Where Are You?

We’re in the second week of our new series at North Ridge, “Man School”. We started out rather poetically, introducing the study of what manhood really entails on Father’s Day. I missed the first message with my own ironic twist, my wife and I welcomed home our third child, a boy, the day before. “Man School” started on Father’s Day with my becoming a father for the third time, making me ‘Dad’ to three boys. To add icing on the cake, before leaving for the Ridge this morning, I helped my oldest construct a light saber out of a 1″ dowel rod and a conduit coupler! (insert a hearty Tim Allen man grunt here) Upon meeting his new brother, Noah (5) promoted our two-year old, Jacob to a “Padawan”, day old Micah took Jacob’s place as the “Youngling”, meaning Noah is now a “Jedi Knight”. (For those of you whose children are not Star Wars fanatics, those are the introductory ranks to become a Jedi Master) Like any good Jedi, Noah had to build his own lightsaber. The local Army/Navy Surplus store does not carry lightsaber parts (to Noah’s disappointment), so I convinced him a wooden dowel with some electrical components would be sufficient. Noah earned the 10″ dowel rod with the coupler, because it looks most like Luke Skywalker’s, Jacob saber is just another 10″ dowel segment, because “he’s just in training”. I love my boys!

Now back to the point…or, as Noah would quote from episode IV, “Stay on target”, Man School. Dean, the lead pastor at North Ridge, posted a status update on his facebook page last week: “The essence of masculinity is responsibility.” The podcast for the Father’s Day message had not posted yet, so I went out on a limb and ran with this quote for the first drawing the series, a depiction of taking responsiblity (emphasis on ‘taking’)

I realized during the sermon this morning, Dean’s quote led directly into week two’s message. The focus of today’s message was a man’s responsibility in his family, some men embrace their place in the home well, others not so much. The atmosphere within the home depends on the man’s involvement, and the level at which he is involved is clear in the mannerism of the family. Absentee fathers and husbands is a plague eating away at the cornerstone of our nation, the only remedy is men deciding to once again be men. Absenteeism is not only a physical problem, a man may be physically present in the home, but mentally, emotionally, or influentially absent.

We began the day’s message by reading an excerpt of the creation story in Genesis 1, beginning in verse 26. Up to this verse, God has created the universe and added details of water, vegetation, and all species of animals; save one. The earth was created, now it required someone to tend to it, an able groundskeeper. With that, God created Adam and gave him authority over the rest of creation. Then came Eve, to help Adam “fill and subdue” the earth. We read on in chapter 2; after taking a day off to relax, God places Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the oasis of all creation. Outside of this immaculate acreage, creation is chaotic and untamed. Eden is God’s example to Adam and Eve for what He wants them to do with the rest of the earth. Imagine God saying to them, “See how beautiful and lush this garden is? Take everything else I’ve created and make it like this.”

Men need a task to be happy, without something to build, something to grow, a competition to win, an apprentice to train men become bored and disconnect. God gave Adam the mission of cultivating the earth and maximizing its full potential, the epitome of manly-man tasks! Eve’s responsibility? Help Adam fulfill his responsibilities by procreation (be fruitful and multiply Gen. 1:28) and assisting Adam any other way possible to care for the planet. The only specific instruction God gave to both NOT to do is eat fruit from the tree of knowledge (Gen. 2:17). Consuming its fruit would ultimately result in death. Finally, at the end of chapter 2, God officiates the first marriage, presenting Adam and Eve to each other as one creation.

We read on in chapter 3 the account of what is known as “the fall”, the commission of the first sin. A talking serpent tickles Eve’s curiosity and convinces her to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge. Countless jokes have spawned from her decision. Eve’s choice sent the world into a tailspin we have yet to recover from; or did she? Yes, she blatantly disobeyed God’s requirement not to eat the fruit from that tree. Where was Adam when the serpent was seducing his wife? Right beside her. Genesis 3:6, Eve took of the tree’s fruit, ate it, and gave some to her husband. There is no pause between eating the fruit and Adam taking a piece, it is immediately consecutive, meaning Adam must has been right beside her. Adam committed the first sin of omission by keeping his mouth shut as his wife was fed the lies that led to her fall. This makes Adam the first absentee husband.

