From the Heart by John Lee

At Gateway Church in Austin, we began a two part series called From the Heart.

We we were created as God’s masterpiece regardless of the lies we may have been told or believed.


Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

From the Heart – Next Steps



One of the most famous paintings in the world and one of my favorite paintings is The Starry Night. The Starry Night was painted by the artist Vincent Van Gogh. You can see it right up here on the screen. It depicts a calm southern french village just before sunrise, and above are turbulent, swirling skies and bright and brilliant stars in different hues of yellow. It’s a painting that’s mesmerized and captivated viewers for over a century.

Don’t worry…I’m not here to give you an art lesson. I’m not going to be Bob Ross and gonna ask you to draw a “happy little cloud” or a “happy little tree.” But I bring up Starry Night because what a lot of people don’t know of is the process and the struggle Van Gogh had to go through before he created his beautiful masterpiece. Van Gogh struggled with depression and mental illness. At one point in his life, he even admitted himself into a mental health asylum.

Ironically, few people know that Starry Night this famous and world-renowned beautiful painting was painted from the east-facing window in Van Gogh’s room in this mental health asylum. After Van Gogh painted Starry Night he didn’t think much of it and neither did others. In fact, Van Gogh’s art was rejected by society and he only sold one painting while he was alive. Eventually though, the true quality of Starry Night would be discovered and it would be recognized as a masterpiece.

A lot of us here today are like a Starry Night painting or a Vincent Van Gogh painting. And what I mean by that is have you ever felt like you didn’t have much value in this world? Have you ever at one point in your life felt rejected, rejected by others, rejected by your colleagues, rejected by your family? Have you ever felt like you like you you didn’t measure up in a way or didn’t meet others’ standards, like you weren’t good enough or smart enough or talented enough? Maybe instead of feeling like a beautiful and valuable “work of art” per se, you’ve felt like the opposite, like damaged goods, something that should just be thrown away and is worthless. But this is not the truth. The truth is you are you have been created by God, the Creator who is the Ultimate Artist of the universe, and you are God’s masterpiece.

I’m a big fan of art. I like it all—electronic music, art and music festivals like Austin City Limits, and film. In fact I like film so much that I even go see movies by myself. Does anyone else do that? Frozen II? No? I know, who watches Frozen II by themselves? Moana? Well, I love movies and art and one of the reasons why I’m passionate about art is because Art has been instrumental in my own journey and helping me learn and discover the truth of who I am in God.

You see when I was a young lad, I wasn’t really very happy. I’m from southern Louisiana and where I’m from isn’t as diverse as Austin or Gateway, so kids didn’t like me because of the color of my skin. Kids in my neighborhood rejected me. All through grade school kids used to hurt me, make fun of me, call me harsh and unkind things. I remember when I was in the 3 rd grade, I remember going to the restroom at my school, and there was another young boy in the restroom, a boy I didn’t know, I never even met before or talked to. I didn’t say one word to him, but he came up to me and punched me in the face simply because he didn’t like me because I was Asian. The boy left the bathroom and I remember standing there alone in that bathroom wondering to myself as a young boy, “What did I do?” Blood was running down my nose because when he struck me he gave me a nose bleed. You could imagine what was going through the psyche of an 8-year old kid. I was standing there trying to process not only what just happened but WHY it happened. And because of how young I was and how undeveloped my logic and thinking were, I came to think that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. It was my fault.

And the enemy was there in the background, saying to me, “You know what this happened, John? Confusing huh? It must be because there’s something wrong with you. Because of experiences like this and my experience growing up, I came to believe that there was something wrong with me, on a fundamental level, like I was a defected product, that I was ugly, that I was was not valuable. But eventually God showed me that this wasn’t true. One of the ways he did this was through a book called The Artisan Soul that talks about how we were all created in the image of God and because God is aCreative God we are all creative and artists as well. And now that I know this I want others to know this truth as well.

For example, last year I met a young girl who to protect her privacy I’ll call Sara. Sara was a young African-American girl who was a sophomore in college. She was a talented young artist whose art I admired and we started talking about our artwork. I complimented her on her art and she responded bashfully. And then to my surprise, the conversation turned quickly and Sara opened up to me in a very personal way. She shared how she was unhappy with herself and didn’t like herself very much. When she was a child, she had a father who verbally abused her. He used to tell her she was ugly, that there was something wrong with her, and he even used to tell her that she was a monster. Sara ultimately came to believe these horrible things and lies that she was ugly, that there was something wrong with her, and that she was a monster—lies about who she fundamentally was and how she was made. She shared how she was so unhappy sometimes that she would physically harm herself. My heart broke when Sara shared these things with me.

This wouldn’t be the last time I would see Sara. A few weeks later, I saw Sara at a store in town. I asked her how she was doing. As I listened to share, I could sense and see the deep sadness in her, and I glanced down at her arm and I could see multiple scars and cutmarks on the bottom of her wrist. My heart broke even more.

