Grace – Let Go of the Rope

Let Go of the Rope, Jonah 2, Journey Church, 7-10-16

Grace can be defined as an undeserved gift from an un-obligated giver.

For grace to be offered, an offense must have occurred. Most often, the offense is overshadowed by the offender’s unwillingness to receive grace from the offended. We hold on to our faults with a death grip, but then describe them as if they have permanently leeched onto us. We are a sadistic people in this way, torturing ourselves when the pathway to freedom is simply letting go of our perfectionist mentality. When we give ourselves enough grace to make mistakes and learn from them, we open the floodgates to building real relationships and creating a community that can withstand the greatest adversity. I believe grace is the key missing ingredient that makes real friendship a fleeting phenomenon among adults.

From birth through preschool, we are all equals. Race, sex, religion, favorite color, none of this matters. We see each other as we really are, just people riding on a rock, breathing the same air and doing our best to figure out how to do this thing called life. Everyone is our friend, we welcome each other in without a second thought and play together as complete equals.

With the beginning of elementary school comes the start of organized sports and friendly competitions. My two oldest sons are baseball players, Jacob is wanting to try soccer this fall. They are beginning to find and roots of the most valuable relationships the will nurture their young lives are beginning to grow. We learn to work together, in competition with other teams who work together. The seed of competition has been planted. We being developing our smack-talk skills, boasting in our inflated perception of our abilities and emulating our favorite athletes and superheroes.

As the teenage years begin, so does a new level of  competitiveness. Sports teams are no longer pickup leagues where everyone gets to play, participants compete in tryouts. Bullies have defined their reputations and cliques take their form. Friendly banter over abilities and faults evolves into insults and hurt feelings. In high school, even more areas of competition find their way onto our plates. We compete over academics. We compare everything; skin complexion, hair styles, clothing, musical tastes, each others’ friendships. The older we get, the more meticulous we are about the comparisons. We put all our energy into creating a facade of perfection that bests even the people we care about. This competitiveness is amplified by the system, pushing the importance of SAT scores, end of course tests and making college applications the engines for yet another race to be won.

We graduate into the next chapter of life and divide ourselves further by competing over things that have potential to define the rest of our lives. If we enter the work force, we compete to be the best at what we do be noticed and rewarded more than the next guy. Those of us in college compete to establish our value in the community we’re chosen. Some compete over grades, some compete over sports, some compete over relationships, others compete for position in their own sub-communities. The philosophy we’re indoctrinated with regardless of the path we choose is that the rest of our lives will be a competition for survival. Give no grace, take advantage of every opportunity, become your own person and fight to be better than everyone else.

No wonder we have such a hard time finding friends after 25.

Small groups are the lifeblood of most new church communities. Speak with any of the core leaders and they will lay out the same reason for nurturing small groups. Friends. Small groups exist for the soul purpose of helping adults become friends, to break the mentality of competition. Friends help ease the weight of competition, but only our ability to give and receive grace will eradicate it. Without the ability to forgive and move forward, no relationship will survive.

I’ve heard it said, “when you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”  I no longer believe this philosophy is beneficial to anyone. In fact, I am sure it has locked souls into a prison of self-reliance that destroys lives.

What if you weren’t designed to hang on to a rope to begin with? What if the rope is what keeps us restrained and chokes the life out of us?

Once we can let go of everything, no more competition, no more entitlement, truly set down our selfish pride; then we can dip our hearts back into the life of innocent freedom we so easily forgot from out early days. We are still all just humans riding on this cosmic rock, doing the best we can with the time we have. Let go of your irrational and unattainable need to “do it better” than everyone else. Let go of your ropes and just enjoy the ride. God will not let you fall, if you let him take the reigns of life. Your only obligation is to live.

There’s no competing your way into happiness and freedom, there’s just setting each other (and yourself) free.

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Put It Down

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Having just finished up our summer series on prayer, we dove into a new focus this week; Titus – Believe. Do. The day’s message spoke to me at a very personal level. Based on the first chapter of Titus, it’s mostly words meant form me than imagery.

I lay my life down to live like Christ; but I must remember, I am not Christ. It is not my place to be anyone’s savior. I am not responsible to rescue people, even from themselves. Disappointing someone else by creating and maintaining a good relationship with myself does not make me a failure or a disappointment. It’s not my load to carry.

The gospel is not just a message of spiritual salvation, it is freedom to acknowledge and live in the light of self worth. The gospel is the manifestation of complete love; salvation lies within. 

