The Triumphant Cross – a story of life, love, sacrifice and death to rebirth told through art on Good Friday

Creative worship in the form of visual art creation has been a goal I’ve focused on for the last seven years or so, since I began keeping a visual journal of drawings spontaneously sketched to capture the message being communicated within sermons. This Easter, during the Good Friday worship service, that dream of expressing devotion through the talents God invested in me and conviction the Holy Spirit presses on me came to life in a divinely orchestrated project, The Triumphant Cross.

The service was arranged into three sections, an opening worship set, delivering the message, then a closing worship set. With careful coordination with the music selection and words of the sermon, the painting evolved throughout the service while I was physically working during the worship music sets that bookend the sermon.

The image traveled through four different stages, capturing four different messages on its way to final completion.

The starting point of the artwork was a stark white panel. White represents purity and innocence, this is the beginning of existence. Standing at the front of the stage, illuminated by spotlights and the thunder of the drum set, the bright presence of the panel on the easel is unavoidable. The panel stands unmoved, silently shouting “I am here, I am part of this”.

Meditating on an image to capture the depth and meaning of Jesus’s traumatic sacrifice on Good Friday, the pain of loss and confusion of burial in a sealed grave during silent Saturday, to the flood of joy and victory on Resurrection Sunday, my spirit was led to focus on the secure hope delivered to us through it all. One of the most secure and reassuring phrases uttered by God throughout the Bible to me is the simple statement of ‘I am’. Those two simple words are a statement of historical fact, present status, and future intent. God was, is, and is to come. This pure white panel simply states, I am.

“Before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58

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As the first worship set begins, the white panel comes to life in an array of bright colors. The worship team begins the set with King of My Heart, which is an anthem of hope and security of our life and our worth in Christ. I specifically chose the brightest oil pastels I could find to create a feeling of the work exploding to life. Large, geometrical shapes of colors familiar to Easter and the beginning of spring formed an image styled similarly to a traditional stained-glass window.

The focal point of this drawing took shape of a ‘Christmas Star’. I wanted this shape to take viewer’s minds back to the beginning of Jesus’s life, His humble and beautiful birth and the excitement of realized anticipation of a new king arriving. Full of energy and color, Jesus is alive.

King of My Heart transitioned into No Longer Slaves with a short chorus of ‘God is so Good’. As we sang of rescue and deliverance from fear, I added two small, yellow crosses in the bottom corners of the panel. These crosses rested on two green hills, then a purple hill was added at the base of the star. At this point, I began shading the edges of the star with a drab green-grey. The bland hue fights against the brightness of color used to this point. As I contaminate the image with darker shadows, the star is re-formed into a cross.

The life and energy of the star that dominated the artwork draws back into a symbol of suffering and death, arms overreaching the crosses below where the guilty hung. Life and energy are now mingling with guilt and fear.

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At this point, I pick up my paintbrush. None of the original white remains, the purity has been compromised by a mess of color that pushes and pulls against itself.

Reckless Love has been a pivotal song for this Easter season at Journey Church, for our congregation and within our worship team. As my brush travels around the panel, the colorful depiction of the cross is slowly picture-framed by heavy black. Directing my strokes to make the blackness grow, the dark closes in on the cross. Soon, the main cross in the center is the only shape remaining.

As the song leads into the bridge, I fill in rest of the image with intensity until all that remains is solid black. Everything that was once white and pure is now completely opposite, black and heavy.

There’s no shadow You won’t light up

Mountain You won’t climb up

Coming after me

There’s no wall You won’t kick down

Lie You won’t tear down

Coming after me

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The life and energy that this image contained has died and is now buried.

The panel is left at this stage while our lead pastor comes to stage and delivers the sermon he prepared. My intent was for the congregation to be left wondering at this point, confused why I would have “ruined” the colorful image I had worked so hard to create by painting it entirely black. I imagine that feeling may come close to the emotion the disciples felt as Jesus was led away by the Roman soldiers. The shock and despair of the hope found in doing life with Jesus, stripped from their foundation by the betrayal of one close to them. Then the anxiety of wondering what is coming next.

