Get Up.

Throughout this in-depth look at the book of Jonah, our primary focus has been on our own similarities to Jonah; his fear, his failure, his success and his pride. Jonah’s adventure serves as more than just a fantastical story that teaches us to faithfully serve our God, even when it seems illogical, it is a direct representation of the gospel. Even Jesus drew that parallel in his time walking the earth. Jonah was called to reach a people that had rejected his own, Jesus came to reach us when we rejected him. Jonah was thrown from the boat and swallowed by the sea for three days, Jesus was thrown from humanity and swallowed by the grave for the same duration. Jonah’s presence in Nineveh led the city to redemption, Jesus’s time on earth leads the world to redemption. Jonah and Jesus take separate paths from this point forward.

Jonah’s story parallels ours at many turns as well. Jonah was prejudiced toward a people who left scars of hate on his homeland, we (whether or not we’ll admit it) have the the same tendencies toward bigotry. Jonah came face to face with his fear and ran the other direction. Our society leans upon a “path of least resistance” philosophy; if it feels good, do it, if it doesn’t, don’t. Even when Jonah conceded and accepted his responsibility to reach the Nineveh, he did the bare minimum required by God and expected substantial reward for his efforts. Going above and beyond is a lost art in modern culture while entitlement thrives. We do the least required of us in our jobs, our homes, even our hobbies, then call foul when we a passed over for that promotion, when the chores aren’t done, or when someone else earns higher honors for doing better work. We are Jonah.

The parallels of Jonah to ourselves is not limited to the main character, we often share traits with Nineveh. Nineveh chose to live by their own rules regardless of who it hurt, many of us live in the same obstinate disobedience. Like Nineveh, we have a Jonah that will lead us to redemption in the person of Jesus. The decision to follow is ours.

Our directive is simple; get up. Go. Live so that you will be missed. Where should you go? Attack that area of your life you fear most, the sin you just don’t want to let go, the characteristic that is more comfortable to keep rather than change. Once you’ve conquered your own demons, lead others to conquer theirs.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born American novelist, political activist and Holocaust survivor.

Get Up. Jonah 5

Sometimes you are Jonah, sometimes you are Nineveh, sometimes you are both.

 

How Precious Did That Grace Appear

If we only conclude the problem is “out there”, we completely miss the concept of grace. The problem is always “in here.”

Jonah’s adventure is the gospel in literary form. Grace, fall from grace, consequences, anger, repentance, and the return to grace. In no way can I judge the heart of Jonah as he found himself washed up on a Mediterranean beach. What I do know, is that he accepted his mission and made his way to Nineveh. I imagine, from his retreat into exile that led to his three-day isolation, he still has some apprehension about this trip. Nineveh is the bully of the world at this point. Jonah would like nothing more than to see God eradicate this city from the earth, yet his mission is to lead Nineveh into God’s grace.

The literary tool heavily used in the recount of Jonah’s tale is one which expresses the largeness of the main players and the circumstances. God is a big. Nineveh’s sin was big. The storm was big. The fish was big.

Our semblance to Jonah is becoming increasingly clear. Though we are not all commissioned to preach repentance to a major city, we are all called to something bigger than ourselves.  The bigness of Jonah’s adventure is not emphasized by chance. Putting ourselves in Jonah’s shoes, the first thing we’ll discover is the bigness of our sin. No matter how pure a façade you put on or how good you think you are, things are always worse than they appear. You never find yourself immersed deeper into sin than when you see others as worse sinners than yourself. If we only conclude the problem is “out there”, we completely miss the concept of grace. The problem is always “in here”; your decisions, your motives, your attitude, your hypocrisy, your selfishness. Sin is no respecter of persons, selfishness freely invades the mind of every human being. Recognizing the presence and tactics of this enemy is the first step toward taking back your self-control.

Once we ourselves and our sin in perspective of its bigness, the massiveness of God’s grace is brought into focus. Grace is also no respecter of persons. God freely offers His grace to all humanity, regardless of their past. Grace is freely available through repentance, no questions asked. Even Nineveh, who blended extreme narcissism and extreme brutality into a way of life, had God’s graciousness liberally spread over them at the moment of their repentance.

