In John 11, Lazarus dies. It’s a story so common that no day in the history of the (post-Edenic) world has passed without this headline. Death is tragic, heart-wrenching, unbearable—but also entirely ordinary.

And yet there is something odd about the death story of John 11. Jesus, who had been making quite a stir with his healings, was given advance warning about Lazarus’ condition. Everyone knew Jesus could have done something about it. When Jesus arrives at the scene—four days late—he repeatedly hears the same greeting: “If you had been here he wouldn’t have died” (v. 21, 32, 37).

But Jesus made a conscious decision to show up after Lazarus’ death. Oddly, John even tells us that Jesus delayed because “he loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (v. 5). Jesus loved this family and had every intention of exerting his inexhaustible power to resolve their situation in the best way possible. True to form, Jesus’ plan simply failed to align with what everyone was hoping and praying for.

As he relays the story, John keeps us in the know. There was a theological reason for this delay: “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” (v. 4). In John 11, death is not presented as an ominous foe. It is almost tamed. Degraded to a mere plot device. A foil for the glory of God. Jesus even speaks of Lazarus having “fallen asleep” and of his own resurrecting power as simply “awakening him” (v.11), which evokes a humorous response from the disciples who basically say, “Well, if he fell asleep, he’ll probably be alright” (cf. v. 12).

And so it happened that Jesus peacefully strolled into town to minister to a man who had been four days in the tomb. Everyone seemed to be convinced of Jesus’ power to keep the living from death. But no one expected Jesus’ clever plot device, the simple words he would utter that would call death’s bluff—except maybe Mary, who wished Jesus had arrived earlier, but still acknowledged, “Even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (v. 22).

And of course, it wasn’t too late. Jesus came for Lazarus. Even after death. He was gone, removed from the face of the earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But Jesus came back for him. In response to a simple command to emerge, the decaying Lazarus reanimated and returned to his daily life.

If we could see beyond our Sunday school memories of this story, we would realize how shocking it is. And yet, like death itself, resurrection from the dead is also one of the most common things in the world. Or at least, it will be.

The Lazarus story stands out because he beat Jesus to the grave. What Jesus enacted with Lazarus foreshadows what Jesus himself would soon accomplish—not in obedience to the word of a stranger standing in the world of the living, but from the life-giving depths of his own being. Jesus entered the grave having already called death’s bluff (a few times). The world’s surprise at Jesus’ resurrection largely reveals humanity’s inability to understand what Jesus was up to.

Cemetary

Like Lazarus, we are all heading inexorably closer to the grave. But don’t worry, this illness does not lead to death. Yes, death is involved. But it doesn’t lead to death. Perhaps we should say it leads through death. Unlike Lazarus, who beat Jesus to the grave, Jesus has gone to the grave before us—and emerged on the other side. Jesus will come for us as well. Death does not get the last word. Resurrection—recreation—has always been God’s plan. Death is terrifying, yes. But when we view the world through the lens of Christ, we recognize it as a simple plot device. A mere foil to the glory of God.

We must be careful not to make light of what is serious. Even Jesus, who knew what he would do in a few moments’ time, saw the grief-inflicting impact of death on the people around him and wept (v. 35). There is a real place for grief in response to death, in response to a world gone berserk through the ravages of sin. But death does not get the last word. Jesus called Lazarus out of death. And he will call for us as well. “Behold, I am making all things new; I am coming soon” (Rev. 21:5 and 22:20).

Most parents are concerned about how much television their kids watch. Bad parents, we all know, simply set their kids in front of the TV all day, never considering what their kids are watching or what the incessantly shifting images are doing to their kids’ brains. But the rest of us fall into two groups: (1) those who strictly ration “screen time,” preferring their kids entertain themselves in the good old-fashioned ways, and (2) those who allow their kids to watch multiple hours of television or movies in a given day. Those in the second group often feel guilty about letting their kids watch TV. But I don’t think they should.

Now, I’m not saying that we should turn the television into a babysitter (or a parent!). Nor am I suggesting that we should let our kids watch whatever they want, or whatever comes on the screen (may it never be!). But here’s what I am saying:

My daughters (3 and 5 years old) have watched a lot of movies in their short lives. We definitely limit the amount of time they spend in front of a screen, and we are very careful about the content they’re exposed to at this age. However, I am very glad our girls are movie watchers.

