The Insanity of God– Book Review

The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken & Gregg Lewis

The Insanity of God is one of the most inspiring and challenging books I have read. Inspiring because of the many stories of believers who are steadfast in their passion for Christ, even while experiencing extreme persecution for their faith. And challenging as I contemplate the strong prayer lives of those Christians and realize how fickle my own prayer life is by comparison.

Nik Ripken (not his real name, in order to protect those whose stories he relates) starts out by describing the overwhelming and discouraging years when he and his wife were doing relief work and ministering in the devastation of Somalia in the 1990’s. His commitment to serve in obedience to Jesus’ call to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28: 19-20) in an extremely dangerous environment was challenging and has caused me to evaluate my own response to Jesus’ words.

After their son Timothy suddenly died of an asthma attack, the Ripkens returned to the States for a furlough in order to rest, recover, and deal with their discouragement, grief, and questions. Nik then embarked on a series of lengthy trips to regions of the world where Christians have been or still are severely persecuted for their faith. He relates details of many interviews with believers in former Soviet bloc countries, China, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and more. There were many stories that stood out to me, and what impressed me the most were the prayer lives of these persecuted believers. They depended on God and were guided by him in ways beyond my experience, but which rang true in how they glorified God. It was amazing to read about how these believers didn’t seek primarily to avoid persecution, which they could have done by remaining silent about their faith. Instead, they sought to share the good news of the Gospel in whatever ways they could. They were cautious and tried to avoid drawing the attention of authorities, but they didn’t let fear of persecution control or silence them.

This book has left me with a prayer (that I prayed often while reading the book) that my passion for God would grow and would lead to an ever-deepening prayer life. I want to know Christ more intimately and I want to love nothing in this world more than I love God. I have long considered Christ to be my greatest love, and I have hoped that if push came to shove, I would abandon anything else if challenged to declare my love for Christ. On a daily basis, though, I know that I am distracted by many things, and God often does not have the priority he should in my days. Reading The Insanity of God has given me a deep desire to more fully experience the work of the Holy Spirit in me, and through me to those with whom I interact.

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…”
Philippians 3:7-8

Kisses from Katie– Book Review

I don’t think
it’s possible to read Kisses from Katie
and remain unmoved and unchanged. Nor is it easy to put the book down once
you start reading it. Katie’s engaging writing draws you into her life
with the thirteen delightful children she’s in the process of adopting and takes you along as she visits and ministers to all sorts of people. People who are struggling with situations most of us couldn’t even imagine, but who have the same kinds of fears, hopes, and dreams we all have.
Written by
Katie Davis, who went to Uganda at age eighteen for a one-year mission trip and
has lived there since, this book opened my eyes to some of the most
economically destitute, but often spiritually rich, people there are in this
world. I’ve heard all my life of people starving in Africa, but I have never
been introduced to them as individuals with faith, fears, and longings I could
relate to. Katie puts her arms around them and shows them God’s love with food,
medicine, tears, gentle care, and the constant message of Christ’s love for
them. She listens to their stories and helps each one experience the dignity of
being a valuable person created in God’s image, precious to the Lord and to
her. She also learns from them, as she sees their gratitude, faith, and joy,
despite the losses and hardships they have experienced.
Young though
she is, Katie lives more selflessly and wholeheartedly for Christ than most of
us would think possible, and she also experiences deeper communion with Christ
and more joy in him than most of us know. Throughout the book, she is honest
about her own struggles and doesn’t put herself on a pedestal or even think
that what she is doing is extraordinary. She shows by her life how one person,
relying on God’s strength and following his leading, can do an extraordinary
job of bringing Christ’s love to those who are often least valued in the world. 
I finished reading
this book last week, but it is still in my thoughts every day, as reading it
has challenged me to rethink my priorities and examine the depth of my faith
and how I live it out. I am pondering how to follow Katie’s example in my own life.
It is unlikely that I will go to Uganda or possibly anywhere overseas to do
missions work, but I know I could live more closely with Jesus, more selflessly
following him and loving the people he brings into my life.

Forgveness and Restoration– prayer guide

We sometimes tend to feel that our past disqualifies us from serving God or from using our abilities and talents in his work, especially in any kind of leadership. This passage shows us that God’s willingness to forgive and restore us is greater than anything we may have done in the past. Peter had publicly denied Jesus (see Matthew 26:69-75), but Jesus here restores him and commissions him to pastoral ministry.

