The Sculpture and the Sculptor – Bearing with one another

Bearing With One Another

Sometimes, the person you want God to remove from your life is the person you need most.

Everyone encounters difficult people on this journey called life. Are you sitting down?  Sometimes you may be the difficult person for someone else. Paths do not cross without leaving a trail, some kind of imprint, on each other. What if we viewed these impressions left by other people as marks that shape us? Even the painful ones.

A sculptor’s mediums cannot shape themselves, they are simply material. Unformed shapes, unrealized potentials, piles of stock longing for attention. Pressure and pinches shape clay, blades and abrasives form wood, extreme heat molds metal, hammers and chisels chip away at stone. Pressure, pinches, abrasives, heat, chips…..considered alone, none of these sound very pleasant!

What would these mediums become without the process that changes them into the works of art meant for them? Nothing. Forgotten piles of material collecting dust in a closet. The pain of being worked and formed gives the medium meaning, the process creates beauty.

The people in our lives do the same for us, and us for them.

The next time you’re faced with that person that pushes all of your buttons, that grates nerves only they can reach, or simply turns your stomach to look at, consider what they are forming in you. Embrace that change, grow with them.

Christmas 2016 – Journey Through the Movies

The ability to connect words to images to emotions as an intricately woven tapestry was engineered into the hardware of the human mind to guide our physical survival as well as inspire spiritual hunger and growth. Professional memory competitors (there really is such a thing) will explain strategies of connecting a name to a face using a unique object and attaching a story to that object, much like Micheal Scott’s mnemonic device to remember names in The Office. Culture has understood this from the earliest days of humanity, which is the reason folklore, oral tradition, poetry and simple parables are so critically important to the framework of culture. In the modern world, media holds the reigns of this driving force, for better or worse. Musicians, authors and directors reflect life which then mirrors the stories being told. Our minds assign meaning to the images, so the dance of fiction versus reality is very much a cooperative partnership.

This Christmas season, Journey participated in this dance, taking a look at three popular stories told during the holidays in the United States, extracting the theology and inspiring messages told through each. The Grinch, Elf and The Polar Express. Each entry is summarized with their corresponding drawing below. I hope you enjoy and celebrate a joy-filled Christmas season this week!

New Christmas series started today, Journey Through the Movies. Today’s movie? The Grinch.

Life and people hurt us, our hearts wear the scars. We build fences around our hearts to protect us from these wounds, but God’s love tears down these walls.
We have a choice after we are hurt. Get bitter or get better. Choose to let your heart grow and plow down the fences around it.

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The larger our hearts grow, our capacity to experience joy within the world around us grows larger and burns brighter. Joy was our focus this second week of the Christmas season. Buddy the Elf teaches us the true nature of joy. Loud, obnoxious, boisterous joy as only Will Ferrell can fully embody on the big screen. What Buddy shows us with pristine clarity, is joy is contagious. When we are happy, people notice. When we are joyful, they want to join us (even if they don’t want to admit it)

The world around us is cold and hard. We are surrounded by negativity; depressing news, disappointing turns of events, unmet expectations. We are candles in a cavern of ice. Joy is our flame. When we step out in the open and take hold of incomprehensible joy, the frigid walls around us cannot avoid taking notice and reflecting our dancing flame. Slowly, the warmth of being present makes the hardened walls begin to melt.

In the words of a wise mentor of mine, don’t go out and try to set the world on fire. Set yourself on fire, then see if it catches.

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Our final movie for this season is The Polar Express. This movie presents us with a child who is jaded and skeptical of anything he cannot physically see or touch. He observes the faith of his friends and family, but refuses to risk taking the same step into the unknown himself. In this story, belief (the evidence of faith) is represented by a cherished bell. Only those who believe could hear the crisp ring of the bell as it is shaken. Those whose faith is being withheld in wait of adequate proof shake their bell but hear only silence.

Faith is such a huge concept, I struggled with a single image which could be completed in the twenty-minute time-frame I limit myself to finish my drawing each week. I struggled until Michael made this statement;  “Faith is taking the next step without seeing the whole staircase.” The instant he mentioned the staircase, the Penrose stairs came to my mind. The Penrose staircase is an optical illusion, an impossibility in architecture of a four-tier staircase which endlessly climbs upward. At each pass around the staircase, the figure passes the bell, suspended within arms reach to be rung with every lap.

Belief is confidence.Confidence keeps moving, without knowing the next part of the story, what lies at the top of the stairs, or even if your foot will find the next step to support you.

Keep walking, keep climbing. One step at a time, keep moving forward.
Believe.

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Merry Christmas and may your 2017 be filled with joy and new hope for you and your families.

Rise

Rise, Jonah 3

As Jonah’s story continues, we find him washing up on shore and being faced with the exact same call that made him run to sea to begin with. Go to Nineveh.

Jonah rejected God, then he ran to escape his shame. In his shame, he brought torment on his companions and was thrown overboard. Alone and desperate, it still took Jonah three days to turn to God in prayer. Tossed onto shore, Jonah pulled himself up from the sand, only having to face the very thing that caused him to run in the first place. Yahweh is a God of second chances. When we turn our back on him, he will always bring us back around to the place we rejected him and give us another chance to change our mind.

