How We Reflect God When We Create
(by Ezra Boggs)
Many years ago, one of our family’s favorite focal points was television; specifically, a show called ‘Real People’. It came on in the evening, and while we enjoyed our 4 to 5 square edible elements in all their aluminum-framed glory, complete strangers would display their mindless tripe.
Imagine a neutered version of the Jerry Springer Show.
We watched for years, but I can only remember two segments:
• A black co-host going to a tanning salon…the ‘newest sensation’
• A woman who stripped for Jesus
My Dad just sat watching in utter disgust.
I just remember feeling completely sad, shocked, and embarrassed watching a woman on TV strip in front of my Dad and little sister.
Moreover, I just felt so unbelievably sad for this attractive woman who Christ had called to write Scripture on very private areas of herself, then sent her out into a mission field with a pole and mirrors, where men paid money to see her undress, and ‘preach’.
These men sure didn’t look as if they were overcome with conviction.
And no one was at least caught on camera stampeding outside to the parking lot screaming at the top of their lungs for God’s forgiveness.
They just had this strange look in their eyes, and more money than I’d ever seen.
My weekly allowance at the time was $2.00, and with it I’d buy eight Marvel comics every Saturday.
This woman was dancing around with enough money hanging from her underwear that I imagined I could probably buy EVERY COMIC EVER WRITTEN!!!!!
At that moment in the history of me, I didn’t know ANYTHING about Christ or His Bride, but I did know that if this woman’s antics had landed her on ‘Real People’, then something must be very twisted in her method.
It left me, all of 8 or 9 years old, grieving for this poor woman’s dignity.
And yet, even now the idea of the finite demonstrating the infinite is puzzling. How can we express what our minds do not fully comprehend? How can the flawed, sinful, and selfish produce anything that reflects the holiness, righteousness, and perfection found in our Lord?
First – We can comprehend God to the extent that He has revealed Himself in His Word. As such, it is the onus of believers to operate and express their stewardship of their gifts within the realm of what is known of God. Thus, God no longer creates; He stopped after the six days in creation and uses you and I as secondary causes to continue that very same creation. As Dr. Paul Henebury states: “Now, he uses human vessels, human individuals, like He does for everything in this world, like He does for spreading the Gospel, like He does for defending the faith, like He does for writing the Gospels and writing the books themselves; human instruments are used. Some under the inspiration of course as in the original autographs of the Old and New Testaments, and some, just people used by the providence of God to do a particular job, at a particular function, at a particular time.”
Second – God’s creation reflected his character; it was ‘good’. Likewise, the objective of what we create should reflect our Creator as well as our methodology to reach that objective. Yes, sharing the Gospel is a wonderful thing…but keep your clothes on. It is within this context that we must understand that all art is theological; all art expresses a metaphysic [defining why the artist believes we exist], an ethic, and an epistemology [how an artist defines truth]…whether explicit or tacit, it is there. Therefore the most recurring sin in what we create is not in what is done, but most often what is not done; we frequently do not honor God in what we create.
‘For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they
Became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. ‘Romans 1:21
The world knows that it will answer for what their lives have reflected, the Sensus Divinitatis that Calvin spoke of that no created being can escape, and they despise any public expression that serves as a reminder; a judgment is coming. Because of this, because of the noetic effects of sin, a majority of humanity is ethically opposed to what we feel driven to express and literally cannot comprehend individuals that would commit their lives to exalting anything other than prioritizing their time in order that they wouldn’t miss a single second of ANY American Idol broadcast and amassing a minimum of 1,000,000 friends on My Space.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:5-8
However, the very creation around us serves as a reminder that our objective in creating must always reflect a focus on pleasing one individual…our Lord Jesus Christ.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1
Therefore, the believer’s objective in creating should be driven by a heart that solely desires to,” let
your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father
who is in heaven.” [Matthew 5:16]
Third – Create in such a way that those who need to experience your efforts, have direct contact – good, bad, or otherwise, but they have exposure to your expression. What we are called to do is not prosaic by any stretch of definition, but rather a source of light amidst immeasurable darkness. Christ praying on behalf of all believers, said,” I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” John 17:15-19
Jesus Christ came to insulate us from the effects of the world, not isolate us, however we must avoid assimilation as well believing ‘it’s all good’. On the contrary, it is not all good, but rather the very course of this world runs contrary to God. [Ephesians 2:2]. In His own example to us the Lord hasn’t called us to ‘avoidance’, because unlike the distant and uninvolved God of Deism, Christ was after all ‘Immanuel, God with us.’ [Matthew. 1:23] He walked among the lost, taught them, ate with them, made Himself fully accessible to the community at large, and with only five syllables changed the funeral of Lazarus into a contest to see who could look the most shocked.