Here was a young lady who was so talented and had so many gifts, but because of lies told to her about who she was and how she was created, this precious young girl hated herself and suffered as a result. Many of us have had experiences similar to Sara, maybe not to the same degree or severity, but we’ve had experiences that made us believe lies about who we are and how we were created. And our enemy is the father of lies.

John 8:44 says,
“He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

But this is not the truth of how God created us. We have to replace the lies with the truth.

You see, I’m not sure how you’ve thought of God. Maybe you’ve thought God is your Father, that he’s your Savior. These things are true about God. But God is also an Artist. He’s Creator. I’m fascinated by the fact that when we open scripture, literally the first thing God does is “Create.” Do you think about God in this way? It says, “In the beginning, God created…” And God is such an amazing artist. He’s so creative. He created the entire universe in all its complexity, all its beauty, all its color, all its wonder. God created light. He created the stars. He created mountains and lakes. He created the oceans. He created trees and forests and flowers and beautiful vegetation. He created animals and fish and birds. *I’m a little confused as to why God created mosquitoes. But God wasn’t done creating. God saved his best for last, his greatest work of art, his masterpiece. You know what he created? He created You and me. This was God’s greatest creation. And you see God doesn’t mess up. God is perfect. He’s a master Artist. He’s a good artist. Everything he creates is good. It’s impossible for what God creates to not be good because he is good. God created humanity. And he created humanity in a way that was different from everything else he created.

Genesis 1:26 says he created us this way:
“And then God said, ‘Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may
take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the
crawling things on earth.’ God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God
created them, male and female God created them.”

When God created humanity, God created humanity in his divine image and he created humanity to resemble him. There was something special and sacred about humanity. God created humanity to be like himself. The way God made humans was different from everything else he had made.

Erwin McManus pastor of Mosaic a church in Los Angeles, says, “While all creation declares the image of God, we humans bear the image of God.”

All creation declares God’s glory, goodness, and beauty. But you and I and humanity bear God’s divine image. The word “image” in this passage refers to something like a statue that is crafted, something that’s been carved or cut out. One scholar says it “refers to a monument crafted in the likeness of an ancient near eastern king that would be set up in and at the borders of his domain in order to identify his claim of dominion – this is the ruler of this kingdom.”

I lived in New York City for 5 years and in New York City is the Statue of Liberty, one of the most famous statues in the world. It stands on Liberty Island in right in the middle of the New York Harbor. It was created in the late 1800s and it stands at 300 feet tall. It’s an iconic statue that is a national landmark and has been a majestic and welcoming symbol of freedom and democracy for the millions of people who saw this statue and came to America. In the same way, we were crafted in the image of the divine God to be like a symbol of God, a symbol of his goodness, his beauty, his reign and rule so we could reflect him. So we could point people to Him.

Not only did God make us to reflect him but he also made us in deep intimacy and like a work of art. When I was younger, my Aunt made my mother a gift. Using a needle and thread, she knitted and wove together this image of three different flowers. I don’t know how long it took her to create this, but it looked like it took a lot of precision and detail to create these flowers with only a needle and thread. In addition to the creating the flowers, my aunt even wrote the name of each flower under its respective flower using the needle and thread. *Now I’m all about efficiency. So if it were me, I would have have taken a big black sharpie and wrote, “ROSE. VIOLET..” But not my aunt, she intricately detailed this artwork. After creating it, my aunt framed it in a beautiful gold trim so it could be hung in a home a beautiful piece of art. Like my Aunt knitted and wove together this piece of art, God thoughtfully and intimately created us in the same way.

Psalm 139:13-15 says,
For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
When I was made in the secret place,
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

God “knitted you together in your mother’s womb.” You were “fearfully and wonderfully made” referring to reverence, awe, and being extroardinary. You were made in “secret.” You were “woven together in the depths of the earth.” This is who you are and how you were created. This is so different from what Sara was told, isn’t it? Is it so different what YOU were told or what you’ve told yourself? It’s so different from what I was told. We were each made in intimacy and love.

God is such a vast, big, great God who is all-powerful and all-knowing and omnipresent. But here’s the thing about God. Even though God is so big, God is also so intimate. Such contrasts. God is so beautiful. He’s so personal. He’s like your friend, your best friend. And not only did God create you, he created your heart.

Psalm 139:13 says, “For you created my inmost being…”

This refers to the heart or soul. It’s the core of your being. God created our hearts and he treasures
your heart and thinks your heart is beautiful.

1 Samuel 16:7 it says,
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

And your heart is so beautiful to God that he chose to live in your heart.

Ephesians 3:17 says,
“Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.”

This is how intimate and personal God is. He’s so big and so vast, but even though he’s so big and vast, he’s also so intimate and personal that he chooses as his dwelling place the hearts of human beings. This is who our God is! Isn’t that amazing!? But God doesn’t force his way into our hearts. You have to let him into your heart. He wants you to invite him in.

