Easter & Good Friday Artwork 2019

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Our artwork for Easter and Good Friday this year was done by Bruce Butler of Art /Rhetor. In addition to being a graphic designer and artist, Bruce co-leads a Gospel Community and often plays electric guitar at Park Church (and all around Denver). Most recently, Bruce has also joined the team at Sweet Bloom Coffee as a barista.

Piece

This piece aims to represent all that we celebrate on Easter. The white line coming in from the left represents Jesus entering into the sinful world in purity, as joined by the darker lines made from images signifying death. The left hand illustrates His work on Good Friday: the climax where all the consequences of our rebellion from God met in Jesus, were taken on by Him, and He died under the wrath of God and at the hands of sinful men.

Between the two hands, the darkness and hopelessness of the 3 days Jesus lay in the tomb is illustrated. For his followers, and I imagine for Satan himself, this time must have been a space where sin and death seemed like it had won. Though Jesus had foreshadowed His resurrection (John 2:19, etc.), the visceral reaction of seeing a close friend and leader you believed to be God incarnate viciously beaten and slain must have put the disciples in a state of deep pain and shock.

However, as we know, Jesus rose from the grave on the third day, claiming victory over sin and death. Sin and death’s reign over humanity came to a conclusion at the work of Jesus’ still-pierced hands (John 20:27). Now the life of Jesus, experienced by those who physically met him hundreds of years ago, is a light still continuously shown and refracted, able to be experienced by all who put their faith in Him through the Holy Spirit. This is illustrated by the right hand, where on the other side of Jesus’ death was a radiant joyous life that flows forever.

Click the image below to enlarge.

Park Member BBQ—10 Years

Last August, we celebrated 10 years as a church.

We gathered at Morse Park to eat, drink, and celebrate God’s kindness to us!

We’re grateful for all that He’s done in and through us, and expectant for his Holy Spirit to move even more in the city of Denver and beyond.

Melanie Fenwick took the above photos of our time, and we wanted to share those with you now. Enjoy!

Exodus Artwork

The artwork for our Exodus series was illustrated by hand by Christian Robinson of Oklahoma City. If that name sounds familiar, or if the style of the artwork looks familiar, it’s because Christian was our artist for Genesis as well. As such, the artwork for Exodus serves as fitting follow-up to Genesis.

The book of Exodus, in short, is about God’s mission to redeem a people for His kingdom in this world. Christian’s artwork, in three pieces, illustrates the narrative of the book:

Part One depicts Egypt and the way out of it. Egypt’s God-rejecting kingdom is symbolized by their man-made glory-mountains (the pyramids) and false gods (represented by the hawk, symbolic for Ra). The stalks of straw speak to Israel’s oppression and the cruelty of their overlords (ch. 5), while the path and the blood over the doorway describe the ultimate trajectory of the story as seen in the Passover and the people’s flight out of Egypt.

Part Three depicts Mount Sinai and Moses. Images on this piece show a direct contrast to the images on the Part One panel—instead of man-made mountains and false gods, Mount Sinai (an actual God-made mountain) looms in unapproachable glory and gloom and fire and smoke and the presence of the only true God. Moses in the foreground represents both God’s leadership and His giving of the Law, His means for His redeemed children to be holy.

Part Two, the central piece, shows the path through the Red Sea: a sort of climax to the story, God’s final crushing of Pharaoh, and the gateway between the first and second half of the narrative.

As in Genesis, the three pieces are printed on large birch wood panels. Parts one and three hang on the sides of the stage, while part two hangs in the gallery and is shown on-screen in the sanctuary.

Women’s Conference Update

By now you may have heard about the women’s seminar we had planned for the first weekend of April. Unfortunately, our speaker has had a family emergency come up, and thus, we’re cancelling the Extravagant Grace Women’s Conference. Please join us in praying for health and God’s nearness for their family.

However, we still have a great event for you! We are coming alongside Grace Community Church in Westminster to learn from Courtney Reissig that same weekend. Courtney is a dynamic speaker with The Gospel Coalition and The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. (In fact, she’s a speaker we have considered bringing to Park!)

