I Am Jonah

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Ammittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

Jonah 1:1-3

I Am Jonah, Jonah week 1, Jonah 11-3

Starting our first series of 2014, I am excited to see the art it brings but also cautious not to let myself be too influenced by the Jonah series from 2011. The drawings from 2011 are my favorite prophetic series that come out of this adventure.

Being the first installment of Jonah, we begin with the start of Jonah’s story, the call to engage Nineveh. In conveying the mission Jonah is assigned, my goal is to communicate the weight of the task. Lauren led us into feeling the weight of God’s glory by arranging How He Loves as the song leading into Jeremy’s sermon. An excerpt of those lyrics proclaim God ‘Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree’. This paved the way for ‘The Call’ in 2014. Using oil pastels, I created a heavy layer of dark color that very gradually lightens at the top of the page. This method draws, not only your eyes, but your emotions down. At the bottom right of the page stands a palm tree. The tree bends at the weight of the atmosphere, bending it nearly in half. For this series, the tree is Jonah. Applying this series to your reality, the tree is you. I want you to feel the weight of this image just like Jonah felt the weight of his responsibility and you carry the weight of your own.

Ancient Nineveh was world renown as the most evil city in all civilization. The society was so intolerant, any who opposed them on any level were brutally tortured then buried alive, their head exposed so they could watch scavengers approach to feed on their flesh. Jonah is being told to enter this city and publicly condemn their lifestyles and worldview, encouraging them to return to living by God’s design. Suddenly, any adversity in my daily life doesn’t seem so adverse! Jonah, a prophet well known in and out of Jewish culture, is understandably afraid for his life at hearing his mission. Who can blame him for running the other direction?

Spiritual people often find it easy to point out those who are far away from God, lifestyles and world views are dead giveaways to a person’s spiritual state, right? You are never further from God than when you are close to Him and saying ‘no’. Jonah, a prophet of God, separated himself from God when he stepped on the deck of the boat heading east. Whatever task is placed in your path, there will always be a ship to Tarshish you can board to avoid your responsibility. The choice of whether to run or obey is yours. Making that choice is a difficult task. On the one hand, God gives us specific tasks through opening up doors of opportunity. On the other hand, our enemy leads us astray by showing us the paths of least resistance. Where we must be careful is determining which path we should take.

We often make major decisions in life based on which avenue leads us to experience the most ‘peace’, were we to make that option. Peace is a vague emotion that must also be handled with care. Often times, what we label as God inspired peace is actually Satan’s administered numbing to our situation.

The choices we make rarely affect only us. There is a ripple effect to both sin and obedience that will forever alter the lives of everyone we touch. Considering this is how we know which path we need to follow. God’s calling on your life is where your greatest passion and the world’s greatest need collide. Follow your passions where they most greatly benefit the lives of others, from friends to strangers.

You are Jonah.

Choose your path wisely.

Like a Lion

A certain air of excitement and anticipation filled the atmosphere this morning. The Game Time series we’re working our way through is encouraging and empowering, but something today felt different, it felt charged, like the worship service was primed and ready to ignite. Maybe it was quality time spent in prayer for and by our worship leaders, perhaps it was the next step I’ve been encouraged to take my art in and beginning that effort today, perhaps it was just me. Whatever it was, I loved it, I needed it and I want more of it.

Opposition to the work

Nehemiah 4:1-14

My God’s not dead, He’s surely alive.

and He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion!

Like A Lion, Nehemiah 4, Game Time 3

Discouragement is an adversary faced by everyone who’s ever risked anything. The teenager who risks being themselves in front of their peers faces pressure to conform to social molds. The high school sweethearts who fulfill their mutual commitment to purity to get married at 19  are ridiculed even by those within their family  for being too young and too immature to commit their lives to each other. The college junior who abandons his business major to pursue a degree in missions and worship arts is rejected by his family for “throwing away his future.” The teacher who leaves a decade-long career in secondary education with retirement benefits at a local school and embarks on a journey to  earn a new degree in a different field at a school 85 miles away is told she’d be better off to “hang on a few more years.” The artist working to break down centuries-old barriers between their art, their faith and their community only to have doors closed and ideas delayed. We don’t face opposition because we’re doing something wrong, we face opposition because we’re doing something right.

I’ve heard the same thing said different ways, but the most fundamental way of putting it I have heard is Satan doesn’t waste time or energy on souls who are already his. I believe The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, first published by an Anglican periodical named The Guardian in 1941, most effectively surmises our place in spiritual warfare and the weapon that is discouragement. Many of today’s quotes come from those letters.

