After a long drought brought on by life, I have finally let myself open up and create spontaneously again. We kicked off a new summer series yesterday morning. For the next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on prayer, how to pray, the importance of prayer and what our focus should be.
Life is war. Spiritually, emotionally, physically; we are constantly battling something. Some days we battle ourselves.
I chose the image of a boxer to embody the idea of prayer being our fight. The boxer is exhausted, resting in his corner, his sagging head only held off the mat by his arm. His towel lay crumpled beside him. The boxer is ready to fire the towel into the ring, giving up on all that he has worked for, but he lacks the arm strength to throw. Burying his face in his glove, all he has left is to pray. Prayer is all the fighter has left in his arsenal.
Often times, we get to this point where crying to God is all we have. Through our fatigue, we feel inadequate to pray and lack the confidence to even know what to say. Prayer is not about your words, it is about your heart. Learn more about how to pray here. God doesn’t need your words, he needs your heart. He needs your mind to open.
Choosing the image of the boxer is a personal reference for me as well. I have been travelling through an expanse of parched land in my life. The ground burned by neglect and the consequences of good intentions. Physical exertion has been my release. As I drew this image, I was reminded of my own fight by the dull crimson scars on my knuckles. Fresh wounds beginning to heal. Memories of another round violent encounter with the heavy bag.
Life is war. We must remember we are all in this together. All of us.
In today’s entry, I’m catching up on our latest series that we are three weeks into, This Matters.
Our introductory message in the “This Matters” series focused out attention on the Bible. The Bible matters. Why?
Historically, it lays the groundwork, not only for our faith but all of civilization. Regardless of your religion, the Bible is regarded as the most historically accurate documentation of its age.
Morally and ethically, the Bible provides us with concrete guidelines for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Though many have misconstrued God’s precepts while others create new ones in God’s name, the Bible provides a solid foundation for morality and ethics in every aspect of life.
Logically, it lays out the simple design for living in peace with all of humanity and with yourself. When you read scripture; first read it for the literal words, dissect those words within the context they were written, then apply those words to modern day as they can apply to you.
The Bible is not God’s rule book, it is our pathway to knowing Him. The Bible matters.
In week two we focused on prayer. Prayer matters.
Through the Bible, we can know God on a corporate level. Through prayer we connect with God (and ourselves) on a personal level.
Prayer is literally a conversation with God. Prayer is most effective when our hearts are open to let the communication flow both ways. I heard a Rabbi once describe the Jewish perspective of prayer as an introspective assessment of one’s day. Sitting down at the end of the day to inspect every choice you made, then committing to whatever changes that are necessary to become a better person tomorrow. Christians would benefit from incorporating this aspect of prayer into their perspective as well.
God is not a genie, prayer is not a wish list. Submit your requests to God, but take an honest account of where you require improvement.
Prayer holds you in community with God. Prayer matters.
Stepping into week three, the things that matter have been fairly personal in their application. The Bible matters, I need to read the Bible. Prayer matters, I need to pray. Today has more public ramifications, community.
Community matters because life is not designed as a solo endeavor. God designed us as interdependent beings. One person’s weakness is matched by another’s strength. Our misguided focus on self breaks the bonds of unity and leaves us vulnerable. I enjoy National Geographic, Discovery, and PBS for their nature programming. Nearly every episode set in Africa includes a Lioness hunting a pack of Gazelles. The Lioness quietly spies on the unknowing Gazelles as they graze, strategically picking out the slowest and weakest of the pack for her family’s dinner. When the attack begins, the Gazelles scatter. The target tries to keep up but, for whatever reason, is separated from the pack and is overtaken by the Lion in the open field. We are the Gazelle, our Enemy prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Much like there’s no ‘I’ in team, there’s no community without ‘you’. Dying to self is not a mandate to make yourself a door mat, it is the open door to embrace life. Tear off your armor of ‘self’ to open the pathway to community. Letting go of your needs creates opportunity for needs to be filled.
Today marks ten years since my last seizure. I found this in the archives, an article I wrote a few years ago in response to something….I’m not exactly sure what. I felt like this was an appropriate way to commemorate my tenth anniversary of physical freedom:
News about Him spread all over Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and He healed them.
I was diagnosed with a simple-partial seizure disorder in the summer of ’93, being told by the doctors then the mysterious nauseous sensation I had been experiencing from the time my brain developed enough to hold a memory was actually a seizure. I began a regimen of neurological meds after my diagnosis and rotated on and off every new drug for seizures from that point on (all of you Pirate BSUers became all too familiar with my disorder and the side effects of the drugs!). Due to this disorder, I was not able to keep a driver’s license for very long (thanks for trusting me with your car for that volleyball class, Brent!), I missed out on many of the late night memorable moments with the BSU crowd (fatigue would result in a barrage of seizures), and even had to limit what classes I took and concentration for my degree (seizures and TIG/MIG welding in a sculpture class don’t mix well!) On a positive note, God kept me out of trouble through this disorder, alcohol and drugs would interfere with my medicine levels, causing more seizures).
