Freed to Give – a prophetic art experience

 

Today, I experienced an emotion to which only artists can empathize; ‘creative exhaustion’. Simultaneously high from creating something that did not previously exist and emptied from having left part of your soul within that creation. This is the story of that creation.

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Humans are designed as interdependent beings. Beginning with our introduction to a carbon-based environment, we depend on other people for our basic survival. Though our needs evolve over time, our fundamental design to live in harmonious dependency on one another remains constant. This is God’s intricate design.

Starting with the very inception of the human species, man could not thrive on his own. Recognizing this, God separated one organism into two, making them an interlocking match for each other. I do not believe the separation of humanity into male and female was an afterthought for the Creator, it was critical to his design. Obviously, the male and female designs define the mechanics of procreation, critical to the sustainability of the human species. God also designed our minds to be free and self-assured in this design of life. Men are not stubbornly confident because we are jerks, it’s a critical part of our psyche included since day one. Understand His creation, God put the man in a position where he had to choose the woman. In choosing to join themselves together, God freely gives His creations to each other, joining them together as one being and designing the institution we call marriage. One that was made two is now made one.

Dependency on the abilities and service of another human being is not weakness, it is what makes us human. Refusing to embrace our need for others leaves our souls malnourished. Rejecting opportunities to serve another is abuse.

One Made Two Made One

 

Creating unity by dividing humanity is the basis of today’s work. At the top center of the image is a single, crouched form. The figure then splits like a dividing cell into two individuals. The unique organisms then dance along their paths, becoming their individual selves. At the location where their paths cross, the two reunite into a single body. This is marriage, as God designed.

 

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Recreating this into today’s piece, I combined acrylic paint with fine, sandy rock which exists in the foundation of a gravel road. The rock and paint mixture created a mortar-like paste which made the creation of today’s figures as much a process of sculpture as it was painting.  This process created shapes with three dimensional body and an organic feel that makes your mind expect the figures to morph into dancing with each other on the page.

 

 

 

 

Establishing the existence of marriage as two created individuals choosing to unify themselves as one through their Creator leads us into the next logical question, but often hardest one to ask, how can two individuals successfully operate as one? The answer, though easy to say, is much harder to apply; selfless mutual submission. By each letting go of what they hold most dear for the sake of fulfilling the other’s desires, they both grasp hold of what they will most cherish – unity. This philosophy is true for every relationship from exclusively romantic to complete strangers; asking one simple question will redefine human encounter and construct a legacy, one person at a time. How can I serve you? Before being able to pose this question honestly, one must first choose to lay themselves and their desires down. Your most perfect façade will not conceal your ulterior motives.

Refusing yourself the satisfaction of gaining for yourself is no easy task; it is a choice that must be made constantly. In every moment, making yourself look for opportunities to serve those around you, this is the attitude suggested by 1 Thessalonians  5:17. To pray without ceasing and give thanks in everything is to be aware of what you have been given and constantly be looking for ways to serve others because of it. What’s to stop people from taking advantage of me if I really do this, you may protest? Grace.

Grace is being able to forgive those who abuse you, wisdom is not enabling that abuse.

Forgiven people forgive. Without letting yourself experience grace, you refuse yourself the ability to show grace. Grace is the foundation of every positive relationship because no one can achieve perfection. At some point, on some level, people will let you down. Serve them anyway. Occasionally, the words and actions of people will hurt you. Be kind to them still. A day will come when another maliciously inflicts pain in you. Graciously love them despite it.

Freed to Give, 3rd service

 

The paths followed by the figures in this image trace back to create a heart shape with an open center. God did not design marriage to benefit us. In its proper form, it reflects His nature to the world. The open heart. Two people, remaining individuals but united as one, serving each other and those around them. This is by design.

Parents. Serve your children well. Children, serve your parents.

Know your friends well enough to know their needs. Serve them freely.

Know the needs in your community. Join with others to fill them.

Everyone wants to give to charity, but no one wants to be charity. Until you learn to receive, you will never truly know how to give. Only by experiencing grace are we freed to give it to others.

