By Tony Merida

OrdinarySocial causes come and go like bad fashion trends, sometimes quite literally: what color bracelet are you wearing this month?

Surely our consumer-conditioned attention spans have something to do with this, but let’s be real: when you care about something enough to devote serious time and energy, it can be discouraging when the anticipated results never materialize.

Many people know they should care for the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, but few are motivated to do this over the course of a lifetime. Jesus reminds his followers, “You always have the poor with you” (Mark 14:7). In other words, we ain’t gonna solve poverty anytime soon.

How in the world can we keep up the good work when it feels like a lost cause? Good theology.

Theological types often get stereotyped as all head and no heart. This is unfortunate because a few key doctrines of the faith provide the sustainable inspiration we need for a lifetime of good works.

Love everybody, because imago Dei

If we believe that everyone is made in the image of God—imago Dei—then everyone is worthy of dignity, love, basic human rights, and hearing biblical truth.

Those who abuse people made in God’s image through enslavement, torture, rape, and grinding poverty, are dehumanizing people and insulting God Himself. Many victims of human trafficking and abuse report how they felt inhumane after being oppressed.

Those who believe in the imago Dei should live out their theology through practical acts of love for the oppressed and vulnerable.

Show mercy, because redemption

The Bible records for us the story of God coming to save people. When we were enslaved, He freed us. When we were orphans, He adopted us. When we were sojourners, He welcomed us. When we were widows, Christ became our groom.

The mercy and justice of God meet at the cross, where our redemption comes from. We needed His redemption because we cannot live up to the standard God has set. But One did. Jesus Christ is the ultimate display of a life of righteousness and justice. Through repentance and faith in Christ, we are clothed in His righteousness.

Now, as believers, we have power to live just lives, and when we fail, we know God won’t crush us, for He has already crushed Christ in our place. Now we pursue justice because we love God, and have already been accepted in Him.

We want to show mercy. That’s what God’s redemption has done for us.

Stay hopeful, because restoration

The good news about injustice isn’t only that we’re making some progress today, though we are. We take heart knowing that the King of kings will return to restore this broken world, bringing perfect peace—shalom.

In the coming Kingdom, will be no more orphans; no more trafficking; no more abuse. This fallen world will give way to glory. Doing justice and mercy is about showing the world what our King is like. It involves bringing the future into the present, that is, giving people a taste now of what the future will be like then.

When you welcome the stranger, share the good news among the nations, cultivate diverse friendships, adopt children, or defend the defenseless, you are simply living as the King’s people before a watching world. We don’t fight the problems of this fallen world as victims, but as victors.

Work for good not grace, because justification

We can’t keep God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves perfectly. But Jesus has kept the Great Commandments perfectly for us. And only Christ can justify us. Only Jesus can make us ordinary citizens of the kingdom of God.

Justification means “just as if I’ve never sinned” and “just as if I’ve always obeyed perfectly,” as my friend Daniel Akin has said. Jesus Christ can forgive you entirely, and give you His perfect righteousness.

Justified people stand accepted in Christ. So, don’t look to yourself or your good deeds for salvation, but trust in Christ alone. From this acceptance and justified position, we can live in the power of the Holy Spirit to do good to all your neighbors. Tim Keller explains how receiving the good news leads to a life of good deeds:

Before you can give neighbor love, you need to receive it. Only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need (Generous Justice, 77).

In other words, justification leads to justice for others. Receive— and give—the neighbor love of the Great Samaritan, and give Him thanks.

Always remember the people

My focus flowing from these theological motivations is on people.

You may do justice and mercy through large-scale, political and social transformation like William Wilberforce, who worked to abolish slavery. Or you may do mercy and justice through simple acts like welcoming a foster child.

In whatever case, let’s do it all in effort to bless people. Because people are made in God’s image, because people need redemption, and because people will one day dwell with God in the new heavens and the new earth where everything will be finally transformed, we should be seriously interested in how to love our neighbors as ourselves—our orphaned neighbors, our lonely neighbors, our impoverished neighbors, our enslaved neighbors, our racially different neighbors, and our lost neighbors.

That’s how God loves us, as good theology helps us understand.

For more on this topic, see Tony Merida’s new book Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down.

Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. Tony is the author of OrdinaryFaithful Preaching, co-author of Orphanology, and serves as a general editor and as contributor to the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series along with David Platt and Danny Akin. He is married to Kimberly, with whom he has five adopted children.

