Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Lost // Found


Opening Night Talk for the LCACU Art Exhibition 2017

Welcome to the Leeds College of Art Christian Union exhibition Lost and Found.  My name is Emily, I am the founding artist of fiftyfive11art (you can ask me about why it’s named that another time!) and I sell at exhibitions, online in a few different places but mostly through commissions.  I am also a Christian and come to church here at St George’s and I’ve been asked to just talk for just a couple of minutes about the theme of lost and found and the story behind my painting, Jars of Clay.

I wonder if any of this sounds familiar - Deadlines.  Work.  Colleagues.  Tutors.  Lecturers.  Parents.  Children.  Friends.  Projects.  Taxes.  Bills.  School.  Spouse.  Commission.  Your boss.  Life.  Life is busy.  Life is happening all the time.  We barely stop to take a breath, and yet on. it. goes.  Some of it great, some of it hard.  But constant.  Life is constant.  From the alarm on Monday morning through to the last minute preparations for the week ahead on Sunday night, constant demands, constant pressure, constant thoughts.  

I don’t know about you, but I can get lost in the midst of life.  I can get lost in the middle of all the ‘stuff’ that needs to happen.  Do you ever feel like that?  Like who even are you?  Are you just surviving from one moment to the next?  Are you serving and providing and fixing and working…?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that we’re all lost to a greater or lesser degree.  Lost in life.  Lost in the midst of the demands and busyness of the ‘stuff’ we have to do.  Perhaps even lost in your own head, drowning in thoughts and questions that pester you day in day out but you don’t really have the time to give them the attention they deserve in order to find the answers you’re looking for.  

Are you trying to find yourself?
Are you waiting to be found?
Do you even know where to look?

And what does that even mean?!

My painting here tonight is called Jars of Clay.  It is a painting that gives us glimpses into the potential, the beauty, the complex and intricate mix of emotion, personality, character and soul within us all.  You see I believe that in this room - whoever we are, we all have something in common - we are all creative and full of potential.  Because we have all been created by a creative creator.  God made us and knows each one of us.  He knows what makes us tick.  What excites us.  What scares us.  God knows the things we’d never tell, and the things we want everyone to see.  The Bible calls us God’s workmanship, his work of art, his masterpiece.  

On the outside of Jars of Clay, it’s just white.  Cracked, a bit broken, like a damaged jar of clay.  Much like our lives on the outside, cracked, battered, worn around the edges, under stress...  But underneath.  Oooh underneath, that’s where it’s all going on.  And I’m the creator of the painting.  So I know.  And because I’m the artist I could tell you exactly what went into that painting, how long it took, the colours used, the way in which they were selected, blended and applied.  I know the beauty, the complexity and the intricate mixture of colour that is going on underneath that white.  I can see something when I look at that painting that no one else can see.  I know the true value and the true worth.  If you want to find out about the depth of this painting and the soul, then you can ask me, and I can tell you, and then what is hidden behind the white, what is lost would be found.

The Bible tells us that we all have a hope in Jesus that far outweighs the stress and the confusion of getting lost in the craziness of life.  We have treasure within these broken jars of clay - we’re all a bit cracked and broken, but we all have God potential - we are all made in the image of the creator God with so much colour and beauty waiting to be unleashed - but we need to ask the artist, the creator to help us unlock that.  Michaelangelo was once asked what he was doing chipping away at a shapeless, lifeless piece of rock.  His answer, “I’m liberating an angel from this stone”.  That’s what God wants to do with us.  Jesus came to liberate us.  We need to go to the artist to understand the masterpiece.  Just like you can ask me about my painting, we can freely ask God about us.  

And just like we can be lost and God can find us.  God also wants us to find Him.  
He is desperate to be found.

He says:
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you.”

God wants to be found.

In his desperation to be found, God didn’t remain distant, He didn’t remain far away, he came.  He came close.  He didn’t remain a white canvas with no indicator to who He is.  He came to us, in Jesus, like us, to be with us, full of colour, to find us, to reveal himself… and to bring us home, so that we could be found.  And finding God means finding ourselves and accessing perfect peace in the midst of the craziness of life.

I can get quite emotional about my jars of clay painting - and lots of people have asked to buy it many times over - but I won’t sell it.  And here’s why.  Every time I look at this painting, I am reminded that my Heavenly Father sees the real me.  He knows my name.  He knows all about the cracks and the damage in my life, the unworthiness, the flaws.  But He also knows my potential and sees me as wonderful and worthy of being loved.  And he knows you too.

I believe that everybody wants to be found.  Everybody wants to be truly known and seen, to find belonging, purpose and value.  In my life the times when I am most lost are the times when I forget that I am God’s masterpiece and in Him I am already found.  So I don’t get lost in the worry of whether people like my work, or accept me.  Because I know the one who gets the real me, sees me in all of my brokenness, all of my flaws, but also sees the potential and beauty within me - because He put it there.  

