I’ve always had an uneasy feeling about the term “Christian artist.” In no small part, I’m influenced by some of the baggage associated with being in the Contemporary Christian Music industry. Also, I am just enough of a rebel that I don’t like being labeled. And if you’ve read my book, you understand just how highly nuanced these two words can be. So the term, “Christian Artist,” implies many things, intended and unintended.
I’ve thought about this a lot. Why does that label make me feel like I need to explain and justify myself? When I plumb the depths of my soul, I come to grips with this one thought: I have always found myself a little embarrassed by the Christian subculture.
What is culture?
Andy Crouch, in his fascinating book, Culture Making, defines culture as “what we make of the world.” He contends that this definition has two separate but related meanings. First, culture is what we actually make (e.g., Genesis 1:26). Films, cities, fire hydrants, novels, gardens, social networks, economic systems, governments, media, and civilizations are just some of the things that make up the culture we create. But there is a deeper sense of the phrase that is also valid as a definition. “What we make of the world” is also to ask the more profound question, “What do you make of that?” In other words, culture is also how we make sense of things. Culture also includes how we interpret, assign meaning, create paradigms, and relate to one another and all of creation. Both of these definitions—what we make, and also how we make sense of the things we create and the universe—is what define culture.
We are Culture Makers
Think about that for a moment. If this is true, then the creative people of the world are one of the main creators of culture. We not only create the things of the world, but we also create many of the means upon which we ascribe meaning to the world.
And this is why the Artist is a Culture Maker. The songs we sing help people relate to their feelings and emotions. The movies we produce open people’s eyes to worlds and worldviews. The blogs we write, the paintings we paint, the books we author, the plays we perform—every artistic expression has the capacity to help people interpret and relate to the world. We artists give people the voice that they sometimes cannot articulate.
Think about your favorite music. Chances are, much of the music you love you discovered when you were in your teens and twenties. This is typically the time when one is trying to define oneself, when the deep questions of identity and purpose and meaning and acceptance become prominent in one’s life. And music becomes one of the ways in which we define ourselves. My twin daughters are now thirteen, and the music they listen to (wholly other than mine) is completely specific to their subculture and their relationships. Their music is a part of how they are discovering who they are.
Have you ever read a book that changed the way you saw the world? I remember discovering the sublimely chaotic and boldly ironic writing of Kurt Vonnegut as a fifteen year old. For better and for worse, I never saw the world the same again. I had the same reaction when I first heard Steely Dan’s Aja album, with their angular jazz voicings and way-too-cool pop grooves and cryptic lyrics. There’s a little bit of Steely Dan in every song I’ve ever written since. And I attribute my life-long adherence to pacifism to watching the 1941 release of Sergeant York with Gary Cooper as a child. That black and white movie influenced me in ways I will never fully understand. Finally, the writings of Dallas Willard turned my understanding of the Christian faith completely upside down, and my faith in Jesus Christ has forever been molded in profoundly intimate and life-changing ways through his works. There are others too. From C. S. Lewis to Miles Davis, from King David to the Apostle Paul, from Rocky & Bullwinkle to Toy Story—all have played a part in how I make sense of the world.
As artists, what we do influences the people around us. Because as artists, what we do is what we make of the world. If we have an audience, it is inevitable. Like small ripples of water, our art goes out into the world; it relates, invites, incites, provokes. The question is, how are we influencing the world around us? Is our art consistent with who we are and what we believe? Are we speaking to their hearts? Are we inspiring them to great things and good intentions? Are we saying something unique, or are we simply swimming in the tide pool of the Christian subculture? What exactly are we influencing them to do?
Your comments are invited. I’ll be doing a follow-up to this in the next blog.
Whenever I speak at conferences or churches about the nature of the arts, I inevitably get bogged down about one third into my presentation. Some daring soul near the back of the room will raise his or her hand—often a young person or college student—and ask a brutally honest question: “Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?” And that’s when the firestorm begins.
Many intelligent and inspired people far smarter than I have written volumes on the subject of beauty over the centuries. So to attempt to speak on the subject of beauty is, by definition, to talk over one’s head. I myself have written briefly about this issue in my previous book, Imagine That, and blogged and spoken on this issue a number of times. Which is to say that I attempt to speak of things great and transcendent. So these firestorms, when they happen, are often controversial and animated. Specifically, what gets the dialogue going is the contention that beauty is an objective property (i.e., an intrinsic quality of a given thing) and not a subjective one (i.e., dependent on the capricious whims of the person who experiences it). In other words, beauty is not dependent on what you think about it.
