God as Creator: Implications for Gospel Creativity (Part 1)

In a recent discussion with one of our church staff, we were speaking of God as Creator and what it means for us and the local church. In many churches, and especially within the Independent Baptist movement (of which I am most familiar), we often hear of many attributes of God–holiness, grace, judgment, mercy, and so on. Of course, in children’s Sunday School we’ve been faithful to teach on the seven days of creation and that God “created the heaven and earth…”, but I have found that, often, very little application of this is made to our lives personally, as those created in His image. If God is creative and we are made in His image, then it seems that gospel-centered creativity should also be encouraged and developed as part of our formation as those who are God’s image bearers.

We are God’s image bearers

Man was created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). As such, we possess unique qualities that differentiate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Though we may share common genetic code with the rest of the animal kingdom, we are distinct and different–creativity being one of the principle differences.Through reason and language, man has the capability of forming original thoughts and acting upon those thoughts. Though, unlike God, we do not create ex nihilo (out of nothing), we do have the capacity to see, think, reason, feel and respond to our surroundings while adding something very unique to it.

Lessons from the Creator: Creation is not God–neither are we our “creation”

God, through His own volition and desire created because He wanted to. We are not able to fully know the mind of God outside of what He has revealed, however, we know that God must have a purpose for His creation, though we may not fully understand every aspect of it. God is very distinct and separate from His creation. His creation reveals some things about Him, but it is very separate from Him.

In a similar way, we are not our creation. It is unhealthy as creative people, to wrap our identity around our “creations”. They may reveal a part of our character and be an expression of who we are, but they are not us and this is a very important distinctive. We must find our identity in our relationship with Christ Himself, because this is the only identity that is complete and fulfilling. As His creation, this is what we were created for. To find our identity in something else, whatever it may be, is unhealthy, unfulfilling and less than what God intended for us.

This fact also frees us to create imperfect creations. This may sound a little counterintuitive, however, as imperfect creators, this is all that we can produce. Creativity for human beings can be (and should be) a constant pursuit of excellence for the sake of the gospel, however, “perfection” will always elude us because we are not perfect creators. This is when we rest in the grace of the gospel to redeem our art because of the finished and perfect work of Christ. Christ frees us to create imperfect creations out of a pure heart and offer them to a perfect Creator as an act of worship for Him. The gospel frees us and gives us the ultimate reason to offer our very best, while at the same time, freeing us from perfectionism. We are free to create and, yes, even make mistakes, because we are not our creation and we find our identity in Christ who has already finished the most perfect work on our behalf on the cross.

How has the gospel influenced your creativity and what would you add to these thoughts?

The Importance of Vision for Creatives

visionIf you are a pastor, you know that pastoring creative people can be a challenging task all on its own. Hiring them on your staff can be a journey to a whole new level of joy, frustration, and bewilderment, often all at the same time. This week I had the privilege of sharing in our team’s vision for a couple of days of off-site planning and strategy development. Being a “creative” and a leader of other “creatives”, I would like to share with you a couple of take-a-ways from this time. I am blessed to work with a great pastor who has an incredible vision for the lives of our people and for those in our community. Here are a few of my take-a-ways as it relates to the importance of vision to the creative people that you lead.

First of all, for fear of stating the obvious, vision provides direction to your team. Being able to see clearly what your church is all about, and what your team is trying to accomplish, helps keep the “big picture” in mind. This may seem obvious to most “type A” leaders (they would never think of doing anything without purpose, right?), but the creative people on your team will create, often just because they can. While creative people will often justify this attitude by claiming they serve the same God that created the platypus (and what purpose does it have?), they are freed to be more valuable to the team when they have purpose and direction to aim their creativity. While there is room in the Christian life for creativity for it’s own sake (when done with a pure heart as an act of worship toward God–it seems that God did), we will have more value to everyone in our world when we have direction and purpose for our creativity.

When most of us think of vision, we think of concepts like “out of the box”, “liberating”, and “defying the odds”.  Vision can definitely be associated with all of these things, but one of the areas that is probably most crucial to the success that vision can provide is the idea of boundaries. This may seem counterintuitive, but without them, most ideas remain just that–ideas. Ideas by themselves benefit no one until they are shared and put into action. Boundaries help us clarify what is really important and what resources should get the most priority. The fact that many of us usually cringe when we hear this word, we usually realize that we need them. While it may be fun to day dream about what we might do if money, time, and people were not a limiter on our ideas, the bottom line is–they are. None of us have unlimited time, money, or human resources. Vision helps us shape the boundaries that are necessary to put the best ideas into action.

Focus is crucial to the success of any worthwhile project. For me, this is probably the most difficult obstacle to overcome. My wife keeps insisting that I be treated for adult ADD. While I do admit that my mind can run in a million different directions at the same time, it seems that clear vision can help me focus in ways that no medication could. When we keep the main thing, the main thing, it is much easier to remain focused even when our pursuits seem derailed. When you are sure of your destination it is a lot easier to take the “quit” out of your vocabulary.

