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.

The Eight Portraits of Joseph

Joseph, adored by his father, despised by his brothers, owned by his enemies, employed by a foreign king, then reunited with his family – it’s not about you.

Week 4 of It’s Not About You took us back into Genesis to study the life story of a man that mimics Jesus himself, Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph. The message today actually inspired two images, both requiring color in order to communicate properly. Instead of posting the concept drawings and notes I made during worship, I created a digital drawing of each image to translate what went on in my head.

8 Portraits of Joseph - watermarked

The Eight Portraits of Joseph

The core of Joseph’s life progresses through eight key stages, eight separate chapters of a life, eight portraits of a man.  As Ray was teaching us about each stage of Joseph’s life, I spent time contemplating on the emotional and physical environment where Joseph found himself, settling on a color to adequately represent that stage.

Portrait 1: The Favorite Son 

Portrait one is yellow; bright, warm and comforting. As Joseph’s story begins, he is the favored son by his father, Jacob (that’s Jacob that coerced his father, Issac, into giving him the birth rights due to his older brother, Esau. Yeah, that Jacob). Joseph’s in a pretty good place. As a sign of his esteem, Jacob has an elaborate coat made for Jacob, the garment we know as the “coat of many colors” (subtly alluded to in the overall image). All things considered, Joseph has it made.

Portrait 2: The Despised Brother

Portrait two is a drab, dark green; symbolizing discontent and envy. Joseph is not an only child. Naturally, his siblings do not appreciate the favoritism he’s receiving from their father, Jacob. The flashy coat was the last straw in a long line of offenses. With Judah instigating the deal, Joseph’s brothers devise a plan to remove him from the equation and earn their father’s favor by default. Joseph will be sold into slavery, his coat strategically torn and dipped in an animal’s blood, and the trail covered by explaining how Joseph was torn to shreds by wild animals to their father. The plan seemed impeccable.

Portrait 3: Enslaved

Portrait three is a drab, dark green; drab to make you taste the awkwardness experienced by Joseph’s brothers, green to symbolize the envy that awkwardness spawned. Judah and his brother’s observed a caravan of Ishmaelites passing through on their way to Egypt and chose to capitalize on an opportunity to get rid of Joseph without carrying the guilt that would follow murder. For twenty shekels of silver (about $228 USD in today’s conversion rate), life as Joseph knew it was over. He became legal property to a band of foreign traders. Jacob was destroyed at learning of the “death” of his beloved Joseph, to the wrath of wild animals, as his other sons re-told the scene.

Portrait 4: The Pure Servant

Through every stage of Joseph’s life, his constant was purity. Purity in body and in spirit in complete devotion to his God. Pure white, the universal symbol of purity, the fourth portrait of Joseph.

Upon reaching Egypt, Joseph’s ownership changed hands; the Ishmaelites sold him to the captain of the Pharaoh’s guards, Potiphar. Joseph, a hunk in modern vernacular, drew the eye of Potiphar’s wife. She immersed herself in the pursuit of Joseph’s body, taking control of a moment when her husband was absent to seduce the object of her lust. The scenario did not play out with Joseph becoming Mrs. Potipher’s Mr. Grey, like she had hoped. Joseph ran, as his master’s wife literally tore the clothes off his body! Enraged by the rejection she’d experienced, Potipher’s wife created a scene using Joseph’s clothes, accusing Joseph of attempting to rape her and condemning him to prison.

Portrait 5: The Slandered Prisoner

As a result of his devotion to purity, Joseph was imprisoned in, what I imagine as a dank, dirty environment. Dusty, blue-grey was the only color I imagined to represent the coldness Joseph must have felt in this chapter of his story.

Joseph’s life and legal status changes once again, he is now property of the Egyptian government, as an inmate. While serving his time, some of the pharaoh’s servants are imprisoned with him. Joseph brings out one of his innate big guns, and interprets the dreams of the two servants; a cup bearer and a baker. The dreams become reality, as Joseph predicted, and the cup bearer was restored to his position, beginning to create a path for Joseph into the royal court.

Portrait 6: The Celebrated Leader

Purple, the rarest, most expensive dye in Joseph’s culture; obtainable only by royalty. Now a member of the royal court, Joseph’s sixth portrait is purple, but not free of some subtle dark streaks to remind him of his past.

Despite being forgotten by the restored chief cup bearer, Joseph receives an opportunity to interpret a dream for the Pharaoh himself. His successful interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream earned him a get out of jail free card, straight into the Pharaoh’s employment, as governor over Egypt, no less. Distributing food in Egypt, during the seven-year famine predicted through Pharaoh’s dream by Joseph, becomes a responsibility of the governor and leads into the next portrait.

