Banksy and Beauty from Ashes
Not too long ago I read that the mysterious artist Banksy had created several new murals in Ukraine. Going to locations that had experienced the fury of war, he found broken and damaged buildings and used them as his canvas. In one a gymnast practices a handstand upon shattered walls and in another a woman who is wearing a bathrobe and who has curlers in her hair and a gas mask on her face holds a fire extinguisher next to a blown-out window. I am not clever enough to know what they all mean, but I do understand that the artist means to make a statement about the war and its many victims.
I understand this as well: that by creating these murals, Banksy has made something valuable out of what would otherwise be valueless. What was only busted-up concrete has now become an intriguing and desirable work of art. Though his canvas was one for which no one else could see any value, and though it had been assaulted and destroyed, it is now valued and treasured.
And it’s not like just anyone could do this. Had I been assigned the task I am quite certain that I would have made the mess even messier. I would leave the rubble even less valuable and less beautiful than before, for I have no artistic talent and no ability to bring beauty from literal ashes. It takes a skillful artist to work in the medium of rubble.
There is something remarkable about this, isn’t there? In the hands of a skilled artist, something broken can become beautiful, something valueless can become worth a fortune. And there is something remarkable about considering that this is what God does with us. We are a stained and torn canvas, a broken and battered block of marble, a shattered pile of rubble. Yet we are the medium upon which God chooses to display his glory.
God takes what has been purposefully destroyed, what has been willfully ruined, what has been blown up by our own acts of sabotage, and he works upon it until it is a beautiful and precious work of art. He takes what was valueless and gives it great worth, he takes what was wrecked and wonderfully restores it, he takes what was once evidence of our rebellion and transforms it to be evidence of our joyful submission.
The divine Artist is making all things new and bringing beauty from the ashes of our wrecked and ruined lives. We are the canvas upon which he displays his love, his power, his ability to redeem and restore even that which seemed to be beyond all hope.
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So You Think You’re Facing Persecution, Do You?By Tim Challies — 8 months ago
Jesus tells us to expect persecution. This is something I attempted to prove in an article a couple of days ago when I showed that at both the beginning and the ending of his ministry he warned that there would be a cost to following him. Yet Jesus knows that not everything that may look like persecution is actually persecution. And so he tells us that, when we come to times of suffering, we need to evaluate it to see if we are truly being persecuted.
There are times when Christians are put in prison because they refuse to follow the unjust dictates of an unjust government; but there are also times when Christians are put in prison because they break good and necessary laws that the rightful authorities have put in place. Sometimes Christians are shunned by family members because they refuse to bow down to the family’s idols; but sometimes Christians are shunned because they fail to honor their parents, or because they treat family members badly, or because they act like sanctimonious, entitled brats.
In the opening sentences of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says his people are blessed when they are persecuted “on my account.” And immediately before that he says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” And so Jesus tells us that we need to evaluate our suffering to ensure it is actually persecution and not just the consequence of our own sinfulness.
Peter, a man who knew a thing or two about suffering, offers some helpful guidance here in 1 Peter 4:12. Like Jesus, he says that we should expect to face persecution. Here’s what he says: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
It’s clear: persecution is the normal course of the Christian faith. It’s not strange and should not be unexpected.
I know many people who have suffered for their faith. Some have been disowned by their families because they have rejected the family’s religion; some have fallen out with friends because they couldn’t participate in activities they invited them to; some have had troubles at school or at work because they wouldn’t take pride in what others deem worthy of celebration; some have been imprisoned for their religious convictions. And I know the Lord is proud of these people. He told them before they came to him to count the cost. They did, and they have been willing to pay that cost. I pray that God will continue to bless them as they honor him, even at a personal cost. Peter says not to be surprised when this happens.
But then he goes on in verse 15 to say, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.”
He wants to be clear that not all suffering is persecution. He lays out a spectrum here that extends from very serious sins to ones we might consider minor—from murder to meddling. We can’t play the persecution card if we murder people or steal from them, and we also can’t play it if we are being meddlesome or treating people badly. In either case, we have brought suffering on ourselves for our sinful living, not for our blameless living.
Peter finishes up this way: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” And so Peter does what Jesus does—he distinguishes between suffering for unrighteousness’ sake and suffering for righteousness’ sake. If we are suffering what appears to be a kind of persecution, we need to honestly evaluate it to see which it is.