Men are leaders of their household, either by their presence or their absence. Some men cave to being the “cool dad” and their lack of disciplined leadership creates chaos. Others go to the opposite extreme and lead as iron fist dictators, making their family cower in submissive fear. Neither are the Biblical model. Men and women are created equal, but different. Dean made a statement today that I will take with me through this adventure called fatherhood, “Men dominate the lives of their families, for good or evil.”Equally important elements to the success of creation, different roles in creating that success.

Today’s Man School lesson, be involved, influence positively, lead boldly. Be there.

I have titled today’s drawing “Where Are You?”, a question the image poses to every father. The drawing is a universal family portrait. It is a family of three, the youngest child a baby, to reflect my family and remind myself of my place in the day’s lesson. The mother and children are shaded with details as if the drawing is the beginning of a commissioned family portrait. The father, however, is an empty space surrounded by dashed lines. One could read this like a cut-out template for a paper doll or the outlined space waiting for a sticker in a children’s puzzle magazine. Either way, the family is incomplete with the father figure being a gaping hole, desperate to be filled. With that haunting of emptiness, I pose the question to you father’s, where are you?

Me? I’m writing today’s post on a laptop in my La-Z-Boy recliner, typing with one hand, supporting a one-week old with the other, encouraging the older two to clean up their toys in the play room (it works sometimes), then on to the kitchen to prepare supper so Julie can relax on the couch and read a book before tonight’s cycle of feeding, diapers, baby rocking, and a day of caring for all three while I work tomorrow.

Whoops! I have a diaper to change. See you next week! Be there.

Noah, Jacob and Micah

Unite

Today is the sixth (and final) week of Jesus+, our chapter by chapter study of the book of Galatians. We’ve tackled one chapter per week, picking apart the word Paul wrote and what they mean for us today. Paul’s letter to Galatia lays out the gospel in great detail, discounting the rules and regulations hollow religion requires. We exposed two major distortions of the gospel in our review of chapter one, the misconception faith in Jesus alone is too simple, and the “fire insurance” mindset leading one to believe anything they do is allowable because forgiveness will cover them. In chapter 2, Paul explicitly calls out Peter for teaching the first distortion, requiring adherence to Jewish laws combined with faith in Christ for salvation. Chapter 3 describes the freedom from the law Jesus offers and what’s required of us to receive it, just listen and believe. In the fourth week we learned about God’s reaction to our faith, not only are we justified and freed from our sins, we are adopted as part of His family. Then last week, Galatians chapter 5, we discovered as sad truth. Despite hearing these words of freedom through faith alone, many will fight to embrace their captor, succumbing to a gospel Stockholm syndrome. Fighting people in this situation only pushes them further into the arms of their slave master, patient love will lead them down the road to freedom.

That brings us, finally, to the close of Galatians and the end of our Jesus+ journey; chapter 6. Throughout Paul’s letter, the tone has been very stern, showing an obvious frustration with the church in Galatia. He has laid out the righteous path to follow, but castigated the church leaders in the process. As Paul closes the letter, he brings their thought process back from exposing their errors to a plan for moving forward. The only way the church (ekklesia) will be successful in fulfilling its calling is through community, people making meaningful connections with other people. Christ reaches the world through his ekklesia is if his people destroy their selfish ambitions, their self-image insecurities, their competitive nature and direct all of their energy outward. This must be a life-style change. Selflessness only evident in the midst of a group is still selfishness for the individual to boost their own self-esteem. The greatest evidence of a spirit-filled life is love for one another. When we as individuals embrace the gospel and serve others without reservation or recourse, then we build ekklesia, a community of believers impacting their world.

Spiritual community is doing life together, loving one another. It’s time we unite.

A Glimpse Into Hell: Eternal Isolation

keyser-sozeThe greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world that he didn’t exist. – Kevin Spacey as Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects, 1995)

Last week, my drawing addressed the topics of death and judgement. The second week of delving into the afterlife proved equally heavy, focusing on hell’s reality.

