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.

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One Body, Unashamed

Unashamed 4
2 Timothy 1:8

Shame has no grip on me because I am a reclaimed follower of Jesus; neither the devil, nor the grave, nor the tongue of ANY man can alter the truth that my God is not ashamed of me and I am not ashamed of Him.

We are the body of Jesus, we share in the glory, and in the suffering, of following Christ. We become the body by holding each other accountable and supporting each other on this Journey.

The body of Christ is made up of our intertwined and interdependent bodies. The head is clear, because Jesus is the head. Inspited by multiple legislations passed around the United State last week, a fetus is growing in the core of the Christ.

Alone Together

Self-sufficiency is an illusion.

Galatians 6

Lost in the Crowd.jpg

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.

Out From the Shadows

From the Shadows.jpg

John 8:12

What is the point of confession? Isn’t it just a twisted form of religious masochism, laying out all your mistakes to be flogged by everyone more “righteous” than you? That’s what the church really thrives on, isn’t it? Pointing out how Jesus has made them much better humans than the rest of us? Anyone who admits failure is made an example of, “SEE! You don’t want be like that guy, look how humiliating his sin is! Don’t throw your life away like that.”

I had a conversation with a friend recently about this very thing.

Have you ever been in the dark? I mean really dark. A space where literally zero light is present. I have. Touring Linville caverns in the mountains of North Carolina, our guide led us to an area deep in the mountain where we reached the water bed which slowly carved out the space we stood. After a word of warning, the guide turned off all electric lights. This was my first experience with true blackness. Even when you hold your eyelid shut while lying in bed at night, your mind do not experience this depth of darkness. In color theory, our minds perceive color when the receptors in our eyes receive light waves. White is the translation of receiving all spectrum wavelengths (all possible colors) at once. Every color we name ‘black’ is really just a shade of another color. Stare closely and your mind will begin to decode the light waves and pull out the hint of blue, yellow or red that is present in the deep hue you are looking upon. True black is only possible where no light waves can enter. In this cave was true black.

Something else was present in this cavern. A life form that called this space home, somehow thriving in the blackness. Trout.

These trout lived in blackness for all of their existence (until humans interfered and added electric lights for tourists). Surviving in utter darkness, the biology of the trout began to change. Just as our senses will strengthen and compensate when one of the five are lost, senses which go unused dissipate from lack of use. The trout which lived in this cave were blind.

What does any of that have to do with confession? Being consumed by darkness.

Confession is less about someone hearing us as it is about us hearing ourselves. God doesn’t need us to tell Him when and how we mess up, He watches it happen. It’s no surprise to Him. When Adam and Eve hid in the garden, God came asking “where are you?” Do you really think God was stumped in a game of hide-and-seek and couldn’t see the couple crouching under a mass of palm leaves? Not hardly. This question was fired directly into Adam’s heart. Where did you go? What happened to the man I made you? How did you lose your identity? Genesis 3:8-10

Darkness is heavy. There is a weight to it we feel in our emotions and through our spirit. The longer we spend under that weight, the more it effects our physical body as well. Heads hang, shoulders slump and backs become arched. Setting does this weight and escaping the dark frees us to stand with our head raised again.

Jesus is the light of the world. Confession is an invitation to bring that light into your life and illuminate every part of you; the good, the bad, and the repulsive. God isn’t interested in a clean and polished fabrication of the best parts of ourselves. He wants every piece of us.

Law reveals guilt, love reveals grace. The smallest source of light can chase away darkness. No amount of darkness can be added to conceal light.

 

The Gardener

The Gardener.jpg

The heart of our problem is a problem of our heart.

Galatians 5:16-25

If we live by the spirit, we must keep in step with the spirit. What does that even mean? Is our purpose to Mamba through life with Jesus like a super-spiritual Dancing with the Stars??

No….

Keeping in step is a figure of speech meant to encourage us to align our hearts and desires with those of our Creator. Throughout our lives, seeds become planted in the soil of our spirit. We have the option to nurture these seeds (or not) and it is our responsibility to discern which plants should grow and which need to die.

How do we know what seeds deserve life and which do not? We must look beyond today and consider the fruit they will bear. Every plant is designed to produce a specific crop. Some produce in order to feed other organisms, some plants are complimentary and their purpose is to grow a biological product that is required to reproduce in cooperation with another plant. Tomato plants yield tomatoes, apple trees grow apples, but you’ll never pluck a sweet Muscadine grape off of a poison ivy vine…..

What fruit are we designed to produce? Our fruit is based in love and unity. These fruits build each other up and reject any notion of placing ourselves on a pedestal above another life.  Galatians 5:22-23

YOU will be known by YOUR fruit.