This is the fifth of five articles:
My Vision- The Community
The artistic community of the Christian is the subject of this article. I would like to explore the meaning of the word “community” as it relates to the arts and how they function within and through the Church most successfully.
The American College Dictionary defines community as “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and have a cultural and historical heritage.”
As “community” relates to the expression of the arts both within and through the Church, I believe there are several foundational traits that can be seen. They are as follows: 1) Boundaries and Location, 2) Language, 3) History, 4) Destiny, 5) Beliefs, 6) Sacrifice, and 7) A Means of Exchange.
Boundaries and Location
“For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is highly exalted.” (Ps. 47:9)
Boundaries in life are necessary to the proper functioning of all individuals, relationships, communities and cultures. Artists love to either disregard, or at least stretch the boundaries of their communities (which is not necessarily a bad thing). It is healthy for each community to continue to define its boundaries, and the artist’s challenge to that community continues to keep its participants engaged in healthy discussion of what those boundaries should be, thus establishing even stronger community, with stronger relationships, and ultimately stronger boundaries. If the Christian artist is of the attitude and spirit of giving and serving through the challenges he brings, the outcome will ultimately be beneficial (even though the process may at times be painful to the parties involved).
Boundaries, nevertheless, are good for us. According to Scripture, they are established by God. Undoubtedly, boundaries can also be perverted and used incorrectly, shielding us from certain relationships or fears. But boundaries, fundamentally, are meant to protect us and help us to succeed and prosper.
There are multiple levels of boundaries in place all around us, such as the boundaries of marriage, family, church, civil laws, national borders, etc. Boundaries are in place to create a sense of peace and freedom in our lives. When boundaries are transgressed and broken, it can bring fear, disturbance and heartbreak into people’s lives.
For each boundary, or circle of relationships we have in our lives, there are laws unique to that particular relationship circle, therefore we must deal with each circle differently.
Look at the life of Jesus as an example of this.
To the masses, He was the Miracle-Worker. To His followers, He was Teacher. To His twelve disciples, He was Mentor. To the Three (Peter, James and John), He was Messiah. To John, He was Intimate Friend.
The multitudes only followed Him for what He could do for them. John, however, was the one Jesus secretly told who was going to betray Him to crucifixion. John was the only disciple who was standing at the foot of the cross, as Jesus gave him the responsibility to care for His mother.
Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, but He interpreted the parables only to His disciples. When He raised the little girl from the dead, He put out all the people, and only took into the room with Him the father and mother, with Peter, James and John.
As stated above, just before being crucified, He divulged only to John his vulnerability, in who would betray Him.
In each relationship circle, He had a different way of communicating, a different expectation, a different accountability. He shared His giftedness in different ways to different circles of relationships.
The three following scriptural passages are seemingly enigmatic and contradictory, but I believe there is an important lesson in their comparison.
“A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly.” (Prov. 12:23)
“The lips of the wise spread knowledge, but the heart of fools is not so” (Prov. 15:7)
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matt. 7:6)
So do we spread knowledge, or do we conceal (hide) it? As artists, are we to be seeking to spread our art and creativity to the whole world through every available means, or are we to be somehow more discreet?
Have you ever heard someone say, “Just be yourself”, and you asked yourself the question, “Which part of myself are they talking about”? There are boundaries of our lives that should only be known by the few or the one, and not to the masses. For example, there are things that I share with my wife in intimacy that if I were to share with the world, I would be branded a fornicator. There are things I share with my children, that if I made those things known to the masses, my children would hate me for disclosing our secrets. There are things I know about people, as I have worked in ministry for over twenty years, that if I were to share them with the masses, I could be sued or thrown in jail for slander. Clearly, prudence dictates that we maintain boundaries in our circles of relationships.
