Grace. The ‘Why’ of the Incarnation.

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

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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

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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.

 

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.

You will become what you behold

You become what you behold

 

In ‘The Great Stone Face‘ by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the main character (Ernest) spends his life studying the face embossed on the mountain range where he lived. An Indian prophecy foretold of a child. This child would be come the greatest and noblest personage of his time and, in manhood, bear the same face as that of the stone. Ernest spent his life studying the stone face and looking for the man to appear. The years passed and no such man appeared, **SPOILER ALERT** until one day when Ernest took his place as a leader in the community himself. Without giving the story away, Ernest’s face had taken on the likeness of the face he studied his entire life.

You will become what you behold.

Matthew 17: 1-5

And after six days, Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you with, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a white cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

As if everything Peter, James and John had seen and experienced leading up to this point were not enough, Jesus transfiguring before their eyes must have disintegrated any doubt they had about who Jesus was.  These guys all knew Moses and Elijah from their own “Sunday school” days. Moses was the guy who represented the law of God. When he returned from receiving the famous stone tablets with God’s top ten list (the ten commandments), his face literally reflected the glory of God. Elijah accepted a duel against followers of the  Phoenician god Baal. This was a battle of the altars. The Phoenicians built their altar and Elijah built his. The winner would be the one whose god lit their altar on fire without human interference first. Elijah took it a step further and doused the altar he built with water. Both sides started praying and (after some friendly jabs at Baal’s absence), God ignited Elijah’s altar with fire from the sky, incinerating the altar as well as the rocks near it. Elijah represented the prophets of God by proclaiming the glory of God. Finally, Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, now revealed the glory of God through his transfiguration.

So how should we respond? Our first response is seeing His worth. Second, listen to His Word. Third, life for His renown. Fourth, long for His return.

Today’s drawing takes a fantastical kind of Alice in Wonderland spin. A figure stands before a mirror. The reflection is faceless. As the figure reaches through the glass, the image they before them reaches back out. The foreshadowing of their shared gesture is they are about to become one entity. The figure is becoming the embodiment of their primary focus. The reflected figure is faceless because the image is a fill-in-the-blank statement. We all worship something. The face of our worship will vary drastically.

What face is in your mirror? Is it what you want it to be?

Stamp of Approval

Worship is more than physical action.

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.  Matthew 15:8-9

God never intended obedience to one command to nullify another. Each command from Him correlates harmoniously with every other. The moment you are faced with an unfamiliar “Biblical command” that prevents you from fulfilling another that you know to be true, you can guarantee the new command is false.

The root of legalism is tradition, adhering to a singular way of doing things for the sake of avoiding change. Legalism is not a recent phenomena, not even in the last century. Legalism has been alive and well since the dawn of religion, it is the loophole around religious Dogma that allows a person to claim a religion without having change themselves. The crowd Jesus was speaking to in these passages is the staple child of religious legalism, the Pharisees. These religious leaders used legalism to manipulate the common public and relive themselves from uncomfortable responsibilities at their convenience. The specific dance here involved what was referred to as the Corban. The Bible commands families to support each other. Specifically, children are to care for their parents when the need arises. Corban law allowed a person to will all of their assets to the church, releasing them from having to use their own money to help anyone (including their folks) by the religious excuse “I’ve committed everything I have to God, so giving to you would be stealing from God.” Naturally, their religious propriety would not apply when the individual was personally in need. Using “God’s money” on themselves would then be example of God’s provision. The hypocrisy is blatantly obvious.

Today’s culture is no less hypocritical, regardless of religious profession. We are an intrinsically driven culture, that is to say we are out to gain the world for ourselves at the expense of whomever gets in our way. This attitude has slowly infiltrated through our personal lives, into our social lives and business personas. We are at the point now selfishness is even promoted from church pulpits. Self-called “preachers” allot entire sermons to promoting man-invented, legalistic rules while completely ignoring the truth of the Gospel.

Stamp of Approval

 

Interpreting today’s message, I drew this in the style of a political cartoon. The stamp engraved with the word “tradition” has marked the Bible VOID with a single swipe. In the background, a stereotypical traditional preacher standing in a pulpit (a modern day golden calf), arm raised in a shout of legalistic condemnation for outsiders. I can almost hear the the “amens” echoing off the page! In a twist of irony (you all know how I love irony) a Peace Lily is placed on either side of the pulpit. Flowers that represent peace surrounding a platform of bondage.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning all forms of tradition. I take issue when tradition contradicts the gospel. Do not be afraid to question tradition. When questioning the norm results in anger and opposition, you know it’s time to move on.

God is concerned about your heart and He wants your only concern to be His.

Be…

Be...

 

Today launches a new series…..Threads. During Threads, we’re going to dissect how the gospel is woven into the fabric of our lives and how we can interlock ourselves in the mission of the gospel and use it to influence  our sphere.

We’re taking a break from out study of Matthew to delve into this series. Today’s introductory message is taken from John 5:16-29, providing an overview of what we’ll talk about and where we should direct our focus during the next six weeks.

Drawing today, I ran with a reference from a college textiles class to bring in the Threads idea. This image is a weaving loom with a tapestry in progress. You can see the word ‘life’ beginning to appear in the weaving.

 

Having not used one of these in twelve years, I hope you’ll forgive me for my engineering being a bit off!

It would have be awesome to have one of these on stage with someone weaving during each service of this series! Alas, we don’t have a weaving loom or the space to set one up (yet).

 

 

 

 

The image on the left is a shuttlecock. This tool is used to hold each spool of thread as it is woven side to side along the tapestry.

I show six shuttlecocks in today’s drawing, each assigned a characteristic we  will take a closer look at using to adopt and apply the gospel in our lives.

 

For the Holy Spirit to work most effectively in your life, you must:

Be aware.  God is already at work in the lives of people around you.

Be active. God desires to include you in His work.

Be alert. Look and listen for evidence of God at work.

Be available. Sacrifice your agenda each day to join God wherever and however He is working.

Be amazed. Remember that God has involved you in His work not because He needs you, but because He loves you.

Be assured.  God’s work in and through your life will bear fruit that will last forever.

The next six weeks will be exciting! I’m looking forward to watching the tapestry that is our lives come together!