Christianity · Faith · Freedom · The Gospel

Relationship Not Religion

Les Miserables trailer - 1If this world was made by a triune God, relationships of love are what life is really all about. – Timothy Keller

Why, why is relationship so important and specifically this relationship between God and ourselves ? Without God, without belief that Christ has done what I could not, without an understanding that I am broken and lost and made for relationship with God and there was nothing that I could do to repair this relationship, there can be no relationship. And it is this relationship that brings what is dead, alive again. So, “the Word became flesh”, Jesus was born to die, to live the life that I could not, die the death that I deserved and defeat death through his resurrection and be given the keys to hell itself. See relationships are alway based on something, shared interests or benefits received or some kind of transaction. Our relationship with God rests solely on the work of Christ, on my behalf, doing what I could not and bringing me back into his family. So many times though, this gets lost. The pure, unadulterated Gospel, the Good News, gets lost. Tullian Tchividjian says it this way in his book One Way Love, 

“Unfortunately, this is the way that so many Christians live: searching high and low for something we already have, trying to earn something we’ve already been given, forgetting that everything we need, we already possess in Christ. Or perhaps it’s not that we forget, perhaps it’s that we prefer having ‘elf on the shelf’ keeping track of our every move. It makes us feel safer. We would rather work under duress than live under freedom. Yet this is precisely why we need to hear, each and every week, the basic good news that because of Jesus’s finished work, we already have all of the justification, approval, significance, security, freedom, validation, love, righteousness, and rescue for which we desperately long – and look for in a thousand things that are infinitely smaller than Jesus.”

lesmis_0159This is what we have to share with the world, this is the Good News we have. Don’t forget, it’s not about doing good things, it’s about resting in the grace of what God has done for us though Christ and living that out and sharing that with others. Paul lays it out simply in Ephesians 2:1-10 when he says,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

What we have to offer others is a relationship not a religion. That relationship is based on the blessed union of Christ’s work covering our sin. It is the most radical, earth-shattering relationship anyone can experience and it starts with, “We love because he first loved us” not the other way around. It starts and ends with what he’s done, because there will never be a time we outgrow the need for Christ’s work on a cross.

Christianity · Faith · Psalms · worship

The Desert of the Real

Reading the Psalms  is always a cathartic and challenging experience. This week I ventured into the waters of psalm writing, pouring out on paper my emotional frustration to the Lord. It was an encouraging thing to see where my pen took me. I hope this will encourage you to express your authentic, raw and truthful feelings to the Lord.

sand-storm

I am a shell
Hewn out and empty
No core, No substance
My bones snap
My heart dies
There is nothing left
The desert surrounds me
The wind buffets
The sand stings
The sun sears
But you are ever present
In the storm you stand
Unmoved, Unchanged
Though my heart melt and my soul fade
Your fortress remains
In the center you stand
Open arms, Open hands
Ever present, Love abounding
You grace like a clear mountain stream
Washing away the fear from me
I rest, I know you are God
You are ever present in the good and the bad
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble Psalm 46:1
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Christianity · Christmas · Faith · Stories · Tolkien

A Baby Saves the Day

IMG_0145Once upon a time there was a hobbit in a hobbit hole. There was a young girl, playing hide and seek with her brothers and sister. She found a room with a solitary wardrobe and hid herself in it. A baby boy is laid on porch, wrapped in a blanket, he has a peculiar scar on his head and a letter lain on top of him. A baby boy is laid in a manger, surround by barn yard animals.

Many of our greatest stories start out the same. They begin with the most unassuming people, people we would never give a second thought to. Yet, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” This is the power of a good story, taking the smallest and most underrated character and making them the one who saves the day.

Once upon a time, there was a king. He loved his people like no king has ever loved a people. He wanted nothing but their good and had given them the best of every thing. The people were happy. They loved the king and walked with the king on the cool evenings. The king had only given a few rules for the people to follow. Theses rules were for their safety. For a while everything was perfect. Then long came a serpent, a crafty and sly creature. He talked the people into rebelling against the king. After the rebellion the people were cast out of their perfect place. They lost contact with the king and could not walk with him anymore.

The king was brokenhearted. His people had chosen to abandon him for something else. He wanted his people back. He sent them laws and prophets. He sent them women and even a talking donkey, but the people rejected them. The king knew that the only way to restore his people was going to be through his own intervention. He was the only one who could make things right.

This is a familiar story at this time of year. The King is God and he sent is only Son into the world as a baby to save the people from their sins. The story starts off small. A young teenage girl, who is betrothed to a man finds herself pregnant. This is not ordinary pregnancy. As with the best of stories there is something bigger at work behind the scenes. She is a virgin and still with child. If you think this is crazy, it is nothing compared to who the baby is. He is God and man, coming into the world to take care of our deepest problem. He is coming to restore what the people broke so long ago, he will make a way for us to walk with the King again.

