Book Review: Katie Davis’ Kisses from Katie

The subtitle of this book is “A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption.”  That captures it.

Kisses from Katie is the autobiographical account of Katie Davis’ decision to take a year after high school to serve in missions at an orphanage in Uganda, and of God’s call on her life that became clear during her time there.  Now, at the age of 24 she lives in Uganda and is Mommy to the 14 orphan girls she has adopted.  She also runs a non-profit ministry called Amazima that provides food, medical care and school to over 400 other desperately needy Ugandan children.

I highly recommend this book — for you and for your children.  I just finished it a day ago, but I’m excited to share it with Jonah (my 14 year-old) who has gotten very interested in figuring out how to make a real difference in the world, and just baked his first batch of 75 brownies for our church’s homeless-feeding ministry last Sunday.  I know the story of the work at Amazima will encourage him and illustrate for him that God is calling each of us as individuals to say, “Here I am, Lord;  what do You have for me to do right now?”  When we are willing, He can accomplish amazing things.

Check out Amazima‘s website and find out how you can get involved in the work in Uganda, and pick up a copy of Kisses from Katie.  It will warm your heart, and put you on your knees, reminded again to say, “Here I am, Lord; I’m listening to You.”

 

 

Why Christians are Like Cats

If you’re a cat-hater, bear with me.  We love our cats around here; we have 3 of them at the moment.

There’s Buckwheat (aka Jack) who’s the old man of the clan.  He turns 16 in a couple of months.  He moves slowly.  His head is constantly crooked.  He is truly the cat with nine lives, I think.  He has been almost dead on a number of occasions, but has always risen to the challenge of staying alive.

There’s Booboo (aka Princess Boudica).  She has been gracious enough to allow us to be her staff.  We are permitted to feed her daily.  We may also provide a soft lap for her comfort when she is cold.  When she is outside on a nice day, she is beyond adorable…all chatty and affectionate.  The rest of the time she tolerates our existence.

Then there’s Tux.  He never shuts up.  He likes to hunt in the woods around our house.  He never shuts up.  He’s very affectionate.  He both idolizes and annoys Buckwheat.  And did I mention that he never shuts up?

This morning as I was drinking my coffee outside, I noticed that someone (Tux, I imagine) brought us a gift.  A dead bird.  *sigh*  A few days ago he brought me a dead snake.  *double sigh*  He really seems to think that either he’s giving us beautiful presents (“No really, you shouldn’t have!”) or else that we need his help to provide food for the family.

Aren’t we like that sometimes with God?  We never shut up.  We yammer at God all the time and forget to listen when we’re “praying.”  We go off under our own strength, with our very limited understanding, and we do stuff that we think will help God out, or perhaps will be a lovely present for Him.  But we do it all without having a real clue what God is doing in the first place.  And we don’t have the perspective to see that the dead animal we just gave Him (virtually busting our buttons with pride in our righteous accomplishment) is….well, a dead animal.

Other times we’re like Booboo.  When the sun is shining and we’re feeling the love, we are affectionate with Him, enjoy His presence, and look all sweet.  When we’re feeling cold we climb into His lap (on our terms, mind you….He might as well not bother calling us to come.  We find that call intrusive.  We’ll get to Him when it’s convenient.)  The rest of the time we tolerate His existence.  We allow Him to take really good care of us, and most of the time we give it no thought of gratitude; it’s His job, anyway, isn’t it?

I think I want to be like Buckwheat.

Buckwheat’s got the perspective of years in our family.  He trusts in our provision for him, and doesn’t even bother to ask for food; he’s quietly confident that it will be there before his blood sugar dips too low.  He doesn’t make a lot of noise (actually, his meower sounds like it’s just about worn-out) but he regularly walks up and just rubs against us, giving us a kitty kiss of affection and trust.

He walks around outside enjoying the beautiful home he has here, and when a stray cat wanders onto the property he is unafraid to tell him to leave; he knows who belongs here and who doesn’t.

His head is crooked because he’s been really sick in the past, and he knows what it is to recover; he’s at peace with his scars because they remind him of powerful ground he has traveled.  He’s not the prettiest, fastest, sleekest cat around, but he’s comfortable in his own skin. 

