Beauty and Ugliness – A Way to Share the Gospel

Last week, Margaret and I went to the celebration of ministry retreat in San Antonio, Texas. The
seminary organizes these retreats so that our synod’s pastors can be strengthened and
encouraged to continue in ministry. While we were there, we took the opportunity to get our
caricature drawn by an artist on the San Antonio River Walk. It was a fun experience that we
had never tried before. The artist drew Margaret first. As she posed and the artist drew, they
struck up a conversation. It started with typical small talk. The artist asked Margaret what
brought us to San Antonio, what we did for a living, and about family. Margaret reciprocated by
asking the artist about his art, how his day was going, and his other hobbies and passions.
Through this conversation, she found out not only did he have a passion for art, but he had a
passion for literature. He enjoyed writing horror fiction and was working on a novel about
zombies in space. As I listened to their conversation I was struck with an idea about how I was
going to present the gospel to this man: beauty and ugliness. And then Margaret set me up
perfectly to share the gospel with him. She by asked if he knew where he was going when he
died. He said he wasn’t sure. He indicated he was an agnostic. Then it was my turn.
Since Margaret had already laid the groundwork, I got right into it. I asked this man to clarify if
he believed in a god. And he said, “I’m an agnostic. I’m sure being a pastor you know what that
means. I’m open to ideas but I’m just not sure. I often pray and I literally start by saying,
‘whoever is listening out there.’” I responded by asking if he would be willing to listen to a
reason why there might be a God. He said, “Sure, go ahead.” I pointed to the picture he was
drawing and said, “When you look at a piece of art and see how beautiful and intricate it is,
with all its colors and prospective, you automatically assume someone with an artistic sense
designed and created that piece of art. Well, when you look at the beauty and intricacy of
creation you can make the same assumption. You can assume that someone with an artistic
sense designed and created this world.” I then acknowledge to him that it is either that or this
world just popped into existence by itself. Those are really the only two options. Either
someone or something created all this or they didn’t.
From there, I transitioned to talking about ugliness. I said that although we live in a beautiful
world there is a lot of ugliness in it. There is selfishness, hurt, pain, wars, etc. From there, I
asked him if I could tell him a story about Jesus. He seemed a little reluctant at first. But, after I
said, “It’s just a story, you can take it or leave it,” he consented. So, I told him the story of Jesus
healing a deaf and mute man. You can find this account in Mark 7:31-37. I would encourage you
to read it! In the account, Jesus dealt with a man who had never been able to communicate. His
ability to connect with other humans was hindered by his disability. But Jesus found a way to
connect and communicate with this man despite his disability. Jesus took this man aside, so it
was just the two of them. He gave him individual attention. Then, Jesus used his actions to
show this man that he was going to heal him and this healing came from God. Jesus put his
fingers in the man’s ears, He touched the man’s tongue, then he looked up to heaven, sighed
and said, “Be opened!” And the man was healed. He was able to speak and hear from then on.
After Jesus healed this man, the crowd reacts by saying, “He has done everything well.” But another way you can translate the Greek word for “well” is “beautifully.” The crowd said Jesus
has done everything beautifully.
After telling this story, I told this man how Jesus came to bring beauty back to His creation.
Jesus took all the ugliness of this world on himself including all the ugliness we contribute to
this world and he experienced the horrible consequences of the ugliness by dying on the cross
(remember this guy liked horror stories). Jesus did this so that he could give us the most
beautiful thing ever – the privilege of seeing God face to face in heaven.
The artist appreciated me sharing the message with him. He reiterated that he was a “pretty
open person.” The message of beauty and ugliness seemed to resonate with him. After he was
finished with our caricature, I gave him my card and invited him to checkout our social media
content if he ever wanted to learn more about Jesus. Then we went on our way.
I share this story to illustrate that God has given us many different metaphors or pictures we
can use to share the gospel. We often use the justification metaphor in our evangelism. With
this metaphor we explain we were guilty before God. But Jesus took the punishment and
because of that God was able to declare us not guilty and let us go free. This is an excellent way
to share the gospel! But it is not the only message God has equipped us with. When I was
sharing the message of Jesus with an artist I thought using beauty and ugliness as a picture of
sin and grace might be more effective. Maybe you can use this approach with someone in your


Are We There Yet?

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in
all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:17)
In the last chapter of Luke’s gospel, we find ourselves walking down a dusty road with
two disciples headed toward the village of Emmaus. They’re trudging along with heavy
hearts, deeply discouraged. Jesus, their Teacher, has been crucified at the hands of his
enemies and all their fondest hopes have been dashed.
Then a Stranger joins them. We know that it’s Jesus, but they’re kept from knowing who
he is. “What are you talking about?” he asks. The disciples seem surprised, “Haven’t you
heard about all the things that have happened in Jerusalem these past few days?” They
go on to explain that Jesus of Nazareth…was a prophet, powerful in word and deed….
We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel…”
Jesus responds by turning a long walk into an inspirational Bible class. To these weary
disciples he slowly unpacks a survey of Old Testament prophecies about the promised
Messiah—“what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). With
each step, Jesus connects the dots—the details about his life foretold in the writings of
the prophets.
Life is a journey down a long and winding road. Sometimes exhilarating, it can also be
tiresome and exhausting. Our trip down life’s path often poses unexpected challenges to
our faith. Teachers say things that challenge our belief in God. Friends tempt us to do
things we know to be wrong. Our own sinful nature leads us to think that we can figure
things out on our own—that we don’t need God or church to help us on our way. The
devil uses these and a thousand other lies to try to take Jesus out of our hearts.
Where will we find the resolve to keep our legs strong for the journey? In Christ alone.
After Jesus left them, those two weary travelers asked each other, “Were not our hearts
burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?
(Luke 24:32). The Word our Lord used to re-ignite the faith of those two discouraged
disciples on the road to Emmaus is the very same Word that will strengthen us as we
travel along the path toward our heavenly home.
We’re not there yet. But with our Lord’s Word in our hearts, one day we will be.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, strengthen our weary hearts through your Word. Amen.