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As Michael closes the sermon and invites the congregation to respond, I return to the easel with the worship team on stage. The second worship set kicks off with When You Walk Into the Room and includes worship through communion. I begin working on the next phase of the artwork with as the song begins.

When You walk into the room, everything changes

Darkness starts to tremble at the light that You bring

As we sing these words, I use a knife to cut away the dark paint that buried the bright color. Life is returning with each stroke. I chose to carve blooming flowers out of the blackness. I studied several species of flowers and their traditional meanings while settling on the designs to reference, right up until the moments before I walked back on the stage. The focal point and largest of the flowers I chose is the open bloom of the Edelweiss. The edelweiss flower represents courage and devotion, two of the most predominant characteristics exemplified by Jesus as He laid Himself down without guilt and with the power to free Himself from the entire process.

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At the moment of Jesus’s death, the veil which separated the majority of humanity from entering the presence of God was torn from top to bottom. This symbolized the destruction of the wall separating us and opened the pathway for everyone to communicated with God on a personal and individual level.

O Praise the Name was the song chosen to finish out our worship for this night and the grand finale for this painting. As a nod back to the tearing of the veil, I dropped the knife and began tearing away a shape I had created with tape and concealed with a last coat of primer.

As I continued to peel off the tape, a historic icon takes shape.

Early in the 11th century, Carthusian monks in England designed an icon we know today as ‘The Triumphant Cross’. This icon was associated with a Latin motto, Stat crux dum volvitur orbis. Translated, this motto and the symbol communicates “The cross is steady while the world is turning”

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The circle represents the globe, while the horizontal line symbolizes the equator. The cross rests in the center of the circle, acting as the axis which the world turns on.

 

All of the colors and contamination are now removed. The innocence and purity are dominant again, standing out brighter than anything else in the image. The cross was present from the very beginning, designed into the perfection of ‘I am.’ We just couldn’t see it until we were on the other side.

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Stat crux dum volvitur orbis

The cross is steady while the world is turning

 

Follow this link to watch the full service on our YouTube channel: Good Friday|Journey Church

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Know Your Place

 

So God Made a Farmer, God at Work 1, Genesis 2

Think about ‘work’ for a moment…..who gets excited? If you do, either something is very wrong or the majority of the working public envies you. Where did this whole idea of working for a living start? Many Christians would say with the fall of man. Creation’s fall from grace made life hard; before sin the earth served human kind hand and foot. They are wrong.

Before Adam and Eve decided to test a different path, God placed them in the garden. Not placed like a stop on a destination cruise, placed like an assignment; and assign them He did. Genesis 2:15 specifically states, God placed them in the garden to work it and keep it. This assignment came before experimenting with the tree of knowledge. God designed our work before day one.

Why would a loving God design an exhausting, time-consuming, monotonous institution? He didn’t design it that way, we did. God blesses us and He uses us to do it. Our work is a service to others. Some vocations are more obviously “people blessing” than others. It is an undeniable fact that every job serves someone in some form. The word ‘vocation’ is derived from the root word ‘vocatio’ which means a call or summons. To perform a task as your vocation is to perform it as your call, as if you were summoned to complete that task. The flip side of that is if you do not perform your task properly, then you are not complying with your summons. An offense which temporarily revokes your freedom in the United States. I also find it interesting that, as a noun, the word ‘summons’ is to be called for a purpose. As a verb, ‘summons’ is to serve. Our work is serving others. Your vocation is your calling, but your calling is not always your career. We are each individual pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. The absence of a single piece renders a puzzle broken. With proper restraint from idolizing our work or being idol in our work, we own our piece of the puzzle to bring the image to completion.

