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Against All Odds by Jim Stier

This book is published by YWAM and tells the story of YWAM leader Jim Stier and his missionary work in Brazil during the 1980′s. YWAM stands for Youth With a Mission, “an inter-denominational, non-profit Christian, missionary organization. Founded by Loren Cunningham and his wife Darlene Cunningham in 1960, YWAM’s stated purpose is to know God and to make Him known.” A worthy purpose, but I’m not so sure about the wisdom of all that I read about in Mr. Stier’s book.

I must say that there are some odd episodes in Against All Odds. For instance, the young people who make up Mr. Stier’s “team” receive messages from God by being impressed to look up specific verses in the Bible. It’s almost like the old “let the Bible fall open at random and read God’s message to you”, but for these missionaries the random verses come out of their heads while they are praying. Then, they have to “interpret” the sometimes cryptic message. For instance, one of Stier’s fellow missionaries is impressed to look up Judges 10:22: “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.” The cave is interpreted as the Bible school where the missionaries are, and the five kings are $500. So they take up an offering.

No, it didn’t make sense to me either, and their interpretation has nothing at all to do with the context or literal meaning of the verse itself. A lot of the book is about how Mr. Stier and his wife and family and other missionaries in Brazil trusted God to provide for their financial needs as they began YWAM ministries in Brazil. Although I believe in trusting God for all of our needs, I also believe that Scripture commands us to work for a living: “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” I Thessalonians 4:11 Trusting God for Mr. Stier and his partners in missions looked a lot like waiting around until things got so desperate that someone, somewhere had pity on them and bought them some food or paid their rent.

Mr. Stier and his fellow missionaries do a lot of work, evangelizing, and yes, they are to be commended for their radical obedience to the call of God on their lives. However, I wouldn’t really recommend this book (or YWAM) to young people who are looking for a role model in radical obedience and discernment in following Christ. Surely, there are better ways to inspire (maybe reading Scripture itself?) all of us to be moved to follow Christ while rightly interpreting and following the Word of God.

The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Thirteen year old Nina Ross is feeling at loose ends this summer. Her best friend, Jorie, is changing into a boy-crazy clothes horse. Her beloved grandmother, the only person who really got Nina, died last year. Nina’s parents, divorce lawyers, work all the time. And her brother Matt is consistently either holed up in his room or gone to work.

Even though Nina isn’t “the type of person who goes out of her way to help people,” she decides to start a project: one good anonymous deed, small but remarkable, each day for the sixty-five days of summer vacation. Will it make a difference? Will Nina’s project change the neighborhood? Change the world?

This middle grade novel told a really sweet story, maybe too sweet for some readers, but I enjoyed it. Nina surprises herself and is surprised by the new truths she discovers about her neighbors and about her own family. The pace of these revelations and of the story itself is just right–not thriller pace but just enough suspense and charm to keep me reading. (There is mention in the story of a possible kumiho (Korean fox spirit) and a supposed ghost, but you can take or leave those possibilities.) All in all, The Summer I Saved the World . . . is a pretty good and encouraging summer read, a remarkable good deed and inspiration in itself.

The author tells about her purpose in writing the story in the end note:

“I started this story with a question: does doing good really do any good? Random acts of kindness are everywhere, but I wondered, so they really have an effect on people? Can small acts of goodness change our world?
********
The answer to my question—does doing good really do any good—I will always hope, is a resounding and undeniable yes!”

Well, I would say, yes and no. Yes, doing good is good, and of course, even small deeds of kindness and encouragement change the atmosphere of any neighborhood or workplace or home. The Bible says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) Also, there are all the “one anothers”:

Bear with each other and forgive one another. (Colossians 3:13)
Be kind and compassionate to one another. (Ephesians 4:32)
Love one another. (John 13:34)
Be devoted to one another in love. (Romans 12:10)
Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
Encourage one another and build each other up. (I Thessalonians 5:11)
Spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
Greet one another with a holy kiss. (2 Corinthians 13:12)
Be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50)
Serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
Receive one another. (Romans 15:7)
Rejoice or weep with one another. (Romans 12:15)
Admonish one another. (Romans 15:14)
Care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:25)
Pray for one another. (James 5:16)
Accept one another. (Romans 14:1; 15:7)
Be truthful with one another. (Colossians 3:9)
Confess your faults to one another. (James 5:16)

If even just Christians obeyed all of those commands, the world would definitely be a “saltier” and better place. However, the world is made up of sinful people (like me), some of whom are unrepentantly evil, and it’s not going to be redeemed and transformed by small acts of “random” kindness. Random kindness is good, but it isn’t enough to save the world. It’s going to take something BIG to change the world: a large act of perfect love and sacrifice.

