Category Archives: Church

How to do a Corporate Worship Painting

I’ve been asked a few times in the last couple months how to do a corporate worship painting. Other ministers are anxious to expand their church’s understanding of corporate worship and they view this as an opportunity to do so. Here is an older post that explains what worship paintings are https://noviselkins.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/worship-a-collision-of-expression/

Below are a quick explanation and instructions on how to do it. Hopefully, you will enjoy.

Why Worship Painting?

“Worship is the reaction of the God observer.” –Kyle Dunn.

I’m pretty sure Kyle was quoting someone else, but he is the one I heard say this phrase. I remember hearing him articulate this truth when I was a sophomore in college. It shattered my pre-conceived ideas as to what it meant to worship. To be clear, I understood the concept of “worship as a way of life.” I grasped that you could “live a life of song before God.” But I was missing the simplification of the definition. Worship is reaction to God. When humanity is confronted by God, worship is the response to that observation.

Worship therefore, is expression. It is some form of expression in response to God. That expression can be anything, but it is an expression. Often in the western church we restrict that expression to song. Worship, in particular corporate worship is done solely in song or prayer. Not every worshiper sings. Some worshipers dance, some write, some compose poetry, some think deeply, some work and serve,… and some paint. All are valid expressions of worship. All can be done corporately. All require a little stretching from the congregations that choose to engage in them. But knowing God also requires some stretching. So stretch on!

Painting is particularly unique. It is strange and distant to most of us. Painting is not something that comes natural to our western culture. As a form of expression, it is hard to nail down. But it is, without debate, expression. So, it is a perfect form of expression to stretch our abilities. Further, painting can be reviewed. It is not something that is shot into the void like a song that we sing or a poem we recite. It is a form of expression that lasts and develops more meaning the longer we look at it. So, stretch… paint your expression of worship and enjoy.

How to do a Worship Painting

Several years ago I determined to stretch my own congregation’s ability to worship. We did a corporate worship painting together and it was awesome! I tried to plan this sort of worship at least twice a year. Below are some simple instructions on how to do it.

First step: Prepare your congregation

Teach on Worship. The first step is to get people to understand this is an act of worship. In order to do that we must do some teaching on the nature of corporate worship.

  1. Each of us brings our own unique expression to the canvas of worship- Much like worship in song, every person has a unique voice in worship. All the voices unite together in one song to God. So it is with painting. Each person has a unique expression through the brush. It is best when we paint the same canvas and those expressions interact.
  2. Those expressions are best when they interact with one another in praise to God- This is important. We must understand that worship is not a matter of better or worse. It is a matter of expression. God does not measure your worship by the guy sitting next to you. Rather, it is by your purity of heart.
  3. Sometimes our expressions cover over others or change others expressions- When worshipers unite, some voices lay foundations that others build on. Some voices are brought to the forefront and some exist in the background. So it is with corporate worship paintings. It is important to understand that your expression might be covered up or altered by someone else’s and that’s ok. It is in the laying down of the expression that God is exalted. Your expression is valued by God even when it is unseen by man.
  4. Worship is most beautiful to God when all the individual expressions of worship unite and combine to make one unique expression. – Here is the crux of corporate worship paintings! You are granted the privilege of joining in with a body of believers to worship the King of Glory. Make a unique expression of worship by allowing the voices in your congregation to respond to God.

Second Step: Prepare your materials

Things you need to buy:

  1. A large canvas
  2. A can of spray paint to lay down a background color. (optional)
  3. A variety of acrylic paints (I always bought “Basic” brand acrylic paints. Tip: stay away from craft paints… they are lesser quality and you end up paying for it in the long run.)
  4. Nice paint brushes of various sizes.
  5. Paper/ Styrofoam plates to act as pallets for the paint
  6. Canvas Drop-cloths (buy a nice, large drop-cloth. You wont regret having it. It will protect the surface around the canvas AND add to the atmosphere whereas cheap stuff might detract.)
  7. Workable fixative spray and Crystal Clear Spray (Krylon brand clear coating for acrylic paints)
  8. Brush cleaning supplies: Some paint thinner to clean the brushes, mineral spirits, two jars, a tin can with holes punched in the bottom (optional.).

