I was blessed to have the opportunity to speak to the AU men's and women's basketball teams last night. I spoke on Proverbs 19:2b, "Whoever rushes with his feet misses the way." It was a good passage in that it fit well with the basketball theme and pointed gloriously to Christ, who is the "way, truth and the life."
Read it here: The Impulsive Fool Misses the Way
We come before you this morning, knowing that you are the very embodiment of gentleness. Its chief demonstration is found in your not treating us with the severity that our sins deserve. Instead of heaping upon us the harsh terrors of your wrath, you have been gentle with us.
It is in lieu of this we come before you and confess that we have not lived up to our calling to mimic you in gentleness.
Father, we confess that we more are akin to rabid animals and wild savages than we are to Christ. By nature we are quick tempered and blood hungry. As such we are prone to be cruel and austere, rather than hospitable and civil in our temperament.
Father, we acknowledge that we have not been gentle with our children. As fathers and mothers we have been given that special duty to be honorable, and invite their honor. But we have failed to do so because we have been abrasive with them, critical of them, and unkind to them.
You have given us children and charged us to nurture them with the same fatherly affection that you bestowed upon us; being tender in our discipline and warm our embrace. But we have fallen short: When they have provoked us we have not remained calm. When they have sought us out, we have not been sympathetic to their needs. When they have been troubled, we have not been sensitive to their state.
Father, we confess that we have not been gentle as parents. Neither have we demonstrated this virtue in our marriages.
We took vows to “have and to hold.” But oftentimes it would seem that we had promised to “yell and to chide.” Forgive us, Father, for not gracing the one you have put at our side with the amiable spirit that we should.
Forgive us as men for not treating our brides with the tenderness that is due to her as the weaker vessel, and pardon our failure to live with her with understanding, as you have commanded.
Forgive our ladies for the times when they have broken out against their husbands and their authority. Forgive them for not having demonstrated a meek and quiet spirit, and embodied those two gems of gentleness that characterize a submissive spirit.
And Father, forgive us for all those other ways we fail to bear the fruit of gentleness: for being overly sarcastic; for correcting one another, but not with love; for lacking proper manners; for our failure to be polite; for all expressions of hatred; for all undue anger; and for our fits of envy.
These sins we bring to you, O God, solely because we know that “a bruised reed you will not break, and a gently burning wick you will not snuff out.” Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Mat 11:28-29
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Pardon me for a minute. I need to unload some pastor geek stuff.
We've been going through the book of Hebrews at Providence Church. The book has impressed me from a literary point of view. It is very Hebraic in that it contains so many chiasm.
As I've been going about my sermon prep I've found this article on the Chiastic Structure of the book of Hebrews quite fascinating. While I've been prepping and preaching I've noticed many chiasms along the way and have had an "exegetical hunch" that the whole book might be chiastically arranged. The above article simply fleshed it out a bit more in depth.
Here is my take on the chiastic structure of the book of Hebrews. It is interesting how the first 10 verses of chapter 5 develop its own chaistic arrangement.
I also find it is interesting how the 8th chapter, dealing with the New Covenant, is considered to be the central focus of the book. It is as if the author is saying, "Everything about Christ is superior to what is found in the OT. As a matter of fact, the whole point of the OT is that it was looking forward to a new and better covenant!, which can only be found in Christ."
I admit that this series of sermons in the book of Hebrews has been the most difficult series I've ever had to labor through. (No disrespect to the text or to the Lord, but I cannot wait to be done with it!). Nevertheless, it certainly has been quite interesting digging through the text.
Great and precious are your promises, O God, and we thank you that you have chosen to extend those promises to poor sinners like us. Moreover, we praise you that you seal us in them by the powerful working your Spirit.
It is for this reason that we bow our heads now. We pray that we would, by faith, experience the full power of this sacrament. We pray that by these waters you would impress the reality of those promises upon our hearts and confirm us in them. We pray that each of us might be comforted by the gospel and be further assured that you are the Savior of sinners.
Most especially we pray for Dan as he undergoes this rite. We pray that the reality to which this points may enliven his soul and stir him up to greater obedience. We pray that this cleansing would be that which strengthens him in times of temptation, steadies him in seasons of doubt, and encourages him when he does stumble and fall into sin.
Yea, o God, we pray that his baptism would be constant reminder to him of the depth of your grace, mercy, and love.
And this we do ask in the strong name of Jesus; Amen.
A number of you have asked about the prison ministry and its status financially. I thought I would take a second to provide you with an update.
I've been with my guys now for three years, and we are coming to the end of our curriculum. We should have about 4-5 months left. It has been amazing working with these men and it is a bittersweet thing that our time is coming to an end. They have grown tremendously & continue to demonstrate superb leadership qualities.
