Category: Art

Finding forgiveness

What’s the opposite of unforgiveness? Forgiveness? Well, grammatically, yes. But simply adding the “un” doesn’t help us get at the core questions—and answers—about unforgiveness. Why do we harbor unforgiveness? Why do we struggle to forgive? Why is it sometimes so hard to genuinely let something go?

Volumes have been written and preached on this topic. In practice, where actions, emotions, and life-altering events impact our present circumstances and potentially shape our futures—just as we impact others and shape their futures—it can seem complicated.

The Secret of Gratitude salvaged wood, rotating sculpture.

Life is full of real situations with genuine injuries and deep hurts, and It’s not my intention here to imply that forgiveness is easy. Reading this won’t enable anyone to suddenly forgive deep hurts that may have scarred their lives. I do believe, though, that there’s value in contemplating the topic because forgiveness, and the withholding of it, has serious consequences.

In the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray. Countless Christians regularly recite what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer” in worship services around the world. Recall these words from verse 12 of the chapter: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” A couple of verses later, Jesus explains, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Serious consequences.

Think for a minute about past hurts you’ve experienced or caused. What most affects our capacity to forgive? Is it the degree to which we’ve been wronged? Is it our relationship with the offender? Is an injury by a stranger easier to forgive than a hurt inflicted by a close friend or family member? What effect does the passage of time have? Does time really heal all wounds?

Recently, the United States was rocked by two mass shootings. Unfortunately, news of these types of tragedies is all too common and certainly not new.

In October 2006, Charles Roberts invaded a one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, shooting and killing 10 Amish schoolgirls. In stark contrast to other similar incidents, the Amish community didn’t cast blame, lawyer up, or hit the talk shows and social media. Instead, they extended grace and compassion toward the family of the killer. Even in the immediate aftermath of the shooting an Amish grandfather of one of the victims expressed forgiveness toward the killer. Later that week, the family of one of the Amish girls who had been killed invited the Roberts family to the funeral of their daughter. And at the funeral of the shooter, Amish mourners were said to have outnumbered non-Amish attendees.

More recently, on June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, entered a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine people. Some of the families of the victims extended forgiveness to the killer in the wake of his deplorable, racially motivated killings.

It seems unfathomable that anyone could forgive in situations like these. Are these pictures of radical forgiveness, or examples of forgiveness working as intended by God? Amid such violence, grief and torment, what creates the capacity for forgiveness?

And for every inspiring story of forgiveness, there seem to be countless more of unforgiveness. The New Testament shares accounts of both. For example, the apostle Paul pleads for reconciliation in Philippians 4:2, where he writes, “Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement.”

A lesson from the Creator of the Heart

Forgiveness seems to be an issue of the heart, and no one knows the human heart like the One who designed it. Colossians 1:15-17 tells us plainly that “… through [Christ] God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see … Everything was created through Him and for Him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together.” So when Jesus teaches about forgiveness and the human heart, it’s a lesson we want to hear.

The gospels record many instances where Jesus spoke about forgiveness. Let’s look at two of them. The first is found in Matthew 18:23-35 (Read the whole passage here).

In this passage Jesus told a parable, a story about a servant who owed his king a sum of money equivalent to wages from about 60 million working days. When the king called the debt, the servant could not repay, so the king ordered the servant and his whole family be sold to help pay it. Then the servant fell to his knees before the king and begged for more time. Jesus said the King was filled with pity for his servant and simply forgave the entire debt.

That’s a compelling example of forgiveness, but Jesus didn’t end the parable there.

The forgiven servant then met his fellow servant who owed him just three or four months worth of wages. When he demanded payment, his fellow servant fell down before him and begged for more time, just as the forgiven servant had done before the king. But instead of granting forgiveness, as he had been given, the forgiven servant had his fellow servant thrown into prison until he could repay the debt.

When the king learned of this injustice, he called his forgiven servant to appear before him and said, “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?”

Jesus concluded His parable with these words: “Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

The second passage, in Luke 7:36-50, provides a powerful contrast to the previous parable. Here Luke records Jesus’ visit to the house of a religious leader, a Pharisee named Simon (Read the whole passage here).

