The Gospel of Beauty and the Beast

The Gospel of Beauty and the Beast // Leslie Ann Jones

Way back in April I took the girls to see Beauty and the Beast, and I started writing this post the very next week, but summer happened, and this sat in the drafts folder for a very, very long time. Well, last month, Micah got the DVD for her birthday, and when we watched it, I found myself captivated all over again. (As a side note, did you know that it's on Netflix right now?)

The movie was every bit as beautiful as I remembered it to be, and each time the cast broke out in song, I felt the little girl inside me squealing with delight. But this post isn't about all the merits of the film (of which there are many) or a handful of questionable scenes.

This post is about the gospel.

As Belle stepped onto the dance floor in that famous ballroom scene, tears pricked my eyes. The familiar words to Tale as Old as Time filled the air, and I realized for the first time that Beauty and the Beast is far more than a fairy tale. It's more than a princess story, and it's more than a happy ending.

It's a gospel story.

I know, I know. I can practically see you rolling your eyes. But give me a minute (or five) to explain. The Beast is as terrible as they come. He's selfish and angry and has an awful temper. His cruelty banishes him to a wretched life in a frigid wasteland void of light, joy, and love.

It was a miserable existence.

And then he meets someone who calls him to account for his beastly nature. Belle sees him. She sees the hideousness of the curse and she does not turn away. Instead, she loves him, and that love changes him. It redeems him and transforms him and makes him new.

Aren't we all a little bit like the Beast before Jesus transforms us with his redeeming love?

We are just as monstrous as the Beast apart from Jesus. That's the effect of sin in our lives. It wrecks us. Destroys us. Leaves us in ruin. We are just as cursed, just as doomed as the Beast. Our hearts are a wasteland as cold and barren as the winter that surrounds his castle.

But God. 

"But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8, ESV)

Did you catch that? God loved us while we were sinners. He loved us when we were knee-deep in the mess and muck of depravity. He loved us before we loved him back. He has seen us at our most unlovely, and he has not turned away.

Do you understand what it means for God to love you like that? It means that you can't scare him off. He knows you. He has seen the darkest corners of your heart. The ugly parts that you try to hide. He has plumbed the depths of your depravity. And he has not turned away. No. He sees you. He knows you. And he loves you even still. 

Though our sin is pervasive, it does not define us. There is no one too beastly—too wretched—for God's love. No sin too terrible. No secret too big. No one is beyond his reach. He sees past the ugliness of our sin to the heart that lies within. And when we finally surrender to the pull of his love, he breathes life back into our cold, barren hearts. The ugliness of the curse falls right off our shoulders. We are made new.

It's a tale as old as time itself. It's the story of the gospel.

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Cor. 5:17, ESV)

Until next time, grace and peace.


I hesitated to write this post because I know that the movie is controversial in a lot of Christian circles. I'm not saying that it's a direct parallel to the gospel. Only that it contains some redemptive elements that make for a breathtaking illustration of the curse of sin in our lives and the love that breaks its hold on us.

In our little family, we have chosen not to shy away from controversial books, movies, or topics. Do we shield our children? Absolutely. As much as possible...But as parents, we want to be the ones to shape the conversation when challenging issues arise. We want to weigh in on the issues. And most importantly, we want to help our children evaluate the messages of this fallen world against the timeless truth of Scripture. If we don't teach them how to do this, then who will? 


Five Things I Want My Daughters to Know

Five Things I Want my Daughters to Know // by Leslie Ann Jones

Parenting has never been easy, I know, but it seems extra challenging these days. This world seems intent on making our babies grow up too fast, and we're constantly pushing back against the messages they're taking in every day. As parents trying to raise children in a way that honors and points to Christ, it's our job to replace those messages with Truth.

They're growing up, and it's happening fast. Before long, they'll leave the safety of our home and venture out into the big, wide world, and these are the things that I want them to know deep, deep down in their hearts when they go.

 

1. You Are So Very Loved

More than anything, I want my girls to know that they are loved. They are loved by me. They are loved by their dad. They are loved by their grandparents. They are loved by their aunts and uncles. They are loved by their cousins. They are loved by their friends. They are loved by their church family. And, most importantly, they are loved by God. 

We all want to be loved (go ahead, cue the old school DC Talk); it's a God-given desire that's hard-wired into our systems. Our need to be seen, to be noticed, to be known, and to be loved is part of our design. God has made us to crave the very thing that he provides in endless supply.

God's love for us is a "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love" (Sally Lloyd-Jones). He has seen us at our most unlovely, and, here's the kicker, he has loved us anyway. This is a great relief, because it means that his love for us isn't dependent on how good or funny or perfect or pretty or witty we are. It's dependent on his faithfulness. God loves us because he loves us. Period.

