Thursday, January 24, 2013

Move along, nothing to see here... {thoughts on art in the sanctuary}

 What helps you to meditate on truth?

In what environment are you most receptive to the means of grace?

How can what you see with your eye encourage your heart and mind to see?

The good news is, well, it's actually the Good News! 
It doesn't depend on us, on our faculties for attention, 
on our access to excellent environments for worship. 
It does depend on our hearing, on God's enabling us to receive his grace 
through the means which he has given.

A few weeks ago I was asked to design something to hang in the space behind the pulpit 
at our church, framing the cross, facing the congregation of the saints. 

I'm sure I overthink these things, and honestly that might normally prevent me 
from producing anything at all. But, since the time frame between being asked for a design 
and getting started on the project was around 24 hours, 
with the deadline for completion in less than a week, 
I had to move quickly and my thinking-creating-evaluating process was severely truncated.

In considering the environment, the physical context for the gathering of the church, 
for the hearing of the Word by the people of God 
I wanted to create something that, in a sense, people wouldn't see. 
Well, yes, I know they see it, but I hoped it would not call attention to itself, 
not become a distraction to those who are hearing and worshiping.

And yet, maybe subtly it could draw the eye and the heart and the mind toward Christ. 
I envisioned something rough, something ordinary, unpolished, even broken. 
I thought about vertical lines sweeping upward and about 
muddy, dark and dingy things becoming lighter and brighter.

We used ordinary, cheap, scrap wood shims, broken, battered, and discolored 
with various drab shades of paint, oriented in a vertical pattern almost imperceptibly graduating 
from a slightly darker to lighter shade of distressed, weathered wood.

I'm still not sure these panels achieve (or under-achieve) all I envision art in the worship setting should, but they're up, and they're messy, and they point heavenward. I guess I'm hopeful that we broken believers, as we gather to worship, would do the same.


Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 
by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, 
that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, 
with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  
not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, 
but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:19-25

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Holiness, Obedience, and Gospel Enthusiasts {a review of DeYoung's The Hole in Our Holiness}

In his book, The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung seeks to address what he sees as a lack of concern and conviction in the church about living godly lives and pursuing holiness. This is a difficult task--holding up God's law as good and instructive without obscuring or minimizing the free gift of justification by faith alone. Overall, DeYoung does this well, exhorting readers to holiness and encouraging them through the gospel.

He calls readers to take seriously the imperatives of the law and to strive to grow in holiness as a result of and fueled by the freeing grace of the gospel. Pastor DeYoung encourages Christians to live lives of obedience to God's law through "Spirit-powered, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort." He reminds us to return to the identity we have in Christ, through the gospel, and to live out the reality of that new identity. 

All this is very good, and much needed. In mainstream evangelicalism certainly, and surely in many individual churches as well, pastors shy away from preaching the imperatives of the law with its clear call to perfect holiness and instead preach a "you're good-enough" kind of message. We all need to grow in our love for and reflection of God's holiness and DeYoung's book is an excellent help to believers in that direction.

I am hesitant to voice my criticism of this book because there is so much that is so good. However, there are a number of places in the book where DeYoung addresses possible disagreements with his argument and it is in these places that I believe he muddies the waters a bit instead of clarifying things.

In reformed and reformed-leaning circles recently there has been some discussion of the possibility of over-emphasizing the gospel.  There seem to be some questions about whether or not too great an emphasis on justification results in too little concern for striving and obedience, and there have been accusations of antinomianism. Christians in these circles would benefit from clear distinctions and definitions and straight-forward discussion. DeYoung's overall thesis rightly affirms a gospel-driven pursuit of holiness, but some readers may go away from his book thinking that they should be concerned when the gospel is "too" celebrated.

In Chapter Four, he discusses those who suffer from "nomophobia (fear of the law)" and characterizes them as people who "make every imperative into a command to believe the gospel more fully." He claims that these people "turn the gospel into one more thing we have to get right, and faith becomes the one thing we need to be better at. If only we really believed, obedience would take care of itself. No need for commands or effort"  (55).

This kind of person may exist, one who emphasizes the gospel so much that "every imperative" is somehow reduced to "believe the gospel more fully" with "no need for commands or effort." However, I think DeYoung is creating a false dichotomy here. He seems to be claiming that those who teach that every command of God to the Christian implicitly calls us to believe the gospel more fully are also dismissing the third use of the law in the command, the content of the therefore.  I think this person who claims that obedience to God requires no commands or effort is something of a straw man that DeYoung references several times in his book.

In Chapter Five, DeYoung declares, "If we, in a well-intentioned effort to celebrate the unimpeachable nature of our justification, make it sound as though God no longer concerns himself with our sins, we'll put a choke hold on our full-throttle drive to holiness"  (74).

