Tag Archives: Priorities

Grace – Let Go of the Rope

Let Go of the Rope, Jonah 2, Journey Church, 7-10-16

Grace can be defined as an undeserved gift from an un-obligated giver.

For grace to be offered, an offense must have occurred. Most often, the offense is overshadowed by the offender’s unwillingness to receive grace from the offended. We hold on to our faults with a death grip, but then describe them as if they have permanently leeched onto us. We are a sadistic people in this way, torturing ourselves when the pathway to freedom is simply letting go of our perfectionist mentality. When we give ourselves enough grace to make mistakes and learn from them, we open the floodgates to building real relationships and creating a community that can withstand the greatest adversity. I believe grace is the key missing ingredient that makes real friendship a fleeting phenomenon among adults.

From birth through preschool, we are all equals. Race, sex, religion, favorite color, none of this matters. We see each other as we really are, just people riding on a rock, breathing the same air and doing our best to figure out how to do this thing called life. Everyone is our friend, we welcome each other in without a second thought and play together as complete equals.

With the beginning of elementary school comes the start of organized sports and friendly competitions. My two oldest sons are baseball players, Jacob is wanting to try soccer this fall. They are beginning to find and roots of the most valuable relationships the will nurture their young lives are beginning to grow. We learn to work together, in competition with other teams who work together. The seed of competition has been planted. We being developing our smack-talk skills, boasting in our inflated perception of our abilities and emulating our favorite athletes and superheroes.

As the teenage years begin, so does a new level of  competitiveness. Sports teams are no longer pickup leagues where everyone gets to play, participants compete in tryouts. Bullies have defined their reputations and cliques take their form. Friendly banter over abilities and faults evolves into insults and hurt feelings. In high school, even more areas of competition find their way onto our plates. We compete over academics. We compare everything; skin complexion, hair styles, clothing, musical tastes, each others’ friendships. The older we get, the more meticulous we are about the comparisons. We put all our energy into creating a facade of perfection that bests even the people we care about. This competitiveness is amplified by the system, pushing the importance of SAT scores, end of course tests and making college applications the engines for yet another race to be won.

We graduate into the next chapter of life and divide ourselves further by competing over things that have potential to define the rest of our lives. If we enter the work force, we compete to be the best at what we do be noticed and rewarded more than the next guy. Those of us in college compete to establish our value in the community we’re chosen. Some compete over grades, some compete over sports, some compete over relationships, others compete for position in their own sub-communities. The philosophy we’re indoctrinated with regardless of the path we choose is that the rest of our lives will be a competition for survival. Give no grace, take advantage of every opportunity, become your own person and fight to be better than everyone else.

No wonder we have such a hard time finding friends after 25.

Small groups are the lifeblood of most new church communities. Speak with any of the core leaders and they will lay out the same reason for nurturing small groups. Friends. Small groups exist for the soul purpose of helping adults become friends, to break the mentality of competition. Friends help ease the weight of competition, but only our ability to give and receive grace will eradicate it. Without the ability to forgive and move forward, no relationship will survive.

I’ve heard it said, “when you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”  I no longer believe this philosophy is beneficial to anyone. In fact, I am sure it has locked souls into a prison of self-reliance that destroys lives.

What if you weren’t designed to hang on to a rope to begin with? What if the rope is what keeps us restrained and chokes the life out of us?

Once we can let go of everything, no more competition, no more entitlement, truly set down our selfish pride; then we can dip our hearts back into the life of innocent freedom we so easily forgot from out early days. We are still all just humans riding on this cosmic rock, doing the best we can with the time we have. Let go of your irrational and unattainable need to “do it better” than everyone else. Let go of your ropes and just enjoy the ride. God will not let you fall, if you let him take the reigns of life. Your only obligation is to live.

There’s no competing your way into happiness and freedom, there’s just setting each other (and yourself) free.

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.

Freed to Give – a prophetic art experience

 

Today, I experienced an emotion to which only artists can empathize; ‘creative exhaustion’. Simultaneously high from creating something that did not previously exist and emptied from having left part of your soul within that creation. This is the story of that creation.

