Tag Archives: space

Make the Climb- 2020 exhortation

The sky breaks just over the mountain. It’s beautiful this time of year. The urge to climb the mountain is sometimes overwhelming, especially among the young. There is something majestic about climbing to the break of the sky. The noble trudge up the hill and exhausting toil of the climb leads to tremendous beauty. In the young, the mountain is a challenge. It taunts, calling to the observer, “I dare you to scale the heights!” Many will climb the peak and feel the sense of victory as they stand atop the mountain. They imagine during the climb that they will insist that the mountain remain under them. Yet, something mysterious happens at the top of the mountain. The victorious do not stand in triumph over their conquered prey. Rather, they are suddenly conscious of their smallness. Confronted by the overwhelming reality of their own inadequacies, they stand at the top of the mountain they’ve conquered only to gaze upon the immensity of the world around them. The majestic reality will remain with them forever. They will become the wise man who stands at the bottom of the mountain and reflects on the glory and immensity of its size while making the slow deliberate hike. No longer the sprinting youth, they become the seasoned warrior who knows the challenge of the mountain and respects its strength and size. They have been to the top, they know the glory.

This time of year leads many of us to examine the new year with boldness. Like the youthful climber, we declare that we are going to conquer the mountains that lay before us and we set goals and aspirations to accomplish those goals. This is a beautiful character trait of youth. Some of us are cynical, having tried to climb mountains in the past and failed. Yet, we must not let our past failures dictate our futures. We must become the seasoned climber who slowly and deliberately climbs to the crest. So we make reasonable goals and lay out resolutions to conquer. With joy and zeal, we start the climb. We read the first book on our list, we wake early to spend time in devotion, we eat right/exercise each day for a time. We long to conquer. We long to be victorious. We long to see the view from the mountain. Many will stop their resolutions and become disillusioned with the climb. Some will check off their lists and move on to the next adventure without pause. But for those who climb the mountain and stop to observe the view, we are reminded of our smallness. Our successes become the ground upon which we see the glory of the heavens. Our failures become another rock to walk past along the path to the summit. We climb to be reminded of the greatness of the God above and the smallness of our own frame. Though we have laid the mountain beneath our feet, the view is so magnificent that it silences our boast.

I long for the silent aw of the mountain-top view that God has for us. I long to stand in victorious climb at the top of the cliff and see the greatness of God. To be reminded of my smallness. And to know that my smallness does not hinder me from seeing God. Not because I climbed the mountain, but because He made the mountain available to climb. In Exodus God gives us a picture of the mountain. The people encamp at the bottom of the mountain and God’s presence remains at the peak. A storm cloud of holy purity, He warns the people not to touch the mountain or they will die. Moses and Joshua alone are permitted to make the climb. Yet, for you and me, Christ has climbed the mountain of God on our behalf and has made a way for us to commune with the Most High God! You have been granted access to God by God-come-down, Jesus Christ! You could not climb the summit to see God. So God, in His infinite mercy, came down to you and made a way for you. So, climb! Gather up your zeal and all the energy you can! Strive to know Jesus this year. Strive because He has made a way and you CAN know Him! Stake claim that you are going to climb the difficult mountains and stand in awe at the Lord of glory from the summit!

I want to encourage you to climb the mountain this year in a very specific way. I don’t believe that you should simply set some random goal (though goals are good things). Physical goals are fine… physical training is of some value, but Godliness is greater in every way (1 Timothy 4:8). So, aim high! Aim to be like Christ in everything. Strive to commune with the Lord on such a level that you overflow with the Love that only He can give! Climb. Seek joy. Then, when you reach the top of your mountain, look around and be reminded of the glory of God how much more there is to see and glorify!

Read your Bible daily. Pray in every moment. Keep a list of prayer needs and address them daily. Challenge yourself to find your entertainment in Christ and knowing Him. Make your moments matter. Invest in a brother or sister in Christ. Create great works of art in praise to God’s glory. Write the book God laid on your heart. Share the Gospel with one person a day. But, above all else: STRIVE TO KNOW CHRIST!

Climb the mountain with me. Let’s do this.

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.

Great Art: You Must Linger to See it

When the soul needs respite and the heart needs the vexing challenge of soul-stirring intellectual engagement, art offers a haven. On the nights when one cannot recognize the eyes of the individual in the mirror and the world seems as though it is failing to maintain its own rotation, art gives us a perspective that can rescue. When the everyday monotony of life begins to drain our souls of joy, art refreshes and revitalizes our hearts. Art: three simple letters used to label the concept of expression in total. The word seems wholly inadequate. It should be longer and have an “x” somewhere in it. Perhaps it is simple and short because art is easy to overlook and pass by?

Art is a powerful medium to express that which is inexpressible by any other means. Great art transcends cultures and time. It has no limitations and only grows in its appreciation as it is engaged. Great art refracts through layers of expression that expose a deeper truth, often revealing things that cannot be understood without equally deep investigation.

As of late, I have been inspired by the work of Makoto Fujimura. He uses a particular style of Japanese art to produce works that are masterful. Fujimura’s work is literally done in layers. Several translucent layers, one on top of another. The result is stunning, but only if the viewer allows them to linger. You see, the eye has to adjust to seeing the layers. In our modern world, this is extremely difficult to do. Yet, to appreciate the beauty of Fujimura’s work, the eye must hold fast to the piece. We must train our eyes to linger and rest on the expression. As the eye grows accustomed to the peculiar focus required to see the layers, the piece will spring to life. The greater attention given to grasping the work, the more beautiful it becomes.

So it is with all great art. The soul must be allowed breathe deeply the scent of expression. We must permit our souls the time to linger… to gaze upon the beauty and understand. Our souls, like our eyes, must adjust to the refraction of the light. As the light illuminates the layers of the canvas, our eyes slowly gain the necessary perception and begin to see the glory of the painting. We begin to see the work of the artist.

The Greatest Artist has displayed His work in layers that have become common to our eyes. We fly past His work constantly, seldom stopping to admire the layers of His glory. But if we would linger a bit, we would find our eyes adjust to an ever increasing beauty in the Father of Life. If will settle our souls to seek and savor Jesus Christ, we will find the much-needed respite from this present monotony. Work hard to engage your soul with the respite of great art… work harder to engage the work of The Great Artist.

Now a brief word of warning: Jesus is The Artist, who created everything. He is also the Light that exposes the work. When you stand in His presence to see His work, you will inevitably find some layers of yourself exposed. And that can be uncomfortable. But, to see the beauty of The King and to know His work is worth it.

Linger over the great truths of Scripture. Engage the incredible artworks produced by God’s people. Gaze at the beauty of what and who God has created. Listen to the music that He provides upon the winds. Seek beauty in Christ’s display of His glory. Work hard to engage your soul with the respite of great art… work harder to engage the work of The Great Artist.

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