Again, I'm not sure who this hypothetical person is--the one who is so excited about the security of his salvation that he claims that God is not concerned about our sin. Here DeYoung misses a chance to clarify how enthusiastic celebration of the gospel leads to greater rest in Christ and this deep security fuels a greater desire and effort to walk in a manner worthy of Him.

Later in the same chapter, DeYoung looks to Paul's life as an example of a Christian pursuing a life of holiness without being plagued by guilt. He writes, "What's the secret to such freedom? Paul is not summoning the power of positive thinking or feeling good because he's got some judgment-free God" (76).

Once again, DeYoung is implying that those who emphasize that there is no condemnation for those in Christ also teach that this God of a radical, robust, amazing gospel, somehow doesn't care about holiness and sin. If DeYoung were writing to a wider evangelical audience, maybe to those who would be tempted to believe Oprah's gospel or Joel Osteen's, I could understand this repeated implication. (But the accusation would not apply here either, since the heart of the gospel--Christ's death and resurrection for my sake--is not preached emphatically by them.)

It seems to me that DeYoung's audience (and maybe I am wrong about this) is primarily made up of conservative Christians, readers of The Gospel Coalition blogs, those who lean toward or are Reformed, those who are trying to answer the question, "How do the sola gratia, sola fide, and sola Christo of the gospel relate to the holiness of God and my sanctification?"

These repeated moments of confusion in The Hole in Our Holiness become a shadowy straw man, subtly calling into question the teaching of those who preach and teach "the unimpeachable nature of our justification." It would be a shame for anyone to think he should be concerned or suspicious of bold, unapologetic, unqualified gospel proclamation.

My concern is that those who fear that the gospel can be overemphasized and should be balanced, maybe even limited by law will find fuel for their worry in DeYoung's words, instead of realizing that these two realities for the Christian--that we are freely justified by faith as a gift AND that God calls believers to lives of obedience and holiness--are complementary truths and gain their meaning and power in relation to each other not in opposition to each other.

I may be too critical in highlighting this one particular weakness in The Hole in Our Holiness. Overall, I appreciated DeYoung's exhortation to Christians to strive to live obedient lives and to follow God's law in light of our justification, union with Christ, and new identity in him. I recognize the need in my own life to be awakened to the beauty of God's holiness and to strive more and more to follow after Christ and his righteousness. Despite the shortcoming discussed here, I am thankful to Pastor DeYoung for his kind and powerful call to this life of obedience and I heartily recommend his book.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Amazing Magna-Tiles ~ Toy Recommendation

I have to pass along this amazing toy that my kids love ~
(drumroll please)


They've received Magna-tiles for several birthdays and Christmases, 
adding to their collection and expanding their building possibilities.
They play with it every day constructing houses, flying ships, 
horse corrals, castles, and other feats of engineering.

 The tiles are basically indestructable plastic shapes with magnetic edges 
that click together to create all sorts of wild and useful (for play) structures. 

Jack and Elizabeth almost never use the buildings and sets that come 
with their Playmobile kits, because Magna-tile buildings are so much more versatile. 
Action figures of all sorts can make themselves at home in magna-tile land.

Yes, I do believe that is Lord Aragorn and his friend, the Playmobile guard.

And here we have a knight ready for take-off in his fighter spaceship.

Magna-tiles are a little pricey, but I definitely think they're worth it.
If you want to order some, the cheapest place I've found online is here.
(OK, now I don't feel so bad for keeping such an awesome secret.)
Have fun!

Monday, January 7, 2013

O Starry Night {better late than never}

Hold on, wait just a minute, I know you've already packed up your ornaments and you are on to brilliant beginnings in the new year, but if you don't mind re-visiting Christmas for a moment ~ here's a peek at what I was looking at for much of the season.

This year I was asked to contribute to our church's advent decoration by designing and painting two huge panels. I was a little intimidated by the size and public nature of the project and by the challenge of creating art that would edify and not distract worshippers.

I used dark, earthy tones and a simple landscape scene to suggest the various parts of the Christmas story ~ Mary and Joseph traveling all the way to the little town of Bethlehem, the shepherds in the fields, the star seen by the Magi, and peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Each panel measures around 11 x 6 feet. I painted on 1/4 inch hardboard (I think) with valspar paints and purdy brushes. I did a lot of scrambling up and down the ladder and running way back 
to get the big picture view.

  The two panels framed the cross in the front of the sanctuary and were designed 
to transition between our regular Sunday worship services, the children's choir performance, 
and the Christmas concert.

 With help from some talented builder/craftsmen, the structure came together. 
Although it's difficult to see, there were Christmas trees and poinsettias flanking the stage as well.

It has been an honor and a great creative outlet for me to help design and create things at our church over the years. I'm thankful for the chance to contribute.

Now, bring on Adventure Week 2013!
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