Posted on: Saturday, April 1, 2017
The desert is clean physically & spiritually because the sun shines in every place and bakes it sinless. Nothing can hide from its righteous eyes.
After a week in various wet cities where the rain matted down globs of wet trash on the sidewalk, to be strewn in goopy crumbs by people’s feet, I was thankful to be in such a hot and holy place.
I love the austerity of the cliffs, so severe and immutable they do not look real, they look like paintings of themselves.
The sand is washed out and the sky is blanched around the sun’s broad halo, only turning blue right before disappearing behind the sand cliffs to the west and the sloping mountains of Jordan to the east.
Between them, the Dead Sea catches the sun and shimmers dolphin blue, spitting intricate, lace-like sand deposits on the shore and then loping back in a gentle, glutted tide of weighted water.
That sun changes everything. It makes some hard and others humble. It bleaches your bones and your soul. In the leaves of Eden, Adam and Eve believed they could hide from the eyes of God. In the desert there is no hiding, which inevitably brings mans’ mind to God. That’s why the desert is full of temples.
There are a lot of posts on this blog about traveling in Israel. Click here for more.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 7, 2017
This is an archived Sky Blue post originally published in May 2014.
Not every difficulty is a storm: sometimes life is a drought.
We do not always suffer because of dramatic tribulations, but small things that compile, constant weariness that takes a toll, the routine cruelties of human beings that build up over time and shut us down by centimeters. Daily life can leave our spirits unbearably parched.
As we grow older, we begin to realize that ice cream, summer vacations, and the annual cooperation of Santa are not enough to satisfy us. We become disillusioned and search for other things. This search is really the key to so many human decisions, from using drugs to getting married to establishing empires. We are always on the hunt for a high to keep us satisfied. But life continues to let us down.
Some people search for happiness in success, others in security, others in respect. Many search for it in love, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:
“And in the end, we were all just humans, drunk on the idea that love, only love, could heal our brokenness.”
This past year, I have been searching. I wish that the books I’ve read and the sermons I’ve heard over my lifetime about the sufficiency of Christ could have clicked for me at a heart level. But for some reason, I was fairly sure that God had missed something. Yes, yes, inHispresenceisfullnessofjoyandinHisrighthandarepleasuresforevermorePsalm16:11, I know. But I’m pretty sure this friendship is also crucial to my happiness. Also, this guy. Also, my family. Also, having a lot of fun all the time. Also…..
But recently this left me in a desert, tired and drained and lifeless. My sources of security had failed me. I was spending my money on sawdust and working for things never meant to sustain the divinely-thumbprinted human soul (Isaiah 55:2). I’d been trying to stay alive on muddy water from a puddle, ignoring the living water that was mine in Christ (John 4:10). I had been shackling myself to dependency on things meant only to enrich my life but never to define its meaning, chaining myself to the fear that I would be broken if my heart was broken, when I was actually free in the Lord to live and give and love while all the time remaining rock-solid secure in the everlasting belovedness that is my reality because I am His (Galatians 5:1).
When everything is stripped away, the follower of Christ will find that he/she stands. When life gives us no sustenance, we see without distraction the river of life in our souls. I never understood what John 7:38 means until right now.
In the past few months that I’ve been absent from blogging, this is what I have learned. The God who chose the desert nation of Israel as the stage on which to display His glory for the galaxies works through the desert of life on a fallen planet to bring supernatural, odds-defying peace and happiness to redeemed souls. From a desert, He has brought me to the highest place I have ever walked. I knew it, I believed it, but now I have tasted, seen, and found it to be true: Jesus is all I need. Everything else is a blessing, but no matter what happens in life, I can have joy. This world is a desert, but I will never go thirsty again. Has life left you disillusioned and drained? Come to the water (Revelation 22:17). This is what your soul was made to drink, and nothing less will fill you up.
Though the fig tree should not blossom
nor fruit be on the vines
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the deer’s;
He makes me tread on my high places.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 21, 2017
This is an archived Sky Blue post originally published in 2013.
For a long time, I’ve had a lot of unanswered questions about art–such as, why is it that Christians, who understand beauty and are intimate with its Source, are typically unable to manufacture it well? Very few Christian artists today are creating work that will stand the test of time.
