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Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Themes of Advent: Love

Tomorrow starts the fourth weekend of Advent.For those unfamiliar with the tradition, Advent is a season of anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. Just as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, the birth of baby Jesus, on Christmas, so we also turn our hearts, minds, and spirits towards His Second Coming. We look back in remembrance and forward in hope. Each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas carries a different theme, and today we’re going to look at the fourth one: Love.

I’ve written about love plenty of times. For a quick summary, I believe deeply in the power of love. However, I think our modern ideas about love are far too shallow. We use the same word to describe how I feel about my wife and how I feel about cheeseburgers. Our tendency to hyperbolize (I LOVE that sweater, that concert was EPIC!) has left us with little room in our vernacular to express truly awe-inspiring experiences.

In addition, when we do think about love as an interpersonal experience, we tend to narrow it down to the heady, effervescent feelings of early romance. We talk about the magic of being “in love,” and marriages tend to dissolve once one of both of the partners stop feeling this manic infatuation with their spouse.

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This is not a fair idea of love. Advent calls us to a different concept of love.

Imagine, if you will, that your life is absolutely perfect in every way. You never suffer, you are in a wonderful relationship, and nothing goes against your will. The image you have in your mind is but a taste of the Trinity before creation. God existed in absolute perfection, and He decided to create humanity to share in this perfection with Him.

For the parents reading this, our love for our children is a faint echo of how deeply God loves us. He loves all of humanity with that love. Even when we turned our backs on Him, He continued to love us.

He loves us so much that He sent His Son into our world to die for us.

This is where we find the heart of love: sacrifice. 

Affection, care, concern, attraction, and intrigue can all be the start of relationships, but it is self-sacrifice that is at the core of love. A parent who gives us sleep to change and feed a baby shows love. A spouse who makes dinner even when he/she is exhausted shows love. A child who spends their allowance on their sibling’s Christmas present shows love.

And this week is all about love. With Christmas only a few days away, it could seem like this week is about presents and food and celebrations, but it’s really about love. It’s about giving up something that we want, whether sleep or time or objects, so that others can be better off. Our culture has given us a great opportunity to show those around us how much we love them. So, let’s do it!

This weekend, try to find new ways to show your love. Stretch yourself, go out of your comfort zone. If you are not one who verbalizes your feelings a lot, just telling someone that you love them can be incredibly powerful. If your spouse does most of the housework, pitch in and lend a hand, even at the end of a hard workday. If you haven’t seen much of your kids, get down on the ground to play with them.

Love is about showing someone that they are more important to you than you are. If we can spread this kind of love, then perhaps the world will start to change for the better. We are all loved by the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Everyone is worthy of love. Let’s let the world know that.

Maybe, just maybe, love can win out over selfishness this year.

Maybe.

Blessings

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New Advent Devotional and Thoughts

Hey folks,

I’ve started a new Advent devotional put out by Biola University that is HEAVILY inspired by the arts. Each day includes a piece of art, a poem, and a song, alongside the devotional. My wife and I are walking through this devotional together, which has been doubly enriching for us. If you are interested in an arts-based devotional time, you can click right here:

http://ccca.biola.edu/events/2018/dec/2/advent-project-2018-online-devotional-series/

I need to say, I love Advent. It’s perhaps my favourite seasons of the entire year. The world slowly changes from the mundane to the magical. Lights appear everywhere. People start focusing on others and what brings them joy. Also, gifts. Gifts is one of my love languages, and getting to splurge on gifts for my loved ones brings me much happiness.

However, Advent is also my job. I start seriously thinking about Advent in June. We craft themes, dramas, art projects, and experiences that will build upon each other to create an advent experience that draws our congregation into greater relationship with the God who came down to earth over 2000 years ago. I have to pace myself or risk burning out on Advent before October shows up. By the time I’ve arrived at actual Advent, I’ve often lost some of the magic that I love about the season. It becomes a time of implementing what we’ve designed (which, I will admit, has its own magic) rather than about preparing my heart for the wonder of Christ’s arrival.

That’s where this devotional has been a Godsend (literally!). Each morning, I’m able to open my email, pull up the devotional, and allow someone else’s work to usher me into a place of wonder and beauty. And, already, I’ve had my Christmas world shaken!

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The first day’s devotional speaks about our tendency to think of Christmas as a time of family gathering. However, for the Trinity, it was not a time of gathering but of scattering. The Father SENT the Son to earth, away from heaven. (The writers are clear to preserve the unity of the Trinity, however, so don’t worry about heresy). It was not a time for togetherness for God. 

I have never thought of this before. The silent-night image of the star over the stable, with the angels and the shepherds and the Holy Family all reverently gazing down at the manger brings me all the soft fuzzies. However, this beautiful picture came with a cost. God’s plan to gather all of humanity meant sending His Son away. 

This adds a little bittersweetness to the story. It also adds to the seriousness of the season. We are aware that this season can be hard on many. Especially those who don’t have anyone to gather with. God knows. God’s been there. And He loved us enough to choose that option.

The writer also has thoughts as to the repercussions of this for us, but I’ll let you go, sign up, and read the devotional for yourself. It’s well worth the time. You can catch up, or just start on whatever day you’re at (after reading the devotional for Dec 2nd, where I got today’s thoughts from).

Anyways, I hope you’ll come back on Friday when we dig into the theme of the 2nd week of Advent: Peace.

