Media Revival

In a recent post, I shared how artists can have a unique impact on spreading the fires of spiritual revival. Here are two examples that have recently blessed me:

Visual Theology

If you are a visual learner like me, you might really benefit spiritually from some of these “theological infographics.” They were commissioned by Tim Challies and are available here, at his website. These are brilliant pieces of design and could at potentially be wonderful graphic aids in Bible study and understanding. I’ve posted one of them below: it’s a graph of the books of the Bible designed to look like the periodic table of elements! You’ll want to see all twelve of them on Tim’s site.

Video Devotional on Glory

I’ve read many of John Piper’s books. I’ve heard lots of his sermons. But these five brief heart-to-heart video devotionals are as powerful and effective as anything that I’ve experienced from his ministry. Share them with Christian friends and spread a passion for God’s glory. Share them with unsaved friends and start a conversation about the meaning of God’s glory. Pastor Piper is very kind and clear in His explanations. These would make a great gospel introduction. For links to all five videos, click here. Below, I’ve embedded the 2nd video which offers what I think is the clearest, most succinct definition of sin I’ve ever heard. If sin is not related to God’s glory, it loses its weight of seriousness.

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When God Works…

“Almost every hymn is a result of revival–whether personal, local, denominational, or regional.” (Fred Coleman, Head, Department of Church Music at BJU)

This is a striking statement. I would probably be a bit more skeptical if it didn’t come from Fred Coleman, a man who has done massive amounts of research in the area of hymnology. I should know: I took his graduate hymnology classes. I remember sitting through his riveting lectures, listening to him rattle off hundreds of years of church music history practically by memory. I had to think back through some of these lessons as I wrote the script for the recently released Watchsong film. Luckily for me, “Uncle Fred” is also my music pastor, so I was able to pick his brain as well.

Hymns are inspired by revival. The more you think about it, the truer the statement becomes. Look back through history, or think of David writing the Psalms–listen to the stories of hymnwriters past and present: when God works, people sing. The great periods of prolific hymnwriting through history correspond to periods of great revival. At the very least, hymnwriters testify to experiences of personal revival as their creative spark. This very website is the result of personal revival. The hymn that started it all, O God, My Joy, was written as God was lovingly leading me through a period of repentance and restoration. It’s a freeze-frame of what God was teaching me.

Singing is often a telltale sign of God’s reviving work. So is prayer. In fact, when God works, people exult and worship and weep and repent and preach and witness. Just yesterday, I was reading Luke chapter 1 where God was working in extraordinary ways in the lives of Zecharaiah and Elizabeth and Mary. All three of them were prompted to give blessing and pray and prophesy because of God’s work in their lives.

So, how is your singing these days? From my church’s choir loft, I get a chance to watch people sing. I try not to, actually–I need to focus on worshiping God myself, not wondering about everyone else–but sometimes, in my weakness, I glance around. I can’t help but wonder what’s happening in a person’s heart who isn’t singing or even looking responsive at all. I’ll admit, sometimes I need to stop singing and just meditate on the words I am supposed to be “praying” to God. But usually, the more excited I am about worshiping my Lord, the louder I sing (and, being a tenor, the higher I sing, too).

Perhaps you’ve forgotten what’s worth singing about. My wife and I both confessed to each other recently that we were in need of personal revival. Life happens, and before we know it, there are 1,000 things that distract us from seeking God. I was encouraged again by Hosea 3:6, a verse I return to often:

“Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”

God is faithful and merciful and eager to restore and revive parched, thirsty hearts. The greatest revivals in history started in one heart–with one person. Humbly press on to know the Lord, and watch Him work in you and in others through you.

It is here, I believe, that Christian artists have a unique and wonderful privilege. As we respond to God’s work in our lives by creating, very often we are not the only beneficiaries of this God-inspired creativity. When God works, other people sing, too. How many sparks of revival have been lit by a song or a poem or a work of art or a book or a journal or even a single sentence? The influential Moravian leader and hymnwriter Nikolaus von Zinzendorf is said to have committed his life to Christ after seeing the painting Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”) by Domenico Feti. Frances Havergal was inspired by the same painting to pen the hymn I Gave My Life for Thee. I wonder if Feti had any idea that his painting would influence thousands and thousands of people for Christ in the centuries to follow.

