Not Blank Slates

Not Blank Slates

A couple years ago, a newsletter email came into my inbox from Tricia Goyer. It was on New Year’s Day, I believe, and was introducing a new Facebook group she’d created, called Write That Book! (Great group, by the way). But part of her intro was a musing that has stuck with me all these years.

She said that God did not create us as blank slates. He created us with predilections and leaning, with yearnings and talents. He created us to be good at certain things and not so good at others. There is, of course, always room to improve, we can learn skills we weren’t necessarily born with, and how we were raised certainly plays a part in what we have the opportunity to explore.

But some people are simply music lovers. Some people are storytellers. Some people are artists. Some people are mathematicians. Some people are mechanics.

Even when it seems unlikely that someone with a particular talent will rise out of the shadows of a certain life they were born into, those things will shine through. You can find storytellers and artists and mechanical geniuses among every class.

Because God didn’t make us as blank slates. He created us with a purpose–for a purpose. He created us as rich, complex, beautiful people.

So if God created us to have a yearning toward X, Y, or Z … why do we so often ignore it? Push it aside? Why do we think it less important than this other thing that could maybe make us some quick money or keep us in insurance? We’re told over and over in the Bible to trust Him for our needs and simply follow Him.

Well, I’m going to say here and now that following Him means living out what He’s called us to, what He’s made us for. Following Him meant, for Peter, being bold and daring; it meant, for Paul, traveling the known world; it meant, for Michelangelo, carving a magnificent biblical hero; it meant, for Bach, writing music about His death and resurrection. It means, for me, writing stories.

What does it mean for you?

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to over the years who view their talents and loves as less than. Not necessarily less than someone else’s (though that comes up too!), but less than the “ought to” that the world tells us we should be focused on. They feel guilty for the time spent creating or exploring this thing they love. They feel like they have no right to do it, and they ought to be focusing on more “practical” things instead.

Well, friends, I’m going to echo the wise Tricia Goyer here, and say “God did not make you a blank slate.” He made you with these loves and yearnings. He made you to be creative as He is creative, in His image. He made you to glorify Him through the passions He has put on your heart. So when you do that, you are living out His calling and glorifying Him through your actions.

And when you don’t…?

Have we ever really paused to consider that? That if He created us with a beautiful singing voice and a love for music, we are in fact denying Him if we don’t use it to lift those voices in praise to the Almighty? Imagine what it would mean for all of us today if David had put aside his music-making and poetry-writing dreams because it was deemed impractical for a shepherd, or that he ought to be focusing solely on running a kingdom?

Well guess what–God loves you every bit as much as He loved David. God created you just as carefully, just as beautifully. God created each of us with our own special way to praise Him. Maybe that’s through music or numbers or words or mechanical things; maybe it’s through growing things or sewing things or making meals to feed His children; maybe it’s through teaching or preaching or running or swimming. Whatever it is, when we’re living out our full potential–the potential HE created–we are pleasing Him.

What is it you have always loved to do, that you take joy in? Are you delighting Him and delighting in Him by walking in those joys?

Thowback Thursday. . . Book Lovers

Thowback Thursday. . . Book Lovers

***Today’s Throwback post was originally published January 7, 2010***

I will never forget my shock. There I sat, an innocent, in the admissions office at my college. All around me were the usual people that made up my day–the admissions counselors, the office manager, the director and associate director. We were minding our own business, recruiting future students for St. John’s College, a.k.a. the Great Books School. When out of nowhere, it happened. The new data manager (not an alum, let it be noted, unlike most of the employees) showed her true colors. “Tim and I are spring cleaning, and I threw out three boxes of books.”

Gasp! The horror . . . The sacrilege . . . Oh, let it not be so, let not this blasphemer be sitting two feet away from me . . .

We just stared at her in shock until she started laughing at the matching expressions on the faces of the four of us in the room. “What?” she finally asked.

I wrapped my tongue around it first. “You threw away books? And you dare to admit it here?”

Now, it’s no secret that we Johnnies are book-lovers. We make a four-year career out of collecting obscure literature, reading it, and discussing it in class. It’s what we do. In a lot of ways, it’s who we are. We are Book Lovers. We unite to sing the praises of all things bound in card stock with hotmelt and trimmed to size.

But there are those in the world who oppose our Creed. There are those who value Space and Organization above the wonder of typeset ideas. Some compromise by donating their unneeded books to good homes or libraries, which is an understandable decision. But some . . . some toss them carelessly to the side. As if they are . . . nothing! (Sob, gasp!)

