Scrooge, Marner, and the Lethal Love of Money

IMG_2417In Charles Dickens’ near-perfect novella A Christmas Carol, the iconic miser Ebenezer Scrooge endures a painful series of journeys to the past, present, and future to discover the depths of his selfishness and to redeem his crooked heart. Among his famous visits to Mr. Fezziwig’s party, the Cratchit house, and his own grave, one scene in particular is quite moving. As the Ghost of Christmas Past reveals to Scrooge a number of scenes of his boyhood and younger years, a vision of his potential, yet ultimately unrealized marriage to Belle appears, causing Scrooge to beg the Ghost to “show [him] no more!” In this episode, Belle pleads with the younger Scrooge to remember his former love and affection toward her, feelings which had grown cold over time as his piles of gold rose ever higher:

“It matters little,” she said softly. “To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”

“What Idol has displaced you!” he rejoined.

“A golden one.”

For Scrooge, his obsession with his “master-passion, Gain” through the pursuit of money clouds out the real warmth of a woman who loved him dearly.

Similarly, in George Eliot’s 1861 novel Silas Marner, we see another instance where money-chasing leads to destruction. Upon his exile from Lantern Yard following false charges of theft, the weaver Marner winds up a stranger in Raveloe where he stays alone in his cottage on the fringes of town and hoards his income beneath his floorboards. Like Scrooge, Marner’s soul becomes intimately connected with his wealth as he sits alone at his table in the company of gold coins:

“The light of his faith quite put out, and his affections made desolate, he had clung with all the force of his nature to his work and his money; and like all objects to which a man devotes himself, they had fashioned him into correspondence with themselves. […] His gold, as he hung over it and saw it grow, gathered his power of loving together into a hard isolation like its own.”

For both Scrooge and Marner, their stacks of gold became surrogates for the people they once loved, standing in for fiancees (Belle and Sarah, respectively) they lost long ago. Their love of money, an all-consuming obsession, serves as a coping mechanism for fear, loneliness, and, most of all, purposelessness. Wishing to discover a sense of significance and identity, they resort to chasing money in hopes to find security, control, and assurance that they will never be hurt again. As Jim Carrey famously quipped at the Golden Globe awards, they were on a “terrible search” for joy and satisfaction.

Yet, money-chasing can never provide genuine rest. The quota mentality remains a stubborn factor: How much money must one have to be happy? When will enough be enough?

While the first half of Paul’s statement to Timothy that “the love of money is the root of all evil”is more famous, it is the last half of the verse that is most striking. See the full verse:

“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (KJV, emphasis added)

Paul notes that money-chasing is not only a poisonous root to further evils but also an invitation for many sorrows to pierce the heart. In other words, the pursuit of money for its own sake is a confident step directly into enemy fire, an intentional upward look at a shower of arrows, barechested and shieldless. The love of money is lethal, a greed and discontentment that festers and rots until the heart is brought to ruin. It drives people away from any sort of need for faith or trust, tempting them to see their own wealth as a mighty fortress. Ironically, our currency is right: In God we certainly trust. I just wonder if that god is the piece of paper we’re holding.

So our only hope is to release our clinched fists and let our dollars go because palms that are freed from the grip of gold are free to be given grace.

William Blake and the God of Good Marriages

wedding-ringsWilliam Blake (1757-1827) was a world-class poet and artist in England whose deceptively simple verses, though they did not resonate loudly in his own time, have served in recent years as shining examples of Romantic poetry in Britain during the time of the French Revolution right across the channel. Two particular publications of his, Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794), represent what he termed the “contrary states of the human soul”, that is, the divide between the light and the dark that permeates each human heart. Blake was fascinated with the transition from innocence to experience, that elusive process of shedding childhood and donning adulthood, of seeing the sunlight of day set into the mystery of night.

For Blake, something seemed inevitably lost in the move from purity to worldly knowledge. In his poetry, he often ponders the divine, pure, and perhaps even godly innocence of a child and its painful peeling away as he or she becomes more sophisticated, cultured, educated, and experienced. He considers the grinding corrosiveness of city life (as it was flooded by scores of people drawn to the burgeoning, industrialized London) in stark contrast to the Edenic majesty of the countryside; it was a reminder to him of the unfortunate degeneration of aging against the lily-white innocence of a wild childhood in the fields. In short, Blake fixed his focus on the corrupting influence that growing up seems to have on the human experience.