Discouragement, at its core, is just a big word for worry. When one talks about being discouraged (or at least when I have felt it myself) I am less concerned with people sharing their opposition to my plans and more concerned with their reactions if I follow through on them anyway. The genius behind the weapon of discouragement (spiritually speaking) is that the opposition never says “don’t do _____”. That would be a futile tactic to use on a soul with any hint of spiritual maturity because it would be immediately written off. Who’s going to stop loving their community because someone approached them and said “stop being compassionate”? Nobody. Approach someone with a scathing indictment of how the consequences of their actions will negatively come back upon them and you’ve got leverage. Our Enemy doesn’t talk in absolutes because he doesn’t want us to think in absolutes. He uses ‘what if’s’ and ‘are you sure’s’ to keep us floundering in uncertainty until we either run out of time or emotional stamina.

“There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy [God]. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

This logic proves “the devil made me do it” to be a completely unfounded excuse for poor decisions. The devil doesn’t pose questions to you whose answers dictate your actions. It is his plan to make you choose not to complete the mission God entrusts to you. His discouragement comes in indirect questions like “Do you want people to like you? What if no one gets it? Do you think people really want you to do this?” Do you see? Satan doesn’t question the integrity of our mission, doing that would affirm our intentions and only make us stronger. Instead, he brings to light the personal consequences of following through with our plans. Once our minds are filled with enough doubt and anxiety, we most often take the path of least resistance and abort our world-changing ideas before they are released.

Think about your community for a minute. How many people would have a roof over their head, children have families, stomachs be full, addictions be broken, and lives fulfilled if people like you simply turned their ideas into action? How often have you let an opportunity float passed while you protected your reputation?

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at its testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

Nehemiah’s plans faced opposition from day one. Requesting approval to start his mission to rebuild Jerusalem was a brazen move in itself! Now he’s faced with the haters on the ground. Hecklers along the wall he’s so ardently convinced is his lone responsibility to  see reconstructed. The very people he’s rebuilding this city for share cynical rumors that his motives are less than pure. Despite it all, Nehemiah presses forward. He is forced to go as far as arming his fellow workers with construction tools in one hand and combat weapons in the other, yet construction is not delayed. 

Nehemiah embraced two things with unwavering loyalty, God and his cause. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down” became his battle cry (Nehemiah 6:3) Complete the mission God entrusts to you in the shadow of Nehemiah who rebuilt a city in 52 days.

Like A Lion, Nehemiah 4, Game Time 3

Like I said earlier, the atmosphere walking into the service today was an aura inspiring creativity that I had not experienced in some time. My expectations for today’s drawing launched like a pyrotechnic star, slowly slithering its way into the sky. What exposed itself on the page was only limited by the ability of the one maneuvering the pencils.

Lauren did an excellent job arranging the worship set this morning. While many were led in worship by talented musicians today, the worship team effectively lead the body of North Ridge into worship with a strategic progression of music and lyrics.

Like a Lion – adoration

Here for You – confession

How Great is Our God – thankfulness

From the Inside Out – supplication

The subject and progression of today’s drawing is (like many of my pieces) full of intentional layers and dimensions of meaning. I began first by contemplating on the imagery of “oppression”, which is the title of today’s message. My mind flitted between a dark page of charcoal black and an emotional crowd of naysayers. Art (particularly Christian art) cannot remain one-sided, so I had to balance the oppressive emotion with a feeling of freedom and release. The foundational subject of this image is a circular array of dark figures, seemingly trying to suppress the central focus point.

As your eye travels around this circle of figures, you notice the shape extending to the bottom of the page is out of place; it has leaves growing from it! Your mind almost immediately recognizes this combination of shapes; it is the stem of a flower.

Pom pom flower

The negative space between the hands and bodies of the figures now also begins to take shape. While the dark shapes produce a heavy, oppressive emotional atmosphere, a flower comes into bloom in the center of the page against the seemingly insurmountable odds.

Like A Lion detail

Now that you’re focused on the image exposing itself from the negative space on the page, the final and most crucial detail comes back into view; the part of the drawing these surrounding figures are working so hard to suppress. In the center of the flower and at the hands of the oppressors is the face of a lion rearing back to loose an earth-shattering roar.

