Put It Down

2015-08-09 12.57.34

Having just finished up our summer series on prayer, we dove into a new focus this week; Titus – Believe. Do. The day’s message spoke to me at a very personal level. Based on the first chapter of Titus, it’s mostly words meant form me than imagery.

I lay my life down to live like Christ; but I must remember, I am not Christ. It is not my place to be anyone’s savior. I am not responsible to rescue people, even from themselves. Disappointing someone else by creating and maintaining a good relationship with myself does not make me a failure or a disappointment. It’s not my load to carry.

The gospel is not just a message of spiritual salvation, it is freedom to acknowledge and live in the light of self worth. The gospel is the manifestation of complete love; salvation lies within. 

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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.

For God and Country

Once again, we enter into the home stretch of an election year, bracing for an overload of partisan propaganda and wild rumors of certain Armageddon scenarios if particular candidates are elected. Today opens the ballot boxes for early voting in some states, marking the beginning of the end for this chaos. Looking over the brainstorming notes for future series ideas this summer, a four word phrase coinciding with this season demanded my attention; For God and Country. Despite not having any guarantee this will become a series of messages and drawings, the idea took root and creating this piece became inescapable.

I am a huge Marvel comics fan, Stan Lee’s creations inspired much of my early work. Combine that with enjoying the occasional Colbert Report and the phrase, “God and country” immediately brings Captain America’s shield to mind. The summer’s release of ‘The Avengers’ and resulting influx of Marvel paraphernalia in toys aisles across the country have, once again, defined this symbol as an indisputable icon of heroism and American patriotism.

Exciting as the initial surge of patriotic adrenaline may be, let’s step back and listen for what this piece is saying.

The first panel of this piece is a sheet of plywood with a smooth, finished face. This is the start of creation, smooth and untainted. As the image moves toward you, the first layer is segments of this original material, cut into smaller panels. Subsequent layers mimic this panel appearance, but are constructed of lower-quality OSB board. As the piece progresses toward you, it regresses in material quality. This tainting of the materials represents our working relationship with creation. We take the raw materials God invented for our use and destroy them, then reassemble the fragments into something that mimics the original design in an attempt to make the original better. Often this process of re-creation will benefit society, but the materials I chose are an example of the opposite reaction. The imagery here is God’s original creation and our use of that creation to build life as we know it. Just as the materials lose their quality as they are layered, the more effort we spend elevating ourselves, the more fragile our creation becomes.

The icon of the Captain America shield is what stands out on this piece. Each layer contains the full shape of the shield, covered by the next layer then spray painted back on.  Painting the shield on to the original, smooth panel create the highest quality and most aesthetically pleasing image. As I added the layers of smaller panels and re-applied the shield, the original image lost its crisp quality due to over-spray. We have parts of our original design in sight, we can even discern the full image when we step back and look at the whole picture, but the panels (our efforts to re-define creation) disrupt the image. This distracts us from seeing the big picture, only focusing on a piece or two at one time. As the old adage goes, we can’t see the forest for the trees.

The piece hangs on the wall in an awkward position in relation to the floor. Artwork is normally hung in a position that is perpendicular to the floor. This irregular display will drive some viewers crazy, at least, that is my goal.

The angled display and fuzzy background layers of this piece communicate to most minds that something is off. Many will want to intervene and repair what they see off, to make sense of the image and settle the uneasiness its imperfection creates in their conscience.

Take action to mend what you see broken, redirect what is misguided, cultivate what you find neglected. Be the difference you long to see.

Own your responsibility. 

For God and country.

Jonah 2: Repentance

Yesterday was the second installment of Jonah at North Ridge. We discussed chapter 2 where Jonah turns and faces the task God is trusting him with; undoubtedly nervous, probably skeptical, but decidedly faithful.

Repentance

Before reading further, take a look at last week’s representation of Jonah 1, ‘The Word of the Lord Came to Jonah’. In last week’s image, the page was mostly black. A small circle of light was growing in the bottom right corner, symbolizing the overwhelming wave of fear that came over Jonah once he realized the task before him. This week takes that image a step further in the story. The white circle is still present in the bottom right, still being restrained by the overwhelming darkness of the background. A face is protruding from the dark background, symbolizing Jonah turning to face his fear and tackle his mission head on. We’re required to do the same thing in our lives. We first turn from our sinful, selfish and materialistic selves to embrace God. Then we have multiple occasions when God will give us a specific task or bring us to a crossroad where we must choose again, our way or God’s way. As Jonah, among many others, found out, God’s way is always best.

Look back at last week’s drawing and then this one again. I proposed the emotion I conveyed last week  was like the small white circle being told to make the page white again. The outer perimeter is encroaching on the darkness, reducing the space it holds on the page. I used shapes to mimic that of ocean waves and seaweed that swept over Jonah and wrapped around his legs during his time in the ocean.

As this series progresses, I do not believe we will be seeing a separate drawing for each chapter, I am expecting this will become a single image that morphs from fear, to repentance, to victory, then on to resentment and back again. Expect something brighter for next week, Jonah 3!