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.

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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’

The Mountains Melt

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice,

let the many coastlands be glad.

Clouds and thick darkness are all around Him;

righteousness and justice are the formation of His throne.

Fire goes before Him

and burns up His adversaries all around.

His lightnings light up the world;

the earth sees and trembles.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,

before the Lord all of the earth.

The heavens proclaim His righteousness

and all the peoples see His glory.

All worshippers of images are put to shame

who make their boasts to worthless idols;

worship Him, all you gods!

Psalm 97: 1-7

The Mountains Melt

Lord – a person who has authority, control or power over others; a master, a chief, a ruler.

Philippians 2:9-11

God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him a name that is above every name.

The word ‘name’ in this passage is referring to more than the one Mary gave him at his birth. Jesus, while being a name that raises hope, strikes fear, and is often surrounded by controversy, it is not above every other name. The name being referred to here is Jesus’s title, his position. Jesus is the Christ, the I am, the Most High. He is Lord.

How frequently have you used ‘lord’ in the last week? “Dear, lord….” “Oh, lord!” “Lordy, lordy!” Too many to count? What do you mean when you say that word? Do you even know? ‘Lord’ is not a convenient term that was coined to add emphasis to a statement of surprise or frustration, it is an authoritative term carrying serious weight. Those who carry the title of “Lord’ own unquestionable authority over people, places or both. Those of nearly every faith assign God, alone the title of Lord. To imply another being, human at that, is ‘Lord’ is blasphemous. To make a statement like that in 3 A.D. Jerusalem is a death wish.

Carry that weight of the position over into this verse. God is making an undeniably clear statement, Jesus is Lord. God. The one who is Lord Himself. He says Jesus is Lord. The game just changed.

I do not fault a person using a “curse word” around me, provided that use the word in context. When you say a word synonymous with feces, make sure what you are referring to is logically associated with fecal matter. Otherwise, you just sound like an idiot. This is applicable to any word. Words that carry supreme authority should be used with extreme caution and respect.

Many people today claim the position of being Christian, not really understanding what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Being Christian is not a matter of paying dues, associating with one group while avoiding others. You cannot claim Jesus as your Savior without also claiming Him as your Lord.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my father. Matthew 7:21

Christ, Kairos, YHWH, the Most High,

Jesus Christ is Lord.

All will acknowledge Him, whether willingly or not.

Who is He to you?

Peace

Peace, Jesus's Lullaby, 12-1-13, Upside Down Christmas 1, Philippians 2, 5-11

Philippians 2:5-11

Christmastime is upon us and with it comes the familiar barrage of materialism and consumerism that defines American culture. Something is not right, but we’ve become so desensitized to the social backwardness of this time of year the question that stares us all in the face is easily avoided. Who is this Jesus everyone (everyone being the conservative, right-swinging Christians, these days) keeps talking about? When you trace the word back to its Old English roots, Christmas means Christ’s Mass and deliberately celebrates the birth of Jesus. The actual date and year of the Jesus’s birth are subject for debate (December 25 is likely NOT the day Jesus was actually born upon), but those details are not the point. Christmas, X-mas, Crimmus, whatever you want to call it, there’s no escaping the purpose of the season, or the question it asks, Who am I to you?

The short answer is, Jesus is the self-expression of God. God manifesting Himself in human form to relate to us on a physical level that leaves absolutely zero room for misinterpretation. The literal answer to this question at Christmas is not the one people avoid. Everyone who is even remotely familiar with the name Jesus recognizes the fundamental definition of the person of Jesus. Even an Atheist would be able to answer that Jesus is considered the manifestation of God, but much in the way that Jim Carrey was the manifestation of the Grinch in 2000. Accepting who it is said Jesus is, that is not difficult.

The second part to this question is the one many choose to dodge. It is the side of Christmas that requires something of us. Who do you say I am?

Some take the position that Jesus was a masterful teacher and great leader, but nothing more. Others will argue Jesus never claimed to be God with His own tongue, so the idea of being God-like was something placed upon Him by His followers and is a likeness He never intended. Our position on these points are what separates Christians from the rest of the world. To propose that Jesus never came out and said He was God is a very ludicrous suggestion, given the violent end to His life. The government of the day would have no grounds upon which to execute the man, had He not claimed His deity equivalent. Did He bluntly say “I am God”, verbatim? Those exact words leaving His mouth are not recorded, but His claims to literally be God in human form were readily documented.

John 5:16-18 – Jesus claims God as His father.

John 8:54-58 – Jesus sheds light on the timeline of His existence before human birth. “Before Abraham was, I am.”

John 10:24-33 – “The Father and I are one.”

John 20:19 – Post-crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples and addresses them a blessing of peace, the familiar opening line from every angel who appeared to anyone, anywhere.

