So much for ‘ars gratia artis’

At Trinity there is a lot that is easy to come by: homework, a filled library, the smell of coffee wafting from behind books, people walking briskly from one place to another as to not waste any of their precious time. But because of this there is a lot that is hidden on campus, some of it good and some of it bad.

Loneliness, a surprisingly common issue at Trinity, hides behind busy schedules. Stories of God at work are a constant flow in the lives of people at Trinity, but they are put on mute because of reading assignments and papers which keep students from telling their own stories. Spiritual gifts are veiled as we sit in classes unaware of the fact that the room in which we sit typing away notes is really a treasure chest of talented spirit-filled individuals.

Last night the curtain was lifted back a bit.

Thursday nights in seminary are our Friday nights because we do not have classes on Fridays. Usually, Thursday evenings are reserved for nights NOT spent in the library, NOT doing homework, and NOT reading books. So it was a perfect chance to go to Trinity Artist Guild’s open mic night.

I like to consider myself a part of Trinity Artists Guild, typically referred to as TAG. However, I’ve always felt like I sounded kind of pretentious calling myself an artist. This is mostly because my art is usually limited to playing drums ( in which you just hit stuff at the right time) and photography. I feel like photography a lot of times is the art of happenstance. All it requires is being at the right place at the right time with a camera in hand. (Sure there are things to know about what makes a good picture, but that is so easily learned it really doesn’t seem significant. Digital cameras have made photography an art that anyone can master).

Anyway, I gave a couple of my more recent photography projects to be put up in the room for the open mic night. It really is the first time I have ever done such a thing, so it made me feel kind of legitimate, but also somewhat like a poser because of the REAL artists who were there. There was a girl there who does phenomenal paintings, usually of portraits using wonderful colors. There was another girl who makes biblical scenes from paper and other methods. (See I don’t even know how to describe art…) There was another photographer who I consider a real photographer. He’s not afraid to walk up to someone and capture a moment in which they are expressing a very vivid emotion.

And then there’s

me.

But nevertheless, it was cool to hear people’s responses to my stuff. The usual response was, “YOU MADE THAT!? I had no idea you took pictures.”

“Yep…I take pictures…”
I really didn’t know what to tell people.

But beyond me was the real experience.
The real artists.

There were powerfully written, and chillingly wonderful poems presented. There were musicians who brought me into their lyrical world as if their music were hypnotic. Music that I couldn’t help but feel anger and hope at the same time. Songs that made me contemplate moments in my own life and helped me appreciate where I’ve come from and what God has done in my life. Songs that made nod in agreement with smile forcing itself upon my lips.

The setting was right. The smell of coffee filled the air. So many people came, there was really standing room only. A group of people all engaged as a single community not typically seen at Trinity.

But it’s only an open mic.

Art for art sake.
Right?

No.

And that was made clear. With the reading of Scripture and the intentional theme of the night being that this is WORSHIP to God. That art is more than just creative rubbish. This is art, not for its own sake.

This is art for God’s sake.

ARS GRATIA DEI

The curtain was pulled back a bit. We all learned things about each other last night. There are a lot of people with a lot of imagination and wonderfully creative talent in our midst here at Trinity. People loved this so much they practically begged to have this be a once a month thing. Creativity is so important. Art is so important. To hide these talents is to hide the blessings of God. It is to put the light of God under a bushel. I wholeheartedly believe that these talents reflect the creativity of our Creator. We are catching glimpses of His glory.

So this week as I go back to the library, and as I read my books, my earbuds are now filled with the sounds of those who have used their creative gifts in ways which bring glory to God.

What’s heaven going to be like?

I think it’s going to blow our minds.

Woe to you, Chicago! Woe to you, L.A.!


20
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Powerful words of Jesus Christ. Jesus had done many signs and wonders among the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Yet these people were unrepentant and they were not changed by Jesus Christ’s declaration of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Jesus says to the people of these unrepentant cities that if the same mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, two pagan cities that they would have been well aware of, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.