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Humans are designed as interdependent beings. Beginning with our introduction to a carbon-based environment, we depend on other people for our basic survival. Though our needs evolve over time, our fundamental design to live in harmonious dependency on one another remains constant. This is God’s intricate design.

Starting with the very inception of the human species, man could not thrive on his own. Recognizing this, God separated one organism into two, making them an interlocking match for each other. I do not believe the separation of humanity into male and female was an afterthought for the Creator, it was critical to his design. Obviously, the male and female designs define the mechanics of procreation, critical to the sustainability of the human species. God also designed our minds to be free and self-assured in this design of life. Men are not stubbornly confident because we are jerks, it’s a critical part of our psyche included since day one. Understand His creation, God put the man in a position where he had to choose the woman. In choosing to join themselves together, God freely gives His creations to each other, joining them together as one being and designing the institution we call marriage. One that was made two is now made one.

Dependency on the abilities and service of another human being is not weakness, it is what makes us human. Refusing to embrace our need for others leaves our souls malnourished. Rejecting opportunities to serve another is abuse.

One Made Two Made One

 

Creating unity by dividing humanity is the basis of today’s work. At the top center of the image is a single, crouched form. The figure then splits like a dividing cell into two individuals. The unique organisms then dance along their paths, becoming their individual selves. At the location where their paths cross, the two reunite into a single body. This is marriage, as God designed.

 

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Recreating this into today’s piece, I combined acrylic paint with fine, sandy rock which exists in the foundation of a gravel road. The rock and paint mixture created a mortar-like paste which made the creation of today’s figures as much a process of sculpture as it was painting.  This process created shapes with three dimensional body and an organic feel that makes your mind expect the figures to morph into dancing with each other on the page.

 

 

 

 

Establishing the existence of marriage as two created individuals choosing to unify themselves as one through their Creator leads us into the next logical question, but often hardest one to ask, how can two individuals successfully operate as one? The answer, though easy to say, is much harder to apply; selfless mutual submission. By each letting go of what they hold most dear for the sake of fulfilling the other’s desires, they both grasp hold of what they will most cherish – unity. This philosophy is true for every relationship from exclusively romantic to complete strangers; asking one simple question will redefine human encounter and construct a legacy, one person at a time. How can I serve you? Before being able to pose this question honestly, one must first choose to lay themselves and their desires down. Your most perfect façade will not conceal your ulterior motives.

Refusing yourself the satisfaction of gaining for yourself is no easy task; it is a choice that must be made constantly. In every moment, making yourself look for opportunities to serve those around you, this is the attitude suggested by 1 Thessalonians  5:17. To pray without ceasing and give thanks in everything is to be aware of what you have been given and constantly be looking for ways to serve others because of it. What’s to stop people from taking advantage of me if I really do this, you may protest? Grace.

Grace is being able to forgive those who abuse you, wisdom is not enabling that abuse.

Forgiven people forgive. Without letting yourself experience grace, you refuse yourself the ability to show grace. Grace is the foundation of every positive relationship because no one can achieve perfection. At some point, on some level, people will let you down. Serve them anyway. Occasionally, the words and actions of people will hurt you. Be kind to them still. A day will come when another maliciously inflicts pain in you. Graciously love them despite it.

Freed to Give, 3rd service

 

The paths followed by the figures in this image trace back to create a heart shape with an open center. God did not design marriage to benefit us. In its proper form, it reflects His nature to the world. The open heart. Two people, remaining individuals but united as one, serving each other and those around them. This is by design.

Parents. Serve your children well. Children, serve your parents.

Know your friends well enough to know their needs. Serve them freely.

Know the needs in your community. Join with others to fill them.

Everyone wants to give to charity, but no one wants to be charity. Until you learn to receive, you will never truly know how to give. Only by experiencing grace are we freed to give it to others.

