Sunday, August 26, 2007

Quote of the Week

"I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess."

Martin Luther (1483 - 1546)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Discovering Evangelicals in the World of Art

I'm not artistic, nor am I particularly interested in art. I'm a minimalist and a technologist. But I found this Associated Press article on evangelical engagement in the world of art, particularly interesting.

By the way, this isn't about just adding biblical quotes to scenic photos. These are serious artists expressing their God given artistic talent, in subtle but real ways to bring glory to God. Among the ranks of these gifted artists is Makato Fujimura. Here's an excerpt from the article by Eric Gorski that features Fujimura's Christian worldview.

There are no crosses in Makoto Fujimura's paintings. No images of Jesus gazing into the distance, or serene scenes of churches in a snow-cloaked wood.

Fujimura's abstract works speak to his evangelical Christian faith. But to find it takes some digging.

After the 2001 terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center, three blocks from Fujimura's home, his work explored the power of fire to both destroy and purify, themes drawn from the Christian Gospels and Dante's "The Divine Comedy."

"I am a Christian," says Fujimura, 46, who founded the nonprofit International Arts Movement to help bridge the gap between the religious and art communities. "I am also an artist and creative, and what I do is driven by my faith experience.

"But I am also a human being living in the 21st century, struggling with a lot of brokenness - my own, as well as the world's. I don't want to use the term 'Christian' to shield me away from the suffering or evil that I see, or to escape in some nice ghetto where everyone thinks the same."

By making a name for himself in the secular art world, Fujimura has become a role model for creatively wired evangelicals. They believe that their churches have forsaken the visual arts for too long - and that a renaissance has begun.

I'm encouraged to learn about Makato Fujimura because he serves as an example of someone who is faithfully honing his craft, coupling it with a rich, biblical faith and broadcasting the good news of God's grace to the world. In an essay entitled The Extravagance of God, Fujimura unpacks the story of Jesus anointed by Mary in John 12. It's filled with gospel centered thinking which tells me that Fujimura is more than an artist, he's a passionate follower of Christ -

A pint of pure nard was worth about one person's wage for a year... No wonder that Judas objected to such "waste". If you saw someone pouring such expensive perfume on another person, I think the natural reaction would be to question "why?"... Artistic endeavors somewhat parallel this extravagant devotion. ... In my own work, I use such expensive materials, I often have to weigh what my family will eat that week with what I can order for materials. Why do I use such expensive mineral pigments and gold?

Is the expense justified in art? In order to answer this question, we must answer not with "why", but "to whom". And it seems to me that we have only two answers to this question of "to whom"; it's either to ourselves, or to God. We are either glorifying ourselves or God. And the extravagance can only be justified if the worth of the object of adoration is greater than the cost of extravagance. The glory of the substance poured out can only reflect the glory of the one to whom it is being poured upon. And if the object of glory is not worthy, then the act would be foolish and wasteful.

Most of the time, unfortunately, even our best acts of "devotion" turn out to be an instrument for worldly success and gain. Judas was an extraordinary man with extraordinary gifts; he, along with the other disciples, healed the sick, delivered people from demons, and preached the good news of the Messiah (Matthew 10:4). He gave up everything to follow the Master. And yet, ultimately, he thought Christ had come to reign on the earth, to give him earthly powers and privileges. His heart ultimately deceived him as his master stepped closer and closer to the cross; the cross that would strip Jesus, and his disciples, of all earthly privileges and power. The only earthly possession Christ wore on the cross was the very aroma of the perfume Mary had poured upon him. And Judas betrayed the master for 30 pieces of silver; notably less than the worth of Mary's perfume.

Often, what we think of as our adoration and offering to God turns out to be false adoration and offering. The Bible is full of characters like Cain and Saul who thought they were making good offerings to God, when in fact they were not. Their offerings, and ultimately they themselves, were rejected by God. How do we know that our offerings are acceptable?

