God is the ultimate creator. We use things He created to produce art and thereby bless those who see our art with a glimpse of heaven. We call these things our creations, but in reality all we are really doing is using talent He gave us to assemble objects and paints to make something. He created the very things we use to make an art object, and without them and the abilities He gave us, we ourselves cannot truly create anything. How humbling that should be to the painter, the sculptor, and the architect, and the photographer.
Ah, but our Creator delights in seeing what we do in His creation when we assemble things to make beautiful buildings, paintings, and yes, even photographs. He takes great delight in our abilities at seeing and remembering and then re-creating the beauty He has infused into His universe. And He knows that true beauty, in any art form, inspires, revives, and blesses the souls of those who behold it.
Photography? For me, this is all it is:
I frame and shine a light on the beauty that God has painted.
When we ask the Lord to help us through a tough situation, He is often more eager to change us, to mold us, to make us more Christ-like. As He shows us the truth of the situation, from His viewpoint, we are chagrined to discover that we had a hand in creating the mess in which we find ourselves. Perhaps we took a job against the leading of the Holy Spirit, or perhaps we are in a relationship that we know is hurtful. Maybe we just bought something without praying about it, and now we wish we had not.
As God reveals the truth of the matter to us, we feel worse at first. Instead of finding peace or resolution, sometimes all we find is the stern face of Aslan asking us if we are to blame. Ah well, we are.
But if we sit down and pout or flagellate ourselves for the error we are no better off. We find that when we use the truth inside the Lord’s gentle rebuke, we find peace at last. We decide to make resolution. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us be better, wiser. And He does. He delights in doing that. That what the Christian life is all about. When we use truth to help us heal and grow, we do become what He always wanted us to be.
And that’s when we see that truth hurts and then it heals.
Truth is the bracing wind that blows your sock into the creek.
Hang up your sock and let the same wind dry it out.
If it is merely a matter of an overwhelmed disbelief, we say He is incredible,unbelievable.
If we merely describe our own reaction of being unable to grasp His nature, we call Him amazing,marvelous, inconceivable.
If we find His nature arresting, we might say He is astonishing or stunning.
If we just label Him with our own estimation of Him, we call Him wonderful, fabulous, marvelous, or awesome.
God transcends our feeble reactions and judgments. His nature lies far above these weak, man-centered attempts to describe Him. He is grand, great, omniscient, omnipresent, immanent, glorious, perfect–
New England is an orderly place. Sometimes. At least it started out that way. Those who settled this area came with a desire that things being done decently and in order, an ethic they derived from 1 Cor 14:40. Keeping things in order preserves life; disorderliness ruins it.
Even the order we use when spelling words makes a great difference in saying what we mean and meaning what we write: Satan and Santa have the same letters, but the order is different. They are two beings, one real and one imaginary, with opposite objectives yet whose names are spelled with the same five letters. Order matters.
God calls us to put Him first in our lives and let all our desires and pursuits be put in good order after Him—not necessarily eliminated, just put in order. When we put God first, our lives are filled with joy—not always pleasure and ease—but an abiding joy.
So, when we ask God to show us how to put the elements of our lives in order, we keep the end in mind. To one He will say, “Depart from me, you worker of iniquity.” To the other He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Condemnation and commendation have almost all the same letters, just a little re-arranged. In the end, each person receives one or the other.
A few days ago we commemorated Christ’s entry into Jerusalem riding a donkey. On that day, we are told in the gospel accounts, the people cut palm branches and waved them in honor of Him as he rode. Each year on Palm Sunday, at many churches in New England, we distribute palms on this Sunday before Easter as a tactile reminder of that triumphal entry. The leaves of the palm are broken off the frond and given to worshipers separately. Some of us enjoy weaving the palm leaves into various things, the most common being a cross– a grim reminder that the same crowds that applauded Jesus with “Hosanna!” on Sunday shouted for his crucifixion a few days later.
When a palm leaf has just recently been split off from the base of the frond, it is supple, green, lively, and easily woven into symbolic, tactile reminders of the events of Holy Week. Skillful fingers organize the leaves into images that we keep on fireplace mantels and dressers as the days of the week pass by. Pictured above is just such a cross.
Ah, but after a day, that palm leaf that has been separated from its frond is no longer green and supple. It starts withering and drying out immediately, as it stiffens into whatever shape it has been given. The crosses and donkeys made of palm leaves become dry, colorless, and easily crumpled. Apart from the frond, those leaves wither and die.
In John 15:1-6, Jesus tells us: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he removes, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me, as a branch he is thrown away and withers.
This year I looked it an unbroken palm bud four days later. All of the palm leaves, still attached to the frond, were still supple and green. They were abiding.
Christ commands us to abide in Him. In Him is life.
