Friday, July 19, 2013

I Remember

"Green as spearmint..."
God recently spoke to me while I was driving around...through a store mannequin. No, I'm not losing my marbles (yet), and no I didn't hear an audible voice. But I was reminded of a few things that I needed to hear...let me try to explain.

Stephen Sondheim, renowned American composer and lyricist, wrote a ballad that for some reason has long been a favorite of mine; my flavor being an arrangement sung by renowned jazz vocalist Mark Murphy. The song is about a store mannequin who somehow escapes and gets out into life for awhile, but then the magic is gone and the mannequin is back in the store, remembering. The song is aptly titled, "I Remember." Take a moment and read the lyrics, or you can listen to it here;

I remember sky, It was blue as ink, or at least I think, I remember sky.

I remember snow, soft as feathers, sharp as thumbtacks, coming down like lint.
And it made you squint, when the wind would blow.

And ice, like vinyl, on the streets
Cold as silver, white as sheets, rain like strings and changing things, like leaves...

I remember leaves, green as spearmint, crisp as paper.
I remember trees, bare as coat-racks, spread like broken umbrellas.

Parks and bridges, ponds and zoos,
Ruddy faces, muddy shoes,
Light and noise and bees and boys and days.

I remember days, or at least I try.
But as years go by, they're a sort of haze.
And the bluest ink, isn't really sky.
And at times I think, I would gladly die, for a day of sky.

Think for a moment. What if a store mannequin really did escape and had the chance to experience life for a few moments, or days, or years, but then had to go back to being a mannequin? What would they tell us? The power of this song, of course, is its call to us to slow down and see the beauty around us, and not to move so fast through life that we miss it all.

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
     the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
     night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
     no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
     their words to the ends of the world."

(Psalm 19:1-4)

As a Christian, I believe whole-heartedly the Scriptures that proclaim that God has revealed Himself to us through His Creation. I also believe that God has designed us to need rest...a day called "Sabbath." A day to slow down, a day to connect to Him, a day that should be different from the other six. I believe that the "noisier" my life is, the harder it is for me to hear God. I've written on this before (click here), and as summer is in full swing I find myself fighting to live out what I believe.

I am a fast mover, my wife always trying to get me to slow down. What I need most on the Sabbath is to sit, read, rest. To get out into the wilderness, talk with God (which includes listening) and bask in the beauty of His creation. To observe things; a bird, an owl, the summer breezes, a sunrise or sunset. To listen; God speaks through many voices, but almost all of them are hard to hear if I don't slow down. I am learning...slowly.

What about you? Do you move through life so fast that maybe a store mannequin appreciates creation more than you? What is your plan? Do you have one?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Chasing Shadows

Light and Shadows created this image
Ever catch a shadow? I think the only person I know who has ever succeeded in this is Peter Pan. I hate to say it, but he's not real. Shadows are created by light. With no light, there are no shadows. Shadows can be subtle, on a cloudy day, or very vivid on a bright, sunny day. Shadows can be short, when the sun is directly over-head, or very long, when the sun is low on the horizon.

As a photographer, I love shadows...shadows help to create beautiful images. And yet, without light there are no shadows. Shadows are important in good pictures, but not nearly as important as light. There's a term called "magic hour" that photographers use to describe the times of day where the lighting is usually most conducive to great photos. That time varies, but it's always around sunrise and sunset. That's when you get the coolest pictures. It's all about the light!

"And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind." Ecclesiastes 1:13-14.

Those words should alarm us. Why? Because they were spoken by the wisest man who ever lived. Solomon. He set his heart to discovering all that is done on earth and his conclusion? It's all vanity. Work, wealth, power, play, feasting, all of it...everything we do on earth is a "chasing after the wind" or as I have come to say to myself, "chasing shadows."

Ever catch a shadow? I haven't. So why would the wisest man who ever lived conclude that all we do on earth is vanity and a "striving after wind?"

"Also, he has put eternity into man's heart." Ecclesiastes 3:11

That's why. Because God has put "eternity" into our hearts...and guess what; we can't take it out. All you can do is try to fill it. "Eternity" in your heart is that part of you that expresses itself in lots of ways;

- it's that part of you that searches for happiness
- it's your search for meaning
- it's your longing for answers to deep questions
- it's that part of you that often feels "down" or even "depressed" and you can't identify why, (because this isn't your home)
- it's that part of you that longs for a life that counts, to "make a difference"

Eternity. You can't take it out of your heart, but you can try to fill it. And all too often, too many of us try to fill it with shadows. Shadows aren't bad...they aren't good either. They're just shadows. Shadows are things like good food, friends, hobbies and passions, sports, vacations, travel, cars or games, quilting or scrapbooking, writing or reading, a good book or a good movie. These are shadows. They're not good or bad. But they are things we try to fill our lives with hoping to quiet that "eternity" part of our heart. But in the end they leave us wanting...

The answer? Stop chasing the shadows. Chase the Light!

"So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever." (2 Cor. 4:16-18 - Message)

I'm not against the shadows...even Solomon acknowledged that many of these things are gifts from God for us to enjoy. But they are not God. They are shadows of something so much greater. 

"What then does this craving and inability cry to us if not that there was once a true happiness in man of which there now remains only the mark and empty trace? We try mainly to fill it with everything around us, seeking form things absent, the help that we do not receive from things present, but they are all inadequate because only an infinite and immutable object that is God himself can fill this infinite abyss." (Pascal)

The key question is this; are you looking at the shadows to fill what only the Light can fill? If so, stop chasing shadows, and instead, chase the Light. Enjoy the shadows as gifts from God to you, for you, but never, ever expect them to do what only the Light can do. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Dependent or Independent?

It's July 5th and I've been reflecting all week on this simple thought; we celebrated our country's independence yesterday, and yet, as a Christian, I'm called to live as a dependent. In fact, it is this very trait in me, this trait of "independence" that is the root cause of so many problems.

If I had to summarize God's desire for all believers in one word, it might be the word "surrender." Read these words of Jesus;

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul." (Matt 16:24-26)

It's a simple equation - give up your life and gain a new one. Lose your life and find a more meaningful, joyful, purposeful one in Him.

And therein lies the rub - I get stuck on the first part often. "Denying myself," "giving up my life"or "losing it."And in those moments and times when I fail to deny myself, fail to give my life, I find that Jesus' words hold true...the things I hang onto lead to emptiness. However, in those moments when I am able to deny myself and get lost "in Him," there I find life, and I find Jesus.

The "losing your life" or "denying yourself" is not a one-time event. It is an on-going, ever-present denying of yourself, surrendering to Him. Why? Quite frankly, because the life Jesus has for you is so much more than the one you want to settle for. 

There are two ways to motivate people towards something:
1) You can tell them how great it will be when they get to the new place, or
2) You can tell them how awful it will be to stay where they are

A life of denying yourself will lead to eternal life in ongoing, constant stream of joy, purpose, impact, power, thankfulness, and hope. A life that leaves a legacy, makes an impact, and builds eternal rewards in heaven. That sounds pretty good...

A life of living for yourself will lead to hopelessness, a lack of purpose, a longing that will never be filled, a constant "minor depression" that medicine and psychology will never fix. That sounds pretty bad...

So join me, make every effort to deny yourself, give up your life, stop being so independent and surrender to Him. It's worth it!