Out From the Shadows

From the Shadows.jpg

John 8:12

What is the point of confession? Isn’t it just a twisted form of religious masochism, laying out all your mistakes to be flogged by everyone more “righteous” than you? That’s what the church really thrives on, isn’t it? Pointing out how Jesus has made them much better humans than the rest of us? Anyone who admits failure is made an example of, “SEE! You don’t want be like that guy, look how humiliating his sin is! Don’t throw your life away like that.”

I had a conversation with a friend recently about this very thing.

Have you ever been in the dark? I mean really dark. A space where literally zero light is present. I have. Touring Linville caverns in the mountains of North Carolina, our guide led us to an area deep in the mountain where we reached the water bed which slowly carved out the space we stood. After a word of warning, the guide turned off all electric lights. This was my first experience with true blackness. Even when you hold your eyelid shut while lying in bed at night, your mind do not experience this depth of darkness. In color theory, our minds perceive color when the receptors in our eyes receive light waves. White is the translation of receiving all spectrum wavelengths (all possible colors) at once. Every color we name ‘black’ is really just a shade of another color. Stare closely and your mind will begin to decode the light waves and pull out the hint of blue, yellow or red that is present in the deep hue you are looking upon. True black is only possible where no light waves can enter. In this cave was true black.

Something else was present in this cavern. A life form that called this space home, somehow thriving in the blackness. Trout.

These trout lived in blackness for all of their existence (until humans interfered and added electric lights for tourists). Surviving in utter darkness, the biology of the trout began to change. Just as our senses will strengthen and compensate when one of the five are lost, senses which go unused dissipate from lack of use. The trout which lived in this cave were blind.

What does any of that have to do with confession? Being consumed by darkness.

Confession is less about someone hearing us as it is about us hearing ourselves. God doesn’t need us to tell Him when and how we mess up, He watches it happen. It’s no surprise to Him. When Adam and Eve hid in the garden, God came asking “where are you?” Do you really think God was stumped in a game of hide-and-seek and couldn’t see the couple crouching under a mass of palm leaves? Not hardly. This question was fired directly into Adam’s heart. Where did you go? What happened to the man I made you? How did you lose your identity? Genesis 3:8-10

Darkness is heavy. There is a weight to it we feel in our emotions and through our spirit. The longer we spend under that weight, the more it effects our physical body as well. Heads hang, shoulders slump and backs become arched. Setting does this weight and escaping the dark frees us to stand with our head raised again.

Jesus is the light of the world. Confession is an invitation to bring that light into your life and illuminate every part of you; the good, the bad, and the repulsive. God isn’t interested in a clean and polished fabrication of the best parts of ourselves. He wants every piece of us.

Law reveals guilt, love reveals grace. The smallest source of light can chase away darkness. No amount of darkness can be added to conceal light.

 

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New Heart, New Life – Week 3 of Advent

New Heart, New Life

Take hold of your courage; preferring to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Cor. 5

In this week of Advent, we focus on our responsibility in changing our own lives. Our heart is the singular director of our motives, our decisions, our lives. In order to change your life, you must first address your heart. These words slide easily off the tongue or over a keyboard, but enforcing them within yourself is exponentially more difficult.

We are colorful creations, broken under the weight of our own obstinacy and insecurity. We enter this world as pristine glass sculptures. Physically imperfect, but entirely transparent and pure creatures. Every interaction, from encounters with other frail creations to inanimate obstacles either polish our sheen or leave cracks in our carapace. As life progresses, the spider-like feelers continue to fracture from the epicenter of every crack. Before long, our cracks become breaks and we lose shards of our innocent encasement. Society teaches us to concentrate the core of our energy on piecing these shards back together in a pristine cloak, a never-ending endeavor that leaves us frustrated and filled with regret. God has a different plan.

Today’s piece is designed to be read from background to foreground the recess into a mid-ground layer. The background is dark and chaotic, a seeming explosion of blacks and blues. The torso stretches itself from bottom to top, gaining every bit of height its muscles can maintain. The base of this torso is orange, the opposite color of the blue background. The soul of this torso rejects the dark influences around them.

It is through the jaggedness of our fragile and shattered selves that the light of Gospel endeavors to shine. Each crack, every pointed shard, refracts the light further and breaks the love we show the world into a full spectrum of the Gospel like a prism. Open your heart to loving the world and all the shattered sculptures moving around us. Let them see your courage to live boldly open in spite of your imperfections.

