The Rules of Attraction (Spiritual Edition), Part 2


'Mendi' by innocent tauruscianIn my previous post on this topic of being spiritually attractive, I noted that, too often, the contemporary Church in America resembles the slightly annoying, loud, “two bagger” friend of the naturally beautiful girl, and that’s the reverse of what it should be.

We are the Bride of Christ, not the also-ran. We caught the bouquet at the wedding long ago and we’re the ones getting married. We’re the ones at the altar. It’s our day. There is no time today for being the hopeful, though-probably-doomed-to-spinsterhood bridesmaid.

Everyone noticed the early Church. Thousands rushed into the Kingdom. In the first 300 years of existence, the Church grew from a handful of souls to what historians peg at 20-25 million. The world noticed the Church’s beauty.

But there’s a world of difference between “Wow! Check her out!” and “Eww, check her out!” Too often , the American Church resembles the latter. We’re attractional in the wrong way. There’s a big difference between catching a second look because we’re a stunning beauty and catching the look because our ample gut is spilling over our low-rider jeans.

Here’s how the Church can be beautiful to the lost people of the world:

1. Listen more; talk less.

Dale Carnegie, of How to Win Friends and Influence People fame, long ago noticed that we human beings enjoy people who are willing to listen to us. Studies have borne out this truth. When all other influences are factored out, we find that the person who listens is deemed the more attractive person.

The meteoric rise of social networking sites on the Web and microblogging tools like Twitter have captured the public fancy because, deep down inside, people are dying for someone, anyone, to notice them. Our society is an increasingly detached and cold one. We’ve spurned the types of communities that for all of human history provided a sense of connection and inclusion.

Listening is the ultimate reconnection, the big notice.

Christians need to reconsider how we apportion our listening and our speaking. Ten theologically astute sermons may, in fact, not balance out one  serious listening session on our part when we offer a damaged person our ear (free of advice). We may listen for ten hours, but at the end of that ten, our simple statement, “I hear you. And Jesus is the answer,” may be the extent of the sermon we have to give to help usher someone into the Kingdom of God.

Some people have never had anyone hear their story. As a Christian, what more attractional gift can we offer than to be the one willing to listen.

2. Be the other person.

Paul said it best:

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
—1 Corinthians 9:20-23

Our failure to live this way may be the most profound reason why unbelievers don’t want to have much to do with us. Not only does a lack of empathy on our part separate us from other people, but so does our holier-than-thou attitude that we often lord over those who are not like us.

Too harsh?

Consider that Paul became weak to win the weak. He didn’t lounge in his position of strength and say to others, “See how strong I am, while you are weak. Don’t you want to be like me?” In other words, he didn’t act like a pitchman on some self-help infomercial—as we all know, those guys are just universally loved by all, aren’t they? Envy makes a lousy entryway into the Kingdom.

Or imagine the reception Paul would have received at Mars Hill should he have stepped to the dais and said, “Listen up, you godless philosophers, repent or die in your sins.” Instead, he took the time to consider the discussion of the philosophers and their ideas and used their same ideas and language to point to Christ.

When we talk to others about Christ, do we do so as one of them, yet filled with the Spirit of God?

3. Never let our own cherished opinions serve as an impediment to others.

The Enemy of our souls is far more cunning than we give him credit for. Our own nonessential belief systems are one of his greatest tools to make the Church ugly.

I’m old enough to remember the first run of All in the Family. I remember the stir that Norman Lear caused by making Archie Bunker the mouthpiece for contemporary America. We laughed at Archie’s bigoted opinions about Jews, blacks, “homos,” and “commie pinkos.” But we did so nervously.

Archie painted himself as a  Christian, though he was more of a believer in the American civil religion than anything. Still, which of us would want him to join us on a door-to-door evangelistic outreach? Anyone?

Yet too often, each of us is not too far removed from Archie. Our opinions may not be as comically outrageous to us, but to others they might be.

Last night, I listened to a group of representative Evangelical believers talk. Here are some excerpts of that discussion:

“Ann Coulter said….”

“I heard that you can tell the quality of a history book by how it portrays Ronald Reagan.”

“The public schools are indoctrinating children. That’s why we must homeschool.”

