The Testimony of Suffering

I watched Braveheart tonight for the first time in a while. God used it to reveal to me something I hadn’t realized before. That suffering is the absolute proof of the severity of a cause or truth. What I mean by this is that when someone endures the most extreme conditions of suffering, at that moment they become the most visible evidence that what they are suffering for is worthwhile. Through your pain, people will see the seriousness of the cause that you are are suffering for. In the case of William Wallace this cause was Freedom. And it wasn’t until he endured agonizing physical torture that his people realized the importance of that Freedom.

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Before Wallace was killed, his Scottish countrymen chose to simply live with the fact that they were being persecuted, pillaged, raped and murdered by the ruling English. To them, freedom wasn’t worth the pain that would come to their own skin if they fought back. But in Wallace they soon realized something different. They realized that freedom from persecution was so incredibly important that some people would endure the most excruciating treatment on earth before they would deny this importance. All Wallace had to do was tell one tiny lie, and he would be spared. Just simply fibbing about the fact that in his heart freedom was the most important thing in the world would’ve allowed him to be rid of his agony. But it wasn’t worth it.

Denying that freedom is the most valuable thing in this world was not worth ending the most intense pain Wallace ever felt in his life.

Now it’s not hard to see the parallel between this story and the life of Christ. But my eyes were opened tonight to the importance of the suffering Jesus went through before His death. The fact is, being willing to just die for something doesn’t carry as much weight as being willing to suffer for something…especially for the Christian. Just because someone puts a bullet in your head doesn’t automatically make you a martyr. What creates power in the story of a martyr is the breadth of pain that person is willing to endure before giving in. The amount of endurance he/she carries without yelling “uncle” is what speaks testimony to the importance of their cause. The fact is, Jesus experienced both mental and physical suffering to arguably the deepest extremes humanly possible before his death. On the night before his crucifixion, He was so distraught with fear and grief that he sweated blood.  And before being nailed to the cross, His flesh was so torn that He was barely recognizable.

I believe that physical bodily torture is the most extreme of pains that exist on this earth. Because we are made in God’s image, when someone physically harms another person, they are literally ripping apart the image of God. Thinking about this tonight convicted me that my tolerance level for any kind of physical suffering is drastically minute. I would most likely be one of the first to give in if having to endure pain for the cause of Christ. I can barely jog a quarter-mile before having to stop for a breather. And because I’m also really claustrophobic, if someone locks me in a small box or a straight jacket for more than 20 seconds then it’s over. For me that’s what suffering is and I just pray that if one day I must face such persecution that God would sustain me through it.

For the Christian, death is not so much an example of faithfulness as it is the reward. True suffering, though different for everyone, is the ultimate testimony to the value of the Gospel in your life. This is why Paul counted it a pleasure to suffer for the sake of Christ, because there’s no greater display of the importance of the Gospel than enduring the most excruciating circumstances for believing it. Lord please change my attitude on this and give me long-lasting endurance to suffer for the sake of your Truth.

Art vs. Words

I was mulling about an issue tonight that surfaces in the church realm frequently. It has to do with using art in church and what it's place is next to preaching and other methods of spreading the Gospel. John Piper said several months ago that they don't use a lot of media/visual arts in their services for fear "It’s going to communicate that preaching is weak, preaching doesn’t save, preaching doesn’t hold, but entertainment does."

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The uproar from the Arts and Multimedia world was pretty widespread. This is because the natural tendency after reading such a firm declaration is to challenge it. And who can expect less from the group of people that the author is, in a sense, "attacking". But my post here isn't really a defense of either side. I'm a Multimedia Director who considers himself a "Piper-ite"... which, for me, is really nothing more than being a "digital" disciple. But through my mulling I had a little epiphany that helped me understand where the difference lies between preaching with art and preaching with words.

To me this issue really boils down to a core idea that has to do with the method which you express a meaning or idea. Your idea is the original thought before words, pictures or sounds are used to express it. The words, pictures and sounds(plus other methods I haven't listed) are merely the means of translating your idea into something that others can comprehend. Now what I've come to realize is that each of these methods of translating fall on a scale with two ends. On one end of the scale there is the abstract way of conveying an idea and on the other end is the explicit, or intentional way.

The abstract way of expressing ideas leaves room for interpretation by the audience, the explicit way does not. The explicit way serves one purpose, to portray a specific understanding of the original idea with no room left for interpretation. My point here is to show that the two items being discussed, art and words- in their purest form, fall at different ends of this spectrum, and we can choose where to place each of our methods between the two ends.

