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The Romantic Rationalist: A Strange Juxtaposition

Christianity-if-false-is

An interesting title for a book.  An interesting juxtaposition of terms to describe a person.  Yet I can think of no better description to fit the persona of C.S. Lewis.  Sure, he was many other things–a Christ-follower, an author, a professor, a friend–but all of those titles can be summed up in the way he approached life, in general.  And that was as both a romantic and a rationalist.

This compendium of sorts contains essays centered around ideas that C.S. Lewis espoused.  Or, rather, his thoughts on those ideas.  Not a history book, not an biography, but rather more a theological examination of the air that surrounds the words of Lewis.

The writings of C.S. Lewis had an integral impact on my mind and the process of coming to belief in God.  Opening “Surprised by Joy” was like reading my life.  Pouring over “Mere Christianity” was like coming home.  It would be fair to say that I would like to read pretty much anything that Lewis has written.  In fact, in The Romantic Rationalist, John Piper alludes to a collection of Lewis’ essays that I’d never heard of before.  Yes, I put it into my Amazon Wish List.  Yes, it is out-of-print and is selling, used for $263.15.  Yes, I contemplated selling platelets to get it.

So, I guess you could say that I kind of respect the guy.

Even with that enormous respect, though, there are a handful of times that I’ve read Lewis and thought “Hmmm.  I wonder why he says that?”.  The Romantic Rationalist helped me to sort out some of those instances.  For example, Lewis’ views on the inspiration and authority of Scripture.  This is a topic I’ve given much thought to.  And, if one thinks about it too much, it can become down-right baffling.  So I have to guard my mind against dwelling there for too long, because I can become spun up on it fairly quickly.  Meaning, I can give sway to doubts.  Too often, too quickly, too easily.  I have to fight doubt, consistently.  And, this is one area that fighting doubt plays a strong role, at least, in my mind.

Most evangelicals shy away from Lewis when it comes to discussing this topic.  I’ll invite you to read the book to find out why.  But I appreciate the authors of The Romantic Rationalist diving neck-deep into this and other areas where questions arise in regards to the theology of C.S. Lewis.  Theology is important.  Extremely so.  And, it bothers me to not get it “right”.  I want to practice sound theology.  I want to adhere to solid doctrine.  I want to participate in correct disciplines.  But, I am not always going to get it “right”.  Neither, necessarily, did C.S. Lewis, one of the most revered “thinkers” of our time.

There is some comfort in that.  For one, it reminds me that Lewis, like all men, are just that–men.  Fallible creatures.  I need not put him on a pedestal, any more than I should put any person on a pedestal.  Only God holds that status.  And, while the writings of C.S. Lewis are and always will be of extreme importance to me, the writings of Scripture can never be replaced.  No commentary, no essay, no brilliant work should ever overshadow God’s word.  And, all things must be checked through scripture.  Show me scripture.

Secondly, there is hope for me.  I am not going to get everything right, but I can’t stop striving to learn.  But we all must continually ask the questions that need to be asked.  We must continually present our thoughts before God and shine the light of truth upon them so that we can make adjustments where needed.  I think that is what C.S. Lewis strove to do; and, in doing so, we are privy to his honest thoughts, struggles, and wrestlings.  He has given us a front row seat, through his writings, and we are richer for it.

The Romantic Rationalist is not solely about issues of questions that arise in regards to Lewis’ theology–not by a long shot.  But, those sections that dealt with that were what stood out the most to me.  Why, I think an entire book could be written on each of the chapters presented in this volume.  There is even a chapter on food.  Well-played.

This is a book that I think I will turn to repeatedly.  An excellent book to have in one’s library–it opens up the discussion on key ideas and provides much fodder for further exploration and thinking.

*I received a review copy of this book from Crossway Publishers.

*Be sure to read the interview panel discourse at the end of the book, located in Appendix 2.

