Wednesday, November 30, 2011

To find where all the beauty came from

"It was when I was happiest that I longed most… The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing… to find the place where all the beauty came from."

--C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gatekeepers of Eternal Beauty

A while ago I used the phrase “Gatekeeper of Eternal Beauty” to describe a very dear friend, and it’s become a recurring theme ever since. As Christians, we long for transcendence. We want our lives to count for something infinitely bigger than just the random nothings that the world tells us are so important. But how do we do it, especially when we face so many distractions in our daily lives. I want to offer a suggestion: we need to surround ourselves with Gatekeepers of Eternal Beauty and follow their examples.

In the New Testament, Paul personally taught Timothy how to be a pastor, and then exhorted Timothy to teach others, and for those others to teach others, too. Today, we also need these kinds of Gatekeepers, these friends and mentors who are further down the road of the Christian life than we are. They’ve seen the beauty of God, the Gospel, and eternity better than we have yet, so we spend time with them because we want to think their good thoughts after them, and follow their example. We mimic their hearts and lives so the eternal beauty that’s reflected in their lives gets imprinted onto our lives, too, so that we, too, can increasingly reflect that same beauty to others.

Gatekeepers are not easy to find. They are few and far between, but they are definitely worth the search. If you find a Gatekeeper, befriend him or her as if your life depends on it—because, in one sense, it does. A Gatekeeper watches out for our best interest, often because he or she has already been down the road we’re about to take and knows the dangers we will face. If we want a victorious journey, we must take heed to their exhortations and encouragements.

A Gatekeeper of Eternal Beauty is a student of beauty, a lover of goodness, and a seeker of truth. A Gatekeeper is someone who sees beyond the façade of daily life, and even of a whole lifetime, to eternity, to heaven, to the Gospel, to ultimate reality—the way God sees things. A Gatekeeper is someone who understands that our preoccupation with eternity and the Gospel doesn’t just affect our future status in glory, but our daily life today as well. God has woven His story and His beauty into our daily lives, right here and now. Gatekeepers love life, not because their lives are perfect, but because their hearts know the One who put all the beauty into life, and they are blissfully overwhelmed by Him and by what He does in their lives.

A Gatekeeper is not only a pursuer of beauty, goodness, and truth, but is also a guardian, a sentry who makes sure that we do not lose touch with those issues which matter most. In a metaphorical, shepherding sense, they help us know which gates to enter and depart from, and they send us in the right direction.

Becoming a Gatekeeper happens to those whose worldviews are entrenched and wrapped up in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This world is utterly dark until we understand and receive the forgiveness of God through Christ, who died in our place, as our Substitute on the Cross. That truth, the Gospel, is the cornerstone of all beauty in our lives. Sadly, few of us plumb its depths and its massive implications for the beauty that our lives can enjoy. Why? Because we do not understand how to take the truths we hear and read and reach to the depths of our worldview.

Reprogramming our worldview is not as easy as we may think. Changing our worldview is not about taking a class or reading a book. We can change our beliefs fairly easily, but not our worldviews. They are deeply hidden inside us, and though they get easily programmed when we are children, they get harder and harder to change as we grow up. In fact, it’s difficult to even identify them. A worldview is not what you think about; it’s simply what you think.

Very often our beliefs and our worldviews are polar opposites, even though we don’t necessarily realize it. For example, we can truly believe that life is beautiful, but have worldviews that “know” on a deeper level that life is sad and disappointing. Or we can truly believe that our bodies are good, because God made them, but on a worldview level we may hate our bodies. We can adhere to something in principle, but not really “buy it” internally. And in the contest of belief versus worldview, worldview always wins.

Gatekeepers are people who have deliberately asked God to push eternity into the depths of their thinking and to reprogram their worldview. In Romans 12, after Paul plumbed the depths of the Gospel, the very first way he applies that great theology is by exhorting us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God wants our minds—our worldviews—renewed.