 

 

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You Matter

I’ve created some bad art over the last few years of this art as worship venture, but today’s strikes me as especially terrible. The kind of terrible that is expected to show up in the opening auditions of American Idol, the ones that are aired just for ratings and water cooler conversation. Today’ piece was so bad, I have to share for your entertainment. If you’re familiar with my art, you know how I enjoy irony. The ironic twist in the image you’re about to partake in is that our message focus was on why we matter as individuals. I set out to draw an image depicting individual value and failed miserably. Check it out, please accept my apologies in advance……

You

Kind of a cross between Uncle Sam and former Guns ‘n’ Roses lead guitarist, Slash,  the guy with gnarly hair and the collapsing top hat sternly points back at the viewer with an accusing gesture that toes the line of offensive. Awkwardly, his head is turned away as if he doesn’t want to acknowledge whom the target of his finger rests upon. Adding to the depravity of this piece, the image could only transfer a message by leaning on the crutch of text. Message #1: “People need you, whether they admit it or not.” Message #2: “God needs you to respond, without waiting for an invitation.” In all honesty, today’s drawing depicts more of my fight with myself rather than a message for you.

Ephesians 2:1-10 You matter to God.

Passages like this are solid proof Jesus, as a man, was a creative. Before an individual embraces Jesus, before they grasp the basic concept of the Gospel, before the ‘get it’, they are dead. Selfish, narcissistic, arrogant, dead to everything that does not benefit themselves. This deadness manifests itself in animosity toward Jesus (or anything Jesus-related). Despite our ultimately hate-filled nature, grace sat us in like-standing with God’s human likeness, though the Father was hated, He still longs to embrace His children without reservations.

Like every artist, God’s passion is to inspire people back to Him and to love through His creation and love. Like any work of art, the response of the viewer is not required but longed for like the pangs of lovers separated by distance. God does not demand our response, but He longs for it. Despite the negative reception to His physical presence, Jesus was amplified through that response. Had He been cast aside as another religious nut and ignored, His mission would have been squashed. Like the mission of the artist, any response equates to ultimate success.

In verse 10, humanity is described as ” God’s workmanship”. God is the artist, we are the creation, love is the message.

You matter to God.

Hebrews 10:19-25

An individual can only grow through the influence of other individuals. This means taking off your mask. Your public facade acts like salt on your soil, nothing will grow. Enough salt exposure and the soil is ruined. Deep friendships is an art many lose after college, if they make it that long. Within deep relationships lie the keys to happiness, success, health and longevity. Modern society finds it hard-pressed to even discover a marriage that involves a deep relationship anymore. No wonder our lives are so convoluted.

How do we get these kind of friendships back, you ask? Letting down your guard and letting people in. People who allow themselves to be vulnerable in the presence of another are mocked by this advanced culture. Children are discouraged from living honestly. Boys and girls alike are set up for failure when they get kicked out the door with a suitcase full of situation-appropriate masks and a foundation of lying for the benefit of yourself and the modern social trend. Those lies catch up to us, long before we dare confess.

This is the essence of community groups within the church community I attend. Building deep friendships among a tight community of people. On the surface, it may sound like a clique, but it’s much harder to create than a gossip circle. The only way to invest in deep friendships is to become interested in your friends. You have to be interested in someone other than yourself without a personal agenda. Does anyone even know what their friends’ favorite colors are anymore? I know it sounds pre-school-ish, but if that’s where you need to start, go for it!

You matter to us. Set down your costumes and invite other to do the same.

Ephesians 4:1-16

Community groups are one of several aspects of North Ridge that raise skeptical eyebrows in our region with vehemently conservative roots, particularly since our philosophy is encouraging community groups in lieu of traditional Sunday school. The quip commonly thrown out in contempt is “church is not a social club”. Well, why not? Which clubs and organizations attracted the most participants in collegiate and grade school? The social ones. I’m not saying we disregard the Gospel or talk on deep spiritual topics, I just finished saying how we need to open ourselves up to deep relationships and really get interested in other people’s lives. Is that not the Gospel, participating in quality relationships and doing life together through the example of Jesus? Particularly in light of our rough and bigoted history that shines so brightly in the spotlight, why would anyone care what we have to say before seeing the fruits of living it out together in community?