I am completely free, because I have been fully found.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Bubble

In my house this morning, looked out the window and saw one solitary bubble gently resting among the sharp and spiky plants in the front garden.

I was so struck by this. Where had the bubble come from? Why had it not popped? And what did God want to say through this obscure and bizarre moment?!

Sometimes the word bubble is "used to refer to a good or fortunate situation that is isolated from reality or unlikely to last" (Google definition). 

I think this is what God wants to offer us. Except unlike normal bubbles, this opportunity isn't going to pop and disappear. God is offering peace in the chaos and confusion, strength to the weary and worn, joy to the downcast and sad, restoration to the broken and battered, beauty in the ashes, unexpected beauty in the midst of the spiky thorns. The reality of our situation may not incline itself towards peace, joy, hope from the world's point of view. But God is bigger than how things seem... and he offers us bubbles in the thorns.

Much like my random, unpopped bubble this morning we can access the 'living in the bubble' moment if we stop. If we choose to be still. If we start struggling that opportunity will pop and be gone. All the time the bubble rested it was supported, it was in the light and it was a beautiful thing.

Take some time to rest today. Rest in His word, rest in His love, rest in His offer of bubble living... Don't struggle, don't strain. Be still, rest. He is God. He knows what he's doing - even sending bubbles to random front gardens to get us to stop.


#nofilter #bubbles #godmoments #bestill #rest

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Get off the mountain


So I was reading Exodus 24 this morning and the final part of the final verse in the chapter says “And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”  The next few chapters tell us what Moses was doing on the mountain.  He was having facetime with God.  He was having one-to-one, build-you-up, intimate, in the presence of the Lord, time.  It’s the thing that most Christians seek right?  To be in God’s presence?  To be consumed in the holy moment?  That Christian festival / all-night worship vibe?  And it occurred to me that he has to get off the mountain.

You see, all the time that Moses was up there having his intimate moment with God, everyone else was down.  Not up, not in the cloud, not on the mountain.  They were down.  They were “running wild” and “out of control” (32:25).  They were lost.  They weren’t included.  “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods…’” (32:1).  The people didn’t know how to meet God.  They didn’t know how to access his presence.  And you see that’s the thing.  Moses was on the mountain receiving instructions to provide just that - a tabernacle - a way of accessing God no matter where they went.  Moses was on the mountain not for himself, not for his own fuzzy and warming benefit, but to receive instructions which would allow everyone else to access God in a way that they were currently unable to.  But if Moses had stayed on the mountain, they would never be shown the way.  They would never have the access to God that God desired.  He’d be all right, but everyone else would be screwed.

The mountain isn’t real life.  The mountain is special - don’t get me wrong - it is to be celebrated and revered.  But it isn’t to be chased.  Moses had to come down off the mountain and face the nitty gritty, messiness of real life.  I’m sure on a personal level if he had a choice between mountain or mayhem he’d choose mountain every time.  But that isn’t the way of love.  The way of love is to get off the mountain.  And we need to do the same.  We need to stop seeking mountain moments at all costs and face the realities of life.  The people that are around us who are lost and out of control.  The people who are desperately seeking for someone to show them the way, to introduce them to an accessible God.  When we stay too long in our Christian mountain bubbles, the world around us increasingly seeks their wisdom for life from elsewhere.  You can’t be present if you’re on the mountain.  

We need to get off the mountain and show the way.  We don’t need the tabernacle any more.  We have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  So by all means have your facetime with God - get your glory glow on - but don’t stay there for forty days.  Don’t hide away on the mountain.  Don’t pursue the mountain moments.  Don’t chase the mountain.  Go get off the mountain, into the real world and shine.  Take the light with you - into the chaos, into the running wild places, into the out of control craziness - and shine.  Be an accessible light.  Show the way.  Get off the mountain. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Dividing Lines

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24 NIV)

So… confession time.  I’m a bit fed up of being told to ‘watch my boundaries’ when it comes to living a life for God.  My husband, Dan, has also noticed this trend and wrote recently, “Everyone wants to talk about boundaries these days.  There are books about the books written on keeping yourself safe from the challenges of modern life.  I wouldn’t mind so much but they’re aimed at keeping Christians safe from the dirt and the pain that means you’ve really lived.” Google kindly defines boundaries as “a dividing line”.  Is this really what we want to be promoting as Christians?  A line that divides?  A marker defining one person from another, an ‘I’ll be over here’ and ‘you can be over there’?  I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to be promoting unity.  I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to represent to the world a united body of people - different backgrounds, different skills, different social and intellectual abilities, different in many many ways - but all valuable, all needed, all united under Christ.  An united body of people who are known for love.  It’s not so easy to love when you’ve created a dividing line between yourself and the rest of the world.  

