Love Never Fails

Love Above All 3
1 Corinthians 3:13

Hebrew is one if the most beautiful written languages. I have been working through a podcast that digs deeper into the original Hebrew text of the Bible and it’s root meanings, so I was feeling Hebraic today!

After translating all the attributes of love in 1 Corinthians 3, I used the characters of the word ALWAYS and engraved them into bricks. The commitment of ‘Always’ is the foundation of love. The mortar that holds our always is agape.

Love never fails.

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Ready…..set….LOVE

I had not planned on sharing my drawing from today, but God has a way of arranging things.

We began a new sermon series at Journey today, Love Above All (Valentine’s themed). I was behind the drum kit this morning, which usually means more time to draw, from having two rounds of the sermon during which to draw. This morning was a bit different. We began taking advantage of the first service to have a small group Bible study discussion as the worship team, second service included a housekeeping conversation inspired by a budget meeting from the previous week. Following the pastor’s sermon outline for our discussion, this image of a blooming rose stayed in the front of my mind.

The message was an overview of love, what is love, how does God view love and how do we live a life of love as God designed? Jesus was once asked, what is the greatest of all the commandments? His answer, as all of his replies, was perfectly executed:

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘ hear , O israel ! the Lord our God is one Lord ; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart , and with all your soul , and with all your mind, and with all your strength .’ The second is this, ‘ you shall love your neighbor as yourself .’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:29‭-‬31 NASB
https://bible.com/bible/100/mrk.12.29-31.NASB

We often read this as a bullet point list, but this could not be more wrong. Jesus is affirming the old law, the Shema, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and your mind.” Then He takes it a step further. Those raised in traditional Jewish homes in this time period were familiar with the Shema being written on a piece of paper and placed in a small box, then tied to their foreheads as an outward expression of their devotion to the Lord. Jesus is plainly stating this is not how to show love to God. “The second is this, love your neighbor as yourself…” Directly tied to the greatest commandment are brief but direct instructions on what loving God looks like. Our love for God is expressed most clearly in our love for each other.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:35 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/jhn.13.35.ESV

The rose is an encouragement to bloom. Grow where you’re planted and let your true colors shine. The thorns on the stem are references that loving openly is not always comfortable or easy.

I started out confessing that I did not intend to share this drawing. A not so coincidential encounter this afternoon changed my mind.

My oldest son served with me at Journey this morning. It was youth Sunday, he signed up to help out with the tech team. After service, he suggested we go play some Pokemon Go downtown. It was a warm day in central North Carolina, so off we went. The public library is one of the Pokemon hot spots. We parked and began walking past the fountain and up to a sculpture on the library grounds. As we walked, a young woman was walking toward us from the other side of the building. She seemed to hug the building, as if she were trying to hide her presence and avoid attracting our attention. We were about twenty feet from her when her eyes met mine. She immediately spoke in the loudest voice she could muster without bursting into tears “I’m waiting for my ride, is it ok if I wait here?” I am not a representative of the city, but I cannot imagine any public employee having an issue with her request, so I replied that it was quite alright. Noah and I kept walking. The young woman spoke again, “I just left the hospital. I lost my baby.”

I froze in my tracks. Eight years ago, my sister lost a child hours after he was born. In the last year, a family very close to me buried the newest member of their family after a few short months of life. I looked at my son, looked back at this young woman who was now seated against the library and sobbing, then motioned to Noah, “let’s go talk to her.” Noah nodded in agreement.

As we approached this young woman, I observed physical attributes indicative of drug abuse. I asked if it was ok for us to come closer, she nodded through her tears. I began sharing with her my sympathy and my experience with death too early, but confessed that no one can truly know what her heart is experiencing but her. She proceeded to confess how she does not believe she is worthy of the love of God because she has lived a life wrought with pain no human being should experience. Many of her life experiences have been direct attacks on her self worth. A childhood of unimaginable abuse, being thrust into a life of adulthood at 17, then losing custody of her son (now 8) after some very poor life choices, losing her career to the consequences of earlier life decisions, now losing the young life she was viewing as a second chance to contribute something positive into life only a couple of weeks after listening to their young heart beating. Noah and I say with her and listened, we shared our experience of God’s love and ways He has moved to bring light I to our darkness, to me through my seizures, to Noah through his conversation experience and recent Baptism.

