Five Favorite Authors – Friday Favorites

5. Ann B. Ross – If you find yourself a little down in the dumps, you need to read the Miss Julia books. I have never laughed so hard in my life! Laughter is a medicine, and I’ve often healed myself reading Ann’s words!

4. Jan Karon – I call the Mitford series “Vacation in a book”. Often times I find myself encumbered by life with too much to do, with the demands of a wife and mother, and maybe filling too empty to give the way that I should. When this happens, I know that it’s time to grab a Mitford book. Her character development is pristine. I know that somewhere there must be a Father Tim and an Uncle Billy. They are too real not to be real. My daughter recently asked me what literary character I’d most like to be, I answered, “Cynthia!” She is so charming, and has such a positive, fun outlook on life. She is who I long to be.

3. Ann Voskamp – Isn’t she pretty? It had been a long time since I read words that stirred my soul the way Ann’s do. Her poetic prose is rich with image and feeling, and she conveys her beautiful heart so effectively. I love the way she thinks, and even more I love the words she comes up with to portray her thoughts; her thoughts the color on canvas, her words the brush. She had me from the first line, hanging onto every word. While reading her book, A Thousand Gifts I found that I would have to put the book down, just to savor the gift she had just unwrapped before me. Sometimes, I’d even meditate a day or two before returning because there was so much to learn from her. Not only is her book brilliant, (and a New York Times bestseller), but her blog draws me into her world as an intimate friend. I feel loved.

2. C.S. Lewis – My first taste of Lewis, was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I was in elementary school at the time, and very willing to be on the look out for a wardrobe of my own. The Chronicles of Narnia were a huge part of my spiritual formation. The next book I read was Screwtape Letters, and then Mere Christianity. I admire Lewis’ logic and clear philosophy.

1. Madeleine L’Engle – One of the greatest regrets of my life is having missed the opportunity of hearing Madeleine speak at Wheaton college. I guess I thought she and I had all the time in the world..but we don’t. A Wrinkle In Time is the first book of hers that I read. I so much identified with Meg. I was the geeky, uncomfortable in her own skin Meg with glasses and no self-esteem. Her triumphs were my triumphs. I read all of her young adult books with so much vigor! She opened a whole new world of deep thought to me, and dared me to think outside the box. And then as an adult, I found out about her wonderful non-fiction books. How I love to read her thoughts! I agree with some, disagree with others, but love the originality of her thought. I can not wait to spend time with her in heaven!

Defining the Word Christian

Have you ever thought about the word Christian, and what a truly means?  Last week, I wrote about words changing meaning, or losing their original meaning at the very least.  I talked about the word morality, and what this word has come to mean in today’s society.  But now I want to take a moment to define a word that I most hope defines me.

In C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Lewis writes about the word gentleman.  Originally, the word gentleman was a word of position.  It meant that a man was a landowner.  However, through the years the word gentleman has gone from a word easily defined by set standards, i.e. “Does a man own land or not?” to a word that can only be determined by a subjective opinion.  It has come to mean a man who is gentle in his manners. I am sure that you’d agree that if we went out on the street today, in any city, town or village in the world, and asked what the code for mannerly conduct is, chances are we would receive some similar answers, but more than likely we would also get a myriad of varied answers based on the opinions of those asked.

The word Christian, Lewis explains is much the same way.  At one time it had a concrete definition.  “The name Christian was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to ‘the disciples,’ to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles.”  However, by the time Webster’s Dictionary was published it came to mean the following:

1. A believer in the religion of Christ.

2. A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ.

3. A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the Christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety.

4. In a general sense, the word Christians includes all who are born in a Christian country or of Christian parents.

Let me first address the first definition.  A believer in the religion of Christ.  At first glance this seems to be a concrete answer.  But upon further examination one realizes that the word “believe” not followed by some type of action is an ambiguous word.  What does it mean to believe?  How does one know that they believe?

Romans 10:9-10

Amplified Bible (AMP)

9Because if you acknowledge and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and in your heart believe (adhere to, trust in, and rely on the truth) that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

10For with the heart a person believes (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Christ) and so is justified (declared righteous, acceptable to God), and with the mouth he confesses (declares openly and speaks out freely his faith) and confirms [his] salvation.

Notice here that believing is accompanied by and action.  Confessing with your mouth.  The word “believe” in the Greek is most often the same word translated as “faith”.

James 2:17

Amplified Bible (AMP)

17So also faith, if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power (inoperative, dead).

