Shades of Gray

07/12/2008

Shades of gray wherever I go
The more I find out the less that I know
Black and white is how it should be
But shades of gray are the colors I see

These words from Billy Joel’s song played in the car as we made our way towards our granddaughter’s first birthday party in Oregon. Jim and I had spent the night in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and started out the next morning on the road to Crater Lake. The drive held all the sights and smells that delight the senses. The sky was so blue as we drove through the mountainous roads. We stopped along the way to take a look at a rushing stream hundreds of feet below the road we traveled on. I told Jim as we stood in the warm sunshine looking down at the river, “Just build me a deck right here, and here I’ll stay.” But even “here,” there were shades of gray, the mosquitoes started to interrupt this moment of joy, and we quickly got back into the car where they couldn’t get to us.

As we continued to drive along we talked about the words to the song, and we listened to it again. We thought about the beauty here on earth, the colors we see, how vivid they seem, and yet if this is truly only a shadow of the things to come, if we’re only seeing shades of gray compared to the glory of Heaven that awaits, then we certainly have a bright future as believers in Jesus Christ when we leave here!

Make sure that the light you think you
have is not actually darkness.
Luke 11:35 (NLT)

There are some beautiful places on this earth, and Crater Lake is one of them! I had not been there since I was a teenager, and being that teenagers can see things in a different light anyhow, I probably had not appreciated how spectacular this place on earth is. I called my parents from the rim of the lake and asked them if they had brought me there. They assured me that they had…I had just forgotten! We took many road trips in my growing-up years.

Crater Lake Crater Lake Crater Lake

I have seen many beautiful lakes, as most of us have, but this one seems to top them all! The water is so blue, and the reflections on the lake from the mountains that surround it are spectacular! I can’t help but share a couple of pictures we took while we were there. Even though it was mid-June there was still snow on the ground, and the north entrance to the park wouldn’t even be opened until mid-July. I’ve never walked in snow with sandals on! It was kind of fun!

“Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth,
and no one will even think about the old ones anymore.”
Isaiah 65:17 (NLT)

It’s one thing to forget the places we’ve visited in our past—either because we were young and it didn’t make a big impression on us, or we’re getting older and our minds aren’t quite as sharp as they once were—but to never think about all of this anymore once we are in Heaven, it’s almost unimaginable! How wonderful must Heaven be…how spectacular a place must God have in mind for the New Earth if this will all be forgotten? Wow! That’s the place I want to live for all of eternity!

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven
and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.
Revelation 21:1 (NLT)

A friend asked me one day while we sat at the ocean’s edge, “Do you think they’ll be oceans in Heaven?” I said, “Well, I don’t know for sure, but if they’re aren’t, what will be there will be even better than this!” I know we can trust that the place that Jesus has gone ahead to prepare for us is spectacular. Our Father in Heaven created this world, a world now corrupted by sin and dulled to shades of gray compared to the vibrant Garden of Eden that once existed—and yet places on earth are still marvelous, so we can look forward with great expectation to the New Earth we will inhabit as believers in Jesus Christ! God knows how to design a great place to be!

These are a shadow of the things that were to come;
the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Colossian 2:17 (NIV)

Jim and I almost saw that reality, or should I say Jesus face-to-face, while driving back down the road from Crater Lake. It’s a windy road with steep sides to it, and I was reaching back to place a map in the backseat while Jim was changing the music we were listening to. Maybe we were ready for something more uplifting than “Shades of Gray,” but what we found was ourselves almost careening off the side of the road into a deep valley below! Just as we were inches from driving off the highway and into the arms of God, Jim steered us back to safety! We both sort of looked at each other, knowing that in that instant everything could have changed in our lives, or in our deaths I guess I should say. We recalled the story of the woman on a plane, heading out to California to see her daughter. When it seemed the turbulence was so strong that the plane might not make it, she was asked why she could remain so calm. She said, “Well, I have a daughter in California, and a daughter in Heaven. Either way, I’m going to see my daughter today.” We felt the same way! With a son in Oregon and a son in Heaven, either way, we would have been seeing a son that day! Since I’m still here writing this, the Oregon son it was!

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

All of us living on this earth live in a land covered with the shadow of death. This is not said to depress all of us, it’s just the reality we live in. We can choose to think about it or not, but it won’t change the facts. One day we can be here, alive and well, in the next instant, all that could change. What we really should we asking ourselves and others is, “Has a light dawned in our life here?” Are we seeing things as they really are, with the reality of God in mind, or are we living in our own reality, one that might not encompass all it should?

Randy Alcorn writes:

“The blind must take by faith that there are stars in the sky. If they depend on their ability to see, they will conclude there are no stars. We must work to resist the bewitching spell of naturalism. Sitting here in a dark world, we must remind ourselves what Scripture tells us about Heaven. We will one day be delivered from the blindness that separates us from the real world.”

