Rooted in Love–What We Can Learn From the Flowers

Humans have an innate appreciation for nature.  Except for the occasional bee sting or troublesome allergies, nature often enchants all of our senses.  Smelling the crisp scent of evergreens, tasting the salty sea air, feeling the soft grass against our toes, hearing the chirping of the birds, and seeing the beauty of God’s creation around us are a few examples of how we experience and enjoy nature.  It is natural and good that we thank God for giving us these good things.  But to stop with gratitude would be to limit ourselves to self-centered appreciation of God’s creation.  We should step away from our own experience of nature and engage with something much bigger than ourselves.  If we allow ourselves to listen, the flowers remind us of the vanity of our own existence and the reality of our eternal value in Christ.

Christina Rossetti, a 19th century poet, is widely known for her gloomy, yet biblically centered poetry.  Hope and despair are prevalent themes in her writing.  While Rossetti often despairs about earthly griefs, she remains grounded in her eternal hope.  In her poetry, Rossetti constantly uses nature to re-ground herself in her hope. In “Consider the Lilies of the Field (p24,25), she writes:

“Flowers preach to us if we will hear…
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read…”

Anyone can smell the flowers and take pleasure in it.  However, very few actually learn from the flowers.  Learning from the flowers takes humility and a willingness to experience nature in a way much bigger than our own personal enjoyment.  It is easiest to view the flowers in their relation to us.  “Thank you God for allowing us to enjoy these beautiful flowers.”  And that response is perfectly acceptable.  However, the flowers can teach us so much more rather than just reinforcing a me-centered existence.

It is the natural human tendency to think of our existence in terms of ourselves.  Well, duh, you may say, we are the ones existing.  However, in a God-centered universe, we are never the main focus.  We may be the ones doing the actual living, but nothing we do can give value to our lives.  Yet we are never perfect at living a God-centered life.  We forget how fleeting and invaluable we are on our own.

This is not a new problem.  In Psalm 90:12, the Psalmist asks God on behalf of the Israelites, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  Israel forgot how short their life was.  Disobedience to God’s commands is the natural result of forgetting your place in eternity.  After experiencing punishment for embarking on a self-centered lifestyle, they come crawling back to God asking him to help them remember.  In a God-centered universe, a self-centered lifestyle does not satisfy.  Especially when you are being directly punished by God!

Isaiah says, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades… surely the people are grass… but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8). The quickly fading flower reminds us that our “blossom” is but a brief moment in eternity.  Hopeless can often be the result of this realization if we view our brief existence simply in terms of our life here on earth.  However, investing in an eternal hope through Jesus Christ allows us to live a hope-filled life while here on earth.  We live full lives here on earth, all the while knowing our ultimate value is not found in this world.  Nature can remind us of how small we are on our own and allow us to re-ground ourselves in truth—that true value can only come through God.

But the flowers’ teaching does not stop there.  They remind us of something much greater than our own insignificance.  They remind us of God’s great love for us in spite of our puny existence.  In Luke, Jesus says “If God so clothes the grass.. how much more will he clothe you(Luke 12:28).”  Nature IS beautiful! Even though a flower only blooms for a short time, it is none the less beautiful! So it is with us.  Even though we are seemingly insignificant, God values us.  Even though our life is but a moment, God concerns himself with the details of our life.

In her poem, “Consider the Lilies of the Field,” Rossetti continues,

“Flowers ….
Tell of his love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.”

The flowers do not just tell us truths about ourselves, but truths about God, too!

Contrary to what you may be thinking, this is not just a happy go lucky post.   Life is not just daisies and roses.  Even with a firm understanding of your eternal value and God’s love for you, life sucks sometimes.  Sadness is a natural part of life.  From Rossetti’s poetry, it seems like she was seriously depressed most of the time.  We would be lying to ourselves if we tried to never experience sadness.  Even Jesus wept.  But at the same time, we should never be guided by our emotions.  When experiencing despair, we should always anchor ourselves in our eternal hope.  Rossetti got through her darkest moments because of her eternal hope.  So also should we, in moments of despair, cling to the One that can never be taken away from us, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Taking a moment to listen to the flowers can help reground you in what is truly valuable.

Whether it’s in the simple hustle and bustle of everyday life or one of your darkest moments, grounding yourself in Christ’s deep love for you gives you strength to carry on.  However, being reminded of your true value in Christ is worthless if your actions do not change.   Taking a moment to listen to the flowers can help you live your life in a meaningful way.

So next time you are outside, stop and listen to the flowers.  What are they saying to you?

“In this world you will have tribulation.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

*Quotations taken from “Christina Rossetti: Selected Poems.”  Penguin Classics.




