Ready…..set….LOVE

I had not planned on sharing my drawing from today, but God has a way of arranging things.

We began a new sermon series at Journey today, Love Above All (Valentine’s themed). I was behind the drum kit this morning, which usually means more time to draw, from having two rounds of the sermon during which to draw. This morning was a bit different. We began taking advantage of the first service to have a small group Bible study discussion as the worship team, second service included a housekeeping conversation inspired by a budget meeting from the previous week. Following the pastor’s sermon outline for our discussion, this image of a blooming rose stayed in the front of my mind.

The message was an overview of love, what is love, how does God view love and how do we live a life of love as God designed? Jesus was once asked, what is the greatest of all the commandments? His answer, as all of his replies, was perfectly executed:

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘ hear , O israel ! the Lord our God is one Lord ; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart , and with all your soul , and with all your mind, and with all your strength .’ The second is this, ‘ you shall love your neighbor as yourself .’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:29‭-‬31 NASB
https://bible.com/bible/100/mrk.12.29-31.NASB

We often read this as a bullet point list, but this could not be more wrong. Jesus is affirming the old law, the Shema, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and your mind.” Then He takes it a step further. Those raised in traditional Jewish homes in this time period were familiar with the Shema being written on a piece of paper and placed in a small box, then tied to their foreheads as an outward expression of their devotion to the Lord. Jesus is plainly stating this is not how to show love to God. “The second is this, love your neighbor as yourself…” Directly tied to the greatest commandment are brief but direct instructions on what loving God looks like. Our love for God is expressed most clearly in our love for each other.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:35 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/jhn.13.35.ESV

The rose is an encouragement to bloom. Grow where you’re planted and let your true colors shine. The thorns on the stem are references that loving openly is not always comfortable or easy.

I started out confessing that I did not intend to share this drawing. A not so coincidential encounter this afternoon changed my mind.

My oldest son served with me at Journey this morning. It was youth Sunday, he signed up to help out with the tech team. After service, he suggested we go play some Pokemon Go downtown. It was a warm day in central North Carolina, so off we went. The public library is one of the Pokemon hot spots. We parked and began walking past the fountain and up to a sculpture on the library grounds. As we walked, a young woman was walking toward us from the other side of the building. She seemed to hug the building, as if she were trying to hide her presence and avoid attracting our attention. We were about twenty feet from her when her eyes met mine. She immediately spoke in the loudest voice she could muster without bursting into tears “I’m waiting for my ride, is it ok if I wait here?” I am not a representative of the city, but I cannot imagine any public employee having an issue with her request, so I replied that it was quite alright. Noah and I kept walking. The young woman spoke again, “I just left the hospital. I lost my baby.”

I froze in my tracks. Eight years ago, my sister lost a child hours after he was born. In the last year, a family very close to me buried the newest member of their family after a few short months of life. I looked at my son, looked back at this young woman who was now seated against the library and sobbing, then motioned to Noah, “let’s go talk to her.” Noah nodded in agreement.

As we approached this young woman, I observed physical attributes indicative of drug abuse. I asked if it was ok for us to come closer, she nodded through her tears. I began sharing with her my sympathy and my experience with death too early, but confessed that no one can truly know what her heart is experiencing but her. She proceeded to confess how she does not believe she is worthy of the love of God because she has lived a life wrought with pain no human being should experience. Many of her life experiences have been direct attacks on her self worth. A childhood of unimaginable abuse, being thrust into a life of adulthood at 17, then losing custody of her son (now 8) after some very poor life choices, losing her career to the consequences of earlier life decisions, now losing the young life she was viewing as a second chance to contribute something positive into life only a couple of weeks after listening to their young heart beating. Noah and I say with her and listened, we shared our experience of God’s love and ways He has moved to bring light I to our darkness, to me through my seizures, to Noah through his conversation experience and recent Baptism.