The title of the conference is Delighting in God’s Good Design, and explores her book, Accidental Feminist. Not only will this be a great weekend of learning, but as women of Park, we will have the opportunity to sit together and learn together!

For more details, and to sign up, click here.

The conference cost is the same as ours ($30) and includes three meals and conference materials. If you are in need of a scholarship, please email kyle@parkchurchdenver.org.

Thanks!

Kyle Nelson

P.S.—We also learned that Jackie Hill Perry is speaking at the Well Church in Boulder those same dates. The cost is $99, so you’re welcome to check out this event instead! Details here.

Sarah Dickey on Psalm 90:12

On Ash Wednesday, I quoted an interaction I had with Sarah Dickey over email about the verse we were looking at (Psalm 90:12) and what God has taught her through the loss of her husband last year to an aggressive form of cancer. Many asked me if I could send them what I shared, and Sarah graciously allowed me to share this more broadly. I pray it’s encouraging!

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
-Psalm 90:12

Walking through terminal illness, the dying process, death of my life partner and then continuing to live with the immense grief and pain that followed while raising two little kids has brought me to a mental space I didn’t know existed before. When I think about what it means to “number our days”… I think, those days ultimately aren’t ours to begin with.

Keith used his earthly days to exercise and train so he could climb harder. He worked long, physically demanding days as a route setter, to improve his trade. He spent late hours shaping climbing holds, to expand his line. Gave endless energy to house renovation projects, bringing ideas to fruition. Gave afternoons to watching football. Or practicing music. Or serving the church. Or resting.

10 years as a husband.
3 1/2 years as a father.
37 years as a son.
35 years as a brother.
20ish years as a believer

August 12, 1980 – February 8, 2018

That’s it. The number of Keith Michael Dickey’s days.

That’s not easy to write. Feels harsh and somehow still not true. Yet here we are.

What did I learn as I watched what Keith wanted from life and worked for with his days, where a tangle of serving God and himself existed… slip from his desperate grasp? As I waited for his last day on this side of eternity, for his last breath from the wretched body that betrayed him?

I learned to hold this life, these days with the most open of hands. I can serve and love God and his Creation with what he has given me. I can ask Jesus for forgiveness and confess when I fail. I can honor brokenness and cling to a deep hope in future glory.

But I can’t make the days my own. God holds them, they aren’t mine; they never were. I think this painful yet freeing understanding, reached by way of cancer and death and grief and solo parenting, has given or yielded in me a wise heart… or heart of wisdom as they say.

Exploring Lent Practically

This year we’re inviting everyone at Park Church who is participating in Lent to engage in three kinds of spiritual practices: fasting, prayer, and generosity. We covered the basics in our “Engaging With Lent 2019” guide that we’ll be handing out on Sunday, but here we’ll take a little bit of time around each practice but also share some practical ways of exploring each. James and I also talked in depth about what Lent is, where it came from, and some ways of exploring it here.

Fasting
Fasting is one of those disciplines that most Christians know they should do, but rarely get around to it. The interesting thing is that it’s one of the disciplines we see Jesus doing (Matthew 4:1-11; 17:21), a discipline He assumes His disciples are doing (Matthew 6:16) and a discipline we see the early church continuing to do (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23). So what is it? David Mathis defines fasting as “voluntarily going without food — or any other regularly enjoyed, good gift from God — for the sake of some spiritual purpose.”

Fasting ultimately is about refraining from one thing that we might engage more intentionally with another, namely God. Sam Storms comments, “The ironic thing about fasting is that it really isn’t about not eating food. It’s about feeding on the fullness of every divine blessing secured for us in Christ. Fasting tenderizes our hearts to experience the presence of God. It expands the capacity of our souls to hear his voice and be assured of his love and be filled with the fullness of his joy. Let me say it again: Fasting is not primarily about not eating food. It is primarily about feasting on God.”

Practically speaking, there are a couple great ways of exploring fasting during Lent:

One is called a whole fast, where you actually skip whole meals with the exception of water, juice, or liquids. This kind of fast can be hard for some people due to particular physical conditions so don’t just jump in without considering how it might affect you. A way of easing your way into this whole fast is simply by skipping breakfast and lunch on a day and eating dinner in the evening. Another way would be to do a 24 hour whole fast where you only drink water, juice, or liquid during that day.

