…in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:16-17)
Do you have a message to share? Is it the kind of word that puts fire in your belly? Do you wake up early wanting to spread this news to others? Is it unthinkable that you would keep it to yourself? I’m interested in the things that drive us, the messages that inspire us, and the passions that lead us to speak.
Having spent 16 seasons with the Brumbies in Canberra, I know what it is to live and breath rugby. While some shake their heads in bewilderment, others will argue and proclaim all season. Monday morning experts, as they say, who can dissect with precision, diagnose every detail, and deliver the answers with ease. For some it’s almost a cult that draws in every detail of their lives. For others, it’s on the nose, they’ve had enough, and they don’t want to hear another word.
I’ve experienced many passions shaping the conversations of my friends. During my final years in Canberra, I was engulfed in a world of cycling. My last ride was back in 2010, with the Brumbies, riding on back trails from Canberra to Kosi. Not so much post-cancer and never with the passion I see today. So many around me living and breathing bikes. Road bikes, mountain bikes, trails, single tracks, races, teams, 24 hour events, new bikes, never enough bikes, roof racks, brakes, gears, frames, wheels, bikes on weekends, rides to the coast, rides back again, early morning rides, late night rides, lighting systems, carb loading, hydration strategies, friends, coffee shops, overseas trips, getting the wife and kids involved… on and on it went. Passion, drive, energy, and Strava. Barely a conversation went by without hearing the gospel of cycling.
And now it’s surfing. My town runs on it. Short boards, long boards, SUPs (not really), comps, clubs, drinks, friends, early mornings, every Sunday, tradies, oldies, wet suits, shark alerts, rips, tides, banks, and reefs. Being accepted means joining the club, rising early, donning the suit, paddling out, watching, waiting, commentating, tracking the weather, following the swell. Do you surf? You should? Get yourself a board. You can borrow mine. Just get on board. The gospel of surfing is very compelling.
But I long to hear another gospel. A transcendent gospel. A gospel for all. A gospel beyond the tribalism of rugby, beyond the addictions of cycling and surfing, coffee or wine. I long to hear a gospel of depth and purpose and significance and meaning and life. Deep life, enduring life, life beyond trivia, life beyond material prosperity, life beyond health and fashion and money and security. I long to hear of a gospel of forgiveness, a fresh start, transformation, altruism, generosity, love for people, grace, friendship, encouragement and hope. I long to hear more about the loving almighty creator. I long to hear more about his intersecting with life, intervening in life, interupting life. I long to hear more of his coming, his living, his struggles, his actions, his extraordinary works, his deep compassion, his healing touch, his wise teaching, his passion for justice, his provocative preaching, his prophetic pronouncements, his predictions of the future. I long to hear people speak of his death and resurrection, his humility and sacrifice, his glory and power. I long to hear the gospel of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the King, the Lord, the Saviour, the Son of God, the giver of life.
So speak. Share your gospel. Speak from your heart. Communicate what gets you up in the morning. Commend the very message that puts steel in your spine. Offer that word that fuels your tanks. Persuade people about what matters really matter most. Give people quality news, true news, gripping news, compelling news. Share your hope of life. And do it with clarity, and passion, and conviction, with integrity.
But don’t pontificate. Don’t pretend you have it all together. Don’t push a set of rules called religion. Share the gospel of grace. Speak of the relationship, not the rituals. And don’t talk over others. Don’t shout down your opposition. Listen, ask, respond, speak, clarify, encourage, answer, explore, commend, persuade.
Our world needs a true gospel. If you’ve got a message to share, then let’s hear it.
Are you at risk of having your whole life tied up with Christians so that you have no real engagement with anyone else? Does your week revolve around church meetings and activities? Does your sport, education, recreation, entertainment, socialising, music, and media all take place in a Christian bubble?
Well, Christian, God’s word calls you to be different from the world around you. Different, yes. But not detached. You are called to live in the world, among the world, in contact with the world. Your point of difference isn’t to be retreating from the world. Rather, you are to be marked out by your character, the priorities of your life, the way you treat people, the things you talk about. Your life should be a signpost, pointing to our gracious and good God. You need to care enough about people, and be close enough to people, and spend time enough with people, for them to notice your points of difference.
The Apostle Peter wrote, most likely to Jewish Christians in a Greco world, these challenging words:
Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.
(1 Peter 2:11-12 CSB)
While all the words in these verses are important—God has spoken them all—I want to focus our attention on two: good and among. Our lives need to be different. We’re called to do good—what God calls good! And we’re called to live among people—not to remove ourselves into ‘safe’ Christian ghettos.
There are many implications of this. Firstly, let’s not waste the time we spend together as brothers and sisters. If we’re going to do church stuff—and we should—then let’s make it really count. Don’t just be going through the motions. Let’s make sure we spur one another on to live for God, to love and good works.
