Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Book Review: Jane Eyre

Classics. Those books that have lasted centuries, only to be left on the bookshelves of well meaning readers, unopened, unexplored. The shelves in my room hold many of these works of art, most of them as yet unread.

However, during the week of the neck injury awhile ago, I needed something to entertain me (other than Netflix - one can only take so much bad television). So I decided to tackle one of the books that I had been putting off for much too long. I figured my inability to move would provide motivation to actually finish the venture this time.

I chose Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and completed about half of it before I was up and moving again. It happens to be quite a thick book though, and it took me a few more weeks of regular life to reach the end.

Miss Bronte's protagonist, Jane, is a plain little girl at the opening of the story. Her life, young as she is, is already marked with suffering. Jane is an orphan, entrusted to the care of a guardian who does not love her. To get rid of the troublesome child, Jane is sent to a charity school where she receives an education and eventually ventures out into the world on her own. Life does not get any easier though, as she begins finding her way in the world, and Jane is left to face many difficult situations which try her courage, morality, and love.

As is often the case with old books ("classics"), I found Jane Eyre to be much more gripping and intriguing than I expected. The story is compelling and well thought out. Jane is a character who takes some getting used to, but is easy to grow to love. She is surrounded by a supporting cast with interesting backgrounds who leave their mark on the girl. Her tale is told by a woman with an excellent vocabulary and skill in crafting sentences.

I appreciated the moral questions raised by Bronte and how they were answered. As someone who loves to read, I'm finding it tragically and increasingly difficult to find books written in the recent past with clean language, themes, and choices. Jane Eyre was a breath of fresh air in that regard. Jane had to make terrible decisions, but she was strong and chose well. Emotion did not dictate the choices in her life - sound judgement and convictions did.

Though quite long, Jane Eyre was worth the read. I kept coming back to find out what would happen to the heroine and how she would respond throughout the weeks it took me to finish the book. Jane has left an impression on me, and, I have to say, I'm sorry the story's over.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Copy Cat

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. That the person who is annoying you to no end by copying your every action is doing so because he admires you. It's true and it's a really great thing to remember when you find yourself getting irritated by people doing said imitating.

But what about the flip side? What if you're the one doing the imitating?

When I find myself trying to copy or follow someone, I have to start asking questions. For example:

Who do you want to imitate?
Usually friends.

In what do you want to copy them?
All sorts of things - relationships with siblings, when they do their math, what shoes they wear, etc.

Why do you want to do what they do?

Now this is the tricky one. Why exactly do I want to follow in their footsteps? It's often because I admire them and I want other people to admire me too. But the Bible says there's a problem with that. I wasn't made to fit into someone else's blueprint - to take the same classes, listen to the same music, or have the same job. I was made to be special and unique.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

I was made in the image of God. You were too. Neither of us were created to mold ourselves into someone else's image - we were given one at the very beginning.

The Creator Who made us to be like Him knows us so intimately and loves us so deeply that it shouldn't matter what people around us think or if we match what they do. He doesn't want us to try to be a carbon copy of another one of His creatures - He wants us to be ourselves.

Next time you catch yourself trying to copy someone else, think about why you're doing it. Is it because you genuinely want/need to do it or maybe because you want to be a miniature of them? You don't need to be someone's clone. Your Creator made you just as He intended.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book Review: Crazy Love

There's nothing quite like a book that makes you take a good hard look at yourself. Crazy Love is one of those books.

I mentioned Crazy Love a few weeks ago in a different post before I had finished reading it. Now that I'm done, I had to review it because I absolutely loved it.

Francis Chan's Crazy Love is about how incredibly out of this world God's love for us is. It comes through in His every action - from salvation to the creation of caterpillars. Our sin left us with no claim to His love, but He poured it over us anyway. By the bucket full. When we stop and actually try to fathom for a moment the depth of this love, we are left with no other reaction than to pour out our lives in service to Christ.

We have no reason to fear death, no reason to conform to this world, no reason to worry or stress or be caught up with ourselves. This life is about God, even though we're the ones living it. Chan makes that incredibly clear in his book.

Crazy Love is not overly eloquent or complicated. While I usually enjoy finer language in a book, Chan made his point simple and I appreciate that in this case. Rather than detracting from the book, the simplicity of the writing allowed me to focus on the message and how it applies to me.

It took me awhile to reach the point spiritually where I can see the benefit of conviction when I first feel it, rather than wanting to run in the other direction, toward complacency. It has led to a deeper appreciation of books like Crazy Love and how God uses them in my life. Francis Chan is not shy about saying that the church as a whole is not following God completely. But he doesn't just leave it there. In "A Conversation With Francis Chan" at the end of the book, Chan stresses that he's not attacking the church. Rather, he loves the church and wants to urge her to follow Christ's calling.

"I'm not coming up with anything new. I'm calling people to go back to the way it was. I'm not bashing the church. I'm loving it." (Crazy Love, pg 180)

Over all, Crazy Love was a convicting and, more importantly, encouraging read. It has led me to examine my own life and walk with God and to spend more time focusing on Him.


