Tag Archives: King

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.

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.

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.

 

Philippians 4:8-9; Brief Thoughts

 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

In Matthew 15 and Luke 6, Jesus explains that what comes out of a person’s mouth is the result of what is in their heart. What a person’s inner being is filled with will overflow into their outward actions and words. Likewise, what a person fills themselves with will be made evident when they speak or act. So Paul tells his readers to think about good things. As an attentive reader, it is important not to overthink this particular list. Paul is not offering an exhaustive list of characteristics to meditate on. He is not charting out a legalistic set of standards by which to judge one’s mental processes. Nor is He providing some sort of pattern by which to evaluate one’s entertainment choices. He is simply listing off characteristics that are good. These characteristics should be considered when discerning what activities to engage in or what to occupy one’s thoughts.

Truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty, excellence, and value. What would a life that is consumed by meditation on these characteristics look like? To meditate on such marvelous subject matter changes the world. However, before it changes the world, such activity changes the meditator. The person who seeks to change the world around him must first seek to see the change within himself, for each person is a part of the world in which they live and if they cannot change their own part, then they cannot change the world around. If Christians will focus their attention on righteous virtues, they will begin to see the change that they desire in their world.

Examine this list closely. Ask yourself if these are the characteristics upon which you base your affections. For, if you will focus your efforts towards this sort of piety, then peace will be yours. Dear Christian, our brother Paul calls you to a life of obedience that will bring you peace. Direct your attention toward that which is righteous and good. Imitate Paul’s life and peace will abound. It is an intriguing thing to ponder – that the imitation of such a tumultuous life would bring peace. Yet, here is Paul’s claim. “Practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Could there be any greater peace than the presence of God?

Amidst suffering and struggle, this is the assurance we need: the God of peace is with us. We do not need assurance of our own strength or our own virtuous ability. We do not need self-confidence or motivational inspiration to soothe our troubles. We need His presence. We need to be assured that the God that we know and love is nearby and has not abandoned us. This is the theological foundation that will overcome our worries and strife. It is a pursuit of piety in the virtues that are listed that will establish this confidence within the core of our beings. The closer our pursuit of holiness, the bigger and fuller our understanding of God becomes, and the more intimate our fellowship with Him grows.

Paul encourages his readers to model what they have learned, received, heard, and seen from his life and testimony. Likewise, Christian, find older saints that you can learn from. Seek wise men and women who know the Scripture and teach it well. When you have discovered such a person, receive what is taught. Teachers are not perfect, so be discerning. Listen for what they teach that is based in Scripture and discard what errors may arise, forgiving the mistake. Learning does not benefit the one who will not receive the instruction. So, if we are to learn, we must be intentional about receiving what we learn.

In the western church, discipleship is often thought of as an intellectual exercise. We provide classes and instruction in front of a whiteboard for a group of students. Yet, in truth, the best form of learning is life-observation. We must submit ourselves to instruction, to be sure, but we also must be attentive to what we see and hear with regard to the teacher. Pay attention to the life of your leaders, imitate what you see and hear with regard to holiness. If your spiritual leaders are not practicing holiness, then it is time to find new leaders who know and follow after God. Practicing this pious pursuit of life will provide more assurance and confidence in the faith than any self-help or motivational book could ever bring.

Philippians 4:5b-7; Brief thoughts on thanksgiving

The Lord is at Hand, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

How does one find perfect peace? In a world filled with violence, rejection, suffering, and turmoil, how can anyone find peace? First, peace is revealed in a trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is a general peace that accompanies belief. When a believer confesses faith, they are granted a sense of eternal peace through the assurance that they will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. However, the peace that Paul is proposing in verse 7 is a peace that is transcendent even of current circumstances. A prisoner who could not be overtaken or defeated by any circumstance, Paul gives the reader insight into how a person can achieve perfect peace amidst a life filled with suffering and strife.

Consider the exhortation of verse 6, “…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God” (ESV). At the root of Paul’s admonition is thanksgiving. The basis of approaching the Holy God of the Universe is to do so with a spirit of gratitude. The word translated as thanksgiving is the same word used to refer to communion in the early church fathers.[1] This word denotes a sort of connection with God that exalts Him as Lord and submits to His design and will. Thanksgiving necessitates surrender. So it is here, in order to find peace, one must be willing to surrender their own control. Prayers and requests must be founded on a motivation of gratitude no matter what the outcome of the prayers may be.[2]

In addition to a spirit of gratitude, the target of effective prayer and supplication is God. He is the one to whom Christians direct their requests in times of anxiety. It is a peculiar reality that Christians often do not pursue prayer as their first course of action. When anxious feelings strike the soul, the often Western Christians will set their minds to solving the problem. They will seek to gather information, speak to others, seek out counsel, identify the solution, and even attempt to escape their own predisposed condition. Paul’s instructions are vastly different. Christians are not supposed to be anxious, but are supposed to combat anxiety with prayer first and foremost. Believers are designed to lean on God for comfort, yet almost every Christian conference in the west deals with being a better leader or developing a better strategy. There is almost never an emphasis on simply obeying this simple exhortation: pray. Is it any wonder that the western church is fraught with anxiety? As a culture, western Christianity has attempted to address moments of trouble and suffering with their intellect, financial means, and talents. Paul says peace will come if we pray with thanksgiving.

