The God I Love

I love being intellectually challenged by books, conversations, or anything that can make me think deeply and differently than I normally do. But there’s a danger in that. The danger is allowing truth to be only something far away, something theoretical and nothing else. That’s when I know it’s time to read something personal. I chose to re-read “The God I Love” by Joni Eareckson Tada, because I remembered the first time I read it, and how real it makes all this talk about God. It traces one woman’s story of hearing about Jesus, finding Him, and struggling through what it means to follow Him no matter what. Her courage and beauty certainly stand out, but so does the fact that she is, ultimately, another person. She was chosen for particular hardships, most of which the average person will never experience, but so many of the ideas she sorts through and relates are shared by just about everyone.

Most people in Christian circles are familiar with the story of the quadriplegic who didn’t give up on God. It’s almost in danger of becoming cliche, as it’s an idea we seem to hear about a lot. The problem with that is we tend to consider it almost expected. As if we would respond the same way. As if any good person knows how to deal with pain and it’ll all turn out right eventually, especially if God is thrown in the mix. After all, it won’t happen to us, right? That’s why I love this book — it’s a reminder that no, pain is not easy to work through for the people it comes to in a bigger way than most, and that no, pain doesn’t just come to “other” people. It’s a reminder that we’re all human, we all ask the same questions, and we all need the right answer, the same answer.

I finished this book recently, right before the horrific events of the past couple days. While pain may show up in different ways, at some level it has to be the same. Whether you’re paralyzed from the neck down, whether you’re the loved one of a victim in a terrorist attack, or you’re relatively new to the idea of pain, at some point we all experience it. At some point we all ask why. Why me? Why them? Why now?

It was the same feeling I had in the science experiment — the one where I played the guinea pig and all of life’s big questions were being tested on me. There’s got to be more to life than just being born, eating and sleeping, and then dying. There must be more than mere existence. I have to have some significance. “God, you’ve got to be up there,” I whispered hoarsely in the dark. “This crazy war. The commercials. Everybody getting killed. More commercials…” My whisper became a cry, desperate and urgent and insistent. “And you must — I know you must — care.”

We are creatures who are designed to ask “why”. But we are also creatures who at some point have to take a step back from all the philosophical and theological explanations and answers and arguments, and fall at the feet of the God we love, or the God we have yet to learn to love.

“Oh, my,” I gasped. My heart skipped a beat. There it was, dead center in the lobby, rising over fifteen feet above me: a huge statue of Jesus Christ…His head was bowed and his arms were outstretched in a gesture that urged, “Come.” …Gazing at his arms spread so wide, I found myself in his orbit, feeling as though he was looking directly at me.

…Lying there, I didn’t try to analyze it much more than that. I simply looked into Jesus’ face and basked in his blessing. I hadn’t expected anything like this when I was wheeled into Johns Hopkins. I was here to get my nails cut out. But now I was thinking about other nails, staring at the scars they’d left in the hands of God’s Son.

His nails for mine. 

Here was a God who understood my suffering.

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Tremendous Trifles

The funny thing about brilliant people is that they have a knack for discovering what’s really in front of all of us. But according to G.K. Chesterton, the art of discovering the obvious is not limited to the genius, just the person willing to try it. This is the thesis of his collection of essays named “Tremendous Trifles.”

Topics covered include anything from fairy tales to democracy, all with an underlying theme of exploring God and the life He’s given us. After awhile of reading these curious discourses, it’s easy to get lost in his wit and eloquence and to sigh at one’s own incompetence. Thankfully, Chesterton begins this “sporadic diary” with an appeal to the ordinary person.

“…the object of my school is to show how many extraordinary things even a lazy and ordinary man may see if he can spur himself to the single activity of seeing. For this purpose I have taken the laziest person of my acquaintance, that is myself; and made an idle diary of such odd things as I have fallen over by accident, in walking in a very limited area at a very indolent pace.”

Normally, the idea of reading an entire book {of sorts} on my computer isn’t exactly appealing (I’m one of those has-to-read-an-“actual”-book-so-I-can-feel-the-pages kind of person). But since a pdf was the first version I could find and I was too impatient (and cheap) to order an actual copy, I managed to survive reading it online…and actually enjoyed it! Chesterton is able to combine serious issues with well placed humor, making it enjoyable to read, even if it’s a bit challenging in some places.

