Time enough

wood, wire and paint sculpture of a chrysalis and butterfly

‘The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.
— Rabindranath Tagore, Indian writer (1861-1941)

I’ve been thinking about butterflies lately. My neighbor has created a butterfly garden in a clearing in the woods between our houses. For her birthday this past winter, I created a sculpture based on a concept that I’ve continued to refine. I’ve just completed the latest version (pictured above) for a Richmond area benefit auction for We Heart Harlie and Friends. This charity does the noble work of helping with expenses for the care of 10 year old Harlie and several other children, each with serious medical issues. Read their stories at weheartharlieandfriends.org. They remind me that butterflies aren’t the only fragile ones in God’s creation.

The quote above, from Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore, is insightful. Butterflies truly do live in the moment, don’t they? And yet they are among the most beautiful and elegant of God’s creatures. Ecclesiastes 3:11 begins with this declaration: “He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.” From an easy-to-overlook chrysalis to the impossible-to-miss flitting butterfly, the Creator has His own designs and timetables for His world.

And as I’ve developed this piece over these past winter and early spring weeks, this truth has begun to dawn on me: As short-lived as the butterfly’s life may be, it does, indeed, have “time enough.” It has time enough to simply be what God created it to be — a beautiful butterfly. That’s all it has to do — and be — and there is enough time for that.

I’m old enough now to realize that I’ll not live long enough to read all the books I want to read. Or create all the art for which I have ideas. Or spend the time I want to spend with the people I love. But that’s my agenda. God has made me for a purpose — to glorify Him, enjoy a deep relationship with Him and serve Him by serving others. And if I’m attending to those things, like the butterfly, I’ll have time enough.

Jesus had just 33 short years on earth and only three years of actual formal recorded ministry, yet He didn’t spend time regretting yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. He lived in the moments and had time enough — to love, to worship, to teach, to be a friend. And time enough to bring healing.

My life, and yours, may last for many more years or may soon come to an end. But there’s time enough — in God’s time — to be a friend and to help in the healing of children like Harlie.

We Heart Harlie and Friends invites everyone to join them for We Heart Harlie Day 2017 this Saturday, April 29, from 8:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Events include a 5k and a kids mile run, a raffle, music and more. Visit http://weheartharlieandfriends.org/events/we-heart-harlie-day-2017-5k-and-kids-mile/ to learn more.

The extraordinary from the ordinary

One of the "In Christ" sculptures set on an old oak log.

Do you consider yourself creative? Do you find pleasure in making things? Maybe you spend free hours practicing a certain craft. Perhaps you paint, or draw, or design things. Or maybe you’re someone who says, “I’m not very creative,” because you don’t do any of those things.

Creativity, however, is not only about making fine art or amazing crafts. It’s a built-in quality of our humanity and can be found wherever the spark of human touch has been added to even the simplest things or places. To begin to see this we’ll look at someone widely considered a true artist, a man who would meet nearly everyone’s definition of “creative.”

British artist John Constable (1776 – 1837) is among my favorite painters. Through his paintings, he elevated the mundane to prominence, a place of admiration and praise.

The Hay Wain (1821), probably Constable’s most famous painting, is based on the landscape in Suffolk, near Flatford on the River Stour. A hay wain, which is a type of horse-drawn cart, is pictured in the water in the painting’s foreground. A simpler, more ordinary scene would be hard to find. Yet by rendering it with his oils and brushes, Constable causes us to contemplate it nearly 200 years later.

The Hay Wain is part of the artist’s early series of six-foot-wide Stour River paintings.

Similarly, the painter’s Wivenhoe Park showcases one of his famous cloudscapes rolling over a tranquil pasture. There’s nothing exciting happening here, and yet I always see a new detail every time I look at these works. It’s as if Constable is reaching across the centuries, guiding my eyes across his work, saying, “Take a look at these ripples on the water’s surface,” or “See what I did there with that bit of sunlight? Look! It appears so ordinary, but it’s really extraordinary!”

John Constable’s Wivenhoe Park, Essex (1816) oil on canvas.

According to commentary from the National Gallery of Art, “Constable believed the Stour valley had set him on the path to his life’s work, and he chose it as his primary subject for much of his career. The area became so associated with his painting that even during his lifetime it was called “Constable Country.” That’s the power of creativity. An entire region of Great Britain elevated in the consciousness of the world because Constable turned the ordinary into the extraordinary through his creative touch.

Acknowledged or not, people everywhere share one thing in common: we are all creations of an awesomely creative God. In turn, each of us is creative in unique ways. Some, like Constable, express that through visual arts. Others through music, or writing. One may arrange flowers, while another shares notes of encouragement. Still others leverage the creative power of mathematics and engineering to solve problems on earth and transport us to the stars. Each is a creative act at its core.

