My Mural and the Easter Story Part 3: “Alive with Him”

My Mural and the Easter Story Part 3: “Alive with Him”

Although this post is getting out a little late, seeing that Easter is already passed, I’d like to finish up on this series about the mural my friend Dave Mattison and I did. I saved the best part for last.

In the previous post, I showed you the image of the cross of Christ, and people stained by sin, desperately climbing out of the mire to be cleansed by the blood of Christ. All of us are in that predicament, and if all of us seek after God, we will find forgiveness flowing out from Calvary.

If we trust in the finished work of Christ–that He alone can save and wash away our sins by His blood, His death being the payment that makes us right before God, we are forgiven. The debt has been paid.

But God doesn’t stop there.

Why?

Because Jesus didn’t stop there. He died, but He didn’t stay dead in the tomb. He rose again. The stone was rolled away and the bones are not in the grave.

By the way, the historicity of Jesus resurrection is vital to the Christian faith. Jesus said He would rise again. His resurrection proved the claim that He is the Messiah who came not only to deliver the Jewish people but the Gentiles (most of us) as well.

Bethel Mural: "The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation" by artists Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, 4' x 28", acrylic on panel, Panel 4 and 5

Bethel Mural: “The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation” by artists Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, 4′ x 28″, acrylic on panel, Panel 4 and 5

Like the Paul the apostle said, “And if Christ is not raised, your faith is futile. You are still in your sins.” (I Corinthians 15:17)

Fortunately, proof of Jesus resurrection, although denied by some groups today, can be backed up by many accounts in the Bible, as well as a few outside the Bible, and by applying simple logic. I’m not going to go into depth on that in this post. If you want to read more on that subject, check out “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel.

I want to write about the fact that Jesus’ resurrection gives us power to live a life free from the control of sin. Notice I did not say a life free from sin. I do not believe in sinless perfectionism. Some believe that once you become a Christian, it is possible to never sin again. If you are one of those people, tell me your secret! I haven’t found a person like this yet.

But if we are Christians, born again and bought by the blood of Christ, we are new creatures–alive from the dead, just like Christ is alive from the dead. We don’t live the way we used to.

As Christians, we live a life free from the control of sin.

I still have an old Zenith CRT television set in the living room–with the big glass front–you know, the “old school” TV that you often see sitting next to people’s garbage by the curb. My wife says I can’t get rid of it until it dies. I’ve had this thing since I moved out of my parents’ house in 1998! Unfortunately, it just keeps on going.

My Zenith behemoth of a TV.

My Zenith behemoth of a TV.

Fortunately, I do have a newer Vizio high-definition LCD in my upstairs room that I can use to watch the Packer games. Now imagine if I use the remote control for my old Zenith on that new Vizio. It’s not going to work. It’s not compatible with that TV. Even if I tried to program it to work for the Vizio, it still wouldn’t work, because the old remote doesn’t have the code for a new Vizio TV.

In the same way, as Christians, the old remote control of sin just isn’t compatible with who we are. Neither do the features of the old compare to the new.

We’re a completely different model.

I used to work at Sears as an electronics sales associate just when the new high definition flat screen TVs were hitting the market. The difference between the old and new technology is like night and day.

Sure, I can take my old analog Zenith, and hook up a converter box to it so I can still watch digital broadcasts, but it’s just not the same. The picture is downgraded and fuzzy. (I can’t even make out the scoreboard in a Packer game!) It’s not even close to the clarity you get watching a high-definition broadcast on a high definition TV.

To get the full picture, to get the benefits of being a Christian–peace, joy, a life free from the control of sin–I’ve got to be living like I’m a new person.

And if I am born again, I am a new person, a new creation in Christ and I have those benefits available to me. Why would I want to enjoy the show (live my life) on the old set when I’ve got the new?

But becoming and living as a Christian is more than just a choice that we make. It is a work of God, transforming us from something dead into something alive. And no, this is not like Frankenstein’s monster, who was an hideous amalgamation of body parts stitched together from various corpses, animated by a massive spark of electricity. We are beautiful, a unique masterpiece created by God!

As an artist, I can appreciate that. I tell you what, in the middle of doing a painting, sometimes it looks pretty sketchy. My wife has peeked in on me while I’m working on a portrait, and said, “Matt, it doesn’t look like them. I’m not sure if you can pull this one off.”