You see, when God created the world, humanity had a perfect relationship with God. God created human beings to be in a beautiful love relationship with him, to be like him, but humanity eventually turned from God and was separated from God as a result. And not only that, humanity lost its knowledge of who they were created by and how they were made in the image of the divine God. Our view of ourselves became broken and distorted. But instead of God neglecting us and leaving us as a lost cause, God did something remarkable. He drew closer to us. And God drew closer to us in the most intimate way. By coming to us and coming to earth in the form of a baby as Jesus. And Jesus lived with us, walked with us, spent time with us, ate and drank with us. He went to weddings and parties, he explained to us the scriptures and who he was, and he called us his friends. And eventually, Jesus chose to die on a cross for us so our sins could be forgiven. But the Gospel is not just that Jesus died for us so our sings could be forgiven. He died for us so he could be with us forever in eternity. And he died for us so he could take our brokenness, our hurts and pains, our wounds, our scars, our broken and distroted view of ourselves and restore us into his image, but this time the image of his son Jesus. Jesus is the perfect image of God.

2 Cor 3:18 says, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory,” referring to Jesus.

When we invite Christ into our lives and heart, God, the Master Artist, transforms us into the
image of Jesus and makes us into a masterpiece to do good in this world and help others know who
God is.

In Ephesians 2 it says,“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

But living as a masterpiece takes faith. We have to walk by faith and believe and walk as if we are a masterpiece. This is not easy to do. In fact, this is where some of us may get stuck and have the hardest time of all with what we’re talking about today. We’ve been wounded which told us lies about who we are, we hear that we are a masterpiece, but we try to walk like that and we don’t feel like a masterpiece. It’s like we’ve been wearing certain clothes all our lives and then we find out we have new, better clothes we can wear, but we wear these clothes and they feel funny. They don’t feel right and we’re convinced we need to put back on the old clothes. This is the hardest part for me.

How do we apply this and walk in the truth that we are God’s masterpiece? Well, we talked about how the enemy is the Father of lies. So, one thing we have to do is replace the lies we’ve been told and believed with the truth. A couple months ago here at Gateway we went through a series called “Triggered.” In that series, John Burke talked about agreements and how we’ve all made agreements in our lives, beliefs about ourselves that aren’t true. He talked about how we need to not make those agreements anymore and live in the truth. Similarly, in order to apply the truth of who we are in God, we need to replace the lies we’ve been told or believed with the truth in God’s Word. For example, a thought I struggle with is that “I’m bad.” Like I’m a defected product. But when I hear or think that lie, I try to tell myself, “No. I’m not bad. I’m not a defect. God’s Word says “I’m fearfully and wonderfully made.” His word says, “I was made in my mother’s womb.” His word says, “I’m his masterpiece.” “His word says “I am the Image of God.” Maybe for you the lie isn’t “I’m bad” but it’s “I’m not loved.” Replace that lie with how God’s Word says you are unconditionally loved. Replace it with a verse or even a phrase from scripture that speaks to God’s love for you. Maybe for you the lie is “I’m not good enough.” Replace that lie with how God’s Word says you have the righteousness of Christ.

Whatever lies you struggle with, we need to replace them with the truth and with what God’s Word says about that. This is why it’s so important for us to read and meditate on God’s Word. At Gateway South, Eric Bryant has asked our campus to go through the YouVersion: New Testament in a Year reading plan. Join us. It’s a great place to start reading God’s Word.

Additionally, one of the things I love the most about Gateway is our Recovery Ministry. We have
some great resources in our Recovery Ministry including our 12-steps program. Sometimes identifying
that we are God’s Masterpiece is just the first part. But we need others to help us dispel the lies we’ve
believed in the past and to help us find healing and restoration from the wounds of life. I’m going through
the 12-steps myself and it has been such a blessing.

Lastly, in order to live out our true identity in God we need to be in Community. If you’re not in a Life Group or a Community Group here at Gateway, consider joining one. Just check one out and give it a chance. Or check out multiple ones. That’s ok too. Our Community Groups are brand new groups that have been created here at Gateway just for this reason, so people can have community and live in their identity in Jesus. These groups are always open. Anyone can join at any time. Consider checking one out. We have volunteers after service at the Connect Spot who you can talk to about joining a group. We were not meant to live alone and we need each other to discover our true identity in God.

A few months ago, my Life Group decided to do something fun together on the weekend and we went to a place where you and a group of your friends can learn from an instructor how to paint an image. The images vary depending on the day you go. This is our Life Group on the screen at the end of the class, each of us holding our finished paintings. And believe it or not, on the particular night that our group went to this place, the painting the instructor taught us to paint was Van Gogh’s Starry Night. You can see the image right here. Except our Starry Night wasn’t a Starry Night of a southern French village but of the Austin skyline. I thought this was a beautiful metaphor for how we were meant to discover and live out our identity that we are a Masterpiece with others. Like how my Life Group made our paintings or our works of art together that night, as God makes each of us into a work of art or a masterpiece, we can experience this process and seek to live out our identity in God together in community.

Nobody thought The Starry Night was a masterpiece including Van Gogh himself. Does anyone
know how much Starry Night is worth today? Over $100 million. If there’s one thing you take away
from this today let it be this: God is an Artist. And you are his masterpiece.

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