Nothing Gold Can Stay

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You may be familiar with popular sayings like, “There’s a light at the end of every tunnel,” or “There’s always a rainbow after the rain.”  There’s no wonder that people like them; they’re very inspirational during times of difficulty. They bring a sense of hope. Dark and stormy season won’t last forever. The good times are coming. Although there is an important truth enclosed in these inspirational quotes, they lack some major insights. Difficult times always come back around again. There may be an end to your current troubles but there’s always some other issue just around the corner. These sayings are so popular because we are constantly going through difficult seasons and it’s inevitable that when you’ve gotten through one thing, you’ll go through another.

It may sound depressing but it’s true. Not just in our individual lives but throughout the history of mankind. When one war ends, another begins. A nation is well fed, then goes through famine. There is peace and then upset. There is power and there is oppression.  Throughout history, mankind has experienced rise and fall. We build nations and empires that don’t last forever.

Why is this? Why is it that empires fall and depression creeps back when you thought it had gone? Why do we persevere through troubles just to have others hurt us again? Recently I heard the answer to these questions through a poem by Robert Frost called Nothing Gold Can Stay. The poet translates some very biblical truths and gives insight into the dilemma of our difficult lives.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Frost writes about how at dawn nature is gold and perfect but it cannot stay that way. This change it makes is not a good one. Eden sinks to grief. I think that his reference to the Garden of Eden is very insightful because it links to the answers to our problems.

Nothing gold in this world can truly stay because of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. When God created the universe, including the first humans, he created them perfectly. Everything was good. There was no darkness or rain. It was just God enjoying his creation and vice versa. But when sin came into the world (through man), everything fell apart. Now, all that God intended for creation is tainted. Our relationships with God, each other, and all of creation to the very core of our being. Yet, we see glimpses of that initial creation in us and around us every now and then. We still reflect our creator but only in broken pieces. The first green that was gold is the hardest hue to hold. It doesn’t last. And God grieves over this. But we have the inability to get back to the good times before sin.

That is why Jesus came, was sacrificed, and resurrected. Because he was perfect; everything is restored in him and he took on all sin and defeated it. He is the golden way. When our faith is in him we are being restored even though we lack perfection.

When you’re going through a difficult season or the world is crumbling around you, know that there is hope at the end of them. But also know that storms and darkness will come again. The only way that you can find a golden path through them, a path through the hardships, is through Jesus. He is not at the end of the tunnel or after the rain, he is there with you in the darkness and through the storm.

 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  –John 16:33

 

 

Battling Loneliness

Loneliness, Comfort, Humility, Selfishness

There are two types of people who struggle with loneliness: those who can’t escape it and those who are desperately seeking it. There are some people who are stuck in their loneliness. Being around others causes feelings of depression and despair. Some hate being around people. It causes anxiety, stress, and frustration. Whether you want it or you’re trying to escape it, loneliness is never a good thing. No matter what side you’re on in the loneliness struggle you must know that God never intended for us to be alone. So, why does the struggle exist? The battle we have with loneliness has a lot to do with selfishness. The core of it is sin.

Sin is “missing the mark” of what God intended for creation. If God designed us to be relational and in community then sin ruins that. It alienates us from God and each other. That is why the root of loneliness is sin.

When we are in despair because we are lonely we are focused on ourselves alone. When we isolate ourselves from people we are also solely focusing on ourselves. Selfishness gets us stuck in our loneliness or causes us to want to be alone.

Loneliness was never God’s desire for us. We were created by a God who was and always is in community with himself as the social Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When God created us in his image, he created us to be social and relational people. Even when he calls us to be away from each other, it is only for a time to be alone with him.

Loneliness is a battle. We have to fight the disconnection we feel or the desire to be away from people. How is the battle with Loneliness won? We must learn how to see past ourselves and look to Christ.

