One of my favorite classes I took in college was an art appreciation course. When completing your degree, you have to take a certain number of fine arts courses at UNCG, so I took this class and ended up loving it. There was a bit of history, but the main focus of the class was seeing what makes art, art. That’s a super overarching topic, and one that I won’t focus on today. What I want to talk about is a piece that I discovered while researching a project. Modern artist, Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen took mirror shards and covered a series of mannequins with the pieces. Then, she shone light on the mannequins, creating a light affect similar to a disco ball. I just remember thinking how cool that was, and recently, remembered this again and feeling the Holy Spirit nudge me. My life has been wild the past few months, with incredible moments but with it the fear of the unknown creeping in. In conversations with friends of mine, this feeling is not something I share alone. I think even you may be walking through some very real unknowns, feeling like you aren’t sure what’s next. These fears are tools from the enemy that then cause us to doubt ourselves. We begin to feel like failures, worry about past mistakes, and compare ourselves to those who seem perfect around us. We end up feeling broken. Shattered people who feel like they can’t be anything in a sea of people. The Holy Spirit nudges me sometimes in my moments where I feel week, reminding me of promises and truth in scripture. The thing he reminded me of right now, was of those sculptures, a broken masterpiece.
I saw a really cool shirt at Target. My wife and I love to walk around Target, it’s a pretty simple date night (You just have to make a pact not to buy anything before walking in), and now that we have a nephew, we like to check out the kids’ section. Kids today have awesome style options to choose from, but in the girl area there was a shirt that simply said, “Kindness is cool.” What an awesome shirt! It’s kinda crazy to see shirts like that when we live in a culture in America that isn’t very kind. We get angry, often at things that aren’t that big of a deal, and we turn on each other. Normal people who go completely crazy, kind of like the stories that will inevitably come out of this coming Black Friday, or from being a secret werewolf. Okay, yes, that last comment makes no sense, but if you’ve ever played the card game, “One Night Werewolf,” you know just how not kind people can become. The game is played in complicated rules, but it boils down to two werewolves have to convince everyone else they aren’t and get some poor innocent players killed. I love this game, because immediately everyone tries to prove they aren’t the bad guy and throw everyone else under the bus. I highly recommend it for your next game night. What I’m trying to say in all of this, is we have gone far away from being kind, because we are all trying to appear better, and that often means putting someone else down to do it. We gotta change that; it’s what Jesus called us to.
It’s that time of year again! Spooky season, which means it’s one of my favorite times on my blog. I love looking at old b-horror movies because God uses them to teach me things about life and fear. You see, people give this season too much power than it needs when it comes to Halloween, I like to take that power away and help you learn what scripture says about fear and spiritual warfare. One of my favorite tropes in old horror movies is the moment where our protagonist isn’t sure how they are going to handle this threat. Zombies, vampires, ghouls, goblins, and creatures of the night; the odds can be very stacked against our hero. Sometimes in life we can be in the same spot. Satan keeps attacking, keeps throwing fears your way. “you aren’t good enough.” “You’ll never make it.” “Just give up” You’ll never be remembered.” Real fears that creep in. The truth is, these can really weigh us down, and if we aren’t careful, the bloodsucking fiends will win, but we have a God who gives us a chance; and that chance is all we need.
After the past month, God has really been moving. Much has happened. It was a season of prayer and fasting at my church, wedding planning is continually underway, my jobs were busy and productive; a lot happened. In seasons of busyness, it can be easy for me to lose track of what’s important. I tend to focus on getting the details accomplished only to miss the things God has for me in the midst of the tasks. With the season of fasting, I cut out any non-worship music, and that helped me in more ways than make sense. I always listen to music. It helps me focus and I love new creative endeavors that artists take, but sometimes, it can become a distraction. Many times, I don’t enjoy the quiet moments, but over the fast, I realized that we have to quiet the noise around us, in order to let God, have a chance to speak.
I want to share something that has made a huge impact on my life today. This has been something that empowers me and gives me a strong community. Today I want to talk about small groups. Often times we can feel disconnected or alone, and this is a dangerous place to be. Satan loves to prey on the lonely people. I know this because for a long time, I felt lonely. In middle and high school, I didn’t fit in and hadn’t found my tribe. Spiritual attack was more difficult and temptation grew stronger. Then I entered into a small group, a group of brothers my age that loved me and held me accountable for what I was choosing to do. I entered into a circle. See for a long time, the church has just been about rows; listen to the pastor and try to remember what he said two weeks from the message that spoke to your heart. We’re human, we don’t always remember messages, but when we enter a circle, we enter a dialogue. We become an active participant to God’s greater plan for our lives.