After grace comes commission. Our responsibility is to choose grace through repentance, we then prove our honor by our service. Like His grace, God’s mission is enormous. The creator of all things is heartbroken over the selfish path His creation has taken. His mission is to re-create all of creation through the lens of perfect selflessness. Nineveh was not the only target in God’s mission for Jonah. Jonah, the sailors on their way to Tarshish, Nineveh, Israel, you, me; we are all targets in God’s mission objective.

Jonah made the mistake of thinking Nineveh’s destiny rested souly on his shoulders. He was just as self-consumed as Nineveh, believing it was only by his grace that God’s could be offered. After delivering a intentionally blunt and vague warning to Nineveh, the city did the thing that Jonah feared most; they mourned over their sin and repented so corporately that God spared the city.

The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Jonah 3:5

Nineveh’s outward expression of repentance is the image that stuck in my mind as Dean spoke this morning. To be so broken that weeping alone is insufficient for expressing your grief. Only by reducing your physical self to the lowest stature your culture recognizes, replacing your soft cotton clothes with a rough burlap sack and covering your head with dirt and ashes decomposing on the floor of a fire pit, there is little question of the integrity of one’s mourning at this point.

One of my medium’s of choice is charcoal. I enjoy the raw, natural feel of drawing with compressed ashes and using the natural oils in my fingertips to manipulate the hue and intensity of the charcoal color. I started today’s drawing by expressing the grief of Nineveh, covering the page with a heavy layer of vine charcoal. Next, I firmly pressed my open right hand onto the page, removing charcoal from the page and leaving an impression of my skin. With the hand defined, I darkened the area around the hand with compressed charcoal and blended it into the vine charcoal with my finger. Pressing my hand onto the page once more, I pulled off any compressed charcoal that spilled over into the white space and created this finished image.

How Precious Did That Grace Appear, Jonah 3

God’s grace is substantial enough to remove every blemish from your soul. His grace is bigger than your past. By His hand, He can make all things clean again.

You are Jonah, but your story is not about you. Look at Him.

“How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” – John Newton, ‘Amazing Grace’

I Am Jonah

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

Jonah 1:1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are Jonah.

Choose your path wisely.

The Mountains Melt

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice,

let the many coastlands be glad.

Clouds and thick darkness are all around Him;

righteousness and justice are the formation of His throne.

Fire goes before Him

and burns up His adversaries all around.

His lightnings light up the world;

the earth sees and trembles.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,

before the Lord all of the earth.

The heavens proclaim His righteousness

and all the peoples see His glory.

All worshippers of images are put to shame

who make their boasts to worthless idols;

worship Him, all you gods!

Psalm 97: 1-7

The Mountains Melt

Lord – a person who has authority, control or power over others; a master, a chief, a ruler.

Philippians 2:9-11

God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him a name that is above every name.

The word ‘name’ in this passage is referring to more than the one Mary gave him at his birth. Jesus, while being a name that raises hope, strikes fear, and is often surrounded by controversy, it is not above every other name. The name being referred to here is Jesus’s title, his position. Jesus is the Christ, the I am, the Most High. He is Lord.

How frequently have you used ‘lord’ in the last week? “Dear, lord….” “Oh, lord!” “Lordy, lordy!” Too many to count? What do you mean when you say that word? Do you even know? ‘Lord’ is not a convenient term that was coined to add emphasis to a statement of surprise or frustration, it is an authoritative term carrying serious weight. Those who carry the title of “Lord’ own unquestionable authority over people, places or both. Those of nearly every faith assign God, alone the title of Lord. To imply another being, human at that, is ‘Lord’ is blasphemous. To make a statement like that in 3 A.D. Jerusalem is a death wish.

Carry that weight of the position over into this verse. God is making an undeniably clear statement, Jesus is Lord. God. The one who is Lord Himself. He says Jesus is Lord. The game just changed.

I do not fault a person using a “curse word” around me, provided that use the word in context. When you say a word synonymous with feces, make sure what you are referring to is logically associated with fecal matter. Otherwise, you just sound like an idiot. This is applicable to any word. Words that carry supreme authority should be used with extreme caution and respect.

