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Great Art: You Must Linger to See it

When the soul needs respite and the heart needs the vexing challenge of soul-stirring intellectual engagement, art offers a haven. On the nights when one cannot recognize the eyes of the individual in the mirror and the world seems as though it is failing to maintain its own rotation, art gives us a perspective that can rescue. When the everyday monotony of life begins to drain our souls of joy, art refreshes and revitalizes our hearts. Art: three simple letters used to label the concept of expression in total. The word seems wholly inadequate. It should be longer and have an “x” somewhere in it. Perhaps it is simple and short because art is easy to overlook and pass by?

Art is a powerful medium to express that which is inexpressible by any other means. Great art transcends cultures and time. It has no limitations and only grows in its appreciation as it is engaged. Great art refracts through layers of expression that expose a deeper truth, often revealing things that cannot be understood without equally deep investigation.

As of late, I have been inspired by the work of Makoto Fujimura. He uses a particular style of Japanese art to produce works that are masterful. Fujimura’s work is literally done in layers. Several translucent layers, one on top of another. The result is stunning, but only if the viewer allows them to linger. You see, the eye has to adjust to seeing the layers. In our modern world, this is extremely difficult to do. Yet, to appreciate the beauty of Fujimura’s work, the eye must hold fast to the piece. We must train our eyes to linger and rest on the expression. As the eye grows accustomed to the peculiar focus required to see the layers, the piece will spring to life. The greater attention given to grasping the work, the more beautiful it becomes.

So it is with all great art. The soul must be allowed breathe deeply the scent of expression. We must permit our souls the time to linger… to gaze upon the beauty and understand. Our souls, like our eyes, must adjust to the refraction of the light. As the light illuminates the layers of the canvas, our eyes slowly gain the necessary perception and begin to see the glory of the painting. We begin to see the work of the artist.

The Greatest Artist has displayed His work in layers that have become common to our eyes. We fly past His work constantly, seldom stopping to admire the layers of His glory. But if we would linger a bit, we would find our eyes adjust to an ever increasing beauty in the Father of Life. If will settle our souls to seek and savor Jesus Christ, we will find the much-needed respite from this present monotony. Work hard to engage your soul with the respite of great art… work harder to engage the work of The Great Artist.

Now a brief word of warning: Jesus is The Artist, who created everything. He is also the Light that exposes the work. When you stand in His presence to see His work, you will inevitably find some layers of yourself exposed. And that can be uncomfortable. But, to see the beauty of The King and to know His work is worth it.

Linger over the great truths of Scripture. Engage the incredible artworks produced by God’s people. Gaze at the beauty of what and who God has created. Listen to the music that He provides upon the winds. Seek beauty in Christ’s display of His glory. Work hard to engage your soul with the respite of great art… work harder to engage the work of The Great Artist.

Who’s in Charge?

If someone were to ask you, “who is in charge at your church?” What would be your answer? Is it the senior pastor? The Deacons? The elder board? Maybe the congregation? What would you say?

I remember the first time I was asked that question. I was a young seminary student and my professor asked the class, “Who is in charge at your church?” To be fair the question is a loaded one to begin with. First, take note that the question is not, “who makes decisions” or “who has the most influence.” It is who is “in charge.” “In charge” is kind of an ambiguous descriptor.  Second, take note that you have some ownership in this church. It’s not called “the church.” It is “your church.” So, who is in charge at your church? The burden is not to identify who should be in charge but who is in charge. This question is designed to make you answer quickly without much thought.

I remember thinking about staff structure, doodling something in my notebook, and anxiously looking around. I thought, “Well, we have a pastoral staff and a deacon body that kind of work together in submission to and under the direction of a congregation that has regular meetings?” Others fired off similar answers. The Bible-church guys spoke about elders. The SBC guys about their staffs. Others spoke about the power-broking members. And still others about deacons and senior pastors. Then the answer was given by a guy in the back.

