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

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Alone Together

Self-sufficiency is an illusion.

Galatians 6

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Independence and self-sufficiency are nifty catch phrases people use with varying motivation to describe a person who can handle life on their own. Most often, these terms are used with a positive connotation: praising someone (usually oneself) for being able to supply their own needs, provide for anyone they hold responsibility, or embrace their freedom from a situation they are leaving behind. When did we become convinced that being alone in life was such an honorable position?

We are not created to do life alone. None of us.

The world Jesus is building in His model on earth is not one of compartmentalization or segregation. Jesus brought us together. He shared meals with the outcasts and spent time with the deplorables. The design of the church body is to replicate and expand this unity to embrace everyone in our communities, our nations, and to the ends of the earth. This should be easy, right? Just be nice to each other! Train each other, encourage and support each other. Simply be a good friend! Ha…..what a royal mess we’ve made of that one. Pride takes over and we let ourselves be convinced that to life is to be in competition (one of my favorite strategies implemented by Uncle Screwtape through Wormwood in C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Screwtape Letters’). We separate ourselves from each other because we are ashamed to admit we struggle with any aspect of life. Those of us who have mastered this ability puff our chest and fly in like a superhero coming to save the day by telling people how to fix their problems. Many of those experts are church leaders.

The church is not an organization and it’s not a hospital. It’s not a business or a social club. The church is designed to be a home, and your home is where your family lives. Your family, coming together with open arms, celebrating each other’s victories, dealing with its conflict, growing despite the times of dysfunction. The church is your safety. Leaning on each other’s shoulders and standing firm to have each other’s back, the church is designed to be a unified force to lead people home.

Share your load, take another’s hand and offer your own. Come home.

You are not meant to be alone.

Grace – Let Go of the Rope

Let Go of the Rope, Jonah 2, Journey Church, 7-10-16

Grace can be defined as an undeserved gift from an un-obligated giver.

For grace to be offered, an offense must have occurred. Most often, the offense is overshadowed by the offender’s unwillingness to receive grace from the offended. We hold on to our faults with a death grip, but then describe them as if they have permanently leeched onto us. We are a sadistic people in this way, torturing ourselves when the pathway to freedom is simply letting go of our perfectionist mentality. When we give ourselves enough grace to make mistakes and learn from them, we open the floodgates to building real relationships and creating a community that can withstand the greatest adversity. I believe grace is the key missing ingredient that makes real friendship a fleeting phenomenon among adults.

From birth through preschool, we are all equals. Race, sex, religion, favorite color, none of this matters. We see each other as we really are, just people riding on a rock, breathing the same air and doing our best to figure out how to do this thing called life. Everyone is our friend, we welcome each other in without a second thought and play together as complete equals.

With the beginning of elementary school comes the start of organized sports and friendly competitions. My two oldest sons are baseball players, Jacob is wanting to try soccer this fall. They are beginning to find and roots of the most valuable relationships the will nurture their young lives are beginning to grow. We learn to work together, in competition with other teams who work together. The seed of competition has been planted. We being developing our smack-talk skills, boasting in our inflated perception of our abilities and emulating our favorite athletes and superheroes.

As the teenage years begin, so does a new level of  competitiveness. Sports teams are no longer pickup leagues where everyone gets to play, participants compete in tryouts. Bullies have defined their reputations and cliques take their form. Friendly banter over abilities and faults evolves into insults and hurt feelings. In high school, even more areas of competition find their way onto our plates. We compete over academics. We compare everything; skin complexion, hair styles, clothing, musical tastes, each others’ friendships. The older we get, the more meticulous we are about the comparisons. We put all our energy into creating a facade of perfection that bests even the people we care about. This competitiveness is amplified by the system, pushing the importance of SAT scores, end of course tests and making college applications the engines for yet another race to be won.

We graduate into the next chapter of life and divide ourselves further by competing over things that have potential to define the rest of our lives. If we enter the work force, we compete to be the best at what we do be noticed and rewarded more than the next guy. Those of us in college compete to establish our value in the community we’re chosen. Some compete over grades, some compete over sports, some compete over relationships, others compete for position in their own sub-communities. The philosophy we’re indoctrinated with regardless of the path we choose is that the rest of our lives will be a competition for survival. Give no grace, take advantage of every opportunity, become your own person and fight to be better than everyone else.

No wonder we have such a hard time finding friends after 25.

Small groups are the lifeblood of most new church communities. Speak with any of the core leaders and they will lay out the same reason for nurturing small groups. Friends. Small groups exist for the soul purpose of helping adults become friends, to break the mentality of competition. Friends help ease the weight of competition, but only our ability to give and receive grace will eradicate it. Without the ability to forgive and move forward, no relationship will survive.

I’ve heard it said, “when you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”  I no longer believe this philosophy is beneficial to anyone. In fact, I am sure it has locked souls into a prison of self-reliance that destroys lives.

What if you weren’t designed to hang on to a rope to begin with? What if the rope is what keeps us restrained and chokes the life out of us?