So it is without wonder that one of his short pieces titled “My Pretty Rose Tree” exposes Blake’s nervousness and fear towards marriage as the poem examines the speaker’s attempt to preserve its sanctity and unity. Here’s the text:

A flower was offer’d to me,

Such a flower as May never bore;

But I said “I’ve a Pretty Rose-tree,”

And I passed the sweet flower o’er.

 

Then I went to my Pretty Rose-tree,

To tend her by day and by night;

But my Rose turn’d away with jealousy,

And her thorns were my only delight.

The poem is rather simple: the speaker resists the temptation to abandon his wife for another woman only to discover his wife turning away from him out of jealousy, leaving him in a state of despondency and loneliness.

Blake accomplishes many things in the course of this brief verse. It’s notable his central setting is the pastoral landscape (a favorite for Blake) in which discussions of innocence averting temptation take on symbolic meaning through flowers and rose-trees. One can even see the primal example of sinful enticement from the serpent in Genesis 3 evoked in the sweetness of the offered flower.

But the full power of the poem is its ironic turn in line 7. The reader seems to expect the speaker will be rewarded for his fidelity, that the Rose-tree will embrace her champion for resisting the lure. Yet, that is not Blake’s aim, and that is not his conclusion. So what are we to make of this sorrowful ending? What is Blake getting at?

The lonely, dejected condition of the speaker in the final line is a result of his attempt to create a good marriage on his own merits. He desires acceptance, praise, and devotion from his “Rose-tree” for having courageously and adamantly refused a sinful offer. Look how good I am at resisting temptation, he seems to say as he returns to his tree to “tend her by day and by night.” I have been so careful, so loyal, so good.

Such conceit and self-assurance, however, is not what produces strong, faithful marriages. No husband can hope to serve his wife and tend her well if he is looking to his own strength and grit-teeth commitment for validation. The problem of Blake’s poem – why does the rose-tree reject the speaker when he decidedly “passed the flower o’er”? – cannot be answered by human effort. Only God can bind a man and a woman together. It is not within human reason, imagination, will, or power to create or sustain a marriage. Only God can forge the two to become one flesh, and “what God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.”

So Blake’s poem concludes on a painfully tinny, ringing chord, unresolved. The speaker who had hoped his good work had earned a happy marriage is left confused, alone, and nestled knee-deep in thorns, and I cannot help but wonder how many of our marriages end on the same sour note. But I did everything I was supposed to do, the wife mutters. But I never cheated on her, not even once, the husband rants. I followed all the rules, did everything right, cooked and cleaned, provided for and protected…Why is my marriage in such ruins?

The quiet answer to these questions lies only in the God of good marriages. He is the author of all things good. God is Love, and our expressions of love to each other can only be completed in and through His indefinable grace. We cannot earn a good marriage. We can only look to Christ as the center of all things and pray He sustains our union through both the sorrows and the splendor. Remember, we may have excitedly slid rings on each other’s fingers, but only God can keep them there.

The Master of My Peace Calls Me His Masterpiece

I’d like to introduce my guest writer for this post. Will Yancey is a former student of mine, and he revisited our school this week with a powerful zeal and passion for Christ quite visible on his face. This contagious energy for the work of the Lord is a great testimony to Will’s growing faith, but an even greater testimony lies in his even writing this post. Will would be the first to admit that he never really liked to write; yet, here we are. May you be encouraged as you read the Spirit-saturated words of this incredible young man.


A_Painter,_oil_on_mahogany_painting_by_Ernest_Meissonier,_1855The day was cold, dark, and rainy, one of those days that all you want to do is snuggle up with the ones whom your heart adores, build a crackling fire, and press your lips to a hot mug with even hotter joe inside. See, it all seems so perfect, so picturesque, a moment with good friends, good family, beautiful places, and the best memories. You see it on social media all the time, and you desire nothing more than to experience the abundance that you see in others’ lives. All of this is perfect, but then you come to see you are alone. You are not sitting in the Colorado Mountains. You are not gathered around a warm, crackling fire. You do not have friends over, and your family seems more disconnected than ever. No, none of these things are happening. You just sit quietly alone, slowly and mindlessly scrolling through your phone, looking at everyone else’s “perfect” little lives. It hurts. You feel as though your life will never measure up to the standard of the latest Instagram celebrity. You will never go on an adventure quite like theirs. You will never be able to do yoga quite like that girl we all seem to know. And you certainly will never be as beautiful or handsome as that girl or boy who just received 100,000 likes on their latest post. What happens next? You look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself a lie. “I will never be any of these things; therefore, I will never be good.”

Heartbreaking.