Another way is called a partial fast. This might look like you giving up eating sugar or drinking alcohol. Others choose to give up things like social media, Netflix, etc. The important thing isn’t necessarily what you’re giving up, but what you do in the absence of that item and where it leads your heart. Fasting generally is never a solo discipline, but rather should always be practiced in conjunction with prayer.

Prayer
We believe that prayer is an essential part of what it means to be both a human and a Christian. It’s about communion and communication with the God we were created to know and walk with. As we fast during this season of Lent, we also feast on God through prayer! We encourage everyone to find meaningful ways to pray corporately and personally in this season.

Here are a few ways to explore praying corporately with others:

  • Join us for our pre-service prayer on Sundays at 8:15am or 4:15pm in the basement!
  • Come to our Sunday services
  • Thursdays at 6:30am in the gallery
  • Pray with your Gospel Communities
  • Intentionally pray daily or weekly with a friend throughout Lent

We also encourage you in your personal exploration of prayer:

  • Pray prayers of self-examination like David in Psalm 139:23-24.
  • Pray the Lord’s Prayer in the mornings and/or evenings
  • Pick a different psalm each day to pray and meditate on throughout the day
  • Check out the prayer app called “Pray As You Go” which has some great contemplative prayers
  • Another app called “Daily Prayer” has Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers, and Night Prayers. Dependent on when you open it up, it takes you there automatically! Easily accessible.

Generosity
As we fast from food or particular hobbies that cost money, we want to be open to re-directing the money saved and invest that somewhere else. The God we serve is an insanely generous and kind God. How might you learn to imitate Him and His generosity? How might God be directing you to be generous with your time, energy, and money in this season of Lent? Is there an organization that Park works with that you can contribute toward (find a comprehensive list at www.love5280.org)? Is there a need that might come up in your neighborhood or friendships where you can assist in? This practice works in conjunction with fasting and prayer and aids in shaping us in looking more Christlike. It’s a reminder that our spirituality affects all aspects of our lives, including our bank account and how we view money.

Final Encouragement
Wanted to close this time by encouraging you in five ways:

1. ​Plan before Ash Wednesday.​ The longer you wait, the less likely you are to do anything.

2. ​Ask God what His invitation is to you this Lent! Let Lent be part of your relationship with God.​ Talk to God about where He wants you to grow. Where have there been areas of struggle? Where is God shining a light and inviting you to walk more closely with Him in? David Powlison has some amazing questions called “X Ray Questions” that might be of help as we practice some of this self-examination. Here’s a short sampling of those:

  • Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, and escape? When you are fearful, discouraged, and upset, where do you run? Do you run to God for comfort and safety or to something else? (To food, to others, to work, to solitude?)
  • What do you love? Is there something you love more than God or your neighbor?
  • What do you want? What do you desire? What do you crave, long for, wish? Whose desires do you obey?
  • What do you think about most often? In the morning, to what does your mind drift instinctively?
    When you are doing a menial task or driving alone in your car, what captures your mind? What is your mindset?
  • What do you talk about? What occupies your conversations with others? What subjects do you tend to discuss over and over with your friends? The Bible says it is out of the heart that our mouths speak.

Your answers to questions these might help lead you as you process how to fast, pray, and be generous!

3. ​Don’t take too much on.​ Keep it simple. If you take on too much, you’ll get overwhelmed. Take on 1-3 new practices. I’m going to fast from this on this day or the whole time; I’m going to gather for pre-service prayer at Park; I’m going to try to give some money to someone or something during that time. For parents, it might be doing one weekly devotional. If you’re not trying to add stuff in your world, consider just studying Exodus which we’re going through as a church more closely.

4. ​Share your plan with a friend or spouse​, and then chat with them during the time about how it’s going.

5. ​Don’t be discouraged by failures.​ Let any failures lead you back to the truth that God is more gracious than we are sinful! He’s kind. John Newton said, ​“Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power.” What a truth to celebrate as we jump into Lent!