15 (Some Serious, Some Not-So-Serious) Things I Learned in D.C.

WashingtonDC

I’m back home in York County after a weekend trip to Washington, D.C.  It was a great time….a time to spend with dear friends, a time to speak to educators about children with incarcerated parents, a time to visit new places and worship with fellow Christ-followers, and a time to learn.

Because I process best by writing, and because I’m eager to share some of what I learned over the last 4 days, I’ve decided to write them out here in what I’m calling, well, “15 Things I Learned in D.C.”

1.  Friendships are precious things.  It was so great to sit down with my friends Lydia, DaNa and Dia Carlis and to pick up right where we had left off.  This family is incredible.  We laughed, much.  We talked a great deal.  We ate much.  I was hugely spoiled.  And I was reminded all over again how incredibly grateful I am for all of my friends.  Good gracious.  It’s nearly overwhelming, the gratitude I have for each of you.

2.  I am also so grateful for the invention of GPS technology that is portable and usable in the car.  I could certainly survive without it, but I may never make it to any destination goal.  No sense of direction.  Whatsoever.  Even with the GPS, I managed to get lost.  Three different times.  “Re-Calculating” is still echoing in my mind today.

3.  There are incredibly passionate and compassionate people in the field of education.  Friday, when I spoke with the ECR team of Apple Tree Institute about the role of literature in the lives of children with incarcerated parents, I was nearly wrecked by their wrecked-ness.  And then I was nearly wrecked again when I received a donation of 172 books totaling over $1200 that will be used by The Messages Project.  We will now take those books into prisons, film parents reading those books to their children, and then we will mail those books and that DVD to the children as a gift from their parent.  Another thing I am grateful for.

4.  Ping Pong Dim Sum has the best Dim Sum I have ever tasted.  Ever.

5.  Movie adaptations continue to fall short consistently in comparison to books.  I still have hopes that Unbroken will do the book by the same title justice this winter though.

6.  I love breakfast.  I always love breakfast.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I love breakfast.  And I love brunch buffets.  And Farmers Fishers Bakers in Washington, D.C. does brunch right.  Fantastic food, fantastic service, fantastic atmosphere and fantastic company.  Spoiled, I tell you–I was truly spoiled.

7.  There is something fantastic about getting good feedback on your ideas and goals.  There is also something fantastic about getting good direction on how to accomplish those goals and implement those ideas.  I am back home with a mind that is filled to the brim with actions to take.  Love that.  Grateful for that.  Excited about that.

8.  I still cannot parallel park.

9.  My friend Lydia completely indulged me nerd-ing out Saturday.  There is something very cool about seeing things you’ve read about in books.  Such as embassies.  It’s fascinating to me that countries hold sovereignty over small parcels of land in other countries.  That’s just very cool to me, and I’ve read many books that have referenced embassies.  Getting to drive down embassy row was awesome.  So many countries; so many different flags; so many different styles of buildings.  I wanted to stop at each of them and ask them to stamp my Passport, but I don’t think they would do that.

10.  The reason for monuments:  We visited the MLK monument, walked near the Jefferson Memorial, and saw the Washington Monument and the World War II monument.  So, what are monuments?  They are used to help us remember important things–things we would be wise not to forget.  Even in scripture we see where people erected Monuments or altars (take a look at Joshua 4:4-7)  There’s nothing magical about these monuments, but, they are important because of what they point to.  The monuments in D.C. point to things we would do well to remember–lives given to service or lost in wars, principles and ideas that are the bedrock of what we stand on today as Americans.  This is what communion is for those of us who are Christ-followers.  Communion points to Christ.  It is done “In remembrance”.  We should not take it lightly, any more than we take lightly the names upon names upon names that are etched into the dark granite of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  These are the thoughts that came to me as I remembered during communion Sunday morning.

11.  When you drive over medians, it makes a very loud noise, and an extremely huge bump and scares your passengers half to death.  Sorry.