So, my question is this: When the world presents a grand horizon of possibilities, why do we feel as though we will never reach any of them? Why do we believe the lies whispered to us everyday? I will tell you why. You and I live in a dark, broken world corrupted by sin and darkness. A world where the deceiver will get you to believe everything except the truth you deserve to hear. As apologist and theologian Ravi Zacharias says, “The truth is the most valuable thing in the world, often so valuable it is guarded by a body of lies.” Like I just said, lies are constantly being fed to you, but in the midst of  the lies, our Lord has already laid right before your eyes an everlasting truth that utterly declares how beautiful you have already been made. In Ephesians 2:10 the Lord announces His glory by laying out exactly how He sees you and how he intends you to see yourself. The verse declares, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus , so we can do good things he planned for us long ago.”

Take a minute.

Breathe.

Rest in that truth and soak it all in.

No matter what you have been told in the past, you are a masterpiece. How relieving is that truth? That we do not have to carry around the burden and the question of “Am I good enough?” We just get to live in the truth that my Father told me: “I’m a masterpiece.” There is no longer a question, but only a truth. So, here is my challenge to you. Live in that freedom every single day for the rest of your life, even if you have to sit and constantly remind yourself of the truth moment after moment after moment after moment. Though the enemy may feed you lies, the best defense against lies is telling them the truth. The truth will set you free. Truth abounds, and it will always be victorious because our Creator is truth.

Just as a boy has to pursue the heart of a damsel who longs to have her heart fought for, so is the way of the Lord in the pursuit of your love towards Him. Unlike the damsel, who shows strength and beauty when she does not quickly give her heart, the Lord desires we give our whole being away for His name sake. What a beautiful picture of love. Our Father will pursue our hearts for all of eternity purely so we can drown ourselves in His fullness. I beg you, live in His freedom today. Do not wait one moment longer to cry out to Him and give yourself away for His name. Oh, and about Instagram, that lie that your life will never add up to those things. Well, you hold the destiny for the quality of life you live in your hands. Go outside. Build a fire. Call everyone you know. Brew some coffee. Tell your family to put their phones away and challenge them to gather together before the Lord. Make memories. Who’s stopping you other than yourself? Adventure awaits you everywhere you go when living life with the Lord. Go outside. Breathe the fresh air and praise the Lord for his goodness, even if you are in the most worthless part of town. You do not have to hike the Appalachian trail with a GoPro to experience adventure. It is in your back yard. It is the closest river or the tree at Grandma’s. Learn yoga and laugh at yourself when you fall over! Who cares if you cannot look like a scorpion. YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING, NOT A SCORPION! Oh, and next time you see that picture of the Instagram celebrity, you look at the picture and you say, “Wow what a beautiful person. God, thank you for making me in Your image just like You did this person.” Then, you go to Him in praise that you are a masterpiece. Never, ever forget the truth. It will change your life.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'” -John 8:31-32

Created to Create

The following is an article I wrote on creativity in writing and Christian education originally published on Landmark Christian School’s blog.


old typewriter (focus on text)In Ephesians 5:1, Paul instructs his fellow believers to “be imitators of God as dearly loved children.” Therefore, as followers of Christ and His Word, our first duty in following this command must be to determine, “Well, what is God like?” In opening the Bible, then, to discover the character of God through His revelation in Scripture, we should note the first description we stumble upon: “In the beginning, God created…”

The human capacity for creativity, wonder, and imagination is not only a gift from God to bring Him glory through wholehearted expression and majestic praise but also a mandate; just as the Creator was creative in the design of all things, so must His creation be creative as a way of magnifying Christ through imitating God. When God fashioned Adam from little turrets of dirt and the swirling breath of life, He was not merely stirring human history into existence; He was training us in the way we should perpetuate human history. God, the Grand Storyteller, taught His characters how to tell stories. God revealed the essence of His divinity by sparking divinity in our first family and threading that divinity through thousands of years of plot. When we thus breathe life into the skin of our own protagonists and bid them walk among us in our fictions, when we strain courageously to perfect our poetic effort, when we sing glorious harmonies of praise in reverberating cathedrals, we come as close to the wild invention of God as our finitude allows. We press toward godliness. We imitate God.

This truth is compounded as Paul exhorts us in another letter that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10). It is notable that the Greek word rendered as “workmanship” here in Ephesians is poiema, from which we can clearly see our English word poem. So, we are, quite truly, the poetry of God, created in the loving care of a master wordsmith. We are a robust, abundant, vibrant kaleidoscope of God’s artistic pleasure, penned with brilliant passion, and when He “saw all that He had made, [He declared] it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, emphasis added).