Um, thanks.

Well, she knows I can take it! It’s a work in progress. With God’s help, sooner or later, I almost always “pull it off.”

Before and After: Portrait of Pastor and Mrs. Palser, acrylic on canvas

Before and After: Portrait of Pastor and Mrs. Palser, acrylic on canvas

Now think about God–the master artist. How much more is He going to be able to “pull it off?” I tell you, He’s going to be able to finish the work He started in you, every time. Just don’t be a canvas that runs away out of the studio! Let the Master do His thing.

“And He died for all, that those who live, should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)

Are you a part of “all”? Then this applies to you too. When we are trust in Jesus, have faith in Him, and are born again, because of the work God has done in us, we won’t even want to live for ourselves. Our natural response will be to live for the one who gave us life, out of gratitude, not out of begrudging duty. God gives us His Holy Spirit to help us to follow Him too. In the mural, that is symbolized by the dove. The Holy Spirit is gentle and yet very powerful. Jesus gave Him to us as a gift.

Bethel Mural: "The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation" by artists Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, 4' x 28", acrylic on panel, Panel 4 and 5

Bethel Mural: “The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation” by artists Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, 4′ x 28″, acrylic on panel, Panel 4, detail

If you’ve been a Christian for a while like me (15 years now) you can lose the spark you once had as you begin to think you have to do certain things to keep yourself saved or acceptable before God. You may find reading your Bible, praying, going to church, talking to others about Jesus is not exciting or even interesting like it once was.

There is only one thing that will truly motivate you to live a life pleasing to God. Remember what Jesus did for you on the cross, and thank Him. 

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

When your world is falling apart, remember that Jesus has risen. Out of the darkness and despair of of the crucifixion, Jesus arose, emerging out of the tomb, like a conqueror, with his foot on the neck of Death. He will enter into your life if you let Him, and light will arise in the darkness!

Share Your Thoughts!

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback below! I will personally get back to you. Can you help me spread the word? Please share this post with your family and friends by using the social media links on the side or below. Thank you!
Good Friday: My Mural and the Easter Story Part 2

Good Friday: My Mural and the Easter Story Part 2

Last week, I wrote about the 4′ x 28′ mural my friend Dave Mattison and I did for our church, illustrating the Gospel message from Genesis to Revelation. In that post, I showed some images of creation, the fall with the sin Adam and Eve committed in the Garden of Eden, the flood with Noah’s ark, and then the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments reveal to us, like a mirror showing any dirt on our face, how we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Being that it’s Good Friday, I want to share the middle section of the mural, what it’s about and what it means to me, and how I think it can speak to all of us.

Before I do that, though, I’ll share the panel before it.

"Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation," 4' x 28', acrylic on hardboard, by David Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 3

“Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation,” 4′ x 28′, acrylic on hardboard, by David Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 3.

There’s not a lot here, except a lot of darkness. This is how it is for all of us before God reveals to us the awesomeness of His Son Jesus Christ. The river flowing below is black with the venom of sin. Death, destruction, and devastation covers the earth.

Above however, we do see the rainbow, symbolizing the promise of God that He would never again the flood the whole earth as He did in Noah’s day. I think it’s also a symbol of God’s mercy being extended to us.

In the middle panel, we have the cross of Christ. Notice Jesus is not on the cross.

Why?

Because He is up in heaven right, seated at His Father’s right hand.

"Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation," 4' x 28', acrylic on hardboard, by David Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 4, detail

“Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation,” 4′ x 28′, acrylic on hardboard, by David Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 4, detail

There are churches depicting Jesus as being on the cross, and although I think they do it that way to help us to remember His passion, we have to remember that He died once for us. He was sacrificed once for us. He does not go perpetually, and is not offered up repeatedly on an altar for us. That happened once in history almost 2,000 years ago, but His blood keeps on cleansing from our sin.

In the last post, I mentioned how our sin is missing the mark of God’s perfection. In order to appreciate what Jesus has done for us, we have to recognize the seriousness of our sin, and that God must punish our sins to accord with His own sense of justice.

A little child can understand why sin has to be punished.

