Stay My Master

Stay My Master

μένω – (Greek) v. to stay

ῥαββί – (Greek) n. my master, teacher

Inspired by Psalm 23, today’s message and drawing is a call to ourselves to keep our eyes on our master and teacher, our rabbi. The tree in the drawing is imagery of growth. We all grow in our own way, our own rate, and in our individual directions like the branches of a tree.

Sitting upon a branch on the right is a falcon. The falcon has appeared in my life lately in various means but always with significance. The falcon was a sign of power and importance in the daily lives of medieval knights. Each knight would receive a falcon as standard issue and be trained in the art of falconry. The falcon would serve as a companion, guide and protector, being the eyes and ears for the knight and retrieving small game to feed his master. The falcon, as a spiritual reference, is symbolic of rising above a situation, while encouraging focus and strategy.

One line spoken today really grabbed my attention like a Peregrine swooping down and scooping up a helpless rodent; “It is not your sole responsibility to put your pieces back together.”

Your master is ever present, your teacher is never tardy. He is always your guide and always your protector.

He is the falcon.

                                                                                   Peregrine falcon

Get Up.

Throughout this in-depth look at the book of Jonah, our primary focus has been on our own similarities to Jonah; his fear, his failure, his success and his pride. Jonah’s adventure serves as more than just a fantastical story that teaches us to faithfully serve our God, even when it seems illogical, it is a direct representation of the gospel. Even Jesus drew that parallel in his time walking the earth. Jonah was called to reach a people that had rejected his own, Jesus came to reach us when we rejected him. Jonah was thrown from the boat and swallowed by the sea for three days, Jesus was thrown from humanity and swallowed by the grave for the same duration. Jonah’s presence in Nineveh led the city to redemption, Jesus’s time on earth leads the world to redemption. Jonah and Jesus take separate paths from this point forward.

Jonah’s story parallels ours at many turns as well. Jonah was prejudiced toward a people who left scars of hate on his homeland, we (whether or not we’ll admit it) have the the same tendencies toward bigotry. Jonah came face to face with his fear and ran the other direction. Our society leans upon a “path of least resistance” philosophy; if it feels good, do it, if it doesn’t, don’t. Even when Jonah conceded and accepted his responsibility to reach the Nineveh, he did the bare minimum required by God and expected substantial reward for his efforts. Going above and beyond is a lost art in modern culture while entitlement thrives. We do the least required of us in our jobs, our homes, even our hobbies, then call foul when we a passed over for that promotion, when the chores aren’t done, or when someone else earns higher honors for doing better work. We are Jonah.

The parallels of Jonah to ourselves is not limited to the main character, we often share traits with Nineveh. Nineveh chose to live by their own rules regardless of who it hurt, many of us live in the same obstinate disobedience. Like Nineveh, we have a Jonah that will lead us to redemption in the person of Jesus. The decision to follow is ours.

Our directive is simple; get up. Go. Live so that you will be missed. Where should you go? Attack that area of your life you fear most, the sin you just don’t want to let go, the characteristic that is more comfortable to keep rather than change. Once you’ve conquered your own demons, lead others to conquer theirs.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born American novelist, political activist and Holocaust survivor.

Get Up. Jonah 5

Sometimes you are Jonah, sometimes you are Nineveh, sometimes you are both.

 

Give Us Clean Hands – First Wednesday Feb 5, 2014

 

Took a risk tonight and set up an easel with some mounting board, spreading out mine and the kids’ gear over two tables in the coffee lounge to create a live interpretation of the first First Wednesday service of 2014, we celebrated baptism tonight.

Baptism – a ceremonial washing, the public action proclaiming personal faith, spiritual cleansing, the start of new life

Give Us Clean Hands

Who can stand on the mountain of God? Who can scale the holy north-face? Only the clean-handed, only the pure-hearted;

men who won’t cheat, women who won’t seduce  – Psalm 24:3-4

Give us clean hands

Give us pure hearts

Let us not lift our souls to another

The representation in this piece is obvious, hands dripping in clear, clean water. When do we wash or hands? Before we eat. After we’ve been working hard. During flu season, because we don’t want to get sick. Why do we wash our hands? It prevents harmful bacteria and viruses from entering our body or transferring to another’s. It is not respectful to have dirt, grease, paint (whatever your grime of choice) caked into the grooves of your skin and fingernails when you interact with the public. It’s just plain feels good to be clean! Water does that for our skin, baptism does that for our soul.