Teach Us to Pray Artwork

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Our artwork for Teach Us to Pray was done by Bruce Butler of Art /Rhetor. In addition to being a graphic designer and artist, Bruce co-leads a Gospel Community and often plays electric guitar at Park Church (and all around Denver).

Piece

The image includes three rhetorical elements:

First and most prominently, the six wings represent the six appeals in the Lord’s prayer—three “Your” appeals (“hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”) and three “us” appeals (“give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts…, and lead us not into temptation”). Additionally, the four living creatures from Revelation 4 in the throne room of God are described as having six wings and always being in the presence of God, speaking the holiness of His name! As a result of our union with Christ, our prayer is always before our Father in heaven, to whom we are instructed to pray “hallowed be Your name.”

Second, the mountains in the center of the image suggest the loftiness this simple prayer and also remind us of the Sermon of the Mount, from whence we get the Lord’s Prayer.

Lastly, and most subtly, the upside-down triangle speaks to the subversive kingdom of Jesus, wherein the first are last, the greatest is as the slave of all, and the people seek first the kingdom of God, simply asking for their daily bread in return.

Jason Jones

Jason Jones’ Testimony

By Jason Jones, as told by Liz Charlotte Grant. Jason Jones is an Elder and the Pastor of Care and Counseling at Park Church.

Youth Group Christianity

My parents would have said they were Christians while I was growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, but really, we were cultural Christians. There were three things in our house that we didn’t talk about: we didn’t talk about religion, politics, or morals. Somebody told me the other day that their family were CEO Christians—Christmas and Easter Only. We would have been CEN—Christmas and Easter Neither. I was left to make up my own opinions on sex, alcohol, politics, and God, so much so that I was nearly 30 before I learned the difference between a Democrat and Republican.

But I guess I was always curious about God. So, during my freshman year of high school when a friend invited me to go to church with his family, I went. I spent the night at his house, and then the next morning, we went to church, which I didn’t get a bunch out of. But then I went to youth group with him that night and it was the youth group that really kept me going back.

At the time, I was a pudgy kid and I had a flat top and glasses. I didn’t get picked on, but I don’t recall having a lot of friends. So, going to a youth group full of kids that invited me in and treated me like a friend from that first time that I walked in—that made a huge impression on me.

Questioning His Beliefs

I went to youth group for years before I really started to pay attention to what was being preached. What was being preached was this mixed-bag of, “You’re pretty much a good person, and you should just live life and enjoy it and try to do good things, whatever those might be.”

Throughout high school, I struggled with alcohol a fair amount, plus marijuana use and sexual relationships. That meant that by the time I noticed my church’s theology, I already knew that I wasn’t a good person; I could feel it. I knew that something in me wasn’t right, that I wasn’t living how I was supposed to.

I went through seasons of not going to church, starting at the end of high school and into college. I’d say to myself, “This doesn’t seem real.” Maybe it was cynicism in me. I was ready to walk away from Christianity. Now, I wasn’t opening God’s word to ask, “What does God Himself have to say?” I was just listening to the “good person” teaching and assumed, “This must be what Christianity is,” which didn’t seem to be true. So, I’d go back and forth wondering whether Christianity was right for me or not.

But I kept coming back because I felt like I belonged at youth group because kids were treating me well. By the end of high school, I had actually moved up into leading youth group myself, though I had no real sense of what Christianity—the Gospel—really was. I don’t know why; maybe they just needed warm bodies. Either way, I stayed involved off and on.

God’s Pursuit

The Holy Spirit was already working on my heart, even in my doubting. That’s probably why I believe in predestination, actually, because I can see the Holy Spirit’s work in my life, even before I understood the Gospel. I had a couple of experiences I couldn’t explain until later on.

The first happened during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. I went on a mission trip with my youth group to Kansas City, just across the state, and the pastor of the church in Kansas City gave this message that made an impression on me. He was a large dude with a booming voice and he was an ex-gang member.

