How Did It Happen?

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We know well the cycles of day and night, but did we notice the darkening of another kind as it gradually began to build around the world? Were we too caught up in our own things to see when the shadows began to deepen? Is that why many are shocked at how dark it has become now and wondering how it could come to this? Have we forgotten that long before the thunderclaps above our heads and lightning hits the tree beside our house that at a distance you can see the small clouds of the storm forming?

Did we lose sight of evil or deny it exists because things were going along decently enough in our lives or did we see and ignore what was happening and think it would never affect us? These are not unusual in our current world. Lines of good and evil, right, and wrong have blurred in recent decades. That didn’t happen all at once either. Looking at what we watched on TV 50 years ago or less shows how things began to shift and we accepted the shift without realizing how far the rabbit hole might take us.

Popular TV shows of the 60’s in the United States included The Andy Griffith Show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Dick VanDyke Show, The Real McCoys, Leave it to Beaver, and Hogan’s Heroes to name a few. Language was clean enough for children to watch and what was good, and right was highlighted and what was not was shown to be bad. By the time we entered the 70’s The Walton’s were playing on many TV sets and we all can still recall the way each show ended with family members saying goodnight to one another. Other popular shows were things like Happy Days, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and The Carol Burnett Show, but we were also beginning to explore deeper things with the series entitled Roots. Language was still decent, but here and there things began to creep in.

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By the 80’s some sultry things began to be more popular like The Thorn Birds series, Dynasty, Hill Street Blues, Mama’s Family, Three’s Company, Dallas, Fantasy Island, and The Golden Girls to name a few. We loved most of them but there were bedroom scenes, colorful jokes, and crude comments we would not have heard a decade or two before. We didn’t think much of it at the time, and we began to see it as normal without much thought of whether it would affect us or our children.

By the 2000’s we were watching things like The Sopranos, Desperate Housewives, Sex in the City, Psych, Gossip Girl, Law and Order, and ER. Not all of us watched these, but the family fare of the 60’s and 70’s was disappearing, sex was no longer taboo as a theme or topic, costuming included a shift toward less modesty and language was shifting as well.

A decade later in the 2010’s we were seeing Parenthood, The Good Wife, Orange is the New Black, Hannibal, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones as examples. By then some of us were tuning out, but still hooked on the TV to unwind at the end of the day and it nudged us to tune in here and there.

But at the same time, we were accommodating to the shift in themes and formats on TV. Other shifts in music, movies, books, and entertainment of all types were shifting as well. Little by little what was good versus evil, dark versus light was less the theme or value presented. Culture and all of us were changing, being led along a path without much thought.

Then I read something in Matthew Kelly’s new book, Life is Messy, that put it all in perspective:

“What is evil? Evil is defined as profoundly immoral. The definition itself holds the reason for the escalating evil in our world, though it may not be obvious at first. It all hinges on the word immoral.

The word immoral presents an intricate problem for our culture. Morality is almost never mentioned. I cannot recall the last time I heard the mainstream media describe something as immoral. Every type of perversion and depravity has become someone’s personal preference or right.

When we pretend that there is no such thing as right and wrong, good and bad, this will inevitably lead to the proliferation of evil. And it has.”

Matthew Kelly in Life is Messy
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Not unlike the story of the frog in the kettle who jumped in when the water was cool and didn’t notice the increasing temperature of the fire under the kettle until it was too late, we have been desensitized to evil and become increasingly ambivalent while we have moved to more and more value-free living and choices. As we have done so, the storm clouds have darkened and begun to influence more and more aspects of our world without us paying much heed to it or whether we contributed to it with our own messy lives and choices along the way. It wasn’t our plan, and it didn’t happen with the same influences in every culture or society around the globe and yet it happened nonetheless, and we now see the world reeling from one thing or another.

It could be easy to despair, but we may also have forgotten that scripture told us to be aware of and pay attention to the signs of the times and what they would tell us about the path we were on. Those words should cause us to take heed, repent and deal with our own messiness, and hope for the only One who can bring light and freedom from evil. But Matthew Kelly’s words remind us that evil is much closer than any of us suspect. That is why it can seem to sneak up on us.

“Every age has new storytellers, but one truth endures: We become the stories we read, hear, and watch. Today’s storytellers appear to be committed to normalization of evil, and by extension the annihilation of human dignity. Not the dignity of some anonymous people, but the annihilation of your dignity, my dignity, and the dignity of our spouses, children, grandchildren, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Evil is much closer than we suspect.”

Matthew Kelly in Life is Messy

Let each of us choose to be a different kind of storyteller so that those who listen, read, watch, and hear us will not accept a normalization of evil and immorality while that is still possible in the midst of the deepening storm clouds.

