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.

A Smoldering Wick

A Smoldering Wick

 

Matthew 12

A bruised reed, he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench until he brings justice to victory.

As long as you have life, you have value. Jesus will pursue you, longing for you to pursue him, until you breathe your last.

His appearance was like lightning

Death in His Grave

by John Mark McMillan

Though the Earth Cried out for blood
Satisfied her hunger was
Her billows calmed on raging seas
for the souls on men she craved

Sun and moon from balcony
Turned their head in disbelief
Their precious Love would taste the sting
disfigured and disdained

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with the keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

So three days in darkness slept
The Morning Sun of righteousness
But rose to shame the throes of death
And over turn his rule

Now daughters and the sons of men
Would pay not their dues again
The debt of blood they owed was rent
When the day rolled a new

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with the keys
To Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

He has cheated
Hell and seated
Us above the fall
In desperate places
He paid our wages
One time once and for all

His appearance was like lightning

Matthew 28:3

His appearance was like lightning and His clothes were white as snow.

Celebrate the victory.

Justified & Adopted

Over the last three weeks we’ve learned how we are justified through our faith in Christ alone. One would think justification is the pinnacle of the Christian faith. Today’s focus tops it.

I have several friends who have either adopted a child or are in the process of adopting. In his book “Outlive Your Life”, Max Lucado quotes the number of the world’s orphans is less than the number of families in America that call themselves Christian. He then poses the question, “Why are there still orphans?” Our culture takes a cynical approach adoption, which then affects our perception of the Gospel.

Do you have any children of your own?

You already have ___ children, why adopt?

These kinds of questions are extremely offensive to adoptive parents and degrading to the child.

Or the family introductions that go something like this: meet my adopted child so-and-so. Teaching the young mind they are lesser than a “real” child because they don’t have your DNA.

One thing I have learned through my friends who’ve adopted is this, biology doesn’t dictate parenthood. When it comes right down to it, we’re all adopted. God entrusts experienced souls (parents) with rookie earth-dwelling souls (children). The transaction occurring through copulation doesn’t make someone more of a parent and an adoption agent won’t make someone any less of a son or daughter. We are all adopted.

The same is true in spiritual anthropology. We are justified through our faith in Christ, but that faith also makes us adopted children of God. For in Christ, you are all sons of God, through faith (Galatians 3:26). We have an open invitation to approach God intimately. We do not have to communicate through a priest, Jesus is our mediator. It does not matter how we look or how we’ve failed, there are no rituals to navigate through to reach God. We are simply free to cry “Abba, Father” and embrace our heavenly dad.

Originally a slave to sin, Jesus justified us through his death and Resurrection. By faith, our Judge passes an innocent verdict despite our failures being sufficient evidence to convict us. He then steps down from the judge’s bench, walks toward the defense table with His eyes affixed on ours, then passionately embraces us as He whispers in our ear “Child. You’re home.”

So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:7

Heaven

Image

As we finish our series called Afterlife, we end on the subject we’ve built up to over the last three weeks. In week one we talked about the guarantee of death, week two emphasized the reality of hell and the consequences of ignoring it. Two heavy messages that pushed us to the brink of depression. The last message in the Afterlife series changed our outlook like pulling up from the first drop on an electromagnetic roller coaster, the nature of heaven.

There is one explicit guarantee the Bible gives us about heaven, we can’t even conceive how wonderful it is (1 Corinthians 2:9). The wildest imaginations of the most creative people still wouldn’t touch it. My favorite description of heaven penned by William P Young in his novel The Shack. Young describes the main character’s observations of heaven as a rainbow of moving colors. Each soul in heaven generated light, as emotions grew stronger, so would the light emanating from the soul. For any Heroes fans out there, the Emma Coolidge character embodied what I imagine in The Shack’s description.

Image


Emma Coolidge was an extremely talented cellist. Adding to her amazing musical ability was the fact she

was also deaf. Instead of hearing sound, Emma’s supernatural ability was that she saw sound (scientifically referred to as synesthesia). The more intense and emotional the sound, the more vibrant the colors. As her character developed, she learned to control those colorful sound waves by focusing and directing them in the form of a weapon.

This is the same kind of imagery I pictured when I read The Shack, waves of colorful sound dancing together, reflected in today’s drawing.

I aim to pull your eye with the same centrifugal force as our topics of discussion took through this series. Accomplishing this, today’s is the first drawing since I began making spontaneous visual translations where I use color. I sketched the drawing lightly in graphite during the service, but I pulled out the old Prismacolors and finished the drawing this afternoon. The page is a rainbow of colors overlapping and blending with each other. The swirl of color on the bottom of the page forms the symbol of infinity, representing eternity. A hand reaches down from the top of the page holding a lush new earth. The hand itself is part of the colorful background, defined only by darker values on the edges. This is God’s hand, delivering a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-4). In the new earth, God dwells with His people (v.3) and life flourishes without mourning, crying, or pain.

This is heaven, God physically living with us for eternity.