So what does it mean to suffer for righteousness’ sake? It’s simple really—it means to suffer for living and behaving in distinctly Christian ways. It’s interesting to me that when Jesus gave his first warning about persecution his public teaching ministry had included little more than a few sentences—the opening sentences of the Sermon on the Mount that we call The Beatitudes. This means that the persecution he is speaking about must be connected to them.
So, people who suffer for righteousness’ sake are poor in spirit—they are living with a humble awareness of their spiritual bankruptcy; they are mournful—they are repenting quickly and forgiving freely; they are meek—they are living before God and man with a gentle and quiet spirit; they are, righteous—they long to obey God’s every word and are laboring to see his justice extend throughout society; they are merciful—because they have received mercy they are gladly and deliberately extending it to others; they are pure—they are fully committed to honoring God and are submitting themselves to his purposes; and they are peacemakers—they aren’t fighters but reconcilers who long to bring reconciliation between God and man and between man and man.
This is how God is calling his people to live as faithful citizens of his kingdom. And it is these very virtues that lead to his final beatitude—that lead to persecution. It is after Jesus calls his people to live this way that he tells them they will face terrible consequences.
And so the calling on us is clear: as we face insults or slander or prison or death, we need to evaluate it. We need to ask: Am I suffering because I am exemplifying these virtues? Am I truly being persecuted for living as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven? Am I truly suffering for righteousness’ sake? Or am I suffering because I am behaving badly and out-of-step with God’s commandments?
I have one other thing I’d like to say about persecution but, once again, I’ll have to leave that for another day.
Sing Like Judy: Get Happy!By Tim Challies — 2 months ago
This week the blog is sponsred by Crown and Covenant Publications, and the post is written by Nathan Eshelman, pastor of the Orlando Reformed Presbyterian Church in historic downtown Orlando, Florida. He is the author of two Grassmarket Press books: I Have a Confession: The What and Why of the Westminster Confession of Faith (2022) and Worthy: The Worship of God (Fall 2023). Nathan also writes for Gentle Reformation and Meet the Puritans and is a co-host of The Jerusalem Chamber podcast. Nathan is married to Lydia and they have five children. You can order Grassmarket Press books here.
In 1951, Judy Garland sang at the swanky Palace Theatre in New York City week after week with a tedious two-a-day schedule. The house was always packed. As Judy Garland sang her old classics, she ended each show with a medley of Over the Rainbow and Get Happy, two classic Garland numbers.
She had 184 performances at The Palace that year. “Night after night, the result was the same: tears streaked down Judy’s cheeks as she tried to follow her rainbow, and more tears—a rivulet, then a salty waterfall—came from all those watching and hearing her,” wrote historian Gerald Clark in his book on Judy’s life. Tear-filled standing ovations ensued. One newspaper recorded a three minute, eighteen second standing ovation. Her singing was described as a kiss that awakened New York. Contrast the joy of Judy Garland’s vocal expressions with so much of what passes for congregational singing in our churches. This is not a new problem, but one that shows the need for singing with grace in the heart. In the early eighteenth century, one Reformed minister noted the lack of joy and desire in the singing of his country’s congregations. He said:
It amazes me that the godly in the Netherlands have so little desire to sing….Worldly people sing quite a bit, but they sing vain songs which stir up the heart toward vanity and immorality. The godly are, however, generally silent in these parts. The one says… “I have no voice”; the [other] “I do not know any of the melodies”… All of this is, however, not truly the problem, but it is a lack of desire. If the heart were more spiritual and joyous, we would more readily praise the Lord with joyful song and thereby stir up ourselves and others. (The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4.35.)
Years before, this pastor lamented the lack of hearty praise in his churches—and long before Judy Garland brought The Palace to nightly tears with her joyful song—the Westminster Confession of Faith provided brief instruction on the singing of the Christian Church. The Confession only mentions singing one time:
The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God… to be used in a holy and religious manner. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 21.5.)
Did you catch it?
Christians in public worship are not only to sing Psalms, but to sing with grace in their heart.
Judy Garland was a good singer; some would say that’s an understatement; but many would not. Clark noted that “several of her contemporaries also possessed remarkable machines—some better…with wider ranges and more artful technique—yet also failed to raise the blood pressure in the seats out front,” as Clark wrote.