When Jesus was on earth, he understood and experienced every human struggle that we go through. But he ultimately felt the weight of the alienation we suffer from sin. When he was crucified he became sin for the sake of the world and cried out, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” At that moment, Jesus was alienated from God. Rejected by his people and separated from the Father, he was alone. In doing so he took on our loneliness and when he was raised to life every consequence of sin was defeated. Through Jesus, we can have reconciliation with God and others. Jesus restores and enables relationship and community to the way God intended it to be.

In order to win the battle with loneliness, we need to be humbled before God. Not focusing on ourselves and our desires but on him. Look to Jesus, for he comforts us in our misery and reminds us that we are destined for community and relationship. When we find ourselves focused on him we think less about ourselves and more on others. Other people who also battle with loneliness. Christ-like humility breaks the bonds of loneliness and leads us on a path of selflessness.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,  not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”  –Philippians 2:1-4

 

Obedience Training

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Do you ever have a hard time staying focused on or being obedient to God’s calling? We know that God desires for us to be obedient to his will and calling. That calling is sometimes hard to figure out. Sometimes it’s difficult to carry out. What exactly does God want from us? How do we remain steadfast and focused on what God has called us to?

The Calling

We all have a calling. A specific purpose to carry out in our lives. We are disciples; Students and followers of Christ. Our call is to grow as disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit. God also calls his disciples to make other disciples. We are to share the good news of Jesus Christ and teach them all of his commands. Our purpose is to show others what their purpose is. This may look different according to the gifts, talents, and personalities God has granted us. However diversely we may carry out this calling, it is the same for all Christians. 

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”           Matthew 28:18-20 

Keeping Focus

How do we remain focused on obeying God? It’s easy to get distracted from what he has called us to. The first step is knowing what our calling is and that we are to obey that. The second step is to remain focused on that calling. There are so many different things that can distract us today. We are bombarded with messages that tell us what we should be doing and how we should do it. How are we to remain focused on what God is saying amidst the distracting voices around us? The key is to focus on Jesus.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,  rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:6-8

When I was first training my dog, Talia, I had a hard time getting her to focus. When I would try to teach her commands she was easily distracted by everything around her. Even when she did learn some commands, she never obeyed them consistently. As soon as something else caught her attention, she was gone. I soon learned that there was one command that would help her consistently obey all the things I wanted to teach her. This command was, “Look at me.” I trained her to keep her eyes focused on me for periods of time. Soon she was able to do the commands I taught her with a new ability to focus. Not only did she have to obey what I said but she had to “look at me” the whole time that she obeyed. Whether it was to sit, wait, stay, or heel her eyes had to remain on me. Her obedience became consistent because she was trained to focus on me. The more she learned to look to me the easier it became to avoid distraction and obey.

When we find it hard to remain steadfast and obedient to God’s commands and call, we must learn how to focus on Christ.

Jesus taught this to the disciples often. They were always losing sight of the big picture and Jesus was constantly having to remind them. When they wanted to know who would be the greatest of them all he had to remind them what the kingdom of God was all about. He rebuked them when they wanted to punish a Samaritan village by raining consuming fire on them, when they tried to keep people from bringing their children to him, and when they tried to stop him from going to Jerusalem for his crucifixion. Jesus had to train them to obey and follow the mission and calling of God. 

Peter walked on water because Jesus called him out of the boat. He obeyed but soon became distracted. After taking his eyes off of Jesus, he began to sink. When he succumbed to the raging storm and waves around him he not only lost sight of what he was supposed to be doing but who he was doing it for. 

The only way we are able to obey God’s calling and remain steadfast is to focus on Jesus Christ. God is the one who reveals to us our purpose and how to obey it. He is the one who grants us the strength and the ability to carry it out. When we focus on Jesus we can overcome distraction and find the ability to carry out everything he has called us to obey.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2

 

Hakuna Matata

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Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”   Philippians 3:12-14

Our pasts have the ability to hold us back from what God wants to do in us and through us. Maybe some of us feel discouraged because of past insecurities or are scarred by a past event that is a struggle to move on from. Perhaps we feel dragged down by sin or the shame of something we have done. Whatever it is, we all have a past. Something that we desperately want to erase, overcome, or even run from. At least we think we can run. We think we can rid ourselves of past hurts or scars. Overcome them on our own strength. But we can’t. Somehow our pasts continually come back to haunt us.

