Peter Bjorn: Shining Like a Star (and van Gogh)

 “And a child shall lead them.”  Isaiah 11:6

Our 7-year old, Peter Bjorn, made this precious cityscape that really caught my eye. It reminds me of a passage from Philippians. Followers of Jesus are called to cultivate a countercultural way of life that sets us apart from “a world of corrupt and sinful people.” Paul calls us to “light up the sky” as we “shine like stars.” Here’s the  passage:

Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation, 13 because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose. 14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, 16 as you offer them the message of life. (Philippians 2:12-16)

Our tall and lanky 1st grader is named after Jesus’ somewhat brash, impulsive yet passionate and endearing disciple. We have always prayed that he would grow into his namesake by becoming a fearless and committed follower of Jesus. We’re seeing early signs of zeal and just as many hard edges that will need softening. :)

Keri calls Peter our “little justice warrior” who is hypersensitive to people (especially himself!) being “wronged.” He gets into trouble for trying to be the parent or teacher, meeting out his own just sentences before we arrive at the scene. A “hunger for righteousness / justice” is a great mark of a disciple!

He’s jealous for God, as evidenced by his comment as we drove by the Eckankar Temple on our way to swimming lessons this week. Eckankar is a “worldwide center for the teachings of the Light and Sound of God,” a New Age kind of religion. Peter said, “If I’m ever president I’m going to shut down that place because those people worship idols.” This led to a quick lesson on the great American value of religious tolerance and the need to respect and love people of all faiths, and to pray for those who we desire to come to know Jesus and the gospel.

This morning on the way to the dentist, we saw an emergency vehicle on the side of the road, which led Peter to say, “Dad! We forgot to pray for that ambulance that drove by yesterday and whoever was hurt.” I said, “You can pray buddy.” He said, “But dad…you’re the pastor!” I said, “Oh, buddy. I think the prayers of children may have the most power.” So he prayed a beautiful prayer.

He won’t go to sleep without us praying for God to protect his mind from bad dreams each night. Like many children, he’s very sensitive to talk of angels and demons, light and darkness, and has a very literal view of Death as a personal villain in the cosmos, but is quick to remind us that, as one of his favorite worship songs has taught him, “Death has been arrested.” And he literally pictures Death sitting in chains in some celestial prison cell!)

Ask him why we light a candle when we read the Bible and he will tell you, “It reminds us that Jesus in the Light of the World who comes to shine in the darkness.” Ask him why love is the most powerful force in the universe, he will tell you, “Because only love can transform enemies into friends.”

So back to Peter’s artwork.

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Peter is one of God’s “innocent and pure” children living in a corrupt world darkened by sin and confusion. God is raising up a generation of light-bringers called to resist being conformed to the patterns of this City of Death in which we live (cf. Rom. 12:2). As citizens of the City of God, Peter is learning to shine like stars, lighting up the sky, as he offers the “message of life” to all the people currently living in darkened rooms, and thereby flipping on the lights and showing them a New Way.

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 12.33.13 PMVincent Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night painting is coded with religious color symbolism. If you examine the painting, you will find the brightness of God’s light shining in the sky, but the widows in the church in his cityscape is completely dark. Van Gogh was hurt by the church of his day, and had concluded that God’s radiant presence could more easily be found outside the walls of organized religion — e.g., such as nature. (I’ve written more about this here.)

I love Peter’s picture because I see the gradual process of salvation represented by the building windows. Paul didn’t preach that salvation was an instantaneous experience of conversion — just say the prayer and you’re good. He urges us all to “Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation.” But this isn’t a heavy, works-based salvation “because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose.” 

Look at the windows again. Each day we interact with people who are still living in darkness (the black windows), still in need of the light. Others, represented by the building with grayish blue window, are in the early stages of the salvation process where the light is beginning to brighten their surroundings. Our hope is to help as many people we can to throw open the shades and let the bright light of God’s love shine in and through our homes and lives (= the yellow building).

Peter has a bridge in the background with what appears to be little lights (or people?) spread along it — little lights illuminating the pathway from one side to the other. Let this represent the chasm between sinners and God, which has now been bridged by Christ’s death on the cross.

If I could taint the original by inserting anything into this 1st grade masterpiece to complete the picture, I would place a Bible in the outstretched hand of the boy (Peter?) shining among the stars. My prayer is our Peter (who says he wants to be a pastor when he grows up) would be that person “lighting up the sky” as he “offers everyone the message of life.”

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While I take great fatherly delight in this junior masterpiece captured on construction paper, Paul tells us that the greatest masterpieces of all are His own works of art — you and me — who are being carefully molded to display His glory and point others to His beauty, mercy and love.

“Rise up and shine, for your light has come. The shining-greatness of the Lord has risen upon you.” Isaiah 60:1

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10

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