Thursday, September 23, 2010

Life Within Life

Meaningless!  Meaningless!
says the Teacher.
Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless!
(Ecclesiastes 1:2)

I used to find Ecclesiastes a bit of downer but I finally get it!  Lately, as I have had time to think, I realised in me is a deep hunger ... a deep yearning for ... something.  When I stop for just a moment, I can see the emptiness - and that emptiness ... that yearning is for God.  Nothing else will fill that place.  I am hungry and I am destitute without intimacy with God.  Everything else is just a hollow shell, because it is God who inhabits, and brings life, purpose and meaning.  The picture I have that relates to this state and this emptiness is from when my father died.  I was with him when he passed and I remember thinking he is no longer there.  His body was a shell and the very essence, the life, the core had gone.  And this is how life is without God for me.  It's all just a shell.

I have been privileged to see and experience wonderful things.  I have travelled beyond my wildest dreams ... seen and done things that people only dream about.  The places, the faces ... the experiences have been incredible and yet, none of it satisfies.  Without God in it, it's all just a lifeless shell.  I can understand why the writer of Ecclesiastes lamented that everything was meaningless.  He had so much ... by world standards ... everything ... and yet he was hungry and unsatisfied.

The Hebrew for the word "meaningless" comes the world "hebel" which means breath.  It can also mean vapour, and figuratively speaking, vanity.  When I read this, it kind of blew me away because I had been thinking of the lifeless shell image.  The Ecclesiastes writer got it exactly.  Everything ... all the gold ... all the glory ... all the girls ... all of it was just a hollow shell without life.  None of it would satisfy because there was no breath.  And all of it, here and gone like a vapour.  How like life this is.  We run from experience to experience - it's here, and whoof!  Gone ... vapourized.  

What is the answer?  Well lately, I have found myself singing an old Vineyard song ... and really it says it all ... you might want to sing it or pray it along with me.

Jesus, be the centre
Be my source
be my light

Jesus, be the centre
Be my hope
Be my sun

Be the fire in my heart
Be the wind in these sails
Be the reason that I live
Jesus, Jesus

Jesus by my vision
Be my path
Be my guide

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Taylor Swift and Kanye West - the Showdown!

Picture sourced from

Last weeks MTV VMA awards have left me thinking a lot this week.  I didn't actually watch them, but all over the news headlines in the buildup was speculation on what would happen between between Kanye West and Taylor Swift.  For those of you that don't know, last September as Taylor was receiving the award for best female video, Kanye walked into her spotlight ... into her moment to shine, and said that Beyonce should have received the award.  Wow.  Imagine it.  You are 19 and it's your moment and then someone tries to take that from you.  What would you feel ... how would you feel?  Public opinion was for Taylor and Kanye experienced major backlash in his personal life and his career.  It rocked his world.

Fast forward to this year.  Taylor and Kanye are both presenting songs at the awards.  The media are in a frenzy and most speculation is that Taylor is going to skewer Kanye.  He had acted terribly.  The crowd are rooting for her.  As I read this, I was saddened at the thought that this could happen - that Taylor could skewer him and have the support of public opinion behind her.  Taylor was in a place of power.  What did she do with it?  She started her performance with a video flashback to last year and then she started to sing (and while it wasn't the best vocal, it was one of the most powerful things I have ever heard) ... check it out here and read the lyrics below:

I guess you really did it this time
Left yourself in your warpath
Lost your balance on a tightrope
Lost your mind tryin' to get it back

Wasn't it easier in your lunchbox days?
Always a bigger bed to crawl into
Wasn't it beautiful when you believed in everything?
And everybody believed in you?

It's all right, just wait and see
Your string of lights is still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not where you've been
You're still an innocent
You're still an innocent

There's some things you can't speak of
But tonight you'll live it all again
You wouldn't be shattered on the floor now
If only you would sing what you know now then

Wasn't it easier in your firefly-catchin' days?
And everything out of reach, someone bigger brought down to you
Wasn't it beautiful runnin' wild 'til you fell asleep?
Before the monsters caught up to you?

