First Wednesday November 6

We’ve started a new service at North Ridge we call First Wednesday. The first Wednesday of every month will be a night of community and worship, with a few surprises mixed in. Tonight was the first, First Wednesday I’ve made. Leading into our newest series, Game Time, we talked about our call to build a city within our city last Sunday. That message included staggering statistics of hunger, poverty, and broken lives inside our county. We devoted tonight’s gathering to praying for all of these statistics, as people rather than  numbers, and asking God to open doors for us to meet our community’s needs as a church. Two of my boys and I joined tonight’s group, art supplies handy. Being a special service, I broke out some different supplies, newsprint and oil pastels. Here’s what tonight looked and felt like; tranquil, peaceful, refreshing.

First Weds 11-6The evening began with worship through acoustic music. We then wove our way through the ACTS of prayer focusing on God and centering  ourselves. Using the acronym ACTS, our night of prayer began with Adoration, praising God for who He is. We spent time corporately in awe of God. We then moved into a time of confession. After acknowledging God in his majesty, the next logical step is seeing our depravity in comparison and confessing our faults and the faults of our community. Publically, we recognized our tendency to segregate ourselves, our willful ignorance to others’ needs, and generally selfish attitudes. Privately, we confessed our personal failures. The third movement of the night was Thanksgiving, praising God for loving us and providing for us despite our inadequacies. We celebrated God, remembering His sacrifice by gratefully sharing in communion. The finale for our night of prayer was a time for focused Supplication, offering our humble requests to God. Voluntarily breaking into smaller groups, we focused on praying for the hungry, lonely, orphaned, and unemployed in Randolph county; the broken homes and the damaged lives. Closing with a song, we left inspired, empowered and refreshed.

My boys made me proud. Noah (7) drew worshiped through art beside me, Jacob (4) quietly observed (and snagged a little nap), and were both exceptionally behaved.

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May God bless our community through North Ridge Church as we step up to the plate, it’s game time.

Game on.

 

A Glimpse Into Hell: Eternal Isolation

keyser-sozeThe greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world that he didn’t exist. – Kevin Spacey as Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects, 1995)

Last week, my drawing addressed the topics of death and judgement. The second week of delving into the afterlife proved equally heavy, focusing on hell’s reality.

 

Hell

Like your position on the afterlife, what you believe about hell is evident in how you live as well. Sadly, a great number of people who believe in heaven and call themselves Christians reject hell being a real place. “Christians” who do not believe in hell’s existence for unbelievers will not speak of their faith with the same tone of gratitude and urgency as those who understand its grave reality. These are the people Craig Groeschel refers to as Christian Atheists, people who claim Christ but live as if he doesn’t exist. I am not saying the only real Christians are those who get up on their soap box and condemn everyone in earshot. I believe many of those people will fall into the “goat” category,  referenced last week. The difference will be clear in how each person lives, one looks out for “the least of these” the other just looks out for themselves.

The same book that opens our minds to the concept of grace and redemption also warns us of justice and condemnation. How can this be? If you believe God is a god of love, how can any loving being let a single person experience hell? This perceived contradiction is what offends many people about the Christian faith, but the issue really boils down to semantics. While God is love, love is not God. God’s character is a perfect harmony of love, justice, wrath, and mercy. So…..God created everything. Why create a hell in the first place? The answer to that question lies in understanding who Satan is.

What’s the first image that pops into your head when you think of Satan? A muscular, bright crimson humanoid with a black cape, Satan imagehorns of a goat, carrying a pitch-fork? Do you think of him as hell’s equal to God?

I can’t say what Satan looks like, he manifests himself in many forms throughout the Bible. What I can promise, though he has seniority in hell, his place is not comparable to God by any stretch of the imagination. Leaving the comforts of heaven for the torment of hell was not a “grass is greener” situation gone bad. It was not a promotion, much less a voluntary move. Satan and his band of angels were cast into hell by God as punishment for attempting a coup.

OK, Satan’s not a god in his own right as leader of hell and arrived there for attempting to overthrow God (his own creator). So what? Still doesn’t justify God creating it for all unbelievers, does it? Couldn’t God have just vaporized Satan on the spot, along with the corrupted angels, and that be the end of it? Why the ongoing presence? Mercy.

Lucifer (Satan) craved maximum power, he wanted to be God, he chose to try to take the position he wanted by force. The angels he corrupted chose to follow Satan instead of God. Despite knowing the agony and torment that accompanies being separated from Him, God gave these beings what they wanted; out. God created hell, not as a grand scheme of ultimate torture and punishment to hang over our heads and keep us in line. Hell was created so beings who did not want to be in God’s presence wouldn’t have to be. In that sense, hell is a byproduct of God’s mercy.

