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.

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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.

Redemption

The third, and final, installment of At The Movies from North Ridge took on one of the most iconic underdog stories of redemption Hollywood has ever adapted to the big screen; Robin Hood (the newest rendition, starring Russell Crowe is my personal favorite).

Everyone loves to see the underdog win. We want to see justice served, oppressors get their due and the oppressed overcome. This story has survived for centuries by touching a part of our soul and inspiring us to become something better than we presently are. What’s interesting is that Robin Hood is not far off from the gospel and the life of Jesus. Robin Hood has merry men, Jesus had a circle of twelve disciples. Robin Hood and his band set out to defend the poor from an oppressive government and balance the scales of their society, Jesus and the disciples set out on a mission to free people from Satan’s oppression and release them from the chains of sin. Both branded as outlaws by the leaders of their own nation.

Redemption

So, what should we be inspired to do through this?  Should we shoot flaming arrows at the Capital building and construct a catapult to hurl large stones at the Pentagon? Certainly not! (although building a catapult would be really cool) We looked at this story through the filter of Isaiah 1:15-20 to find our answer. In this passage, God is telling Israel what’s up through the prophet Isaiah. Israel had cycled back to the point in their relationship with God where they lived however they wanted, thinking an occasional prayer or burnt offering was enough to satisfy their creator. Their lifestyles did not line up with their dogma. Once again, God lays out specific instructions for Israel; willingly obey His commands and live or resist and rebel and be devoured (v.19-20). Our fallen world and individual brokenness makes this harder than it should be. Add religious opinions and ideals that divide Christians from each other and obedience is much easier said than done.

The central focus of the image I drew is a simple sphere, no detail, just a shaded ball.  By mimicking Earth, this sphere represents all of creation. Picturing an orange being peeled, the surface layer of the sphere is peeled back; torn from the surface it was originally attached to. Within the torn peelings, smaller images shed light on their symbolism. Moving from left to right, the first section shows two hands grasping each other, as if someone were being pulled to safety; this represents grace. The second section includes a box of food to represent charity. The third, two hands clasped together in prayer, the catalyst to our relationship with God. The fourth section includes several images to represent justice and the law, a scale, a gavel, and a raised book. Each of these are icons depicting important aspects of Christianity; grace and mercy, charity, relationship, and justice. Our rebellion caused the unravelling of creation, disconnecting the surface from the body of the sphere and tearing the sections away from each other. The right hand of Christ at the top of the page supports the broken surface by a line connecting the broken sections to each finger. Creation hangs within the balance of these characteristics of God, supported by His hand. It is only through balance that stability is maintained; mercy must also include justice, relationship with God exists through relationship with His creation. Too much emphasis on any one characteristic creates a disproportionate balance, allowing the sphere (creation) to fall through the cracks to destruction.

The message we should take away from Robin Hood as it pertains to the gospel is the example of unity. Through unity, Nottingham rose up against their oppressors. We too can conquer our spiritual oppressor, by letting go of our prideful desire for being ‘right’ and allowing ourselves to be united by Jesus.

Lastly, Christ’s hand is openly extended, inviting the viewer to take hold of it. Eventually, His hand will close and time to accept the invitation will expire. The fingers closing will pull each section of the torn surface back into position over the sphere of creation. Christ will claim His bride and, through that redemption, the church will be perfectly unified.