Once we can let go of everything, no more competition, no more entitlement, truly set down our selfish pride; then we can dip our hearts back into the life of innocent freedom we so easily forgot from out early days. We are still all just humans riding on this cosmic rock, doing the best we can with the time we have. Let go of your irrational and unattainable need to “do it better” than everyone else. Let go of your ropes and just enjoy the ride. God will not let you fall, if you let him take the reigns of life. Your only obligation is to live.

There’s no competing your way into happiness and freedom, there’s just setting each other (and yourself) free.

This Matters.

In today’s entry, I’m catching up on our latest series that we are three weeks into, This Matters.

Our introductory message in the “This Matters” series focused out attention on the Bible. The Bible matters. Why?

Historically, it lays the groundwork, not only for our faith but all of civilization. Regardless of your religion, the Bible is regarded as the most historically accurate documentation of its age.

Morally and ethically, the Bible provides us with concrete guidelines for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Though many have misconstrued God’s precepts while others create  new ones in God’s name, the Bible provides a solid foundation for morality and ethics in every aspect of life.

Logically, it lays out the simple design for living in peace with all of humanity and with yourself. When you read scripture; first read it for the literal words, dissect those words within the context they were written, then apply those words to modern day as they can apply to you.

The Bible is not God’s rule book, it is our pathway to knowing Him. The Bible matters.

In week two we focused on prayer. Prayer matters.

Through the Bible, we can know God on a corporate level. Through prayer we connect with God (and ourselves) on a personal level.

Prayer, This Matters 2, Matthew 6, 6-13

Prayer is literally a conversation with God. Prayer is most effective when our hearts are open to let the communication flow both ways.  I heard a Rabbi once describe the Jewish perspective of prayer as an introspective assessment of one’s day. Sitting down at the end of the day to inspect every choice you made, then committing to whatever changes that are necessary to become a better person tomorrow. Christians would benefit from incorporating this aspect of prayer into their perspective as well.

God is not a genie, prayer is not a wish list. Submit your requests to God, but take an honest account of where you require improvement.

Prayer holds you in community with God. Prayer matters.

Stepping into week three, the things that matter have been fairly personal in their application. The Bible matters, I need to read the Bible. Prayer matters, I need to pray. Today has more public ramifications, community.

Community matters because life is not designed as a solo endeavor. God designed us as interdependent beings. One person’s weakness is matched by another’s strength. Our misguided focus on self breaks the bonds of unity and leaves us vulnerable. I enjoy National Geographic, Discovery, and PBS for their nature programming. Nearly every episode set in Africa includes a Lioness hunting a pack of Gazelles. The Lioness quietly spies on the unknowing Gazelles as they graze, strategically picking out the slowest and weakest of the pack for her family’s dinner. When the attack begins, the Gazelles scatter. The target tries to keep up but, for whatever reason, is separated from the pack and is overtaken by the Lion in the open field. We are the Gazelle, our Enemy prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

CommUNITY, Hebrews 10, 19-25

Much like there’s no ‘I’ in team, there’s no community without ‘you’. Dying to self is not a mandate to make yourself a door mat, it is the open door to embrace life. Tear off your armor of ‘self’ to open the pathway to community. Letting go of your needs creates opportunity for needs to be filled.

Community matters.

Give.

For the Christian on the DONE side of love, the question is not ‘How much should I give?’ The question is, ‘How much do I dare to keep?’

Give. 1 Corinthians 16

1 Corinthians 16:1-4

Give as you have been given.

and

As you have been given, give.

and

Give as you have been given.

and

The Man Code

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Men have a basic code we live by that sets our standards for ethics, morality, judgement and behavior. Unfortunately, these standards have been compromised by social pressures and manged to fit personal agendas until a boy has to be careful he’s following the correct code to be a man. ‘True Love’, week 2 cuts through the smoke and makes the path to manhood clear.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:26-28

This passage in Genesis recounts the moment humans came into existence. Now, before you stop reading, I’m not going on a Ken Hamm rant here. Today’s blog is not about the accuracy of a literal seven-day creation or the validity of evolutionary creationism. I am focusing on the established images and roles of male and female homo sapiens, specifically the me.

This passage has been totally butchered by societies for centuries. The primary flaw in these distortions is to twist this passage to be establishing a hierarchy for the home resulting in male dominance and female subservience. Insecure, super-religious men will often reference this moment in history to extort their way into power and domineer their family. The words of these verses proposes quite a different scenario. God explicitly establishes the equality of men and women in two simple phrases; “So God created man (‘man’ being a generic word for humans) in his own image…male and female he created them.”

God created men and women with equal value, but different roles. God creates both men and women as a reflection of himself (v.26), then commands them to cooperatively be fruitful and multiply, and have dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth (v.28). The concept of male superiority is imagined by the inspiration for the creation of Eve as a “suitable helper” (Gen 2:20). As we have just read, God’s process of creative development established the existence of male and female before any groundwork began, Eve was not created as an afterthought, as reading Genesis 2:20 out of context can be misinterpreted to say.

