Thursday, September 22, 2016

Monarchs, Milkweed, and Migration

Change is in the air here at Wits' End.

On this first day of autumn, days have grown and are growing shorter. Temperatures have not cooled much, but we have probably seen our last hundred degree day, and the early morning low is in the 70s rather than 80s.

Change is in the air in other ways as well. Bible study friends move away from because of job tranfers, ministry redirections, and family obligations. Family dynamics, duties, and joys as we move through life's seasons together. Nephews forbid us to hug them in public. {Smile.} Jobs and addresses change and change again. My church has a new senior pastor. Other pastoral staff positions are also changing for a variety of reasons. Health concerns wax, wane, multiply. Each day brings new challenges, opportunities, and faithful mercies from God.

One of the happiest changes is the coming of the monarchs.

Along with the hummingbirds, they visit our garden for a few weeks each spring and fall during their annual migration between Mexico and Canada. In May Amore replaced some terminally ill rosebushes with native milkweed, which monarchs must have to reproduce, to make our garden more attractive to them.

Although you wouldn't know it from gazing out our windows, the monarch population in North America is in danger. The open prairies where milkweed grows wild have been increasingly displaced by development. Well-meaning garden centers have addressed the problem by selling tropical milkweed for home gardens.

Sadly, the Creator designed the monarchs to migrate. The blooming, dying, and reseeding of the wild native milkweed varieties lead them from Canada to Mexico and back, as surely as the pillar of fire and cloud led the Israelites through the wilderness. Tropical milkweed blooms too long, pleasing gardeners but luring the monarchs into overstaying the safety of the habitat. Instead of migrating, they stay put and find themselves trapped by extreme heat or cold.

I,too, am a creature of habit, happy to settle down indefinitely. I prefer tropical milkweed. Comfort zones, routines, and ruts are some of my favorite places. My natural tendency is to resist change as an enemy to comfort.

Change often is an enemy to comfort, but it is a friend to spiritual growth and well-being. The Lord designed Christians, like monarchs, to be migratory creatures, at least where we now live, between the Fall and the Consummation. We are pilgrims, sent into all the world to share the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ and to make disciples. We are not meant to be too at home here but to long for our true Home, when we will see the Lord face to face.

Paul describes this longing for our permanent Home, specifically as it relates to our permanent resurrection body, like this:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:1-8 ESV)

The author of the letter to the Hebrews writes of an unshakable kingdom and the shaking of the whole created world:
At that time [the giving of the Law to Moses] his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:26-28 ESV)
In that passage, the voice shaking the created order is God's own. Change is a gift, that we might grow in gratitude for His kingdom, which cannot be shaken.

There are groaning and shaking in this present season of change. There is longing for Someday and Home and Life. There are tears and heartache.

But there are also laughter and celebration of the joys of this present place and moment. We are learning not to take for granted the opportunity to talk and love and hug today, right now.

By God's good grace, there is also the comfort of the Spirit as a guarantee that this longing will be fulfilled. By God's good grace, there is real courage: not all the time, not in what always feels an adequate measure, but real all the same. More than I could ever have on my own. There is gratitude; there is worship. My Lord is the unchanging rock which stabilizes in the midst of the change. He is in that pillar of cloud and fire which leads us through the upheaval and protects us from the unseen hazards of our comfort zones. He is with us and does not forsake us.

Change is not my favorite place, but it is a hopeful place. It is a good place, because the Lord is in it. Today I thank Him for the monarchs. I will miss them when they leave, but I will not second-guess the migration their Creator designed.

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