I find this compilation a good balance between Chesterton’s imaginative/creative writing and theological works, since they’re really just a recording of his somewhat random (but always pertinent) thoughts on just about anything and everything. To me, a lot of the pleasure in reading these essays comes from the knowledge that these are subjects he thought about during (mostly) ordinary events, on ordinary days. Most of them include a story of some sort, a little background on where and why he discovered something, whether an idea or a place or a person. Sometimes he recounts strange scenarios he’s found himself in, or strange people whose company he’s stumbled upon, and other times he merely forces himself to think something interesting out of sheer boredom. While it certainly adds entertainment, this narrative element serves to illustrate his main point: anyone can see great things if they simply look for them.

“If anyone says that these are very small affairs talked about in very big language, I can only gracefully compliment him upon seeing the joke. If anyone says that I am making mountains out of molehills, I confess with pride that it is so. I can imagine no more successful and productive form of manufacture than that of making mountains out of molehills.”

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“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”

 

A Severe Mercy

Thanks to the persistent efforts of a good friend, I was finally convinced to read Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy a couple months ago. There are few books I’ve read that I can honestly say I dislike, and so I often begin a review of a book talking about how wonderful it was. This one, however, stands out. It is an autobiography that focuses on the unique relationship between Sheldon and his wife Davy, how they fall in love with each other, and eventually with God. For the first time since I can remember, I may just have an answer to what is usually the unanswerable question: “What is your favorite book?”

Among all the authors I’ve read, I’ve perhaps been most captivated by the simultaneously brilliant and relatable words of C.S. Lewis. Vanauken became a close friend of his, and looked up to Lewis as a mentor and brother in Christ. Due to their shared experiences at Oxford, Vanauken’s writing bears striking similarities, and he too has that rare combination of intellectual excellence and simple truth. The book does not go too deeply into the Vanaukens’ more specific theological beliefs, where I know I have many disagreements, but he has an incredible grasp of certain aspects of Christianity that I’ve never heard expressed quite the same way. This raw account of their lives gives insight into ideas of love, thought, beauty, and ultimately what it means to live as a Christian.

Sheldon and Davy are both fierce intellectuals enraptured by the beauty of nature and the beauty of love, and the amount of understanding that they have of these concepts before they are saved is astonishing. Sheldon speaks of his “first aesthetic experience” saying,

He remembered as though it were but a few days ago that winter night, himself too young even to know the meaning of beauty, and when he had looked at a delicate tracery of bare black branches against the icy glittering stars: suddenly something that was, all at once, pain and longing and adoring had welled up in him, almost choking him. He had wanted to tell someone, but he had no words, inarticulate in the pain and glory.

Although they initially reject the idea of Christianity, and religion altogether, they have a deep love for each other and a deep love for the truth. The assumption they hold of the insufficiency of Christianity is put into question when they encounter Christian students at Oxford who expose them to the writings of C.S. Lewis and other intellectual giants. Gradually, their idea that Christianity can’t be seriously considered as a logical, intelligent worldview, crumbles as they experience Christians who are easily their equals in matters such as science or philosophy or poetry, while maintaining a wonder at beauty and truth. Sheldon comments on this surprising experience:

The sheer quality of the Christians we met at Oxford shattered our stereotype…the astonishing fact sank home: our own contemporaries could be at once highly intelligent, civilised, witty, fun to be with — and Christian.

Later on, he is struck by the joy that Christians have, and makes this observation even before he is converted:

The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians–when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. But, though it is just to condemn some Christians for these things, perhaps, after all, it is not just, though very easy, to condemn Christianity itself for them. Indeed, there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity–and possibly nowhere else. If that were certain, it would be proof of a very high order.

The “Severe Mercy” of the title alludes to the tragic, untimely passing of Davy, that leaves Sheldon to pursue and know the God she knew even better than he did. His struggle with love and grief and doubt is both convicting and encouraging.  Altogether, it is a beautiful book written by a man who had perhaps a fuller glimpse than most of what “beauty” and “truth” and “love” should mean to a soul who knows their Author.