Well, I am here as a safe-house. Just last night my husband erected four new four-foot shelves to hold the overflow. Now, most of these books that I so carefully placed in alphabetic order last night will not be with me forever. I am but a steward of them, seeing to their well-being until I find a good home for them, readers to devour their pages and write reviews for me. But oh, how I long to adopt them all!

In my quest to provide an island of safety for books of all kinds, I have developed several identities. I will answer to The Reviewer. The Librarian. The Bookworm. My keen ears can hear the phrase, “I need a new book to read” from a mile away, and my deft fingers will quickly pluck a selection from my shelves and deliver it to the friend or family member in need. It is not always an easy calling, but it is one I cannot ignore.

And we are training up another generation to take over our operations even now. As my itchy fingers dove into the box of books-awaiting-shelves the moment plywood touched brackets, my son and daughter were there beside me. Believing, hoping. And asking, “Mommy, do we get to keep all these books, or do we give them away?”

I caressed the spine of a novel just begging to be read. “These, sweetie, we’ll have to give away.”

A definite pout entered her tone. “But why, Mommy? Why can’t we keep them all?”

A question to bring tears to this Bookworm’s eyes. “Because, sweetie, other people need to read too. But don’t you worry. Though we send these out, new books will come in to take their places.”

I felt a little hand press against my leg. “I’ll help you Mommy. I’ll help you divide them. You just hand the non-fishing to me.” And she picked up a book with a cover that declared it non-fiction and put it in the pile for the lower shelf.

My chest swelled with pride. They’ll learn . . . and they’ll carry on. It’s what we do. It’s who we are.

We are Book Lovers.

Other People’s Problems

Other People’s Problems

We’ve all heard some version of this wisdom, whether it’s an anecdote, an object lesson, or a punchline: if you want to feel better about your problems, just look at someone else’s. You’re going to be far happier with your own than theirs.

The irony, of course, being that the same is true in reverse, most of the time. Everyone prefers the “devil they know,” once they get over the “grass is greener” phenomenon. Right? We always think someone else has it better…until we hear or see what their woes are, then we snap into defensive mode: “Wow, glad I don’t have to deal with that!”

This has always rubbed me wrong, but I’ve never really taken the time to really work out why…or what the better way is. But I think it’s an important thing to examine.

I readily admit I’ve done this as much as the next person. I’ve seen someone else’s trying situation and said, Thank you, Lord, that I don’t have to deal with that! I don’t know if I could handle it. The irony, of course, being when then I have to learn it for myself. That happens quite a lot, doesn’t it? I seriously had the thought not two weeks before my son’s Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis that I was so glad my family was generally healthy and we didn’t have any strange dietary requirements. Cue counting every single carb that enters his mouth and having to figure out the ratio of insulin that will keep him healthy.

So now, let’s take a look at the heart of this issue. What it comes down to of course is that old enemy of mine: comparison. After struggling with a competitive spirit and the pitfalls of comparison all my life, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that Bob Goff has it right when he says, “Comparison is a punk.” IT IS. Sometimes it’ll make you feel good, like in the above “wisdom,” but it’s a trap. ALWAYS. When we compare ourselves to others, we’re walking a line with a cliff on either side that we can stumble over.

Cliff 1: I’m Better
The “problem wisdom” here assumes that you’ll fall over this cliff and be so relieved that you only have your own problems to deal with and not theirs. Yikes. So glad I don’t have to deal with x or y or z. So glad I don’t have that issue or problem. So glad I’m not them. Thank you, Lord!

Cliff 2: They’re Better
But it can just as easily topple the other way, right? Oh man, look how much better they have it! How successful they are! They don’t have any problems! Lord, why? Why do I have it so bad? Why does nothing good ever happen to me? How am I supposed to praise you through this??

One cliff is no less dangerous than the other; but the fact that this “just look at their problems” wisdom commands you to veer away from one cliff and straight off the other is what sends warning bells a-clanging in my soul. Because a cliff is a cliff, my friends. Comparison is dangerous whichever direction it leads you.

I’ve examined the defeat side before (you can read a guest post I wrote about it for my literary agency’s blog several years ago here), but today I want to focus on that “victorious” side. Why is this dangerous?

