The Thing about Mountains

What then shall we say to these things? If our God is for us, who can be against us? –Romans 8:31

God is passionatly seeking every moment of our little existence. Desiring His sons and daughters to come to fruition. He has a great plan for us. It may not be our plan for us. Most likely it will be incredibably different than our will. But His will is incredibly devine and often difficult. If God’s ways where for us to be victorious in mundane earthly wants He would never have promised us the Holy Ghost. If His ways were to be comfortable there would never be a need for a Comfortor. If His will was ours then we would not need the Savior. He is not an absentee father or a distant benevolence or a well meaning but often forgetful politician. He is for us. EVERY. STEP. OF. THE. WAY. Cheering us on and many a times picking us up. He is not a crutch we lean on but a Physician who teaches you how to walk. He fights like a husband for a wayward bride, from a position of victory, from intimacy. He is an active voice in a world of white noise and pychological fallicies.

This is a joyous conclusion to a lifetime of failures. And even in moments of our own achievements the arduous task of succession begins again. A never ending climb of plateaus and mountains. The thing about mountains is when you climb one there is another one on the other side. The thing about mountains is there is never just a one and done, they come in ranges. But with God the mountains melt like wax- they are ripped up from there deep sedimentary roots and thrown into a deep sea of mercy- so that when we are at our weakest moments, out of breath, dying of thirst, there is a tidal wave of grace that sweeps us away in transcendent love.

…nor hieght nor depth, nor anything in all creation will be able to seperate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:39

With a God like that who needs the present when we have all the victory in the beauty of His presence. I have climbed a few mountains in the past. I remember on our way to climb St. Helena and Enchanted Rock (a megalith) people would be at the top doing yoga or praying. Even though my wife and I marveled at the beauty of Gods workmanship we were never any closer to Him than we were in the car. Be thankful in every circumstance because God is for you.Image

Happy Resurrection Sunday

Easter is a pagan holiday.

He seeks us….part I

Since late fall a few friends and myself have been holding a series of meetings we have called “God: A conversation”.  The idea of these meetings is to have meaningful dialogue about all aspects of religion/faith/spirituality and what they mean.  So far they have been great.  We meet at a local coffee house frequented by hipsters and artists of all sorts.  Each adds their own spice to the conversation.

During our last discussion an atheist friend of mine said something that has stuck with me.  We were talking about the “why” behind religion.  We’re both in agreement that some early religious beliefs were to provide answers to various questions; “Why does it rain?  Who hung the stars? Why are we here?” and so on.  Then we also mentioned that beyond that belief seems to be a response to something deeper.  As we pondered this she said to me: “Most scriptures are either answers to those questions or they are a collection of ways to seek God, whomever he may be.”

This stuck with me and I very quickly responded that I agree, it seems to be so, that in most religions their scriptures provide a way of seeking God.  But, I believe the scriptures of Christianity (and likewise Judaism) are more than a collection of books that tell people how to seek God.  That the bible, while it does help us get closer to God, is primarily the story of God seeking out the love of His creation. She was a bit surprised by this statement and wondered what I meant.

As we work our way through the Christian and Jewish scriptures all we seem to find from day one (literally day one) is God seeking after a people who are continually fleeing Him.  It’s a love story, a pining lover seeking his bride, who seems to always cheat on Him.

In the beginning…

We all know this story well but let’s look at it again.  I think it’s first worth mentioning why man was created.  The typical Christian answer as found in various prayer books and confessionals is that man is made to glorify God.  I can’t totally disagree with that but I think there is something else.  It’s that God was seeking companionship.  Nature glorifies God and so do animals by just existing, it wasn’t necessary to create a being made in His “likeness” if all God wanted was glory.  Anything He created would have done that, no, God wanted a lover.

The lover’s folly…

So now that God has created man and woman in His likeness you would think they would do nothing but run towards Him.  He’s placed them in a perfect garden, given them charge of all He made.  There is only one rule they must obey.  But no, the God seeking man scenario happens almost right away!  It’s as if their first instinct was to run from His love.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

 

Not even 3 chapters into the first book and God’s creation has hidden from Him!  God seeks His most prized creation, who now are hiding in the bushes.  God then utters words He would continue uttering to man throughout the ages: “Where are you?”

