WE – a Journey Worship experience

Make me a vessel of Your hope. Where dreams are dead, come wake them up.

A new horizon, I feel it rising. Make me a vessel of Your hope. 

-Pour Me Out (Vessel)

This weekend has been one to go down as leaving mark on my spirit which time cannot fade. The exceptional team of creative people who make up the worship and production teams at Journey Church Asheboro planned and organized an evening of worship to unite our community in one voice and one experience with our God. The evening was full of music, spoken word, video and live and spontaneous art.

My role in planning this event was the visual art. I was set free to create as the Spirit led and use whatever methods and materials that inspiration demanded. I prepared in tight coordination with the worship band and selection of music for the night. As the team was led to songs for that night, a theme began to appear; freedom. I spent weeks reading and meditating on the concept of freedom. What does it mean to be free? What binds us and fuels our deep longing to find and embrace freedom? Why does freedom matter? What does freedom look like?

The more I tumbled over this concept, the broader my range of possible subject matter became. I thought of open landscapes, blue skies with gentle cumulus clouds mingling leisurely together. Next, birds in flight, the ultimate cliche image for freedom. My mind traveled to Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth. I thought of blues and wispy grays, colors of calm and freshness. Despite all my ideas, none seemed to entirely capture experiencing freedom. That’s when it hit me; freedom is too large to be adequately communicated in one image. Freedom is not domesticated. It is far too wild to be contained. Freedom is a scandal. Freedom is an experience.

The only way to properly convey freedom in an art form is to lead people in an experience of it. The art I create on this night could not be a planned with an end-goal image in mind. It would have to be abstract, I would have to move quickly but intentionally, and it must be completely spontaneous. The only preparations I made was selecting my medium.

I am always pushing myself to try new methods and experiment with ways of reinventing old ones. I had used spray paint in art before, but always used it “safely” by spraying large areas or creating stencils to tame the spray stream. This time, I would allow the full breadth of the spray stream to behave freely. I also find acrylic pours and the uninhibited dance of acrylic pours and ink on ceramic tile exciting, but not braved those methods. I chose to combine these methods and discover how they could partner  together in a marriage of freedom and abstraction. After purchasing acrylic and watercolor canvases, my adventure into freedom began and the results were a beautiful mess. Like any good science experiment, the initial messes gleaned fantastic discoveries and refined processes. I was almost ready to share this experience with any eye who will see.

With my method and medium set, I developed a corner of our worship center into my studio for the night. With a table from the a preschool classroom, industrial trash bags from the kitchen and a $14 floor lamp from Walmart, art was ready to commence.

Work space.jpg

The creating corner was set adjacent to the worship band so we could watch each other and coordinate how we would experience this night individually into a unified, corporate experience. The very fluid medium I used required the canvas lay flat, which posed a visibility problem which was crucial for this experience. Using a GoPro camera connected to a TV, everyone in the worship center could watch the art come to life as paint hit the canvas.

Setup.jpg

Knowing speed I’d be moving and the minimal coverage required to complete the practice images, I brought multiple canvases to use throughout the night. Our intro song was ‘Here as in Heaven’. Lighting played a crucial role in setting the stage for this worship experience, so I soaked in this song, preparing my heart and mind for action and waiting to illuminate my work space. The first line of this song, “The atmosphere is changing now. The spirit of the Lord is here.” was an invitation for us to encounter our Creator and for Him to engage with us in this moment.

Exodus 40-34

As the band began playing ‘Reckless Love’, I clicked my power strip switch to the ‘on’ position, electricity surged into the filament of my lamp’s bulb and the TV began projecting the blank canvas facing me.

The line in ‘Reckless Love’ that strikes me deep and explodes in my spirit is the start of the bridge, “There’s no shadow You won’t light up, mountain You won’t climb up, coming after me.” These lyrics inspired the first painting of the night,

Reckless Love.jpg

‘Reckless Love’ was followed by ‘Spirit Lead Me’, a song which has quickly become a favorite of mine to play and worship though. Following the heart of this song, the second painting was truly led by the Spirit. This one is layers of ink, reacting to rubbing alcohol, then masked by spray paint and layered again. We entered a short speaking time once the song closed, where I continued to let the image flow out of me.