Like Father, Like Son

I was doing some exercises in my home last week and my daughter came and started watching me. Then, she started imitating the exercise I was doing. She was excited that she and daddy were “getting strong muscles together.” Scenes like this are a common experience with every family in the world, because children imitate their parents. That is how they learn. They are constantly observing and imitating. So, it is no surprise that children often end up with behavior patterns and outlooks similar to their parents. And it is because of this that we have phrases such as “Like Father, like Son,” “Like Mother, Like Daughter,” and “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Often this similarity can be a joy for parents as they see their children acting just like them. Other times we wish our children hadn’t picked up a habit from us. I hope my daughter doesn’t pick up my propensity to worry or some of my other sins and flaws!

Thankfully, there was one Son who was like his Father in every way. And there were no bad habits for this Son to imitate. When Jesus spoke of his relationship with God, He spoke of it like the relationship between a father and a son. Jesus says in John 5:19-21 “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. In this verse Jesus says he imitates the Father perfectly. In fact, the son “can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” This means it was the Father’s will to save you. Jesus is the perfect expression and manifestation of the Father’s will. So by looking at Jesus’ work, we know it was the Father’s will to save us. It was his will to rescue us from death and give us life. We know that was his will because that is what the son did! And after all, “Like Father, like Son.” 

So, if you are ever wondering about how God feels about you or what his will is for your life, all you have to do is look at the Son. Because the Son is God and is the perfect manifestation of the Father’s will. And when we look at the Son, we find out that it is God’s will to love us, give us life, and to use us to glorify his name. Amen.


You’re a Zombie! But you won’t be forever.

You’re a Zombie! But you won’t be forever.

Our culture (or at least a subset of our culture) is obsessed with zombies. This point is easy to prove when you look at the list of movies, TV shows, and books about zombies that have come out in the past two decades: World War Z, The Walking Dead, iZombie, Zombiland, I am Legend, etc. This is just a short selection of the Zombie entertainment available! Considering our culture’s obsession with zombies, I thought I would use zombies as a metaphor for different states of a human life: your life before Christ, your life with Christ, and your life at the resurrection. 

First, we have your life before Christ. Without Christ your life is like that of a zombie. Think of a zombie in The Walking Dead. In The Walking Dead, the zombies are alive in a sense. But they are only alive because a virus has reanimated their corpse. These virus infected beings have no real will or consciousness of their own. They are driven only by an instinct to kill and consume. They are an object worthy of contempt and disgust and the best thing to do with these zombies is to put a bullet in their head before they hurt anyone. This is similar to our state of existence before coming to faith in Christ. The apostle Paul says in Ephesians chapter two that before Christ people are dead in their transgressions and sins. They are Zombies! The walking dead! their only desire is to “gratify the cravings of their flesh” (Ephesians 2:3). And in this state people are “by nature deserving of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Is there any hope! Yes. 

Despite our wretched zombie state God loved us. Like Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) in I am Legend, he worked doggedly for a cure. And a cure was created by Jesus the son of God. This cure is delivered to us by the Holy Spirit using the syringe of the Means of Grace, God’s word and Sacrament. Once we have been given this cure we are made alive! God says this in Ephesians 2, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” 

This brings us to our second state of human existence, being alive in Christ. By giving us faith God has made us alive. For this state of existence think of the zombie “R” in the movie Warm Bodies. R is a zombie who begins to regain his humanity. He starts to like and desire good things like love, beauty, and music. He fights against his zombie nature to become more and more human. This is what our life in Christ on this earth is like. Christ has made us alive and out of thankfulness for that gift we desire to live a life according to his word. We desire good and godly things. However, we are still plagued by what we call “the flesh.” We still have our old sinful zombie flesh that desires to be its sinful zombie self. And so, we have to fight against that nature. To fight against that nature we need to keep getting doses of the cure. We need to return to God’s word regularly so our sinful nature doesn’t take over again. This struggle doesn’t stop until we pass away. But that is when our life as a zombie ends. 

After we die our souls go to be with God. Then, on the last day our bodies are resurrected by God. And God will not resurrect zombies. He is going to resurrect us and restore us to our full human state. We will be resurrected the way God intended humanity to be all the way back at the garden of Eden, created in his image glorious and beautiful. 

Until that day, my zombie brothers and sisters, keep fighting against your zombie nature. Come and keep getting doses of the cure, Jesus. That cure is only found in God’s word.