When Nineveh repented of their brutal sins and warped worldview, they buried their heads in sackcloth and ashes to symbolize their mourning. Imagery of rising out of ashes is often used to describe coming out of a dark time. Ashes are more than just the leftover matter of what used to be, ashes are a valuable cleansing system. Charcoal filtration has been used to produce clean drinking water since the Ancient Egyptians in 2000 B.C. When contaminated water is poured through a charcoal filtration system, the pores of charcoal capture pollutants, allow the beneficial materials pass and exit as clean drinking water on the other side. Ashes have the same affect on our lives. When we fall and parts of our lives burn, it is a time to mourn, but also a time to grow. The ashes of what was captures the pollutants that have worked their way into our lives. As we rise, we are also purified; brought back to the place where it all began in order to begin again.

Today’s drawing is rising up from the ashes. The figure is strong, but humble. They were beaten, but not defeated. New life is rising from the old, more powerful and confident than before.

Burning to ashes is not punishment, it is graduation into new life.

Rise and embrace renewed strength.

Grace – Let Go of the Rope

Let Go of the Rope, Jonah 2, Journey Church, 7-10-16

Grace can be defined as an undeserved gift from an un-obligated giver.

For grace to be offered, an offense must have occurred. Most often, the offense is overshadowed by the offender’s unwillingness to receive grace from the offended. We hold on to our faults with a death grip, but then describe them as if they have permanently leeched onto us. We are a sadistic people in this way, torturing ourselves when the pathway to freedom is simply letting go of our perfectionist mentality. When we give ourselves enough grace to make mistakes and learn from them, we open the floodgates to building real relationships and creating a community that can withstand the greatest adversity. I believe grace is the key missing ingredient that makes real friendship a fleeting phenomenon among adults.

From birth through preschool, we are all equals. Race, sex, religion, favorite color, none of this matters. We see each other as we really are, just people riding on a rock, breathing the same air and doing our best to figure out how to do this thing called life. Everyone is our friend, we welcome each other in without a second thought and play together as complete equals.

With the beginning of elementary school comes the start of organized sports and friendly competitions. My two oldest sons are baseball players, Jacob is wanting to try soccer this fall. They are beginning to find and roots of the most valuable relationships the will nurture their young lives are beginning to grow. We learn to work together, in competition with other teams who work together. The seed of competition has been planted. We being developing our smack-talk skills, boasting in our inflated perception of our abilities and emulating our favorite athletes and superheroes.

As the teenage years begin, so does a new level of  competitiveness. Sports teams are no longer pickup leagues where everyone gets to play, participants compete in tryouts. Bullies have defined their reputations and cliques take their form. Friendly banter over abilities and faults evolves into insults and hurt feelings. In high school, even more areas of competition find their way onto our plates. We compete over academics. We compare everything; skin complexion, hair styles, clothing, musical tastes, each others’ friendships. The older we get, the more meticulous we are about the comparisons. We put all our energy into creating a facade of perfection that bests even the people we care about. This competitiveness is amplified by the system, pushing the importance of SAT scores, end of course tests and making college applications the engines for yet another race to be won.

We graduate into the next chapter of life and divide ourselves further by competing over things that have potential to define the rest of our lives. If we enter the work force, we compete to be the best at what we do be noticed and rewarded more than the next guy. Those of us in college compete to establish our value in the community we’re chosen. Some compete over grades, some compete over sports, some compete over relationships, others compete for position in their own sub-communities. The philosophy we’re indoctrinated with regardless of the path we choose is that the rest of our lives will be a competition for survival. Give no grace, take advantage of every opportunity, become your own person and fight to be better than everyone else.

No wonder we have such a hard time finding friends after 25.

Small groups are the lifeblood of most new church communities. Speak with any of the core leaders and they will lay out the same reason for nurturing small groups. Friends. Small groups exist for the soul purpose of helping adults become friends, to break the mentality of competition. Friends help ease the weight of competition, but only our ability to give and receive grace will eradicate it. Without the ability to forgive and move forward, no relationship will survive.

I’ve heard it said, “when you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”  I no longer believe this philosophy is beneficial to anyone. In fact, I am sure it has locked souls into a prison of self-reliance that destroys lives.

What if you weren’t designed to hang on to a rope to begin with? What if the rope is what keeps us restrained and chokes the life out of us?

Once we can let go of everything, no more competition, no more entitlement, truly set down our selfish pride; then we can dip our hearts back into the life of innocent freedom we so easily forgot from out early days. We are still all just humans riding on this cosmic rock, doing the best we can with the time we have. Let go of your irrational and unattainable need to “do it better” than everyone else. Let go of your ropes and just enjoy the ride. God will not let you fall, if you let him take the reigns of life. Your only obligation is to live.

There’s no competing your way into happiness and freedom, there’s just setting each other (and yourself) free.

Put It Down

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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.