I wonder what THAT could be?

I Know What Your Mother Really Wants for Mother’s Day

'' photo (c) 2008, Kimberly N. - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Well, I should qualify that statement: If your mother is a Christian, if she really, truly loves Jesus, and if she’s one of those “religious” moms who goes to church every Sunday and prays for you every day and embarrasses you by listening to old-timey hymns and posting Bible verses on her Facebook feed. If she’s one of those moms who took you to church and helped you memorize Bible verses and and taught you the plan of salvation and told you that God loves you and has a plan for your life. If your mother is an old-fashioned, Bible-believing, hope-filled, Jesus-loving Christian.

Then, more than she wants chocolate-covered strawberries or twelve dozen roses, more than a diamond ring or a dime store bracelet, more than breakfast in bed or lunch in a fancy restaurant, more than cards or phone calls or words of appreciation, more than new clothes or shoes, more than a trip to the movies or to the Bahamas, more than your gratitude and even more than your love, I know exactly what your mother wants for Mother’s Day.

She wants you to love Jesus, too. She wants you to know Jesus, obey Jesus, live for Jesus, worship Jesus and follow Jesus through this life and straight to heaven. She wants you live where Jesus leads you to live, even if that’s far away from where she is, and to do what He calls you to do, even if it’s something she would never have imagined you doing. She wants you to be filled with the Holy Spirit, connected to God’s church, and busy with the work of God’s kingdom. She wants you to be reading your Bible and praying and listening to the voice of Jesus. She wants you, her beloved child, to be His child. For Mother’s Day and every day, your Christian mom wants St. Patrick’s prayer to be incarnate in both of you:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right,
Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

If you can’t give your mom what she wants for Mother’s Day, Jesus can. Just ask Him. Then get yourself humbled and accept His forgiveness and grace. Then follow Him. Then tell your mom.

It will be the best Mother’s Day present ever. Trust me. I really, really know.

The 3rd Gift of Christmas in New Guinea, Indonesia, 1964

Peace Child by Don Richardson tells the story of Christian missionaries Don and Carol Richardson and their attempts in the early 1960′s to bring the gospel of Jesus to the Sawi people, headhunting cannibals of New Guinea. Fro the Sawi, treachery was an ideal, and the only way to make peace between enemy tribes was to give the sacrifice of a “peace child” to ensure the treaty between warring groups.

“You want Hurip to die?” I asked.
“Yes!” Amio hissed.
Anxiously I rose and faced Amio, “Why?”

Amio’s voice choked with emotion as he replied: “Remember I told you my father Hato once gave a tarop child to the Kayagar, only to learn later that they had killed the baby and devoured it?”
I nodded, and Amio continued, “The man lying in this canoe is the man to whom my father gave that child! He is the same man who killed and devoured my little brother! Tuan, I’ve been waiting for years for a chance to . . .”
Now I was trembling, too. The Christmas spirit was not coming easily to the banks of the Kronkel that day. . . . was I really being realistic in hoping they would forgive their enemies for Christ’s sake?
For a moment I stood speechless before Amio, praying for wisdom. Then an old memory stirred in the bad of my mind. Reaching out with both hands, I gripped Amio by his earlobes. He was stat led, but he did not draw away. He listened carefully while I said: “Tarop Tim titindadeden! I plead the Peace Child!”
Amio shot back, “The peace child my father gave to Hurip is dead! Hurip himself killed him!”
“But the Peace Child God gave still lives! I countered. And because He lives, you may not take vengeance against Hurip. Forgive him, Amio, for Jesus’ sake!”
My fingers still gripped his earlobes.

