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Every disciple of Christ is called to ministry; it is a calling for everyone. Our response to that call, however, usually involves either feelings of inadequacy or self-sufficiency:

(1) Some disciples feel inadequate to be serving on behalf of Christ. Whether because of limited education or lack of experience, these disciples often feel as if someone else could do a better job. They are constantly second guessing themselves.

(2) Other disciples feel fully prepared to be serving. Because of their training, experience, or resume, these disciples know what ministry is all about. They have learned some successful tools of ministry and know what they need to be successful.

We tend towards one extreme or the other, yet both are equally treacherous. In both cases, the minister subtly places confidence in himself. Success (or failure) is dependent on what a person knows or does.

Paul had a strikingly different view of ministry. Our confidence, wrote Paul, “is ours through Christ. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” (2 Cor. 3:4-5) Unlike many, Paul never boasted about his talents or ministry accomplishments. He gave total credit to God.

Paul’s attitude, although foreign to our entrepreneurial culture, is realistic. We are nothing in ourselves, and we do not deserve to claim anything for ourselves. Our competence comes from God alone.

The idea that God “has made us competent” is more powerful than some of us may like to accept. It means that anyone — anyone — regardless of their background, can be a minister. Ministry has little to do with us, but everything to do with Him. Once we get over our own personal feelings, this powerful truth can elevate us to new heights in ministry.

So in response to His Word, may God grant us the humility that we need for effective ministry — that we would see ourselves as completely incompetent apart from Christ — and may He empower us with unspeakable confidence in Christ to accomplish more than we could ever imagine on our own.

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Several weeks ago I wrote that art does not create truth, but “uncovers truth,” as an artist chisels away stone.  In other words, art discovers truth, but does not create it.  Whatever the form, it is important that art never gets so self-consumed that it loses sight of the original Source of Truth.

On the other hand, maybe even “uncovering” is giving ourselves too much credit. My reason for second guessing myself is this A.W. Tozer quote from “Theology Set to Music”:

Hymns do not create truth, nor even reveal it; they celebrate it. They are the response of the trusting heart to a truth revealed or a fact accomplished. God does it and man sings it. God speaks and a hymn is the musical echo of His voice.

Tozer had a humble view of worship songs. They need to be seen for what they are. Songwriters and songs do not create truth. As Tozer states, “God does it and man sings it.” We are responding to the truth that God has created.

The question that remains is this: Do new arrangements of words reveal truth? Can our minds be edified in a new way through new songs and new lyrics?

On one hand, I want to say yes.  Our minds need words and arrangements of words to help us comprehend ideas.  As human beings, our thoughts are directly connected to our vocabulary.  Conversely, if we are limited in our exposure to language, we are limited cognitively. 

However, I think Tozer is emphasizing something deeper here. While words are crucial to our understanding of truth, God can always transcend language. After all, He is the God of burning bushes, talking donkeys, and babbling tongues. Ultimately, then, Tozer offers a helpful reminder that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals truth to us, not our human creativity.

For this reason, worship songs are responsive. Our task as songwriters is not to create a new message, so that others can “better understand.” Rather, we have the joy of helping others celebrate the truth that already exists.  Our worship should be a musical echo of God’s voice.

God has already done it. Now it’s our job to sing it!

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Followers of Jesus should have an insatiable desire to become more like Jesus and are never satisfied with the status quo. We should want to be separate from surrounding sin, and without a doubt, distinct from the crowd. Although we are born and raised in a crowd of sinners, our life’s goal should be to step out of that crowd and move towards God.

However, sanctification is not an act of self-improving ourselves. As A.B. Simpson worded 1 Thes. 5:23, ““the God of peace himself [will] sanctify you wholly.” Although we choose to be sanctified, God’s role is more important than our own. He is the one that will clean us and make us into who we need to be. Only He can accomplish what we are incapable of doing on our own.

My prayer is that God will sanctify you and calm you with spiritual peace. You can stop the endless efforts to defeat sin on your own and start trusting in God for complete healing. In Him, your brokenness may once again be made whole.

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Although I haven’t read much of Karl Barth’s writings, thanks to Richard Mouw’s blog, I discovered these deeply penetrating ideas in his Prayer and Preaching.  Among many other pieces of advice, Barth offers the following advice regarding preaching:

Do not indulge in allegory; exercising one’s talents on the Word hinders it from sounding out clearly. One should also beware of intruding one’s own individuality or enlarging on one’s personal experience by using illustrations or parables drawn from events in one’s own life.

Barth’s emphasis on the sufficiency of God’s Word is a refreshing reminder that we are messengers of the Good News, but not the authors.  We must remain true to the text without adding a plethora of our own ideas and life experience.  As I would summarize his ideas, in a sermon, people should hear from God, not an entertaining speaker.

