February 26, 2018

Redefining Beauty

Friends, "Searching for Spring" releases in one week! The following is an excerpt from the first chapter, which gives you a small taste of the book and what it's about. Preorder a copy of the book and redeem your receipt for preorder goodies before next Monday when they go away!
Life can be hard for many reasons, but I think one of the primary ways we make it harder on ourselves is that we struggle to define beauty properly or in a way that leads to wonder—to God. We define beauty in ways that are finite and, often, self-serving or self-gratifying. We are a people content with calling a purse or cityscape beautiful, ascribing ultimate value to decaying and lifeless things. Our definition of beauty limits, confines, and destroys our own joy, because decaying or lifeless things cannot produce unending beauty nor can they transform a life.

What if beauty could actually be found in the very things our skewed hearts deem ugly? What if all that we resist—suffering, confession, brokenness, loneliness, and death—were the very things in process of becoming beautiful? All of these experiences are painful, but each can produce or lead us to the unexpected beauty of perseverance, hope, redemption, heaven, and God himself.

That is precisely the point: God is beautiful. All he’s created points back to him, reflecting who he is and what he’s like. Forgiveness and reconciliation, justice and mercy, peace and joy—a life transformed points back to him. He is beauty hiding in plain sight, leaving clues as to his whereabouts through both his artistic words ("And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.") and his written words. He calls us to come and seek, so we can come and see, so we may discover how everything—everything—he touches turns beautiful in time to reflect his own beauty. That means me and my life, and you and your life, even the most hopeless and dark parts.

When we go past the cicada's design and the transformed life in search of God, we find a beauty that drives out despair and adds color to muted, mundane days. He in turn hands us beauty to fight hopelessness in the difficulties of life, and he offers beauty as a present medicine for our souls.

Oh how we need this medicine!

We need it not only to battle despair but we also need it to wake from our numb distraction. We’re made to be beauty seekers, but too often we’re merely surviving. We are restless from a lack of wonder, and sometimes we're pierced by more than just restlessness: depression, anxiety, apathy, bitterness, and hopelessness. We exist in a crafted busyness where we attempt to silence our heart’s craving. What is the point of seeking beauty anyway? Why awaken our hearts to the risk of emotion when life's pain is too deep?

Because life's pain is deep, and beauty is the most potent weapon we have with which to fight back.

 But here’s why we prefer numb hearts rather than alive ones: beauty is not immediate. It often unveils itself slowly, through much waiting, much seeking, and sometimes much heartache.

The cicada and the wise man tell us this as well. The wise man said, “God has made all things beautiful in time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The cicada proves this truth by waiting seven years before continuing his story, which happens to be prompt reproduction and death. In the cosmic game of Hide and Seek, it seems there is a big picture element to beauty; one we must embrace in order to find it.

Because the most beautiful beauty—a transformed life—is not immediate, we must be patient, lifetime seekers, not only mining our past and present circumstances for beauty but also cultivating a hope for future beauty.

I find it difficult to fully comprehend beauty in the present anyway, for I can only see the present through a glass dimly. In a moment where I try to etch a joyful occasion on my heart, I can’t quite wrap myself completely around it. When I’m holding my husband’s hand across the table on our wedding anniversary, I'm overcome with joy at being married to such a man. But then a little bit of fear creeps in. What if he’s taken away from me? What if the future holds dire and difficult things for us? I tell myself to enjoy the moment, but pure beauty has been eclipsed by my fear. In the present moment, I cannot escape my distractible emotions.

This is why beauty needs time. We comprehend and value true beauty most significantly over time. Once again, come with me to my anniversary table, as I’m holding the hands of my beloved husband. As he and I discuss the years we’ve had together, recalling stories of our newlywed days and the rough patches along the way to 18 years, I see the beauty of our love so clearly in time past. I recognize how the struggles firmed our commitment to one another. I rejoice in all the Lord has helped us overcome and how he's used our partnership for his glory.

There is no fear to eclipse the beauty this time, only concrete years displaying very real beauty that makes me hopeful for the future and happy in the present.

And so it is with God and why he doesn't make all things beautiful immediately. Before the unveiling of the complete transformation he's made in us, we have the opportunity that will vanish when all is made beautiful: the opportunity for faith. Our faith pleases him so, and this is not a faith built upon happy emotions. This is a faith built upon something concrete: what beauty he's already orchestrated in time and what beauty he says he will make in time beyond. We may not be able to see and comprehend clearly all of what God is doing in the present, but we can always mine the past and the future for treasures.

This is the pattern of Scripture, really. In the Old Testament, God repetitiously requires his people to build altars, recall stories of his acts to their children, and celebrate feasts that mark the miracles he’s done on their behalf. Over and over, he says to them, “Remember.” They were to remember how God made freedom from slavery and provision from lack so they’d trust him in their present.

Then God’s refrain through the prophets became, “Look forward.”

They were to look forward to a perfect deliverer and forever rescuer, when God would make beauty from their ashes, so that they might trust him with those ashes in their present state.
In the New Testament, the pattern of the Old Testament emerges. After the gospels, the writers point back to the death and resurrection of Christ and then forward to his future coming, all so that we’d look at the past with gratefulness and awe, the future with faith, and the present with eyes wide open to beauty and hope.

Look back. God has created and God has come.

Look ahead. God will come again.

A question emerges, no matter where we stand in the timeline of history: And so, having looked behind and ahead, how can you live now in light of who He is?

In all of it, the pulse of the beauty of God has played in seen and unseen places, and we’ll spend the rest of this book playing in a big game of Hide and Seek. We'll do this by discovering the heartbeat of God that's moved him to action on our behalf. We'll find out how he's still acting, working to bring all of time to culmination when all things will be made right and beauty will be forever. As we look at how God has acted and is acting, we can then know what we must do and how we must live in response. This is a book that describes how faith—waiting for All Things Beautiful—is lived out in real life.

Why? So you can live alive today, you can know rest and peace, you can face whatever you’re facing with hope, you can do the work you've been given, so you can obey even though obedience costs and even hurts sometimes. So you can see beauty rising and worship God.