Honor

Following on the tail of the most tumultuous United States campaign and election season endured in my lifetime, Journey Church launched a series focused on the concept of honor. Delving into our understanding of what honor looks like, who deserves to be honored and the actual nuts and bolts of honoring another, these are the images born from our discussion.

Installment one stripped our understanding of honor down to it’s basic foundation; what is honor to begin with? Honor is respect, honor is admiration, honor is an active choice.

Our ability to honor the life, feelings and basic humanity of another person is capped by a dark ceiling of our own pride and ability to honor ourselves. One cannot treat another with a spirit of honor without first approaching the other with an attitude of respect. The most basic place to practice respect is within oneself. Honor requires humility, humility opens the gateway for service. To visualize this concept, I drew a dark ceiling. A figure who escaped this prison has opened a trap door, allowing light to explode into the darkness and reaching back through to show others the way out.

The figures still trapped inside are attracted to the light, but the ceiling is too high to be conquered alone. Each one must work together, building platforms to raise each other higher and build a structure each of them can climb together to freedom.

This is honor.

honor-1-what

In the second installment, we tackled the question of who? Is it something we wait for another to earn, or something we spread liberally across everyone we encounter? Is there someone or something which should NOT be honored?

Who do we honor? Everyone and everything formed by our creator.

Honor is a gift we each hold in abundance, but must actively give. Honor does not give itself away. In this drawing, the hands of the Creator spread openly to support all of creation. From left to right, you see a politician at their desk (representing all leaders in our lives), a homeless beggar making their plea for help (representing anyone we could choose to help), a doctor (anyone who takes care of us physically, emotionally or spiritually), a family with small children (we are all one family on this planet), a soldier (representing anyone who fights for us; military, law enforcement, EMS), a disabled veteran (to represent all who sacrifice for us), a stoic tree to represent all of nature and the planet we inhabit. At the far right, peeking from behind the thumb, a figure in a Burka carefully leads a child to move beyond the tree and join the other figures while carrying a stuffed animal. I chose this image to represent refugees; those who don’t necessarily make us feel safe or comfortable reaching to, but need our help as desperately as any other. I skipped one figure, the one in the middle straddling the hands of God. This is you. The figure points back at you with one hand while holding an umbrella in the other. The open umbrella (decorated with HONOR) not only covers every person and human characteristic the figures represent, but also the one who holds it and the hands who hold them. Honor yourself, honor creation, honor others. In doing so, we honor God.

honor-2-who

Finally, in entry three, we studied how to honor. How does a person honor anything? Is there a formula; a specific procedure?

The action of honor is a paradox. It is a very simple action, but also one of the hardest thing a human can do. Humble service. Humility is a hot word in the circles of churchianity. It is printed on t-shirts, waved on banners and advertised as the bare minimum expectation for acceptance into even the outer circles of organized religion. But humility is not just philanthropy or an altruistic attitude. Humility is loving another human being on a level higher than yourself, the willingness to let go of your own life for theirs and following through with your actions. Humility is authenticity.

When we honor another person, we place value on their life. This value is not just a feeling, it is expressed in a way that allows it to be transferred into the other, acknowledging and increasing their self-worth. We will only honor that which we value.

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In thinking about how God wove honor into the fabric of life, I asked myself what service looks like. Visions of soup kitchens, volunteer firefighters and Habitat for Humanity building projects came to mind. Simplifying these all into a single icon, I envisioned a figure kneeling in a near-fetal position. The head is bowed and arms outstretched with their palms up. Another figure mirrors the first, kneeling and reaching in the same position. As the two reach for each other, their arms create an interlocking pattern. I lined these figures along a rolling patchwork landscape. Like the teeth of a zipper, this array of figures serving each other are united as the glue which holds their world together.

In the background, a pair of hands reaches through the sky to the flowing land. Holding cross-hatched fabric of life as we know it, these hands pull the figures together. As the arms connect, the land is binding together to form a mountain peak. The summit of this peak will point directly back to the one who is forming it, praising its Creator.

By honoring each other, we honor God.

Life is War. To Pray is to Fight.

Life is War. To Pray is to Fight.