Things to do to prepare

  1. Decide if you want a background color and spray paint the canvas that color. Let it dry for 24 hours.
  2. Lay out your drop-cloth
  3. Lay your canvas out in a well-lit area that allows for access to the canvas from all sides. (I used floor lamps and spot lights to illuminate the canvas.)
  4. Put brushes, plates, and paints around the canvas.
  5. Pray that God would be pleased by the worship of His people. Pray that you would honor the Lord in your expression as a body. Pray.

Third Step: Enjoy worship.

  1. Explain what a corporate worship painting is. (See step one) You may want to encourage people to paint without words. Because painting is so unique, often we respond by writing words on the canvas and it can diminish the power of expression. So, sometimes I’ve made a rule that you cannot use words.
  2. Teach a passage of Scripture that will allow the observation of God.
  3. Play worship music
  4. Paint with them… I sometimes found it helpful to just go ahead and start. So, I’d pick up a plate and squeeze some paint onto it and start painting. It may take a minute for people to be struck with something, but once one person does, then usually the floodgates open.

Practically, the painting time looks like this:

  1. You explain worship
  2. You teach a passage
  3. You turn on some music and set the atmosphere to focus on the canvas
  4. You paint

Fourth Step: Clean up

  1. Clean the brushes (here’s a video for that) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIphtJDte9E
  2. Put some mineral spirits on your brushes and store them where they can dry.
  3. Spray the canvas with Crystal clear coat. This will keep the acrylics from cracking over time.
  4. Pick up all paints, throw away used pallets (if you’re going to do multiple days of painting you can put plastic wrap on the pallets to keep the paint from drying out. But there is no reason to try and preserve the paint if you are not doing multiple days in a row.)
  5. Hang the painting where people can see it in the weeks to come. This will serve as a reminder of what corporate worship is and will allow people to reflect on the work of worship.

Tips:

Prepare to respond to people who think this is too weird. It might be too weird for some. Ask those people for grace in understanding that different people worship differently and this is just one opportunity to do so. Assure them that their voice is not lost.

Prepare to encourage those whose expressions are covered up by other people. This is difficult to handle. Because worship is so personal, it is easy to take offense when someone knowingly or unwittingly covers your expression. That is why you must explain this carefully as a part of worship and encourage interactivity and respect for another’s expression.

Watch out for the one who is not worshiping but drawing something that has nothing to do with the Lord. I remember kneeling next to a boy who was painting his favorite football team’s emblem on our worship canvas. I recognized what he was doing and asked him, “Hey bro, can you tell me what your painting?” He was honest. I asked, “What does that have to do with God? Can you make it into something that praises God?” He altered his design and painted something different. It was an awkward whispered conversation. But it did the trick and worship was enhanced.

Overlook offense. Corporate worship is messy when it is done correctly. Just prepare to be offended.

Finally: touch the painting up afterward. I always had a few artists that would come and touch up the painting when we were finished. They were careful to only add highlights and to enhance what others had done. In this way, the corporate expression was not altered but enhanced.

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Brief Thoughts; Colossians 1:9-10

9And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

The heart of Christian unity is found in the prayers of the saints. It is a unique character trait of the believer that permits such a response to the report of love in the Spirit. There is no desire for them to excel in fame or prestige. There is no passing apathy resulting from a competitive spirit. There is no desire to direct their steps and take charge of them. On the contrary, Paul prays for them to know God’s will and understand it.

What a tremendous prayer! That the Colossians would “be filled with the knowledge of His will” (v.9). He does not merely pray for some knowledge or a provision of knowledge. Rather, Paul prays that they would be filled with knowledge. Further, it is not simply general knowledge that Paul seeks, but especially the knowledge of God’s will. The will of God: that sovereign desire that will be brought to fruition. Paul prays that they would be complete in their knowledge of God’s will.[1] Imagine what it must mean to be complete in the knowledge of God’s will. Such knowledge would bring tremendous confidence. That very confidence that is needed to face trial and the strength to overcome sin are wrapped in the knowledge of God’s sovereign will. Take note, it is not knowledge of the specifics of God’s plan or His direct intention. Rather, it is a knowledge of His will specifically. Christians do not require knowledge of every detail of God’s plan, only the full knowledge that He has such a will and can be trusted. As the Christian becomes more aware of and confident in God’s will, the strength of their walk grows.

