Tag Archives: Poetry

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.

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  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

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The Pastor’s Role in Art as Worship. Reasons for Art as Worship, pt. 3

(This is part of a series. The first two installments are here and here.

Pastors have a great many tools by which they can serve, teach, and love their congregation. Preaching, prayer, writing, one on one counseling, hospitality, acts of service, leadership, administrative tasks, etc…  All exist in the toolbox of the pastor for the sake of accomplishing the equipping of the body of Christ. In many modern churches, preaching is the primary tool that is used to engage the congregation and is often supplemented by blogs, writing, and activities designed to aid in discipleship. Pastors are adept at these tools and we frequently use them in powerful and meaningful ways. In our modern church, the pulpit is used mightily and songs are frequently used to enhance the ministry of the pulpit. Yet, there is another tool that the Christian community appears to have forgotten. That is: art.

Art as worship is not new

ricardo-gomez-angel-367741-unsplashArt is not a new tool in the discipleship of Christians. Francis of Assisi, Jerome, and even Luther recognized the power of art for the discipleship and worship within the Church. Ancient churches were covered with stained glass, paintings, and statues that were used to instruct and inspire! In Christian history, art was used to magnify God through worship, teach people of His great character, and even evangelize those who do not know the truth. One cannot study art history without recognizing the dominant themes of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the day of judgment, and the creative power of God. Art was used to teach, inspire worship, heal, and even console the believer in times of turmoil. Yet, in modern churches, we have reduced the use of art to backgrounds on a screen or environmental lighting.

Art is a tool for worship

markus-spiske-378490-unsplashArt can be a profound tool that can provide a balm to the soul of longing Christian. To gaze in wonder at a piece that is designed to glory in the character and nature of God, or to wander through a poem that challenges the intellect and engages the soul, or to rejoice in the motion of a dance that tells the story of redemption can engage the soul on a level that a sermon of solid conversation cannot. It cannot because it lacks the freedom to uniquely engage the audience without explanation. A freedom found in most clearly in works of art. Two people can be moved in completely unique ways by a piece of art. One can see the beauty and majesty of God in the rendering of a landscape while another can be deeply moved by the courageous-loneliness of a tree within the field of that same landscape.

The Pastor’s responsibility to utilize art.

The pastor of the local church has a profound responsibility in discipleship of their congregation. We are commissioned to love and train the souls of people. We must use all the tools afforded to us and sometimes that means stretching ourselves beyond our ability or preferences. In order to do this, I believe pastors must re-shape the way we think about our role. We must begin to understand our role within our congregation to include: pastor as creative artist, pastor as curator, and pastor as conductor.

  1. tim-wright-506560Pastors as Creative Artist: If we are to teach our people to utilize art in worship, we must model it. You don’t have to be a good artist to model a striving to utilize art in worship. Especially in your personal worship. Draw pictures, use visual aids when you teach, read poetry, exhibit a thirst for material that challenges the intellect and soul without blandly explaining every aspect of itself. Art engages through mystery and expression! As you strive to engage the Lord beyond words, your soul will be strengthened and your ability to lead your people to worship will be enhanced. It might be difficult to do, but your congregation will benefit from the artistic/poetic soul that will result through engaging them on a level beyond their own ability to verbally express themselves. Show them that they can create worship beyond words! Strive to model art as worship through your own efforts.
  2. dev-benjamin-219172-unsplashPastor as Curator: Pastors must curate art as worship. So you can’t paint, draw, or write poetry, and rhythm and message of dance escapes your ability. If you desire to use artistic expressions to teach your people, engage your people in worship, or provide some salve to the soul of your brothers and sisters, then stretch yourself by studying and curating a volume of art that engages the soul. Study art! (Some recommending readings are at the end of this article.) Collect a compendium of poetry, artwork, and performances that exalt the name of God in powerful ways. Then, when your people are in need of inspiration, healing, or teaching, you will have more than just an exposition. You will have an aid to your exposition that will inspire them to worship beyond your ability to verbalize God’s character.
  3. radek-grzybowski-74331-unsplashPastor as Conductor: While you may not be a competent artist, you are surrounded by people who are. I say that in utter confidence, you ARE surrounded by artists. You must enable them to express themselves. You must conduct the worship of your congregation by utilizing the gifts of your people in worship. A conductor does not play every instrument. The conductor directs the combination of the various artists to make one expression. Likewise, the pastor needs to find creative ways to combine the expressions of the various members of the congregation to display Christ! Dig deep into the expressive talents of your people. Equip your people to engage their souls in worship to God! Even if you don’t understand art and it does not resonate with you. It resonates with someone in your congregation!

