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    WedWednesdayOctOctober28th2015 The Parable of the Leaf

    Once upon a time there was a leaf. Well, technically it was a bud—a tiny little ball of raw potential perched proudly on the tip of a branch in the cool springtime sun. Its home was a weathered old maple that for years had been stationed next to a well-traveled pathway, its mighty branches bowing gracefully to the people passing by, many of whom were younger than the tree itself.

    As the days grew longer and the sun grew warmer, this little bud began to change. With the plentiful spring rains came much-needed nutrients, which the tree gladly delivered to the little leaf, nourishing it and allowing it to grow. Soon the bud began to unfurl, opening itself up and revealing its miniature green contours. Few people would have noticed, but within its tiny dimensions was an abundance of life.

    Summer arrived, and the leaf reached full size. It spent most of its time basking in the sunlight and enjoying the warmth of the humid afternoons. It continued to receive water and nutrients through the elaborate system of roots and branches, enabling its photosynthetic operations to continue running on all cylinders. The leaf was strong and healthy. It lacked nothing. Life was good. People passed by and enjoyed its shade.

    But then something began to happen. The sunlight—which the leaf had previously enjoyed in such abundance—began to diminish. In the mornings, darkness lingered. In the evenings, the red and orange hues of the approaching dusk stretched themselves across the sky much sooner than they used to. And not only that, but the water and nutrients from the tree began to grow scarce, almost as if the stately old maple had become tired of sharing its resources.

    Meanwhile, the leaf grew sad. And confused. And scared. But most of all, it grew weak. Despite its best efforts, the leaf simply could no longer function like it used to. Even the simplest tasks became tiring, and then difficult, and then impossible. The leaf could feel itself drying up. Day by day, it grew closer and closer to what felt like an inevitable demise. It drooped in sorrow.

    And yet in the midst of its distress, the leaf noticed something. It noticed that the people passing by began to stop. And linger. And look. Small children and elderly men, hurried executives and lonely widows, mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers—they all paused to marvel. Their faces softened and smiled. They took pictures and they spoke of beauty. They seemed to be genuinely entranced by this weak, dying leaf, who for the life of it couldn’t figure out why. After all, it had nothing left to offer to the world. How could anyone find it beautiful? It had been emptied of everything. It was worthless. It wasn’t even green any more.

    My friend, do you think it’s possible that suffering can make you beautiful? Do you think there’s a way for God to take your weakness, your brokenness, your loneliness, your disappointment, your pain, your grief, your limitations, your anxiety, and make them into a stunning array of breathtaking colors that cause others to stop and marvel? Do you think it’s possible that what you thought were the bleakest moments of your life will end up (somehow) being your brightest moments?

    You might feel empty and alone. You might feel worthless and broken. But I implore you: remember the parable of the leaf. Remember that in the depths of your suffering, God can display his glory in ways that he never could at the height of your strength. There is an autumnal splendor that simply cannot be seen in the sunshine of June.

    Do you recall what the Lord told the apostle Paul? “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The same promise has been given to you. Even at your worst, you just might unknowingly be lighting up the world.

    So be encouraged, little leaves. You have no idea how beautiful you are.

    ThuThursdayAugAugust7th2014 Why We Need Art
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Art Beauty 1 comments Add comment

    [Guest post by Drew Humphrey, Minister of Family & Communication and current elder candidate.]

    Have you ever tried to grab water? It’s quite difficult.

    I can still see the look on our oldest daughter’s face when, as a toddler, she would stare intently at the water coming out of the faucet in the bathtub, attempting to discover its many mysteries. Inevitably, it would only be a matter of time before she would reach her hand toward the pillar of liquid and carefully attempt to squeeze her fingers around it. To her great disappointment, it never worked. She never could grab that water and carry it around the house like I knew she wanted to. She just got wet.

    Whether we realize it or not, we spend most of our lives trying to grab water. Not literally, of course, like a toddler. Instead, we try to grab water by wrapping our hearts and minds around experiences and realities that seem constantly to elude us. Whether it’s trying to come to terms with a deep and profound sense of joy or a searing and disorienting sense of heartache—we’re always reaching, always straining our fingers, always trying to make sense of things. And most of the time, we’re about as successful as my daughter in the bathtub.