 

 

You Matter

I’ve created some bad art over the last few years of this art as worship venture, but today’s strikes me as especially terrible. The kind of terrible that is expected to show up in the opening auditions of American Idol, the ones that are aired just for ratings and water cooler conversation. Today’ piece was so bad, I have to share for your entertainment. If you’re familiar with my art, you know how I enjoy irony. The ironic twist in the image you’re about to partake in is that our message focus was on why we matter as individuals. I set out to draw an image depicting individual value and failed miserably. Check it out, please accept my apologies in advance……

You

Kind of a cross between Uncle Sam and former Guns ‘n’ Roses lead guitarist, Slash,  the guy with gnarly hair and the collapsing top hat sternly points back at the viewer with an accusing gesture that toes the line of offensive. Awkwardly, his head is turned away as if he doesn’t want to acknowledge whom the target of his finger rests upon. Adding to the depravity of this piece, the image could only transfer a message by leaning on the crutch of text. Message #1: “People need you, whether they admit it or not.” Message #2: “God needs you to respond, without waiting for an invitation.” In all honesty, today’s drawing depicts more of my fight with myself rather than a message for you.

Ephesians 2:1-10 You matter to God.

Passages like this are solid proof Jesus, as a man, was a creative. Before an individual embraces Jesus, before they grasp the basic concept of the Gospel, before the ‘get it’, they are dead. Selfish, narcissistic, arrogant, dead to everything that does not benefit themselves. This deadness manifests itself in animosity toward Jesus (or anything Jesus-related). Despite our ultimately hate-filled nature, grace sat us in like-standing with God’s human likeness, though the Father was hated, He still longs to embrace His children without reservations.

Like every artist, God’s passion is to inspire people back to Him and to love through His creation and love. Like any work of art, the response of the viewer is not required but longed for like the pangs of lovers separated by distance. God does not demand our response, but He longs for it. Despite the negative reception to His physical presence, Jesus was amplified through that response. Had He been cast aside as another religious nut and ignored, His mission would have been squashed. Like the mission of the artist, any response equates to ultimate success.

In verse 10, humanity is described as ” God’s workmanship”. God is the artist, we are the creation, love is the message.

You matter to God.

Hebrews 10:19-25

An individual can only grow through the influence of other individuals. This means taking off your mask. Your public facade acts like salt on your soil, nothing will grow. Enough salt exposure and the soil is ruined. Deep friendships is an art many lose after college, if they make it that long. Within deep relationships lie the keys to happiness, success, health and longevity. Modern society finds it hard-pressed to even discover a marriage that involves a deep relationship anymore. No wonder our lives are so convoluted.

How do we get these kind of friendships back, you ask? Letting down your guard and letting people in. People who allow themselves to be vulnerable in the presence of another are mocked by this advanced culture. Children are discouraged from living honestly. Boys and girls alike are set up for failure when they get kicked out the door with a suitcase full of situation-appropriate masks and a foundation of lying for the benefit of yourself and the modern social trend. Those lies catch up to us, long before we dare confess.

This is the essence of community groups within the church community I attend. Building deep friendships among a tight community of people. On the surface, it may sound like a clique, but it’s much harder to create than a gossip circle. The only way to invest in deep friendships is to become interested in your friends. You have to be interested in someone other than yourself without a personal agenda. Does anyone even know what their friends’ favorite colors are anymore? I know it sounds pre-school-ish, but if that’s where you need to start, go for it!

You matter to us. Set down your costumes and invite other to do the same.

Ephesians 4:1-16

Community groups are one of several aspects of North Ridge that raise skeptical eyebrows in our region with vehemently conservative roots, particularly since our philosophy is encouraging community groups in lieu of traditional Sunday school. The quip commonly thrown out in contempt is “church is not a social club”. Well, why not? Which clubs and organizations attracted the most participants in collegiate and grade school? The social ones. I’m not saying we disregard the Gospel or talk on deep spiritual topics, I just finished saying how we need to open ourselves up to deep relationships and really get interested in other people’s lives. Is that not the Gospel, participating in quality relationships and doing life together through the example of Jesus? Particularly in light of our rough and bigoted history that shines so brightly in the spotlight, why would anyone care what we have to say before seeing the fruits of living it out together in community?