The knowledge of God’s will is accompanied and processed by “spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v9). This is faith that is complete. Complete faith does not merely trust in the knowledge that God’s will is sovereign, it also understands it and responds to it in wisdom. Christians who trust in God ought to live as the wisest among mankind. The wisdom of Christians ought to exceed the wisdom of the world, precisely because the nature of Christian wisdom is spiritual. The wisdom of Christians extends beyond the temporal world and exists in spiritual realms. As a result, the wisdom of Christians comes from a source that both influences and alters both temporal and spiritual realities.

Paul’s desire for the Colossians is that their lives would reflect the holiness of God. Christians live differently from the world around them. They live a life that is set apart. A life that is in pursuit of holiness. So, Paul prays that they would have the knowledge to enable such Christ-like living. Knowledge is given to Christians for the purpose of a changed life. A person who claims to know Christ and yet remains unchanged and unholy does not know the Lord. An unchanged Christian is not a Christian at all.

The life that is worthy is here explained in three descriptions each beginning with a participial phrase. The first description bears itself out in three simple phrases of verse ten. First, it is a life that is pleasing to God. That is to say, it is a life that delights in the word of the Lord and pursues holiness. It is not merely a passing delight. The life that is worthy is one that is “fully pleasing!” It is a life that delights God in every aspect. The Christian life is one that brings joy to the Lord not only in the view of the public but also in the secluded moments of privacy. Second, it is a life that bears fruit that is displayed in the work of the Christian life. The fruit of a Christian is not measured in tangible numbers or acts of people. Rather, the fruit of the Spirit is evident in the character of the Christian (C.f. Galatians 5). Yet, the fruit of the Christian life is born out in the works that Christians do to love their neighbors. It is revealed in “every good work.” Note that it is every work, not merely the ones that have been performed for an audience or in view of specific groups. The fruit of a Christian is displayed in all the works that are accomplished both public and private. Further, Christ admonishes His disciples in John 14 that the world will know His disciples by the way they love. Christians who bear fruit, work. Finally, the worthy life is one that increases in the knowledge of God. A Christian who does not grow in their knowledge of God is either starving their soul or they have not been redeemed. Either way, they are missing the delight and power of the Christian life. The worthy life is one that is spent tenaciously pursuing God. The worthy life is one that lays its selfish desires aside for the sake of knowing the Creator of the universe. The worthy life is a life surrendered to the pursuit of God.

The life of a believer is a changed life. It is a life that both defies the calls to success from the material world around it and embraces a tenacious love for that world. The Christian life is a life altered by the creator of all things. It is a life that is radical in its love towards others, relentless in its pursuit of holiness, and constant in its praise of God.

Oh Christian, how beautiful a worthy life is! Consider what our world would look like if believers genuinely pursued Christ so as to live a worthy life. Such great love would be displayed that the whole world would be forced to take notice. Indeed true Christianity has this effect on the community that surrounds it. When believers work to live lives worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the world around them is made more beautiful by the outflow of love that results from their pursuit of God. Pray, dear Christian that you and the other brothers in the faith would be filled with the knowledge of God. In that knowledge, the world will see the glory of God!

[1] The greek word used here indicates a completeness or fullness.

Colossians 1:6-8; Brief Thoughts

5… Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing – as it also does among you, since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8and has made known o us your love in the Spirit.   

Salvation comes by hearing the gospel (Romans 10:17). The gospel is the truth: that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world and was resurrected to bring life into dead souls. By His death, Jesus takes the just wrath of God upon Himself and by His resurrection, He extends eternal life to those who believe in Him (c.f. 2 Cor. 5:21). In one glorious moment, the believer is brought from death to life in the simple act of belief. From the dust of humanity, the individual’s desperate soul is pulled from the grave into the spiritual life of God. This life is granted by faith in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (Eph. 2:1-8).