I got the question wrong. I remember starting to tear up as I considered my answer. I was WAY off. I thought we could be in charge. In my simple answer, I recognized men as those in charge. The question threw me. The question referred to the church as mine, it asked who is in charge. The truth is: if the answer to the question is anything other than Jesus, then you don’t have a church… But, coming to some realizations can help you become one.

In order to answer the question of who is in charge well, we must recognize some things about God:

God is in Charge… of everything!

In Psalms 24 it says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it belongs to Him.” In Daniel 3:34-35 it says, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “what have You done?” Further in John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Not only is God in charge, but humanity is incapable without Him. Indeed, His church is incapable without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. God is in charge, whether we like it or not. Practically, spiritually, and actually. God is in charge.

God Does What He Wants

He is not passive. He does what He pleases and He is constantly involved in what we do (c.f. Isa 45:5-7). Consider the testimony of the Old Testament. He radically saves His chosen from Egypt through signs and wonders. He leads them across the red sea. He heals them at the waters of Marah. He directs their every step into the promised-land. He confronts kings and destroys wicked people over sin. He directly intervenes on numerous occasions. And He identifies and calls a people to Himself. He is not passive. He has called His church, even now, to walk in holiness with Him and under His direction (1 Peter 1:15).

God Speaks Through His Word

He is not silent. God speaks clearly through the Bible. His words are recorded in the Scripture. The Lord values this truth so much that He insisted that His people cling to His Word (c.f. Deut. 8). They were to admonish each other with it and teach it to their children. When the people of God return from the exile, Ezra spends 13 years teaching the people the Scriptures. When Jesus begins His ministry, it is by opening the Word of God in Luke 4 and proclaiming the truth of Scripture. God is always speaking and He has given His people instructions. 2 Timothy 3:16 calls the Scripture, “God’s breath.” Think about that for a moment. God’s breath is what gave life to Adam and it is what animates our souls now! (The New Testament is included in the reference to Scripture. It self-identifies as such in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and in 2 Peter 3:15).

God is Present

He is not distant. All through Scripture God is intimately involved with His people. He feels their pains, rejoices in their successes and interacts with their failings. He is not emotionally separated from us. One of the most profound illustrations of God’s intimate connection with those He loves is John 10:37. Jesus weeps with Mary because He knows the pain she feels and He feels it as well. Jesus is an infinitely personal God, who loves His people and is purposefully connected to them. In John 1 we are told that The Word (Jesus) came down and “dwelt” among us (John 1:14). Jesus purposefully made Himself nothing, became and man, took on our infirmities, lived a perfect life, and died in our stead (Philippians 2:5-11). Further, He promises He will never leave and that He will give a “Helper” to us who will dwell within those who believe (John 14:16; c.f. John 14). He is present within those who trust in Him.

This is Jesus… Your church belongs to Him… He is in charge.

Two Kings, a choice of allegiance

There are two kingdoms in view from this life. One is visible and tangible. The other is invisible and requires faith. The first has a great many adherents and seems to offer great reward. The second offers eternity.

In Genesis 14:17-24, Abram returns from rescuing his nephew from a group of Kings who plundered Sodom and conscripted its people into slavery. Upon his return, Abram is greeted by two very different Kings. The first is the King of Sodom. This king has wealth and prestige. He comes out to greet Abram in the King’s Valley, an area outside of the city of Sodom. He brings no reward for Abram, for he has none to give… after all, Abram just reclaimed all the plunder that was taken from Sodom. The King of Sodom offers Abram the plunder and requests only the return of his people. The second King is Melchizedek the King of Salem (Literally translated from Hebrew, “The Righteous King, King of Heaven”). This King brings Abram “wine and bread,” and a blessing from the Most High God (v.18-20). This second King offers Abram something ethereal and invisible. He offers Abram God.