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Mere Christianity

“The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two Christian “denominations.” You will not learn from me whether you ought to become an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, or a Roman Catholic… But in this book I am not trying to convert anyone to my own position. Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Preface

Reading Mere Christianity confirmed in my mind that C.S. Lewis is most assuredly one of my absolute favorite authors. I don’t agree with all of his theological beliefs, but regardless, I am convinced God gave him an incredibly unique and intelligent mind – one that has been highly influential throughout the world and now in my own life. Mere Christianity may be aimed at defending the faith as a whole – but Lewis had the extraordinary ability to shed light on the simplest of truths in such a way that makes even the seasoned Christian more fully understand it. In this book, he takes the reader back to the bare fundamentals of knowledge. He proves the existence of morals, of a Supreme Being, etc. in a way that is not only convincing to non believers, but enlightening for the Christian as well. I found myself smiling at almost every page, as he eloquently described and illustrated truths that I have been taught ever since I could comprehend theology, but have never heard in such astounding clarity and creativity. His writing style (and speaking, as Mere Christianity was adapted from his radio broadcasts) is  stunningly eloquent, yet so simple it makes you feel as if you already knew what he had to say.

Now and then I came across chapters or parts of a chapter that I didn’t agree with, and don’t find Biblical, but as he so wonderfully states,

“It is a very silly idea that in reading a book you must never ‘skip’. All sensible people skip freely when they come to a chapter which they find is going to be no use to them…” – Mere Christianity, pg. 13

Mere Christianity is one of the most convicting, inspiring, encouraging, humbling books I have ever read. It left me with a greater understanding of the truths that I hold dear, as well as a stronger comprehension of the character of God (especially His grandeur and majesty – a theme weaved throughout all of Lewis’s writings). To end, I will include one of my favorite passages from the book. It was rather hard to choose one, there being so many that I benefited from and enjoyed – and so I would encourage you to read the book for yourself that you may discover them 🙂 .

“…If you like to put it that way, He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.
That is difficult, I know. Let me try to give something, not the same, but a bit like it. Suppose I am writing a novel. I write ‘Mary laid down her work; next moment came a knock at the door!’ For Mary who has to live in the imaginary time of my story there is no interval between putting down the work and hearing the knock. But I, who am Mary’s maker, do not live in that imaginary time at all. Between writing the first half of that sentence and the second, I might sit down for three hours and think steadily about Mary. I could think about Mary as if she were the only character in the book and for as long as I pleased, and the hours I spent in doing so would not appear in Mary’s time (the time inside the story) at all.
This is not a perfect illustration, of course. But it may give just a glimpse of what I believe to be the truth. God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel, He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man in the world. ” – Mere Christianity, pg. 138

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The Screwtape Letters

“The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis is by far one of the most unique and creative books I’ve ever read. It is written from the perspective of an old, wise demon “Screwtape” who is writing letters to mentor his naive nephew in leading a man to sin and Hell. The book follows along through the different stages of their victim, who goes from unbelief, to belief in God, (or, the “Enemy” as He is satirically referred to as) , temptation to go astray, and ultimate victory over the demons.

What struck me about the book was how subtle and familiar the demons’ tactics were to lead the new Christian into sin. They didn’t afflict his mind with thoughts of murder, adultery, theft, rejection of God, or any other atrocity that we generally regard as “large” or “devastating” sins. Instead, they endeavored to merely twist the truth with the goal of morphing it into something else entirely, while leaving their victim thoroughly convinced of its genuineness. In this way, he would comfortably continue along the slippery slope to Hell for the rest of his life, ignorantly oblivious that he was anywhere near it.

“What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’. You know — Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring.” ~ Letter 25

Many of the words and ideas and thoughts that they plant in the unsuspecting man’s head are things I, and many Christians have thought about or struggled with, such as: doubt, pride in humility, carnal Christianity, subtle idolatry, and even troubles as seemingly insignificant as distraction in prayer. We are often tempted to overlook “small” sins such as “white lies”, inconsistent devotions, worldly-mindedness, etc. Seeing these through the perspective of a demon shows just how detrimental they can really be. White lies gradually become bigger lies, inconsistent devotions often leads to non-existent devotions and spiritual starvation, and a worldly-minded individual is easily convinced he/she is merely a “carnal Christian”, often resulting in their utter apostasy which they may never be aware of. There is an extent at which the book should be interpreted as fiction, and is not meant to be taken literally, but the tactics and mindsets discussed are very much real, convicting, and true. Lewis wisely remarks in the preface, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

Overall, it left me with a heightened awareness of the reality and danger of subtle sins in my own mind and heart, a greater appreciation for the truth and light that God brings into the lives of those whom He has rescued, and an increased wonder at the love of God upon sinful creatures like me.