When my daughter was about 3 or 4, we were reading through the book of Romans in the Bible one night, and she asked me about how people can go to hell and if that’s fair for God to send people there?

I motioned toward the window, and asked her “What would you think if there was a police officer sitting in his car in the parking lot, and a guy came up to an old lady and beat her and took her purse, but the police officer saw it but did nothing to help her?”

rialto14n-6-web-630x310a

Police officer standing by (public domain image)

“That would be bad,” she replied. “He should have helped the lady!”

I would go further and say that the police officer would be as bad as the criminal!

Here’s another example, borrowed from a preacher…

Imagine that you return home one night to find your family brutally murdered, you catch the criminal red handed, manage somehow to wrestle him to the ground, and tie him up. You call the police and they take him away.

Later, at the trial, with every shred of evidence clearly convicting the criminal of murder, the judge says, “I know you are guilty. But I’m a good judge, and today it’s your lucky day. I’m going to let you go free!”

What would you do?

I think you would call and write everyone you knew–the newspapers, the governor, saying that there is a judge on the bench more wicked that the criminal he just acquitted!

If we expect a judge to be just and do his duty, how can we expect the Judge of all the earth to not do His?

God cannot just let us off the hook. Sin must be punished.

God, knowing beforehand what needed to be done, did something about it! He sent His Son Jesus, who is both completely God and completely Man, to live a perfect life on this earth, and take our place on the cross, being punished for our sins.

Although we have sinned in many ways–lying, stealing, gossip, slander, lust, etc–Jesus never sinned even once. He always did what God the Father wanted Him to do.

Justice demands a payment. If you break the law, and get fined, you either have to pay or go to jail. But if you are broke, (which we all are, spiritually speaking) and someone offers to pay your fine, the debt is satisfied, and you can go free.

The Bible says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness for sin.” Life is in the blood. God demands that blood must be shed to pay the price for sin.

"Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation," 4' x 28', acrylic on hardboard, by David Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 4, detail

“Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation,” 4′ x 28′, acrylic on hardboard, by David Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 4, detail

Sin brings death, but the righteous blood of Jesus cleanses our sin, and brings us life.

Jesus was whipped, beaten and bruised, after His own people rejected Him and sentenced Him to be crucified. He was mocked and spit at. On the cross, Jesus experienced what it was like to be separated from God the Father, as he felt God’s wrath for all our sins fall upon Him.

During crucifixion day, there were about three hours of darkness that fell over the land. I believe it was during this particular time that Jesus experienced this unimaginable torment of God’s hatred of sin, focused like the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass, upon the Man who always did everything right His whole life.  Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34)

The Bible says “All we like sheep have gone astray and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

He made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus literally became accursed for us, while on the cross, so that we would be free of the curse of death! When it was all done, He gave up His life, breathed His last and said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23)

When we trust in what Jesus did for us on the cross, his blood shed, his death on our behalf, we are justified. Justifed–that is a legal term meaning although we are not inherently righteous through our own behavior, we are declared righteous by God and treated as if we are! God gives His righteousness to us as a gift.

Amazing! To think that God would do that for us–while we were rebellious towards God, He made a way for us to be restored to Him. And He did this because of His great love for us. “Not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent His Son as atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

 

"Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation," 4' x 28', acrylic on hardboard, by David Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 4, detail

“Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation,” 4′ x 28′, acrylic on hardboard, by David Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 4, detail

Here we see in this detail image, the blood cleanses the black venom of sin, restoring it to a river of life flowing out our lives.  Remember the words of the famous hymn? “Oh, precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know. Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” You can see the joy written on the older lady’s face as she experiences the wonder of sins forgiven!

That’s great news, that we don’t have to try to make ourselves perfect to come to God. We can “approach the throne of grace to find mercy and help in our time of need.” We can come with our fears, disappointments, hurts, and failures and bring them to the cross.

As we head into Easter, let’s think again about all the Jesus suffered for us. Let’s keep going back to the cross, remembering that there is a God who loves us, will forgive us, and continue to cleanse us of our sins if we trust in His Son.

Here is Part 3 of the story…

Share Your Thoughts!

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback below! I will personally get back to you. Can you help me spread the word? Please share this post with your family and friends by using the social media links on the side or below. Thank you!
My Mural and the Easter Story Part 1

My Mural and the Easter Story Part 1

Easter is just a little over a week away and I want to share a mural I created and tell you what it’s about. I think this mural correlates well with the upcoming season.