Secondly, let’s assess the balance of our lives. How much time do we spend with others from the school, socialising with work friends, inviting the neighbours over for a BBQ, serving in the surf club, helping the elderly neighbour with her garden, welcoming those who move into our suburb… insert your own opportunities. Again, let’s not waste the time we get to spend with friends or family who don’t know God. Are we always building bridges, but never crossing them? What would it take for us to inject a bit of this is what I believe into our relationships with others?
And what’s the motivation for living this way? Two things: that people will come to experience the joy of a relationship with the living God; and that God will receive all the glory!
Today I received a copy of an Aussie Christian newspaper called Eternity. And there I was on the front cover and page 4. It’s a bit overwhelming to turn the page and see an almost life-size version of my ugly profile staring me in the face! However, I count it a privilege to be able to share something of my story and to point people to the solid hope that can be found in Jesus. God has brought good out of the cancer, as he promised he would (And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28). I thank him for this.
You can read the article by Joshua Maule online.
You can read a review of the book by Stuart Adamson, a Sydney-based hospital chaplain and pastoral supervisor.
I’m not an artist. I don’t play a musical instrument, my paintings haven’t progressed from primary school, I’m not much into acting, and no one would pay to hear me sing. But the author Con Campbell is an artist. More importantly he loves artists, and that’s what this book is about. Outreach and the artist expresses two of Con’s passions: (1) a desire for Christians to use the arts to reach out to others; and (2) a desire for Christians to engage with artist subcultures largely isolated from Christian faith. Con writes as a practitioner on both fronts. He is a highly acclaimed jazz saxophonist who has uses his craft to help communicate with others about Jesus and he keeps well connected with other artists, seeking to persuade them to take Jesus seriously.
This book is well written and easy to read. I read most of it yesterday while walking into town and back (while trying to avoid the pedestrian casualty list). There are many strengths to this book that I appreciate. Firstly, Con explains very clearly the content of the good news and how people actually become followers of Jesus. There is no watering down of the Christian message to make it more palatable for an edgy post-modern audience. He is clear that one only becomes a Christian by putting their trust in Jesus and that this is a non-negotiable. He doesn’t claim more for his or others’ art forms than they are able to deliver. No one is going to understand the good news of Jesus simply by being amazed by a painting or swept up in a beautiful piece of music. This may be an experience that God uses to stimulate their interest in the creative God. It might lead them to enquire about the faith of the artist. It may provide a hearing for the artist to explain what they believe. But art, in and of itself, is not going to save people.
Secondly, Con is able to straddle the divide between the church and the arts. He is a highly gifted Bible scholar, teacher, theologian, writer and ministry practitioner. He is also respected as an artistic performer in the field of jazz. He knows how churches think and fail to think, and he understands the world in which the performing artist lives. Con has sought to bridge the divide in a number of ways.
He has performed over 250 jazz gigs with churches and Christian groups, with the aim of creating a relaxed and comfortable context for speaking about Jesus. I’ve witnessed a number of these gigs and love the way Con moves from introducing us to the forms of jazz to sharing his enthusiasm about Jesus. The freedom of the jazz musician to express himself within the groove, leads to Con explaining how Jesus is the groove that gives us real freedom to live.
He also helps churches to consider how their often rigid and judgmental attitudes serve to alienate many alternative types from their midst. The lifestyle of the artist is very different to the 9 to 5 office worker. Days or weeks can be spent just seeking inspiration, or reworking an idea. Productivity may seem non-existent. Thousands of hours can be ‘wasted’ or spent ‘indulging’ in practise, with little to show for it. Con challenges us to see things afresh. If we appreciate the craft of an elite artist, musician, or athlete, then we must also appreciate how many years of effort go into getting there. Most musicians work late nights and weekends. They recover by sleeping in. This doesn’t mean they are lazy. Churches are urged to think more empathetically about connecting with people who have very different lifestyles.
Thirdly, having been one who lived for the god of music, Con understands first hand many of the barriers to artists coming to trust in Jesus. He saw the idolatry in his own heart. He’d taken God’s good gift of creativity and ignored the Creator who gave it to him. Con understands the difficulties for artists whose life and being has been tied up with their craft. There is much for them to lose, but far more to be gained. Con shares how he recognised that he must give up his jazz to worship God instead, but then how God opened more doors than he could ever imagine to enjoy jazz and use it to serve God.
This book also contains a number of interviews with Christian artists. There are musicians, painters, actors. They speak of their appreciation of the arts, what they love, how they’ve struggled as Christians in this subculture, the various ministries they’ve been able to be involved in as artists, and what each believes to be the biggest barriers for artists coming to trust in Jesus.
I really loved this little book. For mine it’s an excellent example of living out the attitude we see in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
I would highly recommend this book to all Christian artists. I think it will help them to reflect on how they can appreciate the gifts and blessings that God has given them, and encourage them to use their opportunities to honour God.
I would also encourage pastors and leaders in church to read this book. It helps us to think about what’s needed to connect with people we’re just not reaching. It also contains some excellent advice on utilising the arts to make Christ known.