April 25, 2021 – “God’s Brushstrokes”
Grace and peace to you!
We welcome our online worshippers, as well as those here in the sanctuary at West Tulsa UMC.
The famous Italian Renaissance sculptor, Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” He also said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
To him, sculpture is about chiseling away at the unnecessary, in pursuit of the truth and beauty within.
Painting, on the other hand, is the process of adding layer upon layer to a flat surface until there is something beautiful where before there was nothing.
Both of those artistic expressions relate to the work that God, the Divine Artist does in those who believe in Christ Jesus.
The Lord chips away at the unnecessary to reveal something beautiful inside, but the Lord also adds layer upon layer of truth and beauty as He transforms us into the image of Jesus.
We’ll dive deeper into that during the message, but for now:
We gather together to worship God,
the Shepherd of our souls.
The one who has created us,
who sustains us, who redeems us,
who walks beside us in good times and bad,
and who calls us to follow.
He is our God and our Creator!
Let’s worship the Lord together!
Once in a while all writers experience “writer’s block.”
As the writer sits and stares at the blank page in front of him or her…it can be really confusing to figure out how to get started.
As the clock ticks on, and the words refuse to flow…frustration begins to mount…and the fear of the blank page…or blank canvas in a painter’s case…begins to feel like an insurmountable obstacle.
Sometimes the best way to combat the writing block…is to start by writing about anything…the weather, family, random thoughts…anything. The point is to just get rolling, in the hope that the author can work into the story.
I know the frustration because I experience it sometimes in preparing a sermon. There are times when the desire to create something extra-special merely serves to put extra pressure on the creative process.
My motto is that “in order to get somewhere, you have to know where you’re going,” so I usually write out a rough outline…before I start typing…and that usually helps to make the process smoother.
Whatever is being created, whether a novel, sermon, painting, or photograph…even a quilt…pre-planning is essential.
This came to mind as I read today’s scripture lesson from Ephesians 1: 4-6. Reading from the Message Bible.
“Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ.”
“What pleasure he took in planning this! He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.”
(Ephesians 1: 4-6 MSG)
When one considers the incredible diversity of humankind that the Body of Christ is composed of…One begins to see God as the Divine Artist who uses a painter’s palate with an infinite array of colors on it.
Using His creativity…God created each one of us with our own unique mix of gifts, talents and personalities.
No one else has the combination of family, educational, vocational, spiritual…and yes…painful experiences…that you do. You are a unique creation. A very special creation…and God made you that way…for a purpose.
God painted a unique portrait when He created each one of us…And because of that we are each specially equipped for our role as a part of His Body.
So, I think you can probably see how important it is to value and use the gifts that we have been blessed with.
You’ve seen those large abstract paintings that look like the artist just started throwing paint on the canvas without much of a plan…
Today’s scripture reads, “Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind”…..Does that sound like God simply started flinging paint at a blank canvas?
“He had us in mind”…this scripture indicates to me that God is like the artist who pre-visualizes the painting before ever starting. There are all kinds of elements that make up a work of art…such as the hue and range of colors, the composition, the theme and the emotion that the artist wants to create.
Without the proper planning…the painting just ends up a mess…
So, NO, God didn’t just start splashing paint like an abstract artist…..
The only exception might be the zebra. Perhaps that was the Lord’s one attempt at abstract art.
God as the Master Artist created mountain ranges and sunsets so majestic that you almost expect to see His signature written across them.
He created people in all sizes, shapes and colors. God’s people come with a dazzling array of personalities, talents and gifts…but not one item of His creation is haphazard…the whole thing was pre-conceived…everything and everyone was given a meaning and a purpose in God’s master plan.
The unfortunate thing is that so many people don’t understand how they fit into the big picture. They don’t have the notion that God created them and loves them…and is ready to “bless them with every spiritual blessing.”
Meandering through life without direction, meaning and purpose…life becomes a quest for the next thing that can satisfy their need for excitement, pleasure, and self-fulfillment.
These people are trying to satisfy the inner hunger for that they feel for God…
The problem is they don’t recognize their hunger for what it truly is…and they tend to look in all the wrong places.
Author, and college professor Tony Campolo wrote that used to be able to count on a student coming into his office toward the end of the Spring Semester, to inform him that the student won’t be returning to classes in the Fall.
When asked, “Why?” the student invariably would answer, “I need time to find myself!”
Dr. Campolo claims that there’s a whole generation of students out there (common with Baby-Boom Generation), trying to find themselves. He says that it sometimes seems that they’re all looking in the same place…Boulder, Colorado.
He says that all of these students have pretty much the same complaint:
“I’m tired of playing the roles that others have prescribed for me! I’m tired of being the person my family expects me to be…that this school expects me to be…that the church expects me to be!”
“I’ve got to peel away each of these socially prescribed identities and personas. I’ve got to peel them away…one by one…so that I can come to grips with the core of my being…the essence of who I really am!”
Dr. Campolo writes that when he hears that kind of stuff…he can’t help but get a bit queasy in his stomach…and he can’t help but ask the students:
“What if…After you peel away each of these socially prescribed identities…you discover you’re an onion!?”
He tells them, “Stop to consider the fact that if you peel away all the layers of an onion, guess what you have left?…Nothing! And it may just be that when you take that trip to the innermost recesses of your soul…that’s exactly what you’ll find…Nothing!”
