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Archive for the ‘..books’ Category

I recently re-read a book I absolutely loved. It’s the story of an American girl who moved across the world to love and care for orphans and strangers. What began as taking a year off before college unfolded into many years, more than a dozen adopted children, and the birth of a blossoming ministry. What started as a blog grew into a book that made the New York Times Best Seller list.

Katie’s story is inspirational, vulnerable in its honesty, and downright beautiful. God captured her heart, and she is following after him with incredible trust and abandon. She says in the intro pages, “I have absolutely no desire to write a book about myself. This is a
book about Christ” (p.xxi). And it is.

She left behind her family, friends, boyfriend whom she planned to marry, and all the comforts of a wealthy Nashville home, and moved to Uganda to teach a dozen kindergarten-aged children in an orphanage she’d visited during her senior year in high school. She ended up having not 12 children, but 138 the very first day! What a story of turning our plans over to God, following him, and being amazed at what happens. She compares her journey in Uganda to the childhood tale of The Velveteen Rabbit, which is about a stuffed animal that’s worn to rags but ultimately transformed into a real rabbit.

“The beautiful, dirty people who populated my life had loved all the polish and propriety right off me. I’d been hurt and scarred and banged around a bit in the past year, but God was using all those things to help me become real… I was coming to understand that what it means to be real is to love and be loved until there is nothing left. And when there’s nothing left, and we feel we’re all in pieces, God begins to make us whole. He makes us real. His love sets us free and transforms us.” (p.86)

It’s a transformation both of Katie and the community around her. She just lives and breathes Christ to the people God puts in her path. The organization – birthed out of a heart for the needs of the kids she came to know – was named Amazima (which means “truth” in the Luganda language, p. 84). Partnered with local women, Amazima is caring for people and sharing the truth of God’s love in Uganda. They are feeding nutritious meals to hundreds of kids, providing supplies and clothes so they can attend school, and attending to their basic medical needs. They are building relationships in the village where they live, the nearby city of Jinja, and out in a slum community called Masese. God is answering prayers and opening doors.

“They took me to the abandoned house down the road. In the back room were seven children on the dirt floor. They were completely filthy and starving. The oldest was eleven and the youngest was two years old…They all had severe ringworm, malaria, and scabies (my favorite), among other conditions.” (p.142)

“It is true, hundreds of people in this area [the village] call me Mommy. Even people whom I have not met before recognize me as the woman who cares for the children in this area and call me Mommy before even having made my acquaintance.” (p.178)

From removing burrowing insects (jiggers) from the feet of street kids, to bathing and rubbing ointment on children with scabies, bringing food to strangers and friends in the local hospital, or paying for them to be seen by a doctor. Health care is so different there. Emergency rooms don’t provide free medical care for people who can’t afford it; in some instances they simply aren’t treated.

“Since Agnes had no real caretaker, the nurse assumed her treatment would not be paid for. So the hospital simply didn’t treat her. This is not unusual in Uganda, where the hospital admission process is as easy as walking into a hospital and climbing into an empty bed. Those who can pay for medical attention receive it; those who can’t, simply lie in a bed.” (p.58)

It’s a heart-tugging peak into a corner of the world not often seen in contemporary America. I don’t know what emotions delving into Katie’s story may bring to the surface, but I felt it soften my heart again in the best way.

“We aren’t really called to save the world, not even to save one person; Jesus does that. We are just called to love with abandon. We are called to enter into our neighbors’ sufferings and love them right there.” (p.214)

Don’t worry, this isn’t the story of a white girl with a “Savior” complex, this is a young woman who’s been captivated by the love and truth of Jesus and is pursuing him with her whole heart, mind, and body. Her story is worth reading.

“I’ve had people ask me why I think Africa is so impoverished, but these children are not poor. I, as a person who grew up wealthy, am. I put value in things. These children, having no things, put value in God.” (p.26)

She writes of the beauty of Uganda’s landscape and its people. At the time the book was written, she was in the process of adopting thirteen children – little ones and older ones, siblings and orphans, and a sweet little girl with some special needs. She does lots of cooking and laundry for a very full house, but most of all she does lots and lots of loving the people God’s put in her path. And lots of praying.