Tim Challies

I trust God with my soul. I do. I have no other hope in life and death but the confidence that I am in Christ for all eternity. I trust God with my soul, but for some reason have a much tougher time trusting him with the souls of my kids. I wonder if you can identify with the struggle.

I am convinced that God saved me by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I did nothing to merit this salvation. There is nothing in me that turned God’s eye in my direction. There is no vestige of goodness that compelled him to look my way. I was not seeking him when he began seeking me. It was all of his grace without even the smallest bit of my merit. I added nothing to my salvation but the sin that made it necessary.

I believe all this about myself, but somehow find it more difficult to believe when it comes to my children. Now it’s not quite as simple as you might think: I have seen enough of my kids to know that they suffer from the same total depravity as their father. I know they have no merit to bring before the Lord. No, my problem is deeper than that, and a little more difficult to root out.

When it comes to my kids, I seem to want to believe that God’s action is dependent upon my action. I believe that for God to save my kids, I first need to do the right things. If I want God to save them, I need to cross the spiritual t’s and dot the spiritual i’s. And if I don’t, well, their salvation may just be questionable. When it comes to their eternal destiny, it’s like he isn’t looking to their good deeds, but to mine, as if they will be justified by my merit or condemned by my lack of merit.

I don’t actually articulate this, but I see it trying to manifest itself in my life.

I see it when family devotions subtly switch from a time of worshipping God to a means of twisting God’s arm: If I do family devotions every day, will you save them then? Or perhaps more clearly: If I don’t do it for a couple of days, are they still savable?

I see it when my decisions come from a place of fear rather than a place of confidence and when I determine that what is best for the kids must be what looks safest for them: If I choose this school or that league, could that somehow remove them from your grace? Will it all be my fault?

I see it when I ask them how they are doing with their personal devotions and realize I am not asking out genuine concern to see how they are pursuing the Lord and what they are learning from him. Instead, I am asking them because personal devotions are one more way that dad ought to be nudging God toward my kids.

I see it when I pray for them and I am almost tempted to tell God why he owes it to me to save them: God, I’ve done what I can and I’ve done pretty well; won’t you save them now? What more do I have to do to know that they are saved? What do I need to do to set them up for salvation?

In those ways and many more I seem to think that I can earn my kids’ salvation. And if I can’t earn it through my good deeds, surely I can at least negate it by my negligence. Can’t I?

Centuries ago a man named Isaac had two children, one of whom loved and followed the Lord and one of whom rejected and abandoned the Lord. There must have been someone who looked at Esau, and then looked at Isaac and Rebecca and said, “I wonder what they did wrong? What did they do that messed up that boy?” But God said, “Isaac I have loved and Esau I have hated.” It was all in God’s hands and it was all part of his good plan. It wasn’t what the parents did or didn’t do. It was God’s good will. The good and kind and loving God ruled over it all.

And the same is true for my children. They can’t earn their salvation and I can’t earn it for them. I believe the Lord has saved or will save them and they will be saved not by their father but like their father—by trusting in Christ and Christ alone as he opens their eyes to see him and as he opens their hearts to receive him. Their souls are in the good hands of the good God. And I, of all people, can testify that there is no better place for them to be.

It’s not the best morning. Yesterday was election day here in Ontario and the results did not go the way I had hoped. We have the same government as the day before, but with a much clearer and stronger mandate. I find it a particularly troubling and even threatening mandate. In the aftermath I find my faith being tested. Can I find joy today? Am I going to believe Romans 13:2 today? “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” God knew this. God saw this. God allowed this. God instituted even these authorities. Will I believe it? Will I find joy in it?

Today is a good day to consider the nature of my faith and, even more so, the object of my faith. Last week I was reflecting on the faith of Abraham and observed this: True faith does not demand answers. We don’t need faith when we have all the answers. We need faith when we don’t have all the answers. We need faith when the way ahead seems unclear or intimidating, when answers are hard to find. Faith is trusting in someone who has the answers we lack. Faith is trusting in the goodness, in the character, of God.

This is the faith I see in Abraham when he assented to God’s demand that he offer his son as a sacrifice to God. God asked Abraham to sacrifice the long-awaited son through whom God had guaranteed a multitude of nations and, even better, a Messiah. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2).

