Tag Archives: religion

The Man Behind the Curtain

The Man Behind the Curtain, Ephesians 6, 10-12, Michael Trogdon

The Wizard of Oz says, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
When Jesus breathed His last, the curtain was torn.

Our enemy is the man behind the curtain that weighs us down and separates us from our Creator. We hide ourselves behind the curtain, ashamed of our failures and perceived inadequacy.

God asks, “Man, where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

Know the man behind the curtain, but pay attention to the One on the other side.

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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.

Save Me From Myself

As we determined last week, the story of Jonah is the story of us all. We are each faced with forks in our road, moments where the decision you make forever impacts all those around you. Today, we shift our focus intrinsically and reveal what that means for you personally.

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas

and the flood surrounded me, all your waves and your billows passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight;

yet I shall look again on your holy temple.

The waters closed in over me to take my life;

the deep surrounded me, weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land whose bars closed on me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.

When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord,

and my prayer came to you in your holy temple.

Those who pay regard to vain idols, forsake their hope of steadfast love.

But I, with the voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed, I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the Lord!

This was Jonah’s prayer as he breathed from the belly of the sea monster.

Sanctification, 1-12-14, Jonah 2

While the choices we make implement a butterfly effect that leaves unchangeable marks on the lives of everyone in its range, each decision leaves permanent marks on our individual lives as well. Though many leave their marks unnoticed, these scars forever map our journey through life. For better or worse, our choices trace the road we’ve chosen and serve as a guide to those who come after us.

Jonah’s decisions led him down paths where he was venerated and exalted by his peers to suffering and isolation where being cast into the sea was in the best interest of those closest to him. After running from the mission God set before him, Jonah found himself cowering beneath the deck of a fishing vessel while his new friends brave the wrath of the sea brought on by his disobedience. He finally concedes to God’s persistence and confesses his responsibility for the situation along with its remedy, removing him from the situation. His fellow sailors, quite reluctantly, launch Jonah into the raging water, all the time begging the God Jonah just tangibly introduced them to for mercy. Only then, when the environment created by his own choices becomes too overbearing, does Jonah cry out to God for help.

God provides the world with a fool-proof navigational system to guide us both day and night, which sailors on Jonah’s journey primarily relied upon. While the sun guides vessels during the day, patterns in the stars guide ships at night. Mediterranean sailors in 5th and 4th century BC used the constellation Cetus as one of their guides. Cetus, known today as ‘The Whale’, was once coined as ‘The Sea Monster’. Sailors who set off in the direction of Cetus were said to be “sailing into the belly of the beast”. The original Hebrew and Greek texts of Jonah use words which literally translate ‘great fish’ to describe the place Jonah found himself after he was thrown from the ship to Joppa.  4th century Greek translations change this word to Cetus. From that, William Tyndale gave us the English translation of ‘whale’ in Jonah’s adventure. Whether Jonah was swallowed by a literal fish or if we are reading sailors’ slang and Jonah miraculously survived three days on the open sea by God’s mercy, (having been tossed into “the belly of the beast”), I am not sure. Either interpretation makes Jonah’s story no less of a miracle, but I do find it interesting Jonah never thanks God for providing a fish to swallow him, but does express gratitude for protecting him from specific perils of the open sea (i.e. the waves and billows, the deep which surrounded him, the seaweed wrapping around his head).

Something else is missing from Jonah’s prayer, repentance. Not once does Jonah acknowledge his disobedience to God. His entire prayer is a cry for help to get him out of the mess he created. This arrogance is a place many of us will find ourselves, likely on more than one occasion. We become so invested in our own sin that, instead of taking responsibility for the circumstances we’ve created, we bathe in our refuse until the environment becomes too putrid to bear. Only then, whining out of our voluntary discomfort, do we cry out to God and beg for His intervention. In His unfathomable mercy, God will respond to our cries as a devoted father and pull us up from our filth, but his answer to our insatiable desire to return to the muck came centuries ago through His son, Jesus.