The first really warm days arrive in early spring. We shed our coats and melancholy moods and embrace the world around us that has decided to not be hostile. And we turn off the furnace. Well, for now. We know that in New England, one warm day in late March or early April does not a summer make. We know we’ll need the life-giving warmth of that furnace again in a few days, and now and then on chilly nights well into May. And maybe after that once or twice. Of course, we would never dream of getting rid of our furnaces in summer– we service them and get them ready for use again in the autumn. We know we’ll need them again because we know that homes without heat are useless.
But what about abandoned buildings that have no heat? How do they fare? This inn, once a beautiful haven for weary travelers, is now a spooky wreck. Without warmth and care for the last 40 years, this inn has decayed into a haven fit only for bats and vermin.
New England needs the gospel. It warms the culture. It keeps people and churches and communities– really, the whole region– from decay. God’s Word is true and dependable. It shows us how to live and be assured of eternal salvation. We need its warm touch in our lives constantly, like we need furnaces.
Spiritually, New England has grown dark and cold. Its residents shut down the furnace of God’s truth and love a long time ago.
We need to ignite that flame again. We are praying fervently for New England to return to its roots. Long ago this was the cradle of American Christianity, and it needs to be again.
Lord, help faithful pastors show New England how to turn the furnace back on.
For some New Englanders, the cold, dark, icy days of winter can seem like a long narrow tunnel interrupting reality– a constricting passageway when life can be really awful, connecting the eras when life is awfully real. Some of us find winter just something to get through. Driving to and from work in the dark, huddling inside to avoid the cold, enduring a bout with the flu– these things make winter seem like a long tunnel that connects “real life” on either end. Sometime after the last Christmas things are packed away, we face the inevitable confinement of the New England winter and resign ourselves to tunnel life.
On the other hand, as long as we are feeling well and the furnace is working, life during the tunnel days provides us with something that “real life” does not: time to reflect. On still, dark winter evenings we think deeply and meditate. We enjoy reading and studying God’s word. We take time to nourish our souls. The harshness of the outdoors makes us let go of “real life” long enough to immerse ourselves in good literature or to watch a compelling movie. We grow, we change.
And we also learn to look for beauty inside the starkness of the season. If we take the time to look for them, frigid winter nights grant us thrills that balmy summer nights do not. The full moon rides high in the sky, reflecting its cold, clear light off the yards below. To the delight of the astute observer, God gives us strange, fleeting gifts like the interplay of both moonlight and the shadows created by outdoor lanterns on the crust of the stark white snow.
And so we finally reach the midpoint of the tunnel: “Feb Four.” On this morning, the fourth day of February, we mark the halfway point of the winter experience. Starting today, we are trudging out of the long dark tunnel; we are driving out of it, not into it. And that gives us hope, because even though we know winter can be used to shape us for the good, we don’t want it to last too long.
When a New England man buys a new machine, he immediately wants to know which parts he will need to replace soon, and which ones will last beyond his lifetime. The big problem in this region nowadays is that these same people who apply that good sense and prudent stewardship to their possessions are not geared to thinking that way about themselves– that is– about body and soul. The soul lasts forever; the body does not. Look at American culture, especially as it is lived out in the Northeast, and you will see that the cultural norm centers around the vain imagination that our bodies last forever, and our invisible souls don’t even exist…or, if they do, they are irrelevant and their destinations unknowable. All the focus of daily life is on the temporal, not the eternal. Most people in this region today spend all their time working for what they cannot keep beyond the grave, worrying about status and appearance, and worshiping what is fleeting.
In 2 Corinthians 4:16, the apostle Paul advises us, “So do not lose heart. Though our outer self is deteriorating, still our inner self is being renewed day by day.” If that is true, then we ought to be very interested indeed in what renews our inner self– what builds up our soul. The faithful Christians that settled New England had no such vain imagination. They knew that the body must be cared for and nourished, but that the soul would live for an eternity– in glory or in torment. They placed the greater emphasis of Christian living squarely on what matters: that the inner self would be renewed day by day through things like prayer, Bible study, worship, and acts of mercy. Through these joyous activities, a believer lays up treasure in Heaven, feeds the soul, builds up the kingdom, benefits others, gives God the glory.
Each day the outer self deteriorates a little more. Over time the effect is obvious.
Gracious Lord, let us all invest our time in the renewal of the inner self.
A famous philosopher once propounded the conundrum, “If God is all-powerful, let Him create a rock so large that He cannot lift it.” This has been shown to be ridiculous, by the rules of logic, because, by definition, omnipotence precludes inability.
However, it is striking to note that only God is so powerful that He could incarnate Himself into the form of a human being who, being born of God, was indeed truly God, and yet also being of limited scope, could not lift a rock. Indeed, God IS so powerful that He can create a rock so large that, in the form of a newborn baby, He cannot lift it.