The Colossian believers heard the news of the gospel and believed. At some point, Epaphras (v.7) preached the truth to them, and they believed. As Paul elucidates the gospel’s story in the heart of the Colossians, he describes the gospel in active terms. Notice, the words “come… bearing fruit and growing” (v.6). These terms are actions that are accomplished by the gospel. The gospel “has come” upon the Colossians as if the message itself is alive and makes the effort to come and seek out the sheep of God. Indeed, so great is the power of God’s message of salvation that it is alive. It invades the soul, aggressively calling the dead to life. The message of God’s love for His people is so deep and profound that it takes on a personification that boggles the mind of man and can only be understood in active terms.

So great is the power of the gospel message that it bears fruit across the world. The gospel is not only viable where the individual who believes is, but is so great that it extends to the entirety of the earth. It is so powerful that it changes the world in which we live. The Colossians are reminded that the gospel is moving beyond what they can see. It is “bearing fruit and growing” across the earth (v.6). Take heart, dear Christian! God is moving through the gospel even where you cannot see Him.

The Colossian believers “heard and understood the grace of God in truth” (v.6). With the eyes of their heart enlightened to the truth, they have been able to grasp the grace that God grants to believers. They have been transformed in their reception from dead beings who were enslaved to sin into saints who delight in obedience. This gospel comes as truth! It is not speculation or desire that Paul expounds upon in this letter. It is the truth! Each dash of his pen draws forth greater understanding of the transforming power of the gospel.

The Colossian believers heard the news of Jesus from Epaphras, here identified as “fellow servant” (v.7). Epaphras has served as a sounding board for the Colossians and has heralded their love for the Spirit. Further, he has served the apostle as a minister on behalf of the Colossians. So great was the service of Epaphras to Paul that he is recorded as being Paul’s fellow prisoner in Philemon 23 and is cited as struggling in prayer alongside Paul in Colossians 4:12. He has been a faithful brother in the cause of the gospel and clearly speaks with great love for those whom he has taught the gospel. It is a great truth of the Christian faith that brothers and sisters hold each other in high regard and speak of genuine faith with great affection.

Epaphras’ love for his brothers and sisters at Colossae is indicative of the love that a teacher of the gospel has for those they teach. The teaching and receipt of the gospel of Jesus Christ are so transformative that a bond unlike any other is forged in the examination of the subject. When the gospel is taught, the student and the teacher are engaged in a spiritual exercise by which transformation or utter rejection must occur. When the hearer believes in the gospel, a life change occurs and the believer is grafted into a spiritual family that is united in the truth. The tender affection with which Epaphras speaks of his beloved family in the faith is not unique to him. It is the common affection of all believers toward each other. This is the foundational love that unites the church. It is this unique marker that should define Christian community.

O, Christian, seek out teachers who will unite their souls with yours in the gospel ministry. Teachers who will labor over you with the love and affection of Jesus Christ. Seek out community that will intertwine their lives to yours in the filial affection of faith. In this way, you will experience many teachers like Epaphras, and you will delight in the community of faith.

Colossians 1:1; Brief Thoughts

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

Amidst a culture in which myriads of teachers are claiming to speak with Divine authority, Paul labors to explain that Jesus is the only Lord. Paul writes Colossians to a group of believers that are surrounded by teachers who would lead them into legalism by strictly imposing a variety of traditions upon the church. Paul’s answer to such legalistic nonsense is to write about the character and nature of Christ. So, Colossians stands as a book about Jesus in the hearts of those who believe. A book that tells the reader about Christ, and in doing so, about him or herself.

Religious people tend to gravitate towards rules and regulation. It is easier to engage a god who is managed by legislation than to live a life in intimate proximity to the God who does what He wants. So, the appeal of legalism is obvious. The appeal to confine God’s working to a prescribed set of traditional norms is obvious. The appeal of a God who submits to mankind’s methodologies and practices in order to approve of righteousness is obvious. The appeal is control. The god presented by legalism and some forms of traditionalism is a god that can be manipulated and follows our desired model of life. But that god, is not God.

Jesus is not controlled or manipulated by our desires and methodologies. He is much too big for that. This is why Paul spends the bulk of his letter to Colossians explaining the character and nature of Christ. The greater our understanding of Christ’s nature and character, the less we will rely on legalistic practices and traditions to attempt to control Him.

