Gospel Centrality

Today is one of those days when I must let the art speak for itself, week three of our RE: series; re-imagine. Today’s is a simple, but significant message, with multiple scripture references. All of our story, as the church and as people, rotates around the gospel. Every decision, every motive, every ounce of compassion is driven by its principles.

The gospel is simply this, Jesus is God in the flesh, he lived, he died, he was buried, then rose from the grave and continues to live today. I represent the gospel in the central part of today’s drawing; a simple figure, a cross, a gravestone, and an empty tomb, each symbol guided to the next.

Surrounding the gospel icons are images that represent the main focuses of us (North Ridge) as a church, the defining features of every gospel-centered church. Starting in the top left, gospel-centered worship; intentionally focusing all our attention to making much of God. Next, gospel-centered community. Navigating life together as a body of believers. Moving to the bottom right, gospel-centered multiplication. This is an image of evangelism, but not the over-spiritualized brow-beating kind the media and overly zealous display for us. This multiplication is a banding together of people who look past each other’s failures to maximize each other’s potential. Broken people reaching out to other broken people to make them part of a community that reflects God. Fourth in the rotation is gospel-centered service.     Motivation matters. When the gospel is central, serving is driven by genuine compassion for humanity and a love for all creation for the sake of magnifying the Creator. These four pillars of Christian life orbit around the gospel. When just one element of the rotation goes unfulfilled, the cycle is broken and the wheel cannot turn smoothly.

How does your life measure up in this cycle? In which areas area you doing well and which need re-inflation to make the ride a little smoother?

All of our story rotates around the gospel.

Next week’s message, re-launch. North Ridge, prepare for ignition.

 

Unite

Today is the sixth (and final) week of Jesus+, our chapter by chapter study of the book of Galatians. We’ve tackled one chapter per week, picking apart the word Paul wrote and what they mean for us today. Paul’s letter to Galatia lays out the gospel in great detail, discounting the rules and regulations hollow religion requires. We exposed two major distortions of the gospel in our review of chapter one, the misconception faith in Jesus alone is too simple, and the “fire insurance” mindset leading one to believe anything they do is allowable because forgiveness will cover them. In chapter 2, Paul explicitly calls out Peter for teaching the first distortion, requiring adherence to Jewish laws combined with faith in Christ for salvation. Chapter 3 describes the freedom from the law Jesus offers and what’s required of us to receive it, just listen and believe. In the fourth week we learned about God’s reaction to our faith, not only are we justified and freed from our sins, we are adopted as part of His family. Then last week, Galatians chapter 5, we discovered as sad truth. Despite hearing these words of freedom through faith alone, many will fight to embrace their captor, succumbing to a gospel Stockholm syndrome. Fighting people in this situation only pushes them further into the arms of their slave master, patient love will lead them down the road to freedom.

That brings us, finally, to the close of Galatians and the end of our Jesus+ journey; chapter 6. Throughout Paul’s letter, the tone has been very stern, showing an obvious frustration with the church in Galatia. He has laid out the righteous path to follow, but castigated the church leaders in the process. As Paul closes the letter, he brings their thought process back from exposing their errors to a plan for moving forward. The only way the church (ekklesia) will be successful in fulfilling its calling is through community, people making meaningful connections with other people. Christ reaches the world through his ekklesia is if his people destroy their selfish ambitions, their self-image insecurities, their competitive nature and direct all of their energy outward. This must be a life-style change. Selflessness only evident in the midst of a group is still selfishness for the individual to boost their own self-esteem. The greatest evidence of a spirit-filled life is love for one another. When we as individuals embrace the gospel and serve others without reservation or recourse, then we build ekklesia, a community of believers impacting their world.

Spiritual community is doing life together, loving one another. It’s time we unite.

A Prayer for Boldness

A Prayer for Boldness
A Prayer for Boldness

Several messages have come together to inspire my latest piece which also happens to represent my word for the year; bold. Last week, North Ridge started a new series titled Bold. In the first message, we discussed the experiences of Peter and John at the hands of the Sanhedrin in Acts 4. After publicly proclaiming the gospel and healing a lame beggar, Peter and John were jailed and abused by the governing authorities. In a political move to avoid public chaos, the Sanhedrin chose to release them with the strict warning to stop talking about Jesus and his recent resurrection. After receiving word of their release, the believers close to Peter and John prayed for their journey back; not for safe travel, but asking the Holy Spirit to instill the boldness to continue healing, sharing, and proclaiming to the public, despite the severe punishment for doing so that the Sanhedrin assured. This inspired me to create an image of what that kind of boldness must look like.