What made Judy different?
I will not argue that she had “grace in her heart” but I do believe that there’s something that the congregational singer can learn from her song.
One of her musical arrangers noted that “she put the words before the music, instead of the other way around, treating the lyrics will all the reverence due them.”
Judy also told an interviewer once, “I mean every word of every song I sing, no matter how many times I’ve sung it before.” The congregational singer needs to sing with grace in the heart, putting words before the tune, meaning every word that is sung. Singing is a response of faith—and the singer must own what he or she sings.
The next lesson that Judy gives to the grace-filled singer is this, according to Clark: “she needed her audience more than it needed her… she was ‘truly, truly, happy’ only when on stage… they were providing her with an identity.” Garland’s entire happiness and identity was wrapped up, not in who she was or in her extravagant lifestyle in Hollywood, but in this simple fact: she lived for her audience and found happiness only there.
As Christians bring praise from week to week, the grace-filled heart must come to terms with the overwhelming fact that we sing praise to a great God who has redeemed us through Christ and gives us an identity—son or daughter, redeemed, loved, made holy, made holy, Spirit-filled—all with hearts that ought to overflow with grace.
Learn that lesson as you praise.
We must put the words before the tune. We must own that which we sing. We must have our identify in the one to whom we sing. Having these three simple truths in mind, we are better equipped to fulfill what The Confession describes as singing psalms with grace in the heart. For you have been redeemed—sing as though it is true!
In the words of Judy Garland:
“Forget your troubles and just Get Happy, you better chase all your cares away Sing Hallelujah, come on, Get Happy, Get ready for the judgment day.”
You are preparing for eternity. Sing like it! For there’s no place like your eternal home.
A La Carte (February 16)By Tim Challies — 4 months ago
I’m thankful for this lovely review of Seasons of Sorrow from Sola Network.
I added some Kindle deals yesterday and will keep an eye out for more today.
(Yesterday on the blog: A Family and Personal Update)
Friends Who Fell Away: When Apostasy Comes Close to Home
“The memories, on most days, seem better left forgotten. Never has remembering sweet Bible studies tasted so bitter. Flashbacks of late-night conversations and time spent in prayer press inconsiderately upon the wound. In that large group, I can still hear his profession of faith echo. I thought I heard angels sing at his surrender. So long we had prayed for his salvation. Now, he no longer walks with Jesus.”
Holiness Is Transgressive
Brett McCracken reflects on attempts to be shockingly transgressive. “Because ‘transgression’ in contemporary pop culture has become ubiquitous to the point of banality. Transgressing gender binaries in fashion, pushing the envelope of sex and nudity on TV, ratcheting up gore in horror movies, celebrating ‘completely filthy’ chart-topping singles—it’s all so pervasive by now that it’s tiresome, as ‘transgressive’ as the khaki section of Old Navy.”
How Unanswered Prayers Have Shaped My Faith
Ruth Davidar Paul considers an unanswered prayer and says, “thinking about that prayer, I realised that it has been integral in cementing my faith, as incongruous as that may seem.”
Where Can I Find a Biblical Reason NOT to Gamble?
Biblical Counseling Coalition has a series this week on gambling meant to explain why Christians should not gamble.
What to Do When You Think a Friend Is Considering Suicide
“Over the last four years, I’ve been invited to churches, schools, and conferences all over the world to speak. What do you think my number one requested talk has been? It’s not the problem of evil, homosexuality, biblical justice, or even the existence of God. It’s suicide. More than 30% of the time, my host wants to hear about suicide. Why? Why is this issue so much more popular than all the others?”
Do You Carry More Than You Should?
I appreciate this article about Jesus telling his disciples that he would be going away. “In the wait, Jesus helped them anchor themselves in the One trustworthy for each and every day. He strengthened their faith then for later. When the time did come for the disciples to bear Jesus’ death, weakness turned to power, grief to joy, and the whole world turned upside down.”
Flashback: Procrastination Is a Failure to Love
…this is exactly what makes procrastination such an ugly and offensive sin. It is inherently self-centered. It is a form of self-love.
There is one song that you will sing every hour your first ten years in heaven, and the refrain of that song will be: “I am so glad God did not let me have it my own way!” —DeWitt Talmage