Journeys with the Messiah: Photo Gallery
The gospel message is as fresh and relevant today as it was in the first century. In his book Journeys with the Messiah, fashion photographer Michael Belk offers images that link the modern and the biblical—and musings that speak to commonly felt needs.
Lighten the Load
Support for what’s weighing you down.
Jesus sends an invitation to all: "Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest… For My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light." Who among us is without burdens? From a delayed flight to a late mortgage payment, a term paper due on Friday or a seriously ill family member, all of us have times when we are disheartened and discouraged along our way, sometimes to the point of “spiritually bankruptcy.”
I know a unique word not found in the dictionary, "efforting." It means struggling unnecessarily in an effort to do something. It could be illustrated by pushing a car to your destination when it would be much easier to start the engine and drive it.
When I find myself "efforting," I think of Jesus’ invitation to let Him take the heavy part of the yoke, leaving me the lighter side. He does not necessarily say that He will carry all of my baggage. Yet, He does promise that when we accept His invitation, He will gladly lighten our load (Matthew 11:28-30).
Living today while being secure in tomorrow.
As the stock markets crashed in the fall of 2008, I panicked as I saw my life savings evaporate before my eyes. Almost half of everything I had counted on was gone.
Several days before this catastrophic financial collapse, I was reading about Jesus teaching his disciples a “form of prayer” that we have come to recite as The Lord’s Prayer. Of the six sections of the prayer – the first three to the honor of God and the second three for the needs of man – the fourth part is “Give us day by day the bread we need.”
Almost instantly, it dawned on me that, despite all the promises Jesus has made about God taking care of my needs, I do not trust Him for those needs on a day-by-day basis. Not only do I want my bread today, I want to feel secure that I have tomorrow’s bread, today. And, I want to know that I have “retirement bread” and lots of it.
How peaceful would life be if we could live with no worry about having to meet our needs for tomorrow? It is His promise (Matthew 6).
A light to guide our way.
Most of us love lighthouses. We photograph them. Paint them. Explore them. Perhaps it is their purpose that attracts us most. They are beacons of light inviting ships in the night to a place of safe harbor, a place of calm from a storm, a place of rest for the sea-weary. They also serve to warn sailors of the dangers of a nearby coast. Jesus said that He was “the light of the world,” and that He had come to “bring light to the darkness” and to “guide our way to the truth.” Like the lighthouse, Jesus, through His spirit and through His teachings is available to guide us to safety, to warn us of danger and provide a safe harbor, a place of calm and rest from the storms of life.
Rest for the Weary
Time out from the burdens of life.
I am writing this in March of 2009 while the world is in a serious economic upheaval. Fortunes have been lost, retirement incomes are gone, and the basic necessities have become a struggle for many.
It is at times like these that I recall the simplicity of childhood and the safety of my mom and dad’s arms.
In truth, we assign too much importance to issues that, in the end, will be of no consequence. Have you ever heard of a man on his deathbed who asked to see his stock portfolio one more time? Could the time we spend worrying be better spent in quiet, soothing fellowship with the One who created it all and promises more?
Jesus said that we are not to worry, but to “seek His Kingdom first” and His Father would generously take care of our needs. And, He invited “all who are burdened and weary” to come and find sweet rest in Him (Matthew 11:28).
Maybe we should give it a try.
There’s often more to the story that what first meets the eye.
A familiar Gospel account finds Jesus traveling through the region of Samaria when He encounters a woman alone at the local well. After He asks for a drink of water, she is surprised as He reveals what He knows about her life: she has married five times and is not married to the man with whom she is now living.
Having heard this story for years, I just assumed she was a prostitute. As it turns out, I may have judged her without knowing all the facts.
One scholar suggests it is unlikely she is a prostitute, but more likely that she is barren—she cannot have children. This may explain why she has been married so many times. She gets married, cannot bear children and the husband divorces her.
Thus, she goes to the well alone because of the stigma this places on her. People would gossip about her and even tell her she is “not in favor with God.” Ouch!
