Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Last Nights in England

“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.”  — Bill Bryson

Here’s a snapshot (or 20) of a few final stops in England.  Winding up our weekend in the Cotswolds, we headed to Leicester, where Michael had 4 days of induction meetings (for his PhD in Early Modern History).  His professor, Dr. John Coffey, was exceedingly generous with time and attention, introducing us around and even bringing us home for supper.  We also spent a full day in Kettering and Olney with Marylynn Rouse, who has spent years volunteering to transcribe John Newton’s correspondence and personal documents.  She gave us the whole tour (and fed us twice!)

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Conclusion:  The world is chock-a-block with wonders.  Getting out of our routine once in a while gives us fresh eyes to see them.  Note to self — if given the opportunity, go back!

Sketches of England

Well, this isn’t all.   Not by a long shot!  But it’s week one, for what it’s worth.  Doesn’t show Michael’s HOURS in the library photographing 250-year-old letters, doesn’t show lots of the beauty.  But for those who wonder what we’ve been doing all week, or those who want to plan a trip to Oxford or to Wales… here are some highlights!

itinerary

The GlobeRenting a carOxford

The Kilns

more narnia paparazzi

Ashmolean

Gloucester

Hay On Wye

Somebody at Oxford

This morning I had a nice stroll through C.S. Lewis’ garden and this afternoon I oggled Jane Austen’s handwritten stories.  Really.  I am sitting in a café next to . . . who knows?  Professors, students, travelers like me, here from the four corners of the world, perched above a street that a hundred heroes have walked — Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkein, the martyrs Latimer and Ridley, the bonnie king of England.  Oxford seems a lucky place, but I suppose it’s much like anywhere else.  It is the birthplace (or the death place) of people great and grimy, whose ghosts, the tour guides promise, moan about the narrow streets at night.

I felt a little sheepish admitting on my tour of The Kilns this morning that not only was I happily paying out pounds to see Lewis’ home (we stood in the room where he died; a new tour guide perched on his bed to take notes as we listened) — but I had in fact visited another Lewis shrine at Wheaton College earlier this year.  At what point am I truly a Narnia groupie?

Why are our favorite famous people so fascinating?

What makes some people extraordinary?

They say at every breath you inhale a little oxygen once breathed out by Julius Caesar, that everyone with European roots is related to Charlemagne.  That tattered and rat-eaten Magna Carta I saw in the building next door was reportedly signed by one of my husband’s ancestors, and probably, I imagine, by one of mine.  (Might even be the same person.  You know, if you go back a ways, every human being on the planet is related — 50th cousins, so they say.)  And yet some of those cousins beguile and bewitch us.  If you happen to bump into a famous Somebody at the airport, you’ll no doubt come home chirping about it to anyone who’ll listen (I’ve seen a few myself if you are dying to hear the stories).

In The Great Divorce (one of my favorites), Lewis writes about Napoleon pacing back and forth in hell, muttering about whose fault it was.  But while this man of importance and glory frets his eternity away, the narrator spots a woman in Heaven, radiant in splendor.

‘Is it?… is it?’ I whispered to my guide.

‘Not at all,’ said he.  ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of.  Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.’

‘She seems to be… well, a person of particular importance?’

‘Aye.  She is one of the great ones.  Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things…. already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.’

Hmm.  A life illuminated by joy.  That changes the equation, doesn’t it?  Who’s really special after all?

They say if everyone is special then no one really is.  Give trophies to all the Little Leaguers and none of them really shine.  All those helicopter moms doting on mediocrity… I agree, it’s gross.  But at least the pandering doesn’t last forever.  All that excess of praise peters out at some point as the little rascals grow out of their cuteness.  Unfortunately we don’t outgrow lavishing undeserved worship on lackluster performances, we just focus it on a few shiny people.  There’s no fairness in it — celebrities without a shred of talent, best-sellers without a speck of charm, truly wonderful people who are beloved one year and forgotten the next.  Maybe that quiet fellow behind me in line at the grocery store is the next C.S. Lewis, but I can’t peel my eyes away from People Magazine.

And what of C.S. Lewis?  The words that poured out of that man’s pen are some of the best things ever put to paper (he never typed, did you know that?  Always a fountain pen.  Said it helped him think.)  And yet the man had some serious quirks, some character flaws that would drive you crazy in a brother, or a friend.  I wonder as he wrote about Sarah Smith from Golders Green if he chuckled to think of the people lining up outside his driveway, shoving to get a glimpse.  In Heaven, he might have speculated, he’d be somewhere at the bottom of the heap.lewis-profound

Still, Lewis was a person who did what he did best with unbelievable skill, a person whose words inspire us all to do a little better.  That’s something.

