Jacob – the Blessed Wrestling Schemer

TJACOB-3For many years, I find it hard to reconcile Jacob’s blessings and his scheming ways. I am a firm believer that the end does not justify the means and the life of Jacob seems to suggest otherwise. The recent weeks, Jacob is once again brought into focus.

Jacob was grabbing hold of Esau’s heel at birth (Gen 25:26). This was why he was named Jacob, meaning “he catches by the heel, i.e. he supplants”. These twin brothers were already at war within the womb, causing their mother Rebekah much distress (Gen 25:22). The first round winner was Esau as he emerged firstborn of the womb, pushing himself out before Jacob. This is not surprising as Esau was possibly stronger physically, who grew up to be a hunter. The fight did not stopped there. Jacob still wanted to be the firstborn. He quickly bagged in the win for round two when he traded his bowl of red lentil soup for the birthright of Esau. The final victory was with the aid of his mother Rebekah. Jacob deceived his own father, Isaac, and received the firstborn blessing. Very unorthodox means of getting to the ends which are hard to accept as acts that lead to blessings.

God did not intervene in any of these sibling rivalry. Some people believed that it is already ordained for Jacob to be blessed so God chose not to intervene. If it is ordained, all the more there is no need for Jacob to do what he did as the prophecy will come to pass without him helping God in such manner. Surely there are consequences to sin, even King David lost a son because of his adultery and murder after his genuine repentance. Why is Jacob favoured despite his scrupulous actions?

“His heart.”

This was from a still, soft voice within that I wanted to brush off as ridiculous. Yet there was a solid and deep truth that I cannot dismiss flippantly. Surely God looks at the heart and how can it be that a scheming man has a good heart? It was almost like a court room within me and I was a prosecutor of Jacob whom I never met! It is of course a losing battle in this court room and out of it, I learnt a precious lesson.

Jacob’s heart was fixed on eternal blessings and never swayed by the present. He knew what was valuable and precious – the birthright and firstborn blessings of his father. It was out of the deep longings of his heart that he took every opportunity to grab hold of them.  This same longing of the heart was seen in how he was willing to work another 7 years for Rachel after being cheated to marry Rachel’s sister. The final fight was at Bethel. His fight for eternal blessings which only the Lord can offer. It left him with a limp but with a new name and locked him into his eternal blessed destiny. This encounter ended Jacob’s trail of scheming narratives as I believed his heart was finally filled to the brim by God. This was his destiny.

His trickery of both the birthright and firstborn blessings led to his exile from the house, a fugitive. He did not enjoy the blessings he schemed for during those years. A man who was described as “a peaceful man, living in tents” (Gen 25:27 NASB) now found himself cast into the “wild world” and in the open field to shepherd sheep even though he was still under the protection of his extended family. A modern day drastic career change will be from a computer guy to a construction worker overnight. The birthright to his father’s inheritance was with Esau since he was on the run. This does not look like the blessed life he fought for. Having to leave home is the consequence of his scheming ways.

Rather than seeing him as a cold-blooded man, Jacob was a hot-blooded man fixated on what his heart’s desires. He pursued hard and even prevailed against God. It is interesting that the Bible described him as peaceful and some versions use the word “complete” for a schemer. Peaceful perhaps meaning that he does not shed blood as compared to Esau who is a hunter. The description of Jacob was not negative. His name that describes him as a supplanter is not a negative word in military terms but one of strategy. Comparing Jacob’s heart attitude with how Esau despised his birthright, Jacob’s thirst made him the man whom God used to bless the nations.

Do I desire God’s blessings enough to contend with Him throughout the night, knowing that I would never prevail? I wish I can give a loud yes but in full honesty, my prayer would be “God give me the portion you have for me”. The thought of putting up a fight with the Lord for blessings would never crossed my mind. This sounds like a very submissive and obedient prayer but is this a true reflection of my heart? Maybe it is a coverup. Perhaps I dare not believe that God will give me the desires of my heart or that He has my interests covered. If it is so, then I am not honest with Him with my heart. Or I know that the desires of my heart are not aligned to his? Whichever is the case, the hypocrisy of my heart is revealed. Jacob, despite his immature and unorthodox ways, was true to his heart and to God, believed in it and walked it.

This is a repentance call for me. It is so easy for my heart to be distracted and won out, hiding behind the word “resignation to God’s will” when the tough gets going or I am swimming against the tide. The fear of failure holds me back from engaging the Lord in a wrestle for blessings. It is not about winning, but it is a matter of how desperate do I want it. Jacob set his heart on the blessings of God and this gave God the opening to correct his ways, repent and change. So the key is to set my heart towards God and with that, He can do His work within me so that His promised destiny for me can be fulfilled as He moulds and shapes me along the way.