I am currently trying to find out if there is another set of guys who would like to work through the material. As it stands, I have 4 guys lined up and I will need at least four more to make a go of it (ideally, there would be 10 in the class). I have set the cut off date for applying for the end of January. If it is a go, I will need to quickly raise support for the rest of 2015.
Questions still remain what would happen if I cannot gather some academically inclined guys. A suggestion has been to continue prison ministry, just on a lower scale with simple Bible studies. No real course of action has yet been determined though.
I am currently looking to raise $5,000 for these last 4 months with my current group of guys. Of course, some of this will cover my personal income. However, I have a few added expenses pertaining to the courses and their materials.
Joe Magellet, who has typically been in charge of these "administrative" expenses, has decided to take some time off from all prison ministry duties. So I am now in charge of raising these funds, which will total about $1000 in books and fees.
If you are interested in contributing, please let me know. I can provide you with the information for doing so.
Otherwise, thank you so much for your prayers. I have always appreciated your interest in the prison ministry and the concern you've had for our welfare.
I'm currently brushing up on my history of art because I want to do a seminar wherein I discuss the development of Western culture and its worldviews. I plan on entitling it "The Heart of Art: How worldviews shape art and culture." I've done this for my classes in the past, and want to now present it to the wider community.
Today I came across a great article at artyfactory.com entitled, Artists, Movements, and Styles in Western Art. There was one line in it that caught my attention though. The author says of the Gothic era, "These were very formal artistic traditions with rigorous religious conventions that limited the personal creativity of the artist." (Italics added for emphasis).
The author obviously has a slant; and one that is certainly against Christianity. Unfortunately, What he doesn't seem to understand is that every artist is limited by his rigorous religious conventions! Everyone has a worldview, and no one can break free of those religious principles. All of his art will be an expression of his most basic personal convictions (be they christian, secular, postmodern, etc).
What the author fails to understand is that the artists of the Renaissance are just as creatively limited as the Gothics. Their humanism forms for them an artistic template that restricts their creativity.
As it is said, "Culture is a product of cult." That is to say, a society will reflect what it worships. Or, a society's laws, art, education, etc will be the expression of its fundamental beliefs.
Let's look at some examples. To the right we have a picture of a Gothic style church. The spires that stretch heavenward like long needles are characteristic of this period, as are the tall pointed windows. The design of the building is to point you up to the sky. All the lines are drawing your head towards the very place where God is said to dwell.
Add to this the feeling of transcendence that is imposed upon you by the structure. The building is obviously enormous. You can even tell that the interior will will be just as grand. All this is to make you feel small and help you get a sense of how inferior you are in comparison to the awesome majesty of God.
Why didn't they just build a little theater-type church, like the ones that we have today? It is because the architecture reflects the prevailing notion of God in this period. God is transcendent. He is wholly "other" and deserving of the highest degree of reverence. It would be impossible (and maybe even considered blasphemous) for them to create a church in the contemporary style.
This also helps to understand why Gothic art portrays people as long and ghostly looking figures that are always standing on their toes. Someone might initially wonder if these these artists were capable of making "real" men? Did they not have the skill set to make real feet touching the ground?
The fact is that they very well could have. Their skills were excellent. However, they had a reason for portraying people in this manner. The artists were usually depicting saints and holy figures such as the angels, apostles, Mary, or Jesus. And as they did they sought to portray them as "other worldly."
Notice Mary in this painting to the left. She has a halo representing her "angelic nature." Is Mary an angel? No, but she is a holy person. Notice how she is sitting on a throne. Did Mary own a throne? Certainly not. But at the time of the painting the church had a highly exalted view of Mary.
One may ask why all the people typically look sullen. To our modern eye it looks like all the angels are on the verge of depression. But this is again to give them an other-worldly look. They gaze off into the distance because they are distant creatures being that they abide in heaven.
All of this is symptomatic of their worldview. How they understood truth came through their paintbrushes.
Now let's run forward a couple hundred years to the time of the Renaissance and look at their cult & culture.
Quite a bit of Renaissance painting is still quite religious in nature. That's because the Christian worldview was still the dominant worldview. The church was still the most significant patron of the arts too. So if you wanted to make a living as an artist, you are obviously going to go where the demand is and paint for the church.
But in the picture above, you see a distinct difference of style from the earlier Gothic period. Looking at the landscape we can tell that there is a new perspective on depth. The mountian ranges looks like a real muontian range and the setting looks like it might be a literal town in Galilee.
Moreover, the people look like real people. Their feet are flat on the ground. They have definite muscle tone. They still have halos because that is the best way to show their unique stature as apostles. But they are definitely real men.
