Tag Archives: life

Get Out of the Tar Pits

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USA_tar_bubble_la_brea_CAIn the heart of Los Angeles, California, in the shadow of towering skyscrapers and next to the very 21st-century Museum of Art, a geologic phenomenon bubbles up from deep beneath the surface of the earth: black asphalt. Trapped in the asphalt are thousands of years worth of fossils: bison, wolves, mammoths, and sloths; spiders, insects, and birds; sticks, leaves, and grasses.

Visitors to the La Brea Tar Pits and the George C. Page Museum are treated not only to well-preserved skeletons and archaeologists at work on active digs, but also to the pungent aroma of the tar that seeps up in the middle of the otherwise-green lawns of the surrounding park. It is a sticky and stinky museum!

The tar pits that so easily trapped unsuspecting animals offered a poignant metaphor recently as I prepared to preach on Colossians 3. In this compelling passage, the apostle Paul urges his readers—already convinced of their salvation through Jesus—to live in light of that salvation. Look up!, he says. Keep your hearts, eyes, and minds fixed on Christ.

But then he adds these words of warning: “Put to death whatever is earthly in you….”

Paul knows we can’t keep our eyes on Jesus when our noses are filled with the stench of death – when we’re walking through the tar pits.

What are some of the tar pits that entrap us? “Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. … Anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language [and lying].” It’s a comprehensive list, but by no means exhaustive.

When I was in training in the Air Force, i had a roommate who used to read two things every night before bed: Playboy and a Bible – in that order, at first. But as the weeks of training went on, the order switched. By the end of our two months, the Bible no longer sat on his nightstand but was tucked away in a drawer; only the magazine remained.

As my roommate learned, it’s hard to stay focused on life when you’re walking in a graveyard; it’s hard to keep your eyes up on heavenly things when you’re constantly looking down at what’s “earthly.”

You died with Christ, Paul says, but you’ve also been raised with Him. So put to death what belongs to death, and live a life of life.

 

What about you? Have you been raised with Christ? Then what do you need to put to death so that you can live with your eyes up, on Christ?

Keep your head up!

God and Butterflies

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Giant SwallowtailIt was just laying there on the sidewalk—a big, beautiful butterfly. Papilio cresphontes; Giant Swallowtail, as we learned later.

My wife was walking our dog when she saw the butterfly on the ground. It didn’t move when she bent down for a closer look, and so, thinking it was dead, she wanted to bring it home and preserve its beauty. Until it hopped a few inches away.

She tried again. Again, it hopped away. Obviously not dead, but was it only a matter of time? A couple more tries, a couple more hops, and then… the wings stretched out in that groggy, not-quite-awake kind of stretching we do when we’re struggling to rise too late out of a too-deep sleep.

The beautiful black and yellow wings carried the Papilio a few feet more before one final burst of life lifted him into the air to do what butterflies do: grace the air with the lightness of a falling leaf, the tiptoed dance of a ballerina on the stage.

Mesmerized, my wife realized what she’d been hearing in the podcast coming through her earbuds: Look at the birds (or the butterflies). They don’t plant or harvest or store away any food for tomorrow, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you more valuable to him than they are?

On this day, God wanted that Giant Swallowtail to fly again—and to demonstrate his love to my wife. She needed that. So did I.

But something else also struck me as she shared this. That butterfly had seemed nearly dead, and it probably was. Sometimes that’s how we feel, too. Life has beaten on us for so long that we almost can’t take it anymore. Getting out of bed is exhausting. Getting the kids to school, buying groceries, making dinner… the most normal, uneventful parts of life threaten to unravel us.

We’ve faced death and loss and grief and hopelessness for so long, all we can do is lay down like that butterfly.

But like that butterfly, I think God wants us to fly again. It may take a few frightened hops, some groggy stretching of our wings… but I think we’ll get up in the air. And someone watching—like my wife with that butterfly—will see us and praise God. And maybe they’ll get up in the air again, too.

On Life and Death

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Morgan on Walden Pond

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. – Henry David Thoreau

I found myself these past two weeks reflecting more than usual on life and death. First, because my father—three months shy of his 80th birthday—was having one of those surgeries that is far more involved than the ninety minute time frame would suggest; a surgery that has become almost routine (more than a hundred performed each year in this hospital alone) but could go mortally wrong in an instant; a surgery that is merely a precursor to another, which is at the same time far more complex and far less risky. At least, that’s my non-medical perception.

But my reflection has also been inspired by my son, who turned 21 last week—an age at which he may now do almost anything legal other than rent a car from a major agency. He’s also had his run-ins with death, beginning in the first moments of his life when his bluing skin and an infant oxygen tent made me eternally grateful for the calm confidence of the delivery-room nurses. Two-thirds of his life later, he spent two weeks in the hospital for an appendectomy that in many cases would be an outpatient procedure; we, on the other hand, were told not less than five times in three days, “this is serious; he could die.”

And here I am, gratefully positioned between a father and a son who both have taunted death time and again—my dad, until last year, on snow skis at 12,000′; my son on the rugby pitch for a couple years and now on boulders and climbing walls wherever he can find them.

Facing death, I’ve found—even as but a slim possibility—is made easier when life has been fully lived. That’s what took Thoreau to his cabin on Walden Pond. It’s why it tends to be easier (though not easy) to say goodbye to an aged parent than to a child, or a young mother.

And we can face death without fear when we have the confidence of our destination. Paul described it with the words, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Jesus comforted Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Death Is Dead

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jesus statue kneeling

Though death is dead
        to death he wages war
Each death a vict'ry
        in this lovers' quarrel
'tween sin and death—
        two partners in the fight
to steal mens' lives
        and lay them in the grave
 
Yes death is dead
       but still death carries pain
As one much-loved
       slips out beyond our grasp
And leaves a hole
       that never shall be filled
Though life and time
       for us yet linger on
 
Yes death is dead
        and sin's defeated, too
That much made known
        one Resurrection Day
When One who died
        for sin lay buried in the ground
And three days on
        no longer to be found
 
Yes death is dead
       and life is sweeter far
When lived with hope
       of life beyond the grave
A life for Him 
       who buried death itself
To give us life
       eternally with Him


[Written in honor of my sister-in-law, Jeaneen Blackinton Davis, as she fought a brain tumor that finally stole her life on April 27, 2015.]