Obviously, there are different schools of thought as it relates to beauty, and it seems inadequate trying to explain all of that here. However, the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is a form of aesthetic subjectivism, which contends that beauty is dependent only upon the person experiencing the subject. Related to this is aesthetic relativism, a philosophical subset of relativism, which maintains that standards of beauty and art change over time, culture, and context. In contrast to these two schools of thought is aesthetic objectivism, which asserts that beauty is an intrinsic quality of an object independent of the person experiencing the object, and defined in some way by some universal criteria.
A brief argument in favor of aesthetic objectivism would be the idea that the pentatonic scale, a five tone scale based on mathematical ratios of frequency, is found in music universally. Ancient Greek, prehistoric Celtic, Hungarian, Indonesian, Andean, Ethiopian, Native American, Negro spirituals—from southeast Asia to western Europe and from ancient civilizations to modern jazz—all use the pentatonic scale in their music.
The reason why I think that this concept is so important is because, in my experience, the idea that beauty is subjective (and not objective) is quite pervasive in the western Church. It has crept into our sermons and songs, attitudes and beliefs. And it is a deadly idea as it relates to the arts in the church. To put it simply and provocatively, the idea that beauty is subjective is inconsistent with any theologically orthodox understanding of the God of the Bible.
In the first chapter of the book of Genesis, our Artist God creates the heavens and the earth. In the sacred passage of those first days, He spins the cosmic architecture into shape. He forms time and matter and energy and gravity, and the laws which bind them together, the very nature of all things seen and unseen. He forms the earth, separates the land from the seas, colors the sky blue. He makes day and night, the plants and the animals, man and woman. All of creation comes into being from nothing, the expanse of God’s ever-creative imagination filling the expanse of nothingness. And at the end of this creative binge, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31 TNIV)
Now the word, “good” seems to have lost it’s meaning in this day and age. When we say that something is “good” now, we usually mean “okay” or “average” or “acceptable.” Getting a “B” on an exam is good. A fast food burger is good. If your commute from work was uneventful, you might call it “good.”
But the word “good” in the Bible seems a much more muscular word. When we say that God is “good,” we are saying that He is infinitely, immutably, essentially, and necessarily good. We mean that He is perfect in all His ways, perfect in justice and morality, perfect in form and purpose, perfect in existence, the community of the Triune Godhead. So when God looked upon all of creation and called it “good,” it was because it perfectly displayed His original intent of reflecting His nature, His aesthetic, His glory.
The psalmist declared, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4 TNIV) God’s perfect aesthetic is imbedded into all of humanity, like a compass in our soul that always points true north. It is still one more aspect of being made in the image of God. And this soul compass reacts to beauty. This is why we are emotionally and universally moved by the sight of a crimson sunset or a snow-capped mountain or a bouquet of flowers or a newborn baby. All of these things reflect some aspect of “good,” some reflection of God’s glory through creation.
And this is why beauty is so important to understand. Because beauty points to God. More specifically, I contend that true beauty is defined according to God’s original intention of creation. And as such, all true beauty points to God, because it hints at His fingerprint upon the universe. In this way, beauty and truth are related, in that they both originate from God’s purpose in action. And there are hints of beauty all around us today, even as we as creators place our fingerprints upon God’s creation.
One of the confusions with beauty, I believe, has to do with personal preference. We are highly opinionated people, with our double-cupped, triple-pump, venti no-whip soy lattes and our grande chai decaf frappuccinos®. And beauty is a quality that provides a perceptual experience, so we experience beauty only through our senses. So our experience of beauty is subjective, though the quality of beauty is not. But just because we don’t like a particular style of music, or a particular artist, or a particular type of impressionism has little to do with whether it has beauty. Beauty may have more to do with what inspires, what delights, what reflects God’s intention for us and His redemptive narrative.
Perhaps it is not beauty that is subjective, but our response to it, which is another aspect of free will. The human figure is classically understood to be a subject of beauty; it is the perversity of our free will that turns the human form into pornography. Perhaps also a certain maturity—spiritual as well as artistic—is necessary to see and comprehend the divine fingerprints.
