Archive for the ‘Beauty’ Category

Ashes for Beauty

We’ve all heard of the phrase “beauty for ashes” – a lovely image of trading off a lowly and filthy state, for fresh, renewed beauty.

It is the language of the gospel. It is the language of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 61 of his book.

It is the hope and yearning of any honest person who looks into his/her soul and sees the ash heap of sin and selfishness that defiles every one of us.

We mourn, and a symbol of that mourning in the days of Isaiah was to cover oneself with ashes in sorrow and humiliation.

But that’s not the end of the story.

beauty for ashesLater, in chapter 61:10, Isaiah proclaims that the period of ashes is to be followed by its opposite – a state of newness, light, and cleansing. The language is striking and even romantic:

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in God;

for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Some people – and I confess that I am one of them – seem to feel more comfortable wallowing in the ashes, than rejoicing in the freely-given robe of righteousness. Instead of trading up to beauty for our ashes, we trade down – neglecting the good news of an infinitely forgiving and cleansing God in order to stare at the soot and the filth. As if a right posture before God was one of unending mourning. “Thanks for the beauty, but I think I’ll just cover myself with ashes again today…”

The mourning period is temporary. It is meant to lead us to repentance, then to embracing the beauty of Jesus Christ while putting away our ashes of self-will and unbelief.

Yes, we will still sin, and mourn our profound imperfection. But we’re now alive. We’ve been granted pardon and been adopted. We have righteous robes. We have beauty instead of ashes.

It’s time to clean up the mirror and see as God sees…

photo credit: sparktography via photopin cc

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Clueless Birds

MockingbirdAs I sit in the (relative) quiet of my study this Sunday morning, there is a squawking noise outside – sparrows happily jousting with one another for their turn at the feeder that hangs from the red maple by our deck.

Wings flapping as they hop from deck rail to seed-holder, they greedily go after their morning breakfast, provided by someone they’ll never know, someone they’d fear and flee from on sight.

Someone who gladly provides for them anyway. Because they are alive and have a purpose; even if that purpose is only to sing and look pretty and propagate and remind us that we are but one species in a glorious pantheon of wonderful creatures.

A mourning dove has now joined them – big, slow, with its incredibly distinctive and plaintive cry. And sometimes, my ears will delight at the calls of the neighborhood mockingbird (my favorite), one of the many reminders that God has a whimsical sense of humor.

These birds are clueless about higher purposes, yet they glorify God, even when not conscious of it.

Sometimes I wonder how clueless I am. Yet it is my calling and privilege to knowingly glorify God.

Not just take the daily abundance that he gives and fly off in fear…

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50 Shades of Great

I decided, this morning, to see how many of the 150 Psalms I’d need to go through to find 50 shades of God’s greatness – a far more uplifting topic than that other “50 Shades” currently making the rounds…

Starting with Psalm 1, and being pretty selective…

  1. God prospers those who delight in His law.
  2. God knows the way of the righteous.
  3. God ensures that the wicked will not, ultimately, prosper.
  4. God is King way above all earthly kings; He rules.
  5. He is wrathful toward sin, yet also the refuge from wrath.
  6. The nations are, and will be, His inheritance.
  7. God is a shield.
  8. He lifts up the head of His trusting people.
  9. He sustains His people and delivers them from fear.
  10. Salvation and blessing belong to the Lord.
  11. He relieves us in our distress.
  12. He is gracious and hears the prayers of His people.
  13. He sets apart the godly man/woman for Himself.
  14. God’s countenance is of light, shining on His people.
  15. He puts gladness in our hearts.
  16. He makes His people dwell in safety.
  17. He gives ear to our words and groanings.
  18. God takes no pleasure in wickedness; the boastful will not stand before Him.
  19. He is a God of abundant lovingkindness.
  20. He has given us a “house” in which we have access to His presence.
  21. God is righteous.
  22. Those who take refuge in Him are glad.
  23. The Lord blesses the righteous person.
  24. He is gracious and heals.
  25. The Lord judges all the peoples; vindicating the righteous.
  26. He tries the hearts and the minds; and saves the upright in heart.
  27. As the Lord Most High, He is worthy of praise.
  28. His Name is majestic in all the earth.
  29. His splendor is displayed above the heavens.
  30. The heavens are the work of His fingers.
  31. Though He is vast and all-powerful, He takes thought of/care of mere men; He makes us special above all other creatures.
  32. He is a God of wonders.
  33. He rebukes and uproots those who oppose Him.
  34. He abides forever.
  35. God does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
  36. He lifts us up from the gates of death, that we may tell His praises.
  37. The Lord has made Himself known.
  38. When men say, “God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it” – that’s a pure delusion.
  39. God hears the desire of the humble, and vindicates the orphan and the oppressed.
  40. The upright will behold His face.
  41. The words of the Lord are pure, as silver tried in a furnace, refined seven times.
  42. The Lord deals bountifully with those who trust in His lovingkindness.
  43. God is with the righteous generation.
  44. The Lord restores His captive people and makes them glad.
  45. We may abide in His tent, and dwell on His holy hill.
  46. He is the source and fountain of all good.
  47. The Lord is our inheritance.
  48. He counsels His people.
  49. He is at our right hand.
  50. In His presence is fulness of joy; in His right hand there are pleasures forever.

And that brings us all the way through…just Psalm 16. Let alone the other 134 Psalms, and the rest of the Scriptures!

Of course, to be on the wrong side of righteousness and justice and purity of heart is a frightening thought – because, as each hour of every day abundantly reveals, we are all thoroughly corrupt. Yet, in Christ, God Himself clothes us in forgiveness and a righteousness that only He can impart.