So, if we water down Christianity to beliefs without responding actions, we have made it destitute of its power.  We know we have faith or belief by what we do.  Unfortunately, a large portion of America call themselves Christians based on what they say they believe.  However, there are no corresponding actions.  Am I saying that we can be saved by what we do?  No, because it’s not by works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:9).  Putting faith in works puts the cart before the horse, in a matter of speaking.  What I am saying is that you prove what you believe by what you do. Faith being the horse, and works being the cart.

If a man says that he loves a woman, but he is unwilling to be faithful to her, or to be kind to her, eventually that woman is going to want to see proof of his love toward her.  She will not believe that he loves her unless he has corresponding actions.  Thus, it is true for many words like belief, faith and love.  It is true that they are matters of the heart, but they are proved by the actions of your body.

Let’s take a look at the second definition of Christian in the Webster’s Dictionary.  “A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ.”  This definition is closer to the Biblical and first century church definition in that it does include some type of confession.  However, I dare say, we have all met people who have professed to be Christians and yet there would be definite doubt as to the validity of their self-“professed” title.

For instance, being an American, we have all witnessed politicians who have publicized and exaggerated their religious beliefs  in order to be more popular with the “moral Christian majority” that we once had in this country.  Or, an even better example is the man who performed the Norwegian shootings this past month.  He claims to be a Christian.  If we accept Webster’s definition of “A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ,” we would definitely not be able to judge whether or not this man is a Christian.  He professes to be one, therefore he is.

1 John 3:14

The Message (MSG)

 14-15The way we know we’ve been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn’t love is as good as dead. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know very well that eternal life and murder don’t go together.

We can see very clearly here, that unless something alters this man’s future, he will not be spending eternity in Heaven with those who Jesus calls Christians.  Although according to the New York Times, and definition number 2 of the Webster’s Dictionary, this man may be a Christian, according to the Apostle John, he is not.  (Unless of course, he repents which is another essay altogether.)  We can not only profess with our mouth, we must also have true belief.  True belief is always backed by actions.

I am going to skip to definition number four before I address number three.  I think this is where much of “Christian America” is situated at the moment.  “In a general sense, the word Christians includes all who are born in a Christian country or of Christian parents.”  This definition has nothing to do with belief, or action.  It offers no visible characteristics to the onlooker.  The person is made a Christian by birth or by citizenship of a country that calls itself Christian.The only proof for this definition would be a birth certificate.

There are clear issues with this definition as it infringes on a person’s right to choose.  There is no choice in the matter, for according to it, a person who doesn’t want to be a Christian can be without their permission.  They have no right to choose to be of some other religious thinking or philosophy.  If they were born to a Christian, they are one.

The other side of the coin is the person who enjoys calling themselves “Christian” and they believe themselves to be one just because their parents were, or because they are American, or any other nation still professing to be a “Christian” nation.  They have no responsibility in their title as Christian, nor do they care to seek out their responsibility.  The title Christian in this case has ceased to appear to be anything even remotely like the first century definition of Christianity.

First century Christians, lived their faith.  They died for their faith.  Their faith had fruit which the observer could see.  They followed after the teachings of Jesus and His Apostles. They were the third definition of the the word.

Through the years, we have weakened the meaning of the word Christian.  Both the church and those not professing to be Christians have become utterly confused by what the word means, and by how one can define it. If we can not define who we are, how do we know who we are?

How would you Biblically define a Christian?  Do you meet the terms of this definition?

Obstacles in the Journey – New Glarus Pt. 4

The following story is part of a series of stories telling about how a place has had a significant part in my history.  The first three installments can be read here, here and here.

After two years of disturbing events, T. (that first boyfriend) and I, had broken up.  I thought the sun would never shine again. Even when it did, its light was harsh and abusive, and only made me want to close my eyes and shut myself in a dark room.

In the midst of accusations and scandal surrounding my ex-relationship, my parents had gone away for their anniversary, to Wisconsin, and came back with news.  They had found a beautiful earth home on an acre of property for a third less than the worth of our home in Oak Park, Illinois.

I am confident that part of their decision was with the purpose of getting me away from T., as he could be very charming and persuasive and I was far too kind and forgiving, code words for ridiculously naive bordering stupid.  Everything happened very quickly from there. Within weeks, our home in Oak Park sold for five times the amount my parents purchased it, and we were able to buy the earth home located in Janesville, Wisconsin, and have money left over.

A change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered.  Moving to this beautiful yet familiar place was better therapy than I could have paid for.  Somehow, as disappointed as I was about my past, I began to have hope for my future.

