“The acute experience of great beauty readily evokes a nameless yearning for something more than earth can offer. Elegant splendor reawakens our spirit’s aching need for the infinite, a hunger for more than matter can provide.” – Thomas Dubay
We’ve been in self-quarantine / lockdown for over a month. Each day I’m asking myself questions about what I’m learning. I’m looking for lessons, both big and small. Some days, I come up short and can’t seem to find the lesson.
This morning I was reflecting on some interesting aspects of my life. There are themes that seem to rise to the surface now and then. One of those themes is beauty.
The further down the path of life I wander, the more important beauty and wonder become. The more of the hurt and pain I see and experience in the world, the more I find myself searching for that which is beautiful. Beauty is a salve for the human soul.
When I was younger, I was an artist of sorts. From an early age, I had a keen interest in music and visual art. I started drawing and painting at a very young age, I got my first drum set at 3 or 4 years old and my first tape recorder when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. I would listen to the radio and record my favorite songs. It wouldn’t be long (7th grade) before I would get my first turntables and mixer. My first DJ gig was at the end of 7th grade – a birthday party for a classmate. I have tinkered with various instruments my entire life. As an introvert and only child, I would sit in my room for hours drawing and building things both real and imagined.
I was a poor student in school, but I always excelled in art and writing. In fact, I was nearly headed to art school for college. I had my eyes set on Parson’s School of Design or Rhode Island School of Design. I had a great art instructor at my boarding school in Connecticut. Over 4 years, she showed me different ways to see the world. However, the rigid demands of creating a portfolio in Advanced Placement art class to submit to colleges proved to be too rigid. Add on top of that a growing interest in social activities and sports – and I walked away from ‘art school’ but not art or beauty.
Some of my fondest memories; are of exploring the woods around Avon Old Farms School (CT), wandering down to Bondi Beach (outside Sydney) to watch the surf, sitting on the top of a truck staring at the expanse of sky with friends at midnight in the middle of the Australian outback, relaxing on a balcony in Costa Rica with my wife watching birds circling in flight over the ocean and beholding a Texas sunset in the country with my family. These are just a few memories off the top of my mind. I have hundreds more.
Some of my best friends are extraordinary artists. To be able to see and hear the beautiful artifacts that emerge from them is a privilege and joy of the highest order.
A shift occurred
When I reflect back to why I loved beauty and art when I was younger vs. today, I learn that a major shift has taken place. When I was younger, I loved beauty and art mainly because it was an escape from reality. I wanted and needed to find a way out of the chaos and brokenness of my life. Beauty and art brought a kind of order and control. As I’ve gotten older and matured, I have learned that beauty is rooted in ultimate reality and an artist’s personality is the prism through which we see that reality. It is colored and shaped by the artist’s perceptions and expression outward.
So, why do we need beauty?
I have concluded that beauty points to an ultimate reality that remains thinly veiled in this life. From a Christian understanding, we live in a broken world that is slavishly chained to time. Everything, and I mean everything we see, hear and create will eventually decay or be destroyed. On the surface, this is kind of sad. But, if we consider ‘why’ beauty exists in the first place and ‘why’ we humans seem to need beauty – we begin to understand that the beauty we enjoy points to something else.
Beauty points to an ultimate reality and truth rooted in God’s character and expressed through his created order. Before the ‘fall’ of man into brokenness, God called His creation ‘good’. Since the fall, man has attempted to get back to that original state of goodness. Because we are all created in the image of God (Imago DeÍ), humans, like prisms reflect, refract and shape expressions of our creator’s beauty and goodness.
When we experience or express something beautiful, we’re getting a glimpse of an ultimate reality that is purely beautiful. We are seeing but shadows of that original ‘goodness’ cast onto the paths of this short life. When you see or hear something astoundingly beautiful, know that the reason why you love it and want it to last forever is because, beauty, goodness and truth are eternal. In this life, we merely perceive and enjoy dim glimpses of what was originally intended and what ultimately will come.