We are urged to “set our minds on the things above.” These bright shades of greatness, and many, many others in the Scriptures, are for more edifying than anything else. They are riches given us to make our hearts glad – let’s do just that today!


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Dancing and shimmering in the cool breeze, a fresh spider web reflected the dawn’s rays from its perch in the red maple above our deck.

It looked, for all the world, like the wings of a dragonfly – shades of electric blue and seductive purple and shameless red, pulsating to an unseen rhythm with the reflecting sun playing off its silken strands.

The arachnid architect had no awareness of the beauty it had spun. This, to him, was a meal ticket. But to his Designer, it was art – an intricate blueprint of glorious structure, made to capture not only flies, but also human eyes and imagination. It was a symphony of silk, a rainbow captured and displayed in strands instinctively woven overnight by an 8-legged maestro.

A web of wonder, made to fill human eyes and souls with a sense of their glorious Creator. He who is a generous and imaginative Artist, even when the masterpiece is for trolling the sky for unwitting insects.

For the spider, a fresh dinner will be the reward. For us, the reward is exceedingly greater. A fresh opportunity to worship.

Photo credit: Anne Campisi via Flickr


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Grass and Galaxies

The evil in this world – and the influence of evil people – can seem overwhelming at times. Even for those who say they don’t believe in evil.

This morning, I read in Psalm 37:1-2, “Do not fret because of evildoers, do not be envious of wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herb.”

In other words, we really do get things way out of perspective.

Click on this picture, and just marvel for a moment.

Evil people and their schemes are here for a moment – a blink of an eye – and then gone. They oppose God, but with all the effectiveness of a gnat taking on a bulldozer. A bulldozer the size of Texas.

But even that analogy is inadequate. When we look at the Andromeda galaxy, we see thousands upon endless thousands of stars, sprinkled in orderly array – no, stunningly beautiful array – across breathtaking light years of space. And this is just one of countless millions of galaxies.

Our amazingly powerful sun is only one of billions of stars scattered across creation; our intricate planet a glorious but tiny speck. And our lifespans? A mere breath.

Yes, it is easy to fret because of evildoers. But every rebel against God will wither away. Whom do we oppose? A mythical figure from the pages of a regressive book? No – we try to stand against the God who designed every astonishing thing that surrounds us, who is perfectly capable of communicating with his feeble creatures, and who is fully intent on dispensing justice in His universe. He is present and all-knowing. What? – He can make a galaxy and a planet and a human and a flower and a cell and an atom and somehow can’t figure out how to reach down to earth and be involved in our everyday lives?

Of course, the unbeliever must take a huge leap of faith and just believe that all of it “happened,” and with that dogma in place must fret continually – in a world which began in randomness and ends in meaninglessness, there can be no ultimate justice, no hope beyond this fading life, no rest. Though isn’t it curious that even the God-denier has moral impulses and yearns for justice? Perhaps just as astonishingly wonderful as gazing at the galaxies, is gazing within our our souls to find the fingerprints of a moral and personal God. The God so vigorously denied is the One who made us in His image.

Let’s regain perspective. Read verses 7-11 of the same psalm. Evil is real. God, however, is surpassingly great. Rest in the Lord.

Photo: GALEX, JPL/CalTech, NASA via Astronomy Picture of Day


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The Attractive Woman

I’m a guy, growing up as one of four brothers, and I have five boys. I also have a wonderful wife who has been my companion for over 30 years. I can’t give you much input on fashion or hairstyles, but perhaps I can give you a more sturdy perspective about attractiveness from a man who sees beyond skin deep.

I’ve had three thoughts about female beauty rattling around in my head of late, and I’ll just throw them out there. Maybe one of them will touch you.

1. First, regarding young ladies: Aspire to be pretty, according to how Pat Archibold describes it in this post (go ahead, read it and come back. I’ll wait…). Yes, it means being counter-cultural. And this is one time, gals, when you need to have some cojones and respect yourself enough to be something other than a commodity.

2. Secondly, for you women who are older: There is immense beauty in vibrant character. Trying to return to your teens is, frankly, unseemly. Your wisdom, life experience, and proven loyalty impart a different kind of beauty than any amount of makeup can. Being smart, hard-working, kind, and comfortable in your own skin brings a more enduring beauty than model-looks.

3. And, while we’re talking models, don’t buy into the current size zero skinny fad. Are you kidding me? Speaking from the male perspective, curves have never gone out of style. Aspiring to weigh as much as a 16-year-old Olympic gymnast is really foolish. Curves are good. <—-Trust me on this one (also, I will tell you something that remains utterly true: when you are pregnant, you really are radiantly beautiful). I’m not saying that letting yourself balloon into obesity is attractive, but you might be surprised how many women can rock the house in clothing sizes that go past one digit.

As a father, I talk to my boys about the various girls/women that cross their path. Fortunately, they have a rare example of female beauty in their mother – and they know it. They can see the shallowness that surrounds them, and I’ve got to say – if you aspire to real beauty and character, you may not have a lot of competition out there anymore! I know what I want to see in a daughter-in-law – self-respect, smarts, appropriate modesty, a strong backbone, and solid character. Hot chicks are a dime a dozen. Real women are rare jewels.

Be one.

P.S. for those visiting Steve’s Free for the first time (Welcome!), this is my little-known personal blog. Most of my marketing/branding/business ramblings are over at Connection Agent, if that’s what you’re into…


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