This "realness" has evolved out of a change in worldview. The Renaissance was a "rebirth" of classical Greek and Roman ideals. Ancient Greece and Rome focused on man as the supreme ideal. The Greek philosopher Protagoras summed up the spirit of the age by saying, "Man is the measure of all things." It should be no wonder then that man should become more defined as a natural person during the Renaissance as this was a time of "rebirthing" man.
It is important to understand that this was not simply a shift of style. It was a shift of worldview. Man was coming into his own and a shift was moving away from the focus on God and things "other-worldly."
Glancing back to the picture above, one can already see that Jesus is losing some of this divinity, being that he is now a "real man." In the past, he was represented as a divine being. To be sure, Jesus was a real man because he was incarnate and had a human nature. But the shift in worldview shows a shift in the depiction of Christ.
Michelangelo gives us a perfect illustration of the paradigm shift. To the left are statues he created. They are of men seeking to tear themselves out of the rock. It is Michelangelo's way of saying, "Man makes himself."
This shows how the world in which Michelangelo lived had been converted from a Biblical (Gothic) worldview. Instead of having your mind pushed upward towards heaven and being reminded that you are completely insignificant, your mind is pushed towards yourself and your own ability. The god now being worshipped is yourself.
There is no doubt that Michelangelo was a genius artist. Nevertheless, he is just as much limited in his creative ability as the Gothic painters. His worldview is just as much a rigorous convention that puts restraints on his ability to do art.
Gene Edward Vieth, in his book The State of the Arts, discusses the significance of the famous painting The Scream.
Edvard Munch was a post-Impressionist (or Expressionist). His work expresses an immense amount of panic and/or despair. The bold colors, harsh brush strokes, and chilling content depict this. But Munch did not create this simply because he was “a depressed man.” Neither did he think that it was simply a “neat idea.” His work reveals something about “the meaning of life” to him and the people of in his day.
Munch’s predecessors were the Impressionists. They focused on optics. They painted reality, but only as the eye actually perceived it. Yet the work of an impressionist (say, Monet) presents a world that is hardly seems real. It seems more fragmented and almost dreamlike.
Munch and his post-Impressionist/Expressionist contemporaries followed. They didn’t seek to present the reality outside of themselves as the Impressionists did. They presented their inward realities (they expressed themselves).
Living in a world that seems fragmented, without purpose or connectedness, will throw anyone into delusions and make them “scream.” The reaction of panic is the natural outcome. So Munch work was simply expressing the emotions of living with such a philosophy of life.
Forgive us for our impatience, O God. We know it is sin. Though our evil hearts would like to brush it aside and justify the pettiness of it, we acknowledge that it is anything but petty. It is a great evil in your sight and it rouses the fury of your indignation.
Father, we do confess that it is not a petty thing. For we display this vice so often.
We experience it at the stoplight and in the checkout line. We evidence it in the way we snap at our kids and grow irritable with them.
We are guilty of it when do not give our neighbor the attention they are due, seeing them more as an annoyance getting in our way, rather than a friend or ministry opportunity. It is why we not to do a thorough job in our vocations; it is why our children hastily race through their lessons; it is why we are not gentle when dealing with the sins and failures of others, and it is why we get disgusted when things don’t go our way.
Impatience is found in every heavy sigh, every eye roll, and every swear word that “slips” from our lips.
But most of all, O God, we know that it is a heinous thing because it is a direct attack upon you.
Ultimately, our impatience is the way we voice our disgust for your wisdom and providence. At best our lack of patience demonstrates our failure to trust in a sovereign God.
And at its worst it reveals how much we desire to be sovereign. For when we are impatient we are essentially saying that we want you to submit to us and to our timetable; when it should be us that quietly submits to yours.
In the end, Father, we know that the only thing that impatience does quickly is kill. It kills our joy. It kills our relationships. It even kills our own person as it eats away at our soul and devours our strength.
But Father, we thank you that you are not like us. You are full of patience. Indeed, you have suffered long with our sin and patiently waited for our repentance. You have not grown angry and quickly thrown us into the fires which we deserve. Rather you have offered grace upon grace and overlooked a multitude of sins.
For this we are eternally grateful. And it is because of this that we turn to you today with the hope of pardon and full confidence of your Spirit’s cleansing.
Dear God, we put our trust in Christ whose cross certifies the death of our impetuous nature and offers the promise of life forevermore. And we look to you and ask that you might create within us that quietness of heart that you require. Lord, conform us to Christ and produce in us that precious fruit of the Spirit.
For this we ask in the name of our Great Savior, Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: Joel 2:13
“Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.