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon
A song: Moon River, music by Henry Mancini. OK, it’s not a Christmas song, but it’s vintage Andy Williams. Enjoy.

A booklist: Barbara H and 31 Days of Missionary Stories.

A birthday: Andy Williams, b.1930. We always used to watch Andy Williams’ Christmas special on TV, back in the day.
Joseph Conrad, b.1857.

A verse:
Moon River by Johnny Mercer.

Moon River, wider than a mile,
I’m crossing you in style some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,
wherever you’re going I’m going your way.

Two drifters off to see the world.
There’s such a lot of world to see.
We’re after the same rainbow’s end–
waiting ’round the bend,
my huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me.

A Christmas idea: Redeeming Christmas, Kindness-Bombing by Juanita at Once Upon a Prairie.

Thanksgiving

'Thanksgiving Postcards 1' photo (c) 2010, Minnesota Historical Society - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/“Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.” ~Abraham Lincoln, Proclamation of a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer, March 30, 1863

Some hae meat and canna eat, -
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
~Robert Burns

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet…. Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?” ~Rebecca Harding Davis

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Psalm 150

Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.

Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community by Christopher L. Heuertz

This book was an unexpected gift. I was in the mood for something nonfiction, inspirational, and thought-provoking. And Mr. Heuertz delivered.

I know nothing at all about Word Made Flesh community, the community that Mr. Heuertz lived in and among and from which he takes his examples in the book. I know nothing of the jargon that Mr. Heuertz uses in his book: “contemplative activism”, “transitional awakening” and “prophetic community”. I am skeptical about the pantheon of heroes of whom the author has pictures pinned up in his office: Gandhi, Romero (who?), Che (?), Mother Teresa and Bob Marley(?). I got lost in the “progressive” new monasticism that Mr. Heuertz espouses and the sometimes dense, esoteric language he uses to describe his insights into community. I don’t think the author and I are on the same page, theologically speaking.

And yet . . . Mr. Heuertz has deep experiential understanding and wisdom about how Christians can and should live in community. I found a lot to think about and mull over, especially in relation to my church family, my immediate family and my homeschool co-op family, all of which make up the community where God has placed me. The chapters in the book talk about eleven “unexpected gifts” of living in community: failure, doubt, insulation, isolation, transition, the unknown self, betrayal, incompatibility, ingratitude, grief, and restlessness. All of these would seem to be issues and problems rather than gifts, but as we allow God to redeem our failures, doubts, griefs, and restlessness, we can receive these things as gifts to spur us on to greater growth and deeper relationship with Him and with others.

Failure: ” . . . let restoration become a journey toward brokenness. For in brokenness, our woundedness is best addressed, our fears are calmed, our shame is lifted, and love is extended.”

Doubt: ” . . . very real times of doubt lead both of us to places of lament—the grieving of the things that are fundamentally broken in the world—even as we simultaneously hope for more of God’s justice, presence and nearness. . . . in our community, when one of us has been down or experiencing doubt, we have found that the faith of those around us helps carry us.”

Insulation: “Our communities won’t always be able to offer us everything we need, nor will we be able to give back all that they need from us. . . That’s often when we need to step back, to refocus.”

Isolation: “The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from a Christian community, may actually mean the exclusion of Christ.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Transition (or change): “Avoiding blame, not picking sides, speaking honorably of the communities we leave or the people who transition from our communities are all parts of a bigger process–one that must also include space for grieving and room for celebrating.”

The Unknown Self: I must admit that this chapter about self-image and identity didn’t speak to me, and I didn’t understand what the author was trying to say. Self-discovery is found in self-denial which allows us to be free and whole people? Or something.

Betrayal A powerful meditation on betrayal and forgiveness. “Our response to betrayal can be a powerful force, setting our life trajectories toward grace or bitterness.”

Incompatibility: Subtitled “When Together Is Too Close,” this chapter explores the difficulties and blessings of incompatibility or the flip-side of too much “chemistry” between people who need to maintain some emotional and physical distance (members of the opposite sex, for instance). I’m not sure I agreed with Mr. Heuertz in his simplistic solution, that we all just act like mature people and get along but not misbehave. I think it is more complicated than that and that there is a place for drawing “artificial” boundaries, such as two people of the opposite sex not being alone together or avoiding intimate communication with people who are immature or abrasive. Heuertz seems to sy that we should just exercise common sense and grow up.

