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Bond Falls

(Commentary by Gert Wallis)In His presence

In 2009 I was in a major work transition. I was no longer involved (by choice) in the software project that I had put my heart and soul into for 14 years. Sleeping in the back of our Honda van, I took a week long trip around Lake Superior trying to photograph as many waterfalls as possible.

I was nearing the end of my week long journey around Lake Superior and arrived at Bond Falls long before dawn. This is a public park and is always crowded, especially during the 4th of July week. I was photographing for about 45 minutes before the splendour of the place suddenly lit up. As the sun peaked over the trees, The whole area exploded with beautiful soft glowing light, diffused through the mist rising up from the waterfall. Unfortunately my memory card was full with spares in the car 10 minutes away. This was taken on memory space occupied by photographs taken and deleted moments before.

I’ve entered and shown this photo at club competition and most of the time it scored okay, but never with the sense of emotion I experienced at that time. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and joy by the beauty of God’s creation. Even though the light was beautiful in a place photographers dream of, this was one of the last photographs I took during my trip. There were still a number of waterfalls I wanted to visit but my journey was over, I found what I was looking for.

I’m glad this mural project allowed me to discover it again. Maybe the black and white conversion will convey more of the sense of wonder I felt that morning.

 

Beginning of Lent

Black LakeAs we begin the season of Lent, this is where we start.  Dormant, frozen, pale, encased, cold, isolated.  Ephesians 2: 1 says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”  Lent must begin with a full understanding of who we were and where we have been.  We must feel the bitter cold of Ash Wednesday and let the chill of the early days of Lent remind us of that from which we have been saved.  This image invites me to reflect on my life apart from Christ.  It calls me to invite the Spirit to address the still frozen parts of my soul.

 

Heal our wounds, our strength renew

On our dryness pour Thy dew

Wash the stains of guilt away

 

Bend the stubborn heart and will

Melt the frozen, warm the chill

Guide our steps when we go astray

(from Veni Sancte Spiritus)

 

Everything In It

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“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”  When we read these words we usually hear them as a statement about God.  And it is.  These words from Psalm 24 affirm God’s control and ownership over everything in this world.  It all belongs to him and is under his reign.  But this verse also says something truly amazing about the earth.  It is the Lord’s.  All of it.  And by virtue of being his, it is good and amazing and miraculous – each moment and every square inch.  It’s not just that the earth tells us about God.  God tells us about the earth.

We are blessed to have a photo mural on display in our lobby.  This mural is the work of Gert Wallis and is composed of some of his favorite pictures.  We will be installing one picture each week until the mural is complete.  We are very grateful to Gert for sharing his gifts and art with us.  We hope this work will trigger conversations about God’s presence in every part of his world.  The image displayed will remind us that God is present where we often fail to look.  He is present where we least suspect it.  He is present because this earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.

 

A Year Ago

What were you doing one year ago?  What was going on in your life?  What challenges were you facing?  What were you afraid of one year ago?  What were you looking forward to?  Who were your friends?  I think it is a very helpful practice to look back from time to time.  If I think back a year ago, I was preparing to leave on sabbatical.  We were foster parents to two young boys.  I was a cub scout leader.  My son Isaiah was about six inches shorter!  A lot can change in a year.

Again, I think there is great value in looking back one year.  In doing so, we discover a number of important things.  Our worst fears didn’t come true.  We made it through a very challenging time.  Life isn’t necessarily better because it’s easier.  A year later we have a more perspective on disappointments.  A year later the hype has worn off the magic bullets that were going to make everything so much better.  A year later we realize that having good circumstances is not the key to life.  A year later we realize that God has walked alongside us.  No matter how much has changed in the last year, His love and faithfulness and mercy has not.  What was going on in your life one year ago?

Bono on Karma and Grace

I recently had a conversation with a neighbor about karma.  It reminded me of an interview I read with Bono, the lead singer of the band U2.  Below is an excerpt.  For the full interview, click here.

You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff…  It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

 

Quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

Hearing and Doing

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  –James 1:22

Each week as I prepare a message for Sunday morning, I strive to present God’s word in a way that makes us think.  I realize that many of you have heard tens of thousands of sermons in your lifetime.  You’ve heard Christmas and Easter preached from every possible angle.  Lots of sermons on Romans and Philippians.  I hope to give you an angle or insight into God’s word that is a little different or a variation that you haven’t heard.  I’m aiming for something that makes you think.

However, I believe there is an even deeper goal than this.  The point isn’t just to listen to the Bible and do some thinking about it.  The greater goal is to respond to God’s word with action.  Whether you’re reading the Bible at home or listening to a message on Sunday morning, I invite you to ask the following questions:  What is God asking me to do differently in this passage?  How can I respond to this truth with a concrete action?  How does this affirm something I’m already doing in my life?  James concludes this passage with these words: “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

 

Does God Care About Football?

I grew up believing that God was a University of Michigan fan.  But then I met some people who assured me that God roots for Michigan State.  I think we can all agree that God must not be a Lions fan.  It raises an interesting question though: Does God care about sporting events?  Does God care who wins the Superbowl?  Does He have any stake in who wins when Michigan and Michigan State play each other?

In some ways it feels ridiculous to even ask such questions.  God has to deal with the balance of nuclear arsenals and ebola and natural disasters.  How could an athletic contest matter to God?  And yet we affirm God’s sovereignty over all things.  The Heidelberg Catechism says that “all things come to us, not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.”  If God is involved in the details, then even football games must be included.  Even sporting events are a part of God’s plan for your life and mine.  Whether my team wins or loses, God is always at work.  No matter what the final score, God always wins.  His purposes always prevail.  So in the end God probably doesn’t have a rooting interest in this year’s football playoffs.  But we can be certain that His plan includes them.

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

You know the Andy Williams song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”  It’s about Christmastime.  There is something special about this season.  Even I, though given to bouts of “grinchy-ness”, feel the excitement of celebration and cheer.  We enjoy the time with family and friends.  We cherish a few days off to eat and rest and give and receive gifts.  For those of us who belong to Jesus, Christmas has an even deeper reason for joy.  We celebrate the birth of a savior.

At the same time, I think we should recognize that for many this is not the “hap-happiest season of all.”  At the holidays many are confronted with loneliness, dysfunction, grief, and pain.  It brings hurtful family dynamics to the forefront.  Losses are magnified at Christmas.  If you struggle at Christmastime, I want to direct you to a much greater promise than presents and family and shopping.  It’s the promise of a returning Savior who will wipe every tear from your eye and make all thing new.  And for those who are blessed to be able to enjoy this season, say a prayer for those who struggle.  When you pray before a family meal, remember those who will not be gathering with family for various painful reasons.

 

Your Wonderful Life

It’s that time of year when classic holiday movies are being shown regularly.  Foremost among them is It’s A Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey.  He’s runs a bank in the town of Bedford Falls and spends much of his life making sacrifices for other people.  After years of sacrificing for others, George finds himself on the brink of financial ruin and intends to take his own life.  That is when his guardian angel, Clarence, comes and shows George what the town of Bedford Falls would be like if he had never been born.  The contrast is staggering.  George realizes what a difference he has made in peoples’ lives.

It’s A Wonderful Life is a fictional story.  In our lives, we don’t get to see the way we impact others.  We don’t get that glimpse of how our families and schools and offices would be different if we had never existed.  But your life does change the story.  God placed you in your family and neighborhood because of His plan for your family and neighborhood.  You were designed to be who God wanted in your place at this time.  Your life is a wonderful life.  Not just because you’ve done some good things for others, but because God meant for you to happen right here, right now.