Christianity 201

March 3, 2019

The Father of all Musicians

Today we’re combining two popular features into one: The devotional writing of Charles Price, and our weekly Sunday Worship article. After a fruitful season as the teaching pastor at The Peoples Church in Toronto, Charles is now Minister-at-Large which frees him to speak in locations around Canada and the world.

Jubal the Musician

“His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes.”  —Genesis 4:21

The second of Cain’s seventh-generation descendants was Jubal, the first to play stringed instruments and pipes. This makes him the father of the arts, and particularly music. Music is the language of the heart, and God loves when we praise Him in song. As Johann Sebastian Bach said, “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment.”

Unfortunately, the Christian church has had a mixed relationship with the arts. There was a time when almost every piece of art and music in the west was inspired by or alluded to Christian themes, but as secularism grew, the arts began to fall into a category that most Christians called “worldly.” Worldliness is doing as the world does, and it became common for Christians to think that outside specific parameters within the church, art and music were to be avoided at all costs. For a long time, many Christians did not go to the theatre, cinema or concerts. Some were criticized for reading novels, and much music and art went unappreciated.

It has taken brave souls being willing to break the mould for certain musical trends to become accepted in the church. Charles Wesley, brother of the great seventeenth-century evangelist John Wesley, wrote numerous hymns, but his songs were initially controversial because they put Christian words to secular tunes. Ira Sankey, song leader for evangelist D.L. Moody, was also thought to be making a worldly compromise when he first introduced the wind organ to Christian worship. The irony is these once highly criticized hymns and instruments are now the standard to which some Christians wish modern worship would return.

We all have our own tastes for music, but in Scripture, all kinds of music are used to worship God. Psalm 150 is about how we are to praise God at all times in all places in all ways. The psalmist lists a series of instruments used to praise God. There are trumpets, the brass instruments; harps and lyres, the string instruments; tambourines and cymbals, the percussion instruments; and even dancing! The psalmist then concludes, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (Psalm 150:6).

It is usually the heart, not the head, that connects with God. Propositional belief is important for knowing truths about Him, but the Christian life becomes a dull routine if that is all we have. This is why we should be deeply thankful for what Jubal’s discovery of music and the arts have contributed to our relationship with God. As we worship God in music and song, we stoke the fire of our love for Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for music and especially the way it enables me to worship. May my songs of praise be pleasing to You.

 

June 29, 2016

The Art of Prophecy. The Art of Evangelism.

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Ezekiel 4 Performance Art

Clarke Dixon continues his series in Ezekiel. To read this at source click this link and navigate the site for the previous articles in this series.

•••by Clarke Dixon

People don’t want to hear about it. And no, I am not referring to the American election. People don’t want to hear about, or talk about, religion; “Don’t force that down my throat!” Some will say that religion is a personal matter, or even further, a private matter. So it ought not be brought up. Some are overly optimistic and say that all religions are equally true and good. So why bother talking about it? Some are overly pessimistic and say that all religions are equally in error and bad. So why bother talking about it? Many will say that talking religion is so unCanadian, for someone might just get offended, so stick to the weather, hockey, and perhaps American politics thank you. Since the Church has a prophetic role in speaking a message on behalf of God to the world, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how can we proceed when conversation seems stifled from the start?

Ezekiel may well have been facing a people that did not want to hear the message he was to bring. There would be the overly optimistic, “don’t bother us with a message of judgement, the Lord will rescue us any day now.” There would be the overly pessimistic, “Where was God when the Babylonians arrived? So much for him, I don’t want to hear anything more.” How is Ezekiel to proceed?

Ezekiel’s first message which we hear about in Ezekiel chapter 4 is not a spoken message. It is acted out. Ezekiel is called by God to grab people’s attention through art. Some have called it “street theatre.” Let’s look at what he was to do:

1 And you, O mortal, take a brick and set it before you. On it portray a city, Jerusalem; 2 and put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a ramp against it; set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around.

He was to make a map of Jerusalem, and, just as I loved to play with small plastic “army guys” and tanks and whatnot as a child, Ezekiel was to “play” siege warfare. That would grab attention! Further,

3 Then take an iron plate and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it.

Here Ezekiel is to role-play God in this “play battle,” only God is not portrayed as there to rescue, but to remain hidden as the siege rages on. That would grab attention. Further,

4 Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. . . three hundred ninety days, . . . When you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side,. . .forty days.

Ezekiel is to lie down by his model of a siege every day for over a year, for 430 days to be precise! Most Biblical scholars think that this would have been part of a daily routine of street theatre and so we perhaps ought not to think of Ezekiel being stuck there for the duration. Nevertheless, Ezekiel’s play siege and lying down daily for days on end would grab attention. Further,

9 And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread for yourself. During the number of days that you lie on your side, three hundred ninety days, you shall eat it. . . .11 And you shall drink water by measure, one-sixth of a hin; at fixed times you shall drink.

This is not a health food diet, this is a no food diet. This is what the people of a city would cook up as a last resort for mere survival under siege. Ezekiel is to eat and drink very little for all those days. Some Biblical scholars think this “dramatic eating” in public would be supplemented by Ezekiel each day at home. Others think this would have been Ezekiel’s only food and water for the duration. You can imagine Ezekiel over time losing weight and looking starved. The diet would grab attention either way. Further . . .

12 You shall eat it as a barley-cake, baking it in their sight on human dung. 13 The Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread, unclean, among the nations to which I will drive them.”

Ezekiel complains at this point and the Lord lets him use cow’s dung for fuel instead of human dung. Cow’s dung is still used as fuel for cooking to this day, but the use of human dung would be an offence to any good Jew like Ezekiel. I can imagine Ezekiel letting the onlookers to the street theatre know that he was supposed to cook over human dung. This too, would grab people’s attention.