God takes such willing servants and grants them the desires of their hearts, which He Himself planted there. He shapes them into seasoned warriors, passionate poets, more prepared than ever to minister grace to those around them. He makes them better able to cry out to God in prayer than ever before. He gives them eyes to see the angels coming down from the mountain that no one else can see. He helps them see that He really does bring beauty from ashes.

As God transforms our worldviews, He puts into us a greater capacity for joy, and a deep gratitude for the good things in life that He grants us. But whether every dream of ours comes true or not, we find ourselves realizing more and more that life’s beauty does not come from God becoming our personal Genie Who grants all our wishes. We find that beauty is already all around us. Our eyes lose the scales that were over them, and we find our hearts welling up to the point of overflowing. We find ourselves smiling at everyone we meet, not because our lives are perfect, but because no matter what storm we may face, we have the settled conviction that God knows everything that is happening in our lives and has a plan for our good and His glory.

A heart set on fire with that worldview cannot help but want to cherish life and soak in the beauty all around us. The Gospel takes us to the point where we want to give and give and give, to be “wasted for Christ.” A heart set on fire for God knows how much it’s been chosen, forgiven, loved, wooed, cherished, and protected. Gatekeepers put all of life’s circumstances through that paradigm—that filter, that grid. As with all of life, any particular situation isn't just about that situation; it's about something much bigger. It’s about the Gospel and about ultimate reality, about how the circumstances of our lives reflect or explain God's character, His salvation plan, and heaven. There is a always massive theme going on behind the scenes, and though we can't see it yet, it's there.

If your heart is focused on God’s beauty, you will find that you will naturally surround yourself with Gatekeepers because those cherished moments in their company are what make life seem healthy, whole, and beautiful. You’ll find yourself asking them what they are reading, what they’ve been thinking about, what songs they’ve been singing, and what kind of art they’ve been enjoying or creating. You’ll find that you have conversations that you look back on with amazement. The cheap stuff of life—the gossip, the celebrities, the tv shows, the pursuit of more and more “stuff”—will show its true colors, and will sicken you. You won’t reject the cheap side of life because a preacher told you to, or because you read about it in a book; you will reject it because you really want to, and you will replace it with the true beauty—God’s beauty. Changing our worldviews is not about setting up a list of dos and don’ts; it’s about truly wanting to pursue God, from the heart.

Some of us might feel discouraged by these concepts because though we want that kind of life, we feel like it’s out of reach. If you don’t feel like much of a Gatekeeper, like you really want to be but can’t imagine how you’ll ever get there, take heart. Chances are you’re already on the path and don’t realize it. The key is not our perfection, but our direction. We don’t need to focus on where we think we should be or could be by now. We need to ask ourselves what makes our heart soar and what makes us feel like we are home. We need to ask ourselves what are the deepest desires of our hearts. If what you want most in life is to tell others about what God has done for them in Christ, and to glorify God with your life, and enjoy and share the beauty He’s given us in Himself and in His creation, then you are already well on the way to being a Gatekeeper. You’re already marching to the beat of a different drum than the world; keep marching. May we not grow weary.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ambitions

"Oh, it's delightful to have ambitions. I'm so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them--that's the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting."

--L.M. Montgomery

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

To glorify Him is to enjoy Him is to glorify Him

"The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever'. But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him."

--C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Add some beauty to life

"I'd like to add some beauty to life," said Anne dreamily. "I don't exactly want to make people KNOW more... though I know that IS the noblest ambition... but I'd love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me... to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn't been born."

--L.M. Montgomery, Anne's House of Dreams.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Grace and Maturity in Community

In our relationships with friends, family, loved ones, and even strangers, we deal constantly with expectations and disappointments. People let us down, and differences surprise us. We get taken aback, and sometimes hurt or offended by what they say and do or fail to say and do. It's in these contexts that so many of us fall into the common trap of losing sight of the preciousness of life itself, and of relationships with those who are not like us.

There are so many different levels on which all of us can be offended or disappointed. Even in our small communities, connected by blood or connected by shared values, we can find disagreement among ourselves sometimes. We find varying worldviews and opinions even among people whose beliefs appear, at first glance, nearly identical.