Yes, rather than isolating us from the world, which we are undeniably ‘in’, He has insulated us from the condemning effects of our culture, enabling those in submission to Him, to go as far as to ‘resist the Devil’. [James 4:7] In our daily osmosis with the culture around us, while gaining an understanding of it, we must simultaneously weigh that understanding against Scripture thereby to ‘destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ’. [II Corinthians 10:5]. The Apostle Paul was well aware of his audience’s culture at the Areopagus and merely used that knowledge to share God’s Truth with contemporaneous verbiage, resulting in ‘some men joined him and believed’. [Acts 17: 19-34]
We should daily rejoice that there is only one means of understanding the very mind of God and His Truth, and that is His Holy Scriptures. By contrast, Bill Gates’ accountant is not even able to count the number of possibilities and available alterations of sin.
So, if I come into contact with unredeemed folk, one of three possibilities may very well occur:
1. I am influenced by what is around me and commit sin
2. Fearing the rejection of man, I dilute God’s Truth to the degree that it is unrecognizable in a desire for ‘relevance’ with my surroundings; which again is sin
3. I display the ‘kindness of the Lord which leads to repentance’ [Romans 2:4]
Because the very nature of the Fruits of the Spirit that we bear [Galatians 5:22-23] are for those that our lives come into contact with, as Mark Dever rightly explains,” You and I cannot demonstrate love or joy or peace or patience or kindness sitting all by ourselves on an island. No, we demonstrate it when the people we have committed to loving give us good reasons not to love them, but we do anyway.”
After all, the lost are driven by a thirst for experiences that give their lives some semblance of meaning, because despite the hours that turn into weeks of catching up on their TiVo, and the carpal tunnel syndrome they developed in both thumbs from their X-Box, absolutely nothing can slake their emptiness…but their Creator. The Christian however, interacting and serving as an example to watchful spectators, rightly places all of their life’s ‘experiences’ in submission to Scripture and when there is a conflict, then the ‘experience’ is abandoned under the priority of God’s Word.
Fourth – Be very careful of the elements we allow in that might impact or influence our creative impetus…be very careful. Any artistic motive that solely exalts the creature, even one that critics acclaim as genius, innovative, genre-defining, or brilliant, and does not have God as its objective of that very same praise, it is sin. Simple and straight, with no kid gloves,” For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” [Romans 14:23b] Understandably and with good reason, the Lord shares His glory with no one [Isaiah 42:8, 48:11] and those who attempt otherwise depart from the earth like a surprise ending to a Stephen King movie.
On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an
oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”
Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he
was eaten by worms and breathed his last. Acts 12:21-23
We are called to be an amanuensis for God in the very assertorial sense that our lives assert the propositional truths of our Lord…and they are His Truths! The very truths of a Creator who alone possesses aseity and needs nothing from us; God was ENTIRELY God before He created anything.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. Acts 17:24-25
So, am I suggesting toss out EVERY recording you have excluding ‘Jim Nabors Sings God’s Favorite Songs of Praise’? No, and how exactly does Gomer know which are God’s favorites?
But simultaneously, DO NOT be unequally yoked in regard to your influences. I understand that ‘the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous’ [Proverbs 13:22], but let us also refuse to ‘abuse grace as a license for immorality’ [Jude 1:4].
If we listen ONLY to the message produced by the world around us, then we will create on a horizontal perspective – creature to creature. This perspective produces ONLY lust, greed, envy, hatred, pride, jealousy, ungratefulness, etc. ALL characteristics that are readily available to witness via HD satellite from any number of purported mantic authorities displaying their perverse vicissitudes of materialism on MTV ‘Cribs’; where one man’ s ‘covet buffet’ is another criminal’s ‘shopping list’. Instead, our creative perspective should remain, at all times, affixed vertically – Creator to creature. This perspective produces silence, humility, awe, reverence, worship, gratefulness, and praise. It is because of the artistic outcome of these two perspectives that sanctuaries sing the works of Matt Redman and not Slipknot.