“I passed by the field of the sluggard…and its stone wall was broken down…” (Prov. 24:30)
It takes work, diligent work, to maintain boundaries in life. We should, through compassion, love and generosity, always be seeking to give away that which God has given to us, to benefit others, but in wisdom we should seek where to give it. We should be seeking the place, the people, the timing in which the deposited seed will have the greatest advantage to grow. We can and should give to others in the proper context of our various concentric circles of relationships, from the most intimate to the least intimate masses, and we should endeavor to give wisely, discreetly.
With today’s instant technological transmission of knowledge, it is easy to take that which is intimate and broadcast it to the world, which is why tremendous care should be taken by the artist to give only that which is relevant to the proper circle of relationships. Each circle will have its own unique standards of expectations and communication. Trying to superimpose one circle’s rules in another circle’s domain will only bring frustration, and potential disaster. This is why, as Christian artists, we must be keenly aware of which community boundary we are operating within.
As stated earlier, to the masses, Jesus was the Miracle-Worker (from this, we may ask ourselves the question: What is my gifting?). To His followers, He was Teacher (from this, we may ask ourselves: What is my knowledge?). To His twelve disciples, He was Mentor (from this, we should ask ourselves: What is my character?). To the Three (Peter, James and John), He was Messiah (this relates to the question: What is my purpose?). To John, He was Intimate Friend (from this, we should ask the question: Where am I vulnerable?)
There will be those who know you only for your gifting (the masses), and there will be those who know and love your gifting, but they appreciate even more your knowledge (these are your followers). Then there are those who both enjoy your gifting and appreciate your knowledge, but they have come to trust your character (these are your disciples). There are those who love all the above-mentioned things about you, but they know something so many others don’t: they know your life’s purpose, your destiny, your journey (these are your closest friends). And then there is someone who knows and loves everything about you, but they know your weaknesses, where you are most vulnerable (this is your intimate friend.)
Community for the Christian is not only on earthly levels, however. “But God, being rich in mercy…raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-6) “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every encumbrance…” (Heb. 12:1) “My Kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (Jn. 18:36) As Christian believers, our community is also spiritual. We, in Christ, according to what is written, are in God’s Presence, and are surrounded by a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ who have gone before us.
Our Kingdom and community is not marked with physical barriers or human laws. It cannot be physically seen, or scientifically measured by human ingenuity. It is not administrated by political influence or obtained by militaristic conquest. The community of the Christian does not exist in this realm, no matter how hard we sometimes try to seek it there. No, our Kingdom Community transcends national barriers, ethnic barriers, social class barriers, gender barriers and any other barrier known to man.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)
You see, in the natural realm, there are boundaries, but the spiritual Kingdom Community transcends all of the natural realm’s boundaries.
As Christian artists, we are sent to touch everyone, from our home-town to the farthest corner of the earth. “But you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Jerusalem represents our home. Judea represents our immediate physical community. Samaria represents our ideological community. “The remotest part of the earth” shows that the Message of the Christian faith is unrestricted by any and every possible human boundary.
So, to summarize, as Christian artists, we are spiritually unrestricted by human boundaries and locations, but in our human relationships, we are to be wisely discerning as to how, where and when we bring these truths to each of our circles of influence, whether it be in our most intimate relationships, to our family, our local church community, our ideological Christian community, or the various nations and people groups the world over. The Gospel is unrestricted, but how we present the Gospel must successfully contact the circles of human community with wise timing and communication, specific to the various languages of these community circles.
“And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” (I Cor. 9:20-23)
There are obviously many different layers to a Christian artist’s community. It is more than what happens in church on Sunday morning, or which band hits the top of the chart that week. I want to emphasize and caution, however, the more intimate the circle of relationships and community, the more real it is. It is spiritually healthier. Conversely, the less intimate the circle of relationships, the more dangerous and problematic it becomes, even though it seems deceptively benign.
“A man of many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Prov. 18:24)
Relationships are not only one-way streets, they require mutual interactivity. Intimate relationships are highly interactive and involve a high level of commitment and consequence to the decisions made on the part of the participants. Another word for this is: Accountability.