The promise was made, the promise was fulfilled, and now God threatened to take it all away. But still Abraham obeyed. Why? Because of this: Ultimately, faith is not in an outcome, but in a person. Abraham’s faith was not in Isaac’s survival; his faith was in God. This means he could lose Isaac without losing his faith. He was so convinced of the goodness and faithfulness of God that he was willing to do what looked impossible. He would hold back nothing.

Later, in the book of Hebrews, we read more about Abraham. The author is boasting in God’s people, bragging about their faith, and he says this: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

Quite simply, Abraham believed the promises of God because he trusted the character of God. He trusted God even when the way seemed so strange, so unclear, so contradictory. The Christian faith is sometimes lampooned as being a blind faith, but that is all wrong. The Christian faith is not a blind faith but a seeing faith. We have seen God and love God and trust him to such a degree that we do not need or demand all the answers. We trust and obey, even when we do not understand and even when we cannot see the finish line.

And today I find myself wondering this: Will I trust God even when the way is unclear and even when I do not understand? Will I joyfully submit to God’s will, knowing and trusting that he is good? Is my faith deep enough to say, “I don’t understand, but I know God is good.” Is my faith in an outcome, or is my faith in God?

I should take a cue from Abraham. God gave Abraham three days to walk from his home to that mountain where he was to offer up his son. But on that long and sorrowful walk where he must have been tempted to despair, Abraham was not brooding. He was not complaining. He was not lamenting. Instead, he was considering how God would use this for good. We are told in Hebrews that Abraham made up his mind that God could and would raise Isaac from the dead. When Abraham was being tested, he chose not to focus on the pain, but on the triumph, and spent his time imagining how God was going to work even this “for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I should do no less.

God remains. God’s promises remain. My trust in God remains.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

 

John Stott
John Stott

I ought to be continuing my series on bestselling Christian books this morning, but found myself taken with this prayer from John Stott. It was apparently a prayer he would use to begin his day, and it’s a sweet one.

Good morning heavenly Father,
good morning Lord Jesus,
good morning Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world.
Holy Spirit, I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.
Amen.

 

I guess we’ve all been to good weddings and not-so-good weddings. We’ve been to gloriously God-honoring weddings and embarrassingly God-dishonoring weddings. The best weddings, at least in my assessment, are the ones where the couple is willing to step out of the spotlight to ensure that attention is focused squarely on God. The best weddings are the ones where the couple makes much of God, where he is at the very center of it all.

Weddings are big business today. As comedian Jim Gaffigan says, “Weddings are an important event where we spend a lot of money so the bride can pretend to be a princess and marry her prince and live happily ever after.” He isn’t far from the truth. The bride is taught that this is her day, her day to shine, the day to fulfill her dreams and fantasies. And in too many cases, even among Christians, Christ is shoved to the margins.

A Christ-Centered Wedding
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Into the fray step Catherine Strode Parks and Linda Strode with their new book A Christ-Centered Wedding. They write, “Marriage is one of God’s good gifts. It is a blessing to all of creation, and it’s a beautiful picture of Christ’s relationship with the church. Before you can experience the joy of this gift, though, you need to get through the wedding, and the wedding planning. This can be either an uplifting, encouraging experience or a frustrating exercise in trying to please everyone and failing. Many times it’s a combination of the two.” They want to make sure that the wedding and the preparation are uplifting rather than agonizing and that the ceremony is Christ-focused rather than self-focused. And so they wrote a book about rejoicing in the gospel on your big day.

And it’s a good book. A Christ-Centered Wedding is a guide to Christians who want their wedding to point to Christ and to be a reflection of the great gospel message. They cover both the theology of marriage and the practical side of the ceremony, making this a book that is helpful in both theory and application. They begin with a biblical explanation of what marriage is, why it exists, and how it is meant to honor and glorify God. They show how, from the very beginning, God intended marriage to be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church.

With that in place, they move to the practical side of weddings, and cover premarital counseling, wedding locations, planning, time lines, music, finances, vows, and pretty much everything else you could think of. They draw from many other people, giving a variety of interesting and helpful ideas. What sets this book apart from the million-and-one other books on weddings is the constant focus on Christ. Every decision matters, from music to flowers, from dresses to sermon texts, from vows to honeymoons. Every decision matters because every decision can be made in a way that honors Christ and focuses on him, or a way that dishonors Christ and steals his glory.