“Angry homosexuals picketed Rick Warren’s church….”

In the end, not a single one of those statements advances the Gospel. In fact, each may serve as an impediment to someone else coming to the Lord. They are political statements, statements about lightning rod individuals or culture war issues, but not a single one points to Jesus. Instead, they serve as roadblocks to the Kingdom of God for people who don’t like Ann Coulter, had a career in air traffic control derailed, send their kids to public school, or who happen to be an angry homosexual because they were homosexually molested for years by an uncle and only now realize how messed up their lives are because of it.

When I read the New Testament, I don’t see Jesus or the early Church dropping political or social roadblocks in the way of dying people who are longing for the Good News. Neither should we. I’m sure folks back then had some cherished opinions about those “scumbag Samaritans,” but didn’t Jesus defuse those?

We tend to forget that “and such were some of you.” We don’t remember where we came from. We accumulate our cherished opinions over time and think that everyone must think just as we do or else they are scumbag Samaritans. Our opinions and rhetoric can make us ugly.

Only the Gospel is important. Everything else is filler—and often misguided filler at that. It’s time we spent less energy reinforcing our beliefs on filler and spend more time allowing Jesus center stage by reflecting His heart on what really matters, the salvation of the lost and their discipleship in the core essentials of the Faith.

4. Live the truth rather than deliver well-intentioned speeches about it.

Talk has never been cheaper. As I have said many times here at Cerulean Sanctum, the entire Western world has heard the name of Jesus from the mouths of Christians. Now it is simply waiting to see if this talk of Jesus is true by the way His followers live out their rhetoric.

We Americans love people of action. The person who built rescue shelters for battered women gets our attention. The person who only talks about doing so does not.

Every Sunday, Christians attend some 300,000+ recognized Christian churches in America. they hear 300,000+ sermons. Yet only a handful of those attendees go out and put what they hear into practice.

What does it mean to love your neighbors, perhaps those people who lives next door, when neither you nor I have once served them or even taken the opportunity to know their names?

The one thing that may speak louder than a million sermons to the lesbian who lives next door may be that you show up at her doorstep with food and a listening ear when her partner is killed in a car wreck.

All the rhetoric in the world can be undone by one simple act of love and mercy. A million roadblocks to heaven can be blasted away by an act of kindness in the name of Jesus.

You may be the only one who sends a birthday card to the drug-dealing kid in your neighborhood.

You may be the only one who shows up at the book signing when the communist at work finally gets his manifesto published.

You may be the only representative of Jesus Christ who ever manages to surrender a few minutes out of a busy life to care enough to be there for someone else in their time of need.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about one of the least-known of Jesus’ parables. That story tells of two brothers, one who talked a good one but did nothing and one who actually lived out the good. One of those brothers was attractive. The other was reduced to telling himself that he was when he wasn’t. The difference was in what each brother did.

Which brother are we going to be?

5. Nurture beauty at home.

Hinduism is not beautiful and never will be. Why? Because the Hindus will never be one. Some are in and some are out. They hold up some of their own for acclaim while despising the lowest of their members.

Hinduism isn’t the only religion that draws distinctions among its own. Most religions do.

Genuine Christianity does not. The weakest of our own are to be given the most protection and love. When the Romans tossed their sick and elderly onto the burn piles to die, the Christians swooped in and made them their own. Most historians will note this is one reason why the Church grew fantastically in Rome. The believers loved the weak, even when those weak were their own brothers and sisters in Christ.

The world is watching how we treat our own, the people we say are our brothers and sisters in Christ. In an age of advertising, the worldly can spot lies and hypocrisy a mile away. Must we add to their cynicism by saying we love everyone yet we can’t abide our own?

How we live out the Gospel within the household of Faith will determine the beauty of the face we show the rest of the world. If we walk out of our assemblies grumbling about Sister Sandra, unbelievers will see and make a mental note, a note that may very well bar them from heaven when all is said and done.

Imagine being a widow in Palestine circa 50 AD. No means of support. No one to love and care for you. Little hope for life. Then you hear about the Christians. Then you see how the Christians treat their own widows and those outsider widows who become a part of their fellowship. Wouldn’t that be attractive to you? Wouldn’t you want to know what it is about these people that they love the unloved? They give honor to those who are rejected by the rest of society. There must be something different about them. Wouldn’t you want to know what accounts for that difference?