Through my teenage years, I learned to live with my seizures and disciplined myself to taking palms full of medication 2-3 times a day (depending on the drug of the month). I regularly bummed rides to work, school, and home from friends. My wife and I basically dated over AIM, seeing each other for the occasional BSU Convention or holiday party. During our first year and a half of marriage, she would drive me to work in the morning before heading to work herself (making her commute twice as long). In 2003, my Neurologist suggested a brain scan that had not been tried previously. At my next appointment I heard these words; “We saw something on the scan and are going to let a Neurosurgeon look at it”. In our first two years of marriage, God brought Julie and I through the death of her grandmother, a job loss(for our first Christmas!), the struggles of my seizure disorder, not to mention the normal stresses of the first year, and now we’re facing major brain surgery.
We met with the surgeon who showed us the scar tissue on the front of my right temporal lobe which was interfering with the neurons in that area, causing misfires resulting in seizures. He assured us this procedure would be risky, but not as much as others being that the affected area was on the right side of my brain (the creative side) and not the left side which contains functional controls and memory. He prepared us both for some memory loss, but did not go into detail as to how much.
On Dec. 16, 2003 at 5am, I was rolled into the operating room; giving my wife one last kiss and promising her I wouldn’t be long. The last seizure I remembered was two days before (they came in clumps, a few days between). I remember the room looking very sterile, everything seemed some shade of white but for the hands and numbers of the clock on the wall, the clear mask pumping nitrous was placed over my face and then blackness. After 6 hours of surgery, I awoke in the ICU to see my wife looking down at me. My first words? “Hey sexy!”
After 23 years of seizures, 10 years of medicine and my father’s prayers, God answered my dad’s plea of Matthew 4:24. I went into surgery averaging 40 seizures per month, I awoke never to have another. In December of 2003, I was taking 20 pills per day to control my disorder, on Thanksgiving Day 2004 I swallowed my last anti-convulsant capsule. I have been seizure free without medication since.
Now holding down a solid job, a driver’s license, and hanging up my medic-alert tag, I thank God every day for the mercy bestowed to me that day and will pass this testimony on to my three boys.
The medicine bottle, half full of leftover Dilantin pills, rests in my container of found objects while I patiently brainstorm the perfect composition. I anxiously and expectantly wait to use those pills as medium, translating the release I feel, being free from them.
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.
The 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.
May God bless our community through North Ridge Church as we step up to the plate, it’s game time.
North Ridge entered 2012 by partnering with Port City Church in an initiative called My One Word. My One Word is a program where an individual methodically selects a single word, an attribute to which the aspire, to focus on becoming throughout the year. This single word replaces the cumbersome list of New Year’s resolutions that are all broken by Valentine’s Day. My word for 2012 began as ‘bold’ and honed down to ‘speak’ before the year’s end. You may remember seeing drawings from the sermon series (check out the My One Word link in my past series cloud if you are new to Plasso). Several of us who found success in emulating our words last year chose to re-up on My One Word in 2013. My word for this year – steadfast.
Steadfast – fixed in direction, firm in purpose, unwavering, firmly fixed in place or position.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
Our family of five will be embarking on an adventure this year that we will be a ride that lasts the next four. We are letting go of a safe, consistent income so my wife can return to school full-time. She has been teaching biology in public high school since the fall of 2001. The increasing government regulations and bureaucratic meddling is effectively driving all the quality teachers out of the public sector, Julie is adding her name to their casualty list at the end of this semester. This time of spring in 2017, she will graduate as a licensed pharmacist.
To be quite honest, I chose this word focus on for all four years of the PharmD program! Letting go of the teaching position is the least of my concerns, I’m actually relieved to be free from the toll that career path takes on the teacher’s family. I encourage any young person who asks my opinion on their projected career path to avoid teaching if they also see family in their future. The nation’s public school system is in a sad state, driven by statistical algorithms instead of actual effectiveness. The mountains of paperwork and loathsome hours wasted keeping up with the requirements of this bureaucratic mess have changed the landscape of public teaching. No longer is it a honorable career path that opens the door to significantly impacting children’s lives. It is now a contractual marriage to a thankless job that demands higher priority than any other aspect of the teacher’s life. 12 years of experience as a teacher’s spouse (2/3 of one year testing out the job personally) created my opinion and nearly every person I speak to who are also (or were formerly) married to a teacher corroborate this position. I am at least as equally excited as Julie that her professional divorce from teaching will be finalized in thirty days.
Our objective now is maintaining the household while she becomes a commuter student and fulfills a dream to enter the medical field which was alive when we met 16 years ago. Remaining steadfast.
Those of you who follow this blog know how my mind works, or at least are familiar with its results. Steadfast is more than just my word until 2017, it is also an image that is burned into my mind and hangs on the wall above the desk where I type.
