C.S. Lewis: Five Books that Changed My Life

Of the Inklings, C.S. Lewis has had the greatest impact on generations of Christian scholars. Inside of the Torrey leadership, I would guess he is the author with the greatest shared impact on all of us.

He certainly changed my life. I am a Christian in great part because of the role his works had in shaping my imagination. I am the kind of Christian I am, because Lewis wrote and lived as he did.

There is no moment I can remember when Lewis has not been one of my primary literary guides. As a child my basement room had a map of Narnia carefully rolled out on a table in the middle of my work space. My first club formed with my brother and a dear cousin attempted a unification of Narnia with all our other favorite writers. We played at Narnia . . . hard enough to scar ourselves with metal swords carefully constructed out of scrap metal.

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Fruitfulness

I want to be involved in everything. I have a chronic yes-problem.

It's a good trait for a freelance writer to have. I wrote and edited for free for a few years, and it paid off in the end - now I rarely work for free.

On the other hand, it can be deadly. I see new and exciting ventures and I want to get involved. I want to help creative people get their organizational act together so they can do their best work. New ideas and people with grand plans excite me.

But the fact is, I'm usually flying by the seat of my pants. I have about five editors who I juggle (the fun work), I'm a part-time graduate student (the challenging and stimulating part), and lest I get my head too far into the clouds, I have a day job (the bill-paying part). With keeping my husband fed and the apartment clean, my hands are pretty full. (Though most of the time, I remember that the woman in Proverbs 31 "looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness". Having a lot to do isn't necessarily a bad thing - as long as I have a Sabbath!)

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Tags | Belief

Ger Video




Kim made a brief video from two separate visits to two of our friends' gers out in the Ger District. We weren't together when we made them so we couldn't be as thorough in the planning of them but hopefully they show you something you've never seen before and give you a little more of an idea of what its like out here. If nothing else, you'll appreciate the wind.

If this one doesn't work you can see it on YouTube here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Csh2tZZ_5FE

More videos to come!

Nick

New Words and New Photos

Sorry for the lack of updates recently.  Most of my free time has been going to reading since I’ve been getting so little of it.  On top of that, the internet has been out in our entire city for the past two weeks.  Anyone who knows me - and an old nickname of mine, "Captain In-Touch" - has an idea of what that's done to my anxiety level.

We have brought new life into our Soviet-bloc apartment in the form of a turtle we’ve named Luther.  He’s about the size of my palm and spends most of the day holding his breath and sleeping.  When he does decide to get mobile he “swims” hitting his head on the glass trying to chase his reflection or swim into the picture of a river Kim put behind the aquarium.  We’re thinking about getting him a buddy to hold his breath with.

I almost saw my first live birth last week.  I was walking around the hospital with the nurses having them point to things and ask me, “What is this in English” so I could give them more vocabulary words.  We walked to each of their wings in the hospital and when it came time to go to Bayarhuu’s wing I was hurried into a back room and the nurses went to work throwing clean surgery clothes on me.  Within a minute I had on a brown cape-like thing that tied around my neck but covered my whole body, a white mesh hat, and brown shoe-covers.  I looked slightly medieval-Italian and completely ridiculous.  Then they took me to the small closet of a room next door where there was a TV showing a woman in labor and then one of them yelled, “Baby coming!  We go!”.  We rushed down the hall and as they opened the doors to the delivery room I thought, “Do I really want the first baby I see born to be someone else’s?”  I was suddenly hit with immense fear of not only having to see that, but of having to explain it to Kim.

“You see, honey, I got pushed into the delivery room.  Everyone else was doing it!”

Anyway, the good news is that the delivery room they took me into was empty and I was spared the awkwardness of being the only male and American in the room of a Mongolian in labor.  Interestingly though, they have surveillance cameras in all of the rooms so that the families can watch from the waiting room.

Teaching English has been more than humbling.  It’s a pretty good confidence check when you’re forced into near desperation while teaching your native language.  I feel like God is using it to kind of say to me, “Oh, you want to be a teacher huh?  A pastor?  Let’s see how you do when you have to teach a room full of foreigners the most basic elements of the language you’ve been speaking for 27 years.”  Yup, it’s a daily exercise and reminder of who I need to rely on; God and not myself.

The nurses have taken it upon themselves to teach me a little Mongolian in return so we end up speaking Mongolish, which is a lot like Spanglish only it sounds like it can kill you….since Mongolian generally sounds like you’re always angry and cursing.  I’m excited to bring some back to the States!