You are the flower. God places inside you specific passions. Working inside these passions is where you find your greatest joy. As Frederick Beuchner said it, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Find the world’s hunger, then use your passion to satisfy its pangs. As you fulfill your passion, expect opposition to arise. Stand your ground, grow where you’re planted. Leverage your talent and passion to build a city within your city. Loose the lion inside you to roar with such authority that you are exposed to be that city on the hill. Have the courage to say; Here’s the problem. Here’s the solution. Here’s why we need to do something about it. Here’s why we need to do something about it NOW. Make you passion to defeat your enemy bigger than your apathy.

Now for that next step I took my art in today. You may have noticed at the bottom of my posts, the share tabs are tagged with a statement that says “Art comes alive when it’s shared.” That starts with my sketchbook today. Every drawing will be released as soon as it is completed, immediately available somewhere in the coffee lounge at North Ridge. Tagged with a note reading “FREE ART” paper-clipped to the drawing, it is free for the taking by whoever it chooses. My hope is that the cleaning crew finds fewer of these than you!

When your time on this earth draws to a close, my prayer is this phrase, uttered by Wormwood’s “patient”,  is far from your lips and mine; “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”

You are doing a great work and you cannot come down.

Why Not?

Image

We’re starting a new series today titled, It’s Not About You. Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at the narcissistic side of modern spirituality and learn how our attitudes need adjusting. Drawing one from this series took longer than usual to get started, but came out simple and concise.

If I asked you to define the attitude of American society using a single characteristic, what word would you come up with? Patriotic? Compassionate? My observations require a different adjective; entitled. Everyone deserves something. A raise, a vacation, a positive outcome to whatever situation. Of all the things we could feel entitled to, the one that reigns above all is answers. Answers to any question we can fathom, explanations for other people’s actions, reasons for our failure to receive some other thing we’ve “earned”. No matter who the question is directed towards, modern society stands vehemently static until we have this information. Heaven forbid the answer given is not the preconceived response we’ve determined the question deserves!

In 2 Kings 5, Naaman nearly missed being healed from leprosy because he didn’t like his question’s answer. Naaman was a commander in the Syrian army and a leper. During a raid in Israel, a girl was captured and began working for Naaman’s wife. Learning of his disease, the girl compassionately encouraged Naaman to visit the “prophet of Samaria (a.k.a. Elisha)”, he would be healed. Naaman’s entitlement to healing begins. He pulls rank and has the king of Syria send a letter to the king of Israel, setting up a formal meeting between Naaman and the Israeli king, with the ulterior motive of meeting Elisha and, BAM! No more leprosy. The scheme unfolds as planned, until the actual healing process takes place.

The king of Israel, upset that this diseased Syrian commander usurped his authority to get into his court, reluctantly agreed and Naaman’s date with destiny was set. Avoiding the normal pleasantries, the king sent Naaman directly to Elisha’s house. Bonus for Naaman! The meeting with Elisha, however, did not go as Naaman envisioned. Naaman expected some holy words and spiritual sleight of hand, a flash of burning magnesium would have been a nice touch. Instead, Naaman received some bathing instructions and directions to a less than desirable river to bathe in! In order to wash away his leprosy, Naaman had to submerge himself into the Jordan river seven times. Hearing this infuriated Naaman. Despite expressing his disappointment (showing his tail in front of Elisha) and offering cleaner alternatives for the location of this bath, Elisha calmly shuts the door in Naaman’s face and Naaman storms back to his entourage. His posse looks at him in bewilderment and says, “Seriously, dude? The guy just told you to take a bath to be healed and you’re mad because the water is dirty?! Naaman caves and takes a swim in the Jordan, coming out with skin “like that of a newborn”, completely healed.

God calls us to tasks by planting in us a vision for a specific project and an insatiable passion to see it through. What often frustrates our efforts is our own hesitation as we wait for a popular Christian buzzword from God, confirmation. We continually ask God to reveal why He’s given us a passion to x,y,z and why we should follow through with our idea. Apparently, if we don’t know why we are serving in a particular capacity, the notion must have originated from a questionable source and following through would mean certain demise. Taking a meal to that couple who just brought home a baby and we only know as acquaintances may be awkward and ruin any chances of friendship since they did not invite us. Offering a cold bottle of water to the ragged man at the intersection on a sweltering July day may be offensive because his sign doesn’t mention being thirsty. The point of today’s drawing is we are asking the wrong question. God does not owe us an explanation. He’s worthy of our affection and obedience just because he’s God. An idea is the most resilient parasite known to man. Once an idea strikes, our question should not be why, but why not?

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself in him. John 14:21

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.