Luke writes, “When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

Luke says that Jesus “answered his thoughts” by telling him a story about two people, one who owed a large amount, and one who owed a smaller amount. Both of their debts were forgiven by their creditor. Jesus asked his host, Simon, “Who do you suppose loved [their creditor] more after that?” Simon replied that the one who was forgiven more would love more. Jesus affirmed his answer and then contrasted Simon’s lack of hospitality toward Him with the woman’s expressions of love. He explained it to Simon like this: “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

A key to enable forgiveness

What is the key difference between the wicked servant and the humble woman at Jesus’ feet? Jesus said the woman loved a lot because she had been forgiven of a lot. We see her extreme and very public display of love toward Jesus. That great display of love is the evidence of something she had that the wicked servant lacked. The servant was no doubt relieved to have his impossible debt cancelled, but his heart seemed to be unchanged by the forgiveness he received. So instead of expressing his love, he selfishly proceeded to shake down one of his fellow servants.

What’s the true opposite of unforgiveness, then? What can enable, even compel me to forgive—and love—today?

The answer may be hidden in plain site through the contrasts of these two accounts. Genuine forgiveness may just hinge on gratitude. The accounts in Matthew and Luke offer us snapshots of two hearts. One empty and one overflowing. Lack of gratitude for the forgiveness we’ve been given drains the heart, leading to unforgiveness and selfishness. Gratitude fills the heart full to overflowing and leads to generous forgiveness, which may be a beautiful byproduct of gratitude. Genuine, seemingly radical gratitude will spill out of a full heart in ways that appear astonishing to onlookers. Forgiveness will be granted in impossible situations.

Are you trying to scoop up a teaspoon of forgiveness from a drained heart? How can we fill our hearts with gratitude? Can we learn to cover the Master’s feet with genuine tears of thanksgiving for our blessings, our lives, and our new standing before God (if we’ve trusted in Christ’s death as the payment for our sins)?

Those are things to be genuinely thankful for, aren’t they? Meditating on those powerful thoughts can produce genuine gratitude that will cause our hearts to overflow. And what will spill out will be just as authentic: forgiveness and blessing instead of unforgiveness and selfishness—a pleasant aroma instead of a bitter stench.

See The Secret of Gratitude rotatable sculpture new in the shop this week.

The power of a good book

Image of Quiet Solitude, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood.

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

Oscar Wilde

The quote above from Oscar Wilde, who was not known for weighty, serious comments, is worth taking seriously. Summer is now in full swing and while it’s become known as the season of the blockbuster movie, it was, and is still also known as the season of books.

“I will never forget the first “big kid” book I read,” says Patti, who’s Wire People sculpture, Quiet Solitude, is an autobiographical work recalling her days as a young girl captivated by a well-told story. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm was given to me by my great aunts in 1966 and I couldn’t put it down.

Image of a book that Patti enjoyed as a young girl
Patti enjoyed “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” as a young girl

It was around that time I decided I wanted to be a teacher. Many years later, that book was on my bookshelf in my fourth grade classroom. I often wondered how many students would read it and love it as much as I did.”
Maybe you have your own summer reading list. Whether you’re beach bound for a much-needed vacation or just looking forward to a few lazy days at home, it’s the perfect season to dive into something new or finally finish something you started in the winter.
The challenge is usually what we’ll read. My mother is a member of a book club. She enjoys working with the group to decide what the book of the month will be and ensuring that there are enough copies at area libraries for the group members. She appreciates the structure of the book club, explaining that she ends up reading books that she wouldn’t otherwise read and enjoys the variety that each member’s tastes in literature bring to the group.
Meanwhile, I have a friend who prefers to read on her own. She reads constantly, but values her independence and moves quickly from one book to the next.
We’re all different, aren’t we?
The sobering thought for me is that I’ve realized that no matter how fast I read, I won’t live long enough to read all the books I have, let alone all the books I want to read. I have—we all have—a limited amount of time. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” What will I read during the increasingly brief time I’ve been given? When I think of it like that, it somehow increases the gravity of my choices. Will I read inconsequential fluff, or worse, complete trash that, like cholesterol-laden junk food clogging my arteries, fills my mind with trite or leads me into thoughts and attitudes that are contrary to God’s word?
My nephew just graduated from high school. He concluded his outstanding valedictory address with this piece of advice: “Read old books.” And he meant really old books—as in Plato’s Republic, written around 380 BC. I agree. And just as important as age is message.
The driving purpose behind Inspiring Handmade is to create art and writing that leads us into our own Philippians 4:8 moment. In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul wrote, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Even if we’d rather not think about the brevity of life, we know that summers fly by, don’t we? The summer of 2019 will be over almost as soon as it begins. In no time, we’ll start seeing the fall catalogs arrive and after Labor Day, it will be just one more memory—hopefully a good one!
But what will we do with this limited handful of days? Will we use them to feed on a great book that draws us closer to God? What are you reading this summer? If you have a great book that you know would encourage other readers, don’t keep it a secret—share it in the comments below! And while you’re at it, please share Inspiring Handmade with someone you love and know would love what we do here. You can read more about Patti’s piece, Quiet Solitude, here.

