Broken and Beautiful

Broken but beautiful. Ever had the experience of seeing the same pattern over several days? I don’t mean patterns like traffic or how we arrange silverware in our kitchen drawers. No, I mean patterns that speak to something deeper. If you have experienced them, what follows may resonate with you. If patterns are lost on you, skip this altogether. I write as one convinced that patterns are important. Why? Because confluence, convergence, and the coming together of ideas may serve as presages. Patterns exist for several reasons. One of those reasons is to act as messengers. Let me explain.

Last week I read a short theology book. The author wrote of how all people who are honest admit that our world is broken, and that we all are broken people. We know intuitively that the world is a fallen place. And we know that we’re fallen, too. Witness the current destruction of statues and monuments to America’s history by angry mobs. Witness the targeted slaughter of law enforcement officers. Witness the rancor among pundits who seem to have relinquished reasoned debate and replaced it with ad hominem attacks. Most of us would admit that the world we live in is hostile, rancorous, and well—broken. This brokenness is not just external to us. It is not merely “out there.” If we are honest, brokenness is part of the way we see ourselves. No pattern yet, right? Hold on. It is coming.

So I kept reading the book and thought, “Yes, this rings true. We are broken.” But then the author did something else. He used the term “beautiful” to describe us, too—amidst our brokenness. For many readers, that term might not signify much. But for others, that term denotes that a lot more is going on; namely, there is beauty in this broken world. There is an aesthetic to the universe. Yes, there is ugliness, deformity, depravity, etc. The list is long of how brokenness manifests itself in some people’s cruelty to one another. However, humanity is still beautiful. Then I put the two words together—broken but beautiful. That was last week.

Now to this week. In a Sunday school class, a teacher was leading us in an examination of some of what Scripture teaches about how Christ-followers will—not may—but will suffer. We looked at Peter’s words: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). And then we read James’ words: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2). Do you see the pattern? The world is broken, but beauty abides still. These broken people are beautiful in the crucible.

Then we looked at Paul’s words from prison: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear than I still have” (Philippians 1:29-30).


Then the teacher said this: “We are broken but still beautiful.” I almost slid out of my chair. The same terms, the same truth, the same pattern—broken but beautiful.
The pattern asserted itself through experience, through a book, then through a teacher at church—with its simple message: broken but beautiful.

When we had eaten lunch and returned home after church, and changed into comfortable clothes, my son said, “Dad, let’s throw the football.” Even though I had a thousand other things to do to prepare for the week ahead, the pattern emerged. Excuses came to my mind: I need to work in the basement; I need to wash my truck; I need to prepare for the course I’m teaching, and on they ran. But here was my son, asking to do what is beautiful to him.

As we threw the ball to each other, I watched him run the hill and sprint for passes. I saw the white laces spin round as the football arced towards him. I heard the sounds of his cleats on the earth and watched the way sun fell in patches on our driveway and through the overhanging white oaks. And the pattern whispered—broken but beautiful.

Tyranny of the Temporary?

“Back again so soon?” That’s what the attendant at the oil change station asked me as I sat in my truck with the window rolled down, waiting to have my truck tires rotated and engine oil changed. “Yes,” I replied. “Been a busy few days.” Indeed. Busyness as usual. Might I (and others) be so busy that we forfeit the most important things? In only a few days I’d amassed another 3,000 miles of road time, and was again back at the oil change station.

The apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament that Christians are to seek eternal things rather than spending our affections on temporariness: “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corintimageshians 4:18b ESV). So what are eternal things? What does Paul mean? The context is one wherein Paul contrasts the “light momentary affliction” (v.17) of physical sufferings to the eternal glory that awaits Christians. How much more encouraged and faithful, therefore, ought Christians to be in laboring for the truth.

Believers are not to “lose heart” (v.16) because we know that our labors (if not wasted upon the tyranny of the temporary and mere busyness), our fatigue, our weariness, and even our exhaustion that result, are worth it. In fact, to spend oneself for the sake of the truth should usher in sweet rest. “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer” (Ecclesiastes 5:12a ESV).

Moreover Jesus taught how we’re to expend our energies on matters of substance. We’re to use our minds for things that matter eternally. Frittering away our time on the temporary is sinful.

