3 Things to Incorporate in Worship: Reasons for art as worship part 4

tim-marshall-76166-unsplashThe tears streamed down my face as I sought for reason. My mind, racing, was not able to process the mercy set before me and my heart offered no reprieve from the overwhelming emotion welling up inside me. I could not comprehend the feelings and despair within my soul. The expression of my heart could not be explained in a simple paragraph. I needed an exposition that resonated with the soul and not just the mind. I needed a psalm that would cross the divide of the intellect and provide a glimpse into the soul. I needed God’s creative expression. I needed Him to speak to me in art.

G.K. Chesterton asserts that “poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger [of madness] does lie in logic, not in imagination… The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” –Chesterton’s Orthodoxy

slice-of-heaven-horizontal-abstract-art-jaison-cianelliG.K. Chesterton, no matter the historical accuracy of his claim, makes a good point. It is in poetry and art that we are lifted to heaven. It is the imaginings of God’s glory that set us free to soar upon the wings of the unmerited favor of God! When we face those moments of despair and find ourselves in deep need of a vision of God’s glory, logic and reason often fall flat. In these moments of tremendous anxiety and difficulty, God offers a balm for the soul through art. The expressions we find in art lifts our soul, causing us to ascend into the heavens – where we can engage the presence of God beyond the trappings of the earth. Art has a way of exalting the human frame to otherwise unattainable heights. Art has a way of answering the desperate longing of the soul for expressions beyond reason and logic.

 

In light of this profound reality, I’d like to suggest three things you can add to your corporate and private worship.

NUYO-2

 

  1. Poetry draws the hearer to engage. It requires mental energy. In this way, poetry is difficult. Yet, the same difficulty required in order to engage with poetry is also fueled by the very same activity. As a worshiper invests their mind in the activity of poetic engagement, so the mind is raised to new heights and the soul is given the fire of deep and abiding joy! So use poetry… not merely as an illustration for a sermon or as a delivery system for an ideology. No, use poetry in your worship. Read it aloud, encourage your people to write and share it, make strides to sculpt and craft your transitions in a poetic manner.yannis-papanastasopoulos-586848-unsplash
  2. There are members of your congregation that do not sing. There is a silent, underutilized expression that rests in the heart of someone in your congregation. Free their expression to exalt the Most High! Encourage members to produce artwork and then give them space to display it. As you do this, you will see your people engaging the Lord and each other in a new and liberating way. Further, you will give voice to the hearts of some of the most profound theologians in your church. Not everyone sings, not everyone gives speeches… some have another unique ability to express themselves.
  3. Opportunities for verbal praise. Occasionally in our congregation, we will ask our people to verbalize something about God or prayers in short sentences. For example we will say, “let’s proclaim the greatness of our God! Speak out something glorious about Him.” Then someone will say something like, “Lord You are merciful!” and someone else will follow, “Lord You are mighty!” So the praise begins to echo around the room and individuals praise openly. This is a powerful aid to the worship of the soul.

God has given you many creative outlets to incorporate in worship. Any I missed that you would encourage!? Put them in the comments, I’d like to stretch more.

For an example of poetry and art that can be used in worship I have attempted to journey within this reality through these two works:

ReCreated_4Re-created; a poetic walk through the gospel of John. This is a poetic exegesis of the Gospel of John. It is the fruit of a two-year journey through the Gospel.
If you’d like to order this work,
it is available at Amazon.com here and at Lulu.com here.
For a specially discounted copy, comment on this blog with an email address and I’ll send you a link.

The Bird’s Psalm:
TheBirdPsalmcover85kdp copyThis is a short poem with sketches of a bird that is the result of my own personal worship times in the course of 3 days.
available at Lulu.com for $4.80 here
and at Amazon.com for $6 here

Colossians 3:9-11; Brief thoughts

9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

The most damaging subterfuge a Christian can suffer is that of self-deception. When a true follower of Christ agrees with a lie, that believer denies the power of their own identity as granted by Christ. In that denial, Christians fail to exercise their God-given strength and power to overcome sins. The acceptance of falsehood brings further damage when the Christian begins to believe deceptions that are about their identity. One of the greatest attacks of the adversary is the attack on the Christian’s victorious nature.

For many Christians, the identity that has been established for them through the work and efforts of Christ has been masked and held captive by an erroneous belief that their “old self” or “sin nature” or “flesh” has some authority or ability to conquer them. However, when confronted with these verses in Colossians, Christians are empowered to trust in the power of Christ within them!