Portrait 7: The Brother Who Restores

The color for portrait seven didn’t come quite as easily as the others, how can a color represent the emotional release of restoration on its own? I thought further about what Joseph restored and the catalyst for its restoration. He restored his family through food distribution. Red and yellow are colors proven to inspire hunger (hence major fast food chains utilize them in the marketing designs), what color results from combining red and yellow? Orange. To represent the dirtiness of restoring a broken family, particularly this family, streaks of brown flood the orange hue.

As Joseph is distributing food in Egypt, familiar faces approach from the line of families praying for food; the faces of his brothers. Joseph is face with a choice, given his position. Feed the men who are his family by blood, or condemn the men to sold him into slavery and completely altered the course of his life to certain starvation by denying them the rations they wait for. His presence unbeknownst to his brothers, they approach and reach for their portion. Joseph stops them and accuses them of being foreign spies and locks them up for three days, despite their denial of any conspiracy. Joseph has a plan.

Portrait 8: The Reunited Son

Joseph’s story now comes full circle, back into the arms of his father Jacob along with the rest of his family. To symbolize this, the final portrait mirrors portrait one, the same warm yellow.

At the end of the three day stent in the Egyptian prison, Joseph reveals his identity and offers a deal to his brothers. Return home with enough food to feed their families, but leave the youngest brother behind. Confess to Jacob all that has happened and return for both members of their family.

These eight portraits of Joseph’s life are a foreshadowing of another’s, Jesus. From his rightful place at his father’s side, to despised by his brothers, sold into  captivity, brutalized despite his purity, justified his accusers by his mercy, and now back at the right hand of his father.

What else can we learn from Joseph’s ordeal besides the imagery predicting Jesus? God is sovereign, no matter your situation. We have a responsibility to perform the tasks God directs us toward, but his sovereignty follows the mission through to completion, even when we drop the ball. Judah was the instigator of Joseph’s plight. Jesus is a direct ancestor of Judah. Despite Judah’s envy and poor decision-making, God’s son was born out of his blood line. God’s sovereignty is balanced with our responsibility.

Sovereignty Balanced With Responsibility - watermarked

The background of this image is a deep, heavy blue which reflects the weight of our personal responsibility. Our success or failure at fulfilling our responsibility can bring us pleasure or it can result in pain. Judah’s irresponsibility brought with it pain; first for Joseph, then for himself. God’s sovereignty opened the doors for his ultimate mission, delivering the Messiah, to succeed through Judah despite his failure with Joseph. God’s providence is the only foundation we have for experiencing pain in life. As we learned during week one, God doesn’t owe us an explanation, even for our pain.

God’s sovereignty flows like a waterfall over our responsibility. The flow separates at the top of the image, curling back together as it splashes against the bottom of the page. Turning the image upside down reveals a heart shape forming over our responsibility. Further inspection of the heart reveals the updraft of the waterfall of sovereignty impedes on the center of the heart, breaking it in half. Like any good parent, it pains God when a child fails and must experience the consequences of their actions. With greater ability than any other parent, God’s sovereignty allows an ultimate goal to be accomplished through the consequential pain.

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I mention work? Do you think of sweat and strenuous exercise? Pride may be the inspired emotion in some, pride in their position and their productivity. Others react the opposite, feeling abhorrent toward their place of employment; discouraged by the thought of another business day. God did not intend work  to be something we dread, much less avoid. As we saw last week, God created work when he created man. God placed Adam and Eve in Eden and told them to cultivate the rest of the earth by the garden’s example; he created work as an avenue to worship. The fall changed our perception of working from being a voluntary way to worship God to an inescapable form of punishment.

Men, in particular, walk a fine line between being defined by their work and defining themselves through their work. If you compare the average hours a man spends at work versus quality time spent at home with his family (taking into account time to sleep) in a single work day, his priorities seem vastly disproportionate. For most, however, quitting to devote all your time to being at home with the family is not an option. Even if you left the day job, own your home out-right, and grow or hunt your own food, there’s still work required to survive. Having to work is not where men get in trouble, the problem is being defined by your work. Our identity, as men and women, is not defined by our position, but rather in a person. Once we begin to define ourselves by what we do or how well we produce, we hand over the reigns of our emotional well-being to the one we’re producing for. This only brings disappointment and frustration when the boss who is impressed by your productivity responds by raising the bar a little higher. Happiness at one’s job is determined by a combination of the work environment and apparent value in the job. When intrinsic value is extrinsically dependent, happiness is a volatile subject because it depends on the day. Belonging to Jesus frees the supervisor from self-importance and the supervised from self-pity. Finding intrinsic value by realizing the One who made you is pleased even when your best efforts fall short attains the freedom to work hard and work well without the yoke of insurmountable expectations. When our work becomes part of our worship, our job becomes a joy. We tend to divide things that are secular from things that are sacred. We forget we are created beings working to please our Creator; everything is sacred!