First piece in a new series celebrates life

Image of Celebrate Life, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood by Patti Jones.

Take Time to Stop & Smell the Roses: Appreciating the little things

I am a breast cancer survivor. As I work on this Wire People collection, “Childhood Memories,” I am reminded that as terrible as breast cancer is, it can never take away your precious memories. This collection is dedicated to my mom and grandmother. My grandmother was diagnosed before I was born and passed away when I was a young girl. My mom received her diagnosis last summer at the age of 88 and is a strong fighter and woman of great faith.
I want this series to be a tribute to all the women who have struggled through the nightmare of breast cancer— from those who bravely fought, and lost their battle, to those who are still pressing on for themselves and the ones they love.
So, hidden in each sculpture is a tiny breast cancer ribbon symbol. The first piece is called Celebrate Life. Cancer made me appreciate the little things. I make sure I take life a little slower now—to stop and smell the roses, if you will. The air smells a little fresher, the sky seems a deeper blue, and the roses have a sweeter smell. Whether we’re eight or eighty, fighting cancer or cancer free, life is short. And beautiful. Appreciate it for all it’s worth.

Wire People sculptures recall childhood, celebrate life’s singular moments

The first set of WirePeople is the Childhood Memories collection

Do you fight the tendency to overdo it? Many of us do! We over-eat, over-work, over-drink, over-stare-at-our-phones. Whatever it is, if one is good, two must be better! And we live in a consumer culture that has grown to glorify getting more and more stuff. So much so that now one of the most popular shows on television is all about getting rid of your things.

Sometimes, as the cliché goes, less really is more.

That has proven to be true for me as I’ve been exploring wire sculpture these past several months.

The “Wire People,” as I call these pieces, have become a major creative focus. I love how movement and emotion can be conveyed using only a few simple materials — scrap paper, wire, glue, and wood. The real power of the medium lies in the ability to “sketch” in 3D, so to speak. The wire is the line and the sculptures are essentially quick gesture drawings that capture a singular moment in time with an energy and joy that draws you in.

This first series has taken me back to my 1960s childhood on a farm in Southwest Virginia. Growing in the rich soil along with the corn and beans were faith, patriotism, sportsmanship, appreciation of nature and animals, and love. Those themes sprout and grow throughout these works just as they have grown in me.

So the Wire People in this series are autobiographical in many ways. The little girl on the tree swing is me. My grandfather built that swing for me in my back yard. It hung from a big old black cherry tree that faced the garden. I spent hours there every summer swinging and watching my grandfather work in the garden. Looking back, I’ll bet he chose that tree so he’d have a little company while he worked.

A tree, some rope, and a wooden seat. Simple, simple. Even most kids today could probably find thrills and contentment with those simple materials. We haven’t changed all that much, I suspect; it just takes more work now to keep it simple. It takes effort to stay focused on the important things in life and not allow ourselves to become distracted by one more thing. My Wire People remind me to keep it simple and focus on what’s true. What helps you keep your eyes on the things of real value?

Image of Girl on a Tree Swing, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood.
In Girl on a Tree Swing, Patti Jones recalls the simpler days of childhood on her grandfather’s farm where he made a tree swing for her. Wire and cut paper on driftwood.

Welcome to Inspiring Handmade

In Christ sculpture in progress

We created Inspiring Handmade to celebrate original art and crafts—work on which we can feast our eyes and feed our souls.

We’re a group of artists and makers who believe that everyone is creative because we are all made in the image of The Creator of heaven and earth. We all have the spark of creation in us somewhere. And we all have a built-in, hard wired need to dwell on our Creator, to commune with Him.