You Are Not a Creative Genius

I am an artist. It took years for those words to stop getting caught in my throat, and years more for them to tumble out of my mouth in anything other than a reluctant mumble. This is because for years I have been inundated with the societal myth of the “creative genius.” I used to believe that, to be an artist, I had to contain something extraordinary within me, something I could never truly attain. I heard the term “creative genius” applied to artists, writers, and musicians, and would immediately become overwhelmed by the heavy ache of self-loathing. The projects floating in my head that I could not truly grasp at were a source of constant anxiety, so much so that it sometimes seemed my head might burst. I lacked control that I supposed I somehow ought to have gained, had I been talented and dedicated enough.

This anxiety of the Artist is not much different from the anxiety of the Anybody. We are part of a society that can seem to believe in almost nothing other than The Self (and even then, barely). We all desire control over our projects, our art, and our lives, yet we look to the finite self to gain this control. It is somehow unnatural for us, the postmodern, individualistic Artists and Anybodies, to believe that we can at any moment draw upon something outside of ourselves, outside of our own inborn abilities or hard work. We trap ourselves in anxiety about our limitations. The result is crippling dissatisfaction with ourselves and the constant nagging feeling that nothing is enough.

There are those who have embraced human limitation. The ancient Greeks knew that they were not creative geniuses. Rather, they had a creative genius. Their inspiration, their muses, came to them and left them, and could not remain in their possession. Socrates himself seemed the wisest man simply because he knew that he knew so little. G.K. Chesterton points out how men try to get infinite heaven into their finite heads, and it is their heads that break, not heaven. The poets, however, are the ones trying to get their heads into heaven, and they succeed. When writing a poem, Cambridge poet Malcolm Guite talks to his words. He asks the words on his page if they have any friends they’d like to have join in on the conversation. And he listens.

These men did not try to trap something great inside of them. They communed with something outside of them in order to bring ideas into physical existence. When we give up control and deification of The Self as the source of all things, the anxiety all but ceases. We are able to tap into something much, much greater than ourselves.

This is where Christians have an advantage over the postmodern, individualistic Artists and the Anybodies. We are more like the Greeks and the poets than we realize, except we have something much more infinite than muses. The Holy Spirit that dwells within us is certainly greater than our mortal bodies. We do not control Him: rather, if we allow it, He controls us. He is the source from which inspiration flows and stops when it will. What freedom there is, in knowing that we control so little, that we have such an infinite source to guide and inspire us, that nothing we create or do is of our own merit!

I am not a creative genius. I am limited, often a mere vessel, and I’m glad. I don’t want control anymore. I have learned to admire the “not enough” I find in my art-making, in my words. It reminds me that my art is an image, apicture, of a greater, perfect, elusive something. I hope my Christian walk and my artmaking become a testament to the existence of something infinite and holy rather than an affirmation of human glory. I hope I never have such a large ego and small conception of infinite heaven that I believe I can fit it all inside my own mind. I hope we all, Artists and Anybodies alike, learn to listen and respond to the greater, perfect, elusive something; realizing with joy that we are not, and never need be, creative geniuses.

Repentance Songs and Easter

As many Christians in the world celebrated Easter this week, I think of the long, self-reflective days of Lent drawing to their exciting fulfillment. In my church, Lent is a period of intentional reflection and repentant prayer, hemmed together with the hope of forgiveness and deliverance from those things we find in ourselves that we wish weren’t there. Moving toward Easter in that mindset has helped me reflect on the nature of repentance.

Repentance begins in the true and beautiful, humble self-knowledge required of the Christian. This self-knowledge is not hateful, but compassionate; not despairing, but realistic; not lax, but dynamic; not aloof, but developmental. It is Dante’s Purgatory, where the creatures sing as they work on unlearning their sin, and know their sin without self-hatred, but hope.

They sing because opening the palm that clenched sin so long is a relief. They sing because finally (finally!) they get to be free of being what they were. They’re grateful for the momentous and intense gift of forgiveness, and also for the chance to learn how to be holy, to be what they always wished they were.

I can clench my fist tightly around my sin, bury it deep in my palm, and make it as invisible as possible. And I do that because I wish they weren’t there—I wish I wasn’t proud or vain or slothful or timid. Through repentance, God unclenches my fist, and there it is; sin, lying exposed and ugly in my sweaty, tired palm.

To the Christian, it’s clear that repentance is beneficial, but we still anticipate its unpleasantness, like swallowing medicine, getting the oil changed, doing taxes. Actions which must be done, which we choose, and which we drag our feet toward and get through as quickly as possible. But, the sustained effort of Lent occasions its own joy. That unattractive side of my soul that I lie to myself about can’t hide from the ongoing spotlight continual prayers of repentance and reflection cast.

