My Book is OUT NOW!

Today is BOOK LAUNCH DAY! Get your copy of my book A Student’s Guide to Justification from the following book sellers and online outlets:

Christian Focus

Amazon (paperback)

Amazon (Kindle version)

10ofThose

Christian Book

Truly Happy: Rudolph, Augustine, and Our Misfit Hearts

As everyone knows, the day after Thanksgiving is when Christmas celebrations can begin in earnest. Most of us would permit the spinning of holiday records and purchasing one’s Christmas tree at this point. Though corporate America and malls start advertising Christmas around Halloween, after Thanksgiving we can all jump in with few qualms of conscience. So, where was I on the day after Thanksgiving this year? Reveling in the Christmas spirit, of course!

While visiting my parents in suburban Atlanta, we decided to enjoy a performance of the Christmas classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at The Center for Puppetry Arts downtown. This is a place my mother had taken my brother and I as kids, and now she was thrilled to be taking her grandsons. The show followed the story and art of the original 1964 movie, while adapting it for puppets. A fusion of a projector screen in the foreground and the fantastic work of the puppeteers interspersed throughout the beautiful set in the background made the show special and the story fresh.

Rudolph has been a favorite of mine since childhood. I like the story, the music, the humor, and the fact that all the original animation was done entirely in Japan (fun fact!). The central theme that misfits matter and can serve unique and important roles in society is beautiful and even gospel-esque. I was reminded of the simple beauty of the story’s theme as I experienced it anew with my children in a different format.

One line that stands out in the story (and I’m by no means the first to notice this) is one uttered by King Moonracer, the winged lion and lord of the Island of Misfit Toys. When Rudolph, Hermie, and Yukon Cornelius (my favorite character) ask King Moonracer if they can stay on the island as misfits themselves, the king responds in a curious way: “No, that would not be possible. The island is for toys alone.” Yukon Cornelius mocks Rudolph’s rejection by the king, saying, “How do you like that? Even among misfits you’re a misfit.” That stings. He’s right. Even on the Island of Misfit Toys, Rudolph can’t find a place of belonging and rest. He can’t find a home.

It’s at this point when a profound quote comes out of the mouth of King Moonracer. He makes it clear that the island is not a permanent home or place of rest for anyone, even the misfit toys themselves. The king clarifies, “A toy is never truly happy until it is loved by a child.” The toys that inhabit the sad isle of his dominion are never at rest or truly happy until they find the love that they were made for—the love of a child. Though their broken dysfunction has kept them from finding this happy relationship, their ultimate hope is that they would know this love that would restore even the most peculiar misfit.

As I heard this line for perhaps the twentieth time in my life, I was struck by its similarity to the most often quoted line of Saint Augustine, the early church father from North Africa. At the outset of his historic spiritual memoir The Confessions, Augustine prays, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (1.1.1). He confesses the deep ache of every human’s longing heart. Our hearts desire their home. Our hearts desire true happiness. Our hearts desire the love for which we were made. Augustine had learned, as many more believers have, that his heart’s home, place of rest, and source of true happiness was in the love of God. It is found in the perfect love of the Heavenly Father who made us—this God who made us out of his own Triune delight and who, ultimately, did so that we might find our deepest solace within that delight.

Augustine’s story is Rudolph’s story. It is the story of the misfit toys. And it is also our story. We are broken and lonely. We long for a home and can’t seem to find it. We were made for love but feel loveless and misdirected. We try to find it in our own hometown, but we often strike out on our own to find it elsewhere when rejected by family and friends. We’re often disappointed by those who were supposed to love us better, to love us as their own, but who instead seek to better themselves through us or ignore us. This is why the earlier scenes with Rudolph and his dad, as well as with Hermie and his boss, are painful to watch.

There is good news in the Rudolph story: eventually everyone appreciates Rudolph for who he is and his surprising usefulness (there’s a happy ending for Hermie and Yukon Cornelius as well). But there’s even better news for us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what Augustine had discovered. It’s what so many other believers throughout church history and across the world have found. When we were defective, misfit sinners, God in Christ drew near to us in love: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Though we were aimless, purposeless, and without a home, the Lord has made us his own: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10). And, through the gift of faith in his Son, our Heavenly Father has given us rest: “For we who have believed enter that rest” (Heb. 4:5a).

In light of this greater good news, we all can be truly happy, though true happiness is different than how we naturally conceive of it. True happiness is not found in the fickle affection of even friends and family. It is not found in a new holiday purchase. It is not even found in your favorite Christmas movie or tradition. As King Moonracer and Saint Augustine remind us, we can all only be truly happy when we experience and revel in the love of the One for whom we were made. In Jesus, we find this transforming love. We find a Father who is outgoing and who runs out to meet us as misfits wandering on the way home (Luke 15:10). We find a Father who rejoices over us with gladness, quiets us by his love, and exults over us with loud singing (Zeph. 3:17). In his arms, we can rest and be truly happy—now and forevermore.

Advent and Christmastime are an invitation to again experience the breathtaking beauty of God’s love for us in Christ—to let the anticipation grow as we await its fullness in his eventual return.

**This post was originally published in 2019 with Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy — Covenant Theological Seminary’s theology blog**

Guiding Teenagers Toward Life with God, Part II [New Blog Post on Rooted]

I wrote this article for Rooted as part two of a two part series. It’s ultimately about prayer. Here’s the lead-in: “We don’t have to get God to like us or love us through our prayers. God is already favorably disposed toward us because of Jesus.”

Click here to read.

Guiding Teenagers Toward Life with God, Part I [New Blog Post on Rooted]

I wrote this article for Rooted as part one of a two part series. Here’s the lead-in: “When our students articulate confusion about relating to God, we have an opportunity to engage with them personally and to walk with them in discipleship.”

