Aren’t pictures amazing?
I took this photograph, out on my deck, roughly fours hours before I began writing this post. These are three (of many) students from the Czech Republic who have come to Worcester to work on local farms over the summer. I met them about a couple of months ago during our church mission outreach to seasonal farmworkers. I’ve had opportunity to share my testimony and share the gospel with them – and about sixty or seventy others one evening a few weeks ago.
Around the table there, that’s A (on the left), P (top right) and M – we’ve become friends. You can see that we were just about to give thanks and eat the meal that I’d prepared. In the centre of the table there, that’s the green bean casserole I finally found a recipe for. Look long enough at our plates and you’ll also deduce that with my limited culinary skills, I am trying to keep on top of my five-a-day (I hope this momentarily satisfies the many concerned sisters who regularly and lovingly inquire about my nutrition regime!)
The saying is true, pictures really do paint a thousand words and – for me – that particular photograph reads like a script of my life recently. I could fill up paragraphs describing what’s happened in the last month-and-a-half to lead up to that one moment in time where three people who were complete strangers to me two months ago have become regular guests and friends around the meal table at my home.
But no matter how detailed the picture, it is only a photograph. No matter how accurate the snapshot of reality it’s only a reflection; and like the two dimensional reflected reality in a mirror, it’s not reality at all. Take that photograph for instance. Everybody’s smiling. Everybody looks happy. But it tells you nothing about the trials behind their smiles which I’ve learned of over the last few weeks. That’s not even A, P and M! It’s not my deck! There’s no green bean casserole! What you’re looking at is nothing more than arrangements of coloured blobs of light on a screen.
In the last few weeks, I’ve found that there are moments in my day-to-day life when reality – just for a few moments – feels like life in a photograph; when reality only feels like reality. Ever since 2010, each summer Annie and I would prayerfully seek the Lord for an opportunity to share the love of Jesus with some of those seasonal farmworkers from eastern Europe. In some ways it was a seasonal thing for us too; we’d do the same things with those the Lord lead to us, visit the same places, but each year with a set of new faces and for that reason the experience and opportunities were always unique and different.
Just last week I took a few of the farmworkers up to the neighbouring Malvern Hills. I’ve long lost count of how many times I’ve made that trip with friends and family but it was a first for a couple of these friends and I always enjoy being the guide on such occasions. It was a beautiful place to be on such a beautiful afternoon and yet there were flashes of time when my experience betrayed my environment. There were moments when reality felt like nothing more than a photograph – just a pale reflection of some past reality. In the same way that you might look at an old photograph of a moment in time when you knew exactly where you were and what you were doing and enjoying but – as you held that old photo in your hand – you could only experience a faint grasp, a loose recollection of that past reality: so I felt that afternoon on the hills; that I wasn’t even in that picture but just looking in through the camera. Because this time Annie was not there with me, because this time I couldn’t see her smile or hear her laughing or talking, or watch her hair flicking with the breeze, because this time I couldn’t feel her arms scrunching around my waist as we sat on the peak, because this time I didn’t have my Annie to ask “What shall we do after this?” – it’s in those moments when reality feels flat and hollow and frustrating and I just feel like a blob on a landscape.
I haven’t written this post simply to lay up a suitable gospel illustration or a fitting bible verse. I want to be transparent and honest and articulate about reality for me – even if those feelings are currently unresolved. These blog posts are as much – if not, more – my own journal as they are anything else; a window out as much as a window in.
With that said, I can testify that the Word of God has been my sole source of strength and fullness in those empty moments in life.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1
For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. – Hebrews 13:4
The bible isn’t my escape from reality. No. The gospel explains the reality I cannot escape from; and it enhances my reality by giving me a greater perspective which expands way beyond the edges of this life. The Word of God is the light and the lens which makes the reality of this life clear and sharp. My faith isn’t imagination or escape from reality. My faith is rooted in the actual, historical, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, from the dead. An event foretold by prophets, witnessed and testified by the disciples, the Apostles and the persecuted and scattered church of the first century and beyond. Proved real by the Holy Spirit to all believers today.
“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” – Testimony of Peter and the other Apostles from Acts 5:32
I imagine that the Apostle John, one of the closest of Jesus’ earthly friends and disciples, would have known those moments in his life when his present reality felt like a pale reflection. He had enjoyed and experienced three incredible years of his life on this earth with Jesus, the Son of God incarnate. There must have been moments in his later life when the present reality caused him to look back on those amazing three years of his life with Jesus in the flesh.
…we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. – 1 John 1:1-3
It’s by my faith in Jesus that the things yet unseen, the eternal things – the things that Annie is enjoying and experiencing right now – are slowly (very slowly) becoming more real and desirable to me than anything else I feel or see or want in this world. And the more real those eternal things become, the better equipped I am to understand and deal with the fallen reality in which I now live and serve my King who really shed His blood for a sinner like me.
In many ways, all of life – every moment – on this earth is nothing more than a series of pictures, photographs, single frames of film. There may be smiles – and they may not all be forced or faked at the moment they were captured; there may be reflections of happiness and glimpses of some sort of reality. But without Jesus, life is only – and nothing more than – blobs and shapes that will hopelessly fade and perish.
“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” – Isaiah 40:6-8
I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ – Philippians 3:8
In His Arms,