Hold On

Hold On.jpg

A contract is based upon lack of trust, a covenant is based upon commitment.

You will reap what you sow, and you will reap where you sow.

 

A marriage will only be as good as WE decide it is going to be. Working together. Fighting at each other’s sides. Choosing together. Holding on as we face each other.

Matthew 19:6

Pouring Yourself

Pour Yourself.jpg

Everyone is pouring their life into something. The question, is it worth it?

The basis of the message is a situation in David’s life while he is king of Israel and in the middle of a violent conflict with the Philistines. In this moment, David is tired and dehydrated. He and some of his closest allies are sheltered in a cave, the Philistine army occupies a valley separating them from Bethlehem and dividing them from their resources. Out of extreme commitment to David and belief in his God-ordained cause, three men fought their way through the Philistine camp, reached the well in Bethlehem, then fought their way back through the Philistines (without spilling the water!) just do David could have a drink and begin to restore his strength. Recognizing their courage and devotion, David honored these men in front of God. 2 Samuel 23:13-17

Everyone is devoted to something, whether they will admit it or not. The common drive of modern culture is to be completely committed to serving ourselves. After all, if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. Right? Possibly. But that philosophy makes an assumption that everyone else is only looking out for themselves as well.

Any botanist or someone who has ever owned a plant will tell you, what you water will grow; what you don’t water, won’t. The same is true in your life. What you nurture, where you invest yourself, that is what will grow and who you will become. What you neglect will die.

Even when it breaks your neck, this life, your life, and the lives of the ones you love hinges on how much you are willing to invest.

Jesus wants to invest in this life, in your life, with you.

Philippians 2:17-18

The Gardener

The Gardener.jpg

The heart of our problem is a problem of our heart.

Galatians 5:16-25

If we live by the spirit, we must keep in step with the spirit. What does that even mean? Is our purpose to Mamba through life with Jesus like a super-spiritual Dancing with the Stars??

No….

Keeping in step is a figure of speech meant to encourage us to align our hearts and desires with those of our Creator. Throughout our lives, seeds become planted in the soil of our spirit. We have the option to nurture these seeds (or not) and it is our responsibility to discern which plants should grow and which need to die.

How do we know what seeds deserve life and which do not? We must look beyond today and consider the fruit they will bear. Every plant is designed to produce a specific crop. Some produce in order to feed other organisms, some plants are complimentary and their purpose is to grow a biological product that is required to reproduce in cooperation with another plant. Tomato plants yield tomatoes, apple trees grow apples, but you’ll never pluck a sweet Muscadine grape off of a poison ivy vine…..

What fruit are we designed to produce? Our fruit is based in love and unity. These fruits build each other up and reject any notion of placing ourselves on a pedestal above another life.  Galatians 5:22-23

YOU will be known by YOUR fruit.

The Triumphant Cross – a story of life, love, sacrifice and death to rebirth told through art on Good Friday

Creative worship in the form of visual art creation has been a goal I’ve focused on for the last seven years or so, since I began keeping a visual journal of drawings spontaneously sketched to capture the message being communicated within sermons. This Easter, during the Good Friday worship service, that dream of expressing devotion through the talents God invested in me and conviction the Holy Spirit presses on me came to life in a divinely orchestrated project, The Triumphant Cross.

The service was arranged into three sections, an opening worship set, delivering the message, then a closing worship set. With careful coordination with the music selection and words of the sermon, the painting evolved throughout the service while I was physically working during the worship music sets that bookend the sermon.

The image traveled through four different stages, capturing four different messages on its way to final completion.

The starting point of the artwork was a stark white panel. White represents purity and innocence, this is the beginning of existence. Standing at the front of the stage, illuminated by spotlights and the thunder of the drum set, the bright presence of the panel on the easel is unavoidable. The panel stands unmoved, silently shouting “I am here, I am part of this”.

Meditating on an image to capture the depth and meaning of Jesus’s traumatic sacrifice on Good Friday, the pain of loss and confusion of burial in a sealed grave during silent Saturday, to the flood of joy and victory on Resurrection Sunday, my spirit was led to focus on the secure hope delivered to us through it all. One of the most secure and reassuring phrases uttered by God throughout the Bible to me is the simple statement of ‘I am’. Those two simple words are a statement of historical fact, present status, and future intent. God was, is, and is to come. This pure white panel simply states, I am.