Well there’s the obvious pride factor, first of all. Any comparison that leads you to an “I’m Better” mindset can send you straight into that puffed-up pride that we know God warns us against. Maybe when you’re looking specifically at problems you have, this doesn’t seem like a true danger, but I think it really is. Because while you may not be saying “I’m the best” you’re still saying, “I have it better than them.” You’re exalting yourself. You’re saying you’re more fortunate. You’re placing the value of your life on your circumstances. This is Bad News with a captial B-N. Because those circumstances WILL change, guaranteed.

But the second issue is that it affects the way you view your neighbor. You’re not looking at them with compassion, but with pity. You’re feeling sorry for them. You’re casting them down in your mind and deeming them less-than. You’re focusing on their misery. You’re valuing your neighbor according to THEIR circumstances.

But is that amputee defined by the limb they lost? I sure hope not. Is that person with an auto-immune disease defined by what they have to do or not do to regulate their body? Is that person with chronic pain defined by what level they are on the scale today?

NO. They are defined by the fact that God loves them and has called them His child. That person suffering from a physical or psychological or emotional situation is royalty in the kingdom of God, just like you.

We ALL have things we deal with. But here’s the thing: our problems are not what define us; they are what shape us into the people we need to be to do God’s work.

Sure, other people’s problems can look intimidating to us, because we don’t know how to live with them (yet, sometimes). But instead of being either overwhelmed by the mere thought, pitying them, or dismissing them because they don’t seem “real” compared to our problems, maybe instead we ought to ask ourselves, “What is God teaching them through this? What strength is He giving them? Is that a strength I lack? Is it one I need? Can I cultivate it? What can I learn from them? How do I love them through this issue? Is there a way I can show them how much God loves them, and how even this has made them more precious in His sight, not less?”

I think if we could honestly view others in that way, then we’d stop approaching the “less fortunate” as charity cases or people who “need us” and start viewing them as people who we can jointly serve and be served by. They may have something that requires a neighborly hand from you…but I guarantee you they also have a strength that YOU would benefit from.

And of course, here’s the real clincher: if we stop viewing problems–our and theirs–as immense burdens we have to bear and instead view them as what we need to learn from, the things that will make us stronger, our entire outlook is going to change. And we’ll stop saying “woe is me” altogether…and start saying, “Praise you, Lord.”

What problems are your facing today? What problems are your family, friends, and neighbors facing? How can you change your perspective on them and view them all through a lens of God’s love?

Approaching the Throne

Approaching the Throne

Way back in the day, when I wrote Jewel of Persia, I had to study not only the book of Esther and Old Testament history, but Persian history as well. It was interesting to learn that Xerxes was called “the king of kings” because of the vastness of his empire, and the fact that he had so many countries subjugated to his own–there were other kings, but they ranked beneath him.

Which of course got me thinking about why we call God the King of kings. Because there are always going to be other rulers on earth, authority over us. But He is above all of them. Makes sense, right?

In the story of Esther, it’s pretty clear how powerful and terrifying the king can be. And Xerxes was known for his generosity! But still, she was taking her life into her hands when she went before him without being summoned. To us today, this seems a bit weird, right? I mean, she was his wife. No, more than that–his queen. She had plenty of authority of her own.

But not enough to counteract his. Not enough that, had she caught him in a bad mood, he might not depose her or worse. He was the king–one of the absolute varieties who literally held the power of life and death in his hand. And she was but one of his wives. He had hundreds. What if they all just barged into the throne room whenever they wanted a favor or had something to tell him? It would have been chaos.

The same is true of other ancient kings. They were fearsome. They were intimidating. Because they were powerful. Their authority meant they could do pretty much anything they wanted.

So naturally, the people of God viewed Him the same way. He was, after all, the true King of kings. He held ALL life and death in His hands.

This power is not something to trifle with. This power is not something to ignore. This power is not something to assume yourself immune to. Because all too often we see what happened to those who did that–they were struck down, given over to enemies, cursed.

God is fearsome. Awesome. Terrifying. God is the sort of love beyond our comprehension, that kind that requires justice and purity and holiness, not just grace and mercy.

Just because we’re in the age of grace, that doesn’t mean His nature has changed. He is still the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is still that terrifying deity who holds life and death, blessing and cursing in His hands. He is still the God whose throne room cannot be breached by force of will.