Abram is confronted with two different kings and their respective kingdoms. One who holds all the prestige of this world and is the ruler of a great city. Another that is yet unheard of and speaks for a God who no one can see and a kingdom that is invisible. One King asks for nothing, offers the blessing of God, and receives a tenth of everything Abram has procured. The other king asks for men, insisting that Abram

One who holds all the prestige of this world and is the ruler of a great city. Another that is yet unheard of and speaks for a God who no one can see and a kingdom that is invisible.

One King asks for nothing, offers the blessing of God, and receives a tenth of everything Abram has procured. The other king asks for men, insisting that Abram keep the plunder and that king is given all the plunder.

Abram’s response to these two kings is perplexing. He is offered riches by the King of Sodom and he refuses, claiming that only God can make him rich. It’s perplexing because the King of Sodom could easily argue that God has made Abram rich by giving him victory over the 5 kings and the plunder is his just reward. Surely Abram is permitted the reward for his victory! He would be well within his rights to claim the spoil of war. Yet, he insists that he will not take it. He insists that He will not be given riches by anyone but his God.

Melchizedek brings Abram bread and wine on behalf of God. It does not take much stretching to recognize that Melchizedek is representative of (if not an actual Christophany) Jesus Christ. He comes to Abram and offers him communion. The covering of Jesus’ body and blood. He hands Abram righteousness and then blesses him in the name of God. Note the descriptors used to describe God in his blessing: Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, and The Deliverer. Melchizedek’s descriptions are pointed. The Lord is the greatest King, He owns everything, and Abram is delivered from death by His hand. Viewing God through these descriptors, is it any wonder that Abram would turn away from allegiance to the King of Sodom? No… it is not (just gonna go ahead and answer that for you). For Abram, only God has the ability to provide and only God can give reward.

Still… to the people of this earth, Abram’s response is peculiar. He rejects the one king who has the visible wealth and respect in favor of The King he cannot see and must trust to provide. We are offered the same choice in this life. We can choose to make ourselves look good to the world, secure ourselves with the labor of our own hands, and accept the rewards that the kings of this world will offer. Or we can trust in a King that we cannot see, secure ourselves in His labor, and hold fast to a coming reward that far exceeds anything we could ever imagine.

If we see this earth and success on it as our chief end, then we will inevitably accept whatever reward this earth offers. However, if we have a covenant relationship with the LORD Most High and grasp (however slightly) the value and greatness of Heaven, we will reject this world’s wealth and fleeting pleasures in favor of something much greater. Abram’s eyes were open to the reality of God and His immensity. In view of Him and His greatness, our world seems minuscule. Consider this: You work for 60 years to secure your finale 15 on this earth, or do you work for 75 years to secure an eternity? The trouble many of us have is we can see the 15 years. We can see the kingdom that is laid out before our eyes here. But, in comparison, eternity far outweighs this life.

Our response needs to be the same as Abram’s. We must trust in the Righteous King of Heaven to make us righteous. We must have the perspective that recognizes that He is the King over all things and owns everything on this earth. We must trust in Him to provide for our every need, especially our eternal dwellings. Trust in Christ for your rescue.

Philippians 4:14-20; brief thoughts pt. 1

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs once and again.17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

One of the most prominent marks of the authenticity of a Christian community is a concern for the expansion of the gospel. When a pastor or missionary begins a new work, other Christian groups prove the veracity of their faith by their own support of the work of the gospel. This is the reason that modern division and dissension over new church starts and gospel ministries is so disheartening. When a church plant begins, often the new work has met a sort of passive rejection. Churches will express sentiments such as, “We’re not going to help and if this is the Lord’s work, it will survive.” Behind closed doors, the same churches will exclaim that their town does not need new churches. This sort of rejection is the same sort of rejection of the gospel ministry that the early church dealt with (Acts 5). Of particular interest is the statement of Gamaliel in which he advises the other Pharisees that they should leave the Christians alone because their work will fail if it is not of God (v.38-39). It is a tragic reality that many modern churches would assert the same instruction given by the opponents of the gospel in the first century.