Blessings,

Worship Language: Intellectual

Well, everyone, we are at the end of our journey through the Worship Languages. Here are the other eight we’ve been through already:

Naturalist
Sensate
Traditionalist
Ascetic
Activist
Caregiver
Enthusiast
Contemplative

And today, we are going to explore the brainy bunch: The Intellectuals!

Intellectuals worship God with their minds. They love to learn new things about God and are closest to Him during study or while digging into apologetics or theology.

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In church, our Intellectuals are going to be very engaged during a good, thinky sermon. Biblical exegesis, complex theology, or church history may be exactly what they need to connect with God and feel closer to Him. Hymns or worship songs with great theology or scriptural references can also draw the Intellectual in. Hearing a solid philosophical debate can also help the Intellectual to cement their beliefs and feel even closer to God.

Outside of church, a good Bible college can really help the Intellectual. I spent four years at Ambrose University and loved it dearly. Getting concentrated time to sift through Greek texts and the writings of the church fathers and mothers fed my soul in ways that I have not felt since. (Intellectual is one of my top 3 languages, in case you missed that). I still enjoy reading old text and new ideas and hope to go back for my next degree soon.

Intellectual artists (capital I) should allow their study to influence their work. Perhaps a Bible reading can inspire the painter to play with Scriptural themes in their work. A choreographer can try to capture as much of the Trinity that they can in their next piece. A writer can make allusions to older works or church history in their stories. Whatever inspires and draws you closer to God, study it!

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Intellectuals need to be aware, however, that there is a difference between knowing ABOUT God and knowing God. We are called into community with our Creator and we need to spend time in prayer with Him to truly get to know Him. Just as it is not enough for me to study my wife’s likes, dislikes, history, and dreams; I also have to spend time with her, journeying together though life. It is the same with God.

Bottom line for Intellectuals: spend time often in study, but also spend time often in prayer.

If you are an Intellectual, how do you best connect to God?

Worship Language: Caregiver

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all having a thoughtful and inspired Holy Week. It’s Maundy Thursday (the day we remember the Last Supper) as I write this, which I find appropriate considering today’s Worship Language: The Caregiver.mother-teresa-was-she-a-saint-or-sadistic-religious-fanatic.jpg

If you read last week’s post about the Activist and thought, “That’s all well and good, but what about the people who are suffering through all of this?” then you are likely a Caregiver. Caregivers worship God by serving others. While the Activists worship by opposing the evil that oppresses the orphan and the widow, the Caregiver prefers to sit down and meet the needs of the oppressed.

Weekend services can offer the Caregiver many opportunities to interact with others for the glory of God. Volunteering as an usher or greeter or coffee pourer can be an act of worship for the Caregiver. Our church has prayer stations where congregants can ask for prayer from our group of dedicated intercessors. Hurting people come to church every week; Caregivers only need to keep an eye out.

Churches also often offer plenty of service activities outside of Sunday morning. Visiting shut-ins and offering the sacraments (if your church does that sort of thing), singing carols to the elderly, delivering baskets of food or supplies, or participating in a neighbourhood cleanup can all help the Caregiver see Jesus in the faces of those in need.

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For the Caregiver artist, I suggest you allow your art to flow out of your encounters with others. Tell the story of a working single mother. Write poetry for your grandmother to brighten her day. Take photos of a dying cancer patient that shows both their struggle and their dignity. Allow others to inspire your art, and allow your art to bless others.

Caregivers must remember, however, that ultimately, our service is to God. We can get so caught up with the people we are serving (and there are many, many people who need help), that we can forget the One who has called us to service. The pain of the world can be so great that, if we let it, it can overwhelm the hope that comes from above.

The bottom line for Caregivers: find someone to serve and look for Jesus in their eyes. 

If you are a Caregiver, how do you connect with God?

Blessings

Worship Language: Activist

Hello everyone,

Welcome to the next entry in our exploration of the Worship Languages. You better be ready to get up off your butts, because today we’re talking about The Activist!

The crusading knights of our age, Activists worship God through confronting evil and injustice.

If you find yourself railing against the fallenness of humanity and speaking up for those who are oppressed, you’re probably an Activist. If you connect deeply to God’s justice and want to see evil stopped in its tracks, you’re probably an Activist. If you just can’t sit and watch while children are trafficked and women are abused, you’re probably an Activist.

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Traditional church services are often not the place Activists feel closest to God. They need to be out on the street or in the courts fighting against the darkness. However, testimonies from parachurch organizations or updates about a church’s street-level ministries may speak deeply to the Activist. When he or she is able to see their body at work as the hands and feet of Christ, they will be inspired and fed.

Activists should be able to fight against injustice each day. If this is your Worship Language, perhaps signing up with Voice of the Martyrs or another similar organization’s newsletter can keep you informed of what’s going on in the world. From there, you can sign petitions, write letters, or perform vigilante justice at night while dressed as a bat. Your choice.

For the Activist artist, allow your passion for justice to fuel your art and allow your art to serve your fight against evil. Create documentaries that dig deeply into the painful realities of those you feel drawn to. Use photography or poetry or dance to reflect the brokenness of the world and call others into action alongside you. We don’t always have the resources to fight societal evils and structured oppression, but we can inspire those who have the resources.

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Activists need to remember, however, that our God is a God of grace as well as justice. The drive to oppose evil can cause the Activist to forget that behind each act of evil is a lost and broken person in need of Christ’s redemption. Though we can hate the evil in the world, we are never called to hate other people.

Bottom line for Activists: Fight the good fight, but remember that no person is beyond God’s redemptive plan for Creation.

If you are an Activist, how do you connect with God?

Blessings

 

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