“Before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58

IMG_20180326_200813_177.jpg

As the first worship set begins, the white panel comes to life in an array of bright colors. The worship team begins the set with King of My Heart, which is an anthem of hope and security of our life and our worth in Christ. I specifically chose the brightest oil pastels I could find to create a feeling of the work exploding to life. Large, geometrical shapes of colors familiar to Easter and the beginning of spring formed an image styled similarly to a traditional stained-glass window.

The focal point of this drawing took shape of a ‘Christmas Star’. I wanted this shape to take viewer’s minds back to the beginning of Jesus’s life, His humble and beautiful birth and the excitement of realized anticipation of a new king arriving. Full of energy and color, Jesus is alive.

King of My Heart transitioned into No Longer Slaves with a short chorus of ‘God is so Good’. As we sang of rescue and deliverance from fear, I added two small, yellow crosses in the bottom corners of the panel. These crosses rested on two green hills, then a purple hill was added at the base of the star. At this point, I began shading the edges of the star with a drab green-grey. The bland hue fights against the brightness of color used to this point. As I contaminate the image with darker shadows, the star is re-formed into a cross.

The life and energy of the star that dominated the artwork draws back into a symbol of suffering and death, arms overreaching the crosses below where the guilty hung. Life and energy are now mingling with guilt and fear.

Good Friday 2018 - Brandon and Ellen POV (2).jpg

At this point, I pick up my paintbrush. None of the original white remains, the purity has been compromised by a mess of color that pushes and pulls against itself.

Reckless Love has been a pivotal song for this Easter season at Journey Church, for our congregation and within our worship team. As my brush travels around the panel, the colorful depiction of the cross is slowly picture-framed by heavy black. Directing my strokes to make the blackness grow, the dark closes in on the cross. Soon, the main cross in the center is the only shape remaining.

As the song leads into the bridge, I fill in rest of the image with intensity until all that remains is solid black. Everything that was once white and pure is now completely opposite, black and heavy.

There’s no shadow You won’t light up

Mountain You won’t climb up

Coming after me

There’s no wall You won’t kick down

Lie You won’t tear down

Coming after me

Good Friday 2018 - Brandon and Ellen POV (3).jpg

The life and energy that this image contained has died and is now buried.

The panel is left at this stage while our lead pastor comes to stage and delivers the sermon he prepared. My intent was for the congregation to be left wondering at this point, confused why I would have “ruined” the colorful image I had worked so hard to create by painting it entirely black. I imagine that feeling may come close to the emotion the disciples felt as Jesus was led away by the Roman soldiers. The shock and despair of the hope found in doing life with Jesus, stripped from their foundation by the betrayal of one close to them. Then the anxiety of wondering what is coming next.

IMG_20180330_215751_267.jpg

As Michael closes the sermon and invites the congregation to respond, I return to the easel with the worship team on stage. The second worship set kicks off with When You Walk Into the Room and includes worship through communion. I begin working on the next phase of the artwork with as the song begins.

When You walk into the room, everything changes

Darkness starts to tremble at the light that You bring

As we sing these words, I use a knife to cut away the dark paint that buried the bright color. Life is returning with each stroke. I chose to carve blooming flowers out of the blackness. I studied several species of flowers and their traditional meanings while settling on the designs to reference, right up until the moments before I walked back on the stage. The focal point and largest of the flowers I chose is the open bloom of the Edelweiss. The edelweiss flower represents courage and devotion, two of the most predominant characteristics exemplified by Jesus as He laid Himself down without guilt and with the power to free Himself from the entire process.

image.jpg

At the moment of Jesus’s death, the veil which separated the majority of humanity from entering the presence of God was torn from top to bottom. This symbolized the destruction of the wall separating us and opened the pathway for everyone to communicated with God on a personal and individual level.

O Praise the Name was the song chosen to finish out our worship for this night and the grand finale for this painting. As a nod back to the tearing of the veil, I dropped the knife and began tearing away a shape I had created with tape and concealed with a last coat of primer.

As I continued to peel off the tape, a historic icon takes shape.

Early in the 11th century, Carthusian monks in England designed an icon we know today as ‘The Triumphant Cross’. This icon was associated with a Latin motto, Stat crux dum volvitur orbis. Translated, this motto and the symbol communicates “The cross is steady while the world is turning”

The Triumphant Cross - Good Friday 2018.jpg

The circle represents the globe, while the horizontal line symbolizes the equator. The cross rests in the center of the circle, acting as the axis which the world turns on.