Pastor, you are a talker… I get it. I’m a talker too. I preach and I value preaching. I engage the Lord through expository sermons and classic hymns of the faith. I like to read weighty theological books and sermons by old dead preachers. And still, I must recognize that my congregation is not going to be solely comprised of people who respond to reading a theological treatise on the impassibility of God or the theologically rich hymns of Martin Luther. There will be some who engage beyond words. They paint, draw, ponder, dance, create, and provide a richness to worship that is valuable and necessary to the empowerment of your congregation and the engagement of a lost world. Stretch yourself! Pastor, this is not about you! Get over your hang-ups and conduct worship, curate volumes of great art, and create expressions of art for your congregation. They will be stronger Christians because of it and you will engage the lost world on a level you would otherwise fail to realize.

What do you think? Is there another role that the pastor can play to help engage the congregation in this unique way? put it in the comments.

chasin francisChasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron 

Chasing Francis is an excellent fictional story about a mega-church pastor who leaves the ministry and is forced to re-evaluate ministry in the face of changing paradigms. He goes on a journey in which he learns about Francis of Assisi and rediscovers what church is.

Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life by Makoto Fujimurafujimura

Culture care is an excellent treatise on engaging culture beyond mere words. Many bemoan the decay of culture. But we all have a responsibility to care for culture, to nurture it in ways that help people thrive. Artist Makoto Fujimura issues a call to cultural stewardship, in which we become generative and feed our culture’s soul with beauty, creativity, and generosity. We serve others as cultural custodians of the future.

ReCreated_4Re-Created: A Poetic Walk Through The Gospel of John by J. Novis Elkins

Re-Created is my own offering to exemplify the gospel through artistic expression. It is a book of poetry intended to be read alongside the gospel of John. As the reader walks through the Gospel, it is my hope that they will encounter Jesus in a fresh and powerful new way.

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In his letters and papers from prison, Bonhoeffer expresses the value of art in worship. He wrote poems and hymns while imprisoned and models for us the artistic soul of a Christian in captivity. That is a soul that can never really be held captive by anything other than Christ.

piperThe Misery of Job and the Mercy of God by John Piper

This book was my first introduction to the pastor’s use of art to shepherd and teach. Piper lays out a fantastic example of how to utilize poetry and art in worship. It is worth your time and labor to engage with poetry. John Piper is not an artist. His poems are simple and easy to access. He is a pastor who models the use of art in the ministry.

Reasons for Art as Worship pt. 2

This is part 2 of a series on art as worship. You can find the first one here.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify: I am not talking about representations or images of God in this article. That is a necessary debate, but not one I am going to undertake at this time. This blog is about utilizing artistic expression in worship. Images of God is a different subject. For a full discussion on that topic, see J.I. Packer’s wonderful work: Knowing God.

As stated in the first article of this series: modern church culture has diminished the value and beauty of art. That is not to say art does not exist in churches or is not utilized. Many churches have embraced performance arts and strive to create atmosphere through lights, worship backgrounds, and décor. However, few have sought out how to engage and lead their congregations to worship in and through art. Yet artistic expression offers the pastor/leader a powerful tool to engage and shepherd the congregation. As I see it, there are at least four different reasons art could benefit our worship.

logic-vs-emotionFirst, art has the ability to engage mind and heart simultaneously. When a person truly engages with art, the mind and heart are both engaged. Art has a special way of conveying emotion and expression that can be interpreted by the viewer. The interpretation is seldom directed, though good art delivers a clear but profound message. Artworks (both performance and static) are observed, seldom explained, and invitational. Good art invites the reader to interpret as they observe. As such, the observer must enter into engagement with the work. Indeed, the Psalmist exclaims God’s greatness through admiration for The LORD’s art in Psalm 8 (c.f. Psalm 92, 102, and 143). When we consider the “work of the hands,” our mind are called to think about what the work communicates. Our heart must search for the application of the work. We find ourselves engaging with the work and responding accordingly. We become the interpreter of the effort and thereby engage in worship.

togetherSecond, art offers an expression that is unique and can express the heart of the individual in a powerful and deeply personal manner. From the artists’ perspective, the production of art allows for individual expression of worship. All people are different. All people are given different gifts (c.f. 1 Cor. 12). A brief study of the tabernacle will reveal that there were many artisans God called and empowered to build and design the tabernacle (Exodus 36). Think about how powerful it would be if churches empowered the artists in their midst to produce art as an act of worship! We would add yet another method to worship the Triune God. We are a vast and multi-talented cast of worshipers! Worship should not be restricted only to those who sing and speak. Local churches ought to reflect the talents that God has given in praise to His name.