How to Train Your Dragon 2I’ll start my explanation with an example. I recently watched How to Train Your Dragon 2 with my daughters. (Spoiler alert!) In the movie, Hiccup’s father dies by throwing himself in front of dragon fire to save his son. I paused the movie to ask my five-year-old if she noticed that Hiccup’s daddy died to save his son. I think the concept registered to some extent, but we kept watching the movie. Then I asked her, “Will Hiccup be able to see his daddy again?” She thought for a minute and said, “Yes.” When I asked her why she said, “Because of Jesus.” “Yes, sweetie!” I said. “If they know Jesus, Hiccup will see his daddy again. He will miss his daddy very much, but one day, they will see each other again and they’ll be so happy.”

Later in the movie, Toothless (Hiccup’s dragon) and Hiccup get literally entombed in ice by the evil dragon. Everyone gasps because they’re dead in the tomb. But then Toothless gains some new form of life that makes him glow, and he explodes the ice-tomb and defeats the evil dragon. So I asked my daughters, “Who else do we know that was dead and came back to life again?” Both girls knew the answer: “Jesus!” “That’s right!” I said. “Why did Jesus come back to life?” They’ve both known the answer to this one from our Easter conversations: “Because Jesus doesn’t stay dead!” And we continued watching the movie, sprinkling in a bit of theology here or there.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the filmmakers wanted us to have this conversation. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not brought to you by the people who made God’s Not Dead or Fireproof. But those theological concepts are there, embedded in the movie. Actually, these theological concepts are the reason why this movie is so compelling. So I talked about them with my girls. And I believe that these concepts are that much more understandable to young kids (and to human beings in general) because they were embedded in a story. That’s how incarnation works. I do at times try to talk to my daughters about death or resurrection or the power of God, and I think these conversations are beneficial. But there is a special power of understanding available to us when we see these concepts played out in compelling stories.

One day my five-year-old told me, “Daddy, why are kings mean?” “Um, why do you think kings are mean?” I asked. As it turns out, she had been watching the “evil” king on Doc McStuffins. This turned into a great conversation about how many kings are mean because they want to use their power to get what they want. Then I asked her who the best king in the world is, helping her understand that Jesus is the best king. This theological softball was lobbed to us by Doc McStuffins, so my daughter and I took a swing.

I want my daughters to be able to play in the “real world.” I want them to run and sweat and learn to play well with others. So we are careful to do all of those things. But I also want their heads filled with stories. I want to them immersed in tales of bravery, in examples of fear and how it’s overcome, in explorations of good and evil, in stories of true friendship and sacrifice. Sure, Doc McStuffins is not Pilgrim’s Progress, but it orients them to many important concepts, and my wife and I simply do our best to help them process these concepts in biblical ways. There are many shows or movies we won’t let our daughters watch at this stage because we feel they promote disrespect or trivialize violence, but we’ve had great conversations about Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, you name it.

So by all means, follow your parenting instincts and don’t waste your kids’ childhood in front of a screen. But when you do turn on the TV for your kids, don’t let yourself feel like a failure as a parent. Just view it as an opportunity to teach them about God and the world and the people that he made. You may never get opportunities this good to talk with them about the things that really matter.

Your pastor prays for you. His God-given duty, after all, is to “keep watch over your soul” (Heb. 13:17). But unless you’re a rare individual, you don’t pray for your pastor as much as you should. I want to convince you that your pastor desperately needs you to pray for him consistently.

A major factor in your pastor’s need for prayer is the simple reality that he is a human being. He is tempted, as we all are. He sins, as we all do. He is targeted by spiritual warfare. Because he is a human being seeking to live a godly life, he needs prayer and support.

But there are other reasons for his need for prayer related to his unique role as a pastor. I want to explore three of those below:

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO SPEAK FOR GOD.

All of us desperately need to know what God thinks about all of the issues we face in life. We need to hear from God—regularly, insightfully, passionately.

So put yourself in your pastor’s shoes here. Week after week, you gather with other believers to hear a word from God. And your pastor is the one who will deliver God’s word to you. His job is to stand before you on a regular basis and declare, “Thus says the Lord.” Much of the Spirit’s conviction in your life will come from words your pastor speaks. Many of your beliefs about the nature of God or how God wants you to behave in a given situation will originate in your pastor’s sermon prep.

Your pastor speaks to you on God’s behalf. He feels the weight of that burden. Make sure you’re praying for him. Pray that God will speak to him. Pray that he will listen. Pray that God will empower him as he takes on the formidable role of a modern day prophet.

Francis Chan Preaching

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS.

Perhaps this sounds overdramatic. But when something goes wrong in your life, who are you turning to for help? When you’re struggling with sin, when you can’t navigate a dysfunctional relationship, when you’ve experienced loss, when you’re depressed, when you need some guidance—who is it that you turn to in these situations? If you’re like most Christians, you’ll turn to your pastor to help you solve your problems.

