Because we all suffer, all Christians (in fact, all humans) are creative artists (whether we embrace that role or not). The whole created order is watching in waitful anticipation as our lives fill in the details of the Grand Narrative as the Gospel becomes “fully known” (Colossians 1:24-26).
Colossians 1:24-26, ESV
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.
As I was driving back to Nashville from Scranton, PA on Sunday, 10 June, I was overwhelmed with the work of the Lord in eight short, but crazy days. The recent sermon by Tommy Nelson, “The Davidic Art of Walking”, has been a blessing to see how the Lord is with us in the midst of our suffering, as we must walk by faith and not by sight. Tommy makes a point of showing how David made an art of walking through suffering at the hands of the Lord’s anointed, King Saul.
The Davidic Art of Walking – Tommy Nelson, Denton Bible Church
In the sermon, Tommy gets to the heart of Christian suffering and the artwork (workmanship) of our lives produced in those times. The Greek root for “art” comes from the concept of revealing the Glory of God in His craftmanship in the midst of our suffering. The context of the concept of “art” actually has roots in warfare – as the Greek god of war (Ares). In the Iliad, the word ares is used as a common noun synonymous with “battle”. Art is warfare carried out by other (non-violent) means.
The content of our art is key to fighting our spiritual battles well. Hence, the Biblical Counseling Through Song emphasis on exegeting the Scriptures with Biblical song (psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs). Tommy’s full analogy starts at minute 24:55-27:50. As Christians, we fight by remembering. Remembering, through prayerful meditation and contemplation, the faithfulness, mercy, love, grace, compassion, long suffering, (fill in the attribute) of God.
Tommy goes on to say:
“You see that is what an artist is. Ares is the Greek God of war, Ares. And He supposedly was the greatest. So the term Ares, or art, – artist – is someone who does something with exceeding craft, even though nobody may see it or nobody may buy it…He does it because of a commitment to his art and his craft. That is what a Christian is. We are artists. And it doesn’t matter what happens to us. We do it because of the excellence of God. Amen?”
In Ephesians 2:10, we are given the title of the Lord’s workmanship or poiema. The Greek for workmanship is poiema (ποίημα). We get the English word “poem” from the same root. In essence, we have been crafted as works of art by God in order to reveal the beauty, grace, goodness, and wisdom of God in the midst of our suffering.
Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
As I got home to Scranton, I was asked to give a Eulogy for my Dad in a Roman Catholic funeral service. There is much to write about in this occasion, but it is far too soon and too sensitive a subject to give great detail. I see tremendous opportunity for service in Scranton and building bridges between the Roman Catholic Church back home and the Reformed Protestant tradition.
I think the Lord is raising me up to help bring reconciliation within the Roman Catholic church back home (details to follow much later this summer). I need to speak with those in leadership back home with the Catholic church before moving forward.
On Tuesday, June 5th, the night I was preparing to write the Eulogy, the Lord impressed upon me my need to pray beforehand. I called upon Aaron McNany, a recent family friend and founder of Capouse House (an intercessory prayer ministry in Scranton). Long story short, many local Scranton area prayer team leaders were in attendance, along with a Messianic Jewish Worship leader from a nearby town. The prayer was sweet. My friend James Anderson from Fort Worth even showed upon in Dunmore to stay for the week of the funeral. Answered prayer all around.
With that week in the rear view, my heart is set on moving forward in pursuing a church plant. The goal is to bring a Reformed, Christocentric preaching of the Gospel to Northeastern Pennsylvania with an emphasis on the congregational outworking of the Gospel through the Biblical Counseling of one another (training the laity in how to counsel one another) and the creative outworking of the Gospel in the midst of suffering through the creative arts.
Essentially, equipping the Church for the work of Biblical Counseling and using all of the creative arts to bring the Gospel to the forefront of our lives. It starts with the understanding that all of life is sacred and that each created human being has been created as God’s workmanship (poetry) to create in whatever context that they have been formed by His knitting hands (Psalm 139:19).
The work of Artists and Biblical Counselors is actually quite similar. In fact, Biblical Counseling is an Art in itself. We, as Biblical Counselors, not only exegete the Scriptures, but we must exegete the person before us, and then marry the stories of the Gospel with the life of the one making the Gospel “fully known”. It is a sacred task.