Jesus goes on by saying that it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgement for that reason. This is a mind blowing statement. This assumes two things:

  1. There are different degrees of punishment1
  2. God knows not only all things in the past, present, and future reality. But God also knows all things possible in the past, present, and future.

Let me begin with number one. As Jesus said in Matthew 11:22, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment. This infers that there are different degrees of punishment at the judgment. It seems to be linked to the amount of revelation revealed to and the response of the individual to what has been revealed unto him. So the more truth we have been exposed to the more we are held accountable in the eyes of Christ at the judgment. The ultimate destination is the same for all unbelievers, but the amount of punishment is seemingly determined by how much truth they were exposed to.

Along with this understanding comes with the understanding that God owes salvation to no one. Yes, Jesus Christ died for all mankind, but only those who humble themselves, repent, and believe who He is (the LORD and Savior of all mankind) are given gift of salvation. God owes this gift to no one. This is why missions is so important. The only way people will be exposed to the truth of the Gospel is if we tell them. As Paul put it in Romans, “How will they hear without a preacher? How shall they preach except they be sent?”2 Understanding this aspect helps us understand this whole discussion.

Jesus even goes on to tell them them that because they would not repent that is shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for them. It was well known that Sodom was a land and of people of gross sin and immorality. Yet, Jesus says that if Sodom had seen the mighty works that these unrepentant cities had seen, Sodom would still be around because even they would have repented. This to me seems very powerful.

This brings us to number two. Not only does God know all realities past, present, and future. He knows all possible realities past, present, and future. This to me is phenomenal. God knows that if Sodom would have had the same things preached and had the same mighty works done in it, they would have not been unrepentant as were Chorazin, Betsaida, and Capernaum. Does this mean that God does not judge Sodom? No. He still judges them based upon reality. But this passage does seem to infer that he keeps in account all possible realities. Sodom finds themselves utterly demolished here on earth, and its inhabitants in hell. But perhaps the degree of their punishment is influenced by the possible realities.

One again, this brings back to understanding that God owes salvation to no one. So God is not doing any kind of injustice by judging Sodom for their sin even in light of the reality of not having these mighty works done within it. He judges them fairly based upon their reality of living in sin and immorality.

This helps us understand the role of missions in the world. If we do not tell the lost world about God, they will die and go to hell because they are natural born sinners. Without the hearing of the Word, then there can be no faith in the Gospel. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. There cannot hear the word except it be preached, for God has chosen preaching as his method for spreading the Gospel across this world to all peoples of all cultures of all countries. It is the duty of mankind to tell the world of God’s Gospel. If we do not then the lost die without hope of the Gospel of Christ and go to an eternal hell. If we preach to them the gospel, then they are now accountable to Gospel and they are given the opportunity to accept God’s message and experience life and salvation from hell. They will be given the privilege of an eternal, personal relationship with the Creator of the universe. We must go out and tell those who have not heard!

It is not the responsibility of the preacher/missionary to make sure that everyone he proclaims the Gospel to believes. Jesus Himself did mighty works and preached His word, and yet people still were unrepentant. Those who reject the message will be held more accountable and therefore will be punished more severely. It is not the fault of the preacher. The preacher is to do all that he can to encourage them to repent and believe, but ultimately it is a decision that every individual in this world has to make for himself.

So to bring things back home, how does this relate to us? Well, I look around me and I look to our history (Anglo-Saxon) and I see the Gospel presented fairly consistently. There were some high points and some low points in our history, but overall the Gospel can be found. There are thousands upon thousands of recourses such as books and websites which explain the gospel. There are thousands upon thousands of churches which proclaim the Gospel every week. And perhaps you can hear God say, “

“Woe to you, Chicago! Woe to you, Los Angeles! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Calcutta and Beijing, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Lima and Beijing than for you. And you, New York, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Bangkok, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Bangkok than for you.”