It’s easy to sit at a computer, surf the internet and have cyber-relationships. But it’s just as easy to disconnect, and no one seems the worse off for it. No accountability. If someone says something or does something you disagree with, just shut it down and go somewhere else.
By contrast, sit in a room with people having a disagreement and things are not so easy. Conflict, and resolution to that conflict, must happen! There’s no way around it. The importance of proximity in community is what I’m getting at. A church gathering in a physical location provides higher accountability than a cyber-church. Human life begins when there is physical proximity (even with artificial insemination, the seed is physically present).
The less direct accountability a Community Circle provides, the more potentially dangerous it becomes. Fame is an illusion, in that it promises self-fulfillment and esteem, but only gives vague and inconclusive relationships.
Jesus was famous, but those who applauded Him one day crucified Him the next. Intimacy is also not without danger. As we know, one of His closest disciples betrayed Him. But for the one who betrayed Him, there were still a greater number (eleven) that loved Him.
What I’m saying is: it’s good to have influence in many wide-spread circles, but the highest priority should be given to the more intimate ones, the most intimate relationship being with the Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ. “…He is intimate with the upright.” (Prov. 3:32) Every relationship and community involvement stems from that which is within the individual, and is most healthily prioritized from the most intimate to the least intimate.
If we, as Christian artists, will wisely prioritize our boundaries and skillfully hone the languages to our ever-widening concentric circles of influence, we will ultimately fulfill God’s plan and divine destiny for our lives and His Kingdom on the earth.
For each concentric circle of relationships, there is also a specific and unique language.
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago- whether in the body I don not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows- such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man- whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows- was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” (II Cor. 12:2-4)
For the Christian artist, the language is the art. To him, it is the most meaningful avenue of expression, and it also conveys the most meaning to others. “A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men.” (Prov. 18:16) “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.” (Prov. 22:29) The most effective way to spread the Gospel for the Christian artist is through his God-given gift.
The gift, however, can be tailored to each Community Circle’s culture.
In a church community, there are many ‘understood’ sayings among the congregants that a newcomer may have difficulty grasping. Phrases like “under the Blood”, “Hallelujah”, the interjection of “Amen” periodically, and the list goes on. Many habits of worship, unique to an individual congregation, which carries meaning (or should carry meaning, if it hasn’t become a ‘dead metaphor’) may not be understood by the passerby, and most certainly not by the secular world.
Some churches are embarrassed about these cultural anomalies, and do everything in their power to get rid of them in their services, trying to reach the secular world with as few impediments as possible. Other churches seem content to be separate from the secular community, even ostracized for some of their interesting practices of worship and means of expression.
I’m not trying to judge which scenario is right or wrong, but rather to point out that for each sphere of influence there will be a different language. The first church mentioned is trying to reach a secular audience. The second church mentioned is functioning within its own community, to encourage one another. I believe there is a time and place for both.
To the first church example, I would caution not to disdain the history of its worship expression, because of its uniqueness. To the second example, I would warn that staying only inside-focused will ultimately bring about the cessation of the organization.
The artist’s gifting, however, should be able to find expression in communities of “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) In other words, if I find myself in a liturgical church, my gift should be useful in some capacity. If I find myself in a non-liturgical, free-flowing environment, my gifting should find usefulness. If I am in a secular setting, God Himself lives inside me, and as I express my gift in that setting, it can be useful in drawing people to Him.
Some Christian artists perform in bars to make a living (and sometimes because they have not yet fully sanctified their desire for that lifestyle). My only comment on this situation is that it is important for the person to completely identify with who he is in Christ, and not hide or shy away from that revelation. Complete identification with Christ will ultimately lead him out of the environment of decadence into a more wholesome venue in the expression of his gifting. The Spirit of God can obviously touch people in any cultural circle, but communities of dissipation cannot ultimately be the Christian artist’s final platform of expression.
