Category: Gospel

Plastic peace?

Snowman family at dinner

Artificial, plastic trees. Artificial icicles and artificial snow. Maybe even artificial smiles amid the stress of the holiday season? And all of it with the goal of somehow generating genuine peace.

But all the plastic, and glitter, and presents in the world can’t conjure up peace at our dinner tables or in our own homes, much less for the whole earth. There is someone, though, who is able to bring real peace. Angles announced His birth more than 2,000 years ago with the proclamation, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14).

This second week of Advent focuses on peace, but not the plastic, artificial peace we try to create for ourselves. The advent—the anticipated arrival—of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Prince of Peace, changed everything and opened up the way for us to experience real, lasting peace.

Isaiah 9:6 from the King James Version says it the way most of us remember it: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

We can start the celebration of Christmas as early as we want to and drape our homes in enough lights to be visible to the crew in the space station, but until we know and trust in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the best we’ll have is plastic peace.

If plastic peace isn’t enough for you, hear the definitive words of Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That’s the real peace and praise of Christmas and the real reason we celebrate. With Christ’s arrival at Christmas and His death on the cross at Easter, which secured our forgiveness and tore down the wall between God and us, we have been offered a gift. Romans 6:23 describes it like this: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Eternal life—and peace—with God instead of eternal suffering separated from Him and His love and blessings—now that’s something to celebrate all year long.

If you’ve never trusted in Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, and you’re tired of artificial peace, drop me note using the contact below. I’d be happy to share with you how you can know genuine peace by knowing the Prince of Peace. What better Christmas gift to yourself?

True colors

I love autumn. It’s my favorite season. Most of our family birthdays, along with our wedding anniversary, are in the fall. But in addition to all that, one of the things I love the most is the changing of the leaves. And I’m not alone.

Every fall thousands of people trek up to the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains of Virginia, enjoying Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, and other areas. When we go, we’re hoping for that perfect day, when the air is crisp, the clouds are few, and the sunlight is plentiful, so we can take in one of the most spectacular scenes in nature—gorgeous fall foliage.

Various species of trees change color at different times as we march toward winter. We might begin to see the first spots of red in the forest in September as the black gums announce that change is on its way. They’re quickly followed by the black walnut’s leaves turning yellow and the dogwood’s turning red. Soon the hickory begins to change to a deep yellow. By mid-late October, depending on the year, there’s a wash of color from the hills to the flat land, which we usually call the “peak season.” That’s when we see the brilliant oranges and reds of the sugar maples, reds, and yellows of the red maple, and all the colors of the oaks and other species. Finally, toward the end of the season, the last show of color is provided by the yellow poplar. Beyond mid-November, the forest is generally shades of browns and bronzes with a few remaining color splashes here and there.

… we pat ourselves on the back because we put men on the moon, but we can’t figure out precisely how God gets a green leaf to turn brilliant crimson in the third week of October.

According to the Virginia Department of Forestry and National Park service, color change in leaves is not fully understood and remains a mystery. Imagine that—we pat ourselves on the back because we put men on the moon, but we can’t figure out precisely how God gets a green leaf to turn brilliant crimson in the third week of October. The master Creator can humble us in many ways.

But we do know a few things about leaf color: Forestry professionals (of which my father was one during his career) tell us it involves sunlight, moisture, temperature, length of the day, chemicals, and hormones—not unlike teenagers.

A green leaf is green because of the presence of a group of pigments known as chlorophyll. Reaching back to high school biology, you may remember that chlorophyll absorbs light to provide energy for photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is active during the summer growing season, capturing the sun’s energy and using water and carbon dioxide to make simple sugars. These simple sugars are a tree’s food. All during the summer, the chlorophyll is constantly being produced and broken down, creating food for the tree, and as a side-effect, keeping the leaves green.

But it turns out that all that green actually is masking the leaves’ true colors. As autumn approaches, weather changes somehow signal a slowdown in the production of chlorophyll. The green begins to fade and the masking effect disappears. Other colors that have been in the leaf all along begin to show through. Some pigments give us the yellows, browns, and oranges. Others give us reds and purples. Supposedly, the brighter the light (the fewer cloudy days) during this late summer period, the greater the production of these pigments and the more brilliant colors we see come Fall. Somehow that has to be balanced with enough rain to keep the trees healthy.