He’s got these younger cats around him who are annoying sometimes in their immaturity, but he doesn’t feel the need to straighten them out or embarrass them or put them in their place; he just lets them grow bit by bit.  He knows they’ll grow up eventually; he trusts that the process of life works.

I love all my kitties.  I know Tux means well when he brings me a disgusting dead animal.  The trouble is that he simply isn’t capable of growing in understanding.  He’s a cat, and the human mind is never going to be within his grasp.

I know Booboo loves me in her own selfish way.  She has come such a long way from the traumatized, angry, aggressive kitty she was when she first came to live with us.  She’d been hurt where she lived before, and it showed.  She’s got a lot more mellowing to do, but I can see how much our love for her has already changed her for the better.

The cool thing that makes us different from the cats:

God doesn’t just love us with gracious understanding like I love my kitties.  He sees us in our limitedness and He loves us and smiles at our feeble attempts to protect ourselves from pain or to provide for our own needs or to share our problem-solving strategies with Him.

But then He goes beyond that and He gives us HIS OWN NATURE in the gift of redemption through Jesus.  He gives us the mind of Christ so that our understanding can grow with each year that we know Him.  We eventually come to see that those dead animals are….well, dead animals, that our constant yammering is not really conversation with our Father, that it’s wonderful to be quiet in His presence.

He gives us Himself — He who IS LOVE — so that we begin to drop our defenses first with Him (“You called, Lord?  Here I am…what’s up?”) and then with others as His love fills us and flows through us.  We can be affectionate in the sunshine or in the darkness.

And He gives us the ability to learn from our years, to respect that the process of life works, so that we can be gentle, loving and hopeful for the little ones around us.  The same Father who has done such good things in us is at work in them.  Oh, sure…they’re annoying sometimes.  But we love ’em anyway.

They’ll outgrow it.

A Challenge for Me…and for You

I was listening to an old podcast from Dallas Willard, and he referred to the importance of memorizing scripture…not just verses (although that’s helpful), but passages because there’s so much more to really chew on when you have the whole context in your head like a screenshot.

(BTW, until a year ago I had no idea what a screenshot was.  Apparently old dogs can learn new tricks.  Woof!)

So I found a passage that I think is pretty amazing (not that there’s much in scripture that isn’t when you start to get hold of it), and I’m challenging myself to memorize it in the month of June.  I will post a vlog of my recitation at the end of June so you can see if I reached my goal and hear how the passage has impacted me while I chew on it for four weeks.

Here’s my pick:  Colossians 3:1-17

(I’m going with NIV, but I had trouble picking between NIV and NASB. 

What’s your preference and why?)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wanna join me?

You can memorize, too, or you can tell me you’ll come back in a month to see if I have it down-pat.  Either way, you’ll be an encouragement to me…and I like encouragement!

Eeewww! Did I just actually do that?

Our weeping crab apple in the front bed…Fred doesn’t like it, but I think it’s beautiful.

Luke 6:43  For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. 44  For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. 45  The good man out of the goodtreasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.

I’ve been wrestling with this one for a long time.  It’s one of those passages where half of the illustration makes immediate sense to me, but the other half is a lot harder to get a grasp on.

I get the bad-tree-does-not-produce-good-fruit part of it.

So even when something LOOKS like good fruit (eg: giving money to the poor, saying a kind word, working hard at a task) if it stems from an unredeemed heart, the motives are mixed, and it is without the presence of God (who IS goodness) it is not really good.  It’s pretty fruit on the outside with icky wormy-things inside it.

Gotcha; must-have-Jesus or this being-good-thing is a lost cause.

The other half is more confusing.  Jesus said, “no good tree…produces bad fruit.”

According to II Corinthians 5:17-18 –

17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ,he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ…

That means I’m a good tree.  Jesus is my Savior; He’s my Lord.  I’m a good tree because of His finished work on the cross.   I’m in Christ; I’m a new creature; my old nature with all its yuck has passed away; new good things from God have come to reign in my life.  All of this is from God — HE did it when He reconciled me to Himself through Christ.