Having vision and direction to aim creative pursuits is an incredibly freeing experience. While using words like direction, boundaries, and focus, may sound nothing like the freedom of flying freely through the forest of our dreams,  for most of us, it is much easier to approach the “blank canvas” of our art when we have a clear vision of how we can benefit the team. A clear-cut vision can truly give wings to your creativity. One of the ways it does this is by refueling the sense of purpose that all of us have inside (whether creative or not). Like in aerodynamics, it takes several distinct forces acting in harmony to produce flight. Any of the necessary forces (gravity, lift, drag, etc.), when by themselves, can be dangerous, limiting, or worthless, at best. Clear vision can act like the heading and lift that not only makes flight possible, but worth doing at all. People are much more productive when they know that they matter to the team. Clear vision will give your creative team wings to be able to fly to the future of changed lives–both theirs and everyone they touch and inspire.

Blended Worship or Balanced Worship (Part 1)

Not long ago, a Florida mega-church abandoned split services (traditional and contemporary) for a more unified, “blended” service. The church, led by their new pastor, Tullian Tchavidjian (grandson of Billy Graham), decided to bring their church under one umbrella, united around the gospel. Tchavidjian said, “Generational appeal in worship is an unintentional admission that the Gospel is powerless to join together what man has separated”(click here for the article). This move triggered quite a bit of buzz in the church community. This move seems to be counter-cultural to much of the prevailing thought in church-growth today. Time will tell how well this works for them, but I applaud their consistency and vision for why they have made such a move. My forthcoming attempt to choose better terminology is by no means a criticism of this church–I simply give this as a high-profile example of a trend that is happening in the local church. While many of our churches have chosen their battles in the “worship wars”, many are still looking for answers to this complex question.

As in most conflict, much of the problem arises out of a misunderstanding of the language and intentions of those with whom we disagree. So, it is highly important that we define our terms and give everyone the benefit of the doubt in that we all want the same thing–a gospel-centered community of faith. Once we can agree on terms and trust the motives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we can begin to find answers as we participate in the free exchange of ideas that are based on biblical principle–not personal attacks and ideology based on personality and preferences.

Let me start with the idea of “blended” worship. First of all, I think I understand what most church leaders are referring to when they use this term, however, unless this is defined, it can still create several issues. First, the term blended worship was first put into the mainstream church lingo by Robert Webber, author, seminary professor, and founder of the Institute for Worship Studies in Jacksonville, Florida. The problem with this term, as it is commonly understood in non-liturgical, free church worship (which would characterize most independent and Southern Baptist churches), is not the way in which Webber defined it. Webber’s definition involved the blending of the ancient, liturgical practices with more contemporary expressions. He was an advocate of using liturgical church structure and infusing contemporary expressions within that structure. It’s not the intention of this post to debate the merit of Webber’s writings at this time (though, it is a worthy discussion for future posts), nor to debate the use of liturgical elements in worship, however, it illustrates the point that this term is greatly misunderstood. What we find is that those of us who often use the term the most, define it vastly different than the one who coined the term and wrote over 40 books that dealt with the idea.

My experience has been that most pastors and church leaders that I talk with define “blended” as a mixture of hymns and choruses. This is fine, and many churches have blended these two expressions somewhat successfully. However, I also believe that many that are attempting to move to a more “blended” format, carry some unrealistic expectations of what this format will do for them.

First, many attempt “blended” worship to try to “make everyone happy”. If you carry this motive for “blended” worship, you will find yourself sorely disappointed. What you will most likely find is that you will really make no one “happy”, but that everyone will be sufficiently dissatisfied with the music choices. The preferences of virtually no one will be satisfied and you will once again have a “fight” on your hands. The extremes of the personal preferences in most of our churches usually lie with the very young and the very old, and these two groups tend to be the most vocal, also assuring that “blended” worship will still fall tragically short because it still fails to address the preferences of these two groups. If we go to a blended format to make everyone “happy”, we are still relying on music to be the unifying factor, which doesn’t find it’s root in the Scripture.

Second, “blended” worship doesn’t typically address the content issues that we find in our songs. “Hymns” and “Choruses” are both broad terms that are equally as misunderstood and poorly defined as “blended”. What is a hymn? Is it what Paul talked about in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19, or is it anything that was written prior to 1950? What is a chorus? Is it the refrain of a hymn or gospel song like “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus” or is it a contemporary song like “In Christ Alone”, which resembles more of a modern hymn than a “chorus”?  If you think that a “chorus” like “Gone, gone, gone, gone, yes my sins are gone…” is going to strike a nerve with the youth culture of this generation, you are probably going to be disappointed. Or if you think a “hymn” like “Mansion over the Hilltop” (which never mentions any attribute or name of God) is going to bring a Christo-centric unselfishness to your church, you may be disappointed there as well.  I have no problem with either of these songs in the right context, but they help to illustrate the misunderstanding that can often occur when we don’t define our terms.

Third, “blended” worship, as it is commonly defined, fails to address context. The context of a church and the culture it is trying to reach is incredibly unique from church to church and from culture to culture. There is no way that being overly simplistic in saying that we do “blended” worship can adequately define or describe the way that you do church. The corporate worship needs of a new church plant are vastly different than a church that has been in existence for several decades. Each presents unique challenges and opportunities for unity and gospel-centered community.