It's all right, just wait and see
Your string of lights is still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not where you've been
You're still an innocent

It's okay, life is a tough crowd
32, and still growin' up now
Who you are is not what you did
You're still an innocent

Time turns flames to embers
You'll have new Septembers
Every one of us has messed up too

Lives change like the weather
I hope you remember
Today is never to late to
Be brand new

It's all right, just wait and see
Your string of lights are still bright to me
Oh, who you are is not where you've been
You're still an innocent

It's okay, life is a tough crowd
32, and still growin' up now
Who you are is not what you did
You're still an innocent

Stunning.  Just stunning.  The maturity of a twenty year old who can take her power and use it to offer forgiveness - to model grace.  There in the place of his failure, in front of the place where he wounded her, the place where he fell from favor - she reaches out powerfully to Kanye and says, "I believe in you.  You can be new.  You can be different.  I believe you are not where you've been and you are not what you did."  Wow.  What a stunning offer of hope and what a fantastic model of the grace we find in Christ.  I believe in you.  Who you are is not where you've been.  Who you are is not what you did.  I make all things new.  I will wash you as white as snow.  Your sins are forgiven.  I remember them no more.  

Huge contrast to Kanye's song where he just seemed to hate on himself more and beat himself up - albeit in a sarcastic manner.  His view?  Runaway from me ... I am nothing (except Kanye is a little more explicit than that).  

I look at Taylor and how as a young twenty year old she handled this, and I look at Kanye - someone who has been in the industry a long time - a 33 year old man.  How is it that they have such different approaches to this situation?  What is in their hearts, in their heads to provoke such different responses?  Kanye continued to self-flagellate and Taylor extends a hand of grace.  And that hand of grace in such a public place is one of the most powerful things I have ever seen.  I am grateful for the reminder of the hands of grace that have been extended to me in my life and I am forever grateful for THE hand of grace continually extended to me.  I am praying that I also have hands that willingly extend grace and forgiveness.  And it starts with us.  Who we are is not what we did.  Who we are is not where we come from.  We all mess up ... start with the grace to forgive yourself.  And so we pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us ..."

I'm thinking ... maybe you are too.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Walking in the Footsteps of the Saints

Did they tell you stories 
'bout the saints of old? 
Stories about their faith? 
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold 
Stories like that make a man walk straight

(Rich Mullins - Boy like Me, Man Like You)

Having recently been wandering around in some great churches in England, I have been thinking about the saints of old and the crypts that many of those churches have.  The beautiful thing of wandering around crypts is that you are walking around on graves of those who went before ... those who have passed on.  They are part of the foundations and the path upon which you walk ... Stop, pause for a moment and think on that.  The saints of old ... stories about their faith ... Stop, and think and be encouraged.  

Hebrews 12
 1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The Message puts it beautifully ...
1-3Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. 

Be encouraged that although you stumble and fall ... you have a great cloud of witnesses cheering you on ... cheering for you to run your race and to finish strong ... walking in the crypts and seeing the graves in the churches reminded me of the saints who have gone before.  Much of what we have is because of the legacy they laid down.  Those who have gone before us are not just the saints of old ... think of the legacies of faith in the people God brought into your life.  Friends ... family ... those who have been running their race and running it strong ... be encouraged by their walks.  You will find that they have the same thing in common as the great cloud of witnesses ... you will find it in Hebrews 12 vs 2 ... Let us fix our eyes on Jesus ...

Another beautiful thing about the old cathedrals is the architecture is designed to lift the eyes ... 

The Psalmist had a bit to say about that in the opening of Psalm 121 when he said, "I will lift my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from?".  The point is not the hills ... the point is "I will LIFT MY EYES ..."  or as Hebrews clearly lays out for us ... fix our eyes on Jesus.

Dwell on the rest of that Psalm (a Psalm of ascents) for a moment ...

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

 1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—

 where does my help come from?

2 My help comes from the LORD, 

 the Maker of heaven and earth.

 3 He will not let your foot slip— 

 he who watches over you will not slumber;

4 indeed, he who watches over Israel 

       will neither slumber nor sleep.

 5 The LORD watches over you— 

 the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

 6 the sun will not harm you by day, 

    nor the moon by night.

 7 The LORD will keep you from all harm— 

       he will watch over your life;
 8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going 

       both now and forevermore.

We all stumble and fall and get muddy ... but when you do ... know two things from the cathedrals ... you have those who went before you ... also people who got muddy ... who fell ... who failed ... but pick yourself up!  Lift your eyes ... take courage from the journeys of those who have gone before ... and finish strong.