NativityAt this Christmas, I want to challenge you to look at the story again. If you believe it, see the wonder in it again. A baby comes to save the day, how incredible is that. If you don’t believe I want to challenge you to look at the story again. Look and see the mystery of  God coming to rescue you in the form of a baby. Is it so crazy to think? “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Even a baby, born in a stable to a pesant girl, can be the King in disguise. May of our greatest heros die for the good of their friends, but this King dies for all his people, even as they are actively involved in rebellion against him. He rises again so that he can walk with those who will accept his gift. He offers his gift to us at Christmas in the form of his Son, he asks us believe that he has made things right and all we have to do is put our faith in a King and his Son who made a way when their seemed to be no way. J.R.R. Tolkien says this about the Christmas story,

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy- story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self- contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king.

Books · Coffee · Government · Mumford and Sons · Music · Politics · Star Wars · The Clone Wars · Tullian Tchividjian

Owl Post 10-12-12

Confusing Strength With Aggression:

The vice presidential debate was uniquely important because if Paul Ryan won it or did well, the Romney-Ryan ticket’s momentum would be continued or speed up. If he did not, that momentum would slow or stop. So the night carried implications.

New Music: Mumford and Sons’ Babel:

Everyone’s favorite British folk band, Mumford and Sons, and their latest album, Babel, have been a hot news item since the album was released a couple of weeks ago. Depending on who you ask, the band’s music is heartfelt and refreshing, beautifully expressing the human desire for love and grace or maudlin and mediocre, only created to prey on the sentimentality of the general population. Two recent articles on the band illustrate the variety of opinions that have been voiced about Babel and the obvious religious symbolism in the group’s music: the first, “Mumford & Sons Preaches to Masses”, from NPR’s Ann Powers (which DZ mentioned on Friday), speaks to the band’s power to bring religious ideas to the public; and the second,“Mumford & Sons and the Death of Church Music”, comes from The American Conservative’s Jordan Bloom, in a direct reply to Powers’ article, where he connects the vapid sentimentality he sees in contemporary worship music to Mumford and their music. Both of these articles are interesting reads, and they address what I see as the central theme of Mumford and Sons’ music: their incredible ability to introduce Christian and religious symbols to a large audience, imparting grace and hope to their listeners.

Our Glorious Ruin: Tullian Tchividjian on the Suffering that Sets You Free:

Ever since the revolt in Eden, suffering has been inescapable. All of us live and move and have our being amid the wreckage of the Fall. Pain—universal as it is real—haunts us, stalks us, plagues us.

In his new book, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free (David C. Cook), Tullian Tchividjian offers a unique angle on this perennially vexing subject. Rather than focusing on the why or the how of suffering, Tchividjian zooms in on the who, demonstrating that the answer to our pain isn’t finally found in a syllogism but in a Savior—a suffering Savior. If your faith is stirred by this interview and the book, come to Orlando next April to hear Tchividjian lead a workshop at The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference on “How Suffering Sets You Free.”

I corresponded with Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, about why we need another suffering book, the importance of pressing past why, how the gospel informs our pain, and more.

‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ brings the Dark Side to Saturdays:

When animator Dave Filoni was handed the reins of George Lucas’ computer animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” back in 2006, he thought he knew what to expect.

Lucas, the creator and mastermind of the entire multibillion-dollar “Star Wars” operation, would give some initial guidance, notes and feedback and quickly fade away, moving on to tend to other aspects of his Lucasfilm empire. After all, it was a cartoon series aimed a kids, airing on Cartoon Network and regarded by many of the franchise’s older hardcore fans as a nice, but hardly essential, extension of the “Star Wars” experience.

Eat, Pray, Love Like a Badass: Cheryl Strayed, the Oprah Author 2.0:

Cheryl Strayed shifted uncomfortably in her chair onstage at the New York Public Library last week when host Paul Holdengraber mentioned the name “Elizabeth Gilbert.” Knitting her brow, she cocked her head to one side as if to inquire, “Where is this conversation going?” Holdengraber read a piece from the Eat, Pray, Love author that echoed advice Strayed gives readers under her nom de plume Sugar in herbeloved advice column on The Rumpus.

