christian living

Review: Whisper by Mark Batterson

9780735291089Often claiming to hear the voice of God is to admit you’re bat crazy. So even when we have such an experience, we often keep it to ourselves rather than make a public announcement.

Whisper unfortunately does not deny that looking crazy is one of the outcomes of a lifestyle in communion with God:

Faith is the willingness to look foolish. Noah looked a little crazy building a boat. Sarah looked a little crazy shopping for maternity clothes at age ninety.  The wise men looked a little crazy following a star to Timbuktu. Peter looked a little crazy getting out of a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. If you aren’t willing to look a little crazy, you’re crazy. And when it’s the will of God, crazy turns into crazy awesome (p. 101)!

Using personal stories, anecdotes, and biblical truth Mark Batterson builds a strong defense for the connection between God and us that grows through communication and intimacy. And key to this relationship is the “voice” of God that intervenes into our lives, leading us into God’s will.

Batterson emphasizes that God’s “voice” does not necessarily manifest itself in thunder or audible words like it did for Moses on Sinai. Instead when we open our minds, our hearts, and our senses we can “hear” Him speak to us in seven love languages: through Scripture, desires, doors, dreams, people, promptings, and pain. In his exposition of each love language, Batterson brings to it his pastoral perspective. For example, about God speaking through doors, he goes beyond the usual “when one door closes, another opens.”

God closes doors to protect us.
God closes doors to redirect us.
God closes doors to keep us from less than His best (p.107)

And about pain:

. . . pleasures turn into pain when we misuse and abuse them, but make no mistake, every pleasure in its purest form is a gift from God. Yes, we can turn them into sinful pursuits when we try to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. But pleasure is a gift from God nonetheless. He whispers through those pleasures, and we should give thanks for them. But we better pay close attention to pain too. . . .

Nothing gets our full attention like pain, It breaks down false idols and purifies false motives. It reveals where we need to heal, where we need to grow. It refocuses priorities like nothing else (pp. 172–173).

While I loved the way Batterson dissects God’s voice and presents it as a tangible tool for the Christian life, I was a bit weary of the many anecdotal references.  I would have preferred less of them and more biblical insight and support for the excellent points He makes.

He also retells stories from his other books, and this too I could have done without–but then, I understand how first-time readers of Batterson would need these stories as context for the content of this book. This was not a big deal–I just speed read through those parts

The above two observations are pretty minor. Batterson’s writing and his passion for Christ, as always, rises above these and all else.

Responding to God’s voice, gentle promptings, strong presence, and undeniable assurances are all testimonies of who He is and who we are in Him. This book confronts and challenges the reader to not only listen for God’s voice but to respond to His calling—to understand Him and to live in His will.

Go here for more about Mark Batterson and his other books.

For the record, I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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head to heart

I started re-reading the book of Daniel today. Here’s the lesson I learned from the first two chapters and King Nebuchadnezzar.

letting problems take a backseat

I was there to listen to Bruce sing again in the quartet for the first time in three years. To compensate for the loss of salivary glands, he took long sips of water between songs. And on one of his water breaks, he shared his testimony. He began, “Three years ago I got the blessing of cancer.” (Read the rest here.)

the golden rule: setting a trend of gracious living

Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. Matthew 7:12, King James Version.

If yours was a church-going family, you probably memorized this verse about the same time you learned to speak. And if you’re family was hardcore, you probably used the King James version, like did. I love it in the KJV—-It’s the most poetic mission statement a Christian could have.

While this text is arguably the foundation of Christian living, the understanding and application of it are often limited. it is often regarded as merely an ethics of reciprocity, an obvious, rule of thumb to good living—-If you don’t want to be punched in the face, then don’t go punching people in the face, if you like to be forgiven when you mess up, then you forgive those who have, if you want respect, show respect. That sort of living. And, of course, this world would be a much better place if all of us, always, lived by this rule.

But there’s nothing intrinsically Christian or Christ-like about this kind of living. You’ll find this call to considerate living in other religions too. Buddhism says, Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. Confucianism, Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you. Hinduism, Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. You can find many more.

So what makes Matthew 7:12 uniquely a message from Jesus? It’s in the positive spin that Jesus puts on it. While others tell us “Don’t do what you don’t what others to do,” Jesus takes it a step farther and says “Do what you want others to do.” Jesus is saying that it is not enough to refrain from rude, inconsiderate or harmful behavior. He tells us to do good simply because it’s the godly way of living. When He tells us to do what we want other to do, Jesus challenges us to be proactive in our relationships. Even when there is no reason to do good, do good. Give others the preferred treatment you’d like to get for yourself, and do this not because you’ve got something to gain or because you’re making amends; do it to set a trend of gracious Christian living. Be an active agent is making your world a better place.