“In this is love, not that we loved Him, but that He loved us…” ~ 1 John 4:10

By using the perspective of a demon’s error, sin, and hate, C.S. Lewis ingeniously reveals the beauty of God’s truth, righteousness, and love.

“The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else”. ~ The Screwtape Letters, Letter 28

A True Friend and a Good Writer

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” ~ E.B. White

Well instead of posting a book review, I decided to post a blog review as my next book will take awhile to finish and I wanted to talk about/ give a review on my very good friend’s new blog! I read her first post and got very excited because she is a fabulous writer and her blog is all about giving tips and suggestions for other writers, which I think is a fantastic idea.

Click here to go check it out! 

What I love about Kaileigh’s writing is that she incorporates a perfect mix of humor with honesty, sincerity, and valuable messages. She is very talented but humble and genuinely loves writing and expressing her unique view of the world.

We actually didn’t really “clique” very well when we first met, but one summer she decided to message me on Facebook to just say hi and chat………well, tons of sleepovers, tournaments, life rants, prayers, and thousands of Facebook messages later, I can say I’m very blessed by her decision to write me a message that summer. She is an adventurous, kind, talented, spunky, sincere, loyal, and godly young woman, and all of that is evident even in her writing style and content.

As I already mentioned, her blog is devoted to writing techniques, ideas, styles, tips, etc. – something that’s interesting and helpful for both writers, readers, and people who just love words. It’s definitely worth it, so go check it out!  I can’t wait to see all what she posts and says about writing…and I’m sure I’ll be using some of her tips as well 🙂

Discerning Truth

“…Over the next chapters, we will explore the most common logical fallacies. It is very helpful to know these fallacies so that we can spot them when evolutionists commit them — and so that we do not commit them as well. In the Christian worldview, to be logical is to think in a way that is consistent with God’s thinking. God is logical”. – Pg. 13

Discerning Truth by Dr. Jason Lisle is a valuable resource for learning how to properly recognize and counter common fallacies in Creation v. Evolution debates/arguments. He focuses mainly on frequent logical fallacies made by evolutionists, but explains them in such a way that shows how Christians/Creationists sometimes use them as well. In the back of the book, he has listed numerous real-world examples of fallacies and an answer key telling which type of fallacy each belongs to, so that the reader can become familiar with identifying them. Some examples of the logical fallacies explained are:

Equivocation: “shifting from one meaning of a word to another within an argument” (21)

(e.g. = “Evolution is a scientific fact. The evolution of bacteria becoming resistant is well-documented” – pg. 22 )

Strawman Fallacy: “misrepresenting an opponent’s position and proceeding to refute the misrepresentation rather than what the opponent actually claims”(61)

(e.g. = “Creationists don’t believe in the scientific method. They say you should just look to the Bible for all your answers” – pg. 62)

Bifurcation: “claiming there are only two mutually exclusive possibilities, when there may actually be three or more options”(pg.44)

(e.g. = “I listen to the Holy Spirit to tell me what to do, not the text of the Bible.” [“either the Holy Spirit or the Bible” when it should be “the Holy Spirit by the Bible”] – pg. 45 )

What I very much appreciated in this book was the recognition that it is our duty as Christians to be able to reason logically, and to be able to give a defense of our faith. Probably my biggest pet peeve is scrolling through theological debates on Facebook between atheists/evolutionists and. Christians/creationists who are not using logic. It’s bad enough to see a non-Christian using faulty reasoning to combat a Christian article or post, but its even more disturbing to see the Christian respond with bad reasoning and even a misrepresentation of his/her faith! We are to live by faith and to focus our efforts on speaking the Gospel to others, but reason, logic, and organized debates do have a very very important role. God is the Creator of logic, reason, and truth – how can we expect to represent His Word and His truth if we do not know how to reason logically and in such a way that conveys the truth of His Gospel?

Growing up in Christian circles is a great blessing, but can also turn into the snare of just accepting what is said around you, rather than challenging yourself to understand logically why you believe what you believe. So many young people grow up in the church just to leave it when they go out in the world, because they were never challenged while they were in the church – they accepted what was said because everyone else accepted what was said.