In order for truth to reign as truth in the life of a Christian community, it must be ever present on the lips and in the hearts of believers. This is why Paul admonishes us not to lie. The one who has trusted Christ has removed the garment of the old self. The word for put off indicates a removal as if stripping off clothing. So here, one who has believed in Christ Jesus has taken off the old and has dressed in the new. It is important to recognize the tenses used in this passage. The putting off of the old is a past tense verb that focuses on a single time action.[1] So the Christian has “put off” the old self and has dressed in the new nature that has been given to them in Christ Jesus. This changing of one’s spiritual clothing occurs when Christ has redeemed the Christian. Indeed, it is part of the justification of a believer. (Ongoing sanctification is present at the end of verse 10, we will address that below.)

Someone will object at this point, “But if I have been given a new nature, why do I still struggle with sin?!” This question presupposes that one requires an “old self” in order for sin to be present. Consider for a moment the state of our first patriarch, Adam. Adam need not have a sinful disposition to rebel against God’s command. He had no need for original sin to derive sins origination in himself. He simply volitionally chose to sin. So it is with one who has been given a new nature. We sin because we choose to do so. If it were not so, then why would Paul assert that this new nature is “being renewed?” Being renewed is a present tense passive verb, indicating a continuous action being done from an external source. If a sinful nature were required for sin to exist, then the new nature would not need continuous renewing. Yet, Paul’s reminder is that sin is still present in this world and therefore still effects a redeemed Christian but, not in the same manner with which it used to rule over that Christian. Rather, now the Christian is capable of overcoming sin! Praise the Lord!

Christians are given a new nature that they must now learn to live in. Much like the fairy tails in which a prince or princess is plucked from the position of a pauper and thrust into a royal court, a Christian must learn to live in the royal court of God’s majesty. The one who was once a slave must now learn to live as one who has been made free. The adjustment to freedom from sin takes time. This is called sanctification and it provides the evidence of salvation. Once one has been justified in Christ and the old clothes have been cast off, now the believer must learn to live in their freedom, pursuing the fulfillment of God’s image on this earth!

What a joy to be free from sin and to know that we have been set free! We have been set free! Because of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection, we have been set free from sin and are made new! Do not believe the lie that you are still bound! You are free.

In this freedom, all worldly definitions of your identity fall by the side. All definitions that would confine you to this life are removed. Indeed, your nature is no longer bound to cultural identities or monikers of society. Your identity is found in Christ and in Christ alone. So, Christians regard each other as family, no matter the background or history. Christians are united in the restoration of the image of God within their souls! What a freeing delight to ponder. No matter what your background or difficulty may be, you’ve been granted freedom in Christ Jesus to live as the image of God on this earth, unhindered by any nature, history, cultural baggage, or generational sin. You have been set free in Christ Jesus, live like it!

[1] This is called an aorist tense in Greek. The aorist tense can be used rather loosely in translation, however, it typically indicates a past tense action that happened once. The emphasis of an aorist verb is most often on a single time action.

Featured image Photo by Paweł Furman on Unsplash

The Bird’s Psalm: FREE PDF

Hey everybody!

bird42This past week I wanted to challenge myself to write and publish a poem, complete with personal artwork, within the frame of 5 days… So I worked on sketches and layout and finished the book on Tuesday! It’s short, 32 pages. It is a product of my own worship times and was a delight to create. Enjoy a free PDF copy below. You can purchase hard copies online at amazon and lulu. (links below)

TheBirdPsalmcover85kdp copy

You can get a Free PDF of the book by clicking here: thebirdpsalm85kdpnew.

If you’d like a paperback copy they are available

for $6 in 8.5×8.5 inches at Amazon (here)

For $4.80 in 7.5×7.5 inches Lulu.com (here).

I hope this short work is inspiring to you. it was fun to make.bird52

Colossians 3:8; Brief thoughts

8But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

The result of enslavement to the earthly desires as listed in verse five are the manifest actions described in verse eight. Again, Paul exhorts believers to put away behaviors and attitudes that are inconsistent with the character of a Christian. While the first list of dealt with the heart and base motivation for behavior, this second list deals more with the outward manifestations of giving into earthly desires. One of the greatest manifestations of the heart is the mouth.

In Matthew 12:34 Jesus says, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Further, He encourages His disciples that they will be able to recognize false prophets by their fruit (Mt. 7:15-20). It is often the words we say that reveal our hearts. So it is understandable that Paul would call believers to “put [these] all away” (v.8). If our hearts have been changed, then our mouths must reflect that change.