I didn't understand that kind of love until I became a parent, but now that I'm a mother, I can't imagine it any other way. With every lunch I pack, ponytail I fix, book I read, and bath I give, I am showing them what faithful love looks like. I love them when they are willfully disobedient and I love them when they behave like angels. Nothing they do could ever make me love them more—or less—than I already do. I love them because I love them. Period.

"For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8, ESV)

 

2. Pretty Comes from The Inside

Every little girl, and grown woman for that matter, wants to feel pretty. My girls were barely walking when they began swishing their skirts and playing with my makeup in front of the mirror. 

"Do I look pretty, Mama?" is a fairly common question around here. And of course, the answer is always, "YES!" But whenever it arises, I have a follow-up ready: "Where does pretty come from?" They roll their eyes but answer me anyway, "Pretty comes from the inside, Mama." "That's right!" I answer. "Pretty isn't about how you look. It's about who you are."

I say it out loud, and I say it often, because I want them to know the Truth. It's not the dress or the lip gloss that makes them beautiful. It's the joy that makes their eyes sparkle and the kindness that softens their features. It's the confidence that comes from knowing that they're loved and the radiance that exudes from them when they pursue their passions. I could go on and on and on here, but you get the point.

Their beauty stems from the character that God is shaping within them—how they look on any given day has nothing to do with it.

"Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight, is very precious." (1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV)

 

3. You Can Do Hard Things

A couple of summers ago, I spent every morning in the shallow end of the pool, trying to help our youngest daughter swim. The struggle was real, y'all. It wasn't pretty. In fact, it was quite exasperating. I knew that if she would just let go of her fear, she could master swimming, but she couldn't do it as long as she believed that she couldn't. So I taught her something else to believe instead. 

Here's the conversation we had about 6,839 times that summer.

"I can't do it, Mommy! I'm scared!"

"I know you are sweetie. But what else are you?"

"I am brave. I am tough. I am strong."

"That's right, sweet girl. You are. And what can you do?"

"I can do hard things."

"Yes. Yes, you can. I'll be right here beside you."

Before she could swim, she needed to believe both in her ability to do it and in my ability to help her. It took a lot of convincing and reassurance, but she eventually got there. And just so you know, she swims like a fish these days. She even got to compete on our little pool's swim team this summer, and she had a blast. Watching her swim 25 meters basically on her own made me so proud, because I knew exactly how much she had overcome to get there.

Here's the thing. Sometimes the tasks we face can be pretty daunting, even downright scary, but that doesn't mean that we can't do them. It just means that we might need to work a little harder, and maybe ask for some outside assistance, to get it done. The truth is that God sometimes gives us a task that we absolutely cannot accomplish on our own. We can only do it with a little perseverance and a lot of his help, and that's OK. Because when we are weak, he is strong.

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV)

 

4. Nobody's Perfect

I feel obligated to go ahead and add "except Jesus" to the end of this one because I know that some of you are thinking it. Hold your horses, though. I'll get there in a minute.

Because perfectionism is one of my biggest struggles, it breaks my heart to see it emerging in our oldest daughter. One word of correction or wrong answer on a test can send that child into a tailspin. I watch her striving and struggling to be the best, and when she inevitably fails (because that's life), devastation follows.

Now, I'm not saying that I don't want my girls to do their best or to work hard. Of course I do! But perfectionism takes a healthy desire to perform well and twists it into an unhealthy obsession with impossibly high standards. It's debilitating and exhausting and a burden that we were never meant to carry.

I want my children to learn how to fail, and to do it with grace. To know that they're not going to be the best at everything. They won't make a 100 on every single test. They will make mistakes. They will mess up. They will not win every game. And that's OK.

Because newsflash. We're human. We have limits. There are things that are simply beyond us. Only when we finally accept that Truth can we lean in to the grace that God gives us for this very reason. God does not expect us, nor does he ask us to be perfect, because he knows that it is beyond our capabilities. He is perfect, so we don't have to be. The sooner we accept it, the better.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV)

 

5. Love is a Choice Worth Making

I don't know what it's like at your house, but in ours, this one is particularly challenging in the playroom, where fights constantly erupt over who gets to choose the game or play with the best Barbie. Selfishness, pride, and hurt feelings are the culprits behind most of our battles, and when they raise their ugly heads, we do our best to replace them with love.