Then it struck me. This is why I drew a rose. This young woman and her baby are the reason. I asked her to wait a moment, I had something for her. I jogged back to my van, opened my sketch book to this drawing, snapped a quick photo and carefully removed the page along the perforated seam. The tears began welling up in this young woman’s eyes again as I walked closer with the drawing on hand. I handed her the image, and explained what I just confessed to you. I didn’t know why I was drawing this image as the pencil was moving, but now I understand. This rose was for her, this rose was for her child. She has lived a life navigating through thorns, but God still wants to watch her bloom.

Noah and I moved on in our Pokemon quest. Walking back to our vehicle, we could see this young woman had moved to the large fountain and was waiting on the fountain wall for her ride. I stopped and asked if we could get anything for her. She thought a moment and said she would really like a bottle of water and maybe a bag of chips. She adamantly insisted that she does not like receiving charity and wanted to pay for the water, then pulled three dollars out of her back pocket and handed it to me (what I perceived as being g all she had). Noah and I drove to Walgreens, about half a mile away, we purchased her a coconut water drink with antioxidants, a bag of cheese chips Noah likes and a bag of trail mix with probiotic heavy ingredients. I threw her three dollars back in the bag with the snacks. We drove back to the library, where the young lady still waited at the fountain, and Noah handed her the bag through the van window. As we pulled into the street, I saw her look into the bag, shake her head and smile. I saw her waving in my mirror as I slowly drove away, I saw her waving to us. I could hear her voice, but couldn’t understand her words. That didn’t matter, because I could read her lips….”Thank you! Good bless you!”

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And second unto this, love your neighbor as yourself. By this, people will know you are My disciples.

I ask each one who reads these words, please remember Delana (De-lay-na) in your prayers.

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Pouring Yourself

Pour Yourself.jpg

Everyone is pouring their life into something. The question, is it worth it?

The basis of the message is a situation in David’s life while he is king of Israel and in the middle of a violent conflict with the Philistines. In this moment, David is tired and dehydrated. He and some of his closest allies are sheltered in a cave, the Philistine army occupies a valley separating them from Bethlehem and dividing them from their resources. Out of extreme commitment to David and belief in his God-ordained cause, three men fought their way through the Philistine camp, reached the well in Bethlehem, then fought their way back through the Philistines (without spilling the water!) just do David could have a drink and begin to restore his strength. Recognizing their courage and devotion, David honored these men in front of God. 2 Samuel 23:13-17

Everyone is devoted to something, whether they will admit it or not. The common drive of modern culture is to be completely committed to serving ourselves. After all, if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. Right? Possibly. But that philosophy makes an assumption that everyone else is only looking out for themselves as well.

Any botanist or someone who has ever owned a plant will tell you, what you water will grow; what you don’t water, won’t. The same is true in your life. What you nurture, where you invest yourself, that is what will grow and who you will become. What you neglect will die.

Even when it breaks your neck, this life, your life, and the lives of the ones you love hinges on how much you are willing to invest.

Jesus wants to invest in this life, in your life, with you.

Philippians 2:17-18

The Gardener

The Gardener.jpg

The heart of our problem is a problem of our heart.

Galatians 5:16-25

If we live by the spirit, we must keep in step with the spirit. What does that even mean? Is our purpose to Mamba through life with Jesus like a super-spiritual Dancing with the Stars??

No….

Keeping in step is a figure of speech meant to encourage us to align our hearts and desires with those of our Creator. Throughout our lives, seeds become planted in the soil of our spirit. We have the option to nurture these seeds (or not) and it is our responsibility to discern which plants should grow and which need to die.

How do we know what seeds deserve life and which do not? We must look beyond today and consider the fruit they will bear. Every plant is designed to produce a specific crop. Some produce in order to feed other organisms, some plants are complimentary and their purpose is to grow a biological product that is required to reproduce in cooperation with another plant. Tomato plants yield tomatoes, apple trees grow apples, but you’ll never pluck a sweet Muscadine grape off of a poison ivy vine…..

What fruit are we designed to produce? Our fruit is based in love and unity. These fruits build each other up and reject any notion of placing ourselves on a pedestal above another life.  Galatians 5:22-23

YOU will be known by YOUR fruit.