So I’m a good tree.

But did you see that big ol’ selfish-fruit that ripened on my branch the other day?  U-u-u-gly!

How about the arrogance buds I found just yesterday?

WHERE is this stuff coming from?  I’m a GOOD tree, and NO good tree produces bad fruit.

Lately I’ve been looking at our gardens and watching my husband, Fred, do his landscaper-magic.  When spring began this year, our extensive beds were overgrown and messy after a mild winter.  Fred did most of the clean-up, but one Sunday afternoon he asked me to help him weed the beds out front so that we could talk.  (I’m not sure it was REALLY so we could talk….I think he just wanted me to pull some weeds.  But that’s another post.) 

I had to keep asking him which was the weed and which was the perennial so I wouldn’t pull out the wrong thing by the roots.  Many of our plants had junk snuggled up so intimately to them that I couldn’t tell what to pull and what to keep.

Maybe my answer to these verses is just that simple.

That selfishness didn’t come from me; I’m a good tree in Christ, and no good tree produces bad fruit.

That arrogance?  I didn’t grow that on my branches!  I’m a good tree because Jesus lives in me, and He does not produce arrogance.

So what’s growing so intimately close to me that it winds its way into my life in such subtle ways that I’m confused and think it’s actually Sabrina?  My heart is not producing selfishness because my heart was redeemed by Jesus.

But are old habits I’m still acting out perhaps causing selfishness to grow intimately close to the new creature He made me to be?

Am I talking to people who encourage selfish attitudes, and those conversations slip this stuff into my thoughts and attitudes?

What’s growing up in my daily schedule that is producing yucky fruit where there should be only beauty?

It’s not really ME producing it; the real ME is in Jesus.  But that’s not a simple excuse from responsibility; if the weeds are all grown in with the good tree, I need ’em gone.  They’re going to confuse everyone with their prolific production of yuck; every person I come in contact with is going to get yuck on them whether I meant for them to or not.

A confusing passage becomes a very simple litmus test in my mind today:

This thing I’m doing right now:  is it going to produce something yummy? 

This train of thought I’m taking:  is it going in the right direction?

What’s this thing I’m choosing to do right now going to produce?

Book Review: AJ Jacobs’ THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY

AJ Jacobs, editor-at-large for Esquire magazine, has an interesting approach to life. He uses his life as an experiment. He takes on various projects to see what effect they will have on him, then he writes about it. I imagine that his wife must be a tremendously flexible person.

His book The Know It All chronicled his decision to read every word of the encyclopedia… …all 44 million of ’em.

Here’s what Jacobs’ website says about The Year of Living Biblically:

The Year of Living Biblically answers the question: What if a modern-day American followed every single rule in the Bible as literally as possible. Not just the famous rules – the Ten Commandments and Love Thy Neighbor (though certainly those). But the hundreds of oft-ignored ones: don’t wear clothes of mixed fibers. Grow your beard. Stone adulterers. A.J. Jacobs’ experiment is surprising, informative, timely and funny. It is both irreverent and reverent. It seeks to discover what’s good in the Bible and what is maybe not so relevant to 21st century life. And it will make you see the Good Book with new eyes. Thou shalt not put it down.

I LOVED this book.

Can I just say that again, please?
I LOVED this book.

I was raised in a Christian home. I have always been very involved in evangelical Christian churches. I homeschooled my kids and have been an active part of a thriving Christian homeschool community. Now that my kids are mostly grown, I have had some pretty challenging conversations with them as they have moved into adulthood and encountered lots of folks who don’t see things from a Christian worldview. I’m in that season of life where the rubber meets the road. I trained ’em up in the way they should go; now I have to take my grubby little paws off of ’em and trust that God is as faithful as I’ve always said He is.

The Year of Living Biblically was recommended to me by my son-in-law, Casey. Here are a few reasons why I got such a kick out of this book:

* It gave me a fresh look at the Bible. I got to see it through the eyes of someone who hadn’t ever read it before, who doesn’t believe that it is bedrock truth, and who is trying to figure out whether or not God is even real. It took me out of my bubble and reminded me of the millions of people who are intelligent, searching for truth, and hungering for the things of God, whether they can articulate it that way or not.