For the last post in my Disney series, I decided to delve into an all-time favorite; The Lion King. In Walt Disney’s The Lion King, we see a recurring discussion on the topic of the past. The main character’s (Simba) prominent internal conflict is coping with the death of his father Mufasa and the guilt that haunts him over it. In the movie, young Simba has a close and loving relationship with his father, the king. Mufasa has a brother named Scar who was next in succession to become king until Simba comes along. Out of envy and evil ambition, Scar plots Simba and Mufasa’s murder so that he may become king. He sets them up to be caught in a stampede so that they will be trampled to death (I know. How is this a kids’ movie, right?). Mufasa is killed in the process but is able to rescue Simba. When Scar confronts him, he convinces Simba that his Father’s death is his fault and tells him to run away and never come back. Simba runs away into the desert to escape the shame and pain of the past. He almost dies from the heat when he is taken in by the comedic duo, Timon and Pumba. When asked where he is from, he tells them it doesn’t matter because he cannot go back. The two give the young lion some interesting advice.

“You’re an outcast, that’s great!  So are we.”

Right off the bat, the three have something in common. Hearing about Simba’s desire to change his past, Timon shares his intriguing philosophy: Hakuna Matata. You’ve got to put your past behind you. Bad things happen and the solution is to forget about it. “When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world.” Hakuna Matata means no worries. It’s a philosophy of not caring in order to block out the past or pain. It’s escapism really.

Flash forward and we see that Simba has grown up under the care of Timon and Pumba living out the “Hakuna Matata” lifestyle. When an old friend, Nala, suddenly appears and tells him that his home has been ravaged by his uncle and that he has to go back to stop him, Simba has to deal with a daunting truth: you cannot run from your past. Conflicted, Simba goes out to find solace. In frustration, he finally expresses his anger at his father for leaving him and his guilt of thinking that he caused his death. Then, he is met by an old baboon named Rafiki who was a friend of his father. Rafiki is seemingly crazy but gives him sage advice: The past can hurt but you can either run from it or learn from it. In that moment, Simba is finally able to confront his past. Rafiki tells him that his father never left him and that he lives in him. Simba, now reconciled with his past, is able to move forward and claim his right as king.

There are two conflicting philosophies in the movie about dealing with the past: Timon’s and Rafiki’s. Timon says to forget about it, which Simba later finds is impossible. He is having an identity crisis in a serious and comical way. He has trouble figuring out who he is because of how his past defines him. He runs away to live with a meerkat and warthog, eating nothing but bugs. Not only is he not taking his rightful place on the throne but he’s not even acting like a lion, who he was born to be. We often let our pasts define us. It wasn’t until someone (Rafiki) told Simba who he was that he was finally able to move on with his life. He became reconciled with his father, whom he discovered had never really left him. Rafiki tells him that he knows who he is. He’s  “Mufasa’s boy.”

Simba’s true identity and calling were found in his father. The only way that he could move on from allowing his past to define him and on to who he was truly created to be was to reconcile his relationship and find his identity in his father, the king.

We, in so many ways, are like Simba. We run from our pasts and let what we have done or the things that have been done to us define who we are. But our pasts do not define us if we are in Christ. We are told who we are. It is the God who sacrificed himself on behalf of our sins, Jesus Christ. He tells us that we are made new. We are sons and daughters of the king. We can be found in him and he in us. Being reconciled, the past is behind us and we can finally move on to who we are called to be.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”   2 Corinthians 5:17-19

 

The Fairest of Them All

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Today’s society is increasingly individualistic. We must think of ourselves first in order to survive or succeed. We must be independent and self-sufficient. But the Bible constantly reminds us of our call to community, often referring to Christ’s followers as the body of Christ and the fellowship of believers. We were created for community. A community founded on Christ-likeness. A community that reflects the servanthood, humility, and love of Jesus.