 

Hell

Like your position on the afterlife, what you believe about hell is evident in how you live as well. Sadly, a great number of people who believe in heaven and call themselves Christians reject hell being a real place. “Christians” who do not believe in hell’s existence for unbelievers will not speak of their faith with the same tone of gratitude and urgency as those who understand its grave reality. These are the people Craig Groeschel refers to as Christian Atheists, people who claim Christ but live as if he doesn’t exist. I am not saying the only real Christians are those who get up on their soap box and condemn everyone in earshot. I believe many of those people will fall into the “goat” category,  referenced last week. The difference will be clear in how each person lives, one looks out for “the least of these” the other just looks out for themselves.

The same book that opens our minds to the concept of grace and redemption also warns us of justice and condemnation. How can this be? If you believe God is a god of love, how can any loving being let a single person experience hell? This perceived contradiction is what offends many people about the Christian faith, but the issue really boils down to semantics. While God is love, love is not God. God’s character is a perfect harmony of love, justice, wrath, and mercy. So…..God created everything. Why create a hell in the first place? The answer to that question lies in understanding who Satan is.

What’s the first image that pops into your head when you think of Satan? A muscular, bright crimson humanoid with a black cape, Satan imagehorns of a goat, carrying a pitch-fork? Do you think of him as hell’s equal to God?

I can’t say what Satan looks like, he manifests himself in many forms throughout the Bible. What I can promise, though he has seniority in hell, his place is not comparable to God by any stretch of the imagination. Leaving the comforts of heaven for the torment of hell was not a “grass is greener” situation gone bad. It was not a promotion, much less a voluntary move. Satan and his band of angels were cast into hell by God as punishment for attempting a coup.

OK, Satan’s not a god in his own right as leader of hell and arrived there for attempting to overthrow God (his own creator). So what? Still doesn’t justify God creating it for all unbelievers, does it? Couldn’t God have just vaporized Satan on the spot, along with the corrupted angels, and that be the end of it? Why the ongoing presence? Mercy.

Lucifer (Satan) craved maximum power, he wanted to be God, he chose to try to take the position he wanted by force. The angels he corrupted chose to follow Satan instead of God. Despite knowing the agony and torment that accompanies being separated from Him, God gave these beings what they wanted; out. God created hell, not as a grand scheme of ultimate torture and punishment to hang over our heads and keep us in line. Hell was created so beings who did not want to be in God’s presence wouldn’t have to be. In that sense, hell is a byproduct of God’s mercy.

God does not force anyone to stay in His presence, doing so would violate a crucial key to being created by a loving God; free will. Every soul has a choice, including you. You can choose to be with God (heaven) or you can choose not to be with God (hell). In Luke 16:19-31, we read about a rich man and Lazarus. The rich man chose to spend everything he made on himself, living a lavish lifestyle and being lord over his own life. Lazarus was the man he walked past every morning, the man starving on his doorstep (v.19-21). Both men died. Lazarus chose to spend eternity with God, the rich man (by his selfish decisions during life) chose otherwise, eternity in hell (V.22). What we can understand from this passage is that, while in hell, the rich man is able to see Lazarus in heaven (v.23). The rich man begs for mercy from God, asking if Lazarus can offer just a drop of water off the end of his finger to ease the rich man’s thirst. The response he received sends a chill down my spine, “between you and us, a great chasm has been set in place.” (v. 24-25). Realizing the permanence of his situation, the rich man changes his plea. Send Lazarus to my family so he can convince them to change their ways and not wind up like me. (v. 27-28) Finally, he gets it. Life is not about you, it’s about you helping everyone else. His revelation is too late, as Abraham explains, he had his chance and so does his family through the prophets that already told them to embrace God. The options are plainly out on the table, the decision is theirs to make. (v.29-31)

My drawing shows the state of the rich man. Not a state of active torture or perpetual incineration, total isolation. Consider these documented effects of temporary isolation in humans: severe anxiety, panic attacks, lethargy, insomnia, nightmares, dizziness, confusion, irrational anger, delusions, paranoia, “a dysfunctional state and inability ever to live normally outside confinement.” This alone is hell enough. But wait, not only is the rich man spending eternity experiencing this, he can see the paradise he rejected.