* It gave me a lot of chuckles. Jacobs is a very witty writer. He treated his experiment with great respect and also a sense of humor. Sometimes we take ourselves awfully seriously as Christians. The Year of Living Biblically reminded me that some of the stuff I understand and know to be true SOUNDS absolutely wacky, and it’s okay to chuckle about it. It will help me have more grace and compassion toward others.

* It renewed my awe for the complexity of the mind of God. If I thought I had the Bible all figured out (I didn’t really think that, but IF I thought that…) I wouldn’t any more. God’s plan is mind-bogglingly complex. I’m more thankful than ever that He is God and I am not; I would make a royal mess of things if I were in charge.

* It showed me one more way in which the Word of God changes hearts. Jacobs was still undecided at the end of his year of living Biblically. But he had clearly been changed in myriad ways by his obedience to the Bible, even though it was obedience without understanding. If God can impact an agnostic this mightily with His Word, how much more can He do with it in my heart and life?

//

Faithfulness – Verses for praying frutifully

Like the verses on goodness in the Bible, most of the verses about faithfulness are speaking about God’s amazing faithfulness.  News flash:  He is dwelling in all followers of Jesus Christ by His Spirit, so that means His faithfulness is our faithfulness as well!

Faithfulness is not the same thing as stubbornness, determination, perseverance, even though we often play it out that way.  Being faithful means firmly sticking to a person, an idea, a cause, a community.  It means more than carrying out the duties you have to carry out or cause a stink; it means a HEART-level commitment.  It’s more than just not cheating on your spouse; it’s choosing moment-by-moment to love your spouse, to honor him, to desire good things in his life.  It’s more than just doing your job at work; it’s choosing over and over to prayerfully find smart ways to do your work while encouraging those around you, working for God instead of just the boss who signs your paycheck.

That’s why we need the faithfulness of our God to grow the fruit of faithfulness in our hearts….and from there it can spread into the rest of life as something wonderful!

Here are some verses I love about faithfulness (are you writing these down and meditating on ’em?):

Psalm 57:3  He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me — God sends forth His love and His faithfulness.

I can pray it like this:

God, You have never let me slip out of Your loving hands.  You reach out over and over the moment I am in danger of being overwhelmed; You never let me crash and burn.  I want that in my relationship with _________.  I want to be tuned in to Your good plans for her so that I will be actively SENDING FORTH my love in action and word and attitude.  I want to be praying like I mean it for Your good work in her life.  I want to have a heart that’s ready to respond the moment I hear that she needs something from me.  Thank You for being faithful, and for making me faithful like You.

I wouldn’t be faithful to my blogging mission if I didn’t give you some more verses, so here ya go!

Psalm 85:10  Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Psalm 86:15  But You, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Psalm 115:1  Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness.  (That’s a really easy one to pray, huh? It’s pre-formatted!)

Proverbs 3:3  Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.

Proverbs 20:28  Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure.

III John 1:3  It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it.

 

Goodness – Verses for praying fruitfully

Here are some verses about the goodness of God.  It’s so cool to remind myself that He is God, He is good and He loves me.  He has placed His Spirit in me to make me over, to make me into the likeness of Christ.  To make me full of goodness, just like He is!

Psalm 116:12 What shall I return to the Lord for all His goodness to me?

I can pray it like this:

Lord, what can I give you in return for all Your goodness to me?  Nothing….I got nothing!  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I do have my will, my choice.  So I choose You and Your presence in my life.  I want the goodness that is YOU to fill up my life. 

Not GOOD enough?  Here are some more!

II Peter 1:5   Make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness knowledge.

Psalm 16:2   I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord.  Apart from You I have no good thing.”

Psalm 27:13   I remain confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Psalm 37:3   Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Psalm 112:5   Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.

Psalm 133:1   How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!

 

Oh My Goodness! Where did THAT come from?

Watermelon pic courtesy of Nathaniel Heil

Some of the fruit of the Spirit shows up all over the Bible in commands and instruction to us.  “Goodness” is one of those that we are told is going to grow out of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, but when we go looking for other verses throughout the Bible that have the word “goodness” in them they all seem to be talking about God. 