Love doesn't always come naturally, but choosing to love—especially when we don't feel like it, or we think we've been wronged, or the other person doesn't deserve it—is always worth it. Sometimes love is a sacrifice that feels too big to make, but it's our best chance to show the world what Jesus is like. We love each other well so that others may see and know the love of God working in us.

It's important, y'all. We practice loving well at home in the hope that it bleeds over into our outside lives as well. We do this by...

  • Sharing our favorite things.
  • Choosing kindness instead of lashing out.
  • Giving grace and offering forgiveness.
  • Using words to build up rather than destroy.
  • Generously showing physical affection.
  • Spending time together.
  • Listening to one another.
  • Celebrating victories together.
  • Sharing in each other's pain.
  • Being good helpers.

These are small things, I know, but all together, they will transform your home into a place of peace, safety, and warmth. We want our home to be a safe haven not just for our girls, but also for anyone who walks through the door. For that to happen, it must be a place where love abounds.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35, ESV)

 

As parents, it's our job to prepare our children for the world out there. We're getting there bit by bit. These five things are the foundation for all the other lessons we'll have to teach them along the way. We'll get to those eventually...for now, this is a good place to start.

Until next time, grace and peace.


Shaped by Faithfulness

Shaped by Faithfulness // Leslie Ann Jones

Last week on Instagram, I posted a quote from Katie Davis Majors' new book Daring to Hope (releases Oct. 3), and I just can't seem to stop thinking about it.

"Surely, faithfulness is not a one-time act, not a decision or a destination, not something to eventually be attained. Faithfulness is what we repeatedly do. It is a habit formed of long, hard obedience in the quiet. Faithfulness is dropping milk through a syringe for hours into a mouth that could barely swallow in the middle of the night. Faithfulness is pursuing that resistant teenager again (and again and again) even though she yells and hurls ugly words. Faithfulness is in chopping carrots and folding laundry and all the things that go unseen and unnoticed. Faithfulness is in a million tiny decisions and a million small surrenderings—submitting with a simple, 'yes, Lord,'—that create a lifetime of obedience in the extraordinary and in the mundane...⠀

...Faithfulness is what we repeatedly do, whether or not we are seeing the results. Faithfulness is when we repeatedly pour into hard people, when we continue to serve in hard situations, when we intentionally choose to lean into Him in our difficulties as well as our joys. Faithfulness is a habit formed in our hearts when no one is looking, when the day is done and the stars creep out and our call isn't easy, but we don't turn away.⠀

And ultimately, faithfulness is truly and fully found in the One who pursues us though we thrash against Him, who sits with us as we wait in the silence, who fulfills all His promises with a Yes and Amen in life everlasting."

—Katie Davis Majors, Daring to Hope

As I mull over Katie's words and consider how very unfaithful I can be at times, I'm learning that faithfulness is hard because it's a long-haul kind of process. We don't always see the results immediately, and the rewards aren't always tangible.

But that doesn't mean it's not worth it.

It's the faithfulness itself that shapes us. The repeated action that becomes a habit that becomes a way of life. Before we know it, that thing that we've been doing every day is part of us, and we are different because of it.

When it comes to Bible study and prayer and church, we may not feel warm and fuzzy, or anything at all for that matter, in the moment. We may not always experience a spiritual high, gain a life-altering insight, or feel especially close to God. But He is there, nevertheless, using our attempts at faithfulness to make us more like Him day by day. He is, after all, as faithful as it gets.

As we come, morning by morning opening the Word and sitting for just a few minutes in the stillness, Truth sinks in. It becomes the background music in the soundtrack of our lives, and it comes to mind throughout the day—as we wash dishes or drive to yet another soccer practice—and in that simple way, we are transformed. It's not exciting. It's not flashy. But it's good.

For the past month or so, I've been faithfully washing one load of laundry each morning. The girls get on the bus. I finish my first cup of coffee. Sometimes I pray, but, let's be real here, sometimes I just catch up on Instagram. Either way, when the coffee is finished, I get up, collect the previous day's clothes, and toss them in the wash before I head to the office with my second cup of coffee, Bible, and journal. When the clothes are all done, I fold them and put them away (well, usually, anyway), and that's it.

I'm not even kidding when I say that it has changed my life.

I used to spend weekends buried beneath mountains of laundry. It always seemed like a daunting task because there was just so much of it to tackle at one time. But when I do a little bit every day, it only takes a few minutes, and I actually enjoy the process. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment and makes me feel that even if nothing else gets done for the day, I've at least accomplished this one small thing. It's not exciting. It's not flashy. But it's good.

It's the same way with matters of faith. When we go for a long time without opening our Bibles or spending time in prayer or going to church, it becomes a thing. The longer we stay out of it, the harder it is to get back into it.