You matter to “them”. (whoever “them” happens to be at the time)

Now back to my travesty of graphite:

Each phrase I wrote in was another punch in the head of my psyche that wants to be noticed, wants to be valued,

“People need you,” – OK, yeah, we established that above. You’re important, I’m important, we need each other, now let’s break out in a number from “Frozen” (a flick I have successfully evaded so far). I often brush this statement off my arm like the mosquito that bit me during my son’s baseball game this weekend. Don’t bury me in generic clichés and fault me when I’m not inspired. Give me a tangible mission objective and then let me loose. Can you tell this is where I am most skeptical of myself?

“…whether they admit it or not.” – Silence is my kryptonite. Silence, to me, is synonymous with apathy is synonymous with dislike is synonymous with hate.Often to the root of my own frustration, I value knowing the focus of my energy is in some way significant to another human being. The only way to discern significance is through feedback, vocalized or visibly evident. You want me out of the picture? Don’t respond to me with negativity, just don’t respond at all. I’ve been told this is a character flaw, that I should reject this emotion and not care if I have carry any importance to anyone other than myself. My small mind cannot fathom any purpose in life other than creating significance in that of another’s.

“God needs you to respond…” – Another tired phrase, over-used by pastors desperate to moisten their dry-rotting baptismal tubs by laying down a guilt-trip under the guise of spiritual urgency. As if I am so important God can’t accomplish anything without me…really? In thinking that, though, our limited understanding of the Gospel rises to the surface. God needs you to respond, not because He needs you, but because you are the best able to step up for the sake of another in that moment. The need is there, urgency is real, but the aim is not to benefit you.

“…without waiting for an invitation.”  – This is the kicker for me. I will own that I am quick to volunteer myself to fill a need, once the need is announced. I have trouble searching out the need to fill own my own. Here again, our pride and cynicism shoots compassion in the foot because we either refuse to admit we have a need or hide behind the mask of humility and wait to be asked for help. I am the one to hang back until needs are obvious, buying into my self-conceived lie that initiating a conversation that could open doors to a new (or deeper) friendship is intrusive and unwanted. This kind of hesitation does not pass without consequences. Do not doubt your ability or your responsibility to experience relationships, serve people, and share the Gospel. The invitation is standing open, the RSVP date is always now.

You matter to God. You matter to us. You matter to them.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Love is…

Love is patient, love is kind…

Love is..., True Love 4, 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13. I won’t label it overused, but it has definitely become cliché’ in marriage ceremonies. Read within its context, Paul is hardly doing marriage counselling! The church at Corinth has revamped their definition of spirituality to be based upon individual talents. Those considered the most spiritual were the best at their trade, the most eloquent speakers, the wisest advisers, the most talented musicians; these people were considered the closest to God. (Does that sound eerily familiar with the modern church to anyone else?) Paul is not defining love to Corinth so that the boys know how to make the girls’ hearts melt or so that the girls know how they should expect a guy to treat them, he his blatantly rebuking Corinth for screwing up spirituality and totally rejecting what Jesus taught and died teaching.

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist in its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong-doing, but rejoices with truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Replace ‘love’ with your name in these verses. Does it describe you? Maybe a little?

Hate is impatient, hate is unkind, it is envious and proud; arrogant and rude. It insists in its own way, is irritable and resentful; rejoices in misfortune and is skeptical of truth. Hate bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing, only when it is convenient and benefits themselves.

Replace the ‘hate‘ with your name in this version of the passage. Does it sound more or less like you? I honestly do not expect anyone to admit, even to themselves, that they are more like the second version of verses 4-7 than the first. No one likes to admit their flaws, particularly those that impact other people (like your ability to love). If you are serious about loving well, give these descriptions of love and hate to someone close to you, let them tell you which best describes the love you’re putting out.

At the end of the day, love focuses on others, hate focuses on self. Where’s your focus?

Save Me From Myself

As we determined last week, the story of Jonah is the story of us all. We are each faced with forks in our road, moments where the decision you make forever impacts all those around you. Today, we shift our focus intrinsically and reveal what that means for you personally.