I wonder what it is about us, especially for those of us who claim to be children of God, that feels we have the right and need to be so judgmental, and even to write people off. I have been written off before, and have known others who have, too, and though it is painful, it is more sad for Christians who make it an option to write others off.

It is tragic that the grace we have been shown at the Cross seems to make so little difference in our lives. I have seen people proclaim with their whole heart that they were committed to grace, truth, beauty, love, and kindness, and yet easily issue the nastiest of comments in vicious tones. As James says, these things ought not to be.

We are all entitled to make up our own minds about issues of Christian liberty. As Paul wrote, "Let everyone be convinced in his own mind." Everyone makes up his or her own mind about his or her beliefs and their application. We are all also are free to learn and grow without the stigmatism of having to reach up to others’ standards. Growth takes time, and even what we think of as “maturity” changes, and thus the goal of what a good, mature Christian experience looks like takes different shapes for us as we go through life.

I wonder why we are so quick to criticize those who hear the beat of a different drum. Why are we so disdainful of people who think differently than we do, or who are not yet convinced the way we are? Why does it feel so appropriate to write off those who choose to think differently from the group and the culture? Why are we so threatened by people who are not like we are?

If we want to be quick to judge others and write them off, especially over issues of Christian liberty, we should remember that there are many other Christians who will write us off for something as well. We all could make a list a mile long with issues and perspectives that make us unique and which the different Christian sub-cultures tend to focus on.  And the people who will write off those who are even slightly different are a dime a dozen. Does anyone out there want to be different than that?

What a beautiful choice it is to take the path of not getting offended at people who see things differently.  That does not mean that we make truth unimportant, or make all opinions equally valid, and it certainly does not mean we accept sinful mindsets.  But it does mean that grace prevails when differences arise, especially among fellow believers.


Grace and maturity in community make life more beautiful as a result, open up doors for appropriate compromise and dialogue, and give us the freedom to let people be different, yet still valuable to us. They let us ask God what paths He would have us travel, and give us the peace and patience to let others travel different roads without condemning or distancing ourselves from them. They keep misunderstandings from becoming arguments, and keep disagreements from becoming separations.

A long time ago I chose to embrace certain premises, which I know I don’t always live up to, but I’m aiming at them, and want to share them.

• No matter what differences arise between me and others, we cannot not lose sight of the fact that others' very existence is a precious miracle, and that they have infinite value to God. The very fact that they are alive, and that God has brought them across our path, is of profound importance. Writing off anyone, especially a believer, is essentially saying that they are worthless, when in reality, they are destined for glory, we will worship together at the feet of Jesus for eternity, and chances are that even in this life, what we think of as a disagreement will look completely different--whether years later or even sooner.

• We are all interpreting other people through our personal worldview perspective, which may be wrong or imbalanced even though it feels right, based on how we were raised by our families. We all have paradigms and filters that we can't understand.  Most of us do not even know what they really are, and many of us could not even get close to truly figuring them out even if we tried really hard, because they run so deep.  We are all faulty in various ways, and so are our filters and perceptions.

• Others have a worldview shaped by their upbringing and experiences that we do not know about and which may be vastly different from our own and from what we expected from them. That does not make it necessarily wrong, but different.  We are compelled to pursue an open dialogue, and ask others to share where they come from—not to dictate how they must change.

• Everyone has a culture. Family culture. National culture. Church culture. Personality uniquenesses. To miss the background someone is coming from, and to fail to see it as not only important, but valuable, is a sad, tunnel-visioned perspective.

• Everyone has an agenda. We do not know what anyone's agenda is, and an individual may not even be aware of it. We do not know their motivations, and whether those motivations are conscious or subconscious. Is it fear? Despair? Self-protection? Hope? Good will? A desire to bless others?  We do not easily know others' motivations, nor do we know if they themselves are aware, nor do we know how much common ground does or does not exist that can be used to build bridges.

• Everyone has a story. We do not know where they have been. We have not walked in their shoes. We do not know at what point in that story we have walked in. We may be entering their lives at a crucial point—and thus our responses to them may be more important than we realize. What we do or fail to do in those contexts may have extraordinary implications in their lives.