One true test is that true adoration and worship is always God-initiated (in response to what God has already done) and not self-initiated. Something comes to you, surprising and life changing--transcending everything you thought was possible. It may come in the form of an event or a person. But the content of such a message opens your mind to the possibilities of God's existence and his ever-reality. You are afraid and reluctant because such matters are too wonderful and seemingly unbelievable. And yet, the adventure beckons you to leap beyond yourself to a new domain, casting aside your comfort zone, your previous definition of God. Such was Mary's reaction.

If your act of adoration is earning "points" with God, your actions will not ultimately please God but only yourself, becoming a dull religious code of ethics. No matter how hard you work, how much you sacrifice, you will not experience the joy overflowing. On the other hand, the arts are a glorious gift from God; and in the process of creation lies the joy of God's creative heartbeat. Thus you will find in the creative process freedom and release; you will find joy and a measure of greatness, whether you believe in God or not. But if the offering is made to the Altar of Art and altar of self-glorification, you will find, as I have, the glory of your own works to create a schism in your heart. Your works, your ideals will only point to the double-mindedness of your own motives and existence. There will be a gap between who you are and what you create.

Mary had seen Jesus raise her brother from the grave. She also heard the master talk about the punishment on the cross that he was to bear in Jerusalem in a few days. I suspect she connected the two events together in her mind. There was a direct correlation between her brother's life and her master's impending death. If she did not understand this analytically, as her sister Martha would have understood (John 11:27), she understood it intuitively. Her Master had to suffer, because he was so willing to weep and intervene, not only for her brother but also for her. He stepped into their domain, but as thankful as she was, she also knew that her world was filled with falsehood and sin. Thus, as soon as he chose to intervene, the glorious Prince of Peace had to become disfigured because of the reality of sin and death; the Beauty had to become the Beast. Every time Jesus healed and forgave, he stepped closer and closer to the cross, the judgement of God. The cross should have been for you and me, the Beasts trapped in the curse of our own doing; but Christ, the ultimate Beauty, intervened and took the punishment for us. Pouring a $30,000 perfume upon his feet is the least a Beast can do for the Beauty who loves us so uncondionally

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Grace, like water, always flows downward, to the lowest place."

Philip Yancey, foreword to John Newton, From Disgrace to Amazing Grace

Thursday, August 16, 2007

We're Not Made For Bread

Last weekend, my church held a one day seminar on Biblical Meditation by Mike Bullmore, pastor of Crossway Community Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I was only able to make it to the morning sessions but something Mike Bullmore said in the second session, particularly impressed upon my heart.

He read from Deuteronomy 8:1-3.

The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the LORD swore to give to your fathers.
And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Commenting on this passage, Mike Bullmore caught my attention when he made this vital point: "we are not made for bread".

The passage tells us that God led the Israelites through the wilderness to humble them. At times, He even allowed them to go hungry, only so that He might satisfy them with manna. He did this to show the Israelites that they were not made to be satisfied by physical food alone, but by the very word of God. They were created to be satisfied by God Himself.

We need food, water, shelter, clothing and many other physical things. We are also given many things, simply to enjoy - good books, loving relationships, fruitful work, relaxing vacations, Disney World, summer picnics, etc... But, we ought to remember that we were not made for these things.

Dear friends, we're not made for bread.

If you'd like hear to the entire second session on Biblical Meditation, here's the link.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Quote of the Week

A theological fact becomes a spiritual truth only when it is received by a humble mind.
The proud mind, however orthodox, can never know spiritual truth. Light means nothing to a blind man.

A.W. Tozer from essay, Evangelical Snobbery

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Why Pursue Humility in Business?

Last week, we discussed how humility in business is often motivated by a utilitarian ethic. For many in business, the pursuit of humility is encouraged because humility works and perhaps it's even good for business.