First of all, this mural was a collaborative project between my friend Dave Mattison and I, who God gave an art talent to as a middle-aged adult, when a co-worker asked him to draw a picture of a deer. His co-worker wanted to give the drawing to another guy at the factory who was goofing off and then caught like a deer in the headlights by the supervisor.

Dave said, “You know I can’t draw very well, just doodles.”

“It doesn’t have to be that good,” the coworker replied.

Later on, Dave held the pencil in his hand, ready to draw. Wanting to come up with a halfway-decent drawing, Dave thought for a moment and prayed, “Lord, you know I can’t draw, but if I hold this pencil, you could draw the deer through me!”

And that’s just what he did. The deer was very well done. I had just gotten to know Dave around this time when he told me the story. He had never really drawn anything well up until that point, but then the Lord gave him a talent to draw, just like that, out of the blue.

Seeing the way God blessed him, I wanted Dave to be a part of this mural project, and he agreed to help me with it.

Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, artists.

Dave Mattison, left, and Matt Philleo, members of Bethel Church in Eau Claire, created a seven-panel mural depicting significant events in Christian history, including Christ’s Crucifixion. In mid-December, the artists both of Eau Claire hung the mural in the church. The two posed on March 27, 2013, with the painting. Leader Telegram photo by Dan Reiland. Used with permission.

The mural Dave and I did is 28′ wide by 4′ high, consisting of a series of 4′ x 4′ hardboard panels, and it spans nearly the entire width of our church’s foyer. (You can see this mural in person at Bethel Church in Eau Claire, WI, by the way.) It is an illustration of the gospel message, that is, the Good News of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross, from Genesis to Revelation. Isn’t that what Easter is about, anyway?

Before we can get to the good part, we have to set the stage.

There always has to be darkness before light can be appreciated.

Check it out in the Bible.

Genesis 1:1-3:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

In the first panel of this mural, we see that God created everything out of nothing, and it was good. You can see the beautiful, lush garden of Eden. Vegetation and flowers adorn the hills, the clouds are perfect pearls of white set in the deep blue sky; everything is just as it should be.

"Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation", by Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 1

“Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation”, by Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 1

But then we notice Adam and Eve leaving the garden in sorrow. They were cast out because they disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. This is where darkness, sin and suffering entered the world. Compressing the events of several years into one image, we show them grieving not only because they are kicked out of the house, so to speak, but because their son lies dead on the ground. Their firstborn son, Cain was jealous of the younger son Abel and killed him.

In the foreground, do you notice the venom of the snake (the Devil) coming from the forbidden fruit and leaking into the stream?

This is symbolic of how sin entered the world through the temptation the Devil brought to Eve and then Adam, as they gave in and disobeyed the clear command of God. Sin is simply disobeying the commands of God. The once clear stream of human existence and consciousness has gotten muddied. People’s consciences, once clean and pure, became foggy, and eventually after years of giving into sin, downright evil. We can learn from the Bible that…

As society seems to be advancing in knowledge, the world is actually getting worse. However, God knows, and He has a plan.

In the next panel, actually even before we get to the next panel, we notice stormy clouds brewing in the background.

"Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation," by artists Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, Panel 2

“Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation,” by artists Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, Panel 2

Then, you will notice in this second panel, Noah’s ark resting upon a mountaintop. Do you remember the story of Noah’s Ark from your childhood? The colorful picture books of lions, elephants and zebras, poking their heads out of a cartoonish, rounded boat that couldn’t even fit a few animals from your local petting zoo does nothing to help us imagine what the real ark would have looked like. On a side note, the real ark was 1 1/2 football fields long and 1 1/2  semi-truck trailers wide–plenty of room to fit young, not yet fully grown animals from every species.

The ark was needed to save the human race and animal kingdom from destruction. God sent a flood to cover the whole earth, to wipe out every living thing, except for those in the ark: Noah, his family, and pairs of each animal.

The great flood was actually an act of mercy as well as judgment.