So, since the poetry and creativity of God is rich and imaginative, we must see that the education of our next generation is not simply a means of hardwiring them for social contribution but a full-throated movement to awaken their wonder, to intensify their desire for truth, goodness, and beauty and, from that desire, to pursue creatively the worship of a glorious God. We must train our students to express themselves well, to write with passion and authority, but, more importantly, we must teach them to approach their individual calling, whatever it may be, with godly creativity – that, whatever they do, they do it with all their heart unto the Lord (Col. 3:23). We cannot be in the business of piling young people onto the conveyer belt to college, cookie-cutting them into monochrome caricatures of human beings. They are the living, breathing poetry of God, descendants of the very dust and bone of Eden, with voices and diverse passions. By teaching them to think creatively not only in a Creative Writing elective but also in math, science, physical fitness, history, and athletics, we are raising them to imitate God in all His multifaceted character.

As educators, we recognize not every student is called to a writing career. However, the world needs businessmen and bakers, mechanics and managers, and my prayer is that we provide it with Christian graduates that, like Daniel, rise to the top of their field for the excellent spirit within them. But the world certainly cannot bear the weight of any more graduates who shuffle through life bored and half-asleep. As Douglas Wilson once quipped, we cannot live in a world where “the bland lead the bland.” Creative thinking and creative writing are essential tools not only to our scholarship but to our souls. Creativity is the signature of God on the well-rounded human being, fully equipped to navigate a broken and creaking world with the fire of a full imagination.

May we all learn to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). May we raise (and be) a generation that sees the glory of God in all things, that creatively expresses His praise in every word with plenty of color and sonorous splendor. May we truly absorb the words of John Piper:

 “[W]hen a person speaks or writes or sings or paints about breathtaking truth in a boring way, it is probably a sin. The supremacy of God in the life of the mind is not honored when God and his amazing world are observed truly, analyzed duly, and communicated boringly. Imagination is the key to killing boredom. We must imagine ways to say truth for what it really is. And it is not boring. God’s world – all of it – rings with wonders. The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of his beauty beautiful.”

The Past Tense in Our Present Time

cross-shadow-kerepesiAs an English teacher, I often instruct my students to discuss the characters and actions in whatever work we are studying by using the present tense. For instance, Hamlet contemplates death as he faces Yorick’s empty skull, Beowulf aspires toward a sense of eternal glory as he wrenches Grendel’s arm off, and Gatsby stretches ever farther for that ephemeral green light on Daisy’s dock. I remind them that the literary present tense preserves the immediacy and continuous action of the narrative upon each individual reading; these characters, in a sense, are always contemplating, aspiring, stretching every time we open the book.

By extension, we often consider ourselves to be winding our way through an eternal present; even now, I am typing, and you are reading. We seem to be quite smitten by the present tense. As American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put it:

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each to-morrow

Find us farther than to-day

We seem to believe that our present action is the fulcrum on which our entire life is balanced, and, in a way, this is true; our choices have consequences, and our actions have reactions.

Yet, perhaps even more true is the asphalt-solid reality of the past tense. What if we must look to the past for that fulcrum? What if our most important reality is behind us?

Throughout the New Testament, God calls us to live a life of calm assurance and steady footing based not on our present circumstances or the sheer potency of our daily choices but on the power of a work He has already accomplished. In II Corinthians, Paul discusses the transformative power of salvation, concluding:

All this is from God, who through Christ has reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation […] We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Cor. 5:18, 20-21).

Notice the verbs. Christ “has reconciled” (past tense) us to himself, and, on that basis, we must “be reconciled” (present tense) to God. What God has done allows us to be what we must be. He made (past) him to be sin, so that in him we might become (present) the righteousness of God.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul makes a similar case:

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:21-22).

The reconciliation necessary to make us worthy of welcome into God’s family has already happened. “Take heart,” Jesus says, “for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He is the LORD, and He has done it. For all your anguish, your waiting, your grieving, your anxiety, your frustration, your tedious repetition, your feelings of insignificance, your worry, and your regret, God has assured you that He has made all things new. He has reconciled us to Him; He has fought the good fight; He has defeated death and all of his friends.

There is no more glorious truth than the triumphant whisper on our Savior’s lips: “It is finished.”

Therefore, be reconciled to Him. Align your heart to the truth that has already been accomplished. He has reconciled the world to himself, so be reconciled! Trust the King; He is good! Be done with your nail-biting, your heavy shoulders, your saddened eyes. Sin is unraveling, and the glory of the LORD is filling every pore of this universe. Everything sad is coming untrue.

