Pastor’s Page September

As I am writing this, school is just now in session. When you read this, the school will be having a break the week of the Fair. During that time, I will be a somewhat fixated on what my kids will be learning in school…and what they won’t be learning. Of course, they will be learning the basics— who can go wrong with reading, writing, and arithmetic? They will learn about technology and applying it, which will help them to be capably prepared in an evermore competitive world.

However, I believe there is one topic that will not be in the curriculum, no matter how complete it may be in meeting today’s statewide and national standards. In fact, few university’s offer this topic that I believe to be vitally important to complete everyone’s education.

The topic I am thinking of is aesthetics. Have you ever heard anyone entering the field of aesthesia? You’ve heard the word anesthesia. If you’re like me, you’re glad to have experienced anesthesia in the dentist’s chair or on the operating table. Anesthesia deadens us and prevents us from feeling. Aesthesia is the opposite—it causes us to feel and experience life. What would that be? Well, that is the branch of philosophy known as aesthetics.

People who study aesthetics study such notions as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime [that which elevates our mind and soul], and the comic. They think about what gives these words meaning and how we then apply those concepts in our culture. If we spent more time thinking about what makes the world a better place, what brings beauty into it, and how we can feel—truly feel—and enjoy this wonderful world, what a better world this place would be?

Instead, our human nature dwells little on the beautiful and the good; our hearts and mind gravitate to the ills of this world. We find ourselves fixated on the ugly, not that we could find beauty, but rather to exclude and obscure beauty from our vision. Instead of thinking critically about how to turn the world (or our culture or community) around and improve it, we become a critic who constantly bemoans what is wrong with our world, our community, or some part of it.

Participating in such a process creates a vicious cycle that drives us to depression and despair. It causes us to react with rage instead of hope. Where we are called by God to endure evil and even return good and love to those who despise us, one—even a Christian—
who thinks in worldly term, seeks human revenge rather than divine justice. As such thinking creeps through our culture, it is a small step to evermore coarse rhetoric, the cheapening of life, and even outbreaks of violence against “enemies,” which become anyone who disagrees with an aggrieved party.

Thankfully, the Bible provides a remedy, which brings me back to aesthetics, not because I have such great insight. No, I simply follow the path that the good Lord laid out in His Good Word. And what is that path? It can be summed up in John 16:33. There, Jesus admits that His followers will face tribulation in this world. In that same verse, Jesus bookends the part about facing tribulation by saying we will have peace in Christ on one hand and that we should take heart [or have courage] because Christ has overcome the world, which makes us over comers in Him. In short, the Bible admits that the fallen world can be a stinky place
as it is a cesspool polluted by sin and fallibleness. However, in Christ and by His Spirit, we can navigate this world with joy and peace amidst the tribulation, and eventually, we will find all things restored to their rightful place, and we will be ushered into the kingdom where God will rule for all eternity.

But how do we find the beauty in the here and the now? Paul had a recipe if you will, and he shares it in his letter to the Philippians in a section where he is encouraging them to live rightly in this world.

Paul is telling the Philippian Christians—and he is telling us—to study aesthetics. Look to the Creator, and He will tell you what is beautiful. After all, He created it—formed it and shaped—and He called it good. He made you, child of God, and called you very good. He loves you so much that He gave you the rule-book of life and made you to steward His creation. Stewarding God’s creation is to make the world beautiful, and that includes all senses. We should make art and songs and fragrances and foods and drinks and fabrics that make the senses tingle and fill our hearts with delight.

But before we can apply our wisdom, we have to gain it. This isn’t about making things that
please ourselves. After all, there are people who indulge their senses in a hedonistic, licentious, and out-rightly sinful manner. Too easily we are deceived, and instead of enjoying a scrumptious cake, we overindulge and have a stomachache for the night or ulcers or diabetes for the rest of our lives.

How can we keep from succumbing to the temptation of self-indulgence and gratifying the flesh? We look to Jesus. We turn to the Bible. We quit complaining and being critical, and we see things the way God does. We follow the path of Philippians 4:8-9, and fix our vision, especially our mind’s eye, on looking at what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent. Then when we discover those qualities—particularly as a community—then we employ them. We put them into practice.

So, instead of gossiping about someone in the church, I would think that is not honorable. I might think of that person’s good qualities and share that with my friends. I can replace bad habits with good ones. Look to be a mentor as Paul was to the Philippians—notice he says to look at what he said and did and was in their midst—and create the change you want.

It’s easier to complain. It costs you nothing, everyone else is doing it, and it leaves you without any responsibility. Following what God asks of us is harder, and we gain the burden of responsibility. However the outcome is worth it—and it’s not about gaining heaven. No, we create a pocket of His kingdom here. It’s possible. If only we dare to look for beauty and pump people full of aesthesia. The world is already anesthetizing them in myriad and deadly ways. Let us bring life in Christ, AMEN!

Grace and peace,
Pastor Randall