Ingratitude: More powerful stuff. “Many of us hadn’t considered the ways in which ingratitude had created subtle distances among us–forgetting to say thank you when someone stayed late, pitched in, or helped complete a big project, or merely thanking each other for common courtesies such as opening a door. Sometimes not saying thank you when a meal tab was covered by a community member or failing to express gratitude for well-prepared meetings caused some of us to judge each other as entitled or ungrateful.”

Grief: “Grief must be accepted. We can’t control it; we have to experience the depths of grief. In a contemplative posture, we are able to receive the pain as a gift filled with healing and lament.”

Restlessness: I think I liked this chapter best of all because it spoke to my temptation to devalue and become tired of the daily-ness of my life and my calling as a mother. “Most of real life consists of living in the ordinary, in-between times, the space and pauses filled with monotony. Most of real life is undramatic. The challenge is to be faithful and consistent, ‘praying the work’ when no one is looking or when there’s no recognition of our contributions.”

“Becoming the best versions of ourselves often requires that we stay. Stay when things get hard. Stay when we get bored. Stay when we experience periods of unhappiness. Stay when the excitement wears off.Stay when we don’t like those we’re in community with. Stay when we fail or are betrayed. Stay when we know who we can become if we have courage to be faithful in the undramatic.”

Unexpected Gifts was sent to me free of charge by the publisher, Howard Books, for the purpose of review. I am grateful to them and to the author for the opportunity to review and reflect on the ideas that Mr. Heuertz presents in this testimony of difficulties transformed into gifts.

The Rest of the Story: Eric Liddell

The late Paul Harvey had a feature on the radio called “The Rest of the Story” in which he would tell familiar stories of well-known people and events or commonplace tales of ordinary people–and then tell “the rest of the story”, the part that not many people know or the part that gives the true story an ironic twist. I’ve been reading a lot of unusual stories myself lately, and I decided to share a few of them with you here at Semicolon.

Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell is featured in the movie Chariots of Fire. If you’ve never seen the movie, I highly recommend it. In this video of his medal-winning race, Eric Liddell is in the outside lane:

In the movie and real life, Eric Liddell refused to run in a qualifying heat scheduled on Sunday because he believed in keeping the Sabbath holy. He had to withdraw from the 100 meter race, his best event. Liddell began to train for the 400 meter race instead, and he ran the race in the Olympics and won. Eric Liddell broke the existing Olympic and world records in the 400 meter race with a time of 47.6 seconds. After the Olympics and his graduation from Edinburgh University, Liddell continued to run in track and field events, but he always refused to compete on Sunday, citing his desire to please God above all else.

In 1925, Eric Liddell returned to China where he had been born and where his parents were missionaries. He served as a missionary there until 1941 when he was captured and interned by the Japanese who were invading China during World War II. It was there in the internment camp that “the rest of the story” of Eric Liddell’s allegiance to God’s principles above all else took place.

Joni and Ken by Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada

Even the title and cover picture says it: there are issues related to being married to a famous Christian author, artist, speaker and quadriplegic who heads a world-wide ministry to disabled persons. Whose name (and ministry) comes first? Ken Tada knew about some of the difficulties when he married Joni, but the “daily-ness” of Joni’s physical needs plus the annoyance of always living life in Joni’s shadow was enough to wear down Ken’s dedication to Joni and to their life together and transform their marriage into a series of tasks that had to be done instead of a joyful journey.

In case you don’t know, Joni Eareckson Tada is the founder and CEO of Joni and Friends, an organization that provides practical support and spiritual help to special needs families worldwide, and equips thousands of churches in developing disability ministry. Joni is the author of numerous best-selling books, including When God Weeps, The God I Love, Heaven: Your Real Home, Joni, and A Step Further. Ken Tada recently retired from thirty-two years of teaching school. He and Joni have been married for over 30 years.