Self-deception covered it, and kept me sick.

Self-knowledge—that revelation God gives me of my own weakness, that surgical blade’s kind and painful prodding—exposes everything I can stand to see.

Without Easter, that self-knowledge would have to melt into the shoulder-shrugging aloofness the world gives to sin, or else mount into hopeless self-loathing. But, Easter will not leave me at self-knowledge. Easter brings a new life. In Dante’s Purgatory, the would-be saints attend the school of repentance with their eyes on heaven: they accomplish their tasks, unlearn their vices, and teach their hands and bodies the habits of virtue. And, of course, they sing.

While he doesn’t get the afterlife correct, Dante understands the Christian life well, especially the fundamental principle that one of the worst punishments for sinning is having to be a sinner. The best thing about repentance and renewal in Christ is getting to be forgiven and holy. The repentant Christian knows the song Dante gives to the would-be saints of purgatory: it is the joyful, still song of thankful relief from burdens of being what we were never made to be.

Pastors, Elders and… Tim Tebow?

Celebrities are an odd phenomenon. There is little that these people do to earn the love of the masses—usually some demonstration of physical prowess to entertain an audience. Oddly, these people are expected to be role models for our children, to rise above what is expected of an average citizen and to espouse the ideals that are trendy in popular culture. This is the expectation in spite of the fact that their only proven virtue is their ability to physically compete, act well, or simply look beautiful. Humanity expects those who are externally “perfect” to also be a model for internal “perfection.”

When a celebrity is then outed as a Christian, suddenly the world compares that person to a different set of standards (usually moral) than what usually would apply to a celebrity. They are expected to conform to outmoded or poorly-understood notions of Christian morality. Accordingly, the Christian community gathers around the person and holds them up (provided they withstand the pressures of culture sufficiently well) as the standard-bearer of Christian culture.

A prime example of this is the ever divisive Tim Tebow. While Tim Tebow might not be a media darling, I think it is safe to say that Tebow has achieved celebrity status in both the secular and Christian worlds. At least he did have that status. After last week, there are a lot of people on both sides of the religious fence who either dislike, or are disappointed in, Tebow. What possible sin could Tebow commit to alienate both sides of his fan base? He committed to speak at a mainline, outspoken Evangelical church and then cancelled. The sides boiled down to this: Secular proponents of Tebow were enraged that he could even consider speaking at a church that espouses hate propaganda; and Christian supporters of Tebow were saddened that their idol crumbled under the pressure of culture, and then skewered him publicly for it.

Personally, I think there is a lot for a Christian to like about Tebow. In a world of “Christian” celebrities who live mostly like the rest of the world, but periodically toss up a verse or a public prayer, Tebow is like a breath of fresh air with his genuine, unabashed stances on morality and Christian principles. What is there to make of Tebow’s recant on teaching at a church? Doesn’t that make him a cultural pushover? Maybe, but I think we should hold off on crucifying him.

First, despite having a solid Christian upbringing and his apparent aspirations to one day be in ministry, he has had little formal theological training. Tebow was scheduled to share his testimony at First Baptist Church of Dallas, nothing more. In fact, the majority of what Tebow talks about when he shares publicly is his testimony. Why is this significant? It demonstrates that his strength is in his own story, not in exegesis and preaching. In other words, I don’t think that Tebow is prepared to handle the tough questions that would be lobbed at him were he to align himself with First Baptist. Despite the fact that they are well within the mainlines of Protestant Evangelicalism, Pastor Jeffress has lacked tact in the past, and as a result, his words have been misconstrued to make the church tantamount to Westboro Baptist. Tebow may have had a hard time fielding the questions that would have been asked were he to follow through with the engagement. While his parents are wonderful missionaries who are doing marvelous things for the cause of Christ around the world, it seems unlikely that they trained their children to cogently and effectively defend beliefs such as the sinfulness of homosexuality and the exclusivity of Christ for salvation in the modern American public square. I think that I would have had a hard time fielding such questions, and I’ve had four years of training at a theological institution.

Second, Tebow is under a colossal amount of pressure. The performance expectations on him as a football player would stifle most. The fact that he has managed a genial, upright, and consistent moral character demonstrates that this is not a guy who wavers easily. It seems plausible that he had good reasons for cancelling the appointment, especially given the fact that there are other men who have to undergo sensitivity training for their anti-homosexuality statements. It’s easy to criticize someone for appearing to waffle under cultural pressure, but when faced with the kind of scrutiny Tebow does daily, I doubt that any of us would hold up half as well. While I think Tebow is committed to shining the light of Christ in a dark world, I don’t think he signed up as the poster boy of good, moral evangelicalism in America. Christians put him on that pedestal and then cried foul when he didn’t live up to their expectations.

