Friday, September 16, 2011

The Power of Place


This post can be seen in it's original form at the RPCC Women's Ministry Blog.
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To tell you the truth, I don’t spend much time thinking about Heaven. 

I’m sure it would be a good thing if I did. But honestly, most of my thoughts are focused on the mundane things of this world. Clothes, Money, Transportation, Food, Music, Art . . . Some of these things can be Spirit-filled, right?

It’s times like these that God—in His infinite wisdom and mercy—decides to show me an image (or whack me over the head, is more like it) that all but forces me to consider His Kingdom.  Let me try to explain the picture:

Before my parents got married, they used to spend their summers volunteering at a camp in Port Sydney, Ontario. It was a beautiful place, deep in the woods of Muskoka. Children were taught to love the Lord, relationships were nurtured, characters were strengthened—all in the presence of God’s creation. When I was seven years old, my parents decided to return so that we (my sister, brother and I) could experience camp for ourselves. Since that summer, my family has returned year after year. For fifteen years I was a camper and then a counselor. My brother and sister can’t remember a summer without camp. 

I can easily count camp as one of my favorite places on Earth. And it is a treasure I hope to one day pass on to my own children. But it is not just the majesty of God’s creation that draws me to that place. There is a legacy of stewardship, faith and compassion, reaching back almost ninety years, that that fully mirrors the kingdom of Heaven. 

When Jesus walked the Earth, he would travel from town to town along the Sea of Galilee telling parables about His Father’s Kingdom.  31He put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32)

This past summer, my family made the traditional trek up North. (Sadly, these last few years I have not been able to join them. But that has definitely not stopped me from praying for all the campers and staff each summer.) My brother spent an especially long time there this time, devoting additional time to camping and canoeing with friends. On his way home this week, we got to spend a couple hours together. I peppered him with questions; he shared breath-taking photos and awesome stories. But when he had gone, I couldn’t stop thinking about the images that had been planted in my mind. Literally, slideshows were playing through my head. And it made me think of heaven. 

It was startling at first. I thought I was going crazy. But God has a funny way of reaching us where we are. Slipping into our thoughts and revealing His majesty and might. I don’t think heaven is going to look exactly like northern Ontario, but the wholeness and fulfillment I feel when I think of that place must be a tiny hint of what it will be like. 

Some of my favorite authors have spent a great deal of time thinking about heaven. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien came up with entire worlds to describe their imaginations.  Madeleine L’Engle delved into the fields of Microbiology and Physics understand God’s Kingdom. Jesus, himself, spoke of heaven in stories. He knew that our feeble minds would never be able to understand completely. He gave us pictures to help us imagine. 

When I do think about heaven, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with God’s faithfulness. From the dawn of time, He has been calling His children to Himself, preparing the most beautiful place for us! And if that weren’t enough, as receivers of His grace, we have been given His Spirit to live in faith and love here on this Earth. Such wisdom!

1The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.

 3 Though an army encamps against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me,
   yet I will be confident.

 4 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.

 5For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.

 6And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

 7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! 8You have said, "Seek my face."My heart says to you, "Your face, LORD, do I seek."

 9 Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation! 10For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.

 11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.

 13I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

Psalm 27

Friday, September 2, 2011

Faces

I submitted this post for the RPCC Women's Ministry Blog, but thought it would be nice to post it in full:

Have you ever stopped to think about your face? The face of your child, your spouse, the stranger next door? No? Well I have. At least recently, that is.

This past weekend I traveled to Michigan to visit my mom’s side of the family and enjoy some much needed rest outside the city. Within minutes of sitting down at the kitchen table my aunt and I started chatting about our respective family history research finds. I had some new records to show her; she had some old photos to show me. Faces floated before my eyes. Some I recognized, others were unfamiliar, but distinctive features show up throughout all the generations.

As I sat there playing history detective, I was reminded of Psalm 139 where it says,

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
   when I was made in the secret place,
   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
   all the days ordained for me were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.

On this earth, we are known by our faces. We recognize our friends because of their loving smiles. We remember historical figures by seeing their faces on money, stamps, and the sides of mountains. Celebrities, often airbrushed, are branded by their appearance. So much emphasis is placed on the captured image. Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Picasa—they are all there to share and promote our faces, to tell the world about who we are and who we want to become.

Recently I had the opportunity to see an exhibit of Yousuf Karsh’s photography. An immigrant from Syria, Karsh quickly gained standing as a photographer in the 1930s and ‘40s. In 1941 he took an awe-inspiring photography of Winston Churchill. Almost immediately his career as a photographer of “exhilarating people” was buoyed, marking Karsh as a celebrity himself.  He photographed thousands and thousands of famous people, yet what strikes me most is that he never tried to glamorize his subjects. His uniquely chiaroscuro style is indeed moving, but each portrait tells a story of the person’s character, struggles, and fame. While some thought this style too driven by propaganda, he defended his art, saying that he was trying to capture something truthful, not trying to change people’s minds.

Karsh’s photographs are a mesmerizing look at the human form and an insightful look at the human spirit, but thinking back at that afternoon in the gallery, an interesting thought popped into my head. Would Karsh have photographed Jesus if Jesus were still walking the earth? Even better, what would Jesus have looked like in Karsh’s photo? Not, what color eyes were his eyes and how long was his hair? But, really think about it. What does Jesus look like? How do we see Him?

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul paints a picture, so to speak. Explaining Christ’s humility, he says,

Christ Jesus:  6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

For Jesus, taking on humanity wasn’t about getting a nice body, but humbling himself before the Father’s will.

I’m sure Jesus had bad hair days, maybe a pimple or two. Perhaps he had Mary’s eyes and smile. 

When I look at old family photos, I look for familiar traits—characteristics to identify age and relation. We don’t have baby pictures of Jesus that some shepherd-turned-artist painted in Bethlehem, or an Instagram of Jesus’ first miracle. But even better, we have Scripture that has captured His very nature and character. When we think of Jesus, a blue-eyed, blond-haired portrait from dusty Sunday School walls may come to mind, but what we really see is Himself—love incarnate, redemption embodied, and peace made complete.

So many places in Scripture speak of God’s face. Us seeking, Him shining, us seeing, Him hiding. There is one such passage that everyone knows, but whose context not many consider: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. 

 1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, 
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, 
and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,  
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; 
where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  
10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. 
When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. 
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.  
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 

Paul is speaking of Christ’s body, the church, and how we should act. For now, he says, “we see only a reflection” (a photograph if you will), but when completeness comes, “we shall see face to face.”
Can you imagine? Face to face with Jesus! Way better than even the most pristine portrait or fuzzy digital snapshot.

Spend some time today thinking about what Jesus looks like—and pray that He shows you (more and more) who He really is.

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