Isn’t that the point of the fruit of the Spirit, though? 

This stuff – all of it: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – every bit of it comes from THE SPIRIT OF GOD dwelling in us and producing what is eternal.  When we try to get some love-production under-way in our lives, we don’t really end up with anything that lasts.  Maybe some good feelings are generated for a bit, but when they are tapped out we have nothing solidly loving left to offer.  When we face a hard situation and try to look on the bright side, put on a happy face, and focus on the positive, no real joy is forthcoming.  A little denial, a little perspective improvement, but joy?  Nada!

The more I study the fruit of the Spirit, and the more I meditate on scriptures about it, the more I see how FRUITLESS my own attempts at producing it are!  (Sorry…I couldn’t resist.  I need more SELF-CONTROL apparently.)

So how does meditating on verses about peace produce more peace in my life where other efforts fall short?  That’s the crazy, only-God-could-have-come-up-with-this part of it all.  It just DOES.  It doesn’t make sense except that God’s word does stuff to me…to my heart and mind, and from that the changes flow into my actions and attitudes.

Do I understand how and why a sunny day lifts my spirits?  Nope.  I can read articles about stimulating the visual cortex, about serotonin production, about vitamin D deficiencies, but in the long run isn’t it easier to just try sitting on my patio for a bit and feeling the warmth on my face?  I either feel better after a little sunshine or I don’t.  The results will be obvious.

I don’t understand how God’s word is alive.  I have read some very intelligent stuff that tries to explain the effect of meditating on the word of God for a true change from the inside out.  But I don’t really get any answers that satisfy until I simply try it.  And when I do, when I go over these verses of truth again and again, I start to notice love showing up in actions toward folks I find difficult.  I am not thrown into despair when something goes amiss; could it be a deep sense of joy in spite of the sorrow?  I may be blindsided by something tough, but somehow I’m able to peacefully move through it.

Sunshine on my face.

God’s word in my mind. 

Chewing on His truth until it soaks down into my heart.

Where HE causes fruit to grow.

Kindness – Verses for praying fruitfully

Here are some verses to pray when you aren’t feeling kind, but you know that kindness is God’s plan for you anyway.

(berry pic courtesy of my groovy niece Hannah Joy)

Jeremiah 9:24   “Let the one who boasts boast about this:  that they have the understanding to know Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.

I can pray it like this:

I don’t know much, Lord, but I know this:  You are God almighty and You exercise kindness.  Being kind is something You intentionally DO toward us.  You delight in doing kind things for us.  I need to be like You.  I’m not feeling it right now, but I’m asking You to enable me to exercise kindness toward _____________ regardless of how I feel.  I want to delight you with my kindness toward others.

Would you like a few more?  I keep a little notebook in my pocketbook with these verses written in it, so I can pray fruitfully when I’m going through my daily chaos routine.  🙂

Colossians 3:12   Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Psalm 138:6   Though the Lord is exalted, He looks kindly on the lowly.

Ephesians 4:32   Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

II Timothy 2:24   The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

 

Patience – Verses for praying fruitfully

Here are some verses I go to when I find I am lacking in patience….which is pretty much all day long every day!

(apple pic courtesy of my niece Hannah Joy)

Proverbs 19:11  A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is one’s glory to overlook an offence.

I can pray it like this:

According to Your word, Lord, I am wise enough to overlook this.  You have given me wisdom and the mind of Christ, and the patience that comes from that is going to guide this situation. 

I am choosing to overlook the thing that he just did because I am wise enough to know it only makes a mess of things if I don’t.  I am choosing to wait, to see how You will work all of this out in Your time rather than adding to this mess by reacting.

In case you aren’t always patient (ahem!), here are some more verses that you can jot down to keep handy for tough situations that require waiting on God to move instead of tromping in under your own disastrous strength.

Ecclesiastes 7:8-9  The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.  Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.

Colossians 1:11   (We pray for you to be) strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and paitence.

II Timothy 4:2   Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and careful instruction.

James 5:7   Be patient then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.

I Thessalonians 5:14   Warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.