Third, art offers a mode of expression that engages senses differently than merely singing, speaking, or listening. In a typical church, there is music and speech. If your church is wealthy enough to add graphics and lighting, there will also be some supportive artistic expression. Graphic arts and setting the atmosphere for worship are valued to some degree in some churches. However, they are seldom considered an act of worship in themselves… only support to worship. It is my contention that churches should think deeply about the art they produce and consider going beyond simply utilizing worship backgrounds. Produce art that can hang and be observed and engaged with. There was a time when even the windows of our churches were efforts to praise God! Produce art that is performed and can inspire the soul. When someone sings, the hearer and the singer are blessed with the beauty of the music, the meaning of the words, and the joining in the song. So our hearts and minds are engaged through our ears and voice. We can do more. We can engage through sight, smell, and touch as well. Art can provide an avenue in which to do that.

DSC00132Fourth, art allows for new corporate expressions of worship that can be blended in a tangible and powerful illustration of the Christian life. When I was a student pastor I used art as an instructional tool to teach students about corporate worship. (You can read those articles here: part 1, part 2.) Painting a large canvas together is a unique way to teach about worship and to train your people to worship well. It stretches our sensibilities to engage in worship with these unique means. We serve a great and transcendent God! Our worship should stretch us. Artistic expressions that stretch us are powerful opportunities for worship.

Art is beautiful in its uniqueness and presentation in a way that no other expression could be. We should produce art as worship for the sake of praising God through beauty. Artistic expressions in our congregation ought not to be diminished but heralded. We must raise the bar for worship. There are expressions that are tremendously powerful and that can ignite the soul that are being under-utilized because we have become artistically illiterate. This can change and our congregations will be the better for it.

If you would like to examine some stretches in worship, I have a few suggestions:

natashas book

First, check out my friend Natasha Miller’s work. She has written a devotional journal that is accompanied by music. The work journal itself is beautiful and the music that accompanies it is inspiring. You can purchase her work here.

 

ReCreated_4

Second, I wrote a book of poetry through the Gospel of John. The poetry and art are my attempt to worship the Lord through artistic expression. You can find it for purchase at Amazon or at Lulu.com.

Finally, I would encourage you to examine the works of Makoto Fujimura. His art will certainly stretch you. A word of warning, his work requires that you linger and let your eyes settle on it in order to adjust to the layers and beauty of the piece.

mako4

O, Christian… Stretch! Stretch yourself in this way, you will be more powerful as a worshiper if you do.

 

Reasons for Art as Worship pt. 1

Modern western Christianity has lost a great foothold that once was a bulwark and balm of Christian discipleship. There was a time in Christian history when the Christian community’s senses were engaged and the mind was elevated to new heights because of the efforts of its adherents to worship the Lord in unique ways. joel-filipe-191372There was a day when we sought to learn of God through the arts and worship Him through artistic expression. We commissioned art, lead society into deep thoughts and engagement with the arts, and even sought to express theology through in our artistic works. Christians once lead the world in expression through the arts. Yet, modern Christians have reduced the Christian’s artistic expression to paintings with crosses in them and songs with short memorable choruses. This should not be! Art of all kinds should spill out from the heart of the Christian community.

There are many reasons to embrace artistic expression in b

oth corporate and private worship. One of the reasons is the infinite character of our God.

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  1. God is infinitely creative, therefore his people ought to strive to reflect that creativity. Consider for a moment that God created the earth from nothing and that He commanded man to expand His image across that earth. In the expansion of His image across the earth, that same creativity of God that birthed life must also be reflected in subduing the earth. Likewise, Christians ought to exemplify the creativity of God, for they are the redeemed image of God incarnate! If we claim that Christ has redeemed and changed us, we must display His creativity.
  2. God is infinitely vast, therefore there is no exhaustion of him as a motive for and source of our own creativity. O Christian, if you will try to exhaust the character of God, you will find yourself creating art and beauty that exceeds the scope of understanding. Art has a unique way of simultaneously expanding a mystery and providing intricacy. Unlike almost every other form of expression, artistic works do not narrow the field of view but expand it. Thus, we create art, not to try to narrow our understanding of God, but to expand it. As the expression of worship grows and develops, so our view and understanding of God grows.
  3. God is infinitely expressive, therefore those who claim to know Him ought to create expressions of infinite variety. If we are God’s people, then our communities should produce a variety of worshipful expressions. Poetry, dance, paintings, graphic arts, speeches, music, and anything else imaginable ought to be manifest in the worship of believers, be it corporate or individual. God created you to be His image. That image was marred in the fall. Now, in Jesus, He is re-creating you (Col. 3:9-10). So, be His image bearers and express His character in infinite methodologies.
  4. God is infinitely distinctive, therefore the expression of His glory and character must be infinitely unique. There is never a sunset repeated. There is never a moment the exact same. There is never a cloud that is perfectly mirrored in another. God produces a unique product! Further, there is no copy of Him. There is no other God like Him. Even when someone attempts to copy, mirror, or represent God, the effort is always wholly inadequate. God cannot be replicated, He is too unique and the more we get to know Him, the more distinctive He becomes. He is like none other! Therefore, when we are producing art in praise of the most creative, vast, expressive, and unique being, we must be unique. Worship must be distinctive. Artistic expressions allow for that distinct nature in a way that no other form of expression can.

