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Further Along My Passage

July 2016
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More Snow Geese

“The New Testament never speaks of eternal life as something that begins only at death, something new into which death suddenly ushers us:  that is quite unscriptural.  On the contrary, the New Testament always speaks of eternal life as something that begins here and now, on this side of the grave, something that exists as a present possession of those who are in fellowship with God.  Eternal life simply means God’s quality of life; and therefore those who have entered into fellowship with God have entered into that new eternal, quality of being; and for those who have entered into eternity, death is simply an irrelevance....I do want you to see that this – nothing less – is the characteristic New Testament emphasis about the life eternal: it is not that when we are finished with this world, and the fever of life is over and our work done, that then there will come the great essential transition from temporality to eternity.  That is not it – that is definitely not the New Testament teaching.    “From a sermon by James S. Stewart, “Walking With God.”




 


“To have eternal life means to be made alive to God so you can enjoy Him now, live to the fullest extent, and know that you will continue to have fellowship with God in heaven when you see what Jesus meant when he said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’” James Montgomery Boice in his introduction to the book Discovering God by Philip Graham Ryken.


 


“A Prayer for Courage.  Help me O God.  Give me the courage to cry.  Help me to understand that tears bring freshly washed colors arching across the soul, colors that wouldn’t be there apart from the rain.  Help me to see in the prism of my tears, something of the secret of who I am.  Give me the courage not only to see what those tears are revealing but to follow where they are leading.  And help me to see, somewhere over the rainbow, that where they are leading is home....’The Bible was written in tears,’ said A. W. Tozer,’ and to tears it yields its best treasures’.....Tears came when I visited Camarillo State Hospital to see a mentally handicapped friend staying there.  Seeing all that bent and broken humanity collected in one place, hidden away from everybody’s eyes, broke my heart.  But it was when I was standing outside the hospital, wishing with all my heart that Jesus would just stop by with all his mending and straightening power and make everything right, and knowing that it was just me stopping by was the best I could do...that is what made me cry.“   [Ken Gire, from his book Windows of the Soul.]


 


The last quote comes from Ed Lyman’s gift to me of yet another book from his personal library.  The author’s thesis is that God’s Creation is a tableau which we are given to see through the windows of our soul.  Most of the time we catch only quick glances of our world and the people we encounter.  But we can sometimes gain immense gratification to feed our souls when artists reveal to us the Master Artist of all Creation, His life and motivation to love those He created.  Gire illustrates with the life and works of Vincent Van Gogh whose masterpieces were created with the intent to show the world that God is love...nothing less than the gospel itself.  Few of his contemporaries understood; now his works are priceless because we have van Gogh’s own words of explanation...following....



On the life of Vincent Van Gogh, extracted from Windows of the Soul, by Ken Gire


 


….Vincent lived among the miners, sharing their poverty.  He went down in the mines to be with them, breathing into his lungs the same black dust they breathed into theirs.  He visited the sick among them, bandaging their wounds, praying with them.  And he preached to them on Sundays, try the best he could to infuse a little light, a little hope, a little encouragement into their coal-dark lives.  “I should be very happy if someday I could draw them,” he wrote Theo [his brother], “so that those unknown or little-known types would be brought before the eyes of the people.”  Before long, that is what he did. (The poet) Rilke would later write of this as the beginning of van Gogh’s life as an artist.  “And so he becomes what is called an evangelist, and he goes to a mining district and tells the people the story of the gospel. 


Because of Vincent’s extreme self-denial, his fanatical zeal, and his unwillingness to follow the guidelines set before him, the governing body overseeing his ministry terminated his position.  Angered and embittered Vincent left, and, at twenty-seven years of age, embarked on what was to become his journey as an artist.


          “I want you to understand clearly my conception of art,” he wrote Theo at the beginning of his journey.  “I want to do drawings which touch some people…. In either figure or landscape I should wish to express, not sentimental melancholy, but serious sorrow….I want to progress so far that people will say of my work, he feels deeply, he feels tenderly.”


          Vincent was drawn to common laborers, the poor and the downtrodden, particularly.  He painted pictures of a peasant woman sewing, of women working in a peat field, of farmers eating around their table after a long day of toil.  He painted a young peasant with a sickle, a woman weeping, two women kneeling in prayer, a woman with a child in her lap, a girl looking at a baby in its cradle….


  I turned to the poet Rilke, who had spent much time studying Cesanne, Rodin, and van Gogh, among others.  He had spent hour after hour in museums, studying works of art….I turned to Vincent’s letters and met him there.  It was like talking with the artist himself.  I listened and from him learned how to look at his pictures.  In those letters, Vincent taught me the purpose of his paintings.  “In a picture, I want to say something comforting, as music is comforting.  I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize….”


          His sketch, At Eternity’s Gate, is of a man sitting in a chair, his face buried in his hands.  “In this print I have tried to express,” said van Gogh, “what seems to me one of the strongest proofs of existence…of God and eternity – certainly in the infinitely touching expression of such a little old man, which he himself is perhaps unconscious of, when he is sitting quietly in his corner by the fire.  At the same time there is something precious, something noble, which cannot be destined for worms.”


….Vincent’s mental state deteriorated.  So did the state of his spiritual life.  The erosion of faith is chronicled in the letters he wrote over the ten years that spanned his life as an artist.  The Scripture quotations, references to God, and reflections of his faith, gradually grew fewer and farther between.  At the same time, the anguish and despair grew greater and darker and more turbulent.   On May 8, 1889, the ailing artist was admitted to Saint-Remy asylum a few miles northeast of Arles, France.  He was given a bedroom there, sparsely furnished, and a small room off it.  In the meticulously researched movie about van Gogh’s life, Lust for Life, the nun who first showed him his room at the asylum asked, “Would you like me to open the windows?”  Vincent nodded.  When she opened them, he looked out on the countryside with it sun-washed fields, and it was the turning point in his life.  He converted the small room off his bedroom into a studio and started once again to paint….Later that year he finished the painting Starry Night….Of that painting, Vincent wrote:  “That raises again the eternal question:  Is the whole of life visible to us, or do we in fact know only the one hemisphere before we die?  For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream, in the same simple way as I dream about the black dots representing towns and villages on a map.”


In the end only Theo understood the passion burning within Vincent, a fire that burned and burned until it burned out.  The last spark is captured on canvas in a picture he painted in July 1890, titled simply, Cornfield with Crows.”  Vincent wrote Theo about the painting.  “A vast field of wheat under troubled skies” is the way he described it, “and I did not need to go out of my way to express sadness and extreme loneliness.”  [Recent biographers believe the fatal bullet was inflicted by a boy he knew with a ‘malfunctioning gun’, not suicidal].   The bullet lodged below his heart.  The wound was not immediately fatal, and he was taken to his room where he was attended by a physician and where his brother rushed to his side.  At 1:30 in the morning on July 29, 1890, while Theo was holding Vincent in his arms, the artist spoke his last words.  La tristesse durea.”  “The sadness will never go away.”


          Through his pictures and his letters, through a movie and a song about him, I saw the artist and something of the artist’s soul.  But I saw something else.  I saw through him something of the great Artist of souls –Jesus.  “Christ” said van Gogh, “is more of an artist than the artists; He works in the living spirit and the living flesh; He makes men instead of statues.”

                                                





Canadian geese in flight


When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle thee.  For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.  Isaiah 43:2-3



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