The character Snow White in the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Walt Disney gives us a great example of what it means to live out Christ-likeness. Snow White is forced to dress in rags and work as a maid in her own castle by her wicked stepmother, the queen. The queen is obsessed with being the fairest in the land and consults her magic mirror to guarantee that her title remains. One day, the mirror announces that Snow White, despite her ragged clothing and lowly position, has exceeded the fairness of her stepmother. In order to reclaim her title, the queen sends a huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and kill her. The Huntsman is hesitant but obeys her command in order to avoid the consequences of not carrying out the mission. He takes her into the woods but right as he is about to cut out her heart, he finds himself not being able to carry out her murder. He is overtaken by her gentleness and kindness and releases her. Snow White escapes into the woods until she happens upon a little cottage belonging to seven little dwarfs.

When she meets the quirky dwarfs she is immediately kind to them. She is even kind to Grumpy who is not very fond of her or anyone for that matter. As they contemplate whether they will allow her to stay or not she pleads with them and offers her services.

Snow White gives a prime example of humility, meekness, and servanthood.

These characteristics are foreign to our popular culture. As a princess, she should be entitled to everything. But we forget that throughout the movie. Why? Because she never acts like one. When you view her in light of her birthright, your perspective begins to change. Snow White willingly cooks and cleans for the imperfect dwarfs. She genuinely loves them and serves them. She never tries to get what she deserves. She is meek and mild. She is loving and kind. She lives out the character of Christ. As Christians, this is what we are commanded to imitate.

Philippians 2:3-8

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
We are encouraged to live individualistic and selfish lives. We are entitled and demand all that we think we deserve. The idea that we are to humble ourselves before one another, to sacrifice and think of the well-being of others before our own is a foreign and foolish concept. When we watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs we might ask ourselves, “What kind of princess submits to those she potentially has power over and serves those who should rightfully be serving her? What kind of princess loves the unlovable, thinking of them as more significant than herself?”

When we look at the gospel, the same thought must cross our minds. What kind of God did not seek to be like God but emptied himself to become a man? To become a servant, to die for those he loved. Jesus Christ came to show us what true love and divine humility look like. It looks like him and is achieved through him.

Snow White gives us a glimpse of the Christ-likeness we are to pursue. In the end, the princess’ love changes hearts and lives. The huntsman risks his life to spare her, the prince searches high and low to find her, and the dwarfs fight tooth and nail to save her from the queen. When Snow White is put under the sleeping death curse all come to mourn. They loved her and humbled themselves before her. Even Grumpy has a heart change and mourns the loss of the beloved princess. When she is awakened by the prince all rejoice and she is carried off to her kingdom.

When we are met with the love of Christ through the gospel it changes us. We are compelled to embrace Christ and become more like him. We are moved by the one who is truly the fairest of them all to live our lives with the same humility, servanthood, and love for others.

 

The Gift of Life is Thine

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“…For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”         Romans 3:22–25 (ESV)

I think we all have done things to gain God’s favor at some point in our lives. We bargain for what we desperately want or need. We stay out of trouble and keep our lives clean in order to avoid inconveniences or pain. If we’re good enough, Christian enough, we might just get what we want. We often get stuck in this false sense of the Christian God. The God who exists to grant our wishes. The God who can be appeased by good moral character or standing. Romans tells us that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift.”

Yet, we live our lives as if we can earn righteousness.  What a conflicting message!

Walt Disney’s Pinocchio is ripe with conflicting messages. One of the more interesting characters in the movie, in my opinion, is the Blue Fairy. The story starts off with Jiminy Cricket telling his tale of how he happened upon a small cottage where an old wood-carver named Geppetto lived. Geppetto was a good man but he was very lonely. That night Jiminy witnesses the old man make a wish upon a star: that his newly carved puppet, Pinocchio, would become a real boy and that he would become his father. Then, the Blue Fairy appears and with the words, “Little puppet made of pine, wake, the gift of life is thine,”  Pinocchio comes alive.