But do you know who could always enter before the king? His heir. Now, ancient kings had a ton of children, most of the time, and they couldn’t all just fly into the throne room and launch themselves into his arms (see that note above about chaos). But once he had appointed an heir, things changed. That heir had to be there. He had to learn. He had a portion of the king’s authority, and in His absence from a region, all his authority. The heir could come and go as he pleased, do as he pleased, but with a certain understanding–that he was acting on behalf of the king, and that he could do so only because the king had granted him that power. Their wills were to be one. Their stances one. Their authority one.

You obviously know where I’m going with this, right? Christ is the heir. He can enter the throne room. But the King and his Heir did something amazing when Jesus came to earth and died for us–they named us co-heirs. Not just other princes and princesses, who might be loved and might receive gifts and might be allowed entrance now and then to their presence. No, co-heirs with Christ. Do we get what that means?? It means we also have that authority–but only because they’ve granted it to us. It means we have that authority when we share their will, share their goals, share their kingdom-oriented passions. We can approach God, not just because He is merciful and loving, but because He has appointed us as responsible parties, let’s say, for His kingdom.

That doesn’t mean we’re there to frolic and play with the crown jewels. That means we’re there to get down to business. We’re there to strategize with Him. We’re there to carry out His goals and visions. We’re there to do His bidding and be His emissaries to the world.

We can approach His throne without fear, because we’re authorized to be there and share in His authority…but at the same time, we need to remember that there is fear in approaching Him, because He has ALL authority. We should be always aware of how fearsome He is, and we should be aware of it in part because He’s granted that same power to us. If we’re to wield it effectively, lovingly, mercifully, justly, we need to understand it. Appreciate it. Respect it.

If we’re not walking in that authority, are we really acting like His heirs? But at the same time, if we’re misusing it, are we truly being the emissary of the King? If we ignore that it’s real, don’t recognize His awe-inspiring power, then we bind our own hands–because if we don’t recognize His power, we can’t accept it for ourselves, it means nothing. And yet when He looks upon us and calls us His child and tells us we are co-heirs with Christ, we also can’t just shuffle our feet and hide our face and say, “Thanks for the welcome, Lord, but I’m just going to hide in the corner.”

That’s not what the heir does. The heir goes out. The heir does business. The heir learns how to run the Kingdom.

What are we doing today to run the Kingdom for the King?

The Right Gospel

The Right Gospel

When you read through the epistles, there’s a common theme to many of them: Paul is admonishing them for following after false versions of Christianity. Listening to teachers or prophets who said Christ wasn’t fully man or fully God . . . getting tangled back up in the law . . . denying the resurrection. From the vantage point of two thousand years later, we may shake our heads at how those early Christians were just as susceptible to straying from God’s truth as the Old Testament Israelites.

When really, that should be a warning. If God’s people were falling prey to that four thousand years ago, two thousand years ago . . . what are the chances that His people aren’t falling prey to the same today?

Oo, oo, I know the answer! *Insert me waving my hand in the air enthusiastically*


That sounds harsh. And of course, there are faithful Christians today, just as there were where then. But if it was a problem then, it’s a problem now. And if it’s a problem now, then we need to be aware. On our guard. Self-aware. Because I seriously doubt those early church believers knew that they’d strayed from the Way, that they’d done it deliberately, that they thought, “Oh, this version is wrong, but I’ll follow it anyway.” No . . . they thought they were right. They thought they’d come to a better, fuller understanding of something. They thought they were pleasing God. But Paul has pretty strong words for them, doesn’t he?

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth…? (Galatians 3:1)

We–humanity in general–are so foolish. We do let ourselves be charmed and bewitched by other gospels. We believe what we want to, creating idols–our own vision of God, that makes Him over in our own image, instead of letting Him remake us.

But Galatians 3 also gives us a test to know if we’ve stumbled onto that slippery slope. Paul reminds them that they KNOW the Gospel he preached was the true Gospel, because it was by that Word that they received the Spirit.

If we’re following the correct version of Christianity, that test should still hold true. We should still be filled with the Holy Spirit. But even that can be tricky, right? We’re in an age where we know for a fact some people put on a show of being Spirit-filled, when really they’re not. We’ve scientifically proven that drugs give people the same experience as a moving church service (seriously!). How do we even know that, then? If we’ve experienced the genuine thing?