“It is the obligation of the Christian to be rational – to pattern our thinking after God’s (Isa. 55:7-8). We are to be imitators of Him (Eph. 5:1) and to think in a way that is consistent with God’s logical nature (Rom. 12:2). Not only do we belong to God as His creations, but He has redeemed us by His Son. Our commitment to Christ, therefore, must extend to all aspects of our life. We are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27).” – Pg. 85

This book is a wonderful foundation for learning how to understand the Christian faith from a logical standpoint and how to recognize the fallacies that so many who do not know the Creator of Truth fall prey to. The more I read books like this and the more I understand the reasoning behind what I believe, the more Christianity becomes my own personal conviction and my own faith, and the easier it is for me to see that God is the true source of all knowledge and all truth.

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Through Gates of Splendor

“Roger and Nate…also Jim, Pete, and Ed were missionary pioneers – always looking to the regions beyond immediate horizons. Just over the distant ridges were the Aucas. “One of these days we’re going to spot those boys,” Jim Elliot had said, “and from then on they’ll be marked men!” (Page 91).

Through Gates of Splendor is a convicting and inspiring account of the lives and martyrdom of five young missionaries: Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, and Jim Elliot. It is written by Elisabeth Elliot, the missionary wife of Jim Elliot. It tells the story of one of the most influential martyrdoms in history, that started with just five determined young men and their families who dedicated their lives to serving God in the jungles of Ecuador. Elisabeth used her own personal memories combined with the men’s journals, notes, diaries, and conversations, to create a book that has, in many ways, changed the world — changed the way many have viewed missions. What struck me most about the account is the utter selflessness of the missionaries. Picture yourself in their position — you’re a missionary living among indian tribes, sharing the Gospel, making a difference, when you find out about a tribe of savages who have never heard about God, but are vicious murderers who have a reputation, even among other indians, to kill all foreigners or anyone who is not of their tribe. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure my response would probably be that of fear — dread — maybe even a hope that I never have to encounter them. But the response of the five men was compassion — love — actual enthusiasm and JOY about reaching out to the most unreachable tribe in Ecuador: the Aucas. They knew full well what they were walking into – they knew their reputation – they didn’t even speak their language! But with Nate’s airplane, a few gifts, a few words in their language scribbled on a piece of paper, and a whole lot of prayer, they opened the door for the light of the Gospel to come to these people.

No one knows exactly why the Aucas turned so suddenly on them. Why they were so friendly and responsive at first, just to turn around and kill them. The most likely explanation is that they were afraid — understandably so, in light of their past history with cruel foreigners. But the five men had shown them nothing but Christian love — something completely foreign to them. One would expect confusion and bitterness on the part of their widows, as to why God would let that happen. But as Elisabeth says,

“To the world at large this was a sad waste of five young lives. but God had His plan and purpose in all things. There were those whose lives were changed by what happened on Palm Beach”(248).

If any bravery could possibly surpass the complete trust and confidence those men had in God, it would be the bravery of their wives. They didn’t react with bitterness, anger, revenge, or anxiety. They responded with a quiet courage that spoke volumes of their complete surrender to God’s will.

“The prayers of the widows themselves are for the Aucas. We look forward to the day when these savages will join us in Christian praise”(249).

Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel Saint, and Elisabeth Elliot stayed among the Aucas – witnessing to them, teaching them, showing them the love that their husbands had shown them — showing them the love of God. And many came to know and love the God of the men they had killed!

The human reaction to a murderous tribe of savages living just a few miles away is fear, anxiety, dread, even hate. The human reaction to the murder of loved ones is revenge, anger, malice, and contempt. The responses of these missionaries were not of mere human courage and love, but of God’s love and God’s courage which knows no bounds and seeks to reach all men. What makes this book truly unique is not how skillfully Elisabeth Elliot writes, or how it portrays what man is capable of, but  what God is capable of, how God wrote the lives of those men, how they humbly surrendered their lives to His everlasting care, willing to die because their Savior died for them. It is a story of the incredible power of the love of God to stir up the hearts of five missionaries and their wives in order that His name be glorified and a small tribe of hateful savages would come to know the grace and mercy of an all loving God.

“We rest on thee, our Shield and our Defender,

Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise

When passing through gates of pearly splendor

Victors, we rest with Thee through endless days.”

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( Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, Jim Elliot)

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(Nate Saint and the Auca “George”)

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(Roger and Barbara Youderian & Family)