Spirit Lead Me.jpg

Our experience of worship and freedom continued as the band returned to play “Pour Me Out (Vessels)” – incorporating the lyrics at the start of this blog, and “King of My Heart.” I began the third painting with a spray painted base, then pouring rubbing alcohol directly on the canvas and allowing it to pool randomly. The alcohol reacts with the acrylic ink to give it the freedom to dance and swirl together. The spray paint reacted more subtly (I used a sugar-based, odorless spray paint). “King of My Heart” inspired the crown-like swath of black and yellow ink in the bottom left corner.

Pour Me Out-King of My Heart

We finished the night with four tracks that include our most recent favorites and energizing songs in our repertoire, “Love Has a Name”, “Stand in Your Love”, “Glorious Day” and (to cap the experience and underscore our objective) “Freedom.”

This final canvas was the largest of the four painted that night at 27″ x 27″ (the previous three were each 16″ x 20″). I incorporated all the methods used in the other paintings on this final production; using found objects as stencils, pooling alcohol before applying ink, pushing ink to spread and combine by blowing through a straw, and layering the medium. Inspired by “Love Has a Name”, this painting includes a name; YHWH (pronounced yah-weh), a Hebrew name of God. In “Freedom”, we sang “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!” The bottom right corner in this painting displays an icon which represents the trinity, and the complete manifestation of the nature and spirit of God. It is a Celtic triquetra knot, which is interpreted to represent the union of mind, body and spirit. It is also the layout of the Venn diagram, which exposes the principle of primary and secondary color theory, where primary colors combine to create secondary and all colors unite to become absolute white.

Love Has A Name-Stand in Your Love-Glorious Day-Freedom

Dance like the weight has been lifted, grace is waiting.

Come out of the dark, just as you are, into the fullness of His love.

Oh, the Spirit is here, let there be freedom!

Let there be freedom.

-Freedom

In Action-Instagram

“It’s not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular,

it is why he does it.”

– A.W. Tozer

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Give Us Clean Hands – First Wednesday Feb 5, 2014

 

Took a risk tonight and set up an easel with some mounting board, spreading out mine and the kids’ gear over two tables in the coffee lounge to create a live interpretation of the first First Wednesday service of 2014, we celebrated baptism tonight.

Baptism – a ceremonial washing, the public action proclaiming personal faith, spiritual cleansing, the start of new life

Give Us Clean Hands

Who can stand on the mountain of God? Who can scale the holy north-face? Only the clean-handed, only the pure-hearted;

men who won’t cheat, women who won’t seduce  – Psalm 24:3-4

Give us clean hands

Give us pure hearts

Let us not lift our souls to another

The representation in this piece is obvious, hands dripping in clear, clean water. When do we wash or hands? Before we eat. After we’ve been working hard. During flu season, because we don’t want to get sick. Why do we wash our hands? It prevents harmful bacteria and viruses from entering our body or transferring to another’s. It is not respectful to have dirt, grease, paint (whatever your grime of choice) caked into the grooves of your skin and fingernails when you interact with the public. It’s just plain feels good to be clean! Water does that for our skin, baptism does that for our soul.

This image hit me on Sunday afternoon, while I was posting this week’s drawing entry. I knew the plan was a baptism service, so I wanted to properly represent the most visual and personal act in the Christian faith. My art has been on a ‘hand’ kick lately, a lot of messages that have used hands in the image. I chose to stick with that theme to translate ‘baptism’ and the old worship song “Give Us Clean Hands” came to mind. Originally written by King David, the song is an ancient Psalm set to modern music.

