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This Isn’t Paradise

During a recent conversation with my friend, we discussed how life was so different than we ever anticipated growing up. There were many challenges and circumstances that were difficult to process, painful, stressful, and maybe we just felt a little tired and discouraged about where we found ourselves in life and the direction the world, we lived in and seemed headed. He shared the painful reality of losing a close friend within the last five years and both his parents within a year. These tragic events combined with other painful circumstances, caused him to see life differently than before, and that life was at times seemingly unbearable and the future gloomy and without a ”fairy tale” ending .My hasty, and somewhat unsympathetic response was that this world and life is not paradise. Pain, suffering, and death is a painful reality that we can’t escape or avoid. It’s just life and we are not yet in Heaven where everything will be made new and perfect.

This thought of us not yet being in paradise caused my mind to spin and the “wheels” to turn. My family would recognize this as being a time to prepare themselves to hear a sermon or to a “earful”, or for my wife to have some anxiety as to what “dad” might say now! Oh boy fasten your seatbelts! Christmas always seems a time when everyone puts on a “happy” face. Families get together, everyone seems to be happy and have the “world by the tail”. Social media is flooded with pictures of perfect, happy, smiling families, and how we all are so happy for our lives and situations. Now I don’t want to be pessimistic, although I tend to lean in that direction, or maybe to sugar coat it, I fall more in the realist category. Of course, that is open for debate, and my “better half” may have a slightly different perspective. It is easy to observe social media, people at church or in public and become discouraged as to why we are the only ones who must have missed the “mark”, are less than perfect, made a mess of things, and who have somewhat dysfunctional families or relationships. Why do our lives and circumstances seem so different? We must have gotten the “short end of the stick” or are just failures. Each of our circumstances and journeys are unique and different but according to God’s word there are no perfect families or people. We and the world we live in are broken, and far from the dream, purpose, masterpiece, and vision of our creator.

The older we get the more clearly, we see the reality that this world is not our home and the less we desire to spend eternity on earth, if it were even possible. Of course, there is much to enjoy, embrace, and be thankful for, but life confirms that we were meant for much more. The interesting thing to me is that as we come to the realization that this world is broken, evil, cruel, unfulfilling, and without a future, we begin too long more for our eternal home. Jesus on the other hand, had everything that we so long for. He had it “made in the shade”, perfection, paradise, power, security, and the list is endless. Despite that He willingly submitted Himself to this evil, dark, cursed, depraved, painful, selfish, world. He came to the world we all want to escape. Have you ever made a list or thought of all He subjected Himself too as a human in this world? It surely wasn’t a “cake walk” and what He gave up, laid aside, and in turn endured here on earth is beyond human comprehension. I challenge you to look at all the accounts in scripture of the sufferings Jesus endured. Isa 52:14 says people were appalled by His appearance. He was so disfigured beyond that of any human being, and His form marred beyond human likeness. Isa 53 speaks of Jesus being a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised, and rejected, to the point it was hardly bearable to look at Him. All the way from His humble and uncomfortable birth, fleeing for His life as a child, humility of being a helpless baby, experiencing disease, hunger, homelessness, disrespect, rejection, mockery, injustice, violence, to the cruelest humiliation, torture, and death humanly possible. He unjustly and willingly suffered every day He was on this earth and fell into the deepest hole and depth of rejection and loneliness, far beyond where anyone has ever gone or will go.

Why would the God of the universe do that for such helpless, pitiful, corrupt, sinful, and depraved a human race such as us? Surely our little “pea” sized brains will never be able to fully grasp, understand, or fully appreciate the significance of this priceless, immense, gift and treasure that changes everything! The way we view everything around us and in our lives and world changes or should change, with this incredible mind-bending reality. The list is inexhaustible, and infinite. Scripture says we should not think it strange that we encounter hardships and trials, but to rejoice and embrace them, understanding that they produce tremendous advantages, growth, endurance, and character. Maybe when we observe others going through hardships we should acknowledge them not as mistakes, and failures, but as God’s blessing, God at work, God’s love, and God working to produce much good and blessing not only for them but for the entire world.

Christmas day our family for some odd reason decided to see the new Spiderman movie. I know that may sound weird, inappropriate, offensive, and totally unreligious too many. It’s ok, through the years I have had to learn to lay down my pride, reputation, and desires for the sake of others and the what’s best for my family. I answer to God not people. As I get older, I see my opportunities to be with my family, whom I love most, diminishing, and I seize every opportunity regardless, with great appreciation. Anyway, forget the excuses, I have found there is much to learn from all our experiences and movies are not an exception. I was pleasantly surprised to catch glimpses of the gospel message in Spiderman, of all things. One of the quotes was that if you help someone you help the whole world. Also, one of the main themes was the effectiveness of healing people instead of demanding justice. Instead of killing the “bad guys” or villains, why not develop serums, or antidotes for healing? Instead of focusing on their actions focus on who they used to be or who they were created to be before they became damaged, wounded, and corrupt. Wow, what If God would have looked at humanity and decided they weren’t worth it, too damaged, evil, costly and beyond hope? More importantly, what if He decided the cost and price was too great to create a cure? Isn’t that how we often look at life and others? It’s just too much work and costly to help others and walk with them. In this movie we see the cost was great to have compassion and choose healing over justice and death. Someone Spiderman loved greatly, lost her life so her villain could receive restoration and healing. It made him furious, and he wanted revenge, and death for the culprit, just as all of us naturally desire. A wise friend, previous Spiderman, from experience told him that getting revenge doesn’t change anything, except make it worse and you pain greater.

I find this to be so true in life, loving others, and being a parent. We are called to live generous lives, giving our best and first to others. This means we often absorb pain, suffering, stress, etc that we could often say is not fair and we don’t deserve, yet we do it because we love as Jesus loved and desire the best for others, knowing that our hope is secure, and this world is not our real home. We are just passing through, and our destiny as followers of Christ are secure. In the movie American Underdog, a must see, Kurt Warner’s girlfriend asked him why it was so important to secede in football and go to the NFL. He replied because I want to prove my worth, that I matter. Her response was that if he reached those goals, they would still leave him empty and wanting more, an unquenchable appetite. For us it is the same. We are not defined by what we do or don’t accomplish, material goods, earthly assets, our trials, mistakes, or wherever we find ourselves in life. Our lives our defined by what God thinks of us, our identity in Him which is secure as believers. We have taken on the identity of Jesus, all His perfection.

We can be encouraged today because Jesus came to this “rotten”, broken, corrupt world to be with us, to bring healing, new hearts, a new identity, and a hope and future that cannot be taken away by this world and its circumstances. Because of this we can have Hope, Joy, Peace, Love, etc regardless of circumstances in our life. They don’t define us or hold us down as we can live above them. Regardless of what you are going through, how you feel, there is another level that we as followers of Christ can live in. Yes, external circumstances will bring pain and emotions, but we still can live with incredible Peace, Joy, and Hope that is unexplainable and a gift from God. As I sit writing this article, my life is far from perfect, full of obstacles and pain, and there is much that I wish I could change. My wife and daughter are on their way to Pittsburg, taking my oldest daughter once again for treatment. Despite all the uncertainties and obstacles, I can say I have incredible peace and joy that is not from this world. This joy has not always been there, but has been a process of understanding, healing, and growing in my relationship with my heavenly Father. This Christmas and Advent season reminds us of this priceless gift. May you be encouraged and strengthened. Let us not lose heart, If God is for us who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of God? No nothing can separate us from God’s Love.

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