I think that itself is actually the key–the Spirit of God is not an experience. He is not a feeling. He is a tongue of fire, a mighty wind, a being of immense power. And a great mystery too. We should know if that being has filled us. We should be aware of His Presence, of His guidance, of His hand upon us and His whisper in our ears. And we can know if He’s there in the lives of others, because they’ll be bearing His fruit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Those voices you’re listening to today–the ones on social media, on the radio, on the TV, in your own church, the friend trying to tell you how to live, or even in your own head . . . that voice you are using to speak to others . . . do they pass that test? This is a serious question we all need to ask ourselves regularly. And hopefully, the answer is Yes! But it’s not always going to be. Sometimes we’ll have let in voices that promote fear. Sometimes we find ourselves following people who want war instead of peace. Sometimes we find ourselves nodding along to people who are far from gentle, far from kind, who fly off the handle at a moment’s notice. Sometimes we do those things.

Sometimes people talk a good talk, put on a good show, but then the uglies come out years later.

Sometimes people hide judgement behind a sweet disposition.

Sometimes we chase after the visible signs, the miracles, the experience and forget to listen to the still, small Voice that comes in the quiet after the earthquake, not during the show of fire and light.

But we can know, my friends. We can know, when we actually pause to check and to listen and to question, if we’re still following the Right Gospel. We can know, because He won’t hide it from us if we ask. But sometimes we have to ask. Sometimes we have to listen to the Pauls in our lives who warn us when we’re being deceived.

Let’s regularly take the time to evaluate which path our feet are on. Let’s examine the fruit of our own lives and the lives of those whose voices fill our ears. Let’s make sure we all pass the test of the Spirit. Because that’s the only way we know if we’re trusting in the Right Gospel . . . or if we’ve fallen into foolishness like the Galatians.

What He Asks of Us

What He Asks of Us

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”
~ John 3:16

It’s the most memorized verse of the Bible. One we know so well and see so often that we probably don’t really pause to think about it anymore. But the other week in church, it was one of the verses our speaker highlighted in his message of God’s love…and it followed a praise and worship chorus that reminded us of how He is worthy of our efforts, worthy of our sacrifices, worthy of anything we can do for Him. And it got me thinking.

How amazing is it that God loves us this much? That Christ loves us so much He was willing to do this for us? Let’s look at what He sacrificed:

  • His home in heaven–He gave up a seat at the right hand of the Father to come to earth and walk in misery for us. His entire earthly existence was overshadowed by the cross. But He did it. For you. For me.
  • A life of ease on earth–look at most ancient mythologies, and you’ll see gods who were selfish and demi-gods who used their divine blood to achieve fame and fortune. But Jesus defies all that. He came to live a humble life, not a kingly one.
  • Daily comforts–not only was he born to modest circumstances, He gave up even those things in order to preach and teach about the Kingdom of God. He had no place to lay His head. No guarantee of the next meal. No nice house or fancy car–er, horse or even donkey–no savings account or college fund or good insurance program.
  • And of course, His LIFE.

He did this because He loves us. The Father asked it of Him because He loves us. They PROVED their love for us in the most spectacular way imaginable–by giving up everything. Absolutely everything.

And what do they ask of us? A portion. A percent. Those are the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament. Then in the new, Jesus asks us to make what is strangely the hardest sacrifice of all: He asks us to give up our sins. He asks us to give up what’s coming between us and the Father.

Have you ever really paused to think about that? Let me say it again. He asks us to give up our sins. They are what’s coming between us and the Father. Give up our greed. Give up our hatred. Give up our bitterness. He asks us to give up our biases and our prejudices and our judgments. He asks us to give up the idols we’ve built with our own two hands, the things we spend more time worrying about and thinking about (aka worshipping) than we spend on Him. He asks us to sacrifice the bad so that we can grab hold of the Good with both hands.

And yet we struggle with that. So, so much. Just like the Israelites of old struggled to stay free of the snarls of idolatry. Why? Because idols offer us pleasure in the short term. A comfortable life. An exciting “romantic” encounter. Wealth. Fun.

The Lord teaches us what happens in the long term, of course. But as a race, humanity is short-sighted. Always have been and still are. That, too, is what He asks to give up–our own limited vision. He asks us to give up the illusion of being in control.

He asks us to trust Him instead. To admit that He sees what we can’t. That He knows the Good, not just the pleasant.

That thought really humbled me as I sat in church, thinking about how He gave up glory for us…yet we’re unwilling to give up sin for Him. He loves us so much that He gave us life…we love Him so poorly that we won’t relinquish our idols.

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: it’s true that He doesn’t ask all of us to give up everything. But He DOES ask all of us to give up something–namely, whatever we value above Him. He asks us to sacrifice those idols. Are we willing?