Too much is at stake: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the           kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to                       you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be                                  anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:31-                              34 ESV)

Indeed. Sufficient is any day’s trouble. I suspect you’re like I in that you tend to worry about things, at least at times. I have to take breaks from the media deluge. I’m weary of hearing of Hillary’s decades of lies and of Donald’s boasts. I’m weary of hearing how secular government continues to grow and of how individual responsibility and freedom proportionately shrink. I’m weary of hearing of Islam’s continuous bloody conquests across nations. I’m weary of people assuming just because someone’s exceptional in one area (movie acting, e.g.) that he is necessarily qualified to speak intelligently about philosophy, theology, history, or literature.

No one who knows me would ask me to do algebra, for good reason. However, I might be somewhat more helpful if you wished to discuss the 20th century novel or Charles Dickens’ contributions to the world’s greatest literary characters. In other words, it’s important to know where one fits, and where one’s knowledge extends/does not extend.

“Being busy” is often a near neighbor to waste. John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life is vastly popular with good reason. One of the great lines from American writer Henry David Thoreau’s Walden expresses what I’m after here: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I disagree with Thoreau on several things, but on that principle, we would’ve agreed, and could’ve shared his simple cabin in Concord, Massachusetts any day.




The Death of Appreciation?

Very recently, I led another memorial service for an 84-year old Army veteran of the wars in Korea and Vietnam. The man had been a sergeant major (SGM) when he retired. He continued his service as a defense contractor upon retiring from the military. In the last chapter of his life, he moved near Ft. Benning, GA to be near a longtime friend under whom he’d served as a first sergeant (1SG) during the early 1970s. He spent his last years deer hunting in west Georgia. Finally, the cancer he’d battled for years conquered his body, and he died. When I spoke at his memorial, and before we committed his asheist2-4686483-word-death-on-paper-and-broken-pencil-in-hands to the ground, most of the chairs on the rostrum were vacant. Most people did not know or care of this man’s passing. As I read Scripture, prayed, and consoled a couple of his friends, I had an overwhelming sense that there were multiple deaths at hand. We were not just marking theimgres-1 passing of another veteran’s life. I was witnessing in microcosm a culture that chooses to forget what is praiseworthy. What/whom one generation fails to honor, thenext generation will forget altogether.

People are busy, I understand. No one can be more than one place at a time, I understand. However, I fear that there’s a sense of callousness in our culture today towards almost everything once viewed with honor. What was heretofore praiseworthy is now neglected or even mocked. It is as if many people’s consciences are seared. But should we not laud that which is praiseworthy, when it’s in our power to do so? What does it say about a culture that forsakes its warriors? What does it reveal about us when we inventory what fills our time? What/whom one generation fails to honor, the next generation will forget altogether.

Nothing quite diagnoses a culture’s ethos as clearly as seeing what it worships. Man becomes like what he worships. But what does it mean when many worship at the altar of self, or at the altars of what Francis Schaeffer called personal peace and affluence? In other words, are we now so self-absorbed that we fail to recognize the passing of those that lived lives of sacrifice, courage, and honor? Are we so taken with our conveniences that we cannot think of those who gave of themselves for the greater good? Some of the deepest lessons I have learned come from times I’ve spent in cemeteries. They are among the quietest places on earth. You can hear yourself think. As you survey the tombstones, the mausoleums, the white markers, you relearn that this life is passing. You learn that man is a vapor. You learn that generations come and go. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes: “For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten” (Eccl 2:16a ESV). But Solomon’s thesis in Ecclesiastes was how not to succumb to that. The answer is to look to God, not to oneself alone, not just to our personal peace and affluence, but to recognize that which endures. But I’m suggesting that we are living in a time and culture that largely chooses to neglect what should be appreciated and worships that which should be minimized. The banal has replaced the praiseworthy. What/whom one generation fails to honor, the next generation will forget altogether.

When the apostle Paul was in prison in Rome, he wrote a letter known as Philippians. It’s a short New Testament book about Christ’s humiliation and subsequent exaltation. It’s also a NT book of encouragement. But what I want to focus on here is how he instructs the Philippians in matters of what they should honor, of what they should deem important: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8 ESV). It’s vital to understand what is honorable and praiseworthy, not what our selfishness deems honorable and praiseworthy.

If we want to know what we honor, let us examine how we spend our time. We are not witnessing the death of appreciation; we are witnessing idolatry—the appreciation of the wrong things/ideas/gods/people.