Ephesians 6:5-9 teaches us the attitude we should adopt to find joy, but keep our priorities straight, in our jobs. The first word in verse 5 is most accurately translated as ‘bondservants’. In the first century, a bondservant was a person who worked for another and was compensated as a result. Sound familiar? Paul goes on to encourage bondservants to work not to be seen or as people-pleasers, but as if their work was directly for Christ. He then changes his  focus to the masters, imploring them to lead fairly, knowing their employees are working for Christ, not for them.

In my life since college, I had to learn a lesson about work that specifically relates to what Christians label their “calling”. God calls people to do certain things and have certain attitudes. Many young Christians believe determining their specific calling in life is a prerequisite to selecting a career, as I was. Believing this way leads to a lot frustration, a constant search for greener pastures, and extended college careers. So much effort goes toward finding our elusive “calling”, we procrastinate ourselves into what we fear most, insignificance. Paul encourages us in Colossians 3:23 to do what we do well, as if it is for God, no matter what it is we’re doing. Our “calling” is to a life of excellence, consistently serving our God through loving people, our way of making a living is of less significance to Him than our efforts toward doing the job well. Calling does not equate to career.

Today’s drawing has several levels. The background is a black and white swirl. The description of the relationship between master and bondservant inspired this swirl, the colors never mixing but pushing each other in the circular motion instead. I initially thought of drawing a long, flat road that disappeared into the center of the swirling background. I was not happy with this imagery because most roads carry traffic in both directions. The sign along the road reads, ‘The Way – Keep Following’, encouraging travellers to stay the course despite the road getting rough. That’s when a song from my childhood came to mind, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Eureka! I left the road sign, but changed the asphalt road to a railway; unquestionably a one-way path and much more demanding on the workers who construct it! The railroad track disappears into a shining light that blends the master and bondservant together, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Work well, fearing God more than man.

Gospel Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome – a paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Our study of Paul’s letter to Galatia has shown he wrote to plainly lay out the Gospel of Christ and clear up the muddy theology that had corrupted this church. In chapter 5, Paul is warning these followers that they have let themselves become enslaved by religious legalism and turned to embrace their captor. We must be careful not to fall into the same trap. We can easily allow ourselves to embrace a gospel that takes small tastes of Jesus and twists them into a strict set of rules instead of simply loving others. Like a victim who falls in love with their kidnapper, we can experience a Gospel Stockholm Syndrome, vehemently defending the twisted theology we’ve been taught to accept as truth when faced with the real truth of Jesus’s desire for our hearts.

Today’s drawing visualizes Stockholm Syndrome. A figure falls to one knee to embrace the standing figure made of chains. Chain-linked tentacles slither from the standing figure to wrap around the kneeling figure, entrapping him in his embrace, turning his offer of affection into submission into slavery.

If you have fallen victim to this captivity of your mind, know you can break those chains. Let go of your captor by loving people, starting with yourself. Embrace the freedom offered to you through the Gospel and you will be free.

Those who’ve avoided being tangled in a web of insatiable legalism, it is your responsibility to lead others to freedom by loving them out.

The Poison Apple

Image

What’s your number one priority in life? Your main focus? What drives your decision making? The one thing in your life you would not be able to survive without? Financial stability? A successful career? Someone to walk though life beside? What if the most dangerous things in life are the good things?

Today marked the start of a new series at North Ridge, How to Wreck Your Life. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at modern-day idolatry, discovering the personal idols we’ve created and tearing them all down. Something becomes an idol when we take it from a level of a good thing and make it into the ultimate thing. Being the best at our job, being the perfect spouse, the perfect parent, the ultimate church volunteer, the best athlete; these barely scratch the surface of today’s idols. A simple litmus test to see if something is being elevated too high is to step back and look at the last week, what did you sacrifice in order to focus on this other thing? How many nights did you kiss your children goodnight after they were asleep so that you could get those extra hours of work in? How many dinners did your wife eat by herself while you on the field coaching that ball team?

The very first line of Dean’s message solidified the drawing I created; “What if the most dangerous things in life are the good the good things?” We know the bad things in life, habits to avoid, ideas that will only bring trouble if we follow through on them. Those things are easy to avoid. When it comes wrapped in a virtuous package, seeing the dangers before its too late is more difficult. Like a poison apple, it looks refreshing and delicious on the outside. Only after taking a bite do we discover its putrid core.

What’s your poison apple? Have you done anything about it?