Tag Archives: Grace

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.

 

 

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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?

The Man Code

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Men have a basic code we live by that sets our standards for ethics, morality, judgement and behavior. Unfortunately, these standards have been compromised by social pressures and manged to fit personal agendas until a boy has to be careful he’s following the correct code to be a man. ‘True Love’, week 2 cuts through the smoke and makes the path to manhood clear.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:26-28

This passage in Genesis recounts the moment humans came into existence. Now, before you stop reading, I’m not going on a Ken Hamm rant here. Today’s blog is not about the accuracy of a literal seven-day creation or the validity of evolutionary creationism. I am focusing on the established images and roles of male and female homo sapiens, specifically the me.

This passage has been totally butchered by societies for centuries. The primary flaw in these distortions is to twist this passage to be establishing a hierarchy for the home resulting in male dominance and female subservience. Insecure, super-religious men will often reference this moment in history to extort their way into power and domineer their family. The words of these verses proposes quite a different scenario. God explicitly establishes the equality of men and women in two simple phrases; “So God created man (‘man’ being a generic word for humans) in his own image…male and female he created them.”

God created men and women with equal value, but different roles. God creates both men and women as a reflection of himself (v.26), then commands them to cooperatively be fruitful and multiply, and have dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth (v.28). The concept of male superiority is imagined by the inspiration for the creation of Eve as a “suitable helper” (Gen 2:20). As we have just read, God’s process of creative development established the existence of male and female before any groundwork began, Eve was not created as an afterthought, as reading Genesis 2:20 out of context can be misinterpreted to say.

So if the Genesis creation story is a clean slate which establishes men and women as totally equal, where do men find their code for that relationship? Us men are very black and white, what are the rules? Ephesians 5:25 gives men a clear directive for relating to women, particularly in marriage. “Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Rule numero uno for a successful marriage, men? Get over yourself.

Let me break this down into a simple list for the guys out there, because that’s what we can understand. Men, your responsibility when it comes to women and your family is:

Lead. This doesn’t mean you make all the decisions or that you’re always right, it simply means you can take charge and do what needs to be done in any given situation.

Love. Real, selfless, genuine love. Mushiness not required. Need tips on what love is? Patience, kindness, keep your ego in check, honest. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Provide. Providing is a subjective role to your situation. In some cases, this means the male brings home the majority of the family income. In others, the man takes care of household responsibilities so the woman can bring home the bacon. In any case, providing is taking on the role of making the long and short term goals of your family happen. How that manifests is determined by how well you lead.

Protect. Dean gave some great illustrations on protecting this morning. Men with any hint of chivalry Naturally place themselves in positions to be protectors. What real man, upon hearing a strange sound in the house at 2am, asks their wife to go check it out? No self-respecting man ever puts a woman in danger to protect himself. Opening doors, walking on the side of traffic when you’re out on a date, picking up the check (even when it’s not a date), walking her to her car or to the door at night. The key is, none of these acts of kindness are performed with any expectation of return. You are nice because it is only natural for you to be nice, no ulterior motives. Guys, you need to teach your son’s how to treat and respect a woman. If you didn’t get those lessons growing up, learn from someone you respect, then teach it to your kids.

Honor. What is honor? High esteem, regard with great respect, fulfill with integrity, a privilege. All of these phrases apply to a man’s responsibility to a woman.

The introduction and festering of sin in the lives of men has made this and pretty much every other natural role much easier to say than to accomplish. Sin leads men to abdicate their responsibilities and abuse their authority. Instead of leading their family, sin makes men irresponsible and absent from the lives of people who depend on them the most. How often do you catch flak for the hours you put in at work or the time you spend on the ball field? Those are red flags that you are failing to lead.

Sin turns love into only a temporary physical condition. Men who dominate over their wives and children as a strict authoritarian do not know love. Cowards who prey on women thirsty for love for a cheap release then disappear at the drop of a dime, these men do not know love. Here’s a quick litmus test if you’re not sure how well a lover you are; when you enter the room, do your children (a) smile and cheer your name (b) fail to notice or (c) quietly cower where they are until you give them permission to continue whatever they were doing – either by your actions or your ignorance. If you answer anything but (a), you have a red flag to handle.

Men who do not provide for their family’s success are tangled in sin. If I asked you to list off a few things your wife dreams of one day accomplishing, could you even name one? What about your kids? Do you know what gets them excited? What they value? What goals they may have? Self-absorbed men know nothing of anyone unless it benefits themselves. If no answer immediately came to mind as answers to these questions. Get over yourself and get to know your family tonight. Pizza, root beer, and Star Wars sets the tone for me and my boys! Here again, this goes back to leading. Men who lead well, do whatever needs doing to provide.

Protect. I think we covered this one well, don’t be a wuss. Man-up and take care of your family. Protection is not just physical. It is emotional and spiritual. If you have anger issues, protect your family from yourself. Get to know God and introduce your family to him by your example.

Honor is the all-encompassing attribute for the man code, accompanied by integrity. If you respect someone, you will care for them; if you honor them, you will care for them above yourself. Integrity is knowing your principles and standing your ground. Men of integrity do not compromise their morals, even when it’s convenient. If you have no honor, or can’t spell integrity, turn in your testicles because you’re out of the man club.

Today’s opening image is a sculpture of Atlas literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulder. The primary role of Atlas in Greek Mythology was to be the force that held the earth steadfast within the galaxy. Husbands, dads, men, this is precisely our job in the home. One of our roles is to hold our world in place within the realm of life, whatever needs to happen to keep the family going, that’s your job. Every man pictures himself in this position at some time, successfully carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Strength, integrity, honor, these are the top qualities of manhood every guy claims (but few actually own). Inside the “world” the Atlas figure carries are characteristics of Biblical manhood.

Juxtaposed to the Atlas figure is a fun house mirror. Carnival house are fun, they aren’t called “Fun Houses” for nothing! Bending a mirror distorts the reflection you see. In this case, the man code carried by the Atlas figure is distorted into the negative attributes that describe too many “men” in modern culture. Instead of honorable, loving providers and protectors, the reflection is that of insecurity, absence, irresponsibility and selfishness which then demands respect. The self-image does not match the reflection. Sin supports the mirror that tells men they are being Atlas by holding to the characteristics in the mirror.

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Men. If the way people treat us is a reflection of our treatment of them, pay more attention to your reflection that you do to yourself.

Protect and embrace the man code.

Lead, love, honor, provide and protect.

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.

 

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’