But is this sufficient or even acceptable motivation for the Christian? I think we all know intuitively that it isn't. We know that humility pursued simply for the sake of gaining influence or advancing career goals isn't real humility at all.

If we're not meant to pursue humility in this way, how then should we be motivated for humility? I know it's a strange question to ask - why should you pursue humility in your daily work?

Should humility be pursued for it's own sake? Or does the Bible offer us particular motivations to seek humility?

Here are a few thoughts from the Bible regarding humility and why we might be motivated to pursue it.
  • We seek to be humble because we want to experience God's favor. A prime motivation for humility is that we want God to look upon us - we want His favor upon us - we want more of His grace - we desire more of Him.
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be,
declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

Isaiah 63:2
  • We seek to be humble because we know that God is opposed to the proud. Unlike the pragmatist, we seek to be humble because we fear God. The following words ring true to us and we take them seriously upon our hearts -
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another,
for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

1 Peter 5:5
  • We ought to pursue humility because our Savior exemplified humility for us in every way. This is one of the rare occasions in the New Testament that we're encouraged to look to Christ's example as a point of motivation. Paul lends weight to his exhortation for humility by pointing to Jesus' ultimate condescension for our sake.
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility
count others more significant than yourselves.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.

Phillipians 2:3-7
  • We also pursue humility because we trust that God will reward us. This is different from the utilitarian view because it looks to God in faith. It doesn't view God as a vending machine dispensing career advancement or riches, simply by slotting in the coins of humility. Instead, it looks to God, trusting that He will provide the reward in His own time, in His own way.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you

1 Peter 5:6
  • We demonstrate humility in our dealings with others because we have received much from God. Have you had success at work? Undoubtedly, you've achieved it because God has provided help through others. If you have skills to apply to your work, it because God has equipped you for it. Are you well regarded? It is God who has granted you favor.

    Most of all, you have received mercy and grace from God such that you no longer labor under God's wrath but under His pleasure.
For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

1 Corinthians 4:6

Why do you pursue humility? Anything I left out?
Please share your thoughts with us.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Why Did the Bridge Collapse?

I'm skipping the "quote of the week" post to share this -

Desiring God Ministries located in Minneapolis, released this video of the aftermath of the tragedy in their backyard. It is set to a provocative, gospel centered message by John Piper entitled "Where is God".

You may find Piper's comments provocative but if gospel truth doesn't speak to the matters of life and death, when is it ever relevant?

In fact, nothing is more relevant in the midst of tragedy than the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Also check out Piper's blog posting on the evening of the tragedy.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Humility in Business

A couple of months ago, after listening to a sermon on the topic of humility, my friend Mike wondered what humility would look like in the workplace. So I thought I'd ask you for examples of humility in the workplace... but that's next week's post.

Before we venture into examples of humility in the workplace, I thought we'd explore the topic of humility in a slightly different angle. Mike's comment led me to do a little research (I was googling, but research sounds so much better) on the topic of humility in business. Here's what I discovered:

Humility can be good for business. Partly driven by the popular Good to Great book by Jim Collins, many are taking a fresh look at humility as an essential virtue of the effective business leader. In fact, in a 2004 interview, Stone Phillips of NBC News actually asks the question "Can humility be good for business?". Here's part of the opening quote -
"...there is a movement in America that insists arrogance, greed and selfishness don't have to be the hallmarks of business. It's a model of business management that's catching on with corporations today, called servant-leadership. Can humility and faith be good for business? Was Jesus the ultimate CEO?"

Make no mistake about it - this is hardly mainstream. However, there is growing awareness that "humility" can lead to success in business. Some are looking at the example of Jet Blue's CEO handling of a corporate crisis and lauding his humble response.

So, here are my questions -

  • Is this utilitarian emphasis on humility as a core virtue of the successful business leader something that Christians should embrace?
  • Should a Christian define humility differently? After all, humility is a trait that most religions tout as virtuous.
  • How would you define humility and what motivates you to pursue it?