We can’t help but be creative because we are made in the image of the ultimate creative being, originally fashioned from ordinary dirt. The extraordinary from the ordinary. Like a potter forming a clay vessel, God designed us and formed us into existence. The Scriptures show us His magnificent, limitless acts of creation — from His speaking the universe into existence in Genesis to glimpses of His heavenly realm in Revelation.

But I’ve realized that God is not only the Creator. He is the Re-creator. The Reclaimer.

As we approach Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, allow the Passion week to focus your thoughts on the great sacrifice Jesus Christ made to take our sins — and the righteous wrath of The Father — upon Himself. Consider how much it cost God to be able to judge our sin but also to show us mercy and offer us forgiveness.

And this year, I’ve been reflecting on how amazingly creative God is in all of this. Not only was God creative in bringing us into existence, He was just as creative in reclaiming us from the power of sin. Consider just a few highlights from the account of the Passion week and see for yourself how God re-creates and transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.

  • Like the painterly touch of Constable draws us to contemplate a cow pasture or a hay wagon 200 years on, God’s loving, creative power draws us to meditate on a simple garden. Why? Because He transformed it into a reminder of the decision each of us faces about whether to obediently follow God. How will we respond to the call to faithfulness? Read more in Matthew 26:30-75.
  • A meager meal of bread and juice, touched by The Lord, becomes a lasting reminder of our Savior’s deep love and sacrifice. Read more in Matthew 26:17-30.
  • His loving, creative power even 2,000 years on, focuses our vision on a simple wooden Cross — a thing of agony and humiliation — transformed into a symbol of sacrifice, mercy, and unimaginable forgiveness. Read more in Matthew 27:32-61.
  • The designer of the human body, that Good Friday, reclaimed corpses from their graves, transforming them into living testimonies of the power of God. Read more in Matthew 27:50-53.
  • And He turned a simple newly cut grave, really just a hole in a rocky hill, into an eternal symbol of His power and absolute victory over death. Read more in Matthew 28.

Creativity. Creation. Re-creation. Reclaimed from destruction. That’s the story of this season.

New life

Several of these smaller sculpture/signs are under way at the moment. I like these pieces because they’re a simple metaphor for the work God does in rescuing everyone who trusts in Christ to take the punishment for their sin. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross enables God’s forgiveness and mercy toward those who trust in Him as Savior. Instead of tossing us aside, Jesus salvages us, reclaims us, and puts His word in our hearts. As pieces of unique original art, Salvaged Messenger sculptures remind us of this truth. The “Joy” sculpture is created from a piece of barn wood, originally destined for the rubbish heap. It’s been rescued from destruction, cleaned up, and imprinted with God’s word. Now it serves as a witness and a reminder of the power of God to give us joy in every circumstance. Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like what we, as believers, are called to do? What verses inspire you? Want to own your own custom version of one of these sculptures? Drop me a note using the contact form below to order one for yourself or for someone special.

New Series Based on “Amazing Grace!” in the Works

Salvaged wood, wire & acrylic paint sculpture

This year I’m excited to develop several new pieces I’ve had in my sketch book for a couple of years. One project is a series of sculptures based on Amazing Grace!. Once complete, there will be a sculpture for each of the six verses of the 1779 hymn by John Newton, plus the verse from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Probably the most well-known and beloved hymn in all of Christendom, Amazing Grace! is about being salvaged or saved.

Amazing Grace!

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.
John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779

Olney Hymnal with "Amazing Grace!"

The bottom of page 53 of Olney Hymns shows the first stanza of the hymn beginning “Amazing Grace!”

The final verse of the modern version of the hymn was not written by Newton, but was first recorded in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The verse was originally one of between 50 and 70 verses of a song titled Jerusalem, My Happy Home that was published in a 1790 book called A Collection of Sacred Ballads.

When we’ve been there
ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days
to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.

The sculpture pictured here is my first draft of one of the works in the series — specifically illustrating the final verse as we know it today.

Messengers & Messages

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

I don’t text a whole lot. But when I do, I only type with my right index finger. Teenagers I know use both their thumbs and type blazingly fast. When I receive a text, it’s usually from my wife, or a close friend or family member. Those messages are important. Of course, my wife’s are the most important! But all this got me thinking about messages of the non-instant variety — messages that come from the most important one of all — the Creator of this world, God Himself.

If you’re old enough to remember the E.F. Hutton commercials of the 1980s, you might remember this line:
“… Well, my broker is E.F. Hutton, and he said…”
And then everyone around the speaker is now leaning in, eager to hear his next words as the commercial voiceover says, “ When E.F. Hutton talks people listen.”