Art at it's purest form is meant to be interpreted by the beholder. It's not explicit, not direct, not intentional of any kind of meaning. That's what makes it art. Artists, when creating their works, don't intend to express an explicit meaning. If they did, they would just write it out, IN WORDS. Instead they want the audience to take their creation and be free to read their own meaning into it. That's what makes art so enjoyable, the less explicit the better. Words on the other hand, in their purest form, are the exact opposite. We have words and languages because it is the most direct, non abstract, method of conveying meaning. When you want to know the ultimate meaning of something, you ask for it to be conveyed in words. It's why we use email in the office instead of pictures and pantomimes. The absolute ultimate method of conveying an idea clearly is through words.

Now, when it comes to which methods are acceptable to use in a church service.. the truth is, both your spoken word sermons and your visual art pieces will fall on the scale between abstract and explicit. Where you place them on the scale is up to you. Your (creative)videos have just as much ability of "preaching" as does your pastor's sermon. But where it falls on the abstract/explicit scale is what determines it's artistic value. So the question isn't about method really. It's about the amount of clarity you want to use in presenting your message. As in most situations, I believe a healthy balance is always important.

God, who is the ultimate Preacher, uses all forms to convey His message. In abstract ways He shows His glory through creation. All the way from the expansive galaxies down to the tiniest form of the double-helix, God has proved Himself to be the most exhaustive of artists. But He also expresses Himself in direct, explicit methods. Scripture is our prime example of how God purposefully wrote out a message for all humanity to hear. In it we have the clearest example of the character and nature of God that there has ever been, Jesus Christ. It's God literally putting his message in human form for us to vividly understand.

In regards to John Piper, it's pretty clear to me that he's more of an explicit kind of guy. And in this I would support him in the sense that there are truths of the Gospel that should not be portrayed abstractly. They're strict ideas that come from God and should be treated with strict methods of conveyance. And Piper has based both his church's service-style and methodology around this principal.

Personally, I believe every church can choose where on this scale they let their methods fall when it comes to portraying the Gospel. But each will reap different benefits by doing so. I think Jesus used a certain balance of explicit preaching and abstract preaching by means of parables and stories. So as a church, find the balance that works best for your audience and go with it. But don't forget that "best" isn't debatable, because "best" means making your audience the most like Christ. That is the Church's goal and as soon as your method of conveying your message hinders that, you've missed the point.

#Passion2010//Awakening (a skeptic's 180)

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(deep breath)...

Wow...

After already trying a couple of times to describe my Passion 2010 experience to someone, I’m realizing how inadequate all my words are. I’m either struggling to find enough words to describe it, or I’m using way too many. The closest thing I can come up with that somewhat gives justice to my feelings is to repeat the theme for the week... Awakening!

Let me see if I can explain...

When I heard there was going to be another Passion conference this year I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I literally thought to myself, “well... I guess they got off their little ‘world tour’ high and now they’ve got to come back to pay the bills”. The event really wasn’t a big deal to me at that time and I didn’t intend on going. My overall perception of the Passion “movement” was becoming more and more cynical ever since I went to their last big event in 2007.

I didn’t like the fact that they kept saying “the movement is turning into a global awakening”. I thought it was trying too hard to make itself into some huge thing that it wasn’t(at least in my eyes). And that view stayed with me for a while, probably because I had chosen not to keep up with what they were doing or attend any of the tour events. I thought they had pretty much passed their prime and most likely wouldn’t make it much longer.

passion-04802I considered myself a balanced skeptic because I felt like there were just things that the Passion guys didn’t “get”. I respected their heart and loved the music and messages they produce, but I couldn’t help but think they were more concerned with starting a movement and becoming(or staying) the “next big thing”. And God was showing me that it’s not about that. My view of Christ and His church has been so refined over the past several years and I just felt like the Passion crew wasn’t “about” the same thing I was “about” anymore.

But as you can probably already see...I went... and all that got blown away quick!

It started first thing too. In session one, Louie introduced the idea of being “awakened”. And the thing he wanted us awakened to was a true understanding of God, His plan, and how He works His plan. In his final session he rephrased it as having a “complete 180 degree theological turn around” and that is what produces everything else that Passion is. To which I gave a huge “right on!” in my mind. Because that’s exactly what’s been happening to me in the recent months and years! I was so glad to hear that preached out loud to these college students.

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The rest of Louie’s first talk was about Lazarus and how the details in that story were so contradictory to what everyone else thought should happen. Lazarus’ family warned Jesus that he was sick and dying. Yet Jesus waited two days before going to see them. He LET Lazarus die. Why?