After a long drought brought on by life, I have finally let myself open up and create spontaneously again. We kicked off a new summer series yesterday morning. For the next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on prayer, how to pray, the importance of prayer and what our focus should be.

Life is war. Spiritually, emotionally, physically; we are constantly battling something. Some days we battle ourselves.

I chose the image of a boxer to embody the idea of prayer being our fight. The boxer is exhausted, resting in his corner, his sagging head only held off the mat by his arm. His towel lay crumpled beside him. The boxer is ready to fire the towel into the ring, giving up on all that he has worked for, but he lacks the arm strength to throw. Burying his face in his glove, all he has left is to pray. Prayer is all the fighter has left in his arsenal.

Often times, we get to this point where crying to God is all we have. Through our fatigue, we feel inadequate to pray and lack the confidence to even know what to say. Prayer is not about your words, it is about your heart. Learn more about how to pray here. God doesn’t need your words, he needs your heart. He needs your mind to open.

Choosing the image of the boxer is a personal reference for me as well. I have been travelling through an expanse of parched land in my life. The ground burned by neglect and the consequences of good intentions. Physical exertion has been my release. As I drew this image, I was reminded of my own fight by the dull crimson scars on my knuckles. Fresh wounds beginning to heal. Memories of another round violent encounter with the heavy bag.

Life is war. We must remember we are all in this together. All of us.

This Matters.

In today’s entry, I’m catching up on our latest series that we are three weeks into, This Matters.

Our introductory message in the “This Matters” series focused out attention on the Bible. The Bible matters. Why?

Historically, it lays the groundwork, not only for our faith but all of civilization. Regardless of your religion, the Bible is regarded as the most historically accurate documentation of its age.

Morally and ethically, the Bible provides us with concrete guidelines for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Though many have misconstrued God’s precepts while others create  new ones in God’s name, the Bible provides a solid foundation for morality and ethics in every aspect of life.

Logically, it lays out the simple design for living in peace with all of humanity and with yourself. When you read scripture; first read it for the literal words, dissect those words within the context they were written, then apply those words to modern day as they can apply to you.

The Bible is not God’s rule book, it is our pathway to knowing Him. The Bible matters.

In week two we focused on prayer. Prayer matters.

Through the Bible, we can know God on a corporate level. Through prayer we connect with God (and ourselves) on a personal level.

Prayer, This Matters 2, Matthew 6, 6-13

Prayer is literally a conversation with God. Prayer is most effective when our hearts are open to let the communication flow both ways.  I heard a Rabbi once describe the Jewish perspective of prayer as an introspective assessment of one’s day. Sitting down at the end of the day to inspect every choice you made, then committing to whatever changes that are necessary to become a better person tomorrow. Christians would benefit from incorporating this aspect of prayer into their perspective as well.

God is not a genie, prayer is not a wish list. Submit your requests to God, but take an honest account of where you require improvement.

Prayer holds you in community with God. Prayer matters.

Stepping into week three, the things that matter have been fairly personal in their application. The Bible matters, I need to read the Bible. Prayer matters, I need to pray. Today has more public ramifications, community.

Community matters because life is not designed as a solo endeavor. God designed us as interdependent beings. One person’s weakness is matched by another’s strength. Our misguided focus on self breaks the bonds of unity and leaves us vulnerable. I enjoy National Geographic, Discovery, and PBS for their nature programming. Nearly every episode set in Africa includes a Lioness hunting a pack of Gazelles. The Lioness quietly spies on the unknowing Gazelles as they graze, strategically picking out the slowest and weakest of the pack for her family’s dinner. When the attack begins, the Gazelles scatter. The target tries to keep up but, for whatever reason, is separated from the pack and is overtaken by the Lion in the open field. We are the Gazelle, our Enemy prowls like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

CommUNITY, Hebrews 10, 19-25

Much like there’s no ‘I’ in team, there’s no community without ‘you’. Dying to self is not a mandate to make yourself a door mat, it is the open door to embrace life. Tear off your armor of ‘self’ to open the pathway to community. Letting go of your needs creates opportunity for needs to be filled.

Community matters.