• Everyone wears a mask to some extent. That does not imply that we're all supposed to be trying to pry those masks off from others to get to the core of what they are about, but it does mean that we acknowledge that there is much more than meets the eye. The surface impression may ultimately prove to be extremely different from reality. If we make snap judgments, we will miss the boat.

• The “issue" is usually not the full issue, or even the issue at all. What we communicate to others is often just the surface of what we are really thinking or feeling. Maturity compels us to be careful what we say or allow ourselves to feel if we are not yet able to be fully open, and maturity also compels us to both take people at face value and yet realize that there is almost always more to be said to truly understand what they meant.

• There are three sides to every story and perspective: the two people telling the story or sharing their perspective, and reality. Maturity involves admitting that dynamic and choosing to pursue humility and communication, not to cut off relationships and write people off. We rarely have all the facts, and even when we may have all the facts, we rarely understand them and the full context in which they occurred.

• We are accountable before God for every word that comes from our mouths. We are responsible to have our speech be seasoned with salt, and to have the law of kindness be on our tongues.

• Relationships take work. People who want every friendship or relationship to be an instant perfect fit of kindred spirits, or else nothing at all, are sadly mistaken about how life and people work. We buy into the lie, especially in relationships, that others must be nearly perfect, and every part of a relationship must be nearly perfect, or we write the whole thing off. Good relationships happen when you have two good communicators and forgivers who resolve to focus on the value of the people and of the relationship, over any other issue.

• Relationships take time. People change and grow, and the important point is to grow together, not apart. Friends and lovers alike will be blessed by not looking for instant gratification or instant perfection in the relationship; the beauty of just doing life together, and letting God open doors, change hearts, and create beauty on His timetable, is crucial to our happiness and healthiness in relationships.

• We are our brother and sister’s keeper. We are responsible for their well-being, even if we disagree with them.  We are compelled by God's grace to guard others' souls, even those we think of as unlovely or different.

• We are not called to judge people. We are called to testify to God's grace, and sometimes that requires pointing out sin so that we can point to the Cross, but our focus is not to examine every person inside and out to see if they measure up to us or to some other standard.  Our desire is to constantly bless and serve everyone around us, and to do so with a spirit of humility and grace

• We are called to be people of grace. Grace means we show kindness, whether or not it is "deserved"; in fact, we learn to ignore and remove the question of what people "deserve"; we simply treat them as the precious people that they are, no matter what. The ones who treat us badly we treat with even more love, because we know how deeply blind and imprisoned they must be, and we remember when we were blind prisoners, so we delight to show them how to see, and how to escape the bonds of sin and move into the beauty of a life of grace.

• God’s heart is for His people to be unified. He hates broken relationships. If I am offended by someone, I have the responsibility to try to restore that relationship, even though I am the one offended.  Restoration is not always possible, but as much as we can, we dwell in peace with others.  If I am the offender, I doubly have the responsibility to pursue forgiveness and unity. God loves when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity.

• God’s heart is for us to not speak evil of each other. Giving a bad report about others, tearing them down, whether to their face or in gossip with others, is displeasing to God. He longs for us to embrace each other as community, not tear at each other as wolves. His heart is for us to pray about our differences in a context of appreciation and gratitude, and to keep lines of communication open, not send messages that attempt to make others feel personally diminished or their opinion relegated to unimportance.

 • Life is precious, no matter what.  Life is also shortsometimes much shorter than we expectand the time God gives us to interact with others is to be used wisely and for His glory.  We rejoice not just in the similar friends we have, but in everyone who is made in the image of God and with whom we may be spending eternity at His feet, praising Him together.  Life is beautiful, and human life is of infinite value to God, enough to send His Son to die for to redeem.  Why do we tend to treat it so casually and rudely?


I double my resolve to make increasing effort to show people grace and kindness in my speech, and to let differences be opportunities for friendships to flourish, not to be cut off, and for dialogue and negotiation. God calls us to be people of grace, and a watching world will see when kindness slips off our tongues and permeates our relationships, and they will take notice. And when they do, to God be the glory.