With a strenuous, sustained pull in both directions, the torso opens itself to bear its soul to the world in all its imperfections. This act of complete exposure leaves this individual vulnerable to conjecture from the rest of us while simultaneously raising itself above all others. The heart-shaped hole being ripped through this chest exposes a beautiful mosaic of color as a single light illuminates every plane of shattered glass once moulded in this unified body.  The irony being, exposing this shrapnel of wrong turns reunites every scrap like a jigsaw puzzle, reassembling itself into a being more beautiful than the original. An act that refuses to go unnoticed and inspires others to open themselves in a beautiful butterfly effect of self discovery.

If you will change your heart, demoting yourself to a servant of all, you will change your life to become the hero for many.

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.

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.

 

A Smoldering Wick

A Smoldering Wick

 

Matthew 12

A bruised reed, he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench until he brings justice to victory.

As long as you have life, you have value. Jesus will pursue you, longing for you to pursue him, until you breathe your last.

Extinguished

1-27-13, City on a Hill 2, ExtingsuishedToday we reach the salt and light verses, familiar in most religious circles but applied in all too few.

Matthew 5:13-15

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men. (just like the sewage)

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.

These words were spoken by Jesus to people who followed him, some by action others only by words. Obviously, Jesus is using the analogy of ‘salt’ and ‘light’ and their environmental impact to describe a real Christ follower and their cultural impact. Due to the explicit description of living a “Christian” life, these same words are recited at many baptisms (mine included), but in these modern times, are they anything more than just words?

Salt enhances flavor and preserves meats. It can also be used as a landscaping tool, destroying plants’ (or weeds’) ability to grow in dirt where it is mixed. Even the slightest pinch of the mineral cannot pass our taste buds unnoticed. The presence of salt is felt, seen, tasted, and smelt; not because it forces you to see but because it simply cannot be disguised. If you claim to follow Jesus, does your spiritual presence command such attention?

Light infiltrates every possible crevasse without putting forth any additional effort. Carry a burning candle into a dark room, no surface in the room can escape its touch. Any light source, regardless of intensity, is supremely dominant in darkness. Interesting thing is, the same principle does not work in reverse. Bring light into a dark room and the darkness flees, dark cannot overtake any space without first removing the source of the light.

Modern Christianity has experienced a spiritual devolution which is cutting off any cultural impact or even social relevance “being a Christian” once had at the knees. The statistics for divorce, debt slavery, and physical dependencies are hardly “set apart” by spiritual affiliations. Modern Christians are just as likely to succumb to any of these vices as the modern heathen. Yet these are all situations the Christian faith explicitly addresses and leads its followers to avoid. Has time stripped Christ of His power, resulting in His followers having no better leadership to live a better life? Absolutely not. Jesus has not changed, His followers have.

Around 500 years ago (by what I’ve been able to find), the “rules for becoming a Christian” changed from Jesus’ command to “Follow Me.” (which we discussed in the previous series) to a scripted prayer one must say, insipidusly dubbed “the sinner’s prayer”. The concept of having to pray as a precursor to embracing salvation cannot be located in any biblical text and, borrowing the words of C. S. Lewis, is “a great cataract of nonsense”. Christianity is a faith that results in a relationship and leads to action. As Paul described it, faith without action is dead. Mark Gungor, a lead pastor in Green Bay, WI and marriage guru, describes this largely American phenomenon better than I ever could.  He compares the “sinner’s prayer” to spiritual pixie dust. Just say these few magic words and the salvation fairy will sprinkle forgiveness dust on your head, then you’re in the club. A very comical, but unfortunately accurate depiction of what many claim as their “Christian faith”. This method of promoting “easy salvation”, which one can only assume was a numbers game, has survived long enough now that its shallow nature has trickled up to our church leaders. What if new Christ followers today aren’t searching any deeper than a few magic words because the very people set in place to lead them deeper have never gone deeper themselves? It’s up to the salt and light to lead.

Toady’s drawing is a literal depiction of the lamp, the bowl, and the salt Jesus speaks of. A shadowy winged creature retreats away from the smoldering lamp wick, having extinguished its flame in a trail of pixie dust.