It’s moments like these that ought to cause Christians to take a step back and examine who we idolize. Perhaps we ought to even realize that we are making idols of celebrities. We need to remember that our best role models of Christianity are our local church pastors, elders, and mentors, not our athletes, actors, and models. At the end of the day, Christian role models are those who have committed their lives to the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word, regardless of their fame. Yes, both are merely men and women who will stumble and fall, but at the end of the day, celebrities are committed to entertaining in a public forum, while pastors and elders are committed to the discipleship of people. Instead of turning to celebrities and expecting their interior to match their exterior, I think it’s time that the church turn within itself to find those who have committed to living a life of discipleship, regardless of how their exterior looks.

P.O.D., “I Am,” and Living in Culture

One of the most successful bands who managed to maintain popularity within Christian circles, P.O.D., released an album this last July, entitled Murdered Love. I reviewed the album with my good friend Nick, which you can listen to here. We talked a lot of about the album, and ended up spending a decent amount of time on one particular controversial track, but we were overall pretty much in agreement: the album works for what it is, and in some ways is a return to form for the band. It may not be up to the caliber of Satellite, but it comes closer than anything else they’ve released. I’ve already alluded to it, but there is one track that will have people up in arms (and, in fact, has already done so): the track is called “I Am,” and might be the most explicitly Christian track they’ve ever released.

And it uses the word “f*ck.” Continue reading P.O.D., “I Am,” and Living in Culture

Scrooge McDuck Eats Out: Why Christians Should Tip Well

I was surfing The Gospel Coalition the other day and I stumbled across a link to this post about tipping. The author argues that there is a perception among servers, supported by his own experience, that Christians are poor tippers and just generally poor diners in general. I’d heard this before, and a little bit of digging turned up several articles referencing a study done by Cornell University. On average, Christians do not, in fact, tip poorly; individually, however, about 13% of Christians leave less than the “average” 15% tip, which is about twice the rate of a non-Christian. This means that Christians stiff their servers about twice as often as non-Christians do (not sure what I mean? This article has a good summary). Continue reading Scrooge McDuck Eats Out: Why Christians Should Tip Well

The 2008 EO/Wheatstone Academy Symposium

While the current political cycle has sharpened our focus on the role of religion in the public square, we often fail to reflect on the role of the public square upon religion. Increasingly, when Christians engage others in public forums, we do so using tools that we did not develop. Whether through movies, music, or new media, we tend to start with a pre-existing cultural forms and incorporate the Gospel as best we can.
As communication theorist Marshall McLuhan argued, the tools we use to communicate a message can shape that message in ways we may or may not intend.* If this is true then Christians have a duty to critically evaluate the effect of our media choices on our message. Do our choices of media forms allow the message to remain Christian? Or are the tools with which we communicate at odds with the message of the Gospel?
In order to explore the issue in greater depth, I’ve decided to make it the topic of the 2008 EO Symposium, sponsored this year by Wheatstone Academy.
Responses to the following question will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. EST on Friday, April 25th:

If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media?

The top five posts chosen by our panel of judges (James Kushiner from Touchstone magazine’s Mere Comments, Melinda Penner from Stand to Reason, Matt Lewis from, and Matthew Anderson from Mere Orthodoxy) will receive:

(1) A full tuition scholarship for a Christian high school student of the winner’s choice to Wheatstone Academy. [A $950 value]
(2) The ‘Quintessentials’ from Stand to Reason, including the Ambassador Basic Curriculum, Tactics in Defending the Faith DVD, Decision Making and the Will of God CD set, and a signed copy of Greg Koukl’s new book Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. [A $150 value]
(3) A $200 donation made to Compassion International in the name of the winning blogger.
(4) A full-tuition scholarship to the upcoming GodBlogCon (September 2008). [A $150 value]
(5) A two-year subscription to Touchstone Magazine. [A $59.95 value]
(6) A year subscription to Townhall magazine. [A $34.95 value]

The first place winner will have their choice of items with the second place deciding between the remaining four items, etc. The sixth place winner will will automatically receive the unselected item.
Those who choose only to write a brief comment promoting the Symposium are still eligible to receive a prize for participating. Anyone who includes a link to this post and a brief comment will be entered into a separate drawing for one of three copies of The New Media Frontier, forthcoming from Crossway Books.
To include your post in the symposium, send the following information to

  • Name
  • Name and URL of blog or website
  • Title and URL of post
  • Brief summary

Finally, I am grateful to those sponsors who have generously given time and money to make this year’s Symposium a reality, especially Wheatstone Academy, a discussion-based summer conference that seeks to instill a love of learning and dialogue in Christian high school students.

* For more background on McLuhan and his theory, read Mark Federman’s excellent introductory article.