Many people today claim the position of being Christian, not really understanding what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Being Christian is not a matter of paying dues, associating with one group while avoiding others. You cannot claim Jesus as your Savior without also claiming Him as your Lord.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my father. Matthew 7:21

Christ, Kairos, YHWH, the Most High,

Jesus Christ is Lord.

All will acknowledge Him, whether willingly or not.

Who is He to you?

Grace. The ‘Why’ of the Incarnation.

As everything, He became nothing so that we could have everything.

DSCN3047

Nearing the end of our Upside Down Christmas series, we’ve tackled who Jesus is, touched on the when and where. Today we addressed the most important question. Why?

Jesus is God’s creative expression of Himself, His ultimate biological sculpture. Grace is the reason for the incarnation.

Before we go much further, what is ‘incarnation’? Incarnation is physical manifestation. In biological context, it is conception and birth. In spiritual context, it is the crossing of realms from supernatural into natural. In Christianity, it is both. Jesus, as a physical extension of God, was physically born. He became human while remaining God.

Why lower Himself to a human level? Grace. What is grace? Grace is defined many ways, based on context. Spiritually speaking, it is a virtue of God which provides for human sanctification. It is through grace that we are inspired to generously serve, to be gracious, to one another. Boiling it down, Jesus is incarnated by grace to provide an example for us to show grace.

Grace is an over-used term in modern “Christian” circles, not because it is an attribute that should be limited but because its actual definition has been so diluted that the word is misused. Grace is not synonymous with apathy, it is the apathetic’s antonym. Some will throw the word grace around when arguing the “proper” Christian position on certain, controversial social issues. Grace, without understanding is grease, creating a slippery slope of incomplete theology and leading people deeper into chaos.

Properly defined, grace inspires us to forgive people. Grace is the ability to let go of the past. Grace is our motivation to generously serve strangers.

Being a gracious person is not as easy as flipping a switch in you head. Being gracious is more than doing good things, it’s also keep your motivations in check. When your acts of generosity are limited to those whom you deem “deserving”, you are no longer being gracious. When you serve to build your reputation, you are separate from grace. When you are so frustrated by a lack of gratitude from the ones you are serve that you stop serving, you are bankrupt of grace. Motivations are more important than to God than actions. To understand grace, we must fist understand ourselves. God is not looking for obedience alone, He is concerned with our hearts and our intentions. Until we recognize how bad we really are, we will never recognize how good God is or grasp the concept of grace.

 Today’s drawing is an image of incarnation, grace, and an ignorance to grace. The positive space shows several figures with their arms raised in worship. It is a rare occasion when I raise a hand in worship. For one, I can’t draw above my head well. Unless I am so moved that my body language speaks through movements like raised arms, I feel an awkwardness about physical expression, as if I’m not sure my motivations are pure enough to raise my hand. The figure on the right shares this uncertainty, with one hand raised and his attention directed below.

The negative space brings another dynamic into view. The white space the figures appear to worship wraps around either side of the page and back under the drawing. As the shaded area separates, a figure with arms laying outstretched toward the worshipers. This figure is the Christ, manifested in physical form but still fully God. The outstretched hands support the figures spiritually and physically. Of the figures, only the self-conscious character on the right notices this support. This figure includes a highlight on its face, an detail I included to imply he sees Christ. The others are all shadows, implying they are in darkness. Worshipers n darkness? Is this possible? Unfortunately, it is. Worship is only worship if it is expressed in genuine love. Your motivations matter.

If this Christmas is a season where you’re feeling lost in the bustle or a little depressed among the seemingly happy crowds, start giving. Don’t go emptying your bank account or washing car windows at stop lights, unless you feel so led. Start simple. Take a box of cookies to your neighbor. Call that friend you’ve lost touch with. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Spontaneously start singing Christmas carols in the food court. Will it be awkward? Probably. Will it be easy? No, if it were easy, everyone would do it. Will it be worth it? Definitely. Doors to serve people on significantly deeper levels will begin open and you will find that the more of yourself you give, the more you are filled in return.