Uphill

Everything worthwhile is uphill. Sadly, many people have uphill hopes and downhill habits. – John C Maxwell

Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I don’t know about you, but 2017 was a very long and often difficult year for me. 2017 coming to an end was life’s Christmas present to me. I welcomed 2018, but with with cautious reservations like drinking a steaming fresh cup of hot cocoa.

I am confident I was not alone in this feeling. Michael and the team at Journey are sensitive to this spirit of apprehension as well, choosing to kick off 2018 with a series titled ‘Uphill’, inspired by a quote from leadership coach, John Maxwell.

The first and most significant step in developing uphill habits is focusing on what you do. Where your feet take you (or where you allow them to go) determines who you are. One thing that life and humanity guarantees is that we will create habits in our life. Some good, some not so much. It is a mistake to consider habits lightly. Your habits are your responsibility. You define your habits, but then these same habits will define you.

You stand at the 2018 block of Another Way. You get to choose your road from here.

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The Parable of the Hole
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t
my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place, but it’s still not my fault. It still takes a long time getting out.

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there, but I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it. I walk down a
different street.
– Portia Nelson

 

Change what I do. Check. That’s really easy to say, but how do I actually do it when my habits are so deeply part of me? You must take control of your mind, be the master of your thoughts.

IMG_20180114_132028_584

Romans 12:2, 3:5-6
Ecclesiastes 10:2
Philippians 4:8-9

We are what we repeatedly do.
How we think determines how we feel.
You can’t change your behavior without changing the way you think.

Your thoughts determine your destiny

IMG_20180114_132309_296

My 11 year old son drew with me this week! His explanation of his drawing is the person is thinking of things he wants his life to be, while what is happening around him are habits he needs to change in order to make his thoughts a reality.

 

Well, ok. I am focusing on what I do and controlling my mind so it stays focused on uphill habits and not sliding comfortably back into old routines. Now what?

Keep your life aligned with your purpose.

Guardrails along the interstate are put in place to keep drivers safe. They don’t actively hold vehicles on the road, but they do prevent an accident from becoming something catastrophic. Using our actions and out thoughts, and leaning on God’s direction, we can put up guardrails that keep our lives aligned with the path we travel. That doesn’t mean accidents won’t happen, but it will ensure bumps in the road won’t change our direction.

Work of Art
εργασία
Ephesians 2:10

The Israelites marked each milestone on their journey to the Promised Land with a pile of stones, which inspired them to keep moving; at work of art to mark every accomplishment.

Out lives are God’s work of art, His workmanship. The word in today’s drawing is the original Greek, translated ‘workmanship’; or more literally, work of art.

God builds our lives as His work of art, we climb uphill, becoming our lives by living God’s work of art.

IMG_20180121_123853_238

The greatest asset to the trajectory of our lives are our relationships. The crowd we run with, the people we let into our circle. Psychology has studied social phenomenons of friendships and discovered many details about an individual can be determined simply by looking at who they hang out with. Political views, annual income, consumer habits, even the number of children you have and how healthy your most intimate relationship will be can be predicted with astounding accuracy by looking at your five closest friends in a lineup.

Relationships being our greatest asset, also makes us vulnerable to them becoming the most significant threat to our ability to grow. Choosing our relationships wisely, the ones to start, to keep and to change or end entirely, is critically important to defining our lives and holding to our path.

Uphill 4 – Choose My Relationships Carefully
Romans 12:2
1 Peter 4:7-8, Romans 12:17-18, 1 Corinthians 15:33, Proverbs 13:20, Proverbs 29:17

Nurture – Anything left on autopilot is destined to crash.
Restore – Forgiveness is not dependent on the other person’s response
Sever harmful relationships.
Initiate heathy relationships.

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We feed each other, but we also depend on each other. We are responsible for feeding each other well, and just as responsible to ensure we are being fed well.

Noah interpreted this message a little more literally than I

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The Sculpture and the Sculptor – Bearing with one another

Bearing With One Another

Sometimes, the person you want God to remove from your life is the person you need most.