  When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” 
  “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” 
  Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 
  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
  He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 
  Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 
  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 
  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” 
  Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” 
  Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 
  Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” John 21:15-22

Monday: How would you answer if Jesus asked if you love him? This seems like a good question to reflect on, especially as we observe our own thoughts and actions. Let’s give some thought to this as we go through the day today.

Tuesday: Jesus wanted Peter’s love for him to result in service to Jesus’ followers. Does our love for Christ flow out to his people? How about to those people we don’t necessarily like?

Wednesday: Jesus told Peter that Peter would die for his faith in Christ, and then told Peter to follow him. Let’s ponder the call that Jesus has given each of us, to follow him whatever the consequences. How are we called to do this in our daily lives at home or work or in our relationships?

Thursday: There are many believers around the world who are facing persecution of various sorts because of their faithfulness in following Christ. Some can’t get work, some are hassled at work, some are imprisoned, and others face torture and death. Let’s pray for those around the world who even today are facing persecution and death for following Jesus.

Friday: Jesus restored Peter after Peter had denied him. Thank Jesus for his wonderful mercy and grace that is greater than all our sin. Nothing we have done is so bad we can’t be forgiven. Let’s come to him with all our sin in repentance and trust and gratitude.

Saturday: Jesus told Peter that God’s plans for another disciple’s future was not Peter’s business. Peter’s responsibility was to follow Jesus. Ask God to help you keep your focus on following Jesus, no matter what other people are doing.

Pondering the Resurrection: Evidence and Response

Easter Sunday is
one day, but the resurrection is significant enough to ponder and celebrate far
more than just one day, and I’ll be focusing on it in these prayer guides for
at least a couple of weeks. 

Jesus’ death and
his resurrection are strongly attested historically. For those who, like me,
prefer to examine the evidence, there are many books that present the evidence for the
resurrection from various angles. One that I’m reading right now is The Case
for Chris
t, by Lee Strobel. I am also reading the transcript of a debate between William Lane Craig
(Christian apologist and theologian) and Bart D. Ehrman (agnostic New Testament

The love that led
Christ to die for us and the power of his resurrection are events so unique
that they require a response. This week let’s think about these events and how
we respond to them.

What I received I passed on to
you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to
the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then
to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the
brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep. Corinthians 15:3-6
If you look at how you spend you time and money, what has top priority
in your life? Think about the relative merit of whatever you actually
value most, compared to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Ask God to
help you set your priorities in a way that reflects truth and
strengthens your relationship with him..
Christ’s death and resurrection was not a surprise; it was prophesied
long beforehand. Ponder the fact that God knows everything, good and
bad; past, present, and future.
Wednesday: Keeping in mind that God knows everything, meditate with gratitude on the wonder of Jesus dying for your sins.
Death was not the end for Jesus. He was raised to life and is alive
now. Do you believe this? If so, how does it affect your daily life?
Jesus appeared to many people who could and did give eyewitness
testimony, making his resurrection well-attested historically. How do
you give witness to his presence in your life?
Saturday: Let your mind dwell on the wonder of Jesus dying and then being raised to life again. Praise him!