As far as weather, the fun cycle of the seasons here is as follows.

Winter: it’s so cold that everything dies.  Flies drop dead out of the air and the only thing on the ground are rocks, dirt, and cement.
Spring: After everything is effectively killed, the winds come flying out of the west and north.  Seeing as how most of Mongolia is a plain and there are very few trees or hills to get in the wind’s way, it picks up the dirt and blows it…really hard.  Everything gets covered in a fine layer of brown dust.

Summer: Since there’s no body of water to stabilize the temperatures (wow do I miss the Pacific Ocean) the winters are well below freezing – to the point that it has to warm up in order to snow – and the summers run to the other end of the spectrum and hover around the 90s and 100s.  The good news is that apparently there’s a chance of rain every day so I’m looking forward to that; and hopefully a little thunder and lightening.

Fall: I think fall lasts for two weeks in September.

I started reading the Bible in Genesis when we got here and am now up to 2 Kings.  If you’ve never read the Bible from front to back, it’s been a great experience and one that’s helped me grow a lot.  Kim and I have also started memorizing Bible verses together over breakfast which has also been deeply rewarding.  Do you ever feel like there’s not enough time in the day?  I do.

There is a girl in my class at the YWAM base that recently got engaged and Kim and I volunteered to do the photography for her wedding.  Kim brought her nice camera so she’ll do the formal, posed, and group shots and I’ll do the candid shots with my little point-and-shoot.  The Mongolian church does something kind of cool.  When two people in the church start dating, they have to go up in front of the church as a declaration of their relationship so that the congregation can help hold them accountable as a couple.  It adds a weight and responsibility to dating over here that we don’t have back home.  I should be clear that it’s not a cultural thing, its something unique to the church.

Speaking of cultural.  Another thing I’ve learned is how secular Buddhism is.  It’s a lot like Catholicism in the States.  The vast majority of people who consider themselves Buddhist here don’t go to temple and don’t practice the faith much more than hanging a picture of the Dalai Lama up in their house.  It’s also been interesting to recently read about the rise of militant Buddhists.  For some reason with the way Buddhism is described back home, with this almost protected spiritual-ness to it, I imagined Buddhists being more devout.  Nope, it turns out Buddhism prone to the same corruption, manipulation, and cultural passivity as any other belief system.  For example, if something is wrong in your life you can go to the temple and tell a monk about it.  He will give you a list of the prayer books he’ll need to read or recite for you which you then take to the cashier and pay the amount according to each prayer.  You then take the receipt to the monk and he then says the prayers for you.  When you want a name for your baby, you pay the monk.  When someone is sick, you pay the monk.  If someone has died and you want the monks to give them a proper Buddhist burial, you pay them a much larger amount.  It’s like a spiritual vending machine.  

I’m close to finishing The Living Church by John Stott and am still working my way through both Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament by Wright and The Bondage of the Will by Luther, and I’d highly recommend all three.  Stott’s book is a look at the defining, Biblical attributes of a church; such as preaching the word, worship, evangelism, and practicing generosity.  That might sound a little superficial at first but Stott’s a world-class theologian and he looks at each of the characteristics from a Biblical standpoint and from a current cultural standpoint.  I found it clarifying and encouraging.

Wright’s book is an academic look at how the Old Testament tells the stories and contains the promises which Jesus came to fulfill.  It starts with an overview of the OT story and then goes into an excellent breakdown of the individual covenants in the OT.  I’m in the third section about Jesus’ OT identity; meaning how, since Jesus was a Jew he found his identity in the Scriptures.  The following sections are on Jesus’ and His OT Mission (as the Messiah), and then on his OT values.  I would recommend this book for any Christian who rarely wanders out of the New Testament.

Lastly, The Bondage of the Will has been what I get to read in my free, free time.  It’s more of a reward than priority at the moment since I want to get through Wright’s book first.  I say “reward” because it actually really is.  The only Luther I’ve ever read are his necessary but excruciatingly dry catechisms in school.  I’m pretty sure I laugh out loud at least once every time I read the Bondage of the Will.  It’s a difficult read in that it’s translated from 1500’s German and deals with a pretty dense topic, free will, but at the same time its fun to read because its written in the form of a debate.  Luther was responding to Erasmus’ Diatribe on free will and he pulls no punches, in fact I think he looks to take them, in this book.