The best and brightest students come here to Oxford, brilliant, dazzling in their accomplishments.  How proud their parents must be!  How proud would I?

How many out of all of them will outshine Sarah Smith of Golders Green?

In an upside-down Kingdom, the top-heavy world will topple (not may, or might, but will).  All that’s up top will tumble down, and all that’s on bottom will tumble up.  Maybe we should all teach our children not to strive for the top but to dive low.

In the words of our good friend Clive Staples Lewis, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.  Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.  If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

My favorite Somebody at Oxford has long since been overshadowed (and overjoyed) by a better Somebody.  Someday we’ll get to meet them both.

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The pond behind C.S. Lewis’ home — the pond between worlds?

Ordinary Work

It’s Labor Day.  Break out the cooler, splash some mud, kick back.  Summer slid by in a sticky blur — are you ready for fall?  Today we celebrate the end of vacation, gear up for another year of vocation.  We are back to work — ordinary, beautiful, work.

Today we play, tomorrow we ply our trades.  Remember when you dreamed of what you would be when you grew up?  And now you’re there — astronaut, detective, author, lawyer, president, ditch digger, teacher, missionary to the gypsies.  (That was my childhood list.  I’m two for seven.  You?)  Chances are you’ve never been to the moon or slept in the White House.  But do you still dream?

What will I be when I wake up?

A baker, frosting cupcakes for a friend; a singer, blasting the radio in my car; a nurse, patching up skinned knees with Band-aids and love; a counselor, asking good questions over coffee; a taxi driver, shuttling someone to the airport.

Ordinary work for a lifetime of ordinary, extraordinary days.

In our work, we create, we design, and we reflect our designer, creator God.  Every day stretches before us with untold opportunities to try new things or do old things in new ways.  Every day we can choose imagination over stagnation.  So often we don’t; we settle for stuck when we could soar.  We are like waddling geese when we could flap those wings a little and take flight.

In our work, we serve, reflecting the humble, sacrificial service of Christ.  Ordinary work becomes an avenue for extraordinary love.  We don’t give because we like parting with stuff, or serve because we have excessive time and energy.  We give because someone once gave to us — heaped up, pressed down, running over.  We are the re-gifters.

In our work, we shine, bringing light into forgotten corners of culture.  Into tense boardrooms, we bring peace, into stressed offices, we bring unexpected laughter.  With excellence we may make one perfect product, then another, then another, each a chip of mirror reflecting in its tiny way something far more valuable.

What will you be when you wake up?

I hope that we will be ordinary.  Each of us an ordinary, beautiful piece of the mosaic that would be missing something essential without our little part.

Happy Labor Day!

“And on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work.”  –Numbers 28:25

Photo via Visual Hunt

The Power of Like

Big Brother is watching you. That creepy idea has sparked movies, books, and conspiracy theories galore: someone, somewhere, knows what you like, whom you vote for, what you ate for breakfast. Marketing companies analyze your online habits and tailor-make ads to snare you, even varying the cost of potential products depending on your socio-economic status. “Like-farming” is a spammer’s delight. When companies can pinpoint a prospective customer’s vulnerable moments and pounce with confidence-boosting ad campaigns, or a candidate’s campaign can spin out fake news to lure new voters, we really have sunk to a new low…

Read the rest at godcenteredlife.org!

Perspective Podcast

Blessed to be a guest on Chris Arnzen’s “Iron Sharpens Iron” show this week!  Loved the opportunity to linger in conversation a while, and I hope it will give you some food for thought while you jog/do the dishes/drive a bus/bathe a dog.  (Does anyone do anything without multi-tasking any more?)    

64 Questions for Making Disciples

Our church has been focusing on the importance of building joyful, passionate disciples of Jesus.  The ladies were challenged at the If:Gathering to step up our discipleship relationships.  The whole congregation has walked through a “core commitments” sermon series focusing on… yep, discipleship.  And at our recent kick-off with the Calvary Family of Churches, we zoomed in on I Thessalonians 2:8, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”  You guessed it, discipleship.