Steadfast is composed of three 12″ x 16″ canvases. I used four 8-penny nails to hold each panel in place. Once the shape was created, I began painting. The primary emotion I wanted to convey was agitation. The first layer of the painting was a very dark, midnight black with just a touch of blue. To experiment with media (and a bit out of necessity when I realized I was out of blue acrylic at the time), the under-painting of this piece is tempra.
I made sure to purchase all the black and blue I could need for the outer layer of this piece. Using long, fast, borderline violent strokes horizontal strokes, I imagined myself inside a tornado seeing the wind and debris swirling around my head. Various shades of blues and blacks concealed the dull under-painting. Stepping back to look, I was quite pleased (and a little out of breath) when this sitting was complete.
The final piece of this painting was to take a Jackson Pollock sort of spin like I used in ‘Torn‘ and literally throw some highlights of orange, yellow and white onto the dark canvas. Hosting a party to break the mundane-ness of January changed my direction. Once complete, ‘Steadfast’ had a hole to fill over the computer desk in our living room. It is not a direct focal point in our party-gathering space, but leaving the space empty would stick out like a sore thumb. Though incomplete, I hung ‘Steadfast’ for the party. This proved to be a defining choice for the piece and my understanding of my word.
We have can lights in the ceiling in our living room and the wall above our computer desk is an ideal location for artwork without glass because the piece is perfectly illuminated. ‘Steadfast’ was no different. The piece looks amazing in this location; the lighting makes the subtle light blues pop against the darker hues. The light also added another unexpected dimension. Reflecting against a sheen I only guess was created by painting acrylic over tempra, a streak of almost white yellow slithers its way down the paint and gives the image the same likeness as a calm, moon-lit lake.
A good friend who is a creating in his own right as a writer (check out his work here) admired the piece and we discussed the background, the creative process, and the future plans for the piece. Jason made a profound suggestion; leave the image as is for 2013, but revisit it each year and modify the image as your understanding of remaining steadfast evolves. Pure creative genius. I am doing as he suggested and practicing steadfastness by leaving the image alone until next January.
What began as an agitated, chaotic whirl-wind with three canvases holding on for dear life became the most peace-filled, calming image I can recall ever creating. Through the process of creating this piece, God showed me that remaining steadfast is not just exemplified in a soldier on the front lines of battle who yells to his comrades to stand their ground. There is a peaceful, calm side of steadfastness as well. Keeping your cool under stress, refusing the urge to worry when anxiety comes knocking, declining the part-time, third shift job I was offered to supplement the income and remaining faithful that ends will meet without sacrificing my presence with Julie and the boys. This is me remaining steadfast.
Steadfastness for you could manifest in a thousand different ways. Steadfastness is maintaining your integrity and standing your ground. While at times it will be a fight against adversity, there is a peacefulness to be found. Peace as a result and peace within.
For those of us who spent our early years in the children’s programming of a local church, these lyrics are ingrained into our minds (including hand motions). It’s got a catchy tune that children can sing along with, then a parent got smart and made up some motions to burn some energy out of their sugared-up Bible school class! Genius. This song did not originate in Sunday school, however. It was first published as a traditional American spiritual in 1927 as part of a paperback hymnal; “Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New“. Today’s progression in Matthew 8 brought the premise of this old Bible school song to mind and inspired an introspective question, do I really believe He does?
Matthew dives right into his first three miracle stories and a lesson in discipleship after finishing his introduction of Jesus’s ministry in chapter 8. In these passages, Jesus heals a Centurian soldier’s servant, Peter’s (one of his disciples) mother-in-law, “many” who were demon possessed – including two men whose demons he cast into pigs that later stampeded to their deaths in the ocean. Not only those who witnessed these miracles, but even those who heard of them through first hand account immediately recognized and understood Jesus’s authority stretches much further than the spirituality of his followers. Even the Gentile Centurian, for whom inviting Jesus into his home was taboo, believed this, Matthew 8:5-13.
Jesus marveled at his followers saying, “I have not found such great faith anywhere in Israel.” – translation: you fellas know me but this guy who was not raised to expect me (ie. he’s a Gentile that does not understand the Jewish culture’s prophecy of the Messiah) has only heard about what you’ve witnessed and he has more faith than you!
I too can claim first hand witness to events that have no explanation other than divine miracles. Those of you close to me know Julie, the boys and I have made some big decisions in the last year that will lead our family through a time where our faith will need to remain strong. In light of those decisions, I allowed my logic to get in the way of my heart and nearly committed to taking on a second job that would have had a significant impact on my time and my focus at home and elsewhere. After some wise advice and lots more prayer, I abandoned that idea and am trusting God to sustain us in the way He deems best.
What did I take away from Dean’s sermon today?
Jesus is sovereign over all. Not just what I think he can handle; all.
Faith in Jesus’s sovereign authority manifests itself in humble trust.
I was last left with a question:
“What are you afraid of, o ye of little faith?” Matthew 8:26