God does not force anyone to stay in His presence, doing so would violate a crucial key to being created by a loving God; free will. Every soul has a choice, including you. You can choose to be with God (heaven) or you can choose not to be with God (hell). In Luke 16:19-31, we read about a rich man and Lazarus. The rich man chose to spend everything he made on himself, living a lavish lifestyle and being lord over his own life. Lazarus was the man he walked past every morning, the man starving on his doorstep (v.19-21). Both men died. Lazarus chose to spend eternity with God, the rich man (by his selfish decisions during life) chose otherwise, eternity in hell (V.22). What we can understand from this passage is that, while in hell, the rich man is able to see Lazarus in heaven (v.23). The rich man begs for mercy from God, asking if Lazarus can offer just a drop of water off the end of his finger to ease the rich man’s thirst. The response he received sends a chill down my spine, “between you and us, a great chasm has been set in place.” (v. 24-25). Realizing the permanence of his situation, the rich man changes his plea. Send Lazarus to my family so he can convince them to change their ways and not wind up like me. (v. 27-28) Finally, he gets it. Life is not about you, it’s about you helping everyone else. His revelation is too late, as Abraham explains, he had his chance and so does his family through the prophets that already told them to embrace God. The options are plainly out on the table, the decision is theirs to make. (v.29-31)

My drawing shows the state of the rich man. Not a state of active torture or perpetual incineration, total isolation. Consider these documented effects of temporary isolation in humans: severe anxiety, panic attacks, lethargy, insomnia, nightmares, dizziness, confusion, irrational anger, delusions, paranoia, “a dysfunctional state and inability ever to live normally outside confinement.” This alone is hell enough. But wait, not only is the rich man spending eternity experiencing this, he can see the paradise he rejected.

I used only charcoal on today’s drawing to make the image as dark a possible. The background is completely black, the presence of no color in the light spectrum, the color most children fear at bedtime, the color of complete isolation. The head at the bottom of the page looks up through this blackness, recognizing his lonely environment and looking to the paradise he could have enjoyed. The lightest parts of the drawing are outside the borders of the black space, the whites of the eyes of the figure (symbolizing his self-awareness, and the tear running down his cheek (symbolizing his eternal regret). My hope is you will feel the despair flowing from this face and choose to avoid it in your eternity.

To summarize, God created everything out of love, He then established order by His justice, He keeps that order by His wrath, then created hell out of mercy.

Faces for the Faceless

It is difficult to name a single experience during my week in the Dominican Republic as the highlight of my trip. So many moments stand out as significant, each in their own right. Feeding an entire village what they will survive on for the following week is definitely near the top of the list. Watching children take naturally to making music with a djembe I constructed was extremely gratifying. I only knew a few of our twenty-one  person team prior to the trip; each new friendship built within the team as we served together will remain a significant part of my life. However, one day in Batey 9 will stand out as a defining moment of this trip; the day I brought my sketch pad to the batey.

The batey communities are composed of Haitians. Many years ago, Haitians began immigrating from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, looking for work harvesting sugar cane from one of the many fields that line the main highway. Dominican cane field owners welcomed the additional hands and put the Haitians to work with their machetes.  Industrialization of cane farming continues to limit the amount of work available to the batey communities, but their options are extremely limited. Haiti will not accept these individuals back into their home country. Dominicans are largely discriminant against the Haitians, making it impossible for them to reside in Dominican cities. Rejected by the country they live in and their homeland, residents of the batey are stuck to live as best they can on their own. Needless to say, these communities are extremely poor.

I did not see a single mirror as I walked through Batey 9. Children ran up to us exclaiming “Foto, foto!” They were asking us to take their picture and then show them the an image of themselves on our camera digital screen. We all responded enthusiastically to their requests, sharing 2″ x 3″ images of children with the wide-eyed subjects of the photo. Unfortunately, there are no printers int he batey (hardly any electricity, for that matter), all the pictures we took came home with us. Then the light bulb turned on; my sketch pad would come with me the next day. I would spend the next day drawing as many people as I could, giving those images to the face it matched. The drawing below is of a 2-3 year old girl who never received her drawing because I did not see her again after finishing it.

Ironically, as we were walking to the bus one morning in Barahona, Dean (lead pastor at North Ridge Church) joked with me, thanking me for not drawing his face as I interpret his messages. My response; “I’m not much of a portrait artist.” God definitely has a sense of humor! On the hour drive to the batey this day, a few of us discussed God’s call for each of us based on the skills He’s entrusted us with and discerning how we should best use what we’ve been given. Sometimes finding our place in the body of Christ can seem illusive; on this day in Batey 9, my place in the world smacked me in the face.