12.  I love worship, whether it is with my current church family or with people I’ve never met before.  And I love visiting other churches.  I so enjoyed worshipping with “family” Sunday at the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church.

13.  I was also reminded  of a truth in Psalm 103:1-5.  I must continuously preach to my soul.  I must continuously command my soul to bless the Lord.  Martin Lloyd-Jones said it best here in Spiritual Depression, Its Causes and Cures (a book that is immensely helpful, but not for those who do not want to hear truth):

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’–instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God’.

14.  Traffic on the I-95 Corridor is insane on Sunday afternoons, and I have no idea why that is.  You would think it wouldn’t be.

15.  Even after the most wonderful trips, such as this past weekend, it is always so good to return to my crew.  I am so proud of them, and there is nothing like pulling into the driveway and having all 4 of them plus Biscuit, the dog, run out for hugs and to help with your suitcase.  Nothing like it.  I am so blessed.

 

 

Return, O My Soul, to Your Rest

Return

I awoke this morning, and my mind was not well.

It was early, around 3 am.  Awakened out of my sleep by a harsh nightmare, I struggled to gain my bearings.  And could not; at least, I could not for several hours.

And in those hours, while I did not question what I knew to be truth, I did question the truthiness of that truth.  That probably makes no sense to anyone except me.  I guess what I mean by the “truthiness of truth” is this:  I knew what was truth in a purely academic way, but not in a way that caused me to cling to the “truthiness” of that truth so as to make that truth the foundation of reality regardless of the condition of my mind.

In other words, I floundered.

A walk outside to breathe fresh air did not calm my thoughts.  A shower and a change out of sweat-soaked pajamas did nothing to still the trembling.  It was too late; I was shaken to the core of my being.

Habit ingrained over quite a few years now is the only thing that drew me to open my study materials this morning.  I am grateful for habit.  For routine, actually.  I derive a great deal of comfort in orderliness in the midst of chaos.  Not all habits are good, granted.  But some are, and some are necessary.  Study, which often (not always) leads to prayer is necessary to my existence and well-being.

When I am most unsettled, the Psalms are where I go.  They are more than poetry; more than a collection of well-turned phrases.  No, instead, they are an invitation to peer over the shoulders of people like me, who best communicate via putting ink to parchment.  Who found solace in language and words.  Who invite me to use their words when I cannot find words myself.  And this morning, I had no words.

Psalm 116 is a Psalm I studied in-depth a few years ago.  It has become a settling Psalm for me….a place that I have gone to frequently enough that some of the words written there are committed to my memory.  Not intentionally, no.  I wish I had the discipline to memorize scripture as a part of the habits I mentioned above.  But, so far, I do not, so instead, some of the words of Psalm 116 are etched upon my mind simply because I have seen them often.  Read them often.  And that is where I went this morning.

Over and over and over again this morning, I typed the words of verse 4: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”  And each time I reached the end of that sentence, I added that exclamation point.  I already type loudly–pounding the keyboard.  This morning I typed ferociously….until the words I was typing became more than just repetitive keystrokes and instead became earnest prayer.  Real prayer.  The typing eventually slowed, and I was ready to do work.

I studied–I worked–using additional scripture alongside recounting facts, to see the truth of verse 6; or, rather, to admit the reality of the truth of verse 6, which says:

For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;

He has.

And continues to.

He has delivered my soul from death.  He has delivered my eyes from tears.  He has delivered my feet from stumbling.  And does.  Even in the midst of the night, like the early mornings of this day.  And, will He not continue?  Has He not proven His faithfulness?

He has.