He preached from Matthew, where Jesus says, “Some of you on my right hand will come and I’ll say to you, ‘You came to see me in prison, and when I needed food and shelter, you gave me food and you sheltered me’.” And those people will say, “Lord, when did we do that?” And then Jesus will say, “As you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.” And to those on his left Jesus will say basically the opposite: “You didn’t do it to the least of me, so you didn’t do it to me, so I don’t know you.” (From Matthew 25:35–45)

The pastor read that passage and then asked us, “What is this passage talking about?” No hands go up. Finally, I raised my hand, ‘cause it just resonated with me—I knew exactly what the passage meant. I said, “Part of loving God is loving other people.” And he said, “That’s exactly right.” That message has stayed with me to this day.

The other experience I can point to and say, God was working in me, was probably three years after that, on another youth group mission trip. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a moment where you tangibly feel the Holy Spirit’s presence, even if you can’t explain it then, but you look back and go, “Yeah, that was definitely the Holy Spirit.”

That’s what happened: I was on this mission trip, just having a really rough time. I was struggling with relationships on the trip and also the question, “What do I really believe?” I tend to be fairly extroverted, but I remember thinking, “I just want to be by myself.” So, I went off to journal in this room in the church where we were serving. You might picture a fellowship hall, but more comfortable, with armchairs everywhere.

And I started journaling—and I’m not really a journal-er—but as I wrote, God met me in that room. Probably the best way to describe it was like a warm and assuring presence. Like saying, “I love you, I’m here with you.” What does it mean to have a personal relationship with God? I’d say that was probably one of my first experiences of a personal encounter from a loving, Father God. As it turned out, I wasn’t actually by myself at all.

Salvation

I met Brian Brown through my ex-girlfriend at the time (now wife) Elizabeth, when he was engaged to Elizabeth’s sister. I was around 21 and had quit college; she and Brian went to college together and were home for that summer. Brian and I really hit it off. We led youth group together that summer, and that fall I followed him to Chicago, lived with him in his apartment, and worked at Sports Authority while he finished college.

When I met Brian, I was ready to walk away from Christianity. And then God brought someone into my life who sat with me and opened up God’s Word with me to see, “What does God Himself have to say about who He is and who I am, as one of His creatures? What should be my response to Him?”

We started walking through the beginning of Romans together, spending a lot of time in Romans 3. Paul quotes one of the Psalms: “No one is righteous, no not one; …no one does good” (Romans 3:10–12). It really helped me understand that everybody is on the same playing field before God; there’s no Christian out there who’s mostly good. And Christianity isn’t “you be perfect,” which is what my youth group had implicitly taught.

Then I remember Romans 3:21 being really key. If you get through where Paul has already captured everybody in the bucket of “no one is righteous,” then you can get the “but now” of Romans: “Now the love of God is made manifest apart from the law in Jesus Christ.” Studying that, God really opened my eyes to the good news; to the Gospel. I understood that we were all on the same playing field, and while I still couldn’t do anything about that, something had been done for me through Christ. It felt refreshing.

A Changed Person

That was my salvation moment. But even so, nothing really changed drastically after that beyond thinking, “Something is different about what I believe, so what does that mean?” The truth didn’t have an immediate effect on my behavior. Some people have that immediate transformation—their life is changed, they see everything else differently. For me, it felt like more of a slow marination.

We call that process “sanctification.” The initial “aha” was refreshing, and then it worked itself out over a several-year period. Actually, it’s still working itself out as I’m 39, and that experience probably happened when I was—I don’t know—20 or 21.

What did change, though, was a perception that I was loved. Before the Gospel changed my behavior, before I got to, “Okay, what does obedience look like?”, I understood that I was loved and accepted. I don’t think I’d ever felt that before.

I was an emotional kid growing up, so my dad didn’t know exactly what to do with me. He would be harsh or come down strong on me, and I would cry or break down; I was just different from him. I don’t think I could have verbalized it, but I didn’t feel accepted by my dad—or by God, because how can you be accepted by someone you don’t know? And I didn’t really know God. But right away, from the very early times of my salvation, I felt the tangibility of God’s love for me.

