Tag Archives: peace

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.

Cultivating Beauty

Creative-beauty is lost in much of modern culture. The world we live in seems not to appreciate creative-beauty. To be fair, many people appreciate that which is creative and new. New fashion trends, shiny gadgets, and varieties of new styles of décor flood our senses. The old world beauty is recycled to give us a new world trend. These trends speak to a desire that is latent in the soul of humanity. There is a deep need to create, to invent, to engage the senses with something more than what merely be spoken. The soul needs to create. The soul NEEDS to create… something… something beautiful.

God created mankind in His image.

Consider that for a moment.

The infinitely creative God created man in His own likeness. You and me…. We were made to be creative. Creative: You were created to create. You were made to make. Humanity was designed to design. You were made in the image of an infinitely creative God so that you could display His infinite creative power.

Further, God is beautiful. No… not just beautiful. He is beauty and He creates beauty. Consider the canvas of the sky, painted anew each dawn and dusk. Think about the beauty of the mountains or a beach… The majesty of the spaces on this earth that remain untouched by humanity. The creative-beauty of God’s hand shouts forth His glory in every corner of creation! We were created to love beauty. To engage the world with what is beautiful and to create beauty in all areas of life.

The trouble we face in our world is that beauty has been marred by a rejection of the one who created beauty. Humanity has rejected God and, in doing so, has rejected beauty. Enter the mission of Christianity: to bring grace to a world dead in sin. Part of extending grace into a world of sin is the restoration of creative-beauty.

From the beginning, God has commissioned His people to tend the garden of this world. Adam was commissioned to work the garden of Eden, Abraham was to bless the world around Him, The Hebrews were charged with keeping the law as a testimony to God’s character, the prophets were to stand as navigators in a world of chaos, and Christians are to work to engage in a dark world, making the surrounding culture beautiful by infusing it with the radical love and grace of Jesus Christ.IMG_3200

Christians ought to strive to make the world a better place by delighting in the character of God and cultivating beauty, thereby improving our surroundings with His love and grace. The life of a believer is markedly different from that of a non-believer. The life of a believer should lead us to live in such a way that the world around us is improved by our involvement. One simple way to do this is to strive to make your spaces more beautiful.

When these truths first began to lay hold of my own life, I was at a loss of where to start. It seemed logical to me to produce artwork. In my utilitarian and pragmatic manner, I designed logos for work (see above), drew sketches of family, displayed great artworks in my office. Then, through the influence of some incredible works by Edith Shaffer, Devi Titus, Makoto Fujimura, and a few others, my wife and I began to strive to cultivate beauty in our everyday spaces. It was difficult to tune our hearts to be creators of beautiful spaces. Difficult, but so much fun! We repainted walls, added plants in weird places, created artworks to display, put phrases on walls and Scriptures on pictures, and embraced a conscious effort to surround ourselves with beauty.IMG_3201

Now, my wife and I strive to cultivate beauty in our lives. On a surface level, that means literally making areas of our home more beautiful. Beauty refreshes the soul and engages the mind. It is our desire that, when someone comes into our home or sits on our porch, they would encounter beauty. We long for our home to be a place where people can be refreshed by grace and love in the context of a creative and beautiful environment. We’ve tried to infuse life into our surroundings and create beautiful spaces.

IMG_3215The results of our efforts are myriad. Our lives are truly peaceful and our home is a place of respite and grace where we strive to engage in life-giving grace to each other and the world around us. Our kids are learning to create beautiful spaces too. Our oldest loves to create centerpieces for small group. Here’s her latest:

IMG_3212Even our children have fun trying to create spaces for respite, like this one:IMG_3217

Cultivating beauty is awesome. Being creative is fun. Having beauty around you is fantastic.

So, I’d like to encourage you. Find ways to make your world more beautiful.IMG_3213 Enjoy and display God’s creative-beauty. In this post are just a few pictures of what my family has done in an attempt to cultivate beautiful spaces. Creating spaces for beauty to thrive does not completely fulfill the commission to cultivate beauty and grace in this world… but it is a start. Get to work.

Cultivating beauty by delighting in God’s character is one of the core values at Sovereign Grace Fellowship. We strive together to cultivate beauty in the world around us and improve our surroundings. If this resonates with you, come check our church out. We meet in Brazoria, Tx at the Brazoria Heritage Foundation, 10:30 am Sunday mornings. A map and more information can be found here: www.sgfbrazoria.org

Philippians 4:14-20 pt. 2; Brief Thoughts

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.

Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was troubled, to say the least. He entered the local synagogue there and labored to explain who Jesus is and what Jesus had done. Though many of the Jews in Thessalonica believed, a mob formed and tried to seize Paul and Silas to bring them up on charges of treason against Ceasar and have them arrested or even killed. After some bribes were paid by the believers, Paul and Silas fled the city by night (C.f. Acts 17:1-9).

What a terrifying reality to face. Imagine entering a city and preaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ with some measure of conversion and success in persuasion, only to find out that a small minority of hateful people have rejected the gospel, formed a mob, and are seeking your death. Certainly, Paul knows what rejection feels like. From an external perspective, Thessalonica appears to be a failure in Paul’s missionary journeys. He was unable to peacefully develop a church community and faced such violence that he was forced to flee. His rejection was evident and the failure was palpable. Yet, the Philippians supported his efforts and maintained concern for his work. It was their contribution that permitted Paul and Silas to work in Thessalonica without cost (1 Thess. 2:9 and 2 Thess. 3:7-8). The Philippians have been consistently supportive of Paul’s missions from the beginning and have maintained that support even in locations where it seemed as if there was no fruit.

Paul did not have to produce reports for the Philippians or send them pictures and testimonials from the field. Instead, they pursued his work and his affection. They sent messengers to him with care packages and pursued him to learn about what was going on in the places he was ministering. While it would have been easy to discount Paul’s ministry at times and insist that they could spend their resources better elsewhere, the Philippians trusted in the Lord to fulfill the work and entrusted their resources to God’s minister. It is this sort of giving that validates the affection of the church for the mission of God. If the church is openhanded with its giving and actively involved in pursuing knowledge of the work, then that church is proving its own affection for the gospel ministry.

Epaphroditus traveled to Paul, risking his life for the opportunity to share in the work of the gospel through the gift of resources to Paul. It is a tremendous blessing to the missionary when others who are like-minded are willing to sacrifice in order to join in the work. This sort of support sends the message to the missionary that they are not alone. One of the most common hindrance to the Christian leader is a feeling of loneliness. In the face of rejection and seeming failure, it is easy to feel alone on the mission. When fellow believers pray, support, investigate, and get involved with the work, missionaries can rest in the confidence that they are not alone and they can lean on the emotional and material support of the broader family of God.

All this support is to the glory of God. Paul’s growing confidence in the Philippians is not only assuring him that he is not alone in the work. It is also fortifying his confidence in the sovereign Lord of all things. Through the provision of support for the gospel ministry, the Philippians are actually validating God’s own sovereign work. The surrender of possessions and commitment to Paul’s missionary efforts serve as validation of their affection, but also of God’s approval and efforts. So Paul’s extreme confidence in God’s provision and sovereignty is only strengthened through the efforts of the Philippians.

When a church submits to sacrifice for the work of the gospel, there will inevitably be a hesitancy to continue with the work as their own resources and ability to provide for their own work diminishes. In times when resources are depleting and efforts seem to be stretching too thin, the church needs the reminder of verse 19: God will “supply your needs.” It is a common struggle in modern western churches to place their security in their own supply of money and resources. Western churches are extremely wealthy. Even the poorest of churches in the west is more financially stable than the average church in the rest of the world. At first, this appears to be a benefit that God has lavished upon His people. However, a careful observer can see that wealth is not always a blessing. Attend one or two business meetings at a local church and the heart of the leadership will quickly be revealed. How much time is spent debating frivolities that cost money and how much time is given to prayer and reports from the mission field or church planting? Does the church spend the majority of its time debating how money is spent or do they spend their time praying and investigating where to send their money? When the money and resources are beginning to be exhausted, the church leaders should remind the people that God will meet their needs. It is confidence in the sovereign God of all things that will bring security, not money. Surrender the finances in obedience to God and He will provide your needs.

The above questions are good questions to ask. Though they are not exhaustive in their determination of the heart of a church, they will give some indication as to the church’s dedication to the mission and their confidence in God’s provision. When you are seeking a church to partner with in ministry, seek out the heart of the leaders in that church. Then see if the people are following the Word of the Lord. If their confidence is in the Lord and His word, then they’ll be able to lead well and the people will be able to join in the mission. If not, keep searching.

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.