The heart of the Christian church ought to be the increase of the mission of the gospel. When one body of believers hears of another work that is proclaiming the gospel, their response ought to be an immediate and powerful desire to join in the work. The Philippians joined in the work of the gospel from the beginning of Paul’s ministry. So great was their partnership with him that no one else joined in the work. Consider what they are being commended for: “giving and receiving.” The Philippian church joined with the work in both giving and receiving. It is easy to receive. It is easy to take the benefits that ministers and churches provide. It is quite a different when the support of another ministry requires sacrifice. The easiest way to test the authenticity of a church and its dedication to the mission of the gospel is to examine their budget and finances. Churches will allocate their money to what they deem most important.

Paul’s motivation for the commendation of the Philippians is that they would be inspired to increase and maintain their work for the gospel. He does not need nor want to gain more money from them. His motivation is for the proliferation of the gospel. Paul is glad to receive the gifts that the Philippians send because the resources sent result in the increase of the gospel. Paul has already exhibited a tremendous confidence in the provision of God for him. For Paul, the advance of the gospel message into the world is the chief purpose of the resources he is given. Concern for his own welfare and provision are secondary to the call to obey the gospel ministry.

Oh Christian, if you would submit to the calling of the gospel in the way Paul demonstrates, you would find that you have nothing to lose in obedience to the gospel. You will see that the Lord provides for those who follow Him. Paul surrendered every comfort for the gospel. He allowed himself no luxury and sought no benefit or provision beyond what the Lord would provide. Yet, in obeying the gospel’s call to engage his community with the gospel, he found peace, happiness, security in God’s provision, and a renewed purpose of life and ministry. You have nothing to lose in obedience to the gospel. Obey what the Lord calls you to do, He will meet your needs.

6 Life-Lessons from Jo-Bits

jobitsanddaddyDaddy let Tooties compose one of these bloggy things. (here) So, I thought I should be allowed to compose such a work myself. So here are lessons from me, The Jo-Bitty! (aka, The Boy!)

RunRun. When there is nothing in your way and you have a straight path that is clear, run! Life rarely affords us the opportunity to run freely, unencumbered and unimpeded by circumstance or ability. Run when you see the opportunity. Finish the projects you’ve wanted to complete. Take the opportunity to race ahead with plans and efforts. Run! When there is a free and open path, run. Feeling the wind in your hair is amazing! Accomplishing tasks without deadlines is fun! Getting from point A to point B fast and free is exhilarating… When you’re able, run!

puddlesFind a good puddle to splash in. Find the place where you can jump in and make splashes! You old-people are far too concerned with getting water on your shoes or what others will think of your splash! Life is made for splashing! Puddles are made to splash. It is a still body of water that simply waits for your destructive force to splash in it. Make a splash! Get a little wet and laugh about it. When I jump in puddles next to my sister they squeal. They get some water on them and my splash bothers them a little bit. But, if I had never made the splash, they would have had an extremely boring walk. So make your splash! Jump in the puddles of this life and remember – your splash will make everyone else’s walk just a little more interesting. Splash splash splash!

PecanPickingDig in the dirt… you might find pecans! I live in south Texas. The trees here drop pecans every fall and we like to pick them. Mommy cooks with them, Daddy makes sugared pecans, and I like to eat them. The tricky thing about pecans is that they get pressed down into the dirt. You have to be willing to dig in the dirt to get the pecans. You have to get down on the ground and get a little messy. If you want to enjoy the pecans, you’ll get a little dirty picking them up.

Always be the knight! Be the hero of the story. Even if there is no story! Be the hero, save the day, be the good-guy. My sisters’ are always in danger! I am the knight! Sometimes I get confused and I hit my sisters… not a good idea. You see, God gave me hands to protect people. So I need to use those hands to take care of the people I love and to help those who cannot help themselves.

armor2When you go play, wear your armor! My big sisters and I go to a local playground a few times a week. We ride our bikes up there with mommy and daddy and we play. It’s fun. I keep my armor on while I play because I’m little and trip and fall sometimes. My armor makes me feel strong and protects me when I fall. It doesn’t block my sisters from wrestling with me or keep me from engaging the other kids on the playground, but it protects me when I fall. Daddy tells me I don’t have to keep my armor on, but I’m a knight! Knights wear armor because they are going to do things that are daring, and dangerous, and could hurt. I wear armor so I can do more, not to keep me from doing less. I build up my strength and protection so that I can be more daring and brave! Wear your armor and be daring!