Called to Vocational Ministry

Elizabeth and I moved to Denver in 2008 to help Brian plant Park Church. Then, in 2012, I became a lay elder. Park paid for elders to take classes, so I signed up for a counseling course—and I loved it. I kept taking more counseling classes. At the same time, a lady in the church had been telling me since we planted the church, have you ever thought about becoming a counselor? She saw something in me that I didn’t see.

Then in 2014, I started feeling this…I guess you’d call it a “call.” But I started wondering, “What would it look like to do this on-staff at Park?” I felt the Lord drawing my heart toward counseling. I started to see some of the ways that I was gifted and how that could help a church body, and I felt the sense of “I’d really like to do this at Park” continuing to grow.

By the beginning of 2015, after Elizabeth and I had talked and prayed about it, we came to the elders to tell them what was going on. I said, “What do you think about this?” And they agreed. Then, a position opened on staff and they invited me to join the staff team in May 2015. So, I’d say going into vocational ministry at Park was partly the Lord taking my heart in a direction, then bringing people alongside to say “yes,” and then having the opportunity open up.

How can we be praying for you and your family?

Elder-ing is tiring. It’s great, and I love it, but ministering to people can be draining. You tend to hear the big joys that happen in the church, but you also tend to hear a lot more of the darkness, a lot more of the underbelly of the church, so to speak—where things are really at in people’s lives. The tendency is to find ways to sustain yourself apart from the Lord, to turn to other things in a sinful way. It’s comfort, Netflix, alcohol. Honestly, if I tend toward one, it’s, “I’ll just have two old fashioneds tonight.” You can pray that the Lord would sustain us as elders and that we’d turn to God to sustain us instead of turning to comfort. Pray that I turn to the right thing.

Nikki Rasmussen

Nikki’s Faith Journey

By Nikki Rasmussen, as told by Liz Grant

Growing up with Belief

My parents tried to instill general Christian morals in me and my brother as we grew up: we said prayers before bedtime, we prayed before dinner, and my dad sang us “Amazing Grace.”

When our first family pet died—a bird named Gracie—I was only five. Apparently, I was devastated over this little bird. And the morning after hearing Gracie had died, my mom found a note under my pillow, asking God to take care of Gracie. I had put it under my pillow just like God was the tooth fairy or something, which just shows that, as a kid, I accepted that God was real; I never questioned it.

Walking Away

I grew up in Boulder. You find a lot of people there who have been seriously hurt by the church in one way or another, and by middle and high school, I had made friends with people who were very, very against organized religion. I started hearing all these stories from people who had been hurt by Christianity. At the time I didn’t understand that those people were being hurt by other people, not necessarily Jesus. So, my response was to shut that part of me down.

Looking back, I realize that I continued seeking faith in my life even during that season. I explored different religions and philosophies as a teenager, getting really into Buddhism in high school. I even read about Hinduism and Wicca! I kept seeking something to fill that gap, but nothing really stuck.

Things Fall Apart

I met my ex-husband at 17, and we started dating when I was 18; he was 25. We started a business together and got married in 2015. From the beginning, our relationship was toxic. He’d already had his life established, and I was this little 18-year-old still figuring life out. I just pieced myself into his life. But he’d always had unhealthy relationships with women and alcohol, and that continued after we were married.

Meanwhile, I tried to change myself to become what he wanted. I was always seeking attention, even from other men, just because I wanted anything I could get. I wanted to make myself worthy of my ex’s attention.

Yet everything that I’d poured my life into—five years of my life—was slipping through my fingers, and I began to struggle with depression. I was so unhappy and ashamed about who I’d become. I couldn’t even keep sleeping pills in the house, just in case I’d want to overdose when I was in a worse state of mind, and I didn’t want that temptation. I just wasn’t myself; I wasn’t who I wanted to be; I wasn’t me anymore. And you can only pretend to be someone else for so long before it starts chipping away at you.

I didn’t have anyone to turn to: my ex and I worked together and I didn’t have any friends, really, because after I left high school, we started dating right away, and I was so focused on him that I didn’t make friends during college. All my friends were his friends. I mean, I had my family, but as things got worse, I just became more alienated from them. I didn’t want to admit that things were bad. So, it was a hard couple of years before we were divorced in 2017.