Then it struck me. This is why I drew a rose. This young woman and her baby are the reason. I asked her to wait a moment, I had something for her. I jogged back to my van, opened my sketch book to this drawing, snapped a quick photo and carefully removed the page along the perforated seam. The tears began welling up in this young woman’s eyes again as I walked closer with the drawing on hand. I handed her the image, and explained what I just confessed to you. I didn’t know why I was drawing this image as the pencil was moving, but now I understand. This rose was for her, this rose was for her child. She has lived a life navigating through thorns, but God still wants to watch her bloom.

Noah and I moved on in our Pokemon quest. Walking back to our vehicle, we could see this young woman had moved to the large fountain and was waiting on the fountain wall for her ride. I stopped and asked if we could get anything for her. She thought a moment and said she would really like a bottle of water and maybe a bag of chips. She adamantly insisted that she does not like receiving charity and wanted to pay for the water, then pulled three dollars out of her back pocket and handed it to me (what I perceived as being g all she had). Noah and I drove to Walgreens, about half a mile away, we purchased her a coconut water drink with antioxidants, a bag of cheese chips Noah likes and a bag of trail mix with probiotic heavy ingredients. I threw her three dollars back in the bag with the snacks. We drove back to the library, where the young lady still waited at the fountain, and Noah handed her the bag through the van window. As we pulled into the street, I saw her look into the bag, shake her head and smile. I saw her waving in my mirror as I slowly drove away, I saw her waving to us. I could hear her voice, but couldn’t understand her words. That didn’t matter, because I could read her lips….”Thank you! Good bless you!”

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And second unto this, love your neighbor as yourself. By this, people will know you are My disciples.

I ask each one who reads these words, please remember Delana (De-lay-na) in your prayers.

One Body, Unashamed

Unashamed 4
2 Timothy 1:8

Shame has no grip on me because I am a reclaimed follower of Jesus; neither the devil, nor the grave, nor the tongue of ANY man can alter the truth that my God is not ashamed of me and I am not ashamed of Him.

We are the body of Jesus, we share in the glory, and in the suffering, of following Christ. We become the body by holding each other accountable and supporting each other on this Journey.

The body of Christ is made up of our intertwined and interdependent bodies. The head is clear, because Jesus is the head. Inspited by multiple legislations passed around the United State last week, a fetus is growing in the core of the Christ.

WE – a Journey Worship experience

Make me a vessel of Your hope. Where dreams are dead, come wake them up.

A new horizon, I feel it rising. Make me a vessel of Your hope. 

-Pour Me Out (Vessel)

This weekend has been one to go down as leaving mark on my spirit which time cannot fade. The exceptional team of creative people who make up the worship and production teams at Journey Church Asheboro planned and organized an evening of worship to unite our community in one voice and one experience with our God. The evening was full of music, spoken word, video and live and spontaneous art.

My role in planning this event was the visual art. I was set free to create as the Spirit led and use whatever methods and materials that inspiration demanded. I prepared in tight coordination with the worship band and selection of music for the night. As the team was led to songs for that night, a theme began to appear; freedom. I spent weeks reading and meditating on the concept of freedom. What does it mean to be free? What binds us and fuels our deep longing to find and embrace freedom? Why does freedom matter? What does freedom look like?

The more I tumbled over this concept, the broader my range of possible subject matter became. I thought of open landscapes, blue skies with gentle cumulus clouds mingling leisurely together. Next, birds in flight, the ultimate cliche image for freedom. My mind traveled to Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth. I thought of blues and wispy grays, colors of calm and freshness. Despite all my ideas, none seemed to entirely capture experiencing freedom. That’s when it hit me; freedom is too large to be adequately communicated in one image. Freedom is not domesticated. It is far too wild to be contained. Freedom is a scandal. Freedom is an experience.

The only way to properly convey freedom in an art form is to lead people in an experience of it. The art I create on this night could not be a planned with an end-goal image in mind. It would have to be abstract, I would have to move quickly but intentionally, and it must be completely spontaneous. The only preparations I made was selecting my medium.

