One of the big things I want to do in this blog is to encourage creative ministry. I’ve been sharing my messages from my church on this blog for a little while now, but now I want to add a feature. think of it as a challenge. Each week before I post the sermon for the current week, I plan on telling you my next topic and the text. The reason for this is I want to encourage you to think creatively. How would you express the text in your art form? What creative elements would you add? How might you present the text to someone in a Sunday school class, a sermon, a drama, a song or other creative work.

If I were to share with you my ministry schedule, at least as it pertains to the message, Tuesday is my usual start date. I’m not usually a person who plans months ahead, and I don’t use the lectionary. My topics come as the result of prayer, as well as some practical concerns as we’ll see in a moment. At this point, I have two things going. I felt led to preach on what the Lord calls “New” to start off this new year. It will be a series of approximately four messages, which should carry me through January. The other thing I have going is an extended series on the book of Esther. Esther is our current Wednesday evening Bible Study, so I am preaching through the book and then teaching the study based on what I am preaching. I am writing the study, so every time we finish a chapter, I have determined I will break in to my current series and preach the next section.

Now as to my schedule. I try to have my day of rest on Monday. I pray and I may do some light reading, but I try to do some Sabbath rest. I start the day early on Tuesday, recording and assembling the sermon video you’re about to see. Tuesday, is also the day I really dig into the study and begin the writing. Wednesday is usually the day I will do the bulk of the writing. Thursday is usually my day to work up the visuals, and powerpoint. If I create a video for the sermon, the drawings are done throughout the week and I usually end up recording and animating the video between Friday and Saturday. Friday and Saturday are also days when I will tighten up the message and get ready to preach. Of course, I also do a lot of other things so I have to be a little flexible on the schedule. You should also know that I am always reading and studying and sketching and many of my future messages are born during those times.

I would love to see/hear how you would express these topics in your art form, so please share them in the comments. I promise not to use anything you create without your permission. On the other hand if you see something on here, you would like to use, I hereby grant you permission to do so, unless otherwise noted and only ask that you link back to this blog. Let’s spread creative ministry together.

The coming sermon is going to be about the New Heavens and the New Earth and my main text will be Revelation 21. What would you do with that text and topic?

The current Sermon is called simply A New Creation. As we explore the things that God calls “new” in this series, we come upon one of the most important things: becoming a new creation in Christ. Join us as we explore 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 and how God re-recreates us from the inside out.

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a collection of eight books by C.S. Lewis. So far I have read four. They are amazing. These are not the Narnia books, but rather his philosophical books. I have to admit that while I am enjoying them, they are definitely at the top end of my reading level, and I’m not getting it all. No worries I can always reread them at a later date and even at this point I am learning a lot.

The book I’m reading now is different. This book is the Lewis I really love. The allegorical kind, where Lewis teaches great truths in the guise of stories. The book is called The Great Divorce, and no, it has nothing to do with marriage. It’s about heaven and hell and Salvation. In this allegorical story, Lewis imagines a bus trip from hell to heaven where the passengers are allowed to stay if they want. I know this is nowhere near correct theological but again remember, it’s an allegory. The stories relate to people now alive and their attitudes toward life, faith and the afterlife. One particular account features the protagonist (who seems to represent the author himself) is speaking to his “guide.” He at first is wondering why “the solid people” (the residents of heaven) don’t go down to hell to rescue those who are there. His question then goes to what about the people who never board the bus for heaven, who he calls “poor souls.” His guide, who he calls George MacDonald (a man who was a strong influence on Lewis in real life). This is his response.

Everyone who wishes it does. Never fear. There are only two kinds of people in the end; Those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says “Thy will be done.” All that are in hell choose it. Without that self choice, there would be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock, it is opened.

Again this is allegorical language, not necessarily theological and yet there is a lot of truth here. The point is very simple. Salvation is offered to everyone who will believe, and everyone who believes will receive. So many people want to overthink it, or look for the loophole, or try to outsmart the Lord. So many are caught up in their own plans and contrivances and beliefs that are not scriptural. The simple truth of the matter is Jesus is the way the truth and the life. He is the only way. He sets the terms and if we enter, we enter through Him alone.

Lewis is a powerful storyteller, who brings the point home masterfully. Those of us with creative gifts were given those gifts to share the Gospel truth. How would you tell His story?