Only then, once I had re-established this truth in the depths of my mind, was I able to deal with my soul.  Only then, was I able to address the truth located in verse 10:

I believed, even when I spoke:
“I am greatly afflicted”

Based on the truth of who I know God to be, I was then able to say to Him “I am greatly afflicted”.  I was able to tell Him–to write out–the condition of my mind and my soul in the wake of that nightmare.  In the wake of tremendous grief over much.  Had I taken those things to Him without re-establishing the truth that He sees and knows and is who He says He is, I would have never trusted Him with the words “I am greatly afflicted.”–I would not have been able to utter them. I would not have been able to say with the Psalmist, “I believed, even when I spoke:”  Others may be able to.  I wish I was that way.  I am not.  My soul’s default setting is cynicism and hardness.  O, to trust.  O, my soul.

I password-protected my words and filed them away.  I’ll probably never read them again.  That document is closed, as it should be. I opened a new document and wrote out verses 5-7 of Psalm 116:

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

Gracious.  Righteous.  Merciful.

Truth.  Truthiness of truth.  Those words are the very essence of God.

I have been brought low.  He has saved me.  I will be brought low again.  He will save me.  One day, He will save me to see Him face-to-face.  Where there are no more tears.  No more pain.  No more nightmares.

But, for now, I will speak to my soul.  I will tell my soul to return to its rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with me.

He has.

What Does Love Do?

 

KeliHug

Many, many years ago I was a very young, self-important, straight-out-of-college social worker.  Idealistic yet cynical as well, I thought I had all the answers to the world’s social and economic problems.  I had grand visions of “changing people’s lives” and “changing the community”.  After all, hadn’t I just graduated with two degrees, one in psychology and sociology?  And, didn’t I have both life experience and social work experience (um, which was in total a 4 month internship)?  I trusted no one but myself, and I was certain that what I was going to do the rest of my life would be earth shattering in the realm of the overly used phrase of “making a difference.”

What does “making a difference” even mean, really?

I will never forget my first assignment.  It was an easy one.  One that I thought was “beneath me” at the time because it wasn’t a challenge and I thought I was ready for the tough stuff.  I was to visit a family who had a lengthy relationship with the state government assistance program.  How hard could that be?  All I had to do was check on them and introduce myself, because I would be taking over their case eventually.  I grabbed some coloring books we kept in the office to give to the children and, with an air of huge pride, I drove to their home.  My first home visit, on my own.

I’m ashamed to admit that I wasn’t shocked by the poverty I encountered in that small, run down trailer home in the rural countryside, though it was intense.  No, that did not faze me.  I wasn’t shocked by the food and dishes that had obviously been sitting in the sink (and on the counter and on the table) for quite some time.  I wasn’t surprised by the amount of small children running around in various stages of undress, eating candy while the so-called adults mindlessly played video games on an ancient TV and Atari system.

No, none of that wrecked me like it should have.  Instead, I was taken aback at their response to me.  They didn’t see me as their “savior” or “rescuer”.  They didn’t care to read my pamphlets on cleanliness or job skills.  They wanted me out-of-the-way of their TV screen.

I was astounded, but forged ahead. By golly, I was going to prove that I had what it took to do this job and “make a difference”.  I was going to have this family in tip-top shape in no time.  And I was going to prove that I was not afraid of “getting my hands dirty” to do so.

I didn’t care about them.  I certainly didn’t love them.  I cared about my image and proving to the world that I was in control.

In an effort to “prove” myself, I casually sat down on their dirty couch next to the youngest child in the room, who was about 4 or 5.  I started into my spiel on the programs we offered and the parenting classes they could take.  In the midst of my rambling and the video game’s beeping, I glanced over at the little girl’s hair.  And I saw her scratching her head and picking at something.

Lice.

In condescension and indignation, I asked the mother if she knew her daughter had lice.  She retorted back that of course she knew, they all did, and that they didn’t have any money for the lice shampoo, and couldn’t I figure out that’s why her hair was cut so short?

With an air of contempt, I marched out of the trailer, replying “I’ll be right back!”  I climbed into my car and rushed back to town to purchase lice shampoo.