But I Thought…

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If you are one of those people who try to prepare for whatever the next day’s schedule holds or the next week, you are likely a planner. Even if that is not you, you have likely had hopes and dreams of or for certain things in your life. We all have some of these qualities even if they vary by degree. But as we go along doing the best we can, we may well express, “But I thought…” The statement refers to an expectation that has not been realized and that happens at times despite our best efforts.

Things like this can be small such as a day we need to get a list of things accomplished for work, at home, or in some area of our life. We try to schedule to make sure we can succeed in the goal, but the car breaks down, the Internet goes offline, we or someone whom we love gets sick and we need to handle that instead of the list of things in the plan.

Maybe we decide we really need to address the debt we acquired. We get help to set up a budget and feel good about starting to whittle away at the bills that stack up. We may even have an emergency line in the budget for something unexpected, but the routine service on our car reveals a major repair is needed that exceeds what the budget allows, and we feel discouraged that our efforts are thwarted.

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Perhaps we have determined to do a better job with taking care of our health. We’re on track with healthier eating habits and start exercising regularly and setting a sleep schedule – even drinking more water. We keep our regular doctor checkups and feel good and then blood work comes back that says all of that was not enough somehow or the doctor discovers something lurking inside of our body we did not know was there. We feel disheartened and anxious when we worked so hard to be and stay healthy and now our body seems to have betrayed us. We followed the best health professional’s advice and some disease or ailment caught us anyway. Sometimes we are tempted to wonder what the point of the whole effort is when we don’t get the payoff we expected for our hard work as well as the expense of time and money to be as healthy as possible.

Many of us (even with these things) felt grateful we live in a time in history when the medical and scientific advances allow us to enjoy freedom from the scourge of mysterious epidemics that destroy thousands of people but then a pandemic shows us and hangs on with a tenacity we could not have imagined. Or we live in a neighborhood that has given us a sense of safety until crime surges and even our neighborhood gets hit with things we have not seen before. We see danger in places we did not expect to see it and the world feels less safe.

Reading Psalms (especially in The Message rendering) reminds us this is not unique to any one of us or all of us, but is common to humankind and life on this earth. Somehow we missed the clear constant reality that life is full of many unpacked twists and turns. If we are younger, we might be more surprised. We might believe those things happen to “other people” or “older people.” If we are older, we are likely to be less surprised and yet get caught with something that upends us.

Most of us have been living with more uncertainty as a result of how the world seems to be spinning out of control in so many ways and areas. More than the pandemic has happened to us and tempts us to anxiety, restless nights, and discouragement.

Matthew Kelly has some reminders for us all in his newest release, Life is Messy:

“We all end up living unexpected lives.

Life doesn’t unfold according to our plans. But sooner or later, we each have to decide how we are going to make the most of our one brief, unexpected life. It is then that we come face-to-face with two enduring truths: We cannot live without hope that things will change for the better, and we are not victims of our circumstances.

Hope is not always as accessible as we would like. It often seems just out of reach at those times when we are most in need of it, when our hearts are broken, our minds downtrodden, and our souls crushed. Yet, even in those moments, we have a choice. The unexpected is either a curse or an opportunity. We get to decide.”

Matthew Kelly in Life is Messy

And decide we must. The One who created us gave us choice in how we respond to what comes our way.

From We Are the Fandom on

Are You A Lightener?

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You may wonder what I mean by that question.

If you are a “lightener,” people who spend time with you will feel refreshed and lighter because you have been with them.

In a Children’s Literature course in my college days, I completed a poetry project and loved Rachel Fields simple little poem entitled “Some People.”  The poem describes well what a lightener is.

Isn’t it strange some people make You feel so tired inside, Your thoughts begin to shrivel up Like leaves all brown and dried!

But when you’re with some other ones, It’s stranger still to find Your thoughts as thick as fireflies All shiny in your mind!

Lighteners encourage and come alongside us and we feel better for knowing them. They cue in on others around them instead of having a self-focus. They move on what they observe rather than not notice or simply observe. They usually see what they do for you as nothing special and yet those seemingly small things lift the burden we may be feeling.

Small acts of kindness appear to be the specialty of lighteners. The Holy Spirit seems to prompt them to come alongside us when we thought no one else had noticed what we were feeling or going through. They move into action without being asked oftentimes. They really respond with an empathy that shines the light of Jesus brightly. That brightness stands out because it is not common.

Our lives and schedules, our jobs and ministries, our own issues and concerns can cause us to miss those around us beginning with those with whom we live. It isn’t our intent, but it happens. Sometimes it happens because no one has noticed us and it has left us discouraged and turned our eyes inward. Sometimes it happens because we have given out so long that we are depleted.

As sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, we have difficulty with a balance between doing and being, serving and resting, encouraging and getting encouragement. We need to be recalibrated often by the Holy Spirit within us to balance these divergent needs and responsibilities.

I have learned one thing as I have observed myself with this struggle. If I see a lot of misalignment, it’s because I have set aside time first thing in the morning to sit in my favorite red chair and take some time in the Word with a pen and journal in hand. It can be easy to be too tired, too busy, or too scheduled to feel I can add that to my day. But that exposes the issue. It isn’t about adding it to my day. It’s about how I start my day and add everything else into it.

Even so, each of us needs to have a lightener who touches us, a day, or a circumstance in such a specific way that we are better and lighter for his or her presence.

It can be so easy to be critical. We are immersed in a culture where we are bombarded by critical words and attitudes that can seep into us and leak out of us.

Too often that happens within the context of Christian relationships and circles as well. Sometimes we set a standard for others that fits with biblical teaching absent the mercy and grace Jesus brought us. Satan loves it. He sets it in motion and we go along with his program without sometimes hearing what we have said or how we have said it.

Martin Luther King, Jr. exhorted us all well when he said these words:

“We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”

Martin Luther King, Jr

To be a lightener we must break the habit of attaching so much importance to what people say and focus more on what the Lord has said and demonstrated through the life of Christ.

I love how the writer of Hebrews exhorts us:

“Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them toward acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love.”

Hebrews 10:24 (TPT)

Don’t Forget

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As darkness seems to push in from every side it seeks to make a large space for fear to grow in our hearts, minds, and spirits. Little wonder! Darkness makes it difficult to see the path ahead, the position of the enemy and the tools he carries in his quest to conquer us. We can become disoriented in darkness and lose track of whatever light there may be. It happens to us humankind more often than any of us would wish to admit.

We know at the beginning of Creation darkness covered the earth. The Message rendering describes it as “bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness.” That vivid description could open us to despair. But in the very next scene God speaks light upon the world and separates the light from the dark. We cannot miss that throughout all time light and darkness characterize life in this world. We see references to this throughout scripture and allegorical stories and poems. Darkness seeks to overtake the light and defeat it once and for all.

Of all the depictions of this, one stands out for me in our favorite series, The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s gift as a master storyteller is at its best in this series that was brought to life in the first film released in 2001. Dramatic scenes unfold as we watch Middle Earth in crisis and evil seeks to overtake everyone and everything. There is but one ring that can rule all the other rings and it must be destroyed in the very place it was made. An unlikely group is formed in a fellowship to make the trek to Mt. Doom. The journey will reveal the character of each, and the hero will not be the strongest in might and brawn. The tools each will take for the battle ahead are significant.

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Again and again Tolkien gives us metaphors of light and darkness in the battle for rule. Then as the fellowship begins the long journey to defeat darkness each of them is presented with a gift for the battle and danger ahead. It is a poignant reminder that we should be prepared when we battle darkness even as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:10-20. Weapons serve us best when we already have tested them and practiced with them before we ever arrive at the battle. Little wonder that David understood that when we went to battle Goliath. (He chose the weapons that were ones he had tested and tried.)

Each of the members of the fellowship wonder at the choice of the weapon that Galadriel gives them. Each has a purpose. The one given to Frodo of light of a star captured in a “phial” reminds all that light is powerful in battling darkness.

Some of you may recall what she says when she hands this gift to Frodo:

Galadriel: “Farewell, Frodo Baggins. I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star … May it be a light for you, in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

J.R.R.Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings/Fellowship of the Ring”

What does Tolkien want us to see and remember from this metaphor? He knew the darkness of battle from his service in WW I and the despair of trench warfare and certainly his powerful works written after that time were forged from his experience in part.

Perhaps he points us to the truth we see woven in scripture, so we are buoyed for our own battles as we face darkness in our personal lives as well as the world around us.

Jesus once again addressed them: “I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.”

John 8:12 (MSG)

The Apostle Paul reminds us of a key point to consider as we battle:

“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore, let’s rid ourselves of the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Romans 13:12 (NASB)

Scripture reminds us that darkness will increase as we near the time of his return, but if we are his and Christ dwells in our hearts there is still light. And it is a light that cannot be extinguished when all the other lights go out. Little wonder that any and all enemies would seek to cause us to despair and succumb in an attempt to extinguish the light. His beloved disciple, John, reminds us of who Christ is and what He would have us never forget in dark times:

“This in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him.”

1 John 1:5 (MSG)

The message of light for us also is clear in the Psalms:

“For You light my lamp; The Lord my God illumines my darkness.”

