Discovering God in the Ugly

There was a certain rich man who was decked out in the finest clothing. Every day was a feast. His closest friends gathered round about him, delighting in his company, and he in theirs. This rich man led the best of lives, had the best things in this world. He was a blessed man.

And this rich man’s name was Lazarus.

Seeing, we do not see. Our eyes are busy deceiving us 24/7, like two liars sunk into our face, calling black white and white black. 

@@To see God's work in our world, our eyes must retire and our ears labor overtime.@@

We mistake appearance for reality. We see someone driving a fancy car, owning a big home, having healthy children and an attractive spouse. Instantly, almost without a second's thought, we assume they are successful. Life is good for them. They are living the dream. 

Maybe they are. Or maybe they're not. Because if Christ is not living within them, if the word of God is not part of their lives, they are to be pitied, not admired. I don't care how much money they have, they're impoverished. I don't care how healthy their children are, they're dead. Without Jesus, our whole life is a non-life. Without Jesus, every second of earthly life is simply a prelude to everlasting darkness and despair.

Seeing, we do not see, if we let our eyes tell us what is true and what is false, what is good and what is bad.

Look at our friend, Lazarus. Our eyes and ears tell us polar opposite stories:

  • Our eyes see Lazarus as a poor beggar, but our ears hear him as a man rich with the Father's grace.
  • Our eyes see Lazarus in rags, but our ears hear him decked out in the righteousness of Christ.
  • Our eyes see him starving, but our ears hear him feasting on the bread that came down from heaven.
  • Our eyes see him a man without friends, but our ears hear him as the friend of God, the companion of angels.

As it is with people, so it is with religious institutions, too.

On Sundays, I drive by a certain church. It boasts a sprawling campus. Its pastor is known internationally. Its multimillion dollar budget dwarfs most businesses. Outwardly, this is a sexy, awesome church.

On weekdays, on my delivery route, I drive by what is possibly the ugliest church in San Antonio. A store-front mission squatting between a laundromat and a greasy taco joint. In the evening, vagrants sleep out front and drug dealers hang out around back. Inside, the pulpit is an old music stand and metal folding chairs serve for pews.

Now which of these two churches is "successful"? In which one is God pleased to be at work? There's only one way to tell. On Sunday morning, leave your eyes at home and drive your ears to church. Whichever one is preaching the word of God in its truth and purity, whichever one is proclaiming the law and the Gospel, that is the church where God is pleased to dwell.

In daily life, in our spiritual life, God's work in our world is hidden under its opposite. To "see" it, look through your ears.

Here's the hard truth: @@Chances are, you're not going to like it when God is most active in your life.@@ It'll be when you think he's thrown you away, forgotten you, or declared war against you. It won't look like a honeymoon but a divorce. It won't look like a mountaintop experience but like dragging yourself out of a grave.

Your eyes will tell you a thousand lies. Only your ears will tell you the truth.

They will tell that, in the midst of all this pain and loss, Jesus alone is your life and your hope. When it seems you can't do a damn thing right, Jesus has done all things for you. When it feels like you can't take another step on your own, Jesus will say, "You've never taken a step on your own anyway. I've been carrying you all along. And I will continue to do so."

Our ears see the truth: God in the broken man atop the cross. A rich man in the poor beggar on the street. The temple of God in the shabby, store-front mission. The saints of God in us: the sinners, the failures, the losers, the broken, the used-up. 

Our ears see in Jesus, in the executed savior, the God who sneaks the true blessings of life into us in ways to which the world will always be blind.