The arts have the capacity for implying, reflecting, and restating this beauty. Not that all art is beautiful nor tries to be. But the arts have the capacity for reflecting God’s grace, truth, and glory beyond the spoken or written word. As such, the creation of beauty is an act of revelation. When the church doesn’t understand this, it is easy to dismiss the arts because beauty is not equated with truth. And if we can believe that beauty is relative, it is a small, slippery step toward the belief that truth can be relative also. But when the church does understand that the arts have the capacity for revealing the glory of God through beauty, there is suddenly the possibility of great art—in the church, and from the church.
Thomas Dubay, in his book The Evidential Power of Beauty, states: “The acute experience of great beauty readily evokes a nameless yearning for something more than earth can offer. Elegant splendor reawakens our spirit’s aching need for the infinite, a hunger for more than matter can provide.”
I think about certain moments in my life when I was moved to tears or silence or thanksgiving or undignified emotion. Sitting in a darkened and reverberant Catholic church as a young teenager, holding the hand of my freckle-faced girlfriend, listening to a professional symphony for the first time in my life, the violins and French horns and timpani washing over me like a river of glory. Leading a large multi-ethinic group of blue-shirted convicts gathered in a small prison chapel, singing an a cappella version of “Amazing Grace,” and realizing that they meant it in ways deeper and more profound that I could imagine. Sitting for hours in the Sistine Chapel, quietly taking in the breath-taking beauty of the frescoed art of the walls and ceiling, like the very words of Scripture had come to life around me. And the holiest moment of my life, the day my first son was born—ten weeks premature—and I held him in my hands for the very first time. As I gazed into his perfectly formed face, I could swear I could hear the angels singing. These were all instances when I experienced beauty and art in a transcendent way. In a sense, I took a step into the holy of holies through the gates of beauty.
Dubay contends that there is a special word that the Bible uses for Divine beauty: Glory. “The divine radiance and loveliness are so endlessly beyond anything we can imagine or experience that revelation chooses a special term to speak of it,” Dubay reveals. “That term is glory, a word that occurs repeatedly in Scripture.” Beauty—and the art that has the capacity to unleash it—is a means upon which God’s glory can be revealed and experienced. True beauty reveals truth about God, and points us to Him.
One other thing about beauty. God takes great pleasure in beauty. He is a great fan of the arts. As we aspire and attempt to create beauty as artists, we remind ourselves that, “For Thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev 4:11 KJV) For as God takes pleasure in the act of creation, He also takes pleasure in seeing us express ourselves in our creations as well. If for no other reason, the church needs to unleash the artists in our churches simply because it puts a smile on God’s face. The Divine Trinity meets us in our art—the Holy Spirit in the inspiration, the Son in the incarnation, and the Father in the expression. And it is the Divine smile that makes it all worthwhile. I have experienced the smile of God many times in ministry and in my expressions of the arts. It is simultaneously humbling and joyous.
We all implicitly understand the deeply interior longings we share—for purpose and significance, for love and acceptance, for truth and for beauty. All of these things are universal, and I believe, related. Our longing for beauty is an attempt of our hearts to align with God’s heart. In beauty, and through the arts, we can find our sympathetic resonance with God.
Saint Augustine, in his Confessions, knew of this beauty, longed for it, and after a life lived poorly, eventually found it. And it was this beauty that pointed him to Jesus.
Too late have I loved you,
O Beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new.
Too late have I loved you!
You were within me but I was outside myself, and there I sought you!
In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made.
You were with me, and I was not with you.
The things you have made kept me from you,
The things which would have no being unless they existed in you!
You have called, you have cried, and you have pierced my deafness.
You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly,
And you have dispelled my blindness.
You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you.
I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you.
You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.
We’re here this Sunday morning in the lobby of What’s Happening Community Church, located in the suburbs of Caucasian Falls, USA. A couple new to the church has just exited the service and has approached the preaching pastor. Let’s listen in.
Pastor: Good morning! You’re new, right?
Joe: Hi. Yes, I’m Joe and this is my wife, Jill.
Pastor: Great to have you here this morning.
Jill: Yes, first time here. Really loved the service.
Pastor: Well, God bless you both.
Joe: Do you have a moment? We were just wondering if we could ask you a few questions.
Pastor: Sure. Fire away.
Joe: How many services do you have here?
Note: This is code for: “I like to sleep in late on Sundays.”
Pastor: Oh, we have three identical services. A Saturday night and two Sunday morning.