The artist has a voice, and this voice can speak in many languages, those that are most appropriate to the setting in which he finds himself. A worthy goal for a Christian artist would be to gain fluency in a wide range of languages (various styles and an array of artistic expression). That way he can reach the most number of people and the most number of concentric circles of influence. A skillful artist is one, like the above example of the Apostle Paul, who can be all things to all people. Artists who are stuck in one style and only one circle of influence, and who are unwilling to reach beyond these areas by developing new skill sets, are destined to be left behind. Only by constant learning, challenging himself to adapt to new environments, can the artist stay relevant and vibrant in his influence.
One of the most important aspects of an individual or community is the knowledge of where they came from and where they are going. The history of the Christian artist can be on several levels. The foundation is the Bible itself, in which there is ample material for inspiration and meditation as to the role of the arts in worship. The historic Church is also rich with examples of men and women who have served their communities with integrity and sincerity. There is also the secular realm of artists who, in some way were influenced by the Christian culture in which they lived and created. The artist’s own personal journey and calling, based upon his or her own unique giftedness can also bring inspiration for future ventures.
When Israel’s army defeated the Midianites, the plunder they acquired had to be put through the fire and through the water before it was cleansed and brought into the camp. (Num. 31:22-24) In a similar manner, those things from the world around us, whether it be our own past, or even secular ideas, anything from which we can draw inspiration, must first go through the Fire of God’s Spirit and the Water of His Word before we allow it into our minds and imagination. It becomes useful to us only when it has been sanctified by the influence of God in our lives. That which cannot withstand the scrutiny of His Spirit and Word in our lives, must be discarded.
Regarding our own past, I’m reminded of King David, when he was obtaining from King Saul permission to fight Goliath, how he recounted his past successes. He had fought and overcome wild animals in the defense of the flock he was tending, and used that as an example of what he would do to Goliath. After defeating the giant, he took mementos of the victory, which he placed inside of his tent.
All of us need to remind ourselves of our past victories so that we can be encouraged to face new challenges. History is the fuel for our future, as long as it is truly set aflame. Only as it passes through the fire can it be useful to us. We do not need to dwell in the past, but recycle it for the present and the future. Past failures and mistakes, for the Christian, cannot cross the Blood-line of Jesus’ forgiveness in our lives, but I thoroughly believe that the good which has been placed in our lives, He does not wish to waste. He was there all the time, even when we may not have seen Him working, so why throw out all the past? The good things He has done in and through us can be remembered, bringing inspiration for the future. Just as David carried around Goliath’s spear and stories of slaying a lion and a bear, so we can have our victory stories, as well. It’s our history.
The Church’s artistic heritage can and should be drawn upon for inspiration, again, not to be re-lived, but recycled into new energy for future ventures. The depth of historic understanding one has is directly relational to his skillfulness in his work. Always looking for ‘what’s new’ or ‘what’s hot’ ultimately are shallow waters, when it comes to lasting inspiration.
A local church community, as well, has its own history and uniqueness that should not be overlooked or disdained. Those who have established patterns of cultural language in the local Christian community should be honored and understood before making radical departures from that congregational history. I’m not saying that radical change is not necessary at times, but those decisions should be weighed carefully against the sacrifices made by those who have come before.
To reach the different circles of culture and community, an individual or organization will be constantly changing. Change is a good thing, but it must be weighed against identity. If one gives up his identity in order to reach culture, he has nothing of uniqueness to give. The balance of identity to culture is the Christian artist’s constant negotiation. (For more on this, see “Excellence versus Relevance”) Identity must never be compromised, but always re-communicated in new and relevant languages.
History is an important anchor to establish identity. We know who we are as Christians, because we have invested time in history: reading the Bible. Authentic Christians don’t just stay in the past wondering what it was like ‘back in the day’, but rather, they ask the question, “What have I learned from the past that can be applied to the present and the future?” The Bible sitting on the coffee table collecting dust is useless. But the Bible ingested into the heart of a believer, inscribed on his imagination, molded into his sub-consciousness is history that has become fuel for historic change and future advancements. History, by itself, is a dead letter. History breathed upon by the Spirit of God is power for future achievement. How many Scriptural passages are a reflection of earlier passages that had been meditated by the writers? The new revelations came forth upon the writer’s deep and thoroughly digested understanding of the historic passages that came before.
