A City on a Hill

A City on a Hill


Newly finished because planting season is here, check out the painting inspired by our series ‘A City on a Hill’ from earlier this spring!

Matthew 5:14-16

I’m pretty sure this is the riskiest painting I’ve ever completed. For starters, I stretched this canvas myself, the first time I’ve built my canvas since high school! Since I’ve been working with upholstered furniture for the last ten years, the art of stretching fabric is very familiar. Next came the risk of different materials and methods. I chose to paint directly on the raw canvas, no Gesso or under-painting.

A common thread in my work is deep symbolism, ‘A City on a Hill’ is no different. Each detail in the painting is meticulously chosen to represent something specific.

North Ridge Church


The first image  created in this piece was the ‘hill’. At first, I was hesitant to use a mountain landscape in a painting I’d call ‘A City on a Hill’ because the reference seemed cliché’ and too easy. In the end, I stuck with the mountains to directly reference the family of believers with whom I worship and serve together; North Ridge Church.


With the ‘hill’ resolved, my next step was to tackle the ‘city’.

A couple of summers ago, I drew during a series we called ‘Planted’ at North Ridge. One particular message focused on how God places us in a specific place with a specific purpose, to build a city within a city. With that in mind, I could have allowed the mountain range to be both the hill and the city, but that interpretation would have been lost to people unfamiliar with that series.

Instead, I chose to incorporate another re-occurring theme in my work, the use of foreign language that literally translates into the word or idea I aim to convey. This time I stretched my use of  linguistics to include Japanese, selecting the symbol that communicates ‘light’. Referencing ‘light’ instead of ‘city’ captures both analogies in the words of Matthew, the city on a hill and the lamp on a pedestal.

These first details; the hill, the city, and the light are all God-designed and God-established entities so I wanted to create them in a way that acknowledged His hand. At the time I was developing this composition I was also starting a vegetable garden from seed; and that’s when the inspiration hit, dirt. Dirt; the original earthen material, one of God’s first creations. Dirt naturally connects our minds with God’s hand in creation so it became the ideal material to use as paint in ‘A City on a Hill’. This was my first attempt at using dirt as paint, so I was nervous from the start. I mixed a saturated paste from leftover potting soil in a plastic dish and used a bamboo brush to apply a thick layer on the canvas. After a couple days drying time, the majority of the dirt held, so I excitedly moved forward with the piece!

I dry-brushed the blue mountain and foggy-looking landscape, then complimented the blue with a red-orange, sunset sky before inspiration struck once again. At this point, I had one step left in the piece as I had it conceived. After seeing the dirt and color as it stood, I felt it was lacking. Bring on risk number three, a white Gesso wash. I often use an ink wash with India ink on mounting board in my work. My hypothesis was that mixing Gesso in the same method would bring similar results on raw canvas. The risk paid off. Using the wash, I dabbed heavy brushes full on the top edge of the canvas frame, allowing the fluid white to stream down the face of the piece and create organic white lines. A “happy accident” (to quote Bob Ross) was that, since the blue mountain had not dried, the white drips pulled some of the blue color into itself. Some drips mixed into a lighter blue, others pulled blue down with it while keeping some of the white hue separate. The result (which I am very happy with) took me to the scripture that inspired my name, James 1:17-18.

Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.

The Gesso wash created a white rim (the heavens) along the top and runs down to infiltrate the dirt and acrylic paint on the canvas, solidifying the dirt and enhancing the flat blue so that it becomes a very interesting focal point int he piece.

One last detail to add, this one the riskiest of all but the one that makes this piece work. Using a serrated steak knife, I stabbed a hole in the top right of the  canvas and sawed at the threads until I exposed a jagged hole. Cutting this hole did not loosen the canvas as much as I expected. The areas I thought I’d have to go back and tighten up remained flat and rigid. The piece was now complete.

As you take in the piece, your eye is drawn to the grossly damaged corner. I image this detail will capture eyes from across the room and make people ask themselves “What is going on there?” or “Did someone vandalize that painting?”. Whatever the question, it is one they can’t escape. Therein lies the point. The frayed cut will capture your eye and refuse to let it free. You must force yourself to look at the rest of the composition instead of its wound.

A city on a hill………..cannot be hidden.

Receive and Apply

Receive and Apply



1. a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.

2. a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy or the like.

Jesus lays on the parables thick in Matthew 13, comparing the kingdom of heaven to a farmer planting seeds, a single mustard seed, leaven that refines flour, a hidden treasure, a merchant and a fishing net. Each of these comparisons accurately describes heaven, each also delivered to connect with a specific mind. When Jesus spoke, he was speaking to common citizens, farmers, bakers, and fishermen; his words were strategically directed to those lifestyles. While using a language that most of his audience would understand, Jesus also utilized a catch phrase familiar to the modern professional educator,  he inspired “higher order thinking”. By using analogies and symbolism, the listener has to discern what each character and detail represents in order to apply to the kingdom of heaven and in their daily lives. Making the situation familiar while also making the listener think results in the person actually hearing the message and downloading it into their long-term memory.