But my problem doesn’t stop with the definition of boundaries - it’s the implication that goes deeper than that.  The subliminal message of boundaries that says I must protect myself at all costs, I must put myself first, I must make sure that I am alright and fully functioning.  Don’t get me wrong - Jesus doesn’t want burnt out disciples - but he does want workers, people who will get their strength from him and people who are prepared to count the cost.  When did boundaries become the latest idol within the Church?  When did creating and protecting your boundaries become such a vital part of taught discipleship?

Growing up in a Christian home and spending a few decades in church, I’m yet to find the Bible verses that talk of putting ‘me’ first, the verses that talk of Christianity as this comfortable relationship with God purely to serve my needs and make me feel like a more stable citizen.  No.  I find verse upon verse about running the race, fighting the good fight, submitting to others, the need for discipline and how it’s ok if I can’t do any of these things because it’s in God’s strength and power that the stuff of life happens.  

In Luke 14, we read of Jesus explaining the cost of being a disciple - it involves carrying a cross - it involves sticking it out and remaining salty.  Jesus doesn’t mess around - he’s pretty direct, “…those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (14:33 NIV)  Loving people and sharing the gospel with the way we live our lives is costly, it’s hard work, it’s not putting up a dividing line to protect myself from the rest of the world who may make demands on my time, finances and emotions.  To quote my husband again, “ I have a horrible suspicion that our pursuit of boundaries and our abandonment of goals is fuelled far more by our inherent desire for comfort rather than anything more noble.”  

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)

Loving people is hard work.  There have been many times where we have had people in our home when it would have been ‘nicer’ or more convenient for them to not be there.  There have been times when I have put myself in social situations that I would rather run away from.  But had my husband and I erected a boundary in those situations then we would have missed out on the joy of serving God, on being used and part of bringing His redemptive story to the lives of those who are less fortunate than us, or those who are broken and hurting.  Had I not gone to those social settings and instead created a dividing line, I wouldn’t have been present to hear the stories of those hurting and in need and been able to talk of Jesus and his take on their situations.   

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2 NIV)

We are to walk in the way of love.  We are to give ourselves up.  I just don’t understand where boundaries allow for this.  Boundaries divide and separate.  Boundaries keep me and you apart - it creates us and them.  Our world is all too familiar with social boundaries, intellectual boundaries, boundaries in the workplace, the playground, in authority, in politics, etc. The church should not be the place for boundaries.  The church should be the place where boundaries are broken down, where the lines that have been drawn are rubbed out.  This passage in Ephesians goes on to say that we are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21).  Submitting to each other isn’t straight forward or easy - it’s about laying down our ‘rights’, our preferences and putting the other person/people first.  But we’re not doing this to be martyrs - we’re doing it because we’re told to copy Christ.  We are to model our lives on Jesus’ life so that we are able to point to him.  We do it to love and to point to the source of love.  We are supposed to be beacons pointing an alternative way to a world that only teaches about survival of the fittest and protecting yourself at all costs.  ‘Do what feels right’ / ‘Look out for number one’ / ‘Do what’s best for you’… My problem with the ever-increasing focus on boundaries within the church is that it’s subliminal message is that I am now number one.  I am responsible for looking after me.  I was never supposed to be number one!  Jesus is number one.  Jesus is all-sufficient.  Jesus is looking out for me so I don’t have to.  Jesus is intent on bringing joy, peace, and life in all its fullness - focusing on myself and protecting my own interests is never going to result in freedom and fulfilment.  Following Jesus and his call to love will.

I am currently six days away from running my first ever marathon.  Training has been, erm, let’s say, mixed.  There have been days when going out for a run has been an enjoyable experience - seeing beautiful sights, experiencing lovely weather and feeling pretty great.  However, that has not been the norm.  More often that not, training has involved getting out of bed earlier than I would like, going out into cold and often wet and windy weather, it has meant keeping going even when my body wants to stop and give up.  It has meant aches and pains and time away from my family.  Training for a marathon isn’t easy - because marathons aren’t supposed to be easy.  The definition of marathon is that it is a ‘long-lasting or difficult task or activity’.  And yet, the Bible seems to like the analogy of training and running a race quite a bit…  

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV)

The Christian race takes strict discipline and determination.  And that applies to how we love and serve others too.  I have learnt that you’re not going to be able to run a marathon if you eat what you want, sleep in whenever you feel and only ever go for a run if the mood takes you in that particular moment.  In the same way, loving others takes perseverance and dedication.  It’s a constant choice to put others ahead of yourselves.  

I can imagine some Christians flipping out at this point thinking that this is an excuse to push people to their limits until they crack and collapse.  But that’s not the case at all - yes - people will burn out if they serve out of their own strength, if they love from their own resources but that’s not biblical either.     

