Torn Between Two Realities

Our whole family gathered in Colorado last week, and we had a blast being together. There were ten of us occupying every corner of the house, and there was no shortage of fun, good conversation, and family time.

It was a magical week.

In the midst of all this joy was a constant reminder of the brevity of this life. The home we enjoy here in Colorado is courtesy of the hard work of my father-in-law, who is now with Jesus and who is missed every day.  There’s no way to be in this house without thinking of him. He loved this place. He loved it when we all gathered here. His pictures are still on the walls and will be as long as this is our Colorado home.

As we drove to Colorado, there were four men on my mind. Three of them are former Elders, and one is currently serving. One day after arriving in the mountains, I received word that one of them had passed away.

It was a tough moment.  

Jerry was a wonderful man and terrific Elder. I left Oklahoma City assuming we had more time.  As much as I wished for more visits, I was also thrilled that he has received the ultimate healing. The other three men continue to wrestle with the challenges of the “earthly tent being torn down” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

Some of our friends also came to Colorado. One of them lost her husband three years ago. He was a great man and we spent some time reflecting on the third anniversary of his death.

Another friend celebrated a birthday--yet another reminder that the clock keeps ticking. I read an obituary from Oklahoma City of a young 30-year-old wife and mother who had lost her battle with a lifelong disease. I see these situations as a gift and reminder of the reality of life. None of us are made to live forever. There are gains, and there are losses. Life goes on, and it happens very fast.

I’m learning to cherish the good times and be ready to trust God in the storms.  

By now you know I overanalyze everything. This week, I found myself cherishing the earthly joys of family: my wife, sons, daughters, grandkids, and friends who all bring me more joy than words can describe. I also found myself facing the reality of life’s brevity and limitations. The exhilaration of family seemed offset by the reality of not only how sweet the moments are, but how brief they are. I had to be careful not to let the reality of death in any way hinder my enthusiasm for the joy surrounding me.  

Randy Alcorn wrote a book entitled, 50 Days of Heaven: Reflections that Bring Eternity to Light. He does an excellent job of providing clarity for the challenge of holding tightly to earthly joy while anticipating the ultimate joy of heaven.  

In the book, he quotes C.S. Lewis: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in;’ aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Even on a hike in the woods, I saw things that remind me of a God who loves me through all the various seasons of life.

In the past few decades, the pine beetle made its presence known in the Rocky Mountains. Pine beetles are native insects that have shaped the forests of North America for thousands of years. They basically destroy the beautiful tall pine trees which cover thousands of miles of mountains.  

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The area where we’ve spent our summers has been one of the hardest hit areas. Earlier last week, we took a family hike through the “Lily Pad Lake Trail.”  On this path, you wind through the forest to finally arrive at a beautiful mountain pond covered with lily pads.

On the way up the hill, I was surrounded by the devastation of the pine beetle, and the helpless feeling we have that nothing can really be done about it. This has happened in forests since God made them. As we got closer to Lily Pad Lake, I found myself in the midst of a sea of dead pine trees.  And then we rounded a corner to find an amazing sight of life in the midst of the desolation and destruction of the forest.

I stood face to face with a beautiful new, young, healthy pine tree. I was on that hike for a reason, and this simple and stunning pine tree was a gift.

There is no death that is final. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Whether it be a forest or the death of a loved one, God has a plan to always bring life in the midst of death.  

That same afternoon, I received a Facebook message urging me to listen to a song. I did. My youngest son, a worship leader at our Edmond campus, had recently shared the song, but I had not yet heard it.  

So, I played it one morning while driving through the mountains. It wrecked me. Not just because of the young man singing it, although I’m very thankful to see God using him, and not just because the songwriter had created an amazing moment in those words, but because God used this song to build the bridge from the reality of earth to the reality of heaven.  

There was no way I could have orchestrated the young and vibrant pine tree or the discovery of a new song. God knew my head was spinning. God knew I was having trouble finding the balance between heaven and earth.

So, He gave me a pine tree and a song. | One Day (When We All Get To Heaven)