We think we need to somehow make up for the time we've lost or that we have to have the perfect conditions (a quiet house, worship music playing softly in the background, candle flickering gently nearby) to come near once more. But because we're busy and life is crazy, that perfect moment never comes. We put it off and put it off and put it off just like I used to put off the laundry. And it never gets done.

We can be so silly sometimes.

You don't have to have a perfect moment to return to the Lord. It's as effortless as letting your eyes drift shut and whispering a prayer. It's as easy as opening your Bible and quietly allowing it sink in to do its work. It's as simple as getting in the car and driving to church on Sunday morning. And then doing it again, and again, and again until it becomes second nature. We're shaped by faithfulness. It's not exciting. It's not flashy. But it's good.

Faithfulness is a choice that we repeatedly make. It's not a one and done kind of thing. It's choosing day by day, moment by moment, to do what's best, even when we don't feel like it. It requires tending. It must be cultivated and babied and nurtured. But if you keep at it long enough, it will grow stronger, and it will end up changing you into the person that God intended for you to be all along.

And the best part is that when we choose faithfulness, we show the world what God is like. He gets all the glory. And that's what it's all about.

My prayer today is that the Lord would cultivate a spirit of faithfulness in us. That He would grant us grace in our endeavors and that at the end of our days, He would find us faithful.

Until next time, grace and peace.


WIN A COPY OF DARING TO HOPE


I'm giving away a copy of Katie's book on Instagram! Daring to Hope is a sweet, sweet message of choosing hope and practicing faithfulness when life doesn't go the way you planned and God doesn't answer prayers the way you expected. It was good for my heart, and I'm certain it would be good for yours as well. You NEED to read this book. Click through to enter. Good luck!


Producers of Praise, Wanderers of Wonder

"The chief aim of worship is that we be caught up in love, in wonder, and praise of God and finally for a moment forget about ourselves and our trials and our worries and focus on God himself." Ben Witherington III (via leslieannjones.com)

One of the best parts of seminary is sitting under the teaching of world-renowned biblical scholars. It's what I miss the most about my days at Beeson. As a busy mom, I'm incredibly thankful for churches and ministries that provide sermons and lectures online. I spend a lot of time in the car, shuttling the girls around town, and in an effort to redeem some of that time, I've started listening to podcasts while I drive. 

Last week, I planned to run some errands after preschool dropoff, so before I left the school, I pulled up a 30-minute chapel sermon to listen to along the way. It was a sermon about worship from New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III. He shared a story about a little old lady in his home church who could hardly see or hear but persisted in coming to worship anyway. When someone asked her why she continued to come, despite her physical limitations, she had a ready answer.

Y'all.

Her words had tears welling up in my eyes. I sat in the parking lot of Home Depot watching people load up with mulch and gardening tools, and I was completely transfixed by the message coming out of my speakers.

"I'm not here for what I can get out of the service, but what I came to give: my worship to my Lord...I come to worship prepared to give worship though I don't get as much as I used to in that hour."

Witherington goes on to say that when we come to worship looking to get something rather than give something, we're missing the point. We are not consumers of worship. We're producers of it. 

"The chief aim of worship," Witherington says, "is that we be caught up in love, in wonder, and praise of God and finally for a moment forget about ourselves and our trials and our worries and focus on God himself."

I need that. Do you?

I've written before about why we should go to church even when don't feel like it, and this sermon gets right to the heart of it. Church is not about us. It's about God. When I come to church, I come to give time, attention, honor, and glory to the one who has rescued and redeemed me.

When I turn my eyes to him and gaze full on at his glory, everything else seems a bit less urgent and pressing. It's relief. It's surrender. It's getting so lost in him that everything else fades away.

At least for a little while.

People are always looking for an escape from the reality of life. Some find it in music, art, and books. Others find it in travel and adventure. Still others find it in more profane activities like drinking or sex. I've pursued some of those remedies myself, and though they can be quite enjoyable, none of them give me what I actually need. 

What I actually need is to get outside of myself and seek refuge in the Rock that's higher than I. To wander in the wonder of his majesty. I've found nothing more restorative for my weary soul than glorying in the splendor of my Lord, and therein lies the astounding truth. When we give our whole selves to God and honor him in worship, he honors us by giving us the respite that our souls require. 

God demands our adoration and praise. Don't you think it's interesting that the very thing he requires of us is the only thing that fulfills the deepest longings of our restless hearts? 

I've included the video of the sermon below. If you have about 30 minutes, you really should listen to the whole thing, but if you only have a few, fast forward to about the 12:35 mark and start from there. 

Until next time, grace and peace.