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas

and the flood surrounded me, all your waves and your billows passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight;

yet I shall look again on your holy temple.

The waters closed in over me to take my life;

the deep surrounded me, weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land whose bars closed on me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.

When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord,

and my prayer came to you in your holy temple.

Those who pay regard to vain idols, forsake their hope of steadfast love.

But I, with the voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed, I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the Lord!

This was Jonah’s prayer as he breathed from the belly of the sea monster.

Sanctification, 1-12-14, Jonah 2

While the choices we make implement a butterfly effect that leaves unchangeable marks on the lives of everyone in its range, each decision leaves permanent marks on our individual lives as well. Though many leave their marks unnoticed, these scars forever map our journey through life. For better or worse, our choices trace the road we’ve chosen and serve as a guide to those who come after us.

Jonah’s decisions led him down paths where he was venerated and exalted by his peers to suffering and isolation where being cast into the sea was in the best interest of those closest to him. After running from the mission God set before him, Jonah found himself cowering beneath the deck of a fishing vessel while his new friends brave the wrath of the sea brought on by his disobedience. He finally concedes to God’s persistence and confesses his responsibility for the situation along with its remedy, removing him from the situation. His fellow sailors, quite reluctantly, launch Jonah into the raging water, all the time begging the God Jonah just tangibly introduced them to for mercy. Only then, when the environment created by his own choices becomes too overbearing, does Jonah cry out to God for help.

God provides the world with a fool-proof navigational system to guide us both day and night, which sailors on Jonah’s journey primarily relied upon. While the sun guides vessels during the day, patterns in the stars guide ships at night. Mediterranean sailors in 5th and 4th century BC used the constellation Cetus as one of their guides. Cetus, known today as ‘The Whale’, was once coined as ‘The Sea Monster’. Sailors who set off in the direction of Cetus were said to be “sailing into the belly of the beast”. The original Hebrew and Greek texts of Jonah use words which literally translate ‘great fish’ to describe the place Jonah found himself after he was thrown from the ship to Joppa.  4th century Greek translations change this word to Cetus. From that, William Tyndale gave us the English translation of ‘whale’ in Jonah’s adventure. Whether Jonah was swallowed by a literal fish or if we are reading sailors’ slang and Jonah miraculously survived three days on the open sea by God’s mercy, (having been tossed into “the belly of the beast”), I am not sure. Either interpretation makes Jonah’s story no less of a miracle, but I do find it interesting Jonah never thanks God for providing a fish to swallow him, but does express gratitude for protecting him from specific perils of the open sea (i.e. the waves and billows, the deep which surrounded him, the seaweed wrapping around his head).

Something else is missing from Jonah’s prayer, repentance. Not once does Jonah acknowledge his disobedience to God. His entire prayer is a cry for help to get him out of the mess he created. This arrogance is a place many of us will find ourselves, likely on more than one occasion. We become so invested in our own sin that, instead of taking responsibility for the circumstances we’ve created, we bathe in our refuse until the environment becomes too putrid to bear. Only then, whining out of our voluntary discomfort, do we cry out to God and beg for His intervention. In His unfathomable mercy, God will respond to our cries as a devoted father and pull us up from our filth, but his answer to our insatiable desire to return to the muck came centuries ago through His son, Jesus.

Jesus sacrificed himself so that we may find salvation though him, a way out of our cycle of failure and disappointment, but salvation is not a one-time deal. Salvation, embracing Jesus as your savior by committing your life to forever emulating his, is the kick-starter for your continual process of sanctification while you walk the earth. Christians refer to someone professing their faith in Jesus as “being saved”. I prefer the phrase quoted by Brennan Manning which was commonly used in the 1930’s, “I’ve been seized by a great affection”. Jesus died to save us from our sin, but he also rose so that we may be daily saved from ourselves.

I have been seized by a great affection so that I may show great affection. God loves in us what is not yet. We love in people what they already are: virtue, beauty, courage, and hence making our love self-interested and fragile. We must learn to love people as God does, empowering them to spread His love further.

May your choices map out a life spent in selfless love that inspires generations.