Just eighty-eight keys. The same seven octaves and some change.
For the past several centuries, pianos largely have been made with this standard number of keys, yet somehow, every time I turn on the radio, I am drawn in by new melodies and creative lyrics that make me listen as if I've never heard the notes before. The same number of notes and seemingly endless numbers of great songs—admittedly more than a few bad ones (Thank you very much, Billy Ray Cyrus).
For the past thousands of years, to the Jew first and now also to the Greek, our Creator has been singing the same song of grace, love and truth to us. Though the message has remained constant, found in the 66 books of the Bible, the creativity and methodology of presenting the song has not. The Source notes are the same, but in our effort to get people to tune in consistently, wisdom would have us arrange the notes in fresh ways that will reach new listeners and make old music lovers grow in their affection for the one true song.
Though the message remains the same, the melodies and methods delivering the lyric need to change with the world and the instruments that are being made available to deliver them. It is a preacher's great privilege to bring the never-changing message to an ever-changing people.
When Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas, began 14 years ago, we declared one of our core values to be an unwavering commitment to relevance, innovation and flexibility. We loved the message, but were also convinced that in too many churches, the commitment to certain forms far outweighed the commitment to the function of the message. We believe the Bible does not tell us to be exclusive in the styles of music, media or message presentation we use, but that we are to find ways to bring the message effectively "into all the world" in order to make disciples.
The passion for this thinking flows from 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, in which Paul exhorts us to "become all things to all men, so that [we] may be all means save some. [We] do all things for the sake of the gospel." All things—new and old! If we discover a new or creative way to do something, and the Bible gives us freedom to change the form, then we aggressively commit to new ways.
Everyone has creative potential. Though we might not all be van Goghs or Beethovens, Tomlins or Giglios, we all serve a creative God; we all were made in His image. Part of being made in His image is that we have been given the ability to create, think outside the box and sing old truth in new songs. Our melodies may change, but the message must stay the same.
As we set our minds on things above and not on things of this earth, it is our charge to communicate in a way that resonates with our culture. I have learned the power of using story in teaching God's love. The development of excellent creative ideas (which honors God and inspires men) may begin with an episode of "Seinfeld," a snippet from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, a video from CNN.com or a clip from a movie I helped produce (see SeasonsOfGray.com). While I am careful not to endorse the philosophers and poets of our day, I would be foolish if I did not (as did Paul in Athens) refer to them to build a bridge to the one truth that will set others free.
How can we woo our culture to follow God? We study our culture. We know its needs, desires and habits, and we see if we can use media and things culture loves to connect hearts to the greatest love they could ever know, a love that will satisfy their deepest desires and transform the habits of their hearts. To those who find beauty in visual art, we paint. To those who are film lovers, we produce movies. To those who listen to rap music, we crank up the volume and take note of the talent in guys such as Lecrae, Tedashii and Shai Linne.
I love the story told of Michelangelo, who when he was asked how he created a beautiful piece of art from a block of marble, replied, "I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." If God's story is written on the hearts of men, it is our responsibility to carve winsomely with powerful words, art and movies to set it free.
Several years ago, a group of us began dreaming about using the medium of film to share the truth that love is powerful and forgiveness is possible. With a lot of vision, hard work and the effort of many gifted people, we were able to produce the film Seasons of Gray, a modern retelling of the story of Joseph.
People asked me, "What in the world is a church doing making a movie?" and I said, "Why in the world wouldn't a church do everything it could to spread the message of peace, redemption and hope?" As a church, we weren't looking to get into the movie business, but we are in the people business, and we're always looking to impact lives of individuals and families.
Though the message remains the same, the method by which we told the story of Joseph changed. Whether it's film, rap music, dance or whatever, it's our job to use all means to reach our community.