The language aside, the theological content of the book is timely and, I think, foundational for Christians to grasp; our will is bound to sin and God’s will is free.  We are slaves to sin and apart from God can do nothing else.  Everything, from our salvation to our faith to our ability to repent to any good deed we might do, they are all gifts and the work of a free God.  We cannot merit any part of our salvation and can only continually rely on God’s grace.  I know that sounds as familiar as John 3:16 to most Christians but its interesting the subtle ways a works-based righteousness can creep its way into not only the theologies of our churches but in our hearts and minds, especially when justification and sanctification are confused.

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Compassion Forum and the Gender Gap

How amazing to see Democratic candidates Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama speaking frankly about faith at Messiah College’s “Compassion Forum.” What an encouraging contrast to the awkward, arms length approach to religion adopted by Al Gore and John Kerry. Both Clinton and Obama are different kinds of Democrats. John McCain’s absence also suggests how uncomfortably he may be talking about faith in personal terms. What a topsy turvy election season! Of course, much of the electorate may be disturbed that such frank religious expressions are associated with any campaign for the American presidency. Our fervant mix of faith and politics remains rather exceptional in the industrialized world.

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"... As We Forgive Those Who Sin Against Us."

There's a tiny little restaurant in our town that my boys love to frequent. Best chapatis by miles. Good stew. Nice people. Great chai. It sits on a busy corner in the market part of town. The atmosphere is... well, basic. The price is just right.

The food is very clean at this place as it's a Muslim establishment so everything is carefully prepared by halal standards. I am keenly aware of the fact that I am usually the only woman eating in the small, crowded room of robed men. My husband and I stand out rather dramatically and I am careful that my knees don't show when we are in there.

Last Saturday, as we ate there, I was dipping a handful of chapati into my stew when my phone alarm went off. My phone rings at noon most days of the week to remind me to pause and whisper the Lord's Prayer. It's a small act I do to center my heart and focus my priorities, calm my harried self and join hands with a growing number of others around the globe who do the same.

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Tags | Global

Unveiled Faces


I’m currently reading The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard’s sprawling, profound book on The Sermon on the Mount. I just came across these paragraphs:

Interestingly, “growing up” is largely a matter of learning to hide our spirit behind our face, eyes, and language so that we can evade and manage others to achieve what we want and avoid what we fear. By contrast, the child’s face is a constant epiphany because it doesn’t yet know how to do this. It cannot manage its face. This is also true of adults in moments of great feeling—which is one reason why feeling is both greatly treasured and greatly feared.
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Becoming Jane: Culture and Passion in Tension

One of the advantages to living in a situation where there are no culturally accepted rules for how to engage in the opposite sex is that, well, you get to do whatever you want to do with very little interference.

Of course, it hasn’t always been that way.

I watched Becoming Jane this weekend with my wife. Have you seen it? It’s the story of how Jane Austen became Jane Austen, the writer of some of the world’s greatest and most enduring romances.

As an aside, guys, if you really want to impress your girlfriends, read Pride and Prejudice and talk about how great Mr. Darcy is and how much you want to be like him. Seriously. It will go well for you.

If you haven’t seen the film, it’s a pretty straightforward plot: Jane, whose family is very poor, has a chance to marry a very wealthy man for whom she has no affection.

The Blind Man and the Elephant

It seems that it is not as easy as it once was to speak about all religions as if they are the exact same thing just dressed in different clothing for different people groups at different times in history. With the continuing high profile of Islamic terror activities, stark contrasts are being presented between Islam and the other world religions. Islam is not the same as Buddhism, and Buddhism is not the same as Christianity, and so on. It is very unlikely that all of them are leading to heaven, God, or nirvana. This is much easier to grasp than it used to be.
I remember learning a very old and famous fable in grade school as the teacher tried to demonstrate that all the religions are really, underneath the surface, one and the same. You’ve probably heard it at one point or another and it goes like this.
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Hello Dali... and where do you belong?

I'm sitting in the airport, getting ready to board the flight to Great Falls so that I can teach I Corinthians this week in a Bible School there. Meanwhile, the Dali Lama will continue his teaching/preaching tour of Seattle, finding record turnouts everywhere he goes.

What I find intriguing is the response I've receive, via e-mail, from various members of the Christian community. To my right is an e-mail vilifying the Dali, warning me sand mandalas are thinly veiled disguises for labyrinths, which are thinly veiled disguises for eastern monism, which is a thinly veiled disguise for Satan himself. Ergo: sand art = Satan. To my left are friends praising the Dali Lama's teaching as "precisely the right word for our time." If you want to know what he said in Seattle yesterday, you can find that here.
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