The call of Abram…

Moving on a few chapters in Genesis we encounter Abram, born to Terah, raised in present day Iraq.  When we first meet Abram it’s by way of introduction through a boring family tree.  When we get past that to Chapter 12 it is God calling Abram.

“The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”

The Lord said.  That is where our story of Abram begins, not with Abram asking “how can I get closer to God today?”  And it will continue this way even after his name is changed to Abraham.  Abram did not seek out the Lord first.  The Lord sought him.  God had a promise for him.  What did Abram do to deserve this honor?  What 8 easy steps did he follow to seek the Lord?  None.  God came to him first, then Abram, on faith, obeyed.

Later the Lord would come to Abraham again in the form of a man, with a message.  Just from these two stories alone we start to see a God who is actively seeking His creation.  Not the other way around.

A love song to His people…

Smack dab in the middle of the bible is an interesting little book. Its a long love poem written about two lovers, who travel from courtship to consummation.  Its a book that frankly most christians tend to ignore, mostly because its sexy!  But here we have a beautiful allegory about the love God has for His creation.  “Where has your beloved gone?”, is the phrase often repeated.  This is a poem about searching, about yearning. The woman seeks all over Jerusalem for her beloved, her beloved seeks to woo her as she runs about the town looking.  It’s the most beautiful book in the bible in my opinion, but not the only one that deals with God seeking His lover.

I’ll show you how I feel…

This pretty much sums up the book of Hosea, “I’ll show you what its like to be Me” , God says to Hosea.  Ok, that’s a bit of artistic liberty to be sure.  Here is what He actually says:

“Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.”

So off Hosea goes and marries a whore.  Well, it must work out because God planned it right?  No way!  Old habits die hard, especially with someone stuck in an adulterous way of life.  Hosea finds his wife cheating on him over and over again, selling herself into prostitution.  This is what God says we are like!  By our humanly wisdom we say “well, goodness, she keeps cheating on me!  I gotta end this! No more!”  But God has this to say:

“Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods..”

God does NOT say to Hosea. “ok, now you know this, do a, b and c to get to know me better.”  No, this isn’t the way of a lover.  God (as personified by Hosea in this story) comes back again and again to show His love to us.  Eventually in the story Hosea had to pay a ransom to buy his wife back from her pimp.  God too had to pay our ransom.

The ultimate sacrifice…

 

Matthew 6:33

“…we should be perfectly clear about one thing:  Jesus never expected us to simply turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth.  These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristic of Christlikeness, were set forth by him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person-one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has.  Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do.”

-Dallas Willard

“The Spirit of the Disciplines”

Idols and Iconography: Byzantine influence in my work

As an artist who is a Christian I get the chance to do what a lot of Christians don’t.  I get to work out spiritual issues in a visual way.  I find that these struggles of heart and soul, sin and redemption come out even when I don’t intend them to.  They are a part of me regardless of what I put down on canvas or where I point my camera.  There is a reason for it all.  In that sense my work becomes a form of prayer, a way for me to express to God the things I have no words for.  I’ve come to a realization recently about a body of work that has been in development for nearly three years.

From the moment I first “discovered” my taste for the mixed media in high school I was captivated by Byzantine Christian Icons.  Icons are religious works of art that are a sign or likeness of an object or person that represents it symbolically.  These are often seen in churches to enhance the experience of the worshipper.  Sometimes they have even been used to worship through.  There was something about the mystic nature of them, the elevation of a human to an icon, their age and patina, that I just couldn’t get enough of.  So my work often imitated (in the most superficial way) these ancient works.

Here are some great examples of actual icons:

Eventually I moved away from Iconic imagery and went else where with my work.  But recently I’ve found its influence creeping back in subtle, more serious ways.  I’ve come to see the following works are icons symbolizing things that I idolized and/or struggle with.