I heard an amazing story the other day from a man I know. He had been in a climbing accident. While his friend had gone on to climb to the summit of Mt. Shasta, he had made the decision to turn back for base camp. As he was coming back down, he’d taken a fall and injured his face. The injury wasn’t enough to keep him from making it back to base camp, but the problem was he couldn’t find the base camp. He got lost for hours and hours, and miles and miles. During those hours and hours and miles and miles, he had a lot of time to talk with his Maker, and talk he did. He said he was praying all along the way, thinking also about the warning they has just gotten when heading out on this trip about those who don’t make it back alive.

As his story unfolded it seemed that only by God’s miraculous ways of leading him to overgrown trails, and then along those trails until they opened up into newer trails, and then back to the road where he flagged down a truck driver, was his life spared. The shadow of death was hanging over him, he truly didn’t know if this was it, if his earthly life was over, and if it was, had he accomplished everything in his life that he wanted to do? Had he done what God had brought him here to do…he wondered, and is still processing all of this. As we talked, he admitted that he never really considered his death in this way. Not that he hadn’t made his peace with God, he had said “Yes” to Jesus as his Lord, but after that was settled, his Heavenly future had not really been a part of his earthly thinking. He said he felt like he would just be 18 forever, even though he hadn’t actually been 18 for many years!

I found this story fascinating, and also enlightening! Do we forget that this world is not all there is? Do we have the hope of a better place to come? Or are we walking through life, through shades of gray, and not even noticing? When the scenery here can be so gorgeous—like it must be way up high on Mt. Shasta, or like it is at Crater Lake—do we forget that it can get so much better than this? Are we settling for less than we should?

Some may think Heaven is going to be pretty boring! I mean, who wants to spend eternity worshipping God? We can barely do it for an hour on Sunday morning before we’re ready to get out of church, out of our church clothes, and on with our day…on to what’s really exciting! Well, if this is our idea of Heaven, then we’re way off base!!

They serve in a system of worship that is only a copy,
a shadow of the real one in heaven.
Hebrews 8:5 (NLT)

Think of the best Sunday service we have ever been to, a service that perhaps moves us to tears, or to our feet, or to a joy, or a peace that we were so searching for in the darkness of our hearts…then multiply what we have found in that service by a number we can’t even fathom…and still, it won’t be enough to measure the wonder of Heaven. Everything we will do in Heaven will be a form of worshipping God. We won’t be sitting in a pew all the day long, lifeless, bored, looking at our watch until some preacher gets done, or some choir finishes the fifth verse of a hymn that makes no sense to us, if we’re even paying attention to the words…and I’m painting a terrible Sunday morning scenario here. If this is your Sunday morning, you might want to find a new church to attend. But even the best church, with the best pastor, or the best music, or the best sketch, or the best testimony won’t compare to what waits for us in Heaven! Heaven is not about sitting in a church service—Heaven is about living out an eternity in a place that is filled to overflowing with the love of God every moment of every day, and living in a joy like we have never known, and a peace like we have never felt, and in relationships that run deep and true, and in experiencing all the things our hearts desire—wonderful, exhilarating things that God has planned for us that we can’t even imagine now.

Shortly after our son died, a friend of a friend said to me, “I had a dream of Phil last night. He was in a colorful field, playing ball. He said, ‘I’m doing this here because I couldn’t do it on earth.’” Phil’s lack of energy while fighting cancer kept him from so many things. It’s good to know he’s happy and healthy now! The shadow of death no longer keeps him from enjoying every second of his eternal life!

There he will remove the cloud of gloom,
the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.
Isaiah 25:7 (NLT)

Jonathan Edwards writes:

“God is the highest good of the reasonable creature; and the enjoyment of Him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven to enjoy God is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean. Therefore it becomes us to spend this life only as a journey toward heaven…Why should we labor for or set our hearts on anything else but that which is our proper end and true happiness?”

It’s hard to imagine that what we see each day here are merely shadows of what’s to come…especially when things are good, when the day is filled with beauty that can take our breath away. I’m sure my friend who was climbing up to the summit of Mt. Shasta saw sights and smelled smells that were amazing! And yet, the shadow of death was right there next to him, just as it was with us as we were driving back down the windy road from Crater Lake after witnessing something so rich with color! In one instant everything seems right with the world, in the next, we’re not even in this world at all.