The process of creating this piece is as representative of baptism as the piece itself. My 7 and 4 year old covered a piece of mounting board with bright hues of wax crayons and oil pastels. I strategically had them color the bottom third of the panel white, where the image would be water. With the color done, I covered the board with a thick coat of black Tempra paint and the prep work was complete. As the service began, I opened up my pocket knife and began scraping away the black paint, using an Exacto knife to create finer details of the fingers. As I scraped away the dirty facade, the beauty of the panel’s true colors shone through. As the Holy Spirit wiped the slate clean on faithful souls, freeing their colors to shine, I was freeing this image from its Tempra prison.

I finished the piece using a glossy acrylic varnish. I covered the bottom third with a solid coat, then painted the palms full. The movement of the image was completed by splattering drips of varnish below the hands, simulating the phenomena of liquid running through your fingers as you splash a handful of water on your face.

I recall my own baptism, how I knew what I was doing but didn’t entirely grasp why I was doing it. Understanding the spiritual magnitude of taking public step to, not only profess, but to present your faith in Jesus to the world brought new visions of God’s reaction. It is a misrepresentation of righteousness to suggest God sits on an extravagant throne and says “Well done, good and faithful servant.” while looking down His nose at the moment of baptism. I propose a different response. At the moment you are baptized and your heart is purified; imagine Jesus on his knees, a tear of joy trickling down his cheek as he whispers, “Child, your hands are clean.”

My boys get into creating artwork with me on First Wednesdays. They get excited the morning of the service and start talking about what they’ll draw and what they’ll use. Here is my 7-year-old’s creation for tonight. He’s learned about the history of baptism in his break-out group on Sunday mornings, how one of the original methods involved pouring water over the head of the one being baptized, this method is the subject of his drawing. He explained to me this is Jesus baptizing someone this way with the sun setting behind. I must be honest, my first thought was Jesus baptizing someone using a water balloon! Either way, this is awesome and he made me proud.

DSCN3245

Save Me From Myself

As we determined last week, the story of Jonah is the story of us all. We are each faced with forks in our road, moments where the decision you make forever impacts all those around you. Today, we shift our focus intrinsically and reveal what that means for you personally.

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas

and the flood surrounded me, all your waves and your billows passed over me.

Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight;

yet I shall look again on your holy temple.

The waters closed in over me to take my life;

the deep surrounded me, weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land whose bars closed on me forever;

yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.

When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord,

and my prayer came to you in your holy temple.

Those who pay regard to vain idols, forsake their hope of steadfast love.

But I, with the voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you;

what I have vowed, I will pay.

Salvation belongs to the Lord!

This was Jonah’s prayer as he breathed from the belly of the sea monster.

Sanctification, 1-12-14, Jonah 2

While the choices we make implement a butterfly effect that leaves unchangeable marks on the lives of everyone in its range, each decision leaves permanent marks on our individual lives as well. Though many leave their marks unnoticed, these scars forever map our journey through life. For better or worse, our choices trace the road we’ve chosen and serve as a guide to those who come after us.

Jonah’s decisions led him down paths where he was venerated and exalted by his peers to suffering and isolation where being cast into the sea was in the best interest of those closest to him. After running from the mission God set before him, Jonah found himself cowering beneath the deck of a fishing vessel while his new friends brave the wrath of the sea brought on by his disobedience. He finally concedes to God’s persistence and confesses his responsibility for the situation along with its remedy, removing him from the situation. His fellow sailors, quite reluctantly, launch Jonah into the raging water, all the time begging the God Jonah just tangibly introduced them to for mercy. Only then, when the environment created by his own choices becomes too overbearing, does Jonah cry out to God for help.

