Thank you to my friend Emily Davidson (in our youth ministry) for using her amazing gift of voice to worship her Savior!
Thank you to my friend Emily Davidson (in our youth ministry) for using her amazing gift of voice to worship her Savior!
Christmas is the most wonderful, colorful, and artful time of the year. Like no other time of the year, the arts burst forth in all forms to celebrate the season. From concert halls and theaters to popular music and television, Christmas themes prevail in all art forms. While red and green tend to dominate the pallet of Christmas, we see lights of all colors, gold ribbons, and silver bells. While some are dreaming of a white Christmas others struggle through a blue Christmas.
The way a culture views life will be reflected in its art. Just pause for a moment and consider what that means when we take a hard look at our culture. What do we see in the arts today? Consider the visual arts, video, cinema, the performing arts, theater, popular music- mostly vanity, sex, violence, chaos, relativism, even fatalism. There’s a spiritual principle at work here. Who we are is what we create. What’s in the heart of a culture will be expressed through the arts. Jesus said,
“Out of an overflow of the heart the mouth will speak.” Matthew 12:34
Out of the heart comes all of life. As an art student on the university campus, I found myself in a Philosophy of Art class and in the middle of a debate over a phrase you’ve probably heard before: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This of course, plays into the subjective reality of the arts- music, painting, sculpture, theater- but is it true? Or is their some objective standard by which we measure beauty? I remember when grades were handed out for certain projects. How would you grade an artist who had randomly flung paint across a canvas up against one who had worked tirelessly on a magnificent, intricate landscape? Is it all subjective? Is it all relative? Or is there an objective reality by which one can judge art, or anything in life, for that matter? I remember having passionate discussions with other students that spilled over into contrasting of worldviews. One would argue for objective truth and others would argue that there is no such thing as truth. As one modern philosopher said, “The truth is there is no truth.” Of course, if that statement is true then it’s not.
Christmas is, at its core, the declaration- an expression of ultimate reality, ultimate beauty and of Truth. At its core- Christmas is God’s proclamation that He exists and there is Truth- and we now know exactly Who He is and what He’s like. All of this came into full clarity when God- the Master Artist expressed Himself to humanity. And He did so from His divine pallet with two primary colors: grace and truth.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17 And, of course, it was Jesus who said,
“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” John 14:6
Dorothy Sayers, in her book, the “Mind of the Maker” presents God as a Creative Artist. If you imagine God as an engineer or a clockmaker or immovable force you’ll go astray. God’s image shines through to us clearly in His act of creation. And interestingly, His Revelation of Himself to us is comprised of three stages which I think gives us a powerful analogy of the Trinity. Christmas means God has revealed Himself to us as the Trinity. Theologians have explained this as “God in three Persons”- Even the word “persona” was invented or transferred over by theologians to explain the Trinity- the persona referred to the mask of the actor. The same actor would wear different masks- same person, different forms.
The Artistic Process
• The Idea All art begins in the creative mind of the artist as an idea.
• The Expression Then the artist must choose the best medium for the expression of that idea. Some expressed themselves through writing- through prose or epic poetry like Dante or Milton. John Wesley wrote sermons, his brother Charles wrote hymns. Michelangelo chose sculpture, others have chosen opera, painting, movie, theater, cinema to express the idea with which he or she desires to convey. The expression comes in many forms and many mediums in art. Then..
• The Response Finally someone reacts- responds to the art- once an idea, now expressed, meets the “beholder”. The response completes the creative cycle. Art is not art until someone has responded to it.
Think about how you have responded to God’s expression of Himself to you. The Bible calls His artwork to us- “Revelation”. He is the Revealer, the Revelator and we are the responders. God is always the Initiator- we are not. I want you to notice how John follows this pattern of God’s revelation to us. Although God is one, within that unity we can distinguish the work of three distinct persons. God the Father is the “Idea” or Essence, of all reality. “I AM that I AM”. Everything that exists- everything- flows from His existence. Consider how God has revealed Himself to us:
The Idea: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1 “Logos”- the Divine Idea. We learn something about God from all of creation- quasars to kangaroos, aardvarks and anteaters, and especially from human beings- but ONE human Being, the Divine Incarnate Son of God, represents the perfect Expression of His Essence. He is the exact representation of His being” and “the image of the invisible God.”