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)

I think we need to start challenging each other to throw off our ‘boundaries’ and dividing lines.  We’re to run with our eyes fixed on Jesus.  We’re to serve and love with perseverance for the joy set before us - He is our model, He is the one who has called us to follow Him: His example, His way, not the world’s.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”  The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”” (Mark 10:23-31 NIV)

I think it is hard for our generation to get their heads around cost.  We live in a world where we’re told we can have access to whatever we want, we can do whatever we want… access to the Kingdom of God means giving up that which is dear to us.  For many, I think this might be our ‘boundaries’.  Following Jesus is a costly business.  Is it possible to lay down our lives for others in our own strength?  No - not really - that’s when burn out and exhaustion kicks in.  But, when it’s in God’s strength, when He’s the one equipping and resourcing us then yes.  Rather than serving ourselves, we can cross over the dividing lines to extend warmth, love and grace to our neighbours.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”” (Galatians 5:13-14 NIV)

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God… Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:1-2,8-11 NIV)

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.” (Colossians 1:9-12 NIV)

As I mentioned, there are countless verses about serving, counting the cost, loving our neighbours, following Jesus… but it’s not out of our own strength.  It’s not from our own resources.  Loving people can mean saying ‘no’.  Loving others does require wisdom and discernment as to what is helpful and enabling for that individual in their circumstances.  But don’t use ‘boundaries’ as an excuse for creating a dividing line that excuses you from your responsibility to love.  Scrapping boundaries doesn’t mean you never say ‘no’ and it doesn’t mean you’re responsible to do everything and be everything to everyone around you.    

And the result isn’t a joyless exhausted life.  The result of rubbing out the dividing lines you’ve created is life to the full, the joy of the Lord strengthening, enabling and equipping us.  It’s partnering with God as he transforms, blesses and sets people free.  We can learn a lot from Nehemiah and how the people went about rebuilding the walls of the city - it wasn’t if and when they fancied it.  It wasn’t if they had enough energy.  It wasn’t at a delayed time that was convenient for their diaries.  It was side by side, tool in one hand, weapon in the other.  There was a job to be done, and they worked together to do it.   

We have a job to do and concentrating on boundaries is going to make us ill-equipped to serve.  Creating lines that divide will inhibit us from rebuilding the wall.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:6-7 NIV)

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6 NIV)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11 NIV)

You don’t have to be a super human with limitless energy and enthusiam to serve God.  But you do have to be willing to count the cost and cross the dividing lines that you’ve erected in your lives.  When God asks us to love someone He will equip us and give us the grace to do so.  Don’t go seeking to save the world - Jesus did that already - but do seek God for who it is you need to allow into your life that little bit more (even if it costs) so that the gospel may endure.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19 NIV)

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
    and with my song I praise him.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
    a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
    be their shepherd and carry them forever.” (Psalm 28:7-9 NIV)

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:10-12 NIV)

It is my prayer that the collective Church will start to focus less on protecting its occupants and more on pointing to Jesus, on refocusing our energy and lives to serve and love.  I pray that we would have willing spirits, hearts that trust in God so that we might be enabled to love without limits, serve without boundaries, welcome without dividing lines.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38 NIV)

I’m loving the lyrics of ‘Be One’ by Natalie Grant at the moment.  It sums up this idea that we are to get our hands dirty, to make a difference, to cross the dividing lines and get to work in the harvest, to be God’s miracles in others’ lives.

We don't feel ready
We don't feel steady
Question what we really have to give
Stay where it's safer
Claim faith, but waiver
Is this how we really meant to live?

We pray but never move
We say but never do

It's time to get our hands dirty
Be love there's a whole lot of hurting
Calling all hearts
Calling all hands
Calling all feet to take a stand
Why sit around and wait for a miracle to come
When we can be one

A little somethin'
Might feel like nothin'
But in His hands it's all we'll ever need
To speak life to the broken
Watch the blind eyes open
It's who He's calling you and me
To be

It's time to get our hands dirty
Be love there's a whole lot of hurting
Calling all hearts
Calling all hands
Calling all feet to take a stand
Why sit around and wait for a miracle to come
when we can be one

We can be the change, be the hope
We can be the arms that don't let go
We can be a light in the dark
We are, we are where it starts

There is “a whole lot of hurting” in our world, so much brokenness.  It’s time for the church to take off the inward-looking self-serving boundary lens and take a stand.  Rise up, cross the dividing line and,    

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses… Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:12, 17-19 NIV)

All four gospels record that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35 NIV)  Maybe it’s time to lay your boundaries aside.  Maybe it’s time to give up your life, and in that very process find what you’ve been looking for all along.  Maybe we need to think of ourselves less (not think less of ourselves) and think both more of others and think of others more.  Please can we scrap the dividing lines?