New Heart, New Life – Week 3 of Advent

New Heart, New Life

Take hold of your courage; preferring to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Cor. 5

In this week of Advent, we focus on our responsibility in changing our own lives. Our heart is the singular director of our motives, our decisions, our lives. In order to change your life, you must first address your heart. These words slide easily off the tongue or over a keyboard, but enforcing them within yourself is exponentially more difficult.

We are colorful creations, broken under the weight of our own obstinacy and insecurity. We enter this world as pristine glass sculptures. Physically imperfect, but entirely transparent and pure creatures. Every interaction, from encounters with other frail creations to inanimate obstacles either polish our sheen or leave cracks in our carapace. As life progresses, the spider-like feelers continue to fracture from the epicenter of every crack. Before long, our cracks become breaks and we lose shards of our innocent encasement. Society teaches us to concentrate the core of our energy on piecing these shards back together in a pristine cloak, a never-ending endeavor that leaves us frustrated and filled with regret. God has a different plan.

Today’s piece is designed to be read from background to foreground the recess into a mid-ground layer. The background is dark and chaotic, a seeming explosion of blacks and blues. The torso stretches itself from bottom to top, gaining every bit of height its muscles can maintain. The base of this torso is orange, the opposite color of the blue background. The soul of this torso rejects the dark influences around them.

It is through the jaggedness of our fragile and shattered selves that the light of Gospel endeavors to shine. Each crack, every pointed shard, refracts the light further and breaks the love we show the world into a full spectrum of the Gospel like a prism. Open your heart to loving the world and all the shattered sculptures moving around us. Let them see your courage to live boldly open in spite of your imperfections.

With a strenuous, sustained pull in both directions, the torso opens itself to bear its soul to the world in all its imperfections. This act of complete exposure leaves this individual vulnerable to conjecture from the rest of us while simultaneously raising itself above all others. The heart-shaped hole being ripped through this chest exposes a beautiful mosaic of color as a single light illuminates every plane of shattered glass once moulded in this unified body.  The irony being, exposing this shrapnel of wrong turns reunites every scrap like a jigsaw puzzle, reassembling itself into a being more beautiful than the original. An act that refuses to go unnoticed and inspires others to open themselves in a beautiful butterfly effect of self discovery.

If you will change your heart, demoting yourself to a servant of all, you will change your life to become the hero for many.

Freed to Give – a prophetic art experience

 

Today, I experienced an emotion to which only artists can empathize; ‘creative exhaustion’. Simultaneously high from creating something that did not previously exist and emptied from having left part of your soul within that creation. This is the story of that creation.

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Humans are designed as interdependent beings. Beginning with our introduction to a carbon-based environment, we depend on other people for our basic survival. Though our needs evolve over time, our fundamental design to live in harmonious dependency on one another remains constant. This is God’s intricate design.

Starting with the very inception of the human species, man could not thrive on his own. Recognizing this, God separated one organism into two, making them an interlocking match for each other. I do not believe the separation of humanity into male and female was an afterthought for the Creator, it was critical to his design. Obviously, the male and female designs define the mechanics of procreation, critical to the sustainability of the human species. God also designed our minds to be free and self-assured in this design of life. Men are not stubbornly confident because we are jerks, it’s a critical part of our psyche included since day one. Understand His creation, God put the man in a position where he had to choose the woman. In choosing to join themselves together, God freely gives His creations to each other, joining them together as one being and designing the institution we call marriage. One that was made two is now made one.

Dependency on the abilities and service of another human being is not weakness, it is what makes us human. Refusing to embrace our need for others leaves our souls malnourished. Rejecting opportunities to serve another is abuse.

One Made Two Made One

 

Creating unity by dividing humanity is the basis of today’s work. At the top center of the image is a single, crouched form. The figure then splits like a dividing cell into two individuals. The unique organisms then dance along their paths, becoming their individual selves. At the location where their paths cross, the two reunite into a single body. This is marriage, as God designed.

 

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Recreating this into today’s piece, I combined acrylic paint with fine, sandy rock which exists in the foundation of a gravel road. The rock and paint mixture created a mortar-like paste which made the creation of today’s figures as much a process of sculpture as it was painting.  This process created shapes with three dimensional body and an organic feel that makes your mind expect the figures to morph into dancing with each other on the page.