Step one to creating this piece was applying a crackled background texture using varying tones of India ink wash and newspaper. Adding an ironic twist of modern social issues to this creation, the paper I used to create this texture included a front page article reporting an increase in childhood poverty in my county. I applied the darkest hue of ink wash with a wide brush using diagonal upward strokes, creating a sense of movement from the bottom of the page toward the words representing culture.

In the next layer of the background, I wanted to represent surrounding culture; not necessarily as it is, but as it is perceived by many. This led me to choose the words ‘people’, ‘heathen’ and ‘the world’. Linking this reference to culture to that of 2000 years ago, so I wrote my selected words in Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic; the original languages of the Bible and its Middle-Eastern setting.

Painted across the center of the mounting board is a single word. The word is written in Greek, pronounced ‘laos’ and translated ‘people’. Next came ‘the world’ and ‘heathen’ written in Hebrew and Arabic over top of laos. I finished this layer of the background with one English word, ‘UNCLEAN’. I added this word to mirror the gut reflex of facing anything we do not comprehend. At face value alone, the mere presence of foreign text can conjure up emotions of fear, anxiety, and possibly even contempt without ever translating it into one’s native language. Once translated, the words heathen, people, and the world are often used in the context of competing with Christianity and the church. As the layers show, those we perceive as unclean or heathens are still people.

In my first post for 2012, I laid out the differences in the words that defined the original group of followers (ekklesia) and the modern transformation of that word into a site and not an influential movement. From the kirche perspective on culture in my piece, the church would act as our safe haven, a clean environment that protects us from the sick and dying world outside. The caution tape stretched across the world, the heathen, the unclean, and outside people in general, warning us from getting too close. For added protection, the surgical mask prevents any airborne transfer of “the world’s” contagion. Like another catastrophic viral outbreak movie, the kirche operates inside boundaries of yellow tape and clean-suits, avoiding contact with any  “infected” people and taking necessary precautions when interacting with each other.

Ekklesia is the opposite. Ekklesia tosses its mask on the ground, breaks through the caution tape barrier to risk immersing itself into a capricious culture, carrying the vaccine with it. The figure walking into the unclean is purple, the color of royalty in which it is divinely vaccinated and opposite to the yellow hue of the caution tape. ‘Ekklesia’ forms the spine of this figure, creating the back bone required to risk testing one’s spiritual vaccination against the elements of the outside realm.

Boldness is an adventure that takes risks, invites injury, sustains losses and experiences victories. Being bold is not safe or comfortable, but hiding in self-imposed quarantine feeds the virus Christ came to eradicate. My prayer is for boldness.

Reclaiming Church

Reclaiming Church

The beginning of 2012 also brought the beginning of a new series at North Ridge, simply named Bold. Returning to the introductory message of North Ridge, understanding the picture the Bible paints of ‘church’, an image misconstrued and corrupted by time. In the original language, ekklesia is the word translated at ‘church’ in modern English translations of the Bible. Ekklesia is literally translated as a gathering, assembly, or a congregation. ‘Church’ is a gathering of people with the purpose of worship of God and sharing of Christ’s love, immersing themselves in their surrounding world and inspiring positive change. Our definition of the word ‘church’ has devolved into a place we go, a place of exile from a dark world. Cold brick and mortar to separate us from the world rather than warm love and devotion that fills the cracks in its surrounding environment.

The German work ‘kirche’ can be defined as ‘The Lord’s house’ and is where our word ‘church’ originated. This translation marks a step in the devolution of our view of church from an organized movement to a compilation of building materials. Step one toward returning the church to the level of social influence it once owned is reclaiming the word we use to define our assembly. If we are going to follow the organized, boat rocking, culture-changing movement example set by first-century Christians, we must operate with the same courage they did, flooding our communities and impacting lives.

This week’s image begins with the word ‘kirche’ on the top of the page. The letters K-I-R-C-H line the top with the E below. These letters are very rigid, separated from each other with a dark line. The text reflects the nature of its definition, structured and industrial. The last letter in ‘kirche’ is also the first letter in the original word, ‘ekklesia’. While the definitions of these words are polar opposites, they are meant to describe the same entity, an assembly of Christ’s followers. The letters in ‘ekklesia’ are very organic and connected, just as the word describes. Both of these words are part of an organized flow of a thick liquid, coating the earth as it pours out over the planet.

This is precisely how the church was designed to operate 2000 years ago, and the method of operation to which we are being called to return in order to inspire the cultural change we long to see. The Christian life is not a spectator sport, time to get off the bench is long overdue.