“But God continued to show me that adoption is His heart, and it was becoming mine… Adoption is a redemptive response to tragedy that happens in this broken world.” (p.72)

“Here is the thing: I want big things from God. We want big things from God and then think it’s strange when He asks us to build an ark, or feed five thousand or march around a building for seven days with seven priests blowing trumpets made from rams’ horns.” (p.153)

Excerpts from the book Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis (2011, Howard Books).

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I love a good story. Even more so, I love a good true story. You know, the kind that reminds you to dream and to dare – to embrace risk and live outside of the comfortable circle you’re currently in

Well, I recently came across such a story. : )

Levi Benkert had been a wealthy real estate developer, living the good life in California with his wife and three young kids… that is, until the market tanked in 2008. Stress. For months and months he tried to rebuild what was lost, to salvage something from the wreckage. Stress. Deals fell through, employees couldn’t be paid, and things just weren’t getting better. Stress. When the phone rang, a call from an old pastor friend he hadn’t kept in good contact with through the years, the story began to change…

His friends’ request was simple, yet complicated: would he please drop everything and join a two-week trip to Ethiopia? The team was going to help jinka ethiopiaorganize a small rescue orphanage in a rural, southern Ethiopian town. Though Levi had worked overseas in an orphanage setting years and years ago, those days were long gone. He was immersed in the business world now. What a crazy idea!! Drop everything, with so many people around him wanting money and answers regarding his crumbled business, cut off communication and fly half way around the world for two weeks?! No. Absolutely not. He couldn’t… could he? Well, he went. He spent those two weeks in the rural town of Jinka (pictured at right), a two days’ drive from the capital. There he was introduced to a very old, and wretchedly evil practice: mingi. He’d never be the same.

‘Why?’ I wondered out loud. ‘Why would any parents do this?’

The children Levi was visiting were all survivors. They’d each been deemed “cursed” by the local clan they were born into, and were thus sentenced to die immediately. Babies suffocated after their mouths were stuffed with dirt; toddlers were bound and thrown in the river to drown. As many as 1,000 “cursed” Ethiopian children are killed each year because of this superstition (p.22). This is called mingi. ‘Why?’ I wondered out loud. “‘Why would any parents do this?’ ‘Because they live in fear,’ Simi explained” (p.22):

“A child can be declared mingi for three reasons: if the parents are not married, if the parents do not announce to the elders in an elaborate ceremony that they intend to conceive, or if the child’s top teeth come in before the bottom teeth. Once the infants or children are labeled mingi, they are murdered to protect the village from evil spirits. The elders teach that if the killings don’t happen, the whole tribe will be harmed. It will not rain. crops will fail. People will die.” ( p.22)

These kids, now orphans, were rescued – some miraculously – from this fate. Praise be to God! Foreigners befriended the elders of the tribe, and eventually convinced them that the tribe didn’t have to kill the children to prevent bringing curse and calamity on their people: simply removing the “cursed” babies and kids from the tribe was sufficient. So the beginnings of the orphanage was born. The children had been rescued, but they still had no one to care for them. There was much work to be done.

Six weeks after returning from his two-week trip, Levi and his whole family moved to rural Ethiopia to dig in and love those precious orphans. They sold their house and belongings, took a leap of faith, and embraced a whole new way of life:

benkert family“After fourteen days in the hotel with no water and with power that seemed to be off more than it was on, we finally moved into a small house near the orphanage. It was a bright red mud house with a tin roof, cement floors, and a pleasant yard full of eucalyptus trees that swayed in the wind.” (p.61)

Their story isn’t a perfect one. Nobody’s is. It was hard, it was different, and it didn’t always turn out the way they thought it would.