Anyone who’s been around church for very long knows that term.  A “disciple” is a student, a scholar, the follower of some great teacher—in our case, Jesus.  We attach to ourselves His very name—CHRISTian.  We are “little Christs,” imitators of the most perfect God/man who ever lived.  We want to understand Him, to worship Him, to obey Him, to smell like Him.  And because we want to multiply, to see the Body of Christ explode around the world, we want to “disciple” others.  We want to replicate what we have learned, and teach others to likewise go out and make Him known.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy.  But what does it mean, to disciple someone?  What does it look like?  Is there a difference between discipling someone and mentoring them?  Between teaching and sharing “our own selves”?

A bunch of us spent a leisurely evening discussing discipleship last week over enchiladas, but as we wrapped up, I couldn’t help thinking that practically, we’re a little lacking.  We have enthusiasm, dedication, even, but we need a plan.

Having been on staff for a number of years with Cru, Michael and I received a wealth of discipleship training, so much that I take it for granted that others have been equipped the same way.  In fact, a lot of campus ministries do this exceedingly well—the Navigators are brilliant at it—but if you weren’t part of such a ministry, you may not have been systematically supplied with strategies for discipleship.  You could certainly fill a library with books designed to explain discipleship methods, but I want to put in your hands a simple, brief starting place for your next adventure in discipleship.

I’m not calling it a plan, a procedure, or a how-to manual.  It’s just a jumping-off point.  But it’s easy enough for anybody to take that first, tentative step.  And before you know it, you’re off to the races.

Aim:  To Be Like Christ  

Our whole goal in discipleship is to become more Christlike ourselves (that’s a lifetime pursuit, obviously), and to help the next guy do the same.  Since Jesus gave us a nifty rubric for loving God (the most important task of a disciple), we’re going to borrow it for our discipleship strategy.  Mark 12:29-31 says, “Jesus answered, ‘The most important is… you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  So I’m going to give you a three-prong approach modeled on Jesus’ words.

Method:  Heart (and Soul), Head, and Hands  

The challenge of discipleship is to help a person grow, step by step, closer to Christ:  knowing Him, leaning on Him, and acting like Him.  Step one is figuring out where a person is spiritually.  Sit down for a cuppa and begin by asking a ton of questions.  Listen.  Make sure, for starters, that the person has in fact responded in faith to Christ and can confidently say they have put their trust in Him.  If not, begin there.  If so, and if they are ready to dive in, you can come alongside, thoughtfully help them evaluate their walk with God, help them to shore up their weaknesses and “excel still more” in their strengths.  We want to help people move along the spectrum from nonbeliever to Christ-follower to joyful, passionate, multiplying disciple.

You’re going to need to meet regularly.  How often and for how long I can’t say.  But it’s kind of like coaching a sport:  without intentionality and effort, progress is going to be spotty at best.  Every time you get together, you’re going to ask questions.  A lot of questions.   Sometimes you’ll focus on their head—their knowledge of Jesus, since you cannot grow to be like someone whom you don’t know.  Those days you might spend time studying God’s word, leaning in with them to learn together.  Sometimes you will focus on heart—questions of intimacy, priority, and prayer.  Those days you might spend a chunk of time praying with your disciple, modeling by your own conversation with God what prayer can be.  And some days you will focus on hands—serving God side by side; if possible, bringing them along to join you in ways you’re already putting love in motion.

Did you notice?  While we might mentor someone through questions and conversation, when we get serious about discipleship, those conversations turn into action.

Here are three sets of questions to get you started.  It’s going to look like a lot, but think of it like a big box of Crayolas.  The more colors you have to choose from, the prettier picture you can draw.

Anytime you discover that there’s room to grow, pause there, and make suggestions.  (You’ve never read the Old Testament?  Here are some of my favorite parts.  Here’s a reading plan you could try.  How about if we both commit to reading Genesis this month?  Or, You’re struggling with bitterness?  What would forgiveness look like?  What’s a step you can take towards reconciliation?  How can I pray for you this week?) 

Don’t rush past a sticky spot without taking time to get un-stuck.  Try to always leave with an action step:  How will you work on X this week?

Ready?  Here we go.