What Drinking Coffee Does to You:

The chances are that you saw the title of this article and winced a little. Usually, things which are enjoyable bring negative side effects to our bodies. Alcohol, chocolate and fast-food are all fine examples of things which are enjoyable at the time but have negative long-term side effects on your health. So how does coffee compete with these ‘naughty’ foods and drink?

atheism · Books · C.S. Lewis · Christianity · Stories · Tolkien

The Narnian – A Review

The Narnian

Alan Jacobs

HarperSanFransisco, 2005 342 pages $25.95

Alan Jacobs has written a superb biography chronicling the life of C.S. Lewis. Unlike other exhaustive works on Lewis, this one is focused on how his life led him to create the enduring works The Chronicles of Narnia. What enables this boy with a wild imagination who created “Animal Land” to become an atheist? What was the catalyst for turning away from atheism, “…kicking, struggling, resentful and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape”?(129) It was this turn that had the largest impact on the creation of Narnia.

For Lewis, his undoing as an atheist was his love of story and myth. “What alternative was there to the materialist’ suspicious undermining of all myth and the supernaturalist’ universalizing of the Christian story?”(142) The real light switch for this was his friendship with Tolkien who, “…the question of myth…had much occupied…for many years, and his thinking on the subject was therefore considerably more sophisticated than Lewis’s.”(142-143) What did myth have to do with Christianity? Tolkien’s answer was, “…to perceive the Creation truly we must move beyond knowing what stars are ‘made of,’ and because we are fallen and finite creatures, this we can do only by image, metaphor, and myth.”(145) For Lewis this is the beginning of understanding. He had always longed for joy, and this longing had plagued him for years since there never seemed to be a way to satiate this desire. “So Tolkien goes on to ask a countering question: ‘Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream’? That is, if materialist philosophy is true, why do we even have such dreams and desires?”(145)

Here Tolkien was reaching to the heart of his friend. Lewis had focused all his attention either on what Joy was or how to get it, but Tolkien was forcing him to consider the matter in a wholly different light. It was not Joy itself but its presence in a biological organism comprised largely of water, nitrogen and carbon that constituted the greatest puzzle. That we dream and wish at all is a powerful element in the case for the belief that myths communicate some truth that cannot be communicated in any other way.(145-146)

Lewis’ lifelong desires had been pointing him to something greater – his love of myth and storytelling had primed his heart for the truth that he was discovering.

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with the tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing himself through ‘real things.'”….”the ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that wh. God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection.” That is, the language of actual historical event, such as can be narrated in mythical form, is a more truthful language than the ‘concept and ideas’.(149)

Jacobs does a wonderful job of showing how so many of the things in Lewis’ life make their way into the Narnia stories: the death of his mother, the horrible treatment he received at boarding school and even his own time as a teacher – each one of these things makes an impact. Almost every part of Lewis’ life influences Narnia in one way or another, and Jacobs’ masterful grasp of his subject adds to a deeper understanding of Lewis’ life and his most famous works.

I first read a book by C.S. Lewis 25 years ago, and I have been reading his work consistently since then. I know his voice quite well, as well as I know anyone’s; it is utterly distinctive. And the most dominant feeling I get when I read his early letters – that is, those written in the first 30 years of his life – is that in none of them does he sound like himself. That pre-conversion Lewis is, though obviously highly intelligent, neither a particularly likable nor a particularly interesting person – at least in his letters. He may have been delightful to know, but I doubt it. But once he “admitted that God was God,” it is as though the key to his own hidden and locked-away personality was given to him. What appears almost immediately is a kind of gusto (sheer, bold enthusiasm for what he loves) that is characteristic of him ever after.(131)

I recently read another well-written biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I was struck by how similar geniuses seem to be – they are driven and usually end up challenging the status quo. But there is something that separates these men, Lewis and Jobs, and it really makes all the difference. Jobs continually fights in his life to be important, to do something meaningful and be remembered. When he did not get his way, he would literally throw a tantrum. The driving force in his life was himself, and in the end it left him empty. Lewis was headed down that same path, but something grabbed him and altered his very foundation.

What brought the comparison of these two men to mind was Jacobs’s description of the change that belief in God had on Lewis. Isaacson talks about the perfecting nature of Jobs and his pursuit of greatness that drove him, and when he failed it left him longing for more of what he could never seem to obtain. Lewis on the other hand is able to find the fullness, the joy, that he had always been looking for by surrendering to God. It was only through this surrender that Lewis was able to give us Narnia.

“It is a reasonable hope,” Lewis writes, “that of those who heard you in Oxford many will understand that when poets of old made some virtue their theme they were not teaching but adoring, and that what we take for didactic is often the enchanted.” Lewis is known as a moralist, but I think we can infer from this comment that his teaching is often a function of his adoration – so that the moral elements if his writing are not so easily distinguished from the enchantment of storytelling and story-loving. It is the merger of the moral and the imaginative – this vision of virtue itself as adorable, even ravishing – that makes Lewis so distinctive.(xxiv)

I am thankful that Lewis was dragged kicking and screaming to the Lord and that his whole self was unlocked for all the world to benefit from. This book is well worth the read and you just may finding yourself longing to revisit Narnia soon after.