Like a Lion

A certain air of excitement and anticipation filled the atmosphere this morning. The Game Time series we’re working our way through is encouraging and empowering, but something today felt different, it felt charged, like the worship service was primed and ready to ignite. Maybe it was quality time spent in prayer for and by our worship leaders, perhaps it was the next step I’ve been encouraged to take my art in and beginning that effort today, perhaps it was just me. Whatever it was, I loved it, I needed it and I want more of it.

Opposition to the work

Nehemiah 4:1-14

My God’s not dead, He’s surely alive.

and He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion!

Like A Lion, Nehemiah 4, Game Time 3

Discouragement is an adversary faced by everyone who’s ever risked anything. The teenager who risks being themselves in front of their peers faces pressure to conform to social molds. The high school sweethearts who fulfill their mutual commitment to purity to get married at 19  are ridiculed even by those within their family  for being too young and too immature to commit their lives to each other. The college junior who abandons his business major to pursue a degree in missions and worship arts is rejected by his family for “throwing away his future.” The teacher who leaves a decade-long career in secondary education with retirement benefits at a local school and embarks on a journey to  earn a new degree in a different field at a school 85 miles away is told she’d be better off to “hang on a few more years.” The artist working to break down centuries-old barriers between their art, their faith and their community only to have doors closed and ideas delayed. We don’t face opposition because we’re doing something wrong, we face opposition because we’re doing something right.

I’ve heard the same thing said different ways, but the most fundamental way of putting it I have heard is Satan doesn’t waste time or energy on souls who are already his. I believe The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, first published by an Anglican periodical named The Guardian in 1941, most effectively surmises our place in spiritual warfare and the weapon that is discouragement. Many of today’s quotes come from those letters.

Discouragement, at its core, is just a big word for worry. When one talks about being discouraged (or at least when I have felt it myself) I am less concerned with people sharing their opposition to my plans and more concerned with their reactions if I follow through on them anyway. The genius behind the weapon of discouragement (spiritually speaking) is that the opposition never says “don’t do _____”. That would be a futile tactic to use on a soul with any hint of spiritual maturity because it would be immediately written off. Who’s going to stop loving their community because someone approached them and said “stop being compassionate”? Nobody. Approach someone with a scathing indictment of how the consequences of their actions will negatively come back upon them and you’ve got leverage. Our Enemy doesn’t talk in absolutes because he doesn’t want us to think in absolutes. He uses ‘what if’s’ and ‘are you sure’s’ to keep us floundering in uncertainty until we either run out of time or emotional stamina.

“There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy [God]. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

This logic proves “the devil made me do it” to be a completely unfounded excuse for poor decisions. The devil doesn’t pose questions to you whose answers dictate your actions. It is his plan to make you choose not to complete the mission God entrusts to you. His discouragement comes in indirect questions like “Do you want people to like you? What if no one gets it? Do you think people really want you to do this?” Do you see? Satan doesn’t question the integrity of our mission, doing that would affirm our intentions and only make us stronger. Instead, he brings to light the personal consequences of following through with our plans. Once our minds are filled with enough doubt and anxiety, we most often take the path of least resistance and abort our world-changing ideas before they are released.

Think about your community for a minute. How many people would have a roof over their head, children have families, stomachs be full, addictions be broken, and lives fulfilled if people like you simply turned their ideas into action? How often have you let an opportunity float passed while you protected your reputation?

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at its testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

Nehemiah’s plans faced opposition from day one. Requesting approval to start his mission to rebuild Jerusalem was a brazen move in itself! Now he’s faced with the haters on the ground. Hecklers along the wall he’s so ardently convinced is his lone responsibility to  see reconstructed. The very people he’s rebuilding this city for share cynical rumors that his motives are less than pure. Despite it all, Nehemiah presses forward. He is forced to go as far as arming his fellow workers with construction tools in one hand and combat weapons in the other, yet construction is not delayed. 

Nehemiah embraced two things with unwavering loyalty, God and his cause. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down” became his battle cry (Nehemiah 6:3) Complete the mission God entrusts to you in the shadow of Nehemiah who rebuilt a city in 52 days.

Like A Lion, Nehemiah 4, Game Time 3

Like I said earlier, the atmosphere walking into the service today was an aura inspiring creativity that I had not experienced in some time. My expectations for today’s drawing launched like a pyrotechnic star, slowly slithering its way into the sky. What exposed itself on the page was only limited by the ability of the one maneuvering the pencils.

Lauren did an excellent job arranging the worship set this morning. While many were led in worship by talented musicians today, the worship team effectively lead the body of North Ridge into worship with a strategic progression of music and lyrics.

