Ultimate Beauty

It’s easy to fall into bad habits when it comes to our thoughts about God. For too many, maybe all of us, we sometimes think of him as a means to an end. We want him to bless us, protect us and keep us from trials and sufferings. This is only normal as we’re human. But as my pastor friend from Florida Steve Schantz said in a sermon, God is not a commodity:

“… faith becomes a magic wand you wave over your life to get the one thing you most want from the Lord. And God now becomes a means to an end…. Can you imagine treating God as a means to something greater? King David couldn’t. But God is perceived to be very useful and very practical in our day and age. This utilitarian thinking is warping the image of the Triune God. The prosperity gospel has come home to roost in churches of all stripes and sizes across our land. Even our secular poets and authors know the power and necessity of experiencing beauty. D.H. Lawrence once wrote, ‘The Human Soul needs beauty even more than it needs bread’ (Nottingham and the Mining Country, 1929).” As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the beauty of God surpasses everything we can begin to imagine and nothing we desire in this life comes close.

Seeing God from a utilitarian viewpoint can lead us to want to use him rather than being in awe of the beauty of his character and personality. But God will not be used – how could we mere humans think we could use the creator of everything? Conversely, God doesn’t use us, though many like to believe he does. People use people, God doesn’t. The life he has given us is participation in Christ’s life. He doesn’t use us for his purposes as if we are minions, rather he loves us as a father.

Nothing is more beautiful than the intimate, loving, sharing relationship we get to share with Father, Son and Spirit. Nothing.

Jesus Hurts with Us

Old sayings stick around because they are usually true, but sometimes old sayings need revision. We’ve all heard the only sure things in life are death and taxes, but we could add pain and suffering to that list, though pain and suffering are implied in both death and taxes. I’ve often wondered how people who don’t or won’t find peace and consolation in the love of God handle the pain that inevitably comes to us all.

Many are hurting now, perhaps more than usual in our broken humanity. Many turn to God but others become angry and/or disconsolate. It really helps when a friend sits with us in our pain, like the little boy in the story that went around a few years ago. He spent time with his grieving friend and when his mom asked what they talked about, he said nothing, they just cried together.

We have a friend who shares our pain. He’s the one who understands it, feels it and cries with us. Because he took all our pain and sorrow onto himself when he went to the cross, he enters it and inhabits it still. When we hurt, he hurts with us; at the same time, we feel his pain, not only the pain he suffered, but the pain of the whole world, which he continues to carry on his shoulders.

When we’re hurting, we can be sure Jesus is hurting with us. What a beautiful friend and what a beautiful savior.

Lasting Beauty

Today’s post is by Hilary Buck, a friend who writes for Day-by-Day, an online devotional produced by Gracecom UK. She pastors Grace Communion in Lewes. (Re-posted by permission.)

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Ephesians 2:10 (ESVUK)

The Greek word Paul used for ‘workmanship’ in the scripture is one from which we get our English word: poem. So he’s pointing to creative, quality workmanship. Some have thought it should be read as God’s creation of a ‘masterpiece.’ Thinking of ourselves as God’s masterpiece might make us wince a bit when we consider ourselves. What me, a masterpiece? Others might look askance if I claim I am God’s workmanship, let alone his masterpiece. And do I think of myself as a piece of divine poetry?

Great poetry – poetry sales have been booming in these recent years. Thousands of people travel each year to see great works of art – the masterpieces of our minds and hands – in our museums. Take the British Museum: five million come each year; the national Gallery about another five. At the Louvre, over ten million come to see the Mona Lisa alone. Over four million come through the doors of the Victoria and Albert, called the nation’s attic, where only twenty five percent of what they have acquired is on display. Nearly four million go to music festivals here, let alone the numbers that attend concerts.

Enough of statistics. We we cherish the great creative works that have been made in music, writing, painting, sculpture, architecture, and all the crafts. We admire them, we are enchanted and moved by them. But none of them will last forever. There’s only one work of art that will last – and that’s us.

Michelangelo, one of the world’s greatest artists, was asked how he created his sculptures: ‘The sculpture is already complete within the marble block’, he explained, ‘before I start my work. It is already there; I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.’ Of one particular piece he said: ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ God is, if you will, carving out the new you and me, into “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

Jesus said his Father works and he works. And Paul reassures us in Philippians 1:6 that as God has begun a good work in us, he will complete it. The detritus of our way of life, of our old minds and outlook is being carved away, one day to reveal the stunning beauty of us, his new creation in Christ.

Our Father, we give you thanks that you have made us in your image, and now, in Jesus Christ,  you are making a new creation—one of perfection and beauty to live with you forever, to your glory.

The Beauty of Grace

Did you spend some time contemplating beauty last week? I was able to ride my bike through the forest near my home and admire God’s creation – the pine trees, blue sky, clouds and of course, wildflowers. I even spotted some deer crossing the road ahead of me. I am in awe every time I ride through this amazing area and give thanks for these blessings.

But do you know what the most beautiful thing is in the entire world? It’s knowing all I see is because of God’s grace. It’s living in the reality of God’s unbelievable love, assured of my place in his embrace for eternity.

When I think of grace, I remember all the years I spent believing what God wanted most was my obedience, then learning what he really wants is to love me and have me love him in return. His beautiful grace has freed me from seeing him as judge, jury and executioner. It’s opened my eyes to the tenderness of my father, the self-emptying and sacrificial love of my friend and brother Jesus, and the loving guidance of my comforter, the Holy Spirit. His grace is truly amazing – and beautiful.