Well, when the Creator of this amazing universe has something to say, I want to hear it. And that’s when I started thinking about Jonah.

You’ll see a few different versions of Jonah and the Whale sculptures on Salvaged Messengers.

Why am I drawn to the story of Jonah and the whale (or the fish, or whatever)? Because even though Jonah made mistakes (big ones), God still used him as His messenger.

You can read his short story for yourself in the Old Testament book of the Bible named, appropriately, “Jonah.” When you check it out, you’ll see how God assigned Jonah the unenviable task of traveling to Ninevah (modern-day Mosul in Iraq), to tell the Assyrians that they were about to be judged and obliterated by God unless they repented and turned from their wicked ways. Not a very popular message. Many historians count Assyria to be among the first superpowers of the ancient world. Jonah likely saw his assignment as a suicide mission. So he ran. But his running from The Lord and his appointed task wound him up in the belly of the “great fish” and then Jonah himself had to repent and realign himself with God.

Wooden sculpture of Jonah in the whale

This sculpture of Jonah in the whale is created from salvaged circa 1905 barn wood from my cousin’s farm in southwest Virginia’s Giles County. The deep grain creates a challenge for hand stamping the Scripture, but the striking look that results is worth the extra work. Aside from the wood, the piece is also made using wire and acrylic paint and varnish.

By the end of the story (spoiler alert), Jonah had delivered his message, and much to his (and perhaps the reader’s) surprise, the citizens of Ninevah not only listened to him, but believed him and repented, just as God commanded them.

God’s message got through, thanks to, and in spite of, Jonah. And, like all of God’s messages, it was ultimately life-giving, life-affirming, and life-preserving. The entire city was saved and its citizens enjoyed a renewed relationship with God.

That’s the power of messages from the Creator of the universe and that’s the power that messengers carry, no matter how flawed we are! Listening to God and doing what He says brings blessing, renewal and incredible purpose into our lives. Beware! This little book in the Bible is packed with lessons. Later I’ll be writing more about Jonah, the whale, and those fearsome Ninevites.

A New Year

In Christ sculpture in progress

Picture God at your birthday party singing louder than any of your friends or family. Is that hard to imagine?

Welcome to 2017. ‘Tis the season of resolutions. Someone once said, “A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” I’m not a fan of making resolutions, but if I were, I’d likely adopt the two that eighteenth century pastor and theologian, Jonathan Edwards, made: “Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.”

But I prefer goals to resolutions. And one of my goals this year is to create art that keeps Scripture front and center in my life and in the life of those who see it. My wife jokes (sort of) that I can’t find anything in a cabinet or the fridge if it’s behind any other item. To a large extent, she’s right. I’m the type of person who works better with everything laid out where I can see it — be it sketches I’m working on or tools in my studio — seeing it all helps me remember that it’s going to be needed — that it’s part of the workflow.

The same is true for God’s Word. Seeing verses from the Bible as I move through my day helps keep God’s truth at the center of my life, reminding me of His loving presence, His promises, and His power.

I’m reminded that God’s loving presence is guaranteed. After His resurrection from the dead, Matthew records Jesus speaking to His followers before He ascended into heaven: “… and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” I won’t face any trials that come my way in this new year by myself. And Psalm 138.8 encourages with these confident words: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of Your hands.”

God’s promises are comforting. In the book of Jeremiah, 29:11, we read, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I love that verse, especially when considered in light of another one in Romans, 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. No matter what 2017 brings, I can trust that God is in control and is working things out for my good if I place my trust in Him and align my life with His purposes.

God’s power is absolute. There is nothing He cannot do. The gospel of Matthew, 19:26, records Jesus describing the power of God the Father: “But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And I love the vivid language of Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” That’s quite a statement, that last line. Picture God at your birthday party singing louder than any of your friends or family. Is that hard to imagine? Why? God created you and He loves you more than you can imagine.

An anonymous pundit said, “Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits.” We might chuckle at that, but it takes intentional effort not to do just that. During 2017 I’ll be aiming to create more art to help me visually weave Scripture into my everyday life. Do you find that to be helpful in your own life? If so, what are some ways you’ve helped yourself focus on God’s truth throughout your day? Feel free to leave a comment below. And happy New Year!