Rejoice evermore.

The Joy of Dragon Killing: Preparing the Vision for 2016

Dragon_Maleficent_-_Part_11Over the past few days, I have been steadily considering two separate trains of thought that recently have converged into a single desire. Let me explain.

First, I find myself often contemplating the creation of a home culture for my family and me, a sort of “as for me and my house” declaration to pray over throughout our constant daily motion. Meditations and pensive prayers are not simply for the mystics and the Eastern robes; they are helpful ruminations for the thoughtful Christian. And so, I have been grasping after a theme or prayer for centering my family right smack in the middle of the goodness and pleasure of God as we hurry in and out of the busy traffic of daily living.

Second, on a (seemingly) unrelated note, I have been struck lately by the simple depth and power of one of the shortest verses in the Bible. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he simply instructs them to “rejoice evermore” (5:16). He follows this command with that of unceasing prayer  (5:17) and omnipresent gratitude (5:18), summarizing his exhortation to the believers by saying, “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (5:18). So if you’ve been searching for the will of God for your life like a painfully arduous game of “Where’s Waldo?”, then…ta-daa.

It’s the two-word command I am most enthralled by. Rejoice evermore.

And it hit me. This will be our theme. This should be the key in which the symphony of my home resounds. Rejoice evermore. In everything…rejoice! Take joy in all things. Joy on offense. Joy pushing a full-court press. Joy crashing through the gates like a battering ram at Helm’s Deep. Joy thundering from the shofar. Joy in all His righteous power. This joy is no effete matter, no delicate chiffon, no cheap plastic pail cracking under the weight of wet sand. Joy is thick.

As we gather together to ring in the new year, may joy take arms against a sea of troubles. May the glory of Romans 12:21 fill our hearts like warm honey: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” For goodness is strong. Goodness overcomes. Goodness does not shrink away in fear from the sirens’ song but rather sings louder and in more robust harmonies. Goodness is the rugby scrum of godly men yawping over the tinkering xylophone of hell.

Earlier today, my daughter and some of her cousins were watching the classic Sleeping Beauty, and I happen to turn my head to the screen right as the dragon Maleficent was pierced by the sword. As she plummeted to her death, I thought to myself: Amen. For such is the grand end to the grand story. Good kills evil, and all God’s people said…?

So in 2016, I pray that the saints recover the joys of dragon-killing, the singing bite of blade meeting scale and the hymns of glad hearts that follow. I pray we rejoice evermore. I am indebted to George Grant for sharing the following insight a few days ago:

The word “merry” is from an old Anglo-Saxon word which literally meant “valiant,” “illustrious,” “great,” or “mighty.” Thus, to be merry was not merely to be mirthful, but to be joyously strong and gallant. In Shakespeare we read of fiercely courageous soldiers who were called “merry men.” Strong winds were “merry gales.” Fine days were marked by “merry weather.” So, when we wish one another “Merry Christmas,” we are really exhorting one another to take heart and to stand fast!

It would seem, then, that the mighty men of God (à la Hebrews 11) and the merry men (à la Robin Hood) are probably the same thing. To be merry is to be mighty and vice versa. Godly merriment, jubilation, and feasting are robust and full. Rejoice evermore is a dangerous command, requiring all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD…with every breath. With every cry. With every belly laugh. With every passing plate. With every bass note. With every gulp. With every step. With every fall. Taste and see that the LORD is good.

May God be our vision and not just what we see but how we see. Be Thou my Vision is our prayer that God be both our means and our end. In the words of Jonathan Edwards, may we have a “God-entranced vision of all things” so that, when the roll is called up yonder, my sword is stained with dragon blood and my lips with brimming wine.

A Love Like No Other

Over the past few weeks, I have seen an old foe rise from the troubled waters and beckon me back to an ancient struggle.

The fear of inadequacy.

For as long as I can remember, I have felt the ache to be enough, to measure up to some impossible standard, to gain some infinite approval. I grew up sandwiched in the middle of an unbelievably remarkable family, and, as a result, I have often tasted the lie that I must do an endless number of things to meet the wave of expectations that, like a tide, arrive just as quickly as the former one falls. I felt that to be something, I must do everything.

So, I conditioned myself to chase excellence at all costs, to show my father, mother, sister, brothers, teachers, friends, and God that I mattered. And I exhausted myself in the process. So consumed was I by this pattern of thought that, were I whisked away to heaven, the first words to tumble out of my mouth upon seeing the Father face to face would be:

“Are you proud of me? Did I do well?”

