My Talk at Sterling College

This is the talk – or at least what I had in my notes – that I gave at Sterling College yesterday.

I had one thing in my notes that I forgot to say.  I hate it when I do that…

Here’s the line I wish I had remembered to say —

“Beauty without truth is Hollywood. Truth without beauty is hollow religion.”

Oh well….next time, maybe.

God has a wicked sense of humor. I realize that most speakers will say to you that they once sat where you are sitting. I can actually say to you that where you sit, I spent an enormous amount of energy in college to NOT sit.

I started really following Jesus in college. This was after spending a year trying to disprove the authenticity and reliability of the Bible while attending a Christian university. We were required to get 128 chapel credits before you graduated.

There was an ongoing battle between the administration and some of us students concerning attendance in chapel. They started with assigned seats. I showed up my first week and someone was sitting in my seat so I let him…the whole semester and got credit for chapel having never attended.

The next semester they took attendance at the door by scanning our ID cards. That made things really easy – just step in the north door, get it scanned, go out the south door.

Next they scanned up at the front of the stage. Made sneaking out a little bit harder – but we figured out a way. Then they waited till chapel was over to scan. That was shut down by the professors as it made the whole university late to their 11 o’clock classes.

So it’s pretty ironic that this is my first time that I’m speaking on a Christian college in required chapel. And after that introduction, it just may be my last as well.

I’d like for you to turn to Isaiah 41 in your scriptures. How many of you have ever heard a talk on Isaiah 41? Yeah, this will be my first one as well. Let’s just get into it…

Read Isaiah 41:21-29

It’s pretty easy to hear the sarcasm. It’s pretty obvious that the Lord is basically verbally spanking the Israelites for exchanging a real, personal relationship with the Creator for a convenient, hand-made false idol.

God is calling out their “gods.” Do something. Do anything. It doesn’t even have to be good or great or bold – just anything so that a decision can be made. And verse 24 is one of the pinnacle verses here:

“But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless;
whoever chooses you is detestable.”

As well as verse 29:

“See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing;
their images are but wind and confusion.”

What a great definition of an idol – it does nothing, it’s an image, it’s wind and confusion.  And it’s easy to sit here in 2012 and look there 700 to 800 BC with a bit of arrogance. It’s easy to ask the question how could they get that confused to think that those statues and trinkets were gods? It’s so easy to look back and see the frailty of it all.

Over the last few years, I’ve had some incredible opportunities to travel to Eastern Europe, Croatia, Brazil and see some very different cultures and their past false gods and idols.

Porte Alegra, Brazil
This is Porto Alegre. 3.5 million people live in the city. I’m going there in a few months again but spiritism is huge in southern Brazil to this day.


Because of this building right here. This building was the first slave market in Brazil. The slaves brought with them their religious beliefs and practices – spiritism. After the slaves were set free, it was used as a Spiritist temple and now it is a public market. We buy coffee and there is a great ice cream shop in there. AND yes – there are a couple of spiritists shops in there as well.


Porec, Croatia
This is beautiful Porec, Croatia located on the Adriatic sea right across from Venice.


This was a Roman temple ruins. It’s so far gone – they don’t even know which god it was built for. It sits behind some apartments and you can just go play on them.


This is the coliseum just down the road from Porec. It’s actually larger and more intact than the one in Rome. It’s a monument to a culture and what was important to them back then. Over there on the far left is where they held the Christians before they sent them in the arena to face wild animals.


They were breaking down a concert they just had with Sting. How cool would that be? Listening to Sting in an ancient coliseum by the Adriatic sea?

This is what is left of a statue of one of the Roman gods – we think it was Mars. It would have been one time a central point of reverence and worship. You can see, it’s now covered in ivy.


Look where it is located. So many people just walk by eating ice cream, never even noticing it.


Most of you are pretty smart. So it’s fairly easy to see what’s next, right? 250 years from now – what will be our ruins that people look at us and think arrogantly – how did they get so distracted from the living and true God? You tell me – what will be some of those things?

Yeah – ipads, cars, houses, technology, achievement, fame…

Listen, I’m guessing that most of you get that. That’s a message you’ve probably heard before and will hear again. That’s not really my question or my point this morning.

When I see these ruins and I see our own culture’s capacity to create these beautiful false gods and idols to worship – I see something else. Something that I think the church is missing to her own detriment. There is an innate desire to worship inside humanity. And this desire also has with it this deep need or drive for beauty. That’s why they made all those temples and statues. It was beautiful. They needed something beautiful as well as “truthful” to worship.

So worship is not ONLY about TRUTH. It’s also about beauty. That desire is in every human – it’s why every generation, every century has ‘worshipped’ their artists sometimes more than their scholars. We need beauty in order for TRUTH to take root in the human soul.

The church for too long has abandoned it’s hunger and creation of beauty. She has forgotten to bring beauty alongside truth. My generation started a revolution in American church culture – one that was needed – but we are in no way close to finishing what we started. We’ve messed some things up just as much as we fixed some things. We are going to need your help in becoming a more wholistic expression of the Bride of the Christ.

Just an example of what this COULD look like. Our church in Topeka partnered with a group of artist on a series on Genesis. Gave them the text from Genesis 1-6, different artists – and had them put their thoughts on canvases. I want to show you two of these paintings this morning. Understand that a majority of these artists had never read the creation accounts in Genesis.

This was one done on Genesis 3. Take a moment and really look at it.


Let me point out a couple of things. Who does Eve look like? Farrah Fawcett. What do you notice about Adam? He is in shadows, doubt. What color are the people? Every color on the palette was used on them. Naked, unashamed but entering the shadows. Do you see the serpent? Hard to see but once you see him, impossible to miss. The branches…subtle. Sneaky. In the middle of the decision.  This is the story — the whole story of Genesis 3. And it anchors truth in a meaningful way.

This was painted by an autistic guy who lives down the street from me. IT hangs in my office. The colors pop but have a glaze of mud or dirt over them. We are created in the image of God but we are damaged. That damage is real and deep but it will never totally blot out God’s image.  That’s good stuff. That’s good theology.


Do you think I’m crazy? Think I’m off my rocker a bit? Think I’m stretching a bit to fit this into Isaiah? I don’t think so. Let’s look at God’s response to those who worship other idols, let’s read the first 10 verses of the next chapter, Isaiah 42.

Read Isaiah 42:1-10

God’s answer to the people who worshipped false gods was to send them one of his servants to show them both truth and beauty. The truth of who God is, the beauty that proves it. He is a sending, redeeming, chasing God that shows off true truth and true beauty to all so that some will choose to enter a relationship with Him. It’s in every story in this book. Beauty and truth.

Beauty without truth is dangerous. It’s Hollywood. Truth without beauty is hollow religion. It’s rules and Pharisees – setting us up to live as hard-hearted people disconnected from our soul. [missed this in actual delivery!]

We need both beauty and truth because God created in us a hunger for both and God presented himself as both – the beautiful true God.

As you prepare to be our leaders over the next few years – don’t compromise one for the other. Make the hard decision to embrace both.  So that we can see this happen in our lifetime.

Isaiah 42:10
I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

Thank you for your time this morning. I’d like to pray for you.


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