 

All of the colors and contamination are now removed. The innocence and purity are dominant again, standing out brighter than anything else in the image. The cross was present from the very beginning, designed into the perfection of ‘I am.’ We just couldn’t see it until we were on the other side.

image.jpg

Stat crux dum volvitur orbis

The cross is steady while the world is turning

 

Follow this link to watch the full service on our YouTube channel: Good Friday|Journey Church

Uphill

Everything worthwhile is uphill. Sadly, many people have uphill hopes and downhill habits. – John C Maxwell

Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I don’t know about you, but 2017 was a very long and often difficult year for me. 2017 coming to an end was life’s Christmas present to me. I welcomed 2018, but with with cautious reservations like drinking a steaming fresh cup of hot cocoa.

I am confident I was not alone in this feeling. Michael and the team at Journey are sensitive to this spirit of apprehension as well, choosing to kick off 2018 with a series titled ‘Uphill’, inspired by a quote from leadership coach, John Maxwell.

The first and most significant step in developing uphill habits is focusing on what you do. Where your feet take you (or where you allow them to go) determines who you are. One thing that life and humanity guarantees is that we will create habits in our life. Some good, some not so much. It is a mistake to consider habits lightly. Your habits are your responsibility. You define your habits, but then these same habits will define you.

You stand at the 2018 block of Another Way. You get to choose your road from here.

IMG_20180107_120915_301

The Parable of the Hole
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t
my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place, but it’s still not my fault. It still takes a long time getting out.

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there, but I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it. I walk down a
different street.
– Portia Nelson

 

Change what I do. Check. That’s really easy to say, but how do I actually do it when my habits are so deeply part of me? You must take control of your mind, be the master of your thoughts.

IMG_20180114_132028_584

Romans 12:2, 3:5-6
Ecclesiastes 10:2
Philippians 4:8-9

We are what we repeatedly do.
How we think determines how we feel.
You can’t change your behavior without changing the way you think.

Your thoughts determine your destiny

IMG_20180114_132309_296

My 11 year old son drew with me this week! His explanation of his drawing is the person is thinking of things he wants his life to be, while what is happening around him are habits he needs to change in order to make his thoughts a reality.

 

Well, ok. I am focusing on what I do and controlling my mind so it stays focused on uphill habits and not sliding comfortably back into old routines. Now what?

Keep your life aligned with your purpose.

Guardrails along the interstate are put in place to keep drivers safe. They don’t actively hold vehicles on the road, but they do prevent an accident from becoming something catastrophic. Using our actions and out thoughts, and leaning on God’s direction, we can put up guardrails that keep our lives aligned with the path we travel. That doesn’t mean accidents won’t happen, but it will ensure bumps in the road won’t change our direction.

Work of Art
εργασία
Ephesians 2:10

The Israelites marked each milestone on their journey to the Promised Land with a pile of stones, which inspired them to keep moving; at work of art to mark every accomplishment.

Out lives are God’s work of art, His workmanship. The word in today’s drawing is the original Greek, translated ‘workmanship’; or more literally, work of art.

God builds our lives as His work of art, we climb uphill, becoming our lives by living God’s work of art.

IMG_20180121_123853_238

The greatest asset to the trajectory of our lives are our relationships. The crowd we run with, the people we let into our circle. Psychology has studied social phenomenons of friendships and discovered many details about an individual can be determined simply by looking at who they hang out with. Political views, annual income, consumer habits, even the number of children you have and how healthy your most intimate relationship will be can be predicted with astounding accuracy by looking at your five closest friends in a lineup.

Relationships being our greatest asset, also makes us vulnerable to them becoming the most significant threat to our ability to grow. Choosing our relationships wisely, the ones to start, to keep and to change or end entirely, is critically important to defining our lives and holding to our path.

Uphill 4 – Choose My Relationships Carefully
Romans 12:2
1 Peter 4:7-8, Romans 12:17-18, 1 Corinthians 15:33, Proverbs 13:20, Proverbs 29:17

Nurture – Anything left on autopilot is destined to crash.
Restore – Forgiveness is not dependent on the other person’s response
Sever harmful relationships.
Initiate heathy relationships.

IMG_20180128_215534_522

We feed each other, but we also depend on each other. We are responsible for feeding each other well, and just as responsible to ensure we are being fed well.

Noah interpreted this message a little more literally than I

IMG_20180128_201356_846