Well, all this to say, I would like to introduce my guest writer for this post. Julie Blanton is a previous student of mine; she is a brilliant writer and a passionate follower of Jesus. I asked her some weeks ago if she’d be willing to write something for Eden.Babel, and I was floored by what she sent me. May you be as blessed and encouraged by this post as I was as we all seek to experience the full mercy and grace of our loving, welcoming, kissing, embracing, dancing, rejoicing Father. 


jesus-pulls-peter-from-water11I was raised in a Christian home. I went to a Christian school from the ages of five to eighteen. Church on Sundays was very familiar to me and was never something to be missed. I am so blessed to have been raised in such a loving, Christ-centered family.

But, at 15, while I was going to youth group, while I was going to a great church every Sunday and while I had the freedom to pray to God any hour of the day, I was still missing something.

On the outside, I was living a typical Christian American life. I fit into the mold. Yet, although I went to church on Sundays, tried my best to be a “good person”, followed all of the rules, etc., I still felt distant from God. I believed that God was a God of mercy and grace and I believed that He loved us. I believed all of these things, but I never believed them for myself.

I was caught up in rules. If I was struggling with something, I never remembered the truth of grace for myself. I would immediately tear myself down and realize that I needed to work to “make it up to God.” I was so deceived. I told myself that God was grace and love, and yet, in my mind, I couldn’t accept the grace and love God was pouring out to me until I was maybe slightly “worthy.” I couldn’t accept what Christ gave His LIFE for until I had worked to earn it.

Looking back, it still haunts me how deceived I was. I was a 15-year-old girl who was working to follow a set of “rules”. I was a 15-year-old girl who was trying to work toward the impossible. Some days I felt like a “good person”. A “good Christian”. I felt put together. Other days, I felt so alone. So undeserving. I felt as though I was in the middle of a constant, uphill battle that would never cease.

One day, at 16, it all changed.

I had the most real encounter with my Savior and I can say with complete certainty that it changed my life forever.

I truly saw Jesus for the first time.

I quickly learned that once you truly see Jesus, you cannot help but fall in love. I finally was able to break free from the chains holding me back from a pure joy that made me feel whole. Once I really saw Jesus, I felt His love for me. I was no longer a slave to the rules and I was no longer a slave to all of the expectations I put on myself. Most importantly, I was no longer a slave to the lies that had kept me captive for so long.

Judah Smith, a pastor at The City Church in Seattle, WA, (and one of my all time favorite pastors and authors) said something that truly impacted me:

“I think if Jesus had one shot at fixing us, He’d tell us how much He loves us. Jesus loves us right now, just as we are. He isn’t standing aloof, yelling at us to climb out of our pits and clean ourselves up so we can be worthy of Him. He is wading waist-deep into the muck of life, weeping with the broken, rescuing the lost, and healing the sick.”

Jesus didn’t sacrifice His life for you and me just so that we could feel hindered and alone in our attempts to work to become “right with God.” Jesus wasn’t tortured and hung on the cross so that I would feel as though I would finally be truly loved, forgiven, and cherished once I had my life together.

That’s just not how it works.

Once I truly entered the presence of Jesus, one thing became clear: I am loved as I am.

I had the order all wrong. We don’t somehow earn our salvation by living a sin-free life full of good works and then get to experience Jesus and all that He has to offer.

Jesus was reaching out to me in my darkest times, loving me in the midst of the pit I was in. He meets us exactly where we are. Instead of scorning us and looking down on us, He wants to pick us up off of our feet, scrape off the dirt, and carry us in His loving arms. He wants us to walk with Him out of the deep pit that we found ourselves in.

And that’s not the end of it.

He wants us to continue walking straight out of the darkness, and He wants us to grow closer to Him.

Judah Smith says it perfectly in his book “Jesus Is __”:

“Get to know Him yourself, and let the goodness of God change you from the inside out.” 

We don’t transform ourselves so that we may experience the love of God. We experience the love of God first and that same love transforms us.

The day I saw Jesus, I fell in love. The lies that had held me down shattered like glass, and I started a true relationship with Jesus and saw quickly how He was transforming my heart.

Every day I get to walk with God, and I know that He will never forsake me. Every day I am reminded of the truth and the lies of working for salvation will never have power over me again.

The day I saw Jesus, I experienced a love like no other.

To read more from Julie, you can follow her blog here.