Tony Campolo is convinced that the human-self is not a spirit waiting to be discovered through philosophical introspection.
He believes that the self is a spirit waiting to be created!
“Whoever wants to save their own life will lose it;
but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
The thing is…without commitment…we don’t have an identity…We don’t have meaning and purpose. Our self-identity is created through our commitments.
Sometimes, the only commitment people have is to their own individual well-being and gratification.
I saw a story about a tourist who went into a church in Florence, Italy. All of the churches there are filled with beautiful paintings and sculptures. The tourist happened upon an elderly lady on her knees worshipping a painting of the Virgin Mary.
He was so impressed by the woman’s devotion to the mother of Jesus, that he commented on it to the priest.
“Oh, don’t be impressed by what you see,” said the priest.
“Many years ago, that woman modeled for the artist who painted that picture. What she’s really worshipping is younger self.”
In saying, “Whosoever is willing to lose themselves for my sake and the sake of the Kingdom…will find themselves,”
Jesus is telling us that it’s our commitment to Him and the work that He has for us to do…that helps us discover who we are, and what our lives are all about.
Does that make sense to you? What it means is that we “find ourselves” by losing ourselves in service to Jesus.
Unlike the woman in the story we don’t kneel at a painting to admire ourselves…As Christians we kneel before the cross to praise the Christ who is in us.
“Long before God laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ.”
(Ephesians 1: 4-5 MSG)
Paul’s letter to the Romans says much the same thing in Chapter 8, vv 28-29.
“That’s why we can be so sure that every little detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son.”
The Amplified Bible puts it this way:
“For those whom God foreknew (and loved and chose beforehand), He also pre-planned to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many believers.”
(Rms. 8:29 AMP)
What that tells me is that the spiritual portrait that God paints of us…the person that He wants us to be….resembles Jesus Christ.
And that makes sense…because the word Christian, means “little Christ.”
Always remember, God loves us just the way we are…
But God refuses to leave us that that way…The Lord wants us to be just like Jesus.
When a person accepts Jesus into their life…the Holy Spirit enters into that person. The Holy Spirit then begins to transform us. The scripture says God desires us to be “holy and blameless.” That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
As we travel on the road of discipleship, we begin to grow…Our spiritual self begins to mature. We begin to take on a more Christ-like nature.
We begin to think and act like Jesus. We begin to operate with a spirit of love in every area of our lives.
Following today’s artistic illustration…I think we can picture God as the Master Artist, continuing to add brushstrokes to our spiritual portrait throughout our lives.
As the Fruit of the Spirit develops within us more fully, God adds a highlight here, and some extra color there…
God never stops perfecting our portrait.
As the Christ-like characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control become more evident in us…God is right there, adding brushstrokes of paint to our portrait.
Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness,
Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control
Verses 3-14 in the first chapter of Ephesians, are one continuous sentence in the original Greek. As Paul comes to a close after pouring out his heart in praise to God for God’s unlimited grace…he presents us with the Father’s guarantee of God’s divine promise to His children.
It’s the signature on our portrait…and it represents the Good News.
“Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance (until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-to the praise of His glory.)”
(Ephesians 1: 13-14)
In Biblical times, important documents like decrees, letters and contracts were sealed with an official mark of identification.
The seal was usually made from hot wax, which was placed on the document…and then impressed with a signet ring. That signified that the document was truly sent under the authority of the person who wore the signet ring.
As Christians we are signed with the seal that marks us as God’s divine possessions. The Good News in that is, His signature is irrevocable.
God’s signature on our spiritual portrait can never be removed.
The seal of the Spirit declares the transaction of salvation as official and final.
But there’s responsibility in being marked as God’s sons and daughters. We have a story to tell! We have a masterpiece to show the world! We have a painting to show that tells the story of God’s love.
We are the picture of His amazing grace.
That painting is the evidence of God’s grace and love in our lives.
God is depending on us…as the Body of Christ…to carry on Jesus’ ministry.
Today’s believers are the only ones that can help all of those people who are “trying to find themselves,” or trying to find meaning and purpose in life.
There’s a made-up story that describes Jesus returning to heaven after His brief stay here on earth. The angels gathered around our Lord to find out about all the things that happened on earth.
Jesus explained to the angels how He lived among people, shared His teachings, expressed his love, died on the cross to atone for the sins of humankind, and was resurrected to declare that the new Kingdom is at hand.
When He finished telling his story, the archangel Michael asked the Lord, “What happens now?”
“I left behind a handful of faithful men and women. They will tell the story! They will express the love! They will spread the Kingdom!”
“But what if they fail?” asked Michael. “What will the plan be then?”
Jesus answered Michael by saying:
“There is no other plan.”
Ephesians 1:4-6 GNB
Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him. Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his sons and daughters — this was his pleasure and purpose. Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son!
Ephesians 1:13-14 GNB
And you also became God’s people when you heard the true message, the Good News that brought you salvation. You believed in Christ, and God put his stamp of ownership on you by giving you the Holy Spirit he had promised. The Spirit is the guarantee that we shall receive what God has promised his people, and this assures us that God will give complete freedom to those who are his. Let us praise his glory!