I used only charcoal on today’s drawing to make the image as dark a possible. The background is completely black, the presence of no color in the light spectrum, the color most children fear at bedtime, the color of complete isolation. The head at the bottom of the page looks up through this blackness, recognizing his lonely environment and looking to the paradise he could have enjoyed. The lightest parts of the drawing are outside the borders of the black space, the whites of the eyes of the figure (symbolizing his self-awareness, and the tear running down his cheek (symbolizing his eternal regret). My hope is you will feel the despair flowing from this face and choose to avoid it in your eternity.

To summarize, God created everything out of love, He then established order by His justice, He keeps that order by His wrath, then created hell out of mercy.

Kill Your ‘More’ Button

Luke 12:16-20

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

   18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

I heard a news clip this weekend reporting a political debate on rising gas prices; one side compared the amount of fuel production to consumption in America compared to the rest of the world while the other followed up with the size of the American GDP versus that of other countries. If there’s one thing we can link to America, it’s consumerism. A second story I heard last week reported the results of a study on the values among the Millennial generation’; here’s a quote from that story:

While “there are certainly individual exceptions” to this image of young adults, she says, “overall, the pattern is pretty clear.The trend is more of an emphasis on extrinsic values such as money, fame, and image, and less emphasis on intrinsic values such as self-acceptance, group affiliation and community.”

The state of “having” is among the top ten of American idols. The more we have, the more we want. The more we see our neighbors get, the more we think we deserve. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others, angling to find something we’re lacking. Finding out what ‘it’ is initiates an insatiable desire to get it.

Paul revealed the key to happiness when he wrote these words:

Philippians 4:11

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

Happiness is not found in having more than the other guy. Happiness is being content with what you already have. Break the switch inside you that clicks on every time you start to feel content with your belongings, your salary, your family, yourself; whispering “you deserve better”. Kill your ‘more’ button. In the words of Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis

Fresh from a week at the North Carolina coast, I returned in time for a new, exciting series at North Ridge; At The Movies. This series is taking several blockbuster hits, dissecting them, and discovering God within their message. First on the cutting table, one of my personal favorites, The Bourne Identity.

In the Bourne series, Jason Bourne is a government agent with amnesia, trying to rediscover his true identity and not liking what he finds. Clues about his former life are confusing to him, contradicting his moral values and revealing highly specialized abilities.

We each face our own identity crisis, a sort of spiritual amnesia, requiring us to discover who we are, why we’re here, and what we’re going to do about it. Some discover themselves easily, others take years to accept their identity, still others continually wrestle with it, creating a different identity for every situation.

Every human’s identity is built off a common foundation, our creator. God, who knows every detail about us before forming our bodies in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5), is the basis of our individually unique identity. We are created to emulate Him, our act of worship that points others back towards Him. Until we embrace this truth, we will be in a constant state of identity crisis, cycling through endless personalities to try and find the right fit. Without this critical footing, however, none will match.

This sketch begins with a dark figure, back to the viewer in the foreground. The figure’s arms are raised toward the background. Above the figure, we catch a glimpse of the object of his praise, a chin and mouth. The partial face is gently breathing onto the figure below, breathing life into its new creation:

Genesis 2:7 Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

On each side of the figure stands angled mirrors. These mirrors reflect the figure, as well as each other, replicating the figure infinitely in both directions.

Up to this point, the drawing represents our identity within God. Life is breathed into each of us by God. Our true identity is revealed in giving that life back to Him, completely submitting to His direction. One remaining figure disrupts this breath-life-worship cycle. The ghostly white figure obstinately walking away from the central figure. This ghost represents an individual’s rejection of an identity founded in God through Christ, in search of a way to find themselves on their own terms. This figure remains hollow, without any depth from shading because our emptiness consumes us until we submit to our creator’s authority and allow Him to fill us.