My prayer is that Christian artists would experience deep personal revival and be used of the Lord to inspire others through their art to “press on to know the Lord.” My prayer is that revival would break out in my own heart and in yours. When God works…well, I hope you can fill in what happens from your own experience.

We Must Exit the Stage

Every now and again, I’ve enjoyed listening to This American Life from Chicago Public Media. About a month ago, I heard a story that really saddened me. The episode was called “Fear of Sleep” which originally aired August 8, 2008. For the last act, “A Small Taste Of The Big Sleep,” several people were interviewed about their ultimate fear (which only seems compounded by sleep)—death. Here are a few of their recalled experiences:

“You’re cornered. You’re a trapped animal who’s like sweating and waiting for its head to be chopped off.”

“I can feel time whizzing by. And I’m trying to hold on to something generally. So I usually start grabbing the walls or like clinging to the pillow. And I’m like this isn’t going to go away. I need to hold this. I need to hold on to time. I need to stand in this river and just not move.”

“…it’s a kind of very primitive feeling. You have to just, like, flee from this totally horrible thing that’s happening to you. But there is nowhere you can flee. And understanding at the same time that what you’re fleeing and trying to run away from is the complete cessation of you.”

“When this wakes me up in the middle of the night it’s because I’m right…it’s going to happen. That’s why. Because that’s reality. And just for some reason I can see it.”

“I cry. And I just get really sad…I try to breath really deeply. And I just think…there’s nothing I can do. Like the terror is overtaken by just sadness. I just want it to not be true.”

I’m not making light of these experiences. I’m genuinely saddened because no one need fear death! The show ended with part of a poem. I longed for some word here that would comfort these people or give them the answer to their fears. But this was the only wisdom and comfort that was offered (taken from “Aubade” by Philip Larkin published in his Collected Poems):

“…the total emptiness forever, the sure extinction that we travel to and shall be lost in always. Not to be here, not to be anywhere, and soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

“This is a special way of being afraid no trick dispels. Religion used to try, that vast moth-eaten musical brocade created to pretend we never die, and specious stuff that says no rational being can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing that this is what we fear– no sight, no sound, no touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with, nothing to love or link with, the anesthetic from which none come round.”

These poor souls will find no comfort here. But they might take comfort in the fact that Larkin couldn’t be more wrong. Enter a worldview with a purposeful Creator God, and feel the pure, raw hope it brings (taken from Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson):

“There was a time when men and women understood death more fully, when mortality was never ignored. Men and women executed their endings better then….They, like Solomon, knew that we are but vapor, that we are here for but a little while. We must exit the stage, down through traps, and let others traipse and sing, love and lose, fight and struggle above us.

“When we die, wherever or whenever that might be…God is also there, shaping the story, off the stage and on the stage….To His eyes, you never leave the stage. You do not cease to exist. It is a chapter ending, an act, not the play itself. Look to Him. Walk toward Him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long. There will be butterflies.

I will die, and when I do—whether it be in my bed as age creeps over me, or struck by lightning, a meteor, or a UPS truck—when my body and soul find their divorce, His hand will be the one that cuts the thread and shows me the path He [Jesus] blazed through tragedy. His finger will point to the parade.”

True religion does not try to pretend we never die. Rather it tries to point us to (and prepare us for) the greater reality which death unveils. The question then is whom will you believe: those who pretend that there is no God and that this earth-bound existence is the greatest reality we can experience (i.e. Philip Pullman in The Amber Spyglass), or those who point us away from these “shadowlands” to the real God and the very real and substantial life that He holds and offers (i.e. C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce)? Your answer will have grave consequences for how well you execute your stage exit…and your quality of sleep in the meantime.

If you want to make a death-defying exit, then listen to the One who tasted death and conquered it for all who will follow Him:

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me….For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jesus in John 6:38, 40).