Joe: Great. I really liked the sermon this morning. It is so good to hear a sermon with meat, not the kind that’s, well, you know, milk.
Note: This is code for: “I listen to a lot of Christian talk radio, and I want my sermons to sound just like my favorite Christian radio personality.”
Pastor: Well, you’ll find that we just preach from “The Word” here.
Note: This is the typical response that pastors have to these kinds of questions. I think there’s a seminary class that coaches them on these answers.
Joe: Do your sermons always run that long though?
Note: This is code for: “It will be football season soon, and I don’t want the sermon to eat into the pre-game show.”
Pastor: Well, you’ll find that we just preach from “The Word” here.
Jill: I take it that you have a children’s ministry?
Pastor: Yes, we have an excellent children’s ministry. We have programs up to sixth grade on Sundays.
Note: Jill is secretly relieved at this statement, since she goes to church in part to get away from her kids.
Jill: Do they have an indoor jungle gym? Because First Baptist down the street has an indoor jungle gym and the kids just love it.
Pastor: No I’m sorry, we don’t have one.
Note: Wrong answer. The pastor makes a mental note to talk to the facilities director about installing that zip line and climbing wall next to the snack bar.
Jill: Oh. That’s really too bad. How about Junior High or high school? Is it very big? Do they play loud rock music there?
Note: At this point, the pastor must make a critical decision. On one hand, they could be the kind of couple who don’t want rock music influencing their teenage children. Or they could be a couple that have teenagers who desire a more cutting-edge program. It’s a coin toss, really.
Pastor: Uh, the answer is…Yes?
Joe: Oh good.
Pastor: Yeah! In your face, First Baptist!
Jill: Excuse me?
Pastor: Uh, I said, lovely place, First Baptist.
Pastor: Do you have any other questions?
Joe: No, I think that’s it. Thanks so much for your time.
Pastor: So, will we be seeing you next week?
Jill: Yes, we think so. Thanks so much.
Pastor: Well that’s great! Just wonderful! Make sure you visit our coffee bar on the way out. Tell them the mocha frappuccinos are on me!
Jill: Oh, golly. You know, Joe is lactose intolerant.
Joe: Yeah, well, I’m afraid we won’t be coming back after all.
Note: Joe and Jill leave, disappointed, but ready to go shopping again next Sunday. The pastor chases after them…
Pastor: But…but…did I tell you about our free gym membership?!
[Photo compliments of says-it.com.]
Haiti. It is hard to imagine. Tucked in the somewhat artificial security of middle-class American suburbia, I found my mind continually drifting back to this tragedy, trying to make sense of it. The poverty of the area, the magnitude of the earthquake, the depth and breadth of the hardship and grief. Because even though I could offer some theological explanations for the existence of evil and adversity in the world, there is still the reality of the personal suffering and pain.
If you think about it, the large-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti could hit any of us. Especially for those of us living in northern California. So I live in this weird juxtaposition: I sip my latte and pray for Haiti.
Honestly, it paralyzed my blogging for a time. I felt that anything I had to say in terms of faith and the arts paled in comparison to the larger issues of life and death, tragedy and circumstance, God’s will and the brevity of human life.
There are bright spots. Worldwide, nations have responded to the crisis. Individually, men and women have demonstrated great generosity and acts of service. Internally, more people are—at least for a moment—considering the deeper things of life, and counting their blessings.
My wife, Debbie, and I have talked about this. Faith should lead to action somehow, if the faith is real. So we have supported the relief efforts, as many of you have. But I also want my art to count for something too. Because if my art is an expression of my faith, then I want my art to have some tangible expression of walking my faith. So here’s what we came up with.
For the next month, if you purchase any of my CDs, we’ll give 100% of the money to the relief efforts. Just go to the CDBaby link below:
If you order any of my four albums (either in Compact Disc or MP3 download), we’ll give all of the money to the relief efforts. We’ll open this up for the next month and probably longer. If you haven’t yet gotten any of my music, now is the best time to do so. (You can also listen to it first, so you’ll know what you’re getting!)
We are giving through Compassion International, and we recommend this amazing organization to you as well. If you don’t want to buy my music, or if you simply want to give, then please hit this link:
Either way, we strongly urge you to give. Like I said, faith should lead to action somehow, if the faith is real.
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:14-16 TNIV
Our oldest son is turning 21 years old today. And in honor of this very auspicious day, I am reprinting a chapter to a book I wrote a number of years ago. Hope you enjoy it.