That’s as it should be, to a certain extent. Your pastor does indeed keep watch over your soul; he is there to help you grow. But once again, consider it from your pastor’s perspective. What if you were the last line of defense (and often also the first) with every major issue anyone in your congregation could possibly encounter? That’s an enormous burden to bear. And an impossible schedule to maintain. (Even if your church has multiple pastors, that means your church has more people to care for.) Be sure to pray for your pastor in this regard. Ask God to give him wisdom, patience, and endurance.

 

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO THINK & ACT LIKE YOU IN EVERYTHING.

You’re not offended by everything your pastor says, but let’s be honest: there are a good handful of topics over which you would be horrified to hear your pastor disagree with you. What if your pastor preached a sermon that gave a differing view on the end times, or on speaking in tongues, or on the proper use of alcohol, or on the way Christians should relate to politics, culture, homeschooling, workplace evangelism, infant or adult baptism, or whatever? The list of issues upon which Christians disagree is almost literally endless.

You might not be upset about every theological point your pastor makes, but someone is likely to be. Consider it from your pastor’s perspective: It’s impossible to preach on the end times, hell, the role of obedience in the life of the Christian, or spiritual gifts without offending someone. You can imagine the weight that this places on his shoulders every week.

Pastors face constant criticism. Their lives are lived in a fishbowl, with everyone analyzing what the pastor and his family do (and don’t do). Not only that, but he also has to present his (well-studied) views on controversial topics to a large roomful of people every week. Can you imagine the pressure? So don’t forget to pray for him. Be gracious to him when he “gets it wrong” theologically, and don’t forget to pray that God would give him grace, patience, and encouragement as he has big and small conversations week after week with people who are angry about something he said.

__________

You may love your pastor deeply. Or you might have a real problem with him (for good or bad reasons). But either way, be sure that you are praying for him. He has devoted his life to speaking for God and ministering to your soul. That’s an impossible job. Keep praying that God will encourage, shape, and empower your pastor. And please heed these words from Hebrews:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (13:17)

Cultivation

Mark Beuving —  January 5, 2015 — Leave a comment

Sometimes when I go through my weekly ritual of mowing my lawn, I wonder, “How many times have I walked over this exact spot?” I step on virtually every square inch of my lawn every single week. I push the mower over every blade of grass, cutting them to the exact same length. During the week, those blades grow taller and begin to look a bit unruly. And then I walk back and forth across the lawn and cut them to a uniform height. Week after week after week.

I will never finish mowing my lawn. It will always grow and always require cutting. My neighbor, on the other hand, just installed artificial turf in his backyard. Week after week, year after year, my neighbor’s turf will continue to look almost like grass. It will never need to be cut. It will just be there. And I will be next door, walking across my yard.

Abigail Backyard Bubbles

Life calls for cultivation. Dead turf needs no cultivating (though I’ve heard it needs to be washed, which doesn’t sound fun). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled off dead flower petals to allow new ones to grow. Or how many times I’ve trimmed the bougainvillea plants lining my backyard. I feel like I’m constantly checking sprinklers, trimming, and doing a variety of activities to help my plants thrive.

Life is needy. Sure, life churns and thrives around the world even with no human cultivation. But there is a difference between an overgrown jungle and a well-tended garden. And if you take away some of the elements that life requires—water, for example—then life subsides. Life is needy. Gardens need tending. Plants must be cultivated.

As I mow my lawn, I sometimes consider what other areas in my life require this level of cultivation. I compare the number of times I’ve stepped on each blade of grass to the number of times I’ve read a given phrase in my Bible. I’ll never finish reading my Bible. It’s not enough to have read the whole thing. My knowledge of the Bible will never be complete; I’ll never hear its comforts and admonitions enough; my imagination will never be sufficiently stimulated by the prophetic and poetic imagery in its pages. And so I sit regularly in the same chair, holding the same book, re-reading lines that have long been familiar. This is an act of cultivation.

Or how many times have I spoken the same words to God? “Lord, help my daughters grow to love you. Give them hearts of compassion. Please provide for our family.” I have made these requests so many times. And I repeat other phrases to God endlessly: “Thank you for today. Thank you for my wife. For our girls. For constantly providing. For loving us.” It doesn’t matter how many times I say these things. They will need to be said again. I will never finish praying. I will always be cultivating.

How many times have I performed the simple gestures that show my wife I love her? I have taken out the trash so many times. I’ll never be done with that. I have spoken the words “I love you” so many times over so many years. I have tried to set aside my plans for her benefit many times (though not nearly enough). How many times have I performed simple, repetitive actions for my daughters? Saying “I love you.” Helping them get dressed. Getting them snacks. Buckling them into cars. Brushing their teeth. Disciplining them. Over and over and over I do these things. I will never be done with some of these activities (though I hope to teach my girls to brush their own teeth someday). I repeat these simple actions and words because they are a means of cultivation.

