Life is War. To Pray is to Fight.

Life is War. To Pray is to Fight.

After a long drought brought on by life, I have finally let myself open up and create spontaneously again. We kicked off a new summer series yesterday morning. For the next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on prayer, how to pray, the importance of prayer and what our focus should be.

Life is war. Spiritually, emotionally, physically; we are constantly battling something. Some days we battle ourselves.

I chose the image of a boxer to embody the idea of prayer being our fight. The boxer is exhausted, resting in his corner, his sagging head only held off the mat by his arm. His towel lay crumpled beside him. The boxer is ready to fire the towel into the ring, giving up on all that he has worked for, but he lacks the arm strength to throw. Burying his face in his glove, all he has left is to pray. Prayer is all the fighter has left in his arsenal.

Often times, we get to this point where crying to God is all we have. Through our fatigue, we feel inadequate to pray and lack the confidence to even know what to say. Prayer is not about your words, it is about your heart. Learn more about how to pray here. God doesn’t need your words, he needs your heart. He needs your mind to open.

Choosing the image of the boxer is a personal reference for me as well. I have been travelling through an expanse of parched land in my life. The ground burned by neglect and the consequences of good intentions. Physical exertion has been my release. As I drew this image, I was reminded of my own fight by the dull crimson scars on my knuckles. Fresh wounds beginning to heal. Memories of another round violent encounter with the heavy bag.

Life is war. We must remember we are all in this together. All of us.

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I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I mention work? Do you think of sweat and strenuous exercise? Pride may be the inspired emotion in some, pride in their position and their productivity. Others react the opposite, feeling abhorrent toward their place of employment; discouraged by the thought of another business day. God did not intend work  to be something we dread, much less avoid. As we saw last week, God created work when he created man. God placed Adam and Eve in Eden and told them to cultivate the rest of the earth by the garden’s example; he created work as an avenue to worship. The fall changed our perception of working from being a voluntary way to worship God to an inescapable form of punishment.

Men, in particular, walk a fine line between being defined by their work and defining themselves through their work. If you compare the average hours a man spends at work versus quality time spent at home with his family (taking into account time to sleep) in a single work day, his priorities seem vastly disproportionate. For most, however, quitting to devote all your time to being at home with the family is not an option. Even if you left the day job, own your home out-right, and grow or hunt your own food, there’s still work required to survive. Having to work is not where men get in trouble, the problem is being defined by your work. Our identity, as men and women, is not defined by our position, but rather in a person. Once we begin to define ourselves by what we do or how well we produce, we hand over the reigns of our emotional well-being to the one we’re producing for. This only brings disappointment and frustration when the boss who is impressed by your productivity responds by raising the bar a little higher. Happiness at one’s job is determined by a combination of the work environment and apparent value in the job. When intrinsic value is extrinsically dependent, happiness is a volatile subject because it depends on the day. Belonging to Jesus frees the supervisor from self-importance and the supervised from self-pity. Finding intrinsic value by realizing the One who made you is pleased even when your best efforts fall short attains the freedom to work hard and work well without the yoke of insurmountable expectations. When our work becomes part of our worship, our job becomes a joy. We tend to divide things that are secular from things that are sacred. We forget we are created beings working to please our Creator; everything is sacred!

Ephesians 6:5-9 teaches us the attitude we should adopt to find joy, but keep our priorities straight, in our jobs. The first word in verse 5 is most accurately translated as ‘bondservants’. In the first century, a bondservant was a person who worked for another and was compensated as a result. Sound familiar? Paul goes on to encourage bondservants to work not to be seen or as people-pleasers, but as if their work was directly for Christ. He then changes his  focus to the masters, imploring them to lead fairly, knowing their employees are working for Christ, not for them.

In my life since college, I had to learn a lesson about work that specifically relates to what Christians label their “calling”. God calls people to do certain things and have certain attitudes. Many young Christians believe determining their specific calling in life is a prerequisite to selecting a career, as I was. Believing this way leads to a lot frustration, a constant search for greener pastures, and extended college careers. So much effort goes toward finding our elusive “calling”, we procrastinate ourselves into what we fear most, insignificance. Paul encourages us in Colossians 3:23 to do what we do well, as if it is for God, no matter what it is we’re doing. Our “calling” is to a life of excellence, consistently serving our God through loving people, our way of making a living is of less significance to Him than our efforts toward doing the job well. Calling does not equate to career.