I wish I could say that I did it because of my intense love for this little girl.  Oh, how I wish I could say that.  But that’s not the truth.  I wish I could say that I bought that shampoo out of a loving desire to help model appropriate behavior to these parents who so obviously needed that in their lives.

No, I bought that shampoo as a crusading, “look at me” billboard.

But what was about to happen, I couldn’t have predicted in a million years.  Because, when I returned back to that home and I got ready to shampoo the little girl’s hair and lecture the parents, I hesitated.

I stood at the sink, worried if the lice would jump on me, as that little girl looked at me with curious, huge, dark brown eyes.  She needed me to lovingly and gently wash the lice out of her hair.  She needed me to tell her how beautiful she was while I combed her short hair and picked out the nits.  She needed me to love her.

I didn’t want lice.  I didn’t want to touch her hair.  But I wanted to make a point.  Ugh.

I grudgingly choked the (now absolutely ridiculous) squeamishness from my mind and followed through in washing her hair, and not with much gentleness or kindness, all the while admonishing the parents.  Did they need admonishing?  Honestly, yes.  Did they need that from me, a stranger, in those moments?  No.  They needed love.  That little girl needed love, not some stranger roughly and hurriedly scrubbing her hair and lecturing her parents in front of her.

She still haunts me.  I still see her deep well-like eyes.

Africa (and now the United States to a much, much minuscule degree in comparison) is facing the crises of Ebola.

I’ve read a fair amount of articles and opinions on the situation.  Some of what I’ve read have been scathing opinions aimed at the very people who are sacrificing their health and lives to care for those who are experiencing the living hell of Ebola.  The only two we really know about are the doctor and nurse who, in the care they have given, contracted Ebola themselves. (A third missionary doctor was reported as testing positive for Ebola today in Liberia). Behind and alongside them stand dozens of others who are willingly placing themselves in the battle during these hard days.  While others are rushing out, they are rushing in.  Out of love and obedience.  Doctors, nurses, lab technicians, strategists, pastors, caregivers and others–these are real people who are struggling with real-word, real-tough decisions.  Decisions that I can’t even begin to fathom or pretend to know what I would choose.  Do I stay?  Do I go?  Do I touch this person?  Do I eat that food?  Do I comfort that grieving wife, son, mother?  Do I perform that nursing duty?  There are too many factors.  And one of those factors is the call to care.

Yes, there are dozens of questions this entire crises inflames–but to debate those questions is not my place.  At all.  I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around those questions, so I’m certainly not qualified to discuss them from my living room.

No, my place is to examine my own soul and to challenge you to examine yours.

What does it mean to love well?  What does “being called to love” look like?  What do these words in 1 John 3:17-18 mean:

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Does loving well mean throwing my opinion at a real world need and nothing more?  Or does it mean giving sacrificially and going unreservedly to those who are hurting?  To the old, the fatherless, the sick, the dying, the starving, the hopeless?

To those who need the lice washed out of their hair with loving hands?

I have a long, long way to go in this area–even so many years after standing at the sink washing that little girl’s hair.  Even after observing the despair of prostitutes living and working in an inner-city setting of Kansas City.  Even after experiencing deep needs in Kenya 5 years ago.  Even after experiencing first hand tremendous and practical love demonstrated to my own family time and time again.

I have a long ways to go in the very real world need of love in deed and in truth.  I’m so thankful for those who are doing this well, here close to home and around the world.  They are heroes.

I listen to and scan NPR content occasionally.  I’m nerdy like that.  I’d like to share the quote of the day from October 2nd, as reported by Sam Sanders.  These are the words of Wilhelmina Okyne Bridges, a Dallas area nurse.  She had this to say this week:

“I still hug people.  Something gonna kill us.  If not Ebola, something will kill us.  So yeah, I still hug people.”

I want to be the kind of person that says “Yeah, I still hug people.”

~ Photo of my girl and sweet baby Vivian-taken on our trip to Tumaini in Kenya 5 years ago