Right now a lot of my regular readers are likely scratching their heads, and the people from my home church are likely more than a little frustrated so I better explain myself. You don’t have to go to church. For that matter, you don’t have to go to work or school, you don’t have to bathe or eat or drink or sleep. well I suppose the urge to sleep will eventually overtake you in spite or yourself, but the rest are ultimately choices we make. And by the way choosing not to do any of them will be detrimental to your life.

I was listening to Dan Miller’s podcast and he reminded me of what I already know. How we think about things matters. All of these things are choices, and they are also privileges. You don’t have to do them, you get to do them. Going to church is not a have to, it’s a get to. Getting together with other believers to worship the Lord. That’s a privilege. Singing God’s praises, that’s a privilege. Lifting your prayers to the Lord is a privilege. Reading God’s Word and studying it together is a privilege. These are all things that hold huge benefits for our lives and they are all an amazing privilege. You can say, I can do most of these on my own, without entering the church. No respectfully, you can’t. Oh there are times to do all these things personally, on your own, and I am a huge advocate of living a life of worship, but worship was also designed to be done in community. Studying God’s Word was meant to be done in community. Prayer and praise were also meant to be done at least at times in community.

Now I know what you might be thinking. People in the church have done this or that or the other thing. They’re hypocrites. You’re right. Church people sometimes fail to live up to God’s standard and even their own. So do you, am I right? I often compare the church to an airport. Everybody walks through the door dragging their baggage behind them. There are no perfect people anywhere, but when we come together we can build each other up, and lift each other up, and together we can be better together than we are alone.

Bottom line. You don’t have to go to church, you get to go to church. The church needs you, and you need the church.

I’ve been writing this incarnation of this blog since 2012 and I’ve written literally thousands of posts, most of which involve creativity and the church. I am a strong advocate for the church embracing creativity and creative people, but is there ever a time when creativity should stop. Is there ever a time when being creative in the church is “out of bounds.” The answer is yes.

It’s simple really. We can be immensely creative with presentation. Whatever we can do to creatively spread the Gospel, we should do and I know in my heart of hearts, the church has only scratched the surface of what’s possible. We should also go to great lengths to make our presentations memorable and again there is still much ground to be taken in this arena. We can and should teach and preach as creatively possible. We should strive to make things interactive, get people involved, we should find and use the gifts of everyone, as much as possible in the life, mission and ministry of the church and we should put our whole hearts, souls and creativity into the worship of our Lord. Creative opportunities abound and I know there are many more ways than I can conceive today, so where is it out of bounds?

It’s out of bounds when it attempts to change the meaning of the Scripture. The Bible can only mean what God intended it to mean, even if we wish it said something else, even if it doesn’t endorse what we wish it endorsed, even when we think the times and the culture and even the church has changed. The Bible says very clearly Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. His opinion is the only one that matters. We live this life submitted to Him and not the other way around. His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways, but his thoughts and ways are ultimately higher and better. We are created in His image and not the other way around. He is the Lord and we are supposed to be growing into His likeness. Believe it or not, this is all incredibly good news. No we can’t change the Scripture, but the good news is, if we will submit to His authority, the Scripture will change us.

The boundaries of the Scripture are our friends. They keep us in the Father’s will and even with these boundaries, the possibilities for creativity are endless in the church. So let’s submit ourselves and our creativity to the One who made us creative and let us watch in amazement as His truth is revealed to the world through us and our work. To God be the glory.

I spent most of my life wanting to be a professional artist. The result was some fun and a few really interesting projects surrounded by a LOT of frustration. Sure, I got to work with a licensee of the Ninja Turtles for a while, but I also designed grocery circulars by the thousands. Sure I got to do some really cool murals and other pieces at a local tourist attraction, but I also spent quite a few years cutting and pasting while anything really creative was outsourced. In all those years, I consoled myself by telling myself and everybody I was a professional artist. It was technically true, but if I have to be honest, most of it was not fulfilling. This was not the life I dreamed of.

Today, I’m a pastor.

Now you might think I have put my art on the sideline. Totally and completely untrue. I probably do more art now than I did when I was trying to convince myself I was a professional artist. I do tons of graphics and illustrations, I work on creative ways to communicate God’s word. I teach painting workshops as an outreach and I get to travel and do live paintings while communicating the Gospel. Do I technically earn my living as an artist? No. Do I sell a lot of paintings? No, but here’s the thing. I am more fulfilled artistically than I have ever been in my life, and my work is seen and appreciated my a very supportive “audience” who is blessed by what I do. I don’t sell a lot of paintings, but people pay me to come and paint them, and I have given hundreds of them away. Am I an artist? Yes. I always have been and barring disaster, I always will be, but I have actually found something that matters to me much more. My God-given ability has not been wasted at all, as a matter of fact, for me, I believe I have found the most God=honoring use for what I have been given possible.