“This was the deepest, darkest place we’d ever been together and yet strangely, at the same time it was one of the most beautiful places we’d ever been. We were at that sacred place of human weakness, where we recognized that our abilities were not enough. We had no choice but to trust God.” (p.52)

You can read their story in the book “No Greater Love” by Levi Benkert and Candy Chand (2012, Tyndale House Publishers). It’s a look into the world of international adoption, orphan care, and Ethiopian life and culture… but more so it’s the story of a family who dared to risk, who felt a calling and ran after it. It’s the story of their bumps and bruises, their victories, and most of all an insight into the kind of people they’ve become — people touched by God’s love and used by him to impact the world.

Wow.

check out the Benkerts ministry (they are still in Ethiopia, yes): http://bringlove.in/

and the official trailor for the book about their story: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zwOBs1_ae4

photo credits:

http://www.hidmotour.com.et/jinka.html

http://bringlove.in/about/levi-jessie/

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When I think of summertime images of flip flops, beaches, naps, cold glasses of lemonade, BBQs, bonfires, and starlit skies unshielded by clouds fill my mind. For a season, the hustle and bustle of school takes a rest

visions of summer... Maui, Hawaii

 and the sun begins to shine its face upon the northern states. I love it!

..I also find that in the summer I’m more likely to read. During the school year I spend so much time scouring over books that I don’t really read “for fun”… but the summer brings a new season.

So… I recently read Timothy Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods: The empty promises of money, sex, and power,  and the only hope that matters (New York: Dutton, 2009). It’s worth the read. Written by a pastor of many years it speaks to what we, as individuals and as a society, worship.

but I don’t bow down and pray to any household idols, you may be thinking, so I’m in the clear. Well, not necessarily…

You may have heard the Biblical story of the Israelites, recently delivered out of Egyptian slavery, who made a gold statue shaped like a cow and worshipped it instead of God (Exodus 32). Growing up in the church, I often equated the first commandment “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) with my own paraphrase of “don’t bow down to statues”… but idols aren’t limited to statues — they take many forms.  

“More than other idols, personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are god, that our security and value rest in our own wisdom, strength, and performance. To be the very best at what you do, to be at the top of the heap, means no one is like you. You are supreme.” -Keller, p.75

“If your success is more than just success to you — if it is the measure of your value and worth — then accomplishment in one limited area of life will make you believe you have expertise in all areas. This, of course, leads to all kinds of bad choices and decisions. This distorted view of ourselves is part of the blindness to reality that the Bible says always accompanies idolatry (Psalm 135:15-18; Ezekiel 36:22-36).” -p.76 (emphasis mine)

Keller talks about love, lust, greed, glory… and disillusionment. The things we worship apart from God always disappoint. C.S. Lewis captures this well in Mere Christianity (emphasis mine):

“Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longing which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy… There was something we have grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality… evaded us.”

What do we do? Idols are loved, trusted, and obeyed by those who worship them. They connect to our feelings of significance (love) and sense of security (trust), so we are driven to serve (obey) them. We even sacrifice to them — sacrifices of time, relationships, integrity, and money. When we are so focused on IT, we see the world in relation to IT…

“When an idol gets a grip on your heart, it spins out a whole set of false definitions of success and failure and happiness and sadness. It redefines reality in terms of itself… if, because of your idol, your ultimate good is the power and status of your people, then anything that gets in the way of it is, by definition, bad… In the end idols can make it possible to call evil good and good evil.” -Keller, p.146 (emphasis mine)

so WHAT DO WE DO?!

“Idols cannot simply be removed. They must be replaced. If you only try to uproot them, they grow back; but they can be supplanted. By what?  By God himself, of course. But by God we do not mean a general belief in his existence. Most people have that, yet their souls are riddled with idols. What we need is a living encounter with God.” -Keller, p.155

Idols will not gently excuse themselves from our lives. They often have death grips and their removal does not come without pain, but it is WORTH IT. The picture C.S. Lewis paints of the encounter between the boy Eustace and the lion Aslan in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is poignant. Keller paraphrases (emphasis mine):

“One night Eustace found an enormous pile of treasure in a cave. He was elated and began to imagine the life of ease and power he would now have. When he woke, however, to his horror, he had turned into a hideous dragon. ‘Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.’