Here, we explore the creative process of making original art—sculpture, painting, textile art and all sorts of craft work. And we celebrate unique and beautiful original creations which inspire us to be makers ourselves as we spend time with our Creator.

Inherent in the Inspiring Handmade vision is a secret from the book of Philippians. If you’re like us, you sometimes struggle to keep life from dragging you down. Seems there’s always too much to do, with no quiet time—no mental margin to just be still and rest.

Instead, explosions of images, text, and sound bombard our eyes and ears nearly every day, blasting their way into our minds. Emails, texts and instant messages merge with Facebook posts, 24/7 news blasts, and the latest cat video into a swelling spray of mental flak that shatters our peace.

Psychologists have coined various terms for this—information overload, infobesity, infoxication and others. Xerox even produced an amusing video on the subject a few years ago. You can see it here.

But jokes aside, mental flak can have negative consequences, deforming us into distracted, unproductive, ineffective, and inattentive people.

We don’t have to accept this as the norm, however. God offers peace and rest—a place of quiet shelter, like a cave hidden behind a deafening waterfall. He invites us inside, encouraging us to refuse to be conformed to the world’s patterns and behaviors. He offers a different way because our Maker, after all, has His own perfect pattern for our lives. We don’t have to remain pinned down under a hail of mental flak. God promises that we can be transformed. We can have our tired, frazzled minds renewed.

And that’s the big secret—one of the great treasures of Philippians found in chapter four verse eight. There we’re encouraged with these words: “… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul then follows up with the results of dwelling on these things, adding in verse nine, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Did you catch the promise there? “And the God of peace will be with you.”

In a world where we constantly receive information—often of the distressing variety—via an overwhelming number of channels, it’s more crucial than ever that we develop a habit of thinking on the true, the honorable, the pure, and anything that is praiseworthy.

When we surround ourselves with things that build up rather than tear down—art, writing, music, other people—we’re putting Philippians 4:8 into practice. We’re also putting ourselves in a place where God can recalibrate our sensitivities, and reinvigorate us. And that’s when we’ll experience genuine rest in the true peace that only comes from the ultimate Maker Himself.

Stop back in anytime to celebrate the creative and rest in the Creator!

The extraordinary from the ordinary

One of the "In Christ" sculptures set on an old oak log.

Do you consider yourself creative? Do you find pleasure in making things? Maybe you spend free hours practicing a certain craft. Perhaps you paint, or draw, or design things. Or maybe you’re someone who says, “I’m not very creative,” because you don’t do any of those things.

Creativity, however, is not only about making fine art or amazing crafts. It’s a built-in quality of our humanity and can be found wherever the spark of human touch has been added to even the simplest things or places. To begin to see this we’ll look at someone widely considered a true artist, a man who would meet nearly everyone’s definition of “creative.”

British artist John Constable (1776 – 1837) is among my favorite painters. Through his paintings, he elevated the mundane to prominence, a place of admiration and praise.

The Hay Wain (1821), probably Constable’s most famous painting, is based on the landscape in Suffolk, near Flatford on the River Stour. A hay wain, which is a type of horse-drawn cart, is pictured in the water in the painting’s foreground. A simpler, more ordinary scene would be hard to find. Yet by rendering it with his oils and brushes, Constable causes us to contemplate it nearly 200 years later.

The Hay Wain is part of the artist’s early series of six-foot-wide Stour River paintings.

Similarly, the painter’s Wivenhoe Park showcases one of his famous cloudscapes rolling over a tranquil pasture. There’s nothing exciting happening here, and yet I always see a new detail every time I look at these works. It’s as if Constable is reaching across the centuries, guiding my eyes across his work, saying, “Take a look at these ripples on the water’s surface,” or “See what I did there with that bit of sunlight? Look! It appears so ordinary, but it’s really extraordinary!”

John Constable’s Wivenhoe Park, Essex (1816) oil on canvas.

According to commentary from the National Gallery of Art, “Constable believed the Stour valley had set him on the path to his life’s work, and he chose it as his primary subject for much of his career. The area became so associated with his painting that even during his lifetime it was called “Constable Country.” That’s the power of creativity. An entire region of Great Britain elevated in the consciousness of the world because Constable turned the ordinary into the extraordinary through his creative touch.