I am always pushing myself to try new methods and experiment with ways of reinventing old ones. I had used spray paint in art before, but always used it “safely” by spraying large areas or creating stencils to tame the spray stream. This time, I would allow the full breadth of the spray stream to behave freely. I also find acrylic pours and the uninhibited dance of acrylic pours and ink on ceramic tile exciting, but not braved those methods. I chose to combine these methods and discover how they could partner  together in a marriage of freedom and abstraction. After purchasing acrylic and watercolor canvases, my adventure into freedom began and the results were a beautiful mess. Like any good science experiment, the initial messes gleaned fantastic discoveries and refined processes. I was almost ready to share this experience with any eye who will see.

With my method and medium set, I developed a corner of our worship center into my studio for the night. With a table from the a preschool classroom, industrial trash bags from the kitchen and a $14 floor lamp from Walmart, art was ready to commence.

Work space.jpg

The creating corner was set adjacent to the worship band so we could watch each other and coordinate how we would experience this night individually into a unified, corporate experience. The very fluid medium I used required the canvas lay flat, which posed a visibility problem which was crucial for this experience. Using a GoPro camera connected to a TV, everyone in the worship center could watch the art come to life as paint hit the canvas.

Setup.jpg

Knowing speed I’d be moving and the minimal coverage required to complete the practice images, I brought multiple canvases to use throughout the night. Our intro song was ‘Here as in Heaven’. Lighting played a crucial role in setting the stage for this worship experience, so I soaked in this song, preparing my heart and mind for action and waiting to illuminate my work space. The first line of this song, “The atmosphere is changing now. The spirit of the Lord is here.” was an invitation for us to encounter our Creator and for Him to engage with us in this moment.

Exodus 40-34

As the band began playing ‘Reckless Love’, I clicked my power strip switch to the ‘on’ position, electricity surged into the filament of my lamp’s bulb and the TV began projecting the blank canvas facing me.

The line in ‘Reckless Love’ that strikes me deep and explodes in my spirit is the start of the bridge, “There’s no shadow You won’t light up, mountain You won’t climb up, coming after me.” These lyrics inspired the first painting of the night,

Reckless Love.jpg

‘Reckless Love’ was followed by ‘Spirit Lead Me’, a song which has quickly become a favorite of mine to play and worship though. Following the heart of this song, the second painting was truly led by the Spirit. This one is layers of ink, reacting to rubbing alcohol, then masked by spray paint and layered again. We entered a short speaking time once the song closed, where I continued to let the image flow out of me.

Spirit Lead Me.jpg

Our experience of worship and freedom continued as the band returned to play “Pour Me Out (Vessels)” – incorporating the lyrics at the start of this blog, and “King of My Heart.” I began the third painting with a spray painted base, then pouring rubbing alcohol directly on the canvas and allowing it to pool randomly. The alcohol reacts with the acrylic ink to give it the freedom to dance and swirl together. The spray paint reacted more subtly (I used a sugar-based, odorless spray paint). “King of My Heart” inspired the crown-like swath of black and yellow ink in the bottom left corner.

Pour Me Out-King of My Heart

We finished the night with four tracks that include our most recent favorites and energizing songs in our repertoire, “Love Has a Name”, “Stand in Your Love”, “Glorious Day” and (to cap the experience and underscore our objective) “Freedom.”

This final canvas was the largest of the four painted that night at 27″ x 27″ (the previous three were each 16″ x 20″). I incorporated all the methods used in the other paintings on this final production; using found objects as stencils, pooling alcohol before applying ink, pushing ink to spread and combine by blowing through a straw, and layering the medium. Inspired by “Love Has a Name”, this painting includes a name; YHWH (pronounced yah-weh), a Hebrew name of God. In “Freedom”, we sang “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!” The bottom right corner in this painting displays an icon which represents the trinity, and the complete manifestation of the nature and spirit of God. It is a Celtic triquetra knot, which is interpreted to represent the union of mind, body and spirit. It is also the layout of the Venn diagram, which exposes the principle of primary and secondary color theory, where primary colors combine to create secondary and all colors unite to become absolute white.

Love Has A Name-Stand in Your Love-Glorious Day-Freedom

Dance like the weight has been lifted, grace is waiting.

Come out of the dark, just as you are, into the fullness of His love.

Oh, the Spirit is here, let there be freedom!

Let there be freedom.

-Freedom

In Action-Instagram

“It’s not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular,

it is why he does it.”

– A.W. Tozer

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

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.