The parts of our life we will hold most dear are the parts we gave away. – Donald Miller

The Brass Ring

Exhaustion. Physical, spiritual, emotional exhaustion. This is all that remained in me after letting out today’s drawing.

Nehemiah 5

 Tired, discouraged, hungry and broken, Nehemiah and his reconstruction team now stand at an impasse their own design. Famine has struck and the normally lucrative crops have become key to the survival of individual families. With motives ranging from honest empathy, self-preservation, to raw greed; the community has become indebted to each other in order to cover their taxes due to king Artaxerxes. The crops designated to feed families are erased as payments due. Like the modern payday lender, the poor are exploited with exuberant interest rates and unreasonable collection fees. Many are reduced to selling their own children into slavery to begin satisfying their debts. Neighbors are now collectors, the leaders who helped unite a community around this dream of rebuilding a magnificent city now own the children of the men they once led.

Assessing the moral and economic condition of the community, Nehemiah takes charge to right the ship by changing the direction of this small society. In a charge that eerily resembles an ancient Emancipation Proclamation, Nehemiah alters the course of the people by calling out their hypocrisy (and that of himself). In this charge, he enacts a period of Jubilee. This social and economical reset levels the landscape of a society by erasing all outstanding debts and returning property to its original owners, free from liens or dues of any kind. It creates a cultural shift that refocuses a community on serving each other rather than consuming one another.

The Brass Ring

The inspiration for today’s drawing struck hard when it hit my brain. This image encompasses far more than the broken state of an ancient society facing a conflict between quickly separating social classes. It is the very core of Jesus’s message, serve others before yourself. It is the essence of modern society. It is the raw brokenness of world we know.

The end-goal of an individual’s plans and guided efforts is commonly referred to as their “brass ring”. Advertisers and graphic designers exhausted this analogy in the late ’90’s with commercials of people on trampolines stretching to grasp a golden ring, just out of their reach. A brass ring dangles from the top of today’s drawing, the focus of most of the people below.

The Brass Ring - grenade

The ring is suspended from the top of the page with a ribbon. I imagine this ribbon as silky red, like the bow on a new car in holiday commercials bombarded on any regular television watcher. Beyond the focus of the shiny metal object is another item that tags along with the ring. The complete opposite of the smooth, refined, polished circle is a rough, dull, dirty sphere. Tied to the opposite end of the ribbon holding the prize is a live grenade.

Completely ignorant to the impending consequences of accomplishing their goal and securing their future, shadows of you and me relentlessly climb to be the first to take hold of our prize. We scale a mountain of collateral damage to reach our end-goal, leaving a path of broken relationships and people we’ve used in our wake. Pause a minute to take a personal assessment of the relationships in your life. How often has a “Christian” touted their personal success at the hands of another’s misfortune as “God’s will” or God’s blessings”? Who do you genuinely care for and who are you just using to further your own agenda?

Ok, so the world is evil, cynical, selfish and ruthless; what am I supposed to do about it?

The place of the Christian, the follower of Jesus, is counter-cultural. We are the juxtaposition of modern society. God doesn’t use people to make our lives better. He uses us to make people better.

The interaction happening at the bottom of today’s drawing is the place of the Christian in a broken world.

The Brass Ring - give

Two figures form the foundation of the mass of bodies. I drew the figure on the right to appear sick and malnourished as compared to those using him to gain their own footing. He looks down and to the left as a foot presses against his head, shoving him further into the pile of bodies. The figure on the right embodies the compassion of Christians in a cynical world. Kneeling in the position of a servant, he offers a loaf of bread to the oppressed figure on the right. By lowering himself into a position where he can serve another, the compassionate figure becomes a footstool being used by another for personal gain just like the oppressed figure.

The position of these two characters at the bottom of the pile, focused on each other is also a position of safety. Once someone finally captures the ring, the safety pin will pull free from the grenade and destroy everything within its reach. Remaining low and guarded from the attraction of self-centeredness, the servant and the oppressed are protected from destruction.

Jesus does not promise you an easy life with wealth or popularity if you follow Him, He guarantees the opposite. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. Serve people anyway.