“They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed.” (Psalm 34:5 NASB).
The talk that I am privileged to give tonight is about Authentic Beauty. But before I begin to expound on this title, I want to share some numbers with you:
In 2004, almost 12 million cosmetic procedures were performed, 90% of those being on women. (Source: http://www.surgery.org/press/procedurefacts-asqf.php)
Over $2.5 billion is spent annually on these cosmetic surgeries.
$20 billion is spent annually on cosmetic products
$33 billion spent on dietary products. (Source: http://www.everystudent.com/features/beauty.html)
As a society, we spend so much time and money on improving and adorning our physical persons. I wonder how many of us concern ourselves with improving and adorning our spiritual persons, or if we would even know how. By our ‘spiritual persons’, I mean our souls, what makes us who we really are as fingerprints of God. It’s our character, how we interact with those around us, how we approach life and its problems, and how we react to current issues concerning morality, justice, and truth.
Let’s do a quick thought experiment. You and your girlfriends are walking to class one morning, and you pass some hot dude. I mean, this guy is fine. You ogle after him as he passes, giggling amongst yourselves. “Man, what I wouldn’t give to go out with HIM,” you sigh. Now, there’s nothing wrong with physical attraction, but how many of you have ogled after a guy who spends four hours in the library every day studying, or always turns in his homework assignments in class in a timely and orderly fashion, or uses the money and time he would’ve wasted on game days to instead volunteer at the local shelter? Do you even hear about those guys?
Christians in America suffer from something called the “Empty-Self Syndrome” – a term coined by Christian apologist and theologian, J.P. Moreland, in his book Love Your God With All Your Mind. I think this is a very accurate portrayal of the state of the typical Christian in this country. This syndrome is characterized by a self-centered, consumption-oriented lifestyle that expects and demands immediate gratification, “living for the moment”, rather than committing to long-term projects of personal discipline, learning, and character building.
We think that by lifting our hands and singing our guts out in church once a week we can have true intimacy with God (in view of everyone, I might add). “I’m growing spiritually,” we say. “I go to Sunday School on Sundays, and I go to Wesley AND BSU AND Generation 6:20, AND Campus Crusade, AND RUF every week!” But how many of us go to Wesley and BSU for the social club and food, instead of the worship and teaching? How many of us can crack open the Bible on our own and discover its true meaning for ourselves? How many of us can form our own prayers, instead of merely muttering ‘Amen’ to those of our pastors?
How long will we be content with living off a feeding tube of ground-up mush, making everyone spoon-feed us, when we could be feasting on the deeper things of God?
As soon as we said the “Sinner’s Prayer,” the church tells us that we should expect instant freedom from temptations, instant good health and long life, immediate understanding of all Scripture, instant sanctification, instant ‘godly behaviour’. Then, when our lives don’t immediately fall into blissful place, we grow discouraged, we lose that fire, and some give up on the faith altogether. This self-destructive behavior is reflected in our approach to relationships as well.
We long to meet that “special someone” that we can marry and spend the rest of our mortal lives with, but then we shrink from the thought of having to actually work at the relationship, like intimacy is accomplished by dropping two people in a microwave-safe dish and nuking for thirty seconds.
In essence, the empty-self is someone who lacks growth, both spiritually and intellectually. Like a whitewashed tomb, they waste all their time pursuing the perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect boyfriend, the perfect image, but inside they are full of rotting bones. No life. No real passions or desires. No maturity. Their drive is becoming just what they think the world wants to see and hear. They have no real love. And as a result, they are incapable of offering real love.
Instead, we Christians should concern ourselves with developing what is called our ‘interior lives’. It wasn’t long ago that people were measured by the internal traits of virtue and morality, and it was the person who exhibited character and acted honorably who was held in high esteem. You all know how that has changed. Do you know how many people asked me why I had Monday off of school a couple weeks ago? It was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, for those of you in Rio Linda. No one really celebrates this man anymore, or takes the time to appreciate all the moral awareness he accomplished in his lifetime. What about Abraham Lincoln? Mother Teresa?
Do you know who is held in ‘high esteem’ now? I’m sure we could name people for days. Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods. Queen Latifah. Rosie O’Donnell. SnoopDog. And what have they accomplished for the good of society? Not much. They are highly regarded because they are ‘cool.’ They wear your new favorite brand of tennis shoes and wear bling-blings the size of your head. They drive the most expensive cars and shack up with the hottest chicks. Do you really think they are satisfied or feel complete? “Sure,” you say. “And I would be too if I had all that money and popularity.” Let me ask you something, if that’s true, then why weren’t you satisfied when you finally got that iPod you’d been wanting last Christmas? Or what about that awesome pair of Nikes you got last year that are now somewhere under your bed, chew toys for your $2,000 Pomeranian that you haven’t seen since sixth grade when you convinced mommy that this unfortunate pup would be the gift to end all gifts?
The same thing with popularity. It wears off. It changes. You know why? Because it’s unstable, a shifting fancy, a foundation of sand, just like everything connected to this carnal world.
A great example of someone with a strong “interior life” was Ruth. You all are familiar with the story, I’m sure. Rather than pursue protection and prosperity in her mother’s house, she instead chose to remain faithful to Naomi. Boaz took notice of her, saying: “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.” (Ruth 2:11-12 NASB) He didn’t notice her because she was beautiful, or because she was the most popular chick at the well every morning, or because she was rich or successful. She was a widow! Living in squalor, trying to support her widowed mother-in-law! Those little felt storyboards we all had in church when we were young always depicted Ruth as a beautiful, young girl, but the Bible never mentions her outward appearance. She could’ve been the world’s most eligible hag for all we know! But did Boaz care? Did he pursue her for her appearance? No, he took notice of her for her faithfulness, her diligence, and her quiet spirit.
So, this pursuit of virtue and character was called in the olden days the pursuit of the “good life.” After long deliberation, an individual disciplined himself in those virtues most valued, such as honesty, diligence, initiative, patience, mercy. Peter describes such a process for believers when he tells us to “add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” (2 Peter 1:3-7 NASB) Not, add to your designer clothes, Sephora make-up, and to that add a 24-inch waist, and to that add a $100 grand salary job, and to that add a boyfriend who will dote on you and buy you diamonds (a.k.a. slave), and to that add a MacBook Air (sorry, I had to throw that in) etc., etc., etc. Peter adds that “if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8 NASB) “The Christian life begins with faith, but grows by feeding the interior life in a disciplined manner.”
How then, can we cure ourselves from this “Empty-Self Syndrome”?
1. Admit that there is a problem. We all have areas where we could improve. Whether we worry too much about our image, waste money on clothes and make-up, or whether we spend so much time studying and working (not to say that studying and working in themselves are bad) that we neglect the development of our personal relationships and our “interior lives”.
2. Choose to be different. Make a commitment to not act like the stereotypical Christian that is content to be spoon-fed and never get beyond ‘diaper-stage’ in their spiritual walk.
3. Change your routine. If you obsess over schoolwork for ten hours a day, make a point of stopping yourself every couple hours to do something else edifying, such as meet a sister in Christ for coffee or lunch, or read a theological book or the Bible, work on Scripture memorization. If you spend three hours every morning putting on clothes and make-up, use some of that time to instead pray and study the Scriptures, or get in some extra studying time before classes.
4. Begin to develop your character. We all know our weaknesses. Instead of writing our vices off as “well, it’s just my personality”, let’s make an effort to turn these vices into virtues and become a Ruth, someone worth pursuing and noticing. Only then can we become women of God, filled with the things of God, full of passion for this Gospel of Love, and able to pour out ourselves for the good of others and for the Glory of the Name of Jesus.