The same holds true for the history of a community. The natural outgrowth springs forth like a new branch on an ancient tree. The branch cannot exist without the tree from which it came.
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.” (Eph. 6:1-3)
There is something about honoring those who have come before us, who have made sacrifices we may not know about, in places and times we haven’t seen. The sacrifices they have made give us the foundation we currently stand upon, the blessings we live in today. How often do we take for granted the love gifts that have established our current place of well-being, only to criticize, bringing comparison to ‘greener fields’ on the ‘other side of the fence’?
As we honor those who are our historical ‘fathers’, seeking to understand the gifts they have given, we too will partake of the Scriptural promise which was made to children who honor their parents: it will go well with us.
But a word of caution: anarchy sows seeds of anarchy, while honor sows seeds of honor. Those who are anxious to tear down and make something new, at the expense of the dishonoring of those who have come before, will themselves one day reap displacement and shame. Their ‘new’ will one day be old again, and they will ultimately find themselves cast aside in the same dishonor they initiated.
“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)
God has a plan, a good plan, for each Community Circle in which our lives are involved. He has a plan for the Christian artist’s intimate relationship with Himself, with his wife and family, for his church community, for his ideological community, and for his ministry to the secular world. He has a plan to see success in every realm of an individual’s life. Why? For influence’s sake. The Kingdom of God can flood into the earth through the successful relationships of an individual’s life. When the artist is properly prioritized in his relational dealings, properly balanced, the impact of his life’s influence can be exponential.
Understanding one’s history and uniqueness is foundational to understanding one’s destiny. Destiny, however, surpasses history, when one places himself into the guiding hands of his Creator. God, alone, sees all history and destiny. He alone has objectivity. We can only see bits and pieces of perception, but He sees it all very clearly. When we, as an individual or collective community, are leaning upon His guidance, we will begin to perceive greater things than what our natural inclinations show us.
Supernatural influence, that which is above nature and natural human understanding, when it comes into our lives, can supersede any and all historical limitations placed upon our lives. God desires to use every part of our past, even our past failures, for our good, and the good of others. He is the ultimate ‘good steward’. He loves to ‘recycle’ the old and use it to fuel the new path, the new destiny. But we must also be able to perceive the new destiny He has for us. This can only happen through our interaction with Him by His Word and His Spirit.
A Community Circle that is attuned to the supernatural influence of God can both perceive their corporate destiny and move in lock-step with one another, even without human leadership.
“Four things are small on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise…The locusts have no king, yet all of them go out in ranks.” (Prov. 30:27)
It was never God’s original desire for the children of Israel to have a king, but they wanted to live by rule of law, rather than supernatural influence.
Where there is little love, there will be much law, and where there is much love, there will be little law.
A community that functions in much love, emanating from God Himself, Who is love (I Jn. 4:16), will corporately follow their destiny with little or no need for human leadership.
A community, however, that exhibits little love, will necessitate higher levels of human leadership, even to the point of militaristic leadership, in order to maintain its community.
I am reminded of a trip I took in my teens behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ in Soviet Block countries. Countless people were trying to get out to find success and prosperity beyond communist control. The government did everything it could to try to detain people from leaving.
On the other hand, on our American borders, we’re having difficulty keeping people out of our land, because of the grace and plenteous opportunities for success that are offered here.
Two examples of borders and rule: one dominating to maintain its community, the other freely accessible and plentiful in its community.
A community based on love will always overflow with provision. Have you ever heard of a ‘pot-luck’ dinner, where each person brings what is in their heart to the community feast? I used to always wonder prior to the event if we would end up having enough food for everyone, and would be amazed at the abundant provision that manifested. A community which is vibrantly connected to the source of love will emanate love towards one another and will have no lack. A community which is fearful of lack, and consequently selfish, will end up impoverished.