 

 

Defining The Tabernacle of David – Word Study

  
Born and bred in an urban city, tent is not a common sight for me. Since the topic is about the Tabernacle of David, I feel the need to understand tabernacle better. I am no Hebrew and Greek scholar but the lexicon is usually a good starting point.

I will start from the New Testament since there is only one verse with the mention of Tabernacle of David. The Greek word for Tabernacle in Acts 15:16 is Skene (σκηνη, Strong’s Number: 4633). Skene is defined as a “tent, tabernacle (made of green boughs, or skins or other materials)”, and also “the movable temple of God after the pattern of which the temple at Jerusalem was built”. In Acts 7:43-44, skene was the Tabernacle of Moses. In Rev 13:6; 15:5 and 21:3, skene is used in the context of after the judgments. There is no difference in words used for the Tabernacle of Moses and Tabernacle of David.

The Old Testament Hebrew has more vocabulary for tabernacle than Greek and English.

The word ‘ohel (אהל, Strong’s Number: 0168) is frequently used for the Tabernacle of Moses in Exodus. ‘ohel means a nomad’s tent, a dwelling, home and habitation. Even though it is nomadic and mobile, it functions as a long-term dwelling, a home. The Tabernacle of Moses withstood 40 years of wilderness wandering and entered the Promised Land! It was definitely highly durable and permanent.

A different Hebrew word is used for Tabernacle of David in Amos 9:11, which is the key Old Testament verse. The Hebrew word for tabernacle in Amos 9:11 is Cukkah (יככה Strong’s No: 05521). Cukkah is a booth, “a rude or temporary shelter”. The Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths (Lev 23:33-43) uses the same Hebrew word, Cukkah. The people of Israel are commended to build temporary booths or tabernacles and live under the Cukkah during the seven days of the feast. The Feast of Tabernacles is mentioned in Zec 14, which wrote about The Day of the Lord, which is commonly interpreted as the final Judgment Day. The passage of Zec 14:16-21 prophesied that the Feast of Tabernacles will be celebrated after the Day of the Lord. Even though Cukkah is temporary in its physical nature, God has a long-term purpose for Cukkah.

Here lies the paradox. The extremely durable Tabernacle of Moses was not required after Jesus established the New Covenant but the rude temporary Cukkah of David has a purpose beyond its durability. Interestingly, ‘ohel is used in Isa 16:5 for the Tabernacle of David in the context of final judgment by the One, referring to the Messiah.

Physically, the Cukkah being a temporary tent requires restoration over time, especially for the Day of the Lord. Yet, is the restoration just the physical tent? Since it is meant to be temporary, restoration of the physical tent will be challenging and replacing it might be a better solution. If the restoration work is not only referring to the physical tent, what does it then refer to? We can only restore what we know. The definition of the Tabernacle of David that is to be restored is not found in a word study. So a Biblical study is needed to understand this.

 

A side note: The Tabernacle built by Moses was not called the Tabernacle of Moses in the Bible but the Tabernacle of the Lord. I will use the Tabernacle of Moses as most of us understand this phrase but thought I will point out that only the Tabernacle of David was named after the builder in the Bible.

JESUS’ PASSION WEEK DEVOTION – DAY 2/6 – Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

This week’s devotion of the Passion Week from Jesus’ Perspective. The devotions are written as first person, from Jesus’ perspective, like His personal journal of his thoughts and words gathered through Scriptures as the scenes of the Passion Week unfolds.

There are a number of references to the Song of Songs to get a peep into Jesus’ love for His people. As there are many symbolism used in Song of Songs, the list below helps to explain some of them that are found in the verses quotation in this week’s devotions.

  • Shulamite symbolizes Israel and the Church
  • The Beloved symbolizes Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom King
  • Spikenard symbolizes worship
  • Myrrh symbolizes death

This devotion emphasizes more on the heart and the spirit, rather than knowledge.

  • Take time to read the devotion slowly to allow the scriptures and events to go deep into you, beyond your mind.
  • It helps to read it several times, asking the Holy Spirit to bring you deeper.
  • Highlight the portions that jump out at you and write down your thoughts under “Personal Reflection” and also put into writing the response or even commitment that you want to make before God.