His comments also relate to how we view creativity in the Church.   In the midst of illustrations, videos, dramas, songs, PowerPoints, artwork, and so forth, we should always be cautious of “indulging” in those things.  One sign of this is when we are more excited about the medium than the message.  The two should never be confused.

There is a fine balance.  On one hand, we should use all of our talents to communicate God to others, and this includes our creativity; but on the other, we should be careful to distinguish between God’s Words and our words.  Because God’s Words are immensely more valuable, it should not disappoint us that we are merely messengers.  We do not need to make things “more exciting” with what we add to the message.

There is a lot to think about here.  Obviously, Barth’s ideas can be taken too far, and maybe at times they could seem impractical.  However, I think it’s a fair reminder that everything we do — whether preaching, teaching, creating, or serving — should be subservient to God’s Word.  When it comes to the end of the day, our actions should ultimately point others to God rather than ourselves.

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“Tom Beaudoin reveals four themes that shape the theology of many Postmoderns: (1) all institutions are suspect; (2) personal experience is everything; (3) suffering is spiritual; and (4) ambiguity is a central element of faith.”   (source)

To respond to each of these, it would seem that the Church should:  (1) embrace people more than programs; (2) focus on interactive, communal worship; (3) provide more opportunities for service; and (4) explore more gray areas in our teachings and discussions.

What do you think?

To be effective as ministers of the Gospel, we must be contagious.

God’s Truth needs to be something that we breathe, something that we ache with, something that we love. If we don’t feel it within our soul, we desperately need to ask ourselves why.

Whatever our ministry, we need to passionately live out the Gospel. We are not living because of facts about God, we are living because of the love of God. And this can only be communicated through passion. Remember that people rarely fall in love with facts, but they do fall in love with love.

Along these lines, Matt Chandler offers some great advice in this brief Resurgence video.  He shares advice for young preachers, but even if you don’t preach, his suggestions are still valuable.

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When it comes to truth, creativity can be disastrous.

My son, for example, used to think that he could leap off a balcony and fly. He really believed he was a superhero, so thankfully, we had a chance to correct him before he tried! Although it was a creative idea, without a doubt, my son had no say when it came to the truth of gravity.

Contrary to popular opinion, truth is not “wiki” or open source, where everyone has an input; nor is it democratic, where the majority rules. Some truths remain the same, no matter what, such as 2+2=4. And our opinions, no matter how brilliant, do not change everlasting truth.

For that reason, when it comes to creativity & theology, it is not our place to create our own truth about God. That is not our responsibility, nor do we have the ability to do so. God remains the same, no matter what we think about Him.

Therefore, creativity & theology do not construct, but uncover truth — as an artist chisels away stone to reveal something previously unseen. For the Christian artist, the content of truth remains constant, but the presentation of that truth that may change. In the case of the sculptor, the rock has always been there, but the shaping of the rock expresses truth in a different way (e.g., visual representation rather than philosophical argument).

As David Fitch and others are pointing out, truth can be communicated in many different ways. Many of us are caught in a modernist mindset and are hesitant to consider other expressions of truth. However, although we are comfortable with scientific facts and logical propositions, we need not limit ourselves to those. We can be creative and discover God in more ways than through our intellect.

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Theology is different from other “ologies” in the sense that if we only engage our subject intellectually, we miss the mark. We may understand hundreds of propositions about God, but if our imaginations are not involved in the process, I would say that we have failed. (By imagination I mean “envisioning what we do not rationally know.”)

Over at Signs of Emergence, Nick Hughes was quoted as saying, “I wish that someone, some group, something, somewhere would develop a theological project that captured the imagination. All the good ideas are elsewhere.” He is a graphic designer, not a theologian, but he expresses why many feel disenchanted and disconnected from theology.

Think about it: Shouldn’t studying theology make us more imaginative? If we truly and intently focus on God and His beauty, we will be inspired to overcome our ignorance. We will want to explore what we do not rationally know.

Songwriters can testify to this. When you write a song about a person, you intently focus on that person and you are inspired. The same goes for a glorious sunset. All you need to do is look intently, and the words and melodies naturally spring forth. In this way, something “other” or mysterious becomes personal.

Studying God, then, should inspire us — not only intellectually, but holistically. When we look at God and converse with Him, we should be enraptured with words, melodies, images, ideas, designs, and so on. After all, the source of creativity is God Himself.

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My new worship EP is now available for purchase online.  You can download tracks, or the entire EP of A Thousand Names, at DiscRevolt.com.  Just click HERE to find the Joel Jupp page!