The closest church to the home was of the same persuasion we had been attending in Illinois.  I would be working for my father for half a day, when he was in town.  He traveled once a week to Chicago to work on existing projects there and was usually gone one or two days a week.  Coincidentally, our new home was  only 45 minutes away from New Glarus.  It was during one of those first trips into Chicago, that Mom and I found ourselves on a day trip there.

But this wasn’t just any day trip.  We had decided to walk the Sugar River Trail from just outside Albany, Wisconsin to New Glarus, Wisconsin where we would be staying at the Chalet Landhaus Hotel.  This was just under 16 miles.  We were both wearing the most athletic shoes we owned, which weren’t very athletic I might add.  We had a couple of water bottles on hand and a backpack with some pajamas and fresh underwear.  We were armed and ready to go.

The first stretch was about ten miles, and was fairly easy.  We walked at a pace of just over 20 minutes per mile.  The early morning summer sun played tricks with light and shadow on the crushed stone path.  Rays of light occasionally broke through the canopy of trees and sent sparkling specks of healing from heaven into my broken soul.

After conversing along the road about everything from C.S. Lewis to Frank Lloyd Wright, (two very popular topics in our home), we found ourselves just outside of Monticello.

“There’s a nice little hamburger place in Monticello,” my mom said, “It’s just a short way from the trail. Would you like to stop and have some lunch?”

Now, we had packed lunches in the backpack, but I had to admit, sitting down in an air conditioned restaurant to some hot food sounded great.

“Sure!”  We were getting a little tired, but we were more than half way there, and now we were stopping for a rest.  We turned off the path and toward the restaurant.  Big. Mistake.

“I don’t remember the diner being this far from the road do you?” I questioned after walking a least a mile before we even entered the town limits.

“It does seem like it’s a lot closer when we drive it.  We’ll feel better after we sit down and eat.”

A few blocks later, we arrived at our destination.  In a diner reminiscent of a ’50’s restaurant,  we ate our lunch of hamburgers, fries and a shake, but rather than feeling refreshed, we started to feel more and more exhausted.  This excursion added at least 2 miles to our journey, and the thought of walking over a mile just to get back to the trail was almost unbearable.

Soon, I heard my mother asking the waitress if she knew of anyone who might be willing to give us a ride to the Chalet Landhaus (which was only about 6 miles away.)  No one at the restaurant was willing to oblige.  Even the old men, who hadn’t stopped staring at us since we walked in.  (In hindsight, I’m kind of glad about that one.)

Now the thought of the remaining 7 miles seemed nearly impossible.  Our feet were aching, and we had no energy left.

“I think there’s a car dealership across the street.  Maybe they will let us rent a car!” I said with hope in my heart.

We stumbled across the street, slap happy with exhaustion.  If anyone had seen us they would have insisted we were drunk.

“My daughter and I were walking the Sugar River State Trail to New Glarus.  We are almost sick we’re so tired.  Do you have a car you could rent us?”

“No, I’m sorry we don’t.”

Silence, “Well, do you have a service where an employee drives a repair customer back to their home?  Because we are too tired to continue, we’d be glad to pay you for your time.”

“You aren’t customers.  I couldn’t do that.”

Shoulders slumped, hearts and bodies heavy, we started back on the trek towards the trail.  We have since named Monticello the most unfriendly town in Wisconsin.  The last 7 miles were torture, but we did it.  Finally, we saw The Chalet Landhaus at the end of the trail like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Pictures of Chalet Landhaus, New Glarus
This photo of Chalet Landhaus is courtesy of TripAdvisor

The hot tub was going to feel good that night, and so was a lovely plate of Wisconsin aged cheese, crackers and fruit.  We were far too tired to walk down to the dining room and eat, so I called to see about room service.

“Yes, do you have room service?”

“No, we don’t.”

“Oh…well, my mother and I just walked 18 miles today, and we’re exhausted.  Is there anyway that I could order some food to-go and bring it up to my room?”

“I’m sorry, we don’t do to-go orders.”

With my hand over the receiver I whispered, “They won’t let me order anything to-go!”

After excusing myself from the phone as politely as possible, I knew that I had to take matters into my own hands.  I had to go down there and convince them to give me some food.  They did.  Very reluctantly, but they did.

That was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever eaten.  We had a fruit and cheese platter.  We ate, went to the hot tub and were in bed by 6 o’clock.

Looking back on that trip, I’m glad no one gave us a ride.  I think that it was a good lesson to learn that even though things are difficult, and that I may be tired and wishing that someone else would take the burden for me, God’s plan is to give me the grace and strength to carry my own burden and drop it at His feet.  Still, I’m glad my father came to pick us up the next morning.