So many creative people pressure themselves to make their whole living in their chosen art form, and consider themselves as failures if they can’t pull it off. I did that to myself for entirely too long, and if I can, I’d love to save you the trouble. All that pressure cannot help but stifle your creativity, but what if, instead you look for the right opportunity, something that allows you to bring your best creativity to the table in a way that fulfills you creatively, plays the bills and allows you to bless and serve others.

I am not trying to make you a pastor, unless that is what God is calling you to do. What I am saying is life is to short and your gift is too valuable to waste it in compromise and frustration. Rather than insisting that you need to be a professional artist (writer, musician, etc.) with all the accompanying pressure, why not keep your eyes open until you find a way that fulfills you, and brings value to our world.

So right now I am reading the brilliant book Miracles by C.S. Lewis, I came upon two passages that I think really bear repeating. I thought I’d share them here today as a little bonus.

The mention of that nation [Israel] turns our attention to one of those features of the Christian story which is repulsive to the modern mind. To be quite frank, we do not at all like the idea of a “chosen people.” Democrats by birth and education, we should prefer to think that all nations and individuals start level in the search for God, or even that all religions are equally true. It must be admitted at once that Christianity makes no concessions to that point of view. It does not tell of a human search for God at all, but of something done by God, for, to, and about Man. And the way in which it is done is selective, undemocratic, to the highest degree. After the knowledge of God is universally lost or obscured, one man from the whole earth (Abraham) is picked out. He is separated (miserably enough, we may suppose) from his natural surroundings, sent into a strange country, and made the ancestor of a nation who are to carry the knowledge of the true God. Within this nation there is further selection: some die in the desert, some remain behind in Babylon. There is further selection still. The process grows narrower and narrower, sharpens a last into one small bright point like the head of a spear. It is a Jewish girl a her prayers. All humanity (so far as concerns is redemption) has narrowed to that.

A little bit later in that same chapter, Lewis refines his point.

For when we look into the selectiveness which the Christians attribute to God, we find in it none of that “favoritism” which we are afraid of. The “chosen people” are chosen not for their own sake (certainly no for their own honour of pleasure) but for the sake of the unchosen. Abraham is told that “in his seed” (the chosen nation) “all nations shall ve blest.” That nation as been chosen to bear a heavy burden. Their sufferings are great: but as Isaiah recognized, their sufferings heal others. On the finally selected Woman, falls he utmost depth of maternal anguish. Her Son, the incarnate God, is a “Man of Sorrows;” the one man into whom Deity descended, the one Man who can be lawfully adored, is pre-eminent for suffering.

Leave it to Lewis to break down the point of what He calls (and this writer agrees is) God’s greatest miracle; the incarnation. God always knows what He’s doing and He is always working for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Trust Him!

Welcome to 2020! It’s a brand new year. I was contemplating what this new year brings and I started to focus on that word, “NEW.” It implies something that is a the very least improves and quite possibly even something that has never existed before. It’s exciting when you think about it. New years are often times of new beginnings, when people tend to focus on turning the page, making changes or maybe even starting over completely. Then another thought occurred to me. What does God call new?

There were a couple of scriptural things that came to mind.

Consider Isaiah 43:18, 19:
“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

This reminds me so much of all those folks turning over a new leaf, yet the speaker in this case is God. His people went astray, again. He sent Isaiah to them with a message of warning. Keep going on your current path and disaster is coming. Yet even in the midst of this prophecy, God showed them that He still loved them and had something fantastic for them. I love this passage, because it speaks to freedom. Yes ultimately it is freedom in Christ, but there is something else. How many of us are haunted by our past? Maybe it’s something we’ve done, or maybe it’s something that’s been done to us, but regardless, it keeps us stuck. This is often a prison of our own making. Oh we’re not necessarily the one who caused the problem, but we are making the choice to dwell there. God has something new for us. Something better. This verse is at least in part a prophecy of a coming Kingdom, the Kingdom of Christ, the one who came to set the captives free. Maybe today is the day to trust Christ and step into a new thing.

The Bible tells us that he who the Son sets free is free indeed, and further it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Maybe today is the day to leave that cell you’ve been living in behind and step into the freedom of the Children of God.

There is grace and forgiveness in Christ, and there is freedom. This new year, why not step into God’s new thing?