    But what if there was a way to grab the water? What if we could—if not fully, at least partially—wrap our fingers around that elusive reality and lay hold to it?

    I believe we can. I believe there’s a way. It’s called art.

    Makoto Fujimura, a renowned artist and a devout Christian, observes in an essay appearing in his book Refractions, “The power of art is to convey powerful personal experiences in distilled language and memorialize them in a cogent manner.” He goes on to say, “The Creator God has given us creativity and the arts so that we may ‘name’ experiences, just as God commissioned Adam to name the animals in the Garden.” Or, to put it in the vernacular of our present discussion: art allows us to grab water.

    Let me give you two examples.

    If you ever talk to me about movies, you’re likely to hear me rave about The Tree of Life. And while there are many reasons I like the film, the main reason by far is that I have found it to possess an uncanny ability to name an experience that is otherwise mysterious and elusive—specifically the sense of identity that comes with living life in the context of family. Tree of Life gives me a “distilled language” (to borrow Fujimura’s phrase) to wrap my mind around something I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

    Another example is a song that I’ve been listening to, even while writing this very blog post. Take a moment to watch this, and see if you can see how this artistic expression captures the paradoxical nature of true joy:

    Here’s the amazing thing: as soon as you ask yourself the question, “Why is this so dark and gloomy?” you’ve already begun to enter the mystery. Doesn’t that song resonate with your own experience of joy? Doesn’t it communicate the biblical reality that joy in this life is often mixed with sadness? Don’t you walk away having grasped something that you likely wouldn’t have been able to grasp simply by having someone come up to you and tell you, “Joy and sorrow are not incompatible”?

    For the vast majority of Americans, art is simply a convenient source of entertainment, release, and distraction (think: television and radio). But Christians should see art as something more—as a way to “grab the water” of what it means to live in a world that is both magnificently crafted and horrifically marred. Our interaction with art should drive us to engage reality more closely, not provide us with a convenient escape. It should help us wrestle more intensely with the fallen world around us, not pull a sheet over it so we can ignore it. It should give us a way to probe the haunting depths, not leave us splashing idyllically in the shallows.

    We need art in our lives. Not in the same way that we need Jesus, or the Scriptures, or the ministry of the Spirit. But in the sense that we need food and shelter and relationships. Art helps us realize our humanity. And why wouldn’t it? After all, our humanity is crafted in the image of a supremely creative Artist who is skillfully and beautifully making all things new.

    TueTuesdayJunJune4th2013 Celebrating Simplicity
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Beauty Marriage 2 comments Add comment

    [Guest post from Pastoral Intern Drew Humphrey]

    There’s something mysteriously beautiful about the contrasting hues in which our lives are painted.

    Last weekend, I had the opportunity to trek over to the shores of the Mississippi River for the wedding ceremony of my brother-in-law. It was a beautiful event. The vows were exchanged on a refreshingly cool Sunday evening beneath the canopy of a stand of stately old trees. The air was filled with excitement and joy as two lives were formally united through the covenant of sacred matrimony. There was hugging, crying, laughing, dancing, story-telling, and picture-taking. (There was also an incredibly cute flower girl, who just so happened to be my eldest daughter. But I digress.) In short, it was a celebration fit for the significance of the occasion.

    The next day, I found myself sleepily driving eastbound down Interstate 74 with one daughter who was being very vocal about her desire to be anywhere but her car seat, another daughter who was providing us with color commentary on her “Dora the Explorer” movie, and a wife who was trying to maintain some level of sanity in the midst of it all. At some point on that long stretch of road through endless central Illinois farmland, I had an existential moment. In a single and glorious instant, I saw the startlingly vivid contrast between the experience I was having in the minivan and the celebration of the previous evening. One felt something like a magical fairy tale. The other felt more like a migraine.