Jesus sacrificed himself so that we may find salvation though him, a way out of our cycle of failure and disappointment, but salvation is not a one-time deal. Salvation, embracing Jesus as your savior by committing your life to forever emulating his, is the kick-starter for your continual process of sanctification while you walk the earth. Christians refer to someone professing their faith in Jesus as “being saved”. I prefer the phrase quoted by Brennan Manning which was commonly used in the 1930’s, “I’ve been seized by a great affection”. Jesus died to save us from our sin, but he also rose so that we may be daily saved from ourselves.

I have been seized by a great affection so that I may show great affection. God loves in us what is not yet. We love in people what they already are: virtue, beauty, courage, and hence making our love self-interested and fragile. We must learn to love people as God does, empowering them to spread His love further.

May your choices map out a life spent in selfless love that inspires generations.

I Am Jonah

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the son of Ammittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

Jonah 1:1-3

I Am Jonah, Jonah week 1, Jonah 11-3

Starting our first series of 2014, I am excited to see the art it brings but also cautious not to let myself be too influenced by the Jonah series from 2011. The drawings from 2011 are my favorite prophetic series that come out of this adventure.

Being the first installment of Jonah, we begin with the start of Jonah’s story, the call to engage Nineveh. In conveying the mission Jonah is assigned, my goal is to communicate the weight of the task. Lauren led us into feeling the weight of God’s glory by arranging How He Loves as the song leading into Jeremy’s sermon. An excerpt of those lyrics proclaim God ‘Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree’. This paved the way for ‘The Call’ in 2014. Using oil pastels, I created a heavy layer of dark color that very gradually lightens at the top of the page. This method draws, not only your eyes, but your emotions down. At the bottom right of the page stands a palm tree. The tree bends at the weight of the atmosphere, bending it nearly in half. For this series, the tree is Jonah. Applying this series to your reality, the tree is you. I want you to feel the weight of this image just like Jonah felt the weight of his responsibility and you carry the weight of your own.

Ancient Nineveh was world renown as the most evil city in all civilization. The society was so intolerant, any who opposed them on any level were brutally tortured then buried alive, their head exposed so they could watch scavengers approach to feed on their flesh. Jonah is being told to enter this city and publicly condemn their lifestyles and worldview, encouraging them to return to living by God’s design. Suddenly, any adversity in my daily life doesn’t seem so adverse! Jonah, a prophet well known in and out of Jewish culture, is understandably afraid for his life at hearing his mission. Who can blame him for running the other direction?

Spiritual people often find it easy to point out those who are far away from God, lifestyles and world views are dead giveaways to a person’s spiritual state, right? You are never further from God than when you are close to Him and saying ‘no’. Jonah, a prophet of God, separated himself from God when he stepped on the deck of the boat heading east. Whatever task is placed in your path, there will always be a ship to Tarshish you can board to avoid your responsibility. The choice of whether to run or obey is yours. Making that choice is a difficult task. On the one hand, God gives us specific tasks through opening up doors of opportunity. On the other hand, our enemy leads us astray by showing us the paths of least resistance. Where we must be careful is determining which path we should take.

We often make major decisions in life based on which avenue leads us to experience the most ‘peace’, were we to make that option. Peace is a vague emotion that must also be handled with care. Often times, what we label as God inspired peace is actually Satan’s administered numbing to our situation.

The choices we make rarely affect only us. There is a ripple effect to both sin and obedience that will forever alter the lives of everyone we touch. Considering this is how we know which path we need to follow. God’s calling on your life is where your greatest passion and the world’s greatest need collide. Follow your passions where they most greatly benefit the lives of others, from friends to strangers.

You are Jonah.

Choose your path wisely.

He Gives Sight to the Blind

image

We’re a little over half way through our year long study of the book of Matthew! Today we look at Matthew 16:1-28. Jesus is addressing three main groups within religious circles in this passage; Pharisees, Sadducees, and disciples. The traits these groups share are eerily similar to modern society, tell me if you see the correlation!
Pharisees are define themselves with self-righteousness. These are the guys who hold to strict legalism and create new laws to bend the old ones to their liking. Modern Pharisees vomit up barrage of condemnation followed up with a chorus of “Jesus Loves Me”, calling it evangelism.
Sadducees swing to the opposite extreme. Self-indulgence is the defining characteristic of this group. While Pharisees create new laws and follow them strictly, Sadducees “‘re-interpret” the old ones so they fit popular lifestyle trends. If it’s fun, if it feels good, it must be OK with God. After all, God’s number one job is ensuring our individual happiness. Sound familiar? Modern Sadducees turn Grace into grease. “Tolerance” is a popular buzz word for these guys. Their flaw is taking just my toleration to such an extreme that NOTHING is sin. If nothing is sin, everything is God. Our understanding of God depends on whatever shakes our coconut tree that particular day! The Bible is obsolete to a Sadducee.