It is intriguing that Paul begins this second list with three character traits. Anger, wrath, and malice are descriptors that deal directly with the heart of a person. They are interconnected words that all bear extremely similar meanings. The word used for anger emphasizes the aspect of vengeance or indignation associated with deep seeded feelings of justice (obviously here a misplaced and false justice). The word translated as wrath emphasizes the soul or the deeply rooted nature of anger within the character. The word translated as malice bears the emphasis on internal wickedness from which anger and malice spring. These three character traits are utterly contrary to the Christian Spirit. The central motivator of the believer is the love of Christ. That is why Paul says they must be put away. For indeed, the Christian has put them away. These are sinful dispositions and as such, they have been crucified with Christ. Therefore, while a believer may struggle at times with anger, wrath, or even malice, that believer is no longer beholden to those character traits. For the sin that once bound us to that nature has been wiped away in the death of that nature with Christ on the cross!

To be clear, the Christian still fights anger, wrath, and malice as a part of their sanctification. While the nature that enslaved them to it is dead, the sins still exist and must be denied. So, Christians make war on these heart sins. Paul’s exhortations are powerful because they are couched in the deep truth that God has already justified us (made us righteous and cut off the nature that once enslaved us to sin) and is actively sanctifying us (molding us to be holy and teaching us to walk in our new nature).

When anger, wrath, and malice are not fully dealt with, slander and obscene talk are the results. As anger festers, it will seep out onto others by the most convenient means available – the mouth. If you desire to know the heart of a person, observe their tongue and how they use it. If anger, wrath, and malice rule, then slander and obscenity will be common.

Consider for a moment what slander and obscene talk are. I am going to refrain from giving examples here as I do not wish to allow excuse for lack of inclusion. Slander covers a large swath of common conversation in modern society. Even in so-called Christian circles, gossip and slander are common to the landscape. Under the guise of wise counsel, people excuse their tongues and allow manipulative indiscrete comments to harm the reputation of others. Further, when a target is unavailable, obscenity becomes commonplace as an outlet for the anger that has festered. Paul saw the great damage this can cause to the name of Christ and issues his exhortation in light of the truth of who Christ has made you to be. You are not this way anymore. So you must put these things off.

Colossians 3:6-7; Brief Thoughts

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  6On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.

The wrath of God is genuinely coming upon the earth. This phrase in verse six ought to give the reader pause. It is a terrifying statement that the wrath of God is coming upon the earth. It is even more terrifying to realize the reason for that wrath. The vices listed as “earthly” are so prominent in modern culture that it is difficult to call anyone innocent of them. Everywhere a person turns, there is sexual immorality and sinfulness driven by base human desires. Our entertainment, politics, and businesses are controlled by wicked and sinful desires. Our world has rejected God as the one who is worthy of worship and has insisted that satisfaction can be achieved by asserting our own definitions of good and evil in place of His. Humanity has rejected Christ as Lord and has decided to determine what is good or evil on our own. Indeed, our own idolatry of self-satisfaction demands recompense from the Almighty Creator. So Paul warns: “the wrath of God is coming.”

Take note that wrath has not yet arrived. There is great hope in this truth. Wrath is not yet here, there is still time for you to repent. There is still time for nations to repent. Wrath has not yet arrived. This simple present tense verb packs within itself a great deal of hope! We have time, though it is short, to call the world to repent and find salvation.

While it has not come upon this world yet, wrath is certain because of these things. Further, this world’s calamity does not compare to the coming wrath of God. Paul was living in an age of paganism. Death and corruption were norms in the Roman empire. So it is here in our time. Political scandals fill our eyes as we strive to hide the wickedness we indulge in ourselves. Even the religious leaders allow themselves indulgences and sinful satisfactions that bring shame to the Lord. Wrath is coming and it will level all of us. God, the perfectly just Judge, will punish every infraction and destroy every idolatrous, law-breaker. Yet, there is a way out of this wrath. Trust in Jesus for your righteousness: confess to God that you have not done what you should do and are in need of Him to forgive you, trust that Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection takes the wrath of God on your behalf and grants you new life. This is how one avoids wrath: through faith in Jesus.

Wrath is coming on this earth because of sin and all those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ will be subject to that wrath. It is important for Christians to remember that we have not been righteous. Christians were enslaved to the same sinful disposition that everyone else is enslaved to. Notice Paul doesn’t just say that Christians were engaged in the characteristics of verse five, but that they “live” that way.

Bearing this in mind, Christians have the unique ability to relate to others. There is no room for arrogance in the life of a believer. Indeed, true believers recognize that they are no greater than anyone else. They have not done the right thing, they have not lived a righteous life. This is the great equalizer. Recognizing that salvation is not due to our works, but only due to faith changes the way we relate to everyone. Christian, make up in your heart that you have been rescued because God is good, not because you are. You did not make a better decision than others. You were rescued, and anyone can be rescued.