It takes faith to give into a community with no guarantee of return. This faith is anchored in a trusting relationship with God, that He will never fail you or forsake you. A community which operates in faith and love is the highest level of all possible communities. A community of this kind will ultimately fulfill their God-given destiny to spill over to all other communities His manifested love and grace.
As artists live, move and have their being in communities like this, their art will be plentiful.
The secular concept of an artist is usually that of an isolated individual, separate from all community involvement in his inner-secluded realm of creativity. Even more so, today, electronic means of expression make it possible for the artist to singularly do great things. But the artist in community is even greater. His weaknesses are other’s strengths, and vice versa. The synchronicity of people’s unique gifts coming together in community amplifies God’s grace exponentially, and creates an environment in which God Himself inhabits. In that place, Heaven touches earth. The Kingdom Community of Heaven itself fills that time and space. In this environment a community’s destiny is fulfilled.
There are lesser levels of this which are possible in other forms of community, as we individually interact with our own ‘Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the remotest parts of the earth’, carrying God’s presence within us, operating through our various means of communication and giftedness, but the Kingdom Community is our home-base, from which we draw our strength.
We are still talking about simple ordinary people, fraught with human failings and natural inconsistencies, but these same people, who are willing to extend the forgiveness and love of God to one another, will continue to be supernaturally envisioned and empowered to prosper in the corporate destiny of Kingdom Community.
The commonality of a community is not established with things from the natural realm, but rather from the realm of ideas. Two people can sit side by side in a church building, yet have widely differing views and beliefs. There is no community between these individuals, even though they are sitting next to one another. Proximity in the physical realm does not equal proximity in the spiritual realm.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (Js. 4:8)
There is proximity, direction and geography in the realm of the spirit. We can move closer to God or farther away, based upon the choices we make in our thought-life.
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (II Cor. 10:4-5)
“A wise man scales the city of the mighty, and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.” (Prov. 21:22)
There are territories being conquered in the realm of ideas, communities being formed, not so much around physical boundaries of lands and governmental rule, but around concepts and ideologies.
Within one church denomination, there can be a wide range of differing ideas, which range from one end of the ideological spectrum of the Christian faith to the other. Just because someone calls himself a part of a certain denomination or man-made designation of doctrine, doesn’t mean that he is necessarily fully aligned with that particular group. He may have a strong alliance with a completely different community, ideologically, even though he is nominally identified with the first group.
So our community of beliefs transcends both our physical location, as well as our outwardly-perceived identities of faith.
People continue to try to make sense of this dilemma, always trying to identify someone as a “this kind of Christian” or “that kind of belief”, always trying to put people in a box in order to make sense of the world around us.
The truth is, our belief systems are dynamic, ever-changing, always moving. As much as we try, we will never completely be able to put people in a box, because people are spiritual by nature. Building a multi-million dollar facility will not ultimately identify people’s belief systems. Putting people on the roll of church membership will not identify them. Giving them this name or that name will not contain them. It seems that all of our human attempts to control other people, through identifying them, ends in an elusive pursuit of futility.
Ultimately, we as humans are only united by a force higher than ourselves. We just don’t have the ability to control one another forever. In the end, organizations fail, nations are overtaken, societies crushed, relationships disbanded. But the ideas we observe continue to exist from generation to generation. The same problems seem to arise between differing ideologies from one millennium to the next. As humans, we seem to continue to give ourselves into these opposing ideas that war against each other, generation after generation. Whether we like it or not, we are in an epic battle, eons deep in history, and the ideologies each one of us espouse end up positioning us squarely on one side or the other in this monumental war.
Is there any place of safety, any place of respite?
“For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (I Pet. 2:25)
I love the Bible’s picture of Jesus being a shepherd, leading, guiding and protecting His flock.