“But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘this illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” - John 11:4

SO THAT GOD MAY BY GLORIFIED THROUGH IT! That’s why! To which again, I was like “Yes! That’s it! That’s exactly what I’m all about!”. I just never thought that these guys had gone that deep. I didn’t think they understood that God’s underlying purpose in saving us doesn’t have anything to do with US at all! It's all about Him!

As the week went on God continually reversed my perception. Not only by showing me that the Passion movement had really been on this wavelength the whole time, but also by showing me that this wavelength was much bigger than I even thought.

So not only did I NOT get disappointed by what I experienced, but instead God glorified Himself in me far more abundantly than I ever expected. And he did it through the people that I doubted for so long.

wade_top25ish_daytwo_small-10The whole week reverberated with the message that the end goal of God is to glorify Himself and that we receive ultimate satisfaction in Him when that happens. I came to a stronger understanding of God’s universal plan that started in eternity past with His predetermining of our creation and purpose. Then because man fell away from Him, God sent Christ to restore us into fellowship with the Father. But I realized this week that so many times we stop with the crucifixion, as if that was the mighty climax in God’s story. But NO! That’s not the end! The end goal we strive for and look forward to is the glorification of God for eternity which will simultaneously overwhelm us with ultimate joy!

That’s the last act! That’s the climax! And that truth was the most important thing I was “awakened” to during the last 4 days. I just pray it happened for every one of the 22,000 students that were there also.

I’ll post more details about the different speakers/sessions in the next few weeks. I just wanted to attempt to convey the fact that God will always blow away your presumptions/expectations when you don’t see it coming. I’m so grateful for how He opened my eyes this week and can’t help but continue to seek His glory as my life’s purpose from this moment on.

I'm also grateful to hear that Passion is in fact becoming a movement that intends to help awaken young people the gloriousness of God! With a goal that is so God-centered, I'm am more than convinced that my generation has the strongest potential for grasping and spreading the truth than any generation before us. So bring it on God! Plant your spirit in us and work out your plan to the glory of YOUR name!

If you have anything to add or are encouraged by this at all I would love to share in that with you. Please either comment here or on my facebook or shoot me an email evanlogan@gmail.com

*photos taken from the 268 blog - http://268generation.com/blog/

#Passion2010//Community Groups

Gotta make this real quick. Community groups ARE what Passion is about. And people don't get that. When I say "what Passion is about" I'm not even referring to the amount of emphasis they put on them. Because in a sense, I don't think they put enough emphasis on them. I'm talking about the fact that the ultimate goal of Passion (God's name and renown) is worked out THROUGH these community groups. It revolves around them.

The relationship-building that happens between 6-8 people you've "supposedly"(ahem...Sarah Beth/Paige) never met before is phenomenal. God spreads his mission through the church, but the church works it's mission out through relationships! That's what it's about!!

I was honored to be selected as the leader for our family group and can't tell you the blessings that Christ has poured on me through that. Being able to step up and guide these friends I've found into a broader understanding of God's ultimate plan has been one of the best experiences of my life. And I'm humbled by it.

I can't speak for the ones that don't get as much out of those groups and thus find other things to do... but all I can say from my experience is that I would be missing out on God if I missed out on community groups.

Thankful to the Lord for giving me the refreshing that I asked for.

The photo says it all...

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#Passion2010//First Impressions

I don't have the time to go into all my thoughts leading up to the conference right now. But I intend to do a review of the whole experience at the end of the trip. But I do want to say that many of my presumptions going into this (most likely) last Passion conference are already starting to get blown down. I asked God to do that to me, and He's shown himself out once again.

The theme of the week is "Awaken"... it's about coming to that moment where God opens your spiritual eyes to the bigger picture that he's working out. It's about trading something small for something way bigger. It sounds cliche on paper I know, but it's so representative of many different times in my life over the past few years. It seems like more and more often God reveals something new to me that I never really grasped before and it is literally like he's woken me up.

But this concept has really impressed me coming from the Passion guys because I've been skeptical lately that college students don't really get this idea, that we're all in one big picture for God's glory and our joy and EVERYTHING works towards that goal.

In the first session Louie introduced the whole concept by using a story I never thought would fit... the story of Lazarus. He talked about how Jesus took steps that everyone else thought was stupid and didn't understand. Jesus actually waited till it was too late and allowed Lazarus to die... Why? So that HIS glory could be displayed in a greater way. God, in His sovereignty weaves everything in our lives together for that purpose. And I'm so glad that all these students are getting fed that message because it is just the beginning of a path that will lead to fuller, deeper understanding of God's true character.