For the next story go here.

The Chronicles of Narnia – Books That Inspire

We read out loud at the breakfast table, my mother and I.  A chapter of the Bible, and a chapter of a classic.  One of the first classics I remember reading over Malto-Meal, was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as well as the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia series.

My mom did voices, and I imagined a world of make-believe, with dwarves and fauns, satyrs and minotaurs.  I could almost taste what I thought might be Turkish Delight.  (I tried it a few years ago, and I was completely incorrect in my imaginings.)  I fell in love with Aslan, and wished it were so easy to love Jesus.

Maybe that is what was most important about these books to me.  Aslan made Jesus more real to me.  Isn’t that ironic?  (don’t you think?)  A fantasy made Jesus more real to me.

“At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.”
C.S. Lewis

And now, the real question.  As for the controversy about the order in which the books should be read. What order did I read the books?  The order in which they were written, of course!

Body Parts

I’ll never forget the day that the children and I were passing by the local Baptist church, and one of my children asked me, “Now, what weird things do they believe?”

How could this be my child?  I wondered.  I had, on purpose, signed my kids up for things from different denominations and had repeatedly explained to them how each group has a special part to play in the  Body of Christ.  I encouraged them always to focus on our likenesses, rather than on our differences.  In addition to the many projects they had in our own wonderful non-denominational church, I enrolled them in a Reformed home school group, had them serve meals at the Salvation Army, went to plays and special events at the same local Baptist Church and still they had taken on an, “us four and no more” attitude.

I suppose their response was somewhat normal for someone who has been born and grown up in the same non-denominational church their whole life.  But I had taught them differently, and I expected more of them and from them.

After I picked my jaw up off the floorboard of the car, I answered in the most controlled voice that I could muster that if it weren’t for the Baptists that I wasn’t sure any of us would be Christians at the moment, because one of the Baptist church’s main emphases is evangelism and discipleship.  I also reminded them how thankful we can be that the Baptists have held to the high standard of doctrine in their lives.

It was silent in the car for awhile.  I suppose I was a little fiery in my delivery, but the said child had touched a nerve.

When I consider each denomination I see groups of people who have been given different assignments from God.  Episcopalians have been given a literary assignment bringing forth great authors and theologians like C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle.  Catholics have been given an assignment to remind us of the mystery that is Christ.  Baptists have been given an assignment to go out and to preach the Gospel to everyone.  The Salvation Army has been given the assignment to love the unloved, and to reach out a hand to man and heart to God.  Methodists have been assigned to teach us a methodology by which we can better serve God.  Pentacostals and  Charismatics have been given the assignment to experience God physically and emotionally through signs and wonders.

Do I believe that every believer should experience a portion of each of these strengths?  Absolutely!  But no one could focus on all of them at once.  And thus we have our differences.

The icon becomes idol when any one part of the body wants the rest of the Body to be just like it…How odd it would be if the Body were all knees or teeth! Madeleine L’Engle

Why not celebrate our differences?  After all we would be ineffective without one another, and we’d look pretty ridiculous if all we were is a bunch of teeth.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.  I Corinthians 12:12

What do C S Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle and Desmond Tutu Have in Common?

In the past few years, it seems everything I’ve read has an Anglican connection.  From C.S.Lewis, famous apologist, author and professor, to Madeleine L’Engle, author of Newberry Award winning A Wrinkle in Time, to the endearing Father Tim character in Jan Karon’s Mitford series.

These authors mention The Book of Common Prayer, and Morning and Evening prayers regularly in their writings.  It made me curious.  Being raised in the Salvation Army (similar to Methodist doctrine), and then moving to a Pentacostal upbringing and now landing in what my pastor likes to call a Bapticostal church, the mysticicism of a “high church” order and liturgy has always intrigued me.  After all, what is the difference between reading the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer everyday and reading the Prayers That Avail Much?

I wondered what style of daily disciplines C S Lewis, George Whitefield and George Washington used to enhance their spiritual growth.  Thus began my journey.  A journey towards epiphany. A journey which I am now including you if you are interested.  Because my determined purpose is that I may know Him…

Our christmas tree

This was my very first post here, and though the methods may have changed, the quest is still the same. This year, I will be adding a new tradition to my celebration of advent. I will be going through the devotional that dear Ann has written. I will be doing this primarily alone, even though it is written as a family devotional..although I will be sharing weekly with my Neighborhood Bible Study. Won’t you join me? The devotional is free and available here.