The sons and daughters of Adam and eve–the people that lived at this time got so evil, that all their thoughts were only evil all the time. Think of skid row or the darkest corners of prison cells when no guards are watching and imagine this is what happened all over the place. God was grieved by all this sin–people forgetting Him, and hurting and destroying each other, and so judgment and cleansing came. He started things over again, fresh and brand new with the survivors in the ark.

"Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation,"by artists Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, panel 2, detail of ark

“Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation,”by artists Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, panel 2, detail of ark

However, the focal point of this panel is the two tablets of stone, coming towards you, with the Mount Sinai in the background. This may call to mind the famous “The Ten Commandments” movie with Charlson Heston. God gave Moses the law–his perfect rules and commandments to live by–to pass on to his chosen people, the nation of Israel.

"Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation", by Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 2

“Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation”, by artists Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, 2013, panel 2, detail

Not again…

Several years later, the descendants of Noah still missed the mark, and the world was full of sin as it was before. God promised He would never again wipe out the world with a flood, and instead chose Abraham and his children–the nation of Israel–to be a special group of people that would learn His ways and follow Him. They did okay at first, but eventually they lived sinful lives like their predecessors.

These commandments are not just for Israel by the way–they are for all of us. They prescribe His perfect way of living. A way where we will love God, show respect to Him as we ought to above all other things, and also love our fellow man sincerely. The law of God is good.

There is just one problem.

No one has ever been able to obey all the commandments. If you have ever lied–even once, you’ve sinned. You’ve blown it. If you have ever stolen anything, regardless of the value, you are a thief. If you have ever wanted something that belongs to another person, you missed the mark, and have been covetous. You are a lawbreaker, and so am I.

The law has one purpose, really: to show us that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

"Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation," by artists Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, panel 1, detail

“Bethel Mural: The Gospel from Genesis to Revelation,” by artists Dave Mattison and Matt Philleo, panel 1, detail

You must be perfect to get to heaven. That’s where God is, and He is perfect. You can’t have a glass of pure water with one drop of cyanide and call it fit to drink. My friend Dave, the one who created this mural with me, works at a baby formula manufacturer. In some departments, the environment is locked down and has to be so clean that everyone must wear protective suits to ensure the batches of formula don’t get infected by a foreign object, even dust from the outside.

In the same way, one speck of sin would contaminate heaven. The Bible says that God’s eyes are “too pure too look upon evil.” In other words, our sin and rebellion just can’t be tolerated in His holy presence. Heaven is clean and must stay clean to be heaven.

You don’t have to be as bad as Hitler to be thrown into hell. (In fact, as bad as Hitler was–with every single murder he committed in the most heinous ways possible, he could have been forgiven through the Savior God provided.) All of us have sinned. All of us deserve the death sentence for our crimes. “The wages of sin is death.” God, in His mercy, has restrained us through governments, laws, and a prosperous country to keep us from being as evil as we could be, if given the chance to do everything we want to do.

None of us, even on our best day, can hope to make it to heaven based on our good deeds.

God says all of our righteous deeds, when they are done to earn acceptance with Him, are like filthy rags. I’m a tall guy, but there’s no way I can jump and touch a 12 foot tall ceiling. Likewise, heaven is out of reach for me by my own efforts.

The good news is, God made a way for us to be restored to Him. He made a way for us to be perfect in His sight, and to live with Him in happiness forever! I’ll share more about that, and the other panels of this mural, in the next post. In the meantime, now is the perfect time as we head into Palm Sunday and the week before Easter, to think about our problem of sin, and how God, in His love, has provided the remedy!

Here is Part 2 of this Story…

Share Your Thoughts!

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback below! I will personally get back to you. Can you help me spread the word? Please share this post with your family and friends by using the social media links on the side or below. Thank you!
New Painting: Enjoying the Light of the World