“For the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…(Ps. 23:1-5)
Jesus, the Shepherd of our souls…the Shepherd of our thoughts, our beliefs, our ideologies is leading us, feeding us, protecting us from danger even in the midst of our enemies.
We, as people cannot ultimately succeed in gathering and maintaining a community within the scope of our human resources. Finally, it is Jesus alone Who can Shepherd and gather the ideologies and beliefs of His people. All of us, with all of our different hang-ups, life-experiences, differences of opinions and leanings directly respond to His invisible spiritual guiding hand. He alone can shepherd our souls. He alone can create our community.
“Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard you brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore…for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:4-17)
Clearly, the only One who can assemble the community of the Church is the head of the Church Himself. As we gather to Him, we gather to one another. It is impossible for any other ideology to hold us together for any length of time successfully.
I have seen churches formed around styles of music. I have seen churches formed around a man’s personality. I have seen churches formed around secular social needs. I have seen churches formed around political views. I have seen churches formed for any number of reasons other than to gather together around Jesus Himself, allowing Him to speak to them and guide them in their everyday life and work.
The community of the artist in the Church of Jesus Christ will only succeed and continue to succeed when it is in the loving hands of the One Who created it. There can be no other successful organizational plan, tool or technique, no other ideological belief system that will stand the test of time.
To quote the old hymn: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ Blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus Name. On Christ, the Solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.”
“Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:21)
He is our Rock, our Cornerstone which will not be moved. He alone is our Community.
Jesus established the example of sacrifice for all of His followers: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? (Mk. 8:34-37)
With Jesus, as our role model, we as Christian artists are to follow His example of sacrifice and service, giving into our community in the same spirit of love and compassion.
Before going to the cross, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus agonized to the point of shedding blood mingled with His sweat, as His capillaries began to burst. The assignment before Him was not going to be pleasant, but He knew that it was His destiny, the path He must follow.
There are times when we ourselves, in order to fulfill our divine calling and destiny, will have to face similar pain.
Jesus did have a choice. He could have turned and walked away, but He went through with it. He chose the path of pain and suffering, trusting that God would not leave Him there, trusting that God would come through for Him on the other side.
We must have this same trust.
When we come to the place that we no longer care to defend ourselves when we are wronged or misunderstood, when we reach the place of leaving our reputation only in the hands of God’s vindication, it is then that we are dead to our own agenda, and are alive to God’s call upon our lives.
The community of the Christian artist is one of this kind of sacrifice and faith, and it has been established by those who have come before you, those who have chosen this Via Delarosa to establish the foundation of the community on which you now stand. Will you join the community of sacrificial giving in this generation? Will you be counted among the godly ones?
A Means of Exchange
Every community has different levels of sacrificial giving. Some people give lavishly, some miserly. There are those, as well, who only take from the community, without making any contribution whatsoever.
Every community has a means of exchange in play. Money is a futile man-made attempt at assigning value to the process of exchange that is happening in a community, a material show of the giving and receiving that is taking place in relationships.
“A good name is to be more desired than great riches, favor is better than silver and gold.” (Prov. 22:21) Why is favor better than silver and gold? Because, among other more noble things, favor produces silver and gold. Relationships, and value given in and through those relationships, are the functioning of economy in community.
There are basically three levels of ‘economy’ in a community: 1) The economy of the flesh, 2) The economy of reciprocity and 3) The economy of sowing.
The 1st and lowest economy is the economy of the flesh, or “sowing to the flesh”. (Gal. 6:8) It is simply selfishness.
“There is one who withholds what is justly due, but it results only in want.” (Prov. 11:24)
“He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.” (Prov. 11:26) Withholding the grain is selfish, but releasing it into commerce is better.
