Does Beauty Matter?

12 07 2011

How would you like it if YOUR church popped up whenever anyone googled "ugly church"?

Recently I spent a good chunk of time remodeling the room in New Life Church that was to become the church’s counseling office.  So I spent a lot of time thinking about why I was spending so much time working to make the room beautiful:  Does beauty even matter?  Or is efficiency and practicality all that matters?  Should we, as Christians, be utilitarians, or should we “waste” time and money beautifying our world?

Check out Peter Kreeft's podcast. It's mind-blowing.

If you know me at all, you can guess that I’d cast my vote for the latter.  How about you?  And why?

While thinking about these things, I came across this provocative quote from Peter Kreeft, a Catholic theologian and philosopher who I greatly admire:

“Worship efficiency and the god will destroy itself as well as you. … While beauty cannot of itself save us, or substitute for either Goodness or Truth… yet it contributes to the salvation of creation—and of souls!

“If you had the choice of going to a church where true Orthodox doctrine was taught, and true morality was preached, but everything was ugly and unattractive, or going to one where only some true Orthodox doctrine was taught, and only some true morality was preached, but was irresistibly attractive, I think you would choose the second.  And I think you would rightly choose the second.  To fall in love with at least half of God’s package deal, is better than to have it all but not fall in love with it.”

Now THAT'S a beautiful church. Sacre Coeur, Paris. Where Jesus is loved.

What do you think?  If you were choosing between a church with perfect doctrine but no beauty, or a church with some doctrinal flaws but everything was beautiful, which would you choose?

(And to challenge you even further: Can a church that completely ignores the value of beauty be said to have “perfect doctrine” anyway?)

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Don’t be selfless… be Glorious.

5 07 2011

In keeping with my recent string of posts about “selflessness”, here’s a quote that I really like:

Glory... you've got some.

[by Marianne Williamson from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles]

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The connection between this and my recent string of posts is this:

Don't block your glory.

People often make the mistake of focusing exclusively on human sinfulness, brokenness and depravity.  As a result, we think that’s all that’s true about us.  And so we label our desires as “bad”, and pursue negative pseudo-virtues like “selflessness”.

But the Biblicaltruth is that our Glory preceded our Depravity, and God intends to restore our Glory (and more!) by conforming us to the likeness of Christ.  God has destined YOU for GLORY!  Not a self-righteous glory that’s all about you, but a God-honoring and humble glory that comes from your Maker.  As David Crowder said,

She thinks her glamor (glory) comes from her money. That's probably because she doesn't know the glory that comes from God.

“You make everything glorious / And I am yours / What does that make me?” (Everything Glorious)

Or as the Apostle Paul said:

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18) (See also Romans 8:17-21)

So remember: It’s ok for you to shine brightly.  In fact, you were created for it.

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"I HAVE THE POWER!!!!" (and the glory)

Accept That You Are A Burden

29 06 2011

You are a burden on God. He likes it that way.

“I don’t want to be a burden!”

I am amazed at how often I hear people say, “I don’t want to be a burden”.  No statement could be less Christian than this one!  The very essence of what it means to be human is to be unnecessary (God doesn’t need you) and needy (you need God).  The only way for you to not be a burden is for you to cease to exist: To be “self – less”.

But to delight in your being—in your is-ness, as God does—is to delight in the fact that you are a wonderful creation of God, taking up space in His world, burdening the universe with your existence.

That's pretty much you: Tiny and insufficient. But He's glad you're here.

The alternative is self-contempt, a denial of the reality of what you are.  In the end, self-contempt is a sin, a twisted version of pride, which says, “I refuse to submit to reality.  I refuse to accept who God has created me to be.  I refuse to be a needy burden on the world.  I demand that I either become self-sufficient, or cease existing altogether.”

Our greatest sin is not the fact that we are needy burdens on the universe; rather, our greatest sin is our refusal to be the needy burdens that we were created to be!

Ultimately, we must repent of our self-contempt, and joyfully accept that we were made to be tiny, insufficient, and lovely little creatures.  Because of our hatred of this identity, we rebelled against our Maker and so became objects of his wrath; we indeed became sinful, broken, and ugly.  Nevertheless, he loved us and remembered that we were made by his own hand.  And so he redeemed us.

He now invites you to step back into the tiny, insufficient, interdependent You that he made you to be.  Be exactly the burden that you are!