Feed the Birds

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a file of old papers and articles from my college years, tucked away in the recesses of my hard drive. As I read through some of my previous writing, I felt the familiar pangs of nostalgia, embarrassment (“Did I really write that?”), and self-awareness. Yet, there is a glory in revisiting the person I once was and seeing what I once saw in a brand new light. Suddenly, those memories are reborn, and those words on the page are given an opportunity to live and speak again. The former “me” is beckoned from the grave of yesteryear and taught to walk again…

So, in the spirit of reminiscence, I’d like to share with you an article I wrote for my college newspaper on February 11, 2009 and, in the words of Emily Dickinson, ask that you “judge tenderly of me.” 🙂 


cnsmovie_marypoppins_13When Walt Disney was approached with the song “Feed the Birds” for his upcoming musical Mary Poppins, his immediate response upon hearing it was, “Well, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?” The song instantly became his favorite, prompting him to repeatedly ask its composers to play it for him every time he saw them. “Feed the Birds” was included in the film, accompanying one of the most touching scenes and introducing the world to lines we will never forget: “Though her words are simple and few, listen, listen, she’s calling to you. Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.”

Though I may be biased due to the position this movie holds on my All-Time Favorites list, I believe there is much to learn from this simple scene. As twenty-first century Christians, we have become weighed down and burdened by our self-imposed need for security and accomplishment, constantly bombarding ourselves with the pressure of figuring everything out and understanding where God wants us to be next. We willingly reduce our lives to a giant game of “Where’s God’s Will?” with a red-and-white striped Christ hiding in the corner.

Why do we choose to make following Him so complicated? Is His desire for our lives really to understand every detail of every day, to scribble out all the equations of the next few years in an expensive Moleskin diary? What about his command to cast all our cares upon Him? Now, it is admittedly more convenient to introduce ourselves to the chalkboard and explain to everyone just how the timeline of our lives is supposed to operate. We feel comfortable up there, convincing ourselves and those around us of what tomorrow should look like.

But when life throws us the proverbial curveball, we doubt. We question. We begin to believe we have what it takes to dissect the mysteries of God and find a diagnosis for whatever has slowed us down. Do we truly believe it is up to us to figure out everything Christ has planned for us? If God is, indeed, sovereign, then we should have nothing to fear. We should not have to stress ourselves with the undue responsibility of managing our own lives, making sure that God is on our schedule and within our budget.

Unfortunately, our tendency is to take the gifts we’ve been given, like Michael Banks’ tuppence, and head straight to the bank to sort out our Christian 401(k)s. Of course, it is no sin to plan for the future and be careful with what we have, but it is inside that bank that we tend to complicate everything by trying to figure our lives out. We invest our tuppence into our problems and finding our solutions to them. Instead, we could stop the over-analysis and simply accept the gifts He has given us, running out of our bank and into His cobblestone streets with them. We should learn to spend less time figuring out our lives and more time playing music on the corner, painting masterpieces from chalk, and feeding the birds…one day at a time.

Deus Ex Machina

cos-01-miranda-kerr-november-deOne of the most powerful insights I’ve heard regarding the nature of worship is that our worship is transformative; in effect, we become like what we worship. 

G.K. Beale, who authored a book with a similar title, puts it this way: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” This concept has made its way through my mind quite often over the past few years, and I continue to dwell on its real-time implications in our modern culture.

I am currently teaching through Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with my British Literature students. Sir Gawain is a medieval poem that follows the challenges and trials of one of King Arthur’s most noble knights as he seeks to prove himself worthy of honor. As I’ve been rereading through the story, I have found myself quite struck by a particular quality of Sir Gawain’s quest. On the outside of his shield, the side he brandishes in the face of combat, is a pentangle, a five-angled star that symbolizes the ideal perfection and exaltation of a true knight. The chivalrous knight par excellence is brave, good, chaste, loyal, and unerring in his manner and conduct; he is the paragon of medieval society. The only problem is that behind the knight’s armor stands a mere man – utterly unable to achieve such a standard of perfection.

This notion of expectation vs. reality cuts deep to the bone of our American society. For example, I have encountered a number of young ladies in my classes over the years who are beside themselves trying frantically to reach the bar of feminine beauty and fashion that they feel our media culture has thrust on their small shoulders. “Whatever it takes to look like her” has become their mantra, “accept me!” their daily cry. And so, as an inevitable result, we have waves of girls dragging the ghosts of self-loathing, inadequacy, and shame down the halls. We have girls pushed toward seduction with their hearts stitched tight in straitjackets. In short, we have girls who are told to reveal as much and as little as they can – show your skin, hide your scars.