A Christ-Centered Wedding is an excellent and much-needed resource. It is ideal book to give to an engaged couple as they begin to move toward their big day. Every pastor will want to read it and to keep some copies on hand as assigned reading. I appreciate and agree with what Russell Moore says in his endorsement: “The Church has been waiting way too long for this book. How many of us have sat through, or officiated at, train-wreck weddings, wondering how the glory of Christ came to be eclipsed in all this circus? This book, by a wise mother and daughter team, offers guidance and counsel about how to plan a wedding where Jesus is the focus, not an afterthought. I commend this beautiful book to couples pondering marriage, to families planning weddings, and to pastors seeking to navigate through the morass of the modern wedding-industrial complex. This book liberates us to see the wedding as the means to the marriage, and not the other way around.”

 

I don’t know for certain, but my guess is that the early church did not need a lot of books or sermon series with titles involving words like “dangerous” or “extreme” or “radical.” If we need these books today, it is only to battle the complacency that can come when Christianity is a majority religion or an accepted religion. When Christianity is in the minority or when it is the object of persecution, life is already plenty dangerous.

Yawning At Tigers
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But our temptation is toward complacency and sometimes we do need a good shaking up, a good talking to. Drew Dyck delivers this in Yawning at Tigers which carries the subtitle You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying. The title conjures up an image of a tiger in a zoo, taken from the wild, penned into a little cage, pathetically pacing back and forth. When he is caged up we can approach him confidently, safely, at our own time, without any hesitation. But this is not God as he reveals himself in the Bible.

Dyck shakes up our complacency in two broad ways. In the first half of the book he looks at the way we can inadvertently shrink God down to our size, to a manageable size. We tend to do this by neglecting or redefining his holiness, by ignoring or writing-off his wrath. To combat this, Dyck draws the reader to God’s majestic holiness, his (dare I say it?) dangerous holiness—the kind of holiness that caused Isaiah to fall on his face and Uzzah to fall dead on the ground. Through several chapters he examines God’s holiness from several different angles and reveals this holy God as being infinitely better than any safe and manageable God we may prefer.

In the second half of the book he shows that we can also attempt to tame God by diminishing his love. Just as God’s holiness is too terrifying, his love is too unbelievable, so we try to make it make sense in light of our fallibility. “We take the infinite, divine love described in Scripture and place limits on it. We make it reasonable. We project our own faltering brand of affections heavenward and assume God’s love is as flawed as ours. Even as we pay lip service to God’s boundless mercy, we tabulate our shortcomings and wonder whether we’ve exhausted his grace.”

The book packs a powerful one-two punch with the emphasis on holiness followed by meditations on love. Dyck is a good writer—a very good writer—and his prose is lively and always interesting. The whole “God is dangerous” theme could easily be overplayed, but he doesn’t allow that to happen. He turns constantly to the Bible and to a host of good sources to back and extend his claims.

With all that said, I have some concerns about the book’s sources, which raises a question I’ve often considered: How much must a book be taken on its own merits and how much do we need to be concerned with secondary sources? In this case Dyck quotes a few books, authors, or people that I would be hesitant to promote. While he quotes them in such a way that they advance good points, a reader following footnotes might find himself reading books that may prove as unhelpful as Dyck’s book is helpful.

I also find myself concerned with some of his discussions on the immanence of Jesus. I understand that Christians are constantly attempting to properly account for both the transcendence and immanence of God, the fact that God exists beyond time and space and the fact that he is fully within it as well. One way the emphasis on immanence can go too far, at least as I understand it, is to suggest that we see Jesus himself in the faces of the poor or the downtrodden. That manifests itself in quotes like this: “When I touch a poor child, I touch Jesus Christ. When I listen to a poor child, I’m listening to God’s heart beating for all humanity.” There are traces of this in Yawning at Tigers and I think it is unnecessary; the book would have held up very well without it.

Those concerns aside, Yawning at Tigers accomplishes what it means to. It convicts us of the ways we have diminished God and encourages us to see God as he really is. It’s a sweet and powerful book and one that both blessed and encouraged me.

 

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day sixteen:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

In the heat of the battle for purity, sexuality can feel like a burden and a curse. We might even find ourselves wishing that God had made us asexual beings, or that he would just take away all those feelings and all those desires. Yet we know that God is a loving Father who looks upon his people with kindness. Far be it from this Father to give us something that is bad for us!