JoBitsandTootiesTake care of the Tooties. I am the Jo-bitty and I have a little sister: Tooties [Toot-Tees]… perhaps you read her blog post! She’s a great writer. I love my Tooties, but she is small and doesn’t know everything yet. You have to be gentle with people who are little and don’t know better. Sometimes I forget to be gentle and Tooties cries. Sometimes I forget that she doesn’t know and my actions make her scream. (Then daddy talks in his big person voice and we all get sent to our beds). But sometimes I remember she is little and I’m big… that is when I sit with her and tell her I’m sorry. God made me to take care of smaller things. Tooties is smaller. I take care of her… when I remember. I show her the construction site and the bulldozers. I tell her stories and play games with her. I tell her she’s ok when she gets hurt. I take care of Tooties because Tooties is small.

I’m sure I could write more cool life-lessons, but it’s almost lunch time and I have to go make the macaroni and cheese. So… be good, buckle up, and wash behind your ears.

Philippians 4:10-13; Brief Thoughts

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Anytime a reference is made to Philippians 4:13, someone will inevitably misapply this precious truth to mean something it does not. When Paul says that he “can do all things through Christ who strengthens [him],” he is displaying a radical contentment. Paul reminds us of the great power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ while simultaneously explaining that he can be content in whatever situation he is in. The context of Paul’s assurance is not that he will be removed from struggle, but precisely the opposite. The power of Paul’s statement is that he is struggling with tremendous purpose within the contented fellowship of Jesus Christ.

Contentment evades the grasp of most western Christians. In the face of great comfort and means, modern, western Christians often struggle to develop a lasting peace. Yet, a first century, converted rabbi achieves contentment amidst severe persecution. This seems counter-intuitive. A first-century rabbi with little money and almost no creature comforts should not be able to express greater contentment than people who have all forms of leisure and comfort at their fingertips! (Literally, in the palm of our hands.)

Paul expresses that he has learned the secret of contentment – Christ. Facing plenty and want, need and abundance, exaltation and humiliation, Paul knows how to be content. He knows the strength of the Lord will provide for him whatever he may suffer. He knows how to transcend the destructive nature of the world’s oppressive persecution of his faith. He knows how to be content. At the beginning of chapter 4, Paul explained the great measure of peace a believer has and how it is achieved (v.4-7) He proceeded to examine how one may rest in the presence and grace of God (v.8-9). In these four verses, he continues to elaborate on the effects of this glorious communion with Christ. He is able to overcome and survive every circumstance because of the great strength of Christ within him.

Consider for a moment what it means to have the strength of Christ within you. The divine Word, the Creator and Sustainer of our souls, He who holds all things together, takes up residence within the believer and empowers that believer to overcome (c.f. Jn. 1:1-4, Ps. 54:4, Col. 1:15-20). So, assuming you are a believer, the power of creation is living and active within you. Is there anything that you cannot endure? Is there any suffering so great that you cannot overcome? The difficulty many Christians have is not in the truths that Scripture presents, but in our lack of knowledge of those truths or confidence in them. It is not for a lack of intellectual agreement that these truths exist that you may struggle to be content. It is, rather, a lack of confidence that these truths matter. However, the example of the apostle displays the tremendous power of Christ within the believer. You have more strength within than could be measured.

Rest in this confidence: that Jesus Christ is Lord over all things and that He is working within your heart. Cultivate a spirit of gratitude and a faithfulness in prayer, surrendering your anxieties to the holy King of all things. Then you will find yourself contented in Christ.