Authentic Thanksgiving

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” —A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

A few thousand years before Milne wrote this observation about Pooh’s dearest friend, Psalm 50 records The Lord’s declaration to the whole earth on the nature of acceptable worship. God is pointing out that He does not want to be worshipped through outward displays — mere empty religious rituals. Unless we truly worship in our hearts, all the religious sacrifices and services are in vain. After all, The Lord says, what sacrifice does He need from any person? He owns it all. As verses 10-11 state, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.” [ESV]
The only thing we can truly offer to the Creator of the universe is a thankful heart and our obedience. Psalm 50:14: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High …”
A heart full of gratitude and thanksgiving will naturally lead to outward expressions of worship, but they won’t be empty. They’ll be genuine and very pleasing to our Heavenly Father.
May your Thanksgiving this year be authentically from your heart, whatever size yours is because it turns out, Piglet had it just right.

Thank you

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who helped Hanover Handmade help those in need right in our own community! Together with all our old friends and new ones who visited our October show, we raised $700 for MCEF plus a several boxes of canned goods for their food pantry. We’re working on plans for the next year so stay tuned for more details.

Hanover Handmade artists and crafters

The makers of Hanover Handmade close out their first show with a gift of $700 to Mechanicsville Churches Emergency Functions (MCEF).

The Secret to Peace From Philippians 4:8

Peace Like a River sculpture featuring Isaiah 26:3

Peace Like a River sculpture

Next time you’re feeling tired, mentally fatigued or overwhelmed, just tell folks you’re hitting a little Fliegerabwehrkanonen. Ah, those wonderful long German words. Fliegerabwehrkanonen is the word from which we get “flak” —  exploding shells fired from anti-aircraft guns. No pilot wants to fly through flak, but we fly through mental flak almost every day.

Explosions — not of shell fragments — but of images, text, and sound bombard our eyes and ears, blasting their way into our mind. Emails (yes, like the one you’re reading), texts and instant messages merge with Facebook posts, 24/7 news blasts, and the latest cat video into a swelling spray of mental flak that shatters our peace.

Psychologists have coined various terms for this — Information overload, infobesity, infoxication and others. Xerox produced an amusing video about it which you can see here.

But joking aside, mental flak can have negative consequences, deforming us into distracted, unproductive, ineffective and inattentive people.

We don’t have to accept this as the norm, however. God offers peace and rest — a place of quiet shelter, like a cave hidden behind a deafening waterfall. He invites us inside, encouraging us to refuse to be conformed to the world’s patterns and behaviors. He offers a different way because our Maker, after all, has His own perfect pattern for our lives. We don’t have to remain pinned down under a hail of mental flak. God promises that we can be transformed. We can have our tired, frazzled minds renewed.

This is one of the great treasures of Philippians 4:8. In it, we’re encouraged with these words: “ … whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

In a world where we constantly receive information — often of the distressing variety — through an overwhelming number of channels, it’s more crucial than ever that we develop a habit of thinking on the true, the honorable, the pure, and anything that is praiseworthy. That’s part of the secret of not conforming to the patterns of fatigue and frustration that are so prevalent in our world. When we surround ourselves with things that build up rather than tear down — art, writing, music, other people — we’re putting Philippians 4:8 into practice. We’re also putting ourselves in a position where God can reprogram us, recalibrate our sensitivities, and reinvigorate us. And that’s when we’ll experience genuine rest in the true peace that only comes from God Himself.

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A salvaged salvage trip: part 5

On the RoadGod leads us home

That night I was praying that God would lead us to a tire store that could help us. I looked up Merchant’s Tire and Auto and was relieved to see they opened at 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning. They were across town. Would the tires we had manage to hold up under the load of barn wood and get us there? Would they have the required tires in stock?

We prayed as we set out that morning. A little while later, we pulled into the lot at Merchant’s and a few minutes after arriving, we learned they had the tires and would get them on that morning.

We thanked God for His provision as we said the blessing over sausage biscuits at a nearby Burger King. While we waited for the tires to be changed, we walked around the shops nearby, keeping an eye on the old red pickup, which we could see up on the lift in the bay of the tire shop.

Around noon, the truck was off the lift and ready to roll. New tires all around.

As we paid the bill, Scott, who was manning the front office, asked me why I was hauling all that barn wood. Was I building something? I explained that I was an artist and was using the wood in sculptures. “Each sculpture is hand stamped with a Scripture,” I said. “I call them ‘Salvaged Messengers’ because I use salvaged wood that would be thrown out or burned up. And I think they’re a little like all of us. We are lost, in one way or another, separated from God and in great need of rescue. God has salvaged us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. He’s saved us from destruction and stamped His message of love and forgiveness on our hearts and lives. When we accept God’s gift of eternal life by inviting Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we become living salvaged messengers ourselves.”

Hannah and I headed home to Hanover, praising The Lord for protecting us and providing for us at every turn. We saw up close what Nahum wrote about in the book that bears his name:

“The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.” Nahum 1:7