I have to make confession, I’m a nerd. I love watching all the brainy, educational shows on Discovery channel and National Geographic. I caught a show on NatGeo recently that was all about how our brains operate. One segment caught my attention in particular, the one about memory. During this portion of the show, the producers interviewed a man who competes in memory competitions professionally. They tested his abilities by sending his to a bar and assigning him the task of learning and remembering a set of twenty people’s names throughout the night. At the end of the evening, he flawlessly recalled the names of each stranger, along with some additional details about their lives and character traits. Then the producers had him reveal his secret to super-memory. As each person introduced themselves, this guy would focus on something specific about the person; a facial feature, scent of their cologne or perfume, anything that makes that individual unique. In his mind, he would then take that detail and assign it an object (an apple, for instance). He would then take the object and place it in a specific place in his intellectual living room. Every face has a name, each name would be associated with an object, each object a story behind it’s placement in the room. This recipe of association ultimately ensured the person’s name was locked into the memory of this “professional recollector”. Sounds a whole lot like a parable, doesn’t it?

That show really served as affirmation for what I do, spontaneously translating the auditory into visual. I essentially am fostering the same process of memory  by associating the day’s message with a visual image, then recording the back-story of the image by explaining the symbolism on the blog.

Today’s drawing is a lounge chair sitting in the middle of a plowed field with an apple resting on the seat. I planted my tomatoes yesterday and checked over the rest of our crop sprouting for this year before rain moved in today, so I already had gardening on the brain. The plowed field is a reference to the parables Jesus used with the audience in Matthew 13, the homesteaders of that day. I then added my own familiar association with the ancient parables, placing a lounge chair in the middle of the field. I am a furniture engineer by day, so upholstered seating is my life and leisure! Last, I added the apple. The purpose of parables is to convey knowledge. Among the associations of the apple is education, the apple on the teacher’s desk. Whatever knowledge you are aiming to grasp is encompassed by this apple, resting in the cultivated field.

Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.


A Smoldering Wick

A Smoldering Wick


Matthew 12

A bruised reed, he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench until he brings justice to victory.

As long as you have life, you have value. Jesus will pursue you, longing for you to pursue him, until you breathe your last.


4-21-13, The Authority of Jesus, Rest on Jesus' Authority

Rest in the absolute power and absolute authority of Jesus. Jesus failed if his mission was absolute peace on earth.  – two phrases that hit me like a 2 x 4 when they left Dean’s lips. Most striking for where I am at in my life; rest. Matthew continues showing us examples of Jesus’s divine authority over sickness, debilitation and death in chapter 9. After each miracle, Jesus is clear to ask its witnesses not to speak of it again. Seems a bit counter-intuitive for a discipleship mission objective. We can understand this request better when we put it into period context. Countless impostors roam the streets, showing off their tricks to gullible citizens in the marketplace. These guys have a good act, a little diversion here, some slight-of-hand there, a rehearsed sales pitch and voila; you gain a following. Jesus does not want himself associated with these pretenders. He wants followers who pursue him for who he is, not people looking for entertainment.

What today’s message and drawing communicate is that many have turned following Jesus into precisely what Jesus disassociated himself from. We know how to put on a good show. Our bright colors, modern music, and progressive attitude draw huge crowds. We know how to plan a great party that gets people walking through the door, but if lives are not changing what purpose does the church serve?

Authority over death, disease, your comings and goings, your sickness all rests on Jesus’ shoulders because his shoulders bore the cross and he did not fail. Along with the aspects of life you’re comfortable acknowledging divine authority to control are the areas that aren’t so easy to keep from trying to control yourself; your marriage, your finances, your business, your whole life.

The word across today’s drawing may be familiar from the drawing two weeks ago, it is the word ‘authority’ written in Greek. Jesus’ torso supports ‘authority’ on his shoulders. You the viewer are the figure chillaxin’ on the theta, resting on Jesus’ authority over our circumstances. Our attention is directed above, away from Jesus’ supporting frame. If we are not careful, our rest will turn into complacency and we’ll take Jesus’ authority over negative circumstances for granted while trying to usurp his authority over the rest of our lives.

Rest in Jesus’ authority, but don’t miss it.

O Ye of Little Faith

O Ye of Little Faith

He’s got the whole world, in His hands

He’s got the whole wide world, in His hands

He’s got the whole world, in His hands

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

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

He’s got the whole world, in His hands.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

From Discipline to Delight, Prayer and Fasting

From Discipline to Delight, Prayer and Fasting

From discipline to delight in prayer and fasting, Matthew 6:5-18.

Today I’m sharing my first spontaneous drawing completed using my tablet. I drew this using Autodesk Sketchbook and Photoshop.

I invite you to absorb today’s verses and then allow the art to speak to you as it chooses.

God wants you affection, not your duty. One’s proximity to God is not measured by visible devotion but by their proximity to their neighbor’s need.