While their dogmas are in direct opposition, Pharisees and Sadducees share a common trait at their fundamental core. Neither of the philosophies would survive without narcissism. Our physical eyes are designed to communicate one area of focus to our minds at a time. The same is true for our mind’s eye. Focusing on ourselves eliminates the ability to focus on anything else. Selfishness blinds us from the gospel. The disciples combat the selfish tendencies of human nature, which sets them apart from any other religious sect.

The mark of a disciple is complete self-denial. People who live as disciples walk with all eyes open. They value other’s lives and well being over their own and live having been freed from fear of death. For the disciple, death is not the end, it is the start of a new chapter of life. A community of Jesus disciples are obvious by their intimate knowledge of and relationship with Jesus. They don’t just know the Christianese lingo, they live it out in a way that you can see them coming. The legalists’ and grace greasers’ knees tremble when real disciples come into town. Why would anyone fear disciples? Communities of disciples share Jesus confidently. We don’t require political angles or scare tactics to teach the gospel, we simply live it out and attract people by our example. Finally, communities of disciples follow Jesus sacrificially. We give ourselves in service and share all that we own to an extreme that confuses the world. Through our giving we are blessed with resources that allow us to give more; this really blows the cynics’ minds!

Jesus gives sight to the blind. Not by changing our eyes, but by taking off our blindfolds.

Stamp of Approval

Worship is more than physical action.

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.  Matthew 15:8-9

God never intended obedience to one command to nullify another. Each command from Him correlates harmoniously with every other. The moment you are faced with an unfamiliar “Biblical command” that prevents you from fulfilling another that you know to be true, you can guarantee the new command is false.

The root of legalism is tradition, adhering to a singular way of doing things for the sake of avoiding change. Legalism is not a recent phenomena, not even in the last century. Legalism has been alive and well since the dawn of religion, it is the loophole around religious Dogma that allows a person to claim a religion without having change themselves. The crowd Jesus was speaking to in these passages is the staple child of religious legalism, the Pharisees. These religious leaders used legalism to manipulate the common public and relive themselves from uncomfortable responsibilities at their convenience. The specific dance here involved what was referred to as the Corban. The Bible commands families to support each other. Specifically, children are to care for their parents when the need arises. Corban law allowed a person to will all of their assets to the church, releasing them from having to use their own money to help anyone (including their folks) by the religious excuse “I’ve committed everything I have to God, so giving to you would be stealing from God.” Naturally, their religious propriety would not apply when the individual was personally in need. Using “God’s money” on themselves would then be example of God’s provision. The hypocrisy is blatantly obvious.

Today’s culture is no less hypocritical, regardless of religious profession. We are an intrinsically driven culture, that is to say we are out to gain the world for ourselves at the expense of whomever gets in our way. This attitude has slowly infiltrated through our personal lives, into our social lives and business personas. We are at the point now selfishness is even promoted from church pulpits. Self-called “preachers” allot entire sermons to promoting man-invented, legalistic rules while completely ignoring the truth of the Gospel.

Stamp of Approval

 

Interpreting today’s message, I drew this in the style of a political cartoon. The stamp engraved with the word “tradition” has marked the Bible VOID with a single swipe. In the background, a stereotypical traditional preacher standing in a pulpit (a modern day golden calf), arm raised in a shout of legalistic condemnation for outsiders. I can almost hear the the “amens” echoing off the page! In a twist of irony (you all know how I love irony) a Peace Lily is placed on either side of the pulpit. Flowers that represent peace surrounding a platform of bondage.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning all forms of tradition. I take issue when tradition contradicts the gospel. Do not be afraid to question tradition. When questioning the norm results in anger and opposition, you know it’s time to move on.

God is concerned about your heart and He wants your only concern to be His.