In verse 1-2 Paul begins his letter with the greeting common to his epistolary style. As usual, Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ.” He is an apostle; one who has been sent. Paul’s authority and knowledge of Christ come from Christ. He has seen Christ and is now acting as a messenger on behalf of the Lord. Paul was not appointed by a committee, voted in by popular vote, or assigned this role by another apostle. Acts 9 and Galatians 1:11-2:10 describe Paul’s journey to apostleship. God appointed Paul. Indeed Paul was and is an apostle only “by the will of God.” The will of God is that which appointed and prepared Paul’s commission as an “apostle to the Gentiles,” (Rom. 11:13) and is that which maintains and sustains that current position.

It is a tremendous assurance to consider that one’s position in the work of the Kingdom of God is contingent on God’s will. A greater assurance cannot exist! God maintains the position of those whom He calls and places into position. Christians are placed in positions of service by the will of God. So it is with great confidence that Christians can rest content in their current position of service. It is also with great assurance that God is in control that Christians can submit to a lesser position or a time of wandering. The confidence of condition and the ability to be content rest solely in the understanding that God’s will both procures and secures our positions in His kingdom.

Consider that for a moment. Your value in the Kingdom of God is not contingent on your merit or ability, but on the will of God. It is not contingent on your striving, but on His power within you. Though you toil to minister the Gospel of Christ, you are empowered and strengthened by His power and His working within you. Your struggle is real and it is worked out in the context and protection of His will. You cannot break it.

Paul rarely writes these letters by himself. The letter to Colossians is no exception. Paul knows the value of community. When he writes to younger pastors, Titus and Timothy, he encourages them to appoint elders in the church to help in the ministry to the congregation. There is profound power in the community of the church. Paul knows the strength of a team. So it should be with the modern church.

 

When Someone Claims Divine Authority

moses_with_tabletsThe conversation began with the typical spiritual overtones I’d come to expect from this particular friend: “I have a word from the Lord for you.” I was in my first years of college, and this was a common refrain among many of my friends. Over the years, I have heard people make statements like this many times. Occasionally, the “word” they offered was productive and clearly from God. However, more often than not, what followed the opening claim to divine inspiration fell into two categories.

Let us call the first category: “Vague allusion.”

This is when the word that follows the claim is vague and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The “word” they deliver is guised as having highly specific undertones, but the specifics don’t match any particular interpretation. I can remember when a well-meaning brother told me he had a vision for me! I excitedly sat to hear the vision as I had respect for this particular brother. He told me that I was standing before a blue background… that was it. The whole “vision.” On another occasion I was told that the “word” the Lord had for me was “peace.” No explanation… no attempt to understand the circumstances surrounding the supposed prophecy. Just, “peace.” Ok. So extrapolation and interpretation fall squarely on my shoulders. In Scripture this is the opposite of prophecy. Think about the prophet Daniel. He received the interpretation of the dreams, and that is what made him a prophet. Unexplained vague allusions are not prophecy.

Now don’t get me wrong. These are well meaning brothers and sisters who genuinely feel as though they are acting in obedience to the Lord. The trouble is in claiming the divine authority in connection with vague, easily misinterpreted statements. God is not vague. When we read prophecies in Scripture, they are not vague. And though Jesus speaks in parables, he frequently expected them to be understood by His disciples and if they were not, He often labored to explain them. Though the prophecies in Scripture may be complex and we may have difficulty understanding them, they are not vague. In fact they are often extremely specific!

The second common category is “Passively addressing offense.”

weneedtotalkIt was late and I was tired. I had been working long hours and had exhausted my mental reserves studying for various exams. My friend contacted me and told me that he had a “word” for me. He had been laboring over this for weeks and simply could not hold onto it any longer. “Brother, when you said that two weeks ago, the Lord was angered.” I can remember being mortified! I was literally trembling at the idea that I had displeased my Lord, so I asked for clarification. What was wrong with what I had said, specifically!? Can you point me to Scripture so I can know what not to do again? This was important! I asked what Scriptures I had particularly violated so that I might have some sense of clarity. None was offered. So I apologized for any offense and spent the next months in nervous fits. That is, until I realized what had actually happened. I had offended a brother and he felt the need to claim some divine authority in order to address his offense.

I spent months dealing with this particular offense. I wrestled and labored to discover my failing before God. The most difficult thing for me to understand was why God had not spoken to me, but had determined that I needed someone else’s voice.