Click here to read.

Crushed For a Season [New Poem]

Background

In this poem I connect the image of winemaking with that of suffering, grief, and growth. The winepress is a symbol both of judgment and discipline as well as celebratory rejoicing. Wine resembles and signifies blood, but it is also a sign of the coming kingdom of God.

Suffering and death precede resurrection. A grain of wheat can only bear fruit if it dies. God disciplines us as sons and daughters, though it is never pleasing at the time. We wrestle with spiritual forces of evil, and yet one day all the sad things will be made untrue and there will be a banquet of new wine and feasting.

Along with these biblical themes, I had these two passages from Paul’s epistles in mind:

that I may know [Jesus] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:10-11

 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…

Colossians 1:24

Crushed For a Season

Crushed for a season
Fruit freshly gathered
Churning, burst squeezing
Mayhem’s sloshing lather

Can chaos contain
Any meaning sweet?
And ferment’s decay
Grow, give, make complete?

Where nothing happens
And all seems forgot
Could one imagine
A lesson be taught?

Might a yeasting stink
Yield a better thing?
Lush, gushing and pink
Rich pleasure bringing?

Only when He treads
Winepress of delight
Wounds that flow and spread
Succor, glory bright

Taste and see He’s good
Spirited drink best
With us bleeding, could
Mingle, mature, bless

A Poem for Fall: Stillness Moving

Background

Fall is the best season. Hands down. As the first hint of the changing leaves appear (and college football season gets going) I instinctively rejoice and relish the stretch from Labor Day to Thanksgiving. It doesn’t hurt that this time of year reminds me of when Mary Jane and I fell in love and got married. It’s a time of beauty, and reflection. It calls for poetry.

I wrote this poem a few years ago after a run in the park as the sun was setting on a beautiful Fall day. In it I explore the paradox of the stillness that can be found while still physically in motion. We experience this paradox particularly as we slow ourselves down to attend not only to the beauty of our surroundings, but also the peacefulness contained in each noticed breath. There is glory all around for us to attend to and enjoy — the omnipresence of the Triune God (who abounds in steadfast love through Christ) only enhances this rich experience.

Stillness Moving

OUT in
out IN
Pace for pace
Breath for breath

Rhythm to observe
Light's escaping
Shadow's return
Wonder embrace me

Painted hues
Shrouded for now
Outlined cloud
Signals sun's parting

Moving still
Stillness moving
Sovereign in session
Relish the autumnal glory

Breathe, breathe

Pre-Order My New Book!

I’m excited to share that my first book will be published in January! It’s called “A Student’s Guide to Justification” and will be a part of the Track series with Christian Focus Publishers partnering with Reformed Youth Ministries (RYM). I hope that it will be a helpful, short book on an essential Christian doctrine — the heart of the gospel itself. It’s geared towards teens and young adults, but I hope it will prove beneficial to all who read it.

While there will be more to share about the book in the coming months, you can pre-order it now on Amazon.

Feel free to share with anyone you think would be interested in it. I appreciate any support you could provide!

What is Bible-Saturated Youth Ministry? (New Article on Rooted)

I wrote this article to youth ministers and parents for Rooted on how to foster a Bible-saturated youth ministry. It’s part of a series of posts they are doing on their vision statement:

“To transform youth ministry so that every student receives a grace-filled, gospel-centered and Bible-saturated discipleship in the church and the home.”

Click here to read.

Return From Exile (New Article on Rooted)

I wrote this article for Rooted on the connections between the biblical theme of return from exile (drawing from a particular scene in the book of Ezra) and our own seeming “return from exile” post-COVID. I was writing with youth ministers and church leaders in mind, but I think it is beneficial and encouraging to all.

Click here to read.

One Winds the Spiral Down

Background

I wrote this poem during this past season of Lent. I was inspired by Malcolm Guite’s reflections on different selections of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. In particular, my inspiration came from Guite’s poem “Through the Gate” and the selection of Dante he entitles “Towards a Shining World” from Inferno (lines 133-end) and Purgatory (lines 115-129). Guite highlights that, like Dante and Virgil, the journey toward God and redemption involves descent. Down is the way up (echoing T.S. Eliot and John of the Cross). Guite sees this as a picture of the Christian life:

[Dante] (and we) must have the courage to descend and face the worst, in ourselves as well as others, if we are to come at last to our heavenly home. But, as we shall see, even in that descent we continually see signs that our Saviour has gone before us.

The Word in the Wilderness (page 82)

This is really encouraging! We follow Jesus as we trek the way down. He leads us down, but back up again. The Cross leads to Resurrection. Guite elaborates further:

Like Jesus, who went to the cross not for pain in itself but ‘for the joys that were set before him’, so we are to make this journey through the memories of pain and darkness, not to stay with these things but to redeem them and move beyond them. And the journey itself is made possible because Christ himself has gone before… We who build so many hells on earth, need to know that there is no place so dark, no situation so seemingly hopeless, that cannot be opened to the light of Christ for rescue and redemption.

The Word in the Wilderness (page 86)

Like Dante coming up from the frozen core of the Inferno and seeing the stars shining above, we too can journey with Jesus in hope that He, the Bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16), will cause us to shine as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15) as He casts His light over all our darkness (John 1:5). Down is the way up. Journey on, my friends!

One Winds the Spiral Down

One winds the spiral down,
Wearied step after wearied step.
Astonished, aghast – a deep-set frown,
Fruit of a grieved heart, unwept.

Down the way up – they say
A nobler, hoping path. Eyes fixed
On stars, shining, yet descent each day.
Tears blur lighted steps oft missed.

Wipe mine eyes, my soul’s Love,
Holy Encampment, Noonday Sun!
Gentle Father, bring peace! When Thy Dove
Descends, day’s ascent begun.
%d bloggers like this: