You Matter

I’ve created some bad art over the last few years of this art as worship venture, but today’s strikes me as especially terrible. The kind of terrible that is expected to show up in the opening auditions of American Idol, the ones that are aired just for ratings and water cooler conversation. Today’ piece was so bad, I have to share for your entertainment. If you’re familiar with my art, you know how I enjoy irony. The ironic twist in the image you’re about to partake in is that our message focus was on why we matter as individuals. I set out to draw an image depicting individual value and failed miserably. Check it out, please accept my apologies in advance……

You

Kind of a cross between Uncle Sam and former Guns ‘n’ Roses lead guitarist, Slash,  the guy with gnarly hair and the collapsing top hat sternly points back at the viewer with an accusing gesture that toes the line of offensive. Awkwardly, his head is turned away as if he doesn’t want to acknowledge whom the target of his finger rests upon. Adding to the depravity of this piece, the image could only transfer a message by leaning on the crutch of text. Message #1: “People need you, whether they admit it or not.” Message #2: “God needs you to respond, without waiting for an invitation.” In all honesty, today’s drawing depicts more of my fight with myself rather than a message for you.

Ephesians 2:1-10 You matter to God.

Passages like this are solid proof Jesus, as a man, was a creative. Before an individual embraces Jesus, before they grasp the basic concept of the Gospel, before the ‘get it’, they are dead. Selfish, narcissistic, arrogant, dead to everything that does not benefit themselves. This deadness manifests itself in animosity toward Jesus (or anything Jesus-related). Despite our ultimately hate-filled nature, grace sat us in like-standing with God’s human likeness, though the Father was hated, He still longs to embrace His children without reservations.

Like every artist, God’s passion is to inspire people back to Him and to love through His creation and love. Like any work of art, the response of the viewer is not required but longed for like the pangs of lovers separated by distance. God does not demand our response, but He longs for it. Despite the negative reception to His physical presence, Jesus was amplified through that response. Had He been cast aside as another religious nut and ignored, His mission would have been squashed. Like the mission of the artist, any response equates to ultimate success.

In verse 10, humanity is described as ” God’s workmanship”. God is the artist, we are the creation, love is the message.

You matter to God.

Hebrews 10:19-25

An individual can only grow through the influence of other individuals. This means taking off your mask. Your public facade acts like salt on your soil, nothing will grow. Enough salt exposure and the soil is ruined. Deep friendships is an art many lose after college, if they make it that long. Within deep relationships lie the keys to happiness, success, health and longevity. Modern society finds it hard-pressed to even discover a marriage that involves a deep relationship anymore. No wonder our lives are so convoluted.

How do we get these kind of friendships back, you ask? Letting down your guard and letting people in. People who allow themselves to be vulnerable in the presence of another are mocked by this advanced culture. Children are discouraged from living honestly. Boys and girls alike are set up for failure when they get kicked out the door with a suitcase full of situation-appropriate masks and a foundation of lying for the benefit of yourself and the modern social trend. Those lies catch up to us, long before we dare confess.

This is the essence of community groups within the church community I attend. Building deep friendships among a tight community of people. On the surface, it may sound like a clique, but it’s much harder to create than a gossip circle. The only way to invest in deep friendships is to become interested in your friends. You have to be interested in someone other than yourself without a personal agenda. Does anyone even know what their friends’ favorite colors are anymore? I know it sounds pre-school-ish, but if that’s where you need to start, go for it!

You matter to us. Set down your costumes and invite other to do the same.

Ephesians 4:1-16

Community groups are one of several aspects of North Ridge that raise skeptical eyebrows in our region with vehemently conservative roots, particularly since our philosophy is encouraging community groups in lieu of traditional Sunday school. The quip commonly thrown out in contempt is “church is not a social club”. Well, why not? Which clubs and organizations attracted the most participants in collegiate and grade school? The social ones. I’m not saying we disregard the Gospel or talk on deep spiritual topics, I just finished saying how we need to open ourselves up to deep relationships and really get interested in other people’s lives. Is that not the Gospel, participating in quality relationships and doing life together through the example of Jesus? Particularly in light of our rough and bigoted history that shines so brightly in the spotlight, why would anyone care what we have to say before seeing the fruits of living it out together in community?

You matter to “them”. (whoever “them” happens to be at the time)

Now back to my travesty of graphite:

Each phrase I wrote in was another punch in the head of my psyche that wants to be noticed, wants to be valued,

“People need you,” – OK, yeah, we established that above. You’re important, I’m important, we need each other, now let’s break out in a number from “Frozen” (a flick I have successfully evaded so far). I often brush this statement off my arm like the mosquito that bit me during my son’s baseball game this weekend. Don’t bury me in generic clichés and fault me when I’m not inspired. Give me a tangible mission objective and then let me loose. Can you tell this is where I am most skeptical of myself?

“…whether they admit it or not.” – Silence is my kryptonite. Silence, to me, is synonymous with apathy is synonymous with dislike is synonymous with hate.Often to the root of my own frustration, I value knowing the focus of my energy is in some way significant to another human being. The only way to discern significance is through feedback, vocalized or visibly evident. You want me out of the picture? Don’t respond to me with negativity, just don’t respond at all. I’ve been told this is a character flaw, that I should reject this emotion and not care if I have carry any importance to anyone other than myself. My small mind cannot fathom any purpose in life other than creating significance in that of another’s.