 

 

 

 

Establishing the existence of marriage as two created individuals choosing to unify themselves as one through their Creator leads us into the next logical question, but often hardest one to ask, how can two individuals successfully operate as one? The answer, though easy to say, is much harder to apply; selfless mutual submission. By each letting go of what they hold most dear for the sake of fulfilling the other’s desires, they both grasp hold of what they will most cherish – unity. This philosophy is true for every relationship from exclusively romantic to complete strangers; asking one simple question will redefine human encounter and construct a legacy, one person at a time. How can I serve you? Before being able to pose this question honestly, one must first choose to lay themselves and their desires down. Your most perfect façade will not conceal your ulterior motives.

Refusing yourself the satisfaction of gaining for yourself is no easy task; it is a choice that must be made constantly. In every moment, making yourself look for opportunities to serve those around you, this is the attitude suggested by 1 Thessalonians  5:17. To pray without ceasing and give thanks in everything is to be aware of what you have been given and constantly be looking for ways to serve others because of it. What’s to stop people from taking advantage of me if I really do this, you may protest? Grace.

Grace is being able to forgive those who abuse you, wisdom is not enabling that abuse.

Forgiven people forgive. Without letting yourself experience grace, you refuse yourself the ability to show grace. Grace is the foundation of every positive relationship because no one can achieve perfection. At some point, on some level, people will let you down. Serve them anyway. Occasionally, the words and actions of people will hurt you. Be kind to them still. A day will come when another maliciously inflicts pain in you. Graciously love them despite it.

Freed to Give, 3rd service

 

The paths followed by the figures in this image trace back to create a heart shape with an open center. God did not design marriage to benefit us. In its proper form, it reflects His nature to the world. The open heart. Two people, remaining individuals but united as one, serving each other and those around them. This is by design.

Parents. Serve your children well. Children, serve your parents.

Know your friends well enough to know their needs. Serve them freely.

Know the needs in your community. Join with others to fill them.

Everyone wants to give to charity, but no one wants to be charity. Until you learn to receive, you will never truly know how to give. Only by experiencing grace are we freed to give it to others.

 

 

Easter 2014

I received the privilege of joining our worship team to add some percussive elements to the music set during our Easter worship services at North Ridge. I chose to take this opportunity to get back to playing music but to also push myself artistically, producing a unique drawing for all three services. This was an exercise in creativity as much as it was time management, since my drawing time was framed in by time on stage with the band!

Here’s what showed up:

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8:30 service

Being Easter Sunday, the message directed our focus to an empty tomb, Jesus’s resurrection and our responsibility in light of the many eye witness accounts to this being a real event and not a fairy tale.

I went surreal for the first service. The human race is given earth, nature, raw existence in creation. Jesus gives us our example for operating in this crazy train of life. We make the most of this life by following that example; liberally loving and caring for all of creation, starting with each other.

 

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10:00 service

I went literal with a twist of surreal during our second service (which I normally attend).

In this drawing, my goal is to twist your minds’ paradigm of death and the grave. The drawing depicts an ancient stone crypt with a stone slab to block the door thrown aside. As you notice your surroundings on the outside of the tomb, you feel cold and isolated. Death lies outside of the grave.

Looking through the open door into the burial chamber is like gazing into C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe. Life is abundant and inviting inside the grave. I am not suggesting physical death be our ultimate prize by this drawing, nor do I believe that’s what Jesus encouraged us to look toward. I suggest that sacrificing our selves for the sake of others should be our focus. The drawing is designed to lure you in to dying to selfishness (something Jesus repeatedly encouraged in his life). By letting go of the stress created by clawing  to fulfill yourself, you are free to breathe and then fulfill others.

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11:30 service

Finishing out the morning, I went minimalist in the last drawing. This simple phrase is a theme that started echoing in my mind during the first drawing and sums up our reason for celebrating Easter.

Chosen by love – brown and red to represent flesh and blood

Proven through love – black and blue to imply a weight of sorrow. Love is proven through sacrifice. For Jesus this meant his physical torture and execution

In order to love – yellow and purple to bring a refreshing lightness to the image. Yellow brings warmth, just like love. Purple represents royalty, referencing the position obtained by Jesus’s physical and spiritual resurrection.

This is what Easter means to Christians.

Not about bunnies and chicks, not about brightly colored eggs concealing treasures of processed sugar

(though there’s nothing wrong with having fun with that side of the holiday)

It’s only love. Unfiltered, unbiased, uninhibited, relentless, love.

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.