The poetic and lyrical description of God manifested in the human form of Jesus in Philippians took my mind down the path of song for today’s drawing. The immediate representation of the Christmas birth and sound of a capella voices lands on a mother singing her newborn to sleep. The baby celebrated during this season is not just any baby, a human singing their creator to sleep does not seem an adequate way to represent God “emptying Himself by taking the form of a servant”, as Paul eloquently penned.

Peace was the overwhelming theme I read into these verses, and the atmosphere of Christmas. Physical peace, spiritual peace, emotional peace; the overrunning characteristic of the God of love manifesting Himself for us is peace. So I asked myself, what does peace look like? As a father of three, the answer I kept running back to is the image of a sleeping child. Pure intentions, soft skin, gentle breathing, this is peace. Jesus was born to bring the world peace. What better way to show a baby sent to cover humankind in a blanket of peace than by gently stroking His mother’s hair until she sleeps.

Peace is Jesus’s lullaby to the world.

Who do you say He is?

John 1:12-13

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.

 

Stamp of Approval

Worship is more than physical action.

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.  Matthew 15:8-9

God never intended obedience to one command to nullify another. Each command from Him correlates harmoniously with every other. The moment you are faced with an unfamiliar “Biblical command” that prevents you from fulfilling another that you know to be true, you can guarantee the new command is false.

The root of legalism is tradition, adhering to a singular way of doing things for the sake of avoiding change. Legalism is not a recent phenomena, not even in the last century. Legalism has been alive and well since the dawn of religion, it is the loophole around religious Dogma that allows a person to claim a religion without having change themselves. The crowd Jesus was speaking to in these passages is the staple child of religious legalism, the Pharisees. These religious leaders used legalism to manipulate the common public and relive themselves from uncomfortable responsibilities at their convenience. The specific dance here involved what was referred to as the Corban. The Bible commands families to support each other. Specifically, children are to care for their parents when the need arises. Corban law allowed a person to will all of their assets to the church, releasing them from having to use their own money to help anyone (including their folks) by the religious excuse “I’ve committed everything I have to God, so giving to you would be stealing from God.” Naturally, their religious propriety would not apply when the individual was personally in need. Using “God’s money” on themselves would then be example of God’s provision. The hypocrisy is blatantly obvious.

Today’s culture is no less hypocritical, regardless of religious profession. We are an intrinsically driven culture, that is to say we are out to gain the world for ourselves at the expense of whomever gets in our way. This attitude has slowly infiltrated through our personal lives, into our social lives and business personas. We are at the point now selfishness is even promoted from church pulpits. Self-called “preachers” allot entire sermons to promoting man-invented, legalistic rules while completely ignoring the truth of the Gospel.

Stamp of Approval

 

Interpreting today’s message, I drew this in the style of a political cartoon. The stamp engraved with the word “tradition” has marked the Bible VOID with a single swipe. In the background, a stereotypical traditional preacher standing in a pulpit (a modern day golden calf), arm raised in a shout of legalistic condemnation for outsiders. I can almost hear the the “amens” echoing off the page! In a twist of irony (you all know how I love irony) a Peace Lily is placed on either side of the pulpit. Flowers that represent peace surrounding a platform of bondage.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning all forms of tradition. I take issue when tradition contradicts the gospel. Do not be afraid to question tradition. When questioning the norm results in anger and opposition, you know it’s time to move on.

God is concerned about your heart and He wants your only concern to be His.

Be…

Be...

 

Today launches a new series…..Threads. During Threads, we’re going to dissect how the gospel is woven into the fabric of our lives and how we can interlock ourselves in the mission of the gospel and use it to influence  our sphere.

We’re taking a break from out study of Matthew to delve into this series. Today’s introductory message is taken from John 5:16-29, providing an overview of what we’ll talk about and where we should direct our focus during the next six weeks.

Drawing today, I ran with a reference from a college textiles class to bring in the Threads idea. This image is a weaving loom with a tapestry in progress. You can see the word ‘life’ beginning to appear in the weaving.

 

Having not used one of these in twelve years, I hope you’ll forgive me for my engineering being a bit off!

It would have be awesome to have one of these on stage with someone weaving during each service of this series! Alas, we don’t have a weaving loom or the space to set one up (yet).

 

 

 

 

The image on the left is a shuttlecock. This tool is used to hold each spool of thread as it is woven side to side along the tapestry.

I show six shuttlecocks in today’s drawing, each assigned a characteristic we  will take a closer look at using to adopt and apply the gospel in our lives.

 

For the Holy Spirit to work most effectively in your life, you must:

Be aware.  God is already at work in the lives of people around you.

Be active. God desires to include you in His work.

Be alert. Look and listen for evidence of God at work.

Be available. Sacrifice your agenda each day to join God wherever and however He is working.

Be amazed. Remember that God has involved you in His work not because He needs you, but because He loves you.

Be assured.  God’s work in and through your life will bear fruit that will last forever.

The next six weeks will be exciting! I’m looking forward to watching the tapestry that is our lives come together!