“God needs you to respond…” – Another tired phrase, over-used by pastors desperate to moisten their dry-rotting baptismal tubs by laying down a guilt-trip under the guise of spiritual urgency. As if I am so important God can’t accomplish anything without me…really? In thinking that, though, our limited understanding of the Gospel rises to the surface. God needs you to respond, not because He needs you, but because you are the best able to step up for the sake of another in that moment. The need is there, urgency is real, but the aim is not to benefit you.

“…without waiting for an invitation.”  – This is the kicker for me. I will own that I am quick to volunteer myself to fill a need, once the need is announced. I have trouble searching out the need to fill own my own. Here again, our pride and cynicism shoots compassion in the foot because we either refuse to admit we have a need or hide behind the mask of humility and wait to be asked for help. I am the one to hang back until needs are obvious, buying into my self-conceived lie that initiating a conversation that could open doors to a new (or deeper) friendship is intrusive and unwanted. This kind of hesitation does not pass without consequences. Do not doubt your ability or your responsibility to experience relationships, serve people, and share the Gospel. The invitation is standing open, the RSVP date is always now.

You matter to God. You matter to us. You matter to them.

 

 

 

 

 

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This Matters.

In today’s entry, I’m catching up on our latest series that we are three weeks into, This Matters.

Our introductory message in the “This Matters” series focused out attention on the Bible. The Bible matters. Why?

Historically, it lays the groundwork, not only for our faith but all of civilization. Regardless of your religion, the Bible is regarded as the most historically accurate documentation of its age.

Morally and ethically, the Bible provides us with concrete guidelines for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Though many have misconstrued God’s precepts while others create  new ones in God’s name, the Bible provides a solid foundation for morality and ethics in every aspect of life.

Logically, it lays out the simple design for living in peace with all of humanity and with yourself. When you read scripture; first read it for the literal words, dissect those words within the context they were written, then apply those words to modern day as they can apply to you.

The Bible is not God’s rule book, it is our pathway to knowing Him. The Bible matters.

In week two we focused on prayer. Prayer matters.

Through the Bible, we can know God on a corporate level. Through prayer we connect with God (and ourselves) on a personal level.

Prayer, This Matters 2, Matthew 6, 6-13

Prayer is literally a conversation with God. Prayer is most effective when our hearts are open to let the communication flow both ways.  I heard a Rabbi once describe the Jewish perspective of prayer as an introspective assessment of one’s day. Sitting down at the end of the day to inspect every choice you made, then committing to whatever changes that are necessary to become a better person tomorrow. Christians would benefit from incorporating this aspect of prayer into their perspective as well.

God is not a genie, prayer is not a wish list. Submit your requests to God, but take an honest account of where you require improvement.

Prayer holds you in community with God. Prayer matters.

Stepping into week three, the things that matter have been fairly personal in their application. The Bible matters, I need to read the Bible. Prayer matters, I need to pray. Today has more public ramifications, community.

Community matters because life is not designed as a solo endeavor. God designed us as interdependent beings. One person’s weakness is matched by another’s strength. Our misguided focus on self breaks the bonds of unity and leaves us vulnerable. I enjoy National Geographic, Discovery, and PBS for their nature programming. Nearly every episode set in Africa includes a Lioness hunting a pack of Gazelles. The Lioness quietly spies on the unknowing Gazelles as they graze, strategically picking out the slowest and weakest of the pack for her family’s dinner. When the attack begins, the Gazelles scatter. The target tries to keep up but, for whatever reason, is separated from the pack and is overtaken by the Lion in the open field. We are the Gazelle, our Enemy prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

CommUNITY, Hebrews 10, 19-25

Much like there’s no ‘I’ in team, there’s no community without ‘you’. Dying to self is not a mandate to make yourself a door mat, it is the open door to embrace life. Tear off your armor of ‘self’ to open the pathway to community. Letting go of your needs creates opportunity for needs to be filled.

Community matters.

Give.

For the Christian on the DONE side of love, the question is not ‘How much should I give?’ The question is, ‘How much do I dare to keep?’

Give. 1 Corinthians 16

1 Corinthians 16:1-4

Give as you have been given.

and

As you have been given, give.

and

Give as you have been given.

and

Love is…

Love is patient, love is kind…

Love is..., True Love 4, 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13. I won’t label it overused, but it has definitely become cliché’ in marriage ceremonies. Read within its context, Paul is hardly doing marriage counselling! The church at Corinth has revamped their definition of spirituality to be based upon individual talents. Those considered the most spiritual were the best at their trade, the most eloquent speakers, the wisest advisers, the most talented musicians; these people were considered the closest to God. (Does that sound eerily familiar with the modern church to anyone else?) Paul is not defining love to Corinth so that the boys know how to make the girls’ hearts melt or so that the girls know how they should expect a guy to treat them, he his blatantly rebuking Corinth for screwing up spirituality and totally rejecting what Jesus taught and died teaching.

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist in its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong-doing, but rejoices with truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Replace ‘love’ with your name in these verses. Does it describe you? Maybe a little?

Hate is impatient, hate is unkind, it is envious and proud; arrogant and rude. It insists in its own way, is irritable and resentful; rejoices in misfortune and is skeptical of truth. Hate bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing, only when it is convenient and benefits themselves.

Replace the ‘hate‘ with your name in this version of the passage. Does it sound more or less like you? I honestly do not expect anyone to admit, even to themselves, that they are more like the second version of verses 4-7 than the first. No one likes to admit their flaws, particularly those that impact other people (like your ability to love). If you are serious about loving well, give these descriptions of love and hate to someone close to you, let them tell you which best describes the love you’re putting out.

At the end of the day, love focuses on others, hate focuses on self. Where’s your focus?

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.

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.