And so, if the world is slavish, harsh and cold, beauty is the warm inviting fire emanating a kindly light. We need beauty because, whether you believe it or not, beauty is a way that a good God reminds us that he love’s us.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart …” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
I have been on staff as the Local Outreach Pastor at Christ Chapel Bible Church headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas for 6 years. We have campuses in Willow Park and Burleson as well. My main role is deploying our people into the community serving as the ‘hands and feet’ of Jesus Christ.
For as long as I remember, Christ Chapel has had a motto that we’re ‘a church without walls’.
That has been our aim. A mature Christian is a servant in his or her community. Whether its volunteering at a shelter for those experiencing homelessness or ministering to the widow down the street, my mission is to get our people to live missional lives of service. Biblical faith in Jesus Christ will bear the fruit of serving others. We are to be ‘doers of the Word, not hearers only…”
Like any other church, you have those crusaders who need no direction or encouragement, they just go and do. Additionally, you also have those folks who need to be encouraged, coached and directed to take a first step into service. Finally, like most churches, there is a small population of fence-sitters who attend church services faithfully on Sundays but absolutely refuse to serve anyone other than themselves. They are consumers, not contributors – which is antithetical to Biblical faith in action.
That said, there are those faithful who are physically unable to serve due to age or disability or illness. But, they will pray, support and do what they can to undergird gospel ministry. I’d add that those who serve as intercessory ‘prayer warriors’ form the backbone of the church.
We have been praying that our church would become the ‘church without walls’ we’ve claim to be for years. Today, I’m glad to announce that we are now a church without walls! Thanks to the COVID19 pandemic, local congregations across the globe cannot gather within the walls of a building we call ‘a church’. Referring to the church as building is a misnomer, because the church is not a place, it is a people. The Church is the redeemed universal body of believers in Jesus Christ who is Lord over all. The Coronavirus pandemic has stripped down the walls of the church gathering place and forced Christians outside. We are now a ‘church without walls.’
There is no going back.
The church throughout the ages has run into the flames of adversity, injustice, pestilence, war and famine to provide care, compassion and assistance to those in desperate need. If you think church is a Sunday affair of dressing up, going to a building, singing some songs, seeing friends and listening to a sermon, I encourage you to read the book of Acts. Biblical faith has always been active, outward-bound and other-focused by serving others. We are called to be the church without walls. That was God’s original intent when He designed how His people would go about His business across the globe throughout history. His command has always been ‘Go’.
The true Church is a church without walls. It never had walls. We are being reminded of that in this historical moment.
Now, go and do in Jesus’ name.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” – James 1:22
The band, Pink Floyd made this question famous on their 1979 album, “The Wall”. Under the haunting drones of synth chords and samples from the TV series, Gunsmoke, the listener is confronted with the question, “Is there anybody out there?” The question is repeated as the melancholy of the soundscape rises and finally breaks into a ethereal acoustic guitar melody accompanied by lonely violin. It provides some relief but not quite enough. The question still lingers about the mind, “Is there anybody out there?” It’s truly a genius two and a half minutes of music.
In the Pink Floyd movie “The Wall” this song plays at the point where the bitter and alienated Pink (the main character) is attempting to reach anybody outside of his self-built wall. The repeated question “Is there anybody out there?” suggests that no response is heard (1).
I remember back to my music and DJ days when I would be in the DJ booth playing records to a packed club of hundreds of people, yet there was an underlying sense of alienation. I could see people around me – but why does the question still gnaw at my soul? “Is there anybody out there?” Does anyone even care?
There have been seasons in my life when I’ve felt alone. Even when I had family and friends around, I suffered from disconnectedness. At points, this lead to depression and anxiety. Its hard recognize from the outside. By God’s grace and the love of family and friends, I don’t suffer like I did so many years ago. However, there are shadows of how I felt in those seasons that remain as a remembrance. I think it is important that I remember rather than forget what it’s like to feel alone. There can be no deep ministry to others without memories of our own misery.
Today, many people feel alienated and lonely in our technology-driven, pseudo-connected, over-stimulated, hyper-autonomous and instant gratification-focused cultural moment. We’ve relegated our relationships and existence to online platforms, how can we not be driven to alienation?
I think a dangerous new religion is emerging in the West. It’s called Alienation.