1. I believe that it can also be assumed through other passages that there are differing degrees of reward as well. (Rev. 22:12; 2 Tim. 4:7-8; 1 Cor. 3:12).

 

2. Rom.10:14-15

Staying Focused on Eternity

As I look to recent “heroes of the faith” (I speak of those God has used mightily in this world. I am not idolizing people here, just admiring their willingness to serve with purity of heart.) there is usually an obvious similarity between them all. They seem to have a healthy understanding of their future home in heaven. Paul understood this and expressed his feelings for desiring to be with Christ. Remember his words in Philippians?

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

More recently we can see this same understanding from Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca Indians when he said,

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

Throughout the centuries martyrs who were not willing to back down from their faith in God or their stand on the inspired Word of God have understood that to die is not really a loss, but a gain. Books have been written of these people. Probably most famously is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Another good source, and fairly recent, is a book put together by D.C. talk of stories of people who were willing to die for their faith called Jesus Freaks (there are also additional additions).

There are scores of people that have lived that way and their memories and testimonies stand as examples to us to keep things in the right perspective. Having a proper understanding of our duty to the Kingdom of God versus the Kingdom of the World will radically change how we see many aspects of our life on this earth.

First of all, and probably most importantly, it affects how we see the people all around us. When we understand that our life on this earth is “a vapor” (James 4:14), we will see people destined for one place or another, for heaven or for hell. This will cause us to live life with an urgency which compels us to be active witnesses for God’s kingdom. We will not be focused on everyone’s day to day well-being but be interested in their eternal destination. When we come to grips with the reality that most often than not the people around us at any given moment are more than likely on their way to hell, it will make the Christian life become very meaningful and realistic. God left us on this earth for a purpose. We are to spread the Good News. We are to warn people of their coming destruction. We are to pull people out of the fire (Jude 23). We are mere strangers on this earth. We are ambassador’s for Christ’s kingdom (2 Cor 5:20; Eph 6:20). We should be as passionate as Paul was when telling the lost of their condition. Think about what he said to the Philippians,

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:18-21)

Paul was passionate about making sure others knew that this is the only chance we get to warn others about their eternal destination. He thought about the lost with tears. He had an urgency in which we need to grab a hold of and embody ourselves.

Recently I watched a video made of Rich Mullins where he discussed his understanding of how short life is. His philosophy of death really shows through in his songs such as “Elijah,” where he says “it won’t break my heart to say goodbye.” He had a longing to be in heaven. He had a desire to be with Jesus. And God took him up in a dramatic way.

Our view of Christ’s kingdom changes how we feel about gaining material wealth. When our hearts are set on things above, our desire for the things on this earth diminishes. In fact, the more “things” one has the less likely he is to go to the mission field. There are more things to give up. Everything we have is given by God, anyway. He owns it all.

When we realize how short our life is, the beatitudes will become possibilities in our lives. We will understand our destitution before God. We will weep. We can be meek and merciful. We will have a hunger and thirst for righteousness. We will desire to make peace, and will bless God when we are persecuted. We must have the right perspective of who we are on this earth, especially when things are going well for us.

There are those that shine bright for God when their faith is tested. They are those who understand the role of eternity here on earth. They understand their place in the Kingdom of God and in the Kingdom of man.

Paul_Schneider

 

Paul Schneider was one of those people. He was a pastor during the early Nazi rule in Germany. He spoke out against the Nazi’s and was imprisoned for his stand against the government. He had no backing from anyone. He stood fast in his faith and let the word of God, specifically Esther, drive his faith in God. People urged him to stop what he was doing and think of his family. His reply is was this:

My primary responsibility is to prepare my family for eternal life – not to insure their material well-being.”

Paul Schneider understood that his citizenship is in heaven. He was eventually taken to a concentration camp and was murdered via lethal injection. His life, as well as many others like him urge us to be daily aware of the fact that as Christians, our true home is in heaven. Let us live like it.