Acknowledged or not, people everywhere share one thing in common: we are all creations of an awesomely creative God. In turn, each of us is creative in unique ways. Some, like Constable, express that through visual arts. Others through music, or writing. One may arrange flowers, while another shares notes of encouragement. Still others leverage the creative power of mathematics and engineering to solve problems on earth and transport us to the stars. Each is a creative act at its core.

We can’t help but be creative because we are made in the image of the ultimate creative being, originally fashioned from ordinary dirt. The extraordinary from the ordinary. Like a potter forming a clay vessel, God designed us and formed us into existence. The Scriptures show us His magnificent, limitless acts of creation — from His speaking the universe into existence in Genesis to glimpses of His heavenly realm in Revelation.

But I’ve realized that God is not only the Creator. He is the Re-creator. The Reclaimer.

As we approach Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, allow the Passion week to focus your thoughts on the great sacrifice Jesus Christ made to take our sins — and the righteous wrath of The Father — upon Himself. Consider how much it cost God to be able to judge our sin but also to show us mercy and offer us forgiveness.

And this year, I’ve been reflecting on how amazingly creative God is in all of this. Not only was God creative in bringing us into existence, He was just as creative in reclaiming us from the power of sin. Consider just a few highlights from the account of the Passion week and see for yourself how God re-creates and transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.

  • Like the painterly touch of Constable draws us to contemplate a cow pasture or a hay wagon 200 years on, God’s loving, creative power draws us to meditate on a simple garden. Why? Because He transformed it into a reminder of the decision each of us faces about whether to obediently follow God. How will we respond to the call to faithfulness? Read more in Matthew 26:30-75.
  • A meager meal of bread and juice, touched by The Lord, becomes a lasting reminder of our Savior’s deep love and sacrifice. Read more in Matthew 26:17-30.
  • His loving, creative power even 2,000 years on, focuses our vision on a simple wooden Cross — a thing of agony and humiliation — transformed into a symbol of sacrifice, mercy, and unimaginable forgiveness. Read more in Matthew 27:32-61.
  • The designer of the human body, that Good Friday, reclaimed corpses from their graves, transforming them into living testimonies of the power of God. Read more in Matthew 27:50-53.
  • And He turned a simple newly cut grave, really just a hole in a rocky hill, into an eternal symbol of His power and absolute victory over death. Read more in Matthew 28.

Creativity. Creation. Re-creation. Reclaimed from destruction. That’s the story of this season.

New life

Several of these smaller sculpture/signs are under way at the moment. I like these pieces because they’re a simple metaphor for the work God does in rescuing everyone who trusts in Christ to take the punishment for their sin. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross enables God’s forgiveness and mercy toward those who trust in Him as Savior. Instead of tossing us aside, Jesus salvages us, reclaims us, and puts His word in our hearts. As pieces of unique original art, sculptures in the Salvaged Messengers series remind me of this truth. The “Joy” sculpture is created from a piece of barn wood, originally destined for the rubbish heap. It’s been rescued from destruction, cleaned up, and imprinted with God’s word. Now it serves as a witness and a reminder of the power of God to give us joy in every circumstance. Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like what we, as believers, are called to do? What verses inspire you?

Messengers & Messages

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

I don’t text a whole lot. But when I do, I only type with my right index finger. Teenagers I know use both their thumbs and type blazingly fast. My kids make fun of me for the way I text. That’s life. When I receive a text, it’s usually from my wife, or a close friend or family member. Those messages are important. Of course, my wife’s are the most important! But all this got me thinking about messages of the non-instant variety — messages that come from the most important one of all — the Creator of this world, God Himself.

If you’re old enough to remember the E.F. Hutton commercials of the 1980s, you might remember this line:
“… Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and he said…”
Immediately, everyone around the speaker leans in, eager to hear his next words as the commercial voiceover says, “ When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

Well, when the Creator of this amazing universe has something to say, I want to hear it. And that’s when I started thinking about Jonah.

You’ll see a few different versions of Jonah and the Whale in the Salvaged Messengers series.

Why am I drawn to the story of Jonah and the whale (or the fish, or whatever)? Because even though Jonah made mistakes (big ones), God still used him as His messenger.

