sadness and the pain, this world isn’t our final destination. And the day is coming soon when we’ll get to go home, and we won’t have to hear bad news ever again.

But until then, don’t fear it. God’s bigger and stronger, and even if life doesn’t turn out the way you hope, God won’t leave you to walk it alone.