Ignoring the Giver

You only need the light when it’s burning low

Only miss the sun when it starts to snow

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low

Only hate the road when you’re missing home

Only know you love her when you let her go.

‘True Love’ began today. In this series we’re going to explore relationships from God’s perspective. Married, dating, friendships, acquaintances, strangers, God has a specific design for doing every manner of relationship successfully. We are going to dive in and strengthen ourselves by embracing responsibility in human interaction. 

We begin this series at the most basic level, what is love? God is love, so to ask the question, ‘what is love?’ is to also ask ‘who is God?’ John 3:16, the most quoted, memorized, and Googled verse in the Bible, sums up the love God has for the world in a five-word phrase, “He sent His only son”. Without proper context, this verse can lead people to believe God loves us above Jesus, just for who we are as His creation. This assumption is incorrect. At this point in history, creation is held captive by darkness (as it remains today), totally corrupted by sin and selfishness. There is nothing attractive about the world to be loved. God’s deep affection that inspired Him to send Jesus is not a reflection of our beauty but a reflection of His grace. Throughout the history of the world, God sent representatives to proclaim His love for humanity. He finally showed up to tell us Himself in the form of Jesus because we refuse to listen. God relentlessly pursues us, not out of a deep drive to reconcile Himself with humanity, but out of unfathomable compassion and desire to reconcile us with Himself.

“Spiritual idolatry is enjoying the gifts while completely ignoring the giver of those gifts.” – David Platt

The life of the prophet Hosea is a direct analogy to God’s relationship to humanity. Hosea’s tale starts with a call from God to take a wife, but not just any wife, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness”. God calls Hosea and says “Pick a whore, any whore, marry her and adopt her bastard children as your own” Guys, how would you like to bring that girl home to meet you parents? I can’t imagine mom and dad would be all too enthused about having a prostitute for a daughter-in-law and being instant grandparents to her children. Hosea, being more afraid of God than of man, did as he was told and married a prostitute named Gomer, taking in her and her children.

Marriage does not change Gomer’s lifestyle (is anyone surprised?). The way he rest of chapter one is worded leaves the fatherhood of children born after her marriage to Hosea in doubt. Despite Gomer’s lewdness, Hosea remains faithful. He even brings groceries to the home of one of Gomer’s Johns, handing them to the man sleeping with his wife and requests they be given to Gomer as being from Hosea. The John takes the food to Gomer, but turns the ownership around and claims they are a gift from himself. Despite this blatant abuse, Hosea remains faithful.

The relationship between Hosea and Gomer is a direct analogy of the relationship between God and Israel. Gomer constantly and remorselessly abuses Hosea by taking advantage of his character. Throughout history to the arrival of Jesus, Israel’s treatment of God is just as hostile. Since the direct contact between God and the world through the person of Jesus, that conflict rages between light and dark with humanity’s relationship to God the central focus.

Like Gomer received resources necessary to keep her and her children alive from Hosea despite her lack of gratitude and returned affection, we are each gifted the resources we need to survive by God but very rarely acknowledge Him as our life’s source. We are quick to accuse God in hard times, but shift praise to ourselves in times of prosperity. Any gain we experience is categorized as the spoils of our hard labor and acquired skills, losses incurred are out of our realm of control and thereby fall on God by default.

“I will put and end to all her mirth, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts” – Hosea 2:11

Israel religiously celebrated days scheduled to recognize God while ignoring Him the other days. God supplied Israel with the resources to celebrate, but is now preparing to take away those resources so that Israel will acknowledge their origin.

“And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lover and forgot me, declares the Lord.” Hosea 2:13

Ignoring the Giver, True Love 1

Two songs played through my mind during the sermon today; “Let Her Go” (Passenger, 2012) and “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers, 1971). Both of these songs lament the loss of a love that was taken for granted. Only after the love is gone is it appreciated. This often happens between God and individuals. Only after He removes His hand and our life spirals into chaos do we finally see the role He’s played the whole time. Today’s drawing shows that in the form of a dry, cracked and dying landscape with a solitary pool of water. The cracks in the land were not present until the water that once filled the area departed. Acknowledge God in your life now, do not force Him to move in order to be seen.

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone

It’s not warm when she’s away

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone 

and she’s always gone too long

anytime she goes away.

Pushing Against Grace

Pushing Against Grace, Jonah 4

 

What’s that one heinous sin that lurks in the forefront of your mind as the ultimate offense? The attitude and actions for which forgiveness is totally inconceivable? The red flag in someone’s life which is the dead giveaway that person “can’t be Christian”? Even after his isolation on the sea, Jonah had much to learn about grace, as do we.

Webster’s defines grace as the manifestation of favor, mercy, clemency, or pardon.  Tullian Tchvidjian defines grace as “unconditional acceptance granted to an understanding person, granted by an un-obligated giver.” It is forgiveness coupled with restoration. God’s grace is immeasurable and liberally covers all who will embrace it; regardless of their offense or our opinion.

Jonah ran from God’s command to go and proclaim truth to Nineveh out of fear. He feared the negative reaction of Nineveh on himself. He feared God’s offer of grace to Nineveh, should he succeed, with equal intensity. Jonah’s hate for Nineveh was rooted deep in a history of violence and oppression aimed at his homeland, Israel. Jonah’s desire for justice rivaled his fear for his life. The thought of Nineveh being forgiven of their deplorable sins committed against God and His people turned Jonah’s stomach. He preferred death over life in a world where Nineveh was in equal standing with Israel in God’s eyes.

Grace erases any inclination to believe you are superior. Self-righteous people have wandered far from God because they have allowed their love of righteousness surpasses their understanding of grace. Being righteous is a good thing, if your understanding of righteousness is rooted in the gospel and not religion. Righteousness without grace is bigotry.

The grace God offers is bigger than any sin, including yours. Once we ‘get’ grace, our obedience shifts from being driven by guilt to driven by love. Love for our God, our savior, and each other. Pushing against God’s grace as it sweeps toward anyone you deem “unworthy” is like trying to push back a tidal wave. Your efforts aren’t only futile, they make you look like a fool. But, in the end, God’s grace surrounds you as it rushes past to embrace that which you were trying to keep it from.

As Lauren, Zac, Caley, and the rest of the worship team guided our spirits this morning:

Lay yourself down,

to be the light,

for none but Jesus.

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’

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.

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.

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