If we put on Christ at home in our assemblies and walk out into a waiting world, our natural beauty will shine through, and the people who are desperate will want what we have. If people are not clamoring to have a part of what we have, then perhaps we need a gut check on how we appear to a dying world.

6. Foster beauty in all its expressions.

The Christian is the arbiter of beauty. When we consider the greatest works of beauty in this world, many, if not most, where crafted by Christians. The finest symphonies, the most glorious paintings,  soul-stirring literature—Christians who reflect the creative beauty of their Lord made those things.

Yet something happened to the Church about a hundred years ago. We forgot what it meant to cultivate beauty. Instead, our creative works became derivative, weak imitations of worldly “masterpieces” that were lacking in all taste and talent. Today, what passes for beautiful art, music, and literature in the Church all too often exemplifies the worst excesses of consumerism, modernism, and lowest common denominator thinking. It is attractive only to those who have no concept of genuine beauty.

So when the world isn’t all that thrilled by our artists, musicians, and authors, should we be surprised? In fact, we should be ashamed that we continue to tolerate kitsch in the name of Christ.

Christian MUST recapture the arts. And to do so, we must recapture the most talented artists. Fact is, because artists of all kinds ARE a different sort of person, we Christians need to realign our thinking on the arts and the artists who make them. God loves skilled artisans. We Christians should, too. They are the ones who help us understand beauty. If we continue to drive them away, then we will be driving beauty away with them, and ultimately all those lost people who are looking for the Church to define beauty and ugliness.

If we do not know what is beautiful, how can we show beauty to the world?

7. Because some aspects of beauty are solely cultural constructs, embrace a broader definition of what is attractive.

Peter Paul Rubens. You know, the guy who painted all those zaftig Renaissance dames. Well, they were real lookers, those plus-sized models, at least in Rubens’ day (though not so much our own). Tough to see what Rubens and his peers saw in those BBWs.

Each of us in the Church is blind in one spot or another to what is genuinely beautiful. Much of the Earth is populated by creatures that seem to defy beauty, yet God called each one He created good. I know I don’t exactly find opossums to be the supermodels of the animal kingdom, but God differs.

What are we calling ugly in the midst of the Body of Christ that is, in reality, beautiful from God’s perspective? This is important to note, because if we are to be attractive to the lost, we must reflect beauty in all its forms, even those forms that are alien to us.

I’ve known churches where the theologian is reviled while the social worker is deemed lovely. I’ve known churches where the financially successful are exalted while those who do good, yet have little in the bank, are held in contempt. For too long we have clung to what we believe is beautiful and rejected beauty in other guises.

If we are to be attractive to the world, we need an overhaul of our limits on beauty. We need to ask the Lord what is beautiful and not trust our definitions alone. If we can call the cross a symbol of beauty despite the scandal and ugliness of what happened upon it, then we can learn to find beauty in places we never looked before.

And when we do, we will attract even more of the lost.

In the end, the Church is called to be lovely, winsome, and charming. This does not mean that we surrender the cross, though. Not everyone who will be attracted to our beauty will persist through the death of self at the cross. But the cross alone should be the impediment and nothing else. And that cross doesn’t need us to add to its nature.

Our job is to be beautiful because we reflect Jesus, and He is beautiful above all.

I’ve laid out seven ideals on attractiveness. Many more exist. What is your input? Or should I say, “What are your beauty tips?”

Radical Thoughts, Real Community


Sunday night, my church shared a Thanksgiving feast together. And while some may believe Lutherans have cornered the market on potluck dinners, my Pentecostal church did a fine job.

So I went off my diet for a day. Sometimes you have to savor the moment with friends.

When I think about one area of our lives as Christians where our walk doesn’t match our talk, it’s in building real community. The word community lingers on the lips of so many  Christians today, but when I look around I don’t see much community. At least not real community that bursts ungodly societal constraints.