Sorry that the picture quality isn’t the highest quality but I think you can see how on the surface these are influenced.  For years I held high the status of marriage and the ideal of the “perfect” women or the “perfect” match.  These seem to be my way of working this out.  Trying to rectify so many failed relationships and many purely sexual flings and often then tension between the two.
Particularly evident in the last one is a piece dealing with sexual flings.  It was a point in my life where I was running away from things and trying to deal with failed love not living up to my expectations.  And so I sought solace in sex rather than in God.  This piece objectifies the women on purpose, focusing only on that which I was seeking.  It also serves the purpose of epitomizing a struggle between love and pure fleshly sexual gratification.  There is a push an pull for me between wanting that ideal love and just wanting to satisfy a sexual hunger.  Often a middle ground is hard to find.
The second of the three is actually the oldest of them.  This one is directly about the above mentioned failed love.  Its clearly about separation referencing not only the idol I turned the relationship into, but Adam and Eve (the ideal couple) who I also in a sense, idolized.  The man is walking away still carrying a piece of that ideal with him.  The canvas is covered with a shared bed sheet. You see where this is going.
The first piece is the most recent and the most hopeful.  There is some sort of delight on the girls face, a freedom in her nudity and movement.  This icon speaks to where I am now.  Not to imply I don’t still struggle with the sexual temptation of the latter piece or that I don’t still hold on to some pieces of where I’ve been before but now there is a certain acceptance.  I’ve moved on from those things a bit and am looking for something.  Something less idealized then I have been in the past, perhaps we can say something more real.  God will provide.

Trading in the Anti-American Dream

I don’t want to trade in the American Dream for an Anti-American dream. Even the Anti-American dream still has America in it.

I think a dangerous mindset we can get into is to be critical of our nation and the people too. Where we are looking at other people’s things and not focusing on the issues of the heart. There are reasons that people pursue things they can see, because they cannot understand things that they can’t. (1 Cor 2:14) This is our call as Christians in America, do not forget the poor amongst you, let’s not forget the poor in spirit either.

[3] for we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7 ESV)

First off- I am not speaking about political movements, I am speaking on behalf of our social clout. But because so much of our faith and values tie into how we view government, it shouldn’t be to hard to align with this idea. In reading, try to keep in mind that I am focusing on our views of the American Dream.

Secondly- at the same time as I write this I do wish for you to keep in mind the underlining political aspect. (bear with me)

Yes, there are injustices in America. Yes, we do need to bring awareness to these issues. Houston (and the area I am from) is home to the second most human trafficking and sex-slave exploitation in America. [ http://www.humantrafficking.org/updates/807 ] This is a disgusting and terrible practice that I drive by and never even realize. My eyes have been opened to the hunger and pain that surrounds me. Two counties away is the 17th poorest in the Nation with a per-capita income of nearly $10,000 a year. My car I drive was once more than twice that amount. Yes, this is terrible. It is in our rights as Christians to draw attention to this, but is it America’s responsibility or is it the church’s? God’s mercy extends to both the oppressed and the oppressors.

The criticism I am speaking about is this. It’s beneficial to draw attention to injustice, but another to condemn men because of their apathy. We are not to judge because we do not know how to judge with love, only God does. We should be praying just as much for the white-collar SUV-super bowl-church on Sunday-Americans as we should for the abused, starving, sex-slave boys and girls in America. Because while we were not slaves to man we were once slave to sin. Just like them. (Romans…all of it!)

(I have to admit that I am just as guilty. I have way more money than I need. Over the past few years I have hoarded money away and become a workaholic. My obsession with numbers drives me to the point of forsaking relationships for a better portfolio. I have more money in my bank account than the average American. God has definitely blessed me with a financial mind-set and an uncanny ability in savings. But even though I know how to save I am not being a good steward of my money. God’s passion for blessing me financially is not so that I can be comfortable, but it is that I can be uncomfortable, so I can be a blessing to others in need. I now realize that I am to give until it hurts. And this is not an anti-American dream…this is me trusting Jesus.)

Can you change the world without Jesus? Yes- and no.

We can bring about reform. We can bring awareness. But who brings salvation? God. (John 3:16)

If we become so critical to the point that we forget about grace then we have became the exact replica of those we hate. Forsaking riches for rags still leaves you wearing something that is not yours.

Love is not in what we do, but why we do it. (1 John 4:19)

Remember the rich young ruler who couldn’t give up his “stuff” and follow Jesus? Remember the scripture that follows this? It is often left out in this conversation; “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him!” (Mark 10:21) We must not forget the poor; let’s not forget the poor in spirit.

