Friday, July 22, 2011

Compliments of God

The Oakes family took a needed vacation this last week. We visited four national parks, took many great pictures and made some good memories.

Along the way I found I was taking more and more pictures of nature than I have in the past.

A couple months ago, I attended a birthday party where we created our own masterpieces using acrylics on canvas. I loved to paint when I was young, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to get my visual creative juices flowing again. I enjoyed mixing the colors and putting together different shapes and shades. But it felt a bit contrived and I was disappointed with my “creation.”

But when I was taking pictures of the wonders of Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, Zion and the Grand Canyon, I found myself looking at textures and colors. I found myself asking what it took to create those textures and colors.

The bright oranges of all the national parks we visited are unusual but there was more. I wanted to share with you some of those other textures and why they mean so much.

These twisted trees didn’t happen overnight. They grew from small saplings and encountered years of wind, rain and drought to twist into such shapes. While it might take me a few hours to paint such a tree, it took nature years to produce this masterpiece.

But there’s more. Look at the colors and lines in these pictures of rocks. Some might say that reading the science behind them tends to dull the senses and destroy the delight that they produce just by looking at them. But science reveals something more subtle, something more genuine. Science reveals that it took centuries upon centuries to create these parks.

First the stone had to be built which in the case of the Grand Canyon, consists of many layers of sandstone, limestone and shale. The continental drift due to the shifting of the moving plates of the earth coupled with active volcanoes took care of that. Then water from the Colorado River dug deep into the rock, wearing it down slowly. After the water receded, the other weather elements like ice, and wind worked their magic by chipping away at the stone.

The results are breathtaking, which is why so many people go to explore these parks. I found myself wondering if all the visitors to the parks understood what they were viewing, what they were experiencing. “The awesomeness of nature,” was one response I heard.

But I suspect, maybe unknowingly, the connection goes much deeper. I believe there is a distinct quality that allows human beings to appreciate of be in awe of nature. I think innately we allow ourselves to connect with the Artist. We say we are “connecting with nature,”, but what we are really doing is connecting with God.

There is an undeniable eternal connection we feel when we see such natural beauty. It is distinct and takes our breath away. It is our connection to the eternal, and that is not something we are able to shy away from. It’s something we are drawn to without explanation.

I hope you enjoy these textures that God has provided for us. Visit your local nature and connect with the Artist.

Monday, July 11, 2011

When Enough Time Has Passed...

I just came back from a once in a lifetime trip to Alaska – a great adventure and a great escape. I witnessed such incredible beauty and unimaginable wilderness and I breathed it in deep. I was also reminded of what wilderness really is.

We get so stuck in our daily grind that we can barely see out our windows. Work demands our attention, our family deserves our consideration. We get caught up in the whirlwind of life and we don’t hear God calling us.

This trip allowed me to do several things, but the most important was I remembered that God meets us where we are. The magnificence of creation is a powerful and engaging reminder that there is something beyond us. I am grateful for that gift.

At the church I visited on my trip, the pastor spoke of the parable of the seeds falling on good soil.(Mt 13:1-23 or 13:1-9) He talked about the soil being rich. If you garden, you know the importance of good soil. Once tilled, the nutrients added provide a fertile home for the seeds planted.

The pastor caught my attention as he said, “When the soil is ready…when enough time has passed…”

Those words caught me by surprise. So many times as Christians we are called to evangelize to others, but rarely do we consider what words we use or the timing of those words. Yet, in most cases, we push forward, sometimes not considering how we may be affecting the hearts of those we are trying to educate.

Yet if we read Jesus’ words, he tells us when we should speak. “Hear then the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it…”

Our job is not always simple and yet it is critical. We need to determine if we are sowing God’s word onto a path, rocky ground, or thorns. We need to be patient and wait until the soil is ready. As with anything important, the more we push, the less response we invite.

In other words our job is two-fold. We are to sing from the rooftops of the infinite and all forgiving love of God, but we are also to pray for wisdom. We are asked to discern when the soil is ready so we may be successful with our planting. If we plant before the soil is tilled, the seeds may not take. The environment is not ready. Rich soil comes about in time.

Don’t be fooled! Sometimes the soil is ready when it is flooded with pain, or drought stricken with the loss of love. Those times of the heart may seem inappropriate to plant in, but it is most often when we are at our lowest that God has so richly prepared our soil.

Wilderness provides an opportunity to meet head on with creation. We enter with reckless abandon and look for adventure. When we find ourselves in the wilderness our defenses no longer hold and we are able to take in what we were so determined not to hear.

It is in those moments that we often find peace as well. Our hearts open, a soul settling calm washes over us. This is where human meets Divine.

So gently and quietly plant the seed and step back. It is often in the moment that we least expect we are doing any good that the seed takes root. Our job is to plant, let the farmer water and nourish. Let God wash over the soul and do the work. Drop the seed, gently pat the soil down and step back.

In quiet surrender remember that He meets us where we are.