    It’s ironic if you think about it. Most of us start our marriages surrounded by pomp and circumstance. We’re dressed up as nicely as we’ll ever be. We revel in the presence of our families, our friends, and those who managed to somehow garner an invitation despite being neither. Our faces hurt by the end of the day from smiling so much. Yet most of our married lives are spent surrounded by electric bills, dirty diapers, broken-down vehicles, and microwave meals. The tuxedo goes back to the store it was rented from and the wedding gown gets stuck in a box in the closet. The blissful exuberance of a wedding day quickly gives way to the mundane simplicity of life in a frustrating, fallen world.

    In other words, we start marriage in the serenity of a summer evening ceremony beneath the foliage of majestic trees. But we experience the daily reality of marriage in a cacophonous minivan rolling down a boring stretch of Midwestern highway.

    Sound depressing? It’s not. It’s actually what makes marriage beautiful.

    We can’t live in an eternal wedding day. And why would we want to? Sure, it might be true that Day 1,914 of my marriage was a tad bit less spectacular than Day 1. But it was no less beautiful. And it was certainly no less of a blessing. Because I got to do something on Day 1,914 that I never would have been able to do on Day 1. I got to pull over for an emergency bathroom break on the side of the road (sometimes even cute little flower girls can’t wait for the next gas station, you know). How’s that for a memory? Perhaps it lacked a certain amount of pageantry. But pageantry doesn’t make marriage beautiful. Simple, subtle grace makes it beautiful.

    I think wedding days are great. But I happen to think there’s plenty worth celebrating in those days when no fancy clothes get worn, no cake gets eaten, and no pictures get taken. Those are the days that make up the kind of marriage I want to have. Those are the days that make for a lifetime of memories.

    ThuThursdayMayMay17th2012 Obsessed with beauty
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Beauty Culture 1 comments Add comment

    [Guest post from pastoral intern Drew Humphrey]

    We live in a culture which is obsessed with beauty. Or so we’re told. Magazine covers, television commercials, health products, cosmetic procedures, clothing stores—everywhere we look, we see manifestations of this supposed obsession.

    But I don’t buy it. I don’t think we’re nearly as obsessed as we think we are. In fact, I don’t think we’re nearly as obsessed as we should be.

    Now I concede that our culture is hopelessly enamored by attractive people. And I concede that advertising techniques have revealed our collective weak spot for the sleek and seductive. And furthermore, I concede that our monetary spending habits disclose a startling propensity toward making ourselves exceptionally presentable. But the problem with these things isn’t that we’re too obsessed with beauty; the problem is that we’re not obsessed with beauty enough.

    Having two young children in our home, my wife and I know all about obsession. When our 2-month-old daughter is hungry, there’s no chance in the world that she’ll be happy until she’s fed. You can sing to her, you can give her a pacifier, you can rock her in your arms—but until you give her food, your ears will be ringing with the shrill cries of a child who is obsessed with eating. And toddlers are no different. When our 19-month-old daughter wants juice, you don’t dare give her milk, and you certainly don’t dare give her water. She knows what she wants, and she’ll throw her desperate little body in front of the refrigerator door until she gets it (or gets disciplined!).

    The point is simple: true obsession settles for nothing less than that which is ultimately desired. And because this is the nature of true obsession, our penchant for cheap glitz and glamour is evidence of the fact that we’re not nearly as obsessed with beauty as we should be. If we were obsessed with beauty, we wouldn’t settle for manufactured Hollywood imitations, nor would we allow our souls to be satisfied with anything less than the unrivaled, unending, unfathomable beauty of God himself.

    King David was a man who knew this all too well. When he sinfully gazed upon the nakedness of Bathsheba, he fell victim to the same weakness which plagues you and me—he gave up his pursuit of true beauty in exchange for a cheap and easy substitute. Rather than desiring with unflinching devotion to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:4), he chose instead to settle for the fading allure of that which was dust. His pursuit of beauty came up short.

    We do the same thing, don’t we? We make daily decisions to settle for lousy imitations. As C.S. Lewis insightfully quipped, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

    The more we neglect to feast our souls upon the boundless and breathtaking beauty of our redeeming God, the more likely we are to be content with the deceptive glitter of worldly things. But when we set our affections upon God’s glory, we’re transformed by the beauty we encounter (2 Cor. 3:18).

    Obsession with beauty isn’t our problem. Obsession with beauty is the answer.

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