Take note of the kind of peace that comes. It is not merely circumstantial or temporary. The type of peace that Paul is proclaiming is one that is transcendent. It surpasses understanding. This is the sort of peace that baffles the world. This is the sort of peace that challenges human concepts of comfort. This is the sort of peace that can lose everything and rejoice in the face of certain death. This is the peace only Christ can give. This peace is so powerful and profound that it will guard those who have it.

Paul cites that this peace will specifically guard the “heart” and “mind.” Take encouragement dear Christian. God is concerned about your heart. He has not left you to struggle. He walks through your pain and suffering with you to guard your heart. Trust Him. Nor has God abandoned you to your own reason. He guides you and leads you on in your search for understanding amidst pain. You have not been left alone. God has come and is here with you, offering you peace in surrender to Him.

[1] Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990–). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 2, p. 88). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

[2] For a more full explaination of the word for thanksgiving and the concept of eucharist, I highly recommend Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts.

Philippians 3:19-21; Brief Thoughts

19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Paul exhorts the believer to keep watch on the way they walk so that they will not become like those who are characterized in verse 19. In order to maintain this holy lifestyle, a believer must be disciplined to examine him/herself and to work hard to pursue holiness. There are a few disciplines and activities that can aid a believer in strengthening themselves from the temptation to ever act like a wolf.

Fasting is a powerful tool for self-examination. The denial of self and surrender of satisfaction of desires is a necessary exercise to prove to oneself that the belly is not the master of the soul. In modern Christianity, most people do not know how to fast and few make a regular or even occasional practice of it. Yet, fasting is often assumed in Scripture as a discipline that Christians voluntarily submit to for purposes of guidance and purity (Acts 13:2-3, 14:23, 27:9, 1 Cor. 7:5). This lack of discipline could be an indication that many people claiming the name of Christ, do not actually know Him and the joy of His presence. Christians fast so that this can be proven incorrect and Christians can be assured that they belong to Christ.

Self-examination is an excellent means of grace. However, self-examination alone leaves blind-spots. This is why Christian community is critical. Believers must be plugged-in to an honest community of other believers who will call them to account for their miss-deeds and sinful behaviors. Further, a community of love and faith is necessary for a believer to be able to gain honest and unbiased insight into his or her own character. In short, if you don’t want to accidently fall into the trap of finding “glory in… shame,” then join a Bible-teaching, gospel-living church.

In an effort to surrender earthly treasure and man-centered focus one must be willing to focus their efforts on the world that lay beyond this one. Christians are in desperate need of an eternal focus in order to overcome the trappings of this world. That focus is gained through the consistent study of the Word of God, constant surrender of material goods to the work of the Kingdom of God, and faithful efforts to seek heavenly approval and scorn human accolade.

One of the greatest strengths of a believer is that mysterious confidence in eternity. Believers can recognize the great truth that there is a full life beyond this half-hearted momentary struggle that all humanity shares. There is a great everlasting existence beyond the grave that a believer can cling to with certainty and hope. A Kingdom set apart for God’s own set-apart people. This home that Christians trust in is currently invisible to the eye of man and yet it exists. Heaven has a real, physical, and full existence. It is not some ethereal realm that houses the disembodied spirits but is a real place with real streets and a real throne room, and a real King. A King who is going to return to this earth and claim His own people to Himself.

When the King returns, all His people will be transformed and given resurrected glorified bodies. Consider this for a moment: the King of all things is going to return and restore broken, incomplete bodies to a new state. He will give glorified bodies to His people. This means the bodies of believers will be re-created in the image they were originally intended for. The glorified condition of the believer’s body will, at last, match the redeemed condition of the heart. Jesus will accomplish this great transformation by the same power that allows Him to subject all things to Himself. He is King, there is nothing that is outside of His rule.

Oh Christian, cling to this truth: that Jesus is King. There is no trouble or turmoil that is too great for Him to overcome. No swell of waves that He cannot calm. No failing of man that He cannot change. There is no circumstance He cannot answer, He is God. He has the power of creation in Himself and He can handle all trials and circumstances. Trust Him.