Now consider for a moment: I’m a brash personality and I am naturally insensitive to the feelings of others. Couple that with the position of teaching the Bible, and I am a model example of how to offend people without really trying. So, it is not uncommon for me to have to explain myself to others. I don’t intend to offend, but sometimes I do. The trouble with the above example was where my friend had placed the offense. It is one thing to offend a brother. You can explain yourself and apologize and deal with the issue, but when you have offended the Lord, that is a different issue altogether. Offending the Lord requires repentance and knowledge of your own sin. In contrast to the above confrontation, The Lord is quite clear about the specifics of our sin against Him. There is no ambiguity with The Lord when He deals with sin. Consider when Nathan confronts David in 2 Samuel 12. After drawing David’s attention to the heinousness of sin, Nathan speaks directly and clearly to David. Likewise, God speaks plainly and His word cuts to the heart.

To be fair, there are times when people offer a “word” and it is actually consistent with Scripture and is legitimate. Apply those times appropriately. However, for those other times here are three things to look for.

Look for Scripture.

I’ve become inoculated to the claim to divine authority that is not accompanied by Scripture. You see, the Bible is the Word of God and He speaks to us through it. He is quite clear. So, if someone comes to me with a “word from the Lord,” I will strive to listen for Scripture or Scriptural validation of their claim. In the absence of that, I have learned to thank them for their voice, apply what is useful and dismiss what is not. It is important to remember that people who deliver “a word” to you are well-meaning, if sometimes misguided. The Lord speaks through Scripture. Test everything by the word of God (1 Thess. 5:21).

Look for specifics and clarity.

God is not vague. He is extremely direct. He does not muddy understanding of His intentions but clarifies it. When God speaks, He always brings clarity to confusion. When Nathan confronted David in 2 Sam. 12, there is no confusion. When Moses delivers the Word of God in Exodus 32-34, God’s voice is clear. When Isaiah speaks to Hezekiah, there is no confusion in His prophecy (Isaiah 37-38). Take a look at all the notable times when God’s prophets confront various kings in the Old Testament. Every time God’s prophets bring a prophecy, they bring clarity into a situation that is confusing. The voice of the Lord is no different in the New Testament. Consider when Philip was told to approach the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), or when Ananias receives a vision about Saul and argues with God about it (Acts 9:10-19), or when God tells Paul no after he asks for the thorn to be removed (2 Cor. 12:7-10). So, if someone claims to speak from the Lord, then clarity should follow. Further, when God addresses sin, He deals with specifics. The address of sin is always clear and the guilt is always obvious. He gave an entire law to His people and frequently names the specific sins and the manner in which they are committing them. So, when someone claims a word from God, look for specifics.

Look for opportunity to be holy.

The prophecies that are given to the people of God always have one thing in common: an urging to righteousness. God calls His people to repent from sin and obey Him. More than that, He equips them through His word to do so. The call of God on His people has not changed. If you believe in Jesus, He calls you to live righteously. (1 Peter 1:15)

Finally, be gracious to those who claim to speak from the authority of God. They seldom know the danger they bring upon their souls if they are found to misrepresent God. Be loving, honest, and extremely careful.

Dealing with Anxiety

It happened again yesterday. It was the first time in a long while that I had again felt the wave of irrational panic sweep through my body. My hands began to shake, my pulse quickened, noises seemed deafening. The room began to spin, it was difficult to get a deep breath, and my arms began to feel week. I know this foe that occasionally appears to steal my calm though I cannot tell you why it comes. About 8 years ago I had my first real anxiety attack. I was in my office and everything in the room started to go sideways. My hands began to shake and I felt weak. I thought I just needed some hot tea (a minor obsession of mine, I drink four cups a day). I shuffled into the copy room and made myself some tea and quietly hurried back to my office where I tried to relax. After some time of prayer and considerable effort to simply relax, I finally forced myself to go into the youth building and pick things up. Eventually, I was able to calm my nerves.