In talking with a friend from church, Don, we both commented on how dependent we have become on technology in our lives. Don mentioned that one finely placed electromagnetic pulse over the United States, crippling most of our electronics, would have a destabilizing effect on our society. In many ways, we have made ourselves so dependent on our cell phones, computers, cable TV, and even the simple electronics that run a stoplight, that to lose them for an extended length of time would wreak utter chaos.

I believe Don is correct. When I lived out in California, an intersection lost a stoplight for a few minutes and someone who didn’t like the snarl that occurred got out a gun and started shooting. With people wound so tightly by our modern society, should we be surprised?

Even if society should fail to collapse without our tech gadgets, those electronics have changed us in profound ways. Call me a neo-Luddite, but I believe that many of those devices have already had a destabilizing effect on our society, especially when it comes to experiencing genuine community.

The items we buy, especially advanced machinery and electronics, may make our lives simpler, but they also make us self-sufficient to the exclusion of others. We live in an age dominated by the idea that we do not need each other. Our machines have made it possible for us to exist apart from other people. Many would consider this a positive, but when it comes down to how God made us, it’s clear that the very foundations of community are specters of their former selves.

The result? We have become a disconnected and depressed people.

One of the radical truths of the Gospel we can’t escape is that Jesus is NOT so much a personal Savior as He is a a Savior of a people, a people He is drawing to Himself. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb will not be you alone in a room with Jesus, but with the whole host of believers from all time. If we are being fitted to heaven by our time on this blue orb, then that fitting must be thought of in terms of community.

Yet we do little this side of eternity to live in community.

Our problem stems from our inability–to use a much overused phrase–to think outside the box. I remember many years ago how my old neighborhood experienced a power outage that blackened TVs, silenced video games (Atari 2600s back then), and stilled the bits and bytes of computers (Commodore 64 and Apple IIe).  Right after supper, the electronics stilled, the soft voice of that beautiful summer night  called to people. The next thing I knew neighbors were chatting in each other’s yards, kids were playing impromptu games of Kick the Can and softball, and the neighborhood came alive. But when the power kicked on an hour or so later, the neighborhood took on the feel of a tomb. People had trudged back to their electronic distractions, each homeowner shutting on the door on his or her personal fortress.

We’re still locked up today. Perhaps more so.

But the Bible is a story of God and the community He is creating. The Gospel exists for people and is meant to be shared between people, to be celebrated in community. Christ’s clarion call in the Great Commission is Christ’s call bids us, his people, to go out and bring in more people to the Church. We exclude no one. The widow, orphan, and immigrant are to be welcomed in our midst. Jew and Gentile, all are welcome. What Christ is building has no limits and no boundaries, save for our own unwillingness to participate in the work.

This is why we Christians MUST rethink how we view the Gospel and the Kingdom. Every effort we make, the very way we live, must be oriented toward outreach. Even when we play, we don’t play alone, but with others. It’s our mandate.

Do we see how this is at complete odds with our societal constructs? We talk about relevancy in the Church, but the truth is that most of how we are to live cannot be shoehorned into society and culture. Instead, they must conform to the ideals of Christ. This means we Christians must learn to think like Christians and not like the world.

Well, no duh, right? We all know this.

Do we?

Think about a common activity we enjoy today: listening to music on our iPods. We Christians should ask ourselves how this solitary activity connects us in community to other people. Truth is, it accomplishes quite the opposite effect. Worse, it disempowers the listener, forcing him or her into a consumer mode. The music is disconnected from the hearer and from the community. Something is ultimately lost in the process.

So what is the truly Christian response, the one that works toward community and sharing among people?

What would happen if instead of reaching for the iPod, we make music ourselves? And what if we make it in community, getting together with others to play and sing? Just hanging out together and jammingSuch a move makes us less dependent on consuming and more dependent on each other. Not only this, but we encourage others to use their gifts. We provide an example to the young and to each other. The musical talents we share uplift the community that forms around our music.

When we keep community in mind, we form relationships that build networks of dependency that shatter our self-reliance and return us to God’s ideal interaction. He walked with Adam in the garden because He is a relational God. How then do we approach all of life with this mindset?