tim-wright-506560There is much more to say about The Infinite God. What other infinite qualities would you argue for? Put it in the comments. Our communities must recapture the arts. For too long the arts have been the domain of the secular world, it is time we make some waves and produce art for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ! So, what are you waiting for? Go grab a sketch pad, notebook, musical instrument, dance shoes, or computer and create! Express praise to God through the arts.

I have contributed some to this effort most recently by producing a book of sketches and poetry. You can check it out here.

If you’re interested, you can purchase the book

here: Lulu.com  (Use promo code: BOOKSHIP18 for 10 percent off plus free shipping)

or here: Amazon.com

 

 

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.

An Open Letter to Worship Leaders: 3 Thoughts to consider.

I love worship music. I mean it. I love the emotion, the unique chord shapes, the sometimes nonsensical symbolism, the poetic nuance, and even the melodic dynamics. I love worship music… but… In the last decade, most mainstream worship music has deteriorated to symbolic emotional twaddle. Often our songs are loaded with vague, unexplained images of water or fire. Vague imagery and ambiguous pledges to follow without a context of direction or command make the songs feel as though the writer knows little to nothing about the Spirit of which they are writing. The music follows a pattern that climbs to an emotional climax and the melody is designed to illicit a climactic buzz at the chorus. While there are some great examples of powerful, meaningful worship music writers, the majority of what is being espoused as great worship is really nothing more than trite and unbiblical efforts to conjure up emotional responses.

So I have a simple request for worship music writers: Stop it. I mean it… You’re hurting my people. Your shallow attempts at poetry, masked by unique chord structures and strings are luring the people of Christ into a state of theological impotency. You make confusing allusions to biblical stories that don’t make sense, create difficult environments for pastors who want to disciple their people well, and fail to actually challenge believers to live what they believe. You put on a great show that brings glory to your talent and satisfies the need of a few people to cry and feel some emotional catharsis.

I know it is difficult to write music that is received by the church. It is difficult to write in such a way to connect AND teach. Your job is hard, and I get that. I have three things that I would like you to consider when writing worship music for the church.

Music is Portable Theology

First: music teaches, it is portable theology. Take it seriously when you write. Music is one of the most powerful means of teaching that the church can use. It engages people at a level that mere discourse cannot begin to equal. The melodies and rhythms drive deep into the minds of people and help to crystallize truth into the heart of the one who is singing along. The repetition helps to solidify the memory. The corporate singing aspect helps to validate and normalize the truths proclaimed in the songs. The Bible says teachers will be judged by a stricter standard in James 3:1. Further, Mathew 18:6/ Mark 9:42 warns teachers not to cause others to stumble, saying it would be better to drown. So, be careful and take your job seriously. Your job is not to engage the emotions of people, it is to teach the truth through music!

Poetry is best when it is understood.

Second: Poetry is best when it is understood. I love poetry. Seriously. I’m not a good poet, but I write it myself. In fact, I’ve got a book of poems I’m going to publish soon (editing it now). I love the works of Kahlil Gibran, William Cowper, and William Blake. Poetry moves the soul and challenges the mind. The best poetry makes deep and difficult truths understandable. The best poetry is revelatory, not hidden. Please note: I did not say that poetry is easy. Your poetry can be difficult to grasp and that is fine. But it must lead people to understanding, not confusion. So it is with worship music. Make your poetry beautifully complex, but also wonderfully expository. When poetry is vague and easily misinterpreted, it hides truth and confuses people. Reveal truth through your poetic efforts by being exact. Vague references to water or fire are confusing without any context. Utilize your poetic talents to wrap the truths in context and exposition. Strive to Explain and teach about God and His character through your music. The Scripture is full of poetry that is designed to do this. Copy God’s example of praise and worship.

Songs should call us to love Jesus.