 

Day 2 – Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Read Luke 19:28-44 & John 12:12-19

The day has come for me to enter into Jerusalem. This familiar holy city is where I will finish my mission on earth. My Abba’s plan and purpose for me will be completed soon. Looking at the backs of the two disciples running off to prepare the room and get ready the donkey, the time has come to fulfil Abba’s Word through Prophet Zechariah (Zec 9:9).

O Jerusalem, my beautiful holy city, you feel so different today. As this young colt struts down Mt Olives into the city with me on its back, the people wave palm branches in great celebration shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest”. Here is a welcome to their king whom they do not know. I am coming for you my holy city. You will be mine, wholly mine. You will see my beauty and kingdom come. You cannot see my kingdom in your flesh, but only in the spirit.

I have to silence the Pharisees objections to this welcome. This is due to me, in my city. The stones in my city will cry out if the people choose not to. My heart is wrenched by your blindness. The pride of your religion I will tear down, and none of the stones in this temple will be left unturned because you do not know the time of my visitation, rejecting me in my own city.

Shulamite to the Beloved

Until the day breaks
And the shadows flee away,
Turn, my beloved,
And be like a gazelle
Or a young stag
Upon the mountains of Bether
(meaning separation). – SOS 2:17

I work miracles. I heal the sick. I chase out demons. I clean up the temple of vendors that exploit worshippers. I teach in my temple. I reveal my heart and power to you. You should have recognised me. I am going to the lowest pit before I ascend to the highest throne. You will treat me like the prophets and all who are sent to you. I am not only a prophet but the Son of God. Soon, at least you my disciples will understand when you see me gloried.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” – Mt 23:37-38.

 

 

Jesus’ Passion Week Devotion – Day 1/6 – Jesus Among Friends

This week’s devotion of the Passion Week from Jesus’ Perspective. The devotions are written as first person, from Jesus’ perspective, like His personal journal of his thoughts and words gathered through Scriptures as the scenes of the Passion Week unfolds.

There are a number of references to the Song of Songs to get a peep into Jesus’ love for His people. As there are many symbolism used in Song of Songs, the list below helps to explain some of them that are found in the verses quotation in this week’s devotions.

  • Shulamite symbolizes Israel and the Church
  • The Beloved symbolizes Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom King
  • Spikenard symbolizes worship
  • Myrrh symbolizes death

This devotion emphasizes more on the heart and the spirit, rather than knowledge.

  • Take time to read the devotion slowly to allow the scriptures and events to go deep into you, beyond your mind.
  • It helps to read it several times, asking the Holy Spirit to bring you deeper.
  • Highlight the portions that jump out at you and write down your thoughts under “Personal Reflection” and also put into writing the response or even commitment that you want to make before God.

Day 1 – Jesus Among Friends

Read and meditate on John 12:1-11

Supper with my dear friend Lazarus at Bethany brings much comfort to me. As usual, Martha serves us a great feast as a good host. It blesses my heart to see Lazarus, my dear friend, who went through death’s hell as a sign for what I am about to do. Those who witness your resurrection bear witness of me. People still come to your home to verify for themselves your coming back to life and some are here when they know that I am also in the house. This is a foretaste of what is to come. Mary, who always loves to sit by my feet knows that this visit is different. She is at my feet again. But this time the smell of spikenard fills the room as she anoints my feet and uses her hair to wipe them. Such extravagant and fragrant worship that blesses my heart!

I have to silence Judas’ response to Mary. She understands something that you Judas do not – my impending death. King Solomon writes, “Do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases” and no one should stop Mary. This is Mary’s expression of love. This is a preparation for my burial, my sacrifice. She will not have any other opportunity to do so after this.

“While the king is at his table, my spikenard sends forth its fragrance.
A bundle of myrrh is my beloved to me, that lies all night between my breasts.
” SOS 1:12-13

I will pour out way beyond the worth of this spikenard. What is a year’s wage compared to the world’s eternal wages of sin? I will pour out my glory, my life and my all. My body would be broken like this spikenard jar. My blood will flow just as the spikenard. In my breaking, the fragrance of Life in my blood will flow as a perpetual sacrifice before the throne of God. You cannot fully comprehend it now but one day, my disciples will lay your lives when your eyes are opened.

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. Like a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” (Song of Songs 2:1-2)

James and Peter, my invitation for you to follow me is still open and I know that you will follow me to the end (John 1:39). I pray the same for all the other disciples too. You will rise up and follow me to the end despite me going to the lowest place for the victory.