In Heaven, there will be no cloud of gloom to contend with!! Hell is black and Heaven is white, and when they are mixed together here on earth, we live in shades of gray that we call “normal.” It’s not wrong, it just is what it is, and our responsibility is mainly to realize it and remember to focus on the light of God instead of the dark this world contains. John 1:5 (NLT) says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” If we don’t understand this, if we don’t live in the reality of it, the darkness of this world can start to consume us. But, if we understand that no matter how dark it gets, God’s light can shine through it, we can endure. We can persevere. We can know that what waits for us on the other side of a gloomy gray is God’s promise of a beautiful rainbow!

Shades of gray are all that I find
When I look to the enemy line
Ain't no rainbows shining on me
Shades of gray are the colors I see

Oswald Chambers says it this way;

Don’t calculate with the evil in view. Does God really mean us to take no account of the evil? ‘Love…taketh no account of the evil.’ Love is not ignorant of the existence of the evil, but it does not take it in as a calculating factor. Apart from God, we do reckon with evil; we calculate with it in view and work all our reasonings from that standpoint.”

The earth is a mixture of black and white, of sin and purity, of God and Satan. That’s the world we live in and we won’t escape it until we leave this life to live eternally in Heaven or Hell. But until then, or as I recently wrote, “In the Meantime,” with our focus on a Heavenly destination, our earthly steps can be exciting and fulfilling and fearless! We should never make any decision in life while looking to the enemy line. If we do, we will falter, we will fear, we will want to run away and hide. The only way to approach life is like David did when he met Goliath—full of faith and knowing with God on our side, eternal victory is ours no matter what this world looks like! It’s not that David didn’t see his enemy, he knew he was there and wasn’t about to pretend he wasn’t, but David also knew full well the strength of the God he served. God’s not asking us to go in blindly; He’s asking us to go in with our eyes focused on Him, remembering His promises to us!

I’m setting off into a new adventure next month! No, I’m not going anywhere, except back to school. Cosmetology School! It’s exciting! It will fulfill a longing in me that I’ve had since I was ten years old. I watched my dad cut the hair of my four brothers, and for almost 30 years now I’ve cut my own boys’ hair, and have now started cutting my grandchildren’s hair. I’m finally going to get a license to do so! Even after all that experience in cutting hair, going to school could still cause me to fear. I’ve never colored hair, permed hair, or all the other things required in this ten-month course—but I don’t want “to calculate with evil in view.” God gives us the desires of our heart, both plants them there and fulfills them. We can trust in Him and go forward with confidence!

God knows I’ve always wanted to be a barber, and He has opened up the doors, the time, and the price range to do just that! And quickly! If you had asked me last week what I’d be doing this week, it wouldn’t have been, “Signing up for Cosmetology school.” Exactly what I’m going to do when I’m done, I don’t know. All I know is, it’s time to get started, and God will show me what to do with my license when I have it in my hand! Jim says that if I don’t do this, he wants me to move out. Why? Because he doesn’t want to be in the way if a fall out should come due to my disobedience! In a dark world, sometimes we’ll see God’s bright light shining in a certain direction…we would be wise to follow it, not only for our own good, but for the good of those we do life with.

Billy Joel goes on to sing:

Now with the wisdom of years, I try to reason things out
And the only people I fear are those who never have doubts
Save us all from arrogant men, and all the causes they're for
I won't be righteous again
I'm not that sure anymore

This world and all that it contains could cause us to doubt, that’s normal, but we are never to doubt God. When we try and reason things out with a worldly perspective, we just might discover we’re “not that sure anymore” about anything on this earth, which is actually a very good thing, because it’s God’s way of helping us know the only thing we can be sure about is our Lord. His ways, His wisdom, His righteousness, His love, His design, and His plan for our lives. Every other line can get blurred. We’ll start to realize that if we’re not following close in the footsteps of our Lord, we’re going to find ourselves more lost than my friend was on Mt. Shasta—and along the way, we may even miss the dreams that God put in our heart as a child.

God also bound himself with an oath, so that those
who received the promise could be perfectly sure
that he would never change his mind.
Hebrews 6:17 (NLT)

When we are sure that God’s promises are true, we can be sure that we are His, and that He has a plan for our lives. That’s where we’ll find our starting point for each day—a sure foundation to build on—and we can start anew over, and over, and over, every single minute of every single day if we want to, because God is a God of new beginnings, of unending forgiveness, of eternal faithfulness, and of enduring love. We are His children, and He delights in us! He gives us good gifts! Yes, sometimes He disciplines His children, and it can hurt, and it can cause tears, but it is only for a season, and with our Father in Heaven, it is always for good reason. He wants the very best for us!