Our Love of Beauty

We human beings have a lot in common, even though we tend to forget just how much we share. One of those things is our affinity for beauty. All people are attracted to the beauty of nature. We love art, architecture and creative landscapes. We are attracted to sparkling jewels, fine clothing – anything well-crafted and well-made. This is not to say we can afford or need to own any of these things, but we do admire them. Museums are filled with objects of beauty and showcases of homes or anything lovely are usually well-attended.

We also tend to forget who created beauty. God not only created all the beauty we see, but he himself is beautiful in every way, and our love of beauty comes from him. Ancient people made the mistake of worshiping the creation instead of the Creator. But after admiring the beauty we see around us, either natural or made by human hands, our thoughts should turn to admiration and adoration of the most beautiful being in existence. I love Psalm 27:4, which says, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (NIV). Instead of gaze, The Message uses the word contemplate.

The Bible, and the psalms in particular, give us many ways to contemplate our God of wonders. Just spending time thinking about his amazing love for us could fill the rest of our days. In his great love for us, he has made it possible for us to gaze on his beauty for eternity. But why wait? Let’s start right now!

How to Treat People

When I became a volunteer with the regional blood bank in Southern California, I had to attend a one-day orientation. We were encouraged to be courteous and helpful to the donors, and to show respect, dignity and compassion to everyone. At times this was more challenging than I expected. People can be difficult!

Those three words are still with me, almost five years later, as this secular organization had somehow boiled down the way to treat people to this short and sweet motto. The New Testament has many “one-another” verses, detailing how to get along, but I find them hard to memorize. Respect, dignity and compassion is easy to remember.

Speakers and authors like to pose the question, “What would your life look like if…?” What if I weren’t afraid? What if I believed God really loves me? What if I trusted him more? What if everyone were to treat all people with respect, dignity and compassion? It’s hard to imagine a world like that because it’s never happened. But one day….

Truly Awake

A few years ago, if I had heard someone describe him or herself as “woke” I would have been tempted to correct their grammar. I don’t have a t-shirt admitting “I’m silently correcting your grammar,” but I do it. Yes, I do know what it means, but I’m still a bit puzzled by the whole concept, mostly because it seems to be a way to look down on those who don’t share the same opinions.

I would rather describe myself as awake. C.S. Lewis, in Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, said, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”

This is what practicing God’s presence is – being awake, aware, cognizant – of him, who he is, how he is working and creating, his love and how he wants us to participate with him in loving others. I often pray God will keep me aware of him as I go through my day because I know how easy it is to become distracted and let my eyes stray from gazing at my Savior. Brother Lawrence practiced his presence when he peeled potatoes. For me, washing dishes has become my time to come back from distractions and focus on God.

Being awake to our incognito God is, to me, a much better way to go through life, with eyes and heart completely open to the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

A Gem of Grace

Treasure hunting for gems of grace is a little like prospecting for gold, but without the trip to a river or gold mine. It’s not difficult, as it seems the moment I start looking, God reveals what he wants me to find.

A gem he gave me last week is one I have seen before, but he reminded me just to make sure I get it. We are never alone. He is always with us in everything we do. The added gem is that even our “decision” to follow Christ, both initially and daily, is something we do with him, in him and as a participation in his life. He calls us to himself, but he doesn’t leave us on our own. Knowing this really takes off the pressure.

All of life is participation in his life – in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28, NIV). Everything we are, think, do and say are in him and with him. For all of us independent westerners, this may take some getting used to, but we don’t have to worry about that either. Jesus is our constant companion in every step and through every challenge.  

Treasure Hunting

Last time I mentioned a quotation about being exited beyond imagination, waiting for what God would do in the coming day. I think about that every morning, waking up with the prayer, what do you want to show me today, Lord? But I realized as the week went on that God wasn’t just dropping exciting things in my lap. I guess I was hoping, but I forgot that’s not how he does things.

Participating in life with Jesus is more like a treasure hunt. I grab his hand, listen carefully and keep my eyes open to the hints and clues he drops. But I do have to look and listen. Getting distracted, which is all too easy, probably causes me to miss a lot. Reading the Bible, praying, meditating and keeping myself focused on Jesus, all help me keep up with him.

I just re-read Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God and I’ve been trying to remember to practice his presence throughout the day. I think of Brother Lawrence having an intimate conversation with God while peeling potatoes and my routine tasks become adventures rather than mundane chores. And when you’re on an adventure with him, you never know what might happen.

Never Lonely Alone

Loneliness has always been a problem in our society. We don’t have the networks of family and friends people had even in the last century. And now with social media and cell phones seemingly growing out of people’s arms, we have even fewer personal connections and more loneliness. The stay-at-home orders haven’t helped either, though some have been trying to connect more online.

If you’ve been reading my blog over the past few weeks, you may remember what Jan Johnson said in one of the sessions of the Trusting God retreat. She said it’s never just me and the pipe, meaning whatever we’re facing, we’re not alone. Jesus is always there to help. I don’t recall anyone mentioning loneliness when attendees chimed in with their situations, but it certainly should have made the list.

Christian Kettler, in an interview on gci.org, talked about the vicarious humanity of Christ and how we don’t take it seriously enough. In his humanity, he has taken on our despair, our doubt and our anxiety. When Jesus prayed on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Kettler says he was praying on our behalf, taking our despair to the Father and in doing so, healing it. Kettler says, “We are not alone in that despair. We are not alone in our aloneness. We may still be lonely, but we’re not lonely alone. Jesus is lonely with us.”

How encouraging to anyone who has ever felt alone or lonely (I’m pretty sure that includes all of us), to know we aren’t lonely alone. Knowing this means we don’t ever have to feel lonely again.

P.S. This is my 500th post! Thanks to everyone who’s been reading and supporting me these past several years. Love and blessings to all!