Everyone encounters difficult people on this journey called life. Are you sitting down?  Sometimes you may be the difficult person for someone else. Paths do not cross without leaving a trail, some kind of imprint, on each other. What if we viewed these impressions left by other people as marks that shape us? Even the painful ones.

A sculptor’s mediums cannot shape themselves, they are simply material. Unformed shapes, unrealized potentials, piles of stock longing for attention. Pressure and pinches shape clay, blades and abrasives form wood, extreme heat molds metal, hammers and chisels chip away at stone. Pressure, pinches, abrasives, heat, chips…..considered alone, none of these sound very pleasant!

What would these mediums become without the process that changes them into the works of art meant for them? Nothing. Forgotten piles of material collecting dust in a closet. The pain of being worked and formed gives the medium meaning, the process creates beauty.

The people in our lives do the same for us, and us for them.

The next time you’re faced with that person that pushes all of your buttons, that grates nerves only they can reach, or simply turns your stomach to look at, consider what they are forming in you. Embrace that change, grow with them.

Walls Fall Down – summer series

Have you ever faced a season in life that makes you feel like a mouse running aimlessly through a maze, just trying to find your cheese? Better question, who hasn’t? The Walls Fall Down series attacked those mental, emotional and spiritual blockades head on. It changed my outlook on life in the process.

The first thing we must address when we feel walled in, perspective.

Perspective - Your Wall is Your Path, Walls Fall Down 1, Joshua 6 - Copy

Obstacles in life often feel like walls we have to climb over, navigate around, or plow through. These physically exhausting methods do nothing but drain our strength and steal our limited time. What if getting beyond a wall was much easier?

Changing your perspective from focusing on the size of your wall to the size of your God.

Then your walls becomes your path.

Perspective - Your Wall is Your Path, ROTATED

Changing your perspective requires focus. Where your heart focuses, your life follows. Take a close look at the drawing below. Try to look at the entire page, dark and light, simultaneously. Read? Go….

Where's Your Focus, Walls Fall Down 2, Joshua 6 (1)

Tough to do, isn’t it? Our eyes are designed to work together. You can’t focus on the dark and the light at the same time. Your eyes force you to pick only one.

Which will you choose?

Victory Follows Holiness, Work Before Reward

Once we accept obstacles in our life as necessary parts of our story, we realize those struggles are what develops our strength.

Consider the butterfly. The fight to break free of its cocoon is what gives the butterfly the strength to fly. Without the struggle to develop its wings, this creature cannot survive the outside.

Embrace the necessity of your struggle to develop your strength to survive.

Unity, Walls Fall Down 4, Joshua 6, Ecclesiastes 4

Equally important to our perspective of the wall is seeing that we are not alone in this fight. No one is immune to struggle. There is no vaccination, no easy way around. We are all in this together. Supporting each other is the only way through.

If one brick falls, the tunnel collapses. Hold one another secure through to the other side.

Lay it Down

Moving forward requires letting go of what’s behind. Like a magnet picking up iron flakes in a Wooly Willy toy, life throw flak at us that builds up and weighs us down. Some things we hold on to, others hold on to us. Through unity and vulnerability, we can lay down this extra weight. Let go of their chains and stand tall, taking every step with your head confidently held high.

Keep moving

With our fears behind us, continue moving forward even when you can’t see what’s ahead. Michael shared the story of Florence Chadwick. Florence fought to achieve her goals and show the world what can be accomplished with determination and hard work, a 34 year old woman in 1952. Swimming 21 miles across the Catalina Channel, fog set in and she lost sight of the shore. Unable to see the finish line, she gave up and was carried to land by boat…….merely 1 mile from accomplishing her goal.

Florence began to doubt her ability. She was not able to continue under her own strength. We do the same thing to ourselves.

Two months later, under the same foggy conditions, Florence completed the 21 mile swim, breaking a 27 year old records by 2 hours. The first woman to hold this accomplishment.

Don’t give up, especially when it gets hard and you can’t see an end to the fight. Your breakthrough may be on the other side of your next step.