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Recently my wife, Joan, asked me “Have you noticed that it’s getting darker earlier every day?” My first thought was, “No, not really”, But then I said, “well, it’s been getting darker every day since the first day of summer (June 21). The truth is, I am well aware that the first day of summer is the longest day of the year, and then it gets darker about one minute a day earlier for the next six months until the shortest day of the year, which is the first day of winter (about December 21). But I try to ignore that reality, because it reminds me that summer is dying. Which means that winter is coming. I like the warmth of summer and I don’t like the cold of winter. Also, I don’t like snow. Well, that’s not entirely true. I do like to see pictures of snowy scenes, like they have on some Christmas cards. And I do wish that it will snow at the ski resorts for people who do like snow. I just don’t like snow where I am. But winter, with its cold and snow, is inevitable in some parts of the world, like in New Jersey, where I live.
The change of seasons is a kind of process you have to go through. I’ve been going through that process for 73 years, except for two years (1958 and 1959). During those two years, I spent my U.S. Navy service without experiencing winter. I spent summer mostly in Florida and I spent the winter months cruising the Mediterranean Sea on the aircraft carriers U.S.S. Forrestal and Saratoga. Technically it was winter over there, but in reality it felt like summer back home. I still remember spending time on the warm sand on the beach in Cannes, France. never (except once) having to wear a coat, and in the distance seeing the snow capped French alps. Yes, that’s where I like to see snow. Way out in the distance.
Back in those years I don’t remember thinking about going through this process in which summer is dying and winter is coming. I guess it was about 35-40 years ago that I first realized that’s what was happening over and over again, year after year. It was one of those circumstances whose memory pops up again and again. When you can remember just where you were when this memory was a reality. It was a few days before the 4th of July holiday. Summer had arrived about two weeks earlier, right on schedule. I had been to lunch with a salesman from one of the steamship companies I did business with. I was then in the export shipping business, responsible for coordinating and arranging for shipment of heavy industrial equipment to overseas destinations. On the way back to my office in the Chrysler Building Annex in New York (3rd Avenue and 42nd Street) we took a short cut through Grand Central Station. Our conversation got around to what we were going to be doing for the 4th of July holiday. I was saying how thankful I was that summer was finally here. And then he commented that even though summer had just arrived, already the days were getting shorter. “Before you know it”, he said, “summer will be ‘shot’ and it would soon be back to winter again. That was not something I wanted to hear.
For many years I didn’t think about that conversation. But it has come to my mind at the beginning of summer in recent years. I am reminded once again that this happens every year. I look forward to summer because it is so far away from winter. But at the same time it won’t be long before summer is “shot” and it will be winter again. I now know that the reason that bothers me and I try to avoid facing the reality of the change of seasons process is that, like a lot of other things, as I grow older it seems to go faster and faster every year, one year the other. It reminds me that I only have a “few” more summers left to live in this world.
So what should I do? What am I doing about this? I am learning to live with this reality by accepting and reminding myself of what I have come to believe are three basic realities.
1. The change of seasons, and the passing of the years, is God’s doing. And what God does is always good, even if I can’t see or understand how at the time.One of our former United Methodist Church bishops, Bishop Alfred Johnson, always opened public events by saying “God is good!”. Then the congregation/audience responded with “All the time”. Then Bishop Johnson would say “And all the time”. And our response would be “God is good”. As a pastor, I began opening worship services that way. Now I no longer serve as a pastor, but I am still reminded by my friend and partner in ministry, Patty Perez, especially when I am feeling disappointed or discouraged, “God is Good”. My life experience has been that in the past that has always been true. In good times and bad times, God has been good, getting me through it all in the past.
2. I have come to take very seriously that whatever time I do have left in this world I need to use discerning God’s will as to what God wants me to do (or what God wants to do with me) in these remaining years (summer, winter, and always). To expect that God will provide all the resources I need to do whatever those things happen to be. And then, just do it.That’s why after retiring as a pastor, I have embarked upon this new career of writing, which includes the publication of this blog. The fact that I’m actually doing what I thought was impossible not that long ago tells me that God is in fact good in the present.
3. I have heard all kinds of explanations about what the future will be for me when I leave this world. Some of it I have come to believe is utter nonsense. Some of it sounds really good, but makes little or no sense to me. I have also formulated some ideas about what eternity beyond life in this world will be like. Ideas which I believe are are Bible based, are reasonable, and which make sense. At the same time, I have to admit that I have no proof that what I believe is the truth. However, this is one thing I know that is true. Based on my life experience, there is no question in my mind. I believe without a doubt that God has been good to me in the past. God continues to be good to me in the present. Therefore, I have no reason to doubt that God will not be good to me in the future (eternity) when I leave this world. In a future blog I might write further about what I have come to believe about all this. But for now, I’ll just summarize a comment I recently read somewhere. “In eternity there is no time. Eternity is one never-ending day, in which you will always experience God’s loving goodness.”
In a few months winter will again be here, and I will probably grumble about the cold and the snow. However, I now know these three things : 1.Whatever God does is always good, whether I like or understand it or not. 2. As long as I live in this world God has a purpose (or more precisely – purposes for me, and if I say yes to whatever that is, it will be done and it will be good, because God is good. 3. I have eternity to look forward to, where and when I will totally and permanently experience God’s goodness.
I hold on to these thoughts as God inspired Rays of Hope. Because they are God inspired and part of God’s will, if I cooperate with God, and let God love me, they will be fulfilled.This is good news in the midst of bad news. I believe I can also assure you that this good news is not just for me, but for you and for everyone. God is good all the time, and all the time God is good – in the past, present and future. Maybe you already know this. Maybe you are hearing it for the first time. Either way, please join me in cooperating with God in ways which will enable you to continue to be aware of and to experience God’s love for you .
Grace and peace, Ray Gough