The Message states it well: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. “Grab the initiative”–That’s what Jesus is talking about. It’s not enough to sit back and not be a jerk. We need to get out there and look for opportunities to be Christian.

Jesus among other gods

In the end I leave Jesus among other gods.

Having done so, I feel like a traitor, betraying who I really am.

Inside out, through and through, I am a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. You know the forms that ask for details about yourself—height, weight, race? There needs to be a place for me to simply check off “SDA.” That would better describe me than my skin color or ethnic origin. To be honest, I am a biased, prejudiced Christian who has a difficult time making allowances for anything remotely different.

I’m at the corner of a crowded street, waiting for my ride. A man comes up to me. His typical, curious Nepali nature compensates for his deficiency in English. Soon he’s asking me questions about the pimple on my face, Bush and Iraq, and even about my married life. I’ve done this before so I take it all in stride—Intrusive as the questions may be, every step of invasion into my privacy leads closer to my soapbox. Throwing him the bait, I begin reeling him in. Sure enough, the conversation swerves to religion. And I give him the “my-way-is-better” spiel.

Why only one God? He asks.  Before I can respond, he lists the benefits of having more: There’s power in number.  It’s more versatile. You have a choice. Each god has a specialty (Kali for vengeance, Laxmi for wealth, Ganesh for success, Parvati for power)

I try other angles. Grace. State of the dead. Eternal life. The Cross. We go back and forth. Obviously he’s not impressed by Christianity.  And for an unusual Nepali moment, there’s awkward silence.

One god, only! He exclaims with sympathetic head wagging. I’m indignant now. The conversation has gone far beyond a friendly discussion. I’m offended by his sympathy. The car arrives. And just before I get in, I tell my new friend in my best smug, Christian tone, I don’t need more than one God–because my God is an all-purpose God!

A few months later I run into my new friend. Excitedly he waves and shouts Good news. Good news. Jesus now is in my house! He proceeds to give details. I am thinking I need all-purpose God. So Jesus I have put right in the middle of my other gods. So I am doing puja (worship rituals) to Jesus also every morning. Before I can respond, he says he’s in a hurry and leaves.

I am shocked by the man’s grave and sacrilegious felony. I am disturbed by mental images of Jesus in a pagan home. Is Jesus in the form of an idol or a painting? Does Jesus now sport a red, rice flour and yoghurt tikka on His forehead, and a marigold lei around His neck?  Pictures of Jesus at the breakfast table with my friend and his gods haunt me. Nightmares of me leading lambs astray keep me up at night.

The verdict is in: I have single-handedly put Jesus in the slammer with other gods. How do I make it right? Maybe I’ll run into the man again and I’ll have a chance to bring Christian clarity into his life. But then, maybe I will never see him again.

Where it is illegal to proselytize, evangelism cannot be neatly packaged into 12, easy-to-understand lessons or long Bible studies over hot cocoa. Usually you have only one, five-minute opportunity to share Jesus. You either use it or blow it.

I, the Christian, squirm at what I’ve done. But, now and then, when the guilt wears thin,  I say to myself: I did the best I could.  After all, isn’t witnessing about sharing Jesus with whomever whenever you can—and the convincing and conviction the work of the Spirit? It’s not like Jesus is throwing His hands up in the air and saying, “Look what Fylvia’s done! How am I going to get out of this mess?” My Jesus can take care of Himself. My Jesus will defeat the other zillion gods and rise victorious. My Jesus will show the man that ONE all-purpose God is ALL he needs. Right?

After all, isn’t Jesus among other gods better than no Jesus at all? I remain confused. My biased Christianity continues to have trouble making room for any thing but.

With those thoughts I leave Jesus among other gods.

taking out the trash

The bulging files of yellowed, mildewed papers screamed for archival. So I sat to sift and sort through stuff that went back more than 15 years. The more I sorted, the more disgusted I became. Not with the dust and mildew, but with the trash I found.

Resham and his wife Jumuna have been working at Scheer about 15 years. We may have the truth. Ours may be the better way. But it didn’t really make a difference to them, or to the 145 other Hindu employees. It didn’t make a difference because Jesus was buried beneath our trash.