I suppose a well-tended garden could be glamorous, in a certain sense. But cultivation is never glamorous. It’s always boring. Always repetitive. Yet there is no garden without cultivation. So it is in our daily lives. The most important things we will do are boring, repetitive tasks. And yet they matter immensely. Each simple gesture is an act of cultivation, an act of faith toward what we know a plant or relationship could become if well cared for.

So as you begin this new year, what in your life needs cultivating? You can’t simply decide to be a good father, or a good spouse, or a good friend, or a good reader, or whatever. It requires patient cultivation. What will you cultivate? What are you cultivating now? What are you neglecting? And how can you, in faith, better cultivate those things that really matter this year?

One year ago, internationally acclaimed artist Makoto Fujimura published a small booklet entitled On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care. This booklet, and Fujimura’s concept of “Culture Care,” have resonated with many. This month Makoto Fujimura released the full length expansion of his Culture Care concept, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life.

Culture Care Makoto FujimuraFujimura has written eloquently and inspiringly on faith and art before. With Culture Care, he gives us many important concepts to ponder and pursue. Fujimura talks about the culture wars that are all too familiar for most of us. Unlike those who would glamorize our modern culture, Fujimura acknowledges that there is much in culture today that should sadden us, much that is toxic, much that harms the soil in which we are trying to grow. But unlike those who want to throw up their hands in disgust and sit in condemnation of culture until Jesus returns, Fujimura insists that we have a responsibility to the culture all around us.

“Culture is not a territory to be won or lost but a resource we are called to steward with care. Culture is a garden to be cultivated.”

Culture Care means viewing all of life as a gift, viewing culture itself as a gift. Our own abilities, and the abilities and cultural goods of the people around us, whether Christian or not, are gifts from God. Rather than disdaining culture or the works of those outside the church, we need to be life-giving participants in culture. Fujimura explains:

“Artistic expressions are signposts declaring what it is to be fully human.”

When we free ourselves of our utilitarian mindset that insists on valuing only that which is useful, when we begin living “generatively,” creatively bringing something new and life-giving into existence, then we create new possibilities in the lives of the people around us.

For Fujimura, this is a matter of stewardship. If we all fall prey to the utilitarian mindset that fails to value beauty, creativity, and generativity, then the cultural soil will be further poisoned by the time our children inherit the cultural world we have failed to steward. But if we labor to tend the soil of culture, our children may live in a cultural world that is bursting with life, in which gospel seeds can grow, in which beauty takes root and shapes the imagination and daily life of society.

Too often, the cultural efforts of Christians are derivative (simply imitating the “secular” culture with a Jesus-twist) or speak almost exclusively to other Christians. But Fujimura’s concept of Culture Care calls us beyond this introspective existence.

“Western Christianity in the twentieth century fell into an ‘adjective’ existence with Christian music, Christian art, Christian plumbers. Even today, artists are often valued in the church only if they create art for the church, or at least, ‘Christian art.’ Culture Care will mean moving away from such labels…I am not a Christian artist. I am a Christian, yes, and an artist. I dare not treat the powerful presence of Christ in my life as an adjective. I want Christ to be my whole being.”

In this mentality, Fujimura sees artists functioning as “border-stalkers” (think of Strider/Aragorn in Lord of the Rings) who are able to cross boundaries with ease and mediate between diverse groups. Fujimura’s vision here of what an artist’s role might become in relation to the church and the surrounding culture is especially insightful, and he gives very practical and helpful advice for those seeking to fulfill that role.

Fujimura leaves us with a number of “what ifs” to spur or thinking about what might be possible if we took Culture Care seriously. Here are a few of my favorites.

What if each of us endeavored to bring beauty into someone’s life today in some small way?

What if artists became known for their generosity rather than only their self-expression?

What if we committed to speaking fresh creativity and vision into culture rather than denouncing and boycotting other cultural products?

What if we saw art as gift, not just as commodity?

What if we empower the “border stalkers” in our communities, support and send them out?

What if we created songs [and other forms of art] to draw people into movements for justice and flourishing?

All in all, I believe that Culture Care is an important book, one of the few that is taking the discussion of Christian involvement in the arts and culture to a new level. If you are an artist at any level, this is an important book to read. If you are convinced of the importance of art and culture in the life of the church and/or world, this is an important book to read. And if you’re just becoming interested in the concept of art and culture as it relates to your faith, this would be a great place to start.

As I write this, I am only aware of one place to purchase the Culture Care book, and that’s through the International Arts Movement’s website (click here).

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