Like a Lion – adoration

Here for You – confession

How Great is Our God – thankfulness

From the Inside Out – supplication

The subject and progression of today’s drawing is (like many of my pieces) full of intentional layers and dimensions of meaning. I began first by contemplating on the imagery of “oppression”, which is the title of today’s message. My mind flitted between a dark page of charcoal black and an emotional crowd of naysayers. Art (particularly Christian art) cannot remain one-sided, so I had to balance the oppressive emotion with a feeling of freedom and release. The foundational subject of this image is a circular array of dark figures, seemingly trying to suppress the central focus point.

As your eye travels around this circle of figures, you notice the shape extending to the bottom of the page is out of place; it has leaves growing from it! Your mind almost immediately recognizes this combination of shapes; it is the stem of a flower.

Pom pom flower

The negative space between the hands and bodies of the figures now also begins to take shape. While the dark shapes produce a heavy, oppressive emotional atmosphere, a flower comes into bloom in the center of the page against the seemingly insurmountable odds.

Like A Lion detail

Now that you’re focused on the image exposing itself from the negative space on the page, the final and most crucial detail comes back into view; the part of the drawing these surrounding figures are working so hard to suppress. In the center of the flower and at the hands of the oppressors is the face of a lion rearing back to loose an earth-shattering roar.

You are the flower. God places inside you specific passions. Working inside these passions is where you find your greatest joy. As Frederick Beuchner said it, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Find the world’s hunger, then use your passion to satisfy its pangs. As you fulfill your passion, expect opposition to arise. Stand your ground, grow where you’re planted. Leverage your talent and passion to build a city within your city. Loose the lion inside you to roar with such authority that you are exposed to be that city on the hill. Have the courage to say; Here’s the problem. Here’s the solution. Here’s why we need to do something about it. Here’s why we need to do something about it NOW. Make you passion to defeat your enemy bigger than your apathy.

Now for that next step I took my art in today. You may have noticed at the bottom of my posts, the share tabs are tagged with a statement that says “Art comes alive when it’s shared.” That starts with my sketchbook today. Every drawing will be released as soon as it is completed, immediately available somewhere in the coffee lounge at North Ridge. Tagged with a note reading “FREE ART” paper-clipped to the drawing, it is free for the taking by whoever it chooses. My hope is that the cleaning crew finds fewer of these than you!

When your time on this earth draws to a close, my prayer is this phrase, uttered by Wormwood’s “patient”,  is far from your lips and mine; “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”

You are doing a great work and you cannot come down.

Shhhh…..

2-24-13, City on a Hill 5, Shhh

Matthew 6:1-4

At first glance, it seems today’s theme is contradicting the last post. Bear with me and we’ll hash out what’s going on. In the fourth drawing from the City on a Hill series, we discussed the allegories of salt and light Jesus highlighted in chapter 5. The quick summary of his point there is to live out your faith, actively serving and giving to anyone in need. Jesus explicitly states, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see you good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Just a few paragraphs later, we find this, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for the you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1) So which is it, Jesus? Do good works in front of people or not? Reading prescriptively would inspire just such a question. To understand what Jesus is really teaching, we must change our perspective to an outsider viewing the crowd he is addressing instead of inserting ourselves as  being the sole representative of the crowd.

In Matthew 5, Jesus is speaking to the working-class citizens who are listening. He is addressing the poor, entreating them to love and serve each other by giving of their time and money. He encourages them to do so visibly as a motivator for their fellow citizens to follow suit. In the first verses of chapter 6, the focus of his words are aimed at the rich and religious elite who, up to this point, have undoubtedly been cheering Jesus on! He says to them, don’t let pride be your motivator for serving. Everyone knows you have money and power, don’t flaunt it using philanthropy. Pride is not honorable in God’s eyes.

This made me consider the whole Occupy Wall Street movement, and all the sub-movements that stemmed from the media hype. The motivations, methods, and attitudes of both Wall Street and the Occupiers rank high on my cynical radar. I imagine Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount from a bench in Central Park, Occupy members mixed with some of the homeless community would be crowding up, front and center. Wall Street, NYPD on horseback, and many political leaders would line the outer skirts of the audience to enforce crowd control, but also within earshot of the profound words being spoken. With what little first-hand knowledge I have of either group, my media-driven understanding of the occupiers is freeing America’s poor from the corrupt, oppressive thumb of America’s elite. The elite are just out to make a buck, and the media only portrays the dark side of corrupt business, presenting it as the gold standard of all business. I filter all forms of media through a healthy screen of skepticism, no matter which side they seem to support, so I am convinced neither of the descriptions above are accurate. If they were, however, Wall Street would be like the Pharisee, guilty of flaunting their philanthropy to generate more prestige and likely convert that into new business opportunities. The occupiers would be just as guilty of ignoring the needs of those around them and spending too much time calling for Wall Street to be more public with their giving!