After that first attack, I began to wrestle more often with anxiety. Sometimes it felt like a weekly issue. Now, to be clear, I don’t have a medical anxiety issue. I’m naturally a pretty easy-going and calm person. Though in Brazoria Texas, I’m told I am high-strung (so I guess that’s a matter of perspective). I like things to be in order and I live a relatively ordered and easy life. I do not claim that my struggles with anxiety are anywhere near the difficulty of some people who feel the walls close in and have to completely shut down the outside world. I do not have “crippling anxiety.” I do struggle with minor anxiety attacks. About 4 years ago they were frequent and I had not experienced an attack for about a year and a half… until yesterday. I shared what I did to address the issue in a tweet and was told that it was helpful. So… I thought I’d explain a bit more. Maybe you’ll find some help. Maybe you know this already. Maybe…

4 observations about anxiety.

  1. Usually, anxiety attacks have a trigger. Often anxiety attacks are a result of some sort of encounter, suppressed or remembered. People who struggle with anxiety typically have a looming pressure that they can feel coming closer. My anxiety has almost always been associated with meetings or people. Both meetings and people bother me. I feel nervous at the very thought of sitting down and having a “talk” with someone in a meeting in which I do not control the agenda. For me, I recognize this as a trigger. I’ve been around other people who have anxiety as a response to chaotic noise or crowded rooms. I even knew one person who had an anxiety attack whenever they saw a particular flower. Identifying these triggers can help. It is important not to avoid these triggers… It is best to address them.
  2. Anxiety is a real issue. This is not a pretend psychological gloss of fear or an excuse to avoid confrontation. It’s a real problem people struggle with. Further, when Paul says “be anxious for nothing, but in all things, by prayer and petition make your request known to God” (Phil 4:6) he is not talking about dealing with anxiety attacks. (For thoughts on that particular passage, click here.) That said, anxiety affects people differently. The common symptoms are shaking, shortness of breath, inability to focus, and a light-headed feeling. However, they are not limited to these.
  3. Honesty and transparency in community can help to alleviate anxiety. There are few things more powerful than living in authentic community. A community based on trust and openness is a powerful aid in dealing with anxiety. When transparency is held in high value, many triggers will be arrested and dispelled in the comfort of open community.
  4. You cannot simply “fix” anxiety. It is a complex problem. Most people who struggle with anxiety cannot tell you why they struggle with anxiety. They simply do. It is difficult to identify triggers much less the source of anxiety. I’m a pastor and I’d love to tell you that there is a verse that will solve every anxiety you will ever face. And while it is true that strengthening your faith and knowledge of God can help, anxiety is not simply answered with a verse. It takes more to war against this opponent.

Some things I do to address anxiety attacks.

  1. Silence is counter-intuitive in our culture. We desire to drown out noise with louder sounds. However, when anxiety strikes me, I need silence. Soft music doesn’t help, in fact, it often increases the strength of the attack. Years ago I invested in some noise canceling headphones. When I feel an attack coming, I grab my headphones first.
  2. A calming hot drink. Personally, I prefer hot tea. I put a small scoop of cinnamon in it. I was told that cinnamon in hot tea can help with unsteady nerves. I’m not a doctor, I have no medical evidence for this. But, I can attest that it does work.
  3. Focus on one task. When I struggle with an anxiety attack, I need to feel successful. I need to be reminded that I can complete something. Assurance that I’m useful. The task does not have to be a big one. It can be something as simple stacking papers or making lunch. I find it is helpful when the task takes some effort but is mostly rote.
  4. Practicing the presence of God. Christians have a great advantage over others who struggle with anxiety. A disciplined practice of faith and consistent routine will help to stabilize your life and offer strength when the attacks hit. Anxiety can be heightened by unfamiliar activity. Because I occasionally struggle to control my anxiety, it is helpful to maintain a consistent and disciplined routine.
  5. It’s hard to breathe when the room closes in. But you need to breathe. It helps to control heart rate and settle the racing mind. So take slow steady breaths and bring some control to your heart rate.
  6. Ask for help. I live in authentic community with people who know me well. When anxiety closes in, one phone call and I’ve got a community around me, praying, coming to help, and offering presence. This is probably the greatest asset to overcoming anxiety. If you don’t have a community, join one. If you’re in my area, Sovereign Grace Fellowship is a community that will offer you that kind of fellowship.