So we might sum up what we know about leaf color like this: During the growing season, chlorophyll production keeps the leaves looking green. As nights get longer in the autumn, chlorophyll decreases and eventually dies off completely. Only then are the pigments in the leaf unmasked to show their colors.

And so, what we realize is that all of us who travel every fall to the mountains are really going to see just one thing—a bunch of dying leaves.

We don’t go to the mountains in the summer just see the leaves when they’re full of their own life when they are supplying their own needs with their own chlorophyll. No, we go when they’ve run out of their own resources when they can no longer feed themselves when they have come to the end of their own leafy strength. No longer are they green and proud, supplying the food for their mighty oak, or majestic maple. Now they are dying. And it’s only now that they’re at their absolute most beautiful. Only now are they seen painted in the true colors their Creator designed them to show.

It’s only when the leaves are dying that they’re at their absolute most beautiful, painted in the true colors their Creator designed them to show.

And all that makes me think of God’s Word in Romans chapter 6. Here, Paul writes in verses 6-8: “For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.”

So each fall, I think of the many people drawn to see dying leaves. Leaves, which after a season of self-sufficiency, are finally showing their true, beautiful colors. And I’m reminded that God has designed me to die to my natural self-centered ways and to show my true colors as well—colors that are true of anyone who has new life in Christ. We see what a God-colored life looks like in Galatians 5:22. What shows through is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

But I can’t show those colors when I’m living for my own selfish desires, in my own strength. Those God-colors are only evident when I’m dying to those things and living for Christ.
A pretty inspiring lesson from a bunch of dying leaves, I think. Are your true colors showing? Are mine?

Drop us a line and tell us what’s on your mind!

No greater love

Wire crucified hand set in white pickling-washed salvaged barn wood with hand transferred text.

The story is told of a little girl who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her five-year-old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to fight it.

As best he could, the doctor explained the situation to her brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. He hesitated for a long moment and then took a deep breath and said, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.”

The medical team quickly began the process. The little boy lay in a bed next to his sister and looked at her and silently smiled. He could see the color returning to her cheeks as he watch the red blood flow out of his body and into hers. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?”

At his age, the boy had misunderstood the doctor. When he said “yes,” he believed he was volunteering to give all of his blood—and his life—to his sister. And he gave it willingly.

I can’t read this story without thinking of the powerful words in John 15:12-14. There we find Jesus speaking to His disciples near the end of His earthly life and ministry. He was soon to go through the humiliation and agony of dying on a cross. He said these words to His closest followers: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.

In that short passage are three challenging truths:

  1. Jesus wants us to love one another. And not just love one another as we think best, or easiest, or most beneficial to ourselves. He wants us to love as He loved us, which leads us to the second truth …
  2. Jesus loved us sacrificially. He literally gave His life for us, suffering a horrible death on the cross, not to pay the price for any crime He had committed, but to pay the price for the wrong things we’ve done. He did this so that our relationship with God could be restored. In John 15, Jesus calls us to love as He loved. But instead of giving our lives on a cross, we’re asked to live sacrificially. In Romans 12, Paul expands on what this looks like when he says, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him.” Living a life that puts God and others first is at the heart of what these passages are all about.
  3. The last challenge from Jesus is a litmus test for those who claim to follow Him. How do we know if we’re a friend and follower of Jesus? We’ll be busy doing what He commands. What does that look like in my life and yours?

This week, I’ve been thinking about that as I’ve been working on a new sculpture series I’m calling “The Minis.” They’re small pieces of original art. While some may share verses or poetry, no two will look alike because I’m creating them from small pieces of salvaged barn and other woods.

The Mini at the top of this post is called “No Greater Love” and measures just 6.5″ tall by 3.5″ wide. Its wire hand and nail sculpture is set in a piece of oak barn wood from a circa 1905 barn in Southwest Virginia’s Giles County. You can see the nail holes and old knot in the wood. I’ve hand transferred the words of John 15:13 on it as a reminder that Jesus died as a sacrifice for me (and you) and He’s asking me to live sacrificially for Him (and you).

Read more about No Greater Love in the shop.

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.