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul addresses some of the sexual immorality among those people. He rebukes the church for this immorality, and gives them this command: Glorify God in your body. This is a command he gives to the married and to the unmarried. Our sexuality has been entrusted to us as a gift from God. We serve as faithful stewards when we use it only in the ways God intends. For those who are married, that will mean regularly and joyfully enjoying sex with your wife; for those who are unmarried it will mean regularly and joyfully denying yourself those physical desires. In either case, it is God who owns our bodies, not us; it is God who owns our sexuality, not us. My brother, be a faithful steward of what God has entrusted to you.

Father, you tell me that I can and must glorify you in my body. I believe that you have given sexuality to me as a gift. I may not always understand why you have done this because it does not always feel like a gift. But I do understand that you are good and kind and that you love me. I pray that I would be a faithful steward of this gift, that in that final day you would look at how I have stewarded this gift and say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day fifteen:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The New Testament knows nothing of the lone Christian—the man who claims to be a believer but who deliberately or carelessly allows himself to drift from the local church. Just as the wolf will prowl outside the flock of sheep, looking for the one that strays from the shepherd, Satan prowls the church, looking for the people who stray from Christian fellowship. Every Christian is dependent upon the local church and we neglect it to our peril, for it is in the church that we powerfully experience the means of grace God gives us—the Word, prayer and the sacraments (or ordinances). We cannot thrive or even survive without them. Neither should we expect to.

It is also within the church that we uniquely experience the joy of imitating Christ in putting aside our own desires in order to love and serve others. And so, my brother, don’t simply go to church: Be an active, serving, participating member of that church. Do not expect that you will be able to put sin to death or to pursue holiness without the local church.

Father, I am grateful for the gift of the local church. I am grateful that through the church I am able to experience those wondrously ordinary means of grace. I am grateful that you led me to my church, and I pray that you would help me to commit to it more and more, that I would love the people you bring there, that I would have deep and meaningful friendships there, that I would faithfully serve your people by stirring them up to love and good works.


What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

Not too long ago a good friend of ours [I am co-writing this with Sean Harrelson] attended an evangelical pastors’ conference to tell people about his ministry to the disabled, to their families, and to their churches. There were nearly one thousand godly, theologically-astute, gospel-enamored leaders in attendance. What an opportunity, right?

As we spoke to our friend in the aftermath of the event, he told us that his booth, located in a prime spot in the busy exhibit hall, had generated a grand total of five conversations—five conversations in three days. Two of those were with inattentive attendees who apparently mistook the display for something else. In an attempt to escape the awkward moment, one of them uttered, “This doesn’t affect me” before turning his back and rushing away. Apparently booths displaying mentally disabled children and disfigured adults in wheelchairs do not attract crowds. Of the thousand people who repeatedly walked by the booth, only three engaged our friend. One pastor watched the promotional video, wept, and said “Thank you,” telling about his son who has a rare neurological disorder.

We love that man. We understand his reaction. We too are pastors. We too have seen disability up-close, in our churches and in our families. We too have wept and thanked our friend for his ministry. And we have a keen interest in why 997 aspiring evangelical leaders avoided The Elisha Foundation.

The Thing With Beauty

To be fair, there may have been many reasons. But our friend has manned his booth at many conferences and has usually experienced a great response with many meaningful conversations. So what was unique about this event? What we realized as we thought it through was that this conference had two significant emphases: beauty and mission.

Ours is a highly marketed culture popping with logos, sound bites, and all kinds of bling. Where the mainstream church of yesteryear was criticized for isolating itself from culture, our younger generation of evangelical leaders care a great deal for aesthetic quality in music, technology, architecture, interior design, and graphic arts. They value beauty.

We are grateful for this emphasis on aesthetic quality and the resurgence in art and creativity, and especially so when those same people value sound doctrine and biblical preaching. But make no mistake: beauty has become more than a catchword to many Christians today. Beauty has joined truth, worship and mission as a core value in many churches.

This conference displayed beauty at every turn and heralded beauty from the pulpit. It expressed that beauty is missional, that we can appeal to people better through beauty than through ugliness. And in that beautiful and put-together event there was just one area that stood apart: a booth covered with pictures of broken bodies and disfigured faces.

Could it be that the emphasis on beauty and the lack of interest in disability are related? We think it may be. After all, the disabled have a way of disturbing our commitment to beauty.

Beauty’s Purpose

Let’s be clear: There are good and biblical reasons for a focus on beauty and aesthetics. Our God is an aesthetic God. He created all that exists and pronounced it good and very good. He took rigorous care over the design of the tabernacle and priestly garments in the book of Exodus, demanding that they be exquisite in their design and creation. We see many places in the Bible where “beauty” is loaded with theological meaning associated with God’s glory and God’s salvation. Beauty is good!