Cultivating Beauty

Creative-beauty is lost in much of modern culture. The world we live in seems not to appreciate creative-beauty. To be fair, many people appreciate that which is creative and new. New fashion trends, shiny gadgets, and varieties of new styles of décor flood our senses. The old world beauty is recycled to give us a new world trend. These trends speak to a desire that is latent in the soul of humanity. There is a deep need to create, to invent, to engage the senses with something more than what merely be spoken. The soul needs to create. The soul NEEDS to create… something… something beautiful.

God created mankind in His image.

Consider that for a moment.

The infinitely creative God created man in His own likeness. You and me…. We were made to be creative. Creative: You were created to create. You were made to make. Humanity was designed to design. You were made in the image of an infinitely creative God so that you could display His infinite creative power.

Further, God is beautiful. No… not just beautiful. He is beauty and He creates beauty. Consider the canvas of the sky, painted anew each dawn and dusk. Think about the beauty of the mountains or a beach… The majesty of the spaces on this earth that remain untouched by humanity. The creative-beauty of God’s hand shouts forth His glory in every corner of creation! We were created to love beauty. To engage the world with what is beautiful and to create beauty in all areas of life.

The trouble we face in our world is that beauty has been marred by a rejection of the one who created beauty. Humanity has rejected God and, in doing so, has rejected beauty. Enter the mission of Christianity: to bring grace to a world dead in sin. Part of extending grace into a world of sin is the restoration of creative-beauty.

From the beginning, God has commissioned His people to tend the garden of this world. Adam was commissioned to work the garden of Eden, Abraham was to bless the world around Him, The Hebrews were charged with keeping the law as a testimony to God’s character, the prophets were to stand as navigators in a world of chaos, and Christians are to work to engage in a dark world, making the surrounding culture beautiful by infusing it with the radical love and grace of Jesus Christ.IMG_3200

Christians ought to strive to make the world a better place by delighting in the character of God and cultivating beauty, thereby improving our surroundings with His love and grace. The life of a believer is markedly different from that of a non-believer. The life of a believer should lead us to live in such a way that the world around us is improved by our involvement. One simple way to do this is to strive to make your spaces more beautiful.

When these truths first began to lay hold of my own life, I was at a loss of where to start. It seemed logical to me to produce artwork. In my utilitarian and pragmatic manner, I designed logos for work (see above), drew sketches of family, displayed great artworks in my office. Then, through the influence of some incredible works by Edith Shaffer, Devi Titus, Makoto Fujimura, and a few others, my wife and I began to strive to cultivate beauty in our everyday spaces. It was difficult to tune our hearts to be creators of beautiful spaces. Difficult, but so much fun! We repainted walls, added plants in weird places, created artworks to display, put phrases on walls and Scriptures on pictures, and embraced a conscious effort to surround ourselves with beauty.IMG_3201

Now, my wife and I strive to cultivate beauty in our lives. On a surface level, that means literally making areas of our home more beautiful. Beauty refreshes the soul and engages the mind. It is our desire that, when someone comes into our home or sits on our porch, they would encounter beauty. We long for our home to be a place where people can be refreshed by grace and love in the context of a creative and beautiful environment. We’ve tried to infuse life into our surroundings and create beautiful spaces.

IMG_3215The results of our efforts are myriad. Our lives are truly peaceful and our home is a place of respite and grace where we strive to engage in life-giving grace to each other and the world around us. Our kids are learning to create beautiful spaces too. Our oldest loves to create centerpieces for small group. Here’s her latest:

IMG_3212Even our children have fun trying to create spaces for respite, like this one:IMG_3217

Cultivating beauty is awesome. Being creative is fun. Having beauty around you is fantastic.

So, I’d like to encourage you. Find ways to make your world more beautiful.IMG_3213 Enjoy and display God’s creative-beauty. In this post are just a few pictures of what my family has done in an attempt to cultivate beautiful spaces. Creating spaces for beauty to thrive does not completely fulfill the commission to cultivate beauty and grace in this world… but it is a start. Get to work.

Cultivating beauty by delighting in God’s character is one of the core values at Sovereign Grace Fellowship. We strive together to cultivate beauty in the world around us and improve our surroundings. If this resonates with you, come check our church out. We meet in Brazoria, Tx at the Brazoria Heritage Foundation, 10:30 am Sunday mornings. A map and more information can be found here: www.sgfbrazoria.org