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Outline Me Again

24 06 2011

I beleive that "less of you" is NOT the goal.

Does God want less of you?  Or more of you?

I said last time that God wants you to exist: That he wants you to “take up space” in this world.

I’m reminded of this when I hear some worship songs: Like the song “You” by Hillsong Music, which contains these words:

“Steal all that is within me  /  Cause all I want in this world is more of you  /  And the less of me it is you  /  Increasing as I fade away  /  Your light for all the world to see”

Christ *lives* in you, the more you are the you he made you to be.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love Hillsong Church, and their worship music has deeply impacted my life and my love for God through the last 13 years!  But I think these lyrics (in an otherwise incredible song!) are a misstep.  They communicate that God wants to “steal all that is within me”, and that God is more glorified when I fade away, when there is less of me in the world. *(see footnote)

I would argue instead that God is incarnated in the lives of his people, and he is glorified more and more the more fully “ourselves” we become.  I much prefer the beautiful words of the Relient K song, “I Am Understood”, which says:

“Through the times I’ve faded and you’ve outlined me again”

These words, I think, capture much more accurately the heart of Scripture on this subject: My waywardness, foolishness, and sinfulness causes the “true” me to fade away, and God is relentlessly determined to restore His Image within me.

Even that lizard on your shoulder has a seed of glory in it...

All our talk about selflessness can lead us to mistakenly believe that we are “all bad and only bad”.  The truth is something more beautiful and complex: Yes, you are a sinner.  But you were first made in God’s image!  Everything you do and everything you are is touched by both your dignity and your depravity.  This means that there is something holy and wonderful hidden inside of nearly everything you’ve ever done.  There is even a seed of his glory hidden in your sins.  As C.S. Lewis says, “Nothing, not even the best and noblest, can go on [to heaven] as it now is.  Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death.” (The Great Divorce)  Or, as G.K. Chesterton said, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

Some Christians say, “God loves you despite who you are”.  I think that this is going too far.  True, God loves you despite what you’ve done.  But he loves you because of who you are: You are His creation, a bearer of His Image.

If you believe the Bible teaches that you have always been scum and scum is all you will ever be, and that even in eternity you’ll just be scum saved by God’s grace, you will hate yourself.  You will harm yourself.  And ultimately you will give yourself what you think you deserve.

If, on the other hand, you believe that you are fundamentally a bearer of God’s Image, deserving of Hell but destined for Glory, you will love yourself.  You will understand that God values your joy, and even rejoices with you!  God delights in loving you, in having you as a burden, because he is love.

Relient K: “I Am Understood”

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** Yes, I know the lyrics to “You” are an oblique reference to John the Baptist’s words in John 3:30—”He must become greater; I must become less”; but I think the verse is being used in the wrong way.  John the Baptist was referencing his willingness for Jesus’ fame and ministry to become greater than his own; he was not diminishing his own identity and selfhood as the lyrics to this song seem (to me) to do.

IS-ness: God’s Love of Existence

20 06 2011

Why is this discussion about “selfishness” worth your time?

God loves existence. After all... he *made* it!

Ok, I’m quite a few weeks into this series about selfishness, and some of you may be wondering… “Why is he spending so much time on this?  Why does it really matter?”

It matters because self-contempt is incredibly damaging.  The too-frequent talk about selfishness, and the neglect of talk about love has trained many a Christian that God is more happy with you when you are unhappy.  All too often, Christians think that, given two options, God probably wants them to do whichever one would be less pleasant.  This gradually leads to a view that your desires are bad, your joys are bad, and ultimately that you are bad.

Or maybe you think this is closer to the truth?  I hope you'll think again.Such beliefs lead even further: To self-punishment and asceticism.  In New Testament times, it led to an ungodly asceticism, that valued “self-imposed worship, false humility, and harsh treatment of the body” (Col. 2:20-23)  In the middle ages, it led to Flagellantism.  Today, it leads to anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation and suicide.  It is ultimately the adoption by humans of a Satanic core value: The hatred of humanness, the hatred of existence, the hatred of life itself.  The belief that, “I should be self-LESS; I should not exist.  The closer I get to nonexistence—the less of me there is—the better.”

This is diametrically opposed to God’s value system that wants you to exist!  God loves humanness: After all, he made it.  And if there was ever any doubt of his love for it, he hallowed it completely when he became a human.  God has a deep love of existence, a love of life.  A wonderful summary of God’s desire for all of creation is the command that he gives in Ezekiel 16:6: “Live!!!  God doesn’t want less of you; he wants more of you.