God has done some pretty awesome things throughout American history (but He’s done the same for other nations too) If you have change in your pocket and place to crash you are in the top 75% wealthiest peoples in the world. We need to be mindful of the blessings we receive because of our freedoms, yet also remember the same freedoms go for outsiders as well.

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (1 Pt 2:16 ESV)

If you hate America so much you need to be on your knees begging God to make you a missionary!

If you love America…read 1 Timothy 6.

I want to be a Christian. Nowhere in the Bible mentions America but it does testify of the body of Christ. My attention turns to the church. We need to become unified as a kingdom authority, rich and poor, right and left. When you see a need, give generously and often. As a church we have to get our hands out of our pockets, the flag off our cross and worship the Son of God for who He is, our salvation. (Acts 4:12) Our Hope. (Rms 5:2) Our Glory. (John 17:21) Developing relationships is the only way we will ever change the world, because this is how Christ has changed us.

<Perfect example of this is Sean’s previous story>

Your riches will do well. But my God is better.

Your protest will do well. But my God is better.

Charity and Revolutions will die when the contributors dies.

But Jesus never dies. (Rms 6:9) Neither do we. (John 11:26)

For God loves a cheerful giver: In which Sean learns about generosity in community

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

-2 Corinthians: 9:7

Nearly two months ago I decided that it would be a great idea to gather with friends to play capture the flag.  I loved this game as a child and thought it would be even more fun as an adult.  So gather we did.  About 8 of us on the most perfect field, on the most perfect day.  We quickly laid out our boundaries and set our teams in place, hiding out flags.  We yelled out go…..

10 mins later….

…..and so there I lay, a fallen hero.  Well, not quite.  10 minutes early I had gone to chase one of our “enemies”, slipped on some grass and now lay on the ground with what I would find out later was a broken collarbone.  Terrible.  See what I get for trying to be 12 at age 27?!

In all seriousness this was a terrible blow to me.  I am mostly self employed.  Earning my keep as a freelance photographer and artist.  Money can often times be few and far between.  The same with being able to afford health insurance.  But beyond the cash flow issue there was one more pressing matter.  I was now incapable of holding a camera and thus lost my ability to work.  I was crushed.

After getting through the initial physical shock, the hospital visits and getting used to a sling.  I begun to wrap my mind around my financial situation.  It was (is a bit still) quick bleak.  My money was running out and the medical bills would eventually total nearly $2000.00.  I’m used to worrying about money a bit but now that I couldnt even work for my money ,what would I do?

Turn to God.

Being a freelancer leaves you quite dry some months.  And I’ve always seen God do miracles.  Things just often work out.  I get through them.  God provides more jobs.  I guess my question was this time: “how can I work more jobs if I can’t use my arm?  How can You possibly provide for me now?”, “can You really make a money tree?”  I was starting to get scared….

enter the church

After a few days of praying and nursing myself I began to see out pouring in a way I have never seen in all my life.  Members of my church (The Garden) began to offer their time and their money to help support me for the first month.  I was puzzled at first having not even asked for help.  But then my puzzling turned to joy as I saw their hearts leading them to just hand me money with out expecting anything in return.  My financial needs that month were now going to be met!  What a burden to be lifted from me!

I guess what had so impressed me was that the giving wasn’t asked for specifically, it was prayed for, and I was surprised how freely they gave to me.  This was giving from genuine love.  And it seems to me that giving of that sort is what we ought to be doing.  Its just I have rarely seen it in action before.  My past experience with Church told me to expect many “I will be praying for you”‘s and “I’m sure God will provide”‘s but very little action on the part of the members.  Often times we forget that WE are the church.  And if God is to move through the church WE have to take action rather than sit around and just pray.  The purpose of a community goes beyond simply meeting together to worship and pray.  We are to take on a supportive role with each other.  Hold each other up where we cannot.  Give where there is need.  My brothers and sisters at the Garden were actually living out the principle set out in scripture.

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

-Romans 12-10-13

And I will be eternally grateful for the radical generosity they have shown me during my time of need, by actually practicing principles of church and community that are far too rare in our society.

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