This image hit me on Sunday afternoon, while I was posting this week’s drawing entry. I knew the plan was a baptism service, so I wanted to properly represent the most visual and personal act in the Christian faith. My art has been on a ‘hand’ kick lately, a lot of messages that have used hands in the image. I chose to stick with that theme to translate ‘baptism’ and the old worship song “Give Us Clean Hands” came to mind. Originally written by King David, the song is an ancient Psalm set to modern music.

The process of creating this piece is as representative of baptism as the piece itself. My 7 and 4 year old covered a piece of mounting board with bright hues of wax crayons and oil pastels. I strategically had them color the bottom third of the panel white, where the image would be water. With the color done, I covered the board with a thick coat of black Tempra paint and the prep work was complete. As the service began, I opened up my pocket knife and began scraping away the black paint, using an Exacto knife to create finer details of the fingers. As I scraped away the dirty facade, the beauty of the panel’s true colors shone through. As the Holy Spirit wiped the slate clean on faithful souls, freeing their colors to shine, I was freeing this image from its Tempra prison.

I finished the piece using a glossy acrylic varnish. I covered the bottom third with a solid coat, then painted the palms full. The movement of the image was completed by splattering drips of varnish below the hands, simulating the phenomena of liquid running through your fingers as you splash a handful of water on your face.

I recall my own baptism, how I knew what I was doing but didn’t entirely grasp why I was doing it. Understanding the spiritual magnitude of taking public step to, not only profess, but to present your faith in Jesus to the world brought new visions of God’s reaction. It is a misrepresentation of righteousness to suggest God sits on an extravagant throne and says “Well done, good and faithful servant.” while looking down His nose at the moment of baptism. I propose a different response. At the moment you are baptized and your heart is purified; imagine Jesus on his knees, a tear of joy trickling down his cheek as he whispers, “Child, your hands are clean.”

My boys get into creating artwork with me on First Wednesdays. They get excited the morning of the service and start talking about what they’ll draw and what they’ll use. Here is my 7-year-old’s creation for tonight. He’s learned about the history of baptism in his break-out group on Sunday mornings, how one of the original methods involved pouring water over the head of the one being baptized, this method is the subject of his drawing. He explained to me this is Jesus baptizing someone this way with the sun setting behind. I must be honest, my first thought was Jesus baptizing someone using a water balloon! Either way, this is awesome and he made me proud.

DSCN3245

Pushing Against Grace

Pushing Against Grace, Jonah 4

 

What’s that one heinous sin that lurks in the forefront of your mind as the ultimate offense? The attitude and actions for which forgiveness is totally inconceivable? The red flag in someone’s life which is the dead giveaway that person “can’t be Christian”? Even after his isolation on the sea, Jonah had much to learn about grace, as do we.

Webster’s defines grace as the manifestation of favor, mercy, clemency, or pardon.  Tullian Tchvidjian defines grace as “unconditional acceptance granted to an understanding person, granted by an un-obligated giver.” It is forgiveness coupled with restoration. God’s grace is immeasurable and liberally covers all who will embrace it; regardless of their offense or our opinion.

Jonah ran from God’s command to go and proclaim truth to Nineveh out of fear. He feared the negative reaction of Nineveh on himself. He feared God’s offer of grace to Nineveh, should he succeed, with equal intensity. Jonah’s hate for Nineveh was rooted deep in a history of violence and oppression aimed at his homeland, Israel. Jonah’s desire for justice rivaled his fear for his life. The thought of Nineveh being forgiven of their deplorable sins committed against God and His people turned Jonah’s stomach. He preferred death over life in a world where Nineveh was in equal standing with Israel in God’s eyes.

Grace erases any inclination to believe you are superior. Self-righteous people have wandered far from God because they have allowed their love of righteousness surpasses their understanding of grace. Being righteous is a good thing, if your understanding of righteousness is rooted in the gospel and not religion. Righteousness without grace is bigotry.

The grace God offers is bigger than any sin, including yours. Once we ‘get’ grace, our obedience shifts from being driven by guilt to driven by love. Love for our God, our savior, and each other. Pushing against God’s grace as it sweeps toward anyone you deem “unworthy” is like trying to push back a tidal wave. Your efforts aren’t only futile, they make you look like a fool. But, in the end, God’s grace surrounds you as it rushes past to embrace that which you were trying to keep it from.