An Introspective Look at Compassion, the Gospel and Community

Compassion + the Gospel = Community

 

If I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I could’ve won. – ‘I Gave You All’ Mumford & Sons

Like any good locker room pep talk before the big game, Game Time began with a broad review of North Ridge’s place (and any church, for that matter) in our community, as a city within the city. Not as an act of voluntary segregation, but an organized effort towards unified community. Community is only as strong as its members, so periodic self-examination is important to maintain its health. Last week began a broad assessment of our effectiveness as the lighted city on the North Ridge. We were also encouraged to focus this assessment of effectiveness a little tighter, owning our success and failures as individuals. Game Time, week 2, takes this individual self-review a little further, diving into directing our focus. The gospel of Jesus is this, Jesus lived sinlessly, He died mercilessly, He was buried shamefully and rose miraculously. In devotion to Him, we’re invited to do the same; not by literally becoming Him but by emulating Him in community by serving each other. The gospel of Jesus is a call to action. It is more than some magic words and ritualism that rubs the sweet spot of a mystical genie. If our heart for God doesn’t translate into active community participation, what good does it serve?

A city on a hill. These are the words used to describe the church. A shining example of a community of people doing life together and prospering out of that unity. The light that defines the city is produced by the heart of its members. Each member casts a shadow of the gospel when they claim to be part of that city, though the shadow left by some does not accurately reflect the dogma of the city. When the light shines on you, what is found in your shadow? If an accurate understanding of the Gospel is central to your shadow, in the wake of your presence will be love, compassion, and community. This is the essence of discipleship; leaders empowering new leaders.

Today’s drawing is an introspective look in the light of the Gospel. The light symbolizes life, an allusion to the city on the hill. Any details of the figure are washed away by the light, symbolizing death. The death of cynicism, of ego, of social competition; the final burial of selfishness. In the center of the cast shadow are icons representing the Gospel of Jesus. The outer shape of the cast shadow grows into a community of figures joining hands and helping each other up. As the figures begin to stand, they stand together having conquered the world.

What do you leave in the wake of your shadow?

Full.

Full

 

Imagine finding yourself on a busy street corner in Santiago de Cuba. As you walk amidst the bustle of traffic and the humidity you notice drivers motioning unusual hand gestures and locations mimicking a bus stop location, but the signs do not share that assumption. Just then a car pulls over to one of these ambiguous pick-up locations where about a dozen people are gathered. The driver of the vehicle motions for a gentleman at the stop to get in, then raises his left hand in that familiar gesture as he pulls away with his new passenger.

Overcrowding on public transportation is a very real issue in Cuba due to a low ratio of vehicles to the population. To appease this issue and make travelling around the nation’s cities as smooth as possible, Cuba strongly encourages hitchhiking to its citizens and its tourists. The Cuban government set up official hitchhiker posts for riders to gather and drivers to observe. Government vehicles who pass one of these posts with an empty passenger seat are obliged to fill their vehicle with the next hitchhiker in line. Should a government vehicle with available seats fail to stop, the incident can be reported and the driver fined.

To avoid confusion, drivers will indicate the number of seats they have available by a show of fingers out of their window as they approach a pick-up location. If a car is full, the driver’s hand will be raised palm up with their fingers curled into the shape of a cup. This is the driver’s way of saying, “Sorry, but I’m full.” (or “Don’t report me, I just don’t have room” if it is a government vehicle). This philosophy of people helping each other get from one place to another is evident much closer to yours and my home as well.

In Matthew 18, James, Peter and John are returning with Jesus to regroup with the rest of the disciples and begin to talk. Having just witnessed Jesus transfigured and two ancient prophets appear before their eyes, this trio is feeling pretty important. Not satisfied by their experience alone, they asked Jesus to rank them; specifically to name his number one man. Jesus responds in his usual manner, with an enigma that turns the disciples cookie jar upside down. “Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” He goes on to elaborate about dealing with anyone who leads a child of his down a dark path, pursuing one who has wandered away from the church, and confronting one inside the church community who is starting to turn away. The simple, yet arrogant request for a hierarchy or spiritual status among the disciples is turned around to show humility needs to be priority and the operational design of the church is for the body to direct each other down the right path in that humility.

How God loves His children affects how we love each other. Though humbling ourselves to serve each other, we are raised to the stature of kings and filled beyond capacity to serve more. By loving another, we ourselves are filled.

Stay full my friends.

 

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.