It’s pretty difficult to be authentic these days. Notice how I’m saying that it’s hard for each of us, not just putting that on the people around us. We are in a time where everything looks wonderful on social media. The celebrities we follow, the friends in our lives, and the churches we go to; all are in danger of authenticity. An image of perfection and we try are hardest to measure up. This isn’t me dogging on celebrities who do cool things, or your friends who love taking hipster pics, or your church with a solid branding strategy; I’m simply pointing out the thing that we as Christ followers need to make sure we don’t lose. The point of the Christian walk is that we have been saved by a loving God, so that we can have an authentic relationship with him, an authentic faith. We can’t let our relationship with Jesus become a Sunday morning walk, it has to be an authentic daily journey with Christ.
Life has always been a funny thing for me, for everyone really. It’s a series of ever-changing, ever-shifting series of events and craziness. A little over a year ago I graduated from UNCG with a degree in communication studies. I thought after that moment that life was going to be great. More time to focus on my writing and ministry pursuits, without having to go to class and have essays and finals to do. For some reason I thought opportunities would just be throwing themselves at me. “Joshua we would love to give you a full-time ministry position, oh, and we would love it if you could write children’s books and poetry as well!” These are the things my head would think about. Sounds pretty nice, right? The reality is, life is a constant work in progress. There are days that are really hard. Days that are filled with stress. Days that are filled with frustration that the plan isn’t going as expected. Life is a constant work in progress, but that’s a good thing. The challenges that we face each day, the ones where we are pushed to the limit, these are important. Being a work in progress allows us to refocus our minds and realize the power of working on ourselves.
I love old 80’s and 90’s cartoons. I love the over-the-top action, the color (oh man that color pallet!), and the laser guns. Like for real, every bad guy was armed with a laser gun (Fun fact from Joshua’s film knowledge, it was a law that you could not have real guns on children TV shows. Oh, how far we’ve gone). The best part of these cartoons were the public service announcements. G.I. Joe, Transformers, and X-men would all warn children of the dangers of not wearing seatbelts or talking with strangers; always ending with the phrase, “knowing is half the battle.” I love these commercials, not only because it’s good to not go anywhere near that spooky stranger, but it tells us a lot about how we should prepare in a spiritual battle we face. I’ve been talking each week this month about having spiritual victory, which means, knowing our enemy is half the battle. Satan is the king of lies, which we talked about last week, and often in our lives when we are caught off our guard, we can take challenges and lies as being things of God. We ask God why you would do this, the truth is, he didn’t. God created our world to be perfect and everything in it to be good, but we rebelled because off the trickery from Satan.
Some of my favorite descriptions of words, phrases, and grammar come from Lemony Snicket. I gushed about his books a couple weeks ago, so check it out if you haven’t. One of the descriptions he talks of is the saying, “in the belly of the beast.” It speaks of a figurative feeling one gets when in the middle of an unfortunate circumstance, but in scripture, there is a literal event where one particular individual is in, “the belly of the beast.” Jonah was a man who God called for a great mission, but he trusted his own power and not God’s. Because of this, he believed he could not accomplish it, so he ran. Isn’t that a perfect picture of what we do in our own lives? I’m a victim of it, we have a situation we think we can’t overcome, so we run, we retreat from the promise on the other side of facing great peril. The truth is, we rely too much on our own strength when we should be trusting God. We have a God who created the universe and loves us. You’re right thinking you can’t get through it, but God can. No matter what you’re facing, God can. The calling that looks too big? God can. The mountain in your life? God can. When it feels like the world is against you and there is no hope? God can. We can learn much from Jonah, we can learn how to act in the belly of the beast.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Anger is my go-to reaction. I struggled with self-control for most of my childhood. It felt like there was always this deep ball of rage inside of me that was ready to explode at the drop of a hat. I relate very much to that of the Marvel hero, The Incredible Hulk, mild mannered Bruce Banner, but as soon as something makes him angry, he turns into a green rage monster. Yeah, that was basically how I felt (and sometimes still feel). Big or little, it didn’t matter what it was, I got angry at people. Now, I wasn’t getting into fist fights with people, mainly just not-so-great words yelled. I would hold these grudges against people, I never wanted to let go, I never wanted to forgive. Maybe it was spite, the thought that they would see my grudge and stop what they had done horribly wrong. I directed this rage at my family which would hurt our relationships, I directed the anger at my bullies in hopes that I could one day get back at them, and I directed bitterness towards anyone else who wanted to get close. What I learned in my un-forgiveness was that I had chained myself and created a prison for myself.