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.

Boiling Frogs

Continuing on with our Project Relaunch focus on changing the world, we’re keeping our attention on Nehemiah, the expendable cup-bearer who re-shaped his civilization. As Nehemiah made his proposition for rebuilding the temple to the king, he presented his plan with confidence because his mission was clear and his planning research was thorough. The first characteristic essential to loosing the world changer in you is clearly defining your mission. What aspect of the world are you changing? Once your mission is defined, choosing your methods is next. World changers make their plans wisely and execute them with confidence. Finally, the people who change the face of history inspire people passionately by their work. The efforts of world changers work themselves out of a job by inspiring their successors.

Today’s drawing is a narrative that presents the ideals for what it takes to release the world changer inside you. As we studied Nehemiah’s situation, the attitude of his peers first grabbed my attention. The king gave him permission to carry out his mission to rebuild the temple and collaborated with surrounding kingdoms to support Nehemiah’s efforts. The majority of the push-back and criticism Nehemiah received came from the community where he lived. The resistance to the temple being rebuilt was not the result of controversial public policy or disputes over property values, it was a simple question of why. The temple existed in its ragged state for so long, it’s purpose for existence faded. People viewed Nehemiah’s efforts as futile. Despite sustaining blows to his esteem, Nehemiah’s passion drove him forward.

The apathy of the community toward the temple reminded me of a familiar object lesson. How does one boil a frog? Place the frog in a pot of cool water then slowly apply heat until the water boils and the frog cooks. By raising the temperature slowly, the frog adapts to its surroundings without sensing any danger and will remain submerged as the water reaches it’s boiling point. One frog in the drawing is rebelling against its amphibian peers, stepping out onto the stove. Having realized his narrow escape from the impending doom the others still face, this frog returns against the odds to free his friends. Using the suction quality of its hands, the enlightened frog turns off the heat. Though safe from a boiling demise, the remaining frogs still lack the motivation to escape their pots. Making good use of the strength of his tongue, the passionate frog strikes the handles of the pots confining his friends, wraps the handle in a strangle-hold, then leverages himself to overturn each one.

Freed from his watery prison, one bull-looking frog sits on the floor. From his vantage point, he can see what he’s been freed from, others that are still confined, and the one working to free them. Inspiration to participate with the change is sure to follow.

World changers inspire people passionately, even if the object of their passion is unpopular at the time.

Passion

Here we are in the third week of It’s Not About You, a series where we’ve focused on popular stories in the Bible to clear up the lines that are often blurred  and expose that the story is not about us, it points to something bigger. Today obliterated an analogy I’m sure many of you have heard, and some have even used, comparing the story of David and Goliath to significant problems we face in life.

Before we delve into the arrogant narcissism hiding behind this comparison, let’s review this classic underdog story. Israel faced a stalemate in a war with the Philistines. The Philistines decided to propose a deal to end the conflict, allow the strongest warriors from each side to face off in a dual, the side whose warrior prevailed would earn ultimate victory. The Philistines nominated a borderline super-human named Goliath and waited for Israel to respond. David, a young shepherd who didn’t meet the minimum physical guidelines to join the army, delivered food to his brothers with an ulterior motive of bringing information of his brothers’ well being back to his father. While in the camp, David hears Goliath taunting the Israeli army and the Jewish God. Enraged by the insults slung at his God, David is compelled to act. He pushes through a wall of Israeli soldiers, denounces their cowardice for not standing up to this heathen, and demands King Saul allow him to represent his God and his country against the Philistine agitator. Refusing the typical armor and weaponry bestowed to a warrior, David entered the fight armed with a sling and a few smooth stones. With a flick of his wrist, David buries one of those stones deep into Goliath’s forehead, finishes the war by using Goliath’s own sword to behead him, then earns the right to marry King Saul’s daughter for securing Israel’s victory.

The plight of David and Goliath is often alluded to when someone faces an arduous situation or a daunting task. We imagine ourselves in the place of David, and label the oppressor our Goliath. We’ve completely misconstrued the imagery by doing this. Goliath is not an obstacle to overcome, he represents ultimate evil; in a sense, he is Satan. As much as your ego would like to think, you are not David. David is the one man who stands against evil to rescue his people, David represents Jesus. Last, the Israeli army is not everyone around you who is not strong enough to handle your situation. You are the coward, trusting in your own ability and retreating in the face of your opposition.

So what set David apart from the other, much more qualified soldiers that day? Passion. David’s passion for God, his dedication to reaching people and his vehement stand to face anyone who opposed his God. That was the secret to his success against Goliath.

Some of my favorite Hollywood quotes come from movies directed by Steven Nolan. Near the top of my list is a quote from Inception:

“What’s the world’s most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.”

David was infected by that parasite. I strive to let it sink deeper. An artist and mentor who worked closely with me to develop a visual ministry inspired me this way: “Don’t go out and try to set the world on fire. Set yourself on fire and see if it catches.”

Today’s drawing provided an excellent opportunity to play with a new computer drawing program I purchased for a logo design project. I love how it turned out!

Passion - David and Goliath - watermarked copy

The ominous black wave is Goliath, a fist forms from the crest and threatens to pound its target. This wave is evil, God’s ultimate enemy. A small, yellow wave retreats into the bottom right corner in trying to avoid the beating that approaches, appropriately represented in a cowardly yellow hue. This wave is the Israelite army in the story, us in modern  reality. A small spark of light splits off from the yellow wave, boldly standing between his people and ultimate evil. This was David that day for Israel, this is Jesus every day for us.

You are not David, but you can take a stand.