Fortunately, Jesus does not see her as we do. He sees her as a woman scarred by her past, a woman who has lost hope. He approaches her with compassion rather than contempt (John 4:17).
Now that’s an example for all of us.
The things that hold us back.
The two biggest fears in most lives are the fear of public speaking and the fear of change.
In one of His greatest parables, Jesus tells a story about a rich young ruler who is intrigued by Jesus’ teachings and, particularly, His offer of eternal life. So, the rich young man asks, “What must I do?”
Jesus responds by telling him to keep the commandments, “Do not murder, steal or commit adultery.”
“I’ve got those covered,” says the rich young ruler. “Anything else?”
Jesus’ next response hits the wealthy young man where it hurts, “Okay, then sell all you own, give it to the poor and…then come follow Me.”
While I do not believe Jesus requires this drastic action from most of us, He knew that, for the rich young ruler, his lifestyle—money, cars and beautiful women—had become a personal road block to what he really wanted, which was to follow Jesus into eternity (Matthew 19:16-26).
We must all examine our lives to see what holds us back from living the dream Jesus has for us.
A swimming lesson for the spiritually inclined.
Many years ago, in an attempt to save a drowning child, I found myself caught in a riptide in the Gulf of Mexico. Riptides are strong currents that can be deadly if you do not know the simple formula for getting out of them.
Life, too, has a way of throwing us into circumstantial riptides on a regular basis, and we often find ourselves in a life-and-death struggle. But like the riptide that allows you to escape by simply swimming parallel to the shore, there is a Life Savior always available to save us from the perils of this world (John 6:19).
The drowning child was saved and so was I. Are you?
Accepting a gift with humility.
When Jesus said to His followers, “To enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you must come as little children”, I assumed He meant because of their innocence. Then, reflecting back on my time as a child and times I have watched my own or others playing, I could only conclude that “their innocence” was not the virtue to which Jesus was speaking.
Children were loved in the first century, but unlike children today, the world did not revolve around them – gifts for every occasion, birthday parties and trips to Disney World. Children were more humble, having fewer expectations than children today.
The Kingdom will be a gift to people who know they are not worthy of such a gift – “the poor in spirit” - the people who are not trying to impress others or position themselves where they will look good to the King. “Come as little children” means come to Him in humility, expecting nothing, knowing that grace and salvation come as His gift. A relationship with Christ is much more about the gift received than what we give up (Mark 10:13-15).
The Second Mile
The joyful gift of forgiving.
Where does a mother garner the strength to stand in a courtroom and forgive the man who murdered her daughter? How do Jews ever forgive the Nazis for the Holocaust?
Jesus’ teachings on this subject were revolutionary: “Love your enemies as yourself. Pray for those who persecute you. Forgive people seventy times seven." Jesus reminds us that, just as God forgives us, we are expected to do the same for others.
Still, His teachings on forgiveness are more for our benefit because He wants us to let go of the bitterness and anger we hold on to. He knows that our feelings of anger, resentment and hatred will not hurt the other person to the degree they can destroy us, even to the point of making us sick.
Just saying, “I forgive you,” releases you from emotional, physical and spiritual bondage. It sets us free to move on with life and His glorious plan (Matthew 5:38-48).
Forgive and let it go.
The meaning of the Last Supper.
Imagine that you have been following Jesus for three years. Then, one night during dinner, He takes bread and tells you to eat for “this is My body.” Then He takes the wine cup and tells you to drink it, “for this is My blood.” Such commands would be alarming and, on that night, the disciples had no clue of what He was talking about…at least until later.
The dinner was to celebrate the Passover, which got its name from when the Israelites were in captivity in Egypt and God sent plagues against the ruler, Pharaoh, in an effort to release the Israelites. The final plague would kill children. However, God told the Israelites to mark “the doorposts of their homes with ‘the blood of a spring lamb’ and those homes would be ‘passed over” and set free from death.”
On that night, Jesus was indicating to his disciples that He was the now “the lamb;” that through His coming sacrificial death, “eternal death” would “passed over” all who believed in Him (Matthew 26:26-29).
Death will pass over! Think about that the next time you share the Lord’s Supper.