You can find Francis Chan on his blog: crazylove.org
And his Crazy Love website: crazylovebook.com

Friday, May 19, 2017

Write to Examine

If you know anything much about me at all, you probably know I want to be a writer. I've wanted to be a writer basically forever and I still hold that desire close to my heart. I wrote a novel for school because I want to be a writer. I stalk author's websites because I want to be a writer. I started this blog because I want to be a writer.

That last one is what I want to talk about today.

I don't remember my precise reasoning for starting this blog almost three years ago. It might have been for the writing. I might have been excited that other people could read what I wrote. Who knows? But I do know exactly what it's done for me.

It has helped me in my walk with Christ.

Over the past three years, my posts have been rather sporadic and random. Some were life updates, some were stories, and some were about spiritual things. Writing about the things that God taught me was really hard at first. I was worried about putting my faith on the internet (even with just a few people reading). I was especially worried that I would mess it all up and say everything wrong.

But, I must say, I am so glad that I did start writing about my faith. Now there are hardly any posts that don't have to do with what God's teaching me through His Word and the circumstances in my life and I am so happy about that.

My main purpose in writing this post is to urge you to do something similar to what I do.

Don't get scared on me, I don't necessarily mean starting your own blog and putting it out there for everyone to see (but if you want to do that, I do encourage it). What I mean is writing about how God is growing you. That could be on a blog or in a journal or on the back of a napkin at a particularly dull dinner party.

A lot of people will say that they aren't writers, and I get that. But I think there is real value to be found in writing about your walk with Christ on a regular basis, even if writing isn't your thing. And yes, I only mean writing - not talking or thinking or anything like that (though those are good too). Here's why:

When you write about something, you have to get your thoughts together on that subject. If you're working on a research paper about the federal government for example, you have to focus and organize your thinking around that one topic.

Writing about your faith is no different. When you make yourself put forth the effort to examine and record the details about one specific thing that God is doing in your life, it becomes clearer to you.

Writing also requires spending time thinking about the subject upon which you are writing. In this case, that means dwelling on how you grow and how you fail and on how God is working things in your mind and circumstances. Those are incredibly valuable things to think about.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

I'd say your sanctification falls into quite a few of those categories.

Another benefit to writing about God's work in you is that it opens your eyes to your growth, and God's faithfulness to you. When you force yourself to take 20 minutes to think about what you're learning and struggling through and write about it, you see God so clearly.

When you do it by topic, you also think about that topic and see where it comes up in your day to day life. For example, when I was learning about contentment (as if I'm done ;), I wrote a blog post about it. I started noticing when I wasn't content, which helped me to change. I remembered the verses God had shown me, and I was able to pray that He would help me be content in those situations.

One final way writing about my spiritual life has helped me so much is that I can look back and see where I used to be against where I am now. This doesn't only apply to writing proficiency, but also to spiritual growth. It's so incredible to go back to old posts or journal entries or read through the notes in my Journaling Bible and see everything God's done for me. It reminds me that He is faithful, because I so often forget. And it reminds me that He's not done with me yet, because I forget that too.

So those are the reasons I would strongly urge you to make a weekly practice of taking a step back and writing about whatever theme seems prevalent in your life. It clarifies it so that you can work on it and praise God for the little victories of sanctification. You can never go wrong with examining your walk with the Lord, and writing is a very profitable way to do so.


Friday, May 12, 2017

The Bible is Incredible

Well, duh. Of course the Bible is incredible! Anyone who has ever been to any sort of Bible study/Sunday school/sermon can tell you that.

But I'm still going to write about it.

Since I've been reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan (as mentioned in my last post), I've been filled with wonder at just how amazing God is. And, by extension, His Word.

One of the things that's really been standing out to me lately is how many tiny things are so important in the greetings of Paul's epistles. Let me show you what I mean.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 1:1

Alright, what do you see here? For so long, I've just seen Paul introducing himself. "Hi, I'm Paul. I'm a Christian. This letter is for you."

But there is so much more!

Paul introduces himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. Think about that for just a minute. If you're a believer, who is responsible for that? Let me answer that for you: it's God. If it weren't for the fact that He loves me so much and desires to spend eternity with me, I wouldn't be saved.

And I thought it was just a greeting.

Paul, an apostle-not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.
Galatians 1:1

In Galatians, Paul's main message is that the churches of Galatia are being too legalistic. His purpose is to remind them that they are saved by grace, not by works. And he starts with that reminder in the first verse.

Paul is an apostle, not because of anything that he or any other human did, but because of God. His identity and salvation have nothing whatsoever to do with himself or other people. They are found fully in God.

Let's do another one!

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God...
Romans 1:1

Want to take a stab at this one?

Romans was the first book to start bringing before me the importance of even the introduction of the author. Paul was called to be an apostle and servant, set apart for God's use. He is no longer his own, but belongs fully to God because of the ransom paid for his life.