A few Super Bowls ago, the advertising department at Chrysler designed a commercial which focused on the dirty nails, thankless labor, and relentless work of the farmer. The marketing angle was emphasizing the stage their product filled. The catch phrase that grabbed our emotions was “So God made a farmer.” The assembled jigsaw puzzle of today’s drawing contains that phrase, with minor but important details.

First, the word farmer is crossed out. Not because a farmer’s job is unimportant, but because it is not just someone else’s job. God placed you here, in the garden, to work the land. You may not be the one turning the dirt and planting the seeds, but you are working the land of your vocation.

Second, there is a hole in the image. One piece is removed from its place, not yet responded to its summons. That puzzle piece shapes the word ‘YOU’. You are the missing piece. Acknowledge your place, however mundane or insignificant it may feel. Fill your place and fill it well. God didn’t just make a farmer, God made you.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” – Frederick Buechner

Now I’m going to go fill one of my roles; off to play ball with my boys.

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

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Give as you have been given.

and

As you have been given, give.

and

Give as you have been given.

and

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.

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.

I Am Jonah

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Ammittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

Jonah 1:1-3

I Am Jonah, Jonah week 1, Jonah 11-3

Starting our first series of 2014, I am excited to see the art it brings but also cautious not to let myself be too influenced by the Jonah series from 2011. The drawings from 2011 are my favorite prophetic series that come out of this adventure.

Being the first installment of Jonah, we begin with the start of Jonah’s story, the call to engage Nineveh. In conveying the mission Jonah is assigned, my goal is to communicate the weight of the task. Lauren led us into feeling the weight of God’s glory by arranging How He Loves as the song leading into Jeremy’s sermon. An excerpt of those lyrics proclaim God ‘Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree’. This paved the way for ‘The Call’ in 2014. Using oil pastels, I created a heavy layer of dark color that very gradually lightens at the top of the page. This method draws, not only your eyes, but your emotions down. At the bottom right of the page stands a palm tree. The tree bends at the weight of the atmosphere, bending it nearly in half. For this series, the tree is Jonah. Applying this series to your reality, the tree is you. I want you to feel the weight of this image just like Jonah felt the weight of his responsibility and you carry the weight of your own.

Ancient Nineveh was world renown as the most evil city in all civilization. The society was so intolerant, any who opposed them on any level were brutally tortured then buried alive, their head exposed so they could watch scavengers approach to feed on their flesh. Jonah is being told to enter this city and publicly condemn their lifestyles and worldview, encouraging them to return to living by God’s design. Suddenly, any adversity in my daily life doesn’t seem so adverse! Jonah, a prophet well known in and out of Jewish culture, is understandably afraid for his life at hearing his mission. Who can blame him for running the other direction?

Spiritual people often find it easy to point out those who are far away from God, lifestyles and world views are dead giveaways to a person’s spiritual state, right? You are never further from God than when you are close to Him and saying ‘no’. Jonah, a prophet of God, separated himself from God when he stepped on the deck of the boat heading east. Whatever task is placed in your path, there will always be a ship to Tarshish you can board to avoid your responsibility. The choice of whether to run or obey is yours. Making that choice is a difficult task. On the one hand, God gives us specific tasks through opening up doors of opportunity. On the other hand, our enemy leads us astray by showing us the paths of least resistance. Where we must be careful is determining which path we should take.

We often make major decisions in life based on which avenue leads us to experience the most ‘peace’, were we to make that option. Peace is a vague emotion that must also be handled with care. Often times, what we label as God inspired peace is actually Satan’s administered numbing to our situation.

The choices we make rarely affect only us. There is a ripple effect to both sin and obedience that will forever alter the lives of everyone we touch. Considering this is how we know which path we need to follow. God’s calling on your life is where your greatest passion and the world’s greatest need collide. Follow your passions where they most greatly benefit the lives of others, from friends to strangers.

You are Jonah.

Choose your path wisely.