New Painting: Enjoying the Light of the World

It’s amazing how fast the year went by. The dusting of snow on the ground, the crisp weather, the lights on the trees, the hustle and bustle in the shopping areas all indicate the Christmas season is here!
I love Christmas, but it’s always a bittersweet season for me.
Having grown up in a legalistic church/ cult, my family and I didn’t celebrate Christmas until I was 12 years old, after we left that place. We were taught from the time we were little kids that Christmas was pagan and evil.
For that reason, Christmas doesn’t quite have the “magic” for me–you, know, that nostalgic feeling that finds it root in childhood–since I missed those special moments: the awe and wonder of the decorations, the preparation, the suspense, and of course, the gifts.
Christmas also signals to me the the year is almost over. It makes me think of how quickly the time went by, and some things that I wanted to accomplish, but wasn’t able to get done. And I’m not a fan of winter!
But I definitely don’t want to be a Grinch. So, now I’m going to look at the positive side…
For Jesus, Christmas is a time of birth. For us, it’s a time of rebirth.
The year is winding down, and a fresh new year is ahead, with new opportunities arising: opportunities for business, and opportunities for relationships too. I’m glad my children can celebrate Christmas and enjoy the true meaning of the season. As they are getting old enough to appreciate it, my wife and I are doing special advent devotions with them. My wife actually has created her own Advent devotional for our family–complete with thought provoking questions to encourage us to focus on the Savior and thank Him for what He has done for us.
I’ve really been enjoying it this year.
I think the kids are too: at the close of the devotion, the kids get to blow out a candle. (It’s amazing how they will sit still through the devotional just to get to blow out a candle!)
We brought our candleabra to church, so here is the makeshift one my wife made. Egg cartons: useful things!
Homemade Egg carton Advent Candlebra--MattPhilleo.com

Homemade Egg carton Advent Candlebra–MattPhilleo.com

So in the midst of all the craziness, this is the perfect time to slow down a little, snuggle up to those we love, and spend quality time with them. Even better, open up the Bible together and discover again the joy of the coming King!  These verses come to my mind as I write:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-7)
That is the mystery of Christmas. We don’t know for sure when Jesus was born, but maybe it’s good that we celebrate His birth in the winter, when, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s cold and dark.
In the darkness, we can appreciate the light so much more.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; for those living in a land of deep darkness, a light has shined upon them.” (Isaiah 9:2)
When you string those twinkling lights up on your tree, take a moment and think about the Star of David–the Light of the World, God in human flesh that broke into our world of chaos, to bring order; into our world of angst to bring peace.
  Enjoying the Light of the World_1a3
In this painting I just finished, “Enjoying the Light of the World,” you can see the family sitting together by the warm fire, reading together the wonderful story of God’s love and grace to us in the Bible. When we seek the Lord during this special time of year, peace, joy and love will flood into our homes as a result. (By the way, I have turned this painting into a free Christmas card that you can download and print)
Christmas is coming. So go ahead, break out the sticks and logs, get a good crackling fire going, open up that Bible, and gather your family around to share the comforting words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “…I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
May God richly bless your Christmas season!
Share Your Thoughts!
If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave me your feedback below! I will personally get back to you. Can you help me spread the word? Please share this post with your family and friends by using the social media links on the left side or below. Thank you!
Deacon or Derelict?

Deacon or Derelict?