That's a lot more words than Paul uses, but I think it's what he's saying. Translate that into your life. Are you a complete servant of the One who called you? Are you set apart for His purpose and not your own? That's really convicting to me.

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker.
Philemon 1

This greeting centers more around who we are in relation to each other as Christians. First, we are family. God has adopted us into His eternal and perfect family, so we are all brothers and sisters.

Second, we are workers with one another. We were "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). No matter what our age, race, or position in life, we all have the same purpose and goal: to live for God.

That's only four verses and doesn't even touch on the final greetings, but it still blows me away when I really think about what they say.

Please, please do not just take what I said and move on. Read your Bible carefully and consistently for yourself. You don't have to finish the whole thing in a year or even read a full chapter at a time. But really examine and meditate on what you read. This is just what God's been showing me through my reading (which I've only really turned into a habit this past school year). Go and see what He wants to show you through yours.


Friday, May 5, 2017

On Death

So I've been reading a lot about death the last couple days. Not intentionally. It's just happened to come up in a couple books I'm working through this week.

This has resulted in my thinking about death. And the time before death. And how that time should be spent. You know, now that I think about it, this reminds me of one of my semi-recent posts: Borrowed Time.

Anyway, back to today. Let me start by giving you a sampling of what I've been reading and then tell you what's running through my very scattered brain.

The first book is Meditations by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. No, I didn't just pick it up because the cover looks cool - it's for school. To be honest though, I don't totally dread reading it. Aurelius isn't all that boring.

Meditations is a book of personal thoughts, resolutions, and observations of the world from the worldview of a Stoic philosopher/emperor shortly after the time of Jesus. Aurelius' goal was to live a virtuous and moral life. Here are his thoughts on death:

Death: something like birth, a natural mystery, elements that split and recombine.

Not an embarrassing thing. Not an offense to reason, or our nature.
(Meditations, Book 4)

People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passed from one to another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out.

But suppose that those who remembered you were immortal and your memory undying. What good would it do you? And I don't just mean when you're dead, but in your own lifetime. What use is praise, except to make your lifestyle a little more comfortable?
(Meditations, Book 4)

Those two excerpts basically cover Aurelius' views on death as told in his Meditations. According to him, death is not something to be feared and there is absolutely no use in trying to get people to remember you and your fame.

The second book I've been reading this week that brought up the subject of death when I least expected it is Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I'm not very far into it yet, but his perspective on death and "posthumous fame" still gave me pause.

In about fifty years (give or take a couple of decades), no one will remember you. Everyone you know will be dead. Certainly no one will care what job you had, what car you drove, what school you attended, or what clothes you wore. This can be terrifying or reassuring, or maybe a mix of both.
(Crazy Love, ch 2)

That's pretty straightforward. The chapter containing these sentences is about how everything and every time is about God - including the miniscule piece of eternity that our lives occupy.

Reading these books at the same time has left me thinking a lot about death, as I mentioned before. But it hasn't been depressing. In fact, the result of all my meditation on death has been that I've been thinking about life a lot. Particularly my life. It may be an easy question, but who is my life supposed to glorify?

Now, Aurelius was not a Christian. In fact, even though his book is full of virtues and morals, he heavily persecuted the Christians. It was a crime not to worship Caesar and guess who the Christians didn't worship? His answer is that your life isn't really meant to glorify anyone. You go about your business, try to do the right things, and eventually die.

Francis Chan on the other hand is a pastor. He is so passionate about his faith. So his answer is that our lives are supposed to glorify God - even though they are incredibly short in light of eternity. He uses the illustration of all of us being extras in a movie about God to make his point.

We have only our two-fifths-of-a-second-long scene to live. I don't know about you, but I want my two-fifths of a second to be about my making much of God. First Corinthians 10:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." That is what each of our two-fifths of a second is about.
(Crazy Love, ch 2)

Question: Who is my life supposed to glorify?
Answer: God.

Harder Question: Who does my life glorify?
Harder Answer: Usually me.

It's not natural to instantly give God the glory or to act in every little thing in a way that honors Him. But that's what we've got to strive to do. God is too great and wonderful for us to make this about us! Even Aurelius realized that fame and glory don't actually do us any good. So if they're not going to help us out anyway, we may as well make our lives about God, right?

But that's not how it's supposed to work either. We don't just glorify God because our glory won't last. Our lives should be lived as a response to everything He's done for us. For me, that includes salvation, putting me in the beautiful mountains of Virginia, piecing together my family so that I understand His picture of adoption, letting me be homeschooled, and tons and tons of other stuff. What does it mean for you?

When I think about all the stuff God has given me in my life that I don't deserve, it makes me want to live for Him. Yes, I still mess up. All. The. Time. But His grace means I can try again. I don't have to stay down.

I'm going to leave you with a quote from Francis Chan, because he said it well.

The point of your life is to point to Him. Whatever you are doing, God wants to be glorified, because this whole thing is His. It is His movie, His world, His gift.
(Crazy Love, ch 2)