Beyond the Surface

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The other night I and some friends were at Ravinia listening to YoYo Ma, the renowned cellist and all around good guy. It isn’t just his musicality that makes me such a fan, it is his character as he shares the praise and spotlight with those around him. A man who could have a justifiably enormous ego is a generous musician and seemingly regular person. His musical ability causes me to love his music, but it is his character that makes me like him as a person.

That night at Ravinia I volunteered to bring food. I love good food and while my skill isn’t quite up to par with my taste buds, I try. What is of far lesser importance to me is the presentation. If the food itself isn’t tasty, it doesn’t matter how pretty the presentation. Don’t get me wrong, I do like things nicely presented, but it is what is INSIDE the dish that matters most. So my walnut and goat cheese salad was served in a gallon size baggie, as was my couscous salad. We used red Solo cups and plastic silverware. There was nothing fancy about this meal, just good food with good friends.

As I think about that evening, the truth of this philosophy in all of my life hits home. Whether it is clothes, makeup or title, if the person is not someone of character and honor, there is nothing about them that will appeal to me. I can admire athleticism and beauty, but the real value of a person is not in those things. Celebrities hold very little appeal to me. What one does with their life for the sake of others is what matters, not how much media attention one gets.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting. But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” This proverb holds just as true for men. The funny thing is that a woman or man who fears the Lord isn’t looking for praise at all. Rather they are looking to honor God and live their lives for his sake and for his kingdom.

In the New Testament, Jesus talks about individuals who look great on the outside, but on the inside they are “whited sepulchers.” They are shiny graves. Looks so nice and pristine on the outside but inside they are rotting and decaying. The odor of death is trapped behind beautiful marble. Yet it is the beautiful, the glamorous, the pretty that get our attention while the plain, awkward, nerdy and dorky people who live their lives, day in and day out, as servants of the Most High God go unrecognized and undervalued.

Women are fed a steady stream of diet fads, clothing trends, impossible images and required coquettishness all geared to attract men because, the story is told, that is what men like. Intelligent, direct and authoritative women are not desirable, so they say. Men are fed the same kind of mental and emotional garbage to fit into the perfect male image, often characterized by domination and control over women. These fallacies of human life taint our world and our image of ourselves and of those we live among. Those who are uneducated, ill-mannered and illiterate are treated as less than human. They have no power and no voice.

Fortunately, that is not how God sees things. He sees beyond the surface to the heart. He choses the lowly in this world to proclaim his great message. He takes the powerful and brings them low for the sake of his kingdom. Often it doesn’t feel this way, but the truth of the kingdom is that those with the least power will be made powerful. Those with the least influence will change the world. Those who are least beautiful will be glorified as a daughter or son of God. Such beauty as the world has ever seen cannot compare to the beauty of a heart surrendered and pursuing God. There is nothing and no one more beautiful or attractive than that.

My encouragement to you, and to me, is to look beyond the surface. See beyond the dirt, the wrinkles, the strange facial hair, the body that is too fat or too thin, the grey hair, the lack of hair, the less than fashionable dress, the awkwardness, and the ordinariness. Look beyond the surface. Is there character? Is there integrity, authenticity, passion for the least of these, generosity, and compassion? Those are the people to know, the people to befriend, the people to celebrate.

In the end, when we are old, what will matter is not how good we looked or how fine our presentation was, but how we have impacted our world for God’s kingdom. What will matter is the legacy of God’s love and compassion revealed through his daughters and sons.

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