During my first year in seminary we would share prayer requests and then frequently leave campus and continue fellowshipping over coffee. I was the youngest student and the ONLY student not serving full-time on a church staff. Literally, two years before I might have bitten one of these men during a fit of drug-induced hostility. Instead, two nights a week, I’m studying hermeneutics and listening to their prayer requests, which at their worst, confessed to ‘listening to KVIL twice last week’!!!
Meanwhile, I’m trying to remember if I have The Flaming Lips or Black Sabbath stuck in the cassette deck of my car.
As providence would have it, it was my turn to drive my theological ‘posse’ for coffee, and as it turned out…it was The Flaming Lips.
Dr. Shockley insisted on hearing just what held my musical interests, chided and encouraged loudly by the denizens in the backseat.
There is no appropriate description to explain the expression on their faces…simply unattainable.
To this day, of the incredible amount of wisdom this man shared with me, his words after coffee that evening impacted EVERYTHING I do now.
He simply exhaled, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Graze from many pastures but give your own milk.”
Instantly, the light bulb illuminated.
I translated his message as: “Ezra, you are a freaky young dude, and at gunpoint I would not let you babysit my children, but somewhere in you is a work that the Lord began…and will finish. Just make sure the finished product sounds like Ezra.”
Make sure that what you are grazing from will produce good, God-glorifying, milk.
Fifth – Be original…PLEASE!!!!! While we obviously cannot create ex nihilo – ‘from nothing’, we can at the very least create something ‘new and skillful’ [Psalm 33:3]. We sincerely DO NOY need yet another version of ANYTHING initially created by someone else. When artists run out of ideas…they replicate. Doubt me? Look at the contrast of remakes out of Hollywood over the last decade. We do not need to rely on the world to set our example, standard, or pace.
In the remarkable book Angels in the Architecture it is pointed out that “Whereas once the church wrote symphonies and built cathedrals to our God, now we write pop songs and meet in shopping malls.”
And I would only add, if you know the Lord, and His grace, patience, and love for His children, then by contrast…writing a symphony or building a cathedral is a very small thing.
Sixth – We must recognize the functions God has blessed us with and examine how we are using them in our creative endeavors.
The Lord has blessed me with the gift of sight, therefore, what am I committing time to look at?
The Lord has blessed me with the gift of hearing, and what am I feeding my ears with?
The Lord has blessed me with the gift of speech, and what are my words communicating to others about my Savior?
The Lord has chosen for me to live ‘in such a time as this’ [Esther 4:14], so what am I doing with this time?
Some in the Body of Christ have forgotten that Daniel was despised for what he was not willing to participate in, and likewise, the lives of every Believer should be markedly different than the culture around them.
“We are in the world, but not of the world,” [John 17:14-15] and the current trend toward complete cultural assimilation in all things will have those that succumb walking arm in arm down a broad path to destruction [Matthew 7:13-14]. The popular motto ‘it’s all good’ is a complete eyesore to God’s truth, because there are certainly images, subject matter, and discussions that are explicitly inappropriate for an adopted son or daughter of the Most High God to be willing participants, and no pragmatic explanation of the ‘end justifies the means’ can prove otherwise.
We are called to be set apart; to be Holy.
We are called to be the aroma of life to one and the aroma of death to another in the culture around us. We are called to remind a populace who parade around in ‘Jesus is my Homeboy’ t-shirts that the King of Glory is returning and He offers redemption, definition to their lives, and forgiveness for their blasphemous fashion choices.
Seventh – Create in response to what God has declared of Himself.
If, by contrast, I am only concerned with my creation ‘working’, meaning to produce a response, then I should be content hosting a tea party while seeing a group of individuals on my furniture spitting, flailing, and screaming to a twisted spinning mosh pit of flailing arms and legs.
However, if there is no one like the Lord then why would our creative efforts in response and adoration to Him mimic the consensus standard the world uses?
The prophets of Baal jumping around cutting themselves didn’t motivate Elijah to grab a knife and hop right in, because after all, that was how everyone else did it.
In obedience to what the Lord has communicated in Scripture, there MUST be a dramatic difference in our means of appropriately expressing our praise to Him that stands in stark contrast to what the consensus of the society employs.