One of the primary messages of the movie is that dream and wish fulfillment come at no price and to anyone who desires their wishes to be granted. But the story does not play out that way. The Blue Fairy claims to have come to bestow a “gift.” Yet, her gifts come with conditions. She grants Geppetto’s wish because he is good and has brought happiness to many. When Pinocchio awakes she tells him that the wish will not be completed and he will not become a real boy until he proves himself to be brave, truthful, and selfless. He must choose right from wrong with the help of his conscience, Jiminy Cricket.

The whole movie is focused on Pinocchio failing miserably at all of that. In fact, virtually everyone he meets is the exact opposite of what he is striving to be. On his way to school, he is enticed to follow two sinister characters and begins an unfortunate journey. By the end of the story, Pinocchio ends up becoming a truant, liar, glutton, and a literal jackass before he is swallowed up by a whale.

The Blue Fairy reminds me of the common conception of God.  He comes to bestow “gifts” that come with conditions and prices. He gives us our hearts’ desires only if we are good and obedient and prove ourselves worthy. He grants us grace, mercy, and love if we deserve it.

Pinocchio was never able to live up to that standard. We will never be able to either. The redemption that is available to us is a gift through Jesus Christ. It is grace and cannot be earned.

In the belly of the whale, Pinocchio finds that Geppetto, his Father, had been searching for him all the time that he was lost. Geppetto notices Pinocchio’s donkey ears and tail and asks what has happened to him. When Pinocchio is too ashamed to tell his father all the trouble he has gotten into, Geppetto pushes him no further. He embraces his son and tells him that none of it matters. Pinocchio is reconciled to his loving father.

Geppetto shows us what God is truly like. He is not the Blue Fairy, demanding our good works for the gift of life. He loves without condition and embraces his children no matter where they have been or what they have done. Through Jesus Christ, we have the free gift of salvation and eternal life in Him. 

 

Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust

Peter-Pan-faith-trust-and-pixie-dust

As Christians, we use the term faith quite often. In fact, our culture is full of phrases pertaining to faith. You may be familiar with sayings such as, “taking a blind leap of faith” or people telling you that “things will work out if you just have enough faith.” Recently, I have been reflecting on what our culture sees as faith and if it actually reflects what the Bible says faith is.

Is faith blind? Are we really expected to have absolute trust in what we do not know?

   There is a scene in Walt Disney’s rendition of Peter Pan that I feel captures what is commonly thought of as faith. In the scene, Peter Pan is attempting to teach the Darling children how to fly so that they could travel with him to Neverland. He demonstrates his abilities and each of the children mimic him with no success. After thinking for a moment, He remembers the secret formula for flying… faith, trust and a little bit of pixie dust. The children proceed in their attempt to fly after being sprinkled with pixie dust and thinking lovely, happy thoughts. This time they succeed. The children then leave their home with Peter Pan and soar to Neverland.

What exactly does this tell us about faith?

In the story, the children would be able to fly if they simply believed that they could. Faith and trust are equivalent to thinking happy thoughts. If we tell ourselves that something will happen then it is sure to happen. Faith is seen as trusting in your own ability to make something happen with positive thinking even when things seem impossible. You can do anything if you just believe that you can. This notion is almost as ridiculous as believing that you can defy gravity by sprinkling pixie dust all over yourself.

Today’s culture has strayed far from what the biblical idea of faith is. Faith is not based on a set of ideas, philosophy, mind games or intuition.

Biblical faith is a relationship of trust in God.

We do not just have authentic trust in God because we are told to or because we will our minds to but we base our faith on God’s past record of faithfulness in our lives and through scripture. In Exodus 3:14 God tells Moses, “I Am who I Am.” In the next verse, He further clarifies His identity by saying that He is, “The God of your Fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” God wanted to communicate to the Israelites that He could be trusted and all they would have to do is look at what He had done in the past for their ancestors. The same idea is repeated in the New Testament. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.” This verse restates the truth of the Old Testament; God never changes and the past proves that He can be trusted today and forever.