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” SOS 1:10 & 13

Grass is Greener on the Inside

I was at a huge Christian meeting and a well-known Christian speaker was speaking on the gift of Word of Knowledge. When faith is applied to Word of Knowledge, the power gifts are released. At the end of the meeting, they prayed for those with physical sickness and called out various conditions through the Word of Knowledge. Praise The Lord, 245 people were healed tonight!

While those in ministry were calling out the various conditions, I threw a fleece at The Lord for the healing of a person, that someone will receive a Word of Knowledge with very specific description of the physical condition if God wants to grant healing. Nothing close was called. It was one of those moments when I whined to God about no word was given. I was then reminded that a few months back He told me directly what he will do regarding the person with the condition and it was not healing. The Holy Spirit chided me, “Isn’t it better that I speak to you personally than through another person? Why do you want to be called out from a crowd when you already have direct access?”

Immediately I realized how foolish I was. In my previous work, I had access to backstage and celebrities when most people had to queue up and pay just to get an autograph. I can get a photo with them and even sit down for a meal or meals. In fact, I was working with them. There was no need for me to pay or queue. So why do I feel left out when God did not call me from the crowd for an issue that he had already spoke to me directly?

Grass is greener on the inside, in God’s kingdom. I need to appreciate how God treats me as an insider and gives me inside info. So I’d rather be on the inside than the other side. 😊

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P.S. Don’t get me wrong about not needing or wanting to hear from others. There is a role to play but for matters which God has chosen to speak directly, then I should not be looking elsewhere.

Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane bears witness to the last moments of Jesus before his arrest and crucifixion, after the Last Supper with his disciples.

The Garden of Gethsemane

39 And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. 40 When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, 42 saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” 43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. 45 When He rose from prayer, He came to the disciples and found them sleeping from sorrow, 46 and said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46 (NASB)

Although fully man, Jesus is also fully God. The godly nature of omniscience means he knows what is to come ahead of him, explaining the extent of his agony. As the Creator of our human body, he knows exactly the extent of the physical torture that awaits him. On top of this, the emotional pain of betrayal from his trusted disciple, and the abandonment by his other disciples when he takes on the path of suffering weighs on him. The weight of humanity’s sin upon his shoulders causing him to be separated from his perfectly united Abba is tremendous spiritual stress. This cup refers to the cup of redemption in a Passover Seder meal (the Last Super) that he just finished with his disciples, when he gave them the blood covenant that we remember now as Holy Communion. The price Jesus has to pay for this cup of redemption is unimaginable by any human mind. Matthew and Mark records Jesus praying this prayer three times. Jesus knows that this is the will of His Father and there is no other way. There is no way out. I might think there may be the permissible will of God rather than the perfect will. Nope, only God’s perfect will. It in with the full knowledge that Jesus obeyed the will of God. It might be a lot easier if Jesus did not have full knowledge, and just “happened” to walk to the cross. Often times, we as believers realise on hindsight that it was God’s wisdom not to reveal His full plan in a situation for we will not be willing to take the first step due to fear. This is not the case for Jesus. Full knowledge and full submission.

Instead of encouraging words, flogging.
Instead of respect, a crown of thorns.
Instead of a drink, vinegar.
Instead of a hand to hold, a cross to bear.
Instead of gifts, nails on his hands and legs.
Instead of enjoying the gift of breath, pain.
All received willingly.
From people who are not able to tell what is right from wrong,
With a passion wrongly placed.

13004169-christian-background-silhouette-of-s-man-wroship-the-cross-at-sunset-or-sunrise

It is instinctive for me to avoid being in situations where there is pain, especially if I can see it in the next step. What is my response to God’s invitation to carry the cross in Luke 14:27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.“? I shrink away. I wrestle with God, not for blessings but to avoid suffering. Some may say that Christ has already borne all suffering and pain on his shoulder and thus as believers, all we get is blessings. Yet it is hard to avoid the teachings about dying to self so that Christ can live in us. The only blockage to living out to our full destiny in Christ is ourselves, our fleshy nature. Because of this, we need to be crucified with Christ.

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 (NASB)

What amazes me even more is that in the agony of prayer, it is recorded that Jesus rose above the suffering COUNTING IT ALL JOY! I cannot imagine anyone consider enduring the cross as joy. Jesus casts his eyes further than the cross. Jesus is part of the Trinity even before he came to earth and was already ruling with Father God. The sitting down at the right of the throne of God represents a reinstatement of his position, which is a joyous occasion on its own. Perhaps there is an even greater joy that propels him through this suffering. Jesus was looking at the redemption of His Bride and through His authoring and perfecting her faith, she can be seated on the right hand of God with him.