What is the point of Ezekiel grabbing people’s attention? To deliver a message of judgement. There will be another siege against Jerusalem, it will last a long time, God will not intervene, food and water will be scarce, and, as symbolized by the human dung, the rest of the people of Jerusalem people will be joining Ezekiel and the other captives in an unclean land. This was a message to the overly optimistic; captivity is the future. This was a message for the overly pessimistic; God is not dead, He is keeping His covenant promises. This was a message delivered not so much through speech as through art, through street theatre. Ezekiel was called by God to deliver the message in a way that would grab people’s attention, that would make them do a rethink.

Are we as the Christian Church doing enough to grab people’s attention? Our message of reconciliation through Jesus is far more exciting than Ezekiel’s message of judgement through the Babylonians! Are we engaging people with it?

Are we grabbing people’s attention through the Arts? Through visual arts, dramatic arts, creative writing, music, in fact through every art form available? We can pray for Christian artists, encourage Christian artists, or even be Christian artists. Art can be a great way to grab attention and lead people to do a rethink.

Are we grabbing people’s attention through the Sciences? Through the study of history, medicine, philosophy, archaeology, sociology, psychology, anthropology, cosmology, and everyotherology? There are Christians devoted to the study of all these sciences, and many find themselves drawn closer to Christ through them. The sciences can be a great way to grab attention and lead people to do a rethink.

Are we grabbing people’s attention through the Christ-honouring life? Love grabs attention, as do the things done as an expression of love; forgiveness grabs attention, bearing a cross for the sake of others grabs attention. Peace grabs attention. Patience, kindness, generosity, and goodness grab attention. Faithfulness grabs attention. People are amazed when they hear of a long-lasting marriage. A Christian covenant marriage grabs attention. Gentleness and self control grab attention. Do these qualities sound familiar?

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (Galatians 5:22,23)

A Christ-honouring, Christ-following, Spirit-led, Spirit-filled life is a great way to grab attention and lead people to do a rethink.

People may have mocked Ezekiel for his street theatre. People may mock us for our involvement in the Arts and Sciences. They may mock us for living Christ-honouring lives. But the reaction to Ezekiel was not near as important as the response to the message. People’s reaction to us is not near as important as their response to Jesus. Being mocked is evidence that we have in fact grabbed someone’s attention.

People do not want to hear it, they do not want to talk about it. We have no need to ram religion down people’s throats, but we are called to get Jesus into their heads. We can be creative in that. Speech and preaching is important, vital even. But the Lord also uses the Arts, the Sciences, and Christ-honouring lives in enabling the Church to fulfill its prophetic role in the world. Ready to grab attention?

All scripture references are from the NRSV and unless stated otherwise are from Ezekiel, chapter 4

January 8, 2014

The Christian and Creativity

Christians and the Arts

Today’s thoughts appeared recently at the blog, Writing Down Life. The author is Stacey Louiso. As usual, you’re encouragement to the writers we discover here can consist of clicking through to read the article at source. This one was titled It’s a New Year State of Mind.

“Your creative mind is the greatest gift God has given you and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him.” 

~Oswald Chambers, 

My Utmost for His Highest (Feb 11 devotional page)

 

…The thought above from Oswald Chambers is one that many people may wonder about but not understand completely. Even Believers or disciple of Christ Jesus, may not actually grasp the concept of becoming such a clean vessel, you desire your every thought to glorify God. I remember the first time I read the following passage in 2 Corinthians (10:5):

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 

(For short, take every thought that is impure, or ungodly, captive. Do not allow it to seep into your spirit or outwardly, into the world. The two prior passages are really important as well when in a battle but this one speaks particularly loud to those in certain areas of sin.)

For a person with a creative penchant in life, who enjoys the creativity of others (art, music, literature, et al) it can be a difficult thing to defeat. For a creative person, even more trying…yet not impossible. I had no idea that the thoughts and imaginings of my mind are controllable (i.e. that I could be rid of them); the prospect both excited and amazed me. It takes a lot of work, breaking down strongholds of the enemy and a lot of strength to accomplish but it is very possible!  (2 Cor 10:4 discusses this: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.)

Ask yourself: where exactly does your creativity come from? What does it feel like when it’s bubbling up (are thoughts/feelings healing or disturbing?) and how would God perceive the final product? Would it be pleasing to His eyes, ears and heart? If you are walking with the Lord (or even if you are not) your very goal in life should be to produce work (regardless of the type), or good fruit, that you know is pleasurable to our God. It should resemble something that would be created in His image, not wrapped in bubble wrap mind you, but also not deceptive, hateful or wicked, in spirit.

We are not to participate in the ways of “the world”, instead we are to create “heaven on earth” (or Matt 6:10, “…thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”). We are created in the image of God. Through this calling we are commissioned to create art that is beautiful and uplifting (edifying), as not to tempt ourselves, nor others, into bondage of the flesh through their participation, or admiration of, your work. By keeping your eyes and mind on Christ as you create, you will take captive any ungodly desires to produce ugly fruit.

“Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” (Psalm 2:1) Because they do not adhere to God but instead to the darkness over this world. The most beautiful thing we have to offer as creative professionals, artists…is a mind that is sanctified; all we produce should resemble good fruit. It is very unfortunate that the dark arts have a stronghold over people today.

But there is hope…

There is no time like the present to start fighting; no time like the present to take back what God gifted to us, for His pleasure as well as the aesthetic enjoyment of all people. Works of art and words of glory, bathed in beauty and light. There is no time like the present to stop being complacent and allowing ourselves, or our work, to be used for evil rather than for good! Today is a great day to start – why not enter into this new year with a more beautiful state-of-mind?