As Lauren, Zac, Caley, and the rest of the worship team guided our spirits this morning:

Lay yourself down,

to be the light,

for none but Jesus.

How Precious Did That Grace Appear

If we only conclude the problem is “out there”, we completely miss the concept of grace. The problem is always “in here.”

Jonah’s adventure is the gospel in literary form. Grace, fall from grace, consequences, anger, repentance, and the return to grace. In no way can I judge the heart of Jonah as he found himself washed up on a Mediterranean beach. What I do know, is that he accepted his mission and made his way to Nineveh. I imagine, from his retreat into exile that led to his three-day isolation, he still has some apprehension about this trip. Nineveh is the bully of the world at this point. Jonah would like nothing more than to see God eradicate this city from the earth, yet his mission is to lead Nineveh into God’s grace.

The literary tool heavily used in the recount of Jonah’s tale is one which expresses the largeness of the main players and the circumstances. God is a big. Nineveh’s sin was big. The storm was big. The fish was big.

Our semblance to Jonah is becoming increasingly clear. Though we are not all commissioned to preach repentance to a major city, we are all called to something bigger than ourselves.  The bigness of Jonah’s adventure is not emphasized by chance. Putting ourselves in Jonah’s shoes, the first thing we’ll discover is the bigness of our sin. No matter how pure a façade you put on or how good you think you are, things are always worse than they appear. You never find yourself immersed deeper into sin than when you see others as worse sinners than yourself. If we only conclude the problem is “out there”, we completely miss the concept of grace. The problem is always “in here”; your decisions, your motives, your attitude, your hypocrisy, your selfishness. Sin is no respecter of persons, selfishness freely invades the mind of every human being. Recognizing the presence and tactics of this enemy is the first step toward taking back your self-control.

Once we ourselves and our sin in perspective of its bigness, the massiveness of God’s grace is brought into focus. Grace is also no respecter of persons. God freely offers His grace to all humanity, regardless of their past. Grace is freely available through repentance, no questions asked. Even Nineveh, who blended extreme narcissism and extreme brutality into a way of life, had God’s graciousness liberally spread over them at the moment of their repentance.

After grace comes commission. Our responsibility is to choose grace through repentance, we then prove our honor by our service. Like His grace, God’s mission is enormous. The creator of all things is heartbroken over the selfish path His creation has taken. His mission is to re-create all of creation through the lens of perfect selflessness. Nineveh was not the only target in God’s mission for Jonah. Jonah, the sailors on their way to Tarshish, Nineveh, Israel, you, me; we are all targets in God’s mission objective.

Jonah made the mistake of thinking Nineveh’s destiny rested souly on his shoulders. He was just as self-consumed as Nineveh, believing it was only by his grace that God’s could be offered. After delivering a intentionally blunt and vague warning to Nineveh, the city did the thing that Jonah feared most; they mourned over their sin and repented so corporately that God spared the city.

The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Jonah 3:5

Nineveh’s outward expression of repentance is the image that stuck in my mind as Dean spoke this morning. To be so broken that weeping alone is insufficient for expressing your grief. Only by reducing your physical self to the lowest stature your culture recognizes, replacing your soft cotton clothes with a rough burlap sack and covering your head with dirt and ashes decomposing on the floor of a fire pit, there is little question of the integrity of one’s mourning at this point.

One of my medium’s of choice is charcoal. I enjoy the raw, natural feel of drawing with compressed ashes and using the natural oils in my fingertips to manipulate the hue and intensity of the charcoal color. I started today’s drawing by expressing the grief of Nineveh, covering the page with a heavy layer of vine charcoal. Next, I firmly pressed my open right hand onto the page, removing charcoal from the page and leaving an impression of my skin. With the hand defined, I darkened the area around the hand with compressed charcoal and blended it into the vine charcoal with my finger. Pressing my hand onto the page once more, I pulled off any compressed charcoal that spilled over into the white space and created this finished image.

How Precious Did That Grace Appear, Jonah 3

God’s grace is substantial enough to remove every blemish from your soul. His grace is bigger than your past. By His hand, He can make all things clean again.

You are Jonah, but your story is not about you. Look at Him.

“How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” – John Newton, ‘Amazing Grace’