Colossians 3:5; Brief thoughts

5Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Throughout his letters, Paul issues instructions pertaining to the Christian life. When modern readers read these instructions, our natural tendency is to read them as corrective commands (e.g. “stop doing what you are doing and do this instead!”). It is easy for the reader to understand these instructions as commands to be fulfilled or something that must be corrected. After all, they are instructions to the Christian life. Yet, all of Paul’s instructions are based on a previously established theological truth about the person he is addressing. These instructions, therefore, are better understood as exhortations or encouragements rather than corrective commands. Paul is not scolding the reader for failing to live up to some sort of law. Rather, Paul is encouraging the believers to live a life that matches the reality of who they are in Christ.

This particular exhortation begins with the encouragement to “put to death.” The word here indicates a complete cessation of activity with regard to that which is “earthly” (v.5). Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (Cost of Discipleship. London: SCM Press, 2001 p44). The Christian life is one of complete surrender to the will and work of Christ. It is an exchange of kingdoms. Believers have traded the glory of this earth for the glory of Heaven. In such an exchange, the kingdom of earth is thrown off for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. So Paul calls the believer to put to death the things that are earthly. Notice there is no softening of this exhortation. He does not say, try to put to death or strive to put to death. No, Paul says “put to death.” This imperative drives the point that Christian is to completely cut off the influence of these earthly things. These earthly things have no place in the Christian life (Ephesians 5:3). They are to be cut off and destroyed. The mind of the Christian and the life of the Christian is focused on Heavenly truths and must have no association with these lower earthly things.

It is the tragedy of modern Christian culture that there is little that differentiates the world from the church. When Christians are supposed to be pointing people toward a radical heavenly mindset, the best that many modern churches offer is simplistic moralism. There is little call to holiness in our pulpits and seldom a demand to turn away from earthly things. Yet, Paul’s call for a heavenly mindset is immediately followed by the complement of rejection of earthly things. Christian, we cannot serve in two worlds. We must recognize that we are “resident aliens” on this earth and we do not and cannot fit into this world’s passions and pleasures. Our Kingdom is far too great to be subject to such base desires.

Paul provides us a list of that which is “earthly” for the reader to identify. Interestingly, each word has some connection to sexuality. The first word is “pornea” where we get our word porn from. In our sex-saturated culture, there is little need for elaboration on this subject. Pornography is one of the greatest blights on the soul of man in modern times. It has shaped the way our culture views women, marred the nature of man and degraded the value of sexuality in the human spirit. Our modern struggles with sexual harassment, gender identity, and gender toxicity can be directly linked to the hidden obsession with this idolatrous activity. This practice of sexual immorality must NOT be present in the life of a Christian.

The second word Paul uses is “akatharsia.” This is the negation of the word catharsis, meaning clean. Adding the alpha to the front of the word negates the word in its definition. So catharsis or clean becomes akatharsia- meaning unclean. In this way, Paul calls Christians to think about the innate value of what they fill themselves with. Believers must fill themselves with that which is clean and not that which is unclean. Connected with the definition of akatharsia is a sense of worthlessness. That which is unclean is that which is worthless to the Christian. It has no weight in the Kingdom of God and serves no purpose.

The third word Paul uses to describe earthly things is pathos, meaning lusts or lustful desires. This word is closely related to the concept of misfortune or calamity. Indeed, when we surrender to our baser lusts and desires, we often find that calamity follows. So Paul exhorts the believer to change their focus from the lower earthly passions and seek to be consumed by the greater passions of God’s heavenly kingdom.

The fourth phrase Paul uses is “evil desires.” I trust that the careful reader can acknowledge that little exposition is needed to explain Paul’s meaning in these words. His straightforward tone is hard to dismiss. Christians are not to be controlled by desires and affections that are rooted in this world. Rather, our affections are to be manifestly different. We are to be so consummately holy (that is to say “set apart”) that we are identified as complete aberrations to this world.

The Final phrase used to describe that which is earthly level our sensibilities. Earthly is covetousness, which is idolatry. Indeed, Modern Americans have extreme difficulty here and Paul leaves no room for us to rationalize our attitudes. The spirit of greed and selfishness is bound up in covetousness. But at its root, coveting is the result of idolatry. It is the result of worshiping something other than the One True God. Further, all that is listed here in verse 5 is the result of idolatrous activity. It is an attempt to satisfy our own needs by insisting that we know better than God. It is seeking to satisfy our desires rather than deny them for the sake of greater joy.

Christians look different from the world and must be faithful to that end.