Psalm 18:28 (NASB)

These words and so many more need to be inscribed on our hearts and challenging our thoughts and fears that may try to assail us. We must also seek to encourage one another as well when we falter and or grow weary. And we must be prepared like the wise virgins that Christ speaks about in the Parable of the Virgins in Matthew 25. Our lamps must be continually filled with oil, and we must be alert for his call.

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Upside Down Greatness

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The pursuit of greatness or success is a trend that has grown over decades and is woven into every culture, nation, business, and organization. The variable is how it is measured but the goal is nearly the same. Often it is measured by wealth, fame, and being at the top of the field you are in. It can be measured by the floor your office is on in the building and whether it is on a corner with great window views, the neighborhood you live in, the size of your portfolio, the titles you have earned, the degrees hanging on your wall – a list too long to include.

Being the best and winning is the target and is often pursued at all costs. We applaud gold medal winners, and we should, but should we not applaud anyone with the courage to compete? We congratulate the promotion and the title, but does that define the person’s character?

Success is not the enemy but our motives for pursuing it might be. Does success mean that average is not valuable? Does finishing the race not count if we don’t come in first?

Is the man or woman who created the statue of a hero less than the person the statue honors?

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Is the tender of the grapes less gifted or valuable than the vintner who makes the wine?

Is the farmer who tends the crops and harvests them mean less than the chef who creates menus at 5-star restaurants?

Is the person who builds the sets for the stage production and never seen by the audience less significant than the performers taking curtain calls?

Is the aide at the hospital who scrubs and cleans all the messes of less importance than the acclaimed surgeon who walks the halls?

Is the child who struggles to read less relevant even though he can create musical compositions that astound audiences?

You might say the answers are obvious, but does how we live, who we admire, and what we seek out demonstrate that? The question can be troublesome because our choices and decisions showing what we would deny can creep in. We wait in line for the blockbuster movie, pay prices too high for the most popular concert ticket, want the person with the most outstanding reputation to handle whatever area we need for service of some sort.

To get to that greatness or success we also want the shortest path that doesn’t cut into our time to kick back and relax and enjoy all the good things we hope to achieve.

Most of us have heard references to “the greatest generation”. Do we know who they were and why they were given that prestigious title?

This group were the Americans who were born between 1900 and 1920. They lived through The Great Depression, and many fought in WW II. Those born earliest survived the Spanish Flu epidemic/pandemic of 1918. Their children became the Baby Boomers of today. They were the era of my father and mother along with so many most of us know or can recall.

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The bulk of them never went to college and many did not get to finish high school. They worked long hours at hard jobs with few (if any benefits). Vacations were largely unheard of and time off might mean a few hours sitting with neighbors over a glass of lemonade at the end of a long week. They walked more often than they rode to wherever they needed to go. The way they got their news was through the local newspapers that were more news and less opinion. If they had electricity, the radio provided some additional news and sometimes entertainment. They believed hard work was what adult life included and they expected their children to learn to work hard as well despite wanting a better education and life for them. Church and the local school were places where people came together and supported one another with whatever life was handing them. They were no strangers to sacrifice on a daily basis and didn’t shun their responsibility to do so when it was needed. They had lived through poverty and cherished freedom and were willing to lay down their lives to assure freedom would be maintained for them and others who were being denied that same freedom.

The challenges that life dealt them turned them into the “can do” folks that brought about the most profound economic and technological transformation in human history and looked at those things as duty for the privilege of serving and enjoying freedom.

There is little doubt they defined life differently than most of us do today. It’s hard to say that greatness or success were actual goals they verbalized. Their values and principles were of a deeper kind.

As we look at the challenges we face now, what might they tell us and how might they see us and the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren they worked so hard to provide freedom, education, and a decent life for?

Have we forgotten what makes greatness?

The motives of James and John and their mother got exposed when she asked Jesus to give her sons the places of honor on either side of Him. What would that signify to her or them? Would it make them feel as if they were better than the others who were disciples or followers?

Many of us know how He responded to this request.

“But this is not your calling. You will lead by a completely different model. The greatest one among you will live as the one who is called to serve others,”

Matthew 20:26 (TPT)

Many of “the greatest generation” seemed to live by that model. It was unlikely they found their jobs (that were often menial) as what defined them or that they shouldn’t have to work that hard or long to get just enough to manage basic needs. That model resulted in greatness and the freedom and privileges many of us have access to today.

They might tell us our idea of greatness is upside down. They didn’t seek to achieve greatness but as they worked hard and sacrificed much it developed character in them and brought them the greatness most of them didn’t expect to get accolades for and can feel embarrassed about if such is given.