Artwork: “Greatest Commandment,” Acrylic on Panel, Copyright 2009, by Matt Philleo.
Did you know that it is possible to be perfect?
It’s true, but we can’t be perfect–at least in the sense most people understand–in this life. As born-again believers in Jesus Christ we will be perfect, but only once we reach our heavenly home.
For those of us who have recognized our depravity–our sinful state before God–and received His free gift of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we often see positive, instant, sweeping change in our lives. But before long, we soon discover sinful tendencies in our life that are deep-seated and much harder to uproot.
If you have any true desire to follow Christ, and yet hit the glass ceiling of unyielding, stubborn sin, it’s not long before you can get really discouraged.
I know I have.
Here’s the deal: Jesus said, “Be ye perfect, as my Father in heaven is perfect.” Easier said than done, right?
Of course, the Lord’s words are entirely true and should be obeyed. We should be perfect. However, we need to look at this verse properly.
In a sense, we are already perfect if we have accepted Jesus and His gift of righteousness to us. He takes our sin and imperfection, and trades it for His perfect record of obedience and perfection. We are clothed in His perfection and righteousness.
And yet, in another sense, we are not yet perfect. Our actual day-to-day performance is anything but perfect. Any honest person, Christian or not, knows this. We all struggle with sin. Though it amazes me that, throughout the history of Christianity, there have always been some that say they have achieved a state of sinless perfection. I don’t buy it. Our society and our churches prove it’s not true.
What’s vitally important is that we are in the process of being made perfect.
That, I believe, is the message being conveyed by Jesus’ saying.
I have wondered, why can’t we have complete victory over sin in every area of our lives? Shouldn’t sin be completely obliterated once we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior? Isn’t salvation great enough to do that for us?
God showed me something recently while I was doing the dishes (I seem to get more ideas when I do the dishes than at any other time–don’t tell my wife!) I was wrestling with this idea of perfection, and yet why we still struggle with sin.
I thought of the ancient Israelites, and how after 40 years of wandering in the desert, they finally entered into the land of Canaan, the promised land. God promised them that He would drive out the inhabitants of the land. They would be moving into a land with cities and homes already built, water wells already dug, roads and pathways already paved–in other words a land with an entire infrastructure already intact.
But God also said He would not drive the inhabitants out all at once, lest the wild animals become too strong for the Israelites and overpower them. This is key.
While praying and thinking of this, it dawned on me that, today as Christians, our lives–our minds, souls, and bodies–are like this land. God goes ahead of us and drives out the inhabitants (sin) by His grace–the effective cleansing of the blood of Christ, brought to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
And yet, He doesn’t do this all at once. Why? I asked the Lord. The answer?
Because of pride.
Aha! So those wild animals, then, are like pride. If we had complete, immediate victory over sin, pride would just as quickly fill in the vacancy. The only difference, we would be even worse off than we were before. Because now, the ravaging beast of pride causes us to look down at others, feel superior to them, and be incited to attack them with our “holier-than-thou” attitude. Not only that, but if we are “perfect” why would we feel like we even need God?
It is our constant struggle against sin that alerts us to the fact that we need a Savior. And we need Him every day.
If we feel we don’t need God, we close the door to His mercy and help for us. Jesus used this illustration to drive the point home. I will retell the story in my own words:
There once were two men. One was a deacon in his local Full-Gospel church located in the “good part” of town and the other was skid-row bum. One night, the derelict wandered around town after finishing off a bottle of brandy, and ended up sleeping on a park bench in the deacon’s neighborhood.
That next morning, the deacon was going out for his usual jog in the neighborhood park. The derelict was just waking up–his head throbbing–and he could see through his glazed, bloodshot eyes, the cleanly dressed deacon approaching. Instantly, he began to loathe himself, remembering how, not too long ago, he used to go to church and was a respectable member of society, but through many bad decisions ended up a homeless man with an insatiable dependence on alcohol.
By this time, the deacon was close enough to catch several sickening whiffs of the bum’s booze-drenched body odor. Glancing at him quickly as to avoid eye-contact, he thought to himself, “What a shame, somebody living like that. Hopeless drunk–it’s in his own fault. I thank you, God, that I grew up in the church, and my parents raised me to be respectable and not like that man. He probably has never even been to church once in his whole life.”
The down-and-outer could only look down. Waves of humiliation and shame cascaded over him.
He cried out in desperation, in half-formed mumbling words, “God, I hate what I am. Help me God! I remember how someone at church once told me about Jesus, that He is a friend of sinners. God, I’m just a no-good drunk. Please God, have mercy on me and help me out of this mess!”
It is this second man, by the way–not the first–that was made right with God. We often don’t like that. Instead, we give honor to the accomplished, respectable, even braggadocious people in our society.
God is different than us. He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
So, who is better off–the deacon or the derelict? Who would you rather be? When I give my kids a choice they don’t like, they say, “nothing!” While I’m not advocating living like a person on the streets, I am saying, like the derelict, we should look at our hearts and see ourselves as we really are–sinners in need of a Savior. That is the root of humility. And we should act like we believe it, in the way we relate to God and people.
As for being perfect, we will reach that goal–when we get to heaven. For now, let’s be content with getting to the finish line, inviting others on the sidelines to get in the race, and offering help to those who trip along the way. There are a lot of lost, lonely, hurting people out there. Let’s reach them and invite them to share the joy of fellowship with God through Jesus Christ!
QUESTIONS TO PONDER:
  • If you are a Christian, how has God changed your life after you believed? How has seeing sin in your life drawn you closer to the Lord?
  • If you are not a Christian, what do you think of “Christians” who look down at others? How do you think Jesus treated the “down-and-outers” around Him?
Share your thoughts!