“Hee. Hee. Hee. Hoo. Hoo. Hoo.” That was the sound my wife was making. My grown wife. She lay on the floor, rubbing her belly with her fingertips, leaning back against me like I was her own personal bean bag. Intent and composed, she continued her mantra. “Hee. Hee. Hee.”
I took a look around the room. There were half a dozen other young adult couples making panting sounds around me—all future mommies and daddies—concentrating so diligently on a task that would ordinarily be as easy as, say, breathing. “Hoo. Hoo. Hoo.”
My thoughts flashed for a moment to my work at the office. To a song I was writing. To the football game last weekend. To the honey-do list my wife had made me. Paint the nursery. Assemble the crib. Figure out how to afford all of this.
But this was our second child. We already had a fourteen month old son who had just begun to walk. Eric was baby-cute yet boy-handsome. Small yet feisty. There was a fire in his eyes and a zest for life in his no-held-back laugh. Nothing like when he was first born. When he was born, he was small and fragile and desperately holding on to life. He had arrived unexpectedly, ten weeks early and only three pounds, six ounces. My thoughts flashed back to those weeks and months visiting him at the University of California Davis Medical Center, watching and caressing him through armholes in his incubator, the small rectangular transparent box that was his universe, praying for God to do a miracle in his life. The thought compelled me to say still another quick prayer to God that he would help this baby in Debbie’s womb reach full term.
Fourteen months ago. I remembered getting the call at work. Debbie was crying. Her water had broken and she was being rushed by ambulance to the hospital. I remember it was one of those busy, hectic work days, but there was nothing in my whole world except her and the baby. I remember taking a shortcut through a back door in a conference room to get to my car in the parking lot, and jumping over a chair at the conference table before slamming the door behind me. And as I raced out into the parking lot, it occurred to me that I had just run straight through the middle of a meeting. A dozen people were sitting around the table I had just jumped over.
I remember being in the car, praying and speeding. Praying to God that everything would be okay. Speeding because I felt that it wouldn’t. And as I arrived at the hospital, I was told that they were already preparing Debbie for surgery.
Then there was the wait. The long wait. I think hospitals are filled with two types of people: sick people and people who wait. I counted the tiles. I paced the aisles. I looked at a nine year old copy of Golf Digest. And then the word to go up to natal ICU. Debbie was still asleep, recovering from surgery, but I was allowed to see the baby. I was told to scrub down like the doctors on TV, and put on a green paper gown and a white mask that felt uncomfortable around my ears. Then I was ushered into the baby ward. It was a sight I was not expecting. Pitifully tiny one and two and three pound babies lay in little Plexiglas incubators, circled around the room like wagons in a wagon train. Wires and tubes and electronic gauges ran everywhere. Bright lights through shadows on the shiny tile floor. I looked around the room, expecting the worst.
And then I saw him. The most beautiful sight I had ever seen. He was so small, so delicate, so perfectly formed. Ten little fingers and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten little toes. Little fingernails the size of a lower case o. A little nose that perfectly fit his little face. His tiny chest rose and fell, rose and fell, filling with life-giving oxygen, seemingly uncomfortable at the new sensation. Then suddenly, a little, faint cry that called…right at me.
And it was in that moment that I knew. I knew the joy that God must have, to be able to create something so complex, so wonderful, so awe-inspiring, as a tiny little baby. Made of flesh and blood. Made of hopes and dreams. Made in the very image of God Himself.
It was a holy moment. Me and the baby and God. And the choir of angels I could almost hear singing. And in that holy moment, I felt the reality of the Spirit of God. I praised Him. I thanked Him. I worshiped Him. It was like the spiritual world was somehow more real to me in that moment than at almost any other time in my life. Like a window had been suddenly opened and I could feel the breeze of eternity on me.
Little Eric lay asleep, exhausted from his fight for life. An intravenous tube protruding from the top of his head. Wires attached to every part of his body. An electronic sensor taped to his tummy to regulate his body temperature. And the image of God imprinted upon every part of him. I loved him instantly. I simply could not help it. There was nothing he did to earn that love. There was nothing he needed to do, except be that which he already was—my son. My love for him ran freely, effortlessly, like water flowing downstream.
I realized something that day in a very deep and unexpected way. I realized that God loves us in that way. Not that we could do anything to deserve His love. Nor do we have to earn it. He gives His love freely simply because we are His children. Perfect love flowing freely to those who belong to Him. Perfect love flowing downstream.