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Dare to Dream with My Maker

flying-eagle

In the morning of 10 Aug this year, while I was struggling to get out of bed, I heard a familar inner voice that speaks so gently but firm, “DREAM WITH ME”.

Over the years, I have never dared to dream my own dream. It is not that I do not have dreams. Deep within me I have desires and dreams. Over the years, I have started to believe that perhaps God’s purpose for me is to help fulfill other’s dreams but not mine. Hurts and disappointments have seeped in each time my little steps toward my dreams are dashed by people and external circumstances. Traumatic events, one after another drain me dry, without any ounce of strength to even think about myself, what more to dream.  To others looking in from the outside, I seem to be coping well with all these. As I take on responsibility to do what is needed, dreams begin to drift further and further away from my reach. Managing my expectations, actually to have no expectations for my own good, becomes a protection against disappointments. I am happy to put my heart into helping others to fulfill their dreams if I can as I know how it feels not having one. I am genuinely happy to help but deep within, aches of such longings are exceptionally intense in the process. The only way to cope is to suppress this and ignore its existance. Deep within I am unhappy and dissatisfied  although I know that God has blessed me.

Proverbs 10:28 says that “The hope of the righteous is gladness” and I lost hope – hope that my heart will ever find gladness. Perhaps the only hope is to find this fullness when Christ comes back again. Yet this contradicts the God whom I know as in Psalms 27:13, David declared “I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living.” The goodness of God is available even in this fallen world. Dreams are only possible for those who have hope. Once hope is gone, dreams die.

I am once again challenged to come face with dreams that died so long ago and secret dreams that I never even dare to give second thoughts. God’s call to “DREAM WITH ME” is beginning to awaken sleeping desires within. Hope is beginning to arise. I am in the midst of seeing an almost impossible dream which I never even dared to give second thoughts to coming into reality. This internal struggle is immense, to believe or to protect. To believe that something good will come to pass or to protect myself by retreating into the deep black hole so that I will not be heart-broken again.

Learning to once again take courage and press onward for my dreams is taking so much out of me. I do hope that soon I can post about a dream becoming a reality. The practical steps are daunting. For those who happen to read this, and are struggling with something similar, I just want to tell you that you are not alone. Not because I am also going through this, but because God through Jesus Christ has the power to lift you and I out of this deep black hole of hopelessness.

P.S. Please don’t get me wrong. My dreams have never been about wealth, status or position. Some of them are very basic things that many people are enjoying as part of their normal lives.

God’s Better Answers to Our Prayers

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked God for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for
– but everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among men, most richly blessed.

(The poem above is reputed to have been found on the body of a dead confederate soldier during the war).

How to Discourage Artists in the Church

This article is so well-written that I want to share this here. Original article is found in this URL: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/05/28/how-to-discourage-artists-in-the-church/

Philip G. Ryken|12:01 AM CT

How to Discourage Artists in the Church

Many Christian artists live between two strange worlds. Their faith in Christ seems odd to many of their friends in the artistic community—almost as odd as their calling as artists seems to some of their friends at church. Yet Christians called to draw, paint, sculpt, sing, act, dance, and play music have extraordinary opportunities to honor God in their daily work and to bear witness to the grace, beauty, and truth of the gospel. How can pastors (and churches) encourage Christians with artistic gifts in their dual calling as Christian artists?

As a pastor and college president, I have made a sad discovery: the arts are not always affirmed in the life of the local church. We need a general rediscovery of the arts in the context of the church. This is badly needed because the arts are the leading edge of culture.

A recovery of the arts is also needed because the arts are a vital sign for the church. Francis Schaeffer once said:

For a Christian, redeemed by the work of Christ and living within the norms of Scripture and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts. A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God—not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.

In this article, I am taking a fresh and somewhat contrarian approach by seeking to answer the question, “How do you discourage artists in the church?”

In preparation, I asked some friends for their answers to my question: an actor, a sculptor, a jazz singer, a photographer. They are not whiners, but they gave me an earful (and said that it was kind of fun).

Here is my non-exhaustive list of ways that churches can discourage their artists (and some quotes from my friends).

Treat the arts as a window dressing for the truth rather than a window into reality. See the arts as merely decorative or entertaining, not serious and life-changing. “‘Humor’ artists by ‘allowing’ them to put work up in the hallways, or some forgotten, unused corner with terrible lighting, where it can be ‘decoration,'” David Hooker told me.