It has its own doctrines of disconnect and loneliness. We carry our slick, shiny, flat-screened idols in our hands all day. It’s sacraments are dopamine drips through a communion of ‘likes’ and screen scrolling. It’s worship is seen on the altar where authentic human relationships go to be sacrificed. Alienation has its own cathedrals built for one. It has its own hymns and liturgy and even ideology and emerging politics. The enlightened state of the religion of alienation is loneliness and ultimately, despair. This despair brings some to their own end at their own hands – the ultimate sacrifice.
“Contemporary man is alienated. He is alienated from the past because he has no cultural roots anymore. He’s been taught to despise the past. He is alienated from a real vibrant society – his social ties are thin and few. That shows up in his sexual habits which seem to have no meaning beyond that of the pleasure or the despair of the moment. He has very little connection with the natural world – the outside world.
If I could jump into Pink Floyd’s 1979 masterpiece, I would add one three letter word at the end… “Yes!”
Yes, there is someone out there, just like you. In fact millions, just like you. Human beings all over our world just wanting to connect in an authentic and meaningful way. But how do we overcome alienation that has become so pervasive?
It starts with a light switch. We begin by turning on the lights in the dark room for those who are lonely so they can see that there are others in the room.
We must recognize alienation and loneliness and label them as enemies of what is good, true and beautiful about the human experience. Humans are hardwired to connect with others. When humans don’t have connections, they can’t live meaningful lives of vibrance. We need relationships – we need each other. Our creator designed us to be in relationship.
We must restore what has been lost in this current lonely age.
If we do nothing, I fear that history will see this chapter as the loneliest in western culture. It doesn’t have to be this way. But it starts with you and me. Whether its the kitchen, the campfire or the nursing home on the holidays, we must be intentional about bringing life back to life. We bring hope and connection to the lonely lives of others and ourselves.
Restoration overcomes alienation. We must work to rescue one another from the cold grip of loneliness and despair. We restore lives through relationships.
To the haunting voice that asks, “Is there anybody out there?” We must break through self-built walls and shout, “Yes, we are here!” and “You are not alone!” and “God loves you and so do we!”
Now, go and do. The cure for alienation is real-life personal connection. That connection needs to be restored.
“And he (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’…” (Acts 17:26-28a)
The Bible says, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” “It is the law of the cross, it is a sacrificial law. Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest… Heavy luggage is a cure for weary hearts.” So, we must bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
– F.W. Boreham
In times of cynicism, banality, negativity and outrage there are two kinds of people. There are those who race to the bottom and make things worse. Then, there are those who elevate the cultural conversation and take action.
A few bad actors don’t make an entire group of people bad.
Don’t judge a philosophy by its misuse.
What is meant for good can be used for evil and vice versa.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.
Worldview matters. A vital key to understanding reality is to know what is good, what is true and what is beautiful. Only when we know those core essentials can we create a vision of restoration and act on it. C.S. Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”
Engage reality – create solutions, combat evil, restore people and relationships.
Ask these four questions
1. What is good you can celebrate?
2. What is missing you can contribute or create?
3. What is evil you can stop?
4. What is broken you can restore?
Develop these three life skills
Wisdom (the art of living well in light of objective truth – in community, in our cultural moment)
Discernment (identifying the nature of things – good or evil)
Moral Courage (the will to stand for what is good, true and beautiful)
Goodness, truth and beauty find their source in God. When you look at a world in crisis, ask yourself; What is Good, True and Beautiful? When you experience brokenness, understand that it’s not supposed to be this way. Ask the four questions before racing to the bottom.
Elevate the conversation and respond with your heart set on restoration.
Practice – Training
Next time you sit with your family for dinner, ask each person to share something good, true and beautiful they’ve experienced today. Challenge them to focus on these things over the next week – to see their reality differently. When we know what is good, true and beautiful – we can frame solutions to all the bad stuff and negativity in our world. Our ministry is based on a good, true and beautiful God. Its from that foundation that we deal with sin, brokenness, evil and pain. Our mission is reconciliation and restoration.