But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth
he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.
2 Peter 3:13 (NLT)

God’s righteousness is faithful. It can be trusted. It is clear. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5 (NIV) Think of the purest white on this earth, it is gray compared to God’s whiteness, His brightness, His rightness! Only our Lord can be truly trusted, and truly rested in. I had my eyes opened to this when I went to court this last week. Yes, court! Not for me, and for that I’m thankful, but for a new friend of mine. What I witnessed there surprised me. Call me an innocent babe in the woods, and I’ll agree with you. The more I find out, the less that I know. Yes, I’ve heard the jokes about lawyers, just as I’ve heard the jokes about menopause, both are funny, but both come from the gray reality of this world we live in.

Reading in Isaiah this morning, I had to laugh out loud! God’s timing while writing this message was so perfect! In my older New Living Translation Bible it says, “Look, a righteous king is coming! And honest princes will rule under him…In that day ungodly fools will not be heroes. Wealthy cheaters will not be respected as outstanding citizens…The smooth tricks of evil people will be exposed, including all the lies they use to oppress the poor in the courts.” (Isaiah 32:1,5,7)

As I sat with my friend in the courtroom, watching all those who had put on their best clothes to meet with the judge, I witnessed how costly it is to stay out of jail. Salvation is free, given to us through the blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It’s free, because it cost Jesus everything! But freedom is costly. It costs men and women their lives on the battlefields, and it costs men and women out of their pocket in the courtroom. War may not be avoidable, but most legal mistakes are. When we don’t avoid them, when we decide to mess with the legal system of this country, we’ve messed with a powerful entity! And what I saw happening with that entity, saddened my heart. What should have been black and white seemed pretty “shady.” I wondered if those we should be able to trust were all that trustworthy? If the very people hired to fight for our cause have their own cause at the root of it all, who is looking out for our best interest? Who’s rooting for those who are trying to turn their lives around? Who’s on the side of good, and who’s on the side of evil? What I found reflected in the courtroom became blurred. Right and wrong, innocent and guilty, black and white all seemed very gray.

And he will answer, “I tell you the truth, when you refused
to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were
refusing to help me.”
Matthew 25:45 (NLV)

It seemed to me there was a lot of “trying to get blood out of a turnip” in that courtroom. Now, I’m not saying that those on trial that day were completely innocent. I’m not that blind. I’m just saying that if we don’t keep our focus on the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth, this world and even those called to uphold the law of the land will blur the line between black and white, between right and wrong, and we’ll wonder if there is any justice to be found on earth. It’s good that we can KNOW that a “righteous king is coming”! God’s Truth sits on solid ground—all the rest here on earth, is pretty shaky ground!

The friend I was with has had a difficult life, and I don’t think she’d mind if I tell you that. She has made some mistakes, and she knows it. She still has to pay for some of those mistakes, and she will, but to pad the wallet of someone who stands between her and her freedom can take a turnip with no blood left in it and bury it in the mud. It’s good to know our eternal Hope has already been paid for! My friend believes that, and demonstrated the point so clearly as she passed through the metal detector upon entering the courthouse. She was wearing her bracelet that says HIS on it! She wears it as a reminder of Who she belongs to. She smiled as she told us that she knew in her heart it wouldn’t set off the buzzer, and it didn’t.

It’s good to know as believers in a shady world we don’t have to pay for our Hope. Jesus already did and no one, not even the devil, can cheat us out of it. Hope doesn’t belong to this world, it belongs to God, and we belong to Him. Our Lord alone is righteous, and He holds us in the palm of His hand, and He’ll never let us go. No matter how messy things get here, He still sees, He still knows, and He’s still in control. Jesus tells us we can start new on this day, no matter what is in our past, and that we can trust that He will bring us through to the finish line. It doesn’t mean it will be easy, or fast, but it will be possible.

Paul replied, "Short time or long—I pray God that
not only you but all who are listening to me today
may become what I am, except for these chains."
Acts 26:29 (NIV)

As we left the courthouse on that day, we talked of Paul’s imprisonment, and my friend commented about the weight of the chains he must have worn. I think she was encouraged to know that although Paul wore chains for a time, he persevered. Although we can go to jail for many things, Paul was only guilty of one thing, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let that be said of us too, but if it isn’t, if we break the law of the land, we can always know that even though there are penalties to pay, and perhaps prison time to serve, we are still free in our hearts, and forgiven when we ask our Lord. There are no shades of gray with our Lord, He deals in black and white. In rock solid Truth!

Jesus didn’t die for some of us; He died for all of us who will believe. Even the criminal on the cross beside Jesus was forgiven and taken into Paradise that very day on the promise of Jesus. We are no better, we are no worse, what we are is HIS! We belong to our Lord, and we always will. He is our great Hope for a new world to come!

“As surely as my new heavens and earth will remain,
so will you always be my people, with a name that will
never disappear,” says the Lord. Isaiah 66:22 (NLT)

In Heaven, everything will shine exactly as it should…forever and ever and ever! Amen!

Until we meet again,
Diane