So if the Genesis creation story is a clean slate which establishes men and women as totally equal, where do men find their code for that relationship? Us men are very black and white, what are the rules? Ephesians 5:25 gives men a clear directive for relating to women, particularly in marriage. “Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Rule numero uno for a successful marriage, men? Get over yourself.

Let me break this down into a simple list for the guys out there, because that’s what we can understand. Men, your responsibility when it comes to women and your family is:

Lead. This doesn’t mean you make all the decisions or that you’re always right, it simply means you can take charge and do what needs to be done in any given situation.

Love. Real, selfless, genuine love. Mushiness not required. Need tips on what love is? Patience, kindness, keep your ego in check, honest. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Provide. Providing is a subjective role to your situation. In some cases, this means the male brings home the majority of the family income. In others, the man takes care of household responsibilities so the woman can bring home the bacon. In any case, providing is taking on the role of making the long and short term goals of your family happen. How that manifests is determined by how well you lead.

Protect. Dean gave some great illustrations on protecting this morning. Men with any hint of chivalry Naturally place themselves in positions to be protectors. What real man, upon hearing a strange sound in the house at 2am, asks their wife to go check it out? No self-respecting man ever puts a woman in danger to protect himself. Opening doors, walking on the side of traffic when you’re out on a date, picking up the check (even when it’s not a date), walking her to her car or to the door at night. The key is, none of these acts of kindness are performed with any expectation of return. You are nice because it is only natural for you to be nice, no ulterior motives. Guys, you need to teach your son’s how to treat and respect a woman. If you didn’t get those lessons growing up, learn from someone you respect, then teach it to your kids.

Honor. What is honor? High esteem, regard with great respect, fulfill with integrity, a privilege. All of these phrases apply to a man’s responsibility to a woman.

The introduction and festering of sin in the lives of men has made this and pretty much every other natural role much easier to say than to accomplish. Sin leads men to abdicate their responsibilities and abuse their authority. Instead of leading their family, sin makes men irresponsible and absent from the lives of people who depend on them the most. How often do you catch flak for the hours you put in at work or the time you spend on the ball field? Those are red flags that you are failing to lead.

Sin turns love into only a temporary physical condition. Men who dominate over their wives and children as a strict authoritarian do not know love. Cowards who prey on women thirsty for love for a cheap release then disappear at the drop of a dime, these men do not know love. Here’s a quick litmus test if you’re not sure how well a lover you are; when you enter the room, do your children (a) smile and cheer your name (b) fail to notice or (c) quietly cower where they are until you give them permission to continue whatever they were doing – either by your actions or your ignorance. If you answer anything but (a), you have a red flag to handle.

Men who do not provide for their family’s success are tangled in sin. If I asked you to list off a few things your wife dreams of one day accomplishing, could you even name one? What about your kids? Do you know what gets them excited? What they value? What goals they may have? Self-absorbed men know nothing of anyone unless it benefits themselves. If no answer immediately came to mind as answers to these questions. Get over yourself and get to know your family tonight. Pizza, root beer, and Star Wars sets the tone for me and my boys! Here again, this goes back to leading. Men who lead well, do whatever needs doing to provide.

Protect. I think we covered this one well, don’t be a wuss. Man-up and take care of your family. Protection is not just physical. It is emotional and spiritual. If you have anger issues, protect your family from yourself. Get to know God and introduce your family to him by your example.

Honor is the all-encompassing attribute for the man code, accompanied by integrity. If you respect someone, you will care for them; if you honor them, you will care for them above yourself. Integrity is knowing your principles and standing your ground. Men of integrity do not compromise their morals, even when it’s convenient. If you have no honor, or can’t spell integrity, turn in your testicles because you’re out of the man club.

Today’s opening image is a sculpture of Atlas literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulder. The primary role of Atlas in Greek Mythology was to be the force that held the earth steadfast within the galaxy. Husbands, dads, men, this is precisely our job in the home. One of our roles is to hold our world in place within the realm of life, whatever needs to happen to keep the family going, that’s your job. Every man pictures himself in this position at some time, successfully carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Strength, integrity, honor, these are the top qualities of manhood every guy claims (but few actually own). Inside the “world” the Atlas figure carries are characteristics of Biblical manhood.

Juxtaposed to the Atlas figure is a fun house mirror. Carnival house are fun, they aren’t called “Fun Houses” for nothing! Bending a mirror distorts the reflection you see. In this case, the man code carried by the Atlas figure is distorted into the negative attributes that describe too many “men” in modern culture. Instead of honorable, loving providers and protectors, the reflection is that of insecurity, absence, irresponsibility and selfishness which then demands respect. The self-image does not match the reflection. Sin supports the mirror that tells men they are being Atlas by holding to the characteristics in the mirror.

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Men. If the way people treat us is a reflection of our treatment of them, pay more attention to your reflection that you do to yourself.

Protect and embrace the man code.

Lead, love, honor, provide and protect.