God provides the world with a fool-proof navigational system to guide us both day and night, which sailors on Jonah’s journey primarily relied upon. While the sun guides vessels during the day, patterns in the stars guide ships at night. Mediterranean sailors in 5th and 4th century BC used the constellation Cetus as one of their guides. Cetus, known today as ‘The Whale’, was once coined as ‘The Sea Monster’. Sailors who set off in the direction of Cetus were said to be “sailing into the belly of the beast”. The original Hebrew and Greek texts of Jonah use words which literally translate ‘great fish’ to describe the place Jonah found himself after he was thrown from the ship to Joppa.  4th century Greek translations change this word to Cetus. From that, William Tyndale gave us the English translation of ‘whale’ in Jonah’s adventure. Whether Jonah was swallowed by a literal fish or if we are reading sailors’ slang and Jonah miraculously survived three days on the open sea by God’s mercy, (having been tossed into “the belly of the beast”), I am not sure. Either interpretation makes Jonah’s story no less of a miracle, but I do find it interesting Jonah never thanks God for providing a fish to swallow him, but does express gratitude for protecting him from specific perils of the open sea (i.e. the waves and billows, the deep which surrounded him, the seaweed wrapping around his head).

Something else is missing from Jonah’s prayer, repentance. Not once does Jonah acknowledge his disobedience to God. His entire prayer is a cry for help to get him out of the mess he created. This arrogance is a place many of us will find ourselves, likely on more than one occasion. We become so invested in our own sin that, instead of taking responsibility for the circumstances we’ve created, we bathe in our refuse until the environment becomes too putrid to bear. Only then, whining out of our voluntary discomfort, do we cry out to God and beg for His intervention. In His unfathomable mercy, God will respond to our cries as a devoted father and pull us up from our filth, but his answer to our insatiable desire to return to the muck came centuries ago through His son, Jesus.

Jesus sacrificed himself so that we may find salvation though him, a way out of our cycle of failure and disappointment, but salvation is not a one-time deal. Salvation, embracing Jesus as your savior by committing your life to forever emulating his, is the kick-starter for your continual process of sanctification while you walk the earth. Christians refer to someone professing their faith in Jesus as “being saved”. I prefer the phrase quoted by Brennan Manning which was commonly used in the 1930’s, “I’ve been seized by a great affection”. Jesus died to save us from our sin, but he also rose so that we may be daily saved from ourselves.

I have been seized by a great affection so that I may show great affection. God loves in us what is not yet. We love in people what they already are: virtue, beauty, courage, and hence making our love self-interested and fragile. We must learn to love people as God does, empowering them to spread His love further.

May your choices map out a life spent in selfless love that inspires generations.

The Mountains Melt

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice,

let the many coastlands be glad.

Clouds and thick darkness are all around Him;

righteousness and justice are the formation of His throne.

Fire goes before Him

and burns up His adversaries all around.

His lightnings light up the world;

the earth sees and trembles.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,

before the Lord all of the earth.

The heavens proclaim His righteousness

and all the peoples see His glory.

All worshippers of images are put to shame

who make their boasts to worthless idols;

worship Him, all you gods!

Psalm 97: 1-7

The Mountains Melt

Lord – a person who has authority, control or power over others; a master, a chief, a ruler.

Philippians 2:9-11

God has highly exalted him and bestowed upon him a name that is above every name.

The word ‘name’ in this passage is referring to more than the one Mary gave him at his birth. Jesus, while being a name that raises hope, strikes fear, and is often surrounded by controversy, it is not above every other name. The name being referred to here is Jesus’s title, his position. Jesus is the Christ, the I am, the Most High. He is Lord.

How frequently have you used ‘lord’ in the last week? “Dear, lord….” “Oh, lord!” “Lordy, lordy!” Too many to count? What do you mean when you say that word? Do you even know? ‘Lord’ is not a convenient term that was coined to add emphasis to a statement of surprise or frustration, it is an authoritative term carrying serious weight. Those who carry the title of “Lord’ own unquestionable authority over people, places or both. Those of nearly every faith assign God, alone the title of Lord. To imply another being, human at that, is ‘Lord’ is blasphemous. To make a statement like that in 3 A.D. Jerusalem is a death wish.

Carry that weight of the position over into this verse. God is making an undeniably clear statement, Jesus is Lord. God. The one who is Lord Himself. He says Jesus is Lord. The game just changed.

