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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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The Sculpture and the Sculptor – Bearing with one another

Bearing With One Another

Sometimes, the person you want God to remove from your life is the person you need most.

Everyone encounters difficult people on this journey called life. Are you sitting down?  Sometimes you may be the difficult person for someone else. Paths do not cross without leaving a trail, some kind of imprint, on each other. What if we viewed these impressions left by other people as marks that shape us? Even the painful ones.

A sculptor’s mediums cannot shape themselves, they are simply material. Unformed shapes, unrealized potentials, piles of stock longing for attention. Pressure and pinches shape clay, blades and abrasives form wood, extreme heat molds metal, hammers and chisels chip away at stone. Pressure, pinches, abrasives, heat, chips…..considered alone, none of these sound very pleasant!

What would these mediums become without the process that changes them into the works of art meant for them? Nothing. Forgotten piles of material collecting dust in a closet. The pain of being worked and formed gives the medium meaning, the process creates beauty.

The people in our lives do the same for us, and us for them.

The next time you’re faced with that person that pushes all of your buttons, that grates nerves only they can reach, or simply turns your stomach to look at, consider what they are forming in you. Embrace that change, grow with them.

Walls Fall Down – summer series

Have you ever faced a season in life that makes you feel like a mouse running aimlessly through a maze, just trying to find your cheese? Better question, who hasn’t? The Walls Fall Down series attacked those mental, emotional and spiritual blockades head on. It changed my outlook on life in the process.

The first thing we must address when we feel walled in, perspective.

Perspective - Your Wall is Your Path, Walls Fall Down 1, Joshua 6 - Copy

Obstacles in life often feel like walls we have to climb over, navigate around, or plow through. These physically exhausting methods do nothing but drain our strength and steal our limited time. What if getting beyond a wall was much easier?

Changing your perspective from focusing on the size of your wall to the size of your God.

Then your walls becomes your path.

Perspective - Your Wall is Your Path, ROTATED

Changing your perspective requires focus. Where your heart focuses, your life follows. Take a close look at the drawing below. Try to look at the entire page, dark and light, simultaneously. Read? Go….

Where's Your Focus, Walls Fall Down 2, Joshua 6 (1)

Tough to do, isn’t it? Our eyes are designed to work together. You can’t focus on the dark and the light at the same time. Your eyes force you to pick only one.

Which will you choose?

Victory Follows Holiness, Work Before Reward

Once we accept obstacles in our life as necessary parts of our story, we realize those struggles are what develops our strength.

Consider the butterfly. The fight to break free of its cocoon is what gives the butterfly the strength to fly. Without the struggle to develop its wings, this creature cannot survive the outside.

Embrace the necessity of your struggle to develop your strength to survive.

Unity, Walls Fall Down 4, Joshua 6, Ecclesiastes 4

Equally important to our perspective of the wall is seeing that we are not alone in this fight. No one is immune to struggle. There is no vaccination, no easy way around. We are all in this together. Supporting each other is the only way through.

If one brick falls, the tunnel collapses. Hold one another secure through to the other side.

Lay it Down

Moving forward requires letting go of what’s behind. Like a magnet picking up iron flakes in a Wooly Willy toy, life throw flak at us that builds up and weighs us down. Some things we hold on to, others hold on to us. Through unity and vulnerability, we can lay down this extra weight. Let go of their chains and stand tall, taking every step with your head confidently held high.

Keep moving

With our fears behind us, continue moving forward even when you can’t see what’s ahead. Michael shared the story of Florence Chadwick. Florence fought to achieve her goals and show the world what can be accomplished with determination and hard work, a 34 year old woman in 1952. Swimming 21 miles across the Catalina Channel, fog set in and she lost sight of the shore. Unable to see the finish line, she gave up and was carried to land by boat…….merely 1 mile from accomplishing her goal.

Florence began to doubt her ability. She was not able to continue under her own strength. We do the same thing to ourselves.

Two months later, under the same foggy conditions, Florence completed the 21 mile swim, breaking a 27 year old records by 2 hours. The first woman to hold this accomplishment.

Don’t give up, especially when it gets hard and you can’t see an end to the fight. Your breakthrough may be on the other side of your next step.

The Man Behind the Curtain

The Man Behind the Curtain, Ephesians 6, 10-12, Michael Trogdon

The Wizard of Oz says, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
When Jesus breathed His last, the curtain was torn.

Our enemy is the man behind the curtain that weighs us down and separates us from our Creator. We hide ourselves behind the curtain, ashamed of our failures and perceived inadequacy.

God asks, “Man, where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

Know the man behind the curtain, but pay attention to the One on the other side.