Today’s drawing has several levels. The background is a black and white swirl. The description of the relationship between master and bondservant inspired this swirl, the colors never mixing but pushing each other in the circular motion instead. I initially thought of drawing a long, flat road that disappeared into the center of the swirling background. I was not happy with this imagery because most roads carry traffic in both directions. The sign along the road reads, ‘The Way – Keep Following’, encouraging travellers to stay the course despite the road getting rough. That’s when a song from my childhood came to mind, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Eureka! I left the road sign, but changed the asphalt road to a railway; unquestionably a one-way path and much more demanding on the workers who construct it! The railroad track disappears into a shining light that blends the master and bondservant together, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Work well, fearing God more than man.

Keeping the Cross Central

Here we are at the third week of our series, Jesus +; half way into our walk through Galatians. Paul is still giving the church in Galatia a good chewing in the first part of chapter three. He calls them fools twice, refers to their conversion experience as vanity and basically calls their holding to old religious law ignorant. He explains that even Abraham, who was the lynch-pin for arguing for strict adherence to the law, was sanctified through faith in God (v.6)! Those who have faith since Abraham are called “children of Abraham”, fulfilling God’s promise that “all nations would be blessed through him.” (v. 7-9) This group in Galatia wanted to work their way into the family by following the law, but doing so negates the need for faith. (v. 10-14)

The law is commonly recognized through the icon of a balancing scale, symbolizing balanced justice for two sides of one issue. I have chosen to make the focal point of this week’s drawing a balancing scale to represent the church, particularly the one to which Paul wrote. The Galatian church was performing a balancing act with the gospel of Christ with the ancient law of Abraham; in this act the law was winning. This is not uncommon in the modern church. Stick with me here. I’ve not come across a church who enforced Abrahamic law combined with the gospel in my life time. What I have experienced is churches who present the gospel but then set an “understood” list of minimum guidelines a person must follow as well as having faith. Rules about church attendance, acceptable food and drink, volunteering, your place on social issues, and on, and on, and on.

The list alone is exhausting, much more working to stay on the correct side of it all! Paul sees the church in Galatia doing this and his immediate response is; “FOOLS!!” I expect that would be a different word if Paul were in today’s culture (gullible idiots?). Alas, ‘fools’ and ‘bewitched’ is how the ESV translates his assertion. When the central focus of the church is not on Christ, his sacrifice, and faith through his gospel, our eyes turn from an extrinsic focus on impacting the world to an intrinsic focus on not becoming “like the world”. The gospel is not the diving board into Christianity, it is the pool itself. Just as we’re saved by faith in Christ, we also mature through that same faith.

Getting back to the drawing, the focal point is a balancing scale. The center pedestal mimics the shape of a cross, alluding to keeping the message of the cross central. On the left side of the scale is a locked cage, a small jail cell. This represents working to hold to the law, imprisoning ourselves by self-imposed regulations. The Bible is pretty clear how impossible keeping His original law is (Romans 3:23), much less everything else we’d add. This side weighs down the scale, just like this kind of theological philosophy weighs down the church. There is a rag on the top of the cell. This rag is the blindfold, removed from the eyes of justice. The most effective way of gauging how well we’re keeping the rules ourselves is through comparison, self-righteousness requires seeing and dissecting our fellow church member’s actions (or lack thereof).

The right side bounces in the air from the force of the bird who just launched freely into the sky. Resting in the right plate is a small wooden cross, the gospel. In the wake of the bird’s flight path is an ear. The gospel-centered church is the bird, hearing and receiving releases it to then go apply the gospel elsewhere. The gospel is the updraft on which we can soar, but clearing the ground requires faith.

The secret to freeing yourself from a try hard-do good-fail cycle of trying to live by a set of religious rules? Faith. Young Christians often struggle with the concept of faith because their understanding of “faith” is defined by being “good” (keeping the rules). Keeping the rules is not the key to faith, faith is the key to free yourself from trying to keep the rules.

Before I sign off today, living by faith in the gospel and not by following the law does not prevent us or free Christians from responsibility of calling out and repenting from negative, destructive, anti-gospel behavior. The “Christian” stereotype is often defined by what we’re against, the “worldly” stereotype is usually tied to not being against anything. Neither are accurate representations, but shouldn’t scare us off from making our voices heard either way. As we’ve seen thus-far in Galatians, Paul didn’t hold back from calling out false doctrine, neither should we. People may play the ‘love’ card on us, saying “Jesus taught you to love people, calling my actions sin or my ideas wrong is not being loving toward me!” Contrary to popular belief, the opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is indifference. Apathy toward a human you see running head on into disaster, that is hate.