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Oct 2012

Renaissance and Redemption

One of the classical composers I keep coming back to as I get older is Gustav Mahler, and every time I reacquaint myself with his music, I also can’t help but reacquaint myself with Mahler the man. Mahler once summed up his lifelong mission in a letter to the great conductor Bruno Walter: ask and confront head on the really big questions. Some of the questions he wrestled with, even in his music, were: “From whence do we come? Whither does our road take us? Have I really willed this life before I was even conceived? What is the object of toil and sorrow? Will the meaning of life finally be revealed by death?” Few artists worked harder, or accomplished more, than Mahler, but he was rarely content. His whole life was a conflict between belief and unbelief, and this conflict always strikes me in his music, and gets me to confront those big questions in my own life. In considering Mahler the man, it forces me to prayerfully consider all the artistic Mahler-types that I find myself surrounded with, not only in my day-to-day life, but in the life of the community of believers known as Redemption Hill. All of this serves to remind me of why we as a community of believers want to reach out to artists in Richmond.

I believe the Arts are a vital and necessary vehicle for sharing the gospel. They are a gift from God that allows us to move past purely rational expression and glimpse His truth and beauty – a way to more fully understand the nature of our own humanity and means of experiencing His divine nature that extends beyond what our minds can comprehend. Unfortunately, many attempts to embrace the Arts have been focused on using them as a “thing” that will improve the relevancy of our message. We have not recognized that art by its very nature emerges from the hearts and souls of people. Any approach to embracing Arts that isn’t driven by sharing our God’s passion for the lives of the artists will inevitable produce “art” that is shallow and ineffective.

Artists who have truly been transformed by the power of Christ and live a life marked by the freedom and grace He gives will not simply churn out the “party line” through their art. They will respond in their own unique way to God. And this expression will be effective because it emerges from a real relationship with a real and powerful God.

I once heard a church planter say something like this, “If you ask me to pray for a nation with you, I won’t do it. If you ask me to pray for China, I won’t. Now, if you ask me to pray with you for specific people in China, and pray for what God is doing in their city, I’ll pray with you as long as you want.” God has not called us to obsess over an abstraction like the political and national boundaries that separate people, but He has called us to obsess over the people themselves; the faces, the lives that are there.

Still God says, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” This promise, in Psalm 2:8, is addressed to the coming Messiah, but it is not limited to Christ alone. Now we, as His Body, are walking out the fulfillment of this world becoming His possession.

So how do we ask for nations? In our complex world of division and interconnection, nations may often refer less to geographical areas than they do to people with a common cultural heritage. Even within a city like Richmond, there are different cultural heritages represented. An example of this kind of a “nation” could be inner city youth or an affluent retirement community or say: musicians, journalists, poets, DJs, or graphic artists.

So how should we view the Arts in the Church? What does it mean to disciple an artist? To transform the “nation” of the Arts and Entertainment world? I believe that our success is not in having great art in our church, nor is it in indoctrinating the artist into our cultural norms, but by walking with them through the process of inner transformation of the spirit, soul and mind. In the end, it is their own unique expression of art that will bring glory to God and cause others to see His goodness.

Psalm 98:1-2 says, “Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.” We sing a new song (that naturally emerges out of our own experience, both culturally and spiritually) and God makes the message of His salvation known to others who, in turn, will be compelled to sing their own song.

We don’t need to pursue the arts for the gospel to be relevant to our culture, we need to participate in God’s work of transforming people’s lives for the power of the gospel to remain relevant to us. Christians don’t need to “do” art to reach the culture. Rather, we need to reach artists. Then we will experience, along with the world around us, the beauty of their gift as it speaks with clarity from the heart of God.

It all reminds me that we don’t have the power to change people; God does. God is the One who draws the hearts of men. And the most powerful expressions we will ever see or hear are those that are crafted in response to a revelation of God.

In the end, our success depends on the degree to which we have a passion for our God and the degree to which we share his passion for those to whom we are sent. We do not need to be confident of our own limited abilities, but must cry out to for His limitless possibilities to be made manifest in others’ lives. When men and women come to know the Lord and reach for their potential, He receives the highest glory.




October 3 2012 Reply

Great post and well worded Shelby.


October 4 2012 Reply



October 10 2012 Reply

Good words. Called to mind this article by Daniel Siedell:

The parable is about our willingness to serve the Lord in the manner He intended. And what does He intend? He intends for Jonah, for Israel, for the Church, and for us individually, to live for those around us. We are embodiments of God’s presence in and for the world.

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