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“Without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God…”

10 06 2011

Let’s take this discussion of what it means to “deny yourself” a step further:

And what does “deny” mean anyway?

Theologians have been teaching about the importance of self-knowledge for a loooong time.

It is also really cool to look deeper at the meaning of the word “deny” (as in “deny yourself”).  The Greek word here for “deny” is “aparneomi“, and means, “To affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone; to forget one’s self, lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests”.  So Jesus is saying that you should acknowledge, “I don’t know myself.  I don’t know who I am or what I want.”  This fits in with what I wrote last time: that we are called to let go of the stories we’ve written by ourselves about our lives, and ask God what story He would like to write.

“Know thyself” is indispensible advice!  The famous 16th century theologian John Calvin said that knowledge of God is impossible without it!   But to attain self-knowledge, you first have to “deny yourself”—let go of the self that you thought you knew you were.

But even more exciting is this connection you may not have noticed before: Jesus is telling his disciples to deny themselves, but his statement is specifically in response to what Peter said.  Peter rebuked Jesus because Peter was resistant to the idea of suffering and death on a cross.

”]Jesus’ choice of words here is very powerful, because it was Peter who, on the night Jesus was arrested, “denied” not himself, but Christ – three times.  He should have said, “I don’t know myself, so I’m going to offer myself like a sacrifice up to God and let him give me the life that he would have for me.”  But instead, tragically, he said, “I do not know the man!

In the end, it seems, you have a choice:  Deny yourself, or deny Christ.  Admit that you don’t know yourself, or admit that you don’t know Christ.  Give up your own story of what your life is about, or give up Christ’s story of what your life is about.

I hope you’ll choose the latter: Because both stories include you suffering and dying.  But Jesus’ story includes you being raised from the dead.

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He said “Deny yourself”, not, “Hate yourself”.

6 06 2011

Last time I talked about Jesus’ statement that anyone who wishes to follow him must “deny himself”.

Let’s take a fresh look at what Jesus is saying in these verses, and ask him with open hearts what he really wants us to take from them.

Taking Scripture out of context can have bad results...

Context is always a good place to start.

The context here is that Jesus told his disciples that he was going to be crucified.  Famously, Peter thought this was not such a good idea.  So he pulled Jesus aside and rebuked him for saying that he would be killed.  Jesus’ response: “Get behind me Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Mt. 16:23)

Then Jesus uttered his words about self-denial.  I suggest to you that self-denial means setting your mind on God’s interests over your own.  The point is not that you should despise or insult yourself.  God is not glorified by self-contempt, and nothing in this verse suggests you should hate yourself.  The point is that you should be like Paul’s disciple, Timothy:

For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.  For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:20)

The point isn’t that you are scum and that you’re interests are stupid and worthless.  The point is that Jesus is amazing, and his interests and values are worth your life!

That's a little better. Still technically out of context though...

Jesus’ message is that we should let go of our preconceived ideas of what our lives are about.  When he says that the only way to find your life is to lose it for his sake, he’s saying that in order to have the life that Jesus wants you to have, you have to let go of what you thought your life was.  Maybe you have an idea in your mind of what the story of your life is about.  Denying yourself and giving your life to him means giving him permission to hit “delete” on that whole story and rewrite it from scratch.

This also leads into his words about “taking up your cross”.  Jesus is saying that, as Christ-followers, we must remember that suffering is a crucial part of the story that we are entering into.  The story that the Father wrote for Jesus’ life on earth did not just include, but centered upon, great suffering.  The story that he will write for your life does too.  Will you let go of your story (in which you are insulated from suffering, pain and difficulty) and take up his?

Apparently Superman likes the story he's already got. How about you?

To “deny yourself” doesn’t mean to hate yourself – except in the sense that Jesus uses it in Luke 14:26-27 (quoted above).  If you think Scripture teaches that we should hate ourselves, then this verse also explicitly commands you to hate your mom and dad, your spouse and children, your brothers and sisters as well.  But people who know much more about the Ancient Greek language than I do make it very clear that Jesus is using hyperbole to show that He must be first in your life, and that your devotion to him must far outstrip your devotion to anyone else.  Scripture clearly commands that you are to love not only your family members, but everyone, – including yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)

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