Joni and Ken is a great “anatomy of a marriage” kind of memoir that probes deep into what it means to love someone consistently, daily, and sacrificially. Ken knew what he was getting into when he married Joni. She was already a bestselling author and a quadriplegic when the two of them met, began dating, and eventually married, believing that they could serve God together better than apart. Ken knew, in a sense that he would have to take care of Joni physically for the rest of their lives, that there would be difficulties in their marriage that able-bodied spouses can only imagine. He knew, but mostly on an intellectual level. He didn’t know how exhausting the quotidian tasks of caring for Joni, supporting her emotionally, and following behind her in her calling would become. After many years, Ken seems to have done what many spouses who are in difficult marriages do, both men and women: he checked out emotionally. He And in response to his distancing himself from her, Joni began to pull back, too. It happens in many (most?) relationships, even those with far fewer challenges than Joni’s and Ken’s marriage.

This book would be a good read for someone who is caregiver for a disabled spouse or parent or child. The narrative could have been improved with a more chronological organization of the story and with more information from Ken’s point of view about the couple’s struggles. However, the lack of particulars about how Ken was feeling and what he was thinking may come from a difference in the personalities of the two people involved. I get the idea that Ken tends to keep his thoughts and feelings more hidden and unspoken whereas Joni comes across as the more emotive and dramatic of the pair.

Marriage is an endlessly fascinating subject. How do two people get married and stay married? What makes a good marriage? Do all marriages go through seasons of aridity and apathy? How does a married couple go about renewing their passion and love for one another? Where does the ardor for a lifetime of mutual submission and servanthood and love come from?

The answer to that last question: the Holy Spirit himself who is the Maker and Sustainer of any marriage, even, I believe, non Christian marriages. But no one ever said it was going to be easy. Worthwhile, yes, but not easy.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking, ch. 4, Painting, Sketching, Sculpturing

I have zero, zip, nada, no talent or ability in the areas of painting, sketching, sculpturing or creating visual artwork in any form. Nevertheless, I love this chapter of Hidden Art.

“Ideas carried out stimulate more ideas.” So true. My most recent obsession, other than watching K-dramas, is opening a small library for homeschoolers in my area who could use the books and curricula that I have collected over the years, much of which my own children have outgrown. I have a LOT of books and curriculum materials. I would like to gather these resources into one room in my house, and allow homeschool families to pay a small yearly fee to become “members” of my library. (This idea has almost nothing to do with the chapter we’re reading, but everything to do with where God is leading me in the area of hidden art. My giftedness, such as it is, has to do with reading and recommending “living books” and other educational resources.) Anyway, my idea of opening a full-fledged library is thwarted right now by the season my family is in and by the logistics of devoting an entire room to the purpose of a library. Still, I need to figure out a way to start small, and to carry out my idea in some limited way until I can get to the complete vision of a private homeschoolers’ library.

“A sermon can be ‘illustrated’ and thereby ‘translated’ at the same time, to a child sitting beside you, provided the child has any interest at all in understanding.” I used to do this , despite my lack of artistic ability, with my older children when they were preschoolers. I also sometimes had them draw a picture of what the pastor was talking about in his sermon. In fact, as they got older I had a page long form for their “sermon notes” that had a space for the date, the pastor’s name, the Biblical text, a sentence or two about the sermon, and a picture illustrating the sermon. Sometimes on the back of the sheet I drew stick figures, or Engineer Husband drew more detailed illustrations, helping the children to understand the sermon.

How the Semicolon family is expressing “hidden art” this week:
Engineer Husband is designing the program for the upcoming production of Singin’ in the Rain that two of the urchins are starring in. One of my adult children, Dancer Daughter (23) has done much of the choreography for the production.

Karate Kid (16) is in the living room playing the guitar for his sisters to sing along, as they record a a birthday gift song for a friend whose birthday is tomorrow. They’re singing this song by the group He Is We.

Betsy Bee (14) has been decorating and straightening up her bedroom, ironing the pillow cases (?!) and generally making her space beautiful.

My 80 year old mom, who lives in an apartment behind our house, makes beautifully designed cards for birthdays and anniversaries, using her computer and the artwork that she finds or purchases on the internet.

I continue to write my little blog and to try to figure out how to start a library without a designated space.

I’m looking forward to reading the posts that others write about how they incorporate the visual arts into their lives and homes.