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

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.

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?

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

Like a Lion

A certain air of excitement and anticipation filled the atmosphere this morning. The Game Time series we’re working our way through is encouraging and empowering, but something today felt different, it felt charged, like the worship service was primed and ready to ignite. Maybe it was quality time spent in prayer for and by our worship leaders, perhaps it was the next step I’ve been encouraged to take my art in and beginning that effort today, perhaps it was just me. Whatever it was, I loved it, I needed it and I want more of it.

Opposition to the work

Nehemiah 4:1-14

My God’s not dead, He’s surely alive.

and He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion!

Like A Lion, Nehemiah 4, Game Time 3

Discouragement is an adversary faced by everyone who’s ever risked anything. The teenager who risks being themselves in front of their peers faces pressure to conform to social molds. The high school sweethearts who fulfill their mutual commitment to purity to get married at 19  are ridiculed even by those within their family  for being too young and too immature to commit their lives to each other. The college junior who abandons his business major to pursue a degree in missions and worship arts is rejected by his family for “throwing away his future.” The teacher who leaves a decade-long career in secondary education with retirement benefits at a local school and embarks on a journey to  earn a new degree in a different field at a school 85 miles away is told she’d be better off to “hang on a few more years.” The artist working to break down centuries-old barriers between their art, their faith and their community only to have doors closed and ideas delayed. We don’t face opposition because we’re doing something wrong, we face opposition because we’re doing something right.

I’ve heard the same thing said different ways, but the most fundamental way of putting it I have heard is Satan doesn’t waste time or energy on souls who are already his. I believe The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, first published by an Anglican periodical named The Guardian in 1941, most effectively surmises our place in spiritual warfare and the weapon that is discouragement. Many of today’s quotes come from those letters.

Discouragement, at its core, is just a big word for worry. When one talks about being discouraged (or at least when I have felt it myself) I am less concerned with people sharing their opposition to my plans and more concerned with their reactions if I follow through on them anyway. The genius behind the weapon of discouragement (spiritually speaking) is that the opposition never says “don’t do _____”. That would be a futile tactic to use on a soul with any hint of spiritual maturity because it would be immediately written off. Who’s going to stop loving their community because someone approached them and said “stop being compassionate”? Nobody. Approach someone with a scathing indictment of how the consequences of their actions will negatively come back upon them and you’ve got leverage. Our Enemy doesn’t talk in absolutes because he doesn’t want us to think in absolutes. He uses ‘what if’s’ and ‘are you sure’s’ to keep us floundering in uncertainty until we either run out of time or emotional stamina.

“There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy [God]. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

This logic proves “the devil made me do it” to be a completely unfounded excuse for poor decisions. The devil doesn’t pose questions to you whose answers dictate your actions. It is his plan to make you choose not to complete the mission God entrusts to you. His discouragement comes in indirect questions like “Do you want people to like you? What if no one gets it? Do you think people really want you to do this?” Do you see? Satan doesn’t question the integrity of our mission, doing that would affirm our intentions and only make us stronger. Instead, he brings to light the personal consequences of following through with our plans. Once our minds are filled with enough doubt and anxiety, we most often take the path of least resistance and abort our world-changing ideas before they are released.

Think about your community for a minute. How many people would have a roof over their head, children have families, stomachs be full, addictions be broken, and lives fulfilled if people like you simply turned their ideas into action? How often have you let an opportunity float passed while you protected your reputation?

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at its testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

Nehemiah’s plans faced opposition from day one. Requesting approval to start his mission to rebuild Jerusalem was a brazen move in itself! Now he’s faced with the haters on the ground. Hecklers along the wall he’s so ardently convinced is his lone responsibility to  see reconstructed. The very people he’s rebuilding this city for share cynical rumors that his motives are less than pure. Despite it all, Nehemiah presses forward. He is forced to go as far as arming his fellow workers with construction tools in one hand and combat weapons in the other, yet construction is not delayed. 

Nehemiah embraced two things with unwavering loyalty, God and his cause. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down” became his battle cry (Nehemiah 6:3) Complete the mission God entrusts to you in the shadow of Nehemiah who rebuilt a city in 52 days.

Like A Lion, Nehemiah 4, Game Time 3

Like I said earlier, the atmosphere walking into the service today was an aura inspiring creativity that I had not experienced in some time. My expectations for today’s drawing launched like a pyrotechnic star, slowly slithering its way into the sky. What exposed itself on the page was only limited by the ability of the one maneuvering the pencils.

Lauren did an excellent job arranging the worship set this morning. While many were led in worship by talented musicians today, the worship team effectively lead the body of North Ridge into worship with a strategic progression of music and lyrics.

Like a Lion – adoration

Here for You – confession

How Great is Our God – thankfulness

From the Inside Out – supplication

The subject and progression of today’s drawing is (like many of my pieces) full of intentional layers and dimensions of meaning. I began first by contemplating on the imagery of “oppression”, which is the title of today’s message. My mind flitted between a dark page of charcoal black and an emotional crowd of naysayers. Art (particularly Christian art) cannot remain one-sided, so I had to balance the oppressive emotion with a feeling of freedom and release. The foundational subject of this image is a circular array of dark figures, seemingly trying to suppress the central focus point.

As your eye travels around this circle of figures, you notice the shape extending to the bottom of the page is out of place; it has leaves growing from it! Your mind almost immediately recognizes this combination of shapes; it is the stem of a flower.

Pom pom flower

The negative space between the hands and bodies of the figures now also begins to take shape. While the dark shapes produce a heavy, oppressive emotional atmosphere, a flower comes into bloom in the center of the page against the seemingly insurmountable odds.

Like A Lion detail

Now that you’re focused on the image exposing itself from the negative space on the page, the final and most crucial detail comes back into view; the part of the drawing these surrounding figures are working so hard to suppress. In the center of the flower and at the hands of the oppressors is the face of a lion rearing back to loose an earth-shattering roar.

You are the flower. God places inside you specific passions. Working inside these passions is where you find your greatest joy. As Frederick Beuchner said it, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Find the world’s hunger, then use your passion to satisfy its pangs. As you fulfill your passion, expect opposition to arise. Stand your ground, grow where you’re planted. Leverage your talent and passion to build a city within your city. Loose the lion inside you to roar with such authority that you are exposed to be that city on the hill. Have the courage to say; Here’s the problem. Here’s the solution. Here’s why we need to do something about it. Here’s why we need to do something about it NOW. Make you passion to defeat your enemy bigger than your apathy.

Now for that next step I took my art in today. You may have noticed at the bottom of my posts, the share tabs are tagged with a statement that says “Art comes alive when it’s shared.” That starts with my sketchbook today. Every drawing will be released as soon as it is completed, immediately available somewhere in the coffee lounge at North Ridge. Tagged with a note reading “FREE ART” paper-clipped to the drawing, it is free for the taking by whoever it chooses. My hope is that the cleaning crew finds fewer of these than you!

When your time on this earth draws to a close, my prayer is this phrase, uttered by Wormwood’s “patient”,  is far from your lips and mine; “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”

You are doing a great work and you cannot come down.