We were made in His image. Formed with a love that is unconditional. Given the ability to choose and decide the trajectories of our own lives. And then God waits. Waits for us to choose Him.
I don’t know why He did it that way. He could have made us obedient beings, programmed to obey him, programmed to love Him. Like robots incapable of sin, incapable of choice, incapable of voluntary love. Or he could have made us like the animals, driven simply by inbred instincts which would give us a predisposition to love Him, like a loyal golden retriever.
But He didn’t. From the moment we were born, we were given a choice, to follow Him and enter into an intimate loving relationship with the Living God, or to reject Him and live a life eventually and eternally separated from Him. And between the conception and the choice, He waits. Just like I did. Staring through the glass of the incubator, watching his little body struggle with this thing called life. Waiting for the day when my son would be old enough and strong enough to love me back.
There is something about a love that is freely given that He must cherish very much. Like the spontaneous hug or the unsolicited “I love you’s” from my sons or my daughters. I think that it is a very special God indeed who would cherish us in that way.
The sound of my wife breathing awoke me from my daydream. “Hee. Hee. Hee. Hoo. Hoo. Honey, can you get me a drink of water?” I could never understand how a pregnant woman with a bladder the size of a kiwi could drink so much water. But it is always best to keep those kinds of thoughts to yourself.
“Sure, honey,” I replied. “Anything you say.”
My church is going to celebrate our 25th anniversary this week. This is a big deal for us, for a lot of reasons.
Our senior pastor is also our founding pastor, so he and his wife have been with us the entire time. I have been at the church for 21 of those years, and on staff full-time at this church for over 16 of those years. In fact, we have quite a number of people that have been on staff for more than a decade. This in an age where turnover in ministry is high (e.g., the two largest churches in my area have each experienced worship pastor turnover twice in the past five years), and people treat “shopping” for a church the way one chooses a health club.
Second, we’ve gone through a lot in the last 25 years. We’ve had our celebrations, births, weddings, funerals, baptisms, Christmas and Easter events, retreats and advances. We have met at a storefront, a high school, afternoons at another church, in portable buildings, and finally our own performing arts facility which we built with largely volunteer staff. There are hundreds of people to whom I have given my heart—in ministry and in life—for a season and for eternity. There are decades of memories wrapped up in this celebration, from special private moments with one or two people to countless moments in public congregational intimacy through worship and other artistic expressions. There have been large numbers of people (numbers known only to God) who have committed their lives to Christ. And I have laughed so hard and so long, that I’ve gone to bed with a sore belly.
Things weren’t always fun and games. There was a pastoral indiscretion (a.k.a., affair). There was an embezzlement by a volunteer, and a major church-rocking deception by another. There was a period where my wife and I felt called to ministry away from this church to minister in sometimes sunny Vancouver, British Columbia. And there was our church-defining refocus away from the attractional church model (in our case, seeker-targeted) toward a spiritual formation model (a.k.a., how to grow your church to less than half its size).
It was nineteen years ago that I left my high-paying job as an aerospace engineer to join a small group of people with a vision to make a difference in the world. Since that time, I’ve had the privilege of being able to share art and ministry with hundreds—maybe thousands—of actors, dancers, musicians, producers, technical artists, poets, painters, graphic artists, recording engineers, writers, photographers, vocalists, artisans, visionaries. And one thing is certain: God has been constantly and unwaveringly faithful to us through it all.
And here is the thing. We have forgotten how important faithfulness is to God. I really believe we have this wrong understanding of what “success” is in ministry. We have a tendency to define success by size or scope, attendance or budget, how cool the music is or how well we perform. But I believe that at the end of the day—and at the end of our lives—our true “success” will be measured more by our fidelity. To continue to do what God has called us to do regardless of the circumstances. To continue to love those whom God has called us to love regardless of their lovability. To respond in increasing faith to God’s faithfulness to us.
Fidelity—to be faithful to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support—may be a more true metric of success in God’s economy. And honestly, it is in the living out of fidelity that depth of meaning is found. In ministry. In marriage. In family. And in life.
This weekend will be a celebration of God’s faithfulness. I will be linking arms with people that I have known for a season, a year, a decade, a lifetime. And we’re going to laugh and cry and worship and remember.
From a church standpoint, there’s no better blessing.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
from Luke 2:1-20 TNIV