I do not fault a person using a “curse word” around me, provided that use the word in context. When you say a word synonymous with feces, make sure what you are referring to is logically associated with fecal matter. Otherwise, you just sound like an idiot. This is applicable to any word. Words that carry supreme authority should be used with extreme caution and respect.

Many people today claim the position of being Christian, not really understanding what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Being Christian is not a matter of paying dues, associating with one group while avoiding others. You cannot claim Jesus as your Savior without also claiming Him as your Lord.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my father. Matthew 7:21

Christ, Kairos, YHWH, the Most High,

Jesus Christ is Lord.

All will acknowledge Him, whether willingly or not.

Who is He to you?

Grace. The ‘Why’ of the Incarnation.

As everything, He became nothing so that we could have everything.

DSCN3047

Nearing the end of our Upside Down Christmas series, we’ve tackled who Jesus is, touched on the when and where. Today we addressed the most important question. Why?

Jesus is God’s creative expression of Himself, His ultimate biological sculpture. Grace is the reason for the incarnation.

Before we go much further, what is ‘incarnation’? Incarnation is physical manifestation. In biological context, it is conception and birth. In spiritual context, it is the crossing of realms from supernatural into natural. In Christianity, it is both. Jesus, as a physical extension of God, was physically born. He became human while remaining God.

Why lower Himself to a human level? Grace. What is grace? Grace is defined many ways, based on context. Spiritually speaking, it is a virtue of God which provides for human sanctification. It is through grace that we are inspired to generously serve, to be gracious, to one another. Boiling it down, Jesus is incarnated by grace to provide an example for us to show grace.

Grace is an over-used term in modern “Christian” circles, not because it is an attribute that should be limited but because its actual definition has been so diluted that the word is misused. Grace is not synonymous with apathy, it is the apathetic’s antonym. Some will throw the word grace around when arguing the “proper” Christian position on certain, controversial social issues. Grace, without understanding is grease, creating a slippery slope of incomplete theology and leading people deeper into chaos.

Properly defined, grace inspires us to forgive people. Grace is the ability to let go of the past. Grace is our motivation to generously serve strangers.

Being a gracious person is not as easy as flipping a switch in you head. Being gracious is more than doing good things, it’s also keep your motivations in check. When your acts of generosity are limited to those whom you deem “deserving”, you are no longer being gracious. When you serve to build your reputation, you are separate from grace. When you are so frustrated by a lack of gratitude from the ones you are serve that you stop serving, you are bankrupt of grace. Motivations are more important than to God than actions. To understand grace, we must fist understand ourselves. God is not looking for obedience alone, He is concerned with our hearts and our intentions. Until we recognize how bad we really are, we will never recognize how good God is or grasp the concept of grace.

 Today’s drawing is an image of incarnation, grace, and an ignorance to grace. The positive space shows several figures with their arms raised in worship. It is a rare occasion when I raise a hand in worship. For one, I can’t draw above my head well. Unless I am so moved that my body language speaks through movements like raised arms, I feel an awkwardness about physical expression, as if I’m not sure my motivations are pure enough to raise my hand. The figure on the right shares this uncertainty, with one hand raised and his attention directed below.

The negative space brings another dynamic into view. The white space the figures appear to worship wraps around either side of the page and back under the drawing. As the shaded area separates, a figure with arms laying outstretched toward the worshipers. This figure is the Christ, manifested in physical form but still fully God. The outstretched hands support the figures spiritually and physically. Of the figures, only the self-conscious character on the right notices this support. This figure includes a highlight on its face, an detail I included to imply he sees Christ. The others are all shadows, implying they are in darkness. Worshipers n darkness? Is this possible? Unfortunately, it is. Worship is only worship if it is expressed in genuine love. Your motivations matter.

