Shadow and Light
I’m not an artist, but I love to go to museums and look at paintings. Sometimes as I walk through the galleries, I see groups of schoolchildren with their sketchpads, trying to copy a great work. I glance over their shoulders and try to catch a glimpse of their pint-sized masterpieces. Usually, the shapes and sizes that the children have drawn are similar to those on the framed canvas, but somehow, they’re not the same. In fact, their inexperienced images remind me of my own.
Every Friday throughout elementary school, I had art class with Ms. Floyd. At the end of the week, when I presented my mother with my most recent creation, she taped it to our refrigerator door and lovingly asked, “What is it?” Eventually, it became apparent that although I enjoyed beauty, I wasn’t very good at creating it. Kind teachers used words like “interesting” to describe my work, but in reality, my paintings were flat and lifeless. Recently, I reconnected with a friend who is an amateur artist. I sat in her studio sipping tea while she crafted a simple still life of scarlet geraniums in a copper pot. As I watched her painting come to life, I noticed that she saw things differently than I did. Whereas I only saw lines and shapes, she saw shadows and light, and I noticed that, as she carefully dabbed darkness onto the image, the flat, unrealistic forms gained authenticity and depth.
Sometimes as Christians we’re afraid of what will happen if shadows temporarily surround us. We fear difficulties. And yet, because we live in a fallen world, at some point, we will find ourselves in darkness. It may be the result of a sinful choice, a spiritual discipline, a demonic attack, or a divine test. However, just like in a work of art, shadows add substance to our lives — by deepening our intimacy with God.
When we walk through seemingly impossible circumstances — a devastating illness, a personal loss, or challenging finances — we gain depth and authenticity in our relationship with God. Although we are not defined by the shadows, they do give us shape, and scripture promises,
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5 (NIV)
God’s light is always there, but sometimes we can’t see it due to life’s circumstances.
Without challenges, our Christian walk can become flat and lifeless, just like immature art. Art does imitate life, and before the foundation of the world, God created each of our individual canvases with the perfect amount of shadow and light. Everything He has created for us is good. Isaiah 45:3 promises,
“I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness — secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.” Isaiah 45:3 (NLT)
God is creating a masterpiece in each of His children, and He wants the world to see His light as well as the depth of His relationship with His children — depth that is created in the shadows of life.
What Will Your Legacy Be?
By Debbie Holloway, crosswalk.com
One of the most spiritually provocative songs I’ve ever heard is called War Sweater by the band Wakey!Wakey!.
“New York is dangerous, littered with thieves
We’ve no morals here, we just do as we please…”
…sings the narrator in the opening lines. He continues:
“But I don’t want to go home where they all stare at me
‘Cause I’m tattooed and fired up and drunk and obscene.”
I’m sure many of us can picture a similar “wayward” family member or friend. But why exactly does this narrator feel so uncomfortable with this scrutiny? He explains in the following chorus:
“You wear your religion like a War Sweater
You ask for the truth, but you know you could do so much better
And you sat on your fences, and you’ve screamed “no retreat!”
…So what will your legacy be?”
Every time the singer repeats that phrase, “what will your legacy be?” I get knots in my stomach. Because I know my actions and my words will create whatever legacy I leave behind. Reputations are not created by beliefs – rather they come about by observed behavior. No one will remember me simply for getting all my doctrine right or wrong.
They will remember, though, if I wear my religion like a War Sweater. If I thrash my faith about like a flag and scream in the faces of unbelievers. Sadly, many Christians have created such legacies for themselves. Emperor Constantine created the legacy of Christianity’s ties to the government. The Crusaders connected Christianity with war. Even today there are self-professing Christians who stand on street corners and picket funerals, wearing their religion like a War Sweater.
But my faith, my religion, informs me of something better. My religion tells me to do what the Word says, not merely listen to it (James 1:22). My religion does not allow me to sit on a pedestal and judge; it says to to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). My religion tells me (Psalms 149:4) that salvation cannot come through pride. My religion does not stand for violently demanding all people bow to my standards; rather, it tells me that, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
So take a look at the words you speak, at the people you mock, at the bumper stickers adorning your car.
Are you wearing your religion like a War Sweater?
What will your legacy be?
“How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble.” – Psalm 41:1 NASB
God delights to bless us. He wants to provide what we need and much more. The question is what we will do with these blessings.
He blesses us so that we might bless others. We are not to hoard our possessions or just use them for our own pleasures, but we are to look for opportunities to help others.
The Bible emphasizes helping those who are in need – the poor, elderly, sick, and vulnerable. We are to “defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). The Bible describes how visiting orphans and widows is central to “pure and undefiled religion” in God’s sight (James 1:27).
Jesus stressed that our actions toward the “least” is a direct reflection of our attitude toward Him (Matthew 25:45). How we respond to those in need is a good indication of our priorities and the condition of our hearts.
David realized that special blessings are promised for those who are concerned for the helpless: “The Lord will protect him and keep him alive, and he shall be called blessed upon the earth” (v.2). They will be sustained during times of sickness and restored to health.
Think about the ways God has blessed you with time, talents, and resources. Ask Him to show you how you can use these blessings to bless others. Be ready to share out of the abundance God has given you. God remembers when you are a good steward.
Streams in the Desert
Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t
When it rises up, the mighty are terrified, at its thrashing about they withdraw. (Job 41:25)
God uses most for His glory those people and things which are most perfectly broken. The sacrifices He accepts are broken and contrite hearts. It was the breaking down of Jacob’s natural strength at Peniel that got him where God could clothe him with spiritual power. It was breaking the surface of the rock at Horeb, by the stroke of Moses’ rod that let out the cool waters to thirsty people.
It was when the 300 elect soldiers under Gideon broke their pitchers, a type of breaking themselves, that the hidden lights shone forth to the consternation of their adversaries. It was when the poor widow broke the seal of the little pot of oil, and poured it forth, that God multiplied it to pay her debts and supply means of support.
It was when Esther risked her life and broke through the rigid etiquette of a heathen court, that she obtained favor to rescue her people from death. It was when Jesus took the five loaves and broke them, that the bread was multiplied in the very act of breaking, sufficient to feed five thousand. It was when Mary broke her beautiful alabaster box, rendering it henceforth useless, that the pent-up perfume filled the house. It was when Jesus allowed His precious body to be broken to pieces by thorns and nails and spear, that His inner life was poured out, like a crystal ocean, for thirsty sinners to drink and live.
It is when a beautiful grain of corn is broken up in the earth by DEATH, that its inner heart sprouts forth and bears hundreds of other grains. And thus, on and on, through all history, and all biography, and all vegetation, and all spiritual life, God must have BROKEN THINGS.
Those who are broken in wealth, and broken in self-will, and broken in their ambitions, and broken in their beautiful ideals, and broken in worldly reputation, and broken in their affections, and broken ofttimes in health; those who are despised and seem utterly forlorn and helpless, the Holy Ghost is seizing upon, and using for God’s glory. “The lame take the prey,” Isaiah tells us.
O break my heart; but break it as a field
Is by the plough up-broken for the corn;
O break it as the buds, by green leaf seated,
Are, to unloose the golden blossom, torn;
Love would I offer unto Love’s great Master,
Set free the odor, break the alabaster.
O break my heart; break it victorious God,
That life’s eternal well may flash abroad;
O let it break as when the captive trees,
Breaking cold bonds, regain their liberties;
And as thought’s sacred grove to life is springing,
Be joys, like birds, their hope, Thy victory singing.
—Thomas Toke Bunch