Americans are a pragmatic people, and as a result we are uncomfortable with the subject of art. When school budgets are tight, we cut music and theater programs long before we touch athletics. We don’t see art as serving a practical purpose, and as a practical people, we don’t really know what to do with it. Believers who are Americans seem even more confused. We tend to think that unless the film or painting or book or song or dance or play is meeting some express objective such as evangelizing someone, it is a waste of time.
“Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.”
Albert Camus was born over one hundred years ago in 1913, but his philosophies continue to shape our culture. In order to communicate his ideas, Mr. Camus wrote novels that are still widely read. “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth,” he explained.
To the believer, beauty–true beauty, that indefinable but universally recognized entity–is the promise of a better reality. As a follower of Christ, I believe that beauty will stretch out for eternity. Beauty is not a tease, but a promise.
But Mr. Camus felt that beauty was nothing more than a taste of something he could never really consume. Like a shipwrecked man on the sea dying of thirst and surrounded by sparkling, unpalatable saltwater, to him beauty was only cruel.
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Albert Camus created enduring art. He was able to communicate his ideas elegantly through the vehicle of fiction, but his philosophy was broken. Christians should be able to create the most beautiful art of all. Yet too often our work is off-putting and heavy-handed.
“A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”
Does our art reflect the beauty we know in Christ? Does it generate a longing in people for the place where the truth and beauty came from? I don’t think lazy films that preach, or kitschy pictures of cute cottages with Bible verses slapped on the matting, accomplish this goal. This is lazy art…actually, it is just bad art. We tend to sterilize our art because we wish to avoid mention of sin, or we take the other extreme and make our art a filthy bloodbath in order to prove our grit. The Bible is realistic and raw, yet redemptive. It is not gratuitous. It is full of grace.
I do not have the answers, but I think this is something we should be talking about more. Art and beauty matter–they enrich our lives and feed our souls. If everything can be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) we should be individually diligent in praying about how our unique gifts and interests can be used. Americans love Christian athletes because they have a “platform” for their faith. But truly, artists have even more of an opportunity to honor the Lord with their abilities. Filmmakers, painters, singers, writers, dancers, poets: we should be thinking about these things, talking about these things, praying about these things, remembering always that it is not about our work itself, but it is about whether or not the truth and beauty we know in Christ is coming through it.
C.S. Lewis, John Milton, and Flannery O’Connor are three examples of writers of faith I admire. Who are some believers in the arts you look up to?
Posted on: Saturday, February 11, 2017
Humans are not good at balance. We live in extremes. Liberty to the point of lawlessness, or discipline to the point of asceticism. We boast in the flesh one way or another: in our ability to express it or in our ability to control it. We take pride in our sin or we take pride in our purity. We are the judge who condemns or the judge who pardons. In both extremes, we take the throne and play god.
Grace is the line that we walk, the one we fall off of on both sides when we stop looking at Jesus. And there is no self-glory in grace.
Grace exists because law exists. We stand in need of grace because God’s standards are high, fierce, and unbending. He is not permissive. He is not flexible. We broke the law, and if you are tempted to think the law does not matter, look at the cross and see the blood God bled for His law. Jesus Christ died because the demands of His law had to be met. We do not get a pass.
We don’t deserve this love and we can’t achieve it or buy it or earn it or win it back. Doing good deeds to earn God’s favor is like trying to polish the deck of the busted Titanic. We’re already sunk.
Grace exists because we are not good. We get grace because we are so loved.
That is the balance of grace. It’s a law that matters, and it’s a love that covers. It’s not taking away the law and not adding to it either. You don’t need to help God out by removing the commands that are unpalatable in the 21st century or by hedging His rules with extra rules to be on the safe side. God doesn’t need our help. Follow His law. Obey your conscience. Trust that He is able to lead and convict your brothers and sisters without your licentiousness or your legalism. Walk in love, because you are loved. Look around. You’re swimming in grace. Don’t despair. You have hope, victory, and resources as a child of God. Look down. Have you fallen off the way? Has your heart built callouses that let you indulge in the sins for which your Savior died? Are you subsisting off of pride in your culture, creed, and browbeating way of life instead of drinking deep from the living water of truth: the truth that you are loved in spite of, and not because of, who you are; the truth that your identity is “beloved sinner;” the truth that Heaven will be filled with whores and thieves and other people despised by the Pharisees of the world who are there on the same exact merits as you, dressed alike in Christ’s white robes, welcomed into the embrace of God? And then look up, look at Jesus, and walk the line of grace.