Beauty and the Beast

Walt Disney Pictures says that the story of beauty and the beast is the “greatest love story ever told.” I think that’s right. 

Over the last week and a half I have had the honor of witnessing some of the beautiful things, beautiful places and beautiful people God created. In contrast, I’ve also been saddened to observe the ugliness that has left its mark on this world in the form of people, places and things that are not aligned with God’s will. 

The Beauty of God Displayed in Farming

Leaving Amarillo, TX my wife and I drove through a small farming town. I was amazed to see the marvelous inventions and huge pieces of equipment that are used to grow and harvest everything from cotton to wheat. It was spectacular! God’s beauty was displayed in His willingness to provide for the needs of you and me. 

The Beast Displayed in Farming

That same day, we had lunch in Pueblo, CO with some friends of mine that I had not seen in more than 20 years. Matt is a police officer and Danette is his wonderful wife. While our conversation was fantastic, I was struck by the atrocities that were taking place because of the growth of another farming industry: marijuana. 

As soon as it was legalized in that state a huge wave of young adults moved in from all over the country. They did not know that most of the jobs were already taken. Homelessness, burglary, robbery, prostitution, and vagrancy have increased dramatically. 

A law that most people endorsed because they saw it as no big deal to allow people to grow six plants in their backyard has turned into a nightmare. Many cities are in danger of having brownouts because of all of the electricity needed to grow the plants. Crime is up. Car crashes are up. Heroin use has skyrocketed as people migrate from pot to something more substantial. 

The beauty of individual freedom has revealed the ugliness of the number of people who crave the use of a substance to provide a temporary escape from their troubles. It has placed a spotlight on how many of our friends and neighbors have an emptiness that they are attempting to fill with THC. How I wish they were seeking to fill that ugly void with the sweet and filling beauty of God. 

The Scenic Beauty of God

Traveling over 4000 miles took us through the panhandle farms in Texas, to the breathtaking Rocky Mountains of Colorado, across Utah’s striking plateau region, into the Mojave Desert of Nevada, alongside the Grand Canyon in Arizona, passed the mesas of New Mexico, and back to the lush green coastal plains of Texas. The variance in brush strokes, palette, texture and temperature made gasps of awe and wonder commonplace. Seeing the majesty of God’s creation firsthand made me appreciate the grandiose power and overwhelming beauty of my Lord. 

The Beast’s Grand Parody and Facade

Las Vegas glitters like diamonds. The bright lights, flashing signs, colorful billboards and huge architectural achievements are a sight to behold. Yet it is interesting to note that one of its biggest attractions is the graveyard of casino signs that have been tossed aside. Buildings are routinely demolished and replaced with something newer, better, shinier, and attractive. 

Mankind’s endeavor to make monuments to himself ultimately will fall into disrepair. They will eventually become outdated, gaudy, old fashioned, useless and abandoned. Even more sad is the realization of what these parodies of beauty hold inside. They are full of pleasures that only last for a short time, and are gone. The beast’s attempt to create grand things of admiration only cover the kinds of entertainment that satisfies a craving for a few minutes, hours or days – and then it vanishes – leaving people broke, broken, scarred, scared, alone and barely alive. My hope is that people will realize the physical and emotional pleasures of a season will never fill the spiritual and soulful cravings they truly desire. 

The Beauty of God in Man

Throughout the journey we saw people whose actions and words reflected their service to God: the cashier at McDonalds who said “God bless you” after giving me directions, my friend Matt who prayed for us before buying our lunch, and Deeanne – our Dennys waitress in Winslow – who worked so hard to serve us and be an example to her son. 

But, I think the Central Christian Church in Henderson had the biggest impact on me in terms of scale. It is a very large congregation who intentionally reaches out to those who are struggling in life. And, it’s doing a great job of spreading the gospel of Jesus. 

I witnessed two ladies follow the command of our Lord to be baptized – apparently that is so commonplace they have two baptistries (one inside for use between their four services and one outside). The halls were full of people who are trying their best to serve God where they were in life right now: homeless, strippers, prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, gambling addicts, those recently out of jail or prison, unemployed, mentally challenged, and physically disabled all sitting next to – and being treated equal to – everyone else. Money, status, looks — none of them mattered because they all knew that the grace of God was the only thing that could save any of them. 

At one point I became overwhelmed by the outpouring of love the congregation had for each other and for God. Yes, I’ll admit it – I shed a tear or two during the services. The beauty of God’s plan of salvation does that to me sometimes: Jesus came to save us from our sins and transform us into His image — not select the best from among us as being “worthy” of His mercy.

I think “Central” gets that concept more than most. They don’t just invite those who are hurting – they intentionally seek them out. Pursuing the lost to bring them the Word of peace and love is not a concept simply spoken about and lauded, it is actively done in service to God. Central Christian Church is a beautiful group of people. 

The Beast is Never Satisfied

“Sin City”

“What happens in Vegas – stays in Vegas.”

“Just the right amount of wrong.”

My wife and I spent almost two days in Las Vegas, NV. We attended a spectacular circus, ate at some wonderful restaurants, worshipped with a fantastic church, and saw lots of shiny lights and fancy buildings. Many of the people we encountered were very nice. We also saw just a glimpse of the other side of the city.

Checking into our room we were asked if we would like a discount to some of the most popular shows in town: adults only comics, burlesque, male strippers, all-nude-reviews, even a comedy revolving completely around male genitalia. I won’t go into detail regarding the flyers that were regularly posted or handed out.