If this Christmas is a season where you’re feeling lost in the bustle or a little depressed among the seemingly happy crowds, start giving. Don’t go emptying your bank account or washing car windows at stop lights, unless you feel so led. Start simple. Take a box of cookies to your neighbor. Call that friend you’ve lost touch with. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Spontaneously start singing Christmas carols in the food court. Will it be awkward? Probably. Will it be easy? No, if it were easy, everyone would do it. Will it be worth it? Definitely. Doors to serve people on significantly deeper levels will begin open and you will find that the more of yourself you give, the more you are filled in return.

The parts of our life we will hold most dear are the parts we gave away. – Donald Miller

Peace

Peace, Jesus's Lullaby, 12-1-13, Upside Down Christmas 1, Philippians 2, 5-11

Philippians 2:5-11

Christmastime is upon us and with it comes the familiar barrage of materialism and consumerism that defines American culture. Something is not right, but we’ve become so desensitized to the social backwardness of this time of year the question that stares us all in the face is easily avoided. Who is this Jesus everyone (everyone being the conservative, right-swinging Christians, these days) keeps talking about? When you trace the word back to its Old English roots, Christmas means Christ’s Mass and deliberately celebrates the birth of Jesus. The actual date and year of the Jesus’s birth are subject for debate (December 25 is likely NOT the day Jesus was actually born upon), but those details are not the point. Christmas, X-mas, Crimmus, whatever you want to call it, there’s no escaping the purpose of the season, or the question it asks, Who am I to you?

The short answer is, Jesus is the self-expression of God. God manifesting Himself in human form to relate to us on a physical level that leaves absolutely zero room for misinterpretation. The literal answer to this question at Christmas is not the one people avoid. Everyone who is even remotely familiar with the name Jesus recognizes the fundamental definition of the person of Jesus. Even an Atheist would be able to answer that Jesus is considered the manifestation of God, but much in the way that Jim Carrey was the manifestation of the Grinch in 2000. Accepting who it is said Jesus is, that is not difficult.

The second part to this question is the one many choose to dodge. It is the side of Christmas that requires something of us. Who do you say I am?

Some take the position that Jesus was a masterful teacher and great leader, but nothing more. Others will argue Jesus never claimed to be God with His own tongue, so the idea of being God-like was something placed upon Him by His followers and is a likeness He never intended. Our position on these points are what separates Christians from the rest of the world. To propose that Jesus never came out and said He was God is a very ludicrous suggestion, given the violent end to His life. The government of the day would have no grounds upon which to execute the man, had He not claimed His deity equivalent. Did He bluntly say “I am God”, verbatim? Those exact words leaving His mouth are not recorded, but His claims to literally be God in human form were readily documented.

John 5:16-18 – Jesus claims God as His father.

John 8:54-58 – Jesus sheds light on the timeline of His existence before human birth. “Before Abraham was, I am.”

John 10:24-33 – “The Father and I are one.”

John 20:19 – Post-crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples and addresses them a blessing of peace, the familiar opening line from every angel who appeared to anyone, anywhere.

The poetic and lyrical description of God manifested in the human form of Jesus in Philippians took my mind down the path of song for today’s drawing. The immediate representation of the Christmas birth and sound of a capella voices lands on a mother singing her newborn to sleep. The baby celebrated during this season is not just any baby, a human singing their creator to sleep does not seem an adequate way to represent God “emptying Himself by taking the form of a servant”, as Paul eloquently penned.

Peace was the overwhelming theme I read into these verses, and the atmosphere of Christmas. Physical peace, spiritual peace, emotional peace; the overrunning characteristic of the God of love manifesting Himself for us is peace. So I asked myself, what does peace look like? As a father of three, the answer I kept running back to is the image of a sleeping child. Pure intentions, soft skin, gentle breathing, this is peace. Jesus was born to bring the world peace. What better way to show a baby sent to cover humankind in a blanket of peace than by gently stroking His mother’s hair until she sleeps.

Peace is Jesus’s lullaby to the world.

Who do you say He is?

John 1:12-13

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.