A Glimpse Into Hell: Eternal Isolation

keyser-sozeThe greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world that he didn’t exist. – Kevin Spacey as Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects, 1995)

Last week, my drawing addressed the topics of death and judgement. The second week of delving into the afterlife proved equally heavy, focusing on hell’s reality.

 

Hell

Like your position on the afterlife, what you believe about hell is evident in how you live as well. Sadly, a great number of people who believe in heaven and call themselves Christians reject hell being a real place. “Christians” who do not believe in hell’s existence for unbelievers will not speak of their faith with the same tone of gratitude and urgency as those who understand its grave reality. These are the people Craig Groeschel refers to as Christian Atheists, people who claim Christ but live as if he doesn’t exist. I am not saying the only real Christians are those who get up on their soap box and condemn everyone in earshot. I believe many of those people will fall into the “goat” category,  referenced last week. The difference will be clear in how each person lives, one looks out for “the least of these” the other just looks out for themselves.

The same book that opens our minds to the concept of grace and redemption also warns us of justice and condemnation. How can this be? If you believe God is a god of love, how can any loving being let a single person experience hell? This perceived contradiction is what offends many people about the Christian faith, but the issue really boils down to semantics. While God is love, love is not God. God’s character is a perfect harmony of love, justice, wrath, and mercy. So…..God created everything. Why create a hell in the first place? The answer to that question lies in understanding who Satan is.

What’s the first image that pops into your head when you think of Satan? A muscular, bright crimson humanoid with a black cape, Satan imagehorns of a goat, carrying a pitch-fork? Do you think of him as hell’s equal to God?

I can’t say what Satan looks like, he manifests himself in many forms throughout the Bible. What I can promise, though he has seniority in hell, his place is not comparable to God by any stretch of the imagination. Leaving the comforts of heaven for the torment of hell was not a “grass is greener” situation gone bad. It was not a promotion, much less a voluntary move. Satan and his band of angels were cast into hell by God as punishment for attempting a coup.

OK, Satan’s not a god in his own right as leader of hell and arrived there for attempting to overthrow God (his own creator). So what? Still doesn’t justify God creating it for all unbelievers, does it? Couldn’t God have just vaporized Satan on the spot, along with the corrupted angels, and that be the end of it? Why the ongoing presence? Mercy.

Lucifer (Satan) craved maximum power, he wanted to be God, he chose to try to take the position he wanted by force. The angels he corrupted chose to follow Satan instead of God. Despite knowing the agony and torment that accompanies being separated from Him, God gave these beings what they wanted; out. God created hell, not as a grand scheme of ultimate torture and punishment to hang over our heads and keep us in line. Hell was created so beings who did not want to be in God’s presence wouldn’t have to be. In that sense, hell is a byproduct of God’s mercy.

God does not force anyone to stay in His presence, doing so would violate a crucial key to being created by a loving God; free will. Every soul has a choice, including you. You can choose to be with God (heaven) or you can choose not to be with God (hell). In Luke 16:19-31, we read about a rich man and Lazarus. The rich man chose to spend everything he made on himself, living a lavish lifestyle and being lord over his own life. Lazarus was the man he walked past every morning, the man starving on his doorstep (v.19-21). Both men died. Lazarus chose to spend eternity with God, the rich man (by his selfish decisions during life) chose otherwise, eternity in hell (V.22). What we can understand from this passage is that, while in hell, the rich man is able to see Lazarus in heaven (v.23). The rich man begs for mercy from God, asking if Lazarus can offer just a drop of water off the end of his finger to ease the rich man’s thirst. The response he received sends a chill down my spine, “between you and us, a great chasm has been set in place.” (v. 24-25). Realizing the permanence of his situation, the rich man changes his plea. Send Lazarus to my family so he can convince them to change their ways and not wind up like me. (v. 27-28) Finally, he gets it. Life is not about you, it’s about you helping everyone else. His revelation is too late, as Abraham explains, he had his chance and so does his family through the prophets that already told them to embrace God. The options are plainly out on the table, the decision is theirs to make. (v.29-31)

My drawing shows the state of the rich man. Not a state of active torture or perpetual incineration, total isolation. Consider these documented effects of temporary isolation in humans: severe anxiety, panic attacks, lethargy, insomnia, nightmares, dizziness, confusion, irrational anger, delusions, paranoia, “a dysfunctional state and inability ever to live normally outside confinement.” This alone is hell enough. But wait, not only is the rich man spending eternity experiencing this, he can see the paradise he rejected.

I used only charcoal on today’s drawing to make the image as dark a possible. The background is completely black, the presence of no color in the light spectrum, the color most children fear at bedtime, the color of complete isolation. The head at the bottom of the page looks up through this blackness, recognizing his lonely environment and looking to the paradise he could have enjoyed. The lightest parts of the drawing are outside the borders of the black space, the whites of the eyes of the figure (symbolizing his self-awareness, and the tear running down his cheek (symbolizing his eternal regret). My hope is you will feel the despair flowing from this face and choose to avoid it in your eternity.

To summarize, God created everything out of love, He then established order by His justice, He keeps that order by His wrath, then created hell out of mercy.