Eustace tried to peel off the dragon skin, and become a boy again, but he was unsuccessful. CS Lewis describes Aslan’s restoration of Eustace — sharp claws and deep cuts: “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt… Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off — just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt — and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been… I’d turned into a boy again.” : )

May we, like Eustace, submit to God… letting Him strip away the idols that have so entangled our hearts and minds. He is able and waiting.

pictures from:

http://www.google.com/imglanding?q=dragons%20pictures&imgurl=http://www.creatures-imaginaires.com/02_creatures/dragons/dragons3_70.jpg&imgrefurl=http://shirt.woot.com/forums/ViewPost.aspx%3FPostID%3D3925257%26PageIndex%3D6%26ReplyCount%3D457&usg=__XY3MBh3V6yNbWvZuFKgqLlVyxxk=&h=563&w=450&sz=37&hl=en&itbs=1&tbnid=6iTfBnW5QfAAaM:&tbnh=133&tbnw=106&prev=/images%3Fq%3Ddragons%2Bpictures%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Dactive%26gbv%3D2%26tbs%3Disch:1&safe=active&gbv=2&tbs=isch:1&start=0#tbnid=6iTfBnW5QfAAaM&start=0

http://www.google.com/imglanding?q=treasure%20pile%20pictures&imgurl=http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_R8FrPyv-qDE/R1DFlDKLCdI/AAAAAAAAAfw/O0AauSkdrv8/s1600-R/TreasurePile_Shot_HUGEST_Wide.jpg&imgrefurl=http://doris-surf.blogspot.com/2009/12/hiccups.html&usg=__tOhHTd8NC0VUn2N46czrhLngHQY=&h=768&w=1600&sz=265&hl=en&itbs=1&tbnid=o5gV0ZUIHcU_hM:&tbnh=72&tbnw=150&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dtreasure%2Bpile%2Bpictures%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Dactive%26gbv%3D2%26tbs%3Disch:1&safe=active&gbv=2&tbs=isch:1&start=0#tbnid=o5gV0ZUIHcU_hM&start=0

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It breaks my heart that America is considered by so many to be a “Christian” nation. It’s as if the concept of Christianity has morphed into a cultural term, one that has lost its original spark and meaning. It’s, I would argue, been tossed around as a moral stamp of approval, in essence saying “I believe myself to be a good person” and/or “I consider myself a ‘spiritual’ person.”

But Christianity isn’t about being a good person; it’s about God. Christianity is about following Christ, and only Christ. It’s the life that pours out of a desperate cry to God that says I’m broken, and I’m dirty, and I don’t deserve to be loved by you. It’s an acknowledgement and acceptance of who God is, what He’s done for us, and who we are. It’s all about relationship; an inner transformation that should overflow into every area of our lives. (The notion that Christianity is a stale list of rules dictated by an angry, distant God is not a biblical concept. It’s a tragedy.)

We should not be fooled. Jesus is not some demi-god who sits on a cloud shootin’ the breeze with buddha, Mohammed, Zeus, and a legion of new age spirit guides. Biblically we cannot “cover our bases” by offering allegiance to everyone. Dabbling in spirituality as if we were at a smorgasboard, building our own “religion” like one fills a plate for a meal, is ludicrious. When we do that we place ourselves in the position of a god, essentially saying I know what’s best. God is loving and merciful, yes, but He is not a push-over. He is also holy, just, and jealous.

I think we’ve lost sight of this in America. I think many Christians spend so much time worshipping themselves that there is little time or energy left over for God. We pick and choose the aspects of various philosophies that are appealing to us — those that allow us to live the way we please. And so we receive a self-bestowed “stamp of morality.” We worship money, sex, beauty, and power. Beneath that, I think, is a deep desire for security and love.