Beauty serves an especially important purpose in this broken and sin-stained world. God is beautiful and God made us in his beautiful image. Every bit of beauty in this world is just a glimpse of his beauty. In his perfect Creation there was not a single stain of ugliness. But then we chose to be ugly before him. We chose to go our way instead of his way, and in doing that we became hopelessly marred and disfigured. Now God’s beauty highlights our lack of beauty. It draws attention to the stark contrast between God and us. What every Christian wants to do is give unbelieving people a vision of God’s beauty, and primarily, the beauty of the salvation he offers to people who have deliberately made themselves ugly through sin. God’s beauty draws those whom he gives eyes to see. In this way beauty is closely tied to mission. We tell people about a beautiful God who wants to bring a beautiful salvation to lead to a beautiful future.

Beauty’s Dilemma

Beauty is good, but allegiance to it can be damaging because so often the disabled do not fit our perception of beauty. The greater our focus on beauty and the greater our desire to be known for it, the more jarring their presence may be. A heightened emphasis on aesthetics simply creates a greater contrast. Could that contrast become so pronounced that it causes us to walk away from booths at a conference, or away from an opportunity to serve the disabled, their families, their churches?

Isaiah tells us that our Savior came into this world with “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). Nor did Jesus surround himself with beauty. He spent most of his time with the blind, sick, diseased, deformed, demon-possessed, and dead. Why? Because they were Jesus’ mission. He had come to seek and to save the least, the lost, the last, and the lame, not the beautiful, the whole, the put-together.

What concerns us as we think about that conference, and toward our churches as they, too, pursue beauty, is the apparent contradiction between exalting the missional importance of beauty, but all the while ignoring or neglecting the disabled because their lack of beauty makes us uncomfortable. You cannot have true mission while ignoring the disabled! They too, are marred by sin, they too need to be told of the beauty of salvation, they too need to be our mission, they too are the church.

 

There are times I grow weary of good things. Things I love. Things I would not want to live without. Things that have the ability to make my heart beat a little bit faster and keep my mind racing when I ought to be asleep. They are good things, but somehow, through time or familiarity or neglect or something else, they begin to feel not so good. I wish it wasn’t this way, but it seems to be yet another cost of being a sinful person in a sinful world. Even the best things feel like bad things at times.

The Bible is one of God’s great gifts. Without it I would be hopelessly and utterly lost. I would not know who I am, who God is, or what he desires from me. That Bible is living and active, it is the very words of God recorded and preserved for me. Reading the Bible saved my soul and transformed my life. It gave me meaning and purpose and direction. And yet even it can seem so humdrum at times. Drab. Uninteresting. A chore. A duty. Even it can seem like a not-so-good thing.

There is no one on this earth I love more than my wife. She is one of God’s greatest gifts to me. I am deeply dependent upon her—I’ve been married to her for almost my entire adulthood—and really wouldn’t know how to go about life without her. I love her dearly. Yet at times, too many times, I can find myself growing frustrated with her. Short-tempered. Surly. Just plain angry. In those moments, or in those extended times, it’s like I’ve grown weary of the gift. For a time that good thing becomes a not-so-good thing.

Children. Vocation. Location. Everything I love, every good gift, can fade in time.

I have come to realize something about those times when I grow weary of good gifts: This weariness makes a statement about me, not the gift. The weariness is so often a direct result of my neglect. I have neglected to cherish the gift and honor the giver.

Kevin DeYoung says “The most effective means for bolstering our confidence in the Bible is to spend time in the Bible.” And in the same way, the most effective means for increasing our love for the Bible is to spend time in the Bible. To know it is to love it. When I don’t love it, it’s inevitably because I haven’t been spending time in it. There is no gift of God that returns commitment with apathy. No, the commitment returns confidence, love, respect, enjoyment, gratitude.

The most effective means for sustaining and increasing my love for my wife is to spend time with her. If and when I find myself growing weary of such a good gift, the problem is me, not her. The problem is inevitably my neglect. I have stopped spending time with her, pursuing her, enjoying her. I have stopped seeing her as God’s good and perfectly-chosen gift.

In a world like this, and in a sinner like me, even the best gifts lose their luster. Or they seem to. The gifts lose their luster when I neglect to honor the giver and to cherish the gift.

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