In short, Las Vegas feeds off of the weaknesses of humanity. It is a place that revels in the depravity of sin and promotes the concept that immorality is acceptable to society if it is restricted to specific places. Sadly, many good people have been tricked into believing it. 

Satan is very good at what he does. He entices people to engage in ungodly activities in a quest to satisfy the vacuum they feel inside. For some, it’s gambling and greed. For others, it’s sex and lust. Still others try to counter the vacuum with illicit drugs, excess booze, or gluttony. Regardless of the choice of indulgence, the beast is adept at disguising sin in such a manner that some people give it no thought. It’s the norm. It’s to be expected.  That is scary. Sadly, we have large communities who have fallen victim to the lie that feeding the vacuum with pleasure is an adequate substitute for what is really missing. 

The Problem According to a Wise Man

King Solomon was a wise man. That blessing allowed him to take creation and separate himself from it to look at it from different angles. Agriculture, Human Relations, Materialism, Science, and Religion to name a few — Solomon studied them all and gave us the results of his experiments in the book of Ecclesiastes. When it came down to comparing  God and Satan, or God and man, or the beauty and the beast, here are his conclusions:

“I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with” Ecc 1:13.

“I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after the wind” Ecc 1:14. 

Really Solomon? It’s that simple? You’ve studied everything that mankind can do and concluded it is meaningless? Yes. The Message says, “I’ve seen it all and it’s nothing but smoke—smoke, and spitting into the wind.”

But, what about making our mark on this world and impacting others? Can’t we do anything that would make God notice us and our good deeds more than our bad deeds? Can’t I be good enough, or did God simply make each of us a sinner from the day we were born? I might be stepping on some toes here, but Solomon answers those questions too:

“Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” ‭‭Ecc ‭7:20‬. 

“Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices” ‭‭Ecc ‭7:29‬. 

So, what does that mean? Since we are all slaves of the beast (either Satan or our sinful lusts) shouldn’t we just enjoy ourselves while we can? Fortunately, Solomon’s experiment yielded more than just the observations that we are all sinners and that our efforts to impress God are worthless. He ends his masters thesis with some advice. It’s something we should take to heart:

“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” Ecc 12:13.

The Solution from Jesus

Solomon spelled out the problem: we are sinners and just about everything we do to impress others is nothing more than folly and foolishness. The advice: fear God and do what He says. 

Unless you know scripture, that’s going to be pretty hard to do. What did God command me to do? Where do I get started? Do I have to read the whole Bible first so I can know what God wants? Is one rule more important than another? Is there a summary I can read now so I can begin right away? You aren’t the first person to ask those kinds of questions. 

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew‬ ‭22:36-40‬‬‬

Just in case you were wondering, those two commandments cannot be perfected. Nobody can follow them properly all the time. We all struggle. We all sin. We all need guidance and help on the road God has planned for us. But, God’s road is something that can’t be seen or adhered to unless we have someone ahead of us clearing the path and telling us how to walk. 

I’m happy to announce that we do have a trailblazer. He’s already walked the path to the very end and come back for us. He already defeated any and every beast that’s in the way. He is ready and willing to guide you in truth and life.  He wants to lead you. 

His name is Jesus. He is the only one who is able to help you pursue the Beauty and avoid the beast. And, in order to begin your journey you only need to do what He says. What does He say? That’s easy. If there is one thing Jesus says repeatedly, it is this: FOLLOW ME!!! 

(Matt 4:19, Matt 8:22, Matt 9:9, Matt 10:38, Matt 16:24, Matt 19:21, Mark 1:17, Mark 2:14, Mark 8:34, Mark 10:22, Luke 5:27, Luke 9:23, Luke 9:59, Luke 14:27, Luke 18:22, John 1:43, John 10:27, John 12:26, John 21:19)

Celebrating Freedom

377869 48: Portrait of John Adams, second President of the United States who served from 1797 to 1801. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)
377869 48: Portrait of John Adams, second President of the United States who served from 1797 to 1801. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

In early July of 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, informing her that independence had been declared from Britain. His prediction was spot on.

“… the whole people in every colony of the 13 have now adopted it as their own act. This will cement the union … [the day] will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated – as the day of deliverance – by solemn acts of devotion to God almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more. You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction …”

Of course, we know that the day we declared ourselves independent from Britain was … July … the … second. Wait! July 2, 1776 was the day we declared independence? Yep — July 2nd. Isn’t that interesting? As Americans, our biggest patriotic celebration is not on the day that we declared independence. Instead, we actually celebrate July 4th – the day the founding fathers approved the final draft of the Declaration of Independence.

We do something similar with religious days too don’t we? Ask a typical American what the most important religious day is and you probably get either Easter or Christmas. But if we look to scripture, the event the early followers of Jesus stressed commemorating the most was not the birth of Jesus or his resurrection. No, they put special emphasis on Jesus death. So much so, that a yearly celebration wasn’t enough. Instead, they partook of communion every first day of the week – on Sunday. I’m so happy that the congregation where I worship follows this New Testament example.

Today is Sunday — July 3, 2016. Tomorrow, the United States will celebrate the freedom we have in this country. Today, we celebrate the freedom we have from sin because Jesus paid the price with his own life. So, think about that as you partake of the Lord’s Supper — concentrate on, and appreciate, the sacrifice Jesus made for you.