The Expression: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 Let’s talk about responding to God’s Masterpiece- Jesus. If you’re like me, you can understand the Trinity when you think about how you came to Jesus Christ. God expressed Himself to me and I responded. First, I came to know God the Father. I learned early on that He was awesome, loving, holy- deserving of our worship. Then I became acquainted with Jesus, a Man I wanted to follow the rest of my life. And then- almost like a second conversion- I became aware of the Power of the Spirit, of the Living God inside of me. That’s how I captured the progression of God’s revelation to me. I think His revelation is perceived by all of us time-bound humans.
The final step in God’s creative revelation came to fruition at Pentecost, when God took up residence inside human beings. Something of God’s Essence, the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at Creation, now lives inside flawed human beings, giving us the Recognition of a new identity. The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children and God’s act of creation reached its pinnacle.
The Response: “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:11-12
Though everyone is created by God, not everyone is a child of God,-only those who have received Him. John said he, “beheld His glory”. As the beholder of God’s expression, how do you respond to this Christmas Masterpiece? Your personal response is required. God has revealed Himself to you and responding to God always requires change.- not on His part, but yours. The Truth of who Jesus is does not change (Hebrews 13:8). We are the ones who must do the changing. Once we have beheld Jesus, it demands a response. God loves you. His Idea was to save you; His expression was His Son; the response is up to you. As you consider the colors of Christmas this season, consider the words from the prophet Isaiah, 700 years before Christ was born.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18
This fall at PCBC we walked through a series of messages asking the question, “How much is enough?” “When is enough, enough?” “How much is enough to give?” “How much is enough to keep?”
Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Liberating Truths That Lead to a Life of Generosity
1. God owns everything.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” Psalm 24:1-2
“‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:8 God owns any and all kinds of currency and wealth.
“You have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:20 God owns all of us.
2. We are stewards. We are managers of all that is His.
“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” I Corinthians 4: 1-2
3. What we sow determines what we reap. (vs. 6) Whatever you put in the ground is what’s coming up later. This natural law is spiritual law as well.
4. God wants us to be generous and cheerful givers. (vs. 7) The amount of the blessing of your harvest is determined by how much you sow. The question is not, “How much should I sow?” The question is, “How much do I want to be blessed?”
5. We are blessed to be a blessing. (vs. 8-11) We’re “enriched in every way SO THAT you can be generous on every occasion.” The moment we hang on to the blessings of God, His blessing stops.
6. God prospers us, not to raise our standard of living, but to raise our standard of giving. (vs. 10-11) The way we excel in giving is when we determine to cap our lifestyle.
7. How we spend our money reveals our hearts and exposes our priorities. (vs. 11)
8. God multiplies our giving into transformed lives. (vs.12-14) Only God can do that.
9. Our giving is an act of worship. (vs. 15) Oswald Chambers defined worship as “Giving back to God the very best He has given me.”
The Generosity Challenge: “Test me in this” Malachi 3:10
• Start giving
• Become a percentage giver
• Give the tithe
• Give beyond the tithe
God issues the challenge to us all. He dares us to believe in Him, to trust that He will be faithful. At the start of this Christmas season, determine to be a giver. This will be the greatest Christmas you’ve ever known if you will simply practice the simple truth of Jesus: It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Eugene Peterson is best known for his brilliant work presented in “The Message”- a paraphrase of the New Testament that has challenged millions to read the Bible in a different and enlightening way. As a former professor in my doctoral work, I have followed him from afar as a mentor in pastoral ministry. His writings regarding the role of the pastor are his best. His trilogy- “Contemplative Pastor”, “Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work”, “Under the Unpredictable Plant”- on pastoral leadership have encouraged and challenged me through the years. I’m inspired and troubled by his words below and I want my fellow pastors to be as well.