I read Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love awhile back and his profile of the “Lukewarm Christian” stuck with me.  I’ve spent many years sitting on the fence — trying to live for God and for myself at the same time. So, it’s with all genuineness of heart that I share Chan’s thoughts with you (highlights mine)…

“Would you describe yourself as totally in love with Jesus Christ? Or do the words halfhearted, lukewarm, and partially committed fit better? The Bible says to test ourselves, so in the next few pages, I am going to offer you a description of what halfhearted, distracted, partially committed, lukewarm people can look like.” (p.67-68)

“LUKEWARM PEOPLE:

  • attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe ‘good Christians’ do, so they go.

“The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.'” -Isaiah 29:13

  • …”give money to charity and to the church… as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living.”
  • …”don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it… Lukewarm people don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one.”

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” – John 10:10

  • …do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty. They want to do the bare minimum, to be ‘good enough’ without it requiring too much of them. They ask, ‘How far can I go before it’s considered a sin?‘ instead of ‘How can I keep myself pure as a temple of the Holy Spirit?’ … They ask, ‘How much time should I spend praying and reading my Bible?’ instead of ‘I wish I didn’t have to go to work, so I could sit here and read longer!’
  • … are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. They assume such action is for ‘extreme’ Christians, not average ones.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive youselves. Do what it says.” -James 1:22

  • …are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God.
  • do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. They don’t have to trust God if something unexpected happens — they have their savings account. They don’t need God to help them — they have their retirement plan in place. They don’t genuinely seek out what life God would have them live — they have life figured and mapped out. They don’t depend on God on a daily basis — their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is, their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God.”

“A relationship with God simply cannot grow when money, sins, activities, favorite sports teams, addictions, or commitments are piled on top of it. Most of us have too much in our lives… Has your relationship with God actually changed the way you live? Do you see evidence of God’s kingdom in your life? Or are you choking it out slowly by spending too much time, energy, money, and thought on the things of this world?” (p.67)

Let us fix our eyes on only that which is worthy of such attention.

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…creating NARNIA…

The stories of “Narnia” by C.S. Lewis are classic…  they are all good, but my favorite book of the six-part series is The Magician’s Nephew. I just love the way Lewis describes the creation of the world of Narnia… it’s a song!

Have a listen to the words of one of the most beloved, and creative, minds of the 20th century (emphasis below mine)…

 

space stars“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing… Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enought to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it. The horse seemed to like it too; he gave the sort of whinny a horse would give if, after years of being a cab-horse, it found itself back in the old field where it had played as a foal, and saw someone whom it remembered and loved coming across the field to bring it a lump of sugar… Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices.

stars3The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out — single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the first voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.”

sunriseorange“The eastern sky changed from white to pink and from pink to gold. The Voice rose and rose, till all the air was shaking with it. And just as it swelled to the mightiest and most glorious sound it had yet produced, the sun arose. Digory had never seen such a sun… The earth was of many colors: they were fresh, hot and vivid. The made you feel excited; until you saw the Singer himself, and then you forgot everything else. It was a Lion. Huge, shaggy, and bright, it stood facing the risen sun. Its mouth was wide open in song and it was about three hundred yards away.”

dad lion

photo by Mike Bay (that's my dad!) : )

“The lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountaings, making that young world every moment softer. The light wind could now be heard ruffling the grass. Soon there were other things besides grass. The higher slopes grew dark with heather. Patches of rougher and more brisling green appeared in the valley. Digory did not know what they were until one began coming up quite close to him. It was a little, spiky thing that threw out dozens of arms and covered these arms with green and grew larger at the rate of about an inch every two seconds. There were dozens of these things all round him now. When they were nearly as tall as himself he saw what they were. “Trees!” he exclaimed.”

*sigh*

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” -Psalm 8:3

photo credits:

(from NASA) www.universe-cluster.de/…/infant_stars.jpg

from:  wallpapers.androlib.com/wallicons/wallpaper.big-xnF.cs.png

from: http://science.nayland.school.nz/hamishm/images/sunrise.jpg

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