Third: Write songs that challenge people to love Jesus more deeply. The most powerful songs in the church are songs that challenge people to love and obey Jesus. They are songs that engage people on a deep level while simultaneously praising Jesus’ character in a way that challenges. These songs need to be formed within an established context of truth that will fortify the congregation’s love for Jesus. It is no good to call upon the name of the Lord and pledge that you are going to follow Him without actually making any declarative statements about where He wants us to go or what He wants us to do. It is no good to say, “I love you” without establishing anything about Him worthy of love. You may understand where God wants you to go or what it is about Jesus that is worthy of love, but the average person singing music in the congregation may not. So make the statement! State truths about God that will challenge our hearts to love Him more. Be as specific as possible and dig deep into the character of God. I want to be clear, it is not necessary that you constantly display incredibly difficult and deep truth that boggles the mind. It is necessary that you constantly display truth. You can write simple songs. But those songs must espouse clear truth and they must lead to a deeper love of Christ.

I lead worship at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria. I am also the teaching pastor. At our church, we strive to think deeply when we sing. We encourage our people to engage their entire being (heart and mind) when in corporate worship. If you want to be a part of a group of people trying to do this, albeit imperfectly at times, come check us out. http://www.sgfbrazoria.org.

Philippians 2:14-16a; Brief Thoughts

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life…

Consider what life would be like for someone who never complains or grumbles about anything. It is difficult to imagine this in a world where the majority of conversations, news, and entertainment are based on sarcasm and complaints. This is one aspect of life in which Christians are to be separate and radically different from the world. Paul admonishes the believers, “do all things without grumbling or disputing.”[i] Following verse 1-11, this exhortation is perfectly logical. If a believer exemplifies the same humility that is present in the character of Christ, then it stands to reason that the believer will be submissive and obedient to the will of God, accomplishing the tasks that God has set before them without complaint.

It is intriguing that Christians are encouraged not to dispute. This is one of the chief accusations leveled at the church in modern times. It seems Christians would rather argue over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary then discuss real world issues. The denominational arguments and inter-denominational disputes have displayed a character of argumentative division.[ii] To be clear, it is imperative that Christians struggle with one another to understand God and His nature. It is necessary for disagreements about theology to arise as we discuss what we see in Scripture. These kinds of discussions are not what Paul is addressing in verse 14. Rather, the Philippians are encouraged to live a humble lifestyle that does not complain or argue about the circumstances that they find themselves in.

When Christians strive for holiness, the world takes notice. Christians stand out, not only because what they do is different from the world, but because of what they do not do. Christians do not respond with the same selfishly-divisive attitude when the stresses of life come upon them. They stand in humility, willingly submitting to God’s design and accepting what seems impossible to accept. When humanity is pressed and stresses are placed on those who do not believe in Christ, it is rare for that person or people to respond with anything other than complaint and division. However, these two characteristic responses are to be absent from the Christian. If grumbling and disputing are the normative response in a person’s life, that person needs to repent and trust in Jesus. Only Jesus can change the heart so that when life shakes you, grace comes out.

God changes the heart of those who believe in Him (c.f. Ezekiel 36:22-38). In changing their hearts, He engages the world with His own image. Colossians 3:10 reminds us that believers are “being renewed in knowledge after the image of [their] creator.”[iii] The Lord has established Christians as the image bearers who would live a lifestyle so contrary to the world around them that they improve their surroundings simply by living in them.

Are you cultivating beauty in the world around you? Does your presence make the lives of those who are around you a better place? Christians are lights, bringing illumination to a dark world ruled by selfishness and death. For a believer, truth and love are the guiding principles of life. As such is the case, Christians rest in the truth that God is in control of everything and that they need not argue over the trivialities that consume the rest of the world.[iv] Further, Christians improve society. The humility and service modeled by Christ changes the world. If believers would simply live as they are made to, then the world would be a more beautiful place. Unfortunately, many in western Christianity have decided it is more important to have a beautiful building and nice carpet than to engage in making the world a better place for the name of the Gospel. Saints, it is time to work to improve our surroundings. The Gospel changes souls, indeed it also changes the way those souls live on this earth. Strive to cultivate beauty, effect change, and serve the world. In doing so, you will shine!

We cultivate this lifestyle and improve our world by “holding fast to the word of life” (v. 16). Obey the Bible. It seems almost too simple, but it is true. If Christians will obey the Bible and live by what it says, they’ll see the world change.

[i] ESV Philippians 2:14

[ii] This particular division is extremely prevelant in the Southern Baptist denomination, which has been arguing and disputing as of late on soteriological matters which are important and policy issues that are unimportant.

[iii] ESV Col. 3:10

[iv] In the west, these trivialities extend all the way to our political systems.