You can read his short story for yourself in the Old Testament book of the Bible that bears his name. When you check it out, you’ll see how God assigned Jonah the unenviable task of traveling to Ninevah (near modern-day Mosul in Iraq), to deliver some bad news to the Assyrians. They were about to be judged and obliterated by God unless they repented and turned from their wicked ways. Not a very popular message. Many historians count Assyria to be among the first superpowers of the ancient world. Jonah likely saw his assignment as a suicide mission. So he ran. But his running from The Lord and his appointed task wound him up in the belly of the “great fish” and then Jonah himself had to repent and realign himself with God.

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

This sculpture of Jonah in the whale is created from salvaged barn wood (circa 1905) from my cousin’s farm in southwest Virginia’s Giles County. The deep grain creates a challenge for hand stamping the Scripture, but the striking look that results is worth the extra work. Aside from the wood, the piece also uses wire, acrylic paint, and varnish.

By the end of the story (spoiler alert), Jonah had delivered his message, and much to his surprise, the citizens of Ninevah not only listened to him, but believed him and repented, just as God commanded them.

God’s message got through, thanks to, and in spite of, Jonah. And, like all of God’s messages, it was ultimately life-giving, life-affirming, and life-preserving. The entire city was saved and its citizens enjoyed a renewed relationship with God.

That’s the power of messages from the Creator of the universe and that’s the power that messengers carry, no matter how flawed we are! Listening to God and doing what He says brings blessing, renewal and incredible purpose into our lives. Beware! This little book in the Bible is packed with truth no matter which way you’re running in life.

A New Year

In Christ sculpture in progress

Picture God at your birthday party singing louder than any of your friends or family. Is that hard to imagine?

Welcome to the new year. ‘Tis the season of resolutions. Someone once said, “A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” I’m not a fan of making resolutions, but if I were, I’d likely adopt the two that eighteenth century pastor and theologian, Jonathan Edwards, made: “Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.”

But I prefer goals to resolutions. And one of my goals this year is to create art that keeps Scripture front and center in my life and in the life of those who see it. My wife jokes (sort of) that I can’t find anything in a cabinet or the fridge if it’s behind any other item. To a large extent, she’s right. I’m the type of person who works better with everything laid out where I can see it — be it sketches I’m working on or tools in my studio — seeing it all helps me remember that it’s going to be needed — that it’s part of the workflow.

The same is true for God’s Word. Seeing verses from the Bible as I move through my day helps keep God’s truth at the center of my life, reminding me of His loving presence, His promises, and His power.

I’m reminded that God’s loving presence is guaranteed. After His resurrection from the dead, Matthew records Jesus speaking to His followers before He ascended into heaven: “… and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” I won’t face any trials that come my way in this new year by myself. And Psalm 138.8 encourages with these confident words: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of Your hands.”

God’s promises are comforting. In the book of Jeremiah, 29:11, we read, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I love that verse, especially when considered in light of another one in Romans, 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. No matter what 2017 brings, I can trust that God is in control and is working things out for my good if I place my trust in Him and align my life with His purposes.

God’s power is absolute. There is nothing He cannot do. The gospel of Matthew, 19:26, records Jesus describing the power of God the Father: “But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And I love the vivid language of Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” That’s quite a statement, that last line. Picture God at your birthday party singing louder than any of your friends or family. Is that hard to imagine? Why? God created you and He loves you more than you can imagine.

An anonymous pundit said, “Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits.” We might chuckle at that, but it takes intentional effort not to do just that. This year, I’ll be aiming to create more art to help me visually weave Scripture into my everyday life. Do you find that to be helpful in your own life? If so, what are some ways you’ve helped yourself focus on God’s truth throughout your day? Feel free to leave a comment below. And happy New Year!

Authentic Thanksgiving

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” —A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

A few thousand years before Milne wrote this observation about Pooh’s dearest friend, Psalm 50 records The Lord’s declaration to the whole earth on the nature of acceptable worship. God is pointing out that He does not want to be worshipped through outward displays — mere empty religious rituals. Unless we truly worship in our hearts, all the religious sacrifices and services are in vain. After all, The Lord says, what sacrifice does He need from any person? He owns it all. As verses 10-11 state, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.” [ESV]
The only thing we can truly offer to the Creator of the universe is a thankful heart and our obedience. Psalm 50:14: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High …”
A heart full of gratitude and thanksgiving will naturally lead to outward expressions of worship, but they won’t be empty. They’ll be genuine and very pleasing to our Heavenly Father.
May your Thanksgiving this year be authentically from your heart, whatever size yours is because it turns out, Piglet had it just right.