To sum all this up in today’s drawing, I have used the bottom half of the Guy Fawkes mask (at least a quick version of it) to represent the an abbreviated message of the Occupy movement; give. Extending from the bottom of the page is a hand with a single raised finger. The finger covers the lips of Guy Fawkes, positioned so that you hear a quiet whisper of “shhh” in the back of your mind.

The message I will apply yo myself from today is this; occupy yourself, selflessly giving to anyone in need, but do it quietly so that pride does not become your motivator.

 

Blessed

1-20-13, City on a Hill 1, Blessed

Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed is the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Blessed – ultimate well-being and distinctive spiritual joy.

Notice the word ‘happy’ does not appear anywhere in the definition of ‘blessed’ above. Derived from the word ‘happenstance’, happiness is contingent upon extrinsic variables. Our circumstance determines our level of happiness, so if our circumstances are dire, then we cannot be happy (or so we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe). Blessedness is intrinsically motivated. Our level of blessedness is reflected in our gratitude for life (ultimate well-being) and the ability to be joyful in any circumstance. Followers of Jesus learn the secret to joy is not to hoard it, but to give it. Leading another soul to experience joy is an inescapably joyful experience for the one leading! The joy you experience is a direct measure of the joy you bring into the lives of others. Let’s break down these declarations of blessedness from Jesus’s most famous oration into real-world situations:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Pride is a characteristic unbecoming to all who wear it. Pride is often the attitude the bible references when you read of someone being ‘rich’. To enter heaven, one must replace pride with humility.

Blessed are those who mourn, because they will be comforted.

Human nature defaults to sympathy in the presence of sadness. Those who are sad are blessed through empathy from others.

Blessed are those who are meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Meekness is strength under control, another reference to humility. When the prideful have fallen from their pedestals, the strong who controlled themselves are who the people look to for leadership.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

God will not withhold righteousness from anyone who desires to embrace it.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Pit this statement against the ‘judge not lest you be judged’ verse we’d much prefer to regurgitate. People will be as merciful to you as you are to them.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

No one is entirely pure in their heart. Everyone carries with them a sinful nature that is manifested through selfish motivation. Through humility, we can begin to purify our hearts. This principle echos the first, reminding us of the importance of humility and self-control.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be sons of God.

This line if often reduced to a political statement. Political activism is not a form of peacemaking. Can activism inspire peace in tense political situations, sure. The peacemaker Jesus is referring to is one who creates peace at a more personal level, leading other souls to peace with themselves and peace with God. The only way to lead someone to peace with God is through proclaiming the gospel. Peacemakers of this caliber are sons of God because they literally reflect the very mind of God; peace.

As followers of Jesus, Christians are literal agents of reconciliation within their communities. Wielding mercy and the gospel as our weapons of choice, we fight for peace in our circle of influence by taking advantage of opportunities to show others mercy and taking time to personally share the gospel. Mercy and the gospel must be used in conjunction with each other. Sharing the gospel without showing mercy leads to bigotry, counter-productive to inspiring peace and the antithesis to the gospel of Jesus. Mercy without the gospel is the root of  modern-day social justice. What’s wrong with social justice you may ask? In theory, social justice is at the root of Jesus’s ministry; peace and equality among his people. In action (at least in modern terms) social justice is a band-aid that enables irresponsibility and conditions people to dependency.  One cannot follow the gospel of Christ without also taking full responsibility for every decision. Social justice paired with the gospel requires those being justified (and those doing the justifying) to accept responsibility to sustain their justified state.

Now for the last two, I’ll clump them together.

Blessed are those (you) who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for their’s (your’s) is the kingdom of heaven.

Back the truck up here. I’m bless for being slandered (insignificant in comparison to other forms of persecution) and should accept it with joy?! Pride. Once again, pride is juxtaposed with humility. If you truly are humble, it won’t matter what people say about you because you understand your spiritually broken state. On some level, even outright lies could be conceivably accurate. Pride responds to persecution with defense, humility finds joy in celebrating God’s love for us despite our nature.

Proclaiming the gospel opens the door for persecution, but a blessed heart cannot contain the mercy it’s been given.

May you be blessed.