1.  Heart and Soul:  Pray like crazy!  Discipler, pray for your disciple.  Ask for wisdom — where do they need to grow?  For that matter, where do you need to grow?  Does your disciple P.R.A.Y. (love a corny acronym!) in the following areas:

Praise: Do you have a thankful heart?  Are you active in corporate worship?  Do you stay alert for God-sightings?  Where have you seen God working today?  Would you say you are lukewarm, red hot, or stone cold?  What makes you fall in love with Jesus?  How can you give thanks in difficult circumstances?  Are you joyful?IMG_2029

Repent: Do you keep short accounts with God?  Are you aware of your pet sins?  Do you confess areas where you have stubbornly disobeyed?  What about the areas where you’ve simply had a bad attitude?  Do you often ask God to help you recognize temptation and flee from it?  How does it affect your relationship with God when you try to brush past sin?

Ask:  How do you press into Jesus in times of trouble?  Do you remember to stay alert and ask for protection?  Especially when you are discouraged, do you ask for perspective?  Do you bring your anxieties to God and ask Him to replace your fear with faith?  Do you pray for evangelism opportunities?  Do you keep a running list of nonbelievers in your life to pray for?  What about your enemies?  Have you prayed through the Psalms?

Yield:  Are you in the habit of listening to the Holy Spirit?  Do you frequently ask for strength, power, and guidance from Him?  Have you committed a willing heart to obey and surrender to His will?  Are there areas you are reluctant to surrender?  Do you make vows to God that you don’t fulfill?

2.  Head:  Get to know Jesus!20170221_115152

Have you studied what He said?

Do you know why He bled?

Do you read what He read?

Have you thoroughly digested Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?  Have you committed His words to heart?

Do you understand the implications of the gospel —not only for your salvation, but for your sanctification, for your vocation?  Are you in the practice of studying the New Testament?

Jesus’ Bible was just the Old Testament.  Have you neglected this part of God’s word?

How often do you read the Bible?  Do you read both quickly for the big picture and slowly for understanding?  Do you memorize it?  Do you pray for insight before you study?  For strength to apply it?  Do you know how to study it well?  Do you use good tools to help you?  Do you rely more on other teachers or are you a self-feeder?  Do you check your conclusions against reliable sources?  Are you listening to any ear-ticklers?

3. Hands:  Follow where He led.  Obviously there are hundreds of ways to imitate Christ, since He was literally perfect in every way.  Here are five major hallmarks of His life that we can copy:

Holy lifestyle:  What are your pet sins?  Have you made an effort to root out unforgiveness, pride, laziness, and selfishness?  Whom do you allow to see you struggle?  Do you welcome accountability?  Discipler, be transparent and gracious.  You sin, too!  Pray for wisdom—when to be gentle, when to be firm.  Don’t try to fix them, and don’t confront everything at once.  Guide them to identify their own problem areas and agree to tackle them.

Love:  Do justice and love mercy.  To be Christlike, we need to be involved in compassionate action, as He was.  Where is there need in your community?  How can you be involved?  Get active—do the work of love side by side.

Take up your cross:  What might God be asking you to give up for the sake of His name?  How can you love sacrificially?  Where have you deemed the cost of discipleship too high?

Give grace:  Where do you resist forgiving others?  Has your understanding of the gospel penetrated your heart to the extent that grace comes naturally?  What prevents you from being gracious?  Do people perceive you to be kind and generous or stingy with praise?  If you will be forgiven to the measure you have forgiven others, is that good news?

Preach the gospel:  In season and out, using words when necessary, with love always, freely and naturally, as an overflow of adoration and compassion, with intentionality and forethought, with prayer and urgency, with skill and a continual pursuit of increasing excellence.  When was the last time you shared your faith?  How do you seek opportunities to do so?  What weaknesses need shoring up?  How often do you practice this skill?  How have you equipped yourself?

Patience and grace, commitment and follow-through.  That’s it.  Heart and Soul, Head and Hands.  One life pouring into another, simple enough for a bunch of fishermen.

Let me finally point you to some fantastic resources that others have put together if you want to take this further.

Here’s a resource from the folks at Lifeway.  Has a great video clip at the beginning.

This one comes from David Platt, and echoes my thoughts above.  I like his action-step questions.

Cru does a great job with discipleship, and is reliably straightforward.  They emphasize “transferable,” or easily-repeatable resources.

I haven’t read this book, but Francis Chan is such a neat guy.  He’s put together not only a book (Multiply) but an accompanying video series to equip disiple-makers.  And hey, there’s David Platt again!  (That guy is everywhere!)

And a classic, The Master Plan of Evangelism, by Robert Coleman.