Meeting Jesus

Ironically, my ex was actually raised Christian, so I first engaged with Christianity again through his parents. Though he wasn’t a Christian anymore (he’d gone way left-field), they were Christians. So my in-laws would talk with me about Christianity. They’d pray for me, and they even gave me my first Bible for Christmas. And I was still seeking something. So, I was like, okay, let’s just learn more about this, even if I’m just reading it as literature (since it’s an incredible work of art). I convinced myself that I should read the Bible.

As I became more open to God, one of my ex’s friends invited my ex to church. And then my ex invited me to go with him and his friend to an Easter service. I said, “Yeah, you know what, I don’t know why, but I want to go.”

But walking in the church that Sunday—it was so terrifying. Oh, god, talk about a black sheep! Where I was in my life, the person I’d become, was such a far-reach from the person I wanted to be. I had made so many moral sacrifices in order to make myself what I thought other people or my ex wanted from me. So, really, I felt that I didn’t belong at that church because of my past. As soon as I walked through the door, I felt like everyone knew that I wasn’t a believer, that I was an outsider, that I wasn’t one of them, and it was absolutely terrifying.

The service that day was mostly a testimony, and it hit so close to home. A man got up in front of everyone and told his story. He had been your typical 70’s hippie: sex, drugs, rock and roll, all of that. He had gone way off the map and eventually became an addict.

Then, when he was at rock bottom, he reached out to his dad and asked him to meet him at a bank to help him get a loan to restart his life. At that point, he was living out of his car, and he looked homeless. The man hadn’t seen his dad in years because his life choices had alienated him from his family. And he remembers the moment when his dad walked in the door and glanced at him with disgust, wondering, “Who is this man, and what is he doing here?” And then his father recognized him and the look on his face changed to one of love, like, “That’s my son, and I’m so happy to see him.” His dad rushed over and hugged him.

The man made the connection to God: that God sees us as his children, and it doesn’t matter where we’re at in life, God wants us with him. Listening to this when I was at the end of my relationship, when I was so ashamed of the person I’d become—his story really hit me.

Then the pastor invited everyone to raise a hand if you were ready to come to Jesus, and I wanted to, but I still felt too scared and embarrassed. I’d spent my whole life fighting what I thought Christianity was because the church had hurt so many people I loved, and I was scared of how my ex would respond to me. But something had shifted inside of me. I felt Jesus’s invitation, as if he had taken my hand and was saying to me, “Hey, it’s time.”

Surrendering

The summer of 2017, after that Easter service, my ex- and I decided to split, and right at the end of our relationship, I actually met someone, a friend of a friend, who goes to Park. And I was able to trust him and open up with him about where I was at with my faith.

I started thinking through all the things that had happened with my friends and learning more about Christianity and about Jesus. I also started praying and reading the Bible. I realized that everything that had happened—all the bad stuff that I’d heard about from friends—that wasn’t Jesus, that wasn’t God. That was people hurting people.

Then, finally, I came to church with my friend of a friend, and that hole that I’d been feeling, that need for faith, that need for God, which I hadn’t even realized I had inside of me, it just it felt right. I felt complete.

Continued Struggle

That said, I still struggle. The lifestyle I was living before I found Jesus was so against everything that we’re taught as Christians. So, change in my life has been gradual—I have had to make intentional decisions to change because some sins had become so habitual for me.

Sometimes it does feel constricting to follow God. Like, for example, I definitely struggle a lot knowing whether I can even get remarried after being divorced. Would that be considered adultery? I don’t know. But for the most part, following God’s commands has been freeing because it has meant stepping away from who I was before.

Plus, as I learn more about being a Christian and read the Bible and learn more about what God wants, it just makes sense to me. I haven’t felt that Christianity is like, “I have to stop sinning.” Instead, it’s been like, “the more I learn and the closer I come to God, the more natural it is to follow Him.”

I still have feelings of inadequacy—like I don’t deserve God’s love and grace. But the reunion between the former hippie and his father reminds me that God is my father first and foremost, and no matter what I do, no matter what choices I make, no matter who I become, my dad will always love me.