Prodded by the flood of advertising and celebrity mania, these young ladies are being converted to a hollow religion, a new devotion towards thousands of graven images carved on our magazine covers, spreading the lie that these are the women that girls ought to look like. But in our heart we know they are no longer really women; they are our feminine form of the deus ex machina – goddesses out of machines. Mangled by the digital scalpel, processed through the filters of Photoshop, airbrushing, and cosmetic overload, these women in the spotlight have become mere echoes, shadows of their true humanity. They are a part of a smoke-and-mirrors gimmick, a ruse. I can almost hear the Wizard now: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

Yet, the principle remains: we become like what we worship (Ps. 115:8). We reflect what we behold (2 Cor. 3:18). Contrary to what they are told, these young ladies pining for acceptance and worth by straining to look like cover girls are not becoming more beautiful; they are becoming less human. They are worshipping an image of edited humanity, images of women scrubbed of their flaws. This ache to see oneself as, and ultimately become, utterly flawless is a consequence of the primal temptation to be God. We are running Eden on repeat, reaching to take and eat of the fruit with every glance at the mirror.

How gracious is our God for spilling his blood, his real, warm, human blood, to buy us out of our cold, self-absorbed condition. May we yearn, like Moses, to see glimpses of God’s glory and, to quote the old hymn, “turn our eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face.” May we see Jesus and “behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). May we learn to acknowledge our brokenness, our failure, our human limitations and look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. For we are most certainly becoming like what we worship; let us worship the God of mercy and of grace who forgives our sin and truly makes all things new.

The Joyous Noise in Beowulf

meduseldHaving just completed a three week study of Beowulf with my British Literature students, I am again struck by one of the more subtle, yet striking passages early in the poem.

To set the scene, King Hrothgar is celebrating with his thanes in the glorious golden mead-hall Herot, an Edenic image of heaven and ultimate koinonia fellowship. As the men pass the communion cup around the magnificent hall, full of dancing and revelry, the king’s bard begins to sing of creation and God’s almighty power:

“Loud in that hall, the harp’s rejoicing / Call and the poet’s clear songs, sung / Of the ancient beginnings of us all, recalling / The Almighty making the earth, shaping / These beautiful plains marked off by oceans […] And then / As now warriors sang of their pleasure”

This moment, with all of its wild and boisterous celebration of God, provides a remarkable perspective on the right view of Christian worship. The noble warriors, toasting their king and pledging loyalty to their queen, fill the evening with hearty laughter, rowdy storytelling, and robust psalm-singing as they praise God for the blessing of creation and the joy of Christian camaraderie. They are not tamed, domesticated, effete Christian men, calmly tucking in their shirts and going about their business. Nor are they mindless brutes, scoffing at all this “girly” singing and storytelling. They are mighty men, knuckles sore from battle and throats sore from exuberant singing. Remember, the same man who sawed off the head of Goliath would later write a poem about it (Psalm 9).

It is no wonder, then, that the joyous noise of worship in Herot summons the envy and wrath of Grendel, the terrible beast “born of Cain” who is exiled from the mighty hall. At this point, I prefer Seamus Heaney’s translation:

“Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark, / nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him / to hear the din of the loud banquet / every day in the hall, the harp being struck / and the clear song of a skilled poet / telling with mastery of man’s beginnings, / how the Almighty had made the earth / a gleaming plain girdled with waters”

So Grendel attacks Hrothgar’s men out of a supreme irritation by the “din of the loud banquet.” He is furious at their joy. In this way, Grendel embodies the very nature of evil, a jealous, petty fiend livid at the joy of the Lord. He is a demonic figure representative of the Devil himself, and, as C.S. Lewis describes him, Satan is the “cosmic killjoy.” His is an unsatisfying lust, an alienated loneliness, a banal and uncelebrated eternity of selfishness and pride. Who can forget the cry of the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as her staggering sledge grates across the thawing ground and she stumbles upon a small party of Narnians celebrating the return of Aslan?

“What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence?” 

She cannot stand the sight of righteous feasting, of glorious revelry, the “din of the loud banquet.” And neither can Grendel. His attack on Herot, then, and the subsequent arrival of Beowulf show us the power and danger of the right worship of God. As Charles Spurgeon said, “There is no more levity in a hearty laugh than a hearty cry.” We must resist with every ounce of our power the popular notion that Satan has cornered the market on fun and joyful partying. All sin and worldliness can do is drain the potency of glory and gloss it over with a thin coating of happiness and thrill. Only in Christ and the merry jubilation of His people can true wildness and joy be found.

Or, in other words, as Lewis affirms, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”