You matter to “them”. (whoever “them” happens to be at the time)

Now back to my travesty of graphite:

Each phrase I wrote in was another punch in the head of my psyche that wants to be noticed, wants to be valued,

“People need you,” – OK, yeah, we established that above. You’re important, I’m important, we need each other, now let’s break out in a number from “Frozen” (a flick I have successfully evaded so far). I often brush this statement off my arm like the mosquito that bit me during my son’s baseball game this weekend. Don’t bury me in generic clichés and fault me when I’m not inspired. Give me a tangible mission objective and then let me loose. Can you tell this is where I am most skeptical of myself?

“…whether they admit it or not.” – Silence is my kryptonite. Silence, to me, is synonymous with apathy is synonymous with dislike is synonymous with hate.Often to the root of my own frustration, I value knowing the focus of my energy is in some way significant to another human being. The only way to discern significance is through feedback, vocalized or visibly evident. You want me out of the picture? Don’t respond to me with negativity, just don’t respond at all. I’ve been told this is a character flaw, that I should reject this emotion and not care if I have carry any importance to anyone other than myself. My small mind cannot fathom any purpose in life other than creating significance in that of another’s.

“God needs you to respond…” – Another tired phrase, over-used by pastors desperate to moisten their dry-rotting baptismal tubs by laying down a guilt-trip under the guise of spiritual urgency. As if I am so important God can’t accomplish anything without me…really? In thinking that, though, our limited understanding of the Gospel rises to the surface. God needs you to respond, not because He needs you, but because you are the best able to step up for the sake of another in that moment. The need is there, urgency is real, but the aim is not to benefit you.

“…without waiting for an invitation.”  – This is the kicker for me. I will own that I am quick to volunteer myself to fill a need, once the need is announced. I have trouble searching out the need to fill own my own. Here again, our pride and cynicism shoots compassion in the foot because we either refuse to admit we have a need or hide behind the mask of humility and wait to be asked for help. I am the one to hang back until needs are obvious, buying into my self-conceived lie that initiating a conversation that could open doors to a new (or deeper) friendship is intrusive and unwanted. This kind of hesitation does not pass without consequences. Do not doubt your ability or your responsibility to experience relationships, serve people, and share the Gospel. The invitation is standing open, the RSVP date is always now.

You matter to God. You matter to us. You matter to them.

 

 

 

 

 

This Matters.

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, This Matters 2, Matthew 6, 6-13

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)

CommUNITY, Hebrews 10, 19-25

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.

Community matters.

Love is…

Love is patient, love is kind…

Love is..., True Love 4, 1 Corinthians 13

1 Corinthians 13. I won’t label it overused, but it has definitely become cliché’ in marriage ceremonies. Read within its context, Paul is hardly doing marriage counselling! The church at Corinth has revamped their definition of spirituality to be based upon individual talents. Those considered the most spiritual were the best at their trade, the most eloquent speakers, the wisest advisers, the most talented musicians; these people were considered the closest to God. (Does that sound eerily familiar with the modern church to anyone else?) Paul is not defining love to Corinth so that the boys know how to make the girls’ hearts melt or so that the girls know how they should expect a guy to treat them, he his blatantly rebuking Corinth for screwing up spirituality and totally rejecting what Jesus taught and died teaching.

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist in its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong-doing, but rejoices with truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Replace ‘love’ with your name in these verses. Does it describe you? Maybe a little?

Hate is impatient, hate is unkind, it is envious and proud; arrogant and rude. It insists in its own way, is irritable and resentful; rejoices in misfortune and is skeptical of truth. Hate bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing, only when it is convenient and benefits themselves.

Replace the ‘hate‘ with your name in this version of the passage. Does it sound more or less like you? I honestly do not expect anyone to admit, even to themselves, that they are more like the second version of verses 4-7 than the first. No one likes to admit their flaws, particularly those that impact other people (like your ability to love). If you are serious about loving well, give these descriptions of love and hate to someone close to you, let them tell you which best describes the love you’re putting out.

At the end of the day, love focuses on others, hate focuses on self. Where’s your focus?