For both Artists and Counselors, our job is to embrace our suffering (Luke 9:23). Sit with it. Wrestle with the Lord. Meditate on His character, nature, and work. And then sit in waitful anticipatory silence for the words to pen, the music to write, or the words to bring forth into another person’s life as the Spirit guides. To do either, apart from the Holy Spirit, is destructive to ourselves and the lives of those that come into contact with our Art.
My outworking of the Biblical Counseling Through Song concept based upon Colossians 3:16 is the basis for connecting my Seminary education at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, TX with my summer internship in Nashville, TN, and with an eventual church plant in the Scranton/Dunmore area of Pennsylvania. For the Postmodern, the Gospel must be seen within the context of Story. We are a storied culture and our ears are tuned to hearing the Gospel in story form – the way that God has given his Word. When the story of God’s Scriptures are set to song, the Scriptures are set on fire.
During the weekend of June 27th – July 1st, a Prayer Team is headed home with me. We’ll be praying over the donation of the below church building and the Lord’s blessing of a church plant in Scranton, PA. Turns out the owner of the building lives in Euless, TX, the very same Texas town where the Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC) is based. ABC is the organization that I am pursuing to publish the manuscript of the Biblical Counseling Through Song concept. The President of ABC, Dr. Jeremy Lelek, was my academic overseer in the independent study that birthed the Biblical Counseling Through Song concept. This would be a great building to not only be a church plant location, but also an “Art House Scranton”.
The narrative written by God that we are caught up in is breathtaking. I am just attempting to play my part well, dependent on Him for each breath. I fail deeply, most of the time.
This week in Nashville I’ll be focusing solely on finishing the manuscript. Please pray for the Lord’s anointing on my writing time and for the Gospel to sweep through Scranton, PA.
The below pictures are the stages of a daily Prayer Walk in the woods of Dunmore, PA by a reservoir fed by the Roaring Brook. I often think how this walk might be used for a baptism Sunday. There is significance to the name of the Roaring Brook with Psalm 22, but that is another post for another day. The stages of the prayer walk are essentially set in a way as a remembrance of some crucial elements of our Salvation: Regeneration, Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. It is sort of the Shire of my youth where we used to hang out as kids – fishing and making fires.
Stage 1 – Remembering Regeneration
In this stage, we walk past a growing organic debris dump site to remember that what we have been saved from in our lives. The pile of methane exhausting material brings to mind mental images of Gehenna (the burning trash piles of Jerusalem that Jesus used to make analogies to hell)…
Stage 2 – The Bridge: Jesus – Our Justification
In crossing the Bridge, we thank Jesus for justifying us before the Father, closing the gap between God and man, carrying us from the land of the Dead to the Land of the Living…We cross back over the bridge, realizing that our job is to guide others to, and over, the bridge in our discipleship as the Spirit indwells and provides power to do so…
Stage 3 – Baptism – Entering the Covenant
The below spot is a great location to do full water immersion “Living” water baptisms…
Stage 4 – Sanctification
Instead of pulling new baptized believers out of the water, why not let them float down this stream as a means of understanding their coming Sanctification. Congregants could pray streamside as the new believers inner tube down this section of the Roaring Brook…
Stage 5 – Crossing the Jordan, Reaching the Far Shore of Glory
Where the Roaring Brook empties into the reservoir, their is a perfect spot for a Church grill out. It is the favorite spot for Dunmore teenagers to party. In essence, by having a church meeting there for a baptism Sunday, it would be redeeming a portion of the woods that only has led to debauchery in the past…
Stage 6 – Apart from Christ
At the far end of the reservoir, the waterline dramatically drops off into a multiple story waterfall into the bottom section of the Roaring Brook below, symbolizing a death apart from Christ…
Stage 7 – Turning Towards Home: The Long Walk With the Lord
The final stage is a long overgrown path that reminds me of the long dwelling with the Lord that awaits us in Heaven, to be brought back to a place where walks with the Lord in the cool of the day are restored.
The Lord is with us…He is going before us!