Trash littered the files: letters of slander, memos of self-righteous finger pointing, proof of polarity among workers. One document, secretly coded “purge,” was a petition, in the most unchristian verbiage, from one faction of SDA employees to terminate another faction of SDA employees. Over the years so much was added to the pile of trash that rumors evolved into truths. Some wafted our way even before we left for Nepal.

“There’s been a history of feuds,” informed a church leader, speaking of the strained relationship between ADRA and Scheer Memorial Hospital. So from afar we placed the ADRA director and his wife under the microscope, watching their every move, dissecting every insinuation behind every word. But found nothing. Slowly, we edged towards their open friendliness and were surprised to discover genuine Christianity.

“She’s always looking for trouble,” warned another describing the woman identified as the primary instigator of trouble. Our first meal in Nepal was in the home of the instigator. The whole time we were fidgety and nervous. Surprisingly she was wonderful—and without a pitchfork or horns.

We were told: “You’re new. Give yourself two years and you’ll be right where the rest of us are.” Not a very encouraging prediction—especially at the beginning of what seemed like a very long six-year term. This was “the Siberia for errant missionaries,” pointed a frustrated missionary on the way out.

Life can be testing when the people you work with are the same that you worship with, socialize with, and from whom you live a mere coughing distance away. Add to that, differences in personality, working styles, culture, and priorities!

“Something’s got to change. I don’t want us to end up fighting with everyone. Neither do I want to give up and leave in two years,” I said to Roy, frustrated and not really expecting a profound response. But he gave me one anyway: “Everyone needs to realize that no one is indispensable. Only God is indispensable.” Somewhere along the way, God’s role was minimized and self had taken priority.

While the hospital had a good name, Adventism within its walls was one of contradictions. Our lives did not reflect our beliefs. It was like Christian brotherhood had upped and left. Power struggles and self-interest had taken priority and it had become almost impossible for people to work together

By presenting a picture of strife, we had lost at least 147 opportunities to witness. An Adventist Hospital in which more than 97% of the employees are Hindu, the front door to evangelism has to be our lifestyle. What people see peeking into our lives is what will bring them in or turn them away.  At Scheer it had been a long time since anyone wanted to come in for a better look.

We needed a good spiritual cleansing. Some left, some stayed on. New families joined us. Maybe it was a better mix of personalities, maybe it was the stirring of the Spirit. Maybe it was a mixture of the two, but together we cleaned up our act. Could we end up back at square one? Perhaps. But for now we are where every Adventist community should be – focused on living for God and not for ourselves.

The Kline family has successfully crossed the two-year mark.* Other families are also here for the long haul. ADRA and Scheer are working side by side. Now when people take a peek, they see something worth having.

The trash has been taken out. And Jesus is being seen. After all these years, Resham and Jamuna joined the pastor’s Bible Study group this year. So have three others.

*This was published in 2003

sometimes life’s better than a fairy tale

I felt so alone that September morning, sitting under the big oak tree behind my Aunt and Uncle’s home. A pool of tears blotted out the “apartments for rent” in the Sunday paper. The remaining tears clogged my heart. Several months earlier I had moved to the United States with my toddler son to join my husband only to find that he had a new life–one with no room for us.

I had a low-paying job and no home, no car, no furniture, no savings, no child support. My budget for an apartment was $350, and apartments for that price were in the wrong neighborhood. I had been searching for several weeks now. What was I to do? And then I saw the only ad not drenched by tears: “Privately-owned condo rented out by a real estate agent.” The description was too good to be true but my uncle and I thought we’d check it out anyway since it was so close to their home.

The driveway was flanked by well-manicured lawns. A clean playground circled by a bed of buttercups sat off to the side. The security-locked doorway opened into a beautiful foyer. As my shoes sunk into the carpet, I began to guess the rent. The shiny, clean elevator that took us to the second floor and the softly lit, floral scented hallway lead us to #203. The large air-conditioned apartment with floor to ceiling windows and new appliances quickly doubled my estimate. We were ready to leave without even asking the price, but the agent began to tell us of the history of the apartment. So we politely listened: The condominium belonged to an African prince. He used it on business trips to the United States. But business didn’t bring him here as often. The condominium was paid for and he just wanted enough to pay the real estate agency their service fee. So, the rent was just $350.00!

Jez and I moved in the following Sunday. Two suitcases of clothes, a metal chair, a single bed, two plates, a skillet, 2 forks, a knife and a spoon. But it was home—clean and safe. And the story of the African prince was just the beginning of more that spoke of God’s love for us.