“American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries.
A few of us are angry about it. We are angry because we have been deserted…. It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect share the quest and commitments of pastoral work and find within ten minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills.
The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns– how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.
Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists.
The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.”
Lord God, break us. Keep us on task, seeking to please you alone, glorifying our Savior to the end.
An elderly Jewish man had been praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem for Arabs and Jews to stop their fighting. Someone asked him, “How long have you been praying?” “50 years” “How do you feel, praying for that long and the fighting continues?” “Like I’m talking to a brick wall.”
Have you ever felt like that guy? Let’s all just get real honest- we’ve all struggled with prayer. We’ve all felt guilty for not praying enough, we’ve all doubted the reality of prayer and we’ve all wondered if God really answers prayer. We’ve all walked through seasons of prayerlessness and the truth be known many of us pray very little.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus teaches us that the main reason for unanswered prayer is prayerlessness.
In his classic work, With Christ in the School of Prayer, Andrew Murray writes, “Moses gave neither command nor regulation with regard to prayer: even the prophets say little directly of the duty of prayer. It is Christ who teaches us to pray.”
What is prayer? Prayer is communication and communion with God. Again, only in Christ do you find a relationship, a friendship, communion with God.
Why pray? The purpose of prayer is to develop my relationship and intimacy with Christ and align my life up to His will.
I’ve thought about my relationship with Stacy (think about anyone you love)- my relationship with her has very little to do with asking her to do things for me. It’s really all about expressing my love for her, just being with her, getting to know her, and asking, “How can I love you more?” This is the kind of intimacy our Lord Jesus seeks with us:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20
Why don’t we pray? The main reason we do not pray is our own self-sufficiency. We think we do not need our Lord’s help.
Common Misconceptions of Prayer:
1. Prayer doesn’t work.
That’s another way of saying that God doesn’t answer my prayers. What happens is some of us have prayed and we think God hasn’t answered our prayers so we assume that He must not answer anyone’s prayers. We hear testimony of answered prayers and we think, “That didn’t happen. That was just a coincidence.” Well, for those who have discovered the adventure of prayer, we know that it’s sure interesting how many coincidences start happening when we pray.
“I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6 It’s been said, “When we work, WE work, when we pray, GOD works.”
2. Prayer is breaking down the reluctance of God.
Prayer is not getting beyond God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of His highest willingness.
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” Matthew 7:11
3. Prayer is not necessary. Again, prayer is the essence of the Christian life because the Christian life is all about a passionate pursuit of intimacy of relationship with Christ. It’s the ONE thing you’ve been called and the ONE thing you must devote your attention to.
4. Prayer is about asking God for what I want.
Johnny had been misbehaving and was sent to his room. After a while he emerged and informed his mother that he had thought it over and then said a prayer. “Fine,” said the pleased mother. “If you ask God to help you not misbehave, He will help you.” “Oh, I didn’t ask Him to help me not misbehave,” said Johnny. “I asked Him to help you to able to put up with me.” We need to move from selfish prayers. We struggle with our needs vs. our wants.
“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:3
5. Prayer must be eloquent.
The most common prayer in the Bible is the simple prayer. A quick study of the prayers in the Bible reveals raw, heartfelt, and desperate prayers are the most common.
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Matthew 6:7
One night Will’s parents overheard this prayer. “Now I lay me down to rest, and hope to pass tomorrow’s test, if I should die before I wake, that’s one less test I have to take.” Raw, heartfelt, honest prayer is the prayer of a child of God. All of these misconceptions are hindrances to prayer but:
6. The most common hindrance to unanswered prayer: Prayerlessness.
“…you do not have, because you do not ask God.” James 4:2
When we pray, according to His will, His character, His “name”, God answers our prayers- 100% of the time.
“I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:23-24