Lastly, “blended” worship does a poor job of addressing the aesthetics of the music that we present. Does this mean that we do hymns that are “updated” and choruses that are “sanitized”, or does it mean that we do 50%  traditional hymns and 50% contemporary choruses? Should “blended” worship look pretty much the same from church to church? What of the music, then? Does blended mean a mixture of drums and organ or electric guitar and timpani? What if you don’t have an organ or an electric guitar–can you still do “blended” worship? What does this sound like? Can we find this sound anywhere else in culture? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? These are a few of the questions that we need to wrestle with as we look at the concept of “blended” worship.

In the following post I will discuss the idea of “balanced” worship and see if this concept can provide a greater understanding of both the biblical and cultural implications of effective, gospel-centered ministry. What challenges do you see in some of our terminology and how are you addressing this in your church?

Hope is Not a 4-Letter Word

Hope. A four letter word? No disrespect intended here at all, but for many it truly is. Even the Scriptures acknowledge this (Proverbs 13:12), especially in reference to a false hope, or a hope that is deferred. How many times have you hoped for something that didn’t come true, or hoped for better circumstances? Many today can identify with this. Joblessness is higher now than it has been in almost 30 years and many are wondering is there an end to it all? On top of all the  doom and gloom in the news, one of the top box office hits is “2012”, a film depicting the end of the world. Where is the hope?

Enter Jesus. “Hope deferred, makes the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12). While true, the good news here is that this Hope (Jesus) is already come–it’s not deferred. That’s what Christmas is all about. No need to wait. Hope came wrapped and delivered in a manger over two thousand years ago.

That is what we’re celebrating this weekend at Trinity with “A Night of Hope”. Jesus said that He has come to “…tell of good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, preach deliverance to the captives, recover sight to the blind, and set at liberty those that are bruised and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”  (Luke 4:18 paraphrased). Jesus is the hope that we all need.

Even if you’re still a little skeptical, I invite you to attend “A Night of Hope” this weekend (Dec. 5 & 6 at 4pm) and see for yourself what Jesus has done in the hearts of so many and what He can do for you. Our Choir, Orchestra, drama team, soloists and Artists in Residence, The Nelons (www.thenelons.com) will be presenting this hope in a dynamic musical/media presentation this weekend.

Jesus has come. He is even knocking on your heart’s door (Revelation 3:20). Open up and experience the hope that is found in Jesus and join us for “A Night of Hope”.

For more information on “A Night of Hope”, go to http://www.tbc.org.

*For more information on how you can help and provide hope for the hungry of Jacksonville to to http://www.fighthungerjax.org

As part of the event, we want to help provide hope for the hungry of Jacksonville. We are partnering with the Jacksonville Hunger SWAT Team and it’s affiliate organizations to raise awareness and help with non-perishable food items. You can bring your donation with you to the event. There will be donation bins in designated areas throughout the complex.

The Holy Spirit and the Federal Reserve

What we believe is fundamental to and acts as the primary influence on our behavior. As I contemplate on my own life and the lives of those that I lead (family, church, and other influences), I can’t help but observe behavior that I find contrary to what I/we say that we believe. Why is that?

I now turn to the current state of the economy to help us flesh this out. I am not an economist (nor am I the son of an economist), however, there are some basic principles of our current financial system that most of us understand (I often wonder about our politicians, however).

Until the U.S. effectively went off of the Gold Standard in 1933, any printed money was simply a “promise to pay”, or promissory note. That meant that you could exchange that printed money for a predetermined amount of gold or “real money”. Prior to 1933, if someone were to hand you a $100 bill, you might say it was “good as gold”. Possessing that $100 bill (especially prior to 1933), could effectively cause your behavior to change, and rightfully so, even though you have never, and probably never planned on seeing any gold. Today, it is significantly more complicated and much more “hi-tech”, but I still dare to say that possession of a $100 bill could still substantially change your behavior.

You see, a true promissory note differs from an IOU in that the lender can effectively call the “note” due at any time and it has no maturity period. It is not necessarily an acknowledgment of a debt but in fact a true promise to pay at any time (at the choosing of the one who holds the “note” or promise). You see, God does not “owe” us anything, but in fact has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness through His Spirit (2 Peter 1:3). His promises to us are spiritual certainties (2 Cor. 1:20), though in our flesh we may not have full understanding or “sight” right now (Heb. 11). He is simply waiting for us in faith to “cash in” on what He has already promised.

I say all this to make a point. Of course any promise of God is far more trustworthy than any denomination of money. However, often we don’t behave that way. The Scripture tells us that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh, and that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. If we truly believed this, our lives would be much more extraordinary. We would exhibit a freedom and power that this world would find contagious. All that is required is that we have faith enough to “cash in” on God’s promises and put a little more faith in the Scripture than we do in good ‘ole “Uncle Sam”. Our lives and the lives of those around us will be radically changed if we do.

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