Why do our families eat alone? What if the rarity was to eat just by ourselves? Should we not have others eating in our homes on a regular basis? Wasn’t this one of the unusual hallmarks of the early Church? I believe we Christians must start opening our homes on a regular basis so that few of our meals are eaten just with our own nuclear family. What better way to talk with others about what God is doing in our lives than in this kind of atmosphere?

How would this kind of thinking change our culture?

What if Christians were at the forefront of the slow food movement, taking time to prepare good food made without extreme processing, and always share that food with a group? What if we set aside our evenings for being with other people around a table of homemade food? How would that transform our understanding of community?

Even if we were to go out to eat at a restaurant, why not pay the way of some people we don’t know well so they might join us and begin to share in our community?

What would it mean for the Christian community to live in such a way that we share what we have rather than buying redundant copies of everything we believe we need? Would we be able to work fewer hours and devote more time to the Gospel and to others?

Consider what might happen if we begin to forgo purchasing more junk for ourselves so that we might consider the needs of others. Watch this video to see how one church thought better of building a new building and decided to put that money to a more Christ-centered use. Then consider how saying no to extravagance might change the lives of others. What if we lived that way every day?

Think about what might happen to us and those around us if we turned off the TV. What would we do with that free time that would place us in the lives of other people?

What might come about if truly esteemed others better than ourselves?

If we begin to ask how we might be more others-centered, I suspect that we’ll eventually change how we live and, ultimately, change the world for Christ. It doesn’t take much more than making a few decisions differently each day. If we do that long enough, our lives are transformed. Hospitality doesn’t become so frightening to us anymore. People aren’t left on the vine to wither. The Gospel goes out into new venues. Others see that Christians really care, rather than just talking about caring.

Radical thoughts lead to real community.

Readers, what are some of your suggestions for taking the worldly way of looking at a situation and turning it into a godly means by which we encourage interaction with others and build community?

In My Little Kingdom (and Yours)


In my little kingdom, I ride my little pony over my little rainbow. Every day is my day, every event my event.

In my little kingdom, we build on a foundation that is me. We do this because only I am worthy.

In my little kingdom, I never have to sacrifice, though you do. You’re a peasant, remember, but I’m a king.

In my little kingdom, the easiest way to make things happen is to throw a tantrum. My castle in my little kingdom. Isn't it fab?Because nothing beats a spectacle when attempting to prove one’s royal lineage.

In my little kingdom, the littleness of it all means there’s just enough room for me. Let’s not even consider making room for those people.

In my little kingdom, nothing is more important than making me feel good about myself. Of course, this means that I will have to make other people feel bad about themselves. (That’s just the way it works. Sorry.)

In my little kingdom, we do what I want and not what you want. In fact, in my little kingdom, as far as I’m concerned, there is no you.

In my little kingdom, I’ve heard peasants talk of being “the bigger person.” I have no idea what that means, though.

And sometimes, the best place for me to pull out my little kingdom for all to see is when I interact with other people. Funny thing is, when I’m with others, it seems like each person has his own little kingdom. Except those other little kingdoms don’t matter as much as mine.

I once heard of a place where another Kingdom reigned.

In that other Kingdom, everyone is a servant, yet no one complains. In fact, people serve gratefully.

In that other Kingdom, people aren’t peasants, but children of the King. And the children treat each other as if each is the most important person in the world.

In that other Kingdom, no room for little kingdoms exists. That’s not because the Kingdom is too small, but because it’s too large.

In that other Kingdom, in times of lack, all lack together, and in times of plenty, all enjoy plenty together. The children even believe that giving their blessings away is better than keeping them all to themselves.

In that other Kingdom, it isn’t about living, but about dying. And no one would have it any other way.

In that other Kingdom, when one rejoices, all rejoice. Also, as unbelievable as it may sound, when one hurts, all hurt.

In that other Kingdom, all can become children of the King. Even those people.

In that other Kingdom, helping others become part of the Kingdom drives the children. Some even die so that others might come to live in the Kingdom.

In that other Kingdom, the foundation is the King. And He is love.

In that other Kingdom, one glimpses true meaning. Some even say that eternal life is found in the King of that Kingdom and in surrendering all to Him.


Sometimes, when all is quiet and I have to be alone with myself, I think about that other Kingdom and mine doesn’t seem so wonderful anymore.