*Note: The ideas in this post flow from Colson Fellows course study and talks given by John Stonestreet (Colson Center). I am thankful for those who stir the hearts and minds of men to think carefully in our culture.
My alarm goes off at 4:45am. I get up and get moving toward the coffee source. I gather my gear and head to swim practice with the local US Masters team that kicks off at 5:30am. I do this two to three times per week. It keeps me in shape and typically brings me a good deal of pleasure.
The swim team is a great group of folks of various ages, ethnicities and skill levels. There are some very talented swimmers in the pool every day.
Over the last year, I have been struggling with my swim and a cloud of frustration seemed to lay over me. I didn’t notice how bad it had gotten until a couple days ago. I mean, swimming is my favorite sport. I really enjoy it. Or do I? The thought of ‘hanging it up’ had crossed my mind a couple times over the last couple months. That has never happened before.
Every morning when I show up to practice, this hotshot college swimmer jumps into my lane. He seems to only show up to practice when I’m there. Sometimes, I’m warming up in a lane alone and he jumps into my lane. He is way faster than me and he lets me know it.
Boy does this cocky punk get under my skin. Everyday I’m in the pool, he’s there talking smack to me. I get pissed off and begin swimming harder and harder – not concentrating on my stroke. I’m just pounding the water and feel like I’m treading water or (worse) swimming backwards! He just laughs and blazes right passed me, leaving me in his wake. He steals my enjoyment with every lap.
After Tuesday’s practice, I had a conversation with a guy who’s about my age and swims on the team as well. He’s a solid swimmer and continues to swim competitively. I was complaining about my swimming and shared my frustration. You see, I swam competitively in high school and college. I wasn’t always the fastest swimmer but I was a good and I could hold my own. I was sprinter. Short races were my specialty. However, at 44 years old, I was frustrated and I expressed that to my teammate.
He said, “I’m not as fast as I was when I was younger. But that’s okay – I focus on the future.” We parted ways and I went home not thinking much of it.
A couple hours later it hit me! I admitted to myself that the hotshot college punk swimmer in my lane everyday was ME. I was trying to compete with a 20 year old me. There is no way I can do that at 44 years old. Do you know what? That is just fine. There are a ton of things I can do at 44 that I could not even dream of doing at 20.
When I jumped into my lane this morning, the college punk didn’t show up. I focused on swimming into the future. It was one of the most enjoyable swims I’ve had in a long time. I stopped my teammate after practice and thanked him for his encouraging words. He said, “We just need to keep reminding each other to focus on the future.”
It’s interesting how we let our self-talk influence our mindset. How past experiences, both positive and negative affect our lives today. Sometimes it takes a few words from someone else to open our eyes and change our outlook.
Do not let the younger you criticize you today. Past mistakes, failings, triumphs and victories do not define you today. Focus on the future. As your physical strength quotient declines, your wisdom and experience quotient increases. There is more joy to be had in the future than in the past.
Focus on the future, Encourage someone else today and NEVER EVER QUIT!
“Your own performance is either improved or diminished by the other people in your scenario.”
The following was adapted from a talk delivered on January 20, 2019 at Christ Chapel Bible Church in Ft. Worth, TX. Sanctity of Human Life Sunday
Imagine a baby in the womb – warm and safe. It’s a little boy. He’s not aware of the outside world. He just knows he’s safe.
Meanwhile, his parent’s marriage is falling apart as brokenness and selfishness drive a wedge between his mother and father. The fighting intensifies into a crisis.
With the little boy in her womb, the mother goes to her doctor filled with hurt and fear. She asks physician to get rid of the little boy she is carrying. The doctor replies, “I will not do that.” He sends her away. The little boy doesn’t know how close he came to death that day.
As the fearful young mother leaves the doctor’s office alone, Something inside her changes…
She chooses to keep the child regardless of what happens with her marriage. She whispers to herself, “He is mine! He is my little boy. Come what may.”
And so the little boy is born into chaos and brokenness. His parents divorce but the fighting and turmoil will continue for years to come.
A few years pass by and the little boy begins first grade. The first weeks are a struggle because he gets out of school hours before his mother gets off work. She juggles work and picking him up from school. It’s not working out.