The 2nd Economy, that of reciprocity and social commerce, is akin to Phileo love: “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It has the Law as its foundation. “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.” (Prov. 11:1) God loves proper reciprocity. His Law is holy, righteous and good. (Rom. 7:12)
The problem, however, is that due to natural man’s selfish nature, it is impossible for him to create that ‘just balance’ in relationships or money without failure in some way. This is where the power of forgiveness comes in. Without forgiveness, all relationships and economy among people will fail miserably. Forgiveness is part of the highest 3rd Economy, because it is given willingly, for no deserving reason.
“…mercy triumphs over justice.” (Js. 2:13b)
The Law says, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, equal recompense, but the higher law, the law of liberty, says, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9:13).
The ‘engine’ of human relationships and economy in community can only function without burning up, by adding the oil, the lubricant that comes from the 3rd Economy, which is that of unconditional love, forgiveness and willing sacrifice.
Jesus taught that when a seed falls into the ground, it dies, being completely released from human control, placed into God’s hands. This is reflective of the 3rd Economy, the economy of sowing.
“The Kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows- how, he himself does not know…” (Mk. 4:26)
This seed, however, does not operate by reciprocity “an eye for an eye”, but rather by multiplication. God is the One Who raises the seed up, causing its growth and multiplication. This is the origin of life: releasing control of the harvest (expecting someone else to repay you) and giving, releasing the seed into God’s hands, forgiving the wrong, forgiving the imbalance. This produces the multiplied harvest of the highest 3rd Economy, the economy of the Spirit.
“For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Gal. 6:7-10)
The origin of all sacrificial giving and forgiveness is love: “God is love.” (I Jn. 4:16) Man cannot forgive in and of himself, apart from God, and he must respond to God’s forgiveness for himself before he can then turn and forgive others. “…he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Lk. 7:47) The reciprocal of that would also be true, then. ‘He who is forgiven much, loves much.’ The more of God’s love and mercy we receive, the more we are able to give. As we are connected to the ‘vine’ of God’s forgiveness, love, and mercy for our own lives, the ‘fruit’ that is produced through our lives begins to manifest, and that fruit expands into the lives of those around us, creating in and through our lives a manifestation of God’s grace toward others.
The multiplication of grace that flows out of our lives toward others, not only gives them a ‘just balance’, but even more that that. This manifestation of the 3rd Economy (or highest economy) thus establishes and expands the 2nd Economy. “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Rom. 3:31) The 3rd and highest economy of love and forgiveness establishes the 2nd Economy and goes way beyond it. “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace…against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:23) Mercy will always triumph over judgment!
This process of forgiveness is like the model of kinetic energy, as several metallic balls are suspended by a wire on a frame. When a person lifts the end ball, letting it strike the ball nearest to it, the energy then transfers through the other metal balls, causing the last ball to jump. The energy was transmitted from the first, initial act, to the last, and the last ball responded in like manner. The natural response to God’s love and forgiveness for our own lives is to, in response, allow that same energy to move us to do the same for others.
So what happens if we receive God’s love for ourselves but do not allow it to pass through our lives to the forgiveness of others? Jesus told a parable of a servant who was forgiven a great debt, but then would not in like manner forgive a smaller debt that was owed him. This man was handed to the tormentors. (Matt. 18:21-35) When we inhibit the love of God from flowing freely through us to the benefit of others it only brings frustration and despair upon our own lives. All it takes is a simple choice, however, to unblock this necessary flow.
The conclusion of this exposition of three economies is that we as Christian artists should overcome the course of the natural world by choosing to forgive when confronted by inequity, sowing it into the hands God. When we choose to do this, we set our lives up to reap a multiplied harvest. Living a life on purpose to give and to forgive is the highest means of exchange to the Christian artist. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)
“But if you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor (grace) with God.” (I Pet. 2:20)
There will undoubtedly be times of misunderstanding, suffering and hardship for the Christian artist who is laying down his life in the service of others in God’s Kingdom Community. The only way to stay the course is to routinely exercise the love and forgiveness of God toward others. It is the foundation of the Christian faith, and it is the only sure road to a prosperous and successful life: spirit, soul and body.