Embrace bad art. Tolerate low aesthetic standards. Only value work that is totally accessible, not difficult or challenging. One example would be digital images and photography on powerpoint as a background for praise songs. Value work that is sentimental, that doesn’t take risks, that doesn’t give offense, that people immediately “get.”

Value artists only for their artistic gifts, not for the other contributions they can make to the life of the church. See them in one dimension, not as whole persons. Specifically, discount artists for leadership roles because they are too creative, not analytical, too intuitive.

Demand artists to give answers in their work, not raise questions. Mark Lewis says, “Make certain that your piece (or artifact or performance) makes incisive theological or moral points, and doesn’t stray into territory about which you are unresolved or in any way unclear. (Clear answers are of course more valuable than questions).” Do not allow for ambiguity, or for varied responses to art. Demand art to communicate in the same way to everyone.

Never pay artists for their work. Expect that they will volunteer their service, without recognizing their calling or believing that they are workers worthy of their hire. Note that Old Testament artists and musicians were supported financially.

When you ask them to serve through the arts, tell them what to do and also how to do it. Don’t leave room for the creative process. Take, for example, a children’s Sunday school mural: “Tell them what it should look like, in fact, draw up plans first,” David Hooker said. Discourage improvisation; give artists a AAA road map.

Idolize artistic success. Add to the burden artists already feel by only validating the calling of artists who are “making it.”

Only validate art that has a direct application, for example, something that communicates a gospel message or can be used for evangelism. Artist Makoto Fujimura answers the following question in an interview at The High Calling: “How then do you see art as evangelism?” He says:

There are many attempts to use the arts as a tool for evangelism. I understand the need to do that; but, again, it’s going back to commoditizing things. When we are so consumer-driven, we want to put price tags on everything; and we want to add value to art, as if that was necessary. We say if it’s useful for evangelism, then it has value.

And, there are two problems with that. One, it makes art so much less than what it can be potentially. But also, you’re communicating to the world that the gospel is not art. The gospel is this information that needs to be used by something to carry it.

Only, that’s not the gospel at all. The gospel is life. The gospel is about the Creator God, who is an artist, who is trying to communicate. And his art is the church. We are the artwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works. If we don’t realize that fully, then the gospel itself is truncated and art itself suffers.

Do not allow space for lament. The artist’s call is to face the darkness while still believing in the light, to sense God’s silence and sorrow. Ruth Naomi Floyd asks, “How can artists of faith trace the darkness and pain of Good Friday to the joy of Sunday’s Resurrection?”

I could go on. Here are some more ways to discourage artists in the church:

  • Not setting reasonable boundaries.
  • Not allowing artists to experience creative freedom.
  • Asking the input of artists and deciding not to use it without an explanation.
  • Not giving artists the gift of real listening.
  • Not preaching and teaching the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ.

But the last item on my list is, in general, make artists not feel fully at home in the church. Most of the items on my list reflect a failure to understand art and to let art be art as a creative exploration of the potentialities of creation. This is a crushing burden because artists already know that as Christians they will not be fully at home in the world of art—they don’t worship its idols or believe its lies. N. T. Wright comments:

In my experience the Christian painter or poet, sculptor or dancer, is regularly regarded as something of a curiosity, to be tolerated, humoured even, maybe even allowed to put on a show once in a while. But the idea that they are, or could be, anything more than that—that they have a vocation to re-imagine and re-express the beauty of God, to lift our sights and change our vision of reality—is often not even considered.

So will you make a home for Christians called to be artists?

Please do what you can to accommodate them, because they are pointing us toward eternity. As W. David O. Taylor writes in For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts:

Whether through paint or sound, metaphor or movement, we are given the inestimable gift of participating in the re-creative work of the Triune God, anticipating that final and unimaginable re-creation of all matter, space, and time, the fulfillment of all things visible and invisible.

* * * * * * * * * *

Editors’ note: For more on how pastors can encourage artistic gifts, read from Michael Wilder, dean of the Conservatory of Music, Arts, and Communication at Wheaton College. He presented together with Ryken in a workshop at The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference.

Philip G. Ryken is the president of Wheaton College and a Council member for The Gospel Coalition.

Mind Field

Lies and deceptions flood the mind
A battle for sanity and what is mine
Groping in the darkness for the unknown
This glimmer of light is the only hope

Deep within the conscience cries
Yet this guile detracts the mind
Tears that flow reflects the life
Of the struggle to do it right

Hanging on tight to my Savior’s heel
His grace unexplainable in me unfold
Girding me to stand and behold
LOVE, it carries me through this field

Strong Mind