My dear friend Ann passed away recently. Ann was one of the building blocks
of who I am, not in large dramatic ways, but in so many small ways that, when I
think about it, I see her imprint all over my days, affecting in some way or
another how I raised my children, how I relate to Stephen, the ways I pray and
meditate on Scripture, my willingness (that has never come naturally) to speak
up when someone is headed for trouble.
Ann and I met shortly after she
moved to the Ithaca, NY area, when she came to our small house church one
evening. I don’t remember first meeting her, but I would guess that she introduced
herself to me—she is far more sociable than I, and I was probably hanging back,
a bit shy and reserved. Right from the start, she became family to us, mostly
as a much-needed source of wisdom and encouragement to me, a young wife and
expectant mother at the time, but also a warm and loving person in our
children’s younger years, and a fun, wise friend for all of us. One of my
children said he always had a sense of “her support, and a sense of her love,
faith, and very profound kindness when she visited. It seems like she was like
an aunt or grandmother to us…”
And there’s so much more—Ann’s
openness to reading all sorts of books and the many recommendations she passed
on to me, both classic literature and interesting new books on all sorts of
topics. We probably talked about what we were each reading in every
conversation we had. The fun we had cooking together in my kitchen when she
would visit, companionably sharing life. The wonderful stories of her children
and extended family members, most of which in some way or another exemplified
God’s faithfulness and Ann’s trust in him. Her insights into each of my
children’s personalities and strengths and into mine as well.
It wasn’t that we always saw things
the same way, because we didn’t. Ann was adventurous in her thinking and
attitudes, while I am more skeptical and cautious by nature, but we always
loved and respected each other and were always interested in each others’
thoughts. To hear that she is no longer here is hard to believe and very hard
to accept. I will miss her always, but will always carry with me some of the
ways she influenced my life and who I am.
Perhaps foremost, Ann’s example of
faith, no matter the circumstances, influenced me deeply and helped me grow in
trusting and loving God. She was never without Jesus, not just in the sense
that he was always with her as he is with all believers, but also in the way
she was constantly aware of his presence and in open, easy communication with
him. I got to know him better through spending time with Ann. Perhaps that is
what I will miss the most. Ann’s wonderful smile must be brightening heaven now
and I look forward to a joyful reunion when I see her again. We will have much
to catch up on.
This passage comes to mind when I think of Ann and her abiding
faith in God:

the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;

    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to go on the heights.
                                    Habakkuk 3:

Here are a
couple of poems that Ann wrote on scraps of paper when she was visiting us:

Beneath the Snow

Crocuses beneath the snow, 

do you know- do you know

How near is the sun,

That winter is done,
And you will tiptoe forth
With a sudden golden sound,
Crocuses beneath the snow,
Do you know?     3/21/89
Hemingway’s heroes move me, but not in
the way you might think;
His lovers don’t move me to love-
drunkards don’t move me to drink;
With his anglers I’ll not go a
his hunters not follow the trail;
His men can have all of his women,
women each bull fighting male.
His boxers can box themselves silly,
toss each other right out
of the ring;
When they land with a thud in a puddle
of blood
I personally don’t feel a
Yet Hemingway’s heroes move me to
out with all of my might,
“If I earnestly try, I wonder if
like Earnest could learn to write.
(written July 1999?)


Savoring Here and Now

Sitting in the darkened living
room, Stephen beside me, we watch the Christmas tree
lights randomly sequence slowly through varied color combinations–the
result of Stephen’s programming fun last year. Milo is curled on
the hearth, absorbing the fire’s warmth; Petra is snuggled at my feet,
twitching slightly as she dreams, and the other pets are sleeping

music is playing softly, the fire is quietly crackling. All else is
still. And so we sit, absorbing the fullness of the moment. Quiet inside
and out, reflecting on the gifts of this season. Peace, love, time
together, life, hope. A Savior, freely given, and the gift of faith,
that we may know him. Nothing is lacking. 

want to stop time and hold this moment forever. I
know I can’t, though, so I savor it fully, heart attuned to the present moment
in both this time and this place. All of myself here now, with Stephen, with
myself, and with our God. 


I stepped outside and called Bituminous. The night was quiet, except for the drone of insects, and dark, with no moonlight. The yellow light from the living room spilled out the windows onto the deck where I stood, but didn’t extend out into the yard.

I waited. I called again, then thought I caught a glimpse of movement out by the driveway. A moment later a small black form emerged from the darkness and came bounding towards me. He leaped up the steps and came to me gladly, rubbing ecstatically against my legs. Scooping him up, I held him against my chest and felt his soft fur on my cheek, heard and felt his contented purr. I smiled and sighed happily; my cat was safe for the night and, as always, I cherished the opportunity to hold him close.

Now fifteen years old, Bituminous has been an indoor cat for two years. He spends time nearly every morning purring and kneading on my lap as I sip tea and read while watching woodpeckers and songbirds at the feeder. With him on my lap, I’m more inclined to rock quietly and be still for a while. His calming influence helps me since, though I love to sit and reflect, I usually have a hard time actually quieting myself for more than a few brief minutes.

Bituminous exemplifies trust for me. Trust so deep that there’s no hesitation, not a moment’s question of whether it is safe to approach. I have always been safe harbor for him, so he happily streaked from the darkness to my arms when he was younger. Now he confidently walks up and asks for lap time whenever he hears the subtle creak of my rocking chair. He simply is my cat, and he loves to be with me. I love him, too, and am thankful for every day I have with him.