One day when the mom picks up the little boy at the church where the school bus drops off the children, she sees a little lady looking after the children on the playground. She is older, kindly and not quite 5 feet tall. The mother introduces herself and points out her little boy on the playground with the other children. She says to the little lady, “Do you see that little boy playing over there? He is mine.” The mother tells the little lady of her struggles picking up her little boy after school.
The mother asks, “Would you be willing to look after my little boy until I get off work?”
“Of course, I will look after him.” responds the little lady with a warm smile.
And God quietly sends a missionary into the lives of the little boy and his mother.
The little lady cares for him, prays for him and loves him. She shares Jesus with the little boy. In the midst of the chaos and struggles going on around him, the little boy has an anchor.
Years pass and the little lady encourages the little boy to make a decision about Christ and be baptized. He does and there is great joy – at least for a little while…
The little boy gets a little older and leaves home for boarding school far away. The little lady continues to pray and intercede for him. She sends him letters encouraging him and reminding him he is loved by God. He visits her when he’s home sometimes.
Time and distance grow between the boy and the little lady. She is growing old but she never ceases praying for him day and night.
The boy begins to wander into the shadows and valleys becoming enchanted with darkness. Now, he is at college far from home. He becomes entangled in snares and brambles of sin. The boy meets a girl on his dark path. They have a relationship and she becomes pregnant with their own child.
BUT, THE BOY HAS CHANGED He has grown selfish, hard-hearted and filled with fear, shame and anger. He persuades the girl to kill the child in her womb. And with the death of his child at his own hand – something inside of the boy dies too.
From far away, the little lady senses trouble. She launches salvos of prayer into the very halls of heaven. But, no answers come into the life of the boy.
Time passes as the void left in the boy’s life is flooded with more darkness, shame and destruction. The boy attempts to remain afloat pursuing worldly pleasures to sedate the pain, as he tumbles into the abyss.
And one day, the little lady who had prayed and prayed for the boy dies and goes to the Father in Heaven. Still, no answers in the boy’s life… Did the sustaining prayers die with the little lady?
Many years later, the boy has fallen into a deep pit in the valley of shadows – exhausted, ashamed and lost. He believes the only way out is to die by his own hand. After all, it is what he deserves.
THEN, SOMETHING CHANGES In the boy’s darkest moment, mighty God shuts the mouth of the roaring lion. He stays the hand of the enemy and declares, “This one is mine!”
Into this dark valley of shadows, the good shepherd seeks and searches for the one that wandered off. Over the mountains and through the valleys and brambles he finds the one he is searching for. He stoops down and lifts up the lost sheep. And he returns it to the fold with the others.
Do you see that sheep laying torn, bloodied and exhausted so very close to the good shepherd’s feet? Can you see him resting there?
The good shepherd with wounded hands binds the wounds of this sheep. The shepherd looks into the tired and tearing eyes of the trembling sheep and whispers, “I have a plan and purpose for you. From the time you were in your mother’s womb, I watched over you and protected you. I love you more than you will ever know.”
A light dawns on the horizon of the boy’s life. And so the boy limps and stumbles down a path toward God.
Now imagine a magnificent morning in heaven. Absolutely glorious. The little lady goes up to worship and praise the Father with the multitudes. The halls of heaven fill with God’s glory. An angel steps forward to announce that the little lady’s prayer for the little boy has come up for memorial before the Father – a prayer from decades ago – that God would bless, protect and use the little boy.
And so the Father in Heaven listens and sends forth a gentle rain of answered prayer into the life of the boy.
I am that boy.
I STAND before you today under that gentle rain of answered prayer – to bear witness to what God has done and proclaim the Gospel to the nations.
You are loved by God. He sees your pain and affliction, and extends a hand of reconciliation and peace.
Note: I must note the imagry captured about the lost sheep was inspired by FW. Borhham’s “The Pasture Green a Journey Through Palsm 23”. The imagery of answered prayer as a “gentle rain” was inspired by O. Halesby’s book, “Prayer”. I highly recommend Boreham and O. Halesby to fellow pilgrims. They will enrich your life beyond measure.
This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.