Again, pragmatism should not manipulate our worship in a day and age where a congregation would immediately stand in patriotic reverence when the national anthem is played, but somehow feel no conviction directly afterwards, gladly sitting with arms folded, while listening to songs exalting the Creator and King of all nations. Calling this attitude a ‘conflict of interest’ doesn’t due justice to the grotesquely out of balance priorities it demonstrates and smacks of the same mindset that has Michael Palin, with blood and carnage abounding, proclaiming at the wedding massacre,” Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who.”
Consequently, although many current contemporary ‘worship’ songs ‘work’, they also entail the lyrical theological depth of a fetus wading pool. This is WRONG to a degree that cannot be rebuked loudly enough!
We must ‘sacrifice’ the perspective in any creative effort, worship or otherwise, that our words are sent solely to get a reaction from a congregation, and depending on their response or approval, then our efforts are validated.
Again, our point of approval is not horizontal, person to person, but instead vertical, person to Creator.
Because despite the fact that society’s discontent is evident upon the mere pronouncement of the word ‘upgrade’, Christians know better than to agree with Emil Brunner or Jacques Ellul’s assertion that ‘technology is today’s metaphysic’; where ultimately the only thing that matters is if the outcome works. Throughout Scripture, with scores of examples time and again, the Lord has demonstrated that He is not only concerned with the ‘outcome’, but also the Biblical means and guidelines to attain it.
If worship is our outcome, then our ‘identity’ as worshippers must be truly committed, prior to our engagement into the act of public worship as an ‘activity’. These two matters demand full Biblical obedience and are inseparable.
After all, the God who spoke reality into being, has also given His Word equipping us with the essential means of communicating to ‘reality’ what it MUST hear…not necessarily what it ‘wants’ to hear…but desperately ‘needs’ to be shared.
Lastly – Abandon any sense of entitlement on what we create and share it with everyone.
After all, the truly greatest and most remarkable means of God’s reflection in our creative endeavors is seen in discipling our children. I’ve received critical praise from virtually every magazine or periodical you can name for doing little more than traversing nationwide, jumping on stages in front of throngs of strangers, and exalting myself; it was nothing more than 6 years of victuals for locusts. And there is no single syllable written by any critic at any time that compares to seeing my wife’s needs met or seeing my children actively know and serve Jesus Christ. Yet, they are the Lord’s and I have the privilege of raising them while creating a righteous legacy.
June 2, 1990 at 8:46 AM my oldest daughter Jaydon was born at the Birthing Center in Grand Prairie to a midwife who had only delivered three other babies previously. Unbeknownst to all of us upstairs celebrating, there was a woman downstairs all alone, whose child had just been delivered stillborn. Jaydon was a matter of a few hours old when one of the midwives came into our room and spoke with Mihstiegh about the young woman downstairs; she was requesting to hold a live baby before she left. Within a matter of seconds Mihstiegh agreed, the young girl entered the room, and was handed Jaydon. Although only a mere two or three hours old, the Lord had already begun to use Jaydon, His creation, to comfort and bless others in their affliction.
Thankfully, even though the Lord has declared he owns “all that is in the heavens and in the earth” [I Chronicles 29:11a], He is still gracious enough to share all this is His, including His only begotten Son, with all of us.
The act of creation began with God and will one day return to God as He providentially directs His creation back to Himself in glory. Consequently I know that any article that discusses subject matter of this nature generally paints the author as a fastidious iconoclast…however, I ain’t one. Because if you only see in this piece a list of ‘don’ts’, then please revise your perspective to interpret this as little more than refined banterings of ‘suggested’ directives regarding our best expressions of God in our creative attempts, necessitating being very faithful with very little. However, just like the widow’s mite, that ‘little’ can subsequently demonstrate the full expression of all that we are in our commitment to our Lord and Savior.
In the simple act of creating relationships of transparency and accountability to one another, classic works of art in the Louvre seem insignificant.
In the still of the morning while a mother creates a clean environment for children to grow in, a Grammy seems like settling for far less.
Likewise, when we refuse to define ourselves by the tarnished, frequently-stolen, always unsatisfying, materialistic standards that the world is driven by, and simply express with all that we are just who our Lord is and why He is worthy…then our creation is reflecting correctly. As soon as the church stops behaving like Jacob, dressing up like something it is not in an attempt to ‘steal’ our Father’s blessing, then our creation will be reflecting our Lord correctly.
As my dear friend Pastor Steve Queen says: “Everyone has something to say; show them something to live and they’ll listen.”
Just keep your clothes on.Tags: Art/Culture