So even when I don’t feel that I belong, even when I feel like I’ve gone too far or that I’ve made too many poor choices, or I just don’t feel worthy, I do belong with Him—we all do. We are God’s sons and daughters. And that’s all that matters. We do belong.

Getting Baptized

For me, baptism was the next step. The imagery of being washed clean from who you were, that death and rebirth, was something that I tremendously needed to start this new chapter in my life. I needed that closure from my past life—to be reborn into this new life—and I wanted to be fully committed to Jesus.

Still, I needed a push to take the step—that came from a Christian friend of mine from high school. I hadn’t spoken with her since we graduated. As I was making the decision to get baptized, she posted a photo with Jeremiah 29:11 onto social media: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.” (NIV). I needed that, so I reached out to her to say thank you. She told me, “It’s so funny that you messaged me—I was thinking of you when I posted that.” If that’s not providential, I don’t know what it is!

God’s plan really is good. It’s weird to say, but this painful path I’ve walked over the past five years is what pushed me toward God. And looking back, would I give that up? Would I change that, but then lose relationship with Jesus? I absolutely wouldn’t. Of course, it’s unfortunate that my marriage and divorce was my path to Jesus, but if that’s what it took, it was worth it.

Jeremiah 29:11 reminds me that it’s okay to let go of control. After five years of trying so desperately to control everything, I could finally say, “This is Your will; Your will be done. Lead me down whatever path You have for me.” I’m where I’m meant to be.

Ephesians Artwork

Person: Benjamin Rogers

We commissioned Benjamin Rogers to create an original art piece for our series in Ephesians. Benjamin is a full-time instructor of art at Red Rocks Community College. He has an MFA in painting from Arizona State University and his work has been exhibited across the country. He based his work for this piece on several arguments from the text. Here’s how he describes it…

Piece & Process

In creating this piece, I tried to visually connect some of the themes present in Ephesians. Many of these themes are somewhat unrelated in subject matter, so I had to develop a way to allude to them in a tangential manner. This essay isn’t intended to explain 100% of the meaning within this piece, but simply to give you some insight into my thought process.

Ephesians 2:19–21 talks about people in the church as “…no longer being aliens and strangers but members of the household of God”. This led me to use vastly different imagery within the same piece in a way that felt cohesive. The resultant image is almost collage-like, but the overall feeling, if nothing else, emphasizes the colorful top layer over top of the monochromatic(ish) layers underneath. This visually communicates a theme of blossoming, new life, as if waking from a dream.

The bottom visual layer is a pattern made from the life cycle of the cicada. I used the cicada’s life cycle because they remain under the ground for 17 years as nymphs, then emerge and molt their shell and live in the light of day for a couple of weeks and die. This process of climbing out of the ground and living in the light reminded me of Ephesians 4:22–24. This was the inspiration for painting moths and butterflies, as well as the life cycles of a frog and monarch butterfly. The bottom and top layers act as conceptual bookends illustrating the same concept. However, one is generally thought of as beautiful while the other is generally thought of as gross. I really like this dichotomy and think that it is pretty illustrative of human institutions.

Ephesians 4:1–16 immediately alludes to a physical body, which only functions properly when all organs work together in unity. This illustration of the workings of the church body is a beautiful analogy, because it demonstrates that there is a lot of unappealing, unappreciated work that is necessary for the Church to flourish. My goal was to illustrate anatomical renderings of some essential human organs, some whose function is obvious and well known and others which aren’t as recognizable or well-understood. I used the implied line to demonstrate the working relationship between them.

Perhaps the least recognizable theme illustrated in the painting is that of submission, which arises in Ephesians 5:22 and 6:1–9. My thinking on the theme of submission is that items are to be placed in their proper order. To depict this, I used a spiral staircase, because if the stairs aren’t laid in the correct order then the structural